Monday, 26 July 2010

A Modern Catholic Dilemma?

Here is a very interesting and (though very sad) entertaining post by Fr. Ed Tomlinson: "A Modern Anglican Dilemma" , which leads me to think about the Roman Catholic dilemma. I can't remember who said it, but some time ago (years ago, in fact) I heard or read some theologian say that the root of the most serious heresies and theological controversies in the Church was disagreement about some aspect of the Incarnation. I think we should now say that so much of the disunity within the Catholic Church is about what we mean by "The Church". This affects the way we look at the Liturgy and, as is obvious, the way we respond to the teachings of the Magisterium.

One of the problems with contemporary Catholic ecclesiology is the wide acceptance of the idea of the "People of God" as THE model of the Church. If this is the only way some Catholics now think about the Church, where does authority fit in? The authority of Scripture? Yes, but where there are disagreements between scholars can the Congregation for The Faith - with Papal approval - actually settle the matter, even temporarily? Whom do we regard as authoritative now? In secular society, it is either those who have legal authority, like the Government or the Police, or those who have academic authority. To many in the Catholic Church authority now rests with the "scholars" (providing they are not shackled by obedience to the Pope!) and the "majority" (here we see a connection with Newman's idea of consulting the Laity) which brings us back to the model of the "People of God". Vatican II broadened our ideas of the Church, and we are now more conscious of being a "Priestly people", but if this means that hierarchy is somehow sidelined and even the Sacrament of Orders is, in some places, no longer regarded as necessary, how are we going to maintain unity and peace within the Church?

Some will accept the Bishop's leadership or the Pope's leadership if they can agree with it, thus making their own reason the final arbiter. This is not conscience. It may be called "conviction" but that is not a satisfactory definition of conscience. The "still small voice" has something to do with God speaking within us, although we should be careful of that too. Nevertheless if we are to find Truth at all, it cannot be left at the level of personal conviction (opinion has little to do with it) no matter how strong this may be. With any sound ecclesiology we can surely see that the individual cannot stand alone but must always find his/her identity as a member of the One Body of Christ. This means that the individual conscience must relate to the community in some way. If the community or "Church" is understood as a group of like-minded people with similar convictions (as in "We are Church") then how is this related to Divine Truth and who is to decide where that truth is to be found? Do such like-minded people consider that they are the real Church or the living Church whilst those who insist on following the Catechism and the teachings of the Holy Father are moribund in some way or "out of step" with reality? In this case, where is the Church and who is a member of it? Where orthodox teaching is not satisfactorily delivered (as in most Catholic schools today) do we see part of the Church, a dysfunctional part of the Church, a rejection of part of the Church, a disconnected part of the Church or an enlightened part of the Church? In all of these questions what do we now mean by "Church". As I see it, this is now the fundamental problem within the Roman Catholic communion and it is absolutely vital that it be dealt with.

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