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Make Theological Progress (A Year of Fatih Wish)

The most valuable gift that the Church can offer to the bewildered and restless world of our time is to form within it Christians who are confirmed in what is essential and who are humbly joyful in their faith.
Catechesi Tradendae.

Just about everybody I speak to in the Year of Faith is going through some program regarding the rediscovery of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I am not. It is not that I don’t feel the need to review the catechism again, but my passive aggressive nature concerning the Bishops’ insistence makes me lethargic on the matter. I consider it lazy on the part of the Bishops to fall back on simply asking parishioners to re-read the catechism in order to promote the Year of Faith.

I actually have a bigger concern than the laziness of the Bishops. While there seems to be little desire for munus docendi, which is to say the duty to teach, there is a motivation to change the attitudes of Catholic Theologians. This is a disturbing trend. Later in the this post I will introduce you to Fr. Haight and Sr. Johnson, but first we will review the conundrum and some basic foundations.

Over the years, we have printed many articles on the proper relationship that should exist in the Catholic Church, between the Magisterium and the theologians. The problem has been, and is, a perpetual one because the Apostles, and their successors (bishops), have been commissioned by Jesus Christ to proclaim the Gospel to all nations. An important function of the theologian is to analyze the Gospel, question it, probe it, with a view towards understanding it more adequately, and so being able to proclaim it more effectively in each age of human history.
Fr. Kenneth Baker SJ

There is a difference between catechism and theology, but lately the bishops have been blurring the lines and squeezing theologians over their questioning nature. Surfers, I would like to introduce you to Catechesi Tradendae. I believe that since 1979 the Bishops have forgotten that there is a teaching foundation of catechesis and a questioning journey of theology. Perhaps the current bishops never read Catechesi Tradendae? You now have a chance to read it, and remind them of the differences.

Let’s start with what is essential in catechism:

Catechizing is in a way to lead a person to study this mystery (the mystery of Christ) in all its dimensions: “to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery…comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth …know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…(and be filled) with all the fullness of God.”
Catechesi Tradendae.

Next, what is essential in theology:

A more subtle challenge occasionally comes from the very way of conceiving faith. Certain contemporary philosophical schools, which seem to be exercising a strong influence on some theological currents and, through them, on pastoral practice, like to emphasize that the fundamental human attitude is that of seeking the infinite, a seeking that never attains its object. In theology, this view of things will state very categorically that faith is not certainty but questioning, not clarity but a leap in the dark.
Catechesi Tradendae.

Finally, let’s look at the interaction between catechism and theology:

Aware of the influence that their research and their statements have on catechetical instruction, theologians and exegetes have a duty to take great care that people do not take for a certainty what on the contrary belongs to the area of questions of opinion or of discussion among experts. Catechists for their part must have the wisdom to pick from the field of theological research those points that can provide light for their own reflection and their teaching, drawing, like the theologians, from the true sources, in the light of the magisterium.
Catechesi Tradendae.

Well, surfers, you now have the essential foundation needed to wade through the differences between theology and catechism. Not everybody you meet will have this understanding, and in the Year of Faith there are Catholics who will tell you this understanding is not correct. Attitudes are shifting and you may come in contact with Catholics, or perhaps be one yourself, that feel that there should be no questioning of faith. Perhaps the following words will sound familiar.

Modernism acts like a slow poison inasmuch as, by obscuring a dogma, it weakens the virtue of the Faith: that is to say it weakens the adherence of the will to revealed Truth. In this way Modernism disseminates doubt about all the dogmas of the Faith. – For the past fifty years, by contrast, the heresies of Modernism have no longer been condemned; or if they have been condemned, they have been but seldom, feebly, and without sanctions. As a result almost the entire tree of the Church has by now been infested by error. – In the past, heresy was explicit. Examples are Martin Luther’s 95 Theses posted on the cathedral door at Wittenberg. Nowadays, by contrast, in the context of Modernism, the heresy is implicit: it is implied, insinuated, suggested, favoured by obscurantism. – In the past the Church always condemned heresies, and took this opportunity to formulate Her doctrines more profoundly and more clearly. Consequently, the rotten, heretical, branch of the Church was cut off from its healthy trunk; and the healthy trunk, nurtured by a new influx of the light of Truth, was able to flourish yet more gloriously than before.
Don Pietro Leone Monselice

Call it modernism or secularism, it makes no difference as both are terms used by the bishops to stifle the progress of theology in the Church, that is unless you come from the anti-modern camp. There are anti-modern theologians and they typically regard modernity as an alienation and as humankind’s hubris, which both needed to be overcome, and whose fruits needed to be integrated in an entirely Christian synthesis. This is a fair warning, if you are of the anti-modern persuasion stick with the Catechesi Tradendae portions of this post to help enrich your Year of Faith.

The bishops have been picked based on their anti-modern bias in an effort to renew a Catholic identity favorable to the Pope. The bishops have been airing their frustration publicly with the theologians because they are looking at the academic works in light of the catechism, not theology. In the interest of full disclosure I have a bias toward the modern Church. The actions of the bishops to renew a Catholic identity that does not have a place for me raises my level of frustration. I can hear all the anti-modernists responding with “welcome to the frustration we have been experiencing since 1965.” If we are going to be a leader in Christian thought, and evangelize based on respect for our theology, we need to stop the trending attitudes of the bishops that have placed theological progress under attack. This is not my just my opinion but has been clearly seen from those outside the Catholic Church community also.

… based on our understanding of the universe science changes what we mean by words, and it changes that meaning because we learn about the universe. We actually make progress in science, unlike theology, and that is because we can be wrong and we can learn and we learn from the universe.
Dawkins & Krauss

Catechesi Tradendae defined for us the theological need to question faith in order to learn from Jesus Christ, but Catechesi Tradendae is not the only Church document to express this relationship. Surfers, let me introduce you to Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which is an Apostolic Constitution. An apostolic constitution has the binding effect of Church law; it is analogous to U.S. federal regulations to implement laws passed by Congress.

The Church, accepting “the legitimate autonomy of human culture and especially of the sciences”, recognizes the academic freedom of scholars in each discipline in accordance with its own principles and proper methods (28), and within the confines of the truth and the common good. Theology has its legitimate place in the University alongside other disciplines. It has proper principles and methods which define it as a branch of knowledge. Theologians enjoy this same freedom so long as they are faithful to these principles and methods.

Bishops should encourage the creative work of theologians.
Ex Corde Ecclesiae

Even if the Pope is successful in renewing the anti-modern Catholic identity, theologians will still be using academic disciplines to question the faith. Back in 2000 a question was asked to Hans Kung, a preeminent Catholic theologian; will Catholic theologians lose their intellectual integrity if required to have their local bishop’s permission to teach?

The danger is that now we have again the church and freedom divided… The choice is medieval canon law or the Gospel of Jesus Christ… It depends on whether you have some courageous people and collective action is the best. The individual always loses.
Hans Kung

If the bishops were to encourage the creative work of theologians, as expected in Ex Corde, we wouldn’t need to ask these types of questions about intellectual integrity, and there wouldn’t be a prevailing attitude in the science community that theology makes no progress. I will offer two examples that demonstrate actions of bishops that are violations of the Ex Corde. I hope that in the Year of Faith the bishops recognize their responsibility and reverse the trend by encouraging the work of our theologians.

Fr. Haight wrote a theological book Jesus: Symbol of God in 1999. It was peer-reviewed and approved for publication. If you are interested in theology you may want to get a copy. What did the Catholic theologians say about the book?

There’s little argument that Haight, a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, is a serious theologian and that Jesus Symbol of God is a work of vast erudition. Among other distinctions, it was named theological book of the year by the Catholic Press Association in 2000.

Now, surfers, remember the role of the theologian from Catechesi Tradendae; in theology, this view of things will state very categorically that faith is not certainty but questioning, not clarity but a leap in the dark. What did the bishops have to say about Fr. Haight’s book?

… the book Jesus Symbol of God contains statements contrary to truths of divine and Catholic faith that pertain to the first paragraph of the Professio fidei, concerning the pre-existence of the Word, the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, the salvific value of the death of Jesus, the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus and of the Church, and the Resurrection of Jesus. The negative critique included also the use of an inappropriate theological method.
Notification on the Book, Jesus Symbol of God, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The bishops cited Professio Fidei as their argument against Fr. Haight. These are clearly trumped up charges because theologians are supposed to question faith and the profession of faith has the word “faith” in the title. The profession of faith clearly falls under the heading of catechesis. We understand from Catechesi Tradendae that Catechists for their part must have the wisdom to pick from the field of theological research those points that can provide light for their own reflection and their teaching. Fr. Haight was not trying to change the profession of faith and the CDF was guilty of mixing up theology with catechism. The Catholic Theological Society of America responded with this same argument, but it fell on deaf ears.

Given the actions taken against Fr. Haight, we are concerned that the Congregation’s Notification elides the traditional distinction between theology and catechesis in a way that threatens the proper function of both in their service to the Church.
CTSA Statement

Just to be certain that you don’t think I cherry-picked the one instance where the bishops are guilty of violating the Ex Corde, I will provide another example. Keep in mind that there are many others but in the interest of brevity I will just cite two. Please read the arguments and decide for yourself.

Sr. Johnson wrote a theological book Quest for the Living God: Mapping the Frontiers of the Theology of God in 2007.

Sr. Johnson, 66, is today one of Catholicism’s most highly regarded theologians. A past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, she has received numerous awards for her work.
Thomas C Fox

The book does not take the faith of the Church as its starting point. Instead, the author employs standards from outside the faith to criticize and to revise in a radical fashion the conception of God revealed in Scripture and taught by the Magisterium
Bishops Response

… we are troubled that this criticism of Professor Johnson’s work seems to reflect a very narrow understanding of the theological task. Theologians throughout history have promulgated the riches of the Catholic tradition by venturing new ways to imagine and express the mystery of God and the economy of salvation revealed in Scripture and Tradition. This is a Catholic style of theological reflection that very many Catholic theologians continue to practice today.
CTSA Response

The Vatican documents side with the CTSA and Sr. Johnson. So should the bishops. So should we.

About neodecaussade

I am a Roman Catholic quester. You will find that I have scripture based academic interests. You will discover that I am a conservative Catholic but I am also prone to heterodox tendencies. I am versed in highly pietistic traditionalist practices but I am not a traditionalist. I am interested in entering a discussion on the future of the Roman Catholic Church. I would like to have a role in discussing how the future Church will be shaped.

3 responses »

  1. Hi there! I hope you are doing well. It’s been awhile since I have been able to blog seriously. I want to throw in a couple more things into the mixture of this discussion: First, most Catholics have never read the Catechism, so it would be very difficult for them to begin having theological questions about the Church without even knowing what the Church actually teaches. Then, there is the trend of Catholics who know what the Church teaches, who don’t like what the Church teaches, but still go. Why go if they believe in something else? And finally, secularism has become so hardened that it has become its own dogma. It is no longer on a quest to leave the forum open for discussion or for questions or for doubt, which I think it initially was. It no longer believes in academic freedom. It believes in censorship. Case in point, I have recently taken a class that is built on some secular and atheistic theories, which I question. I set forth my own theories and doubts as to these theories and was shut down. I was not allowed to put my own thoughts into the discussion unless I changed my ideas into what they wanted to hear. My conclusion–some secularists don’t want to hear anyone else’s ideas. They believe in their theories as holy writ. They believe that everyone else is erroneous and stupid and that it is their duty to control others who don’t agree with them. Times have changed. Free-thinking has been undermined. These are not the same secularists as were seen in the 20th century. They believe they have all the answers and will manipulate others in order to enforce their ideals. This is the peculiar position we are in now. I understand the point you are making about theology and catechesis, but from what I can tell the catechism is the fruit of a healthy theological inquiry. God bless. It was good to read from you again.

    • Thank you for your comment. I am sad to hear your frustration regarding the close-minded people in a class. How can learning take place under these conditions? Also, thank you for validating my point that the catechism is the fruit of a healthy theological inquiry. May these words of yours reach the bishops during this year of faith.

      – God bless

      • Unfortunately it was my professor who holds this dogmatism, and it’s in a class I am required to take. Thank you for your encouragement.

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