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Married Priests? “Viri probati” and other challenges.

Yesterday, Crux and others shared news that Pope Francis, in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, had indicated openness to ordaining married men in the Latin Church. It is not the first time. Twenty, thirty years ago, one could safely bet that the world’s bishops supported the idea, but it was the pope who was opposed; now it seems to be the other way around.

However, as you read the comments available from today’s article (so far, only portions of the interview are available) it does not sound all that “open” after all. There are some serious red flags already flying. At first glance, fully anticipating more clarity from the full interview, I have three questions:

  • Who are these “viri probati”?
  • What would be the effect on the diaconate?
  • Why would “isolated communities” be better for married priests, or, why would it be difficult to “find what to do with them”?

Who are these “viri probati”?

Viri probati is a red herring. Not that I have anything against the ordination of “proven men”, of course. However, all the ordained, not just the married ordained, should be “proven” or “tested” before ordination. To raise this ambiguous phrase exclusively in the discussion of ordaining married men, either to the diaconate or the presbyterate in the Latin Church, is potentially distracting from more serious issues.

The standard should be the same for married and celibate men, in terms of formation and education, character and ability. It is unethical and unnecessary to set a higher bar for married clergy than for celibate clergy – or for that matter, to set a higher age limit.

Who is “proven”? This phrase floats around with virtually no formal definition or context. If the practice of the diaconate is any indication, many bishops seem to think that it means retired volunteers without formal ministry formation or experience. That the “proof” is in a life of being a happily married faithful Catholic in a secular vocation. This is good, but it is insufficient, and better “proof” of being an active lay person in the Church than an ordained minister.

If we are to turn to “proven men” we must think of the same people that the Council Fathers thought of as “already exercising diaconal ministry” (AG 16) as the first candidates for ordination to the diaconate. We ought to consider those men “already exercising presbyteral ministry” as candidates for the presbyterate.

Look first to the lay ecclesial ministers, catechists, chaplains, pastoral workers, lay theologians who have committed their lives in service to the Church, whose vocation is already clearly ecclesial, rather than secular. They have already given years to the education, formation, and experience we want in our priests and deacons. Most often, they have done so at considerable expense and sacrifice to themselves and their families – usually, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth, compared to “traditional” seminarians, who have been sponsored by the diocese throughout formation. These are your “proven men”.

What of the effect on the diaconate?

Because of the accidents of history and the slow, and often piecemeal, approach to reform and development in the Church, there can be no doubt that several men called to be presbyters have been ordained deacons because, and often for no other reason than, they are married. Similarly, there are men in the presbyterate who really ought to be deacons, but as celibates, were pressured into the presbyterate.

I have long been convinced that we need more married presbyters and more celibate deacons. It is an error to believe that celibacy defines the presbyterate or marriage the diaconate. In their ancient roots, if anything, the reverse was more likely to be true. One’s vocation to ministry, and one’s vocation to relationship, are two distinct questions.

Whenever discussion turns to the topic of restoring the discipline of a married clergy in the Latin Church, I envision disaster for the diaconate, if it is handled badly. We are only part-way through the process of restoring the diaconate as a proper order of ministry, full and equal to the presbyterate, of a lower “rank” than the bishop.

As long as we still have transitional deacons, and the question of women in the diaconate is unsettled, we have not yet completed this process. As long as people still define the diaconate more sociologically – as a band-aid solution for a lack of priests, as a retiree’s volunteer ministry, as the holding place for married clergy – rather than a vocation and ecclesiologically essential order in and of itself, we are still a work in progress on the diaconate. Simply waking up tomorrow to a a married presbyterate would lead to an exodus from one order to the other without the balance going the other way.

Though, perhaps this should be encouraged – a discernment of orders without the distraction of the celibacy/marriage dichotomy. Say, a ten year open period where anyone previously ordained to one order could ‘relocate’ to the other, if it fit more their calling.

This would necessitate making clear what belongs to the deacon as the first assistants to the bishop: the diocesan curia, the deaneries, the diplomatic and ecumenical work, responsibility for personnel and finance, assisting in the governance of the church. The presbyterate is primarily an advisory group to the bishop, the local church’s ‘council of elders’. In short, deacons extend the bishop’s ministry (diakonia), as the presbyter extends the bishop’s priesthood, as cultic leader and presider at Eucharist.

Related to this is the age of ordination. Canon law currently suggests that celibate candidates can be ordained at 25 while married candidates at 35 (CIC §1031). Recent discussion on raising the minimum age of presbyteral ordination to 27 have been entirely too modest. This double standard should end – a single, common minimum age for both orders and both states of life. All candidates, whether married or celibate, for deacon or priest, should be at least 35 years of age.

As a seminary professor in Rome for the last few years, and from several years of working on lay ecclesial and diaconal formation, I have come to know a variety of candidates for ministry. In my experience, there is really no such thing as a “late” vocation, but I have witnessed many premature ordinations.

Many of these prematurely ordained presbyters end up leaving, and/or doing great damage to the local church, not having been “proven” in any real way. This older minimum age would allow a testing period as lay ecclesial ministers, and/or in a secular vocation. I do not think anyone should be ordained who has not put in at least five years of pastoral ministry in some context. It would also allow for discernment between vocation to each order in its own right and on its own merit, questions of marriage/celibacy aside.

Isolated communities? Really?

It is not clear if this is a response to a question, or part of a larger comment. But it raises the spectre of a kind of ‘clericalism within clericalism’. What possible reason is there for restricting the ministry of married clergy other than an elitism of the celibates?

I can think of two good ones:

1) that more stable positions (such as parish pastor) would be a better fit to married clergy than more itinerant positions (such as missionary or diplomat) which might better suit a celibate. Many of the former are more presbyteral, as well, while the later tend to be diaconal, which is worth considering.

2) In those areas where persecution is a real threat – and here I think danger of a martyr’s death – there is perhaps more freedom in a celibate clergy. But this is not the case in many parts of the world.

Perhaps in some communities or cultures a transition period will be necessary. I remember meeting a Filipino priest here in Rome who had never heard of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and had no idea there were married Catholic priests anywhere in the communion. He assumed all such were Anglican or Protestant. Or an American who was shocked at seeing her parish deacon, still vested, give his wife a chaste kiss after mass. These things have to be normalized, with charity and intentionality. That can take a little time, but not really that much.

There is no reason to suggest that married clergy would only be useful in “isolated communities” but it is not clear yet if that is entirely what the Holy Father said or meant. He could have meant that this is one obvious example of need – in many parts of the world the Eucharist is not a daily or weekly liturgy, but monthly or quarterly, for no other reason than a shortage of presbyters. In such ‘isolated communities’ more priests, married or celibate, would be a great service to the local church.

In most cases, there is no compelling reason to make such a distinction, between how and where a celibate or married priest might serve, and no burden or barrier should be placed without grave reason (cf. Acts 15:28).

In closing….

Finally, two other possible considerations, as long as we are rethinking the discipline of our ordained ministers.

First, the Latin Church does not share the Eastern tradition of restricting the episcopate to the monastic (and therefore celibate) clergy. While there is wisdom in this discipline, there is also wisdom in the Western tradition of married bishops, who are called from, and in service to, the diocesan churches. Perhaps that is for later consideration, but we must face these questions with a full awareness of our own tradition.

Second, since Nicaea, the Catholic/Orthodox Church has allowed ordination of married men but not marriage of ordained men. Yet there are apostolic churches that allowed marriage after ordination (e.g., The Assyrian Church of the East). This is also the almost universal practice of the other churches and ecclesial communities of the Western tradition.

At the time this disciplinary compromise was reached, the normal age for marriage was as early as 12-14. Ordination might come a decade later, and life expectancy for those who had lived long enough to get married was about 45. It was obvious that questions of marriage would be settled before questions of ministry.

Today, the reverse is true. In many contemporary cultures, one is expected to have completed education and established a career before entering into marriage. Following the logic that gave us the ancient discipline, it would almost make more sense today to forbid marriage before ordination! At least, we should reconsider this ancient discipline in light of the same sociological factors that inspired it.

All of these questions need to be considered for their ecumenical impact, too, and the wisdom of experience from both East and West should be part of our discernment in revisiting these ancient disciplinary questions.

If nothing else, we can be grateful for a bishop of Rome willing to entertain the question, no matter the result.

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Calls to revoke the “Doctrine of Discovery”

What is the “Doctrine of Discovery”?

First of all, it is not a Christian doctrine – this term is used in its legal sense. This is already confusing for some people. There is no Christian teaching by this name, and anyone familiar with Catholic Social Teaching of the last 125 years knows the value of universal human dignity, religious freedom, opposition to slavery, etc. It comes as no surprise then that most Catholics, most Christians, and even those in positions of authority in the Church, might have no idea what you were talking about if you raised the question.

In full disclosure, I do not recall ever hearing the term “Doctrine of Discovery” before this year. It probably came across my radar in the last couple years but did not catch my attention since I am neither a legal scholar nor an historian of European imperialism per se.

In primary school history classes I remember learning about the Age of Discovery; the European maltreatment, enslavement, and even genocide of indigenous peoples; the Papal Line of Demarcation that assigned points west to Spain and points East to Portugal; and so on. So, the idea is not entirely new, but it did come as some surprise when a Canadian friend asked if Pope Francis was planning to rescind the doctrine.

From the beginning it struck me as a bit fishy – certainly there is, nor was there ever, any Catholic doctrine known by such title. It is rather a reference to U.S. legal doctrine, an 1823 codification of international law and European mores that

…gave to the nation making the discovery, as its inevitable consequence, the sole right of acquiring the soil and of making settlements on it. It was an exclusive principle which shut out the right of competition among those who had agreed to it, not one which could annul the previous rights of those who had not agreed to it. It regulated the right given by discovery among the European discoverers, but could not affect the rights of those already in possession, either as aboriginal occupants or as occupants by virtue of a discovery made before the memory of man. It gave the exclusive right to purchase, but did not found that right on a denial of the right of the possessor to sell. (US Supreme Court, Worcester v. State of Georgia, pg 31, US 544)

What has that to do with the Catholic Church?

More broadly, it has come to be understood to mean, basically, “finders keepers” – and only if the finders were European. Though the term, and the concept, of a “doctrine of discovery” was coined by John Marshall during the legal preceding quoted above, protests today focus on the “Judeo-Christian” and papal origins of the body of decisions and laws that came to be associated with the idea. For example, the opening paragraph of the site www.doctrineofdiscovery.com:

Papal Bulls of the 15th century gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for their Christian monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, and exploited. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.

The papal bulls that contributed to this line of thinking – and its consequence of unjust and inhumane treatment of indigenous peoples by European explorers – are generally cited to be the following:

Nicholas V, Dum Diversas (1452) – Issued in an effort to gain Portuguese support in defense of Constantinople against the Ottoman Empire, it offered Portugal exclusive land and trading rights in newly-discovered parts of West Africa, granting him permission to seize lands of and enslave any local “Saracens, pagans, and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ”.

Nicholas V, Romanus Pontifex (1455) – Confirmed the Portuguese rule over the African coast, and forbade other nations from engaging in trade with the Saracens (Generally, Muslims. Specifically, it seems, the Seljuk [Turkish] empire, as distinct from “Moors”, Berbers of North Africa and the Fatimid Caliphate).

Alexander VI Borgia, Inter Caetera (1493) – Issued immediately after Christopher Columbus returned from the West Indies, established the Line of Demarcation between Spanish and Portuguese exploration 100 leagues (about 320 miles) west of the Azores. The purpose of the bull was to spread Christianity to the natives there, who were thought to be positively disposed based on reports from Columbus, and its intent seems to be to regulate missionary activity in the Americas, rather than land rights.

The Spanish-Portuguese Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), conducted without any participation from the papacy, moved the line of demarcation west a few hundred miles and was clearly more focused on land claims. This was eventually ratified by Julius II in 1506.

There is no question that Spanish, Portuguese, English, and other explorers invented justifications for the enslavement of indigenous peoples and the conquering of their lands (inasmuch as the land would be said to ‘belong’ to anyone), for example, by claiming that non-Christians could not own land, or could be enslaved, using as justification portions of the above bulls.

Over the next three centuries, European powers expand and develop these conjured excuses to lay claim to the New World and its resources. The American republic takes the ball and runs with it, yelling “Manifest Destiny!” Over these centuries, the loss of human life, of property, and the degradation of humanity is long, it is horrific, and it is utterly unchristian.

Modern interest in the “Doctrine of Discovery”

LexisNexis turns up under 1000 references to the ‘doctrine of discovery’ going back to 1949, and almost all of these are legal cases, law reviews, or legal news outlets. It is only recently that it seems to have become an item for attention in religious circles, and is of particular interest in Canada, who often takes the lead in addressing past or present injustices against First Nations.

Since 1984, there have been petitions to the popes to “rescind the Doctrine of Discovery”. As we will soon see, when there is a cause du jour, memories are short – but first the current context of the cause.

It seems recent interest has been sparked by the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, originating in a 1998 Statement of Reconciliation between ‘Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians’, which sought to “put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future.”

In December 2015, the Commission published its Final Report, and a set of Calls to Action. Articles §48 and §49 call on all religious denominations and faith groups to formally adopt and comply with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to formally “repudiate concepts such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.”

Pre-emptive responses came from a number of groups, such as the Society of Friends (2013), the World Council of Churches (2012), the Unitarian Universalist Association (2012), and the Anglican Church of Canada (2010).

In 2013, several Catholic organizations petitioned the pope to formally revoke the bulls mentioned above, which are claimed to provide the basis for the “doctrine of discovery”. This included Pax Christi International and representatives of more than 40 religious congregations. In May of 2016 there was called a Long March on Rome to ask Pope Francis to revoke the “Papal Bulls of Discovery” [sic].

It was already two months too late, however. The Catholic Church in Canada also complied with the Commission’s request, and issued a formal rejection of the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” and a number of related ideas condemned as “errors and falsehoods perpetuated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’”. (CCCB, The Doctrine of Discovery, Terra Nullius, and the Catholic Church: A Catholic Response. 19 March 2016)

But what about the calls on the pope to revoke the papal bulls of 1452 and 1493?

Well, it seems he already has.

Or rather, his predecessors have, several times, over the last 500 years. At least, the ideas have been repudiated, rejected, and expunged from Church teaching.

Already there were objections to and retractions of these claims within the Church at the time they were being made by “Christian” monarchies and their explorers, for example:

Francisco de Vitoria, On the Indians (1532) – who used ‘the law of the nations’ (international law) and Inter Caetera to argue that “the barbarians [sic] possessed true public and private dominion. The law of nations expressly states that goods which belong to no owner pass on to the occupier/discoverer, but since the goods in question here had an owner, they do not fall under this title ‘by right of discovery.’”

In fact, the first petitions to the pope to repeal the teachings of these papal bulls were not in 1984, but 450 years earlier. They received a powerful response.

Paul III, Sublimis Deus (1537) – Begins by declaring unequivocally that God so loved the whole human race that he gave all people the ability to know God and come to faith in God. It then responds directly to the claims – not present in previous papal teaching – that the native peoples were subhuman and that they could be enslaved or their property stolen. In fact, he refers to this idea as a lie perpetuated by Satan! In a clear and authoritative revocation of anything to the contrary previously promulgated:

We define and declare . . . that . . . the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession [dominio] of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.

That is about as clear as it gets, and those key words “we define and declare” put this at a rather higher level of authority than the so-called ‘bulls of discovery’.  The Church had already rejected the core ideas of the doctrine of discovery three hundred years before anyone would even call them that.

Moreover, there are multiple papal and conciliar documents that reject the ideas, in whole or part, of the so-called ‘doctrine’. These include, but are not limited to:

1537 – Paul III, Sublimus Dei
1591 – Gregory XIV, Bulla Cum Sicuti
1639 – Ruling of the Inquisition against slavery
1741 – Benedict XIV, Immensa Pastorum
1839 – Gregory XVI, In Supremo Apostolatus
1890 – Leo XIII, Catholicae Ecclesiae
1963 – John XXIII, Pacem in Terris
1965 – Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes; Dignitatis Humanae

Finally, just in case those were not clear enough, popes have explicitly asked forgiveness of indigenous peoples for the Church’s role in supporting imperialism during the age of discovery, most notably:

1992 – John Paul II in Santo Domingo – on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing there, confessed and begged forgiveness for the sins of the Church and the Spanish conquistadors.

2000 – John Paul II during the Great Jubilee, in Rome – during a mass of reconciliation, asked forgiveness for any Catholics in history who “had violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and for showing contempt for their cultures and religious traditions”.

2015 – Francis in Bolivia – “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against Native peoples during the so-called conquest of the Americas”

To be sure, it never hurts to repeat oneself. Just in case you were not heard the first time. Or the last time. God knows that if the people you agree with do not know they agree with you, the people who disagree might also be in the dark.

David Close & Pope Francis

From Long March to Rome

Theology Jokes 2015

I may not have uploaded last year’s!

PopeLaughing

Some Pharisees bring an adulteress before Jesus and ask Him what they should do with her, reminding him that the typical penalty is stoning. He calmly replies “let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” A single rock soars up our of the crowd and strikes the adulteress on the head,, knocking her senseless. Jesus’ initial look of bewilderment is quickly replaced with annoyed indignity as he shouts, “Mom!”

 

A priest had been hearing confessions all day and was really hoping to get out early so he could catch a playoff game with his home team. Ten minutes before game time, it had already been quiet for a while. Assuming there were no more people in line, the priest got up to go, happy that he would be able to catch the game after all.  Just as he did so, he heard to door of the confessional creak open.

“Please let it be a little old lady who will only take five minutes” he prayed.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” A low, gruff voice intoned. “It has been 24 years since my last confession.”

To which the priest replied, “Well, come back next year and we’ll celebrate your anniversary!”

Q: What is God’s favorite chord?
A: Gsus

 

A Franciscan and a Dominican are walking together and encounter a river. Since the Franciscan is barefoot, the Dominican asks him to carry him across the water so he won’t get his shoes wet. Content, the Franciscan agrees. Mid-stream, though, the Franciscan pauses. “Brother,” he asks “Do you have any money on you?” The Dominican answers, “Well, yes, I have a few coins in my pouch”. The Franciscan replies, “What? My vows prevent me from carrying any wealth!”, and immediately throws the Dominican off his shoulders, getting him very, very wet.

 

Pope John XXIII was asked once, “How many people work in the Vatican, your Holiness?”
“About half,” he answered.

 

What happened at the first baseball game in the bible?
In the Big Inning, Eve stole first, Adam stole second, and Cain struck Abel out.

 

God sees Adam without a human companion, so he descends and tells Adam, “I will make for you a great partner. She will praise you, follow you, serve you, never question you or get in your way. She will bring pleasure and help expand the human race, ending your loneliness. It will only cost you an arm and a leg.”

Adam considers the offer and then replies, “What can I get for a rib?”

 

Q: How do you know the pope has primacy?
A: Easy, he’s a primate.

 

Q: Why do they wear goggles at the convent?
A: Because they are nunderwater.

 

A Dominican and a Jesuit die in a car accident. When they get to heaven, the gates swing open and a red carpet rolls out. Mary and Peter come out and embrace the Jesuit. Trumpets are playing and more saints arrive, including Ignatius and Francis Xavier. They usher the Jesuit in with singing. The gates swing shut behind him.

The Dominican is left confused outside. After a few minutes, an unfamiliar Dominican sticks his head out of a side door, saying, “Hey, you. Get in here.”

The Dominican asks, “How come I didn’t get the red carpet treatment?”

The other replies, “We get Dominicans in here every day, but it has been a couple centuries since the last Jesuit came right in!”

 

“Your Holiness, we have good news and we have bad news. The good news is that Jesus has returned, and he’s on the phone right now wanting to talk to you!”

“That’s wonderful!” Says the pope, “So what could be the bad news?”

“He’s calling from Salt Lake City…”

 

The Dominican, Jesuit, and Franciscan superiors general decide that it is time once and for all to put aside their differences and squabbling, and just ask God who His favorite Order is. So they dedicate an octave of prayer and fasting in silent retreat together, at the end of which spend a night in vigil at the altar in the chapel, beseeching God for an answer.

At the end of the vigil, in the still quiet hours of the morning, a sudden clap of thunder and a blinding light fill the chapel. When they can see again, the three notice a beautiful golden scroll atop the altar.

“My dear little Children, I love each of you equally and have endowed you each with different charisms for a reason. There are many gifts but only one Spirit – to be united in me does not require uniformity….” It goes on for some time extolling the virtues of each, and their particular place in the infinite design of God.

After moving each to tears, the scroll concludes, “Remember, my children, I have no favorites among you. Please put aside these questions, and go forth in love and service to each other.

Your Loving Father,
God, S.J.

 

A Franciscan and a Jesuit were standing on a street corner when a man approaches them with a question. “Fathers, is it permissible to pray a novena to get a Maserati?”

“What is a Maserati?” Asks the Franciscan.

“What’s a novena?” Asks the Jesuit.

 

“The pope is taking suggestions on how to streamline the curia, improve efficiency, and weed out corruption. Any ideas?”
“Move the Vatican out of Italy?”

Summer 2013

In the last few months, while the world has witnessed the first resignation of the bishop of Rome in six centuries, the election of one with the hopes of the world on his shoulders, renewed violence in Egypt and ongoing horror in Syria, the change in my own life is both far more modest, and more pleasant to share. Of the others, no doubt more will be said.

In May I was informed that my hours at the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue will be reduced. The Russell Berrie Foundation and the Angelicum– co-operators in the direction of the Center – have been very generous in keeping me on as the Graduate Assistant (and de facto only regular staff person) for the last two years since my fellowship was concluded.  I will continue for the coming academic year in the same capacity, and await anxiously news of the next stage of the Center and the Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies at the Angelicum, and whether I may continue to be a part of it.

The reduction in hours, including two summer months without any work, meant three things:

  • I would have to find additional work to pay for my studies and living expenses (no doctoral stipends in Rome!);
  • I would have to leave the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, my home in Rome the last four years;
  • I would have an entirely free summer – and even fewer resources with which to enjoy it.

As with my original move to Rome, however, providence provides.

Within a week, three work opportunities presented themselves, which all eventually came to fruition. One even had the advantage of ‘killing two birds with one stone’ and taking care of the accommodation question as well.

  1. In mid-August, I take on the role of Resident Manager (Domers, read ‘rector’) for The Catholic University of America’s flagship study abroad program, happily joining the staff of my first graduate school, in the city of my latest.
    It comes with a spacious corner apartment at the Prati campus – furnished in the colors of Halloween. (I kid you not: Pumpkin-colored couch, dining room chairs, tableware, salad bowl, etc… St. Mary Magdalen folks, Fr. Marquart would have absolutely loved it…).

    The 70's would be proud

    The 70’s would be proud

  2. In mid-September, I begin teaching my first university level course as an Adjunct Assistant Professor for Assumption College (Worcester, MA) for their new Rome program. My course is part of the core curriculum, titled “Contemporary Catholicism”. And I get to teach it, in Rome, in the semester that Popes John XXXIII and John Paul II are being canonized. How about them apples, fellow theologians? Preparing the syllabus took the first part of my summer vacation, but has been a great deal of fun.
  1. In February, I start teaching my first specialized course in Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue at the university level, this time at one of the Roman colleges (seminaries), the Pontifical Beda College, where second-career Anglophone seminarians usually find themselves. The course is offered during the fourth year, so all of my students will be transitional deacons – which should make for some fun conversations given my research area!

As for the free summer? Staying in Rome is an expensive proposition… but so is returning home to Seattle.

Suddenly, a little casual research into the interplay of Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam in central and southeastern Europe seemed appealing. It is amazing how far you can get there on a limited budget, a ecumenical network, and whatever else providence can provide…

Building on Nostra Aetate: 50 Years of Christian-Jewish Dialogue, with Cardinal Koch

ImageThe John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue hosted its fifth annual John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding, featuring Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the pontifical council for promoting Christian Unity and the commission for religious relations with the Jews. His topic was “Building on Nostra Aetate: 50 Years of Christian-Jewish Dialogue.” (full text)

The lecture was the highlight of a busy week for the Center, with a series of meetings and receptions around the Russell Berrie Fellowship and the relationship of the Angelicum University and the Russell Berrie Foundation, which is made manifest in the John Paul II Center. About 150 people attended, including the president emeritus of Ireland, Mary MacAleese, ambassadors to the Holy See from several countries, the U.S. Special Envoy for combating anti-Semitism, the new rector of the Angelicum Fr. Miroslav Adam, and Cardinal Walter Kasper.

His Eminence addressed the topic in seven sections. Nostra Aetate itself, he summed up with “YES to our Jewish roots, NO to anti-Semitism”, and as the ‘magna charta’ of Jewish-Catholic dialogue. That Nostra Aetate took up this question and set an unambiguous position that “in the Catholic Church, [Jews] have a reliable ally in the struggle against anti-Semitism.” It affirms, as Pope John Paul II said during his 1986 visit to the Roman synagogue, that

“The Jewish religion is not something ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism we therefore have a relationship we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and in a certain way it could be said, our elder brothers.”

With regard to the reception history of Vatican II, he says that “one can without doubt dare to assert that Nostra Aetate is to be reckoned among those Council texts which have in a convincing manner been able to effect a fundamental reorientation of the Catholic Church following the Council”. This statement, incidentally, points to a hermeneutic that clearly holds that the purpose of the Council was a reorientation of the Catholic Church.

He outlined the historical and theological reasons for including the dialogue with Jews in the Council for Christian Unity rather than the one for Interreligious Dialogue:

“The separation of Church and Synagogue can be considered the first schism in the history of the church, or as the Catholic theologian Erich Przywara has called it, the ‘primal rift’, from which he derives later progressive loss of wholeness in the Catholica.”

This was followed by a survey of post-conciliar documents building on Nostra Aetate, the most recent from the Commission being the 1998 We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, and then a similar treatment of global international dialogues and their development, the result of which is that,

“Confrontation has turned into successful collaboration, the previous conflict potential has become positive conflict management, and the coexistence of the past has been replaced by a load-bearing friendship.”

While he acknowledges that the real papal impetus for dialogue began with Paul VI, he points out that this engagement by the leadership of the universal Catholic Church was only really apprehended by the wider public in the form of Pope John Paul II, who “had a refined sense for grand gestures and strong images” as compared to, for example, Pope Benedict XVI, who “relies above all on the power of the word and humble encounter.”

Of Ratzinger, Koch highlighted the theologian Ratzinger’s understanding of the bible as one single book, with the old testament inseparable from the new. He likewise highlights the German Shepherd’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, in which he clearly reiterates Church teaching that  the biblical report of the trial of Jesus cannot serve as the basis for any assertion of collective Jewish guilt: “Jesus’ blood raises no call for retaliation, but calls all to reconciliation. It has become as the letter ot the Hebrews shows, itself the permanent Day of Atonement of God.”

He concludes by engaging open theological questions and prospects. The question of the role of Christ in the salvation of the Jews, given the enduring covenant of God: What is the mission to the Jews, if there is one? How do we reconcile these two truths without offering a parallel path of extra-Christological salvation?

Cardinal Koch sees anti-semitism, anti-Judaism, and Marcionism as still-present challenges which the Catholic Church must and does denounce as a betrayal of Christian faith. An expression of this question is found in the recently revised Good Friday prayers for use in the ‘extraordinary form’ of the Latin liturgy, which itself raises questions about “lex orandi, lex credendi”, when we have seen four versions in forty years. Liturgically, he also critiqued both preachers who omit the old testament readings from their reflections, and presiders who “change the mass” omit the original Hebrew meanings of the prayers.

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Cardinal Koch with Berrie Fellows

What do Catholic traditionalists and extreme feminists have in common?

Quote of the Day:

In every age there are people for whom history does not exist…Curiously, the Catholic restorationist who identifies the Gospel with certain vestments from the 1880s, with one biblical translation, or with a vessel from the fifth century or the fifteenth century has somewhat the same mind-set as the extreme feminist who rejects the past three millennia of cultures because their attitudes toward women in public life were limited. Both fixate on one time -whether that is in the past or today – and reject variety and progress. … The deepest enemy of every fundamentalism is history.

Thomas P. O’Meara, OP, Theology of Ministry, (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 86

[Between the number of friends i count among both feminists and traditionalist Catholics, i trust everyone is equally piqued.]

Quote of the Day – ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ in the Church

We hear much about the imaginary case of Conservatives v. Liberals in the church… The labels are misconceived, misplaced, and misleading.

Today’s “conservatives” are mostly clinging to convictions and habits developed mainly after the Council of Trent; rare among them are those familiar with the church of the first millennium, and even rarer those who wish to return to its practices.

They who in common parlance are called “liberals” hardly form a cohesive group. Many of them are simply searching honestly for the correct practical implementation of the conciliar vision. Others are “free thinkers” of sorts; they want to propagate the Council’s vision but do not have enough knowledge to do so within the balancing parameters of the Tradition; they easily fall into unacceptable excesses.

With some simplification it is fair to say, though, that the contemporary fight between the conservatives and the (faithful) liberals is between the “Tridentines” and the followers of Vatican II.

Ladislas Orsy, Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates. Liturgical Press: 2009. p.87, footnote 22

(Responses welcome, as always! What do you think?)

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