Friday, June 02, 2006

Dr. Johnson Feels a Chill

In a recent Commonweal article entitled After the Big Chill: Intellectual Freedom & Catholic Theologians, you get the distinct feeling that someone is itching for a Vatican smackdown. Maybe it's time to change the editorial leadership of Commonweal as was done with America Magazine?

Make no mistake, Commonweal and those who subvert the Faith through its propaganda venue are the enemy, like the author of this essay, Luke Timothy Johnson, ex-priest and Benedictine monk. But sometimes it is diverting to read their angst filled entreaties. Think of it as a House of Horrors themepark ride which is a pretty good preview of what would become of the Church if they were in charge.

I've snipped a few interesting sections:

The effort by the Vatican and its allies to control theological debate reflects little trust in the capacity of theologians to criticize one another-something they have never been reluctant to do-and even less trust in the best-educated laity in Catholic history that is hungry for intellectual engagement with the faith that is not condensed and condescending. Defenders of the CDF’s actions like to say that theology is an ecclesial, not merely an academic, vocation. I agree. It is precisely because theology is done by and for the church that it requires the highest gifts of theological intelligence and imagination. Some of the best theological talent available to the church today is found outside the clergy. If these lay theologians teach in Catholic colleges or seminaries, they are placed under strict control; if they teach in Protestant or secular schools, they are largely ignored. Many in the hierarchy seem indifferent to the academic theological community, while others seem hostile to the climate of intellectual freedom that theology needs.

The problem Dr. Johnson is not that theologians are criticizing one another but that they are criticizing the hierarchy and especially the Holy Father. Nice try though. And when I read "the best-educated laity in Catholic history" I would have choked on my gum if I chewed gum. Thankfully as ladies do not chew gum, I was safe. And take this statement- some of the best theological talent available to the church (sic) today is found outside the clergy"- oh Mr. Johnson how self aggrandizing of you. I was happy to read that the theologians teaching in protestant colleges are ignored- a nice system- heretics preaching to heretics, somehow fitting.

Like Aquinas, theologians today ask hard questions in the language of our own age concerning the truth of the gospel, not in order to erode or compromise that truth, but to allow its splendor to become more powerfully manifest. Theologians of this age, as of every age, are obliged to inquire into the ways in which the structures and processes of the church itself best serve the truth of the gospel. In every age, Christians must struggle with deep intrinsic tensions that derive from the church’s peculiar and paradoxical character. On one side, there is what we might call the resurrection principle: the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from the exalted Lord Jesus and pushes believers toward transformation and growth, toward the exercise of spiritual gifts and of responsible freedom in response to the urgings of the Spirit. “The Lord is the Spirit,” declares Paul, “and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). In Jesus, all previous human understanding of the law and prophets is transcended. And because this spirit of freedom comes from the Lord and not from humans, its exercise must ultimately be responsible to the Lord rather than to humans.

Here we have the crux of what the liberals are longing for- the ability to act freely, engaging in vice, indulging the passions, and as if that were not enough they want the seal of approval from the Church for their misdeeds. What do they mean when they talk about acting "freely in the spirit"? They aren't talking about vague, abstract theological enquiry but about impure and immoral behavior. Behavior always and everywhere condemned by the Church beginning with the New Testament.

It follows that revelation is open and ongoing in the world, specifically in human experience. If God acts in human stories, both within and outside the structures of the church, then the church’s relationship to revelation is not simply that of protector and purveyor. The church must also find a way to become an effective interpreter of God’s self-disclosure in the world. This is not a plea for the privileging of every private human experience. Not every human story reveals God. It is a plea to consider the theological implications of the millions of stories of believers (such as women and homosexuals) whom the church has persisted in regarding as “objects” to be “explained” rather than subjects, that is, persons through whose struggles the Holy Spirit speaks a word to the church.

Ahhhh, now I see. If only we had more homosexual priests and women priests- we could have God disclosing himself to the world through stories. Profound. And what are the theological implications of this as Dr. Johnson suggests- a religion that replaces divinity for humanity. We will worship our "stories" instead of the almighty God. So we replace the heroic lives of the Saints with modern day soap operas.

The Church according to the sad and troubled Dr. Johnson:

The theological impoverishment of the church today is real and if something is not changed, it will undoubtedly get worse. Perhaps it’s too much to hope that the present model of the church as household can open itself to a healthy conversation with the image of the church as the living body of the resurrected Christ, particularly if the present heads of household think that theirs is the only model that is true to revelation. But they are wrong. The alternative (and, I insist, complementary) image of the church is, if anything, truer to the good news as found in Scripture. Those of us who long for a church in which it is possible to be both smart and holy, both loyal and critical, live in hope that something of this vision may gain recognition. Still, suppose the big chill continues, through the papacy of Benedict XVI (despite our fondest hopes) and the papacies to follow. What can theologians do? They can continue to speak prophecy and to practice discernment among God’s people. What is at stake is the integrity of the church’s witness to the living God.

Here Dr. Johnson comes right out and says "the present heads of household" i.e. the hierarchy and Holy Father are wrong. 'Course it's at the end of a long essay. I suppose he saves it for the end so as not to ruin the plot for us. Consider carefully what he states- those who are holy are unintelligent and those who are loyal are dupes. Dr. Johnson ends with a call to arms (though merely theoretically speaking as liberals do not believe in violence of any kind, merely disloyalty). And have you ever noticed that the people who are constantly insisting on integrity seem to have no idea what that word really means?


Thomas Shawn said...

Those of us who long for a church in which it is possible to be both smart and holy

These so-called intellectuals are bored and they are not ordained either. Notice the false dichotomy they seem to argue smartness vs. holiness.

The bottom line is that they are very few job openings for theologians in Holy Mother Church right now. She's never had much a need for them. So, in my opinion, these jokers need something else to do.

If they are in the lay state, I'd recommend parenthood and plenty of it. If they are ordained priests then I recommend a parish of 8,000. It is time to get to work in the vinyard.

I spent three years in the US Army as a professional killer (my apologies, but that's what they trained me to do). If there be a call to arms. I'm pretty sure where I need to train my weapon in the defense of the Church. How does Dr. Johnson like my creativity and imagination?

Madeline said...

Thomas Shawn;

No apologies, please. If it weren't for people like you, there couldn't be people like Dr. Johnson.