The ultra-liberal NCFishwrap‘s solitary boast, my friend the nearly-ubiquitous, fair-minded John L. Allen, Jr., has an interesting piece today about a theologian working for the US Bishops, recently in the news because of the USCCB doctrine committees remarks on Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s odd ideas.
Here is a taste from Mr. Allen, with my emphases and comments.
Bishops’ staffer on doctrine rips theologians as ‘curse’
Aug. 16, 2011
By John L Allen Jr
Theologians can be a “curse and affliction upon the church,” according to the U.S. bishops’ top official on doctrine, if their work is not grounded in church teaching and an active faith life, and ends up promoting “doctrinal and moral error.” [I am sure most of your are doing air fist-pumps right about now. I can, however, pick up the faint sound from the far left… it sounds rather like back molars breaking from stress.]
Capuchin Fr. Thomas Weinandy, executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine at the U.S. bishops’ conference, has warned of a “crisis” in Catholic theology, caused by theologians who “often appear to possess little reverence for the mysteries of the faith as traditionally understood and presently professed within the church.”
Those remarks came in a May 26 address to the Academy of Catholic Theology in Washington, D.C., and were published in July in Origins, the official documentary service of the U.S. bishops. [It is hard to imagine such a think being published in Origins 10 years ago.]
[… Mr. Allen reviews the situation of Sr. Johnson, other points, and then goes on…]
“Theology may be the only academic pursuit where one can seemingly be considered a theologian without actually having to know the subject matter,” he said. “It would appear at times that a theologian need not actually know God.” [“theos + logein”]
Weinandy, 65, holds a doctorate in historical theology from King’s College in London and is a former professor of theology at Oxford University. He’s served as the U.S. bishops’ chief of staff for doctrinal issues since 2005.
In his May 26 address, Weinandy strongly defended the idea that a Catholic theologian should have a mandate, or license, from the local bishop. Such a mandate does not curb their freedom, he argued, but gives their vocation “a dignity and gravity that it truly deserves.”
Weinandy devoted a section to “the present crisis within Catholic theology.”
“Much of what passes for contemporary Catholic theology,” he said, “often is not founded upon an assent of faith in the divine deposit of revelation as proclaimed in the sacred scriptures and developed within the living doctrinal and moral tradition of the church.”
Instead, he said, much Catholic theology has become “an attempt by reason to pass judgment on the content of the faith as if it were of human origin,” with theologians as “judges who stand above the faith and arbitrate what is to be believed and what is not.” [Modernism, right?]
That approach, Weinandy said, “sometimes undermines genuine faith within the body of Christ” and ends up leading people “into the darkness of error.” It also, he said, “inevitably produces fragmentation within the church.”
Weinandy acknowledged that over the centuries, the Catholic church has recognized different “schools” of theology.
Yet today, he said, “the church is experiencing not a debate among legitimate schools of theological thought, but a radical divide over the central tenets of the Catholic faith and the church’s fundamental moral tradition.”
“This is not simply an expression of a plurality of Catholic theologies,” Weinandy said, “but the very disintegration of the Catholic faith itself.”
Read the full article over there.
Again, we can apply the old quidquid recipitur adage. But I am glad that Mr. Allen covered this for Fishwrap, even as they have a subscription drive going.
That said, allow me to test drive an analogy.
In London and elsewhere in England there were riots, and there will be more upheaval there and in Europe, because those values which restrain people, which make them think about others, which instil in young people a sense of right and wrong, have been undermined. They are imbued with relativism and its fruits, and they rampage around, doing what they feel like doing, without reference to the common good. This has come about because parents and schools and the media have in a double effort of reckless irresponsibility, not exercised governance and discipline over their children. In London and elsewhere they are now reaping the results. Neighborhoods are terrorized, businesses harmed, and the fabric of society weakened, thus perpetuating the recourse to violence.
In the Church, there has been relatively little exercise of discipline of the Faith in schools and pulpits as far as teaching is concerned, and little oversight in some places for liturgical worship. The lack of clear Catholic teaching or the mixed messages that come from heterodoxy in one parish and fidelity in another, even between priests in the same parish, has produced the impression that even the clearest dogmas of the Faith are up to personal choice and interpretation. This has produced gangs which can roam nearly unchecked up and and down the streets of the Church, rampaging and intimidating and spiritually bullying the faithful, leaving them spiritually impoverished and confused. The theological hoods, yobs, are now almost entirely beyond hope. They do violence to the Church’s doctrine and worship, and thereby diminish the fabric of the Church wherever they are.
I agree with Fr. Z completely. It was unthinkable even 10 years ago that such blunt words would be expressed at the USCCB and then published in Origins. If traditional teachers of theology are given scathing evaluations, the left calls it “accountability” but when heterodox theologians are getting their ox gored, it is called “repression.”
It is a painful subject. I like the following excerpt: “Theology may be the only academic pursuit where one can seemingly be considered a theologian without actually having to know the subject matter,” he said. “It would appear at times that a theologian need not actually know God.”
The mandatum is not a “license” from the bishop. It is an affirmation, by both bishop and theologian, that the (lay) theologian teaches and will teach theology as an outgrowth of his baptismal priesthood and thus in communion with his bishop and thus with the Church. The whole idea of instituting the mandatum arose from the rise of non-priests teaching theology, something relatively uncommon, I am told, in the “old days” (I was not circulating among Catholics in the “old days”–being one of those wretched converts–but I do like to learn about things I did not experience, being by vocation a historian; so I content myself with the [mis]apprehension that I know historically a bit about what things were like in the “old days”). Priests, including those teaching theological subjects, are accountable to their bishop in a priestly manner by virtue of being priests. Lay people are not accountable in that manner. In the “old days,” most of the teaching of theology was done by priests accountable in that direct way to their bishop. With the rise of lay theological teachers, a new group of (they thought) unaccountable teachers came on the scene.
In fact, of course, they were accountable to the bishop for doing their professional work in a Catholic way just as a Catholic dentist or a Catholic meat cutter or a Catholic sheep shearer is accountable to live out his baptismal office: to shear his sheep, cut his meat, teach his theological subjects, fix people’s teeth in a Catholic and evangelical way, as a witness to Christ.
This was always true but because lay theologians were not priests and thought somehow that they were not accountable to bishops (after all, they reasoned, most bishops don’t have PhDs and we do and most bishops aren’t half as bright as we smart-__ lay theologians are, so priests being accountable to bishops is bad news for “real, ground-breaking theology” and, praise God, we aren’t accountable, except when out of the goodness of our little hearts we toss a nod the bishop’s way, for which he should grovel in gratitude).
So, these lay theologians thought they weren’t accountable and the mandatum was intended to remind them of the inconvenient truth that they accountable by virtue of their baptism even if they aren’t in Holy Orders.
Now religious, of course, seem to be, on the surface, different. They are, of course, accountable to their superiors, but what do most religious superiors know about theology, real theology? Less then the dim-witted bishops, thought the bright as tacks religious theologians to themselves.
But of course, ecclesially, members of religious orders are (those who are not also priests) fundamentally baptized faithful who have taken a religious vow just as married lay people are fundamentally baptized faithful who have taken a vow of matrimony and unmarried lay people are fundamentally baptized faithful who have not taken any particular vow.
Reminding a theologian, of whatever non-clerical state in life, of the fact that she answers, at a minimum out of her baptism, to the bishop, really never should have needed to be done.
But it did need to be done.
Still, the mandatum is not a license or Good Housekeeping Seal of Episcopal Approval. It can and has been and will be given to theologians with whom the bishop may disagree in many ways. The issue is whether the theologian is living up to his mandatum pledge to teach out of communion with the Bishop/Church. And if he is not, the mandatum merely gives the bishop grounds to call the theologian to account, to return to teaching out of communion with the Church.
Calling a theologian to account for false teaching is actually distinct from and at a different level from the mandatum, though not totally unrelated.
I don’t know why I click on links to the Fishwrap. I spend too much time sifting through their posts and then blood shoots out of my eyes like lazers from the Death Star.
Some guy named Kennedy apparently has a problem with the Holy Father offering indulgences in association with World Youth Day. The string of comments that follow from all the little Thomas Aquinas-caliber theologians over there are something else.
Fr. Weinandy did his doctorate under the supervision of the late Professor Canon Eric L. Mascall (1905-1993), an Anglo-Catholic English clergyman of the highest calibre of orthodoxy, who was on the verge of becoming Catholic at the time of his death — on whom, see:
The theologian is at the service of the Church.
Not vice versa.
No theologian I, but does it not strike one that so many of our clerical theologians forget entirely, it seems, their vows of obedience and rush to flaunt their dissent at every opportunity stuck in front of them by the media which takes them up as the plat du jour and will of course abandon them as soon the next siren of “opinion” displays its dubious charms? Ok, they’ve had it good for upwards of 40 years now but the tide is a-changing and they must notice, in what’s left of their own backyard, that new recruits are not exactly plentiful and there are all those pensions to be paid. And they can only be paid by those who have managed to remain obedient. A dreadful irony. Those of us who have to do the paying can just about raise a hollow laugh.
But we’ll still pay. It’s called obedience or something.
I have a friend who took a theology class in a certain Catholic theology prorgam in Illinois. The seminar’s professor would not allow the students to use any source for their seminar papers older than 10 years. When I heard that, I tried to imagine what my dissertation director’s (classical philology) reaction would have been if I asked whether I needed to use sources older than 10 years.
I actually witnessed Hans Kung, it shirt and tie, advocate for abortion at the University of Michigan. He got a standing ovation!
He was actually a hero of mine before that (having read “On Being a Christian”, and mesmerized by its pseudo-intellectualism), but that event brought me to my senses–even then I was against abortion. Even then there seemed something wrong with sucking a babies brains out of her skull.
Since then, I’ve gone from atheist (especially into the philosophy of
Existentialism: “I can’t go on, I will go on”) to liberal Catholic, to Traditional Catholic. I guess our paths wend down different paths!
So, a “theologian” (the title was stripped from him, thank God, in 1979) such as Kung, can truly be a “curse upon the Church”, and many others, like Conger and Rahner.
The the Church didn’t change after Vatican II, the self-perceived praxis of her did. All of a sudden 70’s liberals though all was new! Polyester vestments! Electric guitars! Kumbayas! Hand-holding! Vatican II called for none of that!
Actually, I am happy that Bugnini created a new mass; thereby he (and his modernist friends) left the Latin Mass alone (while advancing their decades-long agendas of changing the faith). If, as Vatican II called for, they had created a sort-of hybrid mass, we might have a quasi modernist-tradition mass. Instead, as in amber, the TLM was preserved by the likes of the FSSPX. Unlike our Pope, of long memory, I don’t believe a “mutual enrichment” is possible bi-laterally. Unilaterally, yes. But how can beer enrich an aged wine? How can oil enrich water? The NO could never, ever “enrich” the TLM!
Other Councils have been ignored; Vatican II, being purely pastoral, and now outdated, should just be ignored. It has spent its course; we should re-consentrate, at this point, on more important Councils, like Vatican I and Trent!
So, a “theologian” (the title was stripped from him, thank God, in 1979) such as Kung, can truly be a “curse upon the Church”, and many others, like Conger and Rahner.
Any problems with Congar are small compared to those found in the work of Karl Rahner. If you want a companion for Rahner, Schillebeeckx is probably the man you want.
Personally, I think that St. Evagrius’s definition of a theologian is the best:
“If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you truly pray you are a theologian.”
St. Thomas did all his theology on his knees.
Thank you Fr. Z for the post.
Theologians (at least most of those I have known) are guilty of
verisimilitude – appearing as a friend but being a traitor – being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
They could also be described as gnostics in that they believe they have laid hold of some secret knowledge that is not available nor comprehendible to the average person, but which makes them all-knowing, above reproach, and without error – in other words, stuck-up, snobby, elitists.
Intellectual pride seems to be the curse of the theologian, the best course seems to be to submit to Holy Mother Church in all things; if your work is condemned (even if it is not heretical) then retract it and acknowledge Holy Mother Church to be the judge. If God is truly guiding your work then at some point the condemnation will be lifted and your work will be used for the Glory of God.
“Card. Yves Congar takes a position of clear approval of the Modernist concept of Revelation defended by both Alfred Loisy and George Tyrrell. Such notion supposes that Revelation unfolds inside each man, and therefore in the events of society and history.
Congar also identifies this thesis with the notion of Revelation by de Lubac, Rahner and Schillebeeckx, who are, along with Congar, the main theologians of Vatican II. It a very interesting testimony.”
That is heresy…
Wow, what an article!!!
Dennis Martin: There are many more problems with theology today than lay professors. The entire discipline has been torn away from its roots and from God, whether the theologian is lay or clergy. It is considered a mark of highest intellectual achievment in some circles to “remake” everything and come up with a whole new “paradigm,” and that is true across the board in academia. Theology just suffers along with the rest of it — but with much graver consequences. Because let’s face it, very few people’s souls are in danger because of nonsense by professors of literary criticism.
The kinds of theology that used to be cutting-edge, exciting, and revolutionary are, according to this mindset, things that need to be surpassed by yet more cutting-edge, exciting, and revolutionary theology. FOREVER. The theologians people are discussing here are passe — they are too dull and old-fashioned for these folks! But many of them are actually, if you understand them correctly, far more traditional than the theologies that have evolved from them. Reading a book by Scheelebexc (?sp), I was struck by how much he talked about Christ (and not in an academic sense) and how interesting some of his ideas were — but at the same time, how VERY easy it was to take those ideas in wrong directions. Read Pope Benedict’s book Milestones (his memoirs), he talks a lot about when these ideas were fresh and new and how they were regarded. No one then really thought they would turn out the way they did.
Only one thing to be done about theological yobs…
is the correct address.
Karl Rahner, Congar, Hans Kung, Schillebeeckx et al were the friends of then Card. Ratzinger.
Now the latter has become the Pope.
Can anyone imagine that Benedict XVI will dare to condemn them? Instead he stays silent as if he agreed with and condoned their ideas.
Through Sr Lucy’s mouth, our Lady spoke of a diabolical disorientation: Yes, these men are devils and their aim is to destroy the Church.
On his deathbed, the Cardinal Achille Lienart (who played a major role in the last council and himself was a FM) said: “Humanly speaking, the Chuch is lost”.
I like the analogy!
As an Eastern Christian who teaches theology, I always try to live out the rather adamantine boast of the one sometimes called the last of the Greek Fathers, St. John Damascene: “I will say nothing new!” The job of the theologian is to help others know the eternal and unchanging God or, failing that, at the very least to clear away some or all of the obstacles that prevent people from seeing Him. This mania for “cutting-edge” and “creativity” is just a front for narcissism and heresy by people for whom the last enemy is boredom; the requisite transposition of the self (“It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me”) never takes place.
The Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas some time ago came up with an apt analogy: if I, as a medical student, go to my supervisors and say “You know, I don’t feel like taking anatomy and pathology. I want to explore my spiritual feelings and discover myself” the supervisors say “To hell with that. Take anatomy and pathology or you’re out of medical school.” Contrast this, Hauerwas says, with the seminarian or theology student, especially at the graduate level, who says “I don’t feel like taking Trinitarian and Christological dogma classes. I want to explore my own personal spirituality.” Too many times the response is “Yes, that’s right. Go and explore yourself! You’ll be a much better priest/theologian for it.”
Finally, I would note that all of this has been allowed to happen by bishops with no spine for discipline. Apart from a few high-profile cases (Curran, Küng, Fox, Johnson) the vast majority of schools calling themselves Catholic have never been called to account for the “theology” that gets taught in their name. I know one ostensibly RC institution in particular where what was was being taught was not even Christian, never mind Catholic, but four bishops in succession, confronted with an overwhelming dossier of evidence, did damn all to change things. Bishops have bought into a corrupted notion of “academic freedom” (which Veritatis Splendor and Donum Veritas, as well as Ex Corde Ecclesia, so eloquently refute, but who reads them?) and are too scared of headlines (“Bishop Sacks 10 Local Theologians, Tells Rest to Shape Up or Face Inquisition”) to cut out this cancer. When heresy is taught, when theologians do indeed become a curse and infliction on the Church, bishops have only themselves to blame.
albizzi: I don’t believe that we can equate silence regarding bad theology as an affirmation of the same. I happen to know that our Holy Father has pointed out some of Rahner’s errors. And humanly speaking it is not possible for the Church to be lost. In my opinion, then Card Ratzinger maintained any degree of friendship with those whom you listed for the sake of community. To say no to a brother is to isolate oneself from the society of God and men. It is hell. No said to a brother “imprisons the whole man within the deadly lonely damnation of self-centered absurdity” (Karl Rahner Theological Investigations, vol. 6, p. 242). Even though Rahner got many things wrong, he has some great one-liners. . .
Can anyone imagine that Benedict XVI will dare to condemn them?
Why should he? Their own words tell what they are. As Benedict’s own words tell what he is. Namely, probably the finest theologian of any pope in recent centuries.
Of course, those of us who have no heretics and apostates among our friends (at least, those of our youth) need not worry about such subtle distinctions.
In criticizing (or condemning by association) our Holy Father for his association with theologians aligned with the progressive movement that has nearly destroyed the Church, IMHO, we are assigning to him our own failings to come to grips with things we come to learn are just plain wrong and ‘heal ourselves’. That is SO limiting. ALL of us have associates, friends, colleagues who, in retrospect, we shudder to think we were associated with.
I’m thinking being the astute, holy, and highly intelligent priest that Benedict is, he is probably as horrified at some or most of what devolved out of the Rhine cabal post-VII as the rest of us have been and still are today. In his way, he’s righting the barque of Peter. That’s my opinion.
While we may want to see anathemas and theological thunderbolts hurled from the loggia at dissidents, heretics, or just plain idiotic theologians, none of us here have the charism (or office) of the Papacy; while we’re free to pass judgment, such judgment, if not aligned with the mind of the Church, is from somewhere else other than the banks of the Tiber. It takes a very humble heart to diminish personal pride and admit error and try and correct it. I think we’re seeing an object example with Benedict of the wisdom of that path.
[I am sure most of your are doing air fist-pumps right about now. I can, however, pick up the faint sound from the far left… it sounds rather like back molars breaking from stress.]
Fist-air-pumps…EXACTLY what I was doing!! LOL
“an attempt by reason to pass judgment on the content of the faith as if it were of human origin,” with theologians as “judges who stand above the faith and arbitrate what is to be believed and what is not.”
Sounds like the definition of Protestant to me…
Bryan Boyle: I like your line, ” It takes a very humble heart to diminish personal pride and admit error and try and correct it.” The other major problem is that the profs are encouraged to write when they really need to read more good books. They are encouraged to come up with “groundbreaking” ideas, which is why many of them will never receive the censor’s nihil obstat.
Totally agree with Bryan Boyle. Each of us has different responsibilities. And there is not total silence but nor can it be said that dissident theologians some who ridicule the Holy Father are bosom buddies choosing to live in community with him.
One thing I say is that just because something is ‘new’ does not necessaraly mean that it is bad, there once was a time when a certain young Dominican Friar named Thomas set out to christianize the philosophy of a man he would later refer to as ‘The Philosopher’.
Many Catholics (for good reasons) shy away from Phenomenology, I believe however that it can be useful in understanding our subjective view of the OBJECTIVE reality, indeed this the proposal I made at the end of my final undergrad paper (although that was to do with social marketing not theology), I believe this was the aim of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross in her published works.
However I will stand corrected if anything I have said is wrong.
Reminds me of the theology professor, who obtained his “education” from Berkley, I think, who gave a lecture on the “true origins of the manna in the desert.” He claimed it was not really a miracle, but ant dung from a species of carpenter ants that lived in the Judean desert. Really, he did. This shows the need for some governing board or entity, who could screen out the fruitcakes from the good teachers.
Theologians do not create doctrine. The Magisterium does. Yet, we still hear some poor souls spout off some nonsense, attributing it to this or that theologian. Wrong.
What I meant by, “for the sake of community,” is for the sake of gospel community, which we are called to have with every other person in the world through our own participation. The one adequate basis of every communal action and of every community is the common good. The common good of a community of acting persons can only be realized by acknowledging through participation the fundamental and privileged position of the “neighbor”. This will afford us the best protection from the dangers of alienation (the hell created by saying no to others through our actions as Karl Rahner expressed it). The commandment of love is the measure of the tasks and demands that have to be faced by everyone—all persons and all communities—if the whole good contained in the acting and being “together with others” is to become a reality” [referring to the unity for which our Lord prayed] (The Acting Person p. 298). To the extent that we choose not to participate charitably with others we fall back onto the precepts of individualism.
God endowed us with freedom and responsibility from the beginning (Gen 1:28). The call to participate as human beings is one of the fundamental ways that God created us for freedom. Charitable participation allows us to remain true to our nature as it was created and to develop it in freedom, thereby living responsibly in accordance with it out of obedience to the Father who made us in his image. Obedience frees, and so much so that the psalmist can say to God, “having sought your precepts I shall walk in all freedom” (Ps 119:45). The psalmist does not merely tolerate the divine will, or merely carry it out, but he loves it: “your commandments fill me with delight, o Lord;” he shouts: “I love them deeply” (Ps 119:47). So I’m guessing, in other words, that our Holy Father is both aware of what it means to have a gospel community and that he has always intended to act accordingly. We cannot ascribe agreement with false notions to his kindness toward others. We share our lives with others because we are called to. We care because we are commanded to do so.
For Gail F.
I don’t know what part of what I wrote might have implied that I thought the problems are reducible to the presence of lay theologians. I was responding to John Allen’s use of the term “license” for mandatum. Viewing it that way is common among traditional Catholics. If one views it that way, one will fail to understand some of the aspects of our problem. I thought this an opportunity to clarify what the mandatum is and is not, for the readership of this blog.
Holding theologians, both lay, clerical, and religious, accountable is one responsibility of a bishop. The manner in which the bishop does this is not the same for priests as it is for lay and religious. We ought not forget that.
The result of silence or soft pointing to the errors is blatant as Maltese describes it:
“I actually witnessed Hans Kung, it shirt and tie, advocate for abortion at the University of Michigan. He got a standing ovation!”
When Card. Lienart said that the Church is lost, he added “from a human point of view”. And many ennemies of the Church (outside and inside Her) are rejoicing in believing so. But supernaturally speaking we know they are wrong.
I doubt the renewal will come from Rome since our Lady of La Salette warned that “Rome will lose the Faith”
albizzi, I can see your first point. But I cannot concede “[that] Rome will lose the faith” based upon the account of private revelation.
“Karl Rahner, Congar, Hans Kung, Schillebeeckx et al were the friends of then Card. Ratzinger.
Now the latter has become the Pope.”
True, but I am friends still with protestants (e.g. “heretics”)–every one of my extended family is protestant–and a man who I especially admire is a Mormon friend. Truth has no relation to one’s friends; one is bound to defend Truth despite one’s friends (but not to spite them; I am very gentle with my non-Catholic friends.)
+Ratzinger was also a friend of Michael Davies.
Our Pope is faced with wolves; he is stalwartly working to restore the TLM, in my opinion, but in a clever way. He doesn’t want to “poke the bear”!
Here it is, one day after this article was posted and the NCROnline article appears to have been removed. Might there be some significance to that fact?
I inquire, not to encourage controversy, but rather because I am ignorant of how long such articles would normally be expected to remain available. If this is an unusual removal (i.e., what some might characterize as “fishy”), then Fr. Z’s characterization of the paper as the “Fishwrap” would appear to be very apropos.
Pax et bonum,
The link was changed, apparently. I gave the new one above.