Holloway on... Holiness in the Twenty-First Century
Writing in 1986, Fr. Holloway asked which version of Christianity would be needed in the coming new century – the liberal dissent of the post-conciliar years or the joyful commitment of the early Christians?
The world of the twenty-first century is already on our doorstep. In that world, the shape of which we can already easily perceive, can we hope to teach and to instil the total, personal holiness of the original Christians, and the Early Christian Church? Should we want to define holiness of heart in exactly the same way as the original Christians? Should we want to instil precisely the same teachings, the same ethos, and the same morals, especially in matters of marriage and divorce, sex and loving, abortion, contraception, and masturbation, as did those original Christians? There are some who despair that we can ever teach the same as the original Christians and get a hearing for it. There are others, most of them fashionable and articulate theologians, who deplore that we should, and in our official teachings do, try to insist on the doctrines and attitudes of the original disciples of Christ.
The Fences not “Good News”
Not all of those who pull up short before the ethos of the original Christians, and what was for them ‘holiness in Christ’ are aware of what they are doing, or of the implications of their hesitancy. They remind one of horses that ‘refuse a fence’ in an important showjumping competition. Poor horse! It cannot go back; it is committed to that official track. There is the fence horrendous before it. It can refuse with shame, but it cannot reshape the course. This likeness does not of course apply to rationalist theologians. For them the course is always a matter of cutting corners and pointing to the clear way round the outside. It does, however, apply to Bishops of the Church Catholic. They are the steeds of Christ. They are committed to the fences. Their courage must take them over the top. Like most of the horses in showjumping, they may of course attempt the fence, but dislodge a beam or drop a brick. Penalty four points: not a clear round. Sometimes, during television torture from smooth cynics of the media, they do just that. At least, they did try! There comes to mind the anguished remark of a Bishop to this writer on one occasion. It was made in all sincerity and with a certain innocence. He was not trying to ‘knock’ the Church. Speaking conversationally of the Church’s doctrine on sex, friendship, and love, he remarked that the message of the Second Vatican Council had surely been to bring the Good News to modern men. Indicating with a hand a group of teenagers (it was a Youth occasion) he confessed that he was terrified of talking to them. He was even more terrified of debating with them. They did not find the Church’s teaching on ‘relationships’ as they are now called by the theological bureaucracy (the kids call it ‘sex and love’) to be at all ‘Good News’. He felt so alone, so archaic... so negative.
Jesus the Polarizer
The ‘Good News’ is precisely the announcement of the meaning of Man: the meaning of Mankind’s life and creation: the joy and communion of love in God, and happiness of heart. That is the Good News, and it was presented and is presentable to modern men and women as just that: the happiness of fulfilment in God, and in each other, in that communion of joy and peace that stands in the face of the Christ, God himself, Emmanuel, or ‘God with us’. In the days of Jesus Christ, that offering from God struck chords of joy and response, but in varying degrees of acceptance among men. The parable of the sower going forth to sow his seed (Luke 8.5), the reminder on the solemn commissioning of the Twelve to go and preach to all the nations, that if they have accepted Me, they will accept you, and if they have rejected Me, they will reject you also (Matt. 10.11-16), hold a timeless message.
Let us forget a while about that egregious cliché, the ‘Good News’ and speak and think instead of ‘The Gospel’. For we all recognise in the word ‘Gospel’ God’s Speak or Word. We are brought spiritually and culturally into the presence of the Personality of Jesus Christ. It is a mistake to think, or to hope that everyone, or even a majority of mankind will respond with joy and true faith to the presence, person, and word of the Word of God. When the sower went forth
to sow his seed, some fell by the wayside, where ‘Satan snatches the word out of their hearts’ as soon as the word falls upon their ear and into their minds and hearts. There are the casualties of the stony ground, and the casualties of the seed that fell among thorns... the riches, cares, pleasures and passions of life, so that it brought forth no fruit. Even when the word did bring forth fruit, there were vast differences of degree and of perfection in response: some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, and some, certainly not many, even one hundredfold.
The New Testament, especially the pastoral letters of St. Paul, are constant in the distinction made between those, the rela- tively many, that God gathered to Himself, because ‘they were called to be saved’, and the others, in number doubtless more, who did not respond. We cannot, and we dare not, argue from this expression to the relative numbers of the saved and the damned. We can argue that the first preaching of the original Christians did make an enormous impact upon the personalities of men and women of very diverse temperament, education, and culture. Some it drew, with a sense of enormous relief and joy, to a homecoming in God. They embraced Christ in Christianity as one ‘found at last’, the end of a long, heartaching search. They did not know what they were looking for. They did recognize it, and Him, when once found! The original Christians, and the original Christianity, polarized people just as Jesus Christ polarized people. It was not unkind, merciless, or militant. It was total, definite, dynamic and intolerant of ‘It is .
. . and yet it is not’, that specific response of much modern theology which fails to feed the soul, and denies a living witness to Christ. St. Paul refers to it, the first stirrings in his own day of what now is called technically ‘Neo-Modernism’. He is very scathing about it and repudiates it in his, usual trenchant language (2 Cor. 1-18). It empties out the Divinity of Christ.
The Original Heresy
If the Second Vatican Council was called to effect an ‘updating’ in the life of the Church, if the ages bring in some decline and crumbling in the perfect relevance of her life, if you truly believe in the Holy Spirit, then you must accept the final word of the Spirit, who ‘will receive of Mine, and show it to you’. You accept the new vision of the Council, and you accept also the conservatism of the Council. The Council abrogated nothing from the doctrine, the morals, the traditional spirituality, the celibacy of the priest, or
the sacral, contemplative, and reverential nature of the Church’s liturgy. What has derogated in those spheres since cannot be argued from the documents of the Council. It is argued by appealing from the letter to the ‘spirit of Vatican Two’; it is argued by appealing to a future ‘Vatican Three’. It is simply a dissent and a cheat. It is in fact the age old enemy of Christ in the world... heresy against the revelation of God.
One submits that the very first heresy in the Church is contained in Genesis 2.17. The word of God revealed was: ‘But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat. For in the day that you shall eat of it, you will die the death’. The ‘theological dissent’ is expressed in Genesis 3:4-5, spoken by the Doctor Emeritus and Laureatus of all dissident theologians: ‘No, you shall not die with death. For God does know that what day you shall eat of it, your eyes shall be opened [i.e. you will become an aware, progressive, and liberated intellectual] and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil’. The response is also intimated: ‘And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and seductive to behold, and she took of the fruit of it and did eat. And she gave to her husband who did eat of it...’
And so it has been ever since. If there were needed a proof of the objectivity, the notrelative nature of human holiness through history, it is contained in this inspired and simple vision. For this writer, it is also relevant that the first consequence of heresy as socially perceived, was that ‘when they found themselves to be naked, they sewed together figleaves to make themselves loin-clothes’; whereas before, ‘they were naked, the man and his wife, and felt no shame’. Then as now, the impact of sin has fallen most disastrously on the harmonious control of the soul over the pleasures of the flesh in mankind. The force of sinful pride has always been to denature the peace of love with greed and addictive drives.
The Acid Test
The first and most common derogation from the doctrine of the original Christians is the refusal of the horrendous fence. The second is the philosophy expressed by the priests and the scribes at the foot of the
Cross and roared up to the dying ears of Jesus Christ: ‘If He is the Son of God, He will be looked after and rescued, we have His word for it!’ (cf. Mt.27.39-44) The third line of derogation is the hard line of frank denial of the truth of God’s objective, transcendent, and eternally true Revelation. It is the open contradiction contained in Genesis 3:4.
The acid test which uncovers this reality in the layman or in the theologian of our time tends to be the doctrine and confession of the Eternal Pre-existence of Christ in the Being of God, before the Incarnation of God as Christ. Upon this test Hans Kung finally lost his right to be called a Catholic theologian, but he is at least a clear and honest writer. There are many who hold exactly the same opinions, but are too devious to admit it. They remain in the Church — it is a ‘living’ if you are a priest or Religious — hoping that the way of thinking and loving which follows from their vision of Man as the source and origin of Religion and Revelation, will do its work in due time. So it will, so it will, unless the Bishop of Rome and the Bishops basically loyal to him find courage to polarize the Church around the Divinity of Christ, and around the objective, unchanging law of human holiness, and the unchanging moral law of life and love.
Polarizing around Christ
Polarization is not a dirty word. It is the law of the earth’s magnetic field, and all movement and direction depends upon it. It is, as the authority of God’s Law of life, and movement to Himself, the necessary indicator of all true life — in the person, in the parish, in the liturgy, in the Church as local community and universal community. Without the ‘But I say to you’ of the Eternal Word, the compass needle of the Gospel, and the finding of perfect spiritual communion with God, swings crazily in every direction, according to human opinion and human pressure. If Jesus is more than a Guru, then the apostles, and especially Peter, must find courage to polarize the Church. Minimal profession will not do. The profession must mean the spiritual and devotional follow through. Whether in faith, or in chastity, it will not do that one thing is taught in one parish and another in the next. It will not do that you have to ask who is the parish priest there, before you recommend a youth, a young couple, someone moving house, to attend a given parish church, or send children to a given school. For far too long have we lived with this situation. On the continent of Europe and in the USA it is much, much worse than in Britain.
Abridged from the Editorial of the September/October 1986 issue of FAITH. It will be concluded in our next issue.
Fr. Edward Holloway (1917-99), a parish priest in the South of England, was the author of Catholicism: A New Synthesis and other theological and philosophical works. He was the founder of the Faith Movement and the editor of this magazine for 22 years.