Is Neo-Orthodoxy Enough?

Edward Holloway FAITH Magazine January-February 2004

The endless repetition of “Evangelisation for the Third Millennium” is becoming a dreary cliché. So did the expression “The Good News” introduced immediately after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, at a time when the decline of the Church in the West could be measured by every statistic which denotes vitality or growth. That process has continued, the haemorrhage has not been stopped. In a fatalistic way we have simply got used to it. The disease will not be cured by stronger doses of the prescriptions which caused it.

  There are a number of hard hitting and pretty desperate editorials and other articles in the files of FAITH, going back now twenty and even twenty-five years ago which could well do with reprinting in booklet form. They have been proved correct, a horror prophecy of the spiritual devastation now everywhere around. They will become, in fact they are, valuable social and historic documents. Even now, as one reads them the causes of our losses become so clear. The remedies then suggested are still the only possible remedies for the Church and the age. When we study the crises of history, and the crises of the Church in past ages (for the twin crises are always inseparable) it becomes so clear that the renewal of the Church comes always, but always from great holiness and adeeper vision of Christ. It never has come or can come from conformity to the decadence of the times or the clinging comforts of the flesh. These articles at times do express a sheer anger at the failures in vision and courage of the leaders of the Church. There is also a certain desperation at what seemed to be the failure of Rome to lead from the front. Such a lead would in fact have rallied a people and a Priesthood still at that time deeply loyal and willing to respond… well, if there was a touch of anger it was the anger of desperation and of love. We could see the infidelity of the ‘New Catechetics’. Indeed, among the numbers of FAITH from those times (September 1976) is the beautifully written, coolly objective letter of Canon George Telford giving the reasons for hisresignation as the Vice-Chairman and Secretary of the Bishops’ Education Conference for England and Wales. That same issue has also a critique of an article from The Tablet around that time written by myself, and entitled Father Bullen’s Easter Mythology which still strikes me as relevant in substance and very funny, even if rather naughty The aggrieved author of the Tablet article threatened to sue for breach of his copyright (we published the article criticised.) At that time though we were hungry for publicity. As her agent said to the film star, “there’s no bad publicity ma’am, only some better than others”. We could see the evaporation of the ethos of the Catholic School , especially the senior school. Canon Ripley had an excellent article on that. Most horribleof all, we could all both see and foresee that leakage up to an horrific eighty-five per cent of our people, which here and now is the cancer destroying the life of the Church. If you see the desecration and slow, tortured dying of the spirit in the beautiful young, it breaks your heart as if you were a parent. You love them as an experience, not as a notion because in the chastity you gave to God they are your children, and His too. This love is actual and existential love. So when you see them sinking in the bog, out of handreach out of helpreach, you sweat blood: because you see. So did Jesus Christ, because he saw (Luke 22.44).   When one looks back there was confusion among the bishops over principles and intentions. That comes out from Canon Telford’sletter. I can remember the plaintive comment of my own bishop of that time (1970) after I had been ‘promoted’ out of my parish for making trouble at the seminary which was just up the road, “I can’t understand what all this fuss and bitterness is about Slim. You all seem such thoroughly good fellows to me. It’s all a quibble about words.” It was not. Something rather similar had happened at the beginning of the Reformation. The outward shell of the Church in England still looked much the same. True, there was a new and vernacular liturgy, but through it you could still see the lineaments of the old. There were lots of new-fangled ideas (Thomas More had, as a boy, been removed from Oxford because of the dangers from the ‘New Learning’.) There was a row between the pope, and arandy young king who wanted to change his legal woman for reasons of State … oh, and of course his conscience. It had all happened before. There was a rebellious clergy keen to drop celibacy in the name of pastoral renewal, human comfort, and to avoid the many scandals in the Church. It would all settle down, no need to lose one’s head over things! After all it was an age of transition The Thomas Mores and John Fishers of history are always lonely, because as history shows us from the time of the great Fathers of the Church, most men see what they want to see, and few men are brave. They huddle together like sheep and bleat in cowardly mutual reassurance. In fact the so-called ‘New Learning’ together with the moral decadence of the times, was about to spawn a heresy which would divideChristendom even to our own day. We are in much the same situation now; appalling decadence, and a challenge from scientific agnosticism, and philosophies which confuse the orders of matter and spirit. Newman had foreseen it all one hundred and fifty years ago. He penned it in a book which itself proposed a new vision of the life of the Church, a vision itself derived from that theory of development or evolution which was the dread of the churchmen of his day. We quote from The Development of Christian Doctrine (1845 Edition, (Penguin) p91)

Infidelity itself is in a different, I am obliged to say, in a more hopeful position as regards Christianity … the assailants of dogmatic truth have got the start of its adherents of whatever creed: philosophy is completing what criticism has begun; and apprehensions are not unreasonably excited lest we should have a new world to conquer before we have weapons for the warfare

Newman, using a theory of objective evolution to explain the development of doctrine, not a theory of subjective i.e. relativistic development, but one of ‘magisterium’ was even then calling for a new synthesis. It did not come. The Encyclical ‘Pascendi Gregis’ (1907) declared martial law against the errors of ‘relativism’ in the doctrine of the Church. We entered an age of severe, too narrow, censorship and central control—of ‘Fortress Vatican’ it has been called. Such actual answers to the philosophy behind the new errors as were given were incomplete, becoming more so with the passing of time. An effort to put the philosophy and theology of the Church on a solid, objective base was behind the new emphasis upon the teaching of Aquinas in Studiorum Ducem, andDeus Scientiarum Dominus (1923). To lean heavily upon the theology of St Thomas is one thing. In so far as part of that theology itself leans heavily on the philosophy of Aristotle, a philosophy already becoming desperately out of date by the early twenties of this century, is quite another. One used the metaphor of ‘Fortress Vatican’ for the regime of the pre-Conciliar Church. It must be changed to say that when John XXIII all too cavalierly called for an aggiornamento and ‘a breath of fresh air’ he did not throw up the window. He blew up the dam. At the time of the promulgation of the Council I remember asking a peritus about to attend, whether the pope knew that he was in fact ‘trying to prise the top off a pressure cooker under full power.’ He replied ‘no, I don’tthink so, he is aware there is dissent in the Church. I don’t think he knows what he has done.’ Well, we all know what did happen when the dam burst, or the top blew off the cooker. The Holy Spirit had very little to do with those consequences. But, was the Council necessary, a ‘good thing’? Oh, very definitely, but there was no John Henry Newman around at the top of the Church. Whatever the bitter internecine struggles within the Council, the documents themselves are gems not only of full, definitive doctrine but also of beautiful meditation and contemplative power. Yet, the dam had been breached. The same flood of Liberal Humanism which has broken the back of the Church of England, flooded also across Western Catholicism.   This brings us to what has been called Neo-Orthodoxy. Nowneo-orthodoxy is to be welcomed with thanks to God, but it is not enough. In itself, it is a return to full doctrine, reverence, and a return to the sacred in the liturgy. It is the demand also for clear, full Catholic doctrine in the Church and in the school. It is marked by a return of the old devotions Benediction, the Rosary, and it has taken to itself the Divine Office from the strong recommendations both of the Council and the liturgical revival. Charismaticism too, which began, so it seems to this writer, with more than a touch of the wild and the ‘enthusiastic’ in the sense of Mgr Knox’s well known book, has settled down into a spirituality slanted heavily to the emotional, but also to the doctrinally pure. Franciscan spirituality did much the same. The neo-heretical in thetheology often naming itself “The New”—and I would place Rahner and Kung among its leaders, aided indirectly by Teilhard de Chardin—was essentially a denial of an objective Magisterium, based on the real distinction of soul and body. Now, in that neo-orthodoxy which is making a return, and is surely enshrined in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, a major triumph of the Holy Spirit, divine and objective Magisterium is back. That Catechism was nowhere in sight when the General Catechetical Directory, its spiritual ancestor, was promulgated in 1971. Coherent, structured, orthodoxy of doctrine was in deep decline in the teaching centres of Western Catholicism. I know, I was there; I remember the clashes, the anguish, and the pain.   What is sometimes calledthe Second Counter Reformation has however its own limitations and its own deep divisions. There are some groups which are like the Council itself, looking for that further integration and synthesis for which the Holy Spirit called. There are others which accept the liturgical reforms—some willingly, others most grudgingly—but are anchored in the theology and the philosophy of 1958, like Archbishop Lefebvre. If all we needed was the theology and philosophy of 1958, without further intrinsic development, then the Council was a mistake and a disaster. There are some who privately say this, although few go so far in public comment. In the USA especially there is a tendency to oppose not only a Darwinian philosophy of evolution, but any theory of biological and philosophical evolutionat all. When you offer them a dynamic Catholic and Christian perspective of evolution, whether as a biological theory or as a system of philosophical development in every aspect of the created works of God and of man, they simply do not want to know. At heart these are ‘six day people’ and they have nothing to offer the rising of the Church in the age of the ‘death of God.’ Ecumenism is another factor of scandal. Apart from the East where the ethos of all the Christian Churches may be called magisterial, traditional, and Eucharistic, it has achieved nothing whatever in terms of intrinsic doctrinal and moral reunion. The breaking of old bonds of non-acceptance and prejudice is a great boon. From the manner in which Ecumenism was in fact taught and lived in the West, and more specially inEngland, it was bought at the unacceptable price of the loss of Catholic knowledge and identity in our people, but most of all in the young. All catechesis was deliberately aimed at the ‘horizontal’, the vague, the ambivalent, never at the vertical the clear and the definitive. This was to facilitate corporate reunion and as a preparation for “pastoral integration” at parish level. The deputy head of an ecumenical school put it well to a young teacher friend of mine: “These children know nothing of the things which divide their Churches, nor do we intend to teach it to them.” In fact, they knew nothing at all, except a vague aspirational Christianity. You cannot build the body of a man on candy-floss, nor the Body of Christ. It was a disaster whatever it achieved, a Pyrrhicvictory. Since then it has become increasingly obvious that there could be no ‘reunion’ between a Catholicism which was structured essentially on a claim to continuing, direct, and existential communion with the Teaching Voice of Christ; that is to say, which claimed and exercised an infallible, divine magisterium and Christian Communions in whose teaching and very structure such a claim was explicitly rejected. I state a personal opinion only, when I say that the mind of most at least of the Catholic theologians who took part in the ARCIC discussions was coloured by an explicit neo-Modernism. They did foresee an essential change in the nature of the Church, and of her doctrine. They were Relativist. Well, Rome flatly rejected all three ARCIC Agreements, but one wonders why they ever letsomething so unproductive happen. We could have begun from the full meaning in fact and in history of the Divinity of Christ.   Does this not imply that Ecumenism, as a main thrust of the Council was all a mistake? Am I not saying that the only meaning of ecumenism was that we trusted the Holy Spirit to change the minds of all participants to accept the claims of the Church Roman and Catholic? In a way I am. There was no hope of instant communion on the basis of the essentials of the Catholic Church. There was hope of mutual understanding in peace, love, and acceptance. There was, there had to be, a hope of growing together in a communion of mind, hearts and doctrine which would eventually accept the magisterial concept of Divinity which is the essence of the Catholic Church,as the only full meaning of the Incarnation. What I am really saying, is that the Church herself labours and falters trying to find an answer to the arrogant hedonism and the scientific agnosticism of the modern world. The Ecclesial Communions which do not accept the Divinity of Christ, labour much more, because in the end they have an answer only from the mind of Man. If an answer begins from the mind of man, even the minds of very holy peoples then it lives by human opinion and decays from human opinions. If there is not a voice which says with certainty down the ages of man “but I say to you”, then the role of Christ as Teacher, the living revelation of the LOGOS, the Divine Mind, is devoid of meaning. One is saying of course much more. All talk is of the Millennium just now,and of course the Millennium does mark both the end of an era and the beginning of an era. Given the present state of the Christian Church, when the world says mockingly to us, as the crowds said to Christ when he reproached them for flocking to him not even because of miracles, but because their bellies had all the bread they wanted, “well, what of it, are you not the Messiah? Moses gave our fathers bread in the desert to eat, WHAT SIGN DO YOU GIVE?” —what do we answer?   I am aware that this title The Sign We Give, is the name of a recent longish brochure issued by the hierarchy of England and Wales. And of course I stole it from them. It is not very exciting. There is talk of pastoral revolution and an appeal to dynamic young clergy to be ‘gentle’ with poor old chaps whodid not ‘understand’. To me, as one of them, it gives a mental picture of being escorted gently but firmly by two white coated young ‘colleagues’ to a club armchair in a pastel-shaded room where a sweet fragrance breathes death with dignity. But of course I am a cynic, and this may be very unfair. It is in danger of amounting to little more than a late version of the Anglican synodical government, which has achieved nothing. I would know that the need for the RCIA is desperate. I would know that it is useless for bishops to say ‘I have quite enough priests’ when their average age is fifty-four, and they are too clapped out to go seek very, very lost sheep. You need red-blooded young men for that. I would know that Diplomas in pastoral theology from Catholic centres, devoid of anytraining in inner spirituality, or in the priestly compassion for those crucified from their youth, will get us nowhere. I would know that it is no use offering red-blooded young men the chair-personship of endless committees, while the laity run the grass roots Church. A priest is not a pedestal man; a priest is not an organisation man; a priest is not a ‘facilitator’ which is the latest badge. A priest is an ardent apostle of truth and love, and he must love and do it with a consummate chastity, or he is unfulfilled. I would know too, that the endless whirling around of priests at breakneck speed from parish to parish is totally destructive of morale, because it gives no time to form anybody or achieve anything in the young.   It is my thesis that any vision whichconfines itself to the home front is utterly inadequate. It is the whole world which will face us up at the beginning of the next millennium, and ask—”What sign do you give?” It will have to be a sign which is a New Deal from God; nothing less will do. If that new deal, that New Synthesis is given, then it will be the real meaning of the Ecumenism which the Holy Spirit was asking for in the Second Vatican Council. It would so obviously be the salvation of God for the Catholic Church as she falters, as well as for all other Christians who seek the Divinity of Christ speaking down the ages, that there could be absolutely no human triumphalism at all: only the Triumphalism of One who was dead, and now is risen in the truth of His flesh. This has happened before in history, andnever by selling Christ short. It happened in the age of the great Fathers (mostly bishops) of the Church when great heresies disfigured the Church. So many died in exile. It happened in the Dark Ages when Rome went down in flames, and I would give the palm in that age of barbarism and turmoil to the monks, Augustinian and Benedictine, who revived not only the doctrine but the morals of the Church. They did not achieve it because they were married. They offered the wisdom, truth and beauty of the perfect flesh of Christ, untainted by fallen concupiscence. That apex none of us achieves, but to it we are called: be you perfect as the Son of your heavenly Father is perfect. The same divine intervention occurred in the Middle Ages, in the raising up of Saints Dominic and Francis; a dismissivepope sent after the little man from Assisi, when he dreamed of St John Lateran crumbling and its fall being stayed on the shoulder of the grubby little friar he had turned away. One could go through the same in the Counter Reformation period, quoting especially but not at all exclusively, the Jesuits. After the Council of Trent, we see the growth of a much better educated, and a spiritually more chaste and apostolic diocesan clergy. It needs to be the same now. As personal purity in the young, in marriage, yes and among many priests declines, it is not the time for ‘concessions’. The tide will be turned only by a living that is holier, but also more sure of its ‘reasons why.’ At no time in the past has vision and wisdom, no matter how great, been enough; renewal is alwaysaccompanied by holier living, and the stricter obedience to the commandments: “if you love me, keep my commandments.” In purity especially, we must get away from the false excuse of St. Augustine before his crisis of conversion; “I cant help it, it is a fact of my constitution.” The root victory in all matters of chastity, lay and clerical, is in the dignity of human love conquering the weakness of a fallen flesh by the grace of the living Christ whose temples we are. But of course “without Me, you can do nothing.”   In an earlier article Theology for the Third Millennium the point was made, and indeed it is made by Teilhard de Chardin also, that it is the ubiquity of an age of science, and of a philosophy of science which will be, and already is partly, the cement of a newand a unified culture of the world. It is therefore a new perspective of Christ as the Crowned Head of all wisdom, human and divine, and the principle of their union and communion in Himself as one-unity of order, which is the only possible principle of “sign” to the lands and cultures of the East and the South.   The thought has occurred before and, like all the efforts in the second half of this century which have a cosmic and a cosmological principle, it labours from a fundamental syncretism. That word may be used also of Karl Rahner and Teilhard de Chardin, in as much as they fuse matter and spirit in one order and end with the loss of true Divinity. In a deeper sense of syncretism, I find it in the same number of FAITH that has been quoted before (September 1976.)The editorial turns upon a review by Dom Aelred Graham of a book by Dom Bede Griffiths: Return to the Centre (Collins). There is no space for full quotation, but I have written there: “I have not read Dom Bede Griffiths, so I do not presume to criticise. But it does appear fair to say from the review in The Times that Dom Aelred Graham at least is teaching that the Divinity of Christ is an emergence from the basic nature of being, on one same level of potentiality with other men, though in Christ achieved on a higher plane, and in a higher degree of one common ascent. He is saying that there is no religion which is more than the partial and fragmented vision of the Eternal Religion of God’s ineffable person and the next step in the development of man must be a new return tothat centre, making irrelevant as doctrine, though not as striving or partial ascent, all that went before in the orthodoxies of the religions of the past… This approach still incarnates God in every man. Every man therefore, great soul or petty sensualist, passes his own judgement of reverence or dismissal upon “the myths.” There is no court of appeal beyond the cloister of a man’s own spirit. It appears to me that Pilate took Jesus Christ more seriously than do some present day priests and Religious.” I would also add, that I find Dom Aelred’s Christ the same in all essentials as that of Karl Rahner. There follows an outline of the essential wisdom of Eastern religions, with the doctrine of cosmic evolution as an evolving equation of beings, suffused with a Unity-Law of Control andDirection, but of its nature requiring to be intelligible—One, Unique, Transcendent God. My argument goes on: yes, we are on the verge of a vision of Christ which unites both East and West. It will fulfil all that the great souls of mankind have searched for, gently correcting those errors and that darkness born out of original sin, which have distorted all the answers men have given to the ultimate riddle of the creation. Such a new missionary surge will vindicate the old orthodoxy, and above all the unique divinity of Jesus Christ, as the only-begotten Son of God. Upward to Him, prompted by Him, both as the Eternal Word before time began (Te) and in the flesh revealed as the Way (Ta’o) all human looking and desiring has been directed. Only the myopia of a sin-dimmedvision has prevented this full apostolate of the gift of Christ, “The Good News” reaching out much earlier to the ends of the earth. There follows an outline of some kindred ideas from the Wisdom of China and the Hindu and Buddhist lands, which can be brought to their perfection in Christ, in much the same manner as the Fathers of the early Church brought the wisdom of Plato and Plotinus to the fulfilment of Christ. We append them now, although without the descriptive paragraphs for which there is no space, they miss something of their completeness of meaning:


1. From the Unity-Law of creation to God…

(sanatana dharma)

2. Man: created in God’s image…

(yang & yin)

3. God: in Him we live and move, and have our being

(Tao Te Ching)

4. From Science to Revelation: God’s Unity Law in history…


5. Original Sin: The Fall of Man

Karma and Tanha (concupiscence) No seer ever got the problem of evil right. It is revealed only in Christ.

6. Jesus Christ: Saviour & Redeemer … (The Te becomes Tao in person, expression of the Dharma, victor over Tanha i.e. lust

& death: The Way, The Truth, The Life… (Nirvana)

7. Jesus our Eucharist…

(No real oriental equivalent, for Christ is God in Person, and the Eucharist the sum of all the attributes of blessedness. Yet The Eucharist corrects the Eastern vision of matter as evil or illusion. In the Body of Christ the essential goodness of matter is vindicated.

8. Jesus Christ: infallible Teacher…

(The Enlightened One par excellence) through all history source and guide on the ‘noble eightfold path of virtue’

9. Religion & Science: made one in Jesus Christ…

(Brahma-Atman) source of life and being. through whom as Atman, Eternal Logos the universe is conceived: unique Boddhi-Satva, All Compassionate One. In his Divinity is Nirvana, Kingdom of Peace.

  It is along such perspectives as these that we may hope to develop and present again to the East the meaning and truth of Christ. In this presentation of a new synthesis there is the rejection of a relativist syncretism which is at the heart of so much modern Catholic, and in general Christian, theology. There is a reason for this assertion of the Christ as the teleiotes, the consummation of the wisdom and work of God. For even the most beautiful wisdom teaching of the East, indeed of all mankind, lacks the concept of a divine magisterium, a wisdom revealed from God, from the beginning of Man, and manifest as the final Environment and Environer of man, at the end of the ages, and the final, scientific world-culture of the human race. One must add, and itcannot be developed here—such a vision will require the rediscovery of the sacred and the contemplative in the life of the Church, and the inner meaning of consecrated chastity, not only as perfect gift to God of one’s life ‘for the Kingdom’ but also for the perfect cleansing of that inner tanha or lust, which is the wound of original sin. This is not the time for concessions on celibacy or anything else. All reform has come from the teaching of new wisdom and the original sanctity in the Church. Yes, we must welcome the neo-orthodoxy, but yes, it is only the platform on which a great and beautiful fullness of the Gift of God is to be built. This, this and nothing less, IS THE SIGN WE GIVE.


Note on terms used


Dharma Religion, moral law; in Buddhism ‘Truth’

Sanatana dharma: close to ‘natural law’ or the ‘universal law’ of Aquinas. Yang and Yin Confucianism and other use in Chinese philosophy: male and female, positive and negative, also denotes the law of complementaries. Tao Te Ching: 5,000 word Confucian classic, date uncertain circa 4000BC. Means ‘Canon of the Way of Heaven’ Tao The way of life that corresponds to the wisdom of Heaven (God) Karma (Hindu) The worth of a man’s life, as carrying in it the seed, for better or worse of his reincarnation Tanha A most impressive and expressive insight, especially Buddhist. Means literally ‘thirst’ but also urgent desire, concupiscence, that which is the very source of reincarnation and distance from the passionless possession of GodTe The ultimate of God the power which holds all things in order and being (Chinese). Used of Christ, could mean “and the Logos was made flesh” as teacher. Buddha Gautama the Buddha, the Enlightened One. Both the name of the original founder (500 BC ?) and also a title for great souls. Buddhism varies widely from a somewhat Stoic philosophy of self-negation, basically agnostic, to a full highly sacramental religion of ‘incarnation’ and mediation See: Mahayana (high path) and Hinayana (low path). Boddhi-Satva later conception in Buddhism, possibly deriving partly from Christianity. A Boddhi-Satva is a saviour figure, one who prefers not to go to Nirvana until all may go with him: a saviour figure, basically a saint, who mediates loveand compassion . Nirvana Need not be translated as ‘annihilation’ but rather as a faltering concept of God as Actus Purus, as the principle of peace and fulfilment without passion, karma or tanha.


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