Synthesis May-June 2012

FAITH Magazine May – June 2012

Early March saw the collapse of a section of our iconic white cliffs of Dover. We are told that there will now be a "full survey of the area". In this edition William Oddie (Comment on the Comments) and Kenneth Kavanagh (Letters) capture the analogous nature of the seemingly imminent removal of Judaeo-Christian marriage from formal civil discourse. Our editorial describes a similar state of collapse concerning the Catholic vision of man in our schools - though it ends on a tentative note of hope.

As we enter the "Year of Faith", a "full survey" of the British Church may be in order, to find out how we became so weak as to have lost such a pivotal, not to say epoch-making, battle. Perhaps we might even gain a new penitential spirit as we beg God to help our culture before it is dragged even deeper into the quicksands which Pope Benedict has been warning us about. The Chief Rabbi has been issuing such warnings since the early Eighties. For 40 years now Faith movement has been making the same point and proposing some ways forward.

Providentially this is also the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and we are being called to look carefully at its texts during the Year of Faith, which starts in October. Our last two Road from Regensburg columns have chronicled this call, and in this issue we present extracts of a recently published document from the Holy See's International Theology Commission in which Vatican II looms large Quoting Gaudium et Spes the document states:

"With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the whole people of God, particularly of its pastors and theologians, to listen to and distinguish the many voices of our times and to interpret them in the light of the divine Word, in order that the revealed truth may be more deeply penetrated, better understood, and more suitably presented." [Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World, n. 44]

We surely need to be reminded of this teaching, which, as Pope Benedict emphasised in Porta Fidei, "can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church". Henri de Lubac's thought and the Theology of the Body are encouraging examples of an all too rarely found obedience to this call to faithful development. More often, within otherwise orthodox circles, this teaching seems to be downplayed in favour of a simple reassertion of Church teaching or an encouragement of reverent liturgy, crucial as both of these are.

Some justify turning a deaf ear to the Conciliar teaching of Gaudium et Spes by pointing to the word "pastoral" in its title, to its unusual aversion for definitive canons, and its apparent emphasis upon the sixties concept of "progress". Yet Pope Benedict has reaffirmed Blessed John Paul's plea that "the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers [...] be taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium" (see our second letter). Gaudium et Spes calls in particular for doctrinal development in the light of "progress" in human knowledge and culture.

In this regard, both Pope Benedict and Blessed John Paul have, for instance, repeatedly highlighted developments in technology and in our understanding of the rights of man. Another area for consideration would be the relationship of the human body to other forms of matter-energy across space and time. For example, in his recent, well-received book, Christianity in Evolution, Jack Mahoney SJ has used evolution to challenge the Church's crucial affirmation of the existence of the spiritual soul (see our third letter). The second part of our Cutting Edge column outlines our response to this challenge.

The first part of the same column deals with a topic that has recently become more prominent in the Christian interpretation of our scientific knowledge of the world, namely our experience of beauty. Rather than allow this experience to float free of the moorings of actual science, as Jurgen Moltmann appears to do, we would prefer to ground it in the dynamic of scientific observation, along the lines indicated in this issue's Notes from Across the Atlantic.

The theology of the Mass is another area which we think is ripe for development, especially given the affirmation in Gaudium et Spes that "in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history" (n.10). Fathers Mark Vickers and William Massie offer some insights in this regard.

In our January editorial, "Christian Formation: Where do we start?", we wrote: "Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s Faith movement carried the flag in the UK for [orthodox] doctrinal catechesis ... made [even less fashionable] by our calls for a real development of doctrine and theological expression ... There are now many voices championing orthodoxy ...[which] are greatly to be welcomed."

But, as Edward Holloway concluded in his 1996 piece entitled "Is neo-orthodoxy enough" (reprinted in our January 2004 edition): "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."

Faith Magazine