Mr Christopher Derrick will forgive MC, I trust, if I see similarities between his letter (Aug 3) and the alarm the disciples felt in the storm on the Sea of Galilee as Our Lord lies asleep in the stern, seemingly unconcerned. I refer of course to those fears of "the entire Catholic community (split) from top to bottom ... a gulf as wide as any ... in Christian history".
Which is not to deny the storm or its potential. the "internal difficulties and tension", "thoughtless criticisms". "novelties" and the rest, to which John Paul II himself alludes in Redemptor flontinis (Sec 3 and later). For all this is part of the "weather", so to speak — to be expected. indeed expressly forecast by parable, discourse and epistle from the start, a rumpus certain to attract notice. Whereas the main chance is to recognise how essentially sound the ship remains no case hastily to transship.
But if Mr Derrick feels driven to seek an "accurate and inoffensive" way to refer to the beliefs, doubtless sincere, of professing Catholics who nevertheless reject the teaching authority of the Church in this or that particular, I suspect his difficulty centres on the second of the adjectives he stipulates to maintain, that is, the courtesies of debate — with, incidentally, his co-dcbator, Mr Keith Mitchell (who prefers the authority of chosen freelance theologians and his own private judgment to that of the Church).
And Mr Derrick's difficulty is apparent: for the "accurate" if pungent word that fits the case is of course "heresy", which along with its opposite, the idea of "unity", make up together a major theme filling much of the New Testament, to be taken up by the curly Fathers, and so on down the centuries back to our own Pope John Paul writing his first encyclical.
Indeed, what more basic consideration could there be than John Paul's reiteration of the stress Our Lord himself gives to the authority for his mission on earth: "The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me"? So if the Son of God is acting— can only act, the Pope seems to say — "in full fidelity" to 'that mission, one may wonder what room is left for the freelances to "make of theology . . . a simple collection of (their) own personal ideas". (R.11.. Sec 19. The Church as responsible for truth.) Against the picture of that fidelity, "heresy" must surely become a fearsome epithet indeed.
However, accepting that "there must he heresies", as St Paul declares, the more timely. I suggest, and the more noteworthy is the tone of confidence filling the new encyclical.
First, there is the tribute John Paul pays to the wisdom and courage, constancy and patience with which Paul VI bore the stresses of the "difficult postconciliar period" (Euphemism, may one take it, for the aftermath of Iltatianae Vitae); how as "helmsman of the Church, the bark of Peter, he knew how to preserve a providential tranquility and balance even in the most critical moments, when the Church seemed shaken from within". (R.11.. Sec 3.) Secondly, one may notice "the immense new life" John Paul sees in Pope Paul's institution of the Synod of Bishops, "a permanent organ of
collegiality", "a movement . . . much stronger than the symptoms of doubt, collapse and crisis". (Sec 5. Collegiality and Apostolate.)
In short, may one not see in Pope Paul's steadfastness proof afresh of the power of Our Lord's prayer for Peter "that thy faith fail not": and in John Paul's homage to "this great Predecessor of mine" that he too is of the same mind and temper? And may one not also see in the institution of the Synod, now so soon to meet again, the prospect of a further dimension of finality in the solemn teaching of the Church'?
In all this it hardly seems to be overstatin,g the case to say there is no occasion for gloom, that on the contrary the hark of Peter will weather whatever is to come. The smart thing is to stay aboard.
S. E. MacKenzie Weybridge, Surrey,