Page 4, 31st March 1972

31st March 1972
Page 4
Page 4, 31st March 1972 — A new and exciting journey

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Locations: York


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A new and exciting journey

for the Church?


I WONDER whether you share with me a feeling about the last ten years — a feeling that we have been going through a period of rather uncomfortable transformation. Bits of familiar armoury and equipment have been dropping off; we are feeling bereft.

Some people say that we ought to like it; as presumably a well-educated prehistoric animal should' like the process of evolution which involves discarding pieces of antiquated armour plating in preparation for a frolic in a new and less inhibited world.

Others are more gloomy about it all. The bits that are dropping off, they say, are more like the armour of a knight; and without it he is left naked to the enemies.

Whatever interpretation you adopt it is certain that something has been happening to us. It isn't easy to assess precisely what has been happening nor to formulate the questions which should be asked, if we are to understand it all.

The trouble did not really start with Vatican H, although that was the watershed. It now seems natural to talk about the pre-Vatican 11 era — just as we used to talk about pre-war prices.

It was an era of greater security and stability in which we had a universal Latin liturgy, priests and cardinals who obeyed and at least appeared to agree with the Pope, a laity who filled every church on Sundays — starting with the back benches — and of course we were not harried by the prophetic utterances of Malcolm Muggeridge and The Times.

Nostalgic tears It would he easy enough to paint the contrast between then and now using ever more lurid colours. The picture would bring nostalgic tears to the eyes of those who regret the changes and murmurs of relief from those who don't.

What should our response be? Have we lost a home to which we should try to return? Or has a new and exciting journey begun which we should learn to appreciate in spite of the discomforts?

It would be very naive to suppose that the problems themselves are new — I mean the fundamental problems. One can exaggerate the security and confidence of that era which is gone.

It wasn't really all beer and skittles — or obedience and encyclicals — and we didn't in fact know precisely where we stood about everything. Even when we thought we did, we didn't necessarily like it.

Take a single point — the question of the Curial government of the Church in thought and action. If you think the problems are new, read Ward's "Life of Newman" and you will soon change your mind. And it wasn't only the Newmans who suffered.

Preserving integrity Some of us can remember the difficulties of preserving intellectual integrity while grappling with the delphic utterances of such bodies as the Biblical Commission. I certainly found no difficulty in understanding Ronald Knox's comment that if you are sailing in the Barque of Peter, it is important not to spend too much time in the engine room.

The problems were present arid becoming more acute as time went on. Depending on your point of view you can say that they were contained, or you can say that they were swept under the carpet; but Yost cannot deny that they were there and that they would have to be faced in the end.

The problems were there, but now that they have been let out and given an airing all sorts of disturbing side-effects have been thrust upon us. The documents of Vatican II give the impression that they are solving problems — providing a charter for the Church of the future.

The experience of living through the last ten years as a Catholic might well make one doubt their success. The lid has been taken off, but is it Pandora's box that has been uncovered?

Reaction varies

My own reaction varies from time to time and I suspect that the same is true of many others. Behind my varying reactions, however, I find that I have acquired a new and different attitude to the problems of the Church.

I used to recognise the problems and imagine that their solution would involve some adjustments which would in fact restore the status quo; the wrong cardinals in the Curia would be replaced by the right cardinals in the Curia; the wrong Biblical Commission would be replaced by the right Biblical Commission and everyone would be happy again. This is what one meant by reform.

This attitude — all the more powerful because so seldom expressed — has been a dominating influence in the Church for the last 400 years. Adjustments were perhaps necessary, but all problems were really soluble on the old formulae. No new formulae were required.

The Reformation was a bad dream -a mistake which could be reversed. The task of the Church was to restore the old order. The answers were there; it was only a question of correct and timely application.

Destiny of the Church I cannot think like that any more. That is the change for me in the last ten years and in this I don't think I am unfaithful to the development of the Church at large. Those who still see the destiny of the Church as that of re-imposing old formulae do not appear to me to be the most profound thinkers and teachers in the Church.

Please do not misunderstand me. When I speak of the changing of old formulae I do not refer to the central doctrines of Christianity but to their cultural embodiment — the way we go about applying them in the world.

The old ways of embodying these doctrines are not necessarily the right ones for today; some of them are manifestly at least 400 years out of date. We have to go through the agonising process of discovering what should be discarded and what should be made new. The fact that we have delayed in embarking on this process makes it all the more painful.

Perhaps a homely illustration might help. If baby cries because he has got a splinter in his finger, you remove the splinter and restore the status quo. If the baby cries because he is teething, you don't remove the teeth.

He has got to go through the agonising time of development and came to terms with a mouthful of teeth. He has entered a new stage of development which — however painful — will make him different and better in the end; so the tears are really worth it.

That is what is happening to the Church. It is going through a period of development which will change it and the process is not entirely comforting to live through. The important point is that you get the wrong impression if you look on the new developments as though they were foreign bodies to be removed.

You must be careful, because they may be new growth points. Although they may look ugly to start with, they are not necessarily for that reason to be condemned. They need time; and ten years in the life of the Church is not long.

I do not for one moment suggest that everything is encouraging. There appear to me to be some very sinister influences about, mixed up with the new developments. I can readily sympathise with those who suspect that Pope John opened the window too wide and let in a good deal of malaria with the sunlight; but I wouldn't have the windows shut again.

When Vatican H had just got under way I remember Bishop Butler — or Abbot Butler as he was then — giving a talk about what was going on at the Council. He said that he was greatly concerned about the impact the Council was likely to have on the Church in this country.

Not even raised

He was worried because we had not been prepared for the developments which were beginning to emerge. In the days before the Council—or rather the long years before the Council — many of the important question's had not even been raised, or when raised they were suppressed.

You remember how it wasn't thought proper even to mention the question of vernacular liturgy in decent company. And every Catholic accepted, or appeared to accept, implicitly the authority of the Pope and the Curia without asking whether there was a danger of that authority being strained beyond its due limits.

It was for us an age of acceptance — or was it? It was an age of acceptance on the surface, because it was not thought loyal to ask too many questions.

Underneath the surface the questions were there; they were stored away as in the memory bank of a computer to burst out and add to the confusion when the time was ripe. The questions were there and inescapable, but they hadn't been aired and so we were not ready to grapple with the anwers and the problems that emerged.

Let us take one example. Bishop Butler spoke about the concept of the Church. I had been aware myself for a lung time that the theology of the Church, as presented in the manuals, was a good deal too cosy to be convincing.

Different images

He spoke of the controversy in the Council between those who favoured two different images of the Church which he called the pyramidal image and the horizontal image. The pyramidal image conceived the Pope at the apex, the clergy below him and the laity at the bottom bearing the weight.

The horizontal image saw all members of the Church from the Pope to the humblest lay person all equally incorporated in Christ through Baptism. Only Christ was above.

This image did not seek to deny nor minimise the office of the Pope nor the status of the priesthood, but saw them operating in the spirit of the Papal title Servu.s. servurum Dei against .tt. background of baptismal equality. The spiritual lines of communication were not mediated exclusively through the Pope And the clergy.

'People of God'

When the documents of the Council were published they were peppered with references to the Church as the "People of God." I happen to think that it is one of the least felicitous phrases of Vatican 11 and it has come to sound in my ears like a rather smug piece of ecclesiastical jargon — however scriptural its origins may be.

I can, however, see what it means. It means that there is a very real sense in which all those who are incorporated into Christ by Baptism are equal. It means that the Church is not the clergy — with a following who are called the laity. The laity are just as much the Church as the clergy, and the status and office of the clergy can be seen in correct perspective o n 1 y against the background of the horizontal image.

The laity are not there just to receive information and instruction handed down from the clergy above. They, too, have a status and an office which had been largely forgotten.

I was reminded of a prophetic passage in Newman — the concluding words of his essay "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine" published in 1859: "f think certainly that the Ecclesia docens is more happy when she has such enthusiastic partisans about her as are here represented, than when she cuts off the faithful from the study of her divine doctrines and the sympathy of her divine contemplations and requires from them a &les implicata in her words, which in the educated classes will terminate in indifference and in the poorer in superstition."

That the truth of Newman's words should have been recognised by a Council of the Church just at the time when the whale concept of authority is questioned throughout the world is a tragedy of timing. It has compounded the problems

and difficulties, and they have been made worse by our lack of preparation.

However, we should not let the problems and difficulties rob us of our Clarity of vision. The problems had to he faced. They were there before Vatican II and it does no good to blame them on the Council. The process of development which it initiated may be agonising, but, if we respond to it, it can be made very positive.

Points of controversy It is idle to hanker after an illusory stability which has gone. In any case, as Newman eloquently pointed out in his "Essay on Development," there are times when we must change in order to remain the same: "From time to time (belief) makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction.

"In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearings; parties rise and fall about it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations, and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same.

"In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to 'be perfect is to have changed often."

What, then, should we expect? What sort of Church should we look for at the end of time and development? I do not know, but there is one warning about our expectations which is so well expressed by Karl Rahner that I shall quote what he says in full: "Every earthly institution wants to make good; it measures its internal self-justification in terms of its palpable, immediate chances of total victory.

Desperate combat "But to Christianity and the Church her Founder promised not only that she would endure until the end af time, but just as clearly that his work would always be a sign of contradiction and persecution, of dire and (in secular terms) desperate combat; that love would grow cold; that he, in his disciples, would be persecuted in the name of God; that the struggle would narrow down to an ever more critical point; that the victory of Christianity would not be the fruit of immanent development and widening and steady, progressive leavening of the world, but would come as the act of God corning in judgment to gather up world history into its wholly unpredictable and unexpected end."

Do not let us ask of the Church what Christ did not promise her. If there are signs of contradiction, it is not immediately obvious that they are not signs of the presence and care of Christ. He also suffered in this way.

This is the first section of a two part article the original of which appears in the current issue of the Ampleforth Journal, published and obtainable from Ampleforth College, York.

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