documents, not languid essays depicting the broad expanse of theological enquiry. It is not time to batten down the hatches
HERE are those who will have registered a chill in the tone of the two documents emanating from Rome recently, and will be battening down hatches for the theological equivalent of a nuclear winter.
Before. however, we do repair to our garden shelters to seek a comfort sure, it may be appropriate to read the two documents rather differently, i.e. not as the vanguard from Valhalla but as the injection of a note of seriousness to the rather
frivolous nature of discussions with regard to faith.
One need only recall the celebrated debate in a King's College chapel some years ago, televised, between theists to realise that at times theological debate, at least in popular consciousness, sometimes shows all the elements of a tea party with the Queen of Hearts. The two documents, however, particularly the very able commentary furnished by the Prefect in charge of doctrinal purity in the Church Catholic, may be regarded as an interruption to the tenor of some discussions: "Words mean what I want them to mean."
The words of Alice in Wonderland are often found on the lips of theologians who perhaps for the first time will have been cornered, not by the chattering classes, but by the winnowing fan of veracity, or what in the trade we call the dogmatic fact. Effectively when this clause is invoked by Church authorities (either legitimate members of the college of bishops or the vicarious offices of the bishop of Rome) then it means: "This is what your published text is interpreted to mean in the broader theological arena." Hence the need for clarification.
In terms of canon law, the two documents, like that on collaboration a few months ago, are really juridical documents rather than languid essays in depicting the broad expanse of the great estuary of theological enquiry and activity. They have an edge and this is entirely appropriate because they rest on the assumption that a theological insight in one thing, a doctrinal formula is quite another.
Had this distinction never been elaborated the Council of Jerusalem would never have concluded with the practical or canonical instructions to the believers in other churchcommunities (Acts 15). Newman worked ably and efficiently with this model, for he had sifted the controversies of the Fourth Century, even if many of his professed disciples confuse the two. It means then that magisterial, both in the past and in the present, and in the future, presumes rather than
abrogates theological activity.
The earliest symbols of doctrine, which we call the Creeds, were formulae designed not just to express that smelting pot of reflection upon the Word of God, but also to impose a certain clarity upon the pingpong of theological debate. Doctrine then may be interpreted not as the voice of the expert but as the voice of the expert in service to the expectation of ordinary believers for a little clarity in a world used to confusion. It's getting harder now to find a singular voice that speaks to us with the kind of clarity which the memory of the believers saw, let us say, in the teaching of the Lord as he sat with them in the Portico of the Temple or by the pool of Siloam. It is not, therefore. an insult to identify one person in this frivolous world of ours as "one who speaks with authority" (Jn 5:35,40) If we were to search the
scriptures for any authorisation, where would we find an authorisation for the juridical edge of the Catholic Church? The German moral theologian Klaus Demmer has pointed out that the words of Jesus can in no way be interpreted as anything other than including such a dimension in the present and future life of believers. What does this mean to us who live in a pluralist society? Well of course the Church needs no lessons in how to run
a multi-cultural society, but a pluralist society does present new challenges that were not present centuries ago when religion was the presumed meat and potatoes on
everyone's plate, were they Roman, Greek or Egyptian. The key canon that bears reflecting upon in this area does not appear explicitly in the Latin Code (1983), but is expressed succinctly in the Oriental Code (1990):
Attached to the Word of God and adhering the authentic living magisterium of the Church, the Christian faithful are bound to maintain integrally the faith which was preserved and transmitted at a great price by many and to profess it openly as well as to strive both to understand it better and to make it bear fruit in works of love inspired by faith.
Others paid the price, in blood, of that profession, we are simply asked in a pluralist society, to profess that faith and to avoid, in terms of published writings as theologians those positions which expressly contradict the Word of God and the determinations of a living paranetic magisterium.