Page 4, 8th December 1967

8th December 1967
Page 4
Page 5
Page 4, 8th December 1967 — Let us restore bond of charity

Report an error

Noticed an error on this page?
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it.



Related articles

"putting First Things First . . .

Page 5 from 22nd January 1965

'how I Came To Be Writing A Book With The Cardinal'

Page 3 from 19th May 1967

The Springs Of Human Behaviour Splendidly Located

Page 6 from 3rd May 1968

Saints And Achievements In U.s.

Page 5 from 22nd November 1968

I N En Gland, No Proper Dialogue Between The Different...

Page 3 from 21st July 1967

Let us restore bond of charity


envy of other Churches, you said. It was enviable, because (with sad exceptions) it was truly an expression of love.

There were exaggerations, there was persecution of the non-conformist, there was timidity and suspicion and therefore little theological growth. The nuns whom you write about suffered restrictions that, looking back, seem almost unbelievable, and a great waste. Yet they, and all the others, not only accepted them but very many grew by them. in holiness. and that means in love.

So much that was obviously inhuman and harsh and unnecessary — and out of it so much love! But it isn't strange, because the suppressed theologians and the hungry curates and the restricted nuns and the over-dominated laity saw the things that made them suffer as necessary.

All these seemed inevitable to them, and therefore they had to be suffered for the sake of the Christ's kingdom. So these things could indeed produce unity—the true unity which happens when people are doing something they feel is worth doing and can therefore ignore incidental suffering.

We have no need to forget, or be ashamed of, the pre-conciliar Church. It was marred by power-politics, intrigue and callousness, as it always has been and always will be, but it displayed a unity which was often (though not always) a unity of love, not of fear. The discipline, the humility, the obedience—they were all the result of the conviction that personal disappointment and pain were unimportant compared with the unity of the Church as a living sign of God's will for mankind.

The other example you give of real unity in love is your account of the Council, a very illuminating one for people who only read about it in the Press. This is a first-hand impression, you were really there. And even more striking in this account than what you say about the various documents is the impression you give of having shared a tremendous experience.

Clearly, it changed your life,

your outlook, your understanding of your vocation. It seems to have done this for most of the bishops. And it is easy to see why. You were all working together, at something that seemed increasingly worthwhile, increasingly exciting.

Perhaps the most interesting sentence in this part of your essay is the one that says: "In four years there were not half a dozen serious clashes and these did no harm to fraternal charity." Yet there were deep and serious disagreements, and some of them must have caused the bishops who disagreed considerable agony of mind. The atmosphere of brotherly love was not due to docility—you show this clearly when you describe the rejection of the first scheme on the missions.

These were men who felt strongly, even passionately,

and were prepared to say so without mincing their words. Some of the speeches 'that reached us through the Press made most exhilarating reading, they were so clearly from the heart. And when people feel deeply and violently they disagree—openly, as you describe. But, with exceptions, these fiercely worded disagreements did not lead to bitterness or division. On the contrary, "the unity among Catholic bishops . •. . is little short of miraculous."

Why was there this unity, this real brotherly love among men of diverse origins, attainments and ideas, men accustomed to rule, to make decisions? Surely there was unity because you trusted each other. You were, indeed, brothers, sharing the same calling, the same burden, the same task, in all its many forms. On a basis of respect and trust and shared enthusiasm you could oppose each other, argue, plead, even shout at each other—and all this would lead not to estrangement but to greater understanding and dedication.

The two examples (equally real) of unity that I chose from your essay show very different ways of achieving it. Would you, a bishop, have been content if the first kind— unity expressed as docility and passive obedience had been imposed on you and your brother bishops at the Council?

Would the Council have been so fruitful if your ideas had been ignored, if the only way you had been allowed to show loyalty and love had been by quiet agreement with the pre-prepared schemata? That could have been a real gesture of love—and, as you point out, bishops before the Council were used to working under lust this kind of authority.

But was that the kind of expression of unity that seemed right, to you and the other bishops at the Council? Clearly, this did not seem to you an adequate expression of the role of bishops in the Church nowadays. Nor did you feel you were being disloyal to the Pope by rejecting such a form of authority. And, clearly, you were justified. That expression of unity, that language of authority, was not the right one for the times, and you knew it.

Now I'm going to be unjust. I know, because I've met you and talked to you, that you don't really feel like this—but the Impression that is given to ordinary Catholics, both clerical and lay, is that most of the bishops are not prepared to accept the same sort of expression of unity among the people of God in their own countries as they experienced among themselves during the Council.

Among themselves they discovered a new kind of unity, and therefore a convincing and meaningful way of realising authority. But when it comes to relations with other Catholics they seem to expect people to express unity in the old way. They want them to go on understanding authority (their relation to the author, Christ) in a way which the bishops themselves have discovered by experience to be inadequate to meet the occasion.

And when Catholics don't

want to do so — when they want to disagree and discuss and protest and shout—then the bishops get worried and talk about a crisis of authority. I know there is a big difference. The bishops were all people with the same job, the same degree of responsibility, the same power. But a bishop among his people is there to rule, however he interprets that word. So they aren't a group of brothers in quite the same sense. He has to make the final decision—or if he doesn't it is he who empowers someone else to do so.

Yet to say they are not brothers would be monstrous. Before a man is a bishop he is a Christian, he and his people are brothers in Christ, "fellow workers with God," "co-heirs with Christ," "a nation of priests." They should be able to express unity in the same way as the bishops did at the Council, and not only as Catholics did before the Council.

I think a lot of people—not just bishops by any means— are afraid that to be on such terms of equality would be to endanger the sense of authority in the Church and lose that discipline which, as you say, other Christians used to admire.

You mention especially the "turmoil" in Holland which has caught the attention of the Press. You pay tribute to the courage and also to the fervour of the Dutch, and yet you seem to feel that people may be scandalised at the news from Holland. Perhaps there are many who "deplore" the Dutch situation, but it seems that Cardinal Alfrink at least is not worried, if he suggests that "the Dutch merely speak openly of matters which Catholics elsewhere discuss in secret." Precisely. This is what you did at the Council—with such astounding results, Perhaps what is happening in Holland is not in spite of the fervour of the Dutch but because of it. As you say, the unrest is not merely in the Church. The Dutch royal family, in fact the whole society, are feeling it. They are all experiencing the search for a new language of authority. But the outcome need not be anarchy, It may be a new and

more Christian understanding of what makes a community.

At this point I am going to be frank almost to danger point, because I can't see any other way of making clear what I think is the real "trouble" in this country.

You said at the beginning of your paper that nobody can be completely objective, and because you know this I know you realise the immense influence of the unspoken assumptions that underlie one's opinions and words. So now I want to point out what seem to me to be certain unspoken assumptions that underlie your essay, and also the attitudes of many other people in authority in the Church, here and abroad.

They are more destructive of unity, great& blocks to progress, than any deliberate authoritarianism. They are all the more so because they underlie real and generous and enthusiastic efforts at cooperation and progress in the Church. Many bishops, indeed, are much more "progressive" and infinitely more dedicated to renewal than some of the laity or "lower" clergy. They can't make out why they seem to meet a blank wall of distrust or a barrage of abuse, when they seem to themselves to be going flat out to get things done.

There are a few key phrases in your essay which are symptoms of what I mean : "The exuberant irresponsibility of some Catholic writing since the Council," "false thinking on the Eucharist"; and others like this. And the clear assumption that unrest comes from the young, is natural to them, and will be outgrown.

Perhaps you remember that when we first met, and planned this book, you told me that you did not mind how "outrageous" 1 was in my expressed opinions. I know what you meant—you wanted it to be clear in the book that I was saying what I really thought, and was not concealing my true opinions out of deference to your authority. You wanted people to realise that we really could talk.

I took this as it was meant, TURN TO FACING PAGE an expression of genuine trust and friendship and openness, and was grateful. But underlying this remark was the assumption that if I (or people like me) expressed ideas about the Church and the faith that were violently or "shockingly" different from the way you, and many others, express these things, then such an expression must be off-centre in some way. at least possibly "unorthodox." The assumption is that the way of thinking that has been usual is therefore central, orthodox and responsible, while unusual expressions are likely to be, though perhaps quite harmless, anyway less surely orthodox. Now the new opinions may well be unorthodox, but so may the older ones.

We now realise that some long accepted interpretations of Catholic doctrine are far from orthodox, (For instance, the notion that all pagans, etc., go to hell.) On the other hand, that huge pillar of orthodoxy, St. Thomas Aquinas, was, in his time considered to be an outrageous innovator, a menace to sound doctrine, a heretic, etc., etc. Possibly, those who were prepared to tolerate but not approve him described his efforts as the result of "exuberant irresponsibility"!

Such a description assumes that theological speculation of a violently new kind is more likely than not to be irresponsible. 1 am not saying that it cannot be. Perhaps it often is, but the clinging to traditional modes can be just as irresponsible because it can protect people from real thinking, when they most need this challenge.

Cowardice is just as irresponsible as "brashness." It is not newness or oldness that makes theology responsible or irresponsible, orthodox or unorthodox, but the degree of its careful and prayerful orientation towards Christ's teaching. revealed to us through the Church's developing life.

New ideas are disturbing, even shocking. They may hurt people who are accustomedto older versions, This is inevitable and therefore those who propose them should try to minimise the hurt. But the degree of shock caused by an idea is not a sufficient index of its degree of orthodoxy or unorthodoxy.

It is arguable that when an

idea is new the onus of demonstrating its orthodoxy lies on its proposer, but in that case there must be a climate of thought in which he is able to do so. And he cannot do so if he is assumed to be, at least probably irresponsible, just because what he is saying is new or disturbing or even shocking.

I am not saying that none of the new ways are irresponsible or orthodox. Maybe some are, maybe even (though I don't think so) they all are. But even if it were so the cure for irresponsibility is to be given responsibility, as every schoolmaster knows. The cure for immaturity is to be given a mature role.

But there is another interesting thing about this "theological unrest." Theological speculation is now, as it has often been in the past, the pursuit of a smallish world of scholars, while the rest of Catholic life flows on unheeding. On the contrary, the impulse that has driven Catholic writers, including quite unofficial ones, to explore new ways of expressing Catholic truth has been their vivid sense of the vocationof the whole Church, as the people of God.

The experiments in Eucharistic theology have grown straight out of the need to renew the Church's sense of the Eucharist as the heart of her life—and not just the heart in the static sense of the centre and symbol, but the heart as the source of its life, literally forcing ever renewed lifeblood through the huge and complex network of its body. There have been times when the body of the Church displayed all the symptoms of a "blue baby" whose damaged heart cannot pump with sufficient force to give full, energetic life.

The same need to rediscover community—not as an end in itself but as a means of preaching the gospel now—has led to experiments in parochial structure, to various forms of "worker priest" movements, to the "secular institutes." It has also led to the controversial effort to express human cornmunity as Christian, in Marxist terms.

Those who do this arc trying to show the Church's role clearly as a sign for the modern world. It should be that sign by being in the world and of it, and showing that hopes and plans that might otherwise seem un-Christian, or even anti-Christian, can be the means of preaching Christ's gospel to a torn and selfish world. All these things are dangerous, they could, and do, allow people to lose sight of Christ. But also they can bring him into places and among people who never dreamt that he could be anything but the self-justification of those whom privilege has made indifferent to suffering.

The "way out" theological speculation in Germany and Austria seems to be an attempt to break through the very isolation and indifference which the bishops in those countries find so frustrating. It may be "brash," but it is alive, it shows the Church is alive. In Holland, where it has been given its head to an almost unprecedented extent, the result has been (with some very undesirable squabbling) also an almost unprecedented interest and enthusiasm among ordinary Catholics. And, as you say, the altar rails are crowded.

Of course the bishops have to warn against false doctrine, that is part of their work. and I don't suppose they enjoy it much. But if, besides warning, they could also pick out the underlying motives and encourage them and give them scope, their comments would be more helpful—not only to the writers and theologians, but to the many puzzled and worried Catholics who wonder what the blazes the Church is coming to these days.

This brings me back to the "simple faithful." They are harried and bewildered, hurt by what seems the lack of faith of "intellectuals," made miserable by attacks on the value of what they have always loved, or else bitterly and defiantly determined to oppose all that is new.

There was an elderly woman who wrote to me: her faith had been chilled and her peace of mind rocked by a feeling that all she had grown up with and loved—rosary, statues, Lourdes water, medals and so

on—were "stupid, ridiculous superstitions," as she said, and that the "progressive" were destroying the Church she knew.

"I felt really terrified I would lose my faith," she said. "I couldn't understand why some of the progressives seemed to want to be hurtful and to confuse." But later she added: "Since then I have tried to understand, and now feel that the strong wind of change blowing through the Church can only do good," She showed, in the same letter, that she was realising the reason why some of the things she loved, and which brought her to God, could be, for others, obstacles and even scandals. She was prepared to accept this difference, and look be

yond it to a common faith and hope. This change—from fear and hurt to confidence and understanding and hope--happened because someone explained what was going on, and why, with affection and respect.

The point is that what people (even the "simplest") need is not protection but trust. This letter is not unusual. Anyone can help who comes across people who are worried or puzzled. Even by letter—a poor second best—much can be done. A time of upheaval and change is painful for many, but these many are Christians, they are the people of God, living by His Spirit. When we speak to each other we are speaking to each other in that Spirit.

So barriers of fear are broken down, personal tastes seem trivial, personal suffering matters less, we begin to share a vision and a hope, we can go forward together, respecting and protecting each other's sensitive spots, aware of many things on which we cannot agree and never could, but loving each other all the same.

This kind of experience is important. When you start to meet people on this level it is astonishing how differences don't matter. It isn't that one ignores them, or thinks them unimportant, but they are not really an obstacle to the knowledge of a shared life and a shared hope. In a way, they make the unity stronger, because the effort needed to overcome one's prejudices (or impatience of fears) makes the bond that is discovered more a matter of real love and less a question of simply feeling at case with people one happens to agree with.

But this only happens if we treat each other as equals, as brothers in Christ.

Yet so often, now, the most sincerely devoted clergy think of the needed change in their attitude to other Catholics as a change from being severe parents to being kind and understanding parents.

But the relationship is one of spiritual, not psychological, fatherhood. I suppose it is the feeling that their people are their children in the psychological sense of being necessarily dependent and immature that makes it natural to assume that unrest and questioning are essentially a symptom of youth, and can therefore be treated with understanding and indulgence but not taken seriously.

In fact, some of the most "turbulent priests" and laymen at the moment are middle-aged.

I am not excusing lack of charity from lay people, or silliness, or the sort of "brutal and triumphant radicalism" which Herbert McCabe castigated in his famous editorial. He was right to notice and condemn the "new elite of right-thinking people," which really does "stifle critical judgment." This sort of thing is very nasty, by any standards. And it can and does provoke exactly the wrong (though extremely understandable reaction from the bishops and clergy—I mean the kind of reaction that might he described as paternal self-control.

Harmony is good, courtesy is good, but one can pay too high a price for it, when the price is loss of real charity. There is no virtue in invective, but there is much virtue in the bond of brotherly love that dares to let fly, because people care for each other so much that they dare not be silent. And this applies both to those in authority and those under authority.

blog comments powered by Disqus