Friday, January 22, 2010

Hans Kung on Vatican II

Here is a brief analysis of Vatican II by the Swiss theologian:


It was John XXIII (1958-63) and no one else who in a pontificate of barely five years ushered in a new era in the history of the Catholic Church. Against massive resistance from the curia, with considerable historical learning and pastoral experience, he opened up to the church, immured in a medieval Counter-Reformation antimodern paradigm, the way to renewal (aggiornamento); to a proclamation of the gospel in keeping with the time; to an understanding with the other Christian churches, with Judaism, and with the other world religions; to contacts with the Eastern states; to international social justice; and to openness to the modern world generally and the affirmation of human rights. Through his collegial behavior he strengthened the role of bishops. In all this Pope John showed a new pastoral understanding of the papal office.

John XXIII's historically most significant act was the announcement of the Second Vatican Council on January 25, 1959, which surprised the whole world. He solemnly opened the council on October 11, 1962. This council corrected Pius XII - apart from his pioneering encyclical on Catholic biblical exegesis (Divino afflante Spiritu, 1943) - on almost all decisive points: reform of the liturgy, ecumenism, anti-Communism, freedom of religion, the modern world, and above all the attitude to Judaism. Encouraged by the new pope, at last the bishops once again displayed self-confidence and felt that they were a college with their own apostolic authority.

Vatican II

An overall assessment of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) is by no means easy. But as one who witnessed the council at the time and has criticisms of it today, almost four decades after the conclusion of the council, I maintain my overall verdict: for the Catholic Church this council represented an epoch-making and irrevocable turning point. With the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church - despite the difficulties and hindrances posed by the medieval Roman system - attempted to implement two paradigm changes at once: it integrated fundamental features of both the Reformation paradigm and the paradigm of the Enlightenment and modernity.

First of all it integrated the Reformation paradigm. Catholic complicity in the split of the church was recognized, as was the need for constant reform. Ecclesia semper reformanda, constant renewal of the church in life and teaching according to the gospel, was now the official Catholic view. The other Christian fellowships were finally recognized as churches. An ecumenical attitude was called for from the whole Catholic Church. At the same time a series of central concerns of the gospel were taken up at least in principle and often also quite practically; there was a new high respect for the Bible in worship, theology, and church life, as in the life of individual believers generally. There was authentic worship of the people in the vernacular and a reformed celebration of the Eucharist related to the community. There was a revaluation of the laity through parish and diocesan councils and the admission of them to the study of theology. The church was adapted to national and local conditions by an emphasis on the local church and the national conferences of bishops. Finally, there a reform of popular piety and an abolition of many specific forms of piety from the Middle Ages, the Baroque period, and the nineteenth century.

At the same time there was also an integration of the modern paradigm. There was a clear affirmation of freedom of religion and conscience and of human rights generally, which had been condemned for so long, again by Pius XII in 1953. There was a fundamental acknowledgement of complicity in anti-Semitism and a positive turn toward Judaism, from which Christianity derives. But there was also a new constructive attitude to Islam and the other world religions. It was recognized that in principle salvation is also possible outside Christianity, even for atheists and agnostics, if they act in accordance with their conscience. There was a new, fundamentally positive attitude to modern progress, which had long been ostracized, and to the secular world, science, and democracy generally.

When it came to the understanding of the church in particular, the council's Constitution on the Church clearly dissociated itself from the understanding of the church as a kind of supernatural Roman empire which had been held since the eleventh century. In this view the pope stands at the head as absolute sole ruler; then comes the aristocracy of the bishops and priests; and finally, in a passive function, the subject people of the faithful. There was a desire to overcome such a clericalized, legalistic, and triumphalist picture of the church, which was vigorously criticized at the council. In the final version of the Constitution of the Church all statements about the church hierarchy were prefaced by a section about the people of God. "People of God" is understood as a fellowship of faith which is constantly on the way in the world, a sinful and provisional pilgrim folk, ready for ever-new reform.

At the same time, truths which had been ignored for centuries were recalled. Those who hold office do not stand over the people of God but are within it [sic]; they are not rulers but servants. The universal priesthood of believers is to be taken as seriously as the significance of local churches in the framework of the church as a whole: as worshiping communities they are the church in quite an original sense. And the bishops, regardless of papal primacy, are to exercise a communal, collegial responsibility for leading the whole church. For the bishop becomes bishop not through nomination by the pope but through ordination.

Restoration Instead of Renewal

Almost immediately after the conclusion of the council it was obvious that, despite concessions over the reform of the liturgy, the renewal of the Catholic Church and ecumenical understanding with the other Christian churches wanted by John XXIII and the council had got stuck. At the same time, the church hierarchy was beginning to lose credibility to a dramatic extent. That Roman dissociation of foreign policy from domestic policy which is now typical was already evident in 1967: outwardly (where it cost the church nothing), the church was progressive; but inwardly (in its own concerns) the church was reactionary.

The near-immediate restoration of full papal authority was characterized by Paul VI's (1963-78) encyclical on priestly celibacy Sacerdotalis coelibatus, published in 1967. Here, for the first time since the council, the pope again in a preconciliar authoritarian way made a unilateral decision, completely scorning the collegiality of the bishops which was solemnly resolved on by the council. The decision on celibacy was particularly important for the churches in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, which are poor in priests, yet Paul VI himself forbade discussion of it at the council.

It was quite evident that despite the impulse of the council, in this postconciliar period it had not proved possible to bring a decisive change to the authoritarian, institutional, and personal power structure of church government in the spirit of the Christian message; despite all the unavoidable changes, pope, curia, and most bishops continued to behave in a preconciliar authoritarian way. Little seemed to have been learned from the conciliar process. In Rome and in other areas of the church, personalities still held the reins of power who showed more interest in preserving that power and the convenient status quo than in serious renewal in the spirit of the gospel and collegiality.

In every possible decision, small and great, there was still an appeal to the Holy Spirit, to the apostolic authority allegedly given by Christ. How much this was the case became clear to all when in 1968, with a new baneful encyclical, against contraception, Humanae vitae, Paul VI hurled the church into a crisis of credibility which still exists today. Humanae vitae was the first instance in the church history of the twentieth century when the vast majority of people and clergy refused obedience to the pope in an important matter, though in the papal view this was in fact an infallible teaching of the ordinary magisterium of pope and bishops (article 25 of the Constitution of the Church). This was a precise parallel to the most recent rejection by John Paul II of the ordination of women for time and eternity, which is also explicitly declared to be infallible.

Betrayal of the Council

Given the splitting of the world into two power blocs, the election of John Paul II (1978-2005), a pope from the East, was generally welcomed in the Catholic Church. From the beginning, John Paul II proved, unlike many statesmen, to be a man of character, deeply rooted in the Christian faith, an impressive champion of peace, of human rights, of social justice, and later also of interreligious dialogue, but at the same time also the champion of a strong church.

Yet in the course of his long pontificate the positive image of this pope has changed fundamentally for most Catholics, at least within the developed countries. Today this pope appears to them less a successor of John XXIII than a successor of Pius XII, that pope who despite the tremendous personality cult which he enjoyed during his lifetime has left relatively few positive traces in the most recent history of the church.

It has become increasingly clear, even for admirers, what the real intention of this pope had been from the beginning, despite all verbal assertions: a brake was to be applied to the conciliar movement, reform within the church was to be stopped; the real understanding with the Eastern Churches, Protestants, and Anglicans was to be blocked; and dialogue with the modern world was to be replaced with one-sided teaching and decrees. Looked at more closely, his reevangelization has meant re-Catholicization and his wordy ecumenism has under the surface been aimed at a return to the Catholic Church.

Many people rightly speak of a betrayal of the council, a betrayal which has alienated countless Catholics from the church all over the world. Instead of the words of the conciliar program there are again the slogans of a magisterium which once more is conservative and authoritarian. Instead of the aggiornamento in the spirit of the gospel there is now again the traditional "Catholic teaching" (rigorous moral encyclicals, the traditionalist world catechism). Instead of the collegiality of the pope with the bishops there is again a tighter Roman centralism which in the nomination of bishops and appointments to the theological chairs sets itself above the interests of the local churches. Instead of openness to the modern world there is increasingly accusation, complaint, and lamentation over alleged assimilation and an encouragement of traditional forms of piety, such as Marianism. Instead of dialogue there is again reinforced inquisition and a refusal of freedom of conscience and teaching in the church. Instead of ecumenism the emphasis is again on everything that is narrowly Roman Catholic. There is no longer any talk, as at the council, of the distinction between the church of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church, between the substance of the doctrine of faith and its garb in language and history; of a hierarchy of truths which are not equally important.

Even the most moderate requests within Catholicism and the ecumenical world have been turned down or left undecided, with no reason, by a high-handed curia. This has been accepted; who still bothers? In many places, in matters of sexual morality, mixed marriages, and ecumenism, pastors and the faithful quietly do what seems right in the spirit of the gospel and in accordance with the impulses of Vatican II. They are not bothered about pope and bishops.

Meanwhile the Roman legalism, clericalism, and triumphalism, which was [sic] so vigorously criticized by the bishops at the council - cosmetically rejuvenated and in modern dress - has come back with a vengeance. This became evident above all in the new Canon Law promulgated in 1983, which contrary to the intentions of the council, sets no limit to the exercise of power by pope, curia, and nuncios. Indeed it diminishes the status of the ecumenical councils, assigns the conferences of bishops only advisory tasks, continues to keep the laity totally dependent on the hierarchy, and thoroughly neglects the church's ecumenical dimension.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

OZ - Beecher sings "I Got It Bad"

Compelling Characters

As mentioned in the previous post, I have written the pilot and a few episodes of a TV series I have called Father Tom. I am not an experienced or trained writer of drama, so I have had to make my way by trial and error, by reading books and by watching critically acclaimed dramatic TV series. I have recently been watching the HBO prison drama Oz on DVD, including some of the Special Features. In one of these, series creator Tom Fontana talks about being offered the chance to create, write, and produce Oz for HBO. Fontana had been a writer for the major networks and was not sure of the guidelines for writing for cable networks. When he asked the HBO execs if there were any restrictions on what he could write, he basically was given carte blanche. The big boys told him that they did not care whether a character was likable or not, only whether he or she was compelling.

Having watched nearly two and a half seasons of Fontana's series, I can say that some of the characters on Oz are indeed compelling. Let's take the inmate Tobias Beecher, for example. What makes this character compelling is his complexity; he is both a victim and a victimizer. Beecher is a Harvard-educated lawyer in his mid-thirties, with a wife and two young children who was given the maximum sentence for striking and killing a girl with his car while driving under the influence. After he is convicted and has spent time in prison, his wife leaves him and eventually commits suicide, leaving a note blaming him for ruining her life. In Oz ["Oz" is short for Oswald State Penitentiary] Beecher quickly becomes the "bitch" of white supremacist and hardened con Vern Schillinger, who burns a swastika into Beecher's ass and subjects him to regular humiliation. Tobias's troubles in prison and his addictive personality lead to heroin use and ultimately to renewed alcohol abuse. He becomes violent himself and turns the tables on Schillinger by temporarily blinding him in one eye and setting him up for a murder conspiracy charge that wrecks his chances of parole. Finally, by the end of Season Two, Beecher finds himself in love with an apparently sympathetic cellmate who is actually a plant arranged by Schillinger assigned to torment his former boy. Through all his physical and emotional pain, his addiction, and his seething anger, Beecher's intelligence manages to keep shining through.

There are other characters in the series - inmates and staff - that are equally multi-dimensional.

The danger for writers of dramas like Oz, as well as of police procedurals and medical dramas, lies in the ever-present possibility (and one suspects the ever-present temptation) of sacrificing character development in favour of exciting plot developments. This happens in Oz as it does in many series that feature violent confrontation or life-and-death scenarios. I watched several episodes of the first season of 24 before giving up in boredom because there was so little development of the characters; we were jumping from one crisis to the next in order to maintain dramatic tension and thus hold the attention of the viewer. Jack Bauer was simply not an interesting character. The HBO series The Wire managed for all five of its seasons to avoid this problem, first because of the real-life experience of its creators which made the stories appear grittily real, and second, because the writing quality was always of the first order.

On the other hand, in dramas like Six Feet Under, another HBO offering, which rely for the most part on non-violent conflict, the conflict can become monotonous and the characters annoying if the tension is not relieved by humour or by scenes of redemption or reconciliation. This balance was one of the outstanding qualities of first four seasons of The West Wing.

So how does one write an interesting "priest drama"? How does the writer sustain dramatic tension while making the characters complex and thus interesting? First, the life of an urban parish priest, from all that I have read and the little that I have observed, is not dull. There is plenty of drama and plenty of conflict, both external and internal, to make for an interesting dramatic series. Second, every priest is an individual with a unique internal life, a unique way of dealing (or not dealing) with his own problems and the problems of the parish and its parishioners. Priests have relationships with family, with fellow priests, with the hierarchy, as well as with the members of their staff and congregation. These relationships are not always harmonious. A priest struggles with his faith, with celibacy, with loneliness, and with the common sins of pride, lust, and wrath. He faces the ordinary and extraordinary stresses of life - and death. There is much to explore here.

A parish is a community that is made up of all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds, personalities, motives, degrees of faith, and levels of participation in that parish community. The public and private relationships of these people with their priest(s) and with others in the parish can generate an infinite number of stories of conflict, brokenness, anger, redemption, tenderness, love. Some of these stories can be funny. The episodes can also include violence, sex, and of course death, but what will make the series compelling will be the very humanity of the characters in all their human weakness, their search for God and for the truth, their unfulfilled needs, and their growth in love.

The challenge is how to write this well. I do not feel that I have as yet met this challenge.

All thoughtful suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"So what do you do?"

How does a writer know when he is a writer? I am sure that there are countless explanations out there, and I am afraid to look at most of them because I suspect that, like several I have read, they are going to tell me that a writer usually gets a sense of his vocation at an early age: he loves reading stories and hearing others tell stories. The authentic writer begins writing early because there are stories inside him that are begging to be told. He sees story potential in all kinds of real-life situations; his imagination works with news stories, bits of family dialogue, conflicts with friends, incidents observed on the bus or at a hockey game. His life is about writing. Of course, he would like to be published so that he can make his living at what he loves to do, but no matter - whatever happens or does not happen with his work commercially, he will continue to write; he has no choice.

I definitely do not fit this profile.

I am about to become fifty-nine years of age. At fifty-four I ended a career in education that had been going nowhere for a very long time, but I had no idea what I was going to do next. Around the same time we started watching the TV series The West Wing, which was written by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The American President). I have never been a fan of TV series, dramatic or otherwise, but I had heard from "reliable sources" that The West Wing was very good. So we bought the first season on DVD, started watching it one Friday night, and were immediately hooked. The writing was intelligent, witty, and very warm. Martin Sheen was human and utterly believable as President Bartlett, and some of the other characters, like Toby (Richard Schiff) and CJ Cregg (Allison Janney) brought idiosyncratic depth and vitality to the show. What I loved about The West Wing was the way it depicted relationships. I do not think it would be particularly challenging to make the inner workings of the West Wing dramatically interesting in terms of plot, but creating believably human relationships among characters engaged daily in momentous affairs of state was, I imagine, no small creative task. In this Aaron Sorkin succeeded brilliantly and consistently. Unfortunately, Mr. Sorkin left the series after four years; as a result, the following three seasons were considerably less compelling.

Watching The West Wing (and I watched some of the earlier episodes more times than I can count), I began to feel that I would like to try my hand at writing my own TV series. By this time I had returned to the Catholic Church and had somehow recovered my childhood fascination with the priesthood. So I decided I would create a series about a Catholic priest and his parish. I bought two volumes of scripts selected from the first four seasons of The West Wing so that I could copy the format as well as study the writing more closely. For the next three years I wrote and rewrote several episodes of the series I called Father Tom.

Most of my time was spent writing the pilot for the series. At first, the act of writing did not seem to be that difficult; I had a number of ideas stored up and ready to write down. Before I knew it I had a two-hour pilot and a couple of additional episodes. I did not, however, have a clue about how to write drama. Friends who read my work were kind but also constructively critical. Some of the criticism I received was devastating, however. A priest who read the first part of the pilot was brutal; with his help I made the discovery that one of the most disheartening things a critic can say about your work is that it is boring. Nevertheless, I was determined to use all criticism to re-evaluate and improve my work. Books on screenplay writing and writing for TV also helped me a great deal.

As I continued to work on Father Tom, I also began to watch other dramatic series like Six Feet Under, NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, and The Wire. This exercise was instructive but sometimes discouraging. I often felt that my writing came nowhere near to matching the depth and complexity of the plots and characters in these dramas. Part of my problem was that I had no technical advisor; I really needed a priest that I could interview extensively and follow around as he worked through his day. I had to make do with reading books about priests and parishes.

Eventually I came up with a pilot that I thought might work. A friend who works in TV offered to pass my pilot on to a producer, so in October of last year I finally got up the courage to stop tweaking it and sent it on to my friend. I think he is still sitting on it and has not passed it on to anyone. I am afraid to imagine why. Yet perhaps this stall is a good thing as the pilot is indeed still in need of work that amounts to more than tweaking. I have recently been watching the HBO series Oz, and I can see where my own work can be dramatically improved (double meaning intended).

After I handed over my pilot script, I decided to give TV writing a rest. In the meantime, I thought I would try writing a novel. Now, boys and girls, can you guess what the novel was going to be about? Yes, a priest!! I thought I had a great idea for a story, about a theologian who kind of comes into his own, spiritually and psychologically, at Vatican II. I was excited about the project and set about reading all kinds of background material, most of which was fascinating in itself. Yet when it came to actually writing the story, the ideas for plot were there but they refused to develop into a full-blown story. And I could not get a handle on the main character. I quickly abandoned the idea of becoming a novelist.

So here's the thing: I loved writing the Father Tom series and will likely go back to it soon. But I am no Aaron Sorkin, no Alan Ball, no Ed Burns. Take Alan Ball: he wrote the Academy-Award-winning film American Beautyand created the TV series Six Feet Under and True Blood. Each of these highly successful projects is unique, one utterly unlike the other. I am interested in studying and writing about the Catholic Church, more specifically about Catholic priests, fictional or real. That's it. No vampires. No cops. No doctors. No funeral directors. Unless they are Catholic. Maybe I can write a pretty good TV series about a parish once I acquire enough understanding of how a parish works, of how a priest's mind works, and how a successful TV series works. But will I ever be a writer for 24? Will I ever be show runner for Grey's Anatomy? Not likely. So I guess I really cannot call myself a writer. Well, perhaps I could say that I am an amateur writer or a student of writing.

I actually like being a kind of work in progress. I am not good at prayer in the old-fashioned sense, but lately I think of my work as a kind of prayer. My study and research and writing are really my ongoing conversation with God (not many others are in on this conversation right now). I do not have a plan from day to day for what I am going to read or write; I just go with whatever happens to inspire me at any given time. I certainly have no illusions about becoming famous on account of my writing although I would like Father Tom to be produced as I believe people will like it and may be encouraged to think about the Church and their faith in a slightly different way after they have watched it.

When people ask me what I do I don't usually have a straightforward simple answer. I would like to say that I am a writer, but I fear that the next question would be "What have you published?" and I would have to answer "Nothing." So instead I go into a long explanation of my background and how I came to be in the situation I have created for myself, including the building of a large garage at the back of our house, half of which is my office - my "creative space" where I (and the dog) spend the better part of the day "following my bliss," as Joseph Campbell says.

From now on, when people ask me what I do, I should simply say, "I pray."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Innocent III and Francis of Assisi

From Hans Kung's book:

As early as 1209, six years before the Fourth Lateran Council, a truly historic meeting took place between Francis of Assisi and Innocent III, the Poverello (little poor man) and the sole ruler. The great alternative to the Roman system took shape here in the person of Giovanni di Bernardone, the name given at birth to the happy-go-lucky worldly son of a rich textile merchant from Assisi.

Innocent III was aware of the urgent need for reform of the church, for which he would soon convene the Fourth Lateran Council. He was sensitive enough to observe that the outwardly powerful church was inwardly weak, that the heretical currents in the church had increased powerfully, and that it was difficult to overcome them solely with force. Would it not be better to bind them to the church and meet their wish to engage in apostolic preaching in poverty? In principle Francis of Assisi was not unwelcome to him.

But precisely what was the concern of the Poverello? What was the meaning of the "rebuilding of the fallen church" which the twenty-four-year-old understood to be his calling in a vision of the crucified Christ in 1206? It was nothing less than an end to a self-satisfied bourgeois existence, and the beginning of real discipleship of Christ in poverty and itinerant preaching in accord with the gospel, indeed conformity to the life and suffering of Christ and identification with Christ. Specifically the Franciscan ideal had three key points:

  1. Paupertas, poverty: a life with absolutely no possessions, not only for the individual member of the brotherhood but also for the community as a whole. Money, church buildings, and the quest for Roman privileges are prohibited. The brothers are to work, work hard in the fields; they are to beg only in an emergency. So Francis did not want a mendicant order.

  2. Humilitas, humility: a life which renounces power and influence to the point of extreme forms of self-denial and mortification, patience in all situations, and a basic mood of joy which can endure even taunts, ridicule, and beatings.

  3. Simplicitas, simplicity: discipleship of Christ in great simplicity in all that is done. Knowledge and learning are nothing but obstacles here. Instead of this there is to be a new relationship with creation, as is expressed above all in the "Hymn to the Sun": a new relation to animals, plants, and inanimate phenomena of nature; all creatures are brothers and sisters.

In conformity with Jesus, but not in confrontation with the hierarchy, not by drifting into heresy but in obedience to pope and curia, Francis and his eleven lesser brothers (fratres minores) were to realize their purpose and, like the disciples of Jesus, proclaim the ideal of the gospel life everywhere through itinerant preaching. On the basis of a dream according to which, as the tradition goes, a small, inconspicuous religious prevented the basilica of the Lateran from collapsing, the pope finally approved Francis' simple rule and published it in the consistory.

However, all this meant that Francis, dangerous though he seemed, had committed himself wholly to the church. He had promised reverence and obedience to the pope and bound the brothers by the same promise. At the wish of his patron, Cardinal Giovannni di San Paolo, he even had himself and his eleven companions elevated to the clerical state by the tonsure. This made their preaching activity easier, but at the same time furthered the clericalization of the young community. Priests too now joined the society. The process of the ecclesiasticization of the Franciscan movement had begun, and Francis, who had wanted to detach himself from all things in poverty, was now more dependent on holy mother church. Behind this stood above all the nephew of Innocent III, Cardinal Ugolino, who during Francis' lifetime made himself his friend and protector. A year after Francis' death he ascended the papal throne as Gregory IX, canonized Francis, against Francis' express wishes had a splendid basilica and a monastery built in Assisi, and at the same time relaxed the Franciscan rule by adding constant interpretive qualifications. At the same time, as we have seen, he established the central Roman Inquisition.

Francis of Assisi, with his gospel demands, was originally the alternative to the centralized, legalistic, politicized, militarized, and clericalized Roman system. It hardly bears thinking about: what would have happened had Innocent III, instead of integrating Francis into this system, taken the gospel seriously and adopted the key points of Francis of Assisi? What would have happened had the Fourth Lateran Council introduced a reform to the church on the basis of the gospel?

Innocent III died unexpectedly seven months after the conclusion of the council. On the evening of June 16, 1216, he was found in the cathedral of Perugia, abandoned by all, completely naked, robbed by his own servants. He was probably the only pope who on the basis of his unusual qualities could have shown the church a fundamentally different way, who could have spared the papacy a split and exile, and the church the Protestant Reformation. Even if a great church cannot be so enthusiastic and idealistic that it ignores the complicated questions of the exercising of office and the law; in other words, even if offices must be handed on in a legitimate way, the law implemented, and financial transactions carried out, the basic question still remains: should the Catholic Church be a church in the spirit of Innocent III, or in the spirit of Francis of Assisi? We recall the key words of Francis' program:

  • Poverty. Innocent III stands for a church of wealth and splendor, of greed and financial scandal. But would not also a church have been possible which had a transparent financial policy, was content and made no claims, was an example of inner freedom from possessions and Christian generosity, and did not suppress the life of the gospel and apostolic freedom but furthered them?
  • Humility. Innocent III stood for a church of power and rule, of bureaucracy and discrimination, of repression and the Inquisition. Would not also a church have been conceivable which was modest, friendly, and engaged in dialogue, was made up of brothers and sisters, and was hospitable even to those who did not conform, whose leaders engaged in unpretentious service and showed social solidarity, and which did not exclude from the church new religious forces and ideas, but made fruitful use of them?
  • Simplicity. Innocent III stood for a church whose dogma was excessively complex, for moralistic casuistry and legal safeguards, a church wth a canon law which ruled everything, a scholasticism which knew everything, and a magisterium which was afraid of the new. But would not also a church have been possible which was a church of good news and joy, a theology orientated on the simple gospel, which listened to people instead of merely indoctrinating them from above, not just an official church which only teaches, but a people's church which keeps on learning afresh?


Monday, January 4, 2010

The Church as the People of God III

Here are some interesting passages from Hans Kung's The Catholic Church: A Short History that remind us of the disconnect between Jesus of Nazareth and the original Church and the Catholic Church of today.

From Chapter I "The Beginnings of the Church":

From the earliest times until the present, the church has been, and still is, the fellowship of those who believe in Christ, the fellowship of those who have committed themselves to the person and cause of Christ and who attest it as hope for all men and women....The original meaning of ekklesia, "church," was not a hyperorganization of spiritual functionaries, detached from the concrete assembly. It denoted a community gathering at a particular place at a particular time for a particular action - a local church, though with the other churches it formed a comprehensive community, the whole church. According to the New Testament, every individual local community is given what it needs for human salvation: the gospel to proclaim, baptism as a rite of initiation, the celebration of a meal in grateful remembrance, the various charisms and ministries, Thus every local church makes the whole church fully present; indeed it may understand itself - in the language of the New Testament - as people of God, body of Christ, and building of the Spirit.

In answer to the question, "Was Jesus Catholic?"

Catholics who think along traditional lines tacitly presuppose that he was. The Catholic Church has always been fundamentally what it is today, the thinking goes, and what the Catholic Church has always said and intended is what originally Jesus Christ himself said and intended....[But] we must never forget what the sources are unanimous in reporting. Through his actions this man from Nazareth became involved in a dangerous conflict with the ruling forces of his time. Not with the people, but with the official religious authorities, with the hierarchy, which handed him over to the Roman governor and thus to his death....Even in today's Catholic Church might he have become involved in dangerous conflicts if he so radically put in question the dominant religious circles and cliques and the traditional religious practices of so many pious and fundamentalist Catholics? What if he even initiated a public protest action against the way in which piety was practiced in the sanctuary of the priests and the high priest and identified himself with the concerns of a popular church movement "from below"? Jesus was anything but the representative of a patriarchal hierarchy.

From Chapter II, "The Early Catholic Church":

Kung talks about the Pauline churches:

The presbyteral-episcopal constitution of the church is said to have been instituted by Jesus Christ, even to be a divine institution and therefore unchangeable divine law. However, a careful investigation of New Testament sources in the last hundred years has shown that this church constitution, centered on the bishop, is by no means directly willed by God or given by Christ but is the result of a long and problematical historical development. It is human work and therefore in principal can be changed.

In the lettters of Paul of which the authority is undisputed there is no mention at all of a legal institution of the church. In the Pauline churches there was neither a monarchical episcopate nor a presbyterate nor an ordination by the laying on of hands.

And yet Paul was convinced that his gentile Christian churches were in their way complete and well-equipped churches, which did not lack anything essential; the non-episcopal congregationalist churches of a later period would appeal to this. The Pauline churches are in fact largely communities with free charismatic ministries. According to Paul, all Christians have their personal calling, their own gift of the spirit, their special charism for service to the community.

In his first letter to the community of Corinth, Paul thinks it quite normal that the Eucharist is celebrated there without him and without anyone who has been appointed to an office, though at the same time it is taken for granted that a certain order should be observed. According to the earliest community order, the Didache (Teaching of the Apostles, around 100), above all teachers and prophets celebrate the Eucharist, and only after them elected bishops and deacons. The community of Antioch was clearly led not by episkopoi and presbyters, but by prophets and teachers. In Rome too, at the time when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, there was evidently as yet no community order with episkopoi. That makes the question of how a hierarchy came into being all the more interesting.

If the meaning of church is community of believers or worshippers, if Jesus was not Catholic, and if the Pauline churches were not hierarchically structured, how did we get to where we are today? Hans Kung has much to say on that score. Stay tuned.