Nil • St. John
THAT the PCatholiec Church is passing 'through its greatest period of crisis since the Reformation should not surprise us: the crisis within the Church is a reflection of the wider problems that are afflicting the whole of mankind, especially Western man with whom, up to now, the Church has been substantially identified.
Western man is passing through a profound crisis of identity and values: the Catholic is sharing in it. One aspect of this crisis is psychological and the Catholic precisely because he was sheltered for so long by a system which offered stability and certainty finds himself almost more at sea psychologically than anybody else.
From a position which broadly speaking required him to believe everything he now finds himself in a situation Where he apparently can believe anything — or nothing. The psychological trauma has been severe, It is not merely a question of C 0 m paratively peripheral matters such as birth control or the celibacy of the clergy, but of uncertainties affecting the basis of his entire religious outlook.
The position of the papacy is in doubt: the old liturgy hallowed by centuries of use has vanished and been replaced by what many regard as a wholly new service: the identification of the Church with the visible external order (a 'process which reached its high water mark with Mystici Corporis) is no longer made, ecumenism has put an end to that, heretics have been transubstantiated into separated brethren: now new doctrinal challenges are emerging on the utility of penance, the indissolubility of marriage, and the nature of the Eucharist. All is in flux: nothing seems to. hold: what are we to do?
I do not agree with those who want to go backwards and pretend that Vatican II never happened, for among other reasons. is the total impracticability of such a course. Yet I do feel sympathy with them as indiiduals, I understand how they have resolved their own 'personal crisis, and had it not been for a difference of psychological make-up, I might well have found myself taking the same course.
I deplore the shrillness of the attacks launched on aggiornamento by men such as Mr. Hugh Ross-Williamson, and Fr. Whatmore. but I hope 1 understand what has made them so desperately cross. The alternative to reaction is the patient building up again from its very foundations of the whole edifice of our faith.
We have to forget not the essential; truths of religion, but the way we were taught them and build up a new mode of apprehension of them in the context of the modern world. If we do not do this we risk losing our faith altogether since to return to the Tridentine world is morally impossible.
In order to accomplish this rebuilding we have to recognise certain facts. One of the principal of these is the shift that has come about in the centering of our religion. It seems to me that we have moved from a Churchcentred religion to a Christcentred one. This is a mark of maturity, of coming of age. The Church is rightly described as our mother, but children grow up in religion as in other spheres, and in an adult world the encounter with Christ is much more direct. Religion is authenticated for many Catholics today in terms of their own experience: we are entering an age of Christian individualism.
Is there not, you may say, a danger in all this of a collapse into a religious approach, which is purely subjective? Of course there is, and from this danger springs the need for dialogue and openness within the Church. Individuals must articulate their experiences and development of thought so that they can be checked, against the experiences and thoughts of others, and all must take place within the community of the Church, subject to a continuing ecclesiastical Magisterium.
The mind of the Church on doctrine, the conscience of the Church on. morals, are both objective not subjective phenomena, but without openness and freedom objectivity cannot be formed. There should then be a real freedom and largeness of vision within the Church: there should not be an instinctive reaching out for a metaphorical faggot, every time we hear something with which we personally disagree or which seems to us to be out of accord with the orthodoxy we were taught in our youth.
In this atmosphere of freedom and tolerance there is a duty on each one of us to build up our effective faith front theological foundations. We must, as Bishop Butler has pointed out, cease to regard theology as a sort of clerical preserve and organ of ecclesiastical authority, and allow it to be "the function of the individual's faith in search of a more reflective understanding of the Christian mystery."
Our theology must not be tags and dicta from a dimlyremembered past but to quote another leading modern theologian, this time Irish, Fr. Enda McDonagh, a theology of personal understanding.
"A theology," writes Fr. McDonagh, referring to theologians, "that is not the product of his own reflection (using all the resources availa:ble within and without him) is not theology at all and of little value to listener or reader." Now just as all theological doctrines are not equally important, although all may be equally true, neither are they equally effective for the individual.
We must find for ourselves what is for us the greatest effective truth in the treasury of the Church and build up from there. For me it is the doctrine of the Trinity and I hope to make some reflections on this dazzling lightning flash which comes to us from Revelation next week.