EFORE the Council of Trent the prevailing theology was scholastic. In other words it was rooted in the Greek philosophical mindset that prevented later generations understanding the biblical. However, it was saved from becoming a pure intellectualism by a vibrant spirituality centred on the humanity of Jesus, thanks to St Bernard, St Francis of Assisi and a contemporary of the Council of Trent, St Ignatius.
Under the influence of the great saints and mystics of the period, meditation on the humanity of Jesus led on into mystical contemplation. It was here that the wisdom was learnt to integrate a Christ-centred spirituality with a Greek-based theology in a satisfactory synthesis that was sadly destroyed in later centuries.
Thanks to the anti-mystical witch-hunts that followed in the wake of the Church's condemnation of Quietism in the 17th century. great mystical writers such as St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross came under suspicion.
The profound contemplative prayer that had always been the very life-blood of religious life and any authentic Christian spirituality was successively and successfully undermined in favour of relentless apostolic activity that loses its savour without mystical prayer.
This latter state of affairs was still prevailing immediately before the Second Vatican Council, so ensuring its failure. If only the Vatican Council had had its St Philip Neri, whose spiritual direction, wisdom and personal holiness did so much to sanctify the Curia who served the Council of Trent. If it had only had lay organisations like the Oratory of Divine Love and new and reformed religious orders like the Theatines, the Barnabites, the Capuchins, the Carmelites and not least the Jesuits, things might have been different.
The Second Vatican Council was preceded by decades of invaluable biblical and liturgical scholarship, but so much of their work has failed to bear the practical fruit that was promised.
The lack of spiritual training that affected both them and their enthusiastic followers meant that their new and exciting theology remained, unlike that of their Tridentine counterparts, predominantly intellectual. Although it tried to supersede the dry scholastic theology that had long since passed its sell-bydate, it only succeeded in causing confusion amongst the clergy and this confusion was sadly reflected in the laity. Some of them still aspire to the "new biblical theology", whilst remaining ignorant of the profound prayer that will alone enable them to understand it.
Other, amateur DIY theologians, have concocted their own synthesis by cherry-picking from the old and the new according to their own individual idiosyncrasies, whilst others have retreated into a neo-conservatism.
Sadly, through no personal fault, but through the unfortunate historical circumstances to which I have referred, they have been deprived of the deep spiritual formation that they needed. This has inevitably resulted in their own personal spiritual impoverishment and has prevented them becoming the much-needed spiritual directors and guides to the faithful, most of whom feel that they have become sheep without shepherds.
Now, when theology in any shape or form becomes detached from spirituality, a gap quickly opens between theory and practice. When this begins to happen and outsiders start to see a discrepancy between what is preached and what is practised, then religious leaders all too often try to hide what they cannot remedy.
Then, slowly but surely, they are forced into the "culture of cover-up" that I mentioned before, for fear of being cited as hypocritical leaders of a hypocritical religion.
The reform that is well overdue in the Church can only begin when enough people are able to see the truth with the humility that leads to the repentance which makes them turn to the only one who can give the power to practise what is preached.
This is why every successful reform movement in the Church's history has been brought about by responding to the Holy Spirit speaking through men and women of profound prayer.
Whenever any religious system of theology prevails that is predominantly "intellectual" it not only creates a gap between theory and practice, but a gap between those who think they are the intellectuals at the top and the ordinary run-of-the-mill people at the bottom. This gap has been exacerbated since the Second Vatican Council as different theological opinions prevailed amongst the clergy and the Catholic intelligentsia.
The inevitable result of this is that the ordinary man or woman in the pew is — continually confused and frustrated. Even if they are able to find satisfactory explanations of the faith from their clergy, few of them are able to give the spiritual help for which they crave.
Sheep without shepherds tend to disperse, looking to find for themselves the food and nourishment that they need, but with varying success. I'll explain a little more fully what I mean next time.