By Fr. ANTHONY WHEATON
Authority in a Changing Church by John Dalrymple and others (Sheed & Ward 32s. 6d.)
T HE SPODE HOUSE conference of last autumn marked an important step in the opening up of discussion about fundamentals among Catholics in this country; in particular the most fundamental question of all as far as the Catholic tradition is concerned: namely, what sort of shape or structure did Christ have in mind to be the vehicle of his teaching.
This little book, is a collection of the papers which were designed to be the starting points for discussion at the conference. The reader will no doubt be able to provide his own discussion.
The theme that runs through all the speakers' thought Is clearly that the crisis of authority in the Church is a result of the changing civilisation in which we find ourselves. A most interesting lecture by Robert Murray on the New Testament idea of authority exposes the rather topsy-turvey idea once popular among theologians that Christ left a fully fashioned community to carry on his work. Rather, he suggests, "it is the new Covenant rather than any particular institutional structure that is central and fun
damental to the New Testament teaching about the Church". and a fortiori about authority.
Theo Westow then takes up the story and gives, one must confess, a pretty gloomy picture of the different structures the Church has donned in the different civilisations it has lived through. We are going to be in for a hard time of it if all the human structures the Church adopts to teach Christ are going to be as awful as, e.g., the Baroque political ones, seem to have been. If all structures are going to fester the moment they are adopted then one may sympathise with our Bishops' miew that the devil we know is probably better than the devil we don't.
It would be churlish however to quibble about matters of emphasis when the overall tone of the papers is so hopeful. There is not space to list each of them but John Dalrymple on the individual's responsibility for renewing himself before he proclaims the renewal of anyone else provides the welcome counterweight, lest we become overenthusiastic.
Not a book, I think, that every Catholic will want to read, but it has given one amateur theologian a good deal to think about, and may perhaps be recommended to others. The publishers have practically guaranteed a small sale in any case by their price.