Monday, May 07, 2012

Antithesis vs. Consensus: Priests for the Future

In his book Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr's listing of five paradigms for how the Church is related to the World, or Christ to Culture, includes two that are particularly extreme. He contrasts these two, the first of which he calls the "Christ AGAINT Culture" position, and the second of which he calls the "Christ OF Culture" position.

The first might be represented by, say, the Amish people, who physically separate themselves from the modern world by shunning the use of the internal combustion engine, electricity, public schools, etc.; or it might be represented accurately by the position of the early Church as a marginalized and sometimes persecuted minority in the alien and hostile Roman Empire.

The second might be represented by, say, the liberal mainline Protestant denominations or their ecumenical organization, the National Council of Churches, which -- unlike the Amish or persecuted early Christians -- are very comfortably "at home" in the World, but, some would say, at the price of allowing the surrounding secular culture re-define their Gospel in the most reductionst terms of politically correct "niceness."

The default position of the Church through most of its European history was probably neither of these two positions, but something closer, not to the "Christ ABOVE Culture" caricature that Niebuhr identifies as Catholic, but to the "Christ the TRANSFORMER of Culture" that he mis-identifies as Calvinist, whereas the discerning eye shows it to be the clear province of the Catholicism of the Corpus Christianum throughout the Middle Ages.

In any case, Tridentine Catholicism, responding to the seismic earthquake caused by the Protestant revolt, was likely closer to the more antithetical stance of the Counter-Reformation, a version -- at least vis-a-vis those Northern European countries taken over by Protestantism -- of the "Christ AGAINST (Protestant) Culture" paradigm, to borrow from Niebuhr.

Vatican II Catholicism, by contrast, for all of Pope John Paul II's references to the "Culture of Death," has ushered in an era of accommodationism, consensus-building, throwing open the shutters of the Church to let the fresh breezes of the World into the Church, which, unfortunately, as Paul VI himself noted, have turned out to be often closer to the "smoke of Satan" infiltrating the Church.

The oddest thing about this Vatican II and post-Conciliar period is the mystery of its ebullient if not fatuous optimism in both the secular and religious world. This was the period of the Cold War, following the two World Wars, the bloodiest wars of world history with millions exterminated in Nazi death camps and Stalin's Soviet Union. Yet if one reads Jacques Maritain's Man and the State (1951), Fr. John Courtney Murray's We Hold These Truths (1960), Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes (1965), Mortimer Adler's The Common Sense of Politics (1971), or John Paul II's Address to UNESCO (1980), there is little sense of the evil of the times or of the ineluctable fallenness of human nature. Instead, there seems to be an expansive quest for broad global consensus. Adler, Maritain and a team of intellectuals gathered by University of Chicago Chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins actually sat down together and seriously drew up a draft of a constitution for a world government! (See J.W. Boyer, "Drafting Salvation," University of Chicago Magazine, December 1995)

A striking contrast in tone is offered by pre-Conciliar popes, such as Pius XI who said: "The two opposing camps are now clearly marked; each man should choose his own. Men of good will and men of evil will face one another. The uninterested and the cowards face their fearsome responsibility. They will have their names changed if they do not change their behavior: they will be called traitors"; and: "Only by being radicals of the right will Catholics have the dynamism to withstand the radicals of the left and to conquer the world for Christ"; or Pius X, in Il Fermo Propositio (1905), who declared that "when the enemy approaches and is at our doors, it is time for the call to arms ... [but] for you, it is not only a question of sounding the alert; the enemy is in the very interior of the Empire ...."

Perhaps the greatest gift of the current Democratic administration to the Church is the opportunity to retrieve a due sense of ANTITHESIS -- a sense of the Scandal of the Cross produced in the eyes of the now secularized Western world by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The HHS Mandate was the first real shot across the bow of the Barque of St. Peter in the United States. It will be interesting to see if the bishops stand their ground. For we are speaking here of culture, which, after all, has ultimately to do with 'cultus' or worship -- or, to be exact, Whom we worship.

I was heartened to read Fr. Lee Acervo's post, "Bp. Morlino (Madison, WI): No place in the priesthood for 'wimpish-ness'” (Fr. Acervo's Corner, May 5, 2012), which leaves one with what is so badly needed now: a clarion call to counter-cultural Catholicism -- a stalwart Catholicism with a keen sense of identity and historical self-understanding, a Catholicism ready to once again DEFY the surrounding culture of post-Christian apostasy and stand its ground, come what may. Here are the words Fr. Acervo quotes from Bishop Morlino:
When we look for candidates to the priesthood and as we pray for vocations, we are looking for men who are brave in their willingness to seek holiness, to speak the truth, to lay down their lives. There is no place in the priesthood today for “wimpish-ness.” There is no place for an attitude that just wants to please people, no matter what they think and no matter what they want. Today the priest has to stand up and be brave, preaching the Truth with love. He has to be willing to be unpopular. And if it comes to it, he has to be open to martyrdom.


Ralph Roister-Doister said...

"as Paul VI himself noted, have turned out to be often closer to the "smoke of Satan" infiltrating the Church."

I have a suspicion that Pope Paul's powers of observation and analysis have been given too much credit because of this famous quotation. It is quite possible that he meant that the liberal reforms he always indulged and occasionally championed were meeting resistance by conservative sources that somehow had not been swept away by the V2 tsunami of aggiornamento -- and it was THAT resistance which was Satan's smoke. I used to accept the trad interpretation of this remark: that it is evidence of his regret for earlier support of the modernist surge within the Church. But as time has gone on that interpretation has come to seem little more than wishful thinking: I see no clear evidence that Paul EVER repudiated, or even regretted, his support of modernism. So I have to ask, what smoke? what Satan?

Kevin B. said...


I'm inclined to accept the trad interpretation. Pope Paul VI was known for his Hamlet like character(described as such by Bl. John XXIII no less!) It seems in keeping with what we know about his character that he would lament the auto-destruction of the Church but not actually do anything about it.