June 20, 2011
the layman keeps things under surveillance
I am by no means the first to mention this, but the widening phenomenon of blogging bishops is really getting me down. If a bishop has an expertise on, say, Shakespeare, beef bourguignon, or golf, for example, then I perceive no necessary problem with his blogging about it, though I can imagine some questions that could be raised. My immediate concern is with bishops' undertaking -- or appearing to undertake -- to exercise their teaching office through the medium of the blog. It's not electronic media per se that I'm concerned about; it's the blog format in particular. Eduardo's link to Archbishop Dolan's blog prompted me to check it out. The comments in reply to the Archbishop's statement there begin with things like "Mr. Dolan," and it gets much, much worse. By "worse" I don't refer to the fact of disagreement as such; the disagreement was to be anticipated, alas. The problem I have in mind is this: the way the dialogue is conducted -- indeed, invited -- confirms the hoped-for perception by many that the bishop's voice is one among countless equal voices in the usual sort of chatter that is familiar on blogs. I concede that the Church's authoritative teachers have difficult choices to make about how to use modern media to advance the work of the Word Incarnate, but I'm increasingly doubtful that authoritative teachers' blogging about, say, the just wage or the nature of marriage will do more to advance the Church's teachings on either of those questions than it will do to undermine the authority with which the Church in fact teaches. I have great admiration for Arch. Dolan. When I have been around him, I have been impressed by the strength of his exercise of his teaching office. I hope I am wrong about the long-term effects of the blogging. Though it involves a more serious venue, I would note that the Holy Father himself, by reducing himself to the status of a mere interviewee in the recent book Light of the World, created considerable difficulties concerning what the Church was teaching there, if anything, on the topics the Holy Father discussed with Mr. Seewald. Those who seek the Church's authoritative teachings will not have reason to believe they find them in blog exchanges or in interviews, and it is perfectly plain that many of those commenting on Arch. Dolan's blog already treat his voice as just one among an endless babel. Which reminds me of something I read recently about where Ockhamism leads in terms of ecclesiology: "Under these conditions, it would be more frank to say, as Luther would say later, that there is not and there cannot be any doctrinal authority in the Church other than the letter of the Bible as clarified by the Holy Spirit. Ockham only goes part of the way. He maintains the principle of authority, but so well ruins the substance of it that its recognition is nothing other than an occasion to organize a distrust, suspicion, and, if need be, the revolt of the Christian in the face of it. The doctor teaches, controls, and condemns the pontiff. The layman keeps things under surveillance and, if necessary, punishes the doctor, the cleric, the bishop, or the pope. In the name of the faith, one justifies an anarchic and disordered activism of the entire ecclesiastical body, and the logic of the system forbids any institution within it whatsoever from controlling it efficaciously. If there were any reforming ferment that Ockham set into motion in the Church, it was indeed through his theory of the doctrinal magisterium that, while claiming to safeguard the principle of all traditional institutions, irremediably undermines the base of them."
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