Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, May 3, 2015



Continuing in the vein of the crisis in the Church, the larger context includes the breathtaking (but not entirely surprising) decline in Christianity's place in the world in the decades immediately ahead.  The global projections, made by the Pew Research Center, are here   For example, by 2050 Christians will lose their majority in the population in the following countries (among several others):  Republic of Macedonia, Australia, United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.  If current trends continue, Muslims will outnumber Christians after 2070.  In the United States, the Christian population will decline from 78.3% in 2010 to 66.4% in 2050.  

All of these and the many other developments reported by Pew will be greeted by many as good news indeed, but only Christians indifferent to the unique saving power of Christ cannot but be troubled by the diminishing presence and action of Christians in a world whose daily headlines already reveal a scandalous lack of Christian ways of doing and of forbearing.

My principal thesis at the recent Scarpa Conference was that the Church is in crisis (not in "springtime") and that worthwhile Catholic legal theory must start from the facts of crisis (not of the false facts cultured by the spurious optimism that says, for example, that closing parishes by the dozen is the way to ensure a "lively" Catholic future), if it is to be relevant (as it surely should seek to be):

My contention, then, is that the Church is in crisis and that the various denials (which I have just cataloged and refuted) are variously untenable.  My further contention is that Catholic legal theory worthy of the task must start from, or at least work toward, agreement that the Church is in crisis, and not more or less idly await the adventitious intervention of the paradoxically predictable “God of surprises.”  My still further and more specific contention, as I have already indicated, is that it’s the Roman regime of novelty since 1965, summed up under the crisis-occluding monicker “God of surprises,” that is the biggest impediment to genuinely Catholic theorizing about law.   An institutionalized expectation of an orchestrated series of surprises is a counter-incentive to work with the inheritance the Church bequeathed to us until the Second Vatican Council became, alas, the alpha-point of ecclesiastical history.

Perhaps the biggest novelty, at least relevant to Catholic legal theory, is that false summum bonum called “dialogue.”  Worship of “dialogue” is so far-flung today, more so than Mass-attendance, that we need to be reminded to recognize that (as Romano Amerio explains), “the word dialogue represents the biggest change in the mentality of the Church after the council, only comparable in importance with the change wrought by the word liberty in the last century.  The word was completely unknown and unused in the Church’s teaching before the council.  It not does occur once in any previous council, or in papal encyclicals, or in sermons or in pastoral practice.  In the Vatican II documents it occurs 28 times.”  (Amerio, Iota Unum, at 347).  Which, I might add, is twenty-eight times the number of times the Social Kingship of Christ is mentioned in the documents of the same Council.  And what did Christ command his disciples to do?  To go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), that is, to evangelize, and “[i]n Scripture, evangelization proceeds by teaching not by dialogue.  Christ’s last command to his disciples was matheteuein and disaskein, which literally means make disciples of all nations.” (Id. at 351)  Not only does the concept of dialogue lack scriptural foundation, it rests upon the mistaken assumption that all are capable of dialogue.  As Socrates taught, on matters of gymnastics, one should consult an expert on gymnastics, etc.  (Id. at 349) The Church is in sole possession of the authority to teach as Christ did at Matthew 7:29: “with authority.”  In 1971 in presenting the Holy See’s “Instruction on Dialogue” to the press, Cardinal Konig explained that “dialogue puts the partners on an equal footing.” (Id. at 355 n.17) Q.E.D.  So much for “with authority.

As Rick Garnett was careful to note here and here, there is indeed a place for dialogue, indeed a moral exigence for it.  My stated objection to "dialogue" was that it has eclipsed, in much of we hear from ministers of the Church and from many others who have followed their lead, the ultimate goal of the Christ's Mystical Body: the salvation of souls, which is not the outcome of dialogue but of discipleship, and discipleship is the fruit of successful evangelization.  Dialogue is sometimes, indeed often, a necessary and desirable means, but it's not the end.

My focus at the conference was on the "auto-demolition" -- the self-destruction -- of the Church, and I do indeed believe that that phenomenon is the one most to be feared.  But I certainly agree with John Breen (here) and others that the troubles in the Church are also traceable to "cultural" influences.  But that only leads me to observe that (as the young Jacques Maritain once wrote), "it was five hundred years ago that we began to die."  The Church's long-diminishing influence on the culture has had its disastrous effect, including in Vatican II's insistence that the Church must conform herself to the culture in various ways.  The Church that should transform the culture is being transformed by the culture (in part) because of her very own failure to transform that culture into one that seeks, rather than seeks to destroy, the Church.  The result is that culture is every day having its way with the one thing that could tell it (the culture) to straighten up and fly right.  (Cf. Leo XIII, Letter Testem Benevolentiae to the Archbishop of Baltimore, 1899).  If we hadn't begun to die five-hundred years ago, the culture would more help than hinder the evangelizing work of the Church today.

We are in what Bernard Longeran referred to as the long cycle of decline.  Which is why I also said at the conference that today the world needs the Church in her fullness "more than ever" (though I recognize that that need was, in some deeper sense, always already infinite).  

I'll close for now with some bracing words from Pope Paul VI, who had his good days and his bad days:

Enough of internal dissent within the Church! Enough of a disintegrating interpretation of pluralism! Enough of Catholics attacking each other at the price of their own necessary unity!  Enough of disobedience described as freedom!

So spoke, in 1975, the Pope who had solemnly closed the Second Vatican Council just a decade earlier, anticipating that "new springtime" that would turn out to be a winter the likes of which the Church in her long history has hardly ever seen.  I have never tried to count the number of times Paul VI tried to console himself late in life by publicly stating "We have kept the Faith," but I'm sure someone somewhere has done that little-consoling research.   




Brennan, Patrick | Permalink