Ultimate authority

Florian’s comment to Man vs. Myth is about authority. He thinks the Catholic hierarchy has the right to tell Catholics what to believe. I don’t. I follow the voice of authority within.
This will be interpreted as arrogance. But is it less arrogant for human officials of the Catholic Church to claim the right to define truth?

Florian says, if I don’t comply with Church teaching, I’m not Catholic. I say I can’t stop being Catholic because it is who I am. If I were excommunicated, I would still be Catholic.

I believe in Ultimate Truth but consider it indefinable. This is why I like Joseph Campbell’s term for God—Transcendent Mystery. It indicates the incomprehensibility of what we call God. God is not a creature, not a being, not a somebody, not an individual alongside other individuals, as Karl Rahner pointed out.

All God-images, including the Christian one of Jesus Christ, need to be distinguished from God Itself, which is beyond anything humanly imaginable. It is the Source of all reality and all possibility. This is why I disapprove of worshipping Jesus as God; I consider it a form of idolatry.

Still, I love and claim my Catholic heritage with its evocative rituals, its glorious history in art, its contributions to social justice, and its resistance to conventional thought. I particularly love the growing body of Catholic thinkers who are moving past traditional belief to a deeper, less reified, more mystical understanding of ancient dogma.

I listened to Krista Tippet's "Speaking of Faith" this morning. She had asked Catholics around the world to say what Catholicism meant to them. This blog post reflects some of what I heard and gives my own answer to that question. God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky answers it more completely.

Henri de Lubac
I was shocked and disappointed when I encountered traditional theology in a publication of my alma mater School of Theology—a review of Henri de Lubac’s writings. Samples:
• Humans sinned and corrupted the image of God’s likeness in themselves.
• Therefore the human-divine relationship stays opposed between natural and supernatural.
• Unaided, no human can rectify it.
• “Whether humanity knows it or not, it needs Christ.”
• Christ’s church is necessary for salvation.

This is precisely the exclusive, narrow, self-centered form of Christianity that prompted my writing of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. De Lubac’s stifling theology—from original sin to god-man savior to exclusive church—could have been written a thousand years ago. It captures the medieval mindset. But de Lubac was one of the most influential theologians in 20th century Catholicism. Shocking.

I’m not fair to de Lubac if I don’t mention his emphasis on the church as the whole body of people rather than just the clergy. This really was the reason for his status during the Second Vatican Council. But, except for his challenge to clericalism, de Lubac’s theology remains unmixed by contemporary spiritual currents.

His theology represents the Christian form of navel-gazing, absorption in one’s own narrow mental framework, unable to see out into the world, incapable of global vision. Again I'm unfair if I don't mention that de Lubac was born before 1900. We in the 21st century have a greater responsibility to enlarge our vision.


Kathleen said…
I haven’t sent my thoughts for awhile. Previously, instead of just disagreeing with me, I was personally attacked, name-called, or patronized in the comment section. I didn’t care to encourage further assaults. Jeanette, you are encouraging dialogue and inviting people to be open- minded, to reflect, and to think. Obviously, there are those who are ready and want do this. Others are more comfortable with structure and with what is familiar to them. That’s fine. You are not forcing anything on anyone.

It’s obvious, Florian, that who hold firmly to your belief system. But it also seems you are very intent on “teaching” Jeanette for some reason or changing her mind. Isn’t it okay that she believes what she does and you believe what you do? She still can be Catholic. (See the Encyclical below on conscience.)

I love the Catholic Church and its rich history. But, please, don’t dismiss the actual elements of its history that it would like us to forget—like the centuries of female clergy, the position of pope through inheritance, simony, murder, etc; ecclesiastical decisions not based on what is morally right but rather by what was financially lucrative. It’s good that there are those who love the church enough to stay in it and prod it along in the way Jesus truly intended.

I think one will find the recent discussion on Wisconsin Public radio very interesting. It is evident that Jeanette is not alone in her thinking. Michael Morwood’s important book concurs with Jeanette and current theologians regarding the mythical versus the historical Jesus. Jeanette’s book, however, has the additional benefit of the extensive bibliography and research which supports her work. Morwood’s book does not.

Michael Morwood on Wisconsin Public Radio


When our Catholic priest introduces himself, he says: “I come from the Roman Catholic tradition but I embrace all faiths.” He’s traveled the world many times. In our Catholic parish we’ve had the Priest, Rabbi and Muslim Imam on the altar at Mass. Our priest has also been invited to participate in their houses of worship. This makes sense as we all pray to the same God and have the same hopes for our families and for the world. I live in a more populated city/state than I suspect many of these commentators live and perhaps that influences my world view; however, I’m sure we share many of the same values and concerns.

I leave in a few weeks for China. This will be my fourth time there. In addition to other countries, I’ve been with people in Africa, Thailand, Korea, Sri Lanka and Japan ---all multiple times. There aren’t many Christians, let alone Catholics in these countries. Most have never heard of Jesus. Anonymous, Can you honestly believe God would deny these dear people “heaven” because they were not “saved” before they died? From all we have learned about Jesus, I don’t believe he was a country club “members-only” kind of man.

For Florian Re: Conscience~

Vatican II Encyclicals
1. The Declaration on Religious Freedom, No. 3:
(Dignitatis Humanae - Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965)
On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of divine law. He is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his last end. Therefore he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.
The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. Acts of this kind cannot be commanded or forbidden by any merely human authority.

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