"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mater Si, Magistra No?

One of Stanley Hauerwas's great questions, which I like sometimes to use with students, is: "Who taught you that you're supposed to 'think for yourself '?" The irony, of course, is that accepting and learning that idea required you to be under the tutelage of another, to be thinking not by your own lights but only in obeisance to that which another told you to do. As Hauerwas continues, there is no idea more mindlessly conformist to the lazy liberalism of late modernity than this notion that you should think for yourself. Most students, he says, do not have minds worth making up, which is why they need to be trained. And that is why he says his first task in the classroom is to help students "think just like me"! 

Hauerwas's point, in his characteristic swashbuckling style, is simply one that the great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre made in more  detail in his 1990 Gifford Lectures, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition, particularly the chapter on Augustine's emphasis on the teacher-student relationship as that of an apprentice of one under authority: the student must surrender to and trust the teacher's intent and ability to lead him to the truth, and only after the teacher has done so, shaping the student's capacity for reason and truth through virtue, will the student develop the ability to be an "independent reasoner."

For Christians, this job of learning how to think rightly about God has always been a central part of the task of the Church--whether through larger formal bodies like councils or through individual tutelage at the hands of a "theologian." In this latter regard, the wonderful story in Acts (8:26-40) about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch illustrates this rather nicely. The eunuch, reading Isaiah, is confronted by Philip: "Do you understand what you are reading? And he said: 'Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?' And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him." 

The Church has taught in different ways, but most obviously and authoritatively in ecumenical councils, two of which, of course, gave us their eponymous creed. For the Christian East, such a council remains the place for doctrinal statements, and any statements outside such a council have usually been rejected on those grounds alone. This, of course, is the major objection some in the East have to the filioque and to modern Marian doctrines taught by the Latin Church. (On more strictly theological, rather than methodological, grounds, the filioque today is seen by all responsible theologians, East and West, as no longer church-dividing. As for the Theotokos, as I have argued elsewhere, Orthodox theology--at least in Bulgakov's hands--can and does accept the notion of an immaculate conception; the Assumption likewise poses no serious problems--apart, that is, from it being defined by one man, the pope of Rome, on his own initiative outside an ecumenical council.)

More recently, in the modern Catholic Church, the notion of "magisterium" has developed in the last two centuries, an idea whose history Yves Congar so helpfully traced out in a number of articles and discusses also at point in his wonderful diaries. This Magisterium has an unenviable task to play, especially if you consider the ecumenical implications. On the one hand, many in the Christian East regard the heterodoxy taught in too many Catholic institutions to be an enormous scandal; but on the other hand, they also regard a strongly centralized papacy, capable of intervening anywhere in the world, as a great scandal, too ("scandal" in the original Pauline sense of σκάνδαλον: cf. I Cor. 1:23, inter alia.). Still, for all that, most recent Orthodox commentators whom I have read have said that the worst scandal, for them, is indeed the lack of coherent orthodoxy in Catholic theology: the widespread confusion caused in part by shoddy catechesis, the willful dissension and open heresy, and the failure to hold people to account. 

Prior to the recent declaration from Rome about Margaret Farley's book, the most recent and high-profile case of a magisterial intervention was here in the United States involving Elizabeth Johnson of Fordham University. That case, which garnered wide media publicity at the time (as all such cases do: cf. those of Charles CurranHans Kung and others), has now come in for some analysis in a collection of articles edited by Richard Gaillardetz of Boston College: When the Magisterium Intervenes: The Magisterium and Theologians in Today's Church (Liturgical Press, 2012).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Catholicism has always recognized the need for a normative doctrinal teaching authority. Yet the character, scope, and exercise of that authority, what has come to be called the magisterium, has changed significantly over two millennia. This book gathers contributions from leading Catholic scholars in considering new factors that must be taken into account as we consider the church's official teaching authority in today’s postmodern context.
Noted experts in their fields cover many intriguing topics here, including the investigation of theologians that has occurred in recent years, canonical perspectives on such investigations, the role that women religious have played in these issues, the place of the media when problems arise, and possible future ways forward.
The book concludes with “The Elizabeth Johnson Dossier,” a selection of documents essential to understanding the case of Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, whose work was recently the subject of severe criticism by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Contributors include Bradford Hinze, James Coriden, Colleen Mallon, Ormond Rush, Gerard Mannion, Anthony Godzieba, Vincent Miller, Richard Gaillardetz, and Elizabeth Johnson.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...