"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).

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Be Not Afraid! (II): Anglican Blurbers and Anglican Content

As I noted in the first installment, the prospects of major structural reform to the Church make a lot of people nervous, and that anxiety is very considerably deepened if some of the alternative structures come from non-Catholic sources, including especially the Anglican Communion. For the Catholic Church has often been not merely a conservative organization--loathe even to acknowledge, let alone tolerate, external change in the world (think how long it took to make its peace with, e.g., human rights), especially if those external changes (e.g., the French Revolution) might seem to demand internal changes in Catholic structures, practices, or beliefs, at which point the Church has historically been not just conservative but in fact reactionary if not revanchist.

And yet...and yet, the Church has changed, and with surprising alacrity when circumstances demanded it. Thus, very quickly, judiciously, wisely, rightly and very recently new structures have come into being to fulfill new needs. In my chapter "The Principles of Accommodation and Forgetting," in the two-volume collection John Chryssavgis edited, Primacy in the ChurchI discussed in detail several such examples in the Latin Church since the early 1980s down to 2010. In that period, the Church has not been conservative and stodgy, but flexible and nimble, creating at least three new structures--personal prelatures, military archdioceses, and the Anglican ordinariates, inter alia--because the needs of the Church required them. So the clear lesson we need to draw is that Church can change structures, and has done so in significant ways in order to serve the gospel and the salvation of the Christian people.

Surely those needs are vastly greater today. Surely, hemorrhaging massively from a crisis that (as the invaluable Christopher Altieri has reported) keeps on going, the need to change structures is even greater today than it was to accommodate small numbers of Anglicans in 2009, or even smaller numbers in Opus Dei in 1982. If the Church changed then in calmer days concerning fewer people in far less dire circumstances, the need to change when so much is under water and sinking fast is indescribably greater today. If, to put it bluntly, the rape of children as well as other men and women, and the utter destruction, including suicide, of their lives afterwards, does not justify major change, then all moral sense has been utterly degraded and the Church is hopelessly depraved.

Those two principles mentioned above--service to the gospel and the people--are the ones that must guide all discussions about change and reform in the Church, and they guided my writings of Everything Hidden Must Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power.

I have, in the first installment and elsewhere, recently discussed how much the book was indebted to Orthodox thought, stressing that Orthodoxy has preserved its liturgical and theological patrimony with far fewer scars than the Latin Church has in the past half-century and more. So the idea that structural changes will bring a liberalization of doctrine--a common fear among some--is not borne out by the fact that Orthodoxy's deep conservatism and traditionalism exists within, and not in spite of, much more localized and synodal structures.

Aha! says the suspicious interlocutor, but what about the Anglicans? You not only talk about their structures with approval, but you got one of their biggest names, their most learned and accomplished theologians in fifty years at least, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to blurb your book! (This was my publisher's doing, I would add. Let me publicly pay tribute to John Riess of Angelico Press, who has been absolutely superb to work with. I know editors at far larger and longer established presses who are not nearly half as devoted as detailed as he has been.) About my book, Williams very kindly wrote:
This book eloquently and cogently pleads for the Roman Catholic Church to be released from the captivity of an over-centralized, over-individualized model of authority, arguing that this model is at the heart of many other dysfunctionalities. While we should harbor no illusions about the problems alternative systems may face, Adam DeVille makes a strong case for seeing the existing paradigm as both quite recent in its development and as consolidating a damaging set of attitudes to clerical power. A sober, theologically informed, and very significant work. —RT. REV. ROWAN WILLIAMS, Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, former archbishop of Canterbury, and author of many books, including a lovely book on icons of Christ, and another on icons of his mother, and Dostoevsky and a book on Bulgakov.
But if one Anglican wasn't enough, a second also wrote kindly of the book:

“Adam DeVille’s proposal for cleansing and reform in the Catholic Church today is crystal-clear: the Church must stop being governed by a caste of clerical guardians and start governing itself. How might this happen? The way it has always happened: through the practice of conciliar government, or to speak Greek, synodal government. Councils are not a panacea against mortal ills, but they do excel over all the alternatives when it comes to the cardinal virtue of a system of government—namely, accountability. Conciliar government is shared government. DeVille wants to see it instituted on all levels: parish, diocese, national church, and global communion. In this learned, passionate, and ecumenically informed book, DeVille leaves his readers eager to get to work on his proposal today.” —PAUL VALLIERE, Professor Emeritus of Butler University, whose book Conciliarism I drew on in my own. His earlier work Modern Russian Theology is something of a landmark work, widely read and rightly so.

So you, DeVille, got two Anglicans to endorse your book. Aren't Anglicans the ones who--unlike the Orthodox--have both localized synodal structures and gay priests, lesbian bishops, and innovations and heterodox deviations beyond numbering?! Surely you cannot want them to be a source of anything, a model of any kind of structures that the Catholic Church might want to contemplate?

These are not arguments, of course, but sneers; they are not reasoned claims but smugness and snobbery. And smugness, as Flannery O'Connor once famously said, is the Catholic sin. Since it is Lent, let us set it aside and repent of it.

But let us also make some necessary distinctions between the disciplinary nature of structures and the doctrinal nature of magisterial teaching. For Catholics the former can change while the latter cannot, and the relationship between the two is by no means unidirectional or simplistic--change one and the other changes with it. Nonsense!

Here we also need--as I do in the book--to tackle those questions head-on, noting that as someone who spent the first 25 years of his life as an extremely active Anglican who participated as a voting member in many local, diocesan, and national synods, I know the problems (doctrinal disorder among them) within that communion, but those are not problems likely to be replicated in any significant way within the Catholic Church for reasons I discuss in the book. I also note that Catholics must "be prone to an acute form of sanctimonious blindness to assume that there is no such disarray within Catholicism."

Even with our own internal disarray on doctrine and much else, Catholicism, however, as even the earliest ARCIC documents conceded, has one matchless gift that the Anglican Communion lacks: a formal and binding teaching authority that has, e.g., given us a universal catechism (which I bought and devoured in 1992 when it was first published, a full five years before I became Catholic).

My proposals, borrowed from Anglicanism and Orthodoxy, are modified to take account of certain weaknesses of both, and to fit them more felicitously within Catholic structures. Thus what I propose in the book are modified versions whereby what is best in provincial and regional structures is maintained while also accounting for a significant trans-national role exercised by the bishop of Rome as the universal “sentinel” whose job “consists precisely in ‘keeping watch’ (episkopein)” over “all the particular Churches” in which “the una, sancta, catholica et apostolica Ecclesia is made present” as Pope John Paul II put it so compellingly in Ut Unum Sint, on which I wrote my first book. So, to put it succinctly, in no way do I propose that the pope become the rather impotent titular figure who holds either the see of Canterbury or Constantinople. But neither do I allow the pope of Rome to maintain his totally unjustified and unjustifiable monopoly on power, a situation made all the worse by the disgusting fawning personality cult which has surrounded him for nearly 200 years, the utter abolition and destruction of which cannot come soon enough.

In both books, then, I have followed faithfully the idea of an "ecumenical gift exchange," a notion that was reiterated and given concrete expression as recently as last August when, in the latest ARCIC document (“Walking Together on the Way: Learning to Be the Church—Local, Regional, Universal"), Catholics are asked “to look humbly at what is not working effectively within one’s own tradition, and...to ask whether this might be helped by receptive learning from the understanding, structures, practices, and judgements of the other.” This is a notion given detailed consideration by the late Margaret O'Gara in her 1998 book, as well as an extremely valuable and very learned collection edited by Paul Murray, Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning: Exploring a Way for Contemporary Ecumenism.

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