A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Farewell, Cantuar

Rocco Palmo has posted Archbishop Rowan William's wonderful address to the Synod on the New Evangelization. Early on, Williams highlights how Henri de Lubac's theology influenced the Christian anthropology of the Second Vatican Council:

But one of the most important aspects of the theology of the second Vaticanum was a renewal of Christian anthropology. In place of an often strained and artificial neo-scholastic account of how grace and nature were related in the constitution of human beings, the Council built on the greatest insights of a theology that had returned to earlier and richer sources the theology of spiritual geniuses like Henri de Lubac, who reminded us of what it meant for early and mediaeval Christianity to speak of humanity as made in Gods image and of grace as perfecting and transfiguring that image so long overlaid by our habitual inhumanity. In such a light, to proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that it is at last possible to be properly human: the Catholic and Christian faith is a true humanism, to borrow a phrase from another genius of the last century, Jacques Maritain.

Yet de Lubac is clear what this does not mean. We do not replace the evangelistic task by a campaign of humanization. Humanize before Christianizing? he asks If the enterprise succeeds, Christianity will come too late: its place will be taken. And who thinks that Christianity has no humanizing value? So de Lubac writes in his wonderful collection of aphorisms, Paradoxes of Faith. It is the faith itself that shapes the work of humanizing and the humanizing enterprise will be empty without the definition of humanity given in the Second Adam. Evangelization, old or new, must be rooted in a profound confidence that we have a distinctive human destiny to show and share with the world.

Later on, Williams reflects on the kind of witness that will be necessary for the work of evangelization.

The human face that Christians want to show to the world is a face marked by such justice and love, and thus a face formed by contemplation, by the disciplines of silence and the detaching of the self from the objects that enslave it and the unexamined instincts that can deceive it. If evangelisation is a matter of showing the world the unveiled human face that reflects the face of the Son turned towards the Father, it must carry with it a serious commitment to promoting and nurturing such prayer and practice. It should not need saying that this is not at all to argue that internal transformation is more important than action for justice; rather, it is to insist that the clarity and energy we need for doing justice requires us to make space for the truth, for Gods reality to come through. Otherwise our search for justice or for peace becomes another exercise of human will, undermined by human self-deception. The two callings are inseparable, the calling to prayer and righteous action, as the Protestant martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, writing from his prison cell in 1944. True prayer purifies the motive, true justice is the necessary work of sharing and liberating in others the humanity we have discovered in our contemplative encounter.

Those who know little and care less about the institutions and hierarchies of the Church these days are often attracted and challenged by lives that exhibit something of this. It is the new and renewed religious communities that most effectively reach out to those who have never known belief or who have abandoned it as empty and stale. When the Christian history of our age is written especially, though not only, as regards Europe and North Americawe shall see how central and vital was the witness of places like Taiz or Bose, but also of more traditional communities that have become focal points for the exploration of a humanity broader and deeper than social habit encourages. And the great spiritual networks, Sant Egidio, the Focolare, Communione e Liberazione, these too show the same phenomenon; they make space for a profounder human vision because in their various ways all of them offer a discipline of personal and common life that is about letting the reality of Jesus come alive in us.

Go and read the whole thing. Williams is about to finish his term as Archbishop of Canterbury. He will be sorely missed in that role, I think.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Great man, impossible job. But with the authority of the papacy under him....Hmmm....Acclamation, anyone? Williams also developed some of these themes in his recent Theos Lecture:' words are, needless to say, a far cry from the recent remarks of his predecessor Lord Carey:

Williams' talk is just wonderful. This is Christian pedagogy of the highest caliber.

I've always wished he were RC. Who knows. The Lord works in strange ways. God bless all the bishops of Vatican II. May they rest in peace.

Given the makeup of the synod (if the U.S. delegates are any indication), I suspect AB Williams' words fell on deaf ears.Mind you now, the AB no doubt was treated respectfully, but I suspect that's all.Such is the state of the Church of Rome.

What a wonderful talk. He will indeed be missed, and and not only in Cantuar. A talk grounded in Scripture, without recourse to other sources of authority (Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, and others). He did though, in passing, mention the martyred Bonhoeffer, neither Anglican or Roman Catholic.I am afraid Cardinal Wuerl's talk pales by comparison. Unlike the Archbishop, he (or rather, probably, those he speaks for) seem terrified by those who raise the sorts of questions that cannot be neatly answered by "As the Church has always taught. . . . ") One wonders sometimes whether Rome is not suffering from a crisis of faith itself, uncertain of its beliefs, and responding by stopping its ears.

Rich and inspiring. Gives me pause as I reflect on parish ministry outside of the realm of evangelization. Do I look to people for what they can "give" to the parish? Or do I submit my ministry relationships to contemplation and work with these people to find their best expressions of God's call for them?I'm afraid to read Cardinal Wuerl's talk. It would be one thing if his being a theological lightweight was muted by his being a contemplative. Or a poet. What dismays me is the one-dimensional nature of the American episcopacy. They all look like poor imitations of JP2, except they come off as jetsetting busybodies with hardly anything of substance to offer. The Archbishop of Canterbury gives us thoughtful, Trinitarian, spiritual substance. The Archbishop of Washington gives us blame, and trots out the poor-dumb-laity meme.

To be fully human is to be recreated in the image of Christs humanity; and that humanity is the perfect human translation of the relationship of the eternal Son to the eternal Father, a relationship of loving and adoring self-giving, a pouring out of life towards the Other. "translation", like RNA to protein? This is the first time I have read a reflection that evoked images from molecular biology.Lovely talk.

About contemplation as a necessary ingredient for reform --Has Commonweal ever had articles by Fr. Thomas Keating or Fr. Arrico or any other Centering Prayer advocates and teachers? Or by Fr. John Main or his followeers? Merton managed to get published even in the secular press sometimes. It seems to me it's time for the Catholic press to take the initiative in teaching about contemplative practice for non-monks/nuns. The bishops don't seem interested, so it looks like a do-it-yourself project. Maybe they think it's too New Age, as many other Catholics seem to think.The great thing about contemplative prayer is that it starts with the reform of the individual. (Paul Ryan and you other conservatives should love it :-)

Ann Olivier -- the one I particularly like is Martin Laird, "Into the Silent Land" (Oxford U. Press). He's an Augustinian at Villanova, and I'm 99% certain he's a Brit. As for the lack of interest in contemplative prayer in the Catholic press, I've come across several websites calling themselves orthodox Catholic, who rather trash centering prayer (a term Laird doesn't us) as being little more than a dangerous attempt to sell out to Buddhist and Hindu practices, and become New Age-y. They seem fond of referring to "Some Aspects of Christian Meditation," written by then Cardinal Ratzinger, with its warnings against Eastern forms of meditation. Unlike Laird and his ilk, they seem unaware of the traditions, particularly in the early church, and continued perhaps more in the eastern than western churches, of contemplative prayer. The Cloud of Unknowing, of course, is a great favorite of western contemplatives, but I've even found warnings against that classic.I'm not quite sure why there is this hostility. On the other hand, were I a Zen Buddhist, particularly if I'd been raised in that tradition as a Chinese or a Japanese, I'd be pretty irked by western New Age types who seem to claim to have discovered instant Zen, rather than seeing it as a lifetime practice. Or by the "Zen Lemongrass Handsoap" I bought for my kitchen recently (made in Vermont). No one in the store seemed able to tell me what Zen had to do with handsoap, except to sell it.

Nicholas ==Thanks for the Laird recommendation. I'll have to take a look.Some people want nothing to do with anything that is like anything Asian/Hindu/Buddhist. They are inspired, I think, by pre-Vatican II fear of the unknown. But now, thanks mainly to Merton and a couple of other Catholics contemplatives who actually practiced the Asian practices, we realize that some of our practices are indeed similar. What most people don't know is that there is this long tradition of wordless, imageless prayer in Catholicism as well as in the Asian traditions. Actually, I agree that some of the current Catholic practitioners get mixed up with some Asian side-tracks and call it Christian. There are always a few heretics on Christian contemplation blogs :-) But St. Teresa of Avila and other Catholic mystics also sounded pretty heretical at times -- they also sometimes say they *are* God. Once more, I have to recommend the R.C. Zaehner books (including Mysticism: Sacred and Profane) in which he distinguishes several basically different sorts of mystical experiences, some of which are religious and some not. (I grant you that he had a tendency to drama, but it was backed by prodigious scholarship.) That is the new challenge for the mystical theologians, I think -- to distinguish what is really religious from what is only a very pleasant -- or in some cases ecstatic -- experience of the inner self or of "nature". With the Church expanding in Asia I think that project is going to be a crucial one in the not too distant future. In fact, I think that Fr. deMello, for instance, really was pushing some practices that are not theologically sound, and Rome was right to call him on it. But perhaps if the Catholic theology had been clearer he might have been clearer as well. So far as I know, Louis Gardet was the only other Catholic besides Zaehner who was making clear distinctions between "vrai et fausse" mysticism around the middle of the last century. The topic should have been explored better a long time ago.Another thing to note is that even the Buddha in the earliest Buddhist texts distinguishes a number of different sorts of practices and they're not all nirvana. Some are purely a matter of disciplining one's consciousness. Whether or not *any* of his are religious in any Catholic sense is a matter which can be disputed I think. And some of the HIndu practices are clearly unacceptable == the aim is a sort of pantheism. But I think it is clear that some of the lower level Buddhist practices are only preparations for full-fledged mystical experience of a sort that might be objectionable, if misinterpreted, anyway. The whole topic is still very obscure, and our understanding of the psychology is quite primitive, in my estimation. (And the "neurotheologians" are just obfuscating the issue -- they think there is only one basic kind of mystical experience!) The Church should be giving it a lot more attention -- and recommending and teaching the lower level practices such as Centering Prayer and Fr. Main's practice. It's particularly important for the young people. It's the sort of prayer that they are still open to.In sum, if you don't know the Christian tradition well enough, contemplation can be spiritually dangerous if you don't have a spiritual advisor. Since there are so few priests, I expect that that chore of teaching the methods would have to fall to the deacons and other trained parish and school personnel. It would be a big undertaking to make it well known, but I suspect Rahner was right -- how did he put it? Either the Church will be a Church of contemplation or it will fail. P. S. Thanks for signing the "On All Our Shoulders" statement.

One part that particularly struck me is quoted above: "This is not at all to argue that internal transformation is more important than action for justice; rather, it is to insist that the clarity and energy we need for doing justice requires us to make space for the truth, for Gods reality to come through. Otherwise our search for justice or for peace becomes another exercise of human will, undermined by human self-deception. The two callings are inseparable, the calling to prayer and righteous action, as the Protestant martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, writing from his prison cell in 1944. "That is, he explains that prayer and action are inseparable, not in practice - we know plenty of instances where they are separated - but in order to be an "unveiled" reflection of God. That points to a possible cause for the failure to evangelize: the separation of prayer from charity. I've looked at financial statements available on the internet: the parishes I saw all spent all of their meager income on religious worship (the heating bills for the church building, for example), partial payment of priests' salaries, and religious education. The two dioceses I saw (that are only a short way away from bankruptcy) spent most of their money also on the same category of items, with only 7 percent of their income redirected to charitable actions or to charitable organizations. So, at least for money, there is an almost complete separation: either you give to your parish and diocese, and it goes towards helping you and others pray; or you give to Catholic Charities or some other Catholic charitable organization. There is one parish I am familiar with in the US, St James Cathedral in Seattle, which is very successful at evangelization, and which also has a large part of its budget and of its ministries dedicated to charitable actions. I don't think it's a coincidence, and I don't think it's purely cause-and-effect: it's not because people are evangelized that they give time and money to charity. I think that the two go together, and I like Abp William's analysis very much.But of course, it is difficult to speak up in a parish or diocese that already has trouble paying its bills or its priests' salaries or pensions, that already has trouble finding volunteers for serving at Mass or for catechism, and ask that some money and time be taken from the already insufficient budget to donate to charity.

PS - The statements I looked at on the internet were all for parishes and dioceses in France.

Claire --Seattle is one of the big centers of the computer industry, and there is lots and lots of money there -- probably enough left over to give a noticeable amount to external charity. I also think that the center of the overall U. S. culture is shifting to the west coast (especially Oregon and Washington) from the east for several reasons. One, as always, is money. Two, the west is the center of the tech industry, our great new commercial behemoth, and, three, Asia, to the west, provides humongous new markets for our other industries. It would be interesting to know whether the west coast Catholics have attitudes and assumptions much different from eastern American Catholics. They might tell us why their evangelization is succeeding.

Ann Olivier:According to recent statistics Washington State ranks 45th in Church-going population; Oregon, 49th. It is true that Washington has seen a slight increase in Church-going numbers in the past decade, but I believe that that is principally owing to the large increase in the numbers of people of Hispanic descent.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment