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True and False Reform

In these days when American bishops seem to have the time to write scolding books informing us how we should be thinking and acting in public life, arguably areas about which people in general know more than their clergy, it is refreshing to discover a newly-translated classic that breathes the air of common sense about the Churchs mission in the world. Earlier this year those who only read English were finally given access to Yves Congars remarkable 1950 book, True and False Reform in the Church. Congar, the single most influential theologian at Vatican II, wrote this text in the years immediately after the Second World War and published it immediately before Pius XIIs sobering attack on the new theology, Humani Generis. No prizes for guessing why it was not immediately translated into English. But it is puzzling that it didnt make it in the years after the Council, when everything else he wrote was translated. Perhaps it seemed to be pass at that point, writing as it did of the need for reform. But now that post-conciliar reform is mostly suppressed, it is as timely as ever.Congar was an academic theologian alright, and sometimes quite dry, but this is not a book to frighten non-specialists away. Mostly, the fact that it speaks to our times as directly and helpfully as it did to a different world 60 years ago means that anyone concerned with the future of the Church will be motivated, even excited, by its open and hopeful tone. Of course we could all throw up our hands in despair and exclaim, Well, we are clearly wasting our time if all our hopes for reform were uttered 60 years ago and ignored then! But Id recommend two different responses. First, attend to the specific proposals Congar makes. And second, be ready to see the patience he called for 60 years ago as coming pretty close to being exhausted.

As a taster, let me offer you Congars approach to the meaning of fidelity. We might expect a discussion of the tension between letter and spirit, something with which we are familiar in debates today about the meaning of Vatican II. But Congar offers us a different pairing, fidelity to the form and to the principle. There is a kind of fidelity, he writes, which includes the possibility of surpassing the forms in which a principle is expressed at the present time. So the real choice is fidelity to the letter or fidelity which includes development. Invoking Augustine in his support, he asks why genuinely good Catholics are frequently accused of novelty and forced to wait for time to prove them right. In an epochal moment, a moment of crisis in the Church, established form can act as a brake or bottleneck, with sometimes tragic consequences. But truth will out, the sap makes the bark expandthere are breakthroughs.Congar is at great pains to distinguish his (and our?) present moment of crisis from the days of Modernism. We are not talking about reforming dogma, he says. What really matters is how to do catechesis, how to preach, and he follows this by a call for improvement in clergy education. And in its turn, this brings us back to our own present epochal situation, and, curiously, to Cardinal Francis Georges latest book, God in Action, so clearly reviewed by Bill Portier here on the Commonweal website. Im not so much concerned with the argument of the book, at least not right here, as with the dedication. I once had a friend who was writing a Ph.D. on 18th century book dedications, and she taught me to take them seriously. The Cardinal dedicates his book to the many Catholic priests who, through prayer and ministry, live with God and interpret his purposes for his people. I confess to some confusion about this dedication. Live with God is surely a hope, actually an eschatological rather than a worldly hope, but its really the notion that the role of priests is to interpret Gods purposes to the people that puzzles me. For one thing, we are all of uslaity and ordained, even bishopsGods people. For another, as Congar taught us so well in a different book, we are all priestly people with the prophetic mission to teach. We are all called to interpret Gods purposes. We are all priests and prophets. And in todays complicated world it just might be that those of us who live more fully in the secular world might have a role in interpreting Gods purposes on behalf of the Church, for the clergy who minister to us. Congars book ends with a postscript written in that turbulent year, 1968. Reading that makes me think he would have accepted with equanimity the possibility that a hierarchical Church can tolerate mutuality and reciprocity in its teaching function.

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The Cardinal dedicates his book to the many Catholic priests who, through prayer and ministry, live with God and interpret his purposes for his people. I confess to some confusion about this dedication. Live with God is surely a hope, actually an eschatological rather than a worldly hope, but its really the notion that the role of priests is to interpret Gods purposes to the people that puzzles me. For one thing, we are all of uslaity and ordained, even bishopsGods people. For another, as Congar taught us so well in a different book, we are all priestly people with the prophetic mission to teach.

Down with the institutional Church, eh? Get in line. Your cause is on a roll.

I'm sorry, bnut I think David's glib comment is both snarky and offensive to many Catholics who struggle to practice their faith easch day!Not to mention unintelligent.

I've been interested in Congar's work for quite some time, so I was excited to read this review. I have to admit, though, that Dr. Lakeland's opening line pretty much ruined my appetite to read the rest of the article. Even though I part ways with Dr. Lakeland on questions of priestly mediation w/in the Church, I can see how he could be concerned that Cardinal George's dedication might be read by some readers as implying a one-way relationship between the ordained and lay faithful (i.e., a relationship lacking reciprocity). Nevertheless, I don't think it's fair to describe Cardinal George's recent publication as a "scolding book." Couldn't Commonweal have provided a review of Congar's monograph w/o it devolving into one more article that sets the laity in opposition to the episcopacy? There's a time and a place to criticize bishops, and these days there is plenty to criticize, but I worry about the health of the body when this sort of thing becomes habitual.

Bob, I think the word you're looking for is "snotty."

[...] As a taster, let me offer you Congars approach to the meaning of fidelity. We might expect a discussion of the tension between letter and spirit, something with which we are familiar in debates today about the meaning of Vatican II. But Congar offers us a different pairing, fidelity to the form and to the principle. There is a kind of fidelity, he writes, which includes the possibility of surpassing the forms in which a principle is expressed at the present time. So the real choice is fidelity to the letter or fidelity which includes development. [more] [...]

Living with God is not a hope, it is a reality via the indwelling Holy Spirit by Whom we are transformed daily via our walk with God. Jn 14:25-2725 "These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Lk 11:13how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" 1 Co 6:19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God,Eph 4:30-32Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.Php 1:6-76 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. And I too am confident in this truth.

Sorry, Ryan, I just call them as I see them. Both Archbishop Chaput's recent book and the two by Cardinal George seem to me to be sadly unaware that good teaching is more often than not a process of dialogue and, especially, that if the teaching is apparently not getting across, the fault is at least as likely to be the teacher's as it is the student's. Most of the current church teaching on sexual ethics is unconvincing. Most of the current church teaching on social and political issues is right on the money but largely ignored. In both cases, I would like to see a bishop tackle the question of why this happens without either blaming the failure on the hearers or operating on the old sermonizer's principle, "Argument weak here, speak louder." My own suggestion, for what it's worth, would be to recast the sexual ethical teaching in terms of the common good rather than "natural law," thereby bringing a new kind of "seamless garment" approach to the whole of our ethics.

The new America has an Editorial on the "new Americanism" about the debt crisis and how we've lost our sense of social responsibility/Several posters indicate they never hear from the pulpit about social responsibility.At weekend Mass last week, our new deacon talked about huis taking over our RCIA and how people would join him more and more wit happreciating JPII's "theology of the Body."I think we are caught in too much Romanism and the bishop as Rome's man.If the voice of the church is to be clarion in the public square, it's got to be seen as credible and not partisan.

I am inclined toward your view, Paul Lakeland. All Laws ever did was drive people to break them, be it local government civil laws or the Mosaic Laws. In fact, that was God's purpose for giving the Mosaic laws, that sin will increase. God did not want to give the peoples of the Exodus what became known as the Mosaic Laws. He wanted them to walk by faith in Him as Abraham did. All who were 19 years or older when they left Egypt perished over the following 40 years, except for Joshua and Caleb, whom by Faith wanted to take the promised land at the very beginning of the Exodus. Even Moses was not allowed to take the remaining people into the promised land, perished in the wilderness because he could not keep the Law that bears his name.The failure of the Mosaic laws, and similarly for all law, is that it sets peoples mind on sin. Life is like riding a bicycle or motorcycle, where one continually looks is where one goes. And laws keep peoples minds on sin continuously. I mean, do we have any laws on the books that say: Be kind and courteous to others, we will have police out in patrol cars looking for acts of kindness, and if they catch you being kind, they will issue you a $ 50 gift certificate for your kind deed. All efforts of people to keep the Mosaic Laws have proved to be a Sisyphean task. The purpose of the Mosaic Law was to cause sin to increase, It was our tutor until Christ came, revealing our need for God to be in our life, and the blood of Jesus, the perfect unblemished Lamb, whose blood is the ultimate covering of all my sins for all time, no further blood sacrifice is required. I am sealed by God through the indwelling Holy Spirit. I am saved, I can not lose my salvation. I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in me will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. I am not lawless. As the book of Hebrews points out, Jesus is not a priest of the order of Levi, but His priesthood is of the superior everlasting priesthood of Melchizedek, and that where there is a change of Priesthood, there is a change of Law. I am not to be judged by the Mosaic Laws, but by the Laws of Jesus Christ. The Mosaic laws are laws people had to keep in their entirety in order to receive all the blessings written in that Covenant. But the Laws of Jesus Christ are laws whereby God keeps me. My joy is complete, and I am already in a daily walk and loving fellowship with God. The Jews tried repeatedly to accuse Jesus of violating the Mosaic Covenant. He assured them that He had not violated the Mosaic covenant and that not one iota of the Mosaic Law will pass away until all is fulfilled.All was fulfilled upon Jesus death on the cross. Having kept the entire Mosaic Law until His death, and taking upon Himself the punishments of breaking the Mosaic Law, on our behalf, Then God Annihilated the Mosaic Covenant in accord with Zec 43Zec 11:7-147 So I pastured the flock doomed to slaughter, hence the afflicted of the flock. And I took for myself two staffs: the one I called Favor and the other I called Union; so I pastured the flock. Then I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul was impatient with them, and their soul also was weary of me. Then I said, "I WILL NOT PASTURE YOU. WHAT IS TO DIE, LET IT DIE, AND WHAT IS TO BE ANNIHILATED, LET IT BE ANNiHILATED, AND LET THOSE WHO ARE LEFT EAT ONE ANOTHER'S FLESH" I took my staff Favor and cut it in pieces, to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples. So it was broken on that day, and thus the afflicted of the flock who were watching me realized that it was the word of the LORD. I said to them, "IF IT IS GOOD IN YOUR SIGHT, GIVE ME MY WAGES; BUT IF NOT, NEVER MIND." So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. 13 Then the LORD said to me, "THROW IT TO THE POTTER, THAT MAGNIFICENT PRICE AT WHICH I WAS VALUED BY THEM." Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them." So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD. NASUThus God annihilated the Mosaic Covenant upon death of His only begotten son, Jesus. As for me, I am under the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. A Covenant through which God keeps me. Needless to say, I am a very happy man with a great relationship with God, for which I am most grateful, being transformed by the laws of Jesus Christ under the New Covenant we have in Jesus.Also note that Zec: 11: 1-6 prophecies the destruction of Herod's Temple in 70 AD.

Dr. Lakeland: Thank you for responding to my comment. I'll have to read Cardinal George's book more closely, but my first impression wasn't that he was adopting a scolding tone. Cardinal George, though conservative, has always struck me as being quite pastoral. I'd like to hear more about your suggestion of recasting the Church's sexual ethic: have you addressed this topic in any of your works?

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About the Author

Paul Lakeland is the Aloysius P. Kelley, SJ, Professor of Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.