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"Evangelization and healing are intrinsically connected"

The University of Notre Dame has asked some of its faculty members to comment on the latest news of the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of the Pope's resignation. Professor John Cavadini, a frequent Commonweal contributor, offered these reflections, which I thought might interest dotCommonweal readers. 


(A quick note of introduction. I have been posting on Verdicts since its inception, but Matt, Grant, and Mollie have graciously allowed me to share some thoughts here. I should also note, I suppose, that I received a PhD from ND's theology department, and John Cavadini is one of my teachers, mentors, and friends.)


Commenting Guidelines

Intrinsically connected is not the right phrase. They have to be the same. Jesus essentially came to "free the captives." This is his anointing that the "deaf hear, the blind see and the poor have the gospel preached to them." Cavadini is wrong to say that healing has to proceed from evangelization because he sees evangelization as the doctrinal presentation of dogma. Evangelization is to free the captives and set them free. It is not a liberalism which allows them to get the crumbs off our table but a Good News which brings them into the fullness of life. It is not that we let them sit at our table but we give them an honored place. We wash their feet. It is not as important to explain the Trinity or the dominance of the pope as it is to set the captives free. "THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,The Good News is that the life of Christ is available to all and that we begin this life in this world. Not a proclamation of dogmas that we really do not understand. When we put dogma (evangelization) first we end up with marvelous (and strange) red cossacks and ancient miters which bespeak of empire so that the Vatican becomes a place where we must preserve royalty and from which we will condemn those who set the captives free. When the captives are freed God is glorified. The false glorification of God leads to Charlemagne, Bernard of Clairvoux and the exaltation of Europe over everybody else. Jesus puts the captives first in his anointing. So should we.

Bill, you must have been distracted while listening. Cavadini stated clearly that the primary focus of evangelization is a personal encounter with Jesus that leads to some form of healing. I thought his remarks were cogent and on the mark.

Great post, Scott. I am a great admirer of Cavadini. I think his sentiments are "right on."

I'm hardly impartial, working at Notre Dame and counting John as a dear friend, but if the cardinal electors wanted to go big, what would be wrong with a Cavadini papacy?

Michael,Besides his many other qualities, his name ends in a vowel!

Bob, Radcliffe ends in a vowel, too! He could be secretary of state, perhaps.

John, I do give Cavadini credit for stating that evangelization must lead to a personal encounter with Christ. But in the final analysis he has consistently mixed up the priority in fostering a dogma approach to theology. This statement is welcome and I applaud his new emphasis. But Cavadini and others who have followed his approach must take responsibility fot the stress in orthodoxy over orthopraxy in the last thirty five years. He has come closer but he is still off the mark. He remains in the high christology area and a triumphal theology but he is beginning to realize the inadequacy of that approach. Hope his movement will come full circle to the captives which is the doubtless emphasis of Jesus.

Bill, I appreciate your zeal for the topic, and I'd like to offer a substantive response to your point at 2:48, but as you know, you didn't make a substantive point.You write,"But in the final analysis he has consistently mixed up the priority in fostering a dogma approach to theology. "--What does this even mean? What is a "dogma approach to theology"? As opposed to what? Dogma simply means "teaching." Theology, as you know, is a reflection on the teachings of the Scriptures in the community of interpreters that is the Church." But Cavadini and others who have followed his approach must take responsibility fot the stress in orthodoxy over orthopraxy in the last thirty five years."--I take it you're still referring to a "dogma approach." Are you thinking of specific texts in the last 35 years? (Cavadini hasn't been a scholar for 35 years. I think he was still in grad school 35 years ago.) Are you talking about texts from the Popes in the last 35 years? Certain theologians? Religious education instruction?"He remains in the high christology area and a triumphal theology but he is beginning to realize the inadequacy of that approach"-- I honestly have no idea what this means. Are you saying that high Christology is somehow linked to Constantianism? If so, how do you account for those theologians like Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen who are often tagged with a "high Christology" who wrote before the "Christian" Empire? And of course there is high Christology throughout the NT. (I think the distinction between high and low Christology has far outlived its usefulness.)As you know, I'm not looking for a fight here, but in the interests of conversation and greater understanding, I need to know what you mean. Comboxes, alas, are not great media for that.

Funny that his title in the video is not PhD, not Professor, but "expert". Expert in general or in something in particular?

Thanks for your post recent post, Scott. I am appreciate your thoughtfulness and thoroughness in response to some of the comments made here. I sign of a careful and well-educated mind is to make nuanced distinctions while avoiding sweeping generalizations. You have clearly done this.

I have to admit, I don't really know what Cavadini means by "encountering Jesus." Or rather, to paraphrase MacIntyre, "which Jesus? Whose Jesus?" There is of course only one Jesus, but figuring out where best to encounter him is quite difficult. I'm a gay Catholic, and they question I answer constantly from friends is not, "How can you believe in Jesus?" but "How can you be Catholic?" Jesus can be encountered for many of them in a host of churches, or none. Now I am Catholic precisely because I believe in the necessary ecclesial element, but I also am often at a loss--apart from my personal biography--as to why that encounter couldn't just as easily happen if I were Anglican. I've encountered Jesus far more through the writings of Rowan Williams than I have through those of Benedict, precisely because for me Benedict is an anti-evangelical figure. Its very difficult to be banned from the priesthood, have your existence treated as though its a problem to be solved, and then somehow look to the same people issuing these edicts as having something useful to tell you about Jesus. If one cannot be trusted in small things, one cannot be trusted with larger. It is the Catholic Church, its governance, and many of its teachings that are not dogma but are treated as though they were (LGBT matters, issues with women, sexual teaching, etc.) that are the obstacles to Catholic evangelization. So though Cavadini is correct that evangelization and healing go together, and may even be correct that evangelization is "formally prior" (as useless as that may practically be), unless there is more focus on genuine healing in structure and reaching out with a truly listening ear to those the official church has marginalized and maligned, profound and pious encyclicals can be written and offices created at Catholic universities for the "new evangelization," but they will mostly be appreciated by the already converted.

Scott,We talk of a "church of dogma" meaning a church which stresses orthodoxy over orthopraxy. The language is so common that I am surprised you find it unfamiliar. Even a cursory run through church history reveals a hierarchy which has sentenced people to death because they questioned or denied a dogma. Christians started killing Christians for the first time in the fourth century over dogma. Augustine thought it laudatory. I agree with you that: "Theology, as you know, is a reflection on the teachings of the Scriptures in the community of interpreters that is the Church." This is my problem with Cavadini and his orthodox theology. That interpretation has done damage to the church. He aligns himself with the CDF while he has failed to call Ratzinger on his perpetuating the cover-up of pedophilia priests. Granted Cavadini has not been there for thirty five years. But he is part of that trajectory which makes theologians slaves to the magisterium. Theologians should challenge the magisterium when it loses its focus as the Vatican has done in recent years.In general present day theologians are an uncreative and cowardly bunch. They are just as responsible for the malaise in the church as the bishops. I think the distinction between high and low christology is still relevant. Especially since too many theologians think that the Trinity and Immaculate Conception are more important than the crucifixion and resurrection. Iraneus, Clement and Origen are not infallible, by the way. High christology is important since it has forgotten the "Captives" and centered on triumphalism. I appreciate your response, Scott. What I have written above is to provide further data to the conversation.

Scott:In attempting to answer a farrago of ill conceived assertions such as above, the best strategy is to adopt the old scholastic dictum: "What is gratuitously asserted is gratuitously denied.

As usual, Larry, your snarkiness overwhelms your reason and good taste. As far as Gratis asseritor, gratis negatur is concerned, de ore tuo te judico.

I appreciated your comment, Prof Cunningham!

While I'm not posting in order to defend the totality of Bill's comments, I do think the blithe condescension of Scott and Lawrence toward Bill's perspective is not particularly helpful. It is also grossly inattentive to the merits of the argument made by Bill. Namely, that throughout various stages in the history of Christianity the Church has aligned itself with empire and perpetuated violent acts in order to defend its theological positions and socio-political power (see Augustine on the Donatists, the Inquisition, etc.). That power and force has been used in order to defend and legitimate doctrinal and dogmatic orthodoxy is beyond dispute. (Nicea and Chalcedon are as much about the technicalities of theology as they are about the use of political force to legitimate theological perspectives and perpetuate power structures within the ancient world). This is all to say that the rightness or correctness of the praxis of the Church has often been ill served by its focus on orthodoxy. Thus, the legitimacy of the criticisms of persons like Bonhoeffer, Gutierrez, and Sobrino that the institutional church has too often fixated on its own hierarchical and doctrinal power and thereby strayed from its foundational commitment to being a "church of the poor."Whether Cavadini is involved in the perpetuation of a preoccupation with dogma over praxis is certainly a debatable point. I tend to think that being appointed to the International Theological Commission by Benedict XVI gives ample evidence as to where his sympathies lie. Furthermore, his rather heated (and rather superficial) review of Haight's Symbol of God point to the fact that he is aligned with Vatican interpretations of orthodoxy, at least in this case (his lack of understanding of Rahner on realsymbol is baffling). I tend to share the opinion of Sarah Coakley (in her review of the CDF case against Haight) that as with most matters in the Vatican the censure of Haight is more about power than anything else. Which leads me to ask has much changed since Nicea and Chalcedon....and is Bill really so terribly off base?

Jim,Bill didn't think my comments were condescending. I wonder why you do. I wasn't able to respond to his follow up comment, but I don't see the need to respond to every comment. Bill and I have corresponded on the Verdicts site a few times, and I've always found our interactions fruitful, if necessarily incomplete.As I noted in my original post, John Cavadini is a friend of mine. He is the farthest thing from the Grand Inquisitor that I know. He did superb work while he was chair of the theology department at Notre Dame, and he continues doing superb work as the director of the Institute of Church Life at Notre Dame. I could point you to many, many students at ND who were inspired by him, who because of John Cavadini are teaching theology to grammar school and high school students, who are trying to deepen theological conversations at Catholic (and non-Catholic) universities, who are serving the poor directly in any number of ways. Impugning his character because he was appointed to the ITC shows both an ignorance of the man and a lack of charity. (Disagreeing with a review he wrote is fine, but obviously, as you know, a review does not show the entirety of a person's thoughts.)All of us (and I include myself) need to be a little less broad in our characterizations. It doesn't help our conversation. One can respond to the points Cavadini made in the video, as Andy Buechl (whose quotations of MacIntyre suggests to me he must have spent some time at ND or Duke!) did, but we are getting far beyond anything that was in the video.Finally, do you know who was chair of the theology department at the University of Notre Dame when Gustavo Guiterrez became a faculty member and was enthusiastic about his appointment? Who supported faculty and graduate students when a Catholic Worker house was founded in South Bend, Indiana? Who forged links between ND and universities in Africa? John Cavadini.

Hagiography aside (ahem). I think that the fact that Cavadini brought exactly one liberation theologian to the faculty during his tenure while bolstering other areas of the department is suggestive. That there are only a handful of persons committed to liberation theology in a department that boasts more than 50 faculty is also suggestive. There should be a diversity of opinions both right and left on any theological faculty as large as Notre Dame's, I just happen to think that the aftermath of Cavadini's leadership is one in which certain theological trajectories--progressive trajectories--have been decidedly marginalized. Perhaps this approach was pursued as a corrective to McBrien's liberal reign, but I think it is fairly evident that there has been a turn toward a more conservative faculty under Cavadini's leadership.But I'm not here to argue that Cavadini's views or his leadership is legitimate or illegitimate (overall, I find him to be a thoughtful man). I do think, however, that the curt dismissal of Bill's perspective and feigned incomprehension at what he could possibly be talking about is a bit much. Bill's criticisms are mainstream in the Catholic left and representative of a perspective that wishes to push the envelope in relation to gender roles in the church, Christology in the face of religious pluralism and socio-political oppression, and greater democratization within the institutional structures of the Church. As far as I can tell, this is not what Cavadini has focused on in his theology. Thus, as I stated, in my original post is it really so outlandish for Bill to criticize dimensions of Cavadini's theology from the perspective of progressive Catholicism? I think not....

Jim. Your original point was that my response to Bill M showed "blithe condescension." I can let Bill answer for himself on that, but his response to my point showed me he did not think I showed "blithe condescension." You also wrote " I do think, however, that the curt dismissal of Bills perspective and feigned incomprehension at what he could possibly be talking about is a bit much." Again, I did no such thing, nor do I think Bill thought that way. Everything else you've written has little, if anything, to do with the video I posted. The video did not address the state of ND's theology department. Why don't you write an article for the magazine about the state of ND's theology department or the state of Catholic theology in the US more generally?And the line "Hagiography aside (ahem)." is one of the more "blithely condescending" things I've read on this blog in a while.I'll leave it at that.

Trust me, there was no blithe in that condescension. It was motivated by something altogether different. But as you note, I should probably leave it at that.

Scott, While I appreciate Jim's putting things into perspective with some valuable insights I don't think it is helpful if we follow a method of derision in our dialogues which sadly has been Larry's ubiquitous mode on this blog. Yet Jim makes sense when he notes that you seemed to sound surprised when I objected to such things as the "church of dogma" as such a phrase has almost become axiomatic in theological circles. What I find amazing is that while you can state: "Id like to offer a substantive response to your point at 2:48, but as you know, you didnt make a substantive point.", you get worked up about Jim uttering some creative descriptions. The fact is we all slide too often into ad baculams and we work to get past them. What I must praise you about is that you do attempt to dialogue which is salutary. In that sense, Jim's comments were important as were yours. We need to work with that. Tim Radcliffe would be pleased.

Bill,I'm pretty sure the first time I heard the phrase "church of dogma" was when you wrote it. I'm not making that up. If I had heard it before, I had forgotten. I didn't understand some of your phrases, and you were nice enough to clear them up. I appreciate that.As for "substantive point," what I meant there was that you were making interesting points, but I didn't see them substantively addressing what Cavadini said. I certainly was not attacking you. And, you know that I wasn't being condescending. (Perhaps others on this thread and others have been condescending, but I'm not in the business of adjudicating that.)As for what goes on in various theological circles, I'm sure you can agree that there are too many circles and too much inside baseball terminology within those circles. That's true, by the way, not only for theology but for the liberal arts in general. And we should lament it. (As I'm sure you do.)Basta cos.

I found it puzzling that he focused on the encyclical "God Is Love" which, after it appeared, really did nothing more.No further evangelization appeared because of it.No policy priorities resulted from it.No healing, that I'm aware of, came about because of it.What did it do?I liked that encyclical. Very much. But as far as I can tell, it didn't prompt unbelievers to change their minds about Christian faith. It didn't aid Catholics who are struggling to maintain their Christian faith. It really -- and I'm sorry to say this, because it was a promising beginning -- was stillborn.But there's a reason for that, and I think Cavadini's remarks do not address this: the way in which the magisterium is exercised is one-way. There's no listening. The resulting statements, even when "correct" don't respond to the real people whom the Church pastors nor to the real problems with which they struggle. A speaker may say God is love, but if his own demonstration of "love" does not take into account the actual object of that love, but rather treats the other as pre-defined, and pre-determined, the statement is not believable. Thinking that one already knows everything about the other, without listening, asking, seeking dialogue, isn't love. (This is one of the core insights of the work of Margaret Farley on ethics.)So, to me, healing needs to proceed on another level, which is not mentioned here. The way in which the Church arrives at ethical teachings, norms, and standards has to change to become more dialogical and wisdom-seeking. The way in which decisions about the worship life of the church are arrived at also needs to become more dialogical and wisdom-seeking. Pope Benedict may talk about love all day long, but his pontificate has been rife with examples of a top-down approach to questions of great import to the life of the faithful.Here are some examples. His pontificate has often been embarrassed with respect to dialogue with non-Christians, and why? Had he any imagination about the other, he would have known that, for example, his remarks in the Regensburg address would offend Muslims. He would have known that his rewrite of the Extraordinary Form prayer "for the conversion of the Jews" would be regarded as an inadequate response.His enthusiastic support for Liturgiam Authenticam and the affirmation he gave to Vox Clara, when the book he was given wasn't even the book we received, show that he didn't know what was really going on, only what he thought was going on. One had hoped that he would be able at least to consider that changing "for all" to "for many" in the Eucharistic Prayer is a terribly tone-deaf pastoral decision, but no. His personal insistence on it has ridden roughshod over the objections of first the German, then the Italian bishops' conferences, as well as squelching considerable contrary opinion in the English-speaking conferences. Love that is one-way, and paternalistic isn't love, and people know that.

Jim Jacobs:Both Margaret Pfeil (who lives at a Catholic Worker House) and has liberationist sympathies and Dan Groody who write in the liberationist area (especially on immigration) were both hired by john Cavadini while Catherine Hilkert who writes on feminist theology was hired by myself. In the last three years I sat on three doctoral boards involving Latin American theology and directed a fourth myself. The current chair also wrote his dissertation on political theology. There is more to the theology department than you might suppose. Finally, one of our professors this year won the "Ratzinger Prize" but that probably counts against us in "progressive" Catholic circles.As for my reaction to the broad generalizations in my advice to Scott: I stand by my words. I noticed that they were quoted back to me in Latin. See if you can find the error in that attempt to one up the snarky professor. Oops, there I go again.

"O homines ad servitutem paratos."

Amen to what Rita said. I think that the new missal should figure in prominent place in the cardinals' discussions as a proof of the dysfunction of government. It's also a major reason for us laity to pay attention to this conclave: now we know that the pope can have a direct negative impact on our life as Christians, even for those among us who have the good luck of not being gay, divorced and remarried, or otherwise on his radar.Had I been told a few years ago that the Vatican would create a missal full of English errors and translation errors, that priests would go along and that people would not care or not rebel, I would not have believed it. Now I know: we have to keep watch to try to prevent the Vatican from continuing their destructive work.Meanwhile I have lost the Creed at Mass. Last week I noticed that the woman next to me also remained silent during that time. Yet she sang at other times, and she had a breviary next to her in the pew. I imagine that she too has lost the Creed.If I don't talk about it all the time when I am in the US, it's not because I am getting used to it. It's because I don't know what to say other than repeat what I have already said before. It doesn't get any better.


About the Author

Scott D. Moringiello is a Lawrence C. Gallen fellow in the Humanities at Villanova University, where he teaches the Augustine and Culture Seminar and courses in the theology department.