August 28, 2005

Moving the Church

I mentioned last week how the author Garry Wills said that the Church is moved by saints, hinting that some of the problems he has with the Magisterium will only be overcome when a saint comes along (I'm guessing he wasn't among those chanting "sainthood now!" after the death of Pope John Paul II).

What he says is true to some extent. A progressive Catholic in our diocesan newspaper said as much, pointing out how theologians are always disrespected until they are honored. The classic example is St. Thomas Aquinas, who sniffed of heresy until after his death. There are also theologians like Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar were persona non grata until they were suddenly invited to Vatican II and treated with much respect. So yes, that's the way things work.

But - and it's a large one - you don't know which theologies are authentic in real time, unless the Church speaks. Many think they know and many place their opinions above the Church's anyway so it's not an issue. But one cannot know. And to be in the dark is a cross to bear, perhaps not the heaviest one, but one nonetheless. The temptation is to want to be ahead of Revelation.

What is also interesting to me is that Garry Wills seems to be making a truth claim in favor of the Catholic Church (an unlikely position for him to be in) when he says that saints move the Church. Because if we take the larger perspective, we find that you don't have to holy to move Christianity. One of the seminal figures in Christian history was Martin Luther, and even most Lutherans wouldn't think of him as particularly holy or saintly. Certainly the fact that his first bible translation excluded the book of James implies that he felt himself not only above the Church but above Scripture, which means that - inadvertently, of course - he was putting the Catholic Church on par with Scripture by treating parts of both as worthy of rejection.

No comments: