Fr Daniel Donovan concludes his three-part analysis today with the observation that "unless the lessons of history are heeded, the Church renewal might well be on the brink of another disastrous papal venture". Is this the conclusion we can draw from comparing what happened in the wake of the Second Vatican Council to what happened in the wake of the Council of Trent?
Parallels between the Councils of Trent and Vatican II...
A nun once told me that in God's hands the life of the individual is like an artichoke and as God strips off the outer layers God reveals new layers and new beginnings. Then with a broad smile Sister added: "...same plant but new beginnings, so God's plan is always new and surprising". This is a simple yet profound metaphor for Church renewal which is always God's initiative. God peels back the artichoke so that the Church might minister more effectively to God's people in new generations. Trent in the sixteenth century and Vatican II in the twentieth century blazed trails forward for the Church of the time but both Councils failed to achieve their full potential because successive popes failed to share and implement the Councils' visions.
The short papacy of Marcellus II (three weeks) has a parallel in the modern Church with John Paul I (August 26-September 28 1978) and the stern resolve of their successors Paul IV and John Paul II to save the Church from "heresy" (Paul IV) and "secularism" (John Paul II). Ecclesiastical politicians forget that the Church is in the power of the Spirit and share the following characteristics with secular politicians: they do not listen to the people, they are never wrong, they lack imagination and are never accountable with designated scapegoats to shoulder the blame or misadventure. In this regard they emulate the development of Year 2 students who when caught speaking and asked to account for their behaviour will respond: "I wasn't talking ... he asked me a question and I had to answer him!"
The Mystery of the Mustard Seed: Cardinal Koch Factor...
Cardinal Kurt Koch's book, The Mystery of the Mustard Seed: Foundations of the Thought of Benedict XVI, suggests that there are two common misconceptions about Benedict's "theological and pastoral thought" namely that "... the pope is concerned only about a small, active portion of Catholic faithful, and that he wants to take the church back to the time before Vatican II". Koch does concede that "the pope is convinced that true renewal of the church cannot begin with the masses, but only with small movements". While Koch uncritically, accepts Benedict's plan for Church renewal, it has serious scriptural and theological flaws.
Pope Paul IV turned his back on "the masses" when he pursued his own approach to Church reform in the sixteenth century and singlehandedly undermined the possibility of reconciliation between the Papacy and the Protestant communities. Historically, the weight of evidence would suggest that the Church must be careful of another papal post conciliar plan in this case for "renewal" and the possible permanent damage to the universal Church.
There are two separate groups of texts in the New Testament where Jesus uses the image of the "mustard seed". The parable of the "mustard seed" appears in the three Synoptic Gospels to provide insight into the mystery of God's Kingdom [Mt 13: 31-32; Mk 4: 30-32; Lk 13:19]. The other group of texts [Mt 17:20 and Lk 17:6] use the small mustard seed to illustrate the power of faith. However Benedict's article, "The New Evangelization" uses the parable of the mustard seed to illustrate his point that Church renewal begins with small groups and movements not through "revolutionary changes with the masses".
The parable of the mustard seed was used by Jesus to provide his listeners with insight into the mystery of the Kingdom of God contrasting the Kingdom's small beginnings (the seed) with the fully grown plant in which "the birds come and shelter in its shade" [Mk 4: 32]. The parable is not about contrasting sizes nor Church renewal but the dynamics of the Kingdom which is open to all [Lk 11: 19-20]. Benedict's use of the parable of the mustard seed in the context of the "new evangelisation" suggests a return to catechism days when scripture was used to support doctrinal teachings rather than a separate source of God's truth.
The risen Jesus [Mt 28:20] sends the apostles out "to make disciples of all nations" and to proclaim "repentance and forgiveness in his name ... to all nations" [Lk 24: 47]. Moreover Jesus counselled his disciples to remain in Jerusalem "for the fulfilment of the Father's promise" [Acts 1: 4]. Subsequently, in the power of the Spirit, Peter's preaching [Acts 2: 14-24] extends Israel's salvation [Joel 2: 17-32] to the nations who will know that "I am the Lord" [Joel 2: 27; Psalms 69:25; 109:8; Acts 2: 22-25; 2:41].
Benedict's article refers to the "Christological and pneumatological" foundations of the "new evangelisation" but adding "at the same time, an ecclesiastical form". However it is this "ecclesiastical form" of the new evangelisation which underpins the current papal thinking on Church renewal but is more like hierarchical repossession of the Church. So Benedict writes; "The proclamation of Christ, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God presupposes listening to his voice in the voice of the Church". God speaks not only through the (hierarchical) Church but also, through: the experiences of daily life, creation, scripture etc of the faithful and it is equally, valid to listen to God's voice in the whole Church. Church leaders must discern the voice of God in "the signs of the times" and encourage adult faith capable of evangelising the nations [1 Cor 12: 12-31; Eph 4:11-16].
Why has the "new evangelisation" abandoned Paul's image of the Church as the body of Christ [Rom 12: 4-5; 1 Cor 11: 27, 12: 12-27, especially v.27; Gal 3:28; Eph 3:6, 4: 2-25] to use the parable of the mustard seed? Evangelisation therefore, for Paul had the same corporal activity of the whole community (not individuals): "I plant the seed, Apollos watered the plant but God made it grow" [1 Cor 3: 4- 6]. Likewise the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (1964) does not support the concept of the "new evangelisation" as envisaged by Benedict as the way forward for the Church in the new millennium, indeed the real worry is about the papal agenda to emasculate yet another Constitution of Vatican II reducing it to little more than a thesaurus of quotes to be scattered through papal writings and Church documents to give the impression that the teachings of Vatican II have not been sideline by the hierarchy.
The Church must never withdraw from society branding it "secularist" but must work in the Spirit to transform and humanise those aspects of society which conflict with the dignity of the person. The Church must "hear again the gospel" and diligently, put its own house in order by identifying and correcting those very public abuses within its own borders and become more accountable in its processes. From the beginning of Benedict's papacy, he has reached out to dissident groups and Traditional Anglican Communities (TAC) even developing "Ordinariates" in which TAC members might retain and celebrate their own liturgy. On the other hand Benedict has imposed a dyslexic "new translation" of the Roman Missal on English speaking Catholics around the world. This "new translation" is unsuited to proclamation and is laced with theological jargon totally incomprehensible to members of the Assembly. A pastoral Sister in a country parish tells the story of an elderly lady who approached her after Sunday Mass earlier this year, with the following question; "Sister, why do we say now in the Creed that the Son is 'consequential' with the Father?"
For Koch, the role of the local bishop is "to help the faithful find direction amid confusing points of view...". What a patronising and demeaning opinion Koch has of Catholics who are not confused but angry precisely because of such condescending treatment by Church leaders who should simply know better! Local bishops have simply become branch managers for Rome and can be forced from their Dioceses for their pastoral initiatives (such as Bishop Morris of Toowoomba). If the Pope is so interested in the "new evangelisation" renewal driven by small Church then he might disperse the College of Cardinals and empower local Churches to evangelise as the mustard seed of "hope" buried deep in the soil of their specific cultures.
Were the local bishops more in touch with their people, perhaps the Television Networks would have less reason to present stories such as that which was covered on May 1 and 2. The revelation that a priest from the Parramatta Diocese had been married for a year and had continued to work in his parish with the tacit approval of the hierarchy. The priest also, claimed that he was unable to live "a double life," like other priests and so he was making a "public confession". His on air allegations have not only undermined the clerical lifestyle but also have further damaged the credibility of Church authorities.
Meanwhile Rome is getting on with its ecclesiastical gardening and could well benefit from the advice of Graham Richardson to the Australian Labor Party [The Australian, Friday May 5 2012]: "When virtually everyone has stopped listening how do you get their attention?" Good question, do you not think, Cardinal Koch? More than likely it has never occurred to the good Cardinal that he (not the people) might be confused! As history shows it would not be the first time nor will it be the last when the hierarchy not the people needed renewal!
The vision of Trent to heal and reform the Church was stifled by the agenda of Paul IV and if Cardinal Koch's analysis of the Benedict's agenda can be believed then the Church is on track to another disaster. Interestingly, Paul IV was the Prefect of the Office of the Inquisition and the present pope was Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of Faith, the modern equivalent for the notorious Office of the Inquisition. So does Benedict want to go back to the past? Cardinal Koch would emphatically reject that criticism of Benedict's theological foundations! But those who deny history are bound to repeat it and maybe Benedict is more comfortable in the sixteenth century than in the new millennium but it is a quantum leap from that position to imposing the pope's agenda upon the whole Church. Unless the lessons of history are heeded, the Church renewal might well be on the brink of another disastrous papal venture.
Fr Daniel Donovan, submitted to Catholica 14 May 2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2012 Fr Daniel Donovan