| || ||
Conscience and Chaos | Dr. James Hitchcock | IgnatiusInsight.com
The "Gospel of Judas" is rediscovered, which leads some people
to announce triumphantly that the entire New Testament story has been
turned on its head. The Bible the Church has given us is fundamentally
in error, essentially a lie.
When the Holy See states that the idea of Limbo has never been official
doctrine (which it has not been), a theologian exults that soon the doctrine
of Original Sin will be abolished.
A newspaper reports that "an ordained Roman Catholic priest"
has come to town, something that is noteworthy because the "priest"
happens to be a woman.
Theologians in Australia denounce their cardinal to the Vatican as a heretic,
because he points out that "conscience" is not the ultimate
criterion of truth.
The lay trustees of a Catholic parish appoint their own pastor, who serves
entirely at their pleasure. The pastor in turn offers his support to a
parish of the "American Catholic Church," headed by a "bishop"
who has never even been a Catholic priest, which has as one of its tenets
the acceptance of homosexual activity.
When the closure of a New Orleans parish is announced, parishioners complain
that they are being denied the sacraments and manifest their love for
those sacraments by repeatedly interrupting the celebration of Mass with
jeers and angry threats.
In each of these cases something fundamental to Catholicism is being denied,
sometimes, perhaps, without the people involved even realizing it. The
Church teaches that women cannot be ordained, so that the woman who claims
to be a priest is in fact not. The idea that "conscience" is not
the ultimate criterion of truth for Catholics is not the invention of
an Australian cardinal; any competent historian would consider it self-evident.
If people value the sacraments, raucously interrupting the celebration
of Mass as a means of protest indicates that they have little appreciation
of what the sacraments even are.
The case of the lay trustees is significant because what starts out as
apparently a dispute over property, which is not a matter of faith, ends
with overtures to a church that denies an important Catholic moral teaching
and whose priestly orders are questionable.
Some Catholics say that all they want is a "pluralistic"
Church, but it is no exaggeration to say that the above incidents (the
list could be a lot longer) manifest nothing short of chaos. A woman is
a priest and a man is a bishop because they say they are. A parish is
Catholic even though it is not in communion with any Catholic bishop.
A congregation expresses its love for the Mass by desecrating the Mass.
The key to all this is the claim about "conscience." Long ago
that noble word was debased to mean, "I am the ultimate judge of
right and wrong." At one time conscience was experienced as demanding,
because it nagged people not to do things they wanted to do. Now it has
been turned into a self-issued blank permission slip, so that in one sense
the theologian is right -- it is necessary to abolish original sin, even
though that would make Christianity meaningless.
Catholics often think that Protestants at the Reformation enshrined the
principle of "private interpretation" of the Bible, but that
is not really accurate. At first it may have seemed that way, but Protestants
soon established firm criteria of doctrine and discipline, including the
means of enforcing them. They believed in heresy and moral absolutes and
acted upon that belief. Even those Protestant groups with the least degree
of hierarchical authority, such as the Baptists, nonetheless insist on
a high degree of uniformity among their congregations, something that
can be enforced by congregations breaking union with one another.
The habit of appealing to the Bible over the head of the Church, so to
speak, is untenable. Without the Church who is to say that the Gospel
of Judas is not more authoritative than the Gospel of John?
We do live in a pluralistic society, which means that Catholics dissatisfied
with their Church have an endless menu of other groups to choose from.
As far as I can see, dissidents remain in the Church mainly because of
a kind of stubborn sense of "ownership" -- "Its my church,
and no one is going to drive me out." But that is a denial of the
fundamental nature of Catholicism as it has existed for almost two millennia.
People who advocate this kind of "pluralism" are not rising
above petty theological quarrels to achieve a higher unity. Rather they
are exacerbating disunity in a radical way, introducing, as it were, a
wild card into the deck to be played any way people choose. It is a formula
for endless rancor, like a dysfunctional family whose members gather regularly
for Sunday dinner and always go away even more alienated than when they
(This article originally appeared in April 2005 on the
Women for Faith and Family website.)
Other IgnatiusInsight.com columns by Dr. Hitchcock:
Orientation Is Not a "Gift"
Authority of Scripture vs. the "Hermeneutic of Suspicion"
Ideology: The Grilling of Judge Roberts
Court's Penumbra of Politics
Ratzinger: Man for the Job
Modern Culture; Asserting the Gospel
Bishops, Liberal Results
The Myth of
the Wall of Separation
The Church and
Theory of the Enlightened
Dr. James Hitchcock, (e-mail)
professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary
Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press, in the Adoremus
Bulletin, and on the Women
for Faith and Family website. He is the author of several books, including
The Recovery of the Sacred, What is Secular Humanism?, and Years
of Crisis: Collected Essays, 1970-1983.
Princeton University Press just published his two-volume history of the
Supreme Court, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life:
The Odyssey of the Religion Clauses (Vol. 1) and
From "Higher Law" to "Sectarian Scruples"
(Vol. 2). He is also a regular contributor to many Catholic periodicals,
If you'd like to receive the FREE IgnatiusInsight.com
e-letter (about every 1 to 2 weeks), which includes regular updates
about IgnatiusInsight.com articles, reviews, excerpts, and author appearances,
please click here to sign-up today!
| || || |