A reader writes:
I am in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program at a Catholic University, and this semester I am studying Christology. I am concerned that I am not going to get a solid grounding in the orthodox teaching of the Church about Christ, as the professor spent a good percentage of our first class weekend quoting her favorite theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx. The class syllabus has us reading Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Jon Sobrino, Juan Luis Segundo, Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, Elizabeth Johnson, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Roger Haight, and Jacques Dupuis - a veritable recap of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s hit list over the last 30 years, not to mention Protestant input from N.T. Wright, Marcus Borg, and Rowan Williams. We do have one small text, “The Christological Controversies”, that has selections from Melitus of Sardo, Irenaeus of Lyons and Athanasius, but this text is fairly swamped by the quantity of other reading that we have been assigned.
Can you suggest a few good resources for grounding myself in the true teaching of the Church, at a graduate-school level? I don’t need to be able to go head-to-head with the syllabus on a weekly basis, but I want to know at the end of the semester that I’ve at least gained a familiarity with what the true faith believes about Jesus Christ, without having my head muddled by the winds of change that I fear will buffet me if I stick only to what is assigned.
I’m no expert here, but I would go with the Fathers of the Church and with Benedict XVI and his fave rave theologians for starters. Also, I’d get ahold of the syllabus from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology down in Oakland and learn actual Catholic theology (lotsa Thomas!) from the readings there. Also, you might try contacting Scott Hahn for resources. His www.salvationhistory.com site is chockablock with good bibliographic materials. Also, read a lot of Chesterton, who will keep you sane.
As to the indoctrination materials they are having you read, consider it research for your future campaign of Subverting the Dominant Paradigm which you will wage once they’ve forced you to do the kabuki of offering the pinch of incense to the Spirit of Woodstock. You are not being brainwashed. You are building antibodies. Someday, like the Omega Man, your antibodies will inoculate others against the Theological Zombie Apocalypse that has overtaken so many schools of theology in Catholic higher education. You’ll know the mantras and the tired heresies and will be able to explode them from within, freeing future students for the thrill of encountering orthodoxy instead of the wearying drone of the graying radicals who, instead of living 40 years since 1971, have been living 1971 40 times. You are Our Man in Academe, going deep undercover to destroy the regime of heresy from within.
The trick will be not so much to remain orthodox (that’s fairly easy, considering how dreadfully dull the theological legacy of the Pepsi Generation is). Rather, the trick will be avoiding becoming a bitter Pharisee who turns Catholic faith into a particularly nasty and uninviting sort of Protestantism.
What do I mean? I mean that you cannot build a life on protest, not even a protest against heresy. If your Catholic faith is primarily a reaction against Those People Over There (whoever They are) then it is not about Jesus Christ, but about anger over some human hurt you have received (like the hurt of getting drivel from teachers who have betrayed their office and used it to subvert the gospel). The Catholic faith is not a mere reaction to this world. It is about God breaking into this world with joy in order to save it. It is hell, not the Faith, that is on the defensive. That’s why “the gates of hell” (a defensive image from siege warfare) shall not prevail against the Church. So the trick is to be joyful, not angry and bitter, in your work of subverting the dominant paradigm. Have worldly teachers sold the Faith for a pot of heterodox message? Sure! What did you expect the world to do?
But the good news is, not only is that project failing, but the gospel is emerging stronger than ever because Jesus Christ lives. Brickbats and crosses it shall endure till That Day, but it remains full of joy, not bitterness, till then. So the approach we take is not the mere anger of the Revolutionary against the Old Regime, but the gladness of the saint. As Jesus put it:
I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20)
This mistaken focus on defeating the spirits rather than rejoicing in Heaven is the central mistake that many of those concerned about retrieving the Tradition from the vandals have made. They have become so focused on their anger over the vandalism that they have forgotten that it’s not about defeating Hell, but about rejoicing over the triumph of a Heaven that has already defeated Hell on Easter.
So do your subversive work joyfully, fixing your eyes on heavenly things and not on earthly ones. You will receive all the opposition and hostility that are the saint’s badge of honor. Take it to God and do not let Hell take away your joy. It’s your birthright in Baptism.
One last thing: cultivate friendships with whoever in your life is on the same page. Be proactive about that by seeing what you can do to create a bit of community around your interests. Maybe fellow students, maybe fellow parishioners, maybe people on the web. Flesh and blood is better, but wherever you can find it, support is good.
Hope this helps.