One of the things in which I rejoice is that the Catholic Church’s direction is determined by the successors of the apostles and not the successors of Rudolph Bultmann.
For those of you not in the know Rudolph Bultmann
is the grandfather of all liberal theologians. The Lutheran revisionist, modernist Biblical scholar was famous for attempting to de-mythologize the New Testament and said that he believed practically nothing could be known about the historical Jesus.
If you want to have a career in theology or Biblical studies today you still (for the most part) have to bow down at the altar of St Rudolf Bultmann. That is why the sniffy letter to the New York Times from a cadre of Catholic theologians about journalist Ross Douthat has about as much gravitas as cotton candy has nutritional value.
The liberal theologians were upset by this outspoken article
Douthat wrote during the recent synod. In the article Ross Douthat voiced his opinion that Pope Francis was in favor of changing Catholic rules to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. He shared the opinion of English Vaticanista Edward Pentin that the synod had been tilted in favor of the “Kasper proposal” allowing divorced and remarried to be admitted to Communion. Nevertheless, he predicted that the liberal faction would not succeed and his follow up column here
explains just why he thinks the conservatives “won” at the synod.
While I’m not sure his analysis is completely watertight, and I think Pentin may be overstating his case, what makes me think they are both on target is the list of enemies they have attracted. That the darlings of the American Catholic academic elite should take the trouble to write to the New York Times whining about Douthat shows that he has undermined their lofty ivory towers and irritated them.
They’re not the only ones. Fr. James Martin SJ has reacted to the synod in a column for CNN
accusing those who disagree with the LGBT agenda as being fearful bigoted haters. With uncharacteristically adolescent petulance, Fr. Martin tweeted, “To all you haters out there, I’m going to continue to preach a merciful God. So get ready for more mercy. A whole year of it.” Really? Did Fr. James accompany his tweet with an emoticon sticking out his tongue? Or maybe it was an emoticon with a puckered lips indicating a surfeit of sour grapes.
Think where the Catholic Church would be if the august signatories of the letter to the New York Times were in charge of the recent synod. Suddenly the ecumenical movement would be over because the entire Catholic Church would be knocking on the door of the Archbishop of Canterbury to seek admittance to the Anglican Church.
Thankfully the shepherds of the Church are not all American theologians. Instead they come from the far corners of the globe where they have worked as religious, teachers, priests, theologians, missionaries and pastors. They know the Church because they know their flock. Despite there being Europeans who would try to undermine the Catholic faith, the majority of the synod fathers know they are guardians and stewards of the mysteries of God, and they have taken their responsibility seriously and prayerfully. They know the Church as a general knows the battlefield—because he has fought on it. The academics think they know the battlefield because they have read books about it.
The other category of people who know the Catholic Church well are converts. While I admire and respect the cradle Catholics, they sometimes take their family home for granted. They are sometimes too close to see its real faults or its strengths, and often behave as rebellious teenagers. Converts can see the Catholic Church’s strengths and weaknesses in a way cradle Catholics cannot.
Most of us have taken a long time and much trouble to read and pray our way into the Church. We have had greater doubts about the Catholic faith than any liberal cradle Catholic because we were not only outside her, but educated to hate and distrust her. I am in this category with Ross Douthat and Edward Pentin, and I say with trembling certainty that because we are converts and because of our own intellectual, spiritual and emotional journeys to the Catholic Church we have a unique perspective to bring to the debate.
Our relationship to the Catholic Church is like that of Charles Ryder to the Marchmain family in Brideshead Revisited. He is a man who has married into a wonderful, ancient, venerable but sometimes corrupt family. He is humbled to have been admitted and grateful to sit at the family table. He is awed by the majesty and antiquity of his surroundings. He is touched by the dignity and nobility of the clan, but because he is from the outside he is also able to see the family as it really is more clearly than anyone else.
Ross Douthat and Edward Pentin both have that perspective, and we would all do well to listen to them and not dismiss them with a haughty, intellectual wave of the hand.