Friday, February 05, 2010

The following quote highlights what is at the heart of the divides that plague our Church in the post Vatican II era:
Although the Church has raised the tone of morals and benefited human society in countless ways, her true purpose is to deliver her members out of this present evil world and raise them beyond the capacities of their own nature....Newman insists that the aim of all Paul's labors and sufferings was not that he might civilize the world or cultivate human abilities, but that he might bring souls to glory. The real object of the gospel is to produce saints, few thought they may be, rather than to be useful for any worldly purpose. (Dulles, Newman, p. 85)
No one, whether "liberal" or "conservative" theologically, denies that the Church's ultimate business is not to build a paradise on earth. If it were, it sure isn't doing a very good job of it! It is not just Garrigou-Lagrange that says so, but also Rahner, and even Schillebeeckx.

The last sentence, however, reflects a sentiment that many "progressive" post-Vatican II Catholics find distasteful, as evidenced by Stephen Duffy's caricaturisation of the world-hating "x" position in his Graced Horizon. People who say things Newman aren't concerned about the world at all, especially not about the poor.

At issue is not an agreement with the position that Newman takes, but rather how deeply one feels that it is true and central. Those on the "Communio" side of things, Dulles's "neo-Augustinians" at the 1985 Synod of Bishops, feel the true purpose of the Church very strongly and are therefore hesitant about claims of social progress in the name of the gospel. Others agree with, but have little feeling for the assertion. They are much more sanguine about "working for justice" and creating a better world as an important part of the progress of the Gospel. They tend to think that the other-worldly implications of the Church' purpose will work themselves out in the life to come and so we don't need to bother about them too much outside of basic religious and ethical observance. In the meantime we have to invest a lion's share of our energy in making this world a more just place.

The thing is, Newman's position is right and central, and so the emotional coldness that some Catholic feel towards it has to indicate something like a lack of whole-hearted reception of the teaching, beyond intellectual assent.

This is similar to some Catholic's coolness or active resistance to pro-life activism, which indicates not that they don't think abortion is wrong, but that they do not have a strong emotional involvement in the Church's deep concern for violations of unborn human. They don't feel the horrors of abortion with every fiber of their being--an emotional reaction that best reflects the nature of abortion itself.

For the pro-life activist, it is hard to understand how anyone can truly understand what is happening in our world regarding abortion, euthanasia and the collapse of marriage and not do everything in their power to stop it, including expending a lot of energy on political activism. It is hard to see how Fr. Jenkins can even think of honoring such a strong advocate of legally protecting abortion as Obama.

The same goes for the inability to some to assimilate John Paul II's teaching on capital punishment. It is not that those who want to keep CP don't understand or accept the teaching intellectually; it is that they do not have a strong emotional revulsion to the diminishment of human dignity for the guilty, which is at the heart of John Paul II's teaching.

The issue, then, in evangelization, as Newman thought and taught himself in A Grammar of Assent, is how to cultivate not only an intellectual affirmation, but an emotional engagement with the truth.


Nate said...

It seems like you switch your argument here. At first it seems like you're saying that political activism isn't the main goal of the Church and so shouldn't be emphasized, and then you're saying that it is essential to have the emotional attachment to social justice issues. If the Church's main goal is to bring souls to glory, then the world, politics, etc. can quite literally go to hell as long as we work for each person to be saved. But we can reconcile these views by saying that you can save souls through the renewal of the culture, whether it's the life issues or social justice issues. But then that would have to get down to motivation. It's all very tricky.

Robert Gotcher said...

My point is, how lively is our sense of central doctrines of the faith, how emotionally engaged are we by them? The two examples are the priority of salvation (zeal for the salvation of souls should have a strong emotional resonance), and the imago dei in each human person. The first will not diminish or extinguish your zeal for the cause of the life, but it will give you equanitimity about it--you won't be attached to particualr outcomes.

In this case it isn't about evangelizing by changing culture (which, as you point out, ties the two concerns together), but rather simply veneration for the image of God tout court as a strong emotional motivation for action (including, for some, primarily prayer).

Robert Gotcher said...

And besides, I think the emotional reaction I was trying to highlight is the revulsion one should feel when one thinks about legalized abortion.