Every now and then I browse through a large religious book shop which carries both Catholic and Protestant titles together with a number of oriental contributions. In a recent visit to the shop I made a point of noticing content from the particular vantage point of disagre-ement among authors. Conflict abounds. Secularist tendencies oppose funda-mentalist, and vice versa. Liberation theologians reject the work of non liberationists, and again vice versa. Feminists are at odds with non feminists. Christology from above differs from Christology from below as does a ‘creation-centred spirituality’ from Trinitarian centred. Scripture studies are beset with the mutually contra-dictory positions of extreme critics on the left to evangelical critics in the middle and fundamentalist writers on the right. Papalist forces contend with anti-papalist. There are hundreds of shades of Protestant thought, many of them incompatible with one another as well as with Catholic theology. In the area of concrete gospel living there is activism as opposed to mysticism and individualistic tendencies at odds with communitarian.
For anyone interested in objective truth and solid certitude the experience is depressing in the extreme.
We can find the same phenomena if we examine the thousands of papers read each year in philosophical and religious meetings. We cannot disagree with Pope Benedict when he remarks that philosophy has been ‘utterly torn in shreds’ to the point that its ‘practitioners understand one another less and less, there being found among them scarcely two heads who agree together’.
Theologians are hardly in a better situation. We must ask how disciplines so torn apart in their very membership can expect to command respect in other academic communities and among the simple faithful.
Mutual rejection among so many scripture scholars and theologians is one matter. Rejection of an authoritative Magisterium is quite another – even though the latter clearly promotes the former. Serious and moderate scholars have begun to note that much of current doctrinal rejection is not mere academic investigation. It implies a loss of faith, in most cases. These are hard words, no doubt, but they merit attention.
Christopher Derrick is plain: “There has been a widespread loss of faith among the Catholic scholars; many of those concerned are unwilling to face the fact of their loss and therefore desire most urgently (and at any cost in intellectual absurdity) that Roman Catholicism should somehow trans-mogrify itself into something in which they still do believe – into a vague pan-Anglican Christianity, perhaps, or some kind of social welfare humanism, garnished with a topping of Catholic terminology”.
According to St. Thomas the person who embraces heresy regarding one article of faith has, regarding all the other articles, not faith but only ‘an opinion according to his own will’.
This phenomenon is nothing new in the history of the Church. Newman’s struggles with nineteenth-century ecclesiastical liberalism present many points of contact with our struggles of today. The main difference is that the ecclesiastical left today is far more extreme than it was in his day, whereas the right today is less extreme.
We are all familiar with the confusions and doubts extensively spread among the faithful by dissenting theologians and their disciples today. These doubts entail enormous pastoral problems. Only when we realize how the New Testament requires unhesitating certitude about Jesus and His message as proposed by the Church will we be able to appreciate the extent of the damage dissent has done among our people. When confusion and doubt are viewed through naturalistic eyes, they may appear to be of minimal concern, but when they are seen through the eyes of the Lord and his Apostles, they assume gigantic proportions.