Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

the church of the shape to come

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 09, 2009

On the occasion of its centenary, the Jesuit magazine America has reprinted the Editorial Announcement that accompanied its maiden issue of April 17, 1909. An excerpt:

The object, therefore, of this Review is to meet the needs here described and to supply in one central publication a record of Catholic achievement and a defense of Catholic doctrine, built up by skilful hands in every region of the globe.

The "defense of Catholic doctrine" dimension seems to have gotten mislaid by a staffer in the late 1960s and has yet to be recovered. Perhaps one day it will turn up in an auction on E-Bay. The centenary issue features contributions by sundry Thinking Catholics, among the thinkingest of whom is Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., former Master General of the Dominicans and dreamer. "I was looking out my window," muses Fr. Radcliffe, "at the winter silhouette of a white beam in our garden at Blackfriars Priory in Oxford, wondering what I could say about the topic proposed to me, 'the shape of the church to come'." If the church is to thrive, he assures us, it first and foremost needs to be cute. He gives us a somewhat drowsy exhortation ad propositum.

The rise of the nation-state saw a simplification of society, as power was increasingly concentrated in the hands of secular governments. To some extent, the church again imitated society, and the hierarchy became almost the sole real power within the church. If the church is to have a healthy and complex interaction with society, neither retreating into a ghetto nor going down the plughole of assimilation, then we need a dynamic Catholic culture. This means universities and faculties in which we have the confidence to explore our faith, to ask difficult questions, to try out new ideas, to play with ideas, to float hypotheses without timidity, not feeling that we have to get it right the first time because otherwise we shall be in hot water.

Anybody out there heard of a university disinclined to "float hypotheses" of the type Radcliffe has in mind? I didn't think so. A call to arms is more amusing after the war's already been won. Yet we're to go neither into the tribalist ghetto nor down the secularist plughole.  Radcliffe, remember, is a proponent of "both-and" Catholicism, which preserves the good aspects of opposing points of view. Thus, the orthodox believe the Church's roofing should be doctrinally waterproof; progressives believe the roof should be porous so as to admit life-giving moisture. Rather than persevere in conflict or settle for a stalemate, "both-and" Catholicism calls for a roof that embraces BOTH intactness AND leakiness. That's to say, a balanced and inclusive resolution between advocates of a tight roof and a leaky roof is -- a leaky roof! Unintimidated hypotheses will be floating in no time.

Hey, what can be fairer than that?

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