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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

to teach, to sanctify, to govern

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 27, 2004

Thanks to Amy Welborn for pointing us to a Commonweal profile of Cardinal George by Peter Feuerhard that is only mildly patronizing and that pays him some grudging compliments. The following paragraph caught my attention:
[note: I have capitalized the "c" in Church, wagering that the contrary usage in Feuerhard's piece reflects Commonweal's phobia rather than the Cardinal's]

George explained his vision of the church in a written response to my requests for an interview: "When some people disagree with the 'Church,' it is the Church which should change, not the individual," he wrote. "But the Church is given to change us, to be the place where Christ will change us. If this is lost, then the Church has no reason for being except as a place to celebrate significant moments with poetic texts and to gather people for social projects. ... One should never speak of the Church without speaking of Christ."

Cardinal George's statement that the Church is to be "the place where Christ will change us" is a striking, even penetrating, expression of the core doctrine of the Second Vatican Council. Were the year 1954 instead of 2004 his vision might provide a touchstone of orthodoxy, and I'm old-fashioned enough to find his words not only meaningful but inspiring.

But today, alas, any bright undergraduate can deconstruct the term "Christ" in the Cardinal's statement and re-assemble the bits of shrapnel into a figure unrecognizable to any traditional Christian. In another words, to tell us what the Church is you must tell us who Christ is; but to tell us who Christ is you first need a Church to point out the authentic candidate among the many spurious ones, and so the appeal is circular. Most theologians would cheerfully accept the sentiment that it is we who are to be changed by Christ -- arguing, without missing a beat, that Christ is pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-Pill, etc. If you counter that the Council of Chalcedon wouldn't have acknowledged this patently contrived fiction, they reply that "the 5th century Christ" perfectly reflected the worldview of the theologians of the time and was no less a fiction than the current model.

Does this disparage the value of the Cardinal's statement? Absolutely not. Sound episcopal teaching is urgently necessary. Yet it is no longer sufficient. We need "performative" instruction from our bishops; that means bishops must take action in the world in concrete ways that will teach us who does and does not belong to the Church. Archbishop Burke, for one, has made a beginning.

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