Process Theology and Secularization

by Edwin C. Garvey, C.S.B.


This pamphlet contains two articles, originally presented as lectures given in 1971 by Fr. Edwin Garvey at the invitation of Bishop Ryan of Hamilton, Ontario. The main purpose of these essays is to warn the clergy and the faithful of the inherent dangers found in the secularist system of process theology which has been widely substituted for the traditional foundations of the faith. Fr. Garvey presents a concise analysis of the anti-Christian school of thought whose basic practice rejects the supernatural and relies on a continuing evolution.

Publisher & Date

Lumen Christi Press, Houston, TX, 1972


In the Credo of the People of God, which sets forth the basic truths of the Faith, Pope Paul VI affirms that the kingdom of God, "begun below in the Church, is not of this world, whose form is passing." There is no compromise between this belief and process theology, which envisions only this world; which places its hope in continuing evolution.

If there has not yet been strong opposition to process theology, as Father Garvey observes, it is because few people understand its nature, and few see the extent to which it has destroyed the faith of a vast number of Catholics.

In Process Theology and Secularization, Father Garvey makes a profound analysis of this anti-Christian system, pointing out its principal assumptions: that evolution is the explanatory principle of the universe; that there is no absolute truth and no objective morality; that man, as opposed to having a permanent nature, is simply a part of an overall process.

Basic to process theology is rejection of the supernatural. This necessarily calls for a reinterpretation of Scripture in naturalistic terms. So, scholars whom we might term "process exegetes" strip Scripture, to borrow the words of Pope Paul, "of its sacred and historical character."

Process theology uses Christian terms, but it gives them different meanings. When it speaks of redemption, it does not mean that man is redeemed for heaven; it merely refers to a better temporal life for mankind. Eternal life does not mean that man is called by God to an everlasting life in heaven; for process theology, eternal life means a quality of life here and now. Thus supernatural concepts are changed to have purely natural meanings.

Most of the catechetical books in use today — there are some notable exceptions — are influenced by process theology; and their basic orientation, therefore, is toward a religion quite different from the authentic Faith. A significant point in the new catechetics, one that escapes many critics, is the omission of any teaching about an immortal soul. There is clearly no place for a soul in a heaven defined as an "evolutionary breakthrough," or in a concept of salvation as something which makes us "fully human."

It is to be hoped that Father Garvey's astute analysis of process theology will awaken priests, faithful, and hierarchy to the dangers inherent in the diffusion of this secularistic system of thought. — Edith Myers

Part One

In these days after Vatican II it has become a commonplace to speak of a crisis in faith. Many are disturbed by a denial of the dogmas of the Church and of the divine nature and teaching authority of the Church, by the substitution of situation ethics for objective ethics, and in general by a concentration on secular values to the neglect of religious values. If we look for an explanation of this crisis in faith, we find that a new, anti- Christian, process theology has, far more than is realized, been substituted for the traditional foundations of the faith.

A theology founded on evolution rather than on the existence of a transcendent God and salvation by Christ necessarily implies a rejection of the Christian faith. Indeed, we are told that the theological crisis "has to do with the very foundations of Christian belief" (Dewart, Religion, Language and Truth, p. 17). Further, "the evolution of man has brought about a change in the very nature of 'religious' belief" (ibid., p. 10).

For process theologians a transcendent God does not exist. Evolution rather than creation by God is the explanatory principle of the universe. Since God does not exist, there is no possibility of supernatural divine life nor of supernatural faith. Rather, "faith originates when man suddenly discovers himself to be already existing, and to be part of an ongoing world which is already in process" (ibid., p. 101).

For the new theology of evolution, man, in any significant sense, does not exist any more than God. Man is just man becoming and therefore has no permanent nature. In this evolutionary world, where the very concept of nature is denied, to speak of that which is natural and supernatural loses any meaning. The result of all this is that for evolutionary theology there can be no foundation for belief at all, and the notion of unchanging Christian dogmas is looked upon as the survival of an archaic Greek mentality. By making evolution, not God, the object of faith, Christian theology is turned upside down. Evolution as the foundation of faith means the complete secularization of religion and this is another way of saying that religion does not exist.

In much of the theological writing at the present time there is a neglect of the distinction between the kingdom of God and the earthly or secular kingdom. The good news of the new theology is not redemption and the gift of divine life through Christ, but rather the good news of evolution redeeming us from the present and leading us to a better temporal future. "Revealed religion does not descend from above . . . Religion is the conceptual, cultural form of the experience of reality as such" (Dewart, The Foundations of Belief, p. 470). And so it is natural to find that secular rather than supernatural values are the concern of the new theology — secular values in the present and hope for a fuller realization of these values in the future. Without faith in the supernatural, secular values are all that are left.

With the denial of a supernatural kingdom, religion can only be an experience of the secular, and religion becomes largely a matter of psychology and social work. As an example of the influence of secularistic theology, we might note the statement of Father Bonnike, president of the NFPC: "I believe that his reign has begun and that the Church we serve is the embryonic and initial stage of that kingdom on earth through which injustice and misery will be banished." As a further example of the tendency to equate the kingdom of God with the temporal historical world, we quote from the Canadian Come to the Father catechetical texts: "At the moment, as you live your life of faith, searching for the meaning of God's promise, constructing the kingdom of God to the best of your ability, you are writing a new page in the history of God's people" (Grade 7, Section 23). By way of illustration of "history going on," of new developments in the kingdom, we find a picture of electric power lines.

Secularization naturally leads to the revolution in catechetics which we have heard so much about. A social gospel quite logically tends to replace the teaching of the supernatural truths of faith. Indeed, with the new secularized theology, the teaching of religion should disappear. This is what Gabriel Moran, a recognized leader of the new catechetics, tells us: "If theologians can manage to posit salvation outside of the Church, they can certainly find it outside of the Catholic schools and the CCD . . . The future will bring such changes in catechetics that the field will cease to exist or will be alive in much richer ways . . . The Church will continue to have an important role in education, particularly in caring for those whom society is neglecting" (Vision and Tactics, p. 36). It would seem, according to Moran, that if society cannot look after all man's needs, the Church can be used as a helpful auxiliary.

With Secularization Traditional Ethics Cease to Exist

Because of secularization, Moran is quite right in stating that catechetics may cease to exist. If, as a secular theologian tells us, "Catholic thought and experience tend with increasing rapidity to interpret Christian belief in terms of the temporal experience and entities," why should there be Catholic primary and secondary schools which claim to be inspired by the wisdom of revelation? Or why Catholic universities? The fact is that many Catholic universities are now tending toward secularization. Or why Catholic seminaries? Do we need seminaries in order to train social workers, psychologists, counselors, and experts in group dynamics?

With secularization, traditional ethics ceases to exist, as the California Medical Association has stated: "In defiance of the long-held Western ethics of intrinsic and equal value for every human life, regardless of its status, abortion is becoming accepted by society as moral, right, and even necessary." It was, of course, an implicit rejection of Western and Christian ethics with its intrinsic values which gave rise to such anguished protests when the Church issued her encyclical Humanae Vitae on the question of birth control. Having rejected Christian ethics on the question of birth control, there is no reason why Christian ethics should not be rejected on the question of abortion.

With secularization, mission activity is reduced to being a concern for social needs and dialogue. According to the new theology, the world saves itself, salvation being a matter of the upward ascent and progress of the world. Faith is a matter of proving by natural reason that the world by its immanent evolution is quite capable of saving itself. As a result, mission work is a matter of making known through dialogue the good news of immanent redemption.

With the secularization of religion comes the demand that the Catholic Church be restructured according to the principle of Rousseauian democracy. When supernatural revelation is denied and when the eternal and natural law are rejected, the immanent will of the people, the general will formed by consensus, becomes the basis of the new magisterium. Hence the alarming danger to the traditional faith posed by National Pastoral Councils or by National Federations of Priests Councils infected by Rousseauian immanentism. We have already witnessed some results in Holland and we can understand why Father Fichter considers it necessary to tell the members of the NFPC that there is no way out of the malaise in the Church other than by a confrontation of priests with the bishops. Perhaps it might be well to be on our guard against the danger of a Rousseauian type of liberalism perverting parish councils.

If truth is purely relative to the immanent process of evolution, there is no foundation for authority in the Church or for any type of authority other than the authority of self. Deny truth, and all authority and obedience are artificial. Law and obedience become not the pedagogues of freedom but of slavery.

Secularization naturally leads to an identity crisis among priests and religious. If there is only the secular, why should anyone leave all things to devote oneself exclusively to the work of a kingdom that does not exist? The dramatic loss of vocations and lack of vocations in the last ten years can be explained by the widespread acceptance, often without knowing it, of the death of the Christian gospel.

The logic of immanentist secular theology is that there is simply no place for the Church. A church claiming to teach unchangeable truths and a divine message in regard to supernatural life, both of which are non-existent, has no reason to exist. And so the identity crisis is not limited to priests and religious. It must extend to all members of the Church, including the bishops and the Pope. The Church has no reason for existence except perhaps to wave the wand of approval for anything that our evolutionary world comes up with as made known by the immanent consensus of the people.

The Church's answer to the new secularist theology was the proclamation of the Year of Faith and the Credo of the People of God. Truths such as the existence of a transcendent God, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, original sin, and the divine nature of the Church were reaffirmed. And by way of answer to those who would make religion simply a matter of social doctrine, the Credo states: "We confess that the kingdom of God, begun here below in the Church, is not of this world, whose form is passing, and that its proper growth cannot be confounded with the progress of civilization, of science, or human technology."

For Aristotle, Reality Was Not a Meaningless Chaos

We may naturally wonder why the new theology is so anxious to show that when Christ said his kingdom was not of this world, he meant just the opposite; why aggiornamento for so many means the development of this world rather than finding better ways of insuring that Christ's gift of divine life will be received and lived. No doubt one of the reasons for this is that for great numbers the truths of the Catholic faith had become dead, something to be received on authority, but not something to be looked upon as a light for the intellect. For many, faith had become static, a matter of words and emptied of its living content, instead of being a dynamic intellectual virtue seeking further understanding. Instead of rejecting the notion that the content of faith is simply something to be adhered to by the will, instead of recovering the sense of truth and the truth of faith, the new theology would make aggiornamento the substitution of its own form of anti-intellectualism for that which it seeks to displace.

Reactionaries of the right and progressive process theologians of the left are basically the same because of their common denial of intellectual truth. The anti-intellectual disease on the right may manifest itself differently from the anti-intellectualism on the left, but this is incidental to their common loss of faith in truth. Because of this common denial of truth, the dead legalism of the right is basically not different from the blind dynamism of the left. Surely aggiornamento means something better than substituting one form of anti-intellectualism for another. Surely our options are not limited to legalism or modernism.

The foundation of belief for the new process theology is the denial of objective truth. The realistic concept of truth "has gradually broken down, and the last century or so has witnessed the gradual emergence of a new concept of understanding the mind and its truth. Though there is scarcely unanimity, there is significant convergence in philosophy toward the view that the human spirit is a self-creative process which fashions itself out of its relations to the world." (Dewart, Religion, Language and Truth, p. 121). The scorn which process theologians heap upon Greek philosophy is in reality a scorn for the very notion of objective truth. The mission of Socrates was to endeavor to convince the Sophists that truth is possible; that instead of man being the source of truth, the measure of things, man is made to know reality. And for Aristotle, reality was not a meaningless chaos but was the basis for science and intelligibility.

St. Thomas believed in truth and this is why he believed that the intellectual disciplines of theology and philosophy are possible. With the Fathers of the Church, he believed that theology was a science based on the descending wisdom of God's supernatural revelation. With St. Augustine, he was willing to contrast the wisdom of the God of revelation to the ascending wisdom of philosophers; and he was willing to teach us that "the descent of the divine plenitude into the depths of human nature matters more than the ascent of human nature to God." But one thing St. Thomas was not willing to do was to deny the very possibility of truth, for he knew that without truth neither the science of theology nor that of philosophy is possible.

After St. Thomas, the very notion of objective truth was challenged and the world was left with the two anti-intellectual options of legalism or a world of total change. With Occam, truth was simply a matter of concrete facts perceived by the senses or revealed facts dependent on the all-powerful will of God. With the denial of the possibility of objective truth, there was no escape from the relativism of man as the measure of all things or the relativism of the arbitrary will of God. Faith ceased to be an intellectual virtue, adhering to truth under the light of God revealing, and became an act of the will adhering to empty and arbitrary formulas.

The philosophy of Descartes, instead of returning to the traditional concept of objective truth, reinforced the conclusion that truth is impossible. For the nominalism of Occam, Descartes substituted his own type of skepticism and nominalism. In the idealism of Descartes we have a new way of understanding truth: knowledge is not knowledge of reality but of ideas in the mind. Ideas are creative and are not subject to objective norms. If to know is not to know reality, but rather to create in total independence of any laws of being, then we should not be surprised that God, as Descartes maintains, could create a square circle. With this view of truth we have an idealistic view of the universe wherein the disciplines of philosophy and theology founded on the realistic concept of truth cease to have any meaning.

Hegel is the Great Modern Demythologizer

The Cartesian revolution, frequently referred to as the new cogito principle, centering truth on the mind and not a being, lays the foundation for modern gnostic evolutionary theologies. Consciousness gives meaning to a meaningless universe, and it is through consciousness that the world proceeds from chaos to meaning. "Language, instead of corresponding to that which is spoken about, is rather the means whereby consciousness can think meaningfully about a reality that does not have any meaning in or within itself" (Dewart, op. cit., p. 166).

It remained for Spinoza to draw out the full revolutionary significance of Descartes' cogito principle. Basing himself on Descartes' foundations, Spinoza soon taught that there is only one substance, which is God, and that all reality, including the mental and material aspects of reality, are manifestations of this one divine substance. God is not a transcendent being with an intellect or will; rather, God is everything. With this pantheistic concept of God, man is an aspect of God and man's knowledge is God or Reality or the Ground of Being becoming aware of itself. And for Spinoza salvation consists in knowing the pantheistic meaning of the universe and in accommodating oneself to God's continuous process of self-revelation.

While Spinoza uses the word "God," he gives us a completely secularized notion of God and of religion. Spinoza's pantheism means the death of God as conceived in any Christian sense and in no basic way is Spinoza's death-of-God theology any different from that of our modern secularizing theologians. Hegel recognized the significance of Spinoza, for he tells us that "to be a Spinozan is the beginning of all philosophy." We in our turn might say that to understand the meaning of Spinoza is to understand the meaning of modern process theology.

Hegel keeps the pantheistic God of Spinoza, but in a more emphatic way Hegel's God is constantly evolving. Revelation now means not a supernatural revelation by a transcendent God, but the never finished manifestation of reality in its ongoing process.

Theology is taken over by philosophy, which teaches us the evolutionary meaning of reality. In the case of Hegel it is not simply a question of substituting the God of idealistic philosophers for the God of revelation, but of substituting the pantheistic God of gnosticism.

In the gnostic world of Hegel, reality has no meaning in itself but must be given meaning by the creative consciousness of man. God or Reality becomes aware of itself in man, and to speak of God as transcendent is to indicate that the future development of God transcends the present moment of evolution. As transcendent, God is the future. "The future is truly open to achievement. And that which stands in the openness to the future is what by another name we call God" (Dewart, ibid., p. 142). It is man who stands in the openness to the future creating God. And this is the basic reason why "God is so far from being an absolute reality that he can be defined indeed as absolute relativity itself" (Dewart, The Foundations of Belief, p. 498).

For Hegel, truth is totally conditioned by history. There can be no dogmatic definitions of faith which convey a trans-historical meaning. By way of illustration, the following statement from the Brussels conference would seem to be a legacy of Hegelian historicism: "The great Christological confessions and definitions of the past . . . cannot be interpreted without taking into account their historical context" (Resolution 6).

Hegel's philosophy has, of course, no place for an unchangeable natural law. Nor has it any room for a kingdom of God distinct from this world. And since this world — which is all there is — is evolving, theology becomes a theology of temporal hope or what is sometimes called a theology of the Absolute Future.

Gnosticism and the secularization of religion reach their culmination in the philosophy of Hegel, which has emptied religion of its Christian substance. Hegel is the great modern demythologizer. With no transcendent God, the supernatural is a myth. However, Christ, the Cross, and Resurrection have symbolic value because he more than other men was conscious that as part of the universe he was participating in the salvation process of history. It is this Hegelian outlook which is expressed by Father Baum in his book, significantly called Man Becoming: "What is revealed in Christ is that man is the locus of the divine. Jesus Christ is not the beginning of salvation; he is the turning point in man's universal history of salvation, the beginning of a new human consciousness and a new orientation toward greater humanization" (p. 90).

Most theologians inspired by Hegel continue to use the name "God" despite the fact that Hegel's use of the term "God" is a euphemism for atheism. However, in keeping with the logic of Marx, we would expect the problem of God to become an unnecessary problem, being replaced by a world of becoming with man at the center. "If grace is secular and present in human life everywhere, the old piety loses its power and meaning. God himself becomes a problem. Is it still possible to believe in an outsider-God?" (Baum, Man Becoming, p. xi).

We have seen something of the way in which the traditional concept of the world with its intrinsic intelligibility and goodness has been replaced by an idealistic world of gnosticism. We have seen something of the success of gnosticism in destroying the foundations of the faith by secularizing the Christian religion. Now we are naturally led to inquire about the reasons for the widespread acceptance of this new anti-Christian theology in recent years.

Part Two

In the first article we saw that the substitution by process theologians of evolution for God and creation means the destruction of the very possibility of Christianity. Process theology leaves us with a natural or secular world but with nothing which is sacred. The secular order exists, but there is no kingdom of God, no sharing in a divine life which is above the secular. In view of this, we naturally wonder about the wide influence of process theology and its ability to convince so many that the secularization of religion is one of the great achievements of our modern age.

We have already seen some of the reasons which help to explain the success of process theology, but two others should be mentioned. First, the meaning of process theology is couched in ambiguous language. Hegel, for example, will constantly speak of God, but not mean God in any Christian sense. Likewise he will speak of the spirit, of the sacredness of life, while at the same time emptying these words of any Christian substance. And thus, without being aware, many are led to a secular view of life in the name of Christian values which, in reality, are being destroyed.

Another reason for the appeal of process theology is that, in stressing secular values, something good is being emphasized. The secular order has its own intrinsic worth which demands recognition and development. The tragedy of process theology comes, not from its emphasis on secular or temporal values, but from the fact that it finds no place for sacred or supernatural values.

To listen to many who speak of the spirit of Vatican II, one would almost be led to believe that the Council was a proponent of dogmatic secularism by teaching that this world and its development must be the one great concern of Christians. However, if we turn to Vatican II, we find that it constantly stresses the two great facts emphasized by traditional Christian teaching. First, there is a secular order which has been created by God. This secular world of God's creation is good and it has its own ends and values. The secular world has meaning, and doesn't wait for man to give it value and significance. There is no trace of manicheism or gnosticism in the Christian view of the universe.

The second fact is that, besides a secular or natural order, there is a supernatural order, an order which is above the whole natural order of creation. The good news of Christianity is that God has called man to receive a life which is beyond the purely natural, a life which is a participation in divine life.

For traditional Christianity there are, therefore, two kingdoms, the secular city of the world and the supernatural kingdom of God. The existence of these two orders was clearly taught by our Lord: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's"; further: "My kingdom is not of this world." By his own natural powers, man is quite capable of exploiting and developing the secular world, of making it a world of physical progress and development.

The kingdom of God, however, is not dependent on man's natural powers; it is a supernatural life; a life of faith, hope and charity; a life of union with the divine through Christ. The supernatural life is one wherein we allow God to sanctify us through the new life of grace and the supernatural virtues. And this supernatural life is a means of bringing God's love to the world and of giving a supernatural value to our everyday secular activities.

News of the Gospel is the News about a Supernatural Kingdom

Without the concept of the kingdom of God, as well as of the secular kingdom, Christianity has no meaning. To say that everything pertains to the kingdom of God is another way of saying that this kingdom is nothing more than the secular world of the natural order. Hence, to destroy the distinction between the natural and the supernatural is to destroy Christianity. If there is no distinction, the created world is capable of saving itself, which is what is meant by the secularization of religion. For orthodox theology, the secularization of religion is a contradiction in terms and therefore has no meaning.

But it is a different matter when it is a question of speaking of the secularization of the world. For this means that we should attribute to the world what belongs to it, and not appeal to the supernatural to explain that which is natural. In revealing a kingdom that is not of this world, Christianity gradually brought about a clearer recognition of the secular nature of this world, a fuller understanding of the distinction between the natural and the supernatural orders.

The good news of the Gospel is news about a supernatural kingdom which is not of this world. Unfortunately, during the earlier periods of Christianity, there was a temptation to focus on the kingdom of God to the neglect of the meaning and possibilities of the secular order. From the point of view of the philosophy of history, the great advance of our historical period has been to recognize the intrinsic value and goodness of the secular order. In what has been called the sacral culture of medieval times, there was a tendency to look upon the world simply as a means toward the ultimate good of life. The normal and necessary historical progress from a sacral to a secular or "lay" civilization, to a recognition of the value and autonomy of the secular order, has been tragically an excuse for many to make the progress of the secular order their only concern and to neglect or deny the kingdom of God, which is the direct object of the mission of Christ and the Church.

In much of contemporary theological writing, one would almost get the impression that the only subject dealt with by Vatican II was the relation of the Church to the modern world. The document, The Church and the Modern World, does indeed proclaim that the secular order is good, that it has its own values, and that it is the concern of the Church that moral principles be applied in the secular order. But what is often overlooked is that this same document also proclaims that the secular order does not pertain to the basic supernatural mission of the Church: "While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention that God's kingdom may come" (n. 45). "Earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of God's kingdom" (n. 39). "Secular duties pertain primarily, but not exclusively, to laymen" (n. 43). And here it may be noted that, in commenting on this text, the Protestant theologian, Robert McAfee Brown, quite logically concludes that it seems to remove priests from an active role in the secular affairs of the world.

But why the tendency to concentrate on this one document of Vatican II? Not, surely, because anything new had been stated. For nearly eighty years before Vatican II, the Church in her social encyclicals had been asking her members to build a better world and to fulfil their social obligations. From Rerum Novarum to Pacem in Terris there was a constant teaching and development of the Church's social doctrine. There was a constant stress on the importance of the secular vocation of the laity in making the concrete applications of moral principles in the social and political spheres. For example, we read in Mater et Magistra: "From instruction and education one must pass to action. This is a task that belongs particularly to our sons the laity, since their work generally involves them in temporal activities and in the formation of institutions dealing with secular affairs."

Why, then, is there so much talk about the newness and the spirit of Vatican II? The reason is surely to be found in the fact that secularist theologians rule out any world other than this world. For them, the secular city is all that exists. The one-kingdom-world of the new theology has had the result of leading many to believe that the only task of religion is to bring about a better temporal world, and that this is the spirit of Vatican II. What, in fact, Vatican II teaches and stresses is distinction of the two kingdoms and that the concrete application of social and political moral principles is the proper secular task of the laity and not that of the proper spiritual mission of the Church.

Thrust of Vatican II is to Emphasize the Two Kingdoms

What is really significant in the documents of Vatican II is not that the Church stresses the importance of secular work, but the repeated insistence on the necessity of distinguishing secular work from the basic spiritual mission of the Church. A primary thrust of Vatican II is to emphasize the two kingdoms and the roles proper to the secular order and to the Church. The laity have a double role — their work as members of the Church and their work as members of secular society. "Because the very plan of salvation requires it, the faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of secular society. Let them strive to harmonize the two . . . In our time it is necessary that this distinction and this harmony should shine forth" (Lumen Gentium, n. 36).

What should be clear from Vatican II is that the laity have special secular tasks — social, political, and cultural — which are not the proper tasks of the Church as such or of the clergy as such. Once the nature of the secular vocation of the laity is understood, it should be easier to understand the nature of the spiritual vocation of the clergy.

To say that the secular has come of age is another way of saying that the laity have come of age and are quite capable of looking after their secular and temporal concerns without directly involving the Church. For example, the work of a Philip Murray or a Walter Reuther is a work of the laity and not of the Church. The work of obtaining freedom in education is directly the democratic and political work of the laity and not that of the Church. Vatican II makes it clear that the work of realizing civic rights is the direct and proper task of the secular vocation of the laity.

The new historical climate of our time, wherein the secular has come of age, should be a great boon for all concerned. Understanding the importance of their secular and democratic vocation, the laity should be able to bring about a better social order. And secular rights and duties, seen for what they are, should be removed from the realm of religious controversy. On the other hand, the Church should be free to devote itself to its primary religious task.

In emphasizing the secular role of the laity, Vatican II is, at the same time, emphasizing and bringing into clearer perspective the direct spiritual work of the Church and of the clergy. As members of secular society, the laity must be concerned with secular affairs; as separated from the world, the clergy have as their essential role the affairs of God's kingdom.

Vatican II did not teach that the secular order is all that exists and that the clergy should quite logically be suffering from an identity crisis. This is the logic of process theology. If there is anything new in Vatican II, the newness is in the repeated emphasis which is given to the distinctive roles of laity and clergy, and that an increased awareness of the spiritual mission of the priest should be the logical corollary of the increased awareness of the secular vocation of the laity. It is a fact that, since Vatican II, there has been a drastic decline in clerical and religious vocations. However, if the teachings of the Council had been properly understood and not distorted, we should now be witnessing an increase of vocations.

The Church is always happy to be free to pursue her spiritual goals. And we would expect priests to be happy to be relieved of secular tasks that do not properly belong to them and to rejoice in the realization that there is nothing higher than leaving all things to be a special disciple of Christ exclusively devoted to the spiritual mission of Christ and his Church. We would expect priests to be happy to be free from secular concerns, to be free to spend time in deepening their awareness of the things of God's kingdom and to be happy to be able to devote themselves to the spiritual mission of the Church by preaching, by means of the Mass and sacraments, and by teaching the principles which should guide the laity in both their spiritual and temporal roles. "It is not desirable that we should neglect the word of God and serve at tables . . . But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word" (Acts 6: 24). Finally, priests should be happy to proclaim the existence of God's kingdom by their very presence in the world, from which they are separated by their special vocation.

If we accept, not the theology of Vatican II but the world of secular theologians, there is no distinct role for either laity or clergy. Indeed, with one kingdom, there is no role at all for priests, because there is no role for the Church. No wonder there is a vocational crisis at the present time. No wonder religious garb is looked upon as an anachronism. No wonder we hear a great deal about an identity crisis among the clergy and also among religious. With the new secularist theology, it would seem that there is nothing higher than being an expert in some phase of secular work, and especially as a social worker or psychologist. We are even being told that every priest should have a specialty in the secular world.

In view of the pervasive influence of secularist theology, it is worth noting that the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has found that the withdrawal rate among seminarians who stress secular rather than sacred aspects of the priest's life is from two to three times higher than among those who do not. And a recent survey in the United States has pointed out that churches which concentrate on the spiritual message of the Gospel have had an increase in church attendance, rather than the decrease suffered by those who tend to make Christianity a social gospel. In the last ten years, the percentage of Catholics attending church in the United States has decreased by ten percent (and by thirteen percent in the last three years in Holland). Surely we can see in this the influence of secularist theology, because according to the principles of this theology, there is no good reason why anyone should attend church at all.

If, in keeping with process theology, we deny the kingdom of God and reduce the Gospel to a gospel of secular humanism, all that is left for the Church is to minister to the world in its social evolution. Indeed, when we read the fourteen resolutions passed by the recent Brussels Conference, this is the impression that is given: "We ask all Christians, whatever their tasks in the Church (including theologians), to become involved concretely, so that the demands of the Gospel in this matter be met." Even an expression of solidarity is sent to the imprisoned Berrigan brothers, made famous by their secular and revolutionary political activities.

Once the new theology makes secular work a religious work, there is no essential difference between its principles and the messianic gospel of Marxism. Further, with no unchanging principles, the new social religion must, of necessity, be a religion of social revolution. Because of the influence of the new secular theology, it should not surprise us to witness priests becoming politicians, being elected to Congress, and even taking part in revolutionary political activity. Nor should we be surprised to notice that priests engaged in secular activities have a high rate of defection from the priesthood. And perhaps we should not be surprised at the lack of enthusiasm of the faithful when the Church takes on the appearance of being a social agency, or when at Mass the Prayers of the Faithful seem at times to concentrate almost exclusively on temporal needs.

The new theology not only rejects the kingdom of God, but its very principles destroy the social order which is the object of its social gospel. By substituting a process world for a world of intelligibility, no basis is left for a social doctrine founded on the intrinsic nature of things. (For the new theology, change and revolution must take the place of the science of social ethics founded on unchanging norms which transcend any particular situation or any particular culture. And it is a strange irony that the ministers of the new social gospel find themselves in a position wherein they have no social doctrine to teach, but must concentrate on concrete secular action and revolution.

To a great extent, the Church's highly developed social doctrine is being bypassed in the new evolutionary world of Hegel and Marx. Even as late as twenty years ago, there were many who knew and taught the unchanging principles of the Church's social doctrine; who knew, to use the words of Vatican II, that there is "a philosophical heritage which is perennially valid"; who knew that these principles must be applied in a vital and progressive way in new and different historical and cultural situations; who knew the distinction between the spiritual and the temporal. Now, because of the anti-intellectual influence of evolutionary philosophy, the Church's social principles are being neglected and, to an alarming extent, being replaced by the secularizing and revolutionary ideology of total change.

The new process theology not only eliminates the principles which should be the basis of a human social order, but it also turns the Christian concept of religion and the spiritual life upside down. Redemption and holiness no longer are the result of the redeeming and sanctifying grace of Christ, of the descent of the divine into the human, but they consist in man's ability to build a new world and create a temporal heaven in the future.

With the new theology, activity must take the place of prayer and contemplation. By his activity, man creates himself and the future. He does not, by prayer and asceticism, open himself to the sanctifying grace of God, to a new life from above. With the new theology, the traditional primacy of the spiritual leading to poverty of spirit, silence, praise, and adoration must give way to the primacy of creative activity. Instead of holiness overflowing into concern for those about us, there is a primacy of human action fashioning a new world and a temporal heaven in the historic future. Until now "we have, in other words, not really believed in heaven and hell as historical realities which can be brought about by the collective effort of man" (Dewart, Religion, Language and Truth, p. 138). In our new world of process theology, the primacy of God and the spiritual must be replaced by the primacy of man and man's activity.

Since, for the new theology, God does not exist, and since man is at the highest point of the evolutionary process, the highest work that can be done is to assist man in the work of self-development. Psychology becomes the highest science, the new theology. Psychology can help man in working out his salvation. It helps to free man from neurotic obstacles and provides positive guidance in pushing forward to new levels of humanization. The Christian message is also of value in purifying and multiplying man's depth experiences and in aiding him to realize the immanent potentialities of his being in his progress to a transcendent future: "The message of God uttered in Christ and handed on by the Church reveals the hidden (supernatural) dynamism present in life everywhere . . . In Jesus Christ you discover what it is to be human. The message is not information about another world" (Baum, Faith and Doctrine, p. 56). Rather, the message of Christ is concerned with awakening man to the deeper experiences of his being: "People become Christians and stay Christians if the Gospel of Christ explains, purifies, and multiplies their depth-experiences" (Ibid., p. 68). And so, with the new theology, Christ becomes the master psychologist awakening man to his human possibilities. Man is always man becoming, man becoming more human by his own natural powers. "There is no radical difference between Christians and non-Christians" (Baum, Man Becoming, p. viii).

Many cardinals and bishops, we are told, opposed new ideas introduced at the Council because they realized they were in opposition to the traditional teaching of the Church. "The bishops of the minority understood very well that the new positions introduced principles into the Church's teaching which would modify her entire doctrinal system." (Baum, Faith and Doctrine, p. 101). It can be doubted that the so-called bishops of the minority, or of the majority, believed that Vatican II was introducing principles that would eventually modify the Church's entire doctrinal system. For anyone who reads Vatican II documents, this is a dream-wish of process theologians. However, it is true to say that a lack of awareness of the inroads that process theology has made in undermining the theology of Vatican II, goes far to explain the widespread lack of effective opposition to this new anti-Christian secular theology.

The acceptance of situation ethics is one of the clearest manifestations of the inroads which are being made by process theology. With evolution replacing God as the explanatory principle of the universe, there is no eternal law and no natural law. With no natural law, there can be no question of right and wrong in keeping with the natures which things possess. Rather, right and wrong are determined by the pragmatic results which are desired in any particular situation. In situation ethics the desired goal became the all-important consideration, to the exclusion of the intrinsic good of the action to be performed. This utilitarian and frequently hedonistic ethics is, of course, in direct opposition to ethics as traditionally understood — an ethics based on objective norms known to reason.

Objective ethics and situation ethics belong to two totally different worlds. The first belongs to the God-centered and intelligible universe of our classical and Christian tradition; the second belongs to the man-centered tradition of gnosticism and subjectivity culminating in Hegel. It was the first tradition that was defended when Pope Paul, reiterating the traditional teachings of the Church, condemned artificial birth control. It was the second tradition that was defended by those who rejected Humanae Vitae.

Process Theology Provides a Justification for Situation Ethics

If what is wanted is denied, strong passions are aroused. And so, we should not be surprised that when Pope Paul told the world that what is wanted does not constitute the norm for ethics, there was a mass turning-away from the teaching of Humanae Vitae and from the authority of the Church to teach.

The rejection of abortion seems easier for many people, perhaps because it concerns fewer people, but it is the same objective ethics that rejects birth control and abortion. To give way on one is, in principle, to give on the other. In rejecting an ethics based on intrinsic values, process theology provides a justification for situation ethics. And this, no doubt, helps us to understand the emotional way in which many accept and defend this new theology.

In a world of process theology and in a technological world of science there can be no question of permanent moral principles which transcend the practical and technical order. Logically, in such a world, abortion cannot be looked upon as anything more than a psychological or engineering problem. And the extent to which such a mentality has penetrated our culture and left it open to situation ethics is indicated by a recent survey of university students in the United States on the question of abortion. By two to one, the students thought abortion could be justified in all circumstances. Almost forty-six percent of Catholic students agreed with this and only eight percent said that abortion was never justified.

The acceptance of situation ethics is, of course, generally defended in the name of such noble values as loving concern and personal responsibility. Everywhere we hear it said that mature people should be responsible and make their own decisions. This is true, but what it means in practice is that each person will himself be responsible for what is right or wrong. For traditional ethics on the other hand, responsibility and freedom require personal interiorization of objective norms by means of knowledge and love.

We now have instances of students in primary and secondary schools being taught to be responsible by teachers who accept process theology and situation ethics. We have seminaries where it is believed that a training in responsibility requires that there be no rules, which traditionally were looked upon as pedagogues of freedom. In our new process world, everything must become a matter of experimentation. We now have seminaries with superiors who have nothing to do, professors and a Church with nothing to teach except to relay the latest reports, discovered by consensus, on the present stage of progress in an evolutionary world.

The Rousseaus of history teach us that freedom divorced from the law of truth rapidly gravitates to a religion based on worship of self and a romantic spirituality of pleasure. Process theology does, indeed, give us a permissive world, but how different the mentality of this new world from the spirit of Vatican II!

What happens to Christ's missionary command to teach all nations when there is no news about another kingdom and no permanent truths to teach and when we are told that teaching "does not consist in the transmission of a truth . . . but in the creation of an environment in which a mind, a person and a character can create themselves" (Dewart, Religion, Language and Truth, p. 116)?

Process theology has also had a profound influence on catechetics. Since to know is to create oneself and the future, since knowing is doing, we have a catechetics with little or no doctrine to teach. Since there is no intellectual truth except the truth of relativity, what is important is the ongoing learning process. For a teacher to interject permanent ethical principles as a guide to individual or social behavior would be a violation of the dogma of process. And since all the truths of Christianity are relative to culture and history, new interpretations must be given to Christian truths. The meaning which they had at one time has, in our time, either changed or ceased to exist. All dogmas must be reinterpreted in the light of evolution, which makes what is modern today archaic tomorrow. Given this outlook, we should not be surprised that many of the great doctrinal truths of revelation are passed over, or scarcely mentioned, in up-to-date catechetical texts. In our new world of evolution, all that is left for catechists is to prepare students for the ever-changing world of the future.

Catechists who follow process theology can teach adaptation to a changing world and that is all. They may fall back on the claim that they can teach attitudes and fraternal love, but what is love divorced from truth except a sentimental Rousseauian humanitarianism? With love uprooted from truth there is, in fact, no doctrine to teach.

© Lumen Christi Press

This item 7774 digitally provided courtesy of