The Blood is the Life, Part V

by Bernard Brandt

My apologies for not writing more, but I’m afraid that I’ve been suffering lately from what Sir Winston Churchill called ‘the black dog’: his name for the rather severe depression that plagued him for much of his life. I’ll not belabor the point by dwelling on the reasons for my depression. They should be obvious to anyone who has been following this silly weblog.

Nonetheless, I will attempt to follow Churchill’s example, and use activity to chase the black dog away. As I do not have access to his other hobbies of bricklaying, or gardening, or painting in oils, I suppose that writing will just have to do.

Thus, as a dog returns to his vomit, or a fool to his folly, I return to this series of essays on my thoughts of the current crisis in and of the modern Roman Catholic Church, which I believe may be best stated as an immune deficiency syndrome in the Body of Christ. To repeat myself, I have earlier asserted that the hierarchical clergy, composed of deacons, priests, and bishops, serve the functions of the vessels, the blood, and the immune system of that Body (part I). Further, that much of the failure of the clergy to fulfill their functions directly relate to their knowledge of and ability to teach the Faith (part II). More recently, I have indicated that most clergy appear to be ignorant of, and therefore unqualified to teach, those three fonts of the Holy Spirit: Sacred Scripture, Holy Tradition, and the Teaching Authority of the Church (part III). Most recently, I have pointed out indications that a large minority, and possibly a majority, of Roman Catholic clergy are actively gay, which means that they are breaking their vows, and are thus unlikely to wish to preach a Faith to which they are being unfaithful (part IV).

In this essay, I would like to examine one more piece of the puzzle, which perhaps explains the causes of the present ignorance of most clergy in Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. And that is the current state of academic theology in the Roman Catholic Church.

While anyone who surfs the ‘net or crawls the Web can find their own confirmations, perhaps the best indication of the problems with modern academic theology can be found in an examination of the Douthat affair.  For those unfamiliar with the mess, a conservative writer for the New York Times, Ross Douthat, wrote an editorial in which he expressed his opinion that certain bishops and academic theologians were attempting to change fundamental RC doctrine. In response, a large number of RC academic theologians wrote a letter to the Times, objecting to Douthat as having “no professional qualifications”, and suggesting that that august newspaper terminate its relations with Douthat. In turn, Douthat wrote a letter in which, inter alia, he gently suggested that he might nonetheless have the right to opine on matters Catholic.

Personally, I find it marvelous that the list of august theologians could put their names to that letter without blushing, or with a straight face. For from Scripture, as but one example, we know that of Christ’s apostles, only the Apostles Paul and John were “professionally qualified” for their apostolate. And Holy Tradition, as expressed by and in the History of the Church, is replete with examples of saints who were teachers of the Church, and who yet were not “professionally qualified”.

But the strongest indication of these theologians’ ignorance of the Magisterium of the Church, as expressed in Her canon law, comes with an examination of that law on the matters of rights of all Christ’s faithful, and the rights of all of the laity.  For example, Canon  212 §3 states:  “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”

And, if there were any doubt as to whether the above right and duty were limited to the clergy (which it is not), Canon 228 §2 states: “Lay persons who excel in necessary knowledge, prudence, and integrity are qualified to assist the pastors of the Church as experts and advisors, even in councils according to the norm of law.” Further, Canon 229 §1 goes so far as to say: “Lay persons are bound by the obligation and possess the right to acquire knowledge of Christian doctrine appropriate to the capacity and condition of each in order for them to be able to live according to this doctrine, announce it themselves, defend it if necessary, and take their part in exercising the apostolate.” I find nothing in that law which requires lay men or women to be “professionally qualified”. And I find that this is precisely what Mr. Douthat attempted to accomplish in his columns.

It would, perhaps, be one thing if the reverend doctors listed in their letter were perhaps simply ignorant of canon law. But these, and many other of the rights present in canon law, find their source in the developments in that Magisterium of the Roman pontiffs of the last two centuries, in what has come to be called “Catholic Social Doctrine”. Even if one were to assume (as I most certainly do NOT) that only the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council is to be followed, obeyed, or even understood by most theologians, the rights and duties of the Christian faithful are an integral and fundamental part of that doctrine. And I will remark that those rights and duties are simply a development of the patristic view that, by virtue of Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist, all of Christ’s faithful have been given by Him the charisms of prince, of priest, and of prophet.

It will remain for a later part of this extended essay to say what the role of Catholic academic theology should be in the education of the clergy. In the mean time, I must say that while such theology, and such an education, are necessary, they are by no means sufficient.