The remarkable, in-your-face Dreadnaught (John Heard) is a gay Catholic man who has shook up the Australian scene with his firm and clear belief in Catholic teaching on sexuality. Clara, our Australian Institute co-Director, turned me onto Dreadnaught last year.)
Anyway, Dreadnaught posted this on Monday and it is thought-provoking in more than one way.
"There are more ways of being a Catholic Christian than either the Vatican rule-makers or the secularist ideologies have yet imagined". - Charles Taylor
Last week I read an article by the philosopher Charles Taylor on sex and Christianity. It was in the magazine Commonweal. Because of the quotation above, I have been thinking about modernity and faith ever since.
However, when rigorously interrogated, secular modernity left me standing (to be honest, trembling) in a dark, wan-glittering space where the Christian world, our world, was destabilized.
It was a place, however I tried to conceive of it, of no-faith.
All the old certainties were challenged and order, all order – the possibility of order - was either overturned or else negated.
It would be silly then to take Taylor’s quote and his juxtaposition as a recommendation. He is not saying that secular modernity is a witness as credible about Christianity as – say - the current Pope.
Indeed, in many instances it seems one must reject secular ideologies, particularly late-Capitalist, secular modernism, if one is going to be any kind of Christian at all.
So, with Taylor, I can believe that there are ways of being a Catholic Christian that the secularist ideologies have missed. They appear to have missed most of them.
What then of the ‘Vatican rule-makers’? What might they have they missed?
Of course, such characterisations are crude. The ‘rule-makers’ are, we know, love-keepers and light-spinners. But they are also, it is uncontroversial to say so, mere men.
The Church, understood for the moment as just its historical complement of human beings – why else would Taylor use ‘yet’ - is only reliably the sum of its human inputs.^
There is, on that view, something to be said about the possibility thrown up by Taylor’s quote.
There may indeed be more ways to live an authentic Catholic Christianity than either the current Pope or else the popes, Curia or Curiae, etc. through history have yet imagined.
It is, without doubt, an exciting idea – it is a cause for great hope, a way of imagining Christianity that doesn’t limit heroic virtue to some glass case in a musuem.
But it is also rather obvious and firmly orthodox.
For it is not really shocking to say that there are more ways to be a Catholic Christian than might be learned from current Vatican texts or codes of canon law.
When G.K. Chesterton said that ‘the Catholic Church is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age’ he meant the Popes too, and he didn’t make the mistake of reducing the Church down to - or equating the Church with, mere instruments of power or particular human teachers.
Indeed, not even the Vatican rule-makers live by Vatican rules alone, certainly not if whatever it is that makes up Vatican rules doesn’t also include Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium.
Those three, which make the merely human Church vulnerable to super-human revelation, eternity and the Holy Spirit, are the important things about the deposit of faith.
They are the things that make the Catholic Church…Catholic.
This is why, and it is something Taylor describes in a very clear way, the Church could re-examine herself, during the Second Vatican Council (or any other Council, for that matter) and decide that there were some areas associated with some Catholic practices and culture that had become, or never really were, authentically Christian.
We only find this idea troubling if we’ve latched onto an overly legalistic, or positivist, conception of authority. Such a view, that something is right, true or good only because it is promulgated, is not the Catholic view.
For these reasons, the modes of Catholic Christianity mapped by the Vatican ‘rule-makers’ are almost always going to be more promising than those offered by a necessarily hostile modernity, but they are not the limit of sanctity. Not by a long shot.
Certainly what the Vatican prohibits cannot be – in good conscience – held out as a valid path to Christian perfection. There is no self-service withdrawal from the deposit of faith.
But between the rock of hypocrisy - those places where the Church as a human institution stumbles, where we as individual Christians fail - and the hard place of modernity, there is a fertile patch of ground - and it is already Christ’s.
It is a place that is also, in a profound sense, occupied by the Catholic Church. And there are people; ideas and ways of being that already flourish there.
What do you think?