Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Liberal Catholicism?

A friend posted me a link to an interview of a Catholic theologian, James Alison, with whose work I am unfamiliar. The overall point of the interview being drawn to my attention is that Alison is gay and the interview draws out his theology of sexuality anchored as it is within the context of Catholicism. To the extent that Alison is both for acceptance of gay partnerships, alive to difference between such partnerships and marriage, and committed to Catholicism (i.e. as a project of orthodox theology), this interview stands comparison with the essay by John Milbank which I drew attention to here a few days ago, the importance of which I am cogitating. To give but one example of the subtlety of Alison's thinking:

"Likewise, should it indeed turn out that marriage between two baptized persons of the same sex is not sacramental in exactly the same sense as opposite-sex marriage, then whatever form of sacramentality does turn out to be proper to same-sex couples would certainly not be “second best” to the sacrament of marriage. God’s summons to flourishing involves people being called in tailor-made ways, not forced to endure invidious comparisons. There are many mansions in God’s house, and he invites each of us to discover what is his plan for each one of us—we are called by name, not by category." 

Now I must cogitate the importance of Alison's words. In both cases, Milbank and Alison, we are a world away from the diatribes and vilifications by those with a liberal Protestant disposition (even if clothed in Anglican robes) when denouncing those of us who carefully seek to articulate the church's teaching on marriage through the ages.

I find Alison quite moving in his account of being gay, seeking to overturn the Catholic official teaching that this is a "disordered" condition, and generally working out a style of theological living (teaching, writing, reflecting) on the edges of church life. I find his arguments for changing his church's teaching unpersuasive, not least because he wilfully races through chunks of Catholic apostolicity, that is, the processes by which Catholic teaching builds on what bishops teach which in turn is teaching what they have been taught, seeking to be ever faithful to their traditional understanding of Scripture, safeguarded as it has been through the ages by ... bishops. In the following paragraph I find his words to be indistinguishable from liberal Protestantism which appeals to a Jesus removed from the reality of knowing him through Scripture (evangelicalism) or through Scripture and tradition (Anglo- or Roman or Eastern catholicism):

"The real question for me, as a Catholic trying to think toward the future, is this: we know that we have only one Magister, the Incarnate Word of God, and that the authentic teaching office in the church is not above, but serves, this Living Word. Furthermore, this Living Word has chosen to address us at a level of fraternal equality, making of us his brothers and sisters who have only one Father, God, and are not to call anyone else our father. So, how do we hold fast to the experience of Jesus teaching us in and as church as we become aware of how often the bishops, those who have been consecrated sacramental signs, seem to allow the richness of the faith to become secondary to culture-war imperatives, institutional self-interest, and the search for corporate approval? I think that reimagining the ecclesial shape of Christ teaching in our midst, exploring the sort of act of communication genuine divine teaching is, and understanding better the relationship between the Teacher, those taught, and those charged to be signs of truthfulness is going to be one of the real challenges of the next generation."
Milbank is more persuasive for me (and I shall try to explain how soon). But Alison remains of great interest. Further on in the interview he posits the hope (or fantasy?) that Pope Benedict himself is laying out the ground for change in Catholic teaching:

"Salkeld: You have expressed the belief that Pope Benedict is slowly preparing the way for change in this area. What do you expect such change would look like?


Alison: Let me have a shot at explaining why I take the view you mention. And let me start by saying I have never met Benedict in person and have no privileged information about him. It is as a longtime reader of his books and a distant outsider to the inner counsels of those involved in the governance of our church that I attempt to understand what’s happening, from a mixture of prayer, hope, and gut. I’m moved in these by the conviction that since the church is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and since everything that is true, whatever its apparent source, comes from the Holy Spirit, therefore there must be a way the church can find its way into truthfulness in this area.

There is a personal element to this. Since I first read it, many years ago, something from the CDF’s document Donum veritatis has resonated deeply with me.

It can also happen that at the conclusion of a serious study, undertaken with the desire to heed the Magisterium’s teaching without hesitation, the theologian’s difficulty remains because the arguments to the contrary seem more persuasive to him. Faced with a proposition to which he feels he cannot give his intellectual assent, the theologian nevertheless has the duty to remain open to a deeper examination of the question.

For a loyal spirit, animated by love for the church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail.
I take it that Ratzinger was the author, and, if you will forgive the perhaps delusional subjectivity, I have always felt since then, as I have tried wrestling with the gay issue in the church, that I was somehow in spiritual communion with him by remembering this formulation."
Alison is taking a bold punt there. And Ratzinger is a very clever man. Watch this space?

Either way, I like the words cited above about the patience and prayer of a theologian.

Before I get to Milbank there is a very interesting and slightly nasty essay on ++Williams by Adrian Worsfield to consider.

Also I have to get my head around now being the mover of our Diocese's motion on the Covenant at our Synod on 21 April!

14 comments:

liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

You know I struggle with the workings of those who are in favour of the "Anglican Covenant" but I now do have to ask: why are you moving a motion with which you disagree?!!! Why doesn't someone who was part of producing the motion move it?!!!

ps. the non-intersecting sets of theologians fascinate me: James Alison would be VERY well known as presenting theologically René Girard's insights.

Blessings

Bosco

Background: http://anglicandownunder.blogspot.co.nz/2012/02/diocese-of-christchurch-covenant-motion.html

Father Ron Smith said...

" I find his words to be indistinguishable from liberal Protestantism which appeals to a Jesus removed from the reality of knowing him through Scripture (evangelicalism) or through Scripture and tradition (Anglo- or Roman or Eastern catholicism)" - Dr.Peter Carrell

Peter, how on earth do you know the depths of this Roman Catholic theologian's experience of the Scriptures? Are you his spiritual mentor? Or do you just diagnose by your (subjective) assessment of his practising of a scriptural Biblical hermeneutic that is different from your own?

I appreciate your posting - which at least gives some of your readers a view alternative to the one they mostly espouse. However, they and you need to understand that James Alison is speaking from 'inside' the arguments. He knows what it is to be Gay, and does not want to be seen to perpetuate the hypocrisy that so often is evidenced in the writings, on this controversial subject, of Catholic theologians.

I presume his knowledge of R.C. theology and praxis might just be superior to your own - having been grounded in it from his early beginnings. Do please give him the benefit of having some of idea of what is involved for a R.C. theologian to articulate his personal understanding of a specific situation which, you, as presumably a 'normal' heterosexual Evangelical may not be privy to.

I think he has a cogent argument - based on experience and not just academic theory. Give him space.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I think you are missing the point of my post at the point you critique me: I am commenting on what he wrote about Jesus/Scripture/Magisterium/bishops. If he is going to put his views in words then those views may be commented on without holding back for lack of knowledge of anything else which may be in his mind or experience.

As a matter of fact, reading comments on the original interview's site of posting (Commonweal), I think I am not alone in finding his 'catholicism' to be deficient.

Please also note that I am not critiquing his experience as a gay man and the contribution this makes to the views he wants to espoouse: what I am critiquing is whether the views he espouses are persuasive within a catholic theological domain. I do not find them persuasive within that domain.

Father Ron Smith said...

"For a loyal spirit, animated by love for the church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail." - CDF Document -

I'm pretty sure, Peter, that this would be the Pope's argument on the celibate priesthood. Are you quite so enamoured of the argument in that context, I wonder. If not, it is perhaps that you have a vastly different view of the Pope's ideas on celibacy because of your own experience of the benefits of monogamous sexuality.

I doubt whether you would consider celibacy as necessary to priesthood

In any case, eventually indeed, 'the Truth will ultimately prevail'

Anonymous said...

Somewhat astonishingly (a sign of the times), the European Court of Human Rights has just decided that "gay marriage" is NOT a "human right".
Ten years ago, most people would have been astonished to be told the converse.
But human memory is short. Two generations of change can efface the past. Consider that by 2038, over half of Austrians under 15 will be Muslim, and maybe France before that.
Who is keeping Europe's Christian memory alive? Probably its African (and South Asian) immigrants.

James Alison, BTW, is from prominent evangelical Anglican family. His father was Michael Alison, a Tory MP close to Margaret Thatcher and prominent in student Christian circles in his youth.

+Martin

Peter Carrell said...

Essentially, Martin, liberal Westernism of the present "all is good" kind is the last gasp of a civilization which, whether it is dying or not, is about to be swamped by illiberal communities whether of Christian, Muslim or other kinds.

I trust some commenters here won't be too shocked by the future!

Anonymous said...

"liberal Westernism"? Do you mean "Western liberalism"?
For some time now I've subscribed to the view that the future belongs to those who turn up for it. Of course there are passionate ideological forces at work, allied to demographic factors. Old Europe (to borrow Rumsfeld's infuriating term) is aging and possibly dying. What we see in Greece is symptomatic of the malaise. If the new generation of Europeans is largely Turkish and North African, then a lot of the current debates will seem a bit pointless. It won't be nice to be Jewish either.
#Martin

Father Ron Smith said...

Do I detect a 'failure of nerve' here on the part of our esteemed host? I have no doubt that God will still be around in whatever the future turns to to be. I am not afraid of the infinite love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.

Shawn said...

Martin,

I agree with your assessment of the current state of Europe, a state that has been brought about by the cancer of liberalism in all its forms.

But there is still hope. The rise and growing electoral success of genuinely conservative and nationalist Christian parties is a good sign, and even some liberals are beginning to wake up, at least to some degree. David Cameron recognizes that something is wrong, though he clearly does not fully understand what. His more "muscular" liberalism will at best only slow down the spread of the rot.

A while ago Dr Bryden Black wrote a provocative and quite brilliant article for Taonga Magazine (a refreshing change from its usual nauseating political correctness) in which he said that "Liberalism within Anglicanism needs to die".

He was right, but I would take it a step further and say that it needs to die throughout the West as well, if is to have any hope of a future.

Father Ron Smith said...

"a state that has been brought about by the cancer of liberalism in all its forms." - Shawn Herles -

I had determined not to bother with Shawn's posts, but this little bit of nastiness just cried out for comment!

And as for this little gem:

" A while ago Dr Bryden Black wrote a provocative and quite brilliant article for Taonga Magazine (a refreshing change from its usual nauseating political correctness) in which he said that "Liberalism within Anglicanism needs to die". "

I wonder if the staff of Saint John's College know that the author of this statement about a seminal publication of the Province TAONGA os actually enjoying their hospitality? It may be time for Shawn to come clean on his antipathy towards ACANZP.

Shawn said...

Ron,

"but this little bit of nastiness just cried out for comment!"

There is no nastiness there. I was attacking an ideology, which I happen to belive is a cancer. Attacking an ideology is not nastiness, unlike your GAFCON post in which you DID attack specific people personally, and in a very hateful and nasty way.

"I wonder if the staff of Saint John's College know that the author of this statement about a seminal publication of the Province TAONGA os actually enjoying their hospitality?"

As I have said REPEATEDLY to you, my views are well known here at St John's and elsehwere. Now, read that last senetence again, ten times, so it sinks in. I'll even repeat myself if your having trouble. MY VIEWS ARE WELL KNOWN HERE AT ST. JOHN'S.

I am not hiding anything, and I get along with St John's staff very well. Please try to stick to the issues, and stop engaging in childish personal attacks.

"It may be time for Shawn to come clean on his antipathy towards ACANZP."

I have nothing to "come clean about" as I said, and I have no antipathy towards ACANZP. My opposition is only to the minority liberal wing.

You say you want to ignore my posts. Then why are you commenting here at all? If you cannot engage in debate with those who do not share your views then what is the point of posting?

Seriously, get a grip. The world is full of people who have differing views. If you go through life refusing, in a very un-Christian manner, to debate with people who robustly pose a different point of view, then you will only end up talking to yourself.

Anonymous said...

Shawn: The cyberstalker knows where you live.
He has denounced you to the Obrigkeiten!
You will be ethically cleansed.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
arrghape,
!Martin

Peter Carrell said...

OK. Enough of the personal stuff whether in jest or in heat.

The actual issue of the post is whether James Alison is engaging in theological discourse which could be fairly judged as 'liberal catholicism'.

Anonymous said...

Shawn refers to the "cancer of liberalism". Is this really so or is liberalism a necessary process whereby each generation attempts to understand the nature of Truth and Reality.

Plus this posting by Peter is also related to the concept of collective metic deire.

That having being said please check out these two references which give a unique Understanding of what conventional religion as a collective mimesis is really all about.

www.beezone.com/AdiDa/Aletheon/ontranscendingtheinsuboirdinatemind.htmnl

www.beezone.com/up/propheticcriticismreligions.html