16. Truth and Communion
Fantastic Journey, a science-fiction movie of years ago, told how a team of scientists in a submarine were reduced to infra-microscopic size, and then injected into the bloodstream of a genius with the mission of passing through his heart and exploring his brain.
With apologies, if necessary, to the reverential sense of some readers, I would suggest that we could see here a certain analogy with the role of the theologian.
The theologian's mission is to explore the Mind of Jesus Christ. For that it is important that he swims in his bloodstream - soaks himself in Christ's Life pulsating down the centuries - passes through his Heart, and so comes to his Mind.
It is especially important for his task that the theologian become small; or rather, since all of us are already so small compared to Christ, that he retain the sense of his own diminutive stature for the size of his task. Alice, said Chesterton, has to become small if she is to be Alice in Wonderland. The theologian is Alice, and the Revelation of the Mind and Heart of Christ is Wonderland. A theologian incapable of wondering at the marvels he is seeking to contemplate, lacks the humility essential to theology. Even the most brilliant theologian ever is working in a field that infinitely surpasses his mental capacity. If his talents - however great they may be - are to bear fruit, he needs to hear a divine invitation echoing continuously in his ears: "Enter into the Mind of your Master" (cf. Mt 25:21). It should echo there not yet as a reward merited, but as an urgent call to humble responsibility.
Thinking with Christ
In Chapter Fourteen we recalled the infallible reference-points of theological science (Revelation and Magisterium), and the fallible means with which it must be developed: human reason, man's mind.
The theologian who sees Revelation and the Magisterium as external restraints placed on his own mind, can fight many battles of dissent, kicking continually against the goad, but he will render little service to true Christian theology.
He will achieve a unity of theological vision and a sense of theological freedom only if, seeing Revelation and Magisterium as being within the Mind of Christ, he situates his own mind there also.
Theological thinking is not thinking on one's own. It is thinking with Christ. The Catholic vision of theology is of many minds thinking within one Mind. One can understand how the truly great theologians have been saints. For sanctity is necessary if a person is to think the thoughts of Christ. In the measure of his union with Christ, the theologian can say, "I think. Now it is not I who think, it is Christ who thinks in and through me, and I who think in and through Christ" (cf. Gal 2:20).
The theologian's task then is not to shape Christ's Mind to his, but to shape his mind to Christ's. The Mind of Christ, our Master and Teacher, is after all the theological mind of all time. Christ is necessarily the Church's Number One Theologian. Catholic thought flows from Catholic tradition, from Christ. There is no new - never previously tapped - source of Christian thought to be discovered; the source of all Christian thought is Christ; and, through Him, the Father. No theologian therefore teaches "original" doctrine, in the sense of producing something that is new, underived and totally his. He, much more than Christ, must say, "My teaching is not mine ..." (Jn 7:16).
As the theologian sets out on his Fantastic Journey, he realizes that the Mind he is investigating - infinitely broader and deeper than his own - is ablaze with light. Its main areas are brilliantly lit up - crystal clear in shape, content and definition - although, in the nature of things, each viewer's mind can always reflect this beauty and truth in a new way.
There are no doubt certain corners or recesses of that Mind which must contain further riches, although we have not yet managed to see into them with full clarity. They therefore invite particular exploration. The theologian's job, with the help of grace, is to project the Light of Christ into those deeper recesses.
This point merits dwelling on. Only in a relative and secondary sense is Christian theology the work of the Christian theologian. It is primarily the work of Christ himself.
Theology is indeed an attempt to illustrate God's Revelation, to throw further light on it. But that light comes less from the theologian's mind than from Christ's mind. The light of theology is truly the Lumen Christi: the Light comes from him. "By your light we see the light" (Ps 36:9). This shows us the theologian's humble but glorious task: to gather the Light of Christ from all its sources, to wrap himself in it, and to reflect it on to further areas of the Mind of Christ, for the enlightenment of God's People .
Theology calls for communion
Images like these - which express profound truths - can make it clearer why so many contemporary theological approaches - "freelance" theology, theology that spurns Tradition or Magisterium, theology of "doing one's own thing" or "going it alone" - are just not theology. Theology is a united endeavor, a common search, a joyful sharing. Theology can only be done in communion; in the communion of the Faith, in communion with the Church, in communion with the Mind of Christ, with the light of that Mind as reflected and refracted in the minds of all those who have shared that faith down the ages.
Some writers today prefer to speak of "theologies" rather than theology. The plural can be admitted provided it signifies that, while there is just one Faith (Eph 4:5) and one Revelation, there can be many human attempts to achieve understanding of that faith. But all true theologies are linked to a common centre and therefore to one another. All sound theological approaches are like guy-ropes, strengthening the edifice of truth from different directions. But the central pillar around which the edifice is built - the towering structure of Revelation - has its own inherent support and steadying force: the presence of Christ in the Magisterium.
In the last chapter we attempted a critical evaluation of the attitude, "After all, one is not bound by any teaching that is not formally defined". This reserved attitude is frequent enough today. The many attempts to present it as a noble claim made in the name of rightful self-respect cannot cover its defensive and negative character and its essential individualism. The ultimate criticism of this attitude in any case is to be made from an ecclesiological viewpoint: while it can (perhaps) be defended in terms of strict legal rights or obligations, it is utterly indefensible in terms of communio, that central theme of Vatican II.
Communio means sharing in the life of Christ. Not just me alone with Christ; that is still individualistic sharing. Me, with others, in Christ; that is true Catholic sharing. Communion in the sacraments, the discipline and the Faith of the one Church: the Church of the centuries. Lack of communion with the ages is lack of communion with Christ, "who is the same today as he was yesterday as he will be forever" (Heb 13:8). If I cannot share the Faith of yesterday, then my faith of today may be different tomorrow, and is certainly not the faith of always, the faith handed down from the Apostles.
In our opening chapters we saw how the spirit of communio and the spirit of individualism are opposed and mutually exclude one another. If this is true in the sociological field, it is even truer in the field of theological thought.
Theological development and wholeness are found in community, not in isolation. Theological research in the spirit of communio is a search for the common truths and insights that bind me to others in Christ. The solitary thinker who follows no guidelines but his own mind, thinks himself into further isolation and loneliness. The thinker who is attuned to the Mind of Christ in the Church, is never alone. He is in communion with Christ and with the whole community of Christ's faithful who have lived and thought and believed in fellowship since apostolic times.
What a lack of desire for fellowship and communion is revealed in that attitude, "I am not bound to share in the views of others"! Perhaps I am not; but it is a pity if I cannot do so, if I cannot at least establish a vital and mutually supporting link between their views and mine. If their views and mine are Christian, the link is already there in Christ. Let us seek it and strengthen it. That way we think in communion and think ourselves into communion. The contrary is to think ourselves out of communion. It is to choose that process of "self-excommunication" to which we referred earlier.
It follows that a serious criticism to be levelled against those contemporary theologians who "wage war" on the Magisterium, on Pope and Bishops, is that of superficiality. They are not reasoning their case in depth. They are not weighing, or certainly are not presenting, its real issues. Consciously or unconsciously, they are not at grips with their true problem.
Their cries of intellectual or academic "freedom" and their protests about "inquisitorial" proceedings only serve as a smokescreen that hides from the public, and perhaps from themselves, what is really at stake in the battle going on in their minds and hearts; a battle that threatens to turn their Catholic faith and that of others into a wasteland.
If they think that they are just battling against an outdated centralist mentality, against a Roman or episcopal authoritarianism, they do not see their own warfare clearly. What they have to contend with is not a bureaucracy, it is the Faith of always. What they are struggling against is not a mentality but a Mind: Christ's Mind.
We are all tempted to wrestle with that Mind, as Jacob did with the Angel (Gen 32:26); and yet our Opponent - who is in fact striving to be our Ally, if we let him - is greater and stronger than Jacob's Angel.
We are all tempted to want to overpower that Mind and draw It to our side and our opinions; and we have to be drawn to It. We are all tempted to want to share in that Mind on our own terms - in other words, to subordinate that Mind to our mind - and we can only share in It on Christ's terms.
What we have just said, while referred to the theologian in particular, applies of course to all Christians. All of us have to meet and try to counter the worst temptation which is that of pride. Pride itself has perhaps no worse expression than the refusal to open one's own mind to the Mind of the Church, the Mind of Christ. The Christian who is not too proud to think with the Mind of Christ enters into the vast wonderland of creeds and symbols and dogmas with their infinite perspectives (a dogma, it has been said, is not a wall that stops us seeing but a window that opens out our view onto infinity) where Truths are certain and Truths are great.
Those who prefer, in their humility, to be ever uncertain about the truth or the worth of any point of Christian belief can have their humility. In my pride, I believe that Christ has offered me his Mind, through his Church. I am certain this offer is worthwhile, and I want to accept it. I prefer my pride and my certainty.
I realize that some people, through no fault of their own, never achieve certainty. They deserve sympathy. But a preference for uncertainty is pathological. It needs not just sympathy but a cure. Like Newman I hold that "certitude is a natural and normal state of mind, and not (as is sometimes objected) one of its extravagances" .
New York and theology
I have often maintained that a visit to New York can be a great theological experience. It was best had at the World Trade Center, with its twin towers each more than 1300 feet high. They made you dizzy. No need to go to the top and look down. You just stood at the bottom, close to one of the corners, and looked up. 1300 feet rising in one straight line makes the head reel.
Terrorists took the twin Towers down, but there are other even higher skyscrapers throughout the world and they can serve our purpose equally well. Looking up at a skyscraper is a very tiny way of illustrating the effect that the mere idea of God should produce on us. It should make us dizzy; and until it does we do not have even the rudiments of a theological outlook.
God is much "higher" than 1300 feet - or 1300 million. Yet at times we think we have him measured: I've figured God out, I've got him cut and dried. And then of course it is not God we are dealing with at all. "I believe in God - up to a point", someone said to me once. You can't do that. Or if you do it, it is not God you believe in. If you believe in God then you are in the realm of the infinite and totally out of your depth. If you think you have your theology all figured out, then you are thinking in finite terms and you are not taking a theological stance at all.
Some theologians seem to regard theology as a field to be mastered. There they go wrong. None of us can ever master theology. We are simply not tall enough to reach the heights of God's Mind. By his side we are all midgets. In theology it is not enough to look at one's subject. One must look up at it, and look up high (if the effort pains our necks, so much the better. It's a probable sign that they were a bit stiff and the effort was needed). Some theologians nowadays seem badly in need of a Theology Refresher Course made up essentially of mind-raising exercises: "Don't start writing or even thinking about God or the Faith or the Church until you have looked up. Yes, that way but - higher! Higher still! ... You are beginning to feel dizzy? Ah, that's better. Now go off and do theology".
The theologian must never get used to his task. He needs to keep exercising himself in vertigo so that he does not lose sight of the heights and depths he is seeking to explore.
All theological matters partake in some way of the infinity of God: Revelation, the Church, the papacy, the sacraments ... all participate in a sacredness that should overawe our mind. When we venture into the theological field we are always treading on holy ground and we need to bare our head and feet for we are in the divine presence (cf. Exod 3:5).
We can explore Christ's Mind; we cannot measure it. And we can never figure it out.
The Mind of Christ is there in full scope and splendor and power. Our finite mind must enter his infinite Mind in amazement and wonder. The more we wonder and open our mind to Christ's Mind, the more Christ may deign to let our mind glimpse something of the secrets of his.
We cannot force entry into Christ's Mind. We must enter by the gate of humility. And we must go and get the key that lets us in: the key of this kingdom has been entrusted to the Magisterium.
Communion and power
Communion with Christ's Mind is the condition for receiving, and passing on to others, Christ's Truth in all its power.
The Apostles felt the power with which Christ sent them to preach his saving message (cf. Mt 28:18). Our evangelizing mission today can have the same power only if we sense that we are sent by the same Christ and to preach the same fundamental Christian message.
"The same message? A message that is always the same? ..." To some modern ears this sounds deadening. Something that remains the same suggests, to them, something stunted and static.
How communion with Christ's Truth can be stunted, how communion with his Mind and Heart can be static, is anything but clear. Nevertheless, the prejudices here are so deeply rooted that it is best to reason the matter out.
It is certainly true that the whole idea of established or defined truth irritates some people. The reason, they say, is that it implies narrowness or a stagnant quality that cramps the mind and deadens the dynamism of the Christian message.
There is notable confusion here. That a truth is well-defined means that it is clear in content and extent. It in no way suggests that it is narrow. It has its limits, but these can be very broad limits. The defined, identifiable, nature of Christian truth has everything to do with content, clarity and power. It has nothing to do with narrowness. On the contrary, the Christian message is immensely broad. It is precisely the combination of staggering breadth and staggering clarity that gives it such power. It challenges the theologian's mind as it challenges the world.
But surely, even if the idea of established truth is not narrow, is it not static?... Here we need to clear the air of ambiguities. To what is the term "static" referred here: to the content of the message, or to the reaction of those who receive the message?
It is obvious that the contents of a message must remain fixed if it is to have any value as a message. But the fixed clarity of an important message - sent out time and again on one wavelength - can galvanize the listener into action. There is nothing static about that message's effect.
An ill-defined, garbled message, with no beginning or end and with only confusion in between, moves no one. Nor does a constantly changing message. If a message is to move me - to think or to speak - it must say something definite. If it can be taken to mean anything or nothing, why should I bother about it: to listen to it or to echo it?
This is worth bearing in mind in evaluating contemporary calls for an "open-ended" approach in theology, an approach untrammelled by definitions and a priori concepts. So much of our modern open-ended theology turns out, on examination, to be an empty package. You look down both ends, and find that the contents have fallen out; there is nothing inside.
So if I am told that the concept of defined or settled belief is "static" - paralysing theological thought and evangelizing action - whereas an open-ended theology is the dynamic instrument we need because it will move people to more effective thought and evangelization, I flatly contradict the assertion. Just the opposite is true.
Take the Catholic belief of always: that the bread-like object on the altar or in the tabernacle is actually God. That, if it is really true, is a dynamic truth if ever there was one. It is bursting with God's vitality: the over-flowing power of his Love. It makes me want to get up and go out and tell people about it. That is a truth worth sharing.
But if the fact of the matter is not really so, if God does not actually come, if the bread remains bread with a passing spiritual significance, then what is there in all that to get excited about or to move me from my pew or my inertia? People may if they wish call that a more dynamic concept. I don't see it; it leaves me unmoved: static, stuck.
But no - someone may object - it is the idea of a God "stuck" in the tabernacle that is static...! I draw the opposite conclusion: that abiding all-loving Presence becomes dynamism for me.
Similarly, if Christ truly rose from the dead, then death has been defeated, the way to another Life has been opened to us, and I understand and want to share the Apostles' dynamism about the matter. There you have a world-revolutionizing belief.
However, if Christ did not truly rise, then let others, if they wish, preach whatever they might then still find in Christianity. For me personally, as for Paul, it would have lost all interest (cf. 1 Cor 15:14).
Some theologians complain of the cramping effect of the intervention of the Magisterium. In practice, however, it is so often their theories that reduce and narrow the scope of the Christian message, stripping it of its riches and of the strength and comfort it offers to the individual Christian. The Magisterium is fighting on the side of the Faith, but also on the side of the faithful: to defend Christ's message against all narrowing or impoverishing interpretations; and to defend the people's patrimony - their right of access to the broad scope and rich content of Christ's gifts to men.
Restoration of communion
The rupture of communion of the sixteenth century was a colossal wound in the Body of Christ. It still lies open and unhealed. All Christians feel the hurt of this rupture, the scandal of the deep divisions so clearly contrary to Christ's will and purpose (cf. Jn 11:52).
It is idle to seek to attribute blame for the happenings of five centuries ago. What matters now - what God clearly wants - is that we heal them (UR 1). The aim must be to restore what Christ prayed for: that all be one (Jn 17:21); that there be just one flock and one shepherd (Jn 10:16). How can this be brought about?
Ecumenism is understood superficially if it is thought that unity will be achieved by a give-and-take process that results in some form of human consensus. If it were to come about that way, it could (and would) also be subsequently broken by human disagreement and dissent.
The search for Christian unity is a search not for a consensus but for a centre. The centre is Christ. It is not just a reunion among one another that has to be sought. It is a re-union with Christ, a renewed communion with Christ, having rediscovered Him - how He is, how He speaks, what He wants - having relocated where He is, and having gone to Him there.
Christian reunion means to be re-united not just in the Heart of Christ - his Love - but also in his Mind: his Truth. To be one in the charity of Christ is a great thing, but it is not enough. We have also to be one in his Mind. "One heart and one mind", like the Early Christians (Acts 4:32). Communion in charity and communion in faith: within the richness of charity and within the richness of faith; but within - not outside.
The scandal of Christian disunity is not so much divided hearts as divided minds. Hearts can be linked more easily than minds, because men feel together more easily than they think or agree together. But feelings do not last. What is needed is a common faith: the will to believe together. A common faith means a shared belief in the same things: in God and his Revelation. It means a common tribute to the authority of Christ, as and how He chooses to speak to us.
That is why the question of Christian unity always comes back to the question of whether or not Christ, in choosing to reveal his saving Truth and entrusting it to the Church, also chose to institute - within that Church - a divinely protected organ for faithfully interpreting that truth.
Christian unity was disrupted basically through a collapse of faith; a failure to believe in Christ present and speaking to men in and through the institutional Church, and a choice instead of subjecting the Truth of Christ to the will of the individual believer - to make what he liked of it.
The democratic approach to ecumenism is, ultimately, to turn the Truth of Christ into whatever we want or vote it to be. The approach of faith is to accept it as it is; i.e. as it comes to us through the teaching authority of the Church. One has to choose between one or other of these approaches, for there is in fact no middle way.
Renewed Christian communion depends on our renewing our communion with Christ's way of thinking and planning: also with the particular point of divine logic which underpins his plan to save us through Revelation. Faith in Christ and love for Christ can and should lead us to see that if Divine Truth is to be protected from men's errors, a principle, an organ to guarantee and define that Truth is required. It was required from the start. It was divinely instituted from the start. It has (despite men's defects) always been there. It simply needs to be acknowledged and accepted. Christian unity can be built around no other centre.
Clarity in dialogue
The ultimate goal of ecumenism is that "little by little, as the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered ... into the unity of the one and only Church, which Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning" (UR 4).
Some of the obstacles to be overcome were no doubt created in the past by Catholics themselves, through their authoritarian approach, through their tendency to judge persons, forgetting that ultimate judgment is reserved to God (cf I Cor 4:4), and to condemn intentions without allowing for subjective sincerity, and particularly through the scandal of their own personal sins. Ecumenical reflection and dialogue can lead Catholics to a greater knowledge of their grievous failings in these respects.
For there to be real ecumenical progress, however, Protestants for their part must face up to the formidable obstacles to unity that are present on their side; above all the radically anti-incarnational, anti-sacramental and anti-scriptural principle of private judgment  with its rejection of the external objective authority for preserving and interpreting Revelation that Christ willed to bequeath to his Church.
If ecumenism is to be a serious endeavor to bring Christian denominations together into one Church, then both Catholics and Protestants should make ecclesiology, and not just history or faith or scripture, the main field of discussion and study.
But - it may be objected - all of this seems to imply that the ultimate ecumenical hope from the Catholic standpoint is that Protestants will reunite themselves to the Catholic Church.
Of course it is! We would be absolutely false not only to our own beliefs but also to the sincerity that should characterize ecumenical dialogue if we were to suggest differently. Not only must we Catholics not be afraid to state this but we should realize that any averagely intelligent Protestant will simply not respect the Catholic who maintains otherwise. He will conclude: this person is not sincere, or else he just does not know his own Catholic faith.
The spirit of ecumenism is a mutual charity. The aim of ecumenism is a common faith. The spirit of ecumenism is to treat each other well, despite differences of belief. We do not treat each other well if we pretend there are no differences or that the differences are unimportant. We would then lack respect for each other - and for the truth - because we would not be taking each other's beliefs seriously. That way it would become totally impossible to overcome differences of belief.
Private judgment and communio
Time alone will tell whether or not the cause of Christian unity has progressed in inter-denominational relations in the past forty years. But it is already obvious that, within the Catholic Church itself, Christian unity has suffered in this period. We are referring not to the desirable growth of diversity within Catholic unity, but to the relativization of the very concept of a common Catholic Faith, to the point where one finds writers, theologians, publications, groups, holding contradictory views on basic matters - infallibility, contraception, abortion, etc. - yet each claiming that his views are valid expressions of Catholicism.
It is muddle-minded to call this pluralism. Pluralism means legitimate variety within true communion. What we are faced with today in certain sectors of the Church is not desirable pluralism. It is stark disunity; a rupture of ecclesial communion as serious as that of the sixteenth century. Deformation, not reformation, is always involved in splitting the fundamental unity willed by Christ for his followers.
The loss of the sense of Catholic identity is no help to ecumenical dialogue. How can we Catholics work for Christian unity if we ourselves are not living - with diverse but complementary positions - within the broad unity of one clearly definable Catholic Faith?
Persons with unidentified positions cannot achieve a rapprochement. Self-definition or definition of terms and positions is a first requirement for rational debate or meaningful dialogue. One engages in dialogue to see if it is possible for two parties to approximate to one another's position, or to find new intermediate common ground. But how can I possibly think about approximating to someone else's position if I do not know my own - if I am not even sure where I stand or what I stand for?
This has always been a Protestant problem. Protestants have been relatively united in standing against (protesting) certain things: church authority, papal primacy, Tradition, defined doctrine, Real Presence.... But they have never been united in what they stand for; except in the principle of private judgment which as a principle is divisive of its essence and utterly opposed to communio. The progressive fragmentation of Protestantism is simply the logical consequence of this principle.
What Catholics stand for has, until recently, been clear to everyone: a communion with Christ, in the faith, sacraments and discipline of the Church that he founded and protects and lives and speaks in. Some Catholics today can no longer identify with that clear idea of catholic communion. They say they are Catholics; yet at the same time they cannot say what being a Catholic means. They profess an unidentifiable Catholicism. Their position however can be identified - but not within Catholicism.
In this matter of ecumenism two points could be made about those Catholics who have assimilated a non-Catholic approach to apostolic faith, to the sacraments, to scriptural interpretation, etc.:
a) They are not really doing an ecumenical work. They no doubt have been drawn closer to Protestantism. But they have been drawn farther from Catholicism. They have not narrowed the ecumenical gap; they have simply passed over to the other side. But the gap remains as wide as ever.
To them the ecumenical problems seems easy of solution. But the solution they see consists not in a communio of one Faith, but in a sort of pax ecumenica, a broad tolerance grouping mutually contradictory views of Christ's message under one Christian banner. Such a solution may be acceptable to them. Is it acceptable to Christ? It may be what they want. Is it what He wants?
Christ never spoke of a federation of sheep or a coalition of folds, but of one flock. That is the objective. And it must be held non-negotiable if ecumenism is to remain a serious endeavor.
Their ecumenical solution simply imports all the centuries-long problems of Protestant disunity into the Church. It is a step not towards Christian unity but in the opposite direction. It balks at the acceptance of objective authority which provides the only focal point and basis for unity. It rests instead on the principle of private judgment which does not and cannot unite.
b) They are not facing up to their own ecumenical problem, their own problem of communion: they themselves are not seeking a centre; they are not seeking oneness. They do not want to share the faith that has come down from the Apostles, the faith of always. They stand apart from the views of the centuries. They do not hear the voice of Christ in Tradition, in the Fathers, in the Councils, in the Popes. They do not find his love in the lives of the saints or the popular piety of the ages. They do not find his will in the discipline of the Church. For them, Christ lived his life 2,000 years ago. He has not continued to live it over these twenty centuries, and does not continue to live it today. What communion can one have with a man who died and is no longer with us?
It is an unhappy situation, a voluntary severing of links with Christ, with the risen living Christ who promised to be with us always. It is a sad process which can be summed up in one word: "ex-communio", understood not as a juridical act or a canonical declaration, but as a self-imposed situation of fact. The evident isolation of some Catholics today - theologians, priests, ordinary faithful - is the bleak consequence of their inability to find Christ, on Christ's terms, in the Church and in the Faith in which he has seen good to reveal and communicate himself.
If they choose to re-define Catholicism in protestant terms, Christ will once again react saying: that - the image you present - is not my Church. They cannot force a different image on the Mind of Christ. Either they correct their image, or else their distorted vision must necessarily lead them outside the limits of communion with Him.
Ecclesiology - the crisis area
In the early stages of the projection of the Christian message, in the very first centuries after Christ, it must have been a relatively easy matter for sincere people, with good will, to misread the picture, i.e. to stray from the Faith and fall into heresy. Some did so; and, precisely because they had good will, they came out again. Others stuck to their particular views, and so lost the communion of the Faith. The christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries offer abundant examples.
This should not be so easy today, after twenty centuries during which the message of Revelation has been taught and re-taught, projected and re-projected, while particular sectors or details of it have been focussed and re-focussed, defined and re-defined, in such a way that the Picture stands out today in the crystal clarity of its whole, and the harmonious inter-relationship of its parts.
Nevertheless, there are contemporary viewers of Revelation who still manage to blur the picture. Right now, as we begin this new millennium, some Catholics, who are otherwise pious and zealous, are giving way to questionings and doubts about truths that lie at the very heart of catholic belief: the factual-historical character of the Gospel narratives, the unique powers of the ministerial priesthood, etc., etc. They are no longer sure if they believe in doctrines that have been part of the common patrimony of the Faith, shared in and passed on by their brothers and sisters down the centuries. They no longer possess the certainty of sharing in the fellowship of the Apostles. There is a growing rupture of communion in their lives that threatens to leave them permanently adrift in a heaving sea of doubts, dilemmas and dissent.
Ecclesiology is the crisis area today. Faith in Christ's message grows weak if there is not faith also in how his message comes to us, in the means He uses to transmit it to us. Christ - his Word, his Grace, his Love - comes to us through the Church. A weakening or a collapse of communion is bound to follow from a failure to grasp and accept the mystery of the Church: concretely that aspect of the mystery which sees the Church as the faithful guardian and interpreter of Christ's Message, as the "Church of the living God, which upholds the truth and keeps it safe" (I Tim 3:15).
The vast majority of both Protestants and Catholics will agree that a Christian is someone who believes Christ to be God. If one allows oneself christological doubts - maybe Christ is not God ... - then one is ceasing to be a Christian.
But if the first question is christological - is Christ God? - the second question is ecclesiological: did Christ found a Church to carry on his word and his work? Did he found a Church - and then depart? Or does he remain in his Church in such a way that in listening to the Church we are listening to him, in communing with the Church we are in communion with him, in breaking that communion we break with him? These are the essential questions we have been attempting to examine and answer.
If Christ is not God, then his claim to be the Truth (Jn 14:6) is monstrous in its arrogance. If the Church is not founded and protected by Christ, then its claim to possess and teach the Truth is equally arrogant and intolerable. Yet if Christ is God and if he did found the Church, neither claim is arrogant. Both claims are rather the warrant for our joyful certainty and for our sense of freedom. "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32).
When a well-known English theologian who was a Vatican II peritus left the Church shortly after the close of the Council, some of his former theological associates reproached him for having done so, and for not having stayed with them so as to work for the reform of the Church, from within.
He replied that he had left the Church simply because he no longer believed in the infallibility of the Catholic Church; and that he felt it was not he who had to justify his position but those who share his view yet remain in the Church.
The prayer one utters is that they will try not to justify their position but to change it.
Consciously or unconsciously, the approach of many Catholics today represents a progressive rejection of communion. "I will go my own way, I will not share the way of others. I have my own mind, I will not share the Mind of Christ".
The mental attitudes that lead to this sort of self-excommunication are cast in deep molds. Sincere reflection, humility and above all prayer are the only means that can bring a person to stand apart from his attitudes, to review them and see where they are wanting, and to set about the difficult process of remolding and changing them. If they are not changed, the loss of communion is bound to become complete.