(Certainly one of the most hopeful developments in the Roman Catholic Church has been the ordination of women as priests and bishops. This week I am pleased to post this letter, sent to me by my friend Bishop Nancy Louise Meyer. It is dated January 6, 2023. – Jack)
An Open Letter to: the People of God, Pope Francis, Curia Officials, Conferences of Bishops in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and Oceania
Hope arrived for women in the Roman Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Pope John XXIII called the Church to open the doors and windows and to “read the signs of the times”. When Pope Francis recently called for a global synodal process, we, the women bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, dared again to hope that the leadership of the Church would listen and walk with all the People of God.
In a November interview published in America magazine, Pope Francis attempts to justify the exclusion of women from ordained ministry utilizing the archaic, patriarchal theology that Jesus was a man and he chose men as his apostles, therefore, priests must also be male. He appealed to the medieval spousal imagery of an active-receptive relationship, in which the Church is the bride and the priest the bridegroom. This disregards the fundamental message of the Gospel and contradicts our baptismal oneness in Christ: “. . . there is no longer male nor female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Baptism rests on faith, not on gender, not nationality, nor any other form of discrimination.
In the interview, Francis fails to acknowledge the many times in Scripture where women are chosen by God or Jesus to minister. Mary of Magdala was proclaimed ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ and a host of other women named in Scripture went out to proclaim the Good News in the early church. The argument that maleness is necessary for ordination damages the Church and greater society. A church subjugating women with their structures supports similar subjugation in the world. In this the Roman Catholic Church violates its own words from the Second Vatican Council which states that, “Forms of social or cultural discrimination in basic personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion, must be curbed or eradicated as incompatible with God’s designs.”(Gaudium et Spes 29) Francis’ attempt to justify the exclusion of women from ordination is a failure to “read the signs of the times” and to understand the basic human rights of all members of the Church.
Roman Catholic Women deacons, priests and bishops have answered the call of God and their communities through valid ordination in apostolic succession. We are providing a vibrant experience of community and sacraments where we live. We are not responsible for people leaving the Church, we are bringing people back to the faith. We heal those grievously wounded by physical, emotional and spiritual abuse and exclusion. We offer a model of church easily recognizable as Roman Catholic, but offering transparency of governance, the inclusion of those marginalized, and recognition of gender equality.
We call on Pope Francis and the Conferences of Bishops in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and Oceania to meet with us, the Roman Catholic Women Bishops serving across the world. Despite his call for dialogue, Pope Francis refuses to engage in authentic conversation with us. Francis can use his Petrine key to unlock that door.
On behalf of Roman Catholic Women deacons, priests and bishops around the world:
Last week’s reflection about Joseph Ratzinger, who passed from this life on December 31, 2022, generated a lot of reaction and questions. One issue that many people commented about was his strong affirmation of Catholic teaching about gender, human sexuality, and specifically the same-sex orientation, traditionally called “homosexuality.”
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “homosexual acts” are “acts of grave depravity” that are “intrinsically disordered….Under no circumstances can they be approved.” Regarding homosexuality as an orientation, the Catechism describes it as “objectively disordered.” The Catechism, as I mentioned last week was drafted by a commission chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1992.
Certainly today the scientific and experiential insights available to us clearly indicate that the RCC’s theological tradition can be and must be approached critically, to clarify its foundation, rationale, and continued meaningfulness in the changed socio-historical circumstances of the contemporary world.
The Bible and Homosexuality
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) turns to the Bible in its discussion of the “problem of homosexuality” and asserts that “there is … a clear consistency within the sacred scriptures for judging the immorality of homosexual behavior.” The texts on which this “clear consistency” is built are: Genesis 19:1-11; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-7; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10.
Nevertheless, in the light of contemporary biblical scholarship, it is impossible to agree that the texts on which this Catholic tradition about the immorality of homosexual acts is based are “unambiguous” and provide “solid foundation.” Contemporary theologians would stress that the biblical accounts are complex and socio-historically conditioned literary forms that demand careful historical-critical analysis.
First of all, neither the Bible nor the Christian tradition rooted in it prior to the twentieth century ever really considered the homosexual condition as a specific sexual orientation. They took for granted that everyone was heterosexual. To look for any mention in the biblical texts of what today is called “homosexual orientation” is simply unfounded. One might just as well search the Bible for advice about buying a cellphone or a laptop computer
The context in which both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New testament condemn homosexual acts is shaped by the socio-historical conditions of the times in which they were written, namely that all human beings naturally share the heterosexual condition and that, therefore, any homosexual behavior is a perversion of “nature” and immoral. Because that biblical assumption is now scientifically shown to be incorrect, the Bible has little to contribute to the discussion of genuine homosexuality and homosexuals as we understand them today. In fact, the Bible also contains many questionable moral teachings about sex: the evil of sexual relations during menstruation for example, or about the stoning of adulterers, about women’s role, about slavery, and a host of other issues. All of these issues have been rejected by modern Catholic moral theology as archaic misunderstandings. But homosexuality?
In this reflection, I cannot go into a detailed analysis of all biblical texts touching on homosexuality. For a detailed analysis of the biblical texts I suggest the book: The Sexual Person, Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology, by Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler (Georgetown University Press / Washington, D.C., 2008). It is still an excellent book. I have known and respected Todd for many years, from the time he was a theology student at the Catholic University of Leuven and then completed his doctorate in 1994.
The Catholic tradition also teaches that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered because they are “contrary to the natural law.”
The Natural Law Argument
In determining contemporary moral values and behavior, a realistic understanding of human life requires an historically conscious worldview, because human reality is dynamic, evolving, and changing. We certainly see this when it comes to medical science. During the 19th century, for example, bloodletting was a very common treatment for basically any ailment you might be suffering from. At the time, doctors believed that too much blood would throw off the balance in your body.
People today laugh at such ignorant foolishness. People, however, do not always apply new human insights to moral moral values. As our human understanding develops and changes, so too do our human concepts, theories, and courses of action. This is not a matter of relativism but of changing human perspectives. There is indeed a human thread from generation to generation that links faith and moral values. People in every age reflect, evaluate, and interpret that faith and moral values tradition in terms of their contemporary culture and understanding.
When people determine moral obligations from “nature,” they are really deriving them from their own human interpretation of “nature.” The challenge with “natural law”and “human nature” is that our understanding of human sexuality – with its biological, emotional, psychological, relational, and spiritual dimensions — has developed historically and it continues to develop. I learned this years ago from my Louvain (Leuven) professor, Louis Janssens (1908 – 2001), founder of the Louvain tradition of personalism. Janssens made an original contribution to the study of the human person through the approach which he coined as “the human person adequately considered.”
Personalist moral philosophers and theologians stress that the old “traditional” biological and strictly physicalist understanding of traditional natural law and human “nature” must be transformed into a contemporary personalist, relational understanding. The former defines the morality of acts based only on the physical, biological structure of those acts. The latter defines the morality of acts based on the meaning of those acts for persons and relationships. Marital sexuality in a personalist relational understanding, for example, is about much more than simply linking genitalia to produce progeny.
The ethical criterion for human choices and actions therefore is the extent to which these choices and actions respect and enhance a person’s living together in time and space, in all the many different dimensions of a person’s life world and life history: familial, social, material, environmental, spiritual, physical, and psychological. This is “the human person adequately considered.”
“Nature” and natural law have always had a prominent place in Catholic moral theology and, in official Church teaching, not only homosexuality but also masturbation, premarital, extramarital, contraceptive, and non-reproductive types of marital sexual activity have been condemned as “contrary to the natural law.”
I would emphasize, however, that every interpretation of “nature” is a socially constructed reality dependent on human perspective and interpretations. The reality of “nature” must always be subjected to scrutiny, even if the interpretation be advanced by the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Homosexual sexual acts are “natural” for people with a homosexual orientation, just as heterosexual sexual acts are “natural” for people with a heterosexual orientation. Period. Sexual acts are moral when they are natural, reasonable, and expressed in a truly human, just, and loving manner.
The historical Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. He did say “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Dear friends, you have to bear with me this week. Yes I realize this is a much longer post than usual, with a lot of historical information. I do feel a need to share it, at least for an objective and correct historical perspective on the recently deceased former Pope. If you find it too long, you can simply move down to the final paragraph: an observation by the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, SJ in the National Catholic Reporter on December 31, 2022. Thomas Reese is senior analyst at Religion News Service and a former editor-in-chief of the weekly Catholic magazine America.
Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger (16 April 1927 – 31 December 2022) was Pope Benedict XVI from 19 April 2005 until his resignation on 28 February 2013. Since his death, there has been an abundance of articles about him. I would like to share an historical perspective about his theological focus. Nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler,” he remained a hero to many theological conservatives. U.S. Catholics make up about 20 percent of all U.S. adults. The church has grown increasingly polarized in the past few years, and the faction that has opposed Pope Francis’ agenda has been strengthened.
Joseph Ratzinger – later Benedict XVI – has been the inspiration for the conservative far right polarizers. Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings were prolific. He generally defended traditional Catholic doctrine, values, and liturgy, like the old style “Tridentine” Latin Mass. No one was more important in helping Pope John Paul II – Pope from 1978 until his death in 2005 — turn Catholic Church leadership, especially in the United States, right of center.
On 25 November 1981, Pope John Paul II, appointed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the CDF, formerly known as the “Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office,” the historical Roman Inquisition. Cardinal Ratzinger was head of the CDF from 1981 until 2005, when he became Pope Benedict XVI on 19 April. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s pronouncements as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith mark for posterity his theological positions.
As an historian, I have collected a summary of his major condemnations of contemporary theology and theologians. They offer important perspectives on the theology of Pope Benedict XVI.
(1) October 4, 1983: Notification to Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle, Washington that an apostolic visitation of his archdiocese would be conducted, focused primarily on liturgy, the education of seminarians, clergy formation, the marriage tribunal, and ministry to homosexuals. (The process ended with the appointment in 1985 of an auxiliary bishop, Donald Wuerl, later archbishop of Washington. He was controversially named an auxiliary bishop and given primary responsibility over many areas of archdiocesan governance.)
(2) August 6, 1984: “Instruction on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation.’” Although applauding efforts to promote social justice, it criticized theologians who borrow “uncritically” from Marxist ideology, reducing salvation to the liberation of the poor from worldly oppressors.
(3) March 11, 1985: Notification on the book Church: Charism and Power by Brazilian Franciscan Father Leonardo Boff, who argued that the church’s current hierarchical structure was not that intended by Christ and that authority can spring from the community of the faithful. The notification said the book was “dangerous” and Father Boff was ordered to refrain from publishing or speaking publicly for one year.
(4) March 22, 1986: “Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation,” a second document on liberation theology providing guidelines for the theology’s development, insisting that it have as its goal the liberation of people from sin, not simply from sinful social structures.
(5) July 10, 1986: Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger head of a 12-member commission charged with drafting the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The text was released in French in 1992 and in English in 1994. The Catechism strongly reflects and supports a pre-Vatican II theology.
(6) July 25, 1986: The suspension of U.S. Father Charles E. Curran from teaching Catholic theology because of his dissenting views on several issues in sexual ethics. The Vatican declared that Curran could no longer teach theology at the Catholic University of America and that he was neither suitable nor eligible to be a professor of Catholic theology. Father Curran later was given a full tenured professorship at Southern Methodist University and has published personal accounts about his experience with the Catholic Church and his viewpoint on the actions of Catholic Church authorities.
(7) September 15, 1986: Notification about dangers in the book The Church With a Human Face: A New and Expanded Theology of Ministry by Dominican Father Edward Schillebeeckx. The notification warned that the book was “in disagreement with the teaching of the church,” particularly regarding ordination and the possibility of lay people presiding at the Eucharist. However, the doctrinal congregation did not apply any penalties to the Belgian-born priest, because he had already retired from teaching. Schillebeeckx (1914 – 2009) became my theological mentor in 1968, when he was my professor in Nijmegen.
(8) October 1, 1986: “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” The letter called for “special concern and pastoral attention” to homosexuals, but also for clarity that homosexual activity is fundamentally immoral.
(9) February 22, 1987: “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation,” clarifying the church’s position on assisted fertilization techniques and other biomedical issues, reaffirming teaching that an embryo is human from the moment of conception and that conception is moral only in the context of traditional sexual intercourse within marriage.
(10) February 16, 1989: Notification regarding the moral rule of “Humanae Vitae” and pastoral duty, saying couples who find it difficult to follow church teaching about birth control “deserve great respect and love,” but the church is firm in teaching that contraception is an “intrinsically disordered act” that is prohibited without exception.
(11) October 15, 1989: “Letter on Certain Aspects of Christian Meditation,” cautioning Catholics about using Buddhist, Hindu and other meditation techniques that place the focus of prayer on the self rather than on God.
(12) May 24, 1990: “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian,” underlining the important role theologians have in clarifying, explaining and exploring church teaching, but also calling on theologians who disagree with church teaching not to use the mass media to publicize their views or try to pressure for change in the church.
(13) January 31, 1992: Notification on the book The Sexual Creators, an Ethical Proposal for Concerned Christians by Canadian Oblate Father Andre Guindon. The Vatican said the book presented questionable views on premarital sex, homosexual relationships and contraception.
(14) March 30, 1992: “Instruction on Some Aspects of the Use of the Instruments of Social Communication in Promoting the Doctrine of the Faith,” reaffirming church law requiring prepublication theological review and approval of manuscripts dealing with church teaching.
(15) May 28, 1992: “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion,” emphasizing the essential bond between the local church and universal church, particularly through recognition of the authority of the pope.
(16) July 23, 1992: “Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on Nondiscrimination of Homosexual Persons,” saying, “It is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account” when making laws concerning “adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.”
(17) September 14, 1994: “Letter to Bishops Regarding the Reception of Holy Communion by Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful,” saying the church cannot ignore Jesus’ clear teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and reaffirming that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may not receive Communion.
(18) October 28, 1995: Response to questions about the doctrine contained in the apostolic letter, “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” saying the church’s teaching that women cannot be ordained priests belongs “to the deposit of faith” and has been taught “infallibly” by Pope John Paul II.
(19) January 2, 1997: Notification on the book Mary and Human Liberation by Sri Lankan Oblate Father Tissa Balasuriya, saying the book contained heretical statements regarding Mary, original sin, Christ’s redemptive role, and papal infallibility. The Oblate was excommunicated, but reconciled with the church a year later.
(20) May 30, 1997: Revised “Regulations for Doctrinal Examination” of theologians and their work, encouraging a more direct role for the theologian’s bishop or religious superior, allowing the possibility of naming an advocate and an adviser for the theologian, and permitting face-to-face meetings between the theologian and congregation members.
(21) August 15, 1997: Publication of the final Latin “typical edition” of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, containing some corrections and additions to the 1992 text, including an acknowledgment that science has not determined the cause of homosexuality.
(22) June 24, 1998: Posthumous notification concerning the writings of Indian Jesuit Father Anthony De Mello, saying some of the priest’s views “are incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm.” It particularly cited those views presenting God as an impersonal cosmic reality, organized religion as an obstacle to self-awareness and Jesus as one master among many.
(23) October 31, 1998: “Considerations on ‘The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church,’” saying that, although Pope John Paul called for an ecumenical discussion of how primacy could be exercised in a united church, “the full communion desired by Christ among those who confess to be his disciples requires the common recognition of a universal ecclesial ministry,” and the Catholic faith holds that that ministry belongs to the Pope.
(24) May 31, 1999: Notification regarding School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick and Salvatorian Father Robert Nugent, barring the U.S. team from further pastoral ministry to homosexuals, saying they advanced “doctrinally unacceptable” positions “regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination.”
(25) June 26, 2000: Publication of a 43-page booklet containing the complete “Message of Fatima,” including the so-called “third secret” given to three Portuguese children in 1917. In his commentary, Cardinal Ratzinger said the third part of the message is a symbolic prophecy of the church’s 20th-century struggles with evil political systems and of the church’s ultimate triumph.
(26) August 6, 2000: Dominus Iesus, a declaration on the “exclusive, universal and absolute” value of Jesus Christ and his church for salvation.
(27) September 14, 2000: “Instruction on Prayers for Healing,” noting the importance of believing that God wants to free people from suffering, but encouraging local bishops to be vigilant that the services do not become occasions for hysteria or focus more on the so-called gift of healing possessed by certain individuals than on God.
(28) January 24, 2001: Notification on the book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism by Belgian Jesuit Father Jacques Dupuis, warning that although Father Dupuis’ intentions were good his 1997 book contained ambiguous statements and insufficient explanations that could lead readers to “erroneous or harmful conclusions” about Christ’s role as the unique and universal savior.
(29) February 22, 2001: Notification regarding certain writings of Redemptorist Father Marciano Vidal, a Spanish moral theologian. At the congregation’s request, the priest agreed to revise several of his books to emphasize the church’s official position on contraception, homosexuality, masturbation, abortion and other issues.
(30) May 18, 2001: Letter to all bishops “regarding the more serious offenses, ‘graviora delicta’ reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” The letter said Pope John Paul had given the congregation juridical control over cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests, classifying it as one of several “graver offenses” against church law. The other offenses include acts committed by priests against the sanctity of the Eucharist and against the sacrament of penance.
(31) August 5, 2002: Publication of the declaration of the excommunication of seven Catholic women from various countries who had “attempted” to be ordained Catholic priests. The congregation had sent them a warning July 10 asking them to indicate their “repentance for the most serious offense they had committed.” The Vatican said the ordaining bishop had already been excommunicated.
(32) January 16, 2003: Doctrinal note on the participation of Catholics in political life saying that while Catholics are free to choose among political parties and strategies for promoting the common good, they cannot claim that freedom allows them to support abortion, euthanasia, or other attacks on human life.
(33) February 7-14, 2003: Revised norms issued for dealing with “serious offenses” against the sacraments; the new norms included an expedited process for laicizing priests guilty of sexually abusing minors.
(34) July 31, 2003: “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” reaffirming church teaching requiring compassion for homosexuals, but saying legal recognition of gay unions is contrary to human nature and ultimately harmful to society.
(35) July 31, 2004: “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” saying the subjugation of women is the result of original sin and not of God’s original design for creation. Rather than ignore the God-given differences between men and women, the church calls on them to collaborate for the good of the family, society and the church.
(36) December 13, 2004: Notification regarding the book Jesus Symbol of God by U.S. Jesuit Father Roger Haight, which said the book contained “serious doctrinal errors against the Catholic and divine faith of the church,” particularly regarding the divinity of Jesus and the universality of salvation in him. The Jesuit was forbidden to teach as a Catholic theologian.
(37) February 11, 2005: Statement and commentary reaffirming church teaching that only priests can administer the anointing of the sick and saying the doctrine must be “definitively” accepted by Catholics.
As Thomas Reese S.J. wrote in the National Catholic Reporter on December 31, 2022: “What matters is that after the Second Vatican Council open discussion was suppressed by Ratzinger under the papacy of John Paul. If you did not agree with the Vatican, you were silenced. Yet, without open conversation, theology cannot develop, and reforms cannot be made. Without open debate, the church cannot find ways of preaching the gospel in ways understandable to people of the 21st Century.”
Some may have already heard this little story. Starting the new year, however, I wish to repeat it once again.
Many years ago, one of my wife’s uncles approached me during a family reunion. He said he needed to draw on my expertise. He then pulled from his pocket a small reddish stone and said: “what do you make of this?” I looked at it and said: “very colorful.” He frowned and said: “but what is your professional interpretation?” I told him I had no idea about it. Very disappointed, he grumbled something and then said: “they told me your field of expertise was geology.” I chuckled and said: “not GEology but THEology.”
I am an historical theologian. Theology should focus on life-nourishing belief not old doctrinaire stones.
The best definition of THEOLOGY is still that of Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109): Fides quarens intellectum – “Faith seeking understanding.”
When people do theology, they reflect in depth about Reality and their Faith experiences: experiences of being touched by God, even for people for whom the word “God” may be problematic. I remember the words of Dag Hammarskjöld (1905 – 1961) in his book Markings: “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.”
When we do theology, we necessarily express ourselves in the symbols, words, and rituals that are products of our culture. In fact, all of our concepts and experiential interpretations are shaped and influenced to a great extent by the culture and the language out of which they emerge.
In every age, theologians should strive to better articulate the human experience of the Divine for contemporary believers. I hope I can make at least a small contribution to that.
I shared the story of my wife’s uncle and his stone with an adult discussion group, which I moderate. One lady in the group, a retired professor of sociology at our university, then asked: “ok…but in these days of alt-truth, how do we distinguish healthy and unhealthy theological developments?”
A very good question, because some theology does indeed appear unhealthy — more like a collection of old stones.
Healthy contemporary theology should speak to contemporary people in contemporary language. It should help them discover the signs of Divine presence in human life and promote a morality of interpersonal respect, compassion, and solidarity. Jesus taught and lived the truth that love of God cannot exist without love of neighbor.
I suggest five points for evaluating theology, regardless whether it comes from episcopal lips, from the local church pulpit, or from the keyboard of an older theologian.
1-The aim of theology cannot be a kind of nostalgic retreat to recover a lost mode of being in the world: the “good old days.” We need contemporary fresh air. Pope John XXIII when he opened the Second Vatican Council said it was time to “open the windows and let in the fresh air.” Some archconservative contemporary church leaders want to slam them shut and retreat into an earlier closed environment. They forget that the good old days were really not always that great.
Nevertheless, we really cannot turn-back the clock. We should not even try. It would mean becoming a religious child again and thereby abandoning our adult capacity to think and make one’s own judgments, based on critical reflection and developmental human understanding. The current upsurge of populist fundamentalism – with its appeal for “the good old days” — is not just annoyingly offensive. It is dangerously subversive and destructive. We must live today where we are planted.
2-Theological thinking today needs to reflect on the “call” of the Sacred (the Faith experience) by interpreting and thereby re-creating the meaning and power of religious language. The Sacred has not abandoned us, but we may need to better attune our awareness. There are many Catholics and other Christians today who are no longer comfortable in a church that does not speak to them. Nevertheless, many have indeed felt the presence of the Divine in their lives but do not have a language to express it. They speak about experiencing the “unbelievable,” or the “indescribable,” or their own sense of awe.
A few years ago, I began this blog to encourage people to think and speak with “another voice.” The truly contemporary theological thinker must have one foot anchored in the present and the other in the tradition of the past: maintaining a dynamic tension between contemporary religious exploration and consciousness and earlier religious consciousness. We explore and we grow. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:12: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”
3-When we do theology – when we reflect in depth about our Faith experiences – we necessarily express ourselves in the symbols, words, and rituals that are products of our culture. But we also look for resonance and dialogue with tradition: with the theological expressions of earlier cultures. I often tell people in my lectures that I am not a far-out anti-historical liberal but a Christian traditionalist. Most people start laughing and then I do have to explain…It is living and believing today but with interpretation and resonance with earlier understandings.
4-Authentic and life-giving theology can never be self-serving narcissism: the expression of individual, subjective experience. Theology is the result of deep reflection about my Faith experience AND your Faith experience AND the Faith experience of the community of Faith. Today as well as Yesterday. Yesterday’s theology invites critical reflection and becomes a heritage, a tradition that finds an expression in historical doctrine, scripture, symbol, ritual, and patterns of conduct.
5-Theology therefore relies on culture but can never become locked within a particular culture. It cannot, for example, venerate just ancient or medieval European culture. Jesus, for example, was not a fair-skinned European male.
All cultures perceive reality through their own particular lenses. These lenses are shaped and adjusted by shared human events and the great movements in human history. When a theology becomes so locked within a particular culture that it is hardly distinguishable from it, we are on the road to idolatry. Then the words, symbols and rituals of a particular culture no longer communicate and connect people to the depth of the human experience but become hardened old stones and become objects of worship in themselves.
My warmest regards as we move into 2023. I look forward to traveling with you.