By Paul Fahey Thursday, September 19
“One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us.” Lumen Fidei, 34.
When reading through Lumen Fidei, this quote reminded me of something one of my Theology professors used to teach – one must be docile to the Truth. Included in his explanation of this docility, he would proceed to draw on the blackboard an ass (beast of burden) being lead forward by the rope tied around its neck. “This,” he would say, pointing at the ass, “is what it means to be docile.” All men, particularly Christians (and even more particularly, theologians) must allow themselves to be led by the Truth. In a similar way, paragraph 36 of Lumen Fidei calls all theologians to docility to the Magisterium and the Pope.
…theology cannot consider the magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him as something extrinsic, a limitation of its freedom, but rather as one of its internal, constitutive dimensions, for the magisterium ensures our contact with the primordial source and thus provides the certainty of attaining to the word of Christ in all its integrity.
However, this call to humble docility toward the teaching authority of the Church, because it is She who puts us in contact with He who is Truth, is not just for theologians – it is a call meant for all believers. All Catholics are called to humbly submit their personal preferences and their ideologies to the Magisterium. This does not mean that one should never question the Church, rather that, at the end of the day, a faithful Catholic realizes that Mother knows best. Herein lies my problem with, and the rather obvious similarity between, both “traditionalists” and “progressives.”
Before I go further, I think that a definition (or at least a working definition) of these terms is needed (since language is important). By “traditionalist,” in this particular instance, I mean somebody who has a preference for the traditions and practices of a pre-Vatican II and post-Trent Church. In many ways this individual remains respectful and docile to the Church, but there are some personal preferences (whether it be boy only altar servers, detest of the vernacular, etc.) that they simply refuse to let go of and submit to Holy Mother. Likewise, a “progressive” is someone who greatly appreciates the changes made after Vatican II, and, in many ways, remains docile to the Church. However, there are some personal preferences and ideologies (think female ordination or a change in the Church’s sexual ethic) that they simply cannot let go of. Here are some examples of what I mean:
Recently I read this rather abhorrent blog post from the Catholic Gentleman titled “Masculinity and the Liturgy” (Some of the Gentleman’s gross patriarchal commentary was very gracefully responded to by Karen). This particular blog post represents an attitude of pride in face of the Church rather than docility. One area, for example, is his opposition to female altar servers, lectors, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. He says:
Now, girls can be altar servers, and boys aren’t as interested. It’s like adding girls to the football team—it saps the masculinity right out of it…In addition to altar girls, the distinctive role of the priest—who is, of course a man—has been diluted by the introduction of laypeople into the liturgy. The very fact that a woman can now distribute communion or read the Epistle immediately makes the liturgy less masculine.
And by “less masculine” I think he really means “not as good as it could be.” While the actual teaching authorities of the Church completely support women participating in the Liturgy, the “traditionalist” still has a real problem with it. I’m with Blessed John Paul II when he says, “Who can imagine the great advantages to pastoral care and the new beauty that the Church’s face will assume, when the feminine genius is fully involved in the various areas of her life?”
The “traditionalist” way of thinking is not terribly unlike the “progressives” who support the ordination of women (or are ordained women themselves). In the Womenpriest’s own words,
The Womenpriests, who have 145 women members worldwide, don’t let the canon law bother them. “It doesn’t have any meaning because no one really pays attention to it,” Suzanne A. Thiel, a representative of the organization and one of the ordained, told The Atlantic Wire. “I think most of us just ignore it… When people say the Womenpriests operate outside of “The Church,” she argues that it depends on your definition of the Church. “Are you looking at the Church as the Vatican, the Pope, the hierarchy, or are you looking at it as the people?” Thiel said. “We’re flourishing and the people have accepted us.”
Doesn’t Suzanne Thiel sum it up perfectly? She acts in obedience only toward the church that she has defined for herself. She simply refuses to accept all of the teachings and teachers that she disagrees with. But doesn’t that sound eerily familiar to the “traditionalist” who says, “I will accept the infallible authority of all the Ecumenical Councils…except Vatican II.” Docility does not pick and choose what is authoritative and what is not, docility seek to conform one’s self to the Truth, no matter how difficult or inconvenient.
Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and catechist. He has a BA in Theology with minors in History, and Catholic Studies and is currently studying at the Augustine Institute for a MA in Theology.