Monday, December 08, 2003

Two Churches?

In his latest commentary, Bob Sungenis contrasts "the old church," "the church of the past," and "the church of tradition" with "the church of today." However, what he is really contrasting in most cases is the views of individuals, both in the past and today. He is not comparing (let alone contrasting) "the old magisterium" with "the new magisterium," but rather what individuals in the past and today have respectively said.

In addition, he claims that adherents of "today's church" cannot claim that the "old church" erred (this claim is debatable in itself), because to do so would leave them open to the "future church" claiming that today's church erred. He says,
    Therefore, if those of us on the Traditional side of the fence choose to accuse the modern church of being wrong, there is nothing they can say against us, for they have already opened Pandora’s box by claiming that the Traditional church was wrong. If the Traditional church can be wrong, then the post-conciliar church can be wrong, and we are at a stand-off.
Mr. Sungenis evidently does not see that he is opening himself to the same problem which proponents of "today's church" allegedly face: as soon as he says that today's church can err, then he is saying that yesterday's church can err, because they are one and the same.

That is the crucial point: yesterday's church and today's church are identical, not separate entities as Mr. Sungenis says when he claims that "the old church survived intact for 1965 years." As soon as he claims that the church in the post-conciliar era can err, he's asserting that the church prior to Vatican II can err.

In any case, I think that Mr. Sungenis misstates the proposal of Vatican II and the post-conciliar Magisterium... the point isn't to condemn the past, nor to say that the Church was wrong in the past, but rather to propose that the unchanging doctrines of Catholicism need to be presented in a new manner for the modern mind. One can argue that the modern mind doesn't hold a candle to the medieval mind (in many ways, that's true), but it's beside the point: the purpose of the Church is to bring the Gospel to people where they are at, not where we would like them to be. The goal of the Church is the same as it was fifty years ago: to bring the Gospel of salvation to as many people as possible. The difference is that the Church believes that this can best be accomplished in means different from those employed in the past. One can argue as to whether or not these new means are effective or how effective they are, but the fact remains that the goal is the same.

Has the pope asked forgiveness for certain actions of Church members of the past? Of course. Does that mean that he's said that "the church of the past is wrong"? No.

I think I'll leave it at that.

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