A Schism at Communio ?

October 2002

You may recall that in our New Oxford Notes section for April, we had a piece criticizing an article by Bishop Peter Henrici, S.J., “Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Fundamentalism?” from the Fall 2001 Communio. Well, we weren’t the only ones who had major problems with that article. The Spring 2002 Communio (which arrived here in July) carries an editorial by Associate Editor Adrian Walker in which he addresses “questions raised by readers” concerning that Henrici article. One of the key questions concerned Henrici’s saying that “The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the most recent proclamations from Rome represent life rafts [for Catholic fundamentalists].” Henrici also said that just as Protestant fundamentalists “cling” to the Bible, so Catholic fundamentalists “cling” to “texts from the Church’s magisterium.” A good number of orthodox Catholics were not happy with the contemptuous attitude displayed, not only toward them but also toward the Catechism and the Magisterium.

Since Communio presents itself as an orthodox Catholic periodical, you can imagine the consternation that ensued. Thus, Walker says that since the criticism of Henrici “touches on the very raison d’être of Communio, it seems appropriate to deal with it explicitly….”

But first, some background. In his article, Henrici noted that the first fundamental of Protestant fundamentalism is “the literal inerrancy of Holy Scriptures,” which, he said, the Catholic Church rejects. Why is this first fundamental so important to fundamentalists? Because, he said, of “the need people experience over the course of their lives to find certainty on the basis of infallible propositions….” However, said Henrici, “faith cannot be reduced to individual propositions, even if these are affirmed as essential; it [faith] represents an organic whole, formed from may truths (not propositions), which together make up a single truth. It is possible to test the validity of a proposition…. But truth is something one can only enter into….” (We commented: “If we can’t test the validity of truth claims, how can we ever know that the truth we’ve ‘entered into’ is true?”) From there Henrici went on to deride the Catechism and the Magisterium as “life rafts” for Catholics who have a “need” for “unshakeable [sic] certainty.”

Henrici accused “Catholic fundamentalists” of treating the texts of the Magisterium as “the ultimate, sole criterion for truth,” adding that this is illegitimate because those texts need to be “mediated,” “adapted,” and “translated.” By what or whom? By “individual conscience,” “nonreligious historical mediation through various cultures,” and “the living representative of the ecclesial communio” (i.e., the local bishop — and as Bishop of Zurich, Henrici was putting himself above the Magisterium). Our comment was: “This is a prescription for the fragmentation of Catholic truth and the Catholic Church.”


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New Oxford Notes: October 2002

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