The Church, Community of Salvation
By George H. Tavard
Publisher: The Liturgical Press
Review Author: Charles A. Coulombe
Subtitled An Ecumenical Ecclesiology, this book promises to be Volume I of a series called New Theology Studies. These, we are told in the Editor’s Preface by Fr. Peter Phan, will be “resource books…for upper-division theology courses in Catholic colleges and seminaries….” Phan hopes that “these volumes will make a contribution…to the intellectual and spiritual life of the Christian Church….” It is a hope which this writer, regrettably, cannot share if the first volume is typical of what is to come.
Today, it seems, a theologian need not believe anything in Tradition (Fathers, doctors, councils, popes) which is not in Scripture. On the other hand, despite its debunking by the discoveries at Qumran, higher criticism allegedly frees the theologian from believing anything in Scripture either. This approach is glaringly evident in Fr. Tavard’s book.
This is not to say that Tavard does not unceasingly cite the Fathers and doctors; but he does things to them which they themselves would have doubtless been displeased with, and he disregards them when they disagree with him. Further, he quotes such dubious notables as Hans Küng and Paul Tillich as if they were of equal weight with St. Irenaeus or St. Ignatius of Antioch. There is about Tavard’s citations a delightfully 1960s “everything is everything” tone. But then, why not? Tavard has no real center of authority in his concept of the Church. Certainly not the pope.
And why would the Church need a center of authority anyway? Tavard sees the Church as subsisting “in the religious institutions of the world at large,” and he tells us that in some sense everyone belongs to the Church, for the Church “is not an empirical institution.”
What, then, determines truth for the Church? Theologian Tavard does give us an answer, a not surprising one given his occupation: the “magisterium of theologians.” So Catholic theologians are to rule us.
But fear not. Since Catholic theologians only have clout in the Catholic Church, and since we know from Tavard’s teaching that the Church is not empirical, we need not listen to him and his ilk.
Covenant Community and Church
By Stephen B. Clark
Review Author: John C. Cahalan
Since Vatican II the Catholic Church has recognized that the great changes in modern society call for new pastoral approaches. Our world has seen the breakdown of the “natural” community that for most of human history provided necessary support for individuals and was the context for the Church’s methods of spreading and nurturing the Christian life. Now Christians need special ways of resisting the pervasive secular influences of their environments.
In Covenant Community and Church, Stephen B. Clark explains that the Church has responded to these needs by calling for the development of new forms of association among the faithful, especially among the laity. Covenant community is one of the new forms that has arisen. Members of covenant communities, who are mostly laity, commit their lives to one another as a way of living out the familial dimension of Christianity.
Many covenant communities have responded to the Church’s call for ecumenism. While theologians conduct ecumenical dialogues, these covenant communities practice grassroots ecumenism. That fact, together with the fact that covenant communities need their own leadership, creates special issues concerning their relations with the Catholic Church. Clark, one of the founders of covenant communities, gives guidelines designed to ensure that Catholic communities, or Catholic subgroups within ecumenical communities, have an authentically Catholic life and that community leadership is properly subordinate to the hierarchy. Concerning authority within covenant communities, Clark says that membership in them is not the kind of commitment “which puts the whole of each person’s life under obedience to the leadership…. In this sense, the commitment…is a limited commitment.”
In a chapter that strongly urges a liturgically based spirituality for covenant communities, Clark adds something of importance for the whole Church. While affirming the centrality of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Clark explains that if the Sacraments are the focus of pastoring they will not bear their intended fruit. That tells us a lot about the pastoral ineffectiveness of today’s Church, even where sound doctrine is taught. As St. Paul said, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel”; that is, preaching the Gospel is necessary for the effectiveness of the Sacraments.
Like the charismatic renewal from which they emerged, covenant communities have sometimes been controversial, but as with the charismatic renewal, their ability to survive controversy means that we can expect them to continue to be part of the Catholic Church’s life. This book can help us understand why.
Faith and Faithfulness: Basic Themes in Christian Ethics
By Gilbert C. Meilaender
Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
Review Author: Janice Daurio
In a world of competing ethics, the Christian moralist must be a skilled horseman, falling on the side of neither too great an attachment to the world nor too little. Few stay firmly in the saddle. Meilaender does.
The first question the Christian ethicist faces is: Is ethics the same for believers and nonbelievers? If so, is faith irrelevant to morality? If not, how can Christians hope to make their ethics appealing, or even understandable, to non-Christians? Meilaender walks a careful line between our shared-with-all human nature (which, without other considerations, would yield a common ethics) and our not-shared-with-all faith.
Christian theology sets ethics in the right direction by informing it correctly about human nature. Human beings understand themselves aright when they have a right understanding of themselves in relation to God — i.e., as creaturely, sinful, and justified. To be a Christian and to disagree with Meilaender could only be a disagreement as to the weight he gives the elements that must inform Christian ethics; it could not be a disagreement as to the identity of those elements.
An issue in Christian ethics is how much to allow for self-love. Meilaender recommends actions which, without making the self the object of an action, are appropriately self-referential. “A man may seek his good in loving a woman. But in doing so he will have to take her as the object of his love.” In fact, Meilaender notes, an ethics that has self as its object is self-defeating.
Meilaender also deals with what should be the most important topic in any ethical discussion, Christian or otherwise: mortality. Reflection on the inevitability of death yields a balanced ethics. In order to show how the reality of death informs ethics, Meilaender tells three stories — a fitting way to approach a topic that defies encapsulation in propositions. E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web gives an Aristotelian ethic, Felix Salten’s Bambi is a stoic story, and C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle provides the full Christian view. “What The Last Battle offers is a story that legitimizes and invites our detachment [from] this world, accepts even the pain…attachment may bring, and does not pretend that the death which ends all such attachment is not dreadful.” Now, if that statement is not exactly what is meant by being in the world but not of it, I don’t know what is.
Present times are blessed with a number of readily accessible (easy to get and easy to read) books by rigorous academic authors who temporarily set aside their technical vocabulary to gift us with their insights. Faith and Faithfulness is such a book; it takes up and brilliantly answers questions a thoughtful but busy Christian nonphilosopher might have.
Sharing the Darkness: The Spirituality of Caring
By Sheila Cassidy
Review Author: Brian Kennedy
A combination apologetic for the hospice movement, personal reflection about involvement with terminally ill patients, spiritual-growth journal, and suggestion manual, Sharing the Darkness should reach a wide audience. Despite rapid shifting among these areas in tone and purpose, and some needless digressions, by the end of the text readers should know Cassidy, and themselves, better through her challenge to explore one’s place in a world fraught with suffering yet filled with God’s presence.
Cassidy urges us to see that our assent to statements like “We should care” often comes without proper recognition of the pain and perplexing questions that involvement brings. Though stirred by initial commitment, we often become dispirited by suffering when close to it. This leads to distancing ourselves from hurting people and settling for romantic views about those few who are able to stick with the job. Cassidy wants all who have resigned themselves to the role of observer to know that even she gets weary, asks God, “Why?” and longs for release.
Speaking as a doctor, she challenges us with questions like, “Should we as professional carers be struggling to love our patients as ourselves?” Such concerns take up the first half-dozen chapters.
The middle chapters are largely concerned with three “whys”: Why suffering, why the hospice movement, and why her? Though she expresses the weakness she feels in dealing with terminally ill patients, and articulates the needs that care-givers have, she explains well why they persist in their “foot-of-the-cross ministry,” their “ministry of presence,” of “being alongside the suffering.”
Cassidy’s final chapters are a “credo” in which she examines prayer, vocation, discipleship, and the nature of God.
This is less a how-to book for hospice workers or for “professional” caregivers generally than a compelling demand that we each become carers and thus achieve, and help to define, spirituality more fully. The back cover quotes Robert Coles as suggesting that the book “belongs in the hands…of all those who work with seriously ill people.” I would urge us all to think of ourselves among that group, because this text will show its readers the ubiquity of suffering and death, but also the mystery and godliness that go along with ministering to pain, even when not comprehending exactly the purposes of God in His world.
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