Volume > Issue > Briefly: March 1993

March 1993

The Church, Community of Salvation

By George H. Tavard

Publisher: The Liturgical Press

Pages: 264

Price: $18.95

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

Publisher: Servant

Pages: 81

Price: $6.99

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

Pages: 211

Price: $22.95

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

Publisher: Orbis

Pages: 177

Price: $11.95

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.

Enjoyed reading this?



You May Also Enjoy

Briefly: March 2008

Review of The Politics of Abortion...

Peace, a Gift We Receive in Prayer

Just as Jesus’ command to love one another cannot be seen as a part-time obligation, so too His call to peacemaking is unconditional, unlimited, and uncompromising.

Pro-lifers, You've Been Played

Some call the Democratic Party the "Party of Death." There is no viable major American political party worthy of the label "Party of Life." We pro-lifers need to stop pretending there is.