Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: October 1991

October 1991

Mrs. Jesus

In your Editor’s Note reply to Tony J. Howard’s letter to the Editor (June), you made an unwarranted assumption. You referred to Jesus as a “celibate man.”

I do not think there is anything in the gospels which should raise this assumption, and historical fact would tend to an opposite conclusion. You must not forget that in speaking of Jesus we speak of a first-century Palestinian Jew. We can conclude from the gospels that both his followers and others called him “rabbi.” While no branch of Judaism has any dogma on the matter of which I am aware, certainly the history of Judaism, and particularly of the role of the rabbinate, would strongly indicate that Jesus was married.

While this thought may be unacceptable insofar as faith in the Jesus of Christianity is concerned, it is nonetheless more likely than not that the Jesus of history was in fact married.

Bruce M. Bogin

Dept. of Comparative Studies, State Univ. of New York

Noailhac, France

The Supremacy of Conscience

The article by Kenneth Whitehead on “pick-and-choose” Catholicism (July-Aug.), while obviously sincere, shows a profound ignorance of Church history. It implies that the Magisterium of the Church is and has been fixed and unchangeable. Had Whitehead been familiar with the Papal Registers of the 12th and 13th centuries or the legislation or activities of the 10th-century popes, he might have been astounded at the diversity of doctrine, perhaps scandalized at what was allowed or even taught. As late as the last century, the Syllabus of Errors put forth by Pius IX still serves as an acute embarrassment to all informed Catholics. The teaching on the natural law, too, has changed. Medieval theologians considered usury, or the taking of interest, the most significant offense against the natural law. What would they think of the 20 percent interest paid by most Catholics on their credit cards?

Whitehead seems to forget that the mission of the Church is salvation and to teach the message of a merciful Jesus to each generation. Also, the Pope as the Vicar of Christ is the father rather than a legal expert who monitors our shades of belief. There have always been degrees of doctrinal diversity in the Church, which has recognized the supremacy of conscience. It seems possible that Charles Curran and Hans Kung threw the gauntlet down so publicly that the Holy See may have had little choice but to deprive them of the right to teach as Catholic theologians. But to attribute bad faith to other dissenting theologians is taking the matter too far.

In closing, it should be pointed out that Whitehead is committed to a strict legalistic interpretation of the Magisterium. Prior to his tenure at the U.S. Department of Education, he was Executive Director of Catholics United for the Faith, an organization which was responsible for the clumsy and inappropriate attempt to discredit and suspend Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, which gave the secular press a welcome opportunity to pillory the institutional Church for authoritarian procedures.

Ed. Note: The supremacy of conscience you refer to is, according to Catholic teaching, superseded by the supremacy of a rightly formed conscience — i.e., one in accord with the mind of the Church. Yes, we know that doctrine has developed and probably will continue to. Where there is conflict between current Church teaching and one’s own views, the benefit of any doubt goes to the former. While doubt and puzzlement are parts of the rhythms of faith, one should pray for the grace to see beyond one’s private opinions or perplexities. Where it is a question of behavior, one should present the conflict to a sensitive confessor who shares the mind of the Church; where it is a question of doctrine, one should seek out material which will help one understand why the Church teaches as she does. Theologians have appropriate forums for raising prudent “dissent” with an eye toward development of doctrine or morality. If such development is in order, the Holy Spirit will see to it that it occurs. Meanwhile, one practices docility and patience, surely among the most difficult of virtues. Not to follow this outline — i.e., to “pick and choose” what one believes or how one behaves, or to broadcast one’s private opinions in the open forum — is to assert that everyone should be his own pope.

The NOR has no connection with Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), and one need not belong to CUF or be a legalist to know that Catholicism is not a creed for individualists, that it’s not easy to be a Catholic.

Prof. A.W. Godfrey

Stony Brook, New York

The Berkeley Carpenter

I found much to admire and important things to learn in the article by the Berkeley carpenter (Will Hoyt), who obviously loves nature, the Bible, and Augustine (“Finding God in the Death of Nature,” Jul.- Aug.). What a lift to find someone else who can see that Augustine, so attentive to goodness and beauty, meant it when he said, “creation itself is the greatest miracle of all”! Especially striking were Hoyt’s witness to the experience of the lost sacramentality of nature; his Franciscan affirmation that all of creation is a whole, that “ultimately…all forms of earthly life comprise just one entity,” that since each part focuses the whole, it thereby shares the value of the whole; and his understanding that in chewing up and discarding the earth, humans are again crucifying an innocent lamb.

Why then, with deep and insightful things to say, were shots taken at Thomas Berry, William McKibben, and Matthew Fox (who has also named the misuse of the earth a crucifixion)? Perhaps, simply, because we all need foils.

Berry’s mission (Berry is not a Dominican but an odd form of Passionist) could hardly be better summarized than in Hoyt’s own words. It is a “call to stop conceiving of nature as if it were set over and against man, and to realize, instead, that it is not just grass and trees and our own bodies that comprise nature but, ideally, our minds and will as well. In sum it is the call to become nature.” Hence, indeed, “to become nature simply means to obey God — to say, ‘Thy will be done.'”

It seems to strain historical reality (which is what Berry is concerned with in proposing the need for a new story) to deny that Christianity has generally cast its net of salvation predominantly under the story of individual sin and redemption. Likewise, regarding McKibben’s claim that the Christian creed obstructs the needed vision for the present and future, one has only to recite it to recognize that God the Creator serves mostly as preamble to the main story of “Jesus Christ, his only Son, Our Lord…who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

The point is not to deny the validity of this profound religious vision. But it also appears valid to note that, taken too exclusively, that vision has obstructed a larger story — one that has always been partly articulated, but can become much fuller and clearer now. That would be the story of the immense continuing journey of creation in which Christ — “the new Adam, the first man since the Fall genuinely to be who he was called to be” — represents both a culmination and a beginning (the story begun especially in Ephesians, Colossians, and by Irenaeus).

John D. Ryan

Port Jefferson, New York

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