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Why Catholic Orthodoxy Is Not ‘Catholic Fundamentalism’

THE CASE OF THE MISSING POSITION

By Mark Lowery | September 1993
Mark Lowery is Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Dallas.

One of the saddest features of contempo­rary Catholicism is the wide range of accusa­tions hurled at Catholics by Catholics. Tradi­tional Catholics are increasingly caricatured as close-minded fundamentalists, while those of a revisionist tendency are caricatured as skeptics. By skeptics I mean those skeptical toward the central dogmatic claims of the faith — they do not genuinely believe the Creed, they reduce the Sacraments to symbol only, and the like. By Catholic fundamentalists I mean those who have little or no appreciation for key distinc­tions made in the tradition, such as those between infallible and non-infallible doctrine or between points of doctrine and points of custom or discipline.

Most revisionists see themselves as mod­erates. Between the extremes of excessive dogmatism and skeptical subjectivism, they see themselves as offering a compassionate middle ground that remains in continuity with the tradition while gently reforming it. Avery Dulles articulated the moderate position this way:

The moderates hold the key to the fu­ture. Neither the extreme traditionalist nor the extreme modernist position can come through with a positive pro­gram that holds out any prospects of success in the long run. A restoration of consensus demands an enlargement of the moderate center, which insists upon discipline and restraint but re­jects blindness and rigidity.

Though written in 1970, and though Dulles himself may have changed his mind, this description remains an apt one for moderates. It is also a partially deficient sketch of the available options: It has the effect of virtually eliminating a position, Catholic orthodoxy, which is not, as we shall see, one “position” alongside others.

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