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Correspondence

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 2, No. 3. (Summer, 1968) © World Wisdom, Inc.
www.studiesincomparativereligion.com

CHANGES IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

Sir,

In the Winter 1968 issue of Studies there is a letter from Lois Lang-Sims describing "what is at present going on within the Roman Catholic Church." The tone of the letter is largely critical, and while I agree with some of the comments, I feel that the letter as a whole gives a false perspective.

Let us agree that many Catholics have almost lost sight of the goal of human life, diluting their faith by trying to compromise with the spirit of the world, which is essentially anti-religious. The Christian who ignores the words "seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven," even though it be in the interests of some high-sounding idea like "involvement," is building his house on sand and will be in serious danger when a major trial comes. But also let us remember that the Christian who does seek the Kingdom of Heaven will find all the means to hand in the Church. The text, so little quoted these days, still means the same: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The Church, and the papacy on which it is founded, will remain to the end of the world, and will not fail to provide true doctrine and the means of sanctifica­tion. It is under these two aspects of method and doctrine that I wish to discuss the present position of the Church.

The channel through which grace flows most abundantly to the Catholic is the sacred liturgy the Mass, the Sacraments and the Divine Office (the last, inciden­tally, sadly neglected by the layman). It is hard for the mind to grasp the immense power of these things for example, that in receiving Christ in the Eucharist it is only our own unfitness that prevents us achieving perfect union with Him there and then. But even a partial understanding is sufficient to make irritations about such matters as posture or language take on a secondary importance. The Christian who is eager to grow in the love of God will go even to a "guitar Mass" if nothing else is available. Of course, he must be concerned about matters such as shoddy translation, but he will never let these issues obscure his main goal.

It is true, as Lois Lang-Sims points out, that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is out of favour with many "progressive" Catholics. According to the testimony of many saints this is an indication that they are wandering from the way, and is sufficient ground to cast suspicion on the rest of their thought. However, these people have no mandate for their attitude from the Second Vatican Council and furthermore, in my experience, their attitude is not shared by the humble, "ordinary" Catholic. An appropriate response is to redouble one's own devotion to Mary, and to help the unfortunate "progressives" to a truer view of things if at all possible.

Now let me turn to the question of Catholic doctrine. Readers of Studies are familiar with the idea of a sacred tradition, in which every aspect and action of human life has a ritual character, opening possibilities of spiritual development to members of the tradition. They are also aware of the extremely destructive effects which western civilisation has whenever it comes in contact with such a tradition, often obliterating everything holy, precious and beautiful. Principal agents of the destruction are modern science, technology and industry. Yet recent papal writ­ings, and the documents of Vatican II, disregard the maleficent aspect of modern civilisation, and propose "co-existence" with it. For members of other traditions this can amount to a formidable stumbling block in understanding Catholicism. How can the Church be infallible?

(First, and observation: God does not leave Himself without witnesses. Even in this dark age the message of salvation must be preached, and in a language which is comprehensible to the men of our time. Thus there must be accommodations of language and thought providing always that truth is safeguarded.)

Now it is not true that these things, modern science, technology and industry, are essentially false and evil such a thing is not even possible. Stripped of false interpretations, applications and abuses there remains a residue which is true and good, even though its significance is much less than modern man supposes. If they appear to be inherently destructive in the face of the ancient traditions it is because, firstly, they are often promoted with a deliberate anti-traditional intention, and secondly they are not compatible with those traditions and so cannot be assimil­ated. Christianity, on the other hand, is compatible with whatever is positive in them. (This is illustrated by the fact that questions of science are excluded from the scope of ecclesiastical infallibility, except in special cases. The Christian revela­tion does not imply any specific type of science.) Thus it is possible to conceive of a Christian technological society in which human activities are sanctified by the intention with which they are performed rather than by any explicit ritual. Such is the goal set before us by the Church; and indeed there seems to be no other way in which a Christian society could now be set up in the West. But let no-one be deluded. It could not happen without the most far-reaching changes in our society, so deeply ingrained by ignorance, prejudice and all manner of vices. And though the task of conversion is impossible by human standards the Church must continue striving to perform it according to the will of God, as Christ Himself did not cease in His efforts to convert those who opposed Him.

Woodville, South Australia, 1.7.68.

JOHN SANDERSON


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