26 January 2009

The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism

I don’t have time to waste reading literature that is at odds with orthodox Catholic teaching, so I didn’t spend more than an hour reading Fr. Richard McBrien’s new book The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism. First off, no one should trust a book regarding doctrine that does not have an Imprimatur. An Imprimatur is an official declaration by a bishop that a work is free from error in matters of doctrine and morals. In rare cases this declaration by a bishop can be overruled by the Vatican (papal primacy). The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism does not have an Imprimatur.

After skimming over the introduction, I went straight to the section Peter and the Papacy. The first odd thing I found was the term Vicar of Peter. This is the first time I had ever seen this term, so I Googled it. I didn't find any Catholic sites that used the term; however, I did find a number of Protestant Fundamentalist sites that say the pope should not be called the Vicar of Christ but the Vicar of Peter.

Fr. McBrien goes on to say:
Peter could not have had successors: first, as the traditional co-founder with Paul of the apostolic see of Rome (although, more precisely, they are the co-founders of the apostolic authority of Rome); and, second, as one of the Twelve who were personal witnesses of the Risen Lord. These are unique, nonrepeatable, and nontransmittable aspects of Peter's apostleship.

I've read arguments like this before, but not by people claiming to be Catholic; again, words like this usually come from Protestant Fundamentalists.

I decided to see just what Fr. McBrien thought of papal primacy, so I checked the index for "keys of the kingdom." This is what I found:
This brings us to the especially sensitive topic of the primacy, which exists in churches other than the Catholic, but in different forms. Quoting St. Augustine, the document points out that the Lord did not give the keys only to one man, but to "the church in its unity." Peter's preeminence was rooted in his representing and sustaining the Church's universality and unity. It is the whole Church, Augustine insisted, "which has received the keys of the kingdom in heaven." When Christ spoke directly to Peter, Peter "at that time stood for the universal church" (III.46, quoting from Augustine's Sermon 295, on the feast of the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul).

Primacy is only a "sensitive topic" for those who, like Fr. McBrien, don't fully accept papal primacy.

Fr. McBrien's quoting of St. Augustine didn't sit well with me, so I got out my breviary and went to June 29:
As you are aware, Jesus chose his disciples before his passion and  called them apostles; and among these almost everywhere Peter alone deserved to represent the entire Church. And because of that role which he alone had, he merited to hear the word: To you I shall give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. For it was not one man who received the keys, but the entire Church considered as one. Now insofar as he represented the unity and universality of the Church, Peter's preeminence is clear from the words: To you I give, for what was given was given to all. For the fact that it was the Church that received the keys of the kingdom of God is clear from what the Lord says elsewhere to all the apostles: Receive the Holy Sprit, adding immediately, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, they are retained.

The differences are subtle, but important. It sounds like Fr. McBrien is suggesting that Peter received the keys on behalf of the Church, where as St. Augustine is really saying that Peter received the keys because "he stood for the Church’s universality and unity" (a different translation of St. Augustine's Sermon 295). The words of St. Ambrose seem fitting here, "Where there is Peter, there is the Church!"

Fr. McBrien's misinterpretation of St. Augustine once again sounds like a Protestant Fundamentalist. Why is it that a "Catholic" theologian at times sounds more like a Protestant Fundamentalist? It could be that he is not really teaching authentic Catholic doctrine. The term heterodox comes to mind.

It is "Catholics" like Fr. McBrien that cause me a lot of grief. Some Protestant Fundamentalists will see what he writes, and then come to me and say, "See, this is what the Catholic Church teaches." Then I have to try to convince them that the Catholic Church really does not teach these things, which may prove to be difficult because Fr. McBrien is the Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and I'm an unschooled nobody.

I don't want to give the impression that this book is made up solely of Protestant Fundamentalist ideas. There are some ideas, such as the ordination of women, that are contrary to both orthodox Catholicism and Protestant Fundamentalism. As well, there are many ideas that are truly Catholic, which, unfortunately, adds to the confusion of the uninformed reader as to which ideas are orthodox and which ideas are heterodox.

In short, I would not recommend this book to faithful Catholics.

It is fitting that I write this today, the Feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus, for which the antiphon  of the Canticle of Zechariah is a follows:
Proclaim the message, insist on it in season and out of season, refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience, but do all with patience and sound doctrine.

I had never heard of Fr. McBrien before coming into contact with The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism, so I decided to check a few Catholic websites that I know I can trust as orthodox for information on him. I found a really good article on Catholic Answers titled Dealing with Dissent: Fr. Richard McBrien by Ronald J. Rychlak.

In this article I learned that Fr. McBrien is an outspoken dissident theologian that enjoys a great deal of popularity with the secular media. He writes a syndicated column that appears in several diocesan newspapers, although some bishops have pulled this column from the newspapers in their diocese. Fr. McBrien has also written over twenty books on the Catholic faith, of which his book Catholicism is considered, by some, a classic.
The first edition of Catholicism was published in 1981. Almost immediately the doctrinal committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops pointed out serious problems with it and asked McBrien to make revisions. The third edition was released in 1994—still without an imprimatur. After studying it for two years, the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices released a statement indicating that the book was inaccurate or misleading in describing Church teachings on the Virgin Birth, the ordination of women, and other issues. Not only had McBrien failed to remove the previously noted ambiguities from the previous editions, but he had introduced new ones.

The bishops’ report stated that McBrien minimized Catholic teachings and practice:



On a number of important issues, most notably in the field of moral theology, the reader will see without difficulty that the book regards the official Church position as simply in error.

The bishops also questioned the manner in which McBrien made use of dissenting theologians, and they noted sections of the book where the presentation is not supportive of the Church’s authoritative teaching. They warned that "for some readers it will give encouragement to dissent."

The bishops cautioned that McBrien reduced the teaching of the pope and bishops to "just another voice alongside those of private theologians." In so doing, he created the impression that the official teachings of the Church have validity only when they are approved by a "consensus" of theologians, including Protestant ones. In short, McBrien elevated the theological arguments of dissenting theologians to (or above) the level of the magisterium. The bishops concluded that Catholicism should not be used in theological instruction. But given its title, McBrien’s position of authority at Notre Dame, and his high profile as a Catholic commentator, readers of Catholicism are likely to believe they are reading authentic Catholic teaching. That is not the case. As one reviewer said of the third edition, "Whatever else it may do, it is likely to leave Catholic students doctrinally illiterate."

I strongly recommend that you read this article in its entirety if you have any intention of reading anything that Fr. McBrien writes.