James Martin, S.J.January 17, 2010

Two good pieces on Catholicism in the New York Times today.  First, David Gibson's provocative piece on whether making saints of all popes (which seems to be the current trend, after all, with Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II on track).  Gibson, who quotes Christopher Bellitto and Richard McBrien in his piece, not to mention Karl Rahner, writes: 

This trend, by some accounts, is creating several problems. One is that it can dilute the meaning of sainthood; all who die and go to heaven are saints, but those officially recognized as such by the church are exalted as worthy of veneration and imitation. Is every pope such an exemplar? Moreover, by canonizing predecessors a reigning pope elevates the throne he himself occupies and practically ensures that his successor one day will declare him a saint as well — as if sanctity were an award for becoming pope.

This overlooks the reality that the cardinals in a conclave are electing a leader to govern the church. As the German theologian Karl Rahner put it, if a pope turns out to be a wonderful Christian, that’s “a happy coincidence,” just as when the president of the chess club is also a great player. It is not necessarily relevant, however, to the health of the chess club — or the church.  --Gibson

The last line of that first graf is especially important.  In the future, if someone is not proposed for canonization will it seem as a kind of insult?  I'm reminded of the line from Alice in Wonderland, when one character exclaims at the conclusion of a race, "Everybody has won, and all must have prizes." 

Read the rest of "Is Every Pope a Saint?" here.

Also--finally!--the Times has run an excellent obituary of the theological giant, Edward Schillebeeckx, whose death in late December was largely overlooked in the U.S. press, despite his towering influence on Vatican II.  By contrast, Mary Daly's death prompted an obituary within days, and the paper also found sufficient space for the inventor of the Pez dispenser.  Happily, Peter Steinfels does a (typically) fine job of summing up Schillebeeckx's complex legacy.  Only someone with the breadth of Steinfels' learning could sum up the Belgian theologian's life with such clarity: 

Like many Catholic theologians who influenced the council, Father Schillebeeckx had reacted against the neo-scholastic theology that the church adopted in the 19th century as a bulwark against hostile modern ideas. Distilled from the thought of Thomas Aquinas but frequently handed on without any examination of Aquinas’s writings or their medieval context, this neo-scholasticism articulated the faith in series of abstract concepts and propositions presented as absolute, ahistorical and immutable.

Father Schillebeeckx found alternative intellectual resources in modern phenomenology, with its meticulous attention to the actual experience of consciousness. And by studying Aquinas in his medieval context, he recovered a Thomism that expounded the presence and mystery of God in far less rationalistic and conceptual ways than did its neo-scholastic versions.

Strong emphases on human experience and on the importance of examining church teaching in historical context became hallmarks of Father Schillebeeckx’s work.

His early writing on the sacraments, for example, portrayed them as personal encounters with God rather than mechanisms for the distribution of grace. In two books — “Jesus: An Experiment in Christology” (1974) and “Christ: The Christian Experience in the Modern World” (1977) — he recast classical Catholic teachings about Christ around the experiences that gave rise to his followers’ faith in Jesus as messiah and the son of God.

These were groundbreaking attempts at rethinking church doctrine in light of the scholarly research about the historical Jesus that had accumulated in previous decades. But the fact that Father Schillebeeckx did not begin with Christianity’s great creedal statements about Jesus and the Trinity but instead focused on the subjective experience of the first generations of believers, as expressed in the New Testament accounts, stirred considerable controversy and a Vatican investigation.

Read Steinfels' appreciation, which was worth waiting for, here.

James Martin, SJ


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Frank Gibbons
11 years 9 months ago
Maybe Pius XII and JPII are on the fast track. They just worked their first miracle - getting David Gibson published in the NY Times!
Jim McCrea
11 years 9 months ago
Charles:  tell Sebastian that all is forgiven and he can come home now.
Jeff Bagnell
11 years 9 months ago
It's an interesting point (although prompted no doubt in part by the controversy perpetually swirling around Pius XII against all evidence).  But clearly the popes of the last 100 years or so have been exemplary men.  A far cry from Alexander VI. 
So I think it's more the case that the Church has been blessed with a good streak of leaders, rather than that canonization is becoming a given for anyone who is elected to the papacy.  But it's a fair point for debate.  When you think that it took Thomas More 400 years to be canonized - - and he was martyred -  you wonder why the timeline has compressed so much. 
Anne Danielson
11 years 9 months ago
"If the Pope turns out to be a wonderful Christian thats a happy coincidence..." Perhaps, but then the odds are in his favor and although it is not necessarily relevant to the chess club, it is to The Church. That being said, if we finish The Race, we are all of us, winners:-)
Joseph Farrell
11 years 9 months ago
First of all, I don't think anybody who used to read his old blog, Pontifications, will object to my saying that David Gibson has a particularly gloomy view of the Church hierarchy. So, this article is no surprise.

The past few Popes we've had have been giants in a time that the Church needed them. This is especially true of the past few who brought us Vatican II and Humanae Vitae. And one cannot do justice to the pontificate of Pope John Paul II without writing a major piece.

Finally, do we or do we not believe that the Holy Spirit guides canonization? Perhaps I'm dense, it would not be the first time, but I thought this was the Catholic thought.
11 years 9 months ago
"His early writing on the sacraments, for example, portrayed them as personal encounters with God rather than mechanisms for the distribution of grace"-Father Schillebeeckx.

I am starting to think that these priests, who insist on suits and refuse to wear the collar , drink some sort of funny water which impels them to make it all up as they go along. Should we disregard sacramental grace ? Boy oh boy.

1127 Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify.48 They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son's Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.

1128 This is the meaning of the Church's affirmation49 that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: "by the very fact of the action's being performed"), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that "the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God."50 From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.

1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.51 "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature52 by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.
11 years 9 months ago

"We cannot overstate the widespread elimination of faith in the sacraments as channels of divine grace in some still nominally Catholic circles. The widespread desecration of the Holy Eucharist as the sacrament of Christ's physical presence now on earth through the Sacrament of the Eucharist; the massive departure from the priesthood of so many men who had received the Sacrament of Orders; the nationwide, in our country, and the worldwide international drop in confession; the closing of over one hundred parishes in just two dioceses in a few years; the epidemic of annulments of persons who putatively received the Sacrament of Matrimony: all of these are symptomatic of a plague of sacramental error that threatens to undermine the Catholic Church in one so-called developed country after another.

We are now reading books and magazines, and hearing of classes and lectures that threaten the very essence of our sacramental faith. As we read these publications and listen to these talks, one thing becomes clear. There is a massive loss of faith not only in the sacraments but in the supernatural life which the sacraments are to confer and strengthen in our lives. We are being told that the sacraments were not instituted by Christ but invented by Christians over a period of several centuries. What we call the sacraments, it is said, goes back to the ancient religions of pre-Christian times. The rituals that we call sacraments today are simply a continuation of what all the religions celebrated long before Christianity was born. Every sacrament of Catholic Christianity is being traced to its pre-Christian history. Washing with water, breaking and sharing of bread, the pouring and drinking of wine, anointing with oil, laying on of hands to bless and ordain, calling down divine power, pronouncing words of forgiveness, all of these are as ancient as religious history and were practiced long before the word sacrament was even used in religious discourse.

On these grounds, it would be not only mistaken but deceptive to associate and, much less, identify the sacraments with the ritual of the Catholic Church. To speak of the Church founded by Christ as the universal sacrament of salvation is at best a misnomer and at worst a blasphemy. Christ had no claim, we are told, on our human destiny. Nor does the Church He is said to have founded have any monopoly on the goodness of God.

Those who deny the divine origin of the Christian sacraments appeal to such geniuses as Karl Rahner. Building on his premises, they claim it is impossible to say that God's grace depends on the Church which Christ founded. The Church, people are told, has no rules or regulations, no imperatives, no prohibitions. It is emphatically not the clergy, nor the sacramental ritual, nor the worship by the people in sacramental celebration. All of these are adjuncts or, if you wish, superfluous additions to what Christianity really is. It is the living event of God's presence. It is people, no matter what their religious beliefs or practices may be, who constitute "The People Of God." They have been touched by God, are loved by Him and belong to Him, regardless of what religion they profess or even no religion at all.

On these terms the "sacraments" are not channels of divine grace. Bread and wine, oil and water, sex and prayer, are themselves the expressions of authentic Christianity.

Pope John Paul II introduces the Catechism of the Catholic Church by declaring, "Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church and which she fulfills in every age."

As believing Christians, loyal to the Vicar of Christ, our first responsibility is to guard the deposit of faith in the sacraments which Christ became man to give us the grace we need to reach eternal life. This guarding of the sacramental faith carries with it a number of grave obligations...But understanding the Faith is not enough...The sacraments will become for them, what they have become for so many others, unless they put their faith into daily practice. We believe that the sacrament of the Eucharist, as sacrifice, communion and presence is nothing less than Jesus Christ alive and active on earth to provide us with the light and strength we need, especially to practice that charity by which we are recognized as His disciples. To remain faithful Catholics in today's self-intoxicated world we must expect to practice heroic generosity and heroic patience, which are impossible without the superhuman strength that only Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist can give us.

We asked what is our duty as teachers of the true faith in an atmosphere that is clouded to the point of blindness on the meaning of the sacraments. We shall be as faithful teachers of the true Faith as we are courageous in explaining this faith, without compromise and without fear of the consequences. To teach the Catholic Faith on the sacraments can literally mean living a martyr's life.

In Pope John Paul II's masterful encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, we are told to understand the Faith, as it has been entrusted by Christ to His Church, and proclaim this faith with heroic courage even at the cost of martyrdom.

When Christ told us, "Without me you can do nothing," He meant this literally. Without the grace which He gives through the sacraments which He instituted, we cannot hope to remain Christians or Catholics or, least of all, channels of His wisdom to those whom we are instructing in the one true Faith on which depends the salvation of the world".

11 years 9 months ago
Can we get an Amen, Janice?
11 years 9 months ago
What struggle would that be?
11 years 9 months ago
"...Edward Schillebeeckx is the most famous proponent of transfinalization. This is the view of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as the purpose or finality of the bread and wine is changed. Changed by the words of consecration but what remains after the consecration is still bread and wine, in other words, the bread and wine are now serving new function as sacred elements that arouse the faith of the people in Christ’s redemptive love.

We might say that transfinalization is another name for transignification. In both cases the substance of bread and wine, I repeat and I wish to emphasize, remain. There is no change in their being bread and wine – merely take on a new meaning. Transignification, or new purpose, transfinalization.

If Karl Rahner is the best-known advocate of transignification, Edward Schillebeeckx is the most famous proponent of transfinalization. Once again it is worth quoting at some length but this time from Schillebeeckx. His language is very subtle in context – he uses the words real presence. But tells us that the purpose of the Eucharistic elements is simply to make Christ’s presence more intimate. He was present before the consecration and is still present after the consecration - nothing happened to the bread. Nothing happened to the wine we read from Schillebeeckx. Anyone who denies what I just said is bound to misunderstand transubstantiation and make it objective.

The signs of the Eucharist bread only imply a presence as an offering emanating from the Lord in His assembled community. The “Real Presence” that is peculiar to the Eucharist is thus confined to the category of personal presence. It is interpersonal the host mediates between the Lord and his church and me in the same church I kneel not before Christ who is as it were condensed in the host but before the Lord Himself who is offering His reality His body to me through the host.” unquote Skillebecks. The host was bread before consecration and remains bread after consecration.

That is why throughout our country thousands, please God I’m wrong, millions of once professed Catholics no longer genuflect before the holy Eucharist. Who would genuflect before a piece of bread? So the learned denial of Christ’s real Presence goes on. Page after page Schillebeeckx reduces the Holy Eucharist to a symbol of Christ’s love for us a manifestation of Christ’s generosity. But Christ Himself is not in the Eucharist the purpose or finality of the bread and wine are changed but they remain bread and wine their substance has not been changed into the living Jesus Christ. I cannot tell you how deeply it pains me to have to quote from these two geniuses, Rahner a member of the society of Jesus and Schillebeeckx a member of the Dominican order of preachers. But I know agonizingly well how deeply their ideas have penetrated once Catholic cultures. That is why our next section is on the consequences.

We know that ideas have consequences. There is no such thing as a sterile thought. Either you master your thoughts and desires or actions follow infallibly. The thoughts of these two men and of course not only theirs but of so many have penetrated the minds of whole nations.

Thirty years of erroneous teaching about the Real Presence has deeply affected and infected the minds of millions – and I mean that figure – millions of still professed Catholics. Pope John Paul speaks of this dissemination of untruth in seminaries and universities – Holy Father how right you are, how sadly right you are. These ideas have penetrated into the minds of the leaders in the Catholic Church both among the clergy and among the laity and among the erroneous ideas I place at root the teaching about the Real Presence.

Believe me there is much more at stake, much more than meets the eye. Everything in the Catholic faith depends on whether Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist as the Real Presence. Why do we say this? Because the Real Presence implies and includes the teaching that Christ ordained the Apostles at the Last Supper. He gave them the priestly power to change bread and wine into His own flesh and blood.

By now I have said this to how many audiences and have put this in print. Questions were raised but nobody questioned the truth of what he says. As I’ve said to some of you I took notes, put up my hand, got up, turned my back to Richard McBrien, faced these Catholic and Protestant theologians and told them that everything that Father McBrien has told you is heresy. Then I gave a fifteen-minute defense of Christ’s institution of the priesthood.

Everything in the Catholic Church rests on whether Jesus did or didn’t ordain his Apostles bishops and priests so that they in turn could themselves reenact what Jesus had done in changing bread and wine into His own flesh and blood, than as bishops could pass on the power to other bishops and priests.

It is a defined dogma of the Catholic faith that Christ did institute two sacraments at the Last Supper. He instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He didn’t merely change bread and wine into His own living self. He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist to be continued until the end of time. And to insure the endurance of the Eucharist until the end of this world He instituted the second sacrament of the priesthood when he pronounced the words “This is My Body”, “This is the chalice of My Blood. Jesus literally changed the substance of what had been bread and wine. It ceased to be bread and wine. To believe that is to be a Catholic. To even question, not to say to deny, that is to cease to be a Catholic. Then having changed the bread and wine he told his Apostles, “Do this in commemoration of Me”.

The Catholic Church is defined by those words. “Do this in commemoration of Me.” Jesus instituted the sacrament of the priesthood to make possible the continual transubstantiation of what had been bread and wine into the living Jesus Christ. The key word in what we are talking about is the word become. What had been bread and wine becomes the Son of God who was conceived by the Virgin Mary at Nazareth, born at Bethlehem, died on a cross in Jerusalem, rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, and forty days later ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of his heavenly father.

I’ll never forget what Pope Pius the XII told the people at the International Eucharist Congress in Budapest just before the Communist take over. Jesus Christ ascended into heaven but he never left the earth. Jesus Christ is on earth. It is the same Jesus who is among us after the words of consecration are pronounced at Mass, when we receive Holy Communion, and wherever the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in every tabernacle throughout the world. Jesus Christ is on earth and you do not add a single word to somehow distinguish the Real Presence of Jesus on earth from his presence at the right hand of His Father in heaven.

Having taught my own Jesuits their theology for twenty-five years, having over the years taught so many priests, and now realizing what a massive crisis has struck the Catholic Church. Knowing from divine revelation how shrewd is the evil spirit. Whom do you suppose the devil wants to mainly seduce? He wants to destroy the Church whom else? But priests as a recent article at length described in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review which I recommend to all of you. The priest asks a very logical question. Given the widespread doubt and even disbelief in the real, real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, how sure can the faithful be that when they are assisting at what the faithful believe is the Mass, the priest offering the Mass intends to change the bread and wine into the living flesh and blood of Jesus Christ? The Holy See I understand has been receiving more petitions for the declaration of nullity of the sacrament of the priesthood than ever before in the memory of the Vatican. Men ordained so they believed but they found out they of they just didn’t know what it means to be ordained a priest. It is impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the crisis in the Catholic Church in our day. And in our opening conference on the Holy Eucharist I thought we should at least face the issue squarely and make sure that our own faith is clear. And please God that we might help those who are not sure of what the Real Presence really is to either discover they never knew or at least more plainly, more sharply, more firmly believe that the same identical Jesus who was conceived in the womb of His mother at Nazareth, that this Jesus who is God indeed, but hear it, God infleshed, God become man, the incarnate God, that’s the Real Presence, is the word become flesh, it is God who became man that is the Real Presence and He is on Earth in the Blessed Sacrament.

11 years 9 months ago
The above # 12 is commentary by John Hardon SJ.
Liam Richardson
11 years 9 months ago
Copying and pasting passages from authorities you like is not an effective way to engage the people you are trying to engage; it's rather impotent apologetics.
11 years 9 months ago
There are people who will read Fr.Martin's description of Steinfels piece "as something worth waiting for " and for good reason, understand this as an endorsement of a theoloogy that does not support the teachings of the Catholic Church. In
as much as this is the case, readers deserve not to be led into doubt. Readers deserve the Truth. Our first duty, as Chistians, is to remain loyal to the teachings of the Church. It is easy to make assumptions about what a reader may, or may not, know. If they are anything like I was, they knew precious little with regard to the teachings of the church. I say this as a Catholic raised in a family which, by now, has three generations educated by the Jesuits. I am not the smartest person in the world. I don't have a Doctorate in Theology, but I now know when I am being sold a bill of goods. It is a mistake to think people know their Faith. They don't.
Jim McCrea
11 years 9 months ago
Maria said above:  "Our first duty, as Chistians, is to remain loyal to the teachings of the Church."
Absolutely wrong!  Our first duty as CHRISTIANS is to remain loyal to the teachings of Jesus Christ - NOT the same thing as teachings of the Catholic Church.  To conflate the two is idolatry.
There is a great deal of overlap, but, first and foremost, we need to follow Christ irrespective of whether that meshes when what the church says in any given situation.
Informed conscience takes precedence over loyalty to Catholicism any time.
11 years 9 months ago
The article, "Is Every Pope a Saint?" seems to me to be one more example of "Much Ado About Nothing".  Noting the cast of characters:  Gibson, Kung nd O'Brien- one might suspect that the subject was just another opportunity to take another swipe at the Catholic Church's hierarchy.  These men seem to forget that God is in charge.
In fact, where is God-Ultimate Authority, Divine Power, The Holy Inspirer-found in this article?  God is M.I.A.  Admitedly, I don't know a whole lot about the cannonization process, but arent' two miracles required for anyone, inclluding popes, to be canonized?  And, since only God can perform miracles, at the behest of humans:  No miracles = no canonization.  Even for popes.
James Dominic James
11 years 9 months ago
Uh oh. What if that big bucket of CCC and Fr Hardon got poured over poor Fr. Schillebeeckx's head for no good reason?
What if Schillebeeckx is on your side, trying to do things that would relax you into Love?
Steinfels wrote that Schillebeeckx ''portrayed [sacraments] as personal encounters with God rather than mechanisms for the distribution of grace.''
Steinfels did not write that Schillebeeckx ''portrayed [sacraments] *only* as personal encounters with God rather than mechanisms for the distribution of grace.''
Steinfels also did not write that Schillebeeckx ''portrayed [sacraments] as personal encounters with God *that do not distribute grace* rather than mechanisms for the distribution of grace.''
So what's the problem? Look, I know Schillebeeckx has a rep, but isn't that an historical byproduct of polemics that must simplify in order to be effective in the struggle to shape what will count as the ''reception'' of Vatican II? Since we know it is likely to be distorted, we cannot take it at face value. To do so would be to get played by people engaged in the struggle. To do so means getting mobilized without our informed consent to function as a resource in their game.
Jim McCrea
11 years 9 months ago
We all know what the good father at 2010-01-18 00:31:19.0 has for Fr. Schillebeeckx.
(Think about it, folks .....)
11 years 9 months ago
1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.
11 years 9 months ago
Who gave us the Church?

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