My theme is memory,” writes the protagonist of Brideshead Revisited, “that winged host that soared above me one grey morning in wartime.” It is a curious coincidence that the most famous “Catholic” novel of the 20th century, “the sacred and profane memoirs of Captain Charles Ryder,” agnostic-cum-believer, should invoke such an image. In the traditional understanding, the memory of the church is the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the descending dove, the one, Jesus tells us, “that the Father will send in my name.” This same Holy Spirit, the Lord says, “will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
This revelation of the Holy Spirit as the church’s memory helps us to account for the church’s unique relationship with time. Recall the words of the Nicene Creed: The Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made, is “born of the Father before all ages.” In other words, God in Christ is the Lord of time, the creator of time. The faith, then, is not simply a record of things past. In the Eucharist, for example, we are not re-enacting some event from long ago, akin to the way in which some people might re-enact a Civil War battle. We’re not simply remembering our history; we are making history—or rather, we are participating in history in the making. In the Eucharist, the triune God transforms the past into the present, while at the same time affording us a glimpse of the future.
All of this is simply to say that to “think with the church” is to inhabit her memory, to live in the spirit so as “to enter into the mind of the church,” in the words of the late Avery Dulles, S.J., “and by this means to interpret the Christian faith in fullest conformity with the intentions of the Lord himself.” Our theme for this issue, therefore, is memory, the living memory of the church of Jesus Christ. That last part is important, for the memory of the church, expressed in her teachings, is not an archive of propositions, it is an ongoing encounter with the One who is “both the mediator and the sum total of revelation,” in the words of the fathers at Vatican II. When church teaching is separated from its Christocentric origins, then it usually takes the form of merely functional law, rather than personal, loving revelation. Yet as Ronald D. Witherup, S.S., reminds us in this issue, God desires more than our obedience: “He wants us to be fed, strengthened and inspired by God’s own holy word.”
Also in this issue, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl examines the relationship between the church’s magisterium and the work of theologians. The magisterium is the guardian and authentic interpreter of the church’s memory, as expressed in Scripture and tradition. At the same time, His Eminence invites theologians to embrace “a vibrant vision of their role as responsible collaborators in the teaching of the church.” The historian John W. O’Malley, S.J., sets forth some principles for interpreting the Second Vatican Council, surely a memorable event in the church’s history. Lastly, America inaugurates in this issue a new feature we’re calling Vantage Point. From time to time, we will re-print some article from our past that might help you make sense of the present. This week’s entry is an article from 1997 by Avery Dulles, S.J., in which he examines how the Ignatian charism helped form some of the 20th century’s greatest theological minds.
If you don’t mind my saying so, it all makes for really interesting reading. It’s also a chance, perhaps, to inhabit anew the church’s beautiful, life-giving memory; an opportunity, in the words of Charles Ryder, to find “that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.”