When one of my Google Alerts brought me to the Catholic Analysis blog, I was surprised to find the opinion that …
the truest, fullest, and most authentic "Pentecostalism" is already available in the heart of the Catholic Church […].
Oh, really? Anyway, getting curious, I ordered Joseph (aka "Benedict XVI" ) Ratzinger’s book on New Outpourings of the Spirit, and, behold, this is interesting stuff. While, of course, I strongly disagree with his sacramental ecclesiology, Ratzinger does deal with a lot of questions that seem familiar from a Pentecostal point of view. I really liked his explanation on the inseparable relationship between Christology and Pneumatology.His basic premise is that,
Christ and the Spirt are properly distinguished only if, by considering their difference, we can learn better about their unity. We cannot properly understand the Spirit without Christ, nor indeed Christ without the Spirit.
This means that …
- our understanding of Christ becomes possible only through the Holy Spirit, in whom Christ "shares himself." In view of the upsurge of charismatic movements within the Catholic church in recent decades, Ratzinger contends that
the new presence of Christ in the Spirit is however the necessary presupposition for there being sacraments or any presence of the Lord in the sacraments.
This, of course, ties in closely with his previous argument that the sacraments alone constitute the church. Also, he argues that the whole concept of successio apostolica, which is immensely important in Catholic ecclesiology, cannot exist without a proper pneumatological foundation, i.e. an ever-renewed "Sacrament of the Spirit."
- our focus on the Spirit has to transform itself into a focus on Christ.
The Incarnation does not stop with the historical Jesus, with his sarx (2 Cor 5:16!). It is thus that the "historical Jesus" becomes forever significant, precisely on account of his "flesh" having been transformed in the Resurrection, so that now, in the power of the Holy Spirit, he can be present at all times and in all places […].
The Spirit’s whole purpose in ministry is not to point to himself, but to mediate the risen Christ to the believers.
In view of the often one-sided emphases on either Christology or Pneumatology, especially in the debates between Pentecostals and mainline Evangelicals, I find these thoughts really helpful.
This is interesting stuff. I’m going to have to reflect on it a little more and I’m curious to read the rest of the book. Tell me what you think …
Just yesterday, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a new document called "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church." Obviously, I am interested in the way they do theology and found …
- Tradition as principal source. Actually, nowhere in the text they cite Scripture as a theological source. Instead, there is constant reference to the tradition of the church, along with the assurance that they have no intention of deviating from this tradition.
The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.
This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council. Paul VI affirmed it and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: "There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation". The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention.
It is only consequent, that all further arguments base themselves on "the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council."
- Praxis as a less acknowledged source, which is nevertheless present:
In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation.
Actually, the English translation ("that which was assumed") of this quote from Paul VI is somewhat free. The original Latin document reads
Tantummodo, id quod antea solum vitae actione continebatur, nunc aperta etiam doctrina exprimitur; quod usque adhuc considerationi, disputationi, atque ex parte etiam controversiis obnoxium erat, in certam doctrinae formulam nunc redactum est.
Note the emphasis (underline inserted by me) on "vitae actione" — what has only been practised in "real life" before, now has become clearly expressed in doctrine. Thus, Paul VI actually acknowledged the possibility of praxis becoming doctrine. The use of the quote in this new text reiterates the same possibility. Praxis is thus, without an explicit statement, accepted as a second source of theology.
Of course, the reason I am discussing this is because I am interested in the use of different sources for theology. And if you have read the proposal for the Ph.D. dissertation I am (supposed to be) working on, you’ll know that I am not at all opposed to using tradition and praxis (which I would label "experience") as sources for theological work, as long as they are carefully balanced with other sources (of which Scripture will always be the principal) and proper functions of the Holy Spirit working in the theologian. Unfortunately, it is this balancing of sources, especially against Scripture, that is sadly missing from the Vatican’s document.
The principle of sola scriptura, theological truth derrived from the Scriptures, has continued straight from the days of the Protestant reformation into the Evangelical mainstream of today. With postmodern thinking, a multitude of interpretations and hermeneutical methods, as well as an ever-growing number of denominations and churches, the very principle that was meant to provide the certainty of theological truth has come under criticism. Scott McKnight (HT to Brad Anderson) has published a JETS article analyzing a recent wave of Envangelicals converting to Roman Catholicism (yes, you read correctly!). Among the characteristic complaints about Evangelicalism, the uncertainty stemming from a limited sola scriptura principle lists as number one.
I think, the article is a must read, and there is work set out for us to do. None of the deficiencies listed in McKnight’s analysis is impossible to be overcome, and, I even think, Pentecostalism might already some (think of desire for healing, mystic encounters, …). Of course, the sola scriptura angle is a major focus of the ongoing research for my Ph.D. dissertation.