Monday, December 11, 2006
A SLIGHT and rather querulous post of mine last week provided the thin compost from which a truly illuminating crop of comments sprang up. I am deeply grateful to all who contributed – particularly to Daniel Mitsui for articulating so effectively his “Hermeneutic of Recovery” (to coin a phrase) to which I also subscribe, and which makes it possible for me to remain a Roman Catholic while conceding almost all of the points addressed with such devastating effectiveness by Orthodox brethren. I’m provoked to return to it today by the speculations of my friend Tony at The Muniment Room, on the reception the fabled motu proprio is likely to receive at the hands of the English (and not just the English) hierarchy – of which more subsequently.
This whole “Hermeneutic of XYZ” business originates, of course, with that famous address the Holy Father gave to the Roman Curia almost exactly a year ago (I say “famous” in the sense that every Catholic blogger of traditionalist and conservative stripe has been over it with a toothcomb in the intervening year; beyond this and its immediate audience, I suspect it might as well have been played on a dog-whistle). It has been adopted as a kind of “mission statement” by conservative Catholics, something that provides both a key to the upheavals of the recent past, and a modus operandi for the future.
But does it? Almost every post on this blog that deals directly with the crisis in the Church is an exercise in elaborating a single idea – that Catholic belief and Catholic practice have become dangerously bifurcated as a consequence of an unbalanced ecclesiology, the origins of which are to be sought far further back than the Second Vatican Council. The hermeneutic of Continuity sets out to draw things back together by insisting that they were never legitimately loosened, far less separated, in the first place: that the discontinuities actually experienced by real live Catholics – those who approved, those who disapproved and the majority who remain absolutely indifferent because they "follow the Pope" – are the consequence of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, misapplications. In other words, another theoretical apparatus is proposed, to cover practical discontinuities that remain self-evident nevertheless to very nearly every adult in every diocese of the Catholic world.
To return to the burden of Tony’s post, then: this “Hermeneutic of Continuity” - can you touch it? Can you smell it? Can you sing or pray it? Can you make an icon of it? Will it lodge in the imagination of a five-year-old? Will it enable her to grow up understanding why we have to drive past four Catholic churches to attend a Mass thirty miles away?
So long as the answer to any of these questions is “no”, I’m afraid it’s of absolutely no earthly use.