Jaeger David-M. A. ,
Antonianum, 85/2 (2010) p. 185-188
“Secularism” is a favourite bogeyman in ecclesiastical circles in our time.
It is not always clear though what precisely is meant by that term. Being an “ism,” it is sometimes used as shorthand for an ideological opposition to “religion” of any kind, accompanied perhaps by a grudging admission that “religion” might in the end be tolerated as a purely personal eccentricity, something like wearing bow ties or growing a (well cared-for) beard. Sometimes the concept is refined to mean rejection of any “interference” by “religion,” in the formation of legislation and public policy, benignly proclaiming a human right to religious freedom in the private sphere, something like playing badminton or adhering to a vegan diet. At other times, “secularism” is rather used descriptively of the decline, at least in the West, of the profession of religious belief or of measurable religious practice (as in Sunday church attendance), or indeed of the “collapsing” rate in certain areas of adherence to definite “institutional religion,” or else of a diminution in the number of people stating a belief in the existence of God, however generically tested for.
In responding to ideological “secularism,” Christian thinkers and leaders at times propose new nuances, such as when they commend a “healthy secularity” (sana laicita) for the State, or more recently, a “positive secularity” (laicita positiva), meaning to exclude that “unhealthy” or “negative” secularity that would banish “religion” from the public square entirely, all while admitting “religious voices” into the discourse on public affairs, alongside others.
The Christian believer may be allowed some perplexity as to any generic discourse in favour of the public role of “religion.” Is then the Christian faith to be regarded as simply a “species” of the “genus” religion, and are Christians then obliged to defend the public role of just any set of beliefs and practices just because it fits into the genus “religion”? The question is not merely theoretical, at a time when even in the (post) Christian West, and more so elsewhere, a certain “other” religion is making headway that contrasts with key values deeply rooted in Christianity, such as the equality of women and men and the equality of all before the law, indeed religious freedom itself. Likewise questions may be asked as to the value of undifferentiated God-talk: Apart from the necessary a priori preference for belief in God over non-belief in God, is favouring belief – and the public profession of belief - in a “generic” God, in a world where the name of God is so often invoked by others to justify violence and oppression, a thing to be done? Should our discourse not rather always be about the “specific” God in Whom we believe, the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ? After all, this is the only God Who truly Is, and who is definitely not the “God” in whose name women are forced to hide their faces or worse, are stoned to death in a far from naked public square. Of course, it seems very difficult, in a “secular” polity, however “healthy” its secularity, to make “sectarian” claims in favour of “just one specific” religion, namely Christianity – or even more specifically, Catholicism – while not including other members of the hypothesized “genus” religion. And if it actually proves politically and legally impossible to do so, should we not still seek some way to proclaim the Law of Christ publicly while accepting collateral damage from restrictions needed to keep at bay certain “other” religious groups?
But we have veered a little of course perhaps in trying to articulate one’s own idea of certain queries arising from the background or context for the high quality, patient and persistent scholarly work done by Theology Faculty professor, Father Lluis Oviedo, ofm, who is in the forefront of research on the varied phenomenon of secularism, and of systematic reflection and analysis of its impact on the Catholic Church specifically. Keeping company with him is what keeps us his colleagues closely in touch with what is happening in the wider world of thought and social reality beyond the walls of our respective ivory towers, and through Antonianum we are privileged to be able to share the fruits of his labours with our readers far and wide. The article co-authored by him and by Manuel Canteras in this issue of our review makes a significant further contribution to the field, in asking whether “there is a limit to religious decline.”
Persons of my (middle) age may recall the large impact had on ecclesial and theological discourse by the renewed emphasis put by the late great Pope John Paul II on the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary right from the start of his pontificate. I myself well remember attending a colloquium at the Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies (as it was then called) in Tantur, Jerusalem, when a leading Protestant theologian, formerly an Obsrver at the Second Vatican Council, complained that the references to Mary in “Redemptor Hominis”, the Pope’s first Encyclical, constituted a huge step backwards in relation to the Council! Vatican II, the reverend professor believed, had put an end to all that… Well, not quite, or rather, not at all! The idea that Vatican II had simply been the belated adoption by the Catholic Church of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation was current then, and not only in Protestant circles. Still today the reigning Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, finds it necessary to issue powerful reminders of the obvious, namely that the latest Council can only truly be understood in a“hermeneutics of continuity.” Pope John Paul II then went on as he had bead gun, teaching about Mary, and venerating Mary, precisely in accord with the actual teachings of the Second Vatican Council – and the entire Tradition, in which this Council is situated. None could deny him the title of Doctor Marianus of our time, which the celebrated Mariologist, Father Salvatore M. Perrella, osm, so amply substantiates in his article, of which the first part is published in this issue of Antonianum, and the second and final part is slated to be included in the next issue.
Everything that is said, or written, or read, is said, or written, or read from a particular point of view (in the original sense of the term), angle or perspective. This is a truism, but one that needs reminding of from time to time. Just as the same reality, even where the facts as such are established, is experienced in different ways by different people and classes or groups of people, however the latter may be defined. In “Mulieris dignitatem” Pope John Paul II gave a powerful impulse to “including” women in ecclesial discourse, a task still far from complete. Sometimes the imperative of “inclusion” is ill understood, and impermissibly – indeed, impossibly – extended in the wrong direction, as in the futile polemic carried on by some against Christ’s institution of a male priesthood. Yet as Aquinas would say here, abusus non tollit usum. No wrong-headed excesses could ever be allowed to obscure the observable fact that there is yet very much more attention to be paid to women’s reading and experience of living the faith and being in the Church. Antonianum is pleased to be able to make its own modest, tentative contribution by hosting in this issue, Sister Pilar Godayol’s presentation of “escritura en feminino.”
Two Franciscan scholars living and working at teaching and research in the Holy Land, in the Pontifical University “Antonianum”’s own “campus” there, seat of our Faculty of Biblical Sciences and Archaeology, Father Narcyz Klimas, ofm, and Father Massimo Pazzini, ofm, make their own respective contributions to this issue. Father Klimas, a Church historians who holds also the prestigious post of Archivist of the Custody of the Holy Land illuminates the roles of the Chronologist and of the Secretary of the Custody in recording (and making) history; Father Pazzini, for his part, tells the fascinating story of a past grammarian and lexicographer, to whom Bible scholars like himself owe a particular debt.
The second and final part appears in this issue of a rising young theologian’s meticulous study of where another theologian’s had gone so very wrong as to merit amply the critical attention of the Church’s teaching authority.
Father Salvatore Vitiello completes here his painstaking study of the writings of Roger Haight and what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had already had to say about their objective distance from the faith of Christians.
As always, book reviews, chronicles of notably relevant scholarly events, and a listing of books received, round off and conclude this issue of our review, which I trust you will find as engrossing and as informative and thought-provoking as I and my editorial colleagues have found it.