Wednesday, 6 March 2013

More on the future of the Church

Fr Anthony Chadwick (in a post entitled 'Ecclesial Prophecies') has some typically thoughtful reflections on the future of the Church (the future of the Christian faith indeed) in the west, following on from the stated views of both Pope Benedict and Cardinal Christoph von Schönborn.
The consensus among those who give thought to such things, seems to be that popular Christianity (in whatever form it appears) is as good as dead, and that the future of all the ecclesial traditions in the west is as bodies which will be much smaller, less geographically comprehensive, and intellectually capable of giving a good account of themselves in the face of the increasingly secularist and religiously averse tendencies in contemporary culture.
Perhaps those who think this way are correct: all the signs point in the direction of an imminent melt-down both in terms of numbers of worshippers and the finance to be able to sustain the present structures. On the other hand, predictions of the demise of the faith have been made through its history.  That may be of small comfort when we think of the fate of the Byzantine Empire and the vast tracts of North Africa where the Church is barely an archaeological memory. The Lord will never desert his Church; she will never fail; what we are not promised, however, is a guarantee of geographical permanence in any one part of the globe.

What is evident, however, is that in order to survive at all in societies more and more influenced by the mass media, the Church will need more and more those who are capable of defending its beliefs against a stridently aggressive and irreligious zeitgeist. This makes the response to the current crisis by the proponents of  liberal Anglicanism (and where in the west can we now find anything else - even in a nuanced form?)  seem woefully inadequate and radically misconceived. 
What we actually find is the steady downgrading of dogmatic theology, the study of Scripture, church history and, indeed, pastoral theology and practice as part of the educational curriculum of those training for the priesthood as space has to be carved out for the teaching of the modern shibboleths of gender and sex equality, sociology, psychology and management training. Clergy 'formation' (where it can be said to exist at all)  increasingly takes place outside a residential seminary environment, the continuance of which in a hostile cultural setting would seem to be a sine qua non of survival itself.

Of course, those who now have the levers of institutional power are for the most part, judging by their words and actions, in complete denial, not about falling numbers and lack of finance, but about the intellectual hostility of modern culture to the practice of the faith, and they clearly believe that all that is needed is a little more assimilation of the values of the Church to those of the world. 
From their pronouncements it really does appear that they believe the values of secular modern societies to be ethically and morally superior to those of either the Christian past or present, and they seem to have a touching but essentially misplaced confidence in the latest ecclesiastical gimmicks designed to reverse the trend of emptying pews. 
In the face of an impending demographic and (perhaps most importantly) intellectual catastrophe, our leaders seem intent on producing a caste of management-savvy clerics whose main role will be coordinating squads of (already vanishing?) ' lay ministers'  to try to maintain a non-sustainable system.

If I can indulge in a bit of prophetical speculation of my own (always a dangerous thing to do)  perhaps the future will look a lot like the past, but not necessarily  the recent past. 
In order to make converts in a hostile environment, whose social and philosophical values are set by an increasingly confident anti-religious elite and promulgated by a politically and socially ' liberal' but,  in terms of freedom of expression, 'non-inclusive' mass media, the survival of the Church could well be best served by the creation of an articulate and intellectually capable group of clergy and laypeople to lead her life, those clearly "in love with God," who would possibly be prepared to embrace a vision of radical poverty, and who would be equally radical in their love of God and neighbour, and almost certainly 'monastic' in their ethos. If we are indeed having to "start afresh more or less from the beginning,'' as Pope Benedict has predicted,  we have to return to the sources.

It would seem, then, a strange time for the Latin Church to be encouraged by so many to jettison its rule of celibacy; perhaps the rest of us should consider embracing it.  
One thing is sure, a great deal of the advice currently being offered to the Church does not necessarily come from those who have the best interests of the Faith at heart or who would shed many tears at its disappearance.

1 comment:

  1. Surely, with all that you say above all "orthodox" Christians should be praying and working more fervently for unity. As I see it this is now more of a priority than ever.


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