Friday, February 11, 2005

Symbol, Theology, Faith in Jesus Christ - Vatican says "Out!"

The following news release arrived in my email from Brian Saint-Paul, editor of Crisis magazine, a traditionalist but not reactionary Roman Catholic lay publication.


Father Roger Haight, SJ, may no longer teach Catholic theology. So says the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a December 13th declaration signed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

This is a good thing, though it could be argued that Fr. Haight stopped teaching Catholic theology a long time ago.

The current dispute centers around his book, Jesus: Symbol of God, published in 2000 by Orbis. In it, Haight advocates a strong religious pluralism, the kind of pluralism that can no longer claim that Christianity is superior to other world religions, or that Jesus is the central figure in salvation.

Furthermore, the Congregation, as reported by the Catholic News Service (CNS), had other problems with the book. Namely, it seemed to either deny outright or downplay some very basic Catholic doctrines:

"The Word of God existed from all eternity."

"The Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ."

"Jesus was divine."

"Salvation is offered to all humanity through Jesus."

"The Son and the Spirit are separate persons within the Trinity, not simply 'metaphors' for actions of the one God." ...

After looking at what Haight denies, it's hard to figure out just what he affirms. The Trinity, for example, is the foundational dogma for all Christians. And yet Haight, former professor of theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Massachusetts and onetime president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, casts aside any meaningful affirmation of the doctrine. Indeed, in his book, he appears willing to take any Christian belief that he deems divisive and downgrade it to the level of symbol. There is nothing wrong, of course, with symbols. The problems arise when those things are considered MERELY symbolic.

While the mainstream media and Haight's allies in academia will likely condemn this move as the latest example of a hard-line Vatican clamping down on free thought, it's nothing of the kind. Think of it as honesty in advertising. If a student signs up for a class on Catholic theology, he or she has a right to be taught that very thing. And the Church, in her role as protector of Divine Revelation, has the right to step in if that doesn't happen.

It's a little hard to imagine the New York Times getting kicked out of shape if the president of the National Organization for Women were fired for openly opposing abortion. But then, it's not exactly known for its even-handedness.

An interesting side note: The book that earned Fr. Haight the Vatican's condemnation also won him an award from the Catholic Press Association in 2000 for best book in the theology category.

by Brian Saint-Paul


Owlb's comment:

I'm not Catholic. I've found some Catholic theologians very helpful to my spiritual and theological searchings. In contrast to the theologian Brian discusses abovce, and thinking comparatively, I don't believe that the important study Jesus, by Eduard Schillebeeckx, has any of these problems mentioned. Altho I haven't read Schillebeeckx's accompanying volume, Christ, I do think the treatment of the historicity of Jesus is firm in Schillebeeckx, that the spiriutual life of this man who grew up to become self-conscious of his intimacy with God to the extent that "the Father and I are one" was so vivid to Him and to us thru the Gospel in the special event of His Transfiguration, that we can know from this testimony how Jesus is unique and uniquely God and Man, two natures unmixed in one Person, as the Chalcedonian Creed puts it in the Greek conceptualization available at the time.

However, there is another way to approach the matter of the value of other religions (as well as to critique the deeds of their adherents, just as in the case of the Christian religion) that the fired theologian totally misses about near-universal salvation thru Jesus Christ alone. At least the fired theologian was more clear and consistent on this than is the plethora of documents produced by the Vatican, especially so in the case of the evangelization and basis of salvation of Jews, which is again a matter of faith and an intimate relationship. More than that, there is another way to approach the matter of how most of the world's people are confronted in the Interim State we call Death when Christ comes to every consciousness he preserves (which is just about everybody, if not absolutely all). Jesus Christ comes to each of us to encounter each and to teach and purify and prepare each for everlasting life with HIm in the Resurrection of the body. I follow Diogenes Allen, the retired Princeton Seminary prof, and Simone Weil the Jewish Christian saint of WWII, both of whom believed that a lot happens after death. And that the salvation of all is not dependent on the witness of Christians, and the drumming up of converts by the works of the flesh.

As to the firing of the Catholic theologian, it's just as well. To reduce Jesus to His symbolic value is a semiotic mistake of the first order ... and in this case, more than a "mistake." Link

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