Sunday, June 29, 2003

The Dissent of the Holy Spirit?

Our parish priest often includes a number of pre-printed inserts in our weekly church bulletin. Some are publications from various apostolates to which our pastor apparently subscribes. Among them are Liturgy Training Publications, Ligouri Publications, and St. Anthony Messenger.

I know little about the first two, but those of us attune to the influx of liberalism into the church raise our alert status to orange when we receive chatter from groups such as St. Anthony Messenger. While much of it is orthodox, some of it is not. I believe it was Pentecost Sunday when our bulletin included a two year old Catholic Update tract titled How the Spirit Guides the Church by William H. Shannon.

The article contrasts the Gospels of Matthew and John, calling Matthew the "most Church-oriented" and John the "least". The keen observer will note the use of superlative modifiers in a comparative form, providing an early clue that the author may be preparing to overstate his case. While acknowledging a clearly defined Church hierarchy in Matthew's gospel, the author would like us to believe John does not view the church this way. Rather, John sees the church as a community of equal individuals led by the Holy Spirit. Most of Shannon's evidence seems to be based, not upon what John says in his gospel, but rather on what he did not say. John simply does not mention the hierarchy.

Proof by omission is a tactic sometimes used when evidence to support a theory is fleeting. In apologetic circles, one occasionally hears the argument that a certain church father did not hold a particular belief because he did not write about it. That is very weak evidence. Writers do not necessarily make reference to ideas that are already commonly acknowledged within their audience.

In this case, I get the feeling that Shannon wants to be free to disagree with the church hierarchy and is looking for a way to validate his dissention. To his credit, he does appear to be uncomfortable with dissention, stating that it "ought to be a very rare experience in the life of the Church." But then he says the following: "Dissent would be rare if we had a clearer understanding of the attitude which the magisterium in the Church ought to take toward that other 'Stirring of the Spirit' which also operates in the Church." The wording of the statement is confusing. Is he blaming dissent on the dissenter's lack of understanding of the magesterium or on the magesterium's faulty attitude? The tone of the article indicates the latter.

The other "Stirring of the Spirit" to which Shannon refers is his perception of the Holy Spirit speaking to individuals who are outside the hierarchy, and he tries to use Johannine ecclesiology to legitimize the credibility of these so-called 'stirrings'. He acknowledges that allowing a "double stirring" of the Spirit will inevitably result in "not only untidiness, but also disparate and opposed tendencies and trends."

In other words, Shannon appears to be saying that if the magesterium would allow consideration of dissenting opinions stirred by the Holy Spirit in individuals outside of the magesterium, those opinions would no longer necessarily be dissenting. If it comes from the Holy Spirit, it cannot be considered 'dissent'.

Does he really believe the Holy Spirit would 'stir' one opinion within the hierarchy and a dissenting opinion within other "holy people" as he calls them? That makes no sense. The Holy Spirit would not deliberately create conflict within the Church. If two 'Stirrings of the Spirit' are in disagreement, at least one of them did not come from the Holy Spirit.

Is this to say the Holy Spirit does not stir in the hearts and minds of those outside the magisterium? Not at all, but not every 'stirring' comes from the Holy Spirit. Stirrings can have other points of origin including the evil one. I contend the Holy Spirit will not stir dissention in the Church, and such stirrings come from other sources. Determining the origin requires cautious discernment. Paul warned the members of the church in Galatia that "even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed!" Gal 1:8 (NAB)

How does Shannon explain the conflicting stirrings of the Holy Spirit? One way is by citing theologian Karl Rahner's work called, The Spirit in the Church. According to Shannon, Rahner says love is the only thing that can give unity to the Church at the human level because it "allows another to be different, even when it does not understand him [or her]." This idea would seem to coincide with a current trend to expand cultural diversity tolerance to include diversity of belief tolerance within the Church. (See More on Diversity, February 22, 2003.)

According to Shannon, "Rahner suggests that a glance into history will make clear to us that there has never been a theological trend in the Church that has been wholly and solely right and has triumphed over all the others." Quoting Rahner, he says, "One alone has always been completely right, the one Lord who, one in himself, has willed the many opposing tendencies in the Church." (my emphasis added)

Our Lord has willed opposition? Really? Based upon that belief, Shannon then comfortably makes the following statement: "Realizing this frees one from anxiety and from the need always to be right." (again, my emphasis added) So, there you have it. If one's personal belief occasionally opposes the teaching of the magesterium, it's okay because those within the hierarchy are not always right and the Spirit stirs within the rest of us too.

Shannon gives just enough assent to the magesterium to make his ideas seem like orthodox Catholicism to the casual observer, but the underlying message is subversive. The reluctant cafeteria catholic will find just enough comfort in Shannon's message to ease his anxiety and provide some validation for his selectivity of belief.

Who are these dissenting writers, and how does their literature get into our Sunday bulletins? According to information printed on the tract, Shannon, "a freelance writer, is professor emeritus at Nazareth University in Rochester, New York. He is a priest of the Diocese of Rochester and founder of the International Thomas Merton Society." He is obviously influenced by Rahner, a German Jesuit theologian who lived from 1904 to 1984. Shannon cites the writing of Rahner in another tract titled, Eucharist: Understanding Christ's Body.

Here, Shannon makes the following statement: "Jesus calls us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. We must avoid an overly literalistic understanding of these words. We do not literally eat flesh or drink blood." In the next paragraph, still referring to the Eucharist, he says, "Our liturgies, therefore, must not be seen as isolated interventions of grace into our otherwise profane and graceless lives. Rather these acts of worship are symbolic expressions of what theologian Karl Rahner called 'the liturgy of the world.'..." This undermining of the Real Presence is heretical.

Rahner did not believe in transubstantiation, a key element of Catholic dogma. Rather, he devised his own theory of what happens at the consecration, which can be called transfinalization or transignification. Father Regis Scanlon addressed this topic in great detail in an article called Is Christ Really Among Us Today? which appeared in the October 1995 issue of The Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

Father Scanlon concludes that Rahner denied at least two infallible teachings (dogmas) of the Church, one being the Council of Trent's dogmatic teaching of transubstantiation, and the other being the First Vatican Council's dogmatic teaching, which states that the "understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained." The fact that William H. Shannon's work relies heavily on Rahner should serve as a warning to anyone expecting orthodox Catholicism.

Shannon's tract on the Spirit also acknowledges Scripture scholar Father Raymond E. Brown for his "insights". Brown is another controversial figure who, according to the late Lawrence Cardinal Shehan, pioneered "a new Catholic theology founded on modern exegesis" that cast doubt on numerous articles of the Catholic faith. (See Traditional Catholic Scholars Long Opposed Fr. Brown's Theories, an article by Henry V. King, published by The Wanderer Printing Company, September 10 1998.) Incidentally, King's article also includes an interesting rebuttal for "proof by omission", a device Shannon may have learned from Brown.

Despite all of this, Shannon's tract displays an imprimatur by Carl K. Moeddel, V.G. and Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, April 17, 2001. How can this be? Perhaps Father Scanlon can shed some light. Regarding Rahner's beliefs on the Eucharist, Scanlon makes the following frightening statement:

"This so-called new theology of the Real Presence was published in English in 1966 and it has been taught in seminaries and universities of the United States for the past quarter of a century. Because seminarians and students often learn and believe what they are taught, no one should be surprised if 70% of our faithful today do not know or believe in the Church's (Trent's) teaching on the Real Presence." If this is true, we should also not be surprised that dissenters' publications get bishops' imprimaturs and that priests distribute them in the Sunday bulletin.