Prophecy in the Church

I have no competence to speak to the recent document from the CDF to the LCWR.  Rather, I would like to use it as a springboard to discuss briefly the place of prophecy within the Church.  In one place, the document comments about prophetic activity:

Some speakers claim that dissent from the doctrine of the Church is justified as an exercise of the prophetic office. But this is based upon a mistaken understanding of the dynamic of prophecy in the Church: it justifies dissent by positing the possibility of divergence between the Church’s magisterium and a “legitimate” theological intuition of some of the faithful. “Prophecy,” as a methodological principle, is here directed at the Magisterium and the Church’s pastors, whereas true prophecy is a grace which accompanies the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and ministries within the Church, regulated and verified by the Church’s faith and teaching office.

So what is the role of prophecy in the Church?  Is it only to be directed ad extra and never ad intra?  Catherine of Siena may have something to say to this point.  In either case, prophecy without the utmost respect for magisterium of the Church must be carefully avoided.  

Yet that is not to say that there is no place for prophetic speech towards the Church’s teaching authority.  Prior to the release of this document, I was struck by two paragraphs from Lumen Gentium.  The first is a line from paragraph 4:

Guiding the Church in the way of all truth and unifying her in communion and in the works of ministry, he bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts and in this way directs her.

The construction of this sentence places “charismatic” and “hierarchic” gifts next to each other and implies that they both equally direct the Church.  If this is the case, then prophecy has a place in directing the Church, and so also a place in directing the hierarchy.  Needless to say, this is part of the prophetic office of all of the faithful beautifully described at Vatican II and particularly elaborated in paragraph 37 of Lumen Gentium.

Notice the sandwich structure of paragraph 37.  The first paragraph speaks to the courage the laity must have in confronting their pastors.  The second paragraph discusses lay obedience to their pastors, and then the third paragraph returns to the theme of courage and the importance that pastors receive advice from lay members of the Church.  I was struck by the use of this word “courage:”

If the occasion should arise this should be done through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose and always with truth, courage and prudence with reverence and charity towards those who, by reason of their office, represent the person of Christ.

The word “courage” is used again in the third paragraph.  Interestingly, there were those at the Council who wanted to remove this word from the document.  Yet it was retained.  The prophetic office requires great courage — as well as “reverence” and “charity,” from those who employ it.

One of the great challenges of the Church in our time is to learn how to balance the charismatic and hierarchic gifts in the Church and in particular how to come to understand the prophetic office of the laity within the institution.

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  • A Sinner

    But I think there’s a difference between directing a prophetic charism at BISHOPS or even the Pope, and directing at “the magisterium.”

    That is to say, directing it at the teaching office of the Church as such, and directing it at the men who hold it.

    There is plenty of room for prophecy critiquing prelates, critiquing the hierarchy…for being bad or negligent pastors in some regard.

    That’s rather different from saying “What you’re teaching is wrong! The Holy Spirit told us so ‘prophetically,’ and that prophecy trumps your magsterium!!”

    That’s not how it works. Critiquing the human institution: by all means! But authentic magisterium is, generally speaking, on the “divine” side of the equation already.

  • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

    I think that paragraph 55 of the new document “Theology Today” that the International Theological Commission recently published speaks to this point:

    55. Recent centuries have seen major social and cultural developments. One might think, for instance, of the discovery of historicity, and of movements such as the Enlightenment and the French revolution (with its ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity), movements for emancipation and for the promotion of women’s rights, movements for peace and justice, liberation and democratization, and the ecological movement. The ambivalence of human history has led the Church at times in the past to be overly cautious about such movements, to see only the threats they may contain to Christian doctrine and faith, and to neglect their significance. However, such attitudes have gradually changed thanks to the sensus fidei of the People of God, the clear sight of prophetic individual believers, and the patient dialogue of theologians with their surrounding cultures.

    In this case, it seems that the “clear sight of prophetic individual believers” in this case is seen as directed towards the teaching office of the Church, the “magisterium.” Maybe this does not mean speaking directly towards “definitive” teachings, but it certainly appears that it could include speaking prophetically to the presuppositions the erosion of which could mean the eventual serious revision or development of an established doctrine.

  • Neil

    The paragraph in the CDF document seems confusing to me. First, it speaks against positing the “possibility of divergence between the Church’s magisterium and a ‘legitimate’ theological intuition of some of the faithful.” But it is unclear if we can distinguish a temporary from a lasting divergence, or the appearance of divergence from divergence itself.

    Second, the paragraph suggests that this erroneous positing of “divergence” comes from the belief that prophecy, “as a methodological principle,” is “directed at the magisterium and the Church’s pastors.” It is unclear whether the problem with this “methodological principle” is that it seemingly imagines that the relationship between the magisterium and “prophetic witness” can only be a zero-sum game, or, alternately, if it lies simply in the acceptance of any tension at all.

    FWIW, in ecumenical documents, Catholic bishops and theologians seem to have accepted the possibility of temporary divergences, the appearance of divergences, and tension. (Newman’s Preface to the Via Media also seems to assume these things.)

    Thus, with the World Methodist Council in 1996: “The difficulty of ‘weighing’ or even ‘discerning’ the words of prophets has to be acknowledged but this should not diminish the challenge to listen to prophetic voices. This difficulty has sometimes occasioned divisions and it is only with hindsight that those who have been so divided have been able to begin to distinguish the true from the false in what was at issue.”

    And with the Disciples of Christ in 2002: “Disciples came into existence because their leaders were unwilling to accept the restrictions which Presbyterians placed on access to the Lord’s Table. This memory has shaped their attitude towards the issue of disagreement with prevailing views. The nature of the history of the Roman Catholic Church means that it has no similar dominant memory; it also places a strong emphasis on the value of unity. Further work and reflection is needed on these differences. Nevertheless Disciples and Roman Catholics agree that certain groups in the history of the Church have made an important and prophetic witness which has not immediately been recognized.”

    To me, the CDF document is worthless insofar as I can’t even tell if I agree with it or not!

  • dominic1955

    While not wanting to state the obvious, the ITC has no magisterial authority. It also doesn’t make any definite statements that couldn’t be wiggled out of or clarified to smitherines, and so to try an pin down for sure what it says would be like trying to nail jell-o to the wall.

    That said, the “spirit” of the passage is not very in line with being supportive of the authoritative Church. So what, now we can hold all sorts of opinions that would have been censured as being favorable to the positions of heretics and offensive to pious ears and these same opinions can be held with the intention of eroding the presuppositions that would lead to the serious revision (!) or “development” of an established doctrine?

    In the case at hand, is the Vatican and the CDF supposed to give this organization a pass on its peddling of practically everything aside from the one true Faith because they might be being “prophetic”? Please.

    The real tragedy here is that the Vatican/CDF didn’t start dropping the hammer on these sorts of dissenters back in the ’60s. Now it all seems to be a case of too little, too late.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    I feel like I am delivering a snowball that actually survived hell; but I would actually highly recommend, for context on your point, Michael Sean Winter’s very surprising review of Russ Douthat’s book in The New Republic today. There are snowballs in Winters, apparently.

  • Chris Sullivan

    One wonders how the CDF’s little gem quoted above would apply in certain historical cases in the Church where the magisterium demonstrably erred and grievously violated the gospel ?

    One could start, for example, with the NT accounts of the failures of various apostles (the magisterium of the day) right from the get go. Peter denying 3 times he even knew Jesus, John and James wanting to nuke the Samaritan village, the apostles arguing at the last supper about who would be the greatest, the magisterium refusing to believe the witness of the women to the resurrection, …

    To which one might add the occasions when the magisterium launched the 1st Crusade, started and ran the inquisition, the pope who wrote a bull mandating the use of torture, the approval of slavery, the exclusion of females from reading the scriptures at Mass or serving as altar servers, papal support for castrating male singers in the papal choirs, the lack of appropriate response to the industrial revolution and support for trade unions (criticized by the current Holy Father in his very first encyclical), …

    All of those failures were, at the time, doctrine, in the sense of being what the Church taught (at least in the sense that one teaches by ones actions). Not, of course, infallible or definitive doctrine, but still doctrine.

    We are now seeing various Catholic analysts carefully investigating each of the points in the latest CDF document about the LCWR and finding that they do not appear to be very well grounded in reality or in Catholic doctrine. The Catholic faithful will not stand for a witchhunt of Catholic nuns based on contrived “evidence” and uncharitable distortions of LCWR documents which cannot stand the light of careful investigation and analysis.

    God Bless

  • digbydolben

    How many of her present-day saints has the Church crucified for their “unorthodoxy” in questioning the so-called “Magisterium”? Shall we start with John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila called before the Inquisition? Do any of you delightful Catholic dinasaurs know that the sainted Spanish mystic was actually BEATEN in the monastery to which he was confined? And Joan of Arc was assuredly a “witch,” wasn’t she–as determined by a Church tribunal presided over by a bishop? And what about the suppression of the Jesuit order in the 18th century because they were resisting the genocidal prerogatives of the Bourbon monarchs in their colonies? This whole line of preaching the eternal perfectitude of an institution that is and always has been as much political as it is spiritual is actually sickening, and deserves the scorn of the agnostics and the Protestants, for just as long as Catholics refuse to acknowledge that the “wisdom” of the Church–its “religious knowledge”–is and always has been “developing,” as Newman implicitly argues.

    • Nes

      Hence courage.

  • grega

    “The Catholic faithful will not stand for a witchhunt of Catholic nuns based on contrived “evidence” and uncharitable distortions of LCWR documents which cannot stand the light of careful investigation and analysis.”
    Great comment Chris as always -I sure hope you are correct – I fear however that the pendelum is not quite done swinging the other way – certainly we do not exactly see the priesthood flooded with more moderate or liberal minded candidates – which is not surprising given that we liberals really -if we are honest with ourself do not buy into a good number of core traditional catholic structural and organizational principles.
    Celibacy? Male only clergy? Married Clergy? Homosexuality?Top down Hirachy?
    Issue after issue we disagree with the status quo – sure it will change one of these days –
    unfortunatelly I fear and sense that the energy is not on our side.

    • Nes

      I know this is a question I’m not ever supposed to ask because it sounds ignorant, rude, and diminutive – but I want to qualify this question by noting that I ask this out of an earnest desire to understand, not as some snide remark. Ok, here goes – why don’t liberal Catholics just become episcopalians? I mean, you literally get everything you want in the episcopal church – forget celibacy, so long to male only/non-married clergy, homosexuals administered the eucharist, no bureaucracy, and you can even glean from the pope (when he’s one you like) whenever you want. Please help me understand why this is a bad idea.

      • Matt Talbot

        Wow – beautiful example of the fallacy of the Loaded Question. Thanks so much.

        • Nes

          This isn’t a rhetorical nor a loaded question.This is an earnest query I’ve struggled with for a long time now. Unfortunately, no matter how apologetically I qualify it, I usually receive flippant, non-responses like this instead of an engaging, constructive conversation. So, yeah, thanks for that.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        The answer can only be that many can not bear to part with a weekly dose of the St. Louis Jesuits’ music. It is like Ice-9.

      • Ronald King

        Nes, I am here for the Eucharist.

        • Nes

          Ok. This makes sense. I guess I’ve never understood, however, why someone would adhere to the doctrine of transubstantiation yet reject a far less controversial doctrine such as ‘male-only priests’. Surely it’s more offensive to believe one is ingesting the flesh and blood of our Lord than it is to believe Christ has structured his Church to operate within a certain schema (or whatever ‘conservative injustice’ a liberal might take issue with).

        • digbydolben

          Ronald, the Anglicans and the non-Missouri Synod Lutherans and the Greek and Russian Orthodox have the very same concept of the Eucharist that the Roman Catholics do, unless you believe in the semantic difference between “consubstantiation” and “transubstantiation.” I don’t.

      • digbydolben

        The main reason that many “liberal” Catholics don’t join the Episcopalians or the Anglicans is, I think, that we remember the near-racist contempt with which members of the Church of England have historically–and even quite recently–treated the Catholic faithful. Believe me, I myself have been tempted, but then the remembrance of one or another “every sperm is sacred” or “drunken Irishman” joke deters me.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs


          That was a very surprising response, no offense intended. When I was in Catholic junior high in the seventies at St. Rose of Lima in Miami Shores, there was not ANYTHING more popular than Monty Python at the school. It was talked about at every lunch table, and in the locker-room to the gym every day. It is hard to conceive of it as something that anyone took offense to.

        • Nes

          So for you it’s more an issue of ‘bad behavior’ than doctrinal claims?

      • Kurt

        <you literally get everything you want in the episcopal church …, homosexuals administered the eucharist,

        It is easier to find a gay guy to give you communion in the Catholic Church than the Episcopal.

      • agjeung

        Nes, I think the very way you ask this question presumes a view of the Church that I don’t happen to share. IMO, the Catholic Church is not a voluntary organization, something that you can join and leave at will like your local tennis club. If the Church is truly our Mother, then our fellow Catholics are our family. Would you leave your real family because you had different opinions than the rest of your family members? Would you then go and join some other family?

        I meet many people in my parish who express unhappiness at treatment of homosexuals, the situation of ordination of women, etc., and yet have no thoughts about leaving. They do not see the Church as some commodity to accept or reject, but as their home, however uncomfortable certain elements of it might be to them.

        I for one am glad that our Church includes the liberal and the conservative, the holler-than-thou and the heretic, the homophobe and the homosexual. The fact that we argue and disagree about the direction for the Church only indicates that our vision of the Divine Church is seen only dimly by all parties. The solution to our bickering should be an attempt (however hopeless that may seem sometimes) at understanding, unity, and harmony, not splintering into different groups so that no one has to be challenged by anyone else.

        • Nes

          I really appreciate this response, agjeung. It’s actually really beautiful; to picture the Church a family, with people from all points of the spectrum.

          However, I really think a line needs to be drawn between the kid who’s a brat and the kid who rejects his family name. When you say the “heretic” (even though I think you were just using a kind of literary expression here) is part of the Church, you write an oxymoron.

          And I think this is why doctrine is so important to me, and why the Church takes things like excommunication/heresy/schism so seriously. The Church is a family, yes, but it is special in the sense that we are not grafted into the family by blood, but by Profession.

          Admittedly, I am not a cradle-catholic, and I can see how this might be different for people who were just raised in the Church. I had to make the difficult decision to ‘leave’ my spiritual friends and family, and this caused me much pain. But I left because I wanted to adhere to truth, and this Truth manifests itself in many ways, one of them being doctrine and dogma.

          So, yes, I agree with you and actually think it’s very, very healthy to conceive of the Church as a family – all kinds of people. On the other hand, I also can’t help but notice that this is not an ordinary kind of family; it is one that takes conscious effort to be a part of. Part of this conscious effort is that adhering to doctrines and submission to authority. Is this making sense?

        • Andrew

          Nes: I don’t want to suggest that doctrine and obedience to authority are trivialities. However, even here, I understand the importance of doctrine a little differently than what you appear to be saying.

          In the understanding of the Church I am proposing, we are ALL included in the Church’s family. We are all part of the Mystical Body of Christ. We can either choose to embrace that inclusion and get the most that one can get out of it, or try to ignore it and get less out of it, but we are included nonetheless. Following doctrine and obeying authority, while important, are just ways that we can choose to embrace the inclusion to get more out of it.

          I think that a person who sees doctrine and dogma as being the primary basis for membership in the Church will eventually be left scratching his head about some of the things that the Catholic Church actually does.

          For example, take the very case of the heretic that you mention in your comment above. The punishment for formal heresy is excommunication, which means that the heretic cannot participate in the sacraments, but he still has an involvement with the Church. He is still encouraged — obligated in fact — still to attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days of obligation. If faithfulness to doctrine were the primary criterion for membership in the Church, this continued involvement might be hard to understand. But in the “Church as family” model, it makes perfect sense. Seen in this model, the excommunication does not mean that the Church is telling him to go elsewhere. It is merely a formal acknowledgement that the heretic has chosen on some level not to embrace his inclusion into the Church’s family and has therefore limited the scope of his participation. So the statement “The heretic is part of the Church” is something that I meant literally, and is not, to my view, an oxymoron.

          Nes, I do not mean in any way to downplay the significance of doctrine for you, especially as it pertains to your own spiritual development. If an honest pursuit of Truth is what led you to our faith, then I am grateful for it. However, I would invite you to consider that a concept of Church as family, while differing slightly from the concept which drew you here in the first place, is important if you want to understand the perspective of most cradle Catholics. I can say for myself that such a concept has been helpful in developing my own understanding of what it means to be Catholic.

          (Forgive me for the confusion of multiple user names. I usually post on this site by the name of “Andrew”. My suggestion is: follow the avatar, not the name.)

      • Julia Smucker

        Nes: because loyal dissent is, as Gerald Schabach calls it, “the virtue that Catholics struggle to name” and yet often subconsciously practice. That such questions keep being asked (by conservative Catholics as well as liberal Episcopalians, I might add) is part of why I keep recommending his book (see my comment below). Here is a response to the question in his words:

        For Catholic conservatives to wish that [a dissenter] would simply leave the church, if she has so many questions, and find a denomination more to her liking – this is unwittingly Protestant in the worst sort of way. One occasionally runs across such an attitude in the freewheeling world of Internet blogs. No doubt there are times when, tragically, the most honest thing for Christians to do is part company. Since church history has left us with multiple traditions, we do well to use them as ways to pursue fruitful debate that clarifies our disagreements through embodied arguments, in pursuit of a renewed and deepened Christian unity. It is another matter, however, to jump to denominational division and church shopping as a quick solution to our disagreements, and that with little sense of tragedy and not a little triumphalism besides. To wish for such “solutions” is thus to acquiesce to the very sort of denominationalism that is at odds with a most Catholic refusal to cease hoping for full Christian communion, and with Catholic practices of stability that accept the hard and uncomfortable work needed to sustain it.

    • Jordan

      Grega —

      In situations such as the political collision between the American hierarchy and the Obama administration, it’s important to view the Church not only as a mystical body but also as a political entity. Even a cursory sweep of ecclesiastical history from the late antique to the atomic age demonstrates that laïcité, “separation of church and state”, etc. are merely late incarnations of the Church’s nearly incessant struggle to not only differentiate itself from temporal governments but also stake out positions of temporal power.

      A proxy war against American sisters is deplorable. Then again, the Church has little influence even within the Republican Party and can only influence any American government from without. The CDF has been shrewd, if perhaps not entirely charitable, by censuring Catholics closest in objective and political sympathy to the American political party which the Vatican had determined to be most antithetical to Holy Mother’s interests.

  • Julia Smucker

    Nathan, you’ve beaten me to the punch. I was thinking of trying to say something balanced about all this hullabaloo, and still might, but I thank you in any case for giving it such a helpful interpretive framework. I especially resonate with your final sentence:
    “One of the great challenges of the Church in our time is to learn how to balance the charismatic and hierarchic gifts in the Church and in particular how to come to understand the prophetic office of the laity within the institution.”
    This is indeed a HUGE challenge in our time, and we desperately need to find this balance lest the polemic between the two sides of this paradox tear the Church apart.

    I dare say that Dominic and Chris have done us the favor of exemplifying the two extremes. While I recognize the legitimacy of Dominic’s concern regarding an “anything goes” mentality, this can become something of a straw man when we ignore any middle ground between it (or what Pope Benedict would call a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”) and passive acquiescence (which, as Karl Rahner has pointed out, does not give nearly as much respect to Church doctrine as does questioning it in faith that it is strong enough to hold up in the face of questions). Benedict himself, even while raising the same caution against making the “spirit” of the teachings say whatever we want, has still recognized the development that goes along with continuity. A flip dismissal of the concept of development of doctrine is itself a departure from Church tradition.

    On the other hand, while I recognize the need at certain times to point out how the Church is failing to live up to its mission in a given situation, I don’t find it helpful to recite a litany of the Church’s historical sins and wave them around like a banner. This presumes, just as much as the staunchest defenders of magisterial authority do, a collapsing of “the Church” into the magisterium. The magisterium is definitely not above critique, but neither should it become a scapegoat allowing the rest of us to avoid acknowledging our own complicity in the Church’s failings. The Church – that is, the whole people of God – is continuously in a conversion process, as surely as any of us is individually.

    • Julia Smucker

      Once again at the risk of overkill, I really think all Catholics (well, at least the English-speaking ones) should read Gerald Schlabach, because he speaks so well to both sides of this polemic on the significance of loyal dissent.

      This quality of “hanging in there” in spite of disagreements is the basis for his observation in the introduction of this book that “when members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy complain about the dissenters in their church, they fail to recognize how good they have it.” And one can easily add, in keeping with other parts of his argument, that the reverse is also true.

  • dominic1955

    I agree with you, Julia, about the need to point out when some in the Church are not living up to mission and about the futility of breaking out a litany of historic sins or perceived “contradictions” in Church teaching. Along that line, we can certainly see true prophetic voices that have risen up in the Church through the centuries-St. Catherine of Sienna jumps to mind. All of these people worked within the Church and in obedience to the authentic teaching of the Church. St. Catherine was no rebel, she did have a keener sense of what the Avignon hierarchy of the day needed to do in order to fulfill their mission than they did though. They were mired in the worldliness and politics of the day, but they upheld the orthodox faith and practice of the Church even if they didn’t live to its moral standards. She did both, and used her gifts in truly humble service.

    When coming up with things like when the Church supposedly changed its teaching in this or that area or did “bad” things here or there, it reminds me much of the machinegunned bible verses launched by Chick track style Protestants pointing out the numerous areas in which the Catholic Church supposedly contradicts the plain and clear teaching of the Bible. If only one had the time to write a tome contradicting these errors! The same applies for the above mentioned “litanies”. So much error and misunderstanding, so little time.

    The CDF is trying to bring back erring sheep fully to the fold. It is demonstrably true that some things done under the aegis of the LCWR stray far from patently orthodox Church teaching in matters of Faith and Morals. No appeals to “development of doctrine” can fix the very real problems that some in the LCWR have been party to. Plus, they are handling this case with kid gloves almost to a fault for how long this has been going on. I don’t see them stockpiling stakes and kindling…

    Lastly, there is the very real issue of the numerous unseen sisters who are members of the orders represented by the LCWR who do not agree with the destructive paths their superiors have taken their orders. They have suffered what amounts to white martyrdoms at the hands of the people who have taken away everything that they signed up for. Largely forgotten and/or derided, they continue in joyful, if painful, prayer and obedience as best they can. They will be the ones vindicated some day, in the eyes of God even if never in the eyes of men.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      With respect to your last comment about the “numerous, unseen sisters”, I recommend to you an article by Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF. I first met Sr. Illia 16 years ago when she was an adjunct instructor at Trinity. She is a brilliant writer and theologian and (as far as I can tell) completely orthodox. But what she has to say about women religious belies your facile stereotype of evil leadership versus good rank and file.

      • dominic1955

        What I had in mind were the nuns I’ve met over the years who try to wear as much of their habit as possible and live as much of the religious life they entered decades ago as possible.

        The only stereotype in my post is of your own making. Its not a dichotomy between an evil leadership and a good rank and file. Plenty of the rank and file were more than willing to do what they could to destroy their own orders. So, its more like the few orthodox and loyal sisters in those off kilter orders versus everybody else.

        Thank you for the article, I certainly did read it. However, I don’t see how this is really pertinent. There’s a reason God told the Israelites to exterminate the Nations and not just live amongst them. He knew, inevitably, they’d adopt their ways.

    • digbydolben

      Dominic, all you ever talk about is how “rank and file” want to change traditional or orthodox teachings of the so-called “Magisterium,” but never–not once–do you criticize how this or that pontiff arbitrarily changes something that has been in place for hundreds, if not thousands of years. What about the highly politicized and arbitrary way that John Paul II created more saints in one pontificate than had ever been created during the whole history of the Church, doing away with long-established procedure? It doesn’t seem to bother you one whit when a pope does something like this, does it? This is one way in which that pope showed how little he cared for the collegiality of bishops, as recommended by the Second Vatican Council. It is on account of folks of your ilk’s perfectly sanguine attitude toward “revolutions” from the top down in the life of the Catholic Church that people of MY ilk don’t consider you to be true “traditionalists” at all, but, instead, reactionary “papists”–idolaters of ecclesiastical power.

      • dominic1955

        I didn’t think I posted here enough to earn an “All you ever talk about…” response. Thanks! I’m flattered that you pay that much attention to what I post.

        The reason I don’t talk about papal aberrations around here is that it doesn’t really come up as pertinent to the conversation. Urban VIII ruined the Office hymns with his classicist wordings, Pius X ruined the Office by Neo-Gallicanizing it, Pius XII ruined Holy Week by letting Bugnini and Friends screw with it, Paul VI stupidly “gave up” the tiara and JP I got rid of the coronation. JP II did plenty of oddities, the saints issue being one of them.

        These issues (and there are certainly more) might be abusive of the received Tradition and ecclesiastical custom and discipline and thus very destructive but its a much wider, long range problem. In some ways, its a toothpaste out of the tube issue. However, even a Pope or bishop who is obliviously cavalier about their untraditional ultramontanism should have enough sense of doctrinal orthodoxy to stand firm against petition signing priest heretics or crush a coven of reiki practicing nuns in his diocese.

        • Jordan

          Dominic1955 [April 26, 2012 9:29 am]: These issues [changes in liturgical books, the abandonment of the papal coronation and tiara, “reiki practicing nuns”] (and there are certainly more) might be abusive of the received Tradition and ecclesiastical custom and discipline and thus very destructive but its a much wider, long range problem. In some ways, its a toothpaste out of the tube issue. (my additions in brackets)

          Integrism is seductive fruit, but before gorging on a bushel consider the following. Ecclesiology, and liturgy by subset, is not the same as dissention, heresy, or heterodoxy. The 20th century revisions of the breviary and missal, though perhaps aesthetically undesirable for some and even non-harmonious with previous magisterial teaching in the eyes of many traditionalists (e.g. the revision of the bidding prayers for Good Friday 1970), are not doctrinally or dogmatically heterodox. It’s important to remember that a reification of recieved liturgical history, or for that matter reified ecclesiology (in the form of an ahistorical and uncritical view of papal temporal power) is not equivalent to the deposit of faith.

          Besides, integrism often falls into post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies: the revision of Holy Week for 1955 does not contain revisions according to the teachings of Dignitatis Humanae or Nostra Aetate (not completed until 1970). Therefore, a condemnation of Holy Week 1955 according to the SSPX rejection of religious liberty or the Vatican II condemnation of the deicide charge against the Jewish people is a projection of post-1965 liturgical changes onto a preconciliar liturgy. Time cannot be twisted for rhetorical convenience just because Annibale Bugnini presided over preconciliar and postconciliar reforms.

          As for “reiki practicing nuns”: there is not even a putative link between the behavior of religious sisters and changes in ecclesiology and liturgy after the Council. As for the often-stated position that a loosening of congregational standards occasioned heresy: one might well say that changes in the lives of religious women (i.e. many sisters’ abandonment of the habit) are not due to pressures from within the postconciliar church, but rather due to secular considerations. After all, what was once the proper day attire of bourgeois 17th century Flemish women holds no relevance in 21st century North America. Why not women’s business attire then?

        • dominic1955

          Oh, please. Did I say that such things as the liturgical changes were heretical? They are inimical to the received tradition of the Roman Rite which goes much beyond mere aesthetic preferences but that is different than saying they are actually heretical. The notion that the Pope can just impose whatever whims or visions of some “experts” on the Roman Rite is destructive of proper liturgical tradition. He might have the authority, but just because he can doesn’t mean he should.

          Secondly, the 1955 revisions to Holy Week are unfortunate simply because they screwed with the received rites and the “Reformers” used it as a staging ground for their other liturgical innovations. It has nothing to do with the Council itself. Neither example you give is used as a reason to reject the ’55 Holy Week, at least I’ve never heard such things.

          The habit (at least for active sisters) is accidental. I know very well where active order habits often came from, etc. but “relevance” is irrelevant. It is true that the habit doesn’t make the monk (in this case, nun), and I know orders of religious/consecrated life that are orthodox but don’t wear a habit. They are active, they can do whatever they want. However, the abandonment of such externals is often symptomatic of larger issues.

  • Chris Sullivan


    I agree that the magisterium plays a vital and indispensible role. And they are almost always correct. The fringes are where the Church often starts to change, where the rubber meets the road of the poor and those who suffer. But the centre is also indispensible for preserving and applying the wisdom of the past and of the faith.

    But history shows the magisterium can sometimes err in doctrine, as my examples illustrated.

    Therefore, to quote the CDF document on the LCWR there actually is

    “the possibility of divergence between the Church’s magisterium and a legitimate theological intuition of some of the faithful”.

    And there have been times where prophecy is, as the CDF puts it, is appropriately

    “directed at the Magisterium and the Church’s pastors”

    One might ask how doctrine would ever develop if no one ever questioned the magisterium on matters of doctrine they thought needed to change ?

    Or how the fathers at Vatican II would ever have got to the point of teaching what they taught if theologians before the council had never questioned some points of doctrine ?

    I hope and pray that the encounter between the LCWR and the CDF will prove fruitful to both parties because I think that both have something essential to offer the other, and to the Church as a whole.

    God Bless

    • Julia Smucker

      I never said we shouldn’t question the magisterium, but simply that we need to recover the ability to question without demonizing.

  • Nate Wildermuth

    What’s the line between a prophet and a protestant? Being right.

  • tausign

    In my opinion, the original intent of exploring the role of prophecy in guiding the Church has been sidetracked. In its place commenters have inserted two difficult barriers and thus aborted the discussion. One the one hand some have detracted the women religious involved. In this regard Davids reference to Sr. Delio’s article is a defence.

    On the other hand some have rasised a diatribe of the past faults of the Church in an attempt to render her unredeemable. For those who are interested in what the Church has to say about her own transgressions I recommend the following document Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past

  • grega

    Nes – I do think you ask an honest and valid question – let me attempt to give you a personal answer.
    -I do know a number of progressive Catholics who actually attend mass at an Episcopalian parish and I do consider this a very valid option for my own young family – we might change in the near future and NO I do not think that the Creator of the Universe would have any problems with such a change.
    -Our current parish is one of the most progressive catholic parishes in the US and this works for us for now. I however doubt that the parish will do well in the long run – We have lots of personal connections in this parish – the Priest married us, our kids got baptized and went to first communion in this parish – the parish is a healthy mix between young and old – gays and straight -plenty of young families like ours for sure. I do think a good number of the folks in this parish think too highly of themself – but that is a universal human issue. We progressives are pretty convinced that we have it all figured out – not much different in substance from the most conservative Catholics who are pretty sure that we liberal Catholics will all go straight to hell – and they do not even pretend that they shed one tear over it – if they are honest.
    Since I do not believe in hell anyway what do I really care – see what I mean?
    We liberals are indeed a pretty arrogant bunch just as our conservative friends always suspected ☺.
    – Personally I am really touched most deeply by both Gregorian chants in very old churches and by the Taize’ movement go figure.
    – I also view Religion overall as a Natural Phenomena along the lines laid out by Daniel Dennet.
    Nes – I do think you ask an honest and valid question – let me attempt to give you a personal answer.
    -I do know a number of progessive catholics who actually attend mass at an episcopalian parish and I do consider this a very valid option for our family – we might change in the near future and no I do not think that the Creator of the Universe would have any problems with such a change.
    -Our current parish is one of the most progressive catholic parishes in the US and this works for us for now. I however doubt that the parish will do well in the long run – We have lots of personal connections in this parish – the main Priest married us, our kids got baptized and went to first communion in this parish – the parish is a healthy mix between young and old – plenty of young families like ours for sure. I do think a good number of the folks in this parish think too highly of themself – but that is a universal human issue. We progressives are pretty convinced that we have it all figured out – not much different in substance from the most conservative catholics who are pretty sure particualr we liberal catholics will all go straight to hell – and they do not shed one tear over it – if they are honest.
    Since I do not believe in Hell anyway what do I really care – see what I mean?
    We liberals are indeed a pretty arrogant bunch -just as our conservative friends always suspected.
    – Personally I am really touched most profoundly by both Gregorian chants in very old churches and by the Taize’.movement – I also deeply appreciate anchient catholic rituals.
    -At the same time I find some valuable thoughts in a book /talk like this:
    Dennett’s ‘Religion as a natural phenomena’.

    We should all relax a bit and deeply appreciate freedom – both intellectually and societal /political – hard fought – so easily lost

  • digbydolben

    My favourite comment at Gary Wills’ blast against the Vatican for persecuting nuns:

    Actually, I can easily immagine Jesus today telling the story of the Good Gay-Rights Activist who stopped for the fellow in the ditch, after a bishop passed him by because he could not be late for an anti-Onanism rally.

  • Ronald King

    Hello Digby, I like the picture. Consubstantiation vs transubstantiation seems to be a subject which may be compensation for left-brain dominated sexually repressed debaters. I think it all looks the same under a microscope unless enacted upon by an outside force. I should have added that I am here because this is where I made my 40 year confession and it is also where I became extremely disiilusioned when I discovered that the same aggressive personalities dominate the voice of the faith as when I left and those who are truly prophetic in the mystery of God’s Love are dismissed as heretics. I stay because this is where the miracles led me for better or worse.

  • Ronald King

    “And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing.”