Thursday, 5 January 2012

The language of communion or the language of dissent?: a second essay in style

When we talk about the unity of the Catholic Church we refer to a unity that, in its visible components,  has distinct elements. There is unity in doctrine, that is, unity in what it is that is believed to have been revealed by God. There is unity in the life of grace, and especially in the sacramental life. And there is unity in the visible hierarchical structure of the Church. As the  Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.161, teaches:
The Church is one because she has as her source and exemplar the unity of the Trinity of Persons in one God. As her Founder and Head, Jesus Christ re-established the unity of all people in one body. As her soul, the Holy Spirit unites all the faithful in communion with Christ. The Church has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope, and one and the same charity.
The Compendium continues, n.167:
Every particular Church (that is, a diocese or eparchy) is catholic. It is formed by a community of Christians who are in communion of faith and of the sacraments both with their Bishop, who is ordained in apostolic succession, and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity” (Saint Ignatius of Antioch).
For the individual Catholic, it is their unity with their Bishop that defines their visible unity with the Church. It is unity with the Bishop that is mediating of unity with the Pope. With a very limited qualification, the claim to be in unity with the See of Rome but not in unity with the local Bishop is, ecclesiologically speaking, a contradiction in terms. Unity with Rome cannot be played off against unity with the Bishop.

It can be readily seen that those Catholics who do not accept the universal teaching of the Church, manifested in particular in the teaching of the Holy See, are in dissent. But it can equally be argued that those who launch sustained and carping attack on their Bishop are also in dissent, though that dissent takes a different form than that often directed at the Holy See.

This is not to suggest a subservient obeisance to the Bishop, or indeed to the Holy See. The lay faithful are going to use their intelligence to form judgements about the strengths and weaknesses of the way both exercise their office in the Church. But the style of the expression of any such judgements in the media, particularly the electronic media where ideas are spread so quickly and easily, needs to respect the demands of communion at the level of the local Church as well as at the level of the universal Church.

In this context, one can ask whether a campaign of "Bishop bashing" represents a language of communion or a language of dissent.

1 comment:

Patricius said...

As ever- spot on! While there are some odd bishops (a couple of strange cases have emerged in North America, recently) it is dispiriting to find Catholic bloggers who seem to constantly find fault with our bishops. That a bishop might err occasionally and to the extent that the error might merit comment is one thing but repeated criticism begins to suggest an animus -an unwillingness to put a good construction upon episcopal utterances. There is an interesting passage in, I think, one of St Gregory the great's pastoral epistles which suggests some of the difficulty experienced by a bishop in communicating with "worldly men" and which those inclined to "bash bishops" would do well to ponder. Unfortunately I don't have it to hand at present but will try to look it out.