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Quo Vadis? The Catholic Church

                   Quo Vadis? The Catholic Church

Axioms for a postmodern Christianity

·           For the whole of humanity, moral conduct in all spheres of human activity, public as well as private, should be based not on prohibitions and commandments but on the Golden Rule, which has been accepted by all world fait communities.

·           The new apostolate of all Christian Churches should be concerned about helping all people to do good and avoid bad, to  make the Eight Beatitudes of Jesus Christ a reality in their daily lives, and not to convert people into catechism-Christians

·           Globalization: world evolution from diversity to uniformity and unity is the only way of the future for the human world. Also for the religious communities there is no other way to uniformity by gradual rapprochement to reach the final unity.

·           The goods in the earth and in the seas are not the exclusive property of the countries that are just above or nearest to them, but they are the possession of all inhabitants of the earth. This should be constituted by international law.

 

The political, economic and financial world is on its way to unifying, to a world of more and more mutual collaboration under democratic governments. The still occurring problems are tokens of a period of transition, which could take quite some time to cure, but which will lead irreversibly to the final unity of the human world with one government and one world language.

     For the religious world quite as well, there is no other way, which however seemingly will take some more time to realize. The Catholic Church is called to fulfill a forerunning role in this evolution. This role is already visible in its work in the worldwide interfaith dialogue movement.

      The Catholic Church will be able to fulfill this role only on condition that the old truths of faith will be translated in words acceptable to the postmodern human being, which at the same time will be acceptable to the other faith communities.

As far as I have been able to ascertain , besides the writings of Dr. Roger Lenaers sj., only Prof. Em. Jan W Stoop, also children doctor, are the only ones in Belgium and Holland who have openly come forward with the re-translating of th truths of faith, a.o. about the original sin, in his book “Darwin, love and God”  and an art. n the Belgian weekly TERTIO of June, 6, 2011. It fully complies with what I am trying to put forward inn this essay.

The new catechism of the Catholic Church, with its corrected edition of 1997, was published in 1993 after years of protracted studies by bishops and theologians, and allegedly as a result of the Second Vatican Council. In the introduction text, we read as follows: The catechism is meant to be a worldcatechism which contains the concepts of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Notwithstanding a few changes in the interpretation of some truths of faith since the end of WII, very few o even nothing of this can be found in the 2865 articles, spread over more than 700 pages, of this new catechism. The describing of the truths of faith in this catechism shows that the Vatican church leaders are still anchored in the same way of thinking as 60 years ago! As information, I give hereunder only the text of this catechism on the original sin;

Art.389 The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the "reverse side" of the Good News that Jesus is the Savior of all men, that all need salvation and that salvation is offered to all through Christ. the Church, which has the mind of Christ,263 knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ.

 

390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.264 Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

 

397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command. This is what man's first sin consisted of.278 All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

 

399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image - that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.

 

408 The consequences of original sin and of all men's personal sins put the world as a whole in the sinful condition aptly described in St. John's expression, "the sin of the world". This expression can also refer to the negative influence exerted on people by communal situations and social structures that are the fruit of men's sins.

 

“Son of God”  returns 30 times, and “Virgin Mary” 47 times, in  this catechism.

Truth consists of spiritual and material elements. The faith communities, as well as science seek truth in the origin of the universe, the meaning of life and death, de meaning of human beings as a combination of spirit and matter. The recent approach in mutual respect and recognition of each other’s value by religious leaders and scientists is a result of the acceptance that truth is one for the spiritual as well as for the secural world. What is acceptable for postmodern people as truth about God, and about human beings in their relation to the Divine and to the laws of nature, must also be acceptable to science.

Here then an attempt to make some elements of the Catholic Faith more understandable and acceptable to postmodern people, to the world of science and, what is of capital importance, to the other faith communities, and of translating the truths of faith, such as the changing image of God, presentation of Jesus Christ and Mary, original sin and salvation:

As introduction: The faith communities, as well as science seek truth in the origin of the universe, the meaning of life and death, de meaning of human beings as a combination of spirit and matter. The recent approach in mutual respect and recognition of each other’s value by religious leaders and scientists is a result of the acceptance that truth is one for the spiritual as well as for the secural world. What is acceptable for postmodern people as truth about God, and about human beings in their relation to the Divine and to the laws of nature, must also be acceptable to science.

Here then an attempt to make some elements of the Catholic Faith more understandable and acceptable to postmodern people, to the world of science and, what is of capital importance, to the other faith communities, and of translating the truths of faith, such as the changing image of God, presentation of Jesus Christ and Mary, original sin and salvation, with at the end some renewing ideas on the Eucharist Celebration and the place of the Eucharist in the church building.

God and Humans

A definition of God, the Divine, might best be found in the answer of God to Moses “Ï am He who is” (Exodus 3-14). God is! He is what IS in its fullness, no past, no present, no future. The Divine is perpetual, in its essence there is no change. In God, there is no time, no space, because time and space suppose a coming and a going in a time and a space with distances. The eternal, the timeless existence has no limitation of distance, it is without beginning and without end. It is without material, it is a spiritual being. Not male, not female, it has no gender. Humans have addressed IT in their history, as a male or female, a Father or a Mother. God must be good and beautiful. Human beings are by their intellectual and spiritual capacity nearest to God, and they are the only ones among existent beings – material, plants and animals – who can become conscious of an infinite spiritual being, which they have called God.

The human mind reflects the infinite eternal spirit (God) who caused the big bang and through a centuries-long evolution of matter, over plants and animals, up to man with his human spirit, created in his image and likeness. Herewith, God has created an unbreakable bond of love with His human children, which was confirmed in the person of the man Jesus in his sermon on the mount, as described in Matthew 5-7. This is an evolution that also in the other faith communities has come to a similar result, in Islam with the Quran, in Buddhism with the "All/Nothing", in Hinduism with its centuries-old Veda Scriptures and his Trinity of Brama, Vishnu, Krishna.

 

Among all things brought forth by human beings by their intellect and their senses, love is the spiritual mark of humanity. Love is therefore the only spiritual activity, which one can supposed to be an essential characteristic of the divine. This is what, in Christianity, lies at the origin of imaging God as a person, in whom love expresses itself between the three divine persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and of the love relation between God and Humans, and which relation is the highest religious expression between them. In Hinduism, there is the divine trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The image of God is still different in each faith community.

The evolution from diversity to homogeneity and unity, which is developing now ever faster in the political world and of which the creation of the European Union is the best example, is also going on in the religious world. Thanks to the interreligious dialogue movement, the religions are coming nearer to each other and the image of God will grow in conformity and unity.

Jesus Christ

All human beings, by their being spiritual, take part in the Divine, the ultimate spiritual reality. Because in this world, nothing is totally equal and everything is subject to change for the better or for the worse, the degree of partaking in the Divine is different in the present life and can be supposed to be different also in the afterlife. This degree of partaking in the divine, from childhood to death,  may be influenced by family conditions, education, friends, cultural and religious surroundings, and maybe most of all by personal behavior, which can be supposed to be different in the afterlife in union with the Divine. The mystic saints in  the Catholic Church as John the Apostle, Theresia of Avila, John of the Holy Cross, Eckart, Ruysbroec, and many others also in other religions, enjoy a higher degree of partaking in the Divine than the common human being. One can say that the founders of the world religions partake in the Divine in a still higher degree.

Jesus Christ can therefore be considered as having participated in the Divine to an exceptionally high degree, by which he could call God his Father, and according to biblical custom be called Son of God. Scientifically speaking, the God as described above cannot become man/woman, and man/woman cannot become God. This is also impossible according to the Bible, which states a/o:  “I am the Lord and there is no other; there is no God but me.” (Isaiah 45.5). It can be said that Jesus, as a human being, was fulfilled by the Divine, but not that he was God.

 In a similar way, the bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus, as well as the Assumption of the Virgin Mary can no longer be sustained as a truth of faith, and these dogmas of the Catholic Church have to be reworded and re-translated in a postmodern acceptable way. These happenings in the Bible and other holy scriptures have been conceived in former times when they were being accepted as divine possibilities. Now, they have to be interpreted, not as revealed truths but as human narratives of former times. Jesus, as well as Paul and the other apostles speak and write as people of their time, with images and parables of their time which must re-interpreted against he background of newly acquired science and insight. This can also be said of the words of the founders of the other faith communities. No one of them knows the full truth about God. Their words are limited to place and time. The truths proclaimed by one founder can be exchanged with the truths of other faiths. Dialogue among the faith communities is now a commonly accepted topic. The religious values of the faith communities should be mutually exchangeable for the enrichment of all, which is the aim of the interfaith dialogue movement now active all over the world. The unique aspect in the teachings of Jesus Christ is its proclamation of love, as the greatest characteristic of the Divine towards all human beings, and of the obligation of love of God and of human beings to each other, even to one’s enemy.

Mary

Who accepts the above, cannot anymore call Mary the mother of God. Physically speaking and also according to the Bible, God cannot have a mother. According to the laws of nature, a virgin cannot give birth to a child without the injection of male seed. If the human Jesus is the son of Mary, then Joseph is his father. In the same way, one cannot speak anymore of the immaculate virgin Mary, also not in the meaning of ‘conceived without sin’, because each human beings is born as a child of God, free from sin. Just as Jesus cannot be called God, the mother of Jesus cannot be called mother of God. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is and will always be the most exalted among women in Christianity, and also in Islam.

Original Sin and its Consequences

The problem of original sin can be called a problem of utmost importance to Christian believers because Christian doctrine on sin as a state of privation of sanctifying grace and the doctrine of salvation by animal offers in the Old Testament and by the death on the cross of Jesus Christ, as well as the administering of baptism, are based on this original state of sin of all human beings. How could the concept of original sin be reworded in such a way that its spiritual meaning is presented as a postmodern acceptable article of Christian faith? One can maintain that the story of the earthly paradise with the fall into sin and the expulsion from paradise has greatly influenced the history on humankind. Labor seen as a punition, the colonization of other nations as the conquering of the earth can be interpreted as consequences of these biblical stories. The world of today would be different if the disobedience of our first parents had not been interpreted later on as a hereditary situation, with which each child comes into this world.

      The Councils of Carthage (418) and Orange (529) turned both against the teachings of Pelagius, the so-called Pelagianism that denies original sin. On that basis, the Christian Church has condemned Pelagianism as heretic doctrine. The doctrine of original sin is reaffirmed and explained on the Councils of Florence (1439) and Trent (1545-1563). According to Catholic doctrine all human beings are from their coming into this world hereditaryly stained on account of their origin from our first parents Adam and Eve. Could such sin have been committed by a homo sapiens of 400.000 years ago, who is supposed to have been then in a mental condition of very low intelligence and in a far less capability of choosing for good or bad? This is something which to a postmodern human is simply unacceptable. This means that original sin as it has been interpreted by the Catholic Church for so many centuries is equally unacceptable.

      So was the sin of Adam and Eve dogmatized and interpreted as hereditary original sin, making each human child born in a state of sin, which can only be redeemed through the suffering and crucifixion of Christ, and therefore only by the administration of the sacrament of baptism. The baptism was to be administered to children as soon as possible after birth. Thereby ' Sin' and 'redemption' became the main themes of Christian doctrine and confession became, as remission of sin, an annual obligation on penalty of mortal sin. Violating a 'divine commandment" and one of the  " five commandments of the Holy Church ' was a mortal sin with a ban on receiving  communion at the Eucharist celebration. What an ordeal this has meant for centuries for so many people is hard to imagine.

The belief in original sin is to my knowledge little and never permanently put in question inside the Church. The time is ripe for a more reasonable and more scientific interpretation of what the Bible stories can mean. For the rational postmodern man with his current knowledge on science and his acceptance of the Darwinian theory of evolution, the original sin is a physical and historical impossibility. That a homo sapiens would have committed a sin which should have to be considered as hereditary to all human beings is an absurdity. It is incomprehensible that this has been accepted without a struggle for twenty centuries by billions of people. This is of course a very strong statement with heavy consequences. It means a revolution in Christian doctrine if the intention would be to throw this all overboard. One can argue that in any Bible story a truth is hidden, and it is this truth which is important and not the story as such.

Man can do good as well as evil. Doing evil is to let go. In order to do good, effort is needed. This tendency in man to choose for evil is present in every human being. Every human being has in addition to its man-being also an animal-being. In the centuries-long evolution, the spiritual man-being has been growing, while the animal-being together with the tendency to evil have decreased. This tendency which is present in all people is in itself not a sin, but it can however be called hereditary. The disobedience of the first humans, who in the Bible story is treated, should therefore not be translated as a sin but as the human tendency to sin. This tendency to evil is related to the intellect and free will of human beings to choose between less and more, good and better, good and evil against God, fellow man and nature. It is a property of human nature and not a sin in itself, of which man should be liberated. Original sin must be reworded, not as a sin, but as a tendency to sin. This eliminates the need to administer baptism to children as a redeeming of sin. Every human being is born as a child of God. The baptism is then better administered at the earliest when the child has come to the years of ' sense '. This is then not a redemption of original sin, but a celebration ceremony of being taken up in the Church community. This way of interpretation of original sin is of capital importance for the future of the Church.

Human beings are part of the evolution of the universe from the first existence of seemingly pure material matter to the present higher and higher spiritualization of human beings, as it has been expounded by Teilhard de Chardin. All existing matter is inherently linked to a condition of permanent changing from less to more, from less good to better, from less perfect to more perfect. Suffering in all its forms can be explained as a consequence of the imperfectness of sentient beings in their struggle for life, for a better life.

Evil, or sin in theological terms, can be explained as everything that runs against this evolution of the ever higher spiritualization and is possible because of a free choice by intelligent beings. Good and evil are inherently linked to intelligence, to the knowing of what is good and what is bad. Humans have by their free will the capability of being able to choose between good and evil. Good acting increases the contact with the Divine, bad acting or sinning means a loss of contact with the Divine. The grade of human relationship to God depends on the human behavior. The result of sin can only be amended by the human himself and cannot be changed by some salvation from outside.

     What can be the meaning of sanctifying grace? Is it not the condition of the human mind, human heart, human conscience and human conduct in union with the Divine. The belief that God, the infinite, unspeakable spiritual Reality is present as a loving Father in all matters and surely in a very special humanlike way of mutual love in human beings, means that all human beings from the time of their coming into existence are born in a state of grace as children of God. This state of grace in a mutual exchange of love with the Divine is a characteristic proper to all human beings, believers or non-believers.

     The question is whether the doctrine of salvation in the way it has been interpreted on the basis of texts in Holy Scriptures has still a meaning in our postmodern times. Human beings must not be saved from something which is not there but must be sustained and assisted in the choosing for the good. Tradition in the teachings of the church is important in the progressing knowledge about the Divine. Therefore traditional interpretations should not been abandoned or deleted, but should be re-interpreted, re-worded in a way acceptable and understandable by post-modern people and into a teaching of moral and social support by the Christian faith communities.

     Is being conscious at all times of this dwelling in oneself of the Divine, of the replacing of the personal self by the Divine Self as it is the goal of life in Buddhism, not the highest human way of living and does this not lead to a permanent consciousness of being a member of the global human family, in union also with one’s ancestors in the past, and with one’s offspring in the future? Assisting in the deepening of this kind of consciousness in as many people as possible, should this not be the reason of existence of all faith communities?

     For centuries one of the main subjects in sermons in Christian churches has been about sin, its origin and its consequences. A tremendous change has occurred since around WWII by the fact that preaching about sin has almost totally disappeared in Christian churches. Might this have something to do with the lessening and even disappearance of the belief in original sin by post-modern church attendants? Belief in the original goodness of human beings has led the Buddha to limit his instructions to moral guidance, without trying to and even refusing to explain the Unspeakable by theological explanations and still less by the declaring of infallible dogmas. Could a Church without commandments and without dogmas be possible? Could the essence of christianity be expressed in the Sermon of the Mountain? One example that the good finally triumphs over the bad is the disappearance of age-long conflicts and war misery in the peaceful democratic Europe of today.

More and more people are, in their search for a moral basis of this possibility of choosing, turning to the Golden Rule of Conduct, which has now been accepted by all faith communities. In human society good should be remunerated and evil/sin be punished as a guidance by society authorities towards a better social human community life.

The Mass, the Eucharist and its place in the church building

Besides the architectural style, the crucifix and the statues of saints, it is in particular the Eucharist with the sanctuary lamp which constitutes the sacrality of a Catholic church building. In the Eucharist, the by God fulfilled man Jesus is present among his people, like He has walked around and instructed His teachings of love in the Palestine of 2000 years ago. This permanent presence among us is the meaning of His resurrection from death. The location of the Eucharist is therefore not on a side altar or somewhere on the side of the main altar, but only in the tabernacle of the main altar. in this way, the genuflection or bow when entering and leaving the church is meaningfully directed towards the Eucharist in which God is present in a special way. The reverence of the Eucharist must be brought to expression also by the treatment of the Eucharist by the celebrant at the time of communion. It is the task of the celebrant, and not of one of his assistants, to, in a ceremonial way, go and take out the Eucharist from the tabernacle and to replace it himself there after communion. The celebrant administers then the Eucharist to his assistants and transmits the chalice with the Eucharist to one or more of his assistants for eventual distribution.

                 The now generally accepted position of the celebrant behind the serving altar and directed towards the people should be reconsidered. This position is quite acceptable for the liturgy of the Word, the Communion and the concluding rites. For the liturgy of the Eucharist however, the position of the presider and his assistants should be on the front side of the serving altar and directed towards the main altar and toward the Eucharist in it. He fact is that the celebrant then acts as representative of the attending people. The returning of the Eucharist after communion to the tabernacle is best done by the celebrant himself in order to emphasize the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle and sustaining the meaning of the bow upon entering and leaving the church.

Lucien F. Cosijns, Binnensteenweg 240/A26, 2530 Boechout, Belgium

Tel. +32 3 455.6880   lfc.cosijns@gmail.com

www.interfaithdialoguebasics.info

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