Joesph S O’Leary
Link to Journal site: https://www.oriens.or.jp/jmj/jmj_recent.html
The notion of Truth has surprisingly become a matter of urgent concern in our society, not only because lies have been given such power by new media of communication, causing political propaganda, ‘fake news,’ conspiracy theories, ideological distortion and suppression from left and right, slander, and historical inaccuracy to thrive as never before, but especially because the very reality and value of truth has been discredited. This holds also in the Catholic Church: among its many crises a crisis of truth looms large.
Infallibly defined doctrine was the unquestioned backbone of Catholic thought until recently, but it has become a ‘hard sell.’ We aim at a wider truth—for instance the truth of Ecumenism: how can we uphold the full Catholic ontology of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (the themes of the Lima Agreement of 1982) when we move toward mutual recognition of these sacraments? How for that matter can Lutherans uphold the Doctrine of Justification as an ‘article by which the church stands or falls’ when everything is done to dilute or tone it down in ‘joint declarations’ such as that of October 1999? Again, the truth of inculturation and interfaith dialogue presses hard against our inherited creedal truths.
Early Christian apologists such as Tertullian and Origen did not put the emphasis on the faith as a set of theoretical truths but rather highlighted a concrete, incarnational event: the call of Abraham, the election of Israel, the sending of Jesus, a man of flesh and blood, the reality of his death and resurrection, the witness of his apostles and his martyrs, and the vibrant life of the Christian community. These realities, which Henri de Lubac dubs le fait chrétien, and not clever dialectic, were what won the Roman Empire for Christianity. The doctrine of Nicaea (325 CE), ably defended by Mark Edwards in several penetrating historical essays, is not a theoretical truth but the defense of a concrete reality, namely, that Christ is adored as divine.
In the broad scientific and intercultural horizons of today, the truth of Christianity is best defended by stepping back to its founding events, not in any kind of fundamentalist retrenchment but letting them breathe anew in light of the paradigm shifts in our understanding and of all that historical scholarship has revealed.
Much that seemed infallible has turned out not to be so, yet in compensation for dead certitudes the Church embraces anew the principle of Development whereby what St John Henry Newman called ‘the Christian Idea’ has grown throughout history. The feedback in preparation for the forthcoming Synod on Synodality sometimes sounds like a petulant demand for change with no consideration of continuity. But if changes are in line with Christian and human truth they will meet echoes in ancient tradition, which can be rediscovered and brought out by careful listening. We must pray that the Synod will give a new orientation toward the past and a model of how Development can proceed today.
Joseph S. O’Leary