While looking through the blogs today I came across a couple worthy of highlight.
In keeping with the theme of the realities of contemporary Roman Catholicism, Samuel Gregg’s piece on Vatican II and modernity might be of interest (especially to CTCer’s who whitewash dilemmas from church history). He seconds a point I often make that Rome’s decision to open itself to the modern world came at one of the worst points in modern history. Do you really want to open yourself to feminism, deconstruction, the Beatles, and suburbia? Here’s an excerpt:
Vatican II is often portrayed, with some accuracy, as the Church opening itself to “the world.” This expression embraces several meanings in Scripture. God loves “the world” (Jn 3:16). Yet “the world” can also mean that which opposes God (Jn 14:17). At Vatican II, however, the world took on yet another connotation: that of the “modern world.”
Curiously, you won’t find a definition of the modern world in any Vatican II text. But modernity is usually a way of describing the various Enlightenments that emerged in the West from the late seventeenth-century onwards. Among other things, these movements emphasized applying instrumental and scientific rationality to all spheres of life in the hope of emancipating humanity from ignorance, suffering, and oppression.
Given the often-vicious treatment inflicted upon the Church by many self-identified moderns—including Jacobins and Bolsheviks—Catholics were often wary of anything asserting to be modern. It’s untrue, however, that the pre-1962 Church was somehow closed to modernity’s genuine achievements. This quickly becomes evident from cursory reading of encyclicals written by popes ranging from Leo XIII to Pius XII.
Nonetheless, many Catholics during the 1950s and 60s were tremendously optimistic about possible rapprochements between the Church and modernity. And that includes the present pope. In a 1998 autobiographical essay, Joseph Ratzinger recalled his hopes at the time for overcoming the gaps between Catholicism and the modern mind. A similar confidence pervades Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II document that specifically attempted to approach modernity in a non-antagonistic manner. Yet even in 1965, many bishops and theologians (including some associated with efforts for renewal) were warning that Gaudium et Spes’ view of modernity was excessively hopeful, even a little naive.
Of course the modern world has witnessed tremendous achievements since 1965. Its technological successes are the most obvious. Even diehard traditionalists find it awkward to be uncompromisingly anti-modern when needing dental-care. Likewise the spread of the economic modernity associated with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations has lifted millions out of poverty at a historically unprecedented speed.
The warnings, however, about undue optimism concerning modernity turned out to be quite justified. The cultural and intellectual chaos that erupted in the late-1960s should have been proof enough. Since then, we’ve witnessed what might be considered an ongoing crack-up on modernity’s part.
Then on a different subject, prayer, Paul Helm registers reservations about the amount of detail that we put into our petitions. I have wondered about this for a long time, especially in those small group gatherings where you almost faint from the descriptions of medical conditions and procedures. Helm is addressing public worship but his point about prayer works just as well for the prayer closet (does any reader actually have such space?). Here he goes:
I don’t know how it is with you, but I cannot cope with times in services of worship when the minister or leader invites the congregation to ‘spend a few moments of quiet praying for someone in special need’. My mind starts to think about anything or nothing except a person I know of who’s in need. It’s rather like someone who says ‘Don’t think of a white horse’, an invitation that it’s impossible to accept.
We could spend a few moments reflecting on the view of public worship that it is implied by the ‘periods of silence’ invitation, of whether it is appropriate to think of public worship as involving the sum of the private devotions of the people who are present. Ought we not rather to think of public worship (as a general rule) as common worship, as in ‘The Book of Common Prayer’, as expressing in public the common, communal needs and aspirations of Christian people? But instead of thinking out loud along these lines I would rather spend these few minutes thinking out loud with you about what I shall call The Affliction of a Failure of Concentration.
Here’s my suggestion – not a novel one, but still, I think, worth airing and emphasizing – that praying, and particularly that branch of praying that is called petitioning or asking, including of course interceding for others, is not primarily, or even, a matter of acquiring and processing information, and then presenting it in bite-sized pieces to Almighty God. It is not a condition of responsible and genuine Christian prayer that it is ‘intelligent’ i.e. well-informed.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the provision of information. I have spent much of my adult life as a teacher and writer, engrossed in the world of ideas and arguments. I expect the students I teach to be able to absorb, understand, weigh and produce information. The more the merrier. But the point is that not all speech is primarily informative, and most certainly Christian petitionary and intercessory prayer is not primarily informative. Fellow-prayers in the prayer meeting may learn all sorts of things about Mr Smith when he prays publicly. But the living God is in a rather different position from our fellow worshippers in the pew. Does he need educating? Is he ignorant of any detail? Has he overlooked any of the needs of his people?