Godtalk: The Church needs Reformers


The Holy Spirit

After the Council of Trent in the Sixteenth Century, little changed theologically until the dawn of the 20th century. Catholics felt safe where they were. Then, just over a hundred years ago, Catholics throughout Europe began to move forward, spiritually, theologically and liturgically.They received severe opposition from Rome.  Around the start of the Twentieth Century an excessive conservatism stifled the spirit  of renewal,  but it would later be encouraged by John XXIII Meanwhile, undeterred by opposition theologians still went on to question and experiment.  It was their initiative which laid the groundwork for the Second Vatican Council.  The impetus which that Council in its turn then gave to further development of doctrine, biblical scholarship, religious freedom and liturgical reform has staggered over the fifty years since then.Today it has been sparked into life again.  We are picking up the baton which was handed on to Vatican II by the reforming Catholic theologians of the years before.  The race for the Kingdom of Heaven continues. And all of this is thanks in large part to the Holy Father, Francis. "The temptation is to go backwards, because we are 'safer' going back: but total security is in the Holy Spirit that brings you forward ... (This) is more demanding because ... it does not give us that human security. We cannot control the Holy Spirit: that is the problem! ... The law of the Spirit takes us on a path of continuous discernment to do the will of God, and this can frighten us.’  (Pope Francis in his weekday homily 12/6/13.)So at this particular juncture in the history of the Church it is helpful to try to understand the theological scaffolding which the late 19th and 20th century Catholic modernists and reformers erected to support their developing thoughts. The Church is still founded on a rock.  But foundations are meant to be built on.  The Church grows up, and to do this it constantly needs the scaffolding of reforming theological thought.Long before the Protestant movement there was a tag Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda -  the Church is reformed but in constant need of reformation.  The best examples of reform are the saints, who change, transform, carry forward and resurrect the spiritual path.  In Newman’s words, to live is to change;  to be perfect is to change often. Now clearly Christ's Church has the authority to monitor and where necessary correct errors, but Pope Francis repeats again and again his plea that the doors of the Church should be open.  We can be frightened as the Holy Spirit pushes us along.  We need reassurance, not persecution: and that is what Pope Francis is giving us today.      He has said in one of his weekday homilies that he prefers a Church which gets things a bit wrong when it goes forward, to one that does not allow itself to be driven forward by the Spirit.We are being urged by Francis to move on.  If our Catholicism is to truly live, it must not be strangled in its growth by fear of condemnation, fear of the Spirit, and a retreat to 'safety'. This was clear in Pope Francis’ first encyclical  The Joy of the Gospel - a joint effort with Benedict, on the subject of the Faith.Peter Knott SJ