Tuesday, March 28, 2006

neither protestant or catholic

Yesterday I wrote about the liberation theology of Gutierrez, and I finished that today then read portions of the Vatican II documents for my church history class. We are reading "Apostolate of the Laity" and "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy."

In many ways I really appreciate Catholicism. There's something to be said for a united "catholic" church, and wouldn't it be easier if one person could tell us what God was saying to the world? I appreciate that Catholicism in the last fifty years or so has produced a huge number of liberation and feminist theologians, and that the Catholic church has struggled to lovingly fit those perspectives into its tradition (less so the feminist position, but that's another story). I appreciate the thought of continuing a tradition that's been handed down for almost two thousand years. It lends it a weightiness that can't come from a single lifetime. I appreciate the willingness in the Vatican II documents to take a fresh look at the traditions, be willing to let go of outdated ones that don't have to do with faith directly, and stand their ground on ones they find important. I can definitely respect that, and I think other denominations could learn much from this kind of maturity (not least Quakerism, perhaps).

At the same time, it's odd to me that liberation theology can come out of such a religion. In the "Apostolate of the Laity," there is all this emphasis on how everyone is unified in the body of the Church, everyone is equal, special favor should be shown to the poor and the marginalized--and all this is great. It says that it is the Christian's duty to look out for the lowly of society and to do works of mercy and charity out of the overflowing of the love of God in our lives. This I can agree with.

But then it gets into things about how it is only the responsibility of the priests to administer Christ to the world in the form of the Eucharist, and that this is the most important way Christians can come into contact with God in the world. And if Catholics want to be part of associations for doing good, that's excellent, but they have to be under the authority of the church hierarchy. They have to be doing only those things approved by the church hierarchy. And the goal of all of this is to bring people in to the church in order to receive the sacraments, which are their only way to get to God.

How did liberation theology come out of this context, I wonder? How can people talk about the equality of all, and at the same time continue believing in and enforcing a hierarchy between people and God? Their documents say expressly that the poor and marginalized have something important to teach the church--and yet they are on the lowest rung of the Catholic ladder, not just society's. And yet, the Catholic church is supporting this movement and encouraging liberation theology.

Plus, the more I learn about classic Protestant theology the more I find Quakerism really has a lot in common with Catholics (and especially Anabaptists, of course). Protestants generally emphasize that it is faith, not our works, that save us. I agree--it is faith that leads us to God, and nothing we do can cause God to offer us grace. But at the same time, if we are only confessing with our mouth that we believe this stuff, and not acting out of the spirit of love, joy, peace, etc., it's worthless!

Recently in one of my classes I learned that in John, the noun for "faith" is never used. Instead, John uses the verb for "faith," meaning faith isn't something, a possession or acquisition. Instead it is something you do. It takes action and life. Protestants would say yes, you do the action of choosing to believe. Here I'm more in line with the Catholics, who emphasize the need to act out our faith in love for our neighbors and enemies, for the marginalized, and love is not just a feeling but an active living-out. It is in this way, say Catholics, Anabaptists and Quakers, that love we love God.

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