The website of the Dutch Dominicans – usually something of a hotbed of liberal thought and vague spirituality of the 1960s – features a short interview with English Dominican Timothy Radcliffe, Master of the Order from 1992 to 2001. The interview is presented in the context of issues between parishes and dioceses, most recently the student chaplaincy in Tilburg. Fr. Radcliffe has some interesting things to say about the hierarchy and its role in the Church, a topic that never fails to raise hackles in the “spirit of Vatican II” camp.
My translation follows here, with some thoughts of mine added in red.
TR: “There is often much talk about the “official Church”. I don’t like those words, because it makes “them” official and “us” unofficial. But as Dominicans we are just as official as anyone else. The very same goes for the words “the institutional Church”. The Order is also an institution, The Tablet is an institution, your website is an institution. The Church is alive when she creates many institutions. I resist those words, because it marginalises us. I don’t believe at all that I am marginal. I hope I’m on the edge, if you know what I mean, but I’m not marginal.”
So what are you?
TR: “We marginalise ourselves when we discuss the institutional or official Church. We must claim the centre. The same, by the way, goes for the magisterium, the teaching authority. The historian Eamon Duffy says that it consists of Christians who teach, and there are many of those: from the Pope to parents who teach their children. Some do well, others don’t, but it’s all part of the magisterium.” [Fr. Radcliffe seems to limit the magisterium merely to the act of teaching. The magisterium is also – firstly, even – a body that has the specific role to teach and defend teachings (and thus the faith) in the Church. It is therefore more than a person teaching something. The things that need to be taught are well defined and define the identity of the magisterium, which then does not stand or fall by the abilities of individual members.]
So religious and parishioners should do as they please? [A favourite desire in liberal circles…]
TR: “Authority exists when authority is given. Not just to the faithful and their questions, but also to the Vatican. I should try my best to understand what the Vatican is saying, even if they don’t listen to me [Ah! Authorities do not need to listen to me in order to speak authoritatively]. By that I refuse to be marginalised. You see, playing victim is so easy, but it is so negative and also extremely boring [The relics of the 1960s in the Church are good examples of this]. You should refuse to play the victim game.”
In the Dutch Church and in society that game is very popular.
TR: “It’s a dangerous game. When you make yourself the victim, you are bringing yourself down. It is repressive.”
So how do you call the official Church?
TR: “The hierarchy. And that is like the chassis of a car: it keeps everything together, but it is not the engine, or the tyres of the steering wheel [I think it is a steering wheel as well, with Christ doing the actual steering, but that’s just me…]. A car’s dynamics do not come for the chassis. We need the hierarchy like we need a chassis. But we shouldn’t blame the chassis for not being dynamic. Dynamics should come from us, the religious and lay groups [And it all depends on what you consider dynamic. If it’s just a matter of doing stuff, many in the Church are quite dynamic]. When you’re driving you don’t often think about the chassis. You think about where you want to go and you are happy about your journey. If we would think about our chassis all the time that we were underway, we wouldn’t get far.”
But there is rather an obsession with the chassis.
TR: “The Dominican Herbert McCabe said: the world is interested in the Church, we should be more interested in the Gospel. I think that we would be far happier if we wouldn’t be talking about the Church all the time, and if we would be passionate about the Gospel.”
While I have my questions about some points in the interview, I fully agree with the final answer. Without the Gospel we have little hope of achieving anything. The Gospel should always be what propels us to do things, and it should shine through in those things.That goes for blogs as well, my own not excluded. While the hierarchy is a regular feature in my blog, it should be seen in the context of the Gospel, of proclamation of the Word of God. That is the new evangelisation.