Dissent is best understood and undertaken in the context of some other important concepts: authority, tradition, obedience,and the sense of the faithful. I can’t do justice to these topics here but for a fuller treatment on authority see my article in the 2013 VISION Catholic Religious Vocation Discernment Guide.
First, an affirmation of dissent by Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, in The Acting Person: “The structure of a human community is correct only if it admits not just the presence of a justified opposition but also that practical effectiveness of opposition required by the common good.” The tender issue here is that the church is not only a human community but also a mystical body. That which is mortal about the church must respect and address justified opposition. Which leads to the sticking point: Who decides what is justified?
|YVES CONGAR, O.P. (1904-1995)|
I’d like to suggest two determinants: the magisterium and the mystical body. The magisterium, the church’s teaching body, is composed in each generation of specific persons who, through apostolic succession and the power of the Holy Spirit, have attained the seats of discernment: pope, curia—the Vatican offices that assist the pope in governing the church—the College of Cardinals, and national bishops’ conferences. They write the documents promulgated into binding teaching for the whole church.
The mystical body of Christ is a much larger assembly. It’s comprised of the faithful to whom the Holy Spirit is likewise entrusted. That Spirit can draw up from the whole body a sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) that engenders a sea change in church understanding, the way Pentecost did for its first responders. For the most part the magisterium and the sensus fidelium confirm each other, as in the Acts of the Apostles: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind” (4:32). Sometimes they also are at odds, as when Saint Paul discerned that Gentiles should not have to come to Christianity by way of Judaism (Acts 15 and Galatians 2:11ff).
Paul is the poster child for handling church dissent. He went to Jerusalem to argue his case and get a ruling from Saints James and Peter and the elders. He also—literally—got into Peter’s face later in Antioch—but he stayed in relationship, which was the main thing. Every great dissenter after him—Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Catherine of Siena, Cardinal John Henry Newman, the great Dominican theologian Yves Congar, the Australian saint Sister Mary MacKillop, among others—stayed in tandem with the magisterium and eventually pulled it forward.
• Acts 2:1-4, 42-47; 4:32-35; 9:31; 15:1-29, 36-39; Galatians 2:11-14
• Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church by Robert McClory (Orbis Books, 2000)
• Creative Fidelity: American Catholic Intellectual Traditions ed. by R. Scott Appleby, Patricia Byrne, and William L. Portier (Orbis Books, 2004)
• Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium by Francis A. Sullivan (Paulist Press, 1996)
• Documents of the pope and the Vatican curia
• Documents of church councils
No is the wrong answer to the question, Do Catholics believe in evolution?; while yes is too small a response. What Catholics believe is a matter of creed and doctrine. The church teaches as doctrine that God is the Creator, but the how of creation is not doctrinally determined. The church doesn’t uphold evolution as an element of faith: i.e., believe it or walk the plank. Catholic teaching allows that God may have chosen to create the world through the process of evolution. We believe truth has integrity; there can be no contradiction between scientific truth and the religious kind. Theology and science are not in competition but are complementary adventures in understanding. So if a thing is true, it’s naturally true for people of faith.
|CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882) published
On the Origin of Species by Means
of Natural Selection in 1859.
The church is more emphatic on matters like creationism. This position claims evolution is completely incompatible with divine creation literally described in Genesis. Scientific creationism, an offshoot, goes so far as to say that biblical truth is the only science acceptable to Christians. Catholic theologian John Haught replies that not only does this stance deprive science of its legitimacy, but such ideas trivialize the Bible by reducing it to a biology lesson.
The church’s view of evolution has itself evolved. In 1950 Pope Pius XII affirmed that evolution did not contradict faith so long as the immediate creation of the human soul by God was not at issue. Pope John Paul II showed similar caution about the soul becoming a “simple epiphenomenon” of living matter—a result of the physical body, not something supernatural and infused in the body by God.
Pope Benedict XVI did not hesitate. Before his papacy in 2004, he stated: “While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of the first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5-4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.” In 2009 the pope also said God was “not only involved in the origins of the universe but continually sustains the development of life and the world” and “is the cause of every being and all becoming.”
• Genesis chs. 1-2; Proverbs 8:22-36; Wisdom 7:17-22; John 1:1-5; Acts 17:24-28; 1 Timothy 4:4-5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 11:3
• “Evolution and God: Darwin and Theology 150 years after The Origin of the Species” by Aloysious Mowe, S.J., Woodstock Report, June 2009
• Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life by John F. Haught (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010)
• Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration by Jack Mahoney (Georgetown University Press, 2011)
• Theologian and biological scientist Dr. Celia Deane-Drummond of the University of Notre Dame will deliver the 2012 Albertus Magnus Lecture on “Human Uniqueness Reconsidered: Human Evolution and the Image of God,” Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. in the Auditorium of the Priory Campus of Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois just west of Chicago. More information . . .
The short answer to this question: “A lot.” There are 73 books included in the Bible used by Catholics. By one estimate, the word “God” appears 3,358 times in those books and the word “Lord” another 7,736 times. So where to begin?
God wants to be known by humanity and is constantly reaching out to us to make that possible. From God’s stroll in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8) right through to God’s definitive revelation in the person of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, God is involved in a constant process of communication with humanity.
How can we get a better idea of what God is like? The Letter to the Romans gives us one place to start: Take a good look at God’s creation: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what God has made” (Romans 1:20). The wonders of the natural world give us hints of God’s qualities. Be sure to stay in touch with the beauty of God’s creation by making some time for a walk in the woods, a weekend of camping, an evening of gazing at the night sky.
Above all, we learn about God through Jesus because he lived with and as one of us. When we look at the testimony of scripture, we see that Jesus represents the fullness of God’s revelation to humanity. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son . . . who is the refulgence [radiance] of his glory, the very imprint of his being” (Hebrews 1:1-3). Or, as Jesus himself explained to the apostle Phillip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
By his example Jesus shows us that God possesses and expresses the noblest of qualities to perfection—truth, beauty, justice, mercy, grace, goodness, compassion—in a word, love. In fact, Jesus lived and suffered as one of us because, in the well-known quote from John 3:16, “God so loved the world.” What greater love is there than “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” as Jesus did (John 15:13)?
We also know God through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who appears throughout Hebrew scripture—beginning with the second verse of Genesis where the Spirit, in the form of a “mighty wind,” hovered over the waters. Midway through Hebrew scripture we find the psalmist’s plea, “Do not drive me from before your face, nor take me from your holy spirit” (Psalm 51:13).
The Holy Spirit appears in many passages in the New Testament. Jesus promised to send his followers a Helper or Comforter who would be with them always (John 14:16), and in the “great commission” at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the lynchpins of Christian faith in the Trinity, Jesus says, “Go, therefore,and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
The Holy Spirit comes to the forefront in the Acts of the Apostles, most famously at Pentecost, when members of the early church “were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues,as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:4).
While the Bible does indeed provide us with a great variety of testimony to the manifold, mysterious, and wonderful nature of God, in our human experience getting to know God doesn’t happen all at once. It is a lifelong process that unfolds in spiritual reading and reflection, prayer, and in our interactions with others—in “fellowship,” to use the church term.
Fellowship happens when we gather to worship, surely, but also in our homes and offices and in all our daily interactions with others, both casual and intimate. When we interact with a sense of God’s presence, even when there are only “two or three” of us, we know that Jesus is there with us (Matthew 18:20).
Perhaps one of the most useful of the many titles found in the Bible for God is Immanuel or Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14), which literally means “God-with-us.” That conviction, firmly rooted in our hearts, may be all we ever need to know about our loving God.
• See pt. 1, sec. 1, ch. 2 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “God Comes to Meet Man,” for a description of God’s interaction with humanity
• For children ages 4-9: Images of God for Young Children by Marie-Helene Delval, illustrated by Barbara Nascimbeni, Eerdmans, 2010