Sunday, February 13, 2011

Taking the Prophetic Stance

  In his article entitled “The Problematic Métier of the Intellectual in Relation to the Church”, Josef Pieper offers some rather important insights regarding the position of the intellectual with regard to the critical analysis of the Church. His insights deserve some careful evaluation.
Josef Pieper states, “One becomes an intellectual only by virtue of a certain attitude toward the ‘status quo’, ‘the Establishment’ or ‘the system’ ‘the existing order’. (p. 257)
  He is referring to the modern German definition of an “intellectual” and goes on to say that in order for one to be presented as an intellectual that person must not identify oneself with the phenomenon in question. Another major factor is that the intellectual have no vested interest in the topic at hand. “As an author who wrote on theological topics, Jean Danielou was an ‘intellectual’; but clearly intellectuals ceased to accept Danielou as one of their own as soon as he became a cardinal” (p. 258).
  It is quite clear, according to the German definition of “intellectual” that anyone who is a member of a religious community or serves the Church as a priest cannot qualify as an intellectual. A common response would be, “After all, his insights must be taken with a grain of salt since he is a priest and therefore biased.” Intellectuals may have to pay a price for their statements. “To be sure, the intellectual’s ‘hour of glory’ is at the same time an hour of trial and probation, of persecution, loss of reputation, emigration, and perhaps even martyrdom” (p. 260). While this insight can clearly describe Our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Thomas More, or many of the Church’s martyrs, this “hour of glory” is also expressed by those who take a “prophetic” position, namely attacking the Church while at the same time “cashing her paycheck”. The latter description does not coincide with Pieper’s view of an intellectual.
A distinction must be made when dealing with the Church. Pieper states, “The problematic nature of the phenomenon is infinitely increased when the institution under fire is not ‘society’, the parliamentary system of government, but the Church” (p. 260).
  Since being a member of the Church involves belonging to a believing Community, being an ‘outsider’ is actually a disadvantage. The Church is not opposed to having people critically examine her tenants and practices; however, the goal must be to aid people in understanding the Church as a way of deepening their relation with Jesus Christ. “John Henry Newman repeatedly expressed, and acted on, his conviction that unless one is prepared to obey the Church, all criticism of it will necessarily remain sterile” (p. 260). Pieper then refers to Tielhard de Chardin (1881-1955) as an example of someone who acted out of his conviction to present his spirituality while still remaining loyal to the Church. Father Teilhard’s writings were seen as questionable by the Church in the 1930s; however, over time the Church accepted his teachings. He displayed a “total absence of rebellion”, meaning that he did not attack the Church for her position, but quietly accepted her ruling. The same is true of John Courtney Murray (1904-1967). Initially the Church had some problems with his writings; however, much of what he wrote was later incorporated into the Declaration on Religious Liberty of the Second Vatican Council. Father Murray did not take the “prophetic” stance and attack the Church, but quietly accepted her position and remained loyal by virtue of his obedience.
  Pieper asks, “Could not the intellectual manifest his nonconformity by expressing his disagreement with those criticisms of the Church which are now being shouted from every roof top (and which thus have come to represent the “Establishment” view)?” The answer is that not only could the intellectual express his or her nonconformity in such a way, but that he or she has an obligation to do so. This manifestation of nonconformity is a true expression of the “prophetic” position. Anyone reading the words of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Elijah, John the Baptist or Jesus will understand what a proper expression of nonconformity involves.
  Pieper writes, “Above all, has there ever existed such a challenging opportunity for the intellectual to exercise his noblest office, truly his nobile officium, as this: To take up the lance of the provocative word and to fight to defend her who is despised by all the world-namely the Church?” The “establishment” commits a logical fallacy with regard to their attacks on the Church, namely Appeal to the People (of the “Indirect” variety) which is also known as the “Bandwagon Approach”. “Everyone knows that the Church is wrong, therefore get on the bandwagon and join the establishment’s attack.”
While objectivity, with regard to “distancing oneself”, may be an effective way to intellectually view such an institution as a university, such a criterion does not work with regard to the Church. Critical analysis of the Church can only come from with the dedicated community since truly successful innovation has only been accomplished by men such as St. Ignatius Loyola, who passionately critiqued existing conditions while remaining loyal to the Church hierarchy.
  Plato would argue that such “objectivity” would not work in regard to any enterprise. Challenging the Sophists, he states, “You believe you need concern with things (facts) only to such a degree that you can talk about them in an impressive way!” Unfortunately, in many intellectual circles a case could be made that there is little, if any, difference between the “intellectual” brand of criticism and traditional sophistry.

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