Sunday, November 24, 2013

Roman Catholic ressourcement and the limits of reform

The prophecy of the prophetic spirit in the church [for reform] takes place within the structures of the church's life. It presupposes this ecclesial structure and is only exercised within the limitations of this structure. (p. 188)

This means that the Augustinianism of Augustine and the Augustinianism of Jansenius, even if they are materially same in their details, are nonetheless formally different [because they did not remain in communion with the whole church]. (p. 234)

I said earlier that one of the fundamental errors of Jansenism was to take its inspiration from the texts of St. Augustine without maintaining sufficient docility towards the concrete life of the contemporary church (p. 261)

...the church does not like the via facti. ... But there is also a via facti that does not usurp the place of authority. It does not undermine the church's structure, but rather acts in and for ecclesial life. (pp. 277, 280)

— Yves Congar, O.P., True and False Reform in the Church (Translated with Introduction by Paul Philibert, O.P.; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011)

The Nouvelle Theologie is a movement within Roman Catholicism which triumphed in the Second Vatican Council. It is supposedly a return to the patristics (ressourcement), followed by an updating to present times (aggiornamento), and then development for the future. Yves Congar's book True and False Reform in the Church in the original French was influential for the calling of Vatican II, a council which rather radically changed Roman Catholicism.

The idea of ressourcement (a French term) seem to be similar to the Reformation principle of ad fontes (in Latin). The concepts are similar in their going back to the original sources and to the patristics. But there ends the similarity.

If there is any excitement over the Roman Catholic idea of ressourcement, the excerpts from Congar should crush it. We see here that the concept of ressourcement categorically ruled some areas out of bounds for reform, i.e. ecclesiology. In fact, Congar's idea of reform and ressourcement deals only with the practical pastoral matters, not doctrinal issues per se. It's all about expression and pastoral care, not about substance. The substance has already been decided dogmatically by the Magisterium, and it is not up for debate, or at least it seems. Blurring the lines between doctrine and pastoral care though is Congar's dissection of the Jansenist movement, a Neo-Augustinian pro-papal Roman Catholic movement in the 18th century that attempted a via media between Calvinism and what they perceive to be the Pelagianizing tendencies of the Jesuits. In a surprising statement, Congar claims that the Jansenists were wrong because they were not in communion with the whole church even though their doctrines were materially the same as Augustine. In other words, in the Nouvelle Theologie of Congar, doctrines are relativized and subsumed under expression and pastoral care.

In this light, any such reform thus cannot challenge the already pre-determined parameters. Even if through looking at the sources it is found that the papacy is not in the early church, that cannot by fiat be part of ressourcement. After all, ecclesiology is not within the operational parameters of ressourcement.

Roman Catholic ressourcement is thus not the same as the Reformation ad fontes. Unlike the Nouvelle theologians, we should not go back to the sources with preconceived notions and parameters concerning what we are looking for. Unlike them also, the Scripture are taken as the infallible primary source through which all other primary sources are evaluated, patristics or otherwise. Roman Catholic "reform," being restrictive, will never actually recover the church fathers, for they come to the project already with colored glasses.

No comments: