David's previous articles
April 15, 2012 David Timbs
(Melbourne) David's previous articles
People of God?
the decades immediately following Pius XII’s 1943 ground-breaking Encyclical, Divino
Afflante Spritu, Catholic scholarship erupted in an almost unprecedented
burst of energy and imagination. Biblicists and theologians began to work with a
new energy and freedom to re-examine the very sources of the Catholic Christian
intense and rigorously honest scholarship became the theological and biblical
foundations for most of the theology of the Second Vatican Council. One of the
most important and enduring concepts retrieved from the biblical and apostolic
Tradition was the People
While this is a central motif in the Hebrew Scriptures, Christians developed it
further into the notion of the new community in Christ, knowing what it once was and what it was now becoming,
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,
that you may
declare the wonderful deeds of him who
called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people
but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have
received mercy. – 1 Peter 2: 9-10
People of God were called to envision and realise their identity as the Household
God, the social
fringe-dwellers and resident aliens in
an often hostile host society. But they were equally called to be an open
community, a household of Christ-like welcome and hospitality, with its door
ever open to the outsiders. Vatican II
was insistent that these marks were the authentic characteristics of the
ecclesial Community, the new People of God.
II stresses the prophetic, counter cultural identity and mission of the Church
as central to its very being and identity in key documents such as Lumen
Gentium, Gaudium et Spes. In those as well as in Apostolicam
Actuositatem, Sacrosanctum Concilicum and others the Council emphasised the
critical ecclesial role that the non-ordained shared with the hierarchy.
key point of tension on the floor of the Council from the very beginning and
manifested in its documents was the need to reconcile and accommodate the highly
structured hierarchical ecclesiology of Trent with a more flexible model. The
former represented a structure based on clericalism, in divinely ordered stasis
and pyramidal in form. The latter stressed an ecclesiological structure based on
equal dignity by reason of Baptism and the confirmed gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Church was called to sit at the common table of partnership, subsidiarity
and shared governance. It identified its authority not only in the hierarchy but
in the Sensus Fidelium.
often conflicting and grating concepts of Church did not coexist easily then and
they are certainly in heightened tension now fifty years later, particularly in
the relationship between the Sense of the Faithful and
the Sense of what constitutes Faith
holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad
a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity by
offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to
His name. The entire people of faithful, anointed as they are y the Holy One
cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of
the peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith ‘when from the bishops
down to the last of the lay faithful’ they show universal
agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment is aroused and
sustained by the Spirit of truth.
is clearly now a discernment problem for the Church both in relation to the
guidance of the Holy Spirit and a number of matters judged to be of critical
importance: the teaching on artificial contraception and the ordination of women
to the priesthood. It is also abundantly clear that the Sensus
Fidelium has become so strictly and narrowly defined by the
JP II-Benedict XVI papacies that they are now of little or no importance in ecclesial life. Those at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid have been stripped once more of their baptismal sense of place and identity in the Church.
Memory of the People of God was dulled
and distorted as the Story has been
forcibly re-edited and rewritten. A sadly ironic dimension of this repression of
memory is the current institutional amnesia about the actual origins of the new
People of God in the Jesus Movement.
It was born precisely out of prophetic protest
within Judaism against the Pharisaic confusion between unquestioning
obedience to the Law and doing the Will of God, between sacrifice and mercy. For
Jesus, the Kingdom of God is like the wild, irritating, intrusive Mustard Weed,
not a set of tribal laws set in stone.
genius of the Gospel lay in its power to move people away from the world of
slavish, supine, blind obedience and compulsive legalism into the freedom of the
daughters and sons of God. Now that very same Gospel has been press-ganged anew
into the servitude against which it originally protested and rebelled.
administered Church of Benedict has unfortunately forgotten the subversive
message and energy of the Jesus Movement. Since 1978, the People of God have
been witnessing and experiencing at first hand a perverse and dangerous reversal
of the foundationally important message of Paul to the Galatians. The meat of
that Gospel is far too rich and the paradigm-shifting Paul is far too
challenging for this Peter and his legalistic supporters of the new James party.
Church has once again demonstrated its innate capacity and programmatic need, as
an institution, to domesticate and control the very Charism which originally inspired, established and validated it.
is clearly illustrated in the planned and systematic programme of regression
from the radical disturbance of the Jesus Movement to a culture of
ecclesiastical pacification and predictability. The retreat was carefully
engineered and executed during the pontificates of JP II and of Benedict XVI. It
originated in the disquiet of these two men and like-minded bureaucrats in the
Roman Curia who determined that the very notion of the Church as the People of God was, as incarnated in the reforms and directions of
the Council, too dangerously democratic to
be entertained, encouraged or promoted. The Church, in this perspective had to
be rescued from itself and from the threats of rupture and discontinuity
from the Tradition.
and deeply troubling for a very large number of Catholics throughout the world
is the clear drift of the Church into a dangerous kind of ecclesiastical autism.
A closed, introspective system of life and governance is now preferred and
promoted over a more optimistic and outward looking Church which has as its
primary mission to preach good News and
to be a light to the world not
message being sent from Rome is that its authority and magisterium alone is
sufficient for the Church, that the non-ordained are to remain the taught
with nothing significant themselves to teach,
to be led and not to show leadership outside of the menial. The centralised and
gated clericalism of current Church hierarchical governance is in desperate need
of liberation from its own moral and legalistic relativism. In the eyes of its
own members, ecclesial identity is narrowly defined in terms of the elite,
unlistening and self-interested few. In the eyes of the secular world the
Church, by word and deed, commission and omission, has become that which it
hates and rejects.
and when the hierarchical leadership of the Church re-appropriates, owns and
takes seriously its own foundational identity as the People of God then any
lasting hope for a genuine renewal of Spirit and life prophetically envisioned
by Vatican II will become a reality.
Timbs writes from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.