Sunday, October 30, 2011

USCCB: "Society Of Catholic Anachronism"

The above photo depicts a royal court as enacted by members of the Society of Creative Anachronism.  There are no clerical ranks in the Society.  May I suggest some real bishops and cardinals in the USCCB could fill those roles.

Just finished reading NCR's article "Bishops reaffirm: "Quest for Living God" not adequate theology" and can't say I was surprised by the outcome.  I think my understanding of the nature of Sr Johnson's book and the USCCB is not remotely on the same page.  I thought it was a book of theology which discusses the nature of God which happened to be written by a Catholic religious woman/theologian.  I see I was wrong.  For the USCCB nothing about Sr Johnson and her writing is relevant other than the fact she is a Catholic religious.  Catholic trumps any other attribute about Sr Johnson.  By this definition she can not write any theology which is not Catholic through and through. In their eyes she is nothing more than an intellectually indentured serf in their Catholic kingdom and it's apparently very sinful to write as if she is free and unfettered.

I've excerpted the section of the article which I found most telling:

In its “Response,” the Committee reviews the arguments presented by Sister Johnson in defense of her book and answers by going into greater detail in its analysis of the central issues, with further documentation in terms of citations from the book.

At the conclusion of its study of the “Observations,” the Committee concludes that “they have not in fact demonstrated that the Committee has misunderstood or misrepresented the book. Rather, the Committee finds itself confirmed in its judgments about the book.” (There's a shocking conclusion:  we said it there for we are right.)

The Committee notes that one of Sister Johnson's central arguments was that she was attempting to express the faith of the Church in new and creative ways that would be appropriate to the contemporary situation, whereas the Committee was operating out of a narrow theological framework and would only accept the repetition of traditional formulas.  (That's an honest statement and precisely why Roman Catholicism is mostly becoming the "Society of Catholic Anachronism" .)

The Committee concurs that “the task of theological reflection is never accomplished by the mere repetition of formulas,” but goes on to assert that the “real issue is whether or not new attempts at theological understanding are faithful to the deposit of faith as contained in the Scriptures and the Church's doctrinal tradition.”  (Which utterly ignores that Jesus Himself, was not faithful to the Jewish deposit of faith in the sense the USCCB is demanding from Sr. Johnson.  If He had been there would have been no Pentecost and no need for any Holy Spirit.)

The Committee comes to the conclusion that “the language used in the book does not adequately express the faith of the Church.”

The Committee commends Sister Johnson “for her stated intention to help the Church progress in her understanding of divine realities,” but says that the book fails to fulfill this task, “because it does not sufficiently ground itself in the Catholic theological tradition as its starting point.” (Are they saying Catholic theological tradition defines divine realities? I wonder if God is aware of that.)

The Committee points out that the book is "a particular pastoral concern" for the bishops "because it is written for a ‘broad audience’ rather than a more narrow scholarly audience.” (Horrors, too many 'simple people' might read it.)

“Furthermore,” it adds, “whether or not the book was originally designed specifically to be a textbook, the book is in fact being used as a textbook for the study of the doctrine of God.”

“Having examined both the book and the Observations in detail, the Committee on Doctrine believes that it is its duty to state publicly that on several critical points the book is seriously inadequate as a presentation of the Catholic understanding of God.”


Really, the Church is acting like a 'Society of Catholic Anachronism' that demands the laity take seriously the notion it knows all there is to know about reality--divine or otherwise.  Notice I left out the word 'creative' because as the Committee on Doctrine states of Sr Johnson:  "she was attempting to express the faith of the Church in new and creative ways that would be appropriate to the contemporary situation, where as the Committee was operating out of a narrow theological framework and would only accept the repetition of traditional formulas."  Hence no creativity in this particular anachronistic society.  No silly notions of "the Middle Ages 'as they ought to have been' as the real Society of Creative Anachronism defines it's notions of recreating the 'living history' of the culture of the Middle Ages. Maybe that's why the real SCA has no official clerical ranks. Clericalism is antithetical and hostile to creativity.

The SCA may be quite good at recreating the pagentry of the Middle Ages, but nothing they do can ever equal what Rome is capable of:

I could appreciate this kind of thing a whole lot more if I wasn't expected to take it seriously in the twenty first century---or the kind of magisterial rule and theology supporting that rule that all that pageantry implies.  There is no hint of any 'search for the living God' in this picture. The Catholic God represented in this picture was found back in the late Middle Ages.  According the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, that's the only God Catholics are officially allowed to find.  This is one of those times when something is so sad it really is funny.  I hope Sr Johnson has a good sense of humor because it's the only healthy response to these clerical delusions.


  1. Questions arise.
    - Would it all have gone differently if the same text had been written by theologian Mister William Charles Johnson?
    - In addition to Sr. Elizabeth's Quest, Amazon offers another 8,099 books under "Catholic < theology". How soon will we hear which of these may be threats to a broad audience using them as text books (presumably by reading left to right, top to bottom)?

    The USCCB Committee on Doctrine closed another recent critique with two adjacent sentences which remain hard to reconcile. They declared: "The efforts of theologians, however, can only bear fruit if they are in fact carried on within a hermeneutic of continuity and in the framework provided by the Catholic theological tradition and the teaching of the Church." Immediately before that, they wrote: "The issues treated in "The Sexual Person" are indeed vital matters for the life of the Church in our time. They should be thoroughly studied and discussed by theologians as part of their service to the Church and to society."

  2. That picture of Burke is one of the scariest, funniest I think I've yet to see, of what the reform of the reform means sartorially.

    Come on, Colleen, admit it: you posted this picture deliberately at Halloween time to give us a laugh! And a fright.

  3. Bill, I thought I exercised remarkable restraint by leaving the Halloween references out and going more upscale with the Society of Creative Anachronism. Regalia vs costumes.

    Jack I wondered too if Sr Johnson had been Fr Johnson if we would be talking about 'Quest' at all.

  4. Colleen,

    As someone who has been a member and part of the leadership within the SCA for over a decade, I can elaborate on how your comment is more right than you may know.

    The vast majority of SCAdians only 'practice' on weekends, basing their understanding of the history and traditions of the culture on an oral history which is sometimes wildly at variance with scholarly, written accounts. There is an inner circle of 'hardcore professionals' who are (at best) only vaguely accountable to the rank and file.

    As to why there aren't any clerical 'ranks' and very few people actively studying clerical personae (myself being one of those few), it is because of the tradition of a general social ban against them. There are many in the SCA who are practicing pagans (as well as many ex-catholics) who prefer a secular, fantastical, bureaucratic and unresponsive hierarchy that is both distant and pervasive to the echo of a real world one which has damned people for who they are, how they believe and how they live.

  5. Tim, I suspected that there was a 'general social ban' against clerical personae. Especially given the early genesis of the group.

    I actually got interested in the SCA from having read Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series of fantasy novels--oh and Marian Zimmer Bradley's works.

    But if the idea is to envision the Middle Ages as 'the way they ought to have been', it just seems to me there could also be room to envision the Church the 'way it ought to have been'.

    On the other hand, I think Catholicism actually tried to do that with VII, and we all know how well that turned out. Some folks, who were actually living the Middle Ages as their reality just couldn't give it up.

  6. Perhaps we could call the USCCB the Society of Clerical Anachronism, because if the shoe fits.....

  7. One other thought, the lay equivalent of the Society of Clerical Anachronism is perhaps the Society for the Preservation of Tradition, Family & Property. The TFP types imagine the past as something it never was, complete with heraldry and multiple names, when in reality its membership is descended from people who would have been considered unwashed peasants in the times that TFP so idolizes.

  8. Patrick said in the last group of comments,"The scary part of the implosion is that it leaves a right wing cabal in possession of a tremendously powerful religious apparatus. Allied with evangelical Protestants, this motivated 25-30% is quite capable of keeping long-term control of the majority."

    Currently that is where we are and it was accomplished by the mind set of the authoritarian in the appointment of Bishops using a litmus test for high positions. This continues to occur and is a big cause of the implosion. How long will it take? I don't know. A big part of the problem continues to be the mafia control of finances in the Vatican investments. That combined with Catholic teachings that will not look at what the scientific methods show us is wrong with the "RCC" way of thinking about fertility. Plus the false ways of defining abortion and women's rights. In addition to the sexual leadership crisis caused by bishops hiding problems of scandal and homophobia all taught with a force of "infallibility" will only lead to more implosion. Eventually even the financial empire will implode. The pieces may or may not be put back together in a better way. Humpty Dumpty has crashed as more and more Catholics are hurt and realize the problem, the old humpty will only be a part of a darkened history of which papa razi and Blessed JP II the Great are major players. Perhaps though the inevitable implosion began with the people who controlled the Vatican finances in the 1950’s and they have only gotten worse. dennis

  9. @Colkoch: Ah yes, bishop Kurtz. I've had the good fortune to spend a few pleasant evenings with her and her husband.

    In the last 5 years, especially, there has been a push towards authentic, scholarly applied archeology within some quarters of the SCA. That is to say, attempting to understand how people in a feudalistic society lived and why things were the way they were rather than re-imagining the middle ages as a 21st century democratic capitalist believes it should have been.

    I have a certain issue with the 'church as it ought to have been', as it is pretty precisely the sort of retconning that the Magisterium has been doing since V2. For myself, I am FAR more interested in envisioning the 'Church as Christ wants it to be' and making that a reality.

  10. Touche Tim. The Church as Christ wants it to be. Somehow I don't think that has much to do with how it currently is.

    Katherine Kurtz is a hero of mine in more ways than I care to count. When I really needed to believe there was a place for psychics and mystics in Christianity, I found her books. I am Deryni in so many ways. I now consider myself a Deryni Catholic. Happy Halloween.

  11. Colkoch,

    If you're so dissatisfied with the Church, it must be doing something right. 'Psychic and mystic Christianity'? "Deryni Catholicism"?

    Thank God for the Church and her integrity!