Category: John Wijngaards

Letter to Women

Letter to Women


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.


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‘Amrutha’. New book by John Wijngaards

‘Amrutha’. New book by John Wijngaards

New book by John Wijngaards

Our academic advisor, John Wijngaards, has published a book called AMRUTHA. What the Pope’s man found out about the Law of Nature, Author House 2011. The unusual feature about this book is that it presents a ‘theological story’.

The areas of Christian sexual ethics and the role of women in the Church both touch on natural law. In recent decades Pope after Pope has appealed to natural law to impose painful prohibitions. Contraceptives may never ever be used in planning the family. Why? They ‘go against the law of nature’. Homosexual intimacy is always ‘intrinsically evil’ as a sin against natural law. Women’s nature defines and restricts their role  .   .   .

What is at stake?

Theologians in the Middle Ages revamped the notion of ‘natural law’ already discussed by the Greeks and the Romans a thousand years earlier. The idea was: when God created humankind, he/she laid down a law in their nature. For instance: you may not kill needlessly. And no one may ever transgress the law of the Creator. In our time the principle resurfaced as the dignity of the person, as human rights; becoming  a  useful starting point for international agreements. However, the problem is: what does fall under natural law?

The traditional norms for deciding what is natural and what is not, are purely arbitrary. Thomas Aquinas, for example, worked out that poligamy, a husband marrying more wives, though not ideal, does not go against natural law, while natural law totally forbids a woman to have more husbands. Surely mutilating the male sexual organs is against natural law, you would think? No, not so obvious. Enter the castrati, male singers castrated  before puberty so that they retained their high soprano voices. Pope Clement VIII declared it was not against natural law. The ethics of natural law have in past centuries mistakenly been used by the Church to justify slavery, the colonial conquest of nations, the inferior status of women, torture and wars of aggression.

Back to Amrutha

Wijngaards wrote the book thinking: what would happen if a naïve monsignor from Rome would try to implement utter fidelity to natural law in everyday life? Also: what do the celibate lawgivers in Rome really know of the lives of ordinary people, especially the lives of women?

The main character in his story – Mgr. Shamus McKenna – demonstrates what might take place.His quest for the truth brings him to explore options that he never considered before.He meets extraordinary women who invariably push out his boundaries.At every point his determination to follow natural law leads him into more murky and untested waters of sex, morality, heroism, and women’s lives. His salvation lies in Amrutha whose name means: nectar & immortal. She is a fighter: resourceful, intelligent, able to overcome incredible challenges. With her he eventually finds out that for human beings ‘natural law’ is the use of reason, that is: of our conscience.

You find more information about the book, its background and reviews on http://www.thepopesman.com. Since the book is quite large (a long tale of 544 pages!), it is worth ordering a copy directly from the publisher with a 35% reduction.

For the USA: click here!

http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/AdvancedSearch/Default.aspx?SearchTerm=John%20Wijngaards

For the UK (Europe): click here!

http://www.authorhouse.co.uk/Bookstore/BookSearchResults.aspx?Search=John%20Wijngaards

We hope the book will amuse and enlighten many readers, especially the Pope and his cardinals in the Vatican. Please, pass this information on to other lists and channels. Thanks!


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.


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Pop-up names are online now.

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Welcome to my Home Page

John Wijngaards

John Wijngaards is a priest, theologian and writer.

LIFE

John Wijngaards presiding at an Indian-style Eucharist

He obtained a Master’s in Scriptural Studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute (LSS) and a Doctorate in Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome.

He taught at St John’s Major Seminary in Hyderabad, India (1963 – 1976). After a spell as Vicar General of the Mill Hill Missionaries (1976 – 1982), he lectured at the Missionary Institute London which was affiliated to Louvain and Middlesex Universities (1983 – 1998).

At the same time he founded Housetop Centre for Faith Formation which later developed into the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

From early on he demonstrated that there are no valid arguments from Scripture or Tradition to exclude women from the ordained ministries. When Pope John Paul II declared definitively against the ordination of women in 1994, he resigned from the priestly ministry in protest. He founded www.womenpriests.org to publish his findings online. Read a summary of John Wijngaards’ life story here.

PUBLICATIONS

John Wijngaards wrote many books. His earliest works were academic studies on various aspects of the Old and New Testament.

Because of the enormous need for ordinary Catholics to get to know Sacred Scripture better, he then specialised on pastoral books. Some became educational best-sellers for seminaries, noviciates and colleges, like Background to the Gospels. Other books reached out to those at work in the biblical apostolate. Other books again provided an introduction to biblical spirituality.

As time went on the question of women’s place in the Church loomed large. In this context John Wijngaards published classics such as Did Christ Rule out Women Priests? and The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church.

Many of these books are now available online. See John Wijngaards’ publications here.

ARTICLES

Throughout his long and varied ministry John Wijngaards also published hundreds of articles. Again they scale the width from strictly academic texts to pastoral instructions.

He was a regular contributor to various weeklies and magazines. While working in India he ran a weekly column on Sacred Scripture in the national Catholic weekly the New Leader. For four years he wrote the Scripture column in the English quarterly Mission Today which at the time had a circulation of over 100,000 readers.  During his ministry in England regular articles from his hand appeared in the influential weekly The Tablet over more than thirty years.

An overview of John Wijngaards’ articles can be found here.

PODCASTS

At the request of people who prefer to listen to the spoken world, John Wijngaards also recorded a number of podcasts.

In total six were recorded. All of them concern the question of women’s ordination. What to make of the arguments of St Thomas Aquinas, the famous medieval theologian, who thought women were incapable of ordination? Why did Jesus only choose men to serve among his twelve apostles? Does it prove he thereby excluded women from the priesthood for all time to come?

And what can we learn from the age-old devotion to Mary Priest? For nineteen centuries many Catholics had firmly believed that Jesus’ mother shared in his priesthood. But if Mary could, then other women can . . .

To listen to John Wijngaards’ podcasts, click here.

Life Story of John Wijngaards

Life Story of John Wijngaards

The story of my life – in brief

Background music?

My full name is Johannes Nicolaas Maria Wijngaards. I was born on 30 September 1935 at Surabaia in Indonesia from Dutch parents.

Short bio-data:

  • 1959: ordained a priest as a Mill Hill Missionary.
  • 1959 – 1963: studies in Rome. Licenciate of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and Doctorate of Divinity at the Gregorian University.
  • 1963 – 1976: missionary in India. Lecturer at St. John’s major Seminary, Hyderabad.
  • 1976 – 1982: Vicar General of the Mill Hill Missionaries.
  • 1983 – 1998: Professor of Sacred Scripture at the Missionary Institute London, which was affiliated both to the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and Middlesex University in London.
  • 1982 – now: director of Housetop International Centre for Faith Formation in London.

Early Experiences

My father & mother, my older brother Carel and I

 

My family went through difficult times during the war. My father, who was a highschool teacher, was drafted into the Dutch army and fought against the Japanese. During the war he worked on the railway lines in Thailand as a Japanese prisoner of war.

Together with my mother and three of my brothers, I too spent four years in Japanese prisoner of war camps in Java (Malang, Sukabumi, Ambarawa). All of us endured great hardships.

After the war we were repatriated to the Netherlands where we shared in the general poverty and deprivations of the time.

 

Studies

Student at the Gregorian University

My original intention had been to become a medical doctor, a surgeon. I was also quite interested in the modern sciences and toyed with the idea of becoming a scientist. While in Asia I had seen missionaries at work. I felt called to a similar vocation. I decided to become a missionary priest.

After completing my university entrance exams at Haelen in the Netherlands, I studied at the major seminaries of Roosendaal in the Netherlands and Mill Hill in the UK. I joined Mill Mill missionary society in 1958 and was ordained a priest in 1959.

I went for higher studies to Rome. I obtained the Licentiate of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Doctorate of Theology at the Gregorian University. My dissertation researched The Formulas of the Deuteronomic Creed (Brill, Leiden 1963). The findings were published in Dutch as Vazal van Jahweh (Bosch & Keunig, Baarn 1965). Further scientific research continued in India resulted in The Dramatisation of Salvific History in the Deuteronomic Schools (Brill, Leiden 1969) and a 360 page Commentary on the book of Deuteronomy in the well-known Dutch series of commentaries published by Romen and Zonen (1971).

Ministry in India

In front of St John’s Regional Seminary, Hyderabad

From 1964 to 1976 I was stationed in Hyderabad, India. I was involved in many tasks at once: lecturer at St. John’s Major Seminary, director of Amruthavani Communication Centre and general secretary of Jyotirmai, the pastoral planning body for the ten dioceses of Andhra Pradesh.

Much of my energy was concentrated on the apostolate in Andhra Pradesh. As Professor of St John’s Regional Seminary at Hyderabad, I spent most of my time teaching Scripture to future priests and training them in up-to-date, pastoral forms of apostolate. No other major Seminary in India had such an intensive training programme for its students as St John’s at Hyderabad. I directed the extensive research on vocations in Andhra conducted in 1968. I sat on the committee that translated the Sacred Scriptures in Telugu, and was moderator of the Conference of Religious for Andhra Pradesh. I founded Jeevan Jyothi, a new Formation Centre for Sisters in Hyderabad, Amruthavani, the Catholic Communication Centre for Andhra Pradesh, and Jyotirmai, the state-wide planning body for ten dioceses. These institutions are still flourishing today.

I was also actively involved on an All-India level.

  • During the reforms following on Vatican II, I was a member of the Processing Committee that analysed the 91 Regional Diocesan and Group Seminars preparatory to the All-India Seminar of 1969. The work took two months and resulted in a 600-page assessment report.
  • As a member of the Intellectual Sub-Committee of the Commissio Technica of the Seminary Commission of the CBCI, I contributed directly to the guidelines for priestly formation in India which are now binding on major Seminaries in India.
  • I was also, in various capacities, working with the CBCI Commissions for Mass Communications, Evangelisation, Biblical apostolage, Peace & Justice, Liturgy and Catechetics.
  • Saying Mass in Amruthavani chapel, Secunderabad

    As one of the few church people in India specialised in Islam, I was for many years the only RC member on the Board of Management of the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies, Hyderabad.

  • In 1968 I represented India in Rome at a meeting during which the foundations were laid for the World Federation of Catholic Biblical Apostolate.
  • I was a regular lecturer at the Training Courses and Seminars of the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre at Bangalore.
  • I was one of the founder-members of the Catholic Biblical Association of India and was elected its first Secretary from 1967 until 1972.

I found that India needed substantial and readable introductions to Scripture for priests, religious and laymen. So I wrote God’s Word to Israel, a book on the historicity of the Old Testament (Ranchi Press 1971). My Background to the Gospels (counting 384 pages in the TPI edition of 1972) is still one of the most popular first introductions to the Gospels in India. The book has seen many editions, and was translated into a number of vernacular languages, such as Telugu, Canara, Tamil, Malayalam and (shortened) Hindi. I wrote a book for lectors entitled Yes, Read the Word to others but make them understand (Asian Trading, Bangalore 1973).

My dialogue with Hindus, Muslims, Jains and Sikhs helped me develop my understanding of God. It would lead to the publication of God Within Us (Fount Original, London 1988).

Vicar General in London

In 1976 I represented the members in India at the international chapter of the Mill Hill Missionaries at London, and was elected Vicar General for a term of six years.

I was mainly responsible, as some kind of ecclesiastical personnel manager, for the 451 members in our nine home countries (Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, the USA). I spent the best part of each year visiting each of the 27 Mill Hill communities in those countries (144 members at the time), communities which focused on fundraising, and recruitment & formation of missionary personnel. I also met as many of the other members as possible: fully retired missionaries (153) or those who, after work on the missions, functioned as chaplains, parish priests and parish assistants (143).

I saw it as one of my main tasks to organise renewal seminars for Mill Hill members. During my time in office 17 such seminars were held, benefiting 356 individuals.

During this time I wrote: Did Christ Rule Out Women Priests? (McCrimmons, London 1977) and Come and See (Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame 1981).

Director of Housetop

At the Glaslow launch of Journey to the Centre of Love in 1995

Since 1982 I have been the Director of Housetop, an international centre based in London, that produces video courses and films for adult faith formation.

We developed video courses, such as the WALKING OF WATER series, that consisted of stories on video filmed in Kenya, Brasil, Colombia and Indonesia, with textbooks on Sacred Scripture.

Our film, Journey to the Centre of Love, which was filmed in England and Taiwan, of which I was the scriptwriter, received three international awards, including the Grand Prix of the Film Festival in Warsaw.

Although I had been involved in writing fiction before, I took special courses at this time which have enabled me to publish a novel, and write succesful screenplays for video and film. Although I continued to write spiritual and theological books (Inheriting the Master’s Cloak, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame 1985; The Gospel of John, Michael Glazier, Wilmington 1986; The Spirit in John, Michael Glazier, Wilmington 1987; How to Make Sense of God, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995), I began to address a wider audience through my fiction.

 

Resignation from exercising the priestly ministry

 

In the course of the years I had begun to be more and more concerned about decisions by the Pope, both regards theology and the practical ministry.

Jackie Clackson whom I married in 2000

This led, in 1998, to my resigning from exercising the priestly ministry, on account of a conflict of conscience, especially regarding the ordination of women.

The full background will be clear from these pages:

On the 21 February 2000 I received from Rome the indult that released me from the obligation of celibacy. Shortly afterwards my long-time friend and Housetop colleague Jacqueline Clackson and I married in a simple Church ceremony in the Netherlands, which was a great joy to us and our families. See the statement about my marriage.

The womenpriests’ website

When I resigned from the priestly ministry in 1998, I knew that many Catholic groups and movements around the globe had begun to campaign for women’s ordination. However, I found that even many supporters did not fully appreciate the need of defending the cause on theological grounds. Generally speaking they – rightly – felt in their Catholic bones that it was not Christ who excludes women but prejudice. However, they were ill equipped to answer the traditional objections put forward by Church authorities.

To remedy this state of affairs I decided – with the help of local volunteers and a network of specialists – to found a website that would provide the academic material on which both campaigners and church leaders could base their views. It led to www.womenpriests.org which has grown out to be the largest professionally guided internet library on the ordination of women. The website offers thousands of documents in 26 languages (as of 2010). It provides the classic Church texts and traditional publications that reject the priesthood of women as well as the avalanche of theological publications supporting women’s ordination. Building up the enormous resources contained in the website has been a painstaking labour.

My research led to a number of further publications including: The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church and No Women in Holy Orders?/Women Deacons in the Early Church. On the womenpriests.org website I published a course on Interpreting Scripture Correctly.

John Wijngaards

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Email

Resignation

My Focus

Life Story

Publications


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.


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Becoming real in a mysterious world

Becoming real in a mysterious world

Becoming real in a mysterious world

by John Wijngaards

Published in the Tablet 14th October 2006

Philosophy is not an arcane past-time indulged in by spectacled men who squabble over obscure questions in the closets of dusty old libraries. Philosophy underlies education, commerce, politics and religion. Get your philosophy wrong and you will pay a heavy price.

I am grateful to The Tablet for having directed the discussion of the Pope’s Regensburg address to its real intent which focuses on religion and reason. Yes, the Church is fortunate in having a supreme pastor who understands the crucial role played by ideas and who calls for a free and open discussion, an invitation we may not ignore.

I agree with what Benedict XVI says about the need of coupling faith and reason. Assent to faith should be guided by reason, and its contents probed and plumbed with the help of reason. No one may claim a monopoly on reason, in particular the modern sciences who tend to reduce all reality to what is perceived by the senses. The Pope is right to decry ‘a reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of sub-cultures’. But does the ideology of the Pope himself stand up to scrutiny? We need to examine more fully what Anthony Carroll calls ‘the unfinished project of correlating or aligning faith and reason in our post-secular age’.

For, in spite of claiming not to wish to return to a time before the Enlightenment, and in spite of concessions he promised in his discussion with Jürgen Habermas, the Pope defends a philosophy that has its roots in Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) and that culminated in the thought of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). The main thrust of the Pope’s Regensburg speech is to affirm that Europe, and the Christian faith, should hold on to Greek thinking. We should resist ‘de-hellenisation’ which, he affirms, has assaulted the Church in three waves. The Pope, in fact, proposes Aristotelian and Thomist metaphysics as a mode of ‘universal thinking’ that is sanctioned in Christian tradition and that could convert today’s secular sceptics. I believe he is mistaken.

An Imprimatur on Greek philosophy?

The Pope believes that the inspired Scriptures somehow have stamped divine approval on Greek philosophy. This is clear from his Regensburg speech, but also from the Encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998) which he wrote for John Paul II as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It is true that the Book of Wisdom, which was written in hellenist Alexandria, draws on Greek thinking when stating that the Creator can be known from power and beauty in nature (Wisdom 13,1-9). Paul knows this argument (Rom 1,29) and quotes some Sophist texts when addressing philosophers on the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17,23-31). But does this prove an endorsement of Greek philosophy? Are such arguments not rather an adaptation to the hellenistic audience? The Pope himself cites the Qur’an in his address. Are we to understand by this that he commends the Qur’an as an inspired writing?

The Old Testament expression ‘I am who am’ or simply ‘I am’ (Exodus and Isaiah) do not constitute, as the Pope claims, an almost Socratic attempt to overcome and transcend mythical thinking about God. The expression means that God is the one who is there, who is powerfully present, who shows his presence in deeds, mainly by his liberating his people.

The New Testament was written in Greek and we do find allusions to Greek philosophical thinking. But may we really maintain that ‘Greek thought and revealed faith’ have been inextricably linked? The first lines in John’s Gospel read: “In the beginning was the Word (logos) and the Word (logos) was God, etc.”. The Pope points out that ‘logos’ could also mean ‘reason’. Yes, rarely so, for instance in Plato and Aristotle. But in ordinary Greek speech it simply meant ‘word’. It does so here as its reference to the creation story implies. “God said: ‘Let there be . . . and it happened’.” The Logos is God’s plan (Hebrew dabar, ‘word’) to create us and communicate with us, a plan that unfolded with creation and became flesh in Jesus Christ.

The point of this sketchy analysis is to show that while Scripture no doubt affirms rationality, it does not endorse Aristotelian metaphysics as a necessary ingredient of Christian faith, which brings me to Thomas Aquinas.

Talk of ‘being’ and ‘nature’

When the Church in the Middle Ages was in dire need of a consistent system of thought to express its beliefs, Aquinas was the genius who did the job. He discovered Aristotelianism in the translated works of Muslim scholars and he successfully adapted it for use in Christian theology. Aquinas was indeed a master mind. Not only could he hold vast quantities of data in his memory, he managed to mould these into a logical whole not less impressive than the majestic Gothic cathedrals that began to adorn Europe.

Central to Aristotelian/Thomist thought is that each being has a ‘nature’ that expresses the substance or essence of that kind of object. A horse has the nature of being a horse. Accidentals of colour, size, height, etc. do not change a being’s nature. That is why a grey, an Arab, a palomino and a Shetland pony all share the same nature. They are all horses. In more general terms, there is a pyramid of natures, from inanimate beings to plants, then to animals, to human beings, to angels and finally to God. Each has its kind of nature.

A being’s nature is universal and fixed. The natures of original beings have been fixed by the Creator. Birds have wings by nature, so they fly. Pigs cannot fly. Flying goes against their nature, or to put it differently: goes against the natural law for pigs. Once you accept this premise, the main task of theologians is to define everything’s nature: the nature of a sacrament, the nature of the Church, etc. and by analogy the nature of God.

Pope Benedict recommends this ‘philosophy of being’ as the ideal bridge between faith and reason:

“Set within the Christian metaphysical tradition, the philosophy of being is a dynamic philosophy which views reality in its ontological, causal and communicative structures. It is strong and enduring because it is based upon the very act of being itself, which allows a full and comprehensive openness to reality as a whole, surpassing every limit in order to reach the One who brings all things to fulfilment.” (Fides et Ratio § 97).

The problem is that Thomist philosophy no longer matches the real world as we have come to know it. Pigs do fly. The Pope’s failure to recognise the misfit damages Christian life and our ability to re-evangelise Europe.

Thomism falls short

Take the question of marriage. Thomists define openness to conception as belonging to the nature of the marriage act. When Cardinal Ratzinger joined the Congregation for Doctrine, Pope Paul VI decreed that ‘each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life’. The Pope declared the use of contraceptives which render procreation impossible ‘intrinsically evil’ (Humanae Vitae, 1968, §14), that is: they go against the nature of marriage as established by God. In this view, contraceptives may not be used as a means to space the planning of children. They are not even allowed to women who need to protect themselves against drunken husbands infected with AIDS.

But what is this assessment of the nature of marriage based on? Originally men and women had intercourse without even realising its link to the procreation of children, as anthropology has documented. In the course of thousands of years marriage arose as a social institution with a multiplicity of forms. Its main purpose was to give stability to families and to protect common property. Marriages were polygamous or polyandrous. Trial sex before marriage was common. What was natural or unnatural in all such marriages?

Rather than ascribing a fixed, unchangeable nature to marriage, why not accept marriage as a dynamic, complex, interconnected reality, always somehow original between specific partners, with unique biological, social, cultural and psychological aspects?

Again and again the Pope’s Thomism betrays reality. Sex is forbidden to gays and lesbians by ‘natural law’ (Persona Humana 1975; reaffirmed in 1986, 1992 and 2003). A woman’s nature bars her from ordination (Mulieris Dignitatem 1988). The Pope says violence ‘goes against God’s nature for God is reason’. What reason? The burning of heretics under the Inquisition was justified with refined Thomist sophistry. The ‘common good’ (bonum commune) of scaring the public away from heresy was said to overrule mercy for the individual. The same ‘common good’ argument has been invoked in our own day to refuse communion to Catholics who are divorced and remarried even though they are reconciled with the Church, to refuse priests who have left the priestly ministry permission to marry in church, and to deny victims of clerical child abuse their full rights. Pope Benedict surely realises that it is the human rights movement of our modern world that exposes such errors, not the Church’s own principles. Can Thomist reasoning be trusted?

As the Pope points out, the stakes are high. We live in a new exciting and frightening world whose grandeur is unfolding before our eyes in all dimensions, from the cosmic to the microscopic, from our evolutionary past to unprecedented challenges. If anything, mystery has intensified. The search for the meaning of life cries out for an answer – which Jesus’ message of God’s love can provide. But what language shall we speak to bring that message?

The ‘analogy of being’ which the Pope sees as the only way to save God-talk, is flawed in its base. We need to explore other options. If meta-language is language about language for instance, meta-meta-meta-language expresses the level of meaning, the level to which God-talk seems to belong. God is not less real because we can only think and talk about her in images, and in categories of ultimate significance.

Greek ontology and Thomism will not do any more. Even if we do not see a suitable alternative just now, at least we should recognise the problem. The project of aligning faith and reason in our post-secular age is, indeed, unfinished.

Dr John Wijngaards is Director of Housetop Centre for Adult Faith Formation. He is the author of the multi-media project How to Make Sense of God which received two international awards. See also: www.mysteryandbeyond.org.


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.


Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.


Please, support our campaign
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Mary, the woman who stood by the cross

Mary, the woman who stood by the cross

Mary, the woman who stood by the cross

By John Wijngaards
Published in the UniverseJune 19th 1987.

A friend of mine, although a committed Catholic, used to admit to having a secret dislike for Our Lady. “She gives me the creeps”, she once told me. “So sweet and eerie; without the zip or the passion of a real woman”.

Recently she saw a modern mystery play in the US in which Mary was presented as broadminded, resourceful and witty. “Suddenly I realised I did not resent the real Mary but the image pious men have wished on her”.

I am not sure it is only men who created this image. What I know is that many Catholics do Mary a great injustice in what they imagine her to have been or to be.

In fact, I believe it is worse. I think there are women permanently put off the Church by the sort of Mary they are expected to identify with.

Mary has been made the perfect plaster saint, the lady “who would never sit with her legs crossed”, as one nun used to tell her teenage students.

In popular art, she has been presented to us as the submissive housewife or as the spotless lady floating on a dustfree cloud.

Character

The Marian Year offers a marvellous opportunity to remember the true Mary as Scripture reveals her, to discover her as a person of character.

Put yourself back on Golgotha. The sound of the relentless blows that hammered the nails into Jesus’s hands and feet had just died down. The cross has been erected, had slid into its base with a dull thud. Jesus groaned with pain. But close to him, right under the cross, stood his mother (Jn 19,25;.

The disciples had fled, out of fear. She was there. She was overcome with pain and sorrow. But she stood. She knew that only thus, by the strength of her standing next to him, could she give him the support he needed.

Is this the action of a plaster saint?

Respect

Courage and determina- tion must have been characteristics of Mary throughout life. Mary had a mind of her own.

If Jesus was the kind of person who commanded immediate respect, who could drive a marketful of merchants out of the Temple square single-handed, Mary, his mother, must have been a strong woman who fostered such traits in her son.

Mary was not a feminist. Social conditions in her days were so different. Nor is her role restricted to a partial or single sex salvation. But we can have no doubt about Mary playing a key role in God’s plan of righting the wrongs inflicted on women.

The Genesis story tells us that woman’s submission to man was one consequence of human sin.

Woman was created equal to man as his full partner. But when Adam and Eve had sinned, she was told: “You will be subject to your husband” (Gen 3,16).

This does not mean that God condemned woman to a subservient state; rather that the oppression of women would be one aspect of human suffering, like pain, hard work and ill health.

Mary was the New Eve, appointed by God to crush, the serpent’s head. Within her universal task she was also called upon to restore the full dignity and equality of women. Which human being, apart from Jesus, has received such outstanding privileges as she has? And it was not a coincidence that she was a woman. Mary received her special position precisely as a woman so that in her the sinful dependence of women could be reversed.

Bias

The condition of women all over the world leaves much to be desired, as the Interna- tional Women’s Year (1985) clearly brought out.

In almost all countries women are less literate, earn less than men, have less access to professional and managerial jobs, are given less freedom.

This means women are simply not given the status of full dignity and equality that is their right.

And, more often than not, this dicrimination springs from a religious bias.

How does Islam look on women? Or Hinduism? Or Communism? Or the tribal religions of Africa? And what about Christians?

Even in our own Catholic Church women by no means occupy the place in life and in the ministry which they should have as persons baptised into the royal, prophetic and priestly dignity of Christ.

Honour

All this concerns Mary deeply. With the Apostles she was there, among the first to receive the Spirit at Pentecost. Let us honour her in this Marian year by more than lip-service. Let us respect her wholeness as a full-blooded, human and profound person. Let us vigorously pursue the new creation she began by her being the New Eve: trampling underfoot every vestige of sin, which includes discrimination.



Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

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Do Jesus’ Words on Divorce (Lk. 16:18) Admit of no Exception?

Do Jesus’ Words on Divorce (Lk. 16:18) Admit of no Exception?

Do Jesus’ Words on Divorce (Lk. 16:18) Admit of no Exception?

by John Wijngaards

published in the theological magazine Jeevadhara vol 4 (1975) pp. 399-411

During the last eight centuries the Catholic Church did not permit divorce between two Catholics who have been living together in a valid sacramental marriage. The indissolubility of such a marriage has for some become a touchstone of genuine Catholic teaching, lt is an essential part of doctrine, they maintain, and in evidence for this, they will point to a declaration made by Jesus concerning divorce in Mk 10: 11-12 end Lk 16,18:

“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. And he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Lk. 16. 18; Mk. 10, 11-12).

The other New Testament passages which deal with divorce and which mention exceptions to the general indissolubility (“adultery”: Mt 5, 32; 19, 9; “if the unbelieving partner desires to separate”: 1 Cor 7, 15), are explained in such a way that they would not seem to contradict the absoluteness of Jesus’ statement. The whole conviction could be summed up in these words: “Christ himself once for all abolished divorce between Christians. Even the Church cannot change this divinely promulgated law.”

This conviction, however widespread in certain quarters, is a sad misunderstanding of the true teaching of the Gospels and of the authority of the Church. From a Scriptural point of view, Jesus’ statement cannot be validly interpreted as an absolute law, binding the future church without any exceptions. In all such statements of Jesus the Gospel presupposes that the Church of future ages has the power and the duty to make specific legislation which will often have to modify the absoluteness of the ideal expressed by him. With regard to divorce itself, the New Testament Church already introduced such modifications on its authority. It thereby illustrated that the Church of today can and should introduce new legislation when this is required by the pastoral situation of our times.

One of the major sources of confusion is the literalistic interpretation given to one or other passage. It is connected to a one-sided idea of what fidelity to Jesus’ teaching means. An attempt to illustrate this will be made in three examples in which we may contrast one of Jesus’ absolute statements and the authoritative interpretation of the Church. The New Testament passages dealing with divorce will then be examined according to the same principle.

SECTION ONE: JESUS’ ABSOLUTE WORDS AND CHURCH LEGISLATION

No Gospel text presents Jesus as a lawgiver in the strict sense of the term. It is true that in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) Jesus’ teaching is contrasted with the laws of the Old Covenant. But even here he does not give precise legal prescriptions, but an outline of the Christian ideal, Jesus himself summarizes his commandments,’ as “you should love one another as I have loved you’’ (Jn 15, 12), This is not a legal clause but a principle on which future laws could be built. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are of the same nature. Leaving one’s gift at the altar one should be reconciled to an angry brother (Mt 5, 24), one should pluck out one’s right eye when tempted to sin rather than indulge in it (Mt 5, 29), and go one mile with him who forces a person to go for two miles (Mt 5,41). These are not ”Laws” in any accepted legal sense, but descriptions of the ideal person Jesus wants his disciple to be.

The Christian conscience has always understood that the words of Jesus should not be taken literally as strict laws. Who has ever cut off his right hand and thrown it away “because it causes him to sin” (Mt 5, 30)? Who has ever maintained that we should indiscriminately give to any one who begs although Jesus says “Give to him who begs from you” (Mt 5, 42) ? Who does not know that a “laying up of treasures” is a necessity in organized work even though Christ seems to forbid it (Mt 6,19)? Our Christian conscience tells us that these words of Christ have to be understood in the deeper spiritual sense, and not taken as statutes of a rigid code.

The taking of oaths

In some cases the need of an implicit interpretation may not be so obvious. Consider Jesus’ condemnation of oaths:

“I say to you, not to swear at all, either by heaven, for it is throne of God, or by the earth, as it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, as it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘yes” or “no”. Anything more than this comes from evil” (5, 34-37).

Jesus says explicitly “Do not swear at all”. If this is taken as an absolute command (as it seerns to be when we are guided solely by the ring of his words), we would never be allowed, under any circumstance, to take an oath. However, this has not been the interpretation in the Church. If we take the official Canon Law of the Church as our norm, in its final version as prornulgated by Pope Benedict XV which is still valid today, we find that much attention is given to the taking of oaths. In canon 1366ss, the conditions for the validity of oaths are spelled out Not only is the taking of oaths permitted but the law of the Church mentions nineteen cases in which one has to take an oath. These cases are of frequent occurrence: clerics before ordination, diocesan consultors, officers workmg in the episcopal curia, those with offices in an ecclesiastical court, religious meeting in a Chapter, and those who administer Church property, are all required to take an oath. Notwithstanding the absolute statement of Jesus, the Church has, in fact, made the taking of oaths an ordinary element of its administration.

An interesting example is the case of priests (Canons) with the duty of attending choir services in our capitular churches. The law lays down (Cn 395 par 4) that someone should be appointed to keep a register in which the absence of the defaulting Canons from choir services is to be noted. This person (called the “punctator”) should take up his office “after having taken an oath before the Chapter or its president with the promise to fulfil his duty faithfully”.

No doubt the lesser Church laws in question testify to a zest in legalistic specification that was far from the mind of Christ. Small wonder that the Church law is being revised after Vatican II. At the same time it would be audacious to presume that the Church was wrong in allowing the taking of oaths at all. Facts prove that the universal prohibition of Mt 5, 34-37 has not been allowed but has even prescribed the taking of oaths in certain circumstances.

Precedence of Church dignitaries

In the foregoing example we have seen how a statement of Jesus can be modified in the Church by a later interpretation May such an interpretation be tolerated ? That it should be is seen from another example in which the New Testament Church itself modified one of Jesus’ pronouncements. He abhorred the vanity and pride of the Pharisees.

“They love the places of honour at feasts and best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the marketplaces, and being called Rabbi by men. But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth for you have one Father who is in heaven. Neither be called master, for you have one master, the Christ” (Mt 23. 6-7).

These words of Jesus seem to decree that in his Church there should be no honorific titles, nor any privilege of precedence. In actual practice we find, in the Church, many titles of honour. Canon Law, apart from solidly establishing the principle of precedence (Cn 106), lays down individual privileges in this regard in fifteen separate statutes. These rules of precedence embrace not only the various ranks of the hierarchy but also the various kinds of priests (deans, parish priests, assistants, chaplains, religious, etc.) and divers pious associations. Judging by the norms of these laws, one might say that everyone’s proper place of precedence, according to presumed dignity and honour, has been fixed once and for all. Again the practice seems directly opposed to the words of Jesus

It is undeniable that taking pride in an ecclesiastical title, or claiming precedence on account of it, goes counter to the spirit laid down by Jesus: “He who is greatest among you will be your servant” (Mt 23, 11), On the other hand, proper order in the Church does often demand a clear understanding of where authority lies. Although an exaggerated insistence on titles and precedence violates the spirit of the Gospel, enlightened following of the rules laid down by tradition can prevent much confusion and strife. The laws of the Church were formulated after many centuries of experience and are not the outcome of misguided legalism.

In fact, the justification for establishing titles and precedence can be found in the decisions of the earliest Church themselves. Already at the time of St. Paul we find the need for clearly defined leadership. Even during his first missionary journey Paul “appointed elders presbuteroi in every community” (Acts 14, 23). In writing to the Corinthians, Paul presupposes some hierarchical arrangement when he says: ‘God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers then helpers, administrators, speakers in various kind of tongues” (I Cor 12, 28). In his letter to Timothy he distinguishes bishops (I Tim 3, 1-7) from deacons (I Tim 3, 8-13) and “elders” (1 Tim 5, ,7-22). It is clear that while establishing these offices, and laying down their duties and privileges, Paul was preparing the way for later ecclesiastical dignities.

The words of Jesus regarding the attitude of those who minister in the church, have thus been interpreted by the early Church itself as referring to the spirit of service, not to matters of external organization. The growth of the Church required that the authority and leadership of certain successors of the Apostles should be clearly visible. Honorific titles and some preferential treatment in public would seem necessary concomitants of such a recognition. The early Church did not think that the introduction of this practice was contrary to Jesus’ words, however absolute they seem at first.

Apostolic means of transport

At times the New Testament community asserted its legislative authority by explicitly modifying Jesus’ words. An illustration can be taken from his injunction on apostolic  poverty:

“Do not take anything with you for the journey, no staff, no bag, no bread, no money. And do not have two tunics.” (Lk 9, 3).

Once more we are struck by the absoluteness of Jesus’ demand (see also Lk. 10, 4; Mt. 10, 9-10). Its severity stands out all the more when we know that Rabbis at the time of Jesus were much more lenient than he was. Although it was generally accepted that a person who fasted should not wear sandals or make use of a walking stick, the Scribes exempted explicitly all those who had to go on a journey. On no account could they imagine a person going outside a city and travelling far, leave behind such minimum equipment. But Jesus demanded this observance of his Apostles as a sign of their total detachment.

In ordinary Church practice today priests wear shoes and use all other normal amenities necessary for travel. Every minister of Christ has the duty of showing in his clothes and his general behaviour that simplicity and lack of worldly interest that should characterize a spiritual person. This is generally understood to be the meaning of Christ’s injunction. It would be considered incorrect if one were to deduce from Lk. 3 that Jesus had forbidden the wearing of shoes. Common sense and the practical necessity of daily life led the Church to the proper interpretation

The same factors which determine this interpretation in our own days were already at work in the early Church. The Apostles too, and their immediate successors experienced the impossibility of fulfilling Jesus’ words according to the letter. Walking around barefoot on the sun-beaten roads of the Middle East was a penance that could only result in hindering free movement and an effective apostolate. The early Church faced up to the conflict between this practical experience and the words of Christ. Would Christ have allowed the wearing of sandals? Would what he said in the protected region of Galilee also apply to the semi-deserts of Asia Minor? Fortunately, there were Apostles who could authoritatively interpret the mind of Christ. To them had been given the power to loosen or to bind in the name of Christ (Mt 18, 18). To them had been promised the Holy Spirit who would make them understand the true meaning of all that Christ had taught (Jn 14, 26). It was to the Apostles that people in the early Church turned for an authoritative statement on the meaning of Jesus’ orders to his ministers.

The Gospel of Mark contains the answer, a decision which may well go back to an authentic interpretation by Peter himself. In accordance with the accepted practice in those days, the decision was added to the words of Christ in the form of a modification. “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff.. No bread, no bag, no money in their purse, but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics” (Mk 6, 8-9).

Two modifications have been made to the words of Jesus: both sandals and the staff are allowed. Mark reports Jesus’ words in this form not because he does not know that Jesus had in fact also forbidden the use of the staff and sandals but because, on the strength of the interpretation of a person like Peter, he knew it to be the mind of Jesus that these were allowed for his contemporaries. In other words: following an explicit decision on Church authority in his days and under guidance of the Holy Spirit, the author of St. mark’s Gospel relativizes the words of Jesus by explicitly allowing two exceptions.

Summary

What we can learn from the analysis of the texts that have been considered may be put together in this way:

(a) Even though Jesus seems to be speaking in absolute and exclusive terms, we should not rush to the conclusion that no exception is possible. Jesus proclaimed principles of the Christian ideal. He did not define specific laws.

(b) The practice of the Church helps us to understand Jesus’ words. Having received all authority from him the Church can give an authoritative interpretation which correctly expresses the mind of Christ.

(c) The Church took authoritative decisions even during apostolic times. Some of them have been explicitly incorporated in Christian doctrine as modifications of the words of Jesus.

SECTION TWO: TlIE CHURCH’S POWER TO ALLOW DIVORCE

In Lk 16, 18 and Mk 10, 11-12 Jesus is quoted as categorically rejecting divorce on any ground. There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of this report. his contemporaries were divided on the grounds sufficient for divorce. Dt. 24, 1 stated that a man could divorce his wife “because he had found something indecent in her.” Followers of Rabbi Shammai maintained that this referred to adultery. The disciples of Hillel, on the other hand, permitted divorce even for less serious reasons, such as a woman’s inability to cook. Against this background Jesus’ reply is clear. Instead of entering into the discussion and identifying himself with either of the two schools, He rejects the attitude of the Jews altogether. He scolds them for their hardness of heart which produced such legalistic disputes. True to his characteristic impatience with; half-hearted solutions, He proclaims a new ideal of marriage. It is a bond that unites two persons for life. .Man should not interfere with this. The question of divorce obstructs the perfect ideal of Christian marriage (Mk 10, 1-12).

This basic ideal will remain valid for all times. The making and breaking of marriages is not some secondary matter that man can indulge in at will. Christian partners should not enter into the marriage contract with the possibility of a future divorce in mind, as many of Jesus’ contemporaries did. A climate of permissiveness, which tolerates divorce in a haphazard way, will affect the very nature of marriage itself. “Man must not separate, what God has joined together” (Mk. 10, 9).

The exceptive clause in Matthew

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus dismisses divorce but seems to allow one exception.

I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Mt. 5, 32).

And I say to you whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery” (Mt. 19, 9).

According to the ordinary and straightforward interpretation of these words, Jesus allows divorce in the case of unchastity” (Greek: “porneia”). In their anxiety to harmonize the statements in Matthew with those in Mark and Luke, many Catholic exegetes have attempted amazing philological hat-tricks to prove that the exceptive clause did not mean an exception. Some like Patrizi (1), Prat (2) and Bonsirven (3), maintain that the “unchastity” meant by Jesus was concubinage or an invalid marriage between close relatives which should, of course, be broken up. (But surely the question was about divorce in real marriages?) Others. like St. Thomas (4), thought that the permitted exception refers only to the dismissal of the wife, not to a real divorce: Jesus only allows the husband to send away the wife without divorce, on account of adultery. (But doesn’t the technical term in the passage denote divorce and not only a separation which, in any case, was not known to the Jews?). Caietanus held that the clause has a “negative”, not an exception sense (5): Jesus only says he does not speak about adultery (Isn’t this far-fetched?). Recently Vawter proposed a new translation: ” notwithstanding unchastity”. With this phrase Jesus is supposed to have referred to Dt. 24 1 in the the sense that, notwithstanding the Old Testament Law, he abolished all divorce (6). (Isn’t the evidence for this extraordinary interpretation far too flimsy ?) Why are we so afraid to face up to the obvious meaning of God’s word? Modern scripture research offers a much more simple and truthful solution (7). In the Palestinian Church, for which St. Matthew’s Gospel was writteo, the rejection of all divorce was experienced as an obstacle to the fulness of Christian life. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (let us never forget this:) the Apostles decided that divorce, although normally not allowed as proclaimed by Jesus in his “ideal”, should be tolerated in the case of proved adultery. This, they knew, was the mind of Jesus. In accordance with the accepted practice of their times, they added to his words a modification in the form of the exceptive clause.

1. F. PATRIZ1, De Interpretatione S. Scripturae, Rome 1844,

2. F PRAT, Jesus Christ. Sa Vie, sa Doctrine, son Oevrre       Vol. II, Par s 1933, pg. 85.

3. J. BONSIRVEN, Le Divorce dans le Nouveau Testament    Tournai 1948.

4. THOMAS AQUINAS, Catena Aurea in Quattuor Evangelia Commentarium in Quattuor Evangelia; ed. L. Vives, Paris vol. 16-20 as locum.

5. CAIETANUS , In Quattuor Evangelia Commentarii, Lyons 1556, ad locum

6. B. VAWTER, “The Divorce Clauses in Mt. ,5, 32 and 19,9″, Catholic Biblical Qnarterly 16 (1954) pas. 155-167.

7. R. BULTMANN, The History of the Synoptic Tradition New York 1968, pas. 132-136; J. DUPONT, Mariage et Divorce dans L’ Evangile5 Bruges 1959; L. SABOURIN, The Divorce Clauses (Mt. 5, 32, 19, 9)’’, Biblical Theology Bulletin 2 (1972)pgs. 80-86.

8. A publication and commentary of the texts can be found in V. J. POSPISHIL, Divorce and Remarriage. Towards a New Catholic Teaching, London 1967, esp. pgs. 141-195.

Matthew’s Gospel, therefore, explicitly admits of adultery as a legitimate ground for divorce. This was the interpretation officially followed by Church law in the formative years of the second. third, fourth and fifth centuries8, Origen says: “Our Lord has permitted divorce of the marriage bond solely in thecase of a wife convicted of misconduct”. St. Basil prescribes that a husband may re-marry if he has dismissed his wife on account of adultery. St. Asterius wrote “marriage can be dissolved for no cause whatever, except because of death and adultery”. St Epiphanius says that fornication, adultery and other misdeeds of the wife are valid motives for divorce. Also the local Church Councils of Arles (314 AD), Vannes (461) and Agde (506) state that marriages can be dissolved if the guilt of the wife has been proved in an ecclesiastical court.

The pauline privilege

In 1 Cor. 7, 15 Paul lays down for the Church in Corinth that a married couple can be divorced, if the husband becomes Christian and the wife wishes to- remain a pagan and objects to continuing married life with him (9). Paul states explicitly that this is a modification which he enacts on his own Apostolic authority:

“To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her… But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so. In such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace” (1 Cor. 7, 12-15).

lt has been traditional among Catholic authors to minimize the importance of this concession made by Paul. Only between Christians, marriage is a sacrament and Jesus was speaking about the indissolubility of the sacrament, not of marriage as such, they maintain. But this is surely not in agreement with what Jesus himself said. Jesus based the indissolubility of marriage on the fact that God “from the beginning of creation made them male and female” (Mk. 10, 9: Mt. 19, 6) by his very act of creation. Jesus was therefore thinking of the indissolubility of any marriage, including a marriage hetween unbelievers, or between a believer and an unbeliever. Paul’s exception is a real modification to Jesus’ general statement.

Guided by the example of St. Paul, the Church has continued to allow divorce in special cases involving new converts ‘°. One prominent example concerns polygamists who become Christian. Strictly speaking the first wife of a polygamist is his only legitimate one. In 1537 Paul III granted that a polygamist who became a Christian should receive the right to marry any of his wives, if he did not remember who the first wife was. This in fact, meant that a divorce from the real wife was permitted. In 1571 Pius V allowed a convert polygamist to divorce his first wife and marry any of his other wives, if she consented to become a Christian too. Gregory XllI decreed in 1585 that a convert who was separated from his first wife might contract a new marriage with a Catholic without the consent of his first wife. These and other examples show that the Church has been exercising her authority in making exceptions to the general ideal of indissoluble marriage. She knew that she possessed the power displayed by Paul in 1 Cor. 7, 15.

9. cf. D. L. DUNGAN, [he Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul, Philadelphia 1971 pgs, 83-131.

10. T, L. Bouscaren and A, C. ELLIS, Canon Law: a Text and Commentary, Milwaukee 1951 (on Cn 1125).pgs. 613-620.

The Church can dissolve catholic marriages

The above considerations make it clear that from a biblical point of view the Church must be said to have the power to grant divorce also between Catholics. The general jurisdiction given to Peter (Mt. 16, 18-19) and to the College of Bishops (Mt. 18, 18) includes the power of rectifying or dissolving marriage. However exclusive the words of Jesus may seem in Mk. 10, 11-12 and Lk. 16, 18, the decisions of the earliest Church through the exceptive clause in Mt. 5, 32 and 19, 9 and modification of Paul (l Cor. 7, 15) confirm this power. The way in which the later Church has applied these modifications, adds to the evidence that this interpretation is right.

It is not necessary here to discuss the much misunderstood canon 7 on marriage promulgated by the Council of Trent:

“If any one shall say that the Church errs when she taught or teaches, in accordance with the Evangelical and Apostolic doctrine, that the bond of marriage cannot be dissolved because of adultery of either spouse. .. let him be anathema” (Denz. no. 977).

The whole thrust of the Council’s definitions in this section is against the Protestant contention that the Church has only limited authority over marriage. In view of this position she strongly re-affirms her own power in these matter’. In the discussions preceding this Canon, the Fathers explicitly wanted to avoid a condemnation of earlier Church practice which had allowed divorce for reasons such as adultery. The formulation eventually agreed upon stresses that the Church has the authority to declare that marriages cannot be dissolved on account of adultery, whatever may have been decided in the past. As, in the parallel Canons this definition confirms the authority of the Church rather than explains the Bible text. (11)

The Church may decide that divorce between Catholic partners should not be allowed for the sake of the common good. If she wishes to do so she could also, by the authority given her by Christ, allow exceptions to this general law. The New Testament text convincingly proves that she has this power.

John Wijngaards


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

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That Dutch Church!

That Dutch Church!

That Dutch Church!

from THE TABLET 25 February 1984 , pp. 181 – 183

by John Wijngaards

As Fr Goddijn stressed in a recent article, there is tension between Rome and the Netherlands. Below, a Dutch Mill Hill Missionary, at present directing the “Housetop” centre in London, makes a further analysis of the controversial Church in his country, due to receive a pastoral visit from Pope John Paul II in May 1985.

In 1525 Cardinal Wolsey wrote a letter to Pope Clement VII. In it, he points out the evil consequences of the newly invented art of printing. The faith and tenets of the Church, he exclaims, are now open to wide discussion. “The laity read the Scriptures and pray in their vulgar tongue. Were this suffered, the common people might come to believe that there was not so much use of the clergy.” People might he persuaded that “they could make their own way to God”. He recommends that at all costs the mysteries of religion must be kept in the hands of priests. A passing remark perhaps; yet enough to afford us a glimpse of ecclesiastical thinking, and accurate in its foreboding of the enormous religious and cultural upheaval that would grip Europe in the centuries that followed. Was Macaulay right when he summed up that upheaval, as a liberation from priestly domination? (History of England, 1855).

I am not anti-clerical, nor do I subscribe to an anti-clerical view of history. But I do think that the Church in Europe faces the option of either remaining what could, inadequately, be described as a “clerical Church” or reverting to its original nature of being “the people’s Church”. In no way do I wish to deny the need of preserving the ministries which Christ has entrusted to his Church. These ministries have true authority. But shepherding does not mean herding passive and submissive subjects. It means guiding people according to their needs and abilities. In an egalitarian and democratic Europe it will mean making responsible use of the forms of consultation and government accepted in today’s society. It should restore to the laity their rightful position as full and equal members of God’s people (Vatican II on the Laity, 32), who have their own right and duty in the apostolate, directly derived from Christ (Laity, 25), and who enjoy the freedom of enquiry and thought, as well as the freedom to express their minds (The Church Today, 62).

The true achievement of our western civilisation is the emergence of free societies where an attempt is made to respect the dignity of every person and the welfare of all. Can the Church hope to reconquer the heart and mind of Europe if it allows antiquated structures to determine its practice? Many Catholics in England, according to research conducted by Dr Michael Hornsby-Smith of the Sociology Department in the University of Surrey in 1979, would like more control of church affairs (64 per cent); would appreciate a say in the appointment of their parish priest (50 per cent) and in the allocation of parish funds (56 per cent). Which makes it relevant to have another look at what is happening in Holland.

I realise that we Dutchmen have one grave defect. We take everything far too seriously. I remember how, in 1960, on the eve of Vatican II, Rome produced a document that prescribed that all teaching in major seminaries should be done in Latin. Ridiculous, of course; overruled by the council almost immediately thereafter. But a friend of mine, compatriot and professor of theology, heroically began to lecture in Latin on the day after the decree had been issued. The performance was a disaster; Cicero in tears; the students consulting Zulu dictionaries. But the effort to put the decree into action in this radical way was typically “Dutch”.

When decisions are taken, the Dutch expect them to be put into practice. I do not know why. Could it be centuries of competition as fishermen, merchants and world traders? When a dyke burst, the whole village had to turn out and shore it up. When herring was spotted out in the North Sea, the whole fishing fleet would sail out on an hour’s notice. Life in Holland was not maintained by speech but by action. A favourite slogan even today is: “Not words but deeds!” The typical Du:ch reaction to any problem is: what can we do about it? What can we do today? The Church in Holland is riddled with action groups supporting any cause in any part of the world.

This will to translate ideas into action, however admirahle in itself, brings also the less desirable consequences of tension and conflict. Having lived most of my life outside Holland and having travelled widely besides, it is this that strikes me as the single most prominent feature of the Dutch church. Consenatives and progressives, left and right, clergy and laity, all seem so terribly serious, so determined to act. Could there be a lack of humour? The inability to laugh at oneself and relativise one’s own convictions? Sometimes I wish I could inspire an encyclical addressed to my countrymen. I would then take my cue from Kohelet: “In this world fast runners do not always win the race and the brave do not always win the battle (9, 11) . . . so don’t be too virtuous or too wise—why kill yourself? (7, 16)”.

Such a personal impression would, of course, be totally unacceptable in Holland. A serious topic like this must have serious study . . . And study has been done. In the past 50 years Holland produced 600 books and major articles on the sociology of religion; thereby setting a record. Almost all universities have a chair in this science. The Dutch church was the first to establish its own permanent pastoral research institute (KASKI 1946); and ever since, all activities of the Church have been meticulously monitored.

What do these studies say? Disregarding dozens of complicating factors and thus over-simplifying the findings, we might speak of a spring flood breaking the dykes of an over protected church.

Until 1960, Dutch Catholicism was fight-ing for social recognition. Catholics obtained their rights by a policy of rigorous isolation. For all practical purposes, Catholics only dealt with Catholics. They supported a Catholic political party, listened to a Catholic radio station, took a Catholic newspaper, belonged to a Catholic trade union or evening club, went to a Catholic grocer, doctor and dentist. Then, around 1960, the dykes collapsed. Social developments forced the Church to open up and face the rest of society. Post-war rebuilding and urbanisation had reshuffled previously undisturbed communities. The welfare state demanded integration. Moreover, Catholics had become so strong by then that the earlier reasons for wanting isolation had vanished. It was clear that change was inevitable.

In other parts of the world it takes decades for the Church to digest and then slowly adjust to such a radical change. In Holland three factors cooperated to make the Church itself an active participant in the process. From 1958 to 1961 the seven dioceses of Holland received five new bishops, just at the time when Vatican II was launched. The new episcopate took part in the council, relished it and decided to implement it rigorously. These reforms in turn were enthusiastically supported by the intellectuals and the upper middle class. A spring flood with the wind behind it!

Vitality

The middle class has often been the vehicle of reform movements in society. They are the backbone of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in England (F. Parkins 1968) and of the political church in Latin America (I. Vallier 1970). Middle class reforms are idealistic and ethical in nature. They spring from an appreciation of values, rather than from seeking immediate economic advantage. Awareness of one’s responsibility for the common good, respect for freedom, acceptance of critical views, willingness to initiate change are typical features of middle-class radicalism. Key participants usually are artists, professionals, teachers, clergy, social workers and journalists. In the Catholic Church in Holland, an ebullient and confident middle class formed the spearhead of the faithful. They had produced the prodigious vocations that enabled the Dutch to shoulder 10 per cent of the post-war missionary effort of the Church. They had been trained in leadership through their flourishing Catholic organisations. They ran their own educational and scientific institutions and controlled the media of publicity. No country in the world participated in Vatican II as Holland did. Every single document was analysed and discussed by four discussion groups per parish.

So what went wrong? Modernisation of a business needs to be timed well. If the organisation is overhaulcd just when thc market falls, the slump will be blamed on your renewed premises. This was the misfortune that befell the Dutch bishops. The Church in Holland, which had so long been spared the corroding factors of secularism, now began to feel its impact. Church attendance dropped to the European average. Priests and religious left, as they did elsewhere. The combination of protective walls caving in and urbanisation taking over speeded up the process, making it visible and dramatic. Conservative voices were raised in protest. The attempt to implement Vatican II was branded as the cause of all the trouble. “The apostasy began”, says a traditionalist assessmcnt of 198I, ‘’when priests began to call Mass the Eucharist, when lay people started to do the readings, when Latin was suppressed and communion distributed in the hand.”

With hindsight, some questions could be raised. Should the effects of secularism, so well documented in neighbouring countries, not have been foreseen? Could they have been prevented more effectively? Were some of the decisions implemented too hastily? Was sufficient attention given to the needs of other social classes? More important perhaps: but was the reform planned and executed too much as a socialevent, without the underpinning of an equally strong spiritual renewal?The health of the Church, alter all, depends on the health of its spirit. The defects are easy to point out now; they went unnoticed in the fervour of well-intended reformation. They did not pass unnoticed in Rome however, particularly when conservative. groups found allies in Vatican departments. Finally Rome began to stir and take sides.

It is not difficult to understand the anxiety of first Paul Vl and then John Paul II about the Dutch. What used to be a flourishing church was now seen to crumble. Alarmist reports poured in, describing thc cxcesscs of mad progressives lamenting the plight of confused and lay people. The bishops were recognised to have been genuine leaders in the reform between 1960 and 1974. They had issued pastoral letters and official guidelines. As a counter-measure reactionary bishops were selected to be their successors. When this led to an open split in the bishops’ conference which the special synod of Rome failed to heal, the policy of introducing new candidates was continued. With this difference: instead of arch-conservatives like the intractahle Bishop Gijsen of Roermond, more cautious, right-of-centre moderates were chosen.

The Dutch way

Rome obviously has its reasons following such a policy. Given the limited and often one-sided information it received about Holland, its stand seems consistent and predictable. What is a pity, though, is that Rome does not at the same time give support to the many positive developments in the Church. Rome does not understand the mood of Dutch Catholics or appreciate the Dutch way of dedicated loyalty. Paul Vl’s address to the Dutch hishops on November 1977, widely publicised as a rebuke, estranged the moderates too, who felt the criticism was misdirected and unfair. The synod document of January 19 was so manifestly anti-lay that even Cardinal Willebrands, in a public interview, conceded its failure to do justice to the valuable new role assumed by the laity in the Church. The vast majority of Catholics are sick of polarisation and prize good relations with Rome. Rome responds with paternalism, not with comprehension.

In Holland, episcopal candidates were always nominated by the diocesan chapter from among the diocesan clergy. Since there are ahout 500 priests in each diocese, there seems to be sufficient scope for selection. After Vatican II the process was refined by allowing wider consultation. in which even the laity were involved. Rome has consistently disregarded this process in recent years. But obviously, there would be much wisdom in preferring candidates acceptable and recognised as true leaders.

This is especially true in a country like Holland, which has been republican and democratic in spirit since it gained independence from Spain in 1648. The more people are involved in consultation and decision-making, the more leaders are required who can handle such processes: who are respected for competencc, not only for status. One might recall the experience of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, who defeated a French-Bavarian army with English and Dutch troops in Blenheim in 1704. He observed that the Dutch were good soldiers, but that the reason for every single move needed to be explained to them. His ability to lead the contentious Dutch was almost as remarkable a victory as his defeat of the invincible Prince Eugene of Savoy. Again, historians of the Boer War comment on the difference in style of Icadership on either side. Thc Boers were ferocious fighters, mobile, deadly accurate marksmen, as proved by British losses at Magersfontein and Ladysmith in 1899; but they were difficult to lead. Their generals, Cronje and de Wet, required extreme democratic skill to persuade tumultuous councils of war to accept a uniform military plan. In situations such as these, leaders imposed from outside will find it impossible to cope.

Where does this leave the Church in Holland? For some years to come it will remain the target of prophets of doom, finger-wagging preachers and moralising journalists. I hope it will have the moral strength to become humble through the experience, yet remain true to its vision. I think of Leeghwater, the seventeenth century engineer, who worked for 10 years at pumping the first Dutch polder dry; then saw the dykes give way in one night’s savage storm. Not heeding derision, nor the accusation that he was defying his Creator, he started all over again. The polder is still dry today, as is 25 per cent of Holland through his vision.

I hope that people in Holland will stop wasting their energy in blaming each other —or Rome for that matter. Rather they should unite to face the real challenge: to be spiritual people in an age of technology; to be believing and committed Christians who love their own society and culture; to be the leaven of the Kingdom in an exciting new world. And I hope that at the end, having done their utmost, they take comfort from the thought: “Who can make straight what God has made crooked?” (Kohelet 7, 13).

The Christianising of secular living is a task for the Church in the whole of Europe. That mission cannot be begun, let alone brought to a successful end. unless the laity be aroused and transformed. The task can only be carried out by a joyfully committed laity that does not shrink from assuming true leadership.

On feature of the Church in Holland is precisely the position acquired in it by “the common man . Many functions in the Church. many processes of decision making and pastoral activity have been ”democratised”. I am not speaking here of a rejection of authority in the Church as given to its leaders by Christ. What we are talking about is the increasing exercise of that authority on the basis of wide consultation and participation by the whole people of God. The Vatican II principle that the laity should be more actively involved anti should be given their proper place in all aspects of the Church’s life is thus given a visible expression.

In future years and centuries, the Church of Holland will surely be remembered, and I hope blessed, for this contribution. With a little exaggeration, we may perhaps compare its achievement to what France did for Europe by the French Revolution and what England contributed through the Industrial Revolution. In both cases there was a resurgence of “the common man” which resulted in enormous benefit for European societies. In the French Rcvolution. thc ordinary people reasserted their rights. In England, it was the common craftsman and small industrialist who developed modern technology and brought it within everyone’s reach. Could it be that the Dutch church, with its enormous hankering for a true integration of the laity in all spheres of the Church’s activity, is playing a similar pioneering role?

The early Christian communities were called ecclesia. No doubt there is an allusion here to the Jewish qahal, the assembly of God’s people, a term translated by ecclesia in the Septuagint. But in its Hellenistic context, the term had a democratic origin. It connoted the official assembly of all free citizens. Participation by all was taken for granted, under guidance, no doubt, of elders (presbyteroi) and the overseer (episcopos). To effect a return to that level of involvement by the laity and to integrate the potential of our own democratic traditions will require little short of a “peaceful revolution”. Through the storms it braves now, the Church in Holland may help to chart a course.

John Wijngaards



Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

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CELIBACY NOT A REQUIREMENT. Father John Wijngaards questions the roots of the belief in a celibate priesthood.

CELIBACY NOT A REQUIREMENT. Father John Wijngaards questions the roots of the belief in a celibate priesthood.

CELIBACY NOT A REQUIREMENT

Father John Wijngaards questions the roots of the belief in a celibate priesthood.

From The Catholic Herald (London) 7th August 1987. Review of A married priesthood in the Catholic Church by Raymond Hickey (Liverpool Institute of Socio-Religious Studies, £2.00).

Contrary to the testamony of scripture, contrary to the unanimous opinion of theologians, contrary to Eastern tradition, synodal statements and papal decisions many Catholics still believe that celibacy and the Catholic priesthood are inseparably linked.

The reason for this mistaken belief is the disciplinary practice of the western church, laid down in the Lateran Council of 1139, that requires candidates for the priesthood to take a vow of celibacy before ordination. The practise is still enshrined in canon law (art.1037). But such a practice does not show in anyway that celibacy belongs to the nature of the Catholic priesthood or that priests must be celibate.

Father Hickey presents a cautious, closely argued case for the Latin Church to start ordaining married men. He points out that no local community, and in fact no single Christian, can do without regularly participating in the Eucharist. There can be no Church, or built-up local church, without the Eucharist. Also, there can be no celebration of the complete Eucharist without a priest, so that the church must ensure that it ordains an adequate number of priests.

This means that the Church cannot afford the luxury of turning away from the priesthood candidates who do not have the charism of celibacy. In the four strongest pages of the booklet (pp 59-62) Hickey sketches the many areas of tension in the present practice. The law unfairly presumes the gift of celibacy in every priest. In fact, priests are treated as monks. Christ proposed celibacy as a counsel, not as a requirement for the ministry. At present the pastoral need of the faithful who go without Eucharist is sacrificed to a matter of discipline. Our practice of breeding (the word is mine) celibate clergy in seminaries is not the only nor, perhaps, the best way of forming mature spiritual leaders. There are cultural factors affecting celibacy that should be taken into account.

This is an informative booklet, presenting facts and reasons. Written as it has been by a missionary who has witnessed the pastoral needs of numerous young communities in Nigeria, it is a cri de coeur drawing cogency from the well of deep apostolic concern that lies at the heart of pastoral theology. Church leaders with the mind of Christ will, I am sure, be moved beyond the power of academic reasoning.

The same pastoral concern which fuels Father Hickey’s study may also have caused its one manifest weakness: its stopping short of the more radical implications inherent in his arguments. Hickey restricts his plea to the ordination of men who are already married. He summarily dismisses the ordination of women with a reference to the Declaration by the Commission for Doctrine in 1976.

He rejects as “contrary to the Apostolic Rule” that priests should be allowed to marry after ordination. Was he motivated, I wonder, by the fear that these latter two pastoral solutions stand so little chance of a hearing that he better dissociate himself from them? If Hickey aspires to base his arguments on theological grounds — as he claims he wants to — he should own up to the whole truth whether it is diplomatic to do so or not. If he writes from a deep personal love of the Church — which I do not doubt for a second — he is ill-advised to reject solutions that are equally promising to still people’s Eucharistic hunger. Is the church served best by defending half-truths, carefully packaged so as not to displease? Or by a respectful but frank criticism of prevailing practice and prejudice?

We all know that many priests who have “left the priesthood” in order to marry are spiritual and deeply committed Christians, who have partners with equally high ideals. They are, in a manner of speaking, the victims of the present practice of injudiciously linking celibacy and the priesthood. Depending on country and continent, they were trapped by the seminary system, by wrong spiritual motivations (the “ritual impurity of sex”) and by parental/cultural complexes.

Father Hickey implicitly admits this. Why does he not urge the Church to examine each of these cases and allow worthy candidates to continue exercising the ministry, even though they are married? To say that this is contrary to an “Apostolic Rule” holds no water. At the time of the Apostles such a rule did not exist, witness the New Testament: it only emerged three centuries later at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

Even more important for the future of the Church is the ordination of women. The Commission for Doctrine’s Declaration of 1976 rejected it on theological grounds. The majority of Catholic theologians, however, disagree; they do not see any valid reason in scripture or tradition to deny ordination to women.

If such is the case, immense new possibilities will open up to ensure that communities all over the world will have their Eucharistic ministers. I can understand Father Hickey’s strategic anxiety lest the debate on women priests delay the ordination of married men. But he may not, for that reason, halt this very important and promising, independent line of theological, and pastoral research.

I hope that many people will read and discuss Father Hickey’s book. As a Church we will never fail if we allow the Spirit of Truth and Love to speak to us. Like the scribe in the Gospel we will discover in our treasury “things old and new” — which will surely include both a celibate and married clergy.

John Wijngaards



Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.


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The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.


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