Or Prefabricated Formulas

Pastoral activity in Latin America cannot rely on recipes or prefabricated formulas. We must work out feasible solutions as we go along. This means that we must learn how to interpret real everyday life. Theology, then, has an important role to play. Once upon a time our priests went to

Europe to get doctorates in Canon Law; it was the sure road to the episcopacy. More recently the emphasis has been on the social sciences: sociology, economics, political science. Today we are rediscovering the importance of theology for critical consciousness-raising. Faced with ever new situations, we must learn how to discern and apply the interpretative criteria imbedded in our faith.

The process of evolution has moved gropingly towards higher forms of life over millenia. Even those groping attempts which ended in failure had their role to play in the overall process. The same applies to our situation today. We must try all sorts of things, respecting plurality as we go along. Unity is important of course, but we must not equate unity with stultifying uniformity. Tradition is a living, innovative, creative process. Each person must be allowed to use his background and talents in our quest for solutions.

The proper attitude for today is well exemplified by Mendez Arceo, the Bishop of Cuernavaca (Mexico). His field of study is history, and he wrote his dissertation on the bishops of Latin America. He has told me personally that he has found history to be of much use to him. It has taught him to open his eyes to various possibilities, and to allow for their tentative implementation. If someone proposes a certain project to him, he allows him to go ahead with it even though it may seem to be very much at odds with past practice. For example, he has allowed priests to get their degree in psychoanalysis when it seemed that this would be useful to the community in which they live and work.

We must not forget the case of Galileo Galilei. In 1616 he was informed of this condemnation by the Holy Office: "That the earth moves is philosophically absurd and theologically heretical." This condemnation was obeyed in Rome for more than a century and a half, and it was taught that the earth did not move. The pages of history tell us that such sinfulness has been possible for the Church more than once.

In seventeenth-century Paris, a priest of the Oratory named Richard Simon wrote a critique of the Old Testament in which he made many scholarly observations.2 He said that God could not have spoken Hebrew because Hebrew was subsequent to Abraham; that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because it narrated his death; that certain books of the Bible were not historical, and that there were many different literary genre in the Bible. Bos-suet saw to it that all Simon's works were burned in the public square, and the Holy Office put his works on the Index of forbidden books. Bossuet continued to believe that God had created the world 400 I years earlier, even though Simon pointed out that this would make the Egyptian pyramids older than creation.

My point here is that we must take cognizance of our past history. We must be willing to suffer persecution within the Church itself insofar as unity is confused with uniformity and a failure to make the proper distinctions. Bellarmine and Bossuet equated Christianity with Christendom, and thus they were led to condemn men like Galileo and Simon. We cannot rely on ready-made formulas, and so we must ask God for more faith. Our faith must have a real prophetic element in it if we are to lead ordinary Christian lives, for ordinary Christians are obliged to engage in liberative criticism.

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