The Essence of Catholicism Living Tradition Incarnational Church

The identity of Catholicism, "the essence" (das Wesen) in Drey's words, concerns for these theologians the visible, physical, and institutional character of the Church and the living dynamic character of tradition. What subsequent generations of

Catholic theologians would describe in terms of the Church as Corpus Christi, sacramental, and communio was articulated in terms of the kingdom of God and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. For Drey, not only is the kingdom of God the dominant motif of Jesus' teachings, but also Jesus Christ represents the very embodiment of this kingdom, and derivatively, the Church provides the mediation of the kingdom of God. "Christ, who universally effects [the kingdom of God's] recognition, is for that reason also the visible head of the kingdom, just as its visible presentation and sensitive perception is the Church" (KE §32).

Möhler's early Spirit-centered and his subsequent Incarnation-centered ecclesiology supported a close identification of the physical, visible, and institutional Church with God. It was the identity of the divine and the human that concerned him (earlier in terms of the Holy Spirit and the body, and later in terms of the two natures in the Incarnate Son), more so than the differences. His treatment of the Spirit at the origin of the life of faith of the individual and of the community offered an alternative to Drey's (and Hirscher's and Staudenmaier's) kingdom-centered orientation. His early work on the unity of the church was structured on the inner and outer manifestations of Christian life based on the Pauline principle of "one Spirit, one body" (Ephesians 4:4). Part 1 treats the inner mystical and communal life of the church as the source of unity, love, and holiness. Egoistic and sectarian threats were combated by a celebration of the importance of genuine diversity and individuality that thrive within a genuine unity. Part 2 examines the outer corporate expressions of unity through personal communion between people and bishop in the metropolitan diocese, in episcopal ecclesiology, and in papal primacy. In the years that followed, his reflections on Athanasius' critique of the Arians, the Reformers' position on the church and sacraments, and his own dissatisfaction with Schleiermacher's treatment of the Spirit as it appeared in Der Christliche Glaube (1820-1821) led Möhler to accentuate the incarnation of Jesus Christ and to speak of the church as an ongoing incarnation. This resulted in Möhler advancing a Christocentric justification for the institution of the character of the church, sacraments, and offices. The influence of Möhler's shift to a stronger incarnational argument can be detected in the later work of Drey, Hirscher, and Staudenmaier, while Johannes Kuhn's theology reflects this governing orientation.

Drey in 1819 described Catholic Christianity as a living tradition, eine lebendige Ueberlieferung. This attention to tradition came to define Catholic Tübingen theology. However, the differences among the theologians on this topic are as important as the similarities. Drey's effort to describe the living character of tradition served many purposes: it enabled him to affirm continuity and development in the doctrinal and practical identity of the church. The origins of that identity could be traced to the facts of Jesus Christ, his life and his mission. Growth in tradition should be understood in terms of endogenous and exogenous sources. Threats to the life of the tradition are sometimes internal, and at other times external. Drey's organic approach to tradition of the church fostered a long view of the church and thus authorized the importance of biblical and historical theology for the dogmatic and moral tasks. Individual parts—figures, events, and movements—should be appreciated in relation to larger wholes. But in Drey's hands, tradition offered no justification for a retrospective and rigid ressourcement mentality; rather, it fostered a hermeneutical brand of theology that was prospective and that recognized the need to permit and promote an open forum for public opinion and criticism to be voiced in the Church. Theologians and church leaders had to have the freedom to find their ways between the mobile and the static, between heterodoxy and hyperorthodoxy. Thus, while Drey talked about the importance of oral and written traditions in the ancient world and in nascent Christianity, he also affirmed the closed character of dogmatic statements and the open character of ongoing criticism and development.

Möhler's early pneumatological approach to the church and tradition was based on the axiom that there is mutual dependence and reciprocity between the inner participation in the divine life within a community and outer revelation communicated through the church. He seems to have given priority of importance and time to the inner work of the Spirit in the personal and relational character of faith over outer matters of doctrine, institutions, and hierarchical offices of authority. "Inner faith is the root of the external ... it is given before the external" (§ 8); Christian doctrine is "the conceptual expression of the Christian Spirit" (96, 23).

During the second decade of the nineteenth century, Möhler gave increasing emphasis to the priority and precedence of outer doctrines and institutions. His earlier axiom of mutual dependence between inner and outer was maintained, but the priority of time and importance changed. In his book on Athanasius published in 1827, Möhler shifted to an incarnational ecclesiology (110, 266, 564) -the incarnation became the prime analogue for understanding the relationship of the divine and the human in the church. This new insight and judgment were expressed in his 1832 Symbolik, where he stated that "the ultimate reason of the visibility of the church is to be found in the Incarnation of the Divine Word" (§36), and consequently the church, as visible community, can be described as an "ongoing incarnation ... even the faithful are called the body of Christ" (§36). This formula not only underscored the visible character of the church, but also justified the exercise of the apostolic ministry of the hierarchy infallibly mediating the Word. "The authority of the Church is necessary, if Christ is to be a true, determining authority for us.. If the Church be not the authority representing Christ, then all again relapses into darkness, uncertainty, doubt, distraction, unbelief, and superstition; revelation becomes null and void, fails of its real purpose, and must be even called in question, and finally denied" (§ 3 7).

The sacramental and institutional nature of the Church and the important role of theology in the Church were convictions that united these Tübingen theologians, yet within these perimeters of agreement one clearly detects tensions between the two wings represented by Drey and Möhler. Both Drey and Möhler affirmed the importance of both episcopal and papal authority, eschewing contemporary versions of conciliarism and ultramontanism. Both embraced and defended the sacramental, hierarchical, and organic understanding of the church and its divine origin and goal. These were important points of consensus that united these theologians. But recognizing this consensus should not obscure the tensions between the two wings. Drey and Hirscher defended the need for voicing theological criticism and public opinion in the Church. These issues were clarified during a debate about the celibacy requirement for priests. Moreover, even though neither subscribed to the Febronian and Josephinist views (the German and Austrian analogue to Gallicanism that recognized the superior authority of councils in church governance), both defended the importance of local and provincial synods for addressing current pastoral issues. Möhler, on the other hand, fashioned a distinctively confessional approach to theology, and, beyond their similar critical stance toward deism and rationalism, he became antagonistic toward reform-minded and modern attempts to call into question traditions such as mandatory priestly celibacy and the authority of the local and the regional church and the papal office. That Möhler and Staudenmaier published in the widely read ultramontanist journal Der Katholik testifies to these differences.

As important and unresolved as these diverging convictions and orientations remained, by the third decade of the nineteenth century a shift had taken place that united these theologians more closely against the increasing political power of the modern state and the social and economic forces at work in society. Their sacramental brand of ecclesiology may have offered an alternative to the critical spirit of the age in the academy and in civil society, but it pales in comparison with the kind of popular religiosity evident in the pilgrimage of 1.1 million to see the relic of the holy garment at Trier in 1844, a stunning display of Catholic resolve in the face of secularizing trends.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment