Archbishop Ranjith’s address in the Netherlands: Some Encouraging News

Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don is the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The full text of the Archbishop’s address, “Faith, Obedience, and Theology, Challenges to the Mission of the Church Today,” can be found here. I would like to point out some interesting highlights from this speech, which was permeated throughout with a very supernatural outlook. (I am emboldening passages I think worthy of particular attention.)

First are his Excellency’s comments on the nature of the Church, which shows that he does not distinguish falsely between what is juridical and what is spiritual:

The Church is not an association or federation or a democracy made up of the faithful. It is the mystical body of Christ with its own inner life that comes from Christ, who is its supreme and invisible head. It has its visible structure which is not to be separated from the mystical. The Council states “but the society furnished with hierarchical agencies and the mystical body of Christ are not to be considered two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things. Rather they form one inter-locked reality which is comprised of a divine and a human element” [LG 8]. The Council then goes on to compare this mystical divine – human interlocking with the mystery of the incarnation itself [cfr LG 8]. It is, as the Council further confirms, the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church referring thus to its uniqueness, its singular vocation, its universal nature and its missionary dimension.

He follows this paragraph with some comments on the nature of the Church’s government. His comments about the college of bishops and their dependence on the office of the Roman Pontiff show a welcome ultramontanism. This is a doctrinal buildup to what he will say later about prelates who act above their authority:

The hierarchical nature of the Church as the same document confirms does not come from a bottom to top orientation but the other way around. Christ is the supreme shepherd and spouse of the Church. He established it on the foundation of the apostles and, as Lumen Gentium further clarifies, “after the resurrection our Saviour handed her over to Peter to be shepherded [Jn. 21: 17], commissioning him and the other apostles to propagate and govern her [cf Mt. 28: 18 ff]. Her he erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth” [1 Tim. 3: 11]” [LG 8]. And as the Church teaches, through apostolic succession and the power to bind and loose, the College of Apostles with Peter as its head is succeeded by the College of Bishops who with the Pope who “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the Bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” [LG 23] becomes the hierarchical leadership of the Church. Lumen Gentium 22 states further “the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhinderedand further “the College of Bishops, has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head” [LG 22]. Naturally as Jesus often expressed all authority in the Church has to be exercised in a pastoral sense – in that loving and caring as well as gently guiding way of the good shepherd and not of those who seek to Lord it over [cfr 22: 25-26].

Later, he goes into the nature of theology and how it must be humble in the service of the faith.

It is most unfortunate to note, that often enough we tend to forget that there is a far superior mission in our hands than that of engaging in hair splitting theological debate. Even theology is at the service of faith, it is not its master. Faith comes first and then only theology. For, if there is no faith in theology, it would only be a matter of words and empty noise which would not be effectively contributive towards the mission of the Church.

A so called dissident theologian from Asia recently wrote as follows: “many Christians in Asia are increasingly unable to think of salvation exclusively in terms of the Church or as only mediated by Jesus Christ. We have come to realize that such a view would imply that the vast majority of the people of Asia were not saved. The point has slowly dawned on us that this is not acceptable…. The more I studied the issue of salvation the more I was impressed with the serious inadequacy of the Church’s doctrinal teaching” [Tissa Balasuriya, From Inquisition to Freedom, Continuum 2001, pg.90]. And again – “In Asia where Christianity is a minority religion, we cannot accept that the whole of humanity is in original sin in the sense that they are alienated from God. We cannot accept that all our fore bearers are in hell. Regarding redemption, I have maintained my view that Jesus did not have to pray a price to God to save us, although this interpretation has so impregnated our prayers, hymns and attitudes…. The mission of the Church is not so much to convert to Christianity as to convert all to humanity” [ibid. pg. 105]. [Note the doctrinal issue on the Archbishop’s mind. It is “no salvation outside the Church.” He faults Father Balasuriya for failing putting his human reason over divine revelation. Is that not what the liberal sentimentalists do on this issue?]

What I see here is an approach to theology bereft of that sense of faith and transcendence and geared rather towards the humanization of the society, than its divinization. The mission of Jesus who wished to usher in the era of the reign of God in human life was certainly not limited to making man merely more human. That kind of understanding is very reductive of the great mission of Jesus. Besides, it is rather subjective without any consideration given to the objective sources of divine revelation – the Sacred Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church, of which the latter is rather quickly dismissed as a creation of what is called “Orthodoxy”. The same writer rejects what he calls arbitrary authority and the states, “there comes a point when we must say that eternal destiny is not determined by particular persons or what is called orthodoxy but by one’s conscience and by our relationship to the divine” [ibid. pg. 108]. Both these latter principles are as we can see, of a subjective order.

The rejection of objective revelation places such theologizing outside the realms of the faith and once it becomes an object of debate leads to attitudes incompatible with the noble spiritual mission of theology which is that of “edifying the Church” [cfr 1 Cor. 14: 4]. It is good to note here that St. Paul warned Timothy to beware of “anyone who teaches anything different and does not keep to the sound teaching which is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine which is in accordance with true religion, is proud and has no understanding, but rather a weakness for questioning everything and arguing about words” [1 Tim. 6: 3 – 4]. This type of attitude can influence all if care is not exercised in always keeping before us an attitude of humility in the face of the great mysteries of God.

Today more than ever the Church needs men and women who portray in their lives that sense of humility and self negation as well as obedience to God’s will, which is manifested in a special way through the Church and its visible head, the Roman Pontiff. Discussion and debate in a fraternal way, yes, but if it does not in the end lead to a spirit of obedience in the service of unity then it divides and can only be interpreted as a manifestation of the intent of the evil one to disturb and retard the noble mission of Christ. Even those wearing ecclesiastical purple or red are not exempt from the tempter’s enchantments. [Cardinals and Bishops being enchanted by the evil one! The Sri Lankan prelate is calm and dignified, but he hits hard nonetheless.]

We see this happening unfortunately quite often nowadays. It is not a rare feature to see the emergence of ecclesiastics in responsible positions who are intrumentalised by the media and forces inimical to the Church, to make statements critical of the directions from the Roman Pontiff or from the dicastries that carry out his decisions. Others take the attitude of ignoring or disregarding such directions and so great harm in procured for the mission of the Church – especially through the sense of loss and confusion brought about by such attitudes on the faithful.

Motu Proprio, anyone?