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Equally dramatic, though different in substance, is the problem confronted today by established
religions, especially Christianity. Unlike communism, contemporary Christianity is no longer a system of power;
its temporal authority is not only limited but shrinking. On the other hand, it is both a system of doctrines and an
institution, particularly in its Catholic expression. The tension between the beliefs and the institution is ancient,
often painful, history for the Church, but the problem has been given a new dimension by the efforts initiated by
Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, and expressed by the Second Ecumenical Council (Vatican II), to reinvigorate
the Church. 21
These efforts are taking place in a setting that simultaneously involves both unprecedented interest
on the part of concerned Christians (not only Catholics) and widespread evidence of increasing indifference to
the prescribed religious forms. In other words, there is both massive involvement in change, which means that
the official guardians of the institution cannot fully control it, and uncertainty concerning the best ways to make
the Church again truly relevant, without diluting its spiritual identity.
The fundamental dilemma confronted by the Church, in the words of Unamuno, is that "Catholicism
oscillates between mysticism, which is the inward experience of the living God in Christ, an intransmittable
experience, the danger of which, however, is that it absorbs our own personality in God, and so does not save our
vital longing—between mysticism and the rationalism which it fights against; it oscillates between religionized
science and scientificized religion." 22
To opt for one is to be deprived of the other. Yet neither will do by itself:
mysticism would mean withdrawal from the contemporary world; scientism would mean absorption by it.
This is an old dilemma for the Church, and it has been posed and answered in different ways at different
historical stages. "Mater et Magistra" and Vatican II—occurring in an age shaped by ideological conflict,
scientific innovation, mass popular awakening, political passion, and religious quiescence—can be viewed as an
effort to satisfy three broad objectives: first, to update the Church's institutional structure, so that it is not an
impediment to the vitality of the ideological component (to use a term applied throughout the chapter) and so
that the institutionalized beliefs again become meaningful to both the inner and external dimensions of human
life; second, better to focus the energies of the Church as a whole on social problems that range from personal
poverty and social injustice to international inequality; and, finally, to heal doctrinal splits within Christianity
and end the era of bigotry and conflict between Christianity and nonChristian religions.
The effort—precisely because it did move the Church somewhat in the desired directions—produced
new strains in the relationship between ideas and institutions. Institutional reform, conducted at a time when
pressures for theological adjustments have increasingly come from the Church hierarchy itself (as in the case or
communism, these pressures have more often come from the periphery than from the center: what Yugoslavia
has been to the Kremlin the Netherlands has become to the Vatican!), has prompted a profound crisis of papal
authority. Pope Paul's reiteration of the ban on artificial contraception (in "Humanae Vitae," 1968), which came
shortly after the adoption by Vatican II of the concept of collegiality in Church affairs, provoked strong negative
reactions from various national Councils of Bishops; these reactions in turn prompted the Pontiff to warn against
"attitudes which departed more than a little from the traditional doctrine of the Church and menaced order in the
bosom of the Church herself." * 23
Yet the Vatican could not stifle the theological unrest. Almost echoing the demands of Marxist
philosophers for an unfettered Marxist dialogue, Catholic theologians (notably in a public statement released in
December 1968 by forty of the leading theologians) denounced efforts by the Vatican Curia to resolve
theological issues by administrative fiat. They asserted their right to complete freedom of inquiry, subject to no
institutional limitations whatever.
The increased emphasis on social questions—articulated with compassion in "Mater et Magistra"—
presented a different challenge. Intense involvement in the affairs of the world, and particularly in the struggle
against social injustice, could not help but focus the attention of the Church on external man, often placing the
Church in direct competition with socialist or communist movements. Younger, more socially involved
Catholics saw in that competition—especially in Latin America—the only possible salvation for the Church's
mission; conservatives feared the transformation of the Church into merely another temporal radical movement.
Particularly bitter was the conflict in those areas where the issue had immediate relevance, such as northeast
There, as elsewhere, conservatives felt that what the Church would gain in the short run would cost it
The Pope was not alone in facing this quandary. The New York Times of January 16, 1969, reported that Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, general
secretary of the World Council of Churches, discussed "the crisis of authority" with Pope Paul VI. It cited Dr. Blake as having said, "We find
ourselves facing the same issues in both the World Council and in the member churches."
too much in the long run: social relevance would be gained at the cost of loss of identity. More generally, they
argued that social success—no less than economic success—could be detrimental to spiritual values. It may be
assumed that from their point of view the experience of Protestantism in the United States was not reassuring. *
Ecumenism also prompted both institutional and doctrinal tension. Purists feared that it would
accelerate the dilution of doctrinal content and transform the Catholic Church in the more advanced countries
into a vague ethical organization engaged, together with other similar bodies, in social good works. Even more
perplexing to the purists was the appearance of an "ecumenical" dialogue between Christians and communists, in
which Catholics took an active part. That such a dialogue could develop, even though it received relatively little
notice, was itself proof of the extent to which exclusivistic claims to absolute truth—though not formally
abandoned by either side—no longer dominated either the Western mind or even those institutions that were
themselves the products of the Manichaean tradition. †
It would, however, be misleading to construe this dialogue as a fundamental breakthrough in the
doctrinal relationship between Christianity and Marxism. The participants involved were individuals who, given
their intellectual concerns, themselves reflected the tension between institutions and ideas; they inherently
resented institutional efforts to limit the scope of philosophical inquiry. Both sides thus represented the
intellectual fringes and not the very centers of bureaucratic power. The centers themselves displayed some
ambivalence, not so much about the meetings—which they tolerated, in part, for reasons of political tactics —but
about the degree to which differences between the two systems of thought were said to have been obscured by
the respective spokesmen. ‡
These limitations notwithstanding, the discussions, which doubtless will continue and expand, had
broad significance. They indicated that it is becoming increasingly difficult to confine the search for a more
meaningful universal vision within institutionally defined frameworks, since the very existence of the in
stitutions, depends on the maintenance of their distinctive and exclusive identity. That is why what appears on
the surface to be modest and limited has in fact been a major step away from the traditional Western view of
such dialogue as anathema. 25
The reforms and the debates within Catholicism have already had the effect, in many areas of personal
life, of supplanting the authority of the institution by the rule of one's conscience. (Such, for example, has been
the reaction of many bishops and Catholic laymen to the issue of birth control.) To a spiritually motivated
person, conscience can be a stricter teacher than Church authority, but for most people reliance on conscience
inescapably has the effect of making the Church increasingly irrelevant. It was this dilemma which more and
more led Pope Paul VI to adopt a position—in spite of his earlier commitment to innovation— molded by the
need for institutional defense: "Today, as anyone can see, orthodoxy, that is the purity of doctrine, does not seem
to occupy first place in the psychology of Christians. How many things, how many truths are questioned and put
up to doubt? How much liberty is claimed as regards the authentic heritage of Catholic doctrine, not only in
order to . . . better explain it to the man of our time, but at times to subject it to that relativism in which profane
thought . . . seeks its new expression, or to adapt it ... to contemporary taste and the receiving capacity of modern
The Pope was right in noting that "orthodoxy . . . does not seem to occupy first place in the psychology
"Protestantism has become so identified with economic success, respectability, and middleclass virtues that large numbers of the clergy
and laity alike appear to have lost sight of basic spiritual goals" (Gerhard Lenski, The Religious Factor, Garden City, N.Y., 1963, p. 352).
"Without us, Communists, I fear that your Christian love, marvellous though it is, will continue to be ineffective; without you, Christians,
our struggle risks again confinement to a horizon without stars" (Roger Garaudy, as quoted by he Monde (Hebdomadaire), May 511, 1966).
These words of a leading French Communist ideologue, once a strong Stalinist and a member of the Politburo, addressing a mixed Christian
Marxist colloquium organized by the Catholics, convey the extent to which previously frozen views are today in flux. Of the many meetings
between Christians and Marxists, perhaps the most significant have been those organized by the Paulus Gesellschaft, starting in Salzburg in
1965, followed by meetings in Herrenchiemsee in 1966 (where the above remark was made) and in Marianske Lazne, Czechoslovakia, in
1967. The third meeting brought together two hundred and one Christian and Marxist philosophers, theologians, and scientists from sixteen
European countries and the United States (but not from the Soviet Union, which chose to abstain).'
The theme of the third meeting was "Creativity and Freedom in a Human Society" (the first two having dealt with "Christianity and Marxism
Today" and "Christian Humaneness and Marxist Humanism"). At this meeting both sides expressed the view that the human personality can
develop only in a setting of freedom; that both Christianity and Marxism must revitalize and open up their institutions and their doctrines;
that the human personality cannot be fully understood on the existential and particularly the material level; that the state ought to be neutral
on ethical and philosophical problems and that humanist Marxism must guarantee pluralism as the precondition for human freedom; and,
finally, that both Christianity and Marxism involve a continuous, neverending search for the most complete fulfillment of human freedom.
(The above is a paraphrase of the conclusions reached by Charles Andras in his research paper on "Christians and Marxists in Marianske
Lazne," RFE, July 10, 1967, which contains the best analysis of this meeting that I have seen. See also the valuable study by Kevin Devlin,
"The CatholicCommunist 'Dialogue,'" Problems of Communism, MayJune 1966, and especially the additional material on Latin America
contained in the Spanish edition; and Charles Andras, "The ChristianMarxist Dialogue," East Europe, March 1968.)
One outgrowth of this dialogue was a remarkable little volume dealing with the philosophical and social problems of modernity, authored
jointly by a leader of the French Communist Party and by a member of the Society of Jesus (Roger Garaudy and Quentin Lauer, S.J., A
ChristianCommunist Dialogue, New York, 1968).
Subsequent to the meetings, there were reaffirmations from both sides, e.g., by the leadership of the French Communist Party, by the
French Council of Bishops, and by Vatican spokesmen, that the dialogue could not be construed as involving any change in basic doctrinal
attitudes. In a sense, these statements confirmed the point made by one of the more prominent Catholic participants that a true dialogue will
not be possible until each side surmounts the tradition of "monolithism," which elevates both the "ecclesiastical society" and the party into
the centers of history (Father Giulio Girardi of the Salesian University of Rome, as cited by Le Monde [Hebdomadaire], May 511, 1966; he
repeated the same themes at Marianske Lazne [Andras, "The Christian Marxist Dialogue," p. 13]).
of Christians." This is so not only on the level of formal, overt compliance with certain established rituals but
even in regard to the more basic substance of belief, as is shown by Table 8, constructed from 1968 Gallup polls.
The relatively low level of regular church attendance—while significant in revealing increasing disregard for the
most basic but also the minimal ritualistic requirement—was not as revealing as the striking gap between those
who believe in God and those who believe in life after death. The essence of the Christian faith is that the former
guarantees the latter. God without belief in life after death is something entirely different from the Christian God.
The poll data, though fragmentary and superficial, nevertheless highlight a problem. On the one hand,
the poll indicates a crisis of institutionalized belief. On the other hand, however, it suggests that it would be
misleading to conclude that low church attendance and disbelief in life after death mean pervasive irreligiosity.
On the contrary, it suggests that authentic irreligiosity—that is to say, a deeply felt rejection of a reality beyond
the finite—does not exist, or at least not yet. A belief in God to which one cannot give substance may merely be
a holdover from a more traditional society in a context that emphasizes immediate life, but it could also reflect
the search for a highly personal, inner, and direct relationship between the individual and God.
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