Wednesday, December 27, 2006

20-20 Hindsight - Today's Kairos Moment

In his Trojan Horse in the City of God, Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote of the way a particular historical situation compels Christians to speak a perennial truth with special forcefulness. The Greek term for such moments is kairos, what von Hildebrand terms "the call of the hour." At such moments in history, von Hildebrand writes "the historical thematicity makes the promulgation of certain truths especially urgent."
Such a moment, for example, was the coming to power of National Socialism in Germany. The condemnation of totalitarianism and racism was called for at this very moment. Though these things were evil as such, and would have been evil in any historical period, condemnation of them was made thematic by the fact that National Socialism assumed power in 1933. Before then, the bishops had indeed condemned National Socialism, and membership in the party carried the penalty of excommunication. Unfortunately, however, the German bishops in 1933 failed to uphold this condemnation at the very hour when an even more solemn condemnation was called for. [76-77]
Condemning the Church for its failures (real and imagined) in confronting Hitler has become something of a cottage industry, a hobby of those who would not dare utter a politically incorrect word in the safety of the faculty lounge. But it is these same critics who loudly insist that the Church's position today on abortion and other moral issues represents an unwarranted interference of religion in political life. One simply can't have it both ways.

All of this only makes von Hildebrand's insights all the more prescience, inasmuch as he expressed them in a book published in 1967. They are conspicuously relevant to two neuralgic issues in our cultural life today: abortion most especially and the deconstruction of the traditional family. From a Christian point of view, what distinguishes these issues from all the other pressing moral concerns of our day is that they involve overt challenges not only to the unbroken Judeo-Christian moral tradition but to the anthropological reality which that tradition brings to religious fulfillment.

In addition to the standard human fecklessness, von Hildebrand argued that "an antipathy to the condemnation of secular 'orthodoxies' and religious deviations characterizes the mentality of our time."
Condemnation and the unmasking of errors is widely seen today as something hostile to love. [78]
Christians confronted with the moral quandary of a kairos moment, will find what von Hildebrand calls "a false irenicism" attractive, as many bishops have.
Instead of helping to convey the true message of Christ, our effort to adjust to the mentality of the other may so transform that message that acceptance of it no longer requires a conversion. [82]
What might be analogous today to the situation that the German bishops faced at Fulda in 1933? It seems to me it is the question that the Catholic bishops face concerning whether politicians who profit politically from their self-identification as Catholics but who are unwavering supporters of abortion on demand and who actively oppose the Church on a sundry of sexual morality issues should be allowed to publicly parade their mockery of Catholic moral doctrine by presenting themselves for the reception of the Eucharist. This is not "using the Eucharist as a political weapon" any more than it would have been to refuse communion to the officers of the Third Reich. The savagery of the latter may have been less hidden by pseudo-medical apparatus and less plausibly justified by moral obfuscations and a dissembling vocabulary than that of the former, but it is the former that has set the record for the slaughter of the innocent in our age.

To repeat:
Unfortunately, however, the German bishops in 1933 failed to uphold this condemnation at the very hour when an even more solemn condemnation was called for.


Walter & Dorothy said...

I certainly agree with your "kairos moment" comment concernng National Socialism and the German Bishops. However, I'm not sure that it is quite analogous with the politicians in this country who "profit politically from their identification as Catholics but who are unwavering supporters of abortion on demand and who actively oppose the Church on a sundry of sexual morality issues . . ." I obviously agree with the Church's teaching on all of these morality issues and have always felt that abortion is the leading insignia of moral decay and depravity. However, witholding the eucharist from politicians for a political position as opposed to reacting to the person who either performs or obtains the abortion is a critical distinction. When we deal with political thought the issue quickly becomes, where do you draw the line. What do you do with the politician who says, "I'm personnally against abortion but respect someones right to make that decesion without government interference."? It becomes a slippery slope and winds up with all shades of judgments having to be made without respecting the primacy of conscience of the individual politician who may think, even wrongly, that he has "done" nothing wrong. Even the one scripture account of excommunication in 1 Corinthians 5, was for sinful "acts". All of Jesus' examples of the agape meal in Luke's Gospel seem to be meals of inclusion and not exclusion. Don't we deny the power of the grace of the meal in bringing about conversion if we require some purity code as the price of admission? This raises the issue of the postion of divorced and remarried Catholics and the position of those young Catholics who practice artificial birth control and the eucharist. But that's too much to get into now (without disagreeing one bit with the church's teaching on those subjects.) Just a few thoughts and reflections on your wonderful piece.


Gil Bailie said...

Walter makes a number of important points. The reason I am now more willing to err on the side of censure has to do with scandal. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are not scandalized by me." But he also said, "Woe to those who scandalize."

For decades now Catholic politicians have flouted a moral principle which stands at the very center of the Church's attempt to champion the cause of human dignity. For the most part, they have betrayed this central moral teaching of the Church brazenly and with utter impunity, receiving only occasional and winking reprimands from Church leaders. The result is that the people in the pews tend to regard the Church's moral stand on this question as one on which Catholics in good standing are invited to disagree.

In the year of Our Lord 2007, the question is: what causes greater scandal: the continued flouting of the Church's bedrock moral principles by Catholic politicians or the admittedly difficult and controversial step of refusing communion to those who insist on using their office to perpetuate a system that is cruel and heartless. When our grandchildren look back on the heartbreaking slaughter of the most vulnerable and the most innocent among us, they will ask why Church leaders were so temporizing in the face of it.

It is not, I agree, an easy decision, and I may be wrong, but, as I said, I think it's time to err on the side of clarity and principle.