John Allen Jr. on “gradualism”

Most interesting post and I’ll have something to say at the bottom of this excerpt:

There have been multiple references so far to the “law of graduality,” more commonly referred to by theologians over the years as “gradualism.” Its apparent popularity may offer a clue to how things are evolving in the keenly watched debate over divorced and remarried Catholics, but understanding why requires a bit of background.

At one level, gradualism is no more than the common sense observation that virtues such as honesty and courage aren’t all-or-nothing propositions, and that people move towards them through stages and at different speeds. It implies that just because someone’s current situation falls short of perfection doesn’t mean it has no moral value, and it’s often better to encourage the positive elements in someone’s life rather than to chastise their flaws.

It was probably that sense of gradualism Pope Benedict XVI had in mind in 2010 when he said in an interview with a German journalist that if a male prostitute uses a condom to try to avoid infecting people with HIV/AIDS, it can be “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

Benedict wasn’t repealing the church’s opposition to condom use, but he was saying that there are times when it suggests a concern for others which, in itself, is laudable.

Where gradualism becomes more of a bone of contention is when it’s invoked to justify a permissive approach to moral rules.

 

When you hear reports coming from the synod that bishops are calling for more “inclusive” language and the bad examples “exclusive language” seem to be taken right out of the Catechism of the Catholic Church then “gradualism” becomes another word like “ecumenism” that inspires a love/hate relationship.

God Himself certainly used a “gradual” approach with me.  I was not the easiest, most obedient and faithful of believers and had a long rocky road before I realized what I thought had to be brought under what the Church teaches and that I needed to bring myself in line with the Church, not the Church in line with me.

God reached out to me and plucked me out of a self-destructive lifestyle while I was on psychedelic drugs.  So, given my starting point on the journey, I did not go immediately from radical feminist, hippie to the Catholic Church via the Ordinariate!

I wandered for years as a Gnostic, attracted to fringe forms of religion that had some Christian leanings—Christian Science, Swedenborgianism, Roy Masters but unorthodox views on the Trinity or other aspects of the faith that Christians hold in common across denominational lines.

My introduction to orthodox Christianity began in a seeker-friendly Baptist Church where a warm, loving parish welcomed me heresies and all.   Not that they agreed with them, but they did not tackle them head on.  They took the “gradual” approach and exposed me to good teaching and loved me out of my bad ideas.  After a few years of not having to defend my pet heresies, I examined them again and thought, gee, I don’t believe this stuff anymore.

So, yes! to gradualism as a tactic or an approach to evangelism.  I did, however, have the Bible there as a standard. I could always read it and find myself convicted or troubled or inspired and freed as the case might be.

Given what I was and how many lies I believed and how ignorant I was of the Catholic faith and so on, I needed that lovely Baptist community to nurture me. I  don’t know if I would have been able t handle the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada until I’d had 10 years of preparation in the Christian world.  And then, when I joined, we had open communion.  Would I have stayed if I had been refused?   I don’t think I would have.  I don’t know.  I would have sympathy for the “medicinal” approach to the Eucharist, i.e. that we need it for healing and grace, not as a confirmation of having already received that “state of grace” before receiving it.   But I obey what the Church teaches on this matter.

Then we went through the ordeal —and it was an ordeal, an experience fraught with suffering—of becoming Catholic as a community.  Learning how to think with the Church, to set aside my private opinions, etc. was not easy.  For all of us, there was kenosis involved.

I was also grateful that most of the people who most deeply made me want to be Catholic so as to be in communion with them did not point the finger at me and call me an adulterer because I was in an irregular marriage.  I knew, too, how I recoiled against those who used “One True Church” apologetics to try to convince me it was sinful and spiritually dangerous to wait before becoming Catholic.   I know. I know. I get it about gradualism, I really do.

But at the same time, there needed for there to be the Catechism of the Catholic Church and clear statements on doctrine that I could use to examine my life in my own time at my own pace, guided by the Holy Spirit and by my Catholic mentors and friends who were sensitive to Him.   God forbid that teaching should be watered down, changed to suit the zeitgeist, made gradual in and of itself.  Are we going to hear next some bishops from the western world suggest some harsh sayings of Jesus need to be cut from the Bible, or at least excised from Mass readings and the offices?

This “gradualism” approach is what had me so upset with the Pope’s first Scalfari “interview” or reconstruction of an interview.  Obviously, the Pope was using “gradualism” in trying to meet the atheist Repubblica publisher where he was at and try to draw him with love and mercy towards Truth.

But Pope Francis is the Pope!  He’s not me speaking to one of my atheist or agnostic colleagues on Parliament Hill.  If he is not upholding the right teaching, but instead sounds like the Dalai Lama or Deepak Chopra, then where do we go so as to learn how to think with the Church?

Is the Magisterium merely the Successor of Peter and the Bishops alive today in community with him?  Is there not a Magisterium of the Communion of the Saints that extends back to the first eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ, the first Apostles?

I pray the Holy Spirit will bring conviction and a fear of the Lord upon that Synod, that the bishops there will tremble at the huge responsibility they have for souls alive now and yet to be born.

Another thing.  I really do not like the Pope’s image about wanting shepherds who have the smell of the sheep.    What if the sheep have the stench of death?  Should not our shepherds be imparting to us the fragrance of Christ and not taking on our stench of death ?

Woe to us if we are ashamed of the Gospel.

 

 

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6 Responses to John Allen Jr. on “gradualism”

  1. Macy says:

    What a journey! We all start out at different distances of derailment, of dis-grace (purposely hyphenated) and, for some more than others, the struggle back to the tracks of true human nature is difficult: they are the ones to whom little had been given and from which little will be required. But if they are able to give much, and I know that you do, it’s the miraculous at play.

  2. EPMS says:

    Well, Jesus did die, although the spices and ointments the women were bringing to the tomb were not needed. Islam, and some Christian heresies, do not wish to accept that He could so far lay aside His glory. I think Pope Francis is repudiating this point of view.

  3. Jay Toups says:

    Promoting gradualism is a dangerous philosophy that says “we have time” it is an extension of “love them where they are” which offers no challenge to love Christ with your whole heart and soul. Gradualism is dangerous because most people die as they live. Christ did not say “Go out and gradually bring people to me.” He sent them two by two to evangelize the world. He said if they reject you shake the dust from your sandals. Christ did not walk into the temple and say to the theives I love you where you are. He did not tell the woman at the well it is ok to be married for the seventh time. Christ spoke the truth with love and charity. Gradualism is dangerous. It will lead people to die as they lived.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      Jay,

      You wrote: Promoting gradualism is a dangerous philosophy that says “we have time” it is an extension of “love them where they are” which offers no challenge to love Christ with your whole heart and soul. Gradualism is dangerous because most people die as they live. Christ did not say “Go out and gradually bring people to me.” He sent them two by two to evangelize the world. He said if they reject you shake the dust from your sandals. Christ did not walk into the temple and say to the theives I love you where you are. He did not tell the woman at the well it is ok to be married for the seventh time. Christ spoke the truth with love and charity. Gradualism is dangerous. It will lead people to die as they lived.

      The reality here is that faith is a journey rather than a destination and that perfection in holiness is a goal rather than a present reality in each of our lives. In this regard, no sin is any worse than any other: any transgression can be either mortal or venial, depending upon the circumstances surrounding it. God does not ask that we have overcome all areas of sin in our lives, but simply that our hearts be turned over to him so he can begin the process of dealing with our human failings.

      In the case of converts from non-Christian faith, the process of formation in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is a path of intense conversion where catechumens surrender their lives to our God before coming to the waters of baptism. But what of those baptized as infants, without undergoing such a conversion, many of whom are never catechized? So long as we are going to continue baptizing infants, we will have many baptized unconverted among our number.

      Deviant behavior often stems from psychic and emotional causes, making it addictive in character. Correcting such behavior requires healing the deep hurt that’s driving it — and this does not happen overnight. Realistically, the alcoholic who joins AA as a positive step toward repentance and attends meetings faithfully as a sign of desire to overcome the addiction should have access to the sacraments — and so should a person who is in an irregular sexual relationship who takes similar positive steps.

      Norm.

  4. William Tighe says:

    “and so should a person who is in an irregular sexual relationship who takes similar positive steps.”

    Do you actually mean that an adulterer regretting his or her circumstances but without “a firm purpose of amendment” could, and even should, be admitted to communion?

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