A reunion of Newman alumni in February 2015 led to some research of events of the 1969-1970 period. This piece was published in the Newman College Annual in 1970. It is interesting to see some ideas that were prevailing 45 years ago.
Two centuries since the Cook landing. A time for review, they say. There is no need to urge this on the thinking block of Australia's youth. A look round any university student union will show you that. A lot of attitudes and values that Cook took for granted are being questioned.
What is the value of patriotism if the sovereign nation-state is likely to precipitate a nuclear war? Our wars are different to any that Cook envisaged and what looked like treason and cowardice in his day is seen as common sense today.
The structures of modern western society are under fire. Often they deny, rather than guarantee, the liberty and dignity that democracy is supposed to assure. Conscription, the government attitude to the individual's conscience, the legal system, much lauded "British Justice" are all under the spotlight. We should not take anything for granted. Question all.
If this were not a fair summary of present day attitudes "Hair-would not be such a stimulating success, the hit parade would have different content and moratoriums would not happen. But why is there not more of this searching re-evaluation being done by youth and students within the Church? It is there; but only a trickle compared with the amount in the world at large. The answer comes back: We were taught not to think about our religion. We were brainwashed into being Catholics.
The aim of this article is to put my belief that Catholic students are duty-bound to think out their Christian commitment, and that, today, they have a special contribution to make.
I do not believe that it really was true that Catholics were discouraged from thinking about the faith. But, whatever about the past, the approach at top level is not the same today. For years now, many priests have been encouraging, enticing, even pushing laymen to take a full and active role in the Church.
More recently the Vatican Council has turned our view of the Church upside down. Those whose first thought of the Church as of a static, hierarchical institution with the activity at the top and the laity passively waiting below for instructions are out of phase. The council sees the Church firstly as a People, a community of believers on the march through time and history; being influenced by the times and the milieu as much as it influences them. The fundamental glory of any Christian, then, is his baptism and membership of that People. And that holds for Pope, and bishop, as well as for the child christened last week. These higher positions in the structure are for the service of the whole community.
The whole community, likewise, is the recipient of the Spirit of life and unity; the Spirit is in each and all. Each person in this community has a duty to contribute to its life by giving of his specific endowments. Amongst the greatest endowments of the tertiary student is his mind and intelligence. In the 70s the student has a duty to build up the Church community by thinking out, discussing and acting on all issues with Christian relevance.
My complaint is that Christian students and more especially, Catholic students are not doing this. Many are disinterested and find Christianity largely irrelevant in their lives. It is up to them, and more so to those who see a value in Christianity, to turn their mental energies to the question of relevance. Some still have the static view of the Church and feel it is not right to question. I hope that this article will change their attitudes to their rightful role. Some are aware but caught up in other things or just plain lazy. I hope that this will stir up and direct their energies to the questions on which they ought to be contributing.
Some do think and consequently criticise the Church with-out seeing that they are part of the very community that they criticise. The job of renewal rests on them as much as on anybody else. Some criticise the Church for outdated thinking without seeing that their thought is part of the "Church's thinking" on the issue along with the more entrenched line they are criticizing.
Others have a "package deal" understanding of the belief of this Church community. It is all or nothing. To reject any point of teaching or law in the Church is to reject the authority of the Church itself and so be compelled to get out altogether. This is an oversimplified view. To be a Christian does mean belonging to a believing community. But within that community there is variety of belief. The community's belief is usually, though not always, what the hierarchy teaches. The only beliefs, however, which must be held in order to remain a member of this community are those believed by the whole community and, moreover, believed by them to be essential belief for membership. The categorical answers of the old catechism were given out with great assurance, but dissent from many of them is quite compatible with being a Catholic.
A topical example of this is the reaction to Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae on the morality of contraception. Many theologians, clergy and laity rejected the Pope's stand, yet they are still accepted at all levels as members of the Church.
Having accused today's students of not thinking about the Christian faith I feel bound to suggest lines on which they ought to be thinking. What the Church needs today is radical thinkers. The word "radical" can be misunderstood so I must clarify it.
As one writer has pointed out[i], the essence of radicalism is summed up in Jesus's statement that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Jesus was looking at a sacred structure—the Sabbath. The law surrounding it was thoroughly entrenched. Yet Jesus frequently broke the sabbath law by healing the sick. Once the structure began to hinder the love and service of one's neighbour the structure was out of order. Inviolable as the sabbath structure was, Jesus would put it in its true place by saying that it was made for man.
The radical can be seen more clearly if we compare him with the reformist and the revolutionary.
The reformist has a stake in the status quo. In order to keep things on an even keel he is ready to patch up the structures so that they will endure. However, it is the sabbath, rather than man, that he is primarily concerned with.
The revolutionary, on the other hand, sees the structure as being totally evil. Nothing short of total demolition of the structure and everything it stands for will be good enough. He sees no value in the sabbath at all.
The radical is in between. He believes that the structure enshrines some value. That is why the structure developed. It is the value that the sabbath stands for that he wants to re-discover. Then he will work for the development of new structures which will enshrine that value in his day and age. In other words, he believes in the sabbath, but, like Jesus, he believes it was made for man.
Often history shows an institution—a structure—growing out of an ideal. The institution enshrines the ideal. It becomes formalised because man, being what he is, needs formalisation. But times change and the forms no longer serve the original ideal. Then the forms must be changed.
This process will go in fits and starts. Times change slowly. Forms lose their effectiveness slowly. Yet renewal will only be forced when we get to a point where the discord between forms and ideals is fairly blatant.
The Church is a marvellous blending of the divine and the human. And the human element in the blend makes the Church's structures and forms subject to the same pattern of aging. Therefore, we always need the radical. Because the 1970s are clearly to be a great time of universal reappraisal, we especially need him now.
The true radical within the Church loves the Church. In fact, his faith must be very deep indeed if he is to ask the most fundamental questions and yet remain firm. But the true radical is a man who has Christ dwelling in his heart by faith and who is rooted and founded in love[ii]. It is precisely because he loves the Church that he questions. He must be prepared for accusations of disloyalty from fellow members who do not share his radical gift. Yet, he must reassure himself that silence can be disloyal if a radical value is being strangled by the present structures and their custodians. He will have a radical view of loyalty, too.
There are three major areas in which the Church radical must go to work.
Firstly, the Church is a highly structured institution. Any movement of 500 million people must be. Some of those structures are believed by the Church community to be divinely established—papacy, episcopacy, priesthood, Eucharist, sacraments are a few. Many are the products of history. Over the 2,000 years many structures have already served their usefulness and are gone. In assessing all this the radical question is: What are the structures of the Church basically meant to enshrine? One essential must be safe-guarded. The Church must always be a community of faith and love. Any structures inimical to this must be modified. The area of Church structures is the first object of the radical's re-evaluation.
The second is doctrine. Revelation is God's personal approach to men, through Jesus Christ, offering the gift of his life and love. This "message" as it is often called, has a content of fact or truth: Who God is; who Jesus Christ is; what Jesus did; the effect of his life, death and resurrection; the way he means men to think and act etc. Much of this content is beyond man's comprehension. Still, he grapples with it in his mind, analyses, categorises, synthesises, hypothesises. This effort to fit the message into logical patterns is called theology. But, from culture to culture, from age to age, from one philosophical background to another, words have different meanings; concepts do not coincide; concepts are lost and new ones are formed; some concepts remain, but become irrelevant as still others gain relevance. Re-thinking and reformulation is needed if the present day proclamation is to be a reliable, truthful presentation of the basic message. To stick to age-old formulations is no guarantee that truth will be safeguarded. To present an irrelevant message might satisfy some people's craving for security, but it is not to present the message of Jesus Christ. Relevance to man is an essential truth of his proclamation.
God's message for now is not automatically found in formulations from the past, be they papal, conciliar or even the creeds. It can be found directly only within that believing community which historically belongs to Jesus Christ and which is the custodian of his message. Here and now the Spirit works powerfully within that community safeguarding and enlivening the message.
The creeds, conciliar statements and papal statements are of value today because the Church community accepts them NOW as the genuine formulations of the message which it jealously harbours within its confines. Otherwise, all we can say is that they were meaningful formulations to the people at the time when the Church did embrace them as genuine expressions of the message.
It is the radical's gift to be able to ask the question: What is the basic message of Jesus Christ? How can it best be formulated and effectively proclaimed today? He will, of course, take proper note of the place of the authoritative teaching office within the Church. He will see the necessity of a sense of history—a pivotal ingredient of Christianity. He will believe that through all the vicissitudes of history the true constant is that community called the Church. He must remain within its pale and be normed by its belief. But, out of a sense of love and loyalty, he will never cease being the conscience of the community by asking the radical question: What is the message of Jesus Christ for today?
The third and final area is morality. Law is not an absolute good. It is a pragmatic tool for producing something else. Order in human affairs and the protection of rights seem to be the values law is meant to enshrine. But the Christian has a higher law. "What is the greatest commandment?" got the reply: "Love God and fellow man". This is why aspects of the sabbath law got short shrift from Jesus. Law is not an absolute and if it militates against love it only loses the test, it is an abomination. There is a rigidly fixed code of morality which the true Christian will never compromise; it can be summed up in one word—LOVE— and love's presupposition of the dignity of man. Anything counter to this, even if they be other specific moral laws, he will reject.
Here is another area of assessment in which the radical has a vocation. How can love and the dignity of man be best served in a given set of circumstances in 1970? What is the most loving way to act? That is the Christian way. Again he will be normed by the belief of the Church community as to what is a valid expression of love in today's circumstances. Yet, all the while he will be conscious that his thought contribution is a genuine component in the Church's believing melting pot.
History shows that the Church has always been in inter-action with the social, economic, political, philosophical, and cultural life of the time and place. It has been influenced; it has exercised influence. One of the mighty influences today is the attitude of re-thinking and re-appraisal being done by thinking youth. Many Catholics feel that it is out of place in their religious life. Others do question—and feel guilty. Far from its being vetoed in the Church it is the most precious gift that they can bring in this big, slow, conservative but historically adaptable, lovely, loving and basically truth-seeking hotch potch which is God's People.
This is the plea that today's youthful Christians will love this community, and all mankind, enough to use their gift to discover the radical truth and beauty of Christianity—to discuss it—to speak out about it and insist on being heard. Then they will bring a relevant, revitalised message more effectively to a humankind groping and ready for it.