Wednesday, October 24, 2012

did Jesus see our Church coming?



An article caught my eye in yesterday's Irish Times. The title was What passes for alleged collegiality in College of Bishops is no such thing. That's the kind of title that's likely to catch my attention. But what really drew me to it was the author: James P Mackey. 

Prof Mackey was one of my lecturers in Trinity. I rather enjoyed his classes, despite the fact the topic was cosmology which fairly makes the brain boil. He's a serious academic with a list of publications as long as both of his fairly long arms. I bear him no particular ill will for the fact that his classes took place between 2pm & 4pm on a Friday even though the seminary students were supposed to finish at lunchtime that day in order to allow them to travel back to their dioceses to do their placements and spend time with their families for the weekend. 

All this is a rather long-winded way of saying I know the man slightly. And based on that slight acquaintance I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb in suggesting that he is a man who likes to be a little provocative from time to time. Hence, perhaps, some of the contentions he makes in his article. I'll leave most of them alone ... but I will allow myself to be drawn by one of them. He ends his article with the line It is the details of the governance structures and juridic infrastructure of this ancient Roman empire that still live on in our church’s constitutional law to this day; not anything that Jesus could ever have contemplated.

'Not anything that Jesus could have contemplated.' That's not a charge against the Church unique to Prof Mackey. It's been heard in various forms for centuries. I think by now it has grown a little tired. Or perhaps it is that I have simple grown weary of it. You don't like Church structures? Neither would Jesus. You hate formal liturgy? Gosh, Jesus wouldn't have liked it either. You have a beef with the ordained priesthood? Dollars to doughnuts Jesus never saw that coming & he wouldn't approve of it.

What I dislike about this kind of attitude is that it seems to claim an almost god-like insight into what was possible for the imagination of Jesus' human nature; and suggests a rather lesser insight as to what is possible for his divine. Jesus founded a Church. And he told his followers to make disciples of all nations. But he didn't think it was going to succeed? Or that if it did it would need some kind of human organisational structure? He foresaw divisions and false teachers, he foresaw his own suffering and death, but he somehow missed out on all the rest? 

The Church isn't perfect. It can't be. It is made up of imperfect human beings. But it was founded by Christ. And to say that Jesus, fully human, fully divine, could never have seen that it would become the human imperfect Church we have today is, I think, a contention too far.

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