Catholics The Catholic Church is perfect
Catholic Church"The bishops' communion controversy has taken on bizarre forms"
Christiane Florin: Michael Seewald is professor of Catholic theology in Münster, and he is the youngest in his field. 30 years. The time-honored name of his specialty makes you either freeze in awe or in shock. It is dogmatics, that is, the firmly established belief, that which is binding to believe. In the Catholic Church, many rock festivals are shifting dunes. But some shifting dunes also harden into boulders, as the Vatican has made clear in the past few days.
Michael Seewald called his book Dogma in Transition. Although his main focus is neither ecumenical nor consecration, it fits in perfectly with the current controversies. We spoke to each other before this show. At first I couldn't help but wonder: What excites a young professor about ossified dogmatism?
Michael Seewald: I would not say that I am a dogmatist, but a dogmatic theologian. That is, dogmatics or dogmas, that is the subject I am dealing with. And that's just a general term for binding structures. Religions usually form binding structures and dogmatics is the discipline that deals with these structures.
Florin: Is the ossified attribute justified?
Seewald: Occasionally. That depends on the structure. So, religion cannot do without obligations. That is also part of the accountability and the ability to communicate that religions must maintain so that they can say what they actually believe. But these liabilities can of course fossilize, so they can become rock hard. And then that's what you call ossified.
Florin: Let's talk about the content. What is it that is absolutely to be believed?
Seewald: What is absolutely to be believed is spelled out differently at different times. One could say that normative structures already exist in the Bible. The belief that Jesus Christ is a person whom God has brought to the fore in an unsurpassable way is already a conviction that is reflected in the biblical scriptures. But of course a lot has been added over time. And it is the task of theology or the history of dogma to investigate precisely that. What was added when and why?
Florin: What role does the idea that there are revealed beliefs play?
Seewald: The idea of revelation is of course peculiar to Christianity or ... not only to Christianity, of course to other revealed religions as well. But Christianity has a very specific concept of revelation, and it assumes that revelation is first of all what happened in Jesus Christ. So, God, who does not throw any sentences from heaven, but God, who as a human pervades people and shows something of himself. This is the basic meaning of the Christian concept of revelation and it was of course also understood differently at different times. Now the question is: Where is this revelation actually reflected positively in sources so that we as scientists can somehow analyze it. There is of course the Bible. Then there is what is called tradition. This is a very complex term that cannot be narrowed down so precisely.
Florin: And which people are specially called to say: "This is really revelation now and this is just man-made"?
Seewald: Yes, of course that is a problem in the Catholic Church because it always comes down to: Who is actually allowed to say what? And over time, teaching structures have developed, which of course focus the judges' decision on what is now binding and with what binding force to be believed, very much on the teaching profession. And the highest holder of this teaching post is of course the Pope.
"Anyone who thinks that dogma is something closed is wrong"
Florin: How long has the teaching post existed?
Seewald: The magisterium in the sense that episcopes, community leaders, and later bishops, think about obligations, of course there is right from the start. But in the form in which we know it today, that is, that we have a Pope at the helm, who, according to Catholic belief, can infallibly write down certain things, that is actually a very young matter, which ultimately only affects the 19th century and which is of course still being tinkered with and refined, so to speak. So if you think that dogma in the Catholic Church is something that has been concluded, you are wrong.
Florin: Who thinks that the dogma is something closed?
Seewald: This is an opinion that one often encounters ...
Florin: In Rome - or where?
Seewald: Well, Rome, I would say, is characterized by a certain ambivalence. Gerhard Ebeling, a Protestant theologian, summed it up wonderfully when he said: Catholicism is shaped by a double tendency, namely by radical conservatism on the one hand and radical evolutionism on the other. On the one hand, it is said that dogma is what is established, what has been concluded, which must absolutely be preserved. This is the conservative moment. On the other hand, of course, there is also the evolutionary moment that assumes that the church can continue to think about binding structures and of course can also stipulate things as binding that were either not taught at all or with a different binding force.
Florin: Anyone who reads your book will notice: theologians have thought about dogmas, thought about doctrines, as long as these doctrines have existed. And they argued about how much change is possible. What were the main points of contention?
"Tradition is an innovative matter - until it becomes rock hard"
Seewald: The main points of contention were of course the big questions in the doctrine of God, in Christology, that is, the question of who Jesus Christ is. My book focuses more on the question: How was change actually thought of at different times? Throughout most of the epochs of Christianity's history, in one way or another, sometimes more sharply, sometimes less sharply, people were well aware that there is ultimately something like change and an increase in liabilities. And what interested me, especially in order to deconstruct these unhistorical claims to absoluteness to a certain extent, what interested me there, is the question: How has the way of thinking about obligations changed?
Florin: You have just spoken of claims to absoluteness and before that of the 19th century. Does that mean that what is now being declared as a tradition is actually none or a very recent one?
Seewald: Tradition is that which a present regards in the past as worth preserving and important for itself. And what that is exactly is different at different times. And that is also seen differently. In this respect, tradition is always an innovative matter until it becomes rock hard. And at the moment we are in the situation that what is called tradition goes back to a large extent - at least in the way it is formulated by the magisterium - to the 19th century and is difficult to change in this direction cause.
Florin: The current no's that have come from Rome in the past few days: a no to priestly ordination for women - that's not new now, but it has been said again anyway - and one to communion for Protestant spouses. First of all for ordination. Here one refers to a letter from Pope John Paul II from 1994. Formally not a dogma, but it is made into one with retrospective effect. If we now look at the three dogmas, which are also called dogma: on the one hand there is the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope and the doctrine of the bodily acceptance of Mary into heaven. That is a different category than deciding who will or will not be admitted to an office.
Where is the prohibition of the consecration of women in the hierarchy of truths?
Seewald: Yes, you should think so. Pope John Paul II and now the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith see it differently. But actually one should say that there is a hierarchy of truths, as the Second Vatican Council says. And the question is justified as to whether the papal position on the ordination of women is in the right place in this hierarchy of truths.
Florin: Why was the scope of a dogma expanded so much in the 1990s?
Seewald: Yes, the most recent development, so to speak, or the last, if you will, construction on the concept of dogma goes back, of course, to the so-called catechism of the Catholic Church of 1992, where the concept of dogma is defined further than it was already defined in the 19th century. In the 19th century it was said that a dogma consists of two parts. On the one hand it is revealed by God and on the other hand it is bindingly submitted by the Church. The 1992 catechism now also includes the teachings from the so-called secondary area under the concept of dogma. These are doctrines that the Church herself believes are not revealed, but that for some reason are deemed necessary to protect what is revealed.
Florin: What revealed things are protected by this prohibition of ordination?
Seewald: This is a question that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can answer more precisely.
Florin: But he doesn't.
The protected man
Seewald: Yes. I suspect that he regards the official theology there as protected, i.e. the idea that the priest, especially when he celebrates the Eucharist, acts in persona Christi, i.e. in the person of Jesus Christ, and that this portrayal of Jesus is tied to the manhood of the priest . Well, that would be the auxiliary construction that one says, in order to get this representation of Christ, one has to pay attention to the gender of the official.
Florin: How do dogmas benefit the believer? That they have a fuller life? Or do they benefit the authority?
Seewald: That is the question from what perspective you look at this. The authority would of course say that it is of use to the believers so that the believers have a safe orientation and are not confused. This is always a term that is mentioned: It is important to ensure that the believers are "not confused". Now the believers, who are definitely of age and can form judgments on these questions, sometimes see it differently and naturally ask whether the dogmas really benefit them, or whether they are mechanisms of a hierarchy, which of course also maintain a certain control want.
Florin: That is, the Magisterium knows what is good for believers. But that also means that all efforts to change something, to reform something, will fail because of the teaching post.
Seewald: The teaching post is, so to speak, a hard core that refuses to accept certain reforms and dialogue discussions.
Florin: Let's take another recent example. Ecumenism - which dogma is involved?
"The Church could be more reform-minded"
Seewald: This touches the idea that participation in the Eucharist, in which the body of Christ manifests itself sacramentally, is part of full belonging to the body of Christ in the sense of the Church. And some theologians, including very high-ranking people in Rome, refer to this as a revealed truth. Then, of course, as a dogma historian, I ask again: Yes, where and how and where is it and how do you come up with it? These are then things to which one does not get such a precise answer. But according to the self-understanding of the Magisterium, the connection between sacramental church fellowship and sacramental church constitutions is preserved in the Eucharist.
Florin: Your final chapter is called "More leeway than expected". What does it mean what you have found out - well, dogma in transition - what does that mean in practice?
Seewald: I have noticed that we are suffering from doctrinally constricted conversation in the Church. So, when it comes to ensuring continuity, continuity to the tradition of the church - whatever that is - continuity to Jesus Christ, which is really constitutive for the church, then we always only negotiate these questions of continuity on a doctrinal aspect. So, the question of which teaching has to be made binding and how, so that this continuity is preserved? That is certainly an important question. But it is not the only form of continuity, the church is a dynamic community that also develops historically and which could well be more reform-minded, also with a view to its own history than it is today.
Florin: Can you think of an example where the Church once officially corrected itself and said: So, we used to teach that, but it no longer applies?
Part of hell has been abolished
Seewald: It happens, but it happens very, very rarely. So, a more recent example is the so-called limbo, the idea of an intermediate area into which unbaptized children come. That was of course such a dilemma that one had: on the one hand, it was assumed that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. Now the question is: what happens to infants who have died without being baptized? After this performance they could not go to heaven because they were not baptized. But neither did they want to send them to Hell, so an intermediate area, the so-called limbus, was introduced. And a few years ago, under Benedict XVI. actually a notification in which it was said that this limbo concept should no longer be passed on. But this is a very, very rare example of self-correction by the church teaching office. As a rule, one rather chooses the way of simply sweeping certain things under the rug or not mentioning them anymore. An example is, for example, Pius XII., Who still taught that the theory of evolution can only be applied in the Catholic context if one sticks to the idea that all human beings are descended from one human couple, namely Adam and Eve in the biological sense. That is what Pius XII did. still taught with the utmost commitment. And that was simply not pursued any further later and then, so to speak, allowed to expire. I would say that this is by far the most common form of teaching development, i.e. not self-correcting, but simply letting it run out, no longer mentioning it, forgetting.
Florin: So silence is golden in this case. But still the question arises: What does that mean for the believers anyway? My impression is that the believers actually evade this dogmatic hardening by simply ignoring it or not knowing it at all.
"The believers no longer show any understanding for the highly dogmatized, ossified world"
Seewald: Naturally. We are dealing with completely different worlds here. This is evident again in the communion dispute between the bishops, which is really now taking on forms that are only bizarre. We are dealing here with separate perceptions of reality and worlds. On the one hand, a highly dogmatized, ossified - as you said at the beginning - world. On the other hand, of course, a world of people who try to live their beliefs in a credible way, but simply no longer understand such things.
Florin: Surveys also show that it is not just about these questions of reform, ecumenism, women's priesthood for example. Even if, for example, the question is asked: Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son? Or questions about the Trinity, then not all registered Catholics answer: "Yes, I think so." Rather, the answers go in the direction of: "I believe that Jesus lived and that the idea of charity was very good."
Seewald: This is of course a problem from the point of view of the Church. But instead of endeavoring to convey the things that are more important in the hierarchy of truths, as the Second Vatican Council says, more strongly, one understands things that are of subordinate importance and demands them on a massive scale.
Florin: If you say that the breadth of the discourse has become too narrow, the word breadth is actually wrong in this context, then that means it cannot be discussed freely, nor can it be freely discussed among theologians. What are the penalties?
"The Church deals with questions that for most people no longer have any religious relevance"
Seewald: Well, I don't even know what the punishments will look like, because I have not yet been punished in this way.But what one can say is that of course there are always attempts by the teaching office to prevent free discussions also in the theology, but that at the same time, especially in German theology, there are also attempts to evade these things. So: You don't let yourself be deprived of your freedom and discuss things that you consider appropriate and important.
Florin: Your prognosis, to come back to age, when will what you ask for will affect the teaching profession? How old will you be then?
Seewald: I don't even know whether I now have specific demands on the teaching post. I see myself more as someone who deconstructs certain unequivocal demands, as they are made by this side, so to speak, and shows how historically conditioned this is in the end. That doesn't necessarily mean that it is wrong, but you have to be aware of the historical nature of your point of view. I cannot say how the Church will develop. Overall, it creates the impression that it is retreating into a discourse niche, dealing with questions that for most people no longer have any religious relevance at all and thus of course becoming a small community that withdraws to its own, but a certain charisma in society loses more and more.
"Critical theologians are ironed out as enemies of the church"
Florin: And what keeps you then in the Catholic Church? You are also a priest.
Seewald: Of course, my faith keeps me in the Catholic Church, which is not a belief of the hierarchy or any official structures, but an identification with the church, which of course results from a very strong intellectual interest, from an intellectual fascination with the church and precisely that's why it is critical. The fact that critical theologians are ironed off as enemies or opponents of the church is repeatedly misunderstood in Rome. That is not the case at all, you criticize things because they are important to you and because you would like them to be different.
Michael Seewald: Dogma in Transition. How doctrines develop. Herder Verlag 2018. 336 pages, 25 euros.
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