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Faith and Understanding

by Monika Hellwig
Introductory Notes B. Sources and Resources of the Christian Faith a. the channels/ sources of Gods revelation Deposits of our faith/Tradition o Bible Sacred Scriptures Book of the believing community (from Jewish precursors until today) The principal source of Christian doctrine and understanding Tension: 1. The text set down in the beginning is dependent on the Church for interpretation. 2. Critiques the Church in all its failures of faith and understanding o Creeds and Liturgical Texts Church tradition that crystallized Christian doctrine in other texts apart from the Bible Products of the early church as she struggles to define her identity Creeds (confessions or symbols of faith) were nade: others have faded into disuse/ others have remained (Apostles Creed/ Nicene Creed) Liturgical texts for the celebration of the Eucharist, for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, for ordination, etc. o Conciliar, Episcopal and Papal Teachings Teachings that came out of the four most important councils of the Church (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon) these councils laid the dogmatic foundations of Christology (understanding of the identity and meaning of Jesus) Teachings that came out of succeeding councils of the church (e.g. Vatican I and II) Catholic encyclicals Teachings of Popes and bishops - Sensum fidei/ Christian Life of the community o This is the faith of the believing community that gradually receives and appropriates Gods self -revelation in their lives o More diffused, less easily identifiable part of Catholic heritage o This is more fundamental because official church formulations have grown out of it

Definition: Theology is faith seeking understanding. To believe necessitates understanding It is healthy to ask questions Role of Tradition Traditionalism vs. Tradition o Traditionalism unyielding commitment to past A living principle of commitment to the Beginning, a process that required creativity, inspiration, and spirit of openness to the present as well as respect for the past o Tradition Not simply going back to the source (this is traditionalism) but to be able to communicate beliefs/doctrines to the contemporary world Faith involves a continuing effort of personal appropriation and understanding. A. Dynamism of Living Religion 1. movement of questioning a. from contemporary experience to traditional doctrine - cloning - women priests - condoms - masturbation - married priests - abortion - same-sex marriage - divorce Movement 1 From questions arising out of present experience; asking what light traditional dogma can shed on these matters.
b. from traditional formulations to contemporary experience - hell - purgatory Movement 2 From traditional formulations of faith in the past and asking what meaning these have for Christians today.

b. not free from human error and ambiguities *language *new experience/perspective *social structures/conditions There might be changes in theological analysis Implication: demands of implementing the Gospel necessarily change Even the most solemn statement of a council or the solemn pronouncement of a Pope is more a starting point than a final answer. God empowers human creativity and waits for revelation and salvation to be received in a human way. Our guarantee: The Spirit of God prompts and sustains these agents of Gods revelation.
c. Task of Christians of every age: not only to compile these documents The need to re-interpret these traditions in the light of present -day experiences. Inquire, participate more intelligently, support, solve issues, cooperate. Does this mean that EVERYTHING that the church teaches and EVERYTHING that we believe in can change?

2. Examples of doctrinal developments Adultery What: sexual connection of two person, one of whom is married to someone else. Traditional understanding: Union not with ones spouse is prohibited New Understanding: Pauline Privilege: (union between a convert Xtian and a non-Xtian): A convert, married to a unbeliever who abandoned him or her, is free to remarry Petrine Privilege: (Union between two Non-Xtians): If one of them converts to the faith and remarries a Christian, the Holy See has the right to dissolve the non -sacramental marriage in order to permit one of the parties to enter a valid marriage with a Catholic. Why the change? New understanding of cases regarding the indissolubility of marriage. Religious Liberty What: Right of persons to choose/not choose any religion Traditional Understanding: the church and state has the duty to impose Xtianity upon their constituents - Augustine approved beatings for people to return to Christian faith - Theologians approved of the deadly force used against lapsed heretics. New Understanding: 1965 Vatican Council proclaim the right of every person to be free from governmental coercion bearing on religious faith. Why the change? New understanding of a persons dignity which includes human freedom. Forcing religion is a violation or invasion of human freedom. Usury What: Making a profit from a loan Traditional Understanding: It is wrong to make a profit from a loan. New Understanding: The church allows charging interest to loans prescribed by the law Why the change? Acknowledgement that the lender loses opportunity for profit. Inflation. Slavery What: The state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household Traditional Understanding: Christians accept slavery as part of a social institution that is divinely sanctioned. New Understanding: Pope John Paul declared slavery to be intrinsically evil. Why the change? Slavery is an act of human bondage, violation of the dignity of the human person. Death Penalty What: execution of a person by judicial process as a punishment for an offense Traditional Understanding: Death penalty is part of the mechanics of the government of the Roman Empire. In the 12th century, the church accepted death penalty as appropriate penalty for heretics. New Understanding: In 1995, Pope John Paul found conditions justifying the death penalty as necessary to the defense of society very rare, if in fact they occur at all. Why the change? Without justification by social necessity, executioners are themselves in a form of homicide.

d. Gradations of Church Teachings Dogma: teachings that communicate God's saving messages as revealed in Scripture and tradition Definitive Doctrine: teachings that are not divinely revealed but are necessary for safeguarding and expounding divine revelation Authoritative Doctrine: teachings that the Magisterium proposes authoritatively to guide the faith of believers but which the Church's teaching office is not ready to commit itself irrevocably Prudential Admonitions and Church Discipline: teachings that technically, would fall short of formal, authoritative doctrine

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