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Christian Brotherhood Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 11 August 2013

In 1960, a virtually unknown professor of theology wrote The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood. He explained: “Christians together form an inner ring in their ethos, they are (or should be) held together by a spirit of brotherly love. . .“let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) The author was Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

In my experience, Scripture’s “doing good to all” is frighteningly rare. The solidarity implicit in the image of the household is rarer still, even though we pray for it at every Mass. Isn't it hypocritical to routinely pray for something while we do not make our utmost efforts to achieve it in practice?

This essential and substantial Catholic truth (one that would change the face of the Church in America if it were ever applied) has been largely washed out of the Catholicism taught in countries whose social ethos is based on the arbitrary concept of relationship coming out of the Enlightenment.

In the Enlightenment, one was part of the group, provided one advocated and supported the thoughts of the elite. Sound familiar? Such groups were supposed to replace the Church, just as the philosophy found in the Encyclopédie (written by members of the elite) was meant to substitute for Church teaching and Scripture.

Ratzinger argued, in contrast that with the coming of Christianity: “The removal of barriers that had seemed insurmountable is an essential part of the Christian experience of newness.”

Have you ever heard this before? I never had. Yet there it is in the Scriptures. Have you ever seen this removal of barriers? I have only had the vaguest glimpses. No parishes divided and paralyzed on major issues such as the meaning of Christ and consequently the meaning of humanity – what a concept!

We all help each other so that no one goes to bed hungry in our parish. This means overcoming the barriers to communication and actually communicating at a substantial level.

Then in the academic communities under the auspices of “Catholicism,” Christian brotherhood is a brotherhood in the truth – a point raised in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. If the Catholic university presidents do not understand Ex Corde, they should resign under this understanding.

Indeed, their boards should demand it, because the boards are charged with making their institutions Catholic. Or perhaps the boards that cannot fulfill this part of their job description should themselves resign? There are almost no Catholic universities in America that uniformly apply Ex Corde across the whole academic field. Enlightenment notions prevail.


        Joseph Ratzinger in the Sixties

Abdicating the responsibility for Christian community in the United States follows on the heels of the Enlightenment fascination with government by the elite. This notion is supposed to substitute for any other understanding of community from other sources even divine revelation by the creator of human community.

In the same vein Christian brotherhood involves the Principle of Subsidiarity because Christian community involves humans caring for humans rather than impersonal governmental systems doling out money or aid – and demanding control over many things as the price of the dole.

The lack of political correctness in the idea of Christian brotherhood becomes apparent once we say, “it is based on the assumption of a closed brotherly community.” (Ratzinger) This is because “Jesus himself did not describe everyone as his brothers and sisters but only those who were one with him in their assent to the will of the Father.” (Ratzinger)

This confronts and indeed clashes with the “essentially unrealizable ideal of the Enlightenment” of the fraternity of all as defined by the elite. It is unrealizable because it involves a sadly diminished concept of brotherhood, a brotherhood of units rather than persons and units in an imposed collective rather like Marxism.

It baffles me why American Catholics (clergy included) mostly go for the Enlightenment parody of “community” rather than Christian community because “Jesus has predicted to his disciples the collapse and failure of all earthly brotherhood and family love.” (Ratzinger)

A partial explanation lies in what John le Carré once called Americans’ “levitational self-belief.” Most immigrants will tell you that. Then there is still the myth of U.S. culture being the “world’s last best hope”!

Then, as always, there is sin. But mostly it has to do with people who have never heard of Christianity as an alternative to the Enlightenment – and a much better one. If only there was someone who really believe it was his job to tell them.

Lastly, as the answer to this situation, Ratzinger says: “the Eucharist must again become visibly the sacrament of brotherhood in order to be able to achieve its full, community-creating power.” He further explains: “this is a sacramental but also an ethical process. . . .The belief that we have all become a single new man in Jesus Christ will always call us to let the separating particularity of our own egos, the self-assertion of human selfhood melt into the community of the new man Jesus Christ.”

Doesn’t anyone understand – or apply – Church teaching and Scripture anymore?

 
Fr. Bevil Bramwell is a member of Oblates of Mary Immaculate and is Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. He has published Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments.
 
 
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written by Chris in Maryland, August 15, 2013
Fr. Bramwell:

Having just returned from vacation I perused CT and read your article.

Yes, indeed, the "enlightenment" parody of community is utterly impoverished. Universities, including Catholic universities, are totally hyping this counterfiet form of "community." Indeeded, Catholic universities now market their own "identity," trumping "Catholic identity." What were once Catholic "parishes" are now morphed into "communities" which are often marked more by their external/political identities, supplanting the Catholic identity.

What beautiful and profound observations about Christian identity from the young Fr. Ratzinger, and what profound observations he made about the hollow alternatives.

JP2's last book, "Memory & Identity" comes to mind...who are we...are we not what St. Paul said we are...or are we just another crop of idolators chasing the "The American Dream?"

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