Thursday, August 23, 2012


High theology based upon the Old Testament priesthood which Jesus fulfills and the Christian priest immolates:

Low theology stripped of Old Testament underpinnings and classical Catholic ethos:

One the the "theologies" that has disrupted the Church and led to its "deconstruction" theologically is what is called "low Christology." In a nutshell, it is based on the "historical critical method" of interpreting the Gospels. This method, developed first by liberal Protestants toward the end of the 19th century, tries to get back to the "historical" Jesus prior to the early Church adding layers of theology to Him and reading back into His historical life later understandings of Him.

For example, did Jesus really know that He was God from His childhood. Did the Blessed Virgin Mary, did others who associated with Him? Did He actually perform miracles or was there a rational explanation for all that happened in this regard, psychological hysteria, placebo effects, water so shallow, it looked like Jesus walked on it, etc.

This led liberal Protestants to question the Virginal Conception and birth, angels, and even the Nativity as two Gospels describe it. Many even questioned the physical resurrection and spiritualized it. Would your faith be destroyed if they found the bones of Jesus was often asked?

Catholic scholars were allowed to use this method by Pope Pius XII in 1942 when the Holy Father was assured that the method could be used without iconoclastic conclusions and in fact support the Deposit of Faith. But after Vatican II Scripture Scholars who became more intently ecumenical thus working closely with liberal Protestant scholars went wild with this Protestant method that the Church had labeled the basis of the heresy of "modernism" when the sure and certain faith of the Church was deconstructed.

The way the historical critical method was taught to my class of seminarians in the late 1970's led to the loss of faith a good percentage of my class. Yes, we were asked if our faith would be shaken if they found the bones of Jesus. That's where this method ends up if it is used in an unbridled way as the liberal Protestants of the 19th century did. Pope Benedict in his first book as pope shows how to use this method in a reasonable way that lead to faith rather than away from it.

But this low Christology that merely focuses on Jesus as a good, but befuddled man that stumbled into his Messiahship has also been applied to the ordained Priest and brought the theology of the ordained priest into a low theology, one like anyone else in the congregation, but simply called to lead, say the prayers and be like an actor on the stage literally reenacting not the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross, but the Lord's Supper for the audience (I mean sacred assembly) in front of him. Even the words of institution or consecration are not viewed as a prayer of remembrance of what Jesus actually said to the apostles at the Last Supper in anticipation of Good Friday, but are proclaimed to the congregation as though these prayers are directed to them as well as the words, "take this all of you... drink this all of you..."

So a low Christology makes Christ like any of us, a good Man. And the low theology of the priesthood, makes the ordained just like any lay person, liturgically, ontologically and literally and the non ordained priesthood of all the baptized is so clericalized that there is little of no difference in the ordained and non-ordained. This theology in fact was proposed to us in the seminary where it was thought that the future Church would simply call qualified men or women to lead the Eucharistic assembly based on their gifts to do so. This in fact has been done in many places in Europe and specifically I think in Belgium and the Netherlands.

This low theology has ramifications for church architecture too and the iconoclasm of the Catholic sanctuary we've seen over the last 40 years in terms of renovations of old Church retrofitted for this low theology and new construction.

The first thing to go is the altar railing as this is seen as a demarcation between the ordained and non-ordained. The second thing to go is the altar facing the people as facing ad orientem makes the Liturgy just that of the priest who offers sacrifice rather than the congregation doing it with him. The third thing to go is the tabernacle because there shouldn't be any conflict between the static and active presence of the Risen Lord (say what?)! And anyway Jesus did give us the Bread and Wine to be looked at, but to be eaten and drunk.

Fortunately the Eastern Rite of the Church and Eastern Orthodoxy have not bought into this drivel and have preserved the "holy of holies" with the iconostasis and the distinctive character of Holy Orders in offering the sacrifice while still making sure the laity have actual participation through singing the Divine Liturgy in their parts and common gestures, although there is more fluidity for the laity to come and go during the long liturgy and so there is a form of "clericalism" for the priest, deacon and cantors who don't come and go.

The proper Catholic sanctuary must be recovered and can only be recovered through a recovery of the Church's classical high Christology and high theology of the priesthood. In doing so, a new springtime of vocations to the ordained priesthood will occur over time. Yes, I'm clairvoyant!


Carol H. said...

The first "low theology" photo looks like the Killer Whale viewing area at SeaWorld.

Anonymous said...

But, could Jesus have made a telephone?

Unknown said...

Fr. McD;

Isn't what you've just described more or less the vertical v. horizontal theological argument which has been raging for years?

Just curious.