Pompallier's People - Blog

Horse and cart

16 Oct 2015


New Zealand particpants will be sending posts from the Synod on Marriage and the Family in Rome this month.
Here is a post from Bishop Charles Drennan.


The theological versus pastoral debate is a non-starter in my view. Each informs the other and theology draws on Revelation without which we are destined to nowhere.

The two sets of questionnaires – poorly formulated to say the least – which have been part of the Synod process (and answered by many New Zealanders) had a bent towards the pastoral. A hidden or not so hidden presumption was that we need to work better out in the field.

Sure, we can and should always aim to do better – be better listeners etc. But from my Kiwi experience it is not our personal pastoral praxis that is stalling; it’s our public theological teaching and communication. Again then we face the question of language.

The language question is crucial. It bears directly upon the transmission of the faith – and there we go again, transmission – most will think of gearboxes or podcasts rather than the everyday mix of example, teaching, witness, insight, prayer, Mass, patience, expectation etc that are the modes of passing on (transmitting) our faith to our children in the midst of the rumbles and tumbles of ordinary daily family life at home and at school.

It’s not just choice of language, however, that we need to address. One of the weaknesses of the instrumentum laboris (draft working document) is the lack of scriptural and theological foundation and therefore impetus to the whole structure (and thus direction) of the document. The rush to be more pastoral has left us now scratching our heads about how?

In this regard, one question I have been pondering is how might Bishops’ Conferences (the rather odd collective noun for national groupings of Bishops) be better kept up to date with the best of contemporary scriptural, theological and canonical scholarship. Interestingly, some of the more pastorally creative and scholarly imaginative interventions in the Synod Hall have been from Canonists (Church law specialists). They have been outstanding precisely because they have delved deeply and insightfully into the theology of marriage that lies behind the code of canon law.

Yet, for some, any talk of fresh insight into theological understanding and communication elicits fear. What do I mean? An example. One grouping I haven’t seen identified in other blogs is those who have lived under communism or been trained in seminaries under Professors who grew up under communist regimes. They are a formidable group. Blokes’ blokes. Tough. Survivors. In their psyche any voice heard as coming from outside the fortress of the Church is the enemy. Any shift in thinking is a weakness, dialogue a compromise or simply a waste of time. They tend to thump out the word truth and struggle to accept that mercy is integral to truth, not an optional sweet coating of it. For them it is as though medicine is always bitter.

Ok, inevitably the brutal experience of communism marks the person deeply but can paralysis of thinking lead anywhere? Isn’t dynamism inherent to the role of being successors to the Apostles?

That’s why I’ve been keen to see beefed up what we might call (echoing the title of the Synod) The Vocation and Mission of Theology itself to the Family. Let’s see how far that idea gets.

 Bishop Charles Drennan is Bishop of Palmerston North.

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