the church and changing times

as a Catholic who has lapsed himself into a moebius loop, i have a specific question about travel across the three dimensions of space versus the one of time.

i don’t know any of the specific arguments, but i’m sure that the (Catholic) Church has defended itself against charges of changing over time. i vaugely recall something about “The Church is universal and true, yet the church is also a part of human culture. Teachings and practices must change over time, to reflect the needs of the people and lead them into the glory of His light”.

first question- has the Catholic Church said any such thing? does it admit to changing over time, and what kind of arguments does it offer in favor of such temporal change.

second question- if the Church does admit to changing over time, what separates those temporal justifications from a possible justification for the same change being necessary over geography?

that is, if the Church should rightly change its practices to better serve a culture which changes over time, and since culture changes not simply over time but also with geography, then shouldn’t the Church be less monolithic and more heterogenous?

not looking for debate per se (although i have no problem with this getting trannied over to GD); more along the lines of what has the Church to say?


Well, I’m not sure where you thought you were, but you’re already in GD. Which is probably just as well.


In a recent thread, I cited the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae. Here’s how that document broached the subject:

As far as heterogeneity geographically, that exists to some extent. There is local control over the implementation of many policies. And in addition, there are a number of rites and liturgies in addition to the Roman rite that you are probably familiar with. Should there be more, or should there be less? I think you can make a legitimate argument either way, but in the end some balance must be found, and there will always be those on either side not entirely happy with the status quo. I’ll let those who agree or disagree with you on this explain why they feel that way.

I mildly agree they should allow more heterogeneity, but not lots more, and it’s really not a big issue for me.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses some of the temporal issues in regards to understanding Scripture (making reference to the Vatican II document Dei Verbum) in this section (particularly paragraphs 108 - 110):
Sacred Scripture

And refers to geographic issues:
The Liturgy in the light of varying cultures

Although the church has always adapted itself to culture (witness all the pagan feasts that is has borrowed or “baptized”), I don’t recall a specific pronouncement regarding “changing” over time. Short declarations such as the one dqa quoted may be as close as you’re going to get on that issue.

When the first missionaries landed in China, they adapted the liturgy to Chinese cuture in many ways. Unfortunately, the Reformation rolling over Europe at that time stiffened the necks of some of the hierarchy and the missionaries were rebuked for making changes to the “Eternal Liturgy.” In the twentieth century, after initially starting out with the 400 year old views of the Counter-Reformation, missionaries in Africa and South America began to question those protocols and began pushing for more “on the ground” freedom to improvise. This attitude was given a boost in the wake of Vatican II. As far as I know, the increasingly reactionary Curia has not reversed that process, yet. (They have curtailed some specific practices that they felt went too far astray, but they have not required that those distant churches return to a tight compliance with Roman custom.)

(One of the big tests for the church’s ability to deal with “different geography” will be celibacy. In a number of cultures lacking the 1,900 year tradition of celibacy that Europe has experienced, there is a fairly open rejection of the concept–that may be manifested in priests taking wives and simply “not mentioning” it to their bishops or in priests actively campaigning to have the rule set aside for their locale. Conversely, greater participation for women–even short of the priesthood–may become an issue in locales that have not yet adapted Western attitudes toward the equality of women.)

Basically, there is an ongoing tension between those who view the church as eternal and unchanging and those who view the church as needing to express the eternal, unchanging message of salvation in ways that are more clearly understandable to specific people at specific times and specific places. Each “side” has won various battles at various times, with the major battles usually being won by those who proclaim “unchanging” values as those who proclaim “new understandings” chip away at the monolith, eventually winning their points despite losing all the big conflicts. Vatican II was one of the few open victories by the “new understanding” crowd (and the “eternal truths” bunch have been working to restore their dominance for the last 35 years).

well NOW I know why Mother Angelica came up with EWTN as the name for her media empire :wink:

Yup. Once JPII succumbs to the Dread Enemy (Time), look for the next pope to come from the unofficial “Friends of Opus Dei” branch of the College of Cardinals. Hell, even the current Pope has a soft spot for Opus Dei and the far right of the Church. He’s said to have been personally interested in the canonization campaign of Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.


if you think of the church as a religious power structure with the objective of continuation and growth then some adaption is necessary. the ideal may be to get everyone to conform perfectly and never change but that is probably humanly impossible. so no doubt there are conflicts within the church heirarchy itself about how much to adapt and in what way to a given situation. globalization is going to impact the church too.

since i spent 13 years in catholic schools and am now a heretic, i’m in favor of disbanding the whole thing. i do not expect the pope to agree.

Dal Timgar

It is always possible that you may be correct.

However, during the 1970s, several people (most notably and irritatingly, Malachi Martin) ran a hugely successful cottage industry proclaiming that the successor to Paul VI was going to cave in to Communism and the church was going to be thrown up on the dustbin of history. Now, there are people claiming that JP II and his open support for the Polish strikes is the real reason that the Soviet Union fell. (And pointing to JP I does no good in saving Martin’s predictions, because he was known to be no more “frightened” of Communism or interested in making accomodations with it than JP II has been.)

Similarly, the aging Roncalli (John XXIII) was picked as a “caretaker” until the “real” pope could be picked. Not only did John kick off the Second Vatican Council, but Paul VI was not the “real” pope that the “powers” had in mind.

Picking popes in advance is a fun parlor game, but it has a way of blowing up in the faces of people who expect to get it right.

Come now, tom*…you know that the original recipe John Paul was poisoned because he was trying to investigate the Vatican Bank. An obvious case of a Communist sympathizer Pope trying to insert a stick into the spokes of laissez-faire capitalism!

jayjay (with tongue firmly in cheek) :wink: