Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theological Notebook: Evil "Organized Religion?" Rahner's Realistic Description of Spiritual Gifts

Here's a few lines from Rahner's The Dynamic Element in the Church that struck me yesterday. They were interesting not just in themselves, and in how they may tie into the dissertation, but also for some ideas I've been having about that phrase people say sometimes, that they dislike "organized religion." I suspect that this phrase has become one of those catch-alls that has the benefit, due to its popularity, of sounding very crafty of the person employing it, while being vague enough to actually not require much work to have gone into it, nor in expecting much work to be done in having to defend it. Certainly we can think of some vague dissatisfaction we have all experienced in dealing with the cumbersome side of a large bureaucracy, or of the way such a body can leave us feeling a little faceless. So: "organized religion?" Bad.

But when I start to really think about the things that are organized in this world that can make those sorts of blunders that leave us feeling put off, I'm not so sure that the "organized" part of it is an intrinsic evil, as much as it is – as usual – the inevitable and occasional failings of those human beings that populate the organization: people who are – as unsatisfying as it is to admit it – just like us. The idea that organized religion is intrinsically something for us to rise above – that idea appeals to our self-aggrandizement, our self-righteousness, and our love of being accountable only to ourselves. That religion and spirituality isn't the kind of thing that would benefit from organization – that seems questionable. Imagine those other things that do commit the same kinds of mistakes as organized religion: organized medicine; organized agriculture; organized food distribution; organized education; organized transportation; organized law; organized industry; organized banking; organized business; and, of course, organized government. All of these make errors and alienate us in their organizational capacity. But is their being organized truly not an advantage? Suddenly the intrinsic badness of seeing good religion (today we like to say "spirituality" here instead of "religion," of course, emphasizing that individual aspect) becoming "organized religion" doesn't seem so immediately persuasive to me.

So, Rahner seems much more realistic in showing how the spontaneity of freedom and creativity are spiritual gifts, but that the organizing that sustains and focuses such charisms are equally spiritual gifts:
Now it is no doubt a rule, a normative principle and a law for the spiritual gifts themselves, that they should operate in an "orderly" way, that they are not permitted to depart from the order prescribed by authority. (p. 52)
It doesn't strike me as a huge leap of imagination to see why the Spirit of God would will things to operate in such a way, whether or not we successfully do so.
With regard to such charismatic enthusiasm for the evangelical counsels, which can only be followed through God's grace, it must be realized that not only the first emergence of such a mentality, which, of course, nearly always forestalls or occurs apart from and indeed, to all appearance, in spite of the institutional elements in the Church, but also the institutionally organized transmission and canalization of such gifts and graces of the Spirit, belong to the charismatic component of the Church. Not only Francis but the Franciscans too are charismatics if they really live in a spirit of joyous poverty. What would Francis mean to the Church if he had not found disciples throughout the centuries? He would not at all be the man of charismatic gifts int he sense we have in mind here, but a religious individualist, an unfortunate crank, and the world, the Church, and history would have dropped him and proceeded with their business. But how could he possess disciples, any disciples, who have really written into the actual history of the Church something of the ever-young grace of the Spirit, if these disciples and the soul of the poor man of Assisi had refused on principles to be faithful to this Spirit of theirs under the yoke of ecclesiastical law, of statutes, of vows and the obligation that derives from the liberty of love? It is precisely here that it is clear that the charismatic element belongs to the Church and to her very ministry as such. She has the courage, the astounding and impressive courage, and many holders of office may well not realize what they are doing thereby, to regulate the charismatic element in the Church's life, to formulate "laws" concerning it, and to "organize" this Spirit. (pp. 58-9)
And in this way, to use Rahner's example, that charism of one man, Francis, goes beyond being simply the town nut or even, at best, the local saint, and becomes, by its marriage to the spiritual gifts of organization, the movement of Franciscans that still today feeds the hungry, builds homes for the homeless, educates the ignorant, and prays peace into hearts around the world.
Tags: books, christianity, dissertation, ecclesiology, francis of assisi, grace and freedom/nature, mysticism/spirituality, pneumatology, quotations, rahner, theological notebook

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