One of the strangest ideas modernist theologians hold is “progressivism”. The idea that humanity is somehow naturally improving simply by virtue of time! As if humanity automatically becomes more civilised the further into the future we travel. Wow! Is our human nature mystically linked to advances in technology and science? Its bonkers but many people seem to believe it or behave as if they do.
Hence modernists are ever found calling us to “move with the times” or “get with the programme” As if the programme itself could never be wrong- or the times be shallow and corrupt. Its ever out with the old, in with the new. Didn’t you know Catholicism was invented shortly after the Second Vatican Council, as something divorced from all that went before? The modern Catholics being the first in history to have considered issues such as mercy and compassion and how to fit the Gospel to everyday life… No?
Then get with the times dinosaur!! Of course the modernist programme is best- it comes from those living today- you know- not yesterday! How better informed we must be compared with those dopey church fathers, or the primitive numbskulls who built the ancient Churches, the very Churches we had to improve by replacing altar rails and high altars with concrete tabernacles and coffee tables from Ikea!
I am being flippant but the point holds. It is because modernists believe they know best that they feel entitled to update and improve Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church in all ages. God ought to be grateful! After all the bible is an ancient document not written for them but for a primitive and less civilised breed of human.
The problem is, of course, that it is a lie! We might have more information today but access to knowledge is no substitute for knowledge itself. Have standards gone up or down? And what of the arts? How do modern artists like Damian Hurst compare with Caravaggio? Are we really improving or sliding as a culture?
But even leaving aside such comparisons -which are arguably subjective- the very notion of progressivism itself is daft. There is no evidence to support it. If we are automatically becoming more civilised then why did more people die at the hands of others during the 20th Century than in all other Centuries combined? Would you rather dine with the lads from modern day ISIS or those who erected Cambridge and Oxford Universities during the so-called Dark Ages?
The lamentable reality is human nature, unlike science and technology, does not advance with time. Hence nobody has improved on the moral teaching of Jesus Christ. And thus the upgrade of the human condition still requires what he revealed; obedience, humility, self discipline, repentance, conversion and a willingness to co-operate with God. The rules of that Covenant he assured us would last to the end of time, of that Kingdom of which there is to be no end. The divine truth yesterday, today and forever.
This point was hammered home at Mass this morning as we read about the demise of John the Baptist. Who died precisely because he would not “get with the programme” accepting the remarriage of a divorcee without an annulment, to her former husband’s brother! And that issue, dealing with divorce minus annulment, is also what caused the schism in England with Henry VIII!
What this reveals is that dealing with divorce and issues of sexual morality is manifestly not new. The breakdown of families not being a recent thing or any different today than it was then. So why are people speaking as if it is new? As if nobody before us considered the implications of upholding matrimony as a life long union between one and and one woman? As if no other culture found it bothersome having standards set down by God which we fallen humans can struggle with?
Silly John the Baptism- couldn’t he see the need for “mercy”? Why didn’t he respond to Herod with a new pastoral solution? That the modern world of his day might view the faith as relevant and edgy? Thank goodness homosexuality hadn’t been invented or sex outside marriage..heaven only knows how the Early Church would have coped with that knowledge when they consistently backed the ideal of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman!
You get the point. There is nothing remotely new for the Synod to consider as regards human behaviour and sexual morality. The only difference is the modern attitude we have to certain matters of morality and God’s word.
So if the Synod finds a way to help the world better hear God’s word and receive the forgiveness and mercy that has ever been there- that will delight me! But if the desire is to forge ahead with innovation under the notion that we somehow know best simply because times have changed…well that would be dangerous, being founded on a lie so big even Pinocchio’s nose wouldn’t cope with it!