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Posted February 3, 2004

Book: 101 Questions & Answers on the Church
Author: Richard P. McBrien
Paulist Press, New York, pp. 154

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

In this book, well-known theologian, teacher, author, and columnist Richard McBrien offers a complete mini-course on the Church in a format and style readily accessible to the general reader.

101 Questions and Answers on the Church raises such vitally important issues as:

- the definition and composition of the Church (Roman Catholic, Eastern-rite Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant and Oriental);

- the historical movements and defining events related to the Church in the New Testament and across the centuries;

- contemporary issues including lay ministry, priesthood, the role of women, social justice, divorced people, and others who feel marginalized.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Q.88. How can we deal with factions in the Church today?

The best way to deal with factions in the Church is the same way that James Madison, in The Federalist Papers (no. 10), prescribed for dealing with religious factions in the young American Republic: encourage multiplicity of religious bodies, and don’t allow any one of them to gain an unfair advantage over all others. Madison defined a faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Factions have been part of the Church from the very beginning. As many as four different parties existed in Corinth, when Paul sent his first letter. “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,” he wrote, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided?” New Testament scholars also remind us of the deep and bitter divisions within the communities associated with the Beloved Disciple, John the Evangelist of communal love.

So it should not surprise us that Catholics, who have been baptized into the same Christ and who profess the same faith and who partake of the same Eucharist, have been in conflict with one another down through the centuries, even into our own time. That doesn’t make it acceptable, of course. Such conflict, and the factionalism that foments it, is corrosive of the life of the Church, which is called to be a sacrament of unity for which Christ prayed at the Last Supper. But on this side of the Second Coming of Christ it is impossible to immunize the Church from conflict and factionalism. As long as the Church is composed of frail and imperfect human beings, it will always bear within itself the effects of Original Sin.

How, then, can we best deal with the inevitable? By doing what Madison suggests, that is, by encouraging as much diversity and fee expression of ideas in the Church, by seeing to it that many flowers bloom in the Church’s garden, and by taking care lest “a bruised reed” be broken or “a smoldering wick” be quenched. It means treating one and other with respect, however vigorously we disagree, and defending others’ rights to express their faith in ways consistent with their own conscience, without harm to the common good of the Church itself. In a word, it means living as Christians are supposed to live.

The Table of Contents:

1. The Church and the Churches (Questions 1-10)

1. My husband is a Methodist. Just up the street from my parish church there is a Maronite Catholic Church and around the corner there’s a Russian Orthodox church with an onion-shaped dome. I’m confused. When we refer to “the Church” what exactly do we mean?
2. If “the Church” is one, how can we speak about many “churches”?
3. What do you mean by the term “local church”?
4. For what purpose does the Church exist, at whatever level?
5. How do you define the Church?
6. The definition, you said, includes all Christians. But how wold you define the “Catholic” Church?
7. Do we still speak of the marks of the Church today?
8. Is the Catholic Church still to be considered as the “one, true Church” of Christ?
9. Is the Church necessary for salvation?

. . .
II. The Origins of the Church (Questions 11-22)

12. Did Jesus ordain the Twelve Apostles at the Last Supper and then instruct them to hand on their apostolic powers to successors?
17. When did the present system of bishops, priests, and deacons begin?
22. Among the many images of the Church, is there any one image that stands out?

III. The Church in History (Questions 23-37)

23. Would say that conflicts in the Church today are worse than at any other time in history?
26. There have been over 260 popes in the history of the Church. Why do you say that Gregory VII was one of the most important?
30. I take it that the history of the popes contains a lot of unusual stories. Is there any one that stands out from the rest?
31. Why did the Greek and Russian Orthodox break away from the Catholic Church?
37. I’ve heard some Catholics complain that there is a new wave of Modernism in the Church today. What’s wrong with being “modern”? Isn’t it better to be up-to-date than behind-the-times?

IV. The Church of Vatican II (Questions 38-51)

38. What is an ecumenical council, and how does its authority differ from the pope?
41. You emphasize the council’s teaching that the Church is a mystery. Obviously you’re not using the term in the sense that we speak of a murder-mystery. What exactly does it mean to refer to the Church as a mystery?
49. If Jesus didn’t establish his Church as a democracy, how can we expect its leaders to exercise their God-given authority in any except an authoritarian manner?

V. The Church Today (Questions 52-89

54. What virtue do you feel is most important for a professional lay ministry in today’s Church?
55. On what basis is restriction of the priesthood to males justified and at what point in Church history was this dictated?
56. What do you say to women who feel that they must leave the Church to be ordained?
59. A recent issue of our archdiocesan newspaper reported that present-day seminarians are more conservative and less academic than previous generations. In your travels and observations, do you find this to be true?
62. What should the place of the Tridentine Mass Rite be in our modern church? Is it a relic?

64. Why do we have to move away from communal penance services, since we are a communal Church?
75. Does Catholic inclusiveness have room for gay and lesbian Christians in your view? Specifically, what is your reaction to the Vatican’s attitude toward civil rights legislation for gays and lesbians?
83. Why is liberation theology perceived as a threat by some in the Church establishment?
86. As a medical scientist I am deeply concerned about the education of our Church’s hierarchy concerning the moral issues resulting from the rapid advances in the biological sciences. How do you envision the most effective way for our Church leaders and teachers to incorporate these advances into their teaching for the next century?

VI. The Future Church

90. Do you think that in the future the Church will welcome back into the community divorced Catholics who have remarried outside the Church?
92. Will future priests still be “professional clergy,” set apart and trained? Or do you think that we’ll ever “raise and acclaim” regular parishioners, who will then be ordained to officiate at the Eucharist?
94. What can we who work in the parish do to facilitate the change or shift of the Church into the 21st century? What obstacles do you see? What present reality contributes to this shift? What are you hopeful about?