Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue


Part II: A Crisis in Catholic Theology

Chapter 3: Theology Without a Net


In Part I we saw a tendency among some of the Catholic participants in the East-West dialogue to reinterpret Christianity in Buddhist or Hindu categories. It is worthwhile to try to see where this tendency might be coming from. It arises, I think, from the failure of Christian mysticism, metaphysics and theology to provide them with more adequate tools with which to meet the challenge of dialogue.


Christian Mysticism

Logically we would expect that the Catholic participants in this dialogue would draw heavily on the Christian mystical tradition when confronted with Eastern forms of mysticism. With some notable exceptions, they have not, or when they have, it has often been in a problematical way. In fact, we could say that Eastern enlightenment has tended to fill the vacuum left by their lack of living contact with the Christian mystical tradition, not that they could be held personally responsible for this lack since it is very long-standing and wide-spread.

It would take us too far afield to explore in detail the historical circumstances in the modern history of Catholic mysticism that have given rise to this situation. I have tried to do this in From St. John of the Cross to Us: The Story of a 400-year-old Misunderstanding and What it Means for Christian Mysticism, but in summary this story goes like this: In the aftermath of the diffusion of the writings of the Carmelite mystics Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross in the 17th century, Christians all over Europe and beyond began to ask themselves whether they, too, in any real and practical manner could become contemplatives. This desire fueled an enthusiasm for the contemplative life that was sometimes met with over-simplified and inadequate answers. These answers and the practices they inspired, as well as a deep distrust of mysticism in general on the part of some theologians and some Church authorities, led to the crisis of Quietism at the end of the century. The condemnation of the Quietists and the fear it inspired throughout the Church was sufficient to suppress overt practical interest in Christian mysticism until the beginning of the 20th century, and in some ways, even until after the Second Vatican Council.

It was after the Council that some of the contemporary attempts to renew the contemplative life like the centering prayer movement, or the Christian meditation of John Main, began to spread widely. But these attempts often display a curious myopia about this modern history of Catholic mysticism and are they, themselves, sometimes rather strongly influenced by Eastern forms of meditation. The upshot of all this is what we have been seeing in Part I. Catholic priests and religious have discovered in a deeply personal way Eastern forms of meditation, but this has not inspired them to bring these kinds of mysticism into relationship with the Christian mystical tradition because that tradition had vanished from sight long ago.


Christian Metaphysics

Much the same could be said about the Christian metaphysical tradition, but for different historical reasons. There is a Christian metaphysical tradition that we saw surfacing in someone like Thomas Merton, and as we will see later, it is a prime candidate for dialogue with Eastern forms of enlightenment. But it can scarcely be said to have been brought forth by the Christian participants in the East-West dialogue because for the most part it appears not to have been known by them in any efficacious way. To be sure, they were often well acquainted with the traditional neo-scholastic philosophy and theology derived from Thomas Aquinas, but in a manner that left much to be desired, as we will see in a moment. But they were rarely brought into contact with the intuitive heart of St. Thomas’ metaphysics, an intuition of being, an intuition into the primary role of the act of existence in regard to essence.

The historical reasons for this are as obscure and yet as important as those we saw in regard to Christian mysticism. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century made a revolutionary metaphysical discovery which transformed the Greek philosophy he had received from Plato and Aristotle. He saw that existence, and not essence, was the ultimate principle of being. The history of Thomism was to become the history of the loss and rediscovery of this insight. The greatest rediscovery took place in the middle of the 20th century and was brought about by people like Jacques Maritain, Joseph de Finance, Etienne Gilson and others. But for the most part, with the exception of Maritain, they gave little thought to the subjective conditions that played a vital role in achieving this insight in the first place. Students subjected to the neo-scholasticism of the manuals rarely had any sense that beneath these ashes burned a living flame of metaphysical insight, at least in some of the followers of St. Thomas. I have tried to tell something of that story in God, Zen and the Intuition of Being and in Mysticism, Metaphysics and Maritain.

Therefore, when the Catholic participants in the East-West dialogue encountered Eastern forms of enlightenment which are deeply metaphysical in their own distinctive non-conceptual way, it rarely occurred to them to compare enlightenment with the metaphysical intuition of being because this Christian metaphysical tradition had never made itself known to them.


Christian Theology

The history of modern Catholic neoscholastic philosophy and theology has a similar tale to tell. The story starts in 1893 when Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical letter Aeterni Patris, which made the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas normative for the Church. This was a strong impetus for the renewal of Thomist studies that had already been going on. Thomism went on to spread throughout the Church, and was revitalized by a great deal of fine scholarship, and so this turn to St. Thomas could be read as a progressive attempt to renew philosophy and theology.

But soon a dark side to this renewal began to show itself. As an official doctrine, Thomism began to take on the color of the Church’s institutional structures; it became both authoritative and defensive, both traits that were not intrinsic to Thomism, itself, or to St. Thomas. These two attitudes, mixed with the need to teach large numbers of students, led to the neo-scholasticism of the manuals. The result at its worst was a Christian doctrine shattered into a thousand pieces and welded back together in the form of syllogisms. The correct expression of verbal formulas gained the upper hand in the classroom and stifled insight and creativity. It was a conceptualism which had no use for the modern world and its ideas, which were reduced to straw men and destroyed in a few lines at the end of an article. This defensiveness did not end with the world outside the Church, but extended itself to pioneers within the Church who wished to make a greater use of modern philosophy or science, or non-Catholic biblical methods and scholarship, or even other traditional schools of philosophy and theology within the Church.

This narrow neo-scholasticism waged a campaign of denunciation and condemnation at the beginning of the 20th century against what became known as modernism. Undoubtedly some of the ideas of the so-called modernists were incomplete, or even incorrect, but they were not met with calm and open, still less charitable, discussion. After World War II it came in conflict again with scholars in the Church who were following other philosophical and theological paths, for example, the transcendental Thomism opened up by Marechal, or those who were finding new theological riches in the Fathers of the Church. A common thread of many of these new developments was the desire for a more positive relationship to the world outside the Church. These attempts loosely labeled la nouvelle théologie were not always as philosophically and theologically precise as one would wish – how could such pioneer efforts be born completely formed? – but the response on the part of the Church authorities and the prevailing neo-scholasticism was again not one of open discussion and conciliation, but the same kind of tactics used during the time of the modernists: silencings, denunciations from Rome, and so forth.

This struggle lasted until the Second Vatican Council and played itself out in the tension between the original schemas, which were written in the old scholastic style, and the desires for reform and openness that had been growing in the Church. But finally the forces of renewal were heard, and scored what appeared to be a decisive victory.

This led to an almost immediate collapse in large parts of the Catholic world of the old neo-scholasticism of the philosophical and theological manuals. Indeed, the speed of this collapse showed that it was propelled by the built-up pressure born of previous repressions. It also showed how little genuine Thomism had entered into the minds and hearts of its students. Authoritarianism, defensiveness and pitiful pedagogy had done their work all too well.

The theology that was born out of the Vatican II era was a more open theology in dialogue with the world outside the Catholic Church. But it was, and is, also what could be called a reaction theology. By a reaction theology I mean an aspect of contemporary Catholic theology which, while it is going about its concerns, is colored by a certain polarization that is the result of its century-long conflict with this prevailing neo-scholasticism.

If this neo-scholasticism was a conceptualism, this new reaction theology tries to see the limits of concepts, but sometimes propelled by its own past, it takes on an anti-conceptual character which begins to deny the validity of concepts as ways to know the Christian mysteries. If neo-scholasticism pretended to be ahistorical, modern Catholic theology has developed a deep and valuable sense of history, but once again at times it moves beyond this legitimate zone of compensation and verges on historicism, that is, a tendency to limit what theology can know to what history can determine. And at the heart of this reaction theology can appear a genuine tragedy. If the old neo-scholasticism acted as if its formulations were equivalent to faith itself, then contemporary theology sometimes not only sees the limitations of these formulations, but tends to overreact and reject both the formulations and the faith they were meant to express. So injured have the emotions of people become by various ecclesiastical insults that these emotions drive this reaction theology into a rejection not only of the theological deficiencies of the past, but to a rejection of Christian faith, itself.


Theology Without a Net

Robert Frost once said that poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net. The question here is whether contemporary Catholic theology is sometimes playing without a net, that is, without carefully considering the essential link between theological reflection and faith. Without faith, by which I mean an inner assent to the essential Christian mysteries like the Trinity, the Incarnation of the Word, the resurrection of Jesus, and so forth, our theological activity does not rise from its necessary foundation, and thus can drift into a form of personal religious speculation which, however pleasing and clever it may be, is really not the same as theology.

Let me be clear about what I am not trying to do here. I am not talking about the vital theological task of reformulating the traditional theological language in which the Christian mysteries have been expressed in the past. Even though I will look at possible concrete examples of this theology without a net, I am not talking about the personal faith, or lack of it, of this or that particular theologian, still less about their goodness or holiness. I am talking about their published, public theological statements. Nor am I aligning myself with an inquisitorial mentality driven by a narrow theology which stifles genuine theological creativity and is long on the exercise of ecclesiastical power, and short on due process. What I am proposing is a theological conversation in which theology looks at the vital issue of its relationship to faith, and the need of Catholic theology to actually scrutinize what can be said, and what would be in opposition to Christian faith.

A moment ago I called faith an internal assent to the essential Christian mysteries. What does that mean? It rests on an understanding of faith in which it is not simply the use of human reason about religious topics. It is an interior assent that works through love, and brings us into a living contact with God and what God has revealed, that is, the central Christian mysteries which are, in final analysis, persons rather than doctrines. This is a faith that binds the Church together, and is shared by all its members from the Pope and Bishops down to the proverbial little old lady praying the rosary in some tiny village. I would like to think that this is a common faith that is held not only by Catholics around the world, but one which they share with John the Evangelist, and Thomas who doubted, with Ignatius of Antioch, with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Rahner.

This is the faith that has a content, and this content has been expressed by the Apostle’s Creed, and the Nicene Creed, and could be expressed in some new way, but with its substance remaining the same. If I decide that I no longer believe, for example, that Jesus died for my redemption and actually rose from the dead, or that God is like a loving mother or father who hears my prayers, and who calls me to eternal life, then I should ask myself whether my reflections about these things are really theology, or whether, in fact, I am proposing my own alternative to the Catholic faith. If it is the latter that I am doing, then I should be clear about it to myself and to the people I am addressing.

I hope the following examples of reaction theology represent a certain extreme, or even fringe, of Catholic theology, but they let us situate the tendencies to reinterpret Christianity that we saw in Chapters 1 and 2 against the wider background of the current crisis in Catholic theology. In the next chapter we will look at the question of religious pluralism against this same background.


Ivone Gebara

Ivone Gebara is a Brazilian Sister of Our Lady who is well versed in traditional theology and philosophy. In her Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation she gives us the example of a contemporary theology trying to be more relevant to modern needs. This is a theology which reacts against the old tradition of conceptualism, but in doing so, puts itself in a problematic relationship with essential Christian doctrines.

She contrasts a patriarchal epistemology that informed the traditional theology with an ecofeminist epistemology that she wants to infuse the new theology. The old was based on an ahistorical metaphysics that put the center of life outside the cares of struggles of daily existence, and outside of history, itself. It focused on immutable doctrine and eternal truths at the price of human beings and their concrete needs. These revealed truths took on a life of their own, and could not be questioned in the light of the "Christian communities’ history and lived experience. This situation also leads to teachings that sanction the power invested in male Church authorities to act as the guardians of fidelity to these doctrines. These authorities exercise control over what the faithful can and should believe, claiming that their power comes from Jesus Christ…"1

Read as a sociological critique of the old theology and its attendant power structures, this kind of analysis has much to recommend it. We may say that it gives us another valuable perspective on the old conceptualism and the uses and abuses of power that often went with it.

Her remedy is to propose an ecofeminist epistemology more in line with the meaningful experiences of our lives. Here the duality of the old theology between body and mind will be overcome, and we will "live the oneness of the matter and energy that are our very makeup without knowing what that oneness really is… We will welcome the transformation of our individual bodies into the mystery of our Sacred Body."2 If we take these sentiments as expressions of a desire for a more holistic spirituality, conscious of its feminine and ecological nature, all well and good. But Sr. Gebara is led to create a new theology that not only reacts against the ills of the old, but seems to empty out the faith of its distinctive Christian content.

In it, relatedness is seen as the most basic characteristic of the human person. "(R)elatedness is the primary and ultimate ground of all that exists."3 God is relatedness, we are told, but we are also told that "relatedness is not an entity apart from other beings; rather, it is a mystery that is associated with all that exists. Relatedness is utterance, word, attraction, flux, energy and passion… We are all both created within and creators of this relatedness."4

In this way she hopes to overcome the dualism of the old theology which treated the material and spiritual as if they were separate substances. "…God is not a pure essence existing in itself; rather, God is relationship."5 "…We no longer speak of God existing before creation, but, in a way, as concomitant with it."6 It is easy to sympathize with the feelings that drive this project which embrace a compassion for the poor and marginalized and a keen sense of the limitations of the old theology. But we have to ask whether we are seeing the beginnings of a new philosophy and theology, or the loss of the distinctive nature of the Catholic faith.

Sr. Gebara goes on to say things like: "prayer has to be rediscovered as a human need."7 "We pray because we need contact with ourselves, with our community, and with the entire universe."8 And she feels that we must ask about the concrete human needs that lead us to talk about the Trinity. "To what human experience is the Trinity related?"9 She answers that the experience is one of human multiplicity and fragility. "This multiple divergence is Trinity."10 ""Trinity" is the name we give ourselves…"11

The old theology "petrified language" and went on "to condemn or declare among the saved those who are unfaithful or faithful to their formal institutions and their discourse…"12 This is a good point, but is the proper response to it what we have been seeing? She states the problem: "The Trinity has been presented as the absolute, the totally different, the altogether superior, independent, and perfect Being."13 But her response is: "The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not of divine stuff as opposed to our human stuff; rather, they are relationships – relationships we human beings experience and express in metaphorical rather than metaphysical terms."14

Her treatment of Jesus is much the same. While Jesus still enjoys a special place, He is "no longer the absolute reference in a dogmatic sense, that is, in the way it was presented in the metaphysical Christology..." She honors Jesus, but free of dogmatic refinements because "the christological dogmatics that has come down to us from Nicaea and Chalcedon, along with their later "refinements," took away the good flavor of the Jesus-words…"15

Sr. Gebara calls herself not a post-Christian, but a "post-dogmatic and post-patriarchal" Christian. Even the most solemn dogmatic formulas of the Church councils no longer speak to her. Rather, we must "dare to free Jesus from the hierarchical and dogmatic apparel in which the church has clothed him for so long."16

She also makes some reflections on the role that Jesus plays in the salvation of the human race. "…If we no longer speak of the salvific uniqueness of Jesus, the Christ, many feel we give up the power and uniqueness of our faith… I believe that to affirm the incarnation, or the bodiliness, of the divine does not necessarily require that Jesus have some unique metaphysical character."17 Do we really need to say, though, that Jesus "is not the savior of all humanity" or "not the powerful son of God," but rather the "symbol of the vulnerability of love" and who "as an individual person is not superior to any other human being?"18


Tissa Balasuriya

Tissa Balasuriya is a Sri Lankan theologian and member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who rocketed to notice in the world of theology when he was excommunicated for the views presented in his Mary and Human Liberation. He can be said to be well versed in traditional theology in virtue of his training, i.e., licentiates in both philosophy and theology from the Gregorian University in Rome, and in contemporary theology in virtue of his interest in Asian liberation and feminist theology. The controversy that surrounded his book after his condemnation illustrates two of the prevailing themes in today’s theological activity. Progressives around the world rallied to his defense, but what motivated them was their outrage at the Roman procedures which led to his excommunication and which seemed to them to be grossly deficient in terms of due process. What didn’t seem to get the same attention was his theology, itself, and whether he was or was not saying things that conflicted with fundamental teachings of the Church. The lack of due process is certainly a vital issue, but it is worth examining Balasuriya’s theological thought, for it brings out some of the disturbing aspects of this contemporary Catholic theology of reaction.

Edmund Hill sums up Balasuriya’s position in his introduction to the book and the ensuing controversy. Balasuriya’s general argument runs like this: the old classical theology is "patriarchal, male dominated, and governed by Western, Greco-Roman cultural presuppositions." And so we ought to turn to a "new feminist, liberation, inculturation dialogue theologies."19 There is certainly a sense in which it is easy to agree with this, but of course, the issue is to determine just what that sense is. Balasuriya eloquently argues that Mary needs to be seen in solidarity with the human race, to be seen as a real woman, a woman of the Gospels, and not just raised above everyone else. But the road he takes to do this is fraught with difficulties. He argues that at the heart of devotion to Mary are qualities attributed to her, like the Immaculate Conception, but these qualities are, in turn, based on the qualities we attribute to Christ, especially in terms of redeeming us from sin, and in this way he is led to deal with the question of original sin.

This is a doctrine that he thinks lacks internal coherence, and "is based on unproved and unprovable assumptions."20 But such a comment immediately raises a theological red flag. In just what way can we expect the Christian mysteries to be provable? Are they provable in some historically verifiable way? Or are they provable because they are found in full form in the Scriptures? Or are they provable because they psychologically resonate with us, or say something about how we should treat each other?

There is no doubt that the question of original sin poses a great challenge for contemporary theology, and Balasuriya touches on some of the elements of this question that need to be examined: the traditional link between original sin and sexuality, the injustice of punishing all people for the sins of our first parents, the apparent injustice of God towards the unbaptized, and so forth. But he doesn’t really deal with them. Instead he will say: "the whole doctrine of original sin is built on the assumptions of a particular medieval Western European philosophical understanding of the human person, nature and the supernatural, which is not necessarily valid for all times and places."21 If he had said that the Church’s teaching on original sin was heavily conditioned by the historical circumstances within it arose, one could only agree with him, but there is an overemphasis here that is disturbing.

The question of original sin becomes a springboard to the issue of the role of Jesus in the salvation of the human race. "Such dogma of original sin implied that Jesus, the universal savior, conferred the graces merited by him, through the Church which he founded."22 But Balasuriya, apparently motivated by a desire to enter more deeply into dialogue with other religions, questions this. Even if salvation came through Christ, he tells us, that does not mean "…Jesus Christ wanted a Church – say the Catholic Church – to be the mediator of that salvation."23 This, to his mind, reduces the chance for salvation of people of other religions, or no religion at all, and is therefore unacceptable. What he is going to do is remove this problem by transforming basic Christian doctrine. It is as if he does not see the basic Christian mysteries as the foundation for all theological activity, but rather, as humanly conceived doctrines that can be altered. He will write: "Traditional theology has defined Jesus as one person having two natures: the divine and the human. This is the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon."24 But then he comments: "Yet, who is able to know these things with any degree of acceptable certitude?"25

A final example highlights this misunderstanding of the nature of theology. "If the doctrine of original sin and its consequences are questioned, then the concept of redemption is also questioned. If we do not understand human nature as essentially fallen, then there is no need of an ontological redemption by Jesus Christ…"26 And Balasuriya appears not to shrink from accepting such a line of reasoning under the guise that it is necessary for interreligious dialogue: "The traditional understanding of redemption, in which Jesus Christ is considered the unique, universal and necessary redeemer in an ontological sense which transforms fallen human nature, is one which it is not possible to use in our multi-faith context, as well as among secular people."27

What is taking place here is that a genuine desire for openness in dialogue is obscuring the true nature of theology and leading to unacceptable transformations of the Christian mysteries. Do we really need to do this? Even more critical is the question of whether faith itself is being lost in various instances of this kind of reaction theology.


Michael Morwood

Michael Morwood was a priest of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart involved in adult religious education in Australia when he wrote Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium. He believes that our theological understanding of Christianity is only as good as the cosmology that shaped it. In the past we believed that God was a male person, up in the sky somewhere who looked down on us and took care of us, and that human beings started in paradise, but lost that initial state through sin. But now we have the new cosmology, and so it is clear that traditional Church teaching on paradise and original sin, for example, is "nonsense."28

When it comes to Jesus, in the past we believed that He was the second person of the Blessed Trinity "sent down from Heaven by the Father to redress the wrong human beings had done and to win back God’s friendship."29 But now we know better because we realize that such a religious world view is no longer relevant because it is based "on an outdated cosmology which presumes that God is up or out there somewhere and sends His Son down to this planet."30 This is a theology that "constantly underlines the belief that Jesus is radically different from us."31

What Morwood is doing is setting up theological straw men, and then demolishing them. But in this straw are elements of genuine Christian doctrine which are being discarded, as well. The new cosmology really has little to do with the matter. If Morwood wants to make the point that Christian doctrine has often been presented in a deficient manner, that is fine, and it is easy to do. But he has a much more audacious agenda: a thorough-going transformation of basic Catholic doctrine.

Morwood covers much of the same ground in his later Is Jesus God? which appeared after his resignation from the priesthood. What was implied earlier becomes more explicit. We are faced with an "inevitable collapse of a theological system of belief dependent on Jesus being a special incarnation of God for us to be (saved)."32 In the past things looked like this: "The Genesis stories of creation and a fall; God prepares the way for a Savior; Jesus restores what was lost; The church is the medium for "salvation"; Our particular church is the only one free from error; We engage the world around us shaped in our Christian religious convictions."33 But now, given the new cosmology, we see things differently: "Contemporary scientific understanding of the universe and the development of life on earth; God present and active in all places at all times; The Spirit of God working in and becoming visible through: The material universe; The development of life; The development of human culture; The human attributes of love, generosity, caring, compassion, forgiveness."34

Despite how much this new story of the universe is in the news today, "it is striking how few theologians have put into writing the implications for Christian theology."35 They undoubtedly know the implications "but there appears to be an air of intellectual dishonesty created by authoritarian insistence on fidelity to "Tradition"."36

The doctrine of original sin, and Jesus as our Savior, was greatly influenced by brilliant thinkers who didn’t have at their disposal the knowledge of the universe we have today.37 But now, since we know how our planet had been bombarded by asteroids, and how dinosaurs disappeared, we no longer have to think in those old ways. So, with a wave of the cosmological wand, original sin and most of the mystery of moral evil disappears. It is only because Christians have been indoctrinated in the old stories of paradise and original sin that we feel guilty about the imperfection of the current state of our evolution. And so while Morwood will not completely deny the reality of sin, we can certainly wonder what his understanding of the origin of the enormous suffering and pain we see around us is.

The resurrection of Jesus undergoes a similar process of reduction. It is a huge step, Morwood tells us, to say about the traditional understanding of the resurrection of Jesus and his sending of the Spirit, "I just don’t believe it anymore."38 But this is what Morwood has done, yet he immediately hastens to reassure us that this "is not a rejection of Christianity, but simply a rescuing of Jesus from that old world view."39 Jesus didn’t regain eternal life for us because it was never lost, and so forth and so on. "This understanding is radically different from the understanding that permeates the New Testament Scriptures and the tradition of the Christian church. Christianity is indeed at a crossroads at this point of history. Will it keep walking down the dualistic road with the images we saw above from the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Or will it step into the twenty-first century and begin the massive task of reformulating its understanding of the life, death, and rising of Jesus within the framework of contemporary knowledge?"40 It is this kind of program that led to his first book being banned from sale by the Archbishop of Melbourne for serious doctrinal errors, and Morwood being accused of crudely misrepresenting Catholic teaching. Another bishop asked him if he believed Jesus was God, and his answer is what we might by now expect. This classical view of Jesus depends on its "intrinsic link" to an outmoded world view. The church should take people "through whatever data it has step by step to convince them." But that data doesn’t appear to include the early Christian witness to Jesus, for that, too, is contaminated with the old world view. The data is presumably modern cosmology. "Faith must build on reason. That has always been a strong principle of Christian theology."41 But the way Morwood seems to understand these statements is that faith is somehow subordinated and judged by reason, in this case what modern scientific cosmology has to say.

It is fascinating to hear this kind of talk about the new cosmology, which seems to be cropping up in many places. Let’s get another view of looking at it from someone who proposes we need a quantum theology.


Diarmuid O’Murchu

The fundamental issue is whether, in these kinds of cosmologically inspired spiritualities, we are being presented with a way to renew or even expand our Christian vision, or a replacement for it. Let’s look at another egregious example. In the past, "only those who believed in God (as described by formal religion) could be theologians. Quantum theology seeks to dismantle this exclusivity and open up the theological exploration to everybody, to all who are prepared to engage with their lived experience of the universe as a quantum reality," writes Diarmuid O’Murchu in his Quantum Theology42 "God is first and foremost a propensity and power for relatedness, and the divine imprint is nowhere more apparent than in nature’s own fundamental desire (exemplified in the quarks) to relate – interdependently and interconnectedly... Questions arise which become immensely disturbing for orthodox theologians. "Does God, then, have no independent existence?" "Is God somehow dependent on evolution?" These questions... arise from a certain mode of patriarchal consciousness, characteristic of our mechanistic age, needing certainty, precision, and authoritative clarity. They are valid questions, but of no real interest to a quantum theologian."43

Once God has disappeared into some evolutionary process, then historical Christianity is bound to soon follow. The story, we are told, is more important than the facts: "Whether or not there was an empty tomb, whether or not anybody actually saw the Risen Jesus, is not of primary significance. If through modern archaeological research we were to rediscover the remains of Jesus, thus establishing that he never rose physically from the grave, that discovery would not undermine the faith of a genuine believer. It would create immense doubt and confusion for millions who follow a dogmatic creed rather than a spirituality of the heart. (It could also be a catalyst for a profound conversion experience.)

Theologians in general and guardians of orthodox religion will find the above comments quite disturbing; some will consider them to be blatantly heretical."44 Frankly, I do find them "quite disturbing." This kind of Quantum theology and whatever kind of Quantum spirituality that could be erected on it has lost its moorings in genuine Christian spirituality. Further, they have little to do with the actual scientific world of modern cosmology and quantum physics, which is a cauldron of competing scientific hypotheses and deadlocked philosophical debates. What these kinds of superficial spiritualities, inspired by the new cosmology, do are invoke the natural sciences for a demolition of Catholic theology that has very little to do with what the sciences are saying.45

Daniel Maguire

Daniel Maguire, Professor of Religion at Marquette University, in The Moral Core of Judaism and Christianity argues that "at their moral core the major religions of the world are not all that distant. It is at this core, too, that these classics reach deep into our common humanity and offer a universalizable trove of moral ideals, principles, and visions. Though these religions appear in separate cultures, arising from unique challenges, they are all rooted in awe and reverence for the stunning gift of life and being."46 Pointing out the importance of this moral core is certainly a noble endeavor because it could foster cooperation between religions and men of good will on the many urgent issues that confront the human race. But Maguire, like the proponents of the reaction theology we have been seeing, cannot seem to carry out this task without putting it into opposition to Christian belief.

If some have excluded morality from the core of religion in their search for a common essence, he will reverse the perspective: "Morality is primary; religion, God-talk, and theology derive from and explain this foundational moral reverence."47 Morality then becomes the common essence, and the world’s religions including agnostic, or atheistic humanism, the many paths to that summit, or center. They all touch at their moral-mystical roots. Even this would work as a program of pluralistic cooperation, but it soon becomes elevated into a deconstruction of traditional Christian belief. The sound idea that theists and atheists, and all men of good will can cooperate, becomes a program for the relativization of Christian belief, and indeed, of all belief systems under the heading of intellectual modesty.

There is an important truth in Maguire’s perception of how religions can ossify and lose their vital moral thrust. "Commitment to disengaged dogmatic formulae can easily replace morality as the sacrament of encounter with the holy."48 But this is linked, in Maguire’s mind, with the need to attack traditional Christianity. Christianity "shows the impact of its mythogenetic Hellenic sojourn… Its dogmatic structure has more than a passing similarity to religious doctrines of Greece and elsewhere."49 There is certainly a measure of truth in this, but for Maguire it becomes a platform from which he can demolish traditional Christian understanding. Paul becomes an eclectic and creative borrower, and "an outstanding witness to the imaginative syncretism of early Christianity."50 "The borrowing affected the very structure of what would be later called dogma. Early Christian dogmas were not very distinctive in their contemporary world. (What was distinctive was the moral vision begun in Judaism and planted in Christianity.)"51 In short, the fundamental Christian mysteries are nothing but reflections of the Mediterranean world of virgin births, healing miracles, incarnational deifications, dying and rising gods, to be found all over the place. The theology of Jesus as the divine wisdom, put to such good effect in the Gospel of St. John, depends primarily on the myth of Isis-Osiris.

And while Maguire will say there has to be a discussion "on how the etiology of these myths relates to the essential meaning of Christianity,"52 he has already made it clear that the essential doctrinal meaning of Christianity is of little importance as long as we preserve its moral core. The issue here is not that there are not various fascinating questions involved, which to unravel would demand a sensitive comparative history of religions, as well as a grasp of archetypal psychology; it is not even that from this historical and psychological point of view Maguire’s comments are unconvincing. The real issue is the use to which he is putting these questions, which is to use them as a way to level Christian doctrine. We are left with the impression that it is only the naïve, or fundamentalist Christians who can still believe in Christian doctrines when their mythological character is evident to anyone who has the courage to look history in the face. We must leave them to their childishness and get on with the important business of genuine cooperation on pressing moral and social issues. All the wrangling about the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, will not lead us to any conclusion, and doesn’t really matter, anyway. We still have the moral core. Was Jesus divine? That is the "wrong question. Symbols are not true or false. They are meaningful or not meaningful. Like works of art or poems…"53 The efforts of the Church Councils, as well as the Fathers and theologians, are futile and unnecessary, at least from the perspective that they were trying to do something that simply could not be done.

But once again, what drives this kind of project? We can only surmise that the life-deadening conceptualism and legalism of the institutional Church almost compels people to react against it, and attack not only these faults, but Christian belief, itself.


John Dourley

In the work of John Dourley, a Catholic priest and Jungian analyst, we are faced with not simply a Jungian analyst trying to understand Christianity from his own perspective, or even a Christian who somewhat naively uses Jung’s psychology to put meaning back into Christianity, but with a more conscious and deliberate taking of position. This can be seen in Dourley’s The Illness That We Are: A Jungian Critique of Christianity. If Jung places the "location of the genesis of religious experience" within the human psyche, then Dourley sees this kind of religious epistemology as a challenge to Christianity.54

"The possibility of a deity-engendering faculty within the psyche is understandably a threat to a Christianity still largely committed to living under the burden of its religious projections understood for the most part literally and historically."55 If gods and goddesses must spring from the fecundity of the psyche, then does this not relativize the whole idea of Christian revelation?

"The idea that the experience of the divine is due to archetypal activity native to the psyche certainly modifies, if it does not render entirely premature and adolescent, claims to absolute and exhaustive revelations which have somehow drained the consciousness of its ability to express its religious energies in future revelations. Such a final Word would seem to block rather than stimulate further and fuller statements from the unconscious."56

This kind of epistemology leads to the conclusion that Christianity and other religions are but partial and complete reflections of what Jung’s psychology knows more directly and completely. In fact, they are not only incomplete but dangerous, for they take their revelation as some sort of absolute and impose it, often by force, on others, or enshrine this revelation in an institution that then lords it over believers.

"Rather than seeing the institutions they serve as necessarily diverse representatives of unconscious energies seeking to express themselves more fully through religious diversity, institutional theologies either deny this mythmaking capacity of humanity or exempt their genesis from it in favor of a purely transcendental and supernatural ancestry."57

It is Jung’s psychology which becomes the means by which we can uncover in various philosophies and theologies the extent in which they embody archetypal realities. Then they can be understood "as ancillae psychologiae", the handmaids of theology, "as mutually mitigating and complementary aspects of an unconscious wealth seeking fuller expression than is yet possible through any one particular system.

"From this position Jung’s thought has within it the norm for differentiating between philosophical and theological standpoints that would be helpful to conscious human development, and those that would be helpful or even entail ultimately the negation of any development, through the destruction of humanity itself. The norm would be based on the question of whether or not the patterns of thought in question, be they religious, philosophical or social, lead consciousness beyond itself to the energies within the psyche that work toward its balanced revitalization and emphatic extension."58

Dourley is aware that he is pioneering a new religious epistemology that entails a radical critique of Christianity, and in doing so he sees himself following in Jung’s footsteps, especially as Jung shows himself in his correspondence where he "gives some of the strongest indications that he was fully aware of the profound philosophical and metaphysical implications in his understanding of the psyche, a side of his thought he tends to disclaim in his published work – perhaps to avoid offending the "scientific community, as well as the more perceptive among the theologians"59

John Dourley shows little of this reticence. God becomes "a psychic resource in which the opposites remain undifferentiated,"60 and theologians should "cease battling for the perseverance of their lesser faiths" and work for a "more encompassing faith."61

In this encompassing faith the two natures and one person of Christ become an understanding that "psychic maturity resides in the discovery of one’s native divinity."62 And if we admitted that psychological, spiritual and revelatory experiences come from a common source we would be "comfortable with the idea that religious and psychological experience are organically one."63 If theology doesn’t admit this it "should not pretend, in their dialogue with developmental psychology, that they have anything to contribute to or derive from various movements concerned with human potential."64 In short, individuation is identical to growth in the experience of God. Revelation would not be closed but each of us would have our own personal covenant and a "new testament would be struck every time the individual was led by the Self into dialogue with it, in the interests of its (the Self’s) more conscious incarnation."65

The resurrection "would be nothing less than the transformation of consciousness that attaches to the process of becoming whole in the here and now of everyday life,"66 rather than something in the "realm of extraordinary geriatrics."67

In Love, Celibacy and the Inner Marriage, Dourley takes up these themes, again insisting that Jung, despite his disclaimers, had a metaphysical agenda.

"He certainly seems to enter the field of epistemology and ontology when he claims so repeatedly that all that one can know must be known through the psyche, including the reality of God."68 And Jung’s remarks about the sacrosanct unintelligibility of dogma and following Nietzsche that philosophy and theology are the "ancillae psychologiae" stir Dourley to bring this metaphysics out in the open. The voice of the unconscious becomes the voice of God,69 and psychological maturity must be called mysticism. Dourley cites Jung to the effect that the mystic has had "a particularly vivid experience of the processes of the collective unconscious."70 A "latent" or "surreptitious" metaphysics in Jung must attain its full stature and its implications for Christianity realized, even though it undermines "current religious configurations of transcendental monotheisms."71 Jung’s psychology really is a "metapsychology."72 In it the old religious language must be recast. Following Jung’s Answer to Job, Dourley formulates it: "In the beginning God had a nervous breakdown."73 Its cause was due to God’s inability to hold together the opposites of his "profoundly unconscious life." Therefore human consciousness had to be created to solve the divine problem.

He will recognize this "surreptitious" metaphysics and give it full rights as a genuine philosophy. This "Jungian philosophy" becomes the instrument by which the deficiencies of Christianity can be exposed and remedied. As a philosophy, Jung’s psychology is no longer one distinctive way of knowing man and his relationship to God, but acts as if it is the only way to know these realities. Once Jung’s empirical method is erected into an epistemology, then from this epistemology inexorably flows the radical reinterpretation of Christianity that Dourley proposes. Then it is presumptuous for Christianity to lay claim to a distinctive revelation. Instead it has gropingly grasped the archetypes and the process of individuation, but mistakenly elevated these insights into metaphysical entities. The point is not that God is better described as a quaternity than a trinity. No. To call God a quaternity in this fashion is to say that a revelation of God as Trinity or anything else is not possible at all, and what the Christians call God is no more that a deficient experience of the totality of the psyche that is explained more adequately by Jung’s psychology. Dourley wants to create a Jungian philosophy and destroy Christianity with it. But he misunderstands the fundamental fact that an empirical psychology is one thing and philosophy is quite another.

John Dourley has something important to say. Terrible crimes are committed in the name of religion and Jung’s psychology can be a great help in reducing sectarian strife. It can help us see a whole infrastructure of poorly integrated elements of the psyche which instead of being dealt with directly and in a psychological way are projected outward and fuel religious hatred. But this does not mean that religion in itself is the cause of this hatred. Nor will the creation of a Jungian philosophy or religion ever be successful because it will either violate Jung’s empirical method or it will cling to this empirical method and deny that any other way of knowing is possible and therefore refashion philosophy and religion after the pattern of analytical psychology. In short, it will be a pseudo-philosophy or theology.



In Part I we saw how Christians in various ways and in various degrees under the impact of intimate contact with Eastern meditation practices have moved in the direction of replacing traditional Christian understanding with some sort of nonduality.

Now we have seen a similar process taking place across the spectrum of theology without a net. Here traditional understanding of the Christian mysteries is replaced by the new cosmology, or a certain moral core, or a standard of ecology and social justice, and so forth. It would be hard to be against the positive values that are being advocated, but there is no reason that I can see why they need to be presented as intrinsically opposed to the central Christian mysteries.

What drives these projects, then? I don’t think it is an accident that we are often dealing with priests or expriests from religious orders. It is precisely these people who know most intimately the institutional Church, and have often suffered at its hands, and are as well in a position to write about it. They have borne the brunt of the old legalism and conceptualism, and have seen what it does to people, and I wonder if, in their minds, these failures of the institution are indelibly associated with Christian doctrine, itself. They have suffered, and seen others suffer, at the hands of people who are continually talking about the Trinity and the Incarnation, and the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If this is the case, then their attempts to liberate themselves from these oppressive structures becomes simultaneously an attempt to sweep away the theology that is so intimately connected, in their minds, with this oppressive behavior. Is it so hard to imagine that beneath the kinds of theological analyses we have been seeing are wounded feelings? If this is true, it is quite unfortunate. Then some of the impetus for reform so needed in the Church gets subverted into an attack on fundamental Christian doctrine. It is not that these doctrines do not need a careful reexamination and reformulation, and cannot be presented in a more adequate manner, but this is not what we are seeing here. What we are seeing is Christianity’s fundamental identity being swept aside.

In this kind of process the Vatican reactionaries and the ultra liberal reformulators become fixated on each other. Then both the conceptualists and the anti-conceptualists have consumed a great deal of energy which could have gone into the contemplation of the great Christian mysteries, and attempts to express them more clearly.

It is certainly possible that someone might come to the conclusion that Christianity is fundamentally and irrevocably wrong, that Christians from the beginning have misunderstood and mythologically projected various archetypes on Jesus. But that is an enormous step for Christians to take, and ought to be preceded by a very clear awareness of what is at stake. Such a step means the end of Christianity, for if Christians have gotten it wrong from the beginning, there is no substance to Christianity left worth arguing about, and there is no reason not to replace Christianity with something else. And if we take such a step, we should not pretend we are representing Christianity at the table of East-West dialogue, or anywhere else.

In my reaction to this reaction theology, I am not without sympathy for Catholics who find it difficult to embrace the faith they grew up with, and need to critically examine it in order to come to a more adult one. But I am concerned when it is carried out as if what is at stake is a purely human political struggle between the theological progressives and the reactionaries. Then what can get lost are important elements of the faith, itself. Let’s look at one final example of the underlying dynamics that are often involved here. It is a review of Morwood’s Is Jesus God? by Judith Bromberg, one of the National Catholic Reporter’s regular reviewers under the heading, "Book about God is for grownups." She tells us that this is the book she has been waiting for, but unfortunately Morwood had to resign from the priesthood to write it. And she has only one quibble with it. The title is sensationalistic because this is only part of what Morwood is saying. She does not seem to find any of the theological problems we have been looking at, but tells us, "Everyone I know who has read this book appreciates its premise and applauds its author." In her estimation the real problem is not Morwood, but the Church. She read the book with a group of friends and "all, all (are) still fully committed, church-going, church-serving Catholics who love the church but increasingly resist its preachments and heavy-handed dictatorialism."74

This attitude is wide-spread, and it is certainly fed by the maladroit conduct of the institutional Church. The National Catholic Reporter, itself, which has the merit of actually reporting the news, and on occasion doing some serious investigative reporting, sometimes falls itself into this kind of reaction theology. It is enough for someone to be the object of Rome’s negative attentions for the reflexes of reaction, honed by many past incidents, to go into high gear, but what gets lost is what this or that theologian is actually saying. And so this kind of reaction is not a genuinely thoughtful and critical response to it.



  1. Gebara, Ivone. Longing for Running Water. p. 43.
  2. Ibid., p. 57.
  3. Ibid., p. 103.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., p. 104.
  6. Ibid., p. 105.
  7. Ibid., p. 119.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., p. 146.
  10. Ibid., p. 147.
  11. Ibid., p. 148.
  12. Ibid., p. 151.
  13. Ibid., p. 152.
  14. Ibid., p. 153.
  15. Ibid., p. 178.
  16. Ibid., p. 183.
  17. Ibid., p. 184.
  18. Ibid., p. 190.
  19. Balasuriya, Tissa. Mary and Human Liberation. p. 6.
  20. Ibid., p. 140.
  21. Ibid., p. 140-141.
  22. Ibid., p. 142.
  23. Ibid., p. 143.
  24. Ibid., p. 158.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid., p. 159.
  27. Ibid., p. 160.
  28. Morwood, Michael. Tomorrow’s Catholic, p. 31
  29. Ibid., p. 53.
  30. Ibid., p. 54.
  31. Ibid., p. 63.
  32. Morwood, Michael. Is Jesus God?p. 8.
  33. Ibid., p. 33.
  34. Ibid., p. 36.
  35. Ibid., p. 40.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid., p. 52.
  38. Ibid., p. 84.
  39. Ibid., p. 85.
  40. Ibid., p. 86.
  41. Ibid., p. 98.
  42. O'Murchu, Diarmiud. Quantum Theology, note 2, p. 49.
  43. Ibid., p. 83.
  44. Ibid., p. 114.
  45. This section on O'Murchu is taken from my web essay, "Can There be a Quantum Spirituality?" at   For the interaction between quantum physics and Christian thought, see my Mystery of Matter.
  46. Maguire, Daniel. The Moral Core of Judaism and Christianity, p. 37.
  47. Ibid., p. 39.
  48. Ibid., p. 92.
  49. Ibid., p. 92-93.
  50. Ibid., p. 95.
  51. Ibid.
  52. Ibid., p. 97.
  53. Ibid.
  54. This section on John Dourley has been taken from my Jungian and Catholic? in Chapter 1.
  55. Dourley, John. The Illness That We Are, p. 9.
  56. Ibid., p. 10.
  57. Ibid., p. 24-25.
  58. Ibid., p. 38-39.
  59. Ibid., p. 45.
  60. Ibid., p. 55.
  61. Ibid., p. 80.
  62. Ibid.
  63. Ibid., p. 85.
  64. Ibid., p. 86.
  65. Ibid., p. 96.
  66. Ibid., p. 98.
  67. Ibid.
  68. Dourley, John. Love, Celibacy and the Inner Marriage, p. 19.
  69. Ibid., p. 21.
  70. Ibid., p. 45.
  71. Ibid., p. 58.
  72. Ibid., p. 94.
  73. Ibid., p. 96.
  74. The National Catholic Reporter. August 10, 2001, p. 18.





Chapter 4