“I Challenge the Church Like Luther”

The following interview appeared in the Italian Newspaper, Corriere della Sera , on Feb 17, 2011, the day that Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing appeared in Italy in Italian.  It begins with a brief paragraph.  The Italian interview was shortened so here, for English-speaking readers, is the fuller interview (the bracket signs are for parts left out in the Italian version).  Photos in the newspaper included Fox nailing 95 theses at the door in Wittenburg church.

“I Challenge the Church Like Luther”

Matthew Fox: Stop the obsession with sin: Rediscover St. Thomas

Not original sin, not fallen humanity, wounded and then redeemed by Jesus Christ.  But a panentheistic (in everything and in everybody), creative God.  Death as natural factor, part of the vital cycle and not a consequence of Adam’s sin.  The “original blessing” of the creation precedes the Redemption.

These are theses expressed in the book by Matthew Fox entitled precisely Original Blessing, that came out in American in 1983 and is now translated by Fazi in Italy with the title, “At the Beginning there was Joy.”  A text in which the Catholic and apostolic tradition is transformed in wisdom religious consciousness that is feminist, ecological, sensual with a strong vitalistic and new age vein.

You are strongly against St. Augustine.  Cardinal Ratzinger who had condemned you, is a follower of Augustine, and now is the Pope of the Catholic Church.  What was your reaction to his election?

My reaction to Ratzinger’s becoming Pope was to go to Wittenburg, Germany that year at Pentecost time and pound 95 theses at the door there as Luther had done.  This seemed especially appropriate because Ratzinger is of course the first German pope in hundreds of years but also to highlight the need for a profound reformation in the church of our day. I think my 95 theses point to appropriate directions we must move.  Events since his being made pope including the tsunami of revelations about priestly pedophilia and its cover-up at the Congregation of Doctrine of Faith which he headed indicate that my actions were justified.  [So also the continued shut-down of theological thinking and debate in the church and the backing of anti-intellectual and obedience-driven sects such as Legion of Christ and Opus Dei.]

The great English convert Chesterton says in an unpublished until now work written in 1910 that : “The good of the world, is the world like so God created it.” It seems very similar to your “original blessing.”  But Chesterton argued as well that the Catholic Church is the only “place where all the truths meet each other.” Do you agree or not?

Chesterton was indeed in many ways a celebrant of a theology of “original blessing” or goodness.  In his book on Thomas Aquinas (which I read as a teen-ager and which influenced my desire to become a Dominican), [he says the basis of Aquinas' philosophy "is entirely the praise of Life, the praise of Being, the praise of God as the Creator of the world."]  And he talks about the “old Augustinian Puritanism” and pessimism that Aquinas fought so stoutly.
As for Chesterton’s ecclesiology, our knowledge of the world has grown since the early part of the twentieth century when Chesterton wrote, we are learning what the Second Vatican Council taught: That the Holy Spirit works through all traditions and all cultures.  And the institutional church is “semper reformanda”–always need to be reformed and today more than ever.   [There is, unfortunately, an ever-growing gap between the "kingdom of God" that Jesus preached and the church institution as it now operates.]  Chesterton wrote about evil that occurs both in the church and in the world.

The “Credo” was established  under the Emperor  Constatine in 325 A.C..  And there was written: Ὁμολογοῦμεν ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν. Id est: Profiteor unum  baptisma  in remissionem  peccatorum. It was established thirty years before St. Augustine was born…. Then, what’s to be done with your theory?

This credo speaks of “the remission of sins” (plural)–not the remission of one sin (original sin).  Adult baptism cleanses people of past sins and welcomes them into a new life in Christ.  Infant baptism welcomes children into the community of faith and into the world and into a full life with Christ.  Contrary to Ratzinger’s false characterization of my book, I do not deny original sin. I question what we mean by it.  The term “sin” is very problematic and the term [“original sin”] is nowhere to be found in Jewish (i.e, Jesus’) consciousness.  It is not Biblical.  [I very much like Otto Rank's language of an "original wound" that we all are born into--that wound being the separation from mother that occurs at birth and whose bell is rung every time we experience other separations such as death or sickness or divorce, etc.  He says the only cure is the "unio mystica."

Today's scholars are also questioning the Nicene Creed and the Council called by the Emperor and how it often reflects the political/philosophical/religious battles of the Roman Empire of the fourth century more accurately than it does the teachings of Jesus and the early church as found in our Scriptures.]

Your book was written 5 years after JPII  was elected.  What do you think about Pope Wojtyla that is announced to be decleared “Blessed”  on next May 1?  His point of view was not, positive, creative, blessing?

As for being declared “blessed” on May 1, one has to question [what his papacy did to the whole tradition of canonization by removing the role of the devil's advocate and rushing through canonization of someone like] Fr Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, who was a violent man who abused women in his order and who admired Hitler and was rushed into canonization faster than any one in modern history  The entire canonization process has been tainted under JPII’s reign.]

Some of JPII’s writings are admirable but overall I believe history will show that his eradication of liberation theology and base communities throughout Latin America, his complete disregard for the courage and holiness of lay and clergy in Latin America, thousands of whom were tortured and murdered to defend the poor and proclaim Good News of Justice in a concrete way (the saintly Oscar Romero being just one such person), [his denunciations of theologians world-wide which has effectively shut down theology and reduced it to blind obedience, his dumbing down therefore of the church,] his appointment of right-wing extreme hierarchy (often opus dei), his refusal to honor the principle of collegiality established in Vatican II, his support of Fr Maciel and Legion of Christ even after revelations about his pedophilia ways were made public, his put-down of women, his refusal to even consider married clergy or women clergy even when the sacraments are being denied many people from shortage of clergy, his support of fanatical right wing “lay movements” that in fact are not lay led at all such as Communion and Liberation and Opus Dei and Legion of Christ, his deeply homophobic denunciations, [his killing of vital liturgical experiences such as in Holland and in Brazil,] his bringing back the inquisition contrary to the teachings and spirit of Vatican II—[all this history will not admire.]

You left Dominican Order in 1993, during GPII papacy: Didn’t  you realize  the great renewal of the Church in such period, testified by the crowds that followed the Pope’s world pilgrimage?

I did not leave the Dominican Order.  I was expelled.  I fought for 12 years to stay and I had the support of many Dominicans especially in Holland. [The Vatican received over 10,000 letters of support for me from readers of my work around the world urging that I be allowed to stay in the Order.]
[I do not believe that a cult of the papacy or large crowds necessarily speaks to a renewal of the church. Papalolotry is not a virtue. The Second Vatican Council was all about church renewal but most of the declarations of it have been denied under the papacy of JPII and Ratzinger.]  That is why many church thinkers today who know something about history believe that the present and past papacies are in schism.

Schismatic?

A pope and his curia (no matter how many dozens are made cardinals and how many are made busy canonizing one another), does not trump a Council.  In the great schism of the 14th century in which three persons laid claim to the papacy, it took the Council of Constance to fire all three popes and elect a new one.  I think it is time for a post-Vatican Catholicism, a truly catholic Christianity. Jesus taught that leadership in his name was a leadership of love and service, not of power and dictatorship.  Maybe Vatican City has something to learn from Cairo about dethroning dictators and cleaning up a corrupt system that has wandered so far from Jesus’ teachings.  I suspect Jesus himself would re-enact his turning over of money lenders in the temple [(basilica)] if he were to arrive on the current ecclesial scene.

[Diocese of Oakland – where you now lives - was at center of sex abuse of children in Catholic Church,  what’s your opinion about that?

The diocese of Oakland was not at the center of priestly pedophilia in the United States.  That dubious honor belongs to the Boston diocese where Cardinal Law passed one pedophile priest who abused 150 boys from parish to parish.  The greatest scandal occurred when, about to be subpoened by the Attorney General, he fled to Rome where he now oversees the ancient Basilica of Maria Maggiore and where he works in numerous curial offices including that which appoints bishops around the world!  Many in Boston believe he should be in jail but of course in the Vatican he has friends in very high places who, among other things, appreciate his support of Communion and Liberation of which he was a champion in the United States.

As for the Oakland scandal, Bishop Cummins is to be commended insofaras when he found out about an abusive priest he wrote the CDF several times and he went to Rome to have him removed.  He did not, however, report the priest to the civil authorities.  Ratzinger and JPII refused to do so for six years during which he abused still more victims!  The priest eventually went to jail for six years and the diocese paid millions of dollars to five of his victims.  The Oakland story parallels many other stories worldwide that demonstrate that Ratzinger did not do his job but rather put the interests of the church institution ahead of defending youth from pedophile clergy.  Perhaps Ratzinger should have spent a little less time chasing down theologians a la Torquemada and a little more time chasing down pedophile clergy in his reign at CDF.]

[You had often written in your book of sexual pleasure as always a good thing, meanwhile the destructive charge of eros had been studied since Freud  as well as dialectic between eros and thanatos ….

I do not believe that anything humans do is "always a good thing" and indeed, "corruptio optimi est pessima.(corruption of the best is the worst.)"  What I do say is that too much manichean and platonically-based theology (Augustine is a good example) only moralize about sexuality and does not celebrate the divine theophany or mystical experience that sexuality can be and often is for people (cf. the "Song of Songs" in the Bible).  I celebrate the mysticism of sexuality but also the responsibility that goes with it.  Sexuality has both a mystical and a moral dimension to it and Western religion too often ignores the former.  Benedictine monk Fr Bede Griffith, who lived in India for over 50 years, put it this way: "Everything is sacred...we have lost that awareness...There is this sacramentality of the universe.  The whole creation is pervaded by God."

Of course another issue regarding sexuality is gender justice.  Sexism is a sin.  In his condemning my work, Ratzinger's first objections were 1) I call God "Mother" (yet the Bible and most medieval mystics called God "Mother") and 2) I am a feminist theologian.  Yes, I am.  Women's wisdom and women's rights and the respect for the Divine Feminine is absolutely essential for our survival as a species.  Patriarchy is unfair to women, men and the Earth herself.  It is the source of so much destruction on the planet.  To forbid the balance of the masculine and feminine in God-talk, as Ratzinger and JPII have done, is to invite degradation of women.]

At the end of his life, St Thomas Aquinas is told to have said: All I’ve written is straw.”
You are a best selling writer. Do you endorse what he said?

As an avid reader of Thomas Aquinas, I am glad that his works were preserved and did not go the way of straw.  [In my major book on his spirituality, "Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality," I was moved when I translated his many works that were never before put into English, French or German such as his first and most mystical work, his Commentary on Denys the Areapogyte as well as many of his Biblical works.  I find so much there that is moving and relevant to today's debates.]

Aquinas’ mystical experience in which he saw all his work “as straw” in comparison to the light of God is a profound experience that we all should meditate on.  All our best efforts whether in our work worlds or our family lives or our citizenship seem as straw in the great scheme of history [and the unfolding of history.]  But that does not mean we are not here to work hard, play hard, and love generously.  It just means that we are mere instruments of a 13.7 billion year drama we call the universe [and that is so much bigger than us but that has invited each of us on board to participate as fully as we can.  We all have work to do--Aquinas surely did his to the utmost.  Spirit will make something of our straw-like efforts.  We have only to do our best.]

Today (Feb 17), a presentation in Rome.

The event is scheduled for this morning.  Date and time could not be more evocative.  Piazza Campo dei Fiori in Rome, just before the statue of Giordano Bruno, the monk who was burned alive at the stake of Catholic Inquisition on 17th February, 1600, that is exactly 411 years ago.  The publisher Elido Fazi and theologian Vito Mancuso will introduce a new series of books called “Campo dei Fiori” that promote spirituality as freedom, faith in life, critical skills, personal evaluation, love of beauty, communion with nature and with human beings.  The first volume that is coming to the bookshops is titled “In the Beginning was the Joy” (432 pages) by Matthew Fox, an Italian translation of Original Blessing which created a shock when it was published in 1983.

One thought on ““I Challenge the Church Like Luther”

  1. Philippa Rees

    Such a refreshing candour, no mincing of words, no half truths, like a glass of spring water!

    Matthew Fox’s experience of expulsion ( with others) together with the elevation of all the wrong people is truly alarming. It seems that the distorted masculine has taken over every aspect of contemporary life. The example of Luther is indeed a fitting act, and a presentation at the feet of Giordano Bruno could no state the importance more clearly. Inspiring.

    Reply

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