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THE ESSENCE OF CATHOLICISM: PROTESTANT AND CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVES X'HOUGH YVES CONGAR has many claims to distinction , he could hardly be designated more appropri· ately, in my judgment, than by the title doctor catholicitatis. No theologian of our century has so enriched and clarified the concept of catholicity. Catholicity, to be sure, is not the same thing as Catholicism, but the two terms must be related unless the term "catholic" is a pure equivocation. I deem it fitting, therefore, to offer to Father Congar, with affection and esteem, the following reflections on Catholicism. As a historian of ecclesiology he will appreciate my reasons for approaching this question through the great thinkers who have already addressed the subject, and as a pioneer of Catholic ecumenism he will understand my purpose in seeking to draw insights from both Protestant and Catholic theologians. Ideally, I should also survey what Orthodox thinkers have had to say on the theme, but because of the limitations of my own knowledge and of the space at my disposal, I have thought it better to restrict my attention to Protestant and Catholic authors. I shall open my survey at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when philosophers and theologians in Germany started to look for an underlying essence of Catholicism beneath the manifold appearances. In the first part of the article I shall discuss the views of Catholicism proposed by Protestants or, more precisely, by members of churches stemming from the Reformation, including Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican. In the second part I shall summarize some views of Catholicism elaborated from the Roman Catholic side. Then in a final part I shall attempt, with the assistance of the teaching of Vatican Council II, to draw some conclusions about the nature of Catholicism. 607 608 AVERY DULLES, S.J. I Taking the Protestant views chronologically, one may suitably begin with the philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel.1 For him Catholicism was characterized by an external or objectifying view of the divine presence in history. Catholics, according to Hegel, depict Jesus as objectively present in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist, which is adored as if Christ were still present in palpable form on earth. Hegel adds that Catholics divinize the Church as an institution and accept its teachings as coming from God. In Catholicism, Hegel believes, the holy is identified with a particular institutional embodiment . As a consequence Catholics set the sacred over against the secular, Church against State, and clergy against laity. While Hegel respected the power of Catholicism to preserve the objective content of the Christian message, he deplored the dualism and alienation which he regarded as intrinsic to Catholicism. Protestantism, he believed, was better able to achieve a personal, subjective appropriation of Christian revelation , even though in its existing forms Protestantism ran the risk of dissipating the doctrinal content of Christianity. Hegel's views of Catholicism were to a great extent followed by his contemporary, Ferdinand Christian Baur, who accused Catholics of crudely identifying the ideal essence of the Church with its historical manifestations.2 According to Baur, therefore, the Catholic Church was incapable of historical consciousness. It conceived of itself as perpetually the same rather than as undergoing real historical changes, and thus it attached transcendent value to its own dogmas and structures. Yet it sur1 See G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History (New York: Colliers, 1901), pp. 377-426; idem, The Ohristian Religion. Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. Part III. Oonsummate, Absolute Religion (ed. P. C. Hodgson. Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1979), esp. pp. 334-44. 2 See P. C. Hodgson (ed.), Ferdinand Ohristian Baur on the Writing of Ohurch History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), passim; idem, Der Gegensatz des Katholicismus und Protestantismus nach den Principien und Hauptdogmen aer lleid.;m Lehrbegriffe {Tiibingen: L. F. Fues, 1834), esp. pp. 367-438. THE ESSENCE OF CATIIOLICISM 609 passed Protestantism,. he believed, in its capacity to find absolute truth in the Christian dogmas. Baur looked forward to a future synthesis that would incorporate the best features of both Protestantism and Catholicism. A still more benign view of Catholicism was taken by another early nineteenth century German Protestant theologian, Friedrich...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 607-633
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-15
Open Access
No
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