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TRUE OR FALSE REFORM: WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA? THE REFLECTIONS OF Y. CONGAR Joseph Famerée* Is it possible to reflect on true and false reform without re-reading the magisterial book of Yves Congar on the topic?1 It should at least be a point of departure or a reference for such reflections. So, in the first part of this paper, I will determine the meaning, and especially the criteria, of true reform of the Church according to Congar’s book Vraie et fausse réforme dans l’Église (True and False Reform in the Church). In the second part, I will assess some of these criteria and, perhaps , go beyond some proposals of the Dominican ecclesiologist. Before starting, I would like to make a general observation: the idiomatic language of the French theologian is not at all easy to translate into English. I. Criteria of a True Reform according to Congar In the eyes of Congar, two things mainly since the 1930’s have motivated the need for renewal in the Roman Catholic Church: her relationship to the world and the divisions of Christendom.2 When he discovered the gap between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world or culture (especially the unbelievers), he attributed it to a deficiency of authentic “incarnation” or inculturation and catholicity of his Church. The face she presents to the modern world is not faithful enough to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; it is too juridical and authoritarian; the Church is not present or embedded in many spheres of human activity and modern life. Hence, the Roman Catholic Church needs evangelical conversion and reThe Jurist 71 (2011) 7–19 7 * Faculty of Theology, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve 1 Yves Congar, Vraie et fausse réforme dans l’Église (Paris: Cerf, 1950 ; 2nd ed., 1969) (hereafter cited VRF). While preparing this paper, I was astonished to discover that this book had never been translated into English. Editor’s note: Thankfully after the author prepared this article an English translation of this significant work has appeared. See Yves Congar, True and False Reform in the Church. Translated with an introduction by Paul Philibert. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011). 2 See Joseph Famerée-Gilles Routhier, Yves Congar (Paris: Cerf, 2008) 57ff and 81ff. 8 the jurist form in order to be more deeply and authentically catholic.3 At the same time, the divisions among Christians make also the realization of her catholicity less actual and effective. To remain one, the Roman Catholic Church needs to become more fully and effectively catholic. In this sense, she needs to reform herself continually; the intensity of her efforts at reform indicates her effective vitality.4 Reform thus involves a deep spiritual process of conversion to the Gospel which transforms the life of the Roman Catholic Church in a concretely visible and concrete way in close contact with the life of the contemporary world and also the life of the other Churches. The face of the Church must be renewed so that the world may believe. This ecclesial reform requires both the renewal of ecclesiology and pastoral renewal in her life. Indeed, there is a permanent interaction between the life of the Church and her theological self-understanding. What are the conditions and the criteria of this double renewal? I will treat this question in more detail with reference to the “summa” Vraie et fausse réforme dans l’Église of 1950. What may be reformed in the Church? Congar makes a distinction between the structure and the life of the Church. The Church has a structure, which she receives from her constitutive elements. She has an institutional framework; however this structured Church also has life; the faithful live in her, in unity and communion. In its human element the life of the Church is constantly open to reform. The structure designates the Church as an objective institution and characterizes her in her immutable essence or supernatural mystery. The notion of life includes the religious subject with his/her Christian dimensions , the assembly of the faithful and the living community resulting from their action; it characterizes the Church as existing in time and in historical...


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