Last Monday, a cadre of Roman Catholic theologians wrote a letter to the powers-that-be at The New York Times complaining about Ross Douthat’s unwashed views about Catholic theology. In particular, they were perturbed at Douthat’s remarks about marriage in the wake of the recent Synod on the Family. These theologians argued that a layman like Douthat had no business opining on things he is not credentialed to opine on. It was a snarky, elitist argument aimed at shaming the Times into silencing Douthat.
What a happy “coincidence” that Douthat chose to respond on Reformation Day. I recommend that you read his entire response. The conclusion is not to be missed, so I highlight it here. He writes:
At which point we come to the third argument, which makes an appearance in your letter: You don’t understand, you’re not a theologian. As indeed I am not. But neither is Catholicism supposed to be an esoteric religion, its teachings accessible only to academic adepts. And the impression left by this moving target, I’m afraid, is that some reformers are downplaying their real position in the hopes of bringing conservatives gradually along.
What is that real position? That almost anything Catholic can change when the times require it, and “developing” doctrine just means keeping up with capital-H History, no matter how much of the New Testament is left behind.
As I noted earlier, the columnist’s task is to be provocative. So I must tell you, openly and not subtly, that this view sounds like heresy by any reasonable definition of the term.
Now it may be that today’s heretics are prophets, the church will indeed be revolutionized, and my objections will be ground under with the rest of conservative Catholicism. But if that happens, it will take hard grinding, not just soft words and academic rank-pulling. It will require a bitter civil war.
And so, my dear professors: Welcome to the battlefield.
Welcome to the battlefield indeed.