Paeans to Christian “Praise and Thanksgiving”

15 Mar

Doxology in the Catholic Church:  Paeans to Christian “Praise and Thanksgiving”.

Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True (WEIT) has had some neat posts on Catholicism, theology, and accommodationism over the past week that I wanted to be sure to cover here on Dianoilogos.  The big issue about them comes down to whether the Church’s – and in fact all of Christianity’s – press about itself can be taken at face value.  If it can, then the usual criticisms of secularists, and especially secular scientists, are well in order.

But, if it can’t and we have to judge Catholicism/Christianity on the basis of what it has actually said and done throughout its history as well as how it’s framed its own theological understandings, then a slightly different approach is required to critique the religion.

It’s all well and good the Vatican says bishops trump theologians in the dispensing/interpretation of theology.  Yet, it is only that “theology” that can truly illuminate the teachings of the Catholic religion.  The PR statements of the Pope/bishops to the masses of people all over the world are of no importance whatsoever.  You cannot correctly ascertain the meaning of Catholicism by the press releases and public pronouncements of the Vatican and others in the hierarchy of the RCC; only by studying the internal documents and theological treatises of Catholic thinkers over the ages can you correct gauge the content/character of Catholic thought and beliefs.

On that basis, therefore, these “official” or semi-”official” pronouncements of the Church [viz-a-viz what it says about ‘what theology is’ or ‘what it connotes’] cannot be taken for granted.  You get a surer picture of theology (and all of Catholicism for that matter) through the scholarship of theologians like Haught than you do though official Church channels, i.e., via the episcopacy or the papacy [or worse their spokespersons].

Why is this important for nonbelievers and secularists to understand? … Because, it casts cold water on much of the foolishness of current Catholic officialdom and public relations.   Catholicism isn’t merely “doxo”-”logical” in its understanding of faith, belief, and religion; it is truly is “theo”-”logical”; meaning that if you want to get at the heart of the true Catholic worldview and fundamental paradigm, you study its theo-philosophical tracts [the work of its theological scholars], not the output of its bishopric with their focus on pastoral care of the faithful.

The only reason why “doxology” is being emphasized now as a means for framing “theology” is because Church leaders have been caught in a double standard.  There’s the image they want to convey for what their religion is, and what their own internal communications and treatises over the centuries have shown that it is.  Post-Vatican II, this conundrum came to a head.  The Church could no longer rely on its Scholastic and Patristic traditions (rooted in Greek and Roman thought) to carry its teachings forward in the Modern world.  Modern audiences read too much and knew too much, were too exposed to the output of even the Church’s public theological heritage, that – in tandem with many high profile conversions of evangelical protestants to the Catholic creed – Catholic leaders were forced to repackage their religion on more spiritualist, faith-based terms than the systematic theological terms they had before. The glaring discrepancy in Catholic religion could no longer be contained; they had to adjust and they did so by making their Catholicism much more evangelical, protestantized, and fideistic. And, so, they saved face once again, this time by a subtle but deliberate dismissal of the very Greco-Roman philosophy and Scholastic foundations that had under-girded Catholicism for most of its history as an institution.  That’s why “doxology” is in-vogue now; not for any other reason more essential or basic to Catholicism and Christianity.

What has this to do with us as humanists and non-believers?  Everything!  If you want to better engage with Catholicism in order to critique it, you have to more thoroughly understand its theology.  To do that, you examine the writings of its theologians over the ages and study the history and content of its theology, not its official PR statements for the masses.

I’ve nothing against critiquing Catholicism or against the criticisms that have already been raised about it by non-believers in the scientific community or elsewhere.  Nevertheless, to more effectively analyze and critique it as a religious system, you must study the Catholic Faith in light of its theology and the works of its major theologians.  To settle with its “doxologies” misses the mark.

Only by engaging with Catholic Theology can you better understand Catholicism as a religion in order to more effectively critique it on secular terms. But in accepting the Church’s own “doxology” as its ‘theology” we lose sight of the real target here in an ecclesiastical slight of hand over the meaning of faith and what actually constitutes the Catholic religion.

Per contra the Vatican:  the heart of Catholicism is in its Theology, not its theodoxy (i.e., what the institutional Church ‘believes’ its theology “is” or ought to be).  Secularists should be judging the Catholic Faith, then, on that basis and not on these paeans to Christian “praise and thanksgiving”


Note to new readers.  I used to be Catholic.  I’m a Nontheist now.  Even so, I still find a study of theology to be very important on philosophical terms.  Theology is, after all, the study of philosophy as applied to religious topics.  To belittle theology as a subject or dismiss it on grounds of affirming “doxology” instead is ridiculous on the part of Church officials.  This only shows the double standard with which Catholicism proffers it religious ideas, one an internal conversation that it has within its ranks (i.e., theology) and one for public consumption (its doxologies).  If secularists want to critique Catholic religion, they should pay heed to this theological conversation instead of the doxological one.  Both may be ultimately nonsensical, but theology at least carries some thought behind it; thought that can be analyzed and critiqued before being refuted, whereas with ‘hymns of praise’ there is no means of  critical appraisal other than to pass it off as literary fiction.  Nonbelievers should be wary here.  This is a religious end-run around them.  Play hard and stick tight to theology; it’s what the churches speak to themselves when the sectarian and non-sectarian public’s not around to hear what they’re saying.


Guest post: the Vatican says bishops trump theologians

Reader Sigmund notes a Vatican report that seem to slap down Catholic theologians a bit:


What is the function of Catholic theology?  by Sigmund


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: