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Storm Warning: Chapter 5

The Holy Spirit

The Spirit and the truth

Interwoven through their concept of the People of God is what the authors propose as the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the Holy Spirit. The Church has traditionally rested its authority to definitively interpret Scripture and proclaim divine law on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so the topic has profound doctrinal significance.

De Roo defines the gift of prophecy as the ability to read the signs of the times with a certain spiritual alertness so as to discern the truth.1 He observes that the Council had faith “in the ongoing presence of the Spirit working through many different forms of human experience” and relates this to the possibilty of “democratic” Catholicity.2 He agrees that “the gifts of the Spirit in Baptism are given to all” and derives from this his ideas of collegiality and mutuality.3

Roche praises collegiality as a principle that will let the Spirit move freely through a more “pluralistic” church.4 Within the contex of an attack on Church teaching on birth control he gives De Roo an opening: “I’m raising the question of how the Spirit works in the Church.”5

Does the Spirit only work by infusing the Magisterium of the Church in its concilar moments? Does the Spirit only roam around up there on the mountain top, infusing the ecclesiastical leadership, or does it also work down in the valleys? Can it be said of these many Catholics who are making their own decisions on this question that they may actually be reflecting the Spirit?6

Roche and De Roo know full well that the question was answered in some detail by the Council. But De Roo says only that “the Spirit infuses all members of the Chruch and the Spirit moves where it will. As a result, all members of the Church have to make responsible decisions.”7

De Roo thus implies that all members of the People of God are equally capable of defining Catholic doctrine, since the truth of a statement on faith or morals depends upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, something not exclusively promised to the hierarchy. One sees a practical application of this notion in two ways in which the authors attack the truth of doctrinal or moral teaching with which they disagree.

The first is to say that the teaching is wrong. Leddy does this when she describes scriptural explanations of Church statements against the ordination of women as “theological prostitution.”8 This is essentially an assertion that, at least in this case, the hierarchy of the Church is incompetent to interpret Scripture correctly.

The second line of attack is to assert that the teaching is doubtful: that is, that it may be mistaken. Leddy doubts the validity of teaching that is not informed by direct personal experience, citing sexuality, abortion, gender roles and birth control as examples.9 Roche expresses a similar view in terms of the credibility of teaching.10 De Roo lends his support to them through his emphasis on “lived experience” as a factgor in the formation of Christian conscience and discernment.11 He also questions Church statements against homosexuality.12

This insistence upon “lived experience” as a condition of valid teaching requires closer examination. Additional light is shed on the authors’ meaning by Bishop De Roo:

Only historical discernment can finally distinguish the true from the false.13

Only the perspective and distance of time and prayerful communal discernment can enable us to look back and recognize what was truly prophetic, and what was time-bound and culture-constrained.14

De Roo thus establishes at least two novel criteria by which the truth of Catholic teaching can be determined: it must be judged retrospectively, and it must be judged by community. He applies this to what he calls the principle of the synod, which, in his view, implicitly includes the “lived experience” of the faithful.

Now, I believe this is very critical, and at the heart of Vatican II: to believe in the authoritiative witness of baptized people, confirmed, matured in faith, who have received the Eucharist.15

In essence, the authors assert, through the course of their discussion, that Vatican II abolished the authority of the hierarchy to bind the faithful by definitive dogmatic or moral pronouncements. They insist (per Roche) that from that time, power in the Church ought to have been wielded in a “collegial” fashion; the Pope would not prolciam doctrinal or moral teaching without the agreement of the bishops, and the bishops would not do so without the consent of their people. Presumably their consent would be given only if the proposed teaching was n harmony with their “lived experience.”

It is the thesis of the authors that the hierarchy of the universal church is opposed to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and for the past 25 years has been impeding, if not rolling back, its great gains.16

The Council: in the unity of the Holy Spirit

Vatican II reminded us of man’s obligation to submit to God as He reveals Himself.17 The fullness of that revelation is found in Christ,18 “the great prophet who proclaimed the kingdom of the Father, both by the testimony of his life and by the power of his word . . . (who) fulfils this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy who teach in his name and by his power, but also by the laity.19 (emphasis added) However, man cannot submit to divine relevaltion unless the Holy Spirit first “moves the heart and converts it to God. . . opens the eyes of the mind and makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.”20 For this reason, Christ “sent the Holy Spirit to all to move them interiorly to love God with their whole heart, with their whole soul, with their whole understanding, and with their whole strength . . . and to love one another as Christ loved them.”21

Thus, the Spirit dwells in the hearts of all the faithful22 and bestows special gifts and graces where he wills, regardless of rank.23 Nonetheless, the Council declared that it is for the hierarchy to determine the authenticity of such gifts and to direct their proper use, 24 for among the gifts of the Holy Spirit “the primacy belongs to the grace of the apostles to whose authority the Spirit himself subjects even those who are endowed with charisms . . .”25 What, then, of “equality”?

The Council Fathers were conversant with and supported the principle of constitituional or legal equality in secular affairs.26 However, what the Council asserted in Lumen Gentium was not a principle of equality among the People of God based upon the generosity of the Holy Spirit. Rather, it advanced the principle of their mystical unity in Christ through the sacramental Church.27 It is difficult to make this distinction understood in contemporary North America, where a legalistic and secular “equality” is the Alpha and the Omega of the popular culture in which politics and theology are immersed.

The “equality” to which the Council refers is “equal privilege of faith . . . a true equality between all with regard to the dignity and activity which is common to all the faithufl in the building up of the Body of Christ.”28

True Catholic equality arises from and is subordinate to the unity of the People of God in this Mystical Body:

The Spirit is, for the Church, and for each and every believer, the principle of their union and unity in the teaching of the apostles and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayer. . . 29 (emphasis added)

There is . . . one chosen People of God: ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ . . . there is a common dignity of members deriving from their rebirth in Christ, a common grace as sons, a common vocation to perfection, one salvation, one hope and undivided charity. In Christ and in the Church there is, then, no inequality arising from race or nationality, social condition or sex, for ‘there is niether Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you ar all “one” in Christ Jesus‘. . .30 (emphasis added)

“There is only one Spirit”31 and he does not contradict Himself. He does not inspire the Holy Father to condemn contraception while encouraging Douglas Roche to defend it. The Canadian bishops explained this succinctly:

[I]t would be unthinkable that the Spirit, speaking in the heart of the redeemed Christian, would be in opposition to Himself teaching in the authority established by Jesus.32

Contrary to what the authors would have their readers believe, that authority resides in the sacred teaching office (magisterium) of the hierarchy, and the Council clearly described the obligation of all honest Catholics with respect to it.

Bishops who teach in communiton with the Roman Pontiff are to be revered by all as witnesses of divine and Catholic truth; the faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops’ decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals. . . This loyal submissin of will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, coformably with his manifext mind and intention.33 (emphasis added)


1. De Roo, p. 22

2. De Roo, p. 14

3. De Roo, p. 14, 35

4. Roche, p. 35

5. Roche, p. 60

6. Roche, p. 59, 60

7. De Roo, p. 60

8. Leddy, p. 46

9. Leddy, p. 65

10. Roche, p. 68, 189

11. De Roo, p. 14, 60-61, 187, 188

12. De Roo, p. 71

13. De Roo, p. 23

14. De Roo, p. 181

15. De Roo, p. 188

16. Roche, p. 15, 19, 143-144, 146-147; Leddy, p. 15, 17, 140-141; De Roo, p. 60, 62

17. Vatican Council II (1965) Dei Verbum, 5

18. Ibid, 2

19. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 35

20. Vatican Council II (1965) Dei Verbum, 5

21. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 40

22. Ibid, 4

23. Ibid, 7, 12

24. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 12; Vatican Council II (1965) Christus Dominus, 15

25. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 7

26. Vatican Council II (1965) Dignitiatis Humanae, 6

27. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 1,7; Unitatis Redintegratio, 2

28. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 32

29. Ibid, 13

30. Ibid, 32

31. Ibid, 7

32. Canadian Catholic Conference, Statement on the Formation of Conscience, 12 December, 1973, 46

33. Vatican Council II (1964)Lumen Gentium, 25

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