Sunday, November 29, 2015
José Arregi: "The Church has to be radically renewed"
November 17, 2015
Theologian José Arregi, a close associate of this establishment, is the author of Invitación a la esperanza ("Invitation to Hope" -- Herder, 2015), a text in which he elaborates on "active hope" in the midst of a suffering world in which, despite everything, there are reasons to be optimistic. In the Church too? "The Church has to be radically renewed, reverse the authoritarian, hierarchical and clerical model of the Church. And to flip the pyramid model, we must eliminate two dogmas -- the absolute power of the pope and infallibility," he argues.
The Synod on the Family just ended. How do you view this moment?
If you have followed my articles since the first phase was announced and completed, you know that I've never had many expectations about this synod. I sense that there are doubts as to whether what I thought was a small thing but was possible -- the issue of possible access of divorced and remarried persons to communion -- will come out of it.
You get the feeling that the bishops on whom the decision rests are trying to delay their responsibility and that it will be the Pope who decides.
The impression I have is of too much of a production for what is going to come out.
Especially the issue of the divorced that you've referred to. In fact, when the campaign by some theologians in favor of that revision came out, you put out an article which went well beyond it. You were much more direct.
On that point about the divorced, they accepted the penitential character of that potential communion. That is, they're treated as guilty and three conditions are required of them -- repentance, confession to the bishop, and purpose of amendment. They said it was a discipline of exception and that the whole doctrine of the indissolubility wasn't being put into question.
I think today, presenting ourselves as progressive theologians, this can not be addressed that way.
Today the Pope at Santa Marta referred to the need for us Christians to be in the world and attentive to the signs of the times to be able to change based on those signs. It sometimes gives the impression that Pope Francis would like to move more rapidly than Vatican reality will allow.
Yes, that's the impression, and certainly he would have to go further. The vast majority of people affected by that problem have already resolved it. And they've done it with their common sense which, from a Christian point of view, is the sense of the Holy Spirit. The presence and voice of this spirit deep in our hearts and conscience. And the people, faithful to that voice, are taking communion calmly.
You've come to introduce a book that deals with the Christian way of looking at life. You've written it with Herder publishing house and it's titled Invitación a la esperanza ("Invitation to Hope"). To what hope do you wish to invite the reader?
A double hope -- that of the breath of life, hope that has to do with the breath, with the spirit. And also inviting them to an active, creative hope. That makes things come true, that anticipates that which we hope for and for which we want to work.
Hope isn't waiting for something to happen. It's living in such a way that you make what you wish to happen come true. It's Jesus' hope.
In your opinion what is the hope that Jesus' message brings that could be applicable today?
Jesus lived in a world that had many points of similarity to the world we live in today -- a very acute economic crisis in Galilee, which was where he lived. Very great economic malaise that had to do with debt -- small landowners, forced to move away from their lands because they couldn't pay the debts and to become tenants. And tenants who couldn't pay the rent and were forced to become mere employees with wages that didn't provide enough to eat.
Jesus in his messages was very aware of the reality of these poor peasants and poor fishermen and women. And he was also very aware of the root of this poverty, which was debt. Debt that bound them and was imposed on them.
And why debt? Well, I think here there's also a very big point of similarity between what was happening then and what is happening today. Herod Antipas doubled and tripled taxes for his construction -- hippodromes, circuses, etc., and to look good with the emperor and win his favor.
I'm imagining Greece, Spain and Germany nowadays through your words.
There was a true real estate bubble by the vassal king, Herod Antipas, and at the expense of the poor peasants, the poor fishermen and tradesmen of the time.
Yet the message of Jesus soaks in, entering and changing the concept of society.
It is that all Jesus' words have a big political subversion charge. All of them. We believe that Jesus talked about the forgiveness of sins, and the great beyond. About how well the birds live and how beautiful the flowers are. He admired the rain, the sun, the field, the seed ... but it was all a sacrament of the kingdom to him. And the kingdom, for him, was a political metaphor for the radical transformation that has to happen in social, economic, political, and religious structures.
And what happens when a subversive message is received and enables the creation of an institution that, today, is one of the least subversive that exists -- the greatest representation of that empire, not in tune with the world, of that dogma and those prohibitions. That Church of "no" that we have denounced on more than one occasion. How did we get to that?
Well, very quickly. First, Jesus' movement stabilized. Second, the movement that was subversive and reformist became a static and accommodating movement. And above all, with Constantine, starting in the 4th century, the Church accommodated itself to the great imperial social, economic and religious model.
The power Church perverts the message of Jesus, but the institutional Church has been able to create a culture with a series of values -- the issue of education, universities ... To what extent is this an acceptable lesser evil? There seems to be a dichotomy between the possible and the probable.
Surely anyone who ceases to be on the sidelines and can afford to proclaim the radical change they dream of, which is what Jesus did, and once a group becomes institutionalized, as Jesus' movement did, they have to take into account the principle of the real and the possible much more than Jesus did.
Jesus was always a prophet. He didn't systematize the doctrine or give guidelines or policy solutions. He proclaimed his dream and promoted it. And he made it come true in his immediate surroundings.
Of course, the Church, like any religious institution, to the extent that it gains power also becomes loaded with special interests and has to follow strategies, and not its primary dream so much.
And that is what happened to the Church as an institution very early on. It has done many things, it has forged a good part of Western culture. For a millennium it was practically the only thing that transmitted culture in the West but, as we know, this has had a price. That price was the consolidation of a very iron-clad and immutable doctrine. Based on an alliance with the political powers of each era. And this has prevented the Church from going much further in the prophetic spirit of Jesus.
However there are many prophets, I dare say, who continue to work, taking the letter and spirit of the gospel as the driving force of their lives. And who are still living not only on the frontier but in day to day life, moving and changing society. And they are a source of hope through faith in Jesus Christ.
Yes, we definitely forget that. Usually when we talk about the Church, we are talking about the institution and that's not fair. The spirit of active and peacemaking hope beats in the hearts of a lot of ordinary people who live that out day by day. Sometimes in extreme situations, at the limit. On the edge and beyond the edge. And nobody knows that. You have only to look at the number of Christians who are turning towards the refugees, immigrants, the homeless. That is the living Gospel of Jesus.
And what do we do so that those people who are church can be part of building it? Or do we not need to?
Well, the spirit blows, pulsates, and gives life. But it wouldn't be wrong either to publicize that active presence of the spirit. The media prefer a different type of news, more striking. You would have to do a lot more publicizing of the good, of this living presence of the Gospel in the hearts of many anonymous people.
How do you fit in the Church as a believer?
I define myself as a simple novice disciple of Jesus, just another in the Church. I don't have a clear conscience of my involvement with great causes -- the marginalized, the poor ..., I work mostly on other things. But I try to keep the sensitivity and small commitments. Attune my mind.
I also know that my position, like that of so many others is debatable and discussed. I don't know if I'm on the border or if I've crossed it, as many who put me outside are saying. I feel like I'm inside, although I don't think there's an inside or an outside.
You've had many problems with the current bishop of San Sebastian, Monsignor Munilla.
I don't have any problem; when we meet, I greet him. That's a stage we've moved beyond. I try to follow my path as peacefully as I can.
How do you view the arrival of a man like Francis, a pastor from the peripheries as he defined himself, to the halls of power of the institutional Church? How did you feel about him and how do you feel now, after two and half years?
We were all struck by his first words and his first gestures -- bowing to the people in the square, asking their blessing, recognizing he is the Bishop of Rome ... and then his way of being and the name he adopted made me dream a lot and touched my soul.
Two years later, even before, I had my doubts that a man could reach the minimum required to take the steps to enable a truly new Church.
What are those steps?
That it has to be radically renewed. Invert the authoritarian, hierarchical and clerical model of the Church. And to flip the pyramid model, we must eliminate two dogmas -- the absolute power of the pope and infallibility. Which are the two ultimate ones, certainly. They are not of Jesus or of the spirit that beats in the hearts in the world today.
Those who accuse those who advocate this position say that it would cause the destruction of Christ's Church.
It's not the Church that Jesus built, if he did.On this nearly all minimally critical exegetes agree: Jesus never thought of founding a church or a new religion. Jesus felt he was Jewish, even when he broke and changed things that were immutable for most Jews, such as the issue of circumcision and table fellowship with Gentile Christians.
But he never thought that he was forming a new religion, with popes and bishops, or about apostolic succession ...
All are terms of Roman law
Summus pontifes is an imperial title assumed in the 4th and 5th centuries by the bishop of Rome, who was not yet pope. That of Pope is a creation of the 11th century with the claim of absolute power. And infallibility comes later still; it's from the reform of Gregory VII and Boniface VIII and after Vatican I, when it was formulated. But of Jesus, no. This had already been suggested by John Paul II, Benedict XVI too, and Francis has just said so.
That the papacy has to be converted, well of course. And to what? Some say to what it was in the first millennium. I would say more. To what Jesus lived and dreamed of -- you are all brothers and sisters.
The radical distinction and subjugation of women to men in the church, is brutal.
And that has to do with patriarchal misogyny that comes from long ago, that's like in other religions ... but mostly with the male clerical and authoritarian model of the Church.
Yes, because Jesus lived in first-century Palestine where women had an infinitely lower social status than men.
And yet Jesus took unthinkable steps for that time. Like the fact of admitting male and female followers into his group, living an itinerant life. That, and that in the churches of Paul, women had leading roles and presided in the house churches.
But, even if it had not been so, the spirit is inventive, just as life goes on through renewing forms.
This is the problem for those who think that the solutions to the problems of life are just an interpretation of the words of Jesus, as if he could have answered questions such as genetic research.
Following Jesus can't consist of imitating his words and repeating his actions and his way of thinking. No. Jesus was innovative, and to be faithful to him is to be renewed, as life and the spirit call for. Going beyond Jesus, following his spiritual impulse.
Like that of Francis of Assisi who is a leader for many. Do you have hope that these steps might be taken, or that they are happening beyond what the institutional Church is offering?
If you're asking me about the hope of expectation, I'm not expecting much. I live, on my small level, with active hope that this might happen. But my expectations that it will happen of its own accord and through internal momentum of the ecclesial institution ...
On a personal level, it seems Pope Francis is pointing that way in his style. But I see no hint of institutional reforms of the ecclesial model. Or of the interpretation of dogmas that would be required at the institutional level.
I have no expectations that this will happen from within. It will happen, but like so many things, what's there will crumble from outside. And the Spirit will give shape to something else. As happens in all fields.
Are we followers obliged in some way to have that active hope, to be living hope?
Obliged, no. It's fortunate if we experience it. We have no obligation to do anything, except out of pleasure and spiritual impulse. That is to live what the body is asking of you, what the spirit asks of you when the spirit is good, the good life.
You have invited us to walk in that hope, with all its difficulties and without sanctimoniousness, but making note of a path that is there and that is largely necessary to build the world that Jesus helped emerge. With that joy and will for things to change also among those who are suffering the crisis of first-century Palestine in 21st century Europe. Invitación a la esperanza, published by Herder. Don't miss it. It's a delightful book that reads very easily. It's hard for a theologian to write in a way that ordinary people can understand.
I'm unable to write in a complicated way, and that's my limitation. I don't want to do academic theology; it doesn't interest me. Even less now, because I'm no longer in teaching, which always forces you to make that effort. And I always told my students that to do good theology you have to read a lot of science and a lot of literature and be aware. And read a lot less about the theology of those "versed in theology" -- theology books, manuals. Because then, theology gets into a feedback loop and goes around and around the same issues. This is broken by breathing in air from the environment, which is the spirit.
Another day, if you like, we'll talk about the state of theology because that would be for another interview. Thank you very much for joining us and for writing Invitación a la esperanza.
I take this opportunity to thank you. The invitation to write this book came to me from José Manuel Vidal and Religión Digital. I took it as a charge and did it, and then Herder published it. But the original intention and the first plan were born here.
Thanks for doing it and for being here, which was overdue.
It's been a pleasure, Jesus.