Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 8, 2002
Weigel offers firm defence of Church view of conscience
The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored by George Weigel, HarperCollins: New York, NY. 2001. 208 pages. Hardcover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Robert Bolt's play A Man For All Seasons was first performed in the early 1960s and then made into an award-winning film. Bolt has St. Thomas More, the great English lord chancellor and martyr, die for the sake of his conscience at the hands of his former friend, Henry VIII. More would not bend to his king's divorce. It contravened Church law.
In his book The Truth of Catholicism, George Weigel takes exception to words he contends Bolt put into the mouth of More. More did not die for the "primacy of conscience," says Weigel "if by that we mean the primacy of his autonomous and willful self." More died for Christian truth, the teaching of the Church. More's passion for the Church's truth enlightened his conscience and taught him the truths for which he died.
Unlike Luther, who defended his break with Rome as a matter of a Spirit directed conscience, Weigel sees More dying for the sake of the truth which, while informing his conscience, exists in its most complete form in the teaching of the Catholic Church.
There are many examples today of those who have defended their dissent from formal Church teaching on various issues by appealing, in much the same way Luther did, to his or her conscience. Is there a higher court of appeal than one's conscience?
Truth - where it is ultimately located and how it is to be understood - is the issue at the centre of this investigation into contemporary controversies in the Catholic Church. The author staunchly supports the current pope and defends the classic teaching that Jesus Christ is the unique saviour of the world and that Christ's mission continues in a unique way in the Catholic Church.
Weigel, a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., argues that the essential truth of Christian faith subsists within the Catholic Church. That faith involves truths and obligations which demand certain choices.
His book explores 10 current Catholic controversies from inside the convictions that make those controversies necessary.
The author addresses such issues as: Is Jesus the only saviour? Is belief in God a crutch? How should we live a moral life? Why only a male priesthood? How can we celebrate the gift of sex? Why do we suffer? What about other Christians and other religions?
Weigel clearly accepts the foundational constructs and arguments employed by the current pope, quoting extensively from his encyclicals and other writings. He comes closest to dealing with John Paul's understanding of truth in a chapter on the ethical life where he attempts to unpack the meaning behind the pivotal story of Thomas More.
The author proposes a new conversation between the Church and those who appeal to conscience and personal choice as the essential component of freedom. "We must explore, together, our conviction that freedom linked to truth and fulfilled in goodness is the only freedom that is human freedom.''
The Church proposes; she imposes nothing, says Weigel. The Church seeks to be the teacher of the nations because she understands herself to be the ultimate depository of God's truth on earth. True dialogue must begin with explicit position statements.
Those who hold to conscience and not to the Church as the conclusive receptacle of God's truth will find lively issues for debate in this accessible, articulate and unambiguous treatise.
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)