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Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Can CEO’s and Stockholders be Saved?

Who then devised the torment?
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot

We only live, only suspire
Consumed either by fire or
(T. S. Eliot)

How different our world looks today from the Civilization of Love called for by recent Popes and by David L. Schindler and other editors of Catholic journals and newspapers, including the Houston Catholic Worker.

How far is our awareness from that of Moses when he met the Lord in a flame of fire in a burning bush that was not consumed, an encounter that changed Moses forever and that was directly tied to a response to the slavery and affliction of God’s people.

Secularization celebrates the triumph of the will to power and affluence over the will to holiness and genius. Cultural life is dominated by consumerism. The unprecedented division between the spiritual and the institutions which shape our world has allowed economists, business executives, politicians, the media, the medical profession and the military to act independently of the guidance of the spirit. The center of life, the spiritual, has been pushed to the margins.

This has led, as Peter Maurin predicted, to oppression of the person and to the bloodiest century in the history of civilization, with millions of people having been slaughtered and with a loss of respect for all human life. Pope John Paul II said on a recent trip to Germany that he fears that if the new post-communist Europe is constructed without a mooring in the continent’s Christian roots, it could easily fall prey to totalitarianism once again.

The universities, including Catholic universities, which should be great centers of thought, are doing little to address the spiritual crisis of our times. Instead, they encourage students to emphasize their own rights, their own advancement, their own privilege.

Economic Crisis

With the fall of communism, marxism has been discredited as an alternative economic system. Unfortunately, the world has returned to the brutal working conditions of the nineteenth century, where children of the Third World labor long hours every day for a few cents an hour to provide cheap consumer goods for us. One third of the women of childbearing age in Brazil have been sterilized as a requisite for their work in factories of multinational companies so as not to interrupt their work schedule with pregnancies. Teenage girls are enticed to leave school to work in maquiladoras where they are only given employment for a few years, then left without a future.

People in poor countries are being forced to live under extremely difficult conditions as their governments are required to restructure the economies to repay enormous debts inappropriately loaned to irresponsible governments by the World Bank and the IMF.

Many are forced to immigrate to the United States or other nearby countries.

A new slavery has emerged to enrich the CEO’s and stockholders more than any plantation owner of a former age. The Bishop of Lincoln needs to hear about this!

CEO Theologians

Some Catholics defend this system, among them neoconservatives such as Michael Novak, George Weigel and Fr. John Neuhaus. Michael Novak, extols the creativity of capitalism: “At the inmost heart of a capitalist system, for instance, is confidence in the creative capacity of the human person. As Catholic theology teaches, and as experience verifies, such confidence is well-placed. Each person is made in the image of God, the Creator. Each is called to be a co-creator and given the vocation to act creatively.”

It is quite true that this process is creative, and one can observe it in small businesses. But in industrial and now global capitalism, it is only creative for a few people. If one can make a shirt for $.16 in El Salvador and sell it for $25 in the United States, that is very creative–it is also diabolical.

It is very creative to find a way for the CEO of a company to make several million dollars a year and for the stockholders to reap enormous profits while the workers make a few cents an hour. It may be very creative to work with the U.S. and Latin American governments to develop free zones in countries such as Honduras where no taxes are paid and no labor organizing can take place at maquiladoras where workers earn $.37 cents an hour. But it hardly implements Catholic teaching.

These neoconservatives (a confusing term because their philosophy in other countries is called neoliberalism) attempt to dress up the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, such as Adam Smith and David Hume, in Catholic clothing. In a recent article, George Weigel described “a successful, contemporary American businessperson,” who has found that faith is no longer an obstruction to economic advancement in America and points out that there are many Catholics “at the higher altitudes of CEO-dom.” These persons make regular donations to secular and religious charities and do not “feel any serious tension” between this way of life, economic status and Catholic commitment. Weigel deplores the fact that the magisterium has not given its support to a theology of wealth creation. The reason might have something to do with the Gospel.

We (the authors) feel so bad criticizing our neoconservative brothers who participate at the same table of the Lord, but the same eucharistic Jesus that we share as brothers and sisters impels us to speak for those suffering from a capitalism that puts greed before creed.

Pope John Paul II recently put “unbridled capitalism” on a par with communism, telling Slovenians on a visit to the former Yugoslav republic that one was no less dangerous than the other. He said Slovenia was trying to free itself “from the negative consequences of a totalitarian ideology, but must remain especially vigilant to stop another ideology, that is not less dangerous, that of unbridled capitalism, occupying the vacuum.”

Those who rejoiced at the fall of communism should notice that communists are returning to popularity because of the havoc wreaked on the emerging economies in Eastern Europe by “neoliberal” economic policies.

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston warned last week that “American corporations are endangering capitalism by treating workers as commodities that can be eliminated to produce more profits for stockholders. In defending the weakest members of society from such mistreatment, Cardinal Law went so far as to say that, “Unless we find a
way to show respect for the worker as a worker, then I think the whole system is going to go.”

In a recent speech Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago addressed the ethical problems facing corporate America. He disagrees with the view that corporations cannot afford to be fully ethical, let alone “family friendly,” in their business policies and practices. He insists that “certain basic ethical principles need to shape our vision of corporate America” (America, July 6-13, 1996).

As we were finishing this article on an airplane, a CEO told the authors that his religion is between him and God, he goes to church to relax, and he doesn’t want any sermons from priests or bishops to interfere with his business. This CEO equated helping the poor with liberation theology, which he detested.

The papal and episcopal teachings above make it clear that a Catholic CEO or stockholder could not, in conscience, rake in enormous profits each year, while the employees make a pittance. Christianity involves actually living according to the Gospels.

A Worldly Spirituality

How can Christians, how can the Church respond to the wasteland of today, to the economic crisis, to the crisis of the spirit, to the suffering of the poor? Where is the profound theology which can begin to provide meaning, ethics and a spirituality for this age?

David L. Schindler provides that vision in one of the most important new books since the Second Vatican Council. His approach to Christian involvement in the world is dynamic and profound.

According to his new book, entitled Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation (Eerdman’s, 1996), “Christians should seek to live at the heart of the world, from the center of the Church.”

What can this mean? How can Christians bring transforming love to society without coercing others?

Schindler responds that “in the end the Christian’s and the Church’s relation to the world must be understood in terms of God’s relation to the world, as he has established that relation in Christ.”

The Christian’s mission to a world dis-oriented by Adam–dis-oriented in the sense of being oriented away from the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ–takes form from within Christ’s own mission to re-orient and recast all of creation (including the environment) to God.

The Church is much more than morality, it is much more than social justice, much more than Rome–more than the juridical Church. It is more than any rights movement. It is much more than Americanism or Europeanism. It goes beyond any one social, political or economic system.

A new sense of the Church’s relation to the world emerges in this book, as the extension of Christ’s own incarnational, redeeming mission, and with this, a new sense of the world itself.

According to Schindler, the role of the Church in the world is not simply to make some correction to “this-worldly political, social, and economic systems,” but to offer something more profound. The Church “can be itself only by penetrating the world–and hence the world’s social-economic orders–with itself, with the sacramental image of the love of the Three Person’d God revealed in Jesus Christ. Only in this way can reality in all its aspects, including economics, be “liberated.”

A quote he brings in from Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology dramatizes the different perspective of this theology: “Success is not one of the names of God, but consuming fire is.”

Schindler insists on a deeper understanding of the Incarnation and the Church than is present either in some liberation theologies including feminist theologies (a new, richer feminism is needed–see Mary Ann Glendon, America magazine July 6-13, 1996) or in ideas supporting a capitalism of wealth production. He is a master in going beyond the very limited perspective of John Courtney Murray in regard to religious freedom and democracy. The traps some newer theologies have fallen into as they have developed in an atmosphere of religious pluralism have involved the mistakes of either importing the structures of the world into the Church or marginalizing the Church, making faith a private affair and allowing it to enter the marketplace only as “public

The Con Game of an Empty Public Square

At first glance it may seem odd that Schindler groups together liberalism, various theologies of liberation and neoconservatism. Many would think they have nothing in common. In his view these approaches share an inadequate theology of human freedom and of “worldly” autonomy and share the problem of identifying the Church too closely with American political structures and with the rationalism of the Enlightenment.

These thinkers have bought into what Schindler calls a con game, the idea of a “level playing field” where all ideas are supposedly equal in the American political understanding, but religion privatized. The problem with this theory, as he points out, is that no content or belief is accepted on the playing field–and thus it is not open or neutral as liberal theorists (including, paradoxically, neoconservatives) claim. The agenda is controlled by secularists and only secularists can speak–or faith can only speak as a superficial public morality sanitized of its depth of meaning.

This is not a neutral space out there, Schindler tells us, but a space actually filled with secular ideology.

Michael Novak, for example, actually says that it is inappropriate to bring Christian values to the marketplace in a pluralistic society.

Whither Latin American Theology?

Some have looked for an alternative in various forms of liberation theology. Latin American liberation theologians have recently been faced with adjusting their perspectives on the world to the events of 1989, with the discrediting of marxism as an alternative in which some had still hoped. The development of the theology of liberation in the 1960’s and 1970’s was a response to the painful realities of Third World poverty.

According to José de J. Legoretta Z., in his “Social Sciences and Theological Method in Latin America,” published in VOCES; Revista de Teología Misionera de la Universidad Intercontinental of Mexico City, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of Vatican II encouraged the use of the social sciences in analyzing social problems to aid theological reflection. Liberation theologians began to incorporate this analysis into their theology. In a situation of extreme poverty and violence for most of their people, they used studies which emphasized a relationship of victims to oppressors which was tied to the theory of dependence in Latin America. This analysis led some to endorse violent political revolution as a road to a utopian society.

Legoretta points out that as the social science analysis is changing, theology should reflect this change.

Latin American theologians, reflecting on Vatican II thirty years later, are calling for a profound theology which can address the new signs of the times of the 1990’s. They ask, which people did the Constitution on the Modern World have in mind when it emphasized responding to the aspirations of the people of our age? Their concern is that the Council was more First World-centered in its concern to relate to post-Enlightenment people and developed capitalist nations. The question from Latin America is, according to José Luis Franco B. (“The Relation Church-Modern World 30 Years after the Council,” VOCES, enero-junio 1996), to what point did the Council incorporate the problem of hunger, poverty and misery in today’s world? His answer is that it did, perhaps not as strongly as some had hoped, but that a process began there which was further developed at Latin American Bishops’ Conferences at Medellín, Puebla and Santo Domingo, which supported the preferential option for the poor, with all that goes with it.

According to Franco, the situation of the ’90’s is much worse in Latin America than it was at the time of the Council–a true economic disaster.

Franco emphasizes that the mission of the Church in her relationship to the modern world not only calls for fidelity to Vatican II, to God and to the Church, but also a deepening of this great option for the poor. The relation in all of the Third World with the modern world takes place today among the poor and demands our fidelity to these signs of the times.

The books of the Catholic neoconservatives have been translated into Spanish and are being promoted in Latin America. They are not what Latin America needs, because they propose an option for the rich. The trickles of the trickle down theory become drops of blood in Latin America.

Franco points out that what we are lacking today is an adequate theology of faith and history, a theology of the human and the divine, capable of articulating from a totally new foundation a theology of life and Christian existence which is Christologically consistent and which, from this perspective, shows the unity between God and humankind – in continuity with the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

The Crisis of Meaning in World and University

Schindler’s book, with its roots in the theology of Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, is precisely this new articulation. Schindler presents an ecclesiology which has the potential to transform both socialism and democratic capitalism–exactly what is needed to respond to the crisis.

Emphasizing the new liberation theology which goes beyond the older version which tended to identify liberation basically with humanization, with development and human progress and the first world theology of the U. S., Schindler insists that the best theology does embrace all forms of worldly justice–but is much more than that. It is theology which is able to respond at the deepest levels to current realities and to the challenges of modern and postmodern philosophers who have declared both God and meaning dead.

The Enlightenment of the 18th century endorsed freedom and rejected religion, condemning it as superstition and replacing it with human reason. If God was allowed to exist by Enlightenment thinkers, it was only by placing him outside the cosmos, on the margins, having nothing directly to do with meaning and life. In this view God is the clockmaker who remains at a great distance.

Some of the worst critics of religion present, in Schindler’s view, important challenges. Some of the more recent ones were reacting to Enlightenment ideas, but still do not put any hope in God.

The idea of a distant God led Nietzsche to declare God dead. He noted that God had had nothing direct or internal to do with the meaning of Western culture for some time. He said the “smallness of the modern soul was only matched by its superficiality.” This was an indictment of the Enlightenment.

Jacques Derrida, a postmodern philosopher taught to all university students in today’s classrooms, takes this further. According to Derrida, if God goes, so go the foundations of meaning. He teaches that meaning has been detached from God–and so has unraveled. The postmodern philosophers posit that the depths of meaning are vacant. This is often called deconstructionism.

The basic methods of research, analysis and instruction in the university are based on the ideas of modern and postmodern philosophers who believe that meaning is best gotten at through doubt and analysis–staying at a distance while breaking up meaning into its ever-smaller identifiable parts. Some of these philosophies have looked on identity of both God and human meaning on the order of a machine.

Schindler, with uncanny insight, points out that breaking up entities and their meanings, in order to give them identity, is in fact not the innocent matter it has so often been assumed by moderns to be. It is, after all, possible to give identity not only after the manner of the machine, but also after the manner of love.

Giving meaning the simple identity proper to a machine is little more than atheism unfolded into a “method”: it is the death of God enacted in the form of all of our inquiry and research.

Parents of religious faith who sacrifice to send their children to outstanding colleges often are not aware that students will be taught to start all their studies with atheism. Schindler proposes instead, giving meaning the relational identity proper to love, and thereby unfolding trinitarian theism into a “method.”

Schindler advocates beginning study with trinitarian theism (a generous God) as opposed to atheism (a God who is inactive–dead–relative to the inner workings of the cosmos) as one’s foundation of meaning.

Incredibly enough, Schindler argues that, while the logic of the machine has its paradigm in modern philosophers like Descartes (the father of this confused philosophical world), the logic of love finds it paradigm in Mary’s fiat.

There is much discussion today about how Catholic universities can retain their Catholic identity and not become completely secular, as have so many Protestant universities, such as Harvard and Yale. Schindler proposes structuring Catholic universities as schools where young people are exposed to the challenges of the Gospel, where studies are directed toward hearing, understanding and implementing the Word, where prayer would be brought back into knowledge and knowledge back into prayer, where all of creation would give glory to God. This is the way the university began.

Profound Theology of Church and World

In the fifteen-volume major theological work which he finished in 1987, Balthasar looks to the lives of the saints (Vols. 2 and 3) when he searches for the answers to the burning questions of the age. His sections on Charles Péguy, Gerard Manley Hopkins and others are outstanding. Schindler asks why he does not begin first with the
theologians and philosophers of the university who may have studied these questions. Balthasar takes this unusual approach not because he does not appreciate the distinct role of the intelligence, but because he understands sanctity to comprehend the order of intelligence–putting on the mind of Christ. Balthasar is the same theologian who decried the split in the last several hundred years between theology and spirituality and insisted on a “kneeling theology.”

Schindler suggests that other ecclesiologies have unwittingly entered into a bad marriage with the world. They fail because they bear a defective understanding of the Church’s relation to the world and of the world itself. They presuppose an inadequate understanding of the persons of Mary, Christ and the Trinity as they are analogously revealed in eucharist and communio–the communion of love of the Trinity and of Christians.

Before the Council, there was a too narrow, juridical understanding of the Church, overidentified with the hierarchy. In the years since the Council the “People of God” has been equated too simply with a worldly democracy. The communio theology of Church advocated by Schindler comprehends all of these elements of hierarchy, institution and democracy (People of God).

Communio refers to the unity of many hearts brought about by the gift of God in Christ–the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift that creates the Church.

In this theology salvation is understood as intrinsically social and incarnational. It includes the whole of the person in his or her physical being and worldly activities, including the intelligence, and is meant to begin already now, in this life.

As Schindler puts it: The implication is stunning: Christ’s liberation from sin is intended to make us whole, not only in a “supernatural” way, but in a “natural” way also. Thus, the Church is the basis for integrity of body and soul.

It is liberation in this sense which alone leads to the “civilization of love” as the condition for the integrity of all worldly life, thought, action and production. Hence, in a word: to cure the world, to liberate any human or nonhuman entity or any aspect thereof to be truly what it is, we must look to the Church. As Pope John Paul Ii has also said, “There is no genuine solution to social problems apart from the Gospel.” The relationship of the Church (and of all creation as well) to God is a nuptial one. Mary’s consent to the Incarnation was a bridal consent,
acting for all the rest of created flesh. Schindler brings to the reader insights from the thought of the early Church, which saw the union of Christ with human flesh as a marriage union and interpreted the marriage of Christ and the Church against the background of a “fundamental marriage with mankind as a whole.” There is a nuptiality
between God and the world since the Incarnation which will never be destroyed.

The Church as Church must inform the world, not as a state or government, but as the soul informs the body.

The Threefold Fiat

The free consent of Mary to the Incarnation, Jesus’s consent to the will of the Father and the consent of the Church and thus of each individual Christian to God, are all crucial in this marriage relationship.

People often fear submission and obedience to God, to Christ, to the Church, and to each other, and worry that obedience will destroy their freedom, their personality, their creativity. The reality is the opposite. Schindler emphasizes that the integrity of human nature is not lost in following the way of God, but that this is the truest and
deepest form for all creaturely existence–being conformed through grace to the image of the Son, the firstborn of all creation.

For Schindler (and for Balthasar) the starting point of all creative activity in the world–and of holiness–is receptivity, based in the consent (the fiat) of Mary, who heard God’s word, embraced it and lived it. This unity of contemplation and action is the highest form of spirituality for all Christians, men and women alike. Hearing the Word is the starting point that precedes and is in unity with creativity and intense action.

Adrienne von Speyr, the Swiss woman mystic and physician who collaborated with Balthasar in his life work, speaks of this attitude of receptivity:

“Surrender to the Lord is an ascetical deed that contains in itself, everything having to do with the Lord’s plans for a person. And so, the first quality of this deed is readiness, an open readiness that is not always trying to calculate what for us is possible, easily possible, then just possible and finally wholly impossible. This readiness has an
openness about it that has the courage of leaving to the Lord what is his.”

According to Balthasar (and Schindler), what our superficial Western culture is lacking is the disposition of the fiat and of the radical conversion of heart and mind which could allow us to perceive the scandal of divine love and respond in obedience and loving service. What is missing is a genuinely receptive-contemplative disposition toward the other (God and neighbor).

An instrumentalism which emphasizes doing, making and having in relation to the other, instead of being, creates a “disposition of acting toward the other primarily in the interest of the self.” There are countless examples of beginning with the interest of the self in our world today,from the economic system to the culture of death.

By contrast, authentic Christian spirituality requires renunciation. In Balthasar’s theology renunciation is involved in “hearing the word correctly; but it becomes not a negation, but a mystery of joy and liberation.” This is the theology of beauty and God’s glory that the Scriptures speak of, even in the midst of suffering. It reminds us that
our lives, our realities as followers of Jesus are on another plane, where time and eternity intersect, and “we only live, only suspire, consumed either by fire or fire”– a fire of Love which overflows to our neighbor and even to societal structures.

This is the way of discipleship, the way of divine love, which can transform our world.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVI, No. 5, Sept.-Oct. 1996.