Academic journal article Theological Studies

Hope, Modernity, and the Church: A Response to Richard Lennan and Dominic Doyle

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Hope, Modernity, and the Church: A Response to Richard Lennan and Dominic Doyle

Article excerpt

CHRISTIAN HOPE IS SORELY NEEDED today, in the Church and the world alike. The articles by Richard Lennan and Dominic Doyle explore how hope can transform ecclesial life and contribute sympathetically yet forthrightly to overcoming the challenges presented by modernity. My response endeavors to draw together some of the authors' perspectives and amplify others while sketching a line of thought about hope and modernity. Two further works feature prominently in this discussion. The first is a recent article, discussed by Lennan and much admired in theological circles, Constance FitzGerald's "From Impasse to Prophetic Hope: Crisis of Memory." (1) The second is Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, a study of the contemporary place of religion. (2)

Lennan's article fits neatly into the field of ecclesiology, giving an account of ecclesial life from the perspective of Christian hope and contending that the Church can be conceived of as a sacrament of hope. (3) While acknowledging that the term itself is not found in Vatican II's documents, Lennan exposes this line of thought both in the council's documents and in its theological methodology. His essay begins with an articulation of the connections between hope, the Church, and sacramentality. Hope is a particular response to God's presence: in Rahner's words, "a radical self-submission to the absolute uncontrollable," and therefore remains open to the God who always transcends our knowledge of God. (4) Yet hope about the future is based on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Further, the revelation of God in Christ through the Spirit is not only the basis of Christian hope but also the sacramental source of the Church.

Having articulated hope's connection with the Church and sacramentality, Lennan, guided by the work of Louis-Marie Chauvet, identifies four interrelated implications for ecclesial life. First, because the Church is a sacrament, it is indispensable for the life of faith: "the Church is the only guaranteed means of access to Jesus as crucified and risen" (260). Second, as a sacrament, the Church calls believers to conversion and must itself engage in continual renewal, including self-criticism and dialogue. Third, the Church must live at the service of the presence of Christ, constantly discerning his presence and not putting limits on the grace of Christ, even inadvertently. Fourth, Lennan emphasizes the eschatological dimension of hope: the fullness of that for which the Church hopes is still to come. Therefore, in Chauvet's arresting image, as a sacrament of hope the Church "radicalizes the vacancy of the place of God" (263). In a further section, Lennan shows that as a sacrament of hope, the Church is impelled to engage with social ills.

Doyle mines Aquinas's theology of hope in order to reflect on the Church's present struggles, in particular the clergy sexual abuse crisis and what he calls the trauma of modernity. (5) In quoting Aquinas's definition of hope as "the movement of the will toward a future, difficult, yet possible good" (275), Doyle proposes a dialectical view of the relationship between faith and hope: hope overcomes the internal tensions and incompleteness present in the experience of faith. One of these internal tensions resides in the nature of faith itself: faith arouses the believer's desire for our eternal future while not providing an intellectual grasp of that future. In this context, Doyle sees hope reaching out to the reality that faith knows opaquely. Another tension in the experience of faith is the propensity to equate Christian life with doctrine and social boundaries. Yet when hope enables believers to seek a difficult, future good, they avoid that crippling propensity and are led into a fuller expression of Christian life. In Doyle's words: "The advent of hope makes Christian belief more believable, since it not only proclaims God's truth, but also manifests God's mercy and power through a nonpossessive attitude of humble reliance on divine help and patient expectation of an eschatological goal" (281). …

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