CATHOLICISM, two vols. by Richard P. McBrien

CATHOLICISM, two vols.

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A massive (1360 pp.), coherent, crisply written summa from a broad centrist viewpoint--but will the center hold? Fr. McBrien has long been known as an intelligent moderate, and in this monumental survey of Catholic doctrine and practice he tries to bridge the perilous gap between progressives and conservatives, to do justice both to traditional Church teaching and to the best in modern thought. Wherever strict orthodoxy is not at stake, he tends to take a left-liberal stance; e.g., he admits that Jesus was subject to ignorance and error, and did not ""found"" the Church. On controversial questions, McBrien concedes some ground to radical critics (""By modern scientific standards, the resurrection is not historical""), but insists on retaining a core of transcendence (whatever happened on the first Easter was ""real and historical"" for the disciples, while for Jesus himself the usual historical categories were left behind), And when the issues get simply too hot to handle, McBrien treats them as gingerly as possible. He thinks homosexual behavior is wrong--except for those who have no other ""realistic alternative."" He notes that the Church ""has never explicitly claimed to speak infallibly"" on morals (but what about the popes who have?). On birth control and the ordination of women, he summarizes the arguments without formally committing himself to any one of them. At times McBrien seems to be performing an intellectual tightrope act: he does it gracefully enough, but how many people will want to follow him? Isn't there a certain contradictoriness about an approach that can practically demythologize the Virgin Birth (the ""official Church,"" as McBrien says, may believe it, but he clearly has his doubts), and yet be impressed that Pope Benedict XII (1336) and the Council of Florence (1439) certified ""the reality of the beatific vision""? In any case, this is an impressive example of haute vulgarisation, an excellent textbook (for Catholic colleges), and an authoritative insider's explanation of where the Church is and how it got there.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1980
Publisher: Winston