Studies: The courage to speak freely

March 8, 2022 in Featured News, News

The Spring 2022 issue of Studies, the Irish Jesuit quarterly journal, is centered on the theme of speaking out bravely. It takes its cue from the Pope’s frequent insistence that Catholics would not refrain from having their say for fear of what people might think. Since very shortly after his election, Pope Francis has often invoked the Greek rhetorical term, parrhesia, which literally means ‘saying everything’. In particular, he has used it in encouraging people gathered in dialogical situations, such as bishops’ assemblies or synods.

In October 2021, the Church began a two-year ‘synodal path’ which will culminate in October 2023 with an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of synodality in the Church. The whole process comes under the title “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. Central to this event is the Pope’s invitation to people to speak out freely. Dr Jessie Rogers, Dean of the Faculty of Theology at St Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth, is a member of the Synodal Steering Group of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In her leading article in Studies she discloses the richness of scriptural perspectives for imagining what she calls ‘the life and mission of the Church in a synodal key’. ‘The Church,’ she remarks, ‘is not a monarchy presided over by a pope. It is not an oligarchy ruled by the bishops and the unfortunately termed “princes of the Church”’. She draws attention instead to Pope Francis’s fondness for the image of an inverted pyramid, where ‘the top is located beneath the base’, and she cites him to the effect that the only authority for disciples of Jesus is the authority of service. ‘When we begin with the communion of all the faithful,’ she remarks, ‘we invert the pyramid and create space for the gifts of each to be recognized and released for the good of the whole’. What this entails, then, is the centre (hierarchical leadership) opening up to the periphery (local realities and the lived experience of ordinary faithful). The episcopacy does of course have a role in this reconfiguration of the body, but, as Dr Rogers notes, “it is a role that cannot be effective unless a bishop can speak authentically as one of the faithful and on behalf of the faithful because he has listened and discerned”. Once bishops do this you have the makings of a genuinely parrhesiastic culture.

Another aspect of the “courage to speak freely” was apparent in the life and religious vision of the great Irish moral theologian Enda McDonagh, who died in February 2021. In her insightful and warm appreciation of her old mentor, Dr Linda Hogan remarks that every one of his works conveyed ‘the greatness of his intellect, the sublety of his vision and the depth of his compassion’. Holding together in symbiotic union both the intellectual life and life as it is lived was, for him, both a practice and a conviction. But – in keeping with Pope Francis’s dictum that ‘realities are more important than ideas’ – there is always a sense in Hogan’s essay that lived experience for McDonagh was paramount in determining the moral character of actions. Even as a young theologian, McDonagh’s approach combined a biblically rooted morality centered on Jesus Christ with one that was based on ‘immediate experience of the moral call as a human phenomenon’. Once again, it’s about giving precedence to the voice from below. It’s another way of inverting the pyramid – it means only doing theology after one has listened to the voices of the voiceless.

Other essays in this issue of Studies concern the role of theology both in the life of the Church itself and in the context of public discourse. Dr Con Casey, introducing a ‘Festival of Theology’ to be held in the Loyola Institute in May », argues that theology constitutes a tradition of enquiry which, even if it draws on the resources of faith, truly addresses ‘the critical and constitutive issues of human flourishing… in all its rich diversity’. ‘The case for theology,’ he writes, ‘must be that it contributes in a distinctive way to this tradition of inquiry, and that it brings specific and very powerful resources to the engagement’. A note of misgiving is registered, however, by Fr Martin Henry, himself a former lecturer in theology in Maynooth, in his reflection on a tension which sits at the heart of Catholic intellectual inquiry: exploration of the faith is encouraged, but it cannot be open-ended, as that same faith needs to be defended too.

Also in this issue are an excellent introduction to the ‘intersection of religion and literature’ in Franco-American writer Julien Green by Dr Eamon Maher, as well as an extraordinary account by Dr Barry Whelan of an effort by Germany in 1942 to get Ireland to drop its policy of neutrality and take Germany’s side.

The editorial, by Dermot Roantree, is available as a blogpost here »

To subscribe to Studies or to purchase single articles or issues, go to the Studies website »