Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


RR Reno on the Church’s Intellectual Problem

July 1st, 2015, Promulgated by benanderson

RR Reno’s recent column at First Things: The Weakness of Laudato Si ends with these paragraphs:

Laudato Si may well have important and influential strengths as a spiritual meditation on the perversions of our age and as a global wake-up call. Smart theologians need to apply themselves to redeem the hints and suggestions of a cogent argument. I hope that happens. But as it stands, the encyclical is a weak teaching document.

This weakness reflects a reality about today’s Catholic Church. After Vatican II, the intellectual life of the Church was profoundly affected by the Great Disruption. The old scholastic systems were superseded by a wide variety of experimental theologies. I don’t gainsay the need for and value of some of those experiments. But we can’t deny the debilitating consequences. The theological formation of church leaders became eclectic at best, incoherent at worst. This has especially been true in the area of social justice. In that domain, which came to the fore after the council, the urgent need to advocate has often overwhelmed the need for patient, disciplined reflection. We see exactly this dynamic in Laudato Si.

So if we, as Catholics, are to be honest with ourselves, we must allow that we face a difficult season, at least as far as theological cogency is concerned. The men trained in the coherent old theological systems of the ­pre-Vatican II era have passed from the scene. The Church is now led by men who came of age during the Great Disruption. This will have an effect on Church teaching, I’m afraid, and it won’t be in the direction of consistency and clarity.

Regardless of what you think of Laudato si’, I believe that Reno hits the nail on the head with the current intellectual problem of the Church. Our modern era conflates intellectual prowess with speaking/writing in a voluminous manner that is neither consistent nor clear. It conflates wisdom with degrees, certifications, and # of years spent in academia. Almost every Catholic book I pick up prior to the 60s is clearer, more concise, and more consistent than the scholarly works coming from modern Catholic intelligentsia as well as the motivangelist, nouvelle-parenting*, reinvent-your-parish fluff touted by the Catholic media. This is why my general rule of thumb is to prefer works written prior to 1965 unless it’s either a Magisterial document or written by a Saint. I’m not saying there haven’t been good books published since then, but it takes more discernment as the % that are good is less than it used to be.

* never spank your children and don’t even think about leaving your crying babies and toddlers at home when you go to mass.


One Response to “RR Reno on the Church’s Intellectual Problem”

  1. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Well, here’s a little insight into the Church’s “Intellectual Problem” — while the 40,000 word encyclical Laudato Si purports to tell us the grand overview on sustainability, the top down view on ecology and economic impacts on the environment, the Vatican’s Zenit doesn’t even notice how far its own understanding is off-base. The world reads the stories on Greece’s $1.8 BILLION default, while Zenit writes and rewrites 1000x less than that:

    “Vatican: Pope Expresses Closeness with Greece
    Uncertainty Looms as Country Defaults on $1.8 Million IMF Loan

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    Rome, July 01, 2015 (

    Pope Francis has expressed his closeness to the people of Greece. The country missed the deadline to payback a $1.8 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

    Although the country had presented a two-year deal to restructure its debt, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there would be no negotiations until after this Sunday’s referendum.

    The people of Greece will decide whether they will accept creditor’s bailout conditions or leave the eurozone.

    Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, stated that “the news from Greece regarding the economic and social situation of the country is worrying.”

    “The Holy Father wishes to convey his closeness to all the Greek people, with a special thought for the many families gravely beset by such a complex and keenly felt human and social crisis,” Fr. Lombardi stated.

    “The dignity of the human person must remain at the centre of any political and technical debate, as well as in the taking of responsible decisions.”

    Concluding his statement, Fr. Lombardi said that the Pope has invited the faithful to “unite in prayer for the good of the beloved Greek people.”

    Doubtless this error of mixing up billions with millions will get corrected but it raises the question if Fr. Lombardi and others involved appreciate that an entire country doesn’t default for a million or two million dollars. Didn’t they notice? The Bishop of Bling could pay that out of petty cash.

    So, re the encyclical, did they really “get” that a so-called sustainable level of 1 billion people requires 6 billion others to disappear? Hmmmmm…. Yes, intellectual problem, indeed.

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