Sunday, September 7, 2008
This book, by the professor of Theology at Tübingen University in southern Germany, is a short history explaining the developments of the Church through time. The Church in this definition refers to the Roman Catholic one, who, as this short history explains, has seen its power and influence in the world wither away over the 1500 year mainly as a result of its own doing.
The Roman Catholic Church is one of the finest representations of rigid hierarchy present today. Decisions come from the top down with little significance given to the input and opinions of its large following at the bottom. The Church created numerous layers of organization from priest to bishop, cardinal and beyond. The effects of this were that Catholics always had a local messenger of God, the priest, who was available and willing to pardon people for their sins. The rise of Luther in the early 16th century called for a direct connection between believers and God. Too many mid-level managers. The repurcussions of this split between the Catholic and what would become the Protestant Church had enormous cultural effects and still today greatly define the differences between Northern and Southern Europe.
The frustrating aspect of the Church is that there were several key points in history in which the setting was ideal for a new direction to be taken. However, each time the conservative option that would preserve the hierarchical power structure was always taken.
In all this it is easy to forget about one important figure - Jesus! The Church and the pope, who is suppose to be the voice of Jesus on Earth, constantly distant themselves from this humble and peaceful figure by refusing to ask one simple question: Is this what Jesus would have wanted for his Church? One of the few positive trends in the current Catholic religion is that there is a very strong grassroots, community-oriented, church at the local level. The members of this church (non-capital "C") are much closer to the embodiment of what Jesus was and what he would have wanted. These people are running soup kitchens in parish basements, gathering clothing during the winter months for the poor, and teaching immigrants the local language for better integration. It sure seems a far cry away from a Pope who dresses himself in silk, gold and jewels at every public event he is present at.