|Saint Augustine, Bishop and|
So let’s go on to another topic. How about this one: bishops confusing themselves for theologians. This is a very significant shift in our Catholic ecclesiology over the last fifteen years or so as American bishops have increasingly taken it upon themselves to evaluate the work of such distinguished theologians as Father Charles Curran, Professor Elizabeth Johnson, Sister Sandra Schneiders, and others who have earned distinction in the academic community. The view of these pretentious prelates (yes, I know that seems to be redundant these days) is that they, the bishops, are the theologians of the Church and the scholars task is to stand awed before their inspired episcopal intellects before they, the theologians, undertake their humble task of explaining to more popular audiences the profound and august theological insights of the mitered dons. Boy do they have it wrong. Bishops are meant to be teachers not theologians. In that sense they need to rely on the serious academic work of qualified and academically proven scholars just as Sister Sophrinus had to read up on American history before she taught it to us in the seventh grade.
Well, they protest—look at the great bishops who were doctors of the Church—Augustine, Ambrose, Leo, Chrysostom, Gregory—and one can plainly see that Episcopal ordination confers by grace of the Sacrament Theological competency. What they have overlooked are the tens of thousands of mitered idiots who were (and are) complete theological nincompoops. Augustine and company were not theologians by virtue of the fact that they were bishops—they had been elected bishops because they were great theologians.
Would that bishops today, at least our American bishops, were men chosen for their knowledge of our Catholic Theological heritage, their intelligence and their insight. Frankly, we have a sorry lot of leaders. There are exceptions of course—not theologians of proven stature but some intelligent and articulate men. I remember hearing when I lived in Rome a professor opine:
In Germany the bishops are chosen from among the scholarsIn Italy from among the shepherds of souls
And in England from among the gentlemen.
But in America there are no scholars, shepherds of souls, or gentlemen and so they get businessmen.
Alas, but that seems an all too true insight.