3 July 2012
This slim volume, a scant 98 pages, takes an historical view of the Church and attributes much of the changes the Church is presently undergoing, not to Vatican II, not to a dissatisfaction with a refusal to discuss pressing issues, but to a move in Western societies from Christendom to pluralism.
‘We are dealing with a changing situation which goes beyond the Church while affecting it radically.’
Christendom began with the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine in 313. By the end of the century it was technically illegal to be a pagan.
Gradually Christianity and the Roman Empire merged socially, culturally and politically so that they became identified with each other. Thus began the Christianisation of the social structure of society. ‘People became Christian in the same way as people become Australian or French or Chinese’ (page 16).
In discussing the end of Christendom, O’Loughlin writes of an age of transition.
‘Just as the earthquake alerts us to look for the wider story of the movement of the earth … so ought we to be alerted by the change we are experiencing to look for the broader shifts behind it’ (page 19).
A glance back at Christianity through the ages shows that there has never been a perfect form – not even in New Testament times – but a dialogue between the gospels and other values in a particular society.
A chapter on evangelisation draws on Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) and on Paul’s address to the Greeks on the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34) all underpinned by the phrase from Revelation, ‘Now I am making the whole of Creation new’ (through Jesus Christ) (Rev 21:5).
A key chapter ‘Why the Church?’ addresses the new understanding of Church that Vatican II wrought – ‘the Church as sacrament, or as sign and instrument, of union with God and of unity among human beings’ (79). Vatican II’s documents set the church in the heart of humanity ‘almost as an organ of humanity’ (page 82).
There are many ‘aha!’ moments in O’Loughlin’s treatment of the Church in history and there is much to hope for in his last chapter, ‘A Spirituality of the Future’.
This Time of the Church, by Frank O’Loughlin, published by Garratt Publishing.