Leading theologian admits hermeneutic of continuity is just an Orwellian facade

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

“The Church does the opposite of the used car dealer”Popes often push through innovations by passing off the new as the old, says theologian Michael Seewald. How come? And can politics possibly learn something from this?

We live in times that give us a lot of headaches. That’s why we ask in the series “What are you thinking about right now?” leading scientists and voices in public life what they currently think is worth considering. The questions are asked by Maja Beckers, Andrea Böhm, Christiane Grefe, Nils Markwardt, Peter Neumann, Elisabeth von Thadden, Lars Weisbrod or Xifan Yang. Today the theologian Michael Seewald answers.

ZEIT ONLINE: Michael Seewald, what are you thinking about right now?

Michael Seewald: About dogmas and their problems: How has official Christian teaching changed over time? For what reasons did she do this? What mechanisms were at work?

Michael Seewald is a professor of dogmatics and the history of dogmas at the University of Münster. In 2018 he published the book “Dogma in Transition” (Herder). Most recently he published “Theories of doctrinal development in the Catholic Church” (Cambridge University Press, 2023).

ZEIT ONLINE: In an essay in the latest issue of the journal for the history of ideas, you took a look at a certain type of these change mechanisms. It’s about “concealment of innovation” and the “construction of continuity facades”. What does that mean?

Seewald: A dogma is a teaching that claims to be highly binding. Normativity and temporality enter into a strange liaison. In the dogmatic “That’s the way it is” there is also a “That’s the way it should stay”. Now, however, the history of dogmas shows that “that’s how it is” and “that’s how it should stay” are only loosely related to each other. Since there is no provision for changing or even correcting the dogma in the dogma itself, continuity facades are erected. In other words, an attempt is made to give the impression that, in principle, everything will always remain the same. And if something does change, it is often presented in a harmonising way. According to the motto: It is only about organic developments, but not about corrections. The discrepancy between what dogma says should be and what actually is embarrasses the Pope and the ecclesiastical doctrinal machinery. They are therefore trying to give the appearance of continuity. And certain techniques have been developed to do this.


Leading theologian admits hermeneutic of continuity is just an Orwellian facade

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