Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What's a Progressive Catholic?

By Phil Tanny

To me, Progressive Catholicism is grounded in the reality of the Catholic community. Let's explore that reality together.

A Huge Community

To start, a central fact of the Catholic community is that our congregation contains something like a billion members, and is thus one of the largest groups of people on Earth.

A Diverse Community

The next fact we can examine is that as one of the largest groups of human beings, the Catholic community is diverse, containing a rich variety of perspectives.

This diversity is an inevitable condition of human life.

Every ideology, group, club, nation or family etc eventually subdivides in to factions with competing points of view. Even two very close and committted dear friends will not agree on everything, and will sometimes argue.

As part of the rich diversity within the huge Catholic community, some Catholics may wish that this diversity did not exist. This group of Catholics are of course sincere Catholics just like the rest of us. They too are part of the diversity, a fraction of the whole.

However, even the most fervent passion for uniform universal agreement does not change the fact of diversity within the Catholic community, and the human family at large.

After all, even at the Vatican there are factions, and factions within factions. Surely all these factions are Catholic.

And if we look honestly at those sitting around us in Mass, we will come to accept that very few of our fellow Catholics agree exactly on every single issue. And yet they are still sitting next to us in Mass, and are still Catholic, just as we are.

To me, Progressive Catholicism recognizes the fact that diversity within the Church always has been and always will be, and it attempts to deal constructively with this reality of being Catholic.

Dealing Constructively With Diversity

From the Progressive Catholic point of view, at least as defined within myself, the diversity of opinion with the Church is not a problem to be solved, but a gift from God to be embraced.

The fact of diversity within our Catholic community strikes this Catholic as a challenge from God, a test of our faith, and a teaching.

Why this challenge? What's the teaching?

The reality of being human is that humanity at large contains a very wide range of perspectives. The main challenge we face as human beings is to successfully manage all these different ways of being human in a constructive peaceful manner.

We face this challenge for the simple reason that there is exactly zero chance that all these billions of human beings will ever all be persuaded to a single point of view. Diversity, a fact of human life, whether we like it or not.

And so, it seems to me that God is providing we Catholics with a rich diversity of opinion within our own congregation as a training ground. I believe we are being called to learn how to accept, embrace and lovingly manage the diversity within our own Catholic community.

And I believe that only when we succeed at this relatively easy task will we be ready to offer ourselves as role models to the larger and much more diverse human family.

There's Nothing To Fear

We need not fear diversity within the Catholic community so long as each of us declare our allegiance to the single word which lies at the heart of the teachings of Jesus Christ.


A single word.

A single word we can all agree on.

A single word which provides enough work to keep each of us busy for the rest of our lives.

A single, simple, and yet revolutionary word which we can all agree on, and can all act upon, together, as the Catholic community.

A single word.


If we focus on love, if we express this core point of agreement in action, we will be given enough faith in God, and find enough faith in our own faith, to bravely explore the rich diversity which is the Catholic community.

Progressive Catholicism, at least as defined within myself, recognizes the reality of the Church, and embraces it . . .

And has faith that God knows what He's doing.

See also the previous PCV post:
In What Sense Are We Progressive Catholics?


  1. English is a funny language. We only have one word for "love." The Greeks have five words for love. Which one or ones would be necessary to justify changing the definition of marriage between a man and a woman?

    1. Mania – Manic love is almost not a love at all. The word “lust” is probably not strong enough – “obsession” is closer to the word. This is the love of possession. I “mania” that which I obsessively desire to own. It is generally seen as taking over the “lover” like insanity – thus the connection to modern concepts of madness (kleptomania, pyromania). It is like the opposite of a phobia – an obsessive need to avoid something. “Mania” is translated as “madness” and “beside yourself” in Acts 26.

    2. Eros – Eros is obviously the root word for “erotic,” but it does not describe sexual love only, it actually describes all emotional love; the feeling of love. Eros love is that insatiable desire to be near the target of this love. The exciting, passionate, nervous feelings that sweep over people in the appropriate circumstances. This is the love that says “I love how you make me feel.” As an emotion, Eros changes, sometimes suddenly. Remember that it is entirely based on circumstances and on the target of its emotion. As an emotion, alone it is morally neutral, however, it can just as easily lead to lust (sinful desire) as it can passion. It is also a good picture to think of Eros as the fruit and flowers of a new relationship. Eros is not a bad thing, but it is also not a “good” thing. The word Eros does not appear in the Bible. I have some more thoughts on the way “eros” thinking affects our interaction with sex and intimacy at http://chrismlegg.com/2011/03/01/309/ .

    3. Philos – Philos love, or brotherly/friendship love, is the next kind we will look at. Philos describes the love between two people who have common interests and experiences, or a fondness for. Hemophiliacs apparently seemed to ancient doctors to have a “fondness” to bleeding, for example. Unlike Eros, which pulses up and down like waves on the ocean, Philos steadily grows, like a building being constructed stone by stone. For this reason, when close friends are separated for a while and reunited, they will often say “it is like we picked up exactly where we left off.” Philos is half about the circumstances, and half about the commitment of two people to one another; it says “I love who we are together,” or in case of a non person: “I am fond of this food.” Philos love generally grows over time except in the case of some kind of betrayal. It is commonly used in the New Testament, as in Matt. 10:37, John 12:25, and Revelation 3:19.

    4. Storgy – We will not spend much time here; storgy is the love one has for a dependent. It is commonly called “motherly love.” It is entirely based on the relationship between the “lover” and the “lovee.” When the dependent is no longer dependent, this love remains only in its emotional remnants. It is one of the stronger loves, because it involves a commitment that relies on only one trait of the receiver – that he or she is dependent. This type of love is toxic to a marriage under normal circumstances. Marriages that look more like a mother/son or father/daughter relationship is moving quickly downhill. http://is.gd/t1COw7

    See the next message for the Fifth Greek definition of love: Agape

  2. 5. Agapeo – Agape love is the final of the five loves we look at here. Agape love is entirely about the lover, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the one loved. Agape love, in its purest form, requires no payment or favor in response. The most common word for God’s love for us is Agape (I John, John 3:16) and the love we are commanded to have for one another (Matt. 5:44, I Cor. 13). This lack of input from the recipient makes it possible for us to love our enemies even though we may not like them or the situation they have put us in – because Agape love is not in any way dependent on circumstances; it says “I love you because I choose/commit to.” Unlike eros or philos, Agape creates a straight line that neither fades or grows (!) in its perfect form (which of course only exists from God outward) Oddly enough, even though many people marry out of eros love alone, they make vows that speak of commitment despite any circumstance: richer/poorer, better/worse, sickness/health. This kind of love is about a commitment to the very best for another, no matter what emotions or feelings exist! You can see why in the King James Version of the Bible, Agape was usually translated as “charity.” It is a love freely given, and freely committed to. For a more in depth look at its aspects, look at I Corinthians chapter 13.


  3. Hi Ray,

    Thanks for your detailed response. Your explanation of Agapeo is most excellent, and very well written.

    Yes, agreed, agape love is a gift from God, a gift we give ourselves, and is not dependent upon a target. It is liberation, freedom, the courage to release ourselves from the prison of unenlightened self interest we have constructed.

    Although my article was not specifically about gay marriage, it could be examined from that perspective if that is your interest.

    By combining your thoughts and mine, we might see embracing the gay community as fully equal members of the rich diversity of the Catholic community, reaching out to them with agape love....

    Not as a favor we do for them, but as a favor we do ourselves.

    We embrace the gay community as full partners because doing so strengthens the Church, and ourselves.

    It might be noted that after centuries of rejection, oppression and second class citizenship both within the Church and the larger society, gays have displayed extradinary patience in still wanting to be part of our community.

    We might try to walk a mile in their shoes and ask ourselves honestly if we would have such committment to the Church. If we're not sure, then we have something to learn from the gay community.

    That's the glory of diversity Ray, the opportunity to learn from those with different experiences.

  4. Like just about every contribution to this site, I find both Ray and Phil's responses particularly helpful. I have a great fondness for the quirkiness of the English language, often asking myself if there is indeed such a language, being so huge a mix of contributions form across the globe.
    The one word we have for love is perhaps enough? Let's just get on with it - love I mean - and mean it.
    Br G-M