Reform – the same church, another thinking

Theologian Michael Seewald explores possibilities and limits of church reforms

Book cover
© Herder

The Catholic theologian Prof. Dr. Michael Seewald of the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” has published a new book, “Reform – Dieselbe Kirche anders denken (Reform – the Same Church, Another Thinking). In it he explores possibilities and limits of reforms in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is under great pressure to change, and there is a long list of controversial issues: the rights of women, the evaluation of same-sex partnerships, the issue of abuse or the participation of the laity. “The church could be more flexible than it currently is,” according to the professor of dogmatic theology, “because the discussion about reforms is within a dogmatically narrowed range which sets itself as Catholic without any alternative, but which in reality represents only one among many possibilities to push theology ahead.”

In his book, the researcher explains the self-image of the magisterium and shows its peculiar modernity. From the latter, the tremendous amount of innovation can be understood with which it attempts to create the impression that it merely wants to preserve the traditional. On this basis, Seewald explains various modes of dogmatic development and outlines the concept of reform, especially by means of defining the relationship between the Gospel and dogma. All this takes place against the backdrop of the current pressing questions. However, in order to dispel a misunderstanding in advance: it is neither a practical book, nor does it contain a wish list of things that should change. Rather, the book illustrates how the Catholic Church can reform itself fundamentally while at the same time remaining true to itself. Neither utopian big nor unimaginative small thinking is possible here.

“The first step towards a theologically accounted for reform of the Church is to acknowledge the specific modernity of the Church,” writes Michael Seewald. “It is inaccurate and even misleading to demand certain changes under the often-heard slogan that the church needs to ‘modernise’. Reforms do not need to modernise the Church because it is already modern. However, it must be asked whether the already completed modernisation of the Catholic Church has been successful or whether there are reasons for placing the Christian faith differently in the present than it is being done at present.” (Herder/vvm)

Reference: Michael Seewald, Reform – Dieselbe Kirche anders denken, Freiburg: Herder 2019