Both/and and/or Either/Or

Friday, October 03, 2003



I'll keep this one fairly short.

Have my more conservative Catholic readers ever experienced a certain degree of frustration when talking to a fundamentalist Evangelical Protestant about an interpretation of Scripture, where you find yourself saying, "Well...yeah...I get your meaning and interpretation, but couldn't the passage also mean...." Or, have you ever had a debate with a Muslim who tries to pin you down by claiming the Bible or the doctrine of the Trinity has a contradition, and you find yourself repeating over and over, "That's only an apparent contradition....."

I recently received an email from Katherine, who teaches Catholic doctrine in a parish in a diocese not too far from me. Katherine was grateful to find a progressive Catholic watering hole on the web. She explained to me her frustration with conservatives in her parish who seem to believe every issue is an either/or and how she tried to explain the Catholic preference for both/and thinking. I realized there is a topic for an essay here.

There is such a thing as a "Catholic imagination", a "Catholic culture", a "Catholic paradigm", or a "Catholic way of seeing things". This way of seeing things is different from the way many other people view the world, and one of the principles that is close to the core of Catholic theological reflection on reality is that we are not "Either/Or" thinkers. Catholics have a preference for "Both/And" thinking.

What do I mean, and what is the evidence for this?

Consider the following:

Jesus is BOTH true God AND true human being
Mary is BOTH Mother of God CREATED created by God
All saints are sinners
Each passage of Scripture has a literal, allegorical, analogical, and typological meaning (not one OR the other).
Catholics believe in Scripture AND Tradition
Faith AND works
Faith AND reason
Grace operating in the sacred AND the secular and profane
The Pope has the charism of infallibility, AND can make mistakes when not using it

The Catholic faith is a great deposit of revealed truth that termininates in infinite mystery. Our faith is not irrational. However, like the experience of love and freedom, the goal of faith goes beyond the rational.

Often, we come to experience the transcendant mystery of God in the union of opposites, in dialectic tension, and we fall flat on our face before the Lord of BOTH/AND.

Beware of either/or thinking. Such thinking is not Catholic.

And just something to ponder as you ponder what has already been said:

Why not celibate priests AND married priests?
Why not male priests AND women?
Why not heterosexual marriages AND blessing gay unions?

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 12:37 PM

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