George Tyrrell’s excommunication still confronts Christianity

George Tyrell was a Jesuit priest and a Modernist theologian. He died in 1909, denied burial in a Catholic cemetery. The ideas that led to Tyrrell’s expulsion and excommunication still confront Christianity, says Oliver Rafferty:

In Tyrrell’s view so much of what passed for Catholicism was an arid assertion of supposed certainties which if closely examined led to contempt for religion on the part of the average thinking person. Thus, for example, the church taught that Catholics had to believe that Moses was the sole author of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, despite the fact that it included an account of his own death. To explain such a conundrum the official church argued that since Moses was a prophet he could predict his own demise. Of his many books and articles, the one that first caused Tyrrell real problems with the Roman authorities was a piece on hell, published in 1899. Here he questioned the compatibility of the idea of eternal punishment for sin with the loving mercy of a God who sent his son to die for broken humanity. Furthermore, he wondered how the church could insist on the reality of the material fire of hell as punishment for the immaterial soul. The reaction to this ultimately led to his expulsion from the Jesuit order in 1906. However, it was his refusal to accept Pope Pius X’s condemnation of modernism which brought about his excommunication from the church. Tyrrell alleged that the pope’s whole approach to Catholicism was based on a theory of science that was as strange to modern understanding as belief in astrology.

For Tyrrell, and those who thought like him, Christian faith was not equivalent to its formulation, which of its nature is fixed in a given time. The eternal truths must always be capable of re-expression and this involves an appeal to how individuals relate to God and to the world at any given historical epoch.

Read it all in The Guardian’s Face to Faith.

According to Wikipedia,

He was given extreme unction on his deathbed in 1909, but was denied burial in a Catholic cemetery. A priest who was present at the burial made a sign of the cross over Tyrrell’s grave. For this act the priest was suspended a divinis by Bishop Peter Amigo of Southwark.

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