Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What I Fight For

During the last four years, I have encountered some Catholics who declare themselves in favor of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and oppose Pope Francis. I have encountered others who declare themselves in favor of Pope Francis, but not his predecessors. I believe that both groups are in error, assuming that their preferences are true and the Pope who seems to be in accord with them is considered right.

In defending the authority of the Church over the ten years this blog has been around, my stance has been that to reject a teaching of a Pope is an act of dissent and to reject that Pope in entirety is an act of schism. If a person demands Catholics give assent to a Pope they agree with, while refusing to give assent to a Pope they dislike is to play the hypocrite. The Pope they like teaches with the same authority as the Pope they dislike.

Because I recognize that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ (Matthew 16:18), and recognize the Popes as the successors of Peter, I hold that to reject the legitimate authority of the Pope is to reject Our Lord (Luke 10:16).

No, this doesn’t mean everything that comes forth from the mouth of the Pope is doctrine. The Pope does not intend to offer teaching binding the entire Church when he gives homilies, addresses, interviews or press conferences. Because of that, he can state things imprecisely. A Pope can pass laws governing Vatican City (or prior to that, the Papal States) that are aimed at governing a specific territory. These are not understood as Church teaching either.  Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once used the example of hypothetically asking the Pope about a stock investment. The Pope is not teaching in this example either.

The above (and the label of Ultramontanism) are red herrings. No informed Catholic considers those things teaching, let alone infallible. But, it does not follow from the fact that it doesn’t fall under the aegis of teaching that it is heresy when it sounds different to our way of thinking. To invoke these things, done by the handful of bad Popes we had in our history, to accuse a Pope of teaching “error” is to miss the point of history in order to slander a disliked Pope today.

The Popes can teach through the Ordinary Magisterium, which is the norm, or the Extraordinary Magisterium, which is rarely used. Many Catholics seem to think that the Pope only need to be heeded when he makes an ex cathedra proclamation, and can be safely ignored on other occasions. That view is dangerously misguided. Pope Pius IX Syllabus of Errors (#22) and Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis (#20) reject that view. Everything that was taught ex cathedra was previously taught in the ordinary magisterium. It was not a case of being an opinion prior to being defined. Ex Cathedra does not turn opinion into truth. It defines truth, confirming what was already taught.

Nor should we think assume from the fact that the Church can revise and reform a teaching or discipline to better address a certain age, that these elements “prove” error. Conditions in the times of Pagan Rome, the Dark Ages, the Medieval period, the Renaissance, or modern times are not the same and how the Church responds to the needs of that age can change without denying the Catholic Faith. A Pope can make a discipline stricter or roll it back as the need requires without contradicting his predecessors. 

So, with the controversy on the divorced/remarried and the Eucharist, it is possible that whoever succeeds Pope Francis will make clarifications as to how his teaching will be applied. For those who interpreted Amoris Lætitia with laxity, such a clarification will probably seem like a “betrayal.” For those who disliked what they thought AL advocated, such a clarification will probably seem like a “repudiation” of Pope Francis. But it will be neither. It will be an application of Church teaching for the current times.

We must remember that how we interpret Scripture or Church documents is not the same thing as Scripture and Church documents in themselves. It is easy for the individual, lacking all the information needed to put things in context, to misinterpret Church teaching and assume that misinterpretation is what the Church in past ages meant. We must make our interpretation of Scripture, a Pope, or a Council in line with how the Magisterium interprets it, not by judging the Magisterium by how we interpret it.

If we do not remember this, we will wind up engaging in pointless polemics on whether or not a certain teaching is “in error.” This debate will be rooted in our own preferences and biases, treating them as doctrine while treating the judgment of the Church as “opinion.”

What I fight for is not the “right” of the divorced and remarried to receive the Eucharist. It is not for “conservative” views on moral issues or “liberal” views on social justice. What I fight for is defending that the Church can teach the faithful the timeless truths as they need to be formulated for the needs of saving society in this age. This means rejecting those who try to turn this teaching into factional politics and labeling theological orthodoxy as political based on approval or disapproval.

This fight necessarily puts me at odds with the Catholic who claims to support Benedict, but not Francis, and the Catholic who claims to support Francis, but not Benedict. It likewise puts me at odds with the Catholics who put Trent and Vatican II at odds.

I fight to defend the Church as she teaches in all generations, from the time Our Lord established her to the present, and trusting Our Lord to continue to protect His Church in the future. Because of that, I must reject those arguments—intended or not—which deny that protection exists, and that we can ignore Church teaching by claiming it errs when it suits us to do so.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Uninformed Rebellion Against the Holy Father

The Holy Father confirmed that his words—on bishops and confessors needing to evaluate each case of the divorced and remarried person to determine whether all elements of mortal sin are present instead of assuming they exist—are not an opinion but teaching of the ordinary magisterium. According to Canon Law 752 [∞], we are bound to follow that teaching, and not act against it.

While the secular media has ignored this story so far, it is stirring up dissent among a certain set of Catholics who argue that this contradicts previous teaching and, therefore must be ignored. Some have gone so far as to argue that Catholics are bound to not follow the Pope on this matter because it is a “heresy.” These critics are under a delusion that the Pope can be corrected by the bishops—some even going so far as to think he can be removed from office.

The fact of the matter is there is no such provision in Church teaching. Canon Law #1404 tells us that the Pope is judged by no one [†]. Canons 1372 and 1373 [§] tell us that the person who is tries to appeal to a council of bishops or try to stir up opposition to the Pope are to face the proper sanctions. In other words, the Church teaching doesn’t support them—it indicts them.

These critics falsely assume that grave matter is mortal sin, instead of being one part of it. Nobody denies that remarriage after divorce is grave matter—that is, no circumstances can make it a good act. But we need to remember that the Church has always taught that a mortal sin involves grave matter, full knowledge that it is evil and sufficient consent to that act. As Pope Francis points out in Amoris Lætitia:

302. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.”  In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.” For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved. On the basis of these convictions, I consider very fitting what many Synod Fathers wanted to affirm: “Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person’s properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases.”

This is not about letting people come to Communion if they feel called. Nor is it about accepting remarriage. This is about determining cases of reduced culpability. The person who has been properly taught and freely chooses to perform that act anyway does commit a mortal sin. But if the conditions interfere with knowledge or consent, the sin is not mortal even though it is still serious.

That doesn’t mean we let the person continue in their sin. For example, the alcoholic or the sexual compulsive may have reduced culpability, but the confessor works with them to get them in right relationship with God and His Church. Such people might be encouraged to receive the Eucharist, but no confessor would tell him his actions are morally acceptable. This is the situation for some of the divorced and remarried. In some cases that may mean helping the person get an annulment. In others it may involve helping them accept living as brother and sister instead of as husband and wife. If some of them have diminished culpability (that is, so the sin is not mortal in their case), they might be able to receive the Eucharist. 

If the person is unrepentant, and has no intention to change, and somehow deceives their confessor, they will face judgment—God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7).

The problem is, the critics assume that any abuse that might arise from a negligent confessor or a lying penitent is willed by the Pope. No doubt there are priests out there who say, “that doesn’t matter.” But that is incompatible with the Pope’s call for repentance. The whole point of his Year of Mercy was to get people reconciled. If he just wanted moral laxity, he wouldn’t be telling priests to be available in confession and urging people to go.

This rebellion is born out of the assumption that the Pope must be a heretic. Under this begging the question, whatever he does is interpreted through that assumption and used as evidence—even though the interpretation itself needs to be proven.

But these critics show they are mistaken about what the Pope is doing and what the Church teaches on culpability. Since they are wrong, their conclusions cannot be accepted as true.


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[∞] can. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

[†] can. 1404† The First See is judged by no one.

[§] can. 1372† A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.

can. 1373† A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Change, Perception, and Dissent

When people accuse the Church of changing, they generally think the Church is contradicting herself. They think that the Church now sanctions something she originally thought was a sin. What they don’t consider is that the Church refines her teaching, so that as humanity discovers more ways to do evil, the Church applies her teaching to the circumstances of an age in order that people of that age might be saved.

Critics that think this way can be opposed to change and think that the Church fell into error after a certain point. Or they can favor change and think the Church finally got something right. Both err, because they don’t understand what is changing.

For example, some Catholics believe that because the Church stopped mandating meatless Fridays, or changed Church teaching on lending money, she can change her teaching on sexual morality. What they fail to understand is where the sin was in the first place. Mandatory meatless Fridays had nothing to do with the evil of meat. It was about the Church setting a mandatory penance on Fridays. Those who refused to cooperate were rejecting the authority of the Church to bind the faithful. The Church changing the penance for Fridays was not a contradiction. It was a permission for people to find a more suitable penance if needed (abstinence from meat is still recommended). Likewise, the Church never changed her teaching that usury is a sin. Rather she made the distinction between demanding interest from helping someone in need and investing money and expecting a return. Usury is still a sin.

In both cases, the person who believes those cases were changing Church teaching on sin are in error. They were about deepening the understanding of what makes a sin morally wrong. 

I think of this as dissent solidifies against Pope Francis and his teachings on dealing with the divorced and remarried. Some people believe he is saying that the Church was wrong before on divorce/remarriage. But he is not. Reading Amoris Lætitia shows he recognizes the Catholic understanding of marriage and the evils of divorce. Most of the Apostolic Exhortation is about instructing the Church on the need to prepare couples for marriage and providing support for the existing marriages.

Chapter 8 exists because there are people who are in the situation that the Church wants to avoid—the people who have divorced and remarried when the previous marriage is valid in the eyes of the Church. The Pope’s intent is on getting these people back into right relationship with God and His Church. When it comes to the “infamous” Footnote 351, the Pope is recognizing that this, like all other sins, can have cases where even though the matter is grave, the knowledge or intention does not meet the criteria for mortal sin. If circumstances do not meet the requirements of mortal sin, then the person is not committing a mortal sin. He urges bishops and confessors to evaluate whether this is the case in specific instances. He does not open the Eucharist to whoever wants to receive it.

But that’s exactly what the critics claim he is doing. They claim (with approval or disapproval) that he opens the Eucharist to “all who feel called.” They can’t get beyond the idea that the matter is grave, and assuming that the Pope’s refinement of teaching is a claim that either divorce/remarriage is no longer grave or that mortal sins are no longer a bar to the Eucharist. 

In making this assumption, the critics show a fundamental misunderstanding. The Pope is neither changing “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin,” nor changing the obligations before receiving the Eucharist. He is merely asking the bishops to evaluate whether there are any cases where culpability is reduced. The critics overlook the possibility that a bishop will evaluate the cases in good faith and find that the number meeting that criteria is ZERO. (Some have gone so far as to claim that such bishops are opposed to the Pope).

The problem is, too many are using their (false) perception of what they think the Church is to judge the current conditions of the Church. Those who object to things like the Church teaching on contraception or women’s ordination as if the Church was always wrong and they hope that the Church will someday “get a clue.” Others who think that the cultural attitudes of the 16th century were doctrine, treat the Church from 1958 onwards as if it was a contradictory change and therefore a “heresy.”

But both views are error in themselves. When the Church teaches on faith and morals, she does not contradict herself in teaching moral absolutes, even if she should determine one approach is better suited for the current age than the previous one. Both of these views are the same error. The liberal Catholics think the past Church was wrong; the conservative Catholics think the current Church is wrong. Both are going wrong because they are in error about the nature of the Church.

Another form of this error is the labeling of Pope or bishop in light 0f one’s political outlook. The person who labels a shepherd 0f the Church as liberal because he speaks out on social justice, or the person who labels a shepherd of the Church as conservative because he speaks out on the right to life is letting their perception poison their view of the Church.

To avoid this error, we have to stop confusing our perception with the reality of the Church. We believe that the Church possesses the authority—given by Our Lord—to teach in His name, and when the Church teaches, we must give assent. Sometimes, when the Church teaches ex cathedra, we hold that this teaching is defining doctrine. But even when the Church teaches and preaches with the ordinary magisterium, we are obliged to hear and follow. This excludes the argument that the Church “errs” and, therefore, justifies ignoring the teaching.

This is the danger a growing number of Catholics are falling into. I’ve seen Catholics I hitherto respected, who defended previous Popes against the accusations of supporting error, suddenly act as if this current pontificate is an exception to the protection God gives the Church. I’ve seen known dissidents suddenly pretend to be faithful Catholics, ignoring the fact that they failed to give the Pope’s predecessors the same assent they claim to give now.

Even though both groups despise each other and blame each other for what they think is wrong with the Church, they foment dissent and accuse the other side of it, never realizing that they are guilty of what they condemn in the “other side.” But this is not an invincible ignorance. The fact that they condemn this behavior in others means they know it is wrong. Our Lord Himself warned us of the consequences of rejecting His Church (Matthew 7:21ff, 18:17, Luke 10:16).

So let us be wary of our perception. It can mislead us into wrongly assessing change and lead us into dissent that puts us at odds with the Church we claim to defend. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Competing Tunnel Visions of the Church

Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy doesn’t put him in opposition to St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI—it puts him in opposition to those who think the Church is about condemning rather than evangelizing.

This is not an indictment of only one faction. It’s a sign of tunnel vision among Catholics. Yes, some conservative Catholics think that the Pope’s emphasis on mercy is a moral laxity and they are wrong in thinking that way. But some liberal Catholics think that Church teaching on moral obligations is rigorism, and they are also wrong.

The fact is, the Church is about saving souls. This involves both the admonishing of sinners when they choose to do evil, and the reaching out in mercy to bring them back to God. Unfortunately, the lax Catholic sees this as condemnation of people while the rigorist Catholic sees this as winking eyes at sin.

Both errors view certain aspects of the Church teaching as a distraction or a sign of political bias. Conservative Catholics see social justice teaching as a sign of politically liberal bishops who do not care about teaching on moral issues. Simultaneously, liberal Catholics see Church teaching on moral—particularly on sexual morality—teachings as a sign of politically conservative bishops who do not care about social justice.

Obviously, if the bishops are accused by both sides of teaching only the other side, it shows they are teaching the whole faith and the critics want to silence them on the side they disagree with. It is their own bias that leads them to think that the Church supports the other side.

The unspoken assumption is that the critics’ own side is true and whoever disagrees with them is presumed to be endorsing all the evils of the other side—even if that person is Pope or bishop. That’s the either-or fallacy. One doesn’t have to support A or B. One can support option C, support elements from both A and B, or reject both A and B altogether.

The fact that there are sinners in the Church is indisputable because human beings are in the Church. No person is immune from personal sin, even the members of the Magisterium. But the fact of personal sin in the shepherds of the Church does not mean that, when they teach, that they have a 50-50 chance of teaching error. We believe that the charism of infallibility for the Pope and indefectibility of the Church means we can trust that when the Church teaches, she is protected from teaching error, even if the Pope is personally a notorious sinner (which is not the case today).

But, if one holds a vision for the Church that says it is moving “left” or “right” on the basis of how one views the world politically, their vision is blinding them to the truth and leading them to error. If Popes and bishops can personally sin, you had better believe that we can personally sin too. We need the Church as God’s chosen means of bringing His salvation to the world. That means when she observes the sins present in our society, she must speak out against it, even if that sin is embraced by our preferred political party.

But instead of heeding the Church, we tend to say that the Church should work on “saving souls” and not “meddle in politics.” But when she speaks out on injustice or immorality, she is working at saving souls. People in society do embrace the sins of that society. Sometimes they think that because a thing is done by a government, it cannot be questioned. The Church teaching that this thing is morally wrong should serve as a warning that participating in it is risking our souls.

What people don’t realize is that when they shout for the Church to be silent when speaking out on evils they commit, they undermine their appeal to Church teaching on societal evils that they oppose. If the Church should shut up when you wish, you really have no basis on which to rebuke your foes when they do the same. You might argue that your interpretation is correct while there’s is in error. But guess what—they think the same way about your views.

We break out of this tunnel vision when we stop using ourselves as the standard of right and wrong and start using the teaching of the Church to form our conscience. Once we look to the teaching of the Church as it is—not as we desire it to be or fear it might become—and use it to guide us into living rightly, loving God and our neighbor as ourselves, that we walk with God. But if we continue to use our own ideology as a means to judge the Church, we will be misled by our tunnel vision and end up fighting the Church when she is right.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Problems of Misinterpretation

In my past few articles, I’ve discussed the problems of Catholic critics who confuse their interpretation of Church Teaching with what the Church actually intends. Whether they start out with false premises, or whether they use fallacious reasoning with true premises, or (sadly, very common) using both false premises and fallacious reasoning, they wind up claiming that Church teaching justifies something that is actually contrary to what the Church teaches.

Some do this to claim that a sin is not a sin, and that they are therefore not guilty of choosing an intrinsic evil. Others do this to discredit a Church teaching they dislike, arguing that we must return to their idealized view of when the Church was right and abandon or restore disciplines to match their idealized concept—the teaching they dislike is considered “proof” of heresy or political bias.

This is not the sole provenance of one faction. I’ve seen some Catholics claim that Jesus wanted a Church of love and mercy—denying that He ever intended condemning acts that they think shouldn’t be sins. I’ve seen other Catholics balk when the Church has changed disciplines when the magisterium determined they no longer serve the intended purpose, claiming the Church has fallen into “heresy.” But both groups are confusing what they want with what best serves keeping God’s commandments and evangelizing the world.

These critics judge the actions of Pope and bishops based on what they want (and, therefore, what they think God must want). If the Pope and bishops do not take that stand, it is considered a betrayal of either Christ or His Church. So, the liberal Catholic applies their assumptions to St. John XXIII, Vatican II and Pope Francis and think they are “correcting” the former “errors” of other Popes, Councils, and Bishops. Conservative Catholics think they are “committing errors” contradicting previous teaching.

But, their conclusions are based on false assumptions. They assume that the Church they conceive of is the way the Church is supposed to be. But if the assumption is false, they cannot prove the conclusion. If their conclusion is not proven, we cannot use their arguments as the basis of enacting teachings in the Church.

It’s important to realize that such false assumptions need not be malicious. The person can be quite sincere. It’s quite possible that the person is assuming that the simplified explanation Sr. Mary X gave them in Catholic grade school was doctrine and either embraced or rebelled against it, thinking it was a doctrinal teaching. The individual can fail to realize that the possibility that the explanation was oversimplified, or that they misunderstood it.

I think this lack of realization is the real problem in the Church. If we do not grow in our understanding of the actual Church teaching, we can easily be led astray. If we don’t understand that the style of Church teaching may sound more forceful in one age than in another, we might be confused over what is doctrine, what is discipline, and what is governance. Doctrine does not change from X to not X. But it can develop with a deeper understanding over time. Discipline and acts of governance can change if the magisterium deems it beneficial to do so.

Yes, it is possible that a Pope can be a notorious sinner, or that a bishop can be unjust. But it does not follow from the fact that we have had such Popes and bishops in the past, that the current ones fit in that category. That’s the point to be proven. If we simply assume the point to be proven, we commit the begging the question fallacy. The “evidence” we provide that is based on that assumption proves nothing.

If one wants to argue that St. John Paul II “betrayed” Vatican II (as liberals like to allege) or that Pope Francis “teaches heresy (as some conservatives like to allege), the obligation is for the individual to investigate whether they have gone wrong themselves—not for the teaching authority of the Church to prove them false.

The problem is, it quickly becomes apparent that the critic has often either not read or has only superficially read the relevant materials. Instead they tend to rely on summaries from biased sources, assuming that the Church has always understood the teaching in the way they think it means. Therefore, the Church is “proved” to be doing wrong—not in fact, but in their mind

Such misunderstanding cannot lead to a proper understanding of the Church. Instead, it leads to obstinacy. Ironically, though the liberal and the conservative disagree with each other about what this fictitious ideal is, they wind up using the same arguments, and ultimately denying the authority of the Church—all the while condemning the other side for their dissent.

The only way to escape that trap is to recognize who has the authority to interpret the past Church teachings and apply them to the present. That authority is the current Pope and bishops who are successors to the Apostles. We believe that Our Lord protects His Church from teaching error in matters where she must be given assent. Without that promise, we could never know when the Church was teaching error.

If we would be authentically Catholic, we must trust Our Lord to protect His Church. When Our Lord has sent authentic reformers from outside the magisterium, they were always respectful and obedient to those chosen to be the shepherds. Those who became heretics and/or schismatics refused to give that respect and obedience.

Yes, we have had a few bad Popes in the history of the Church. But they have never taught error despite doing wrong, or rarely thinking wrong in private thought. The current critics of the Church, by alleging the teaching of error, are de facto denying God’s protection exists.

But once you deny that, you cease to be a witness to the truth of the Church and instead become a stumbling block that causes scandal to potential members. If you deny the Church has authority on issue Z, you lead person to question why the Church has authority on issues A-Y. 

So instead of dogmatizing our errors, we have to realize that since the Church is protected from teaching error, we must consider how the Church can teach differently from our expectations on what she should teach. Yes, there will be people obstinately in error out there. Yes, Catholics who don’t like to follow them will look for lax or rigorist spiritual guides telling them what they want to hear. But these Catholics and their blind guides do not take away from the actual teaching authority of the Church under the current Pope. 

We must remember that, when we encounter a teaching from the Magisterium today that runs counter to what we expect, we have the obligation to seek understanding and not assume the difference means error on the part of the Church.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thoughts on the Ultramontanism Label

A tactic used by some foes of the Pope is discrediting his defenders by calling them Ultramontanist or Ultramontane. The term has had different connotations in different ages of the Church. Initially, it was used to denote Catholics who defended the authority of the Pope over all aspects of the Church, in opposition to those Catholics who claimed there were limits on the Pope’s authority—usually from those who claimed that a Council could outrank a Pope (a view condemned as a heresy) or that a ruler had a more immediate authority over the Church in his nation than the Pope.

In the current form, the label is a Straw Man and an Ad Hominem attack. It attempts to portray the defender of the Pope as a blind fanatic who believes everything that comes from the Pope’s mouth is an ex cathedra statement. Since it is true that not everything that comes from the Pope’s mouth is a teaching, not everything he says or does is sanctified simply because the Pope says it. The defender labeled as Ultramontanist is treated as a simpleton who is ignorant about the Catholic faith and easily misled.

The problem is, no informed defender of the Pope ever made such a claim about the Pope. I don’t doubt you can find some misinformed Catholics out there who believe that, but I’m sure you can find some misinformed Catholics who literally worship Mary too. But if you do find any, you can be sure they don’t represent accurate Catholic thought.

The Catholic who defends the Pope is not doing the theological equivalent of “my country, right or wrong!” Rather he is saying that the Catholic attacking the Pope has misrepresented what he teaches and has failed to give the assent required (Canon 752) when the Pope teaches. The Popes are not protected from error, nor making a binding teaching, when they grant interviews or press conferences. They are not protected from error when governing Vatican City (or, previously, the Papal States). They are not protected from error when they write a book, like St. John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope or Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth

But when they intend to teach, making known their intention in an official Church document—for example, by an encyclical—then we are required to give assent. This requirement is not limited to infallible statements. Pope Pius IX condemned the notion that only an infallible statement is binding. Vatican I declared those who limited the authority of the Pope over the Church to be anathema.

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema. (Pastor Æternus, Chapter 3)

 

Vincent McNabb, ed., The Decrees of the Vatican Council (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1907), 42.

Defending the Pope when he issues such a teaching statement (considered part of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church is not “Ultramontane.” It is offering correction to the Catholic who is failing to give the required assent.

Indeed, the critic who uses the “Ultramontane” label when a defender of the Pope defends a teaching of the ordinary magisterium shows the real lack of knowledge. All of the Church teachings which were defined infallibly were also previously defined through the ordinary magisterium. The Church defining Transubstantiation in AD 1215 did not mean people were free to believe otherwise in AD 1214. Indeed, Berengarius of Tours was condemned in the 11th century for denying Transubstantiation because it had been taught by the Church, even though not defined in a formal ex cathedra act.

No, the defenders of the Holy Father are not Ultramontane. They are correcting the error from the critic who has misrepresented the Pope while defending his lawful authority as the successor of Peter. They are giving the same respect and assent to the Popes from 1958 to the present that was also due their predecessors. That’s not a blind devotion. That’s expected of the faithful, as St. Pius X said in November 1912:

And how must the Pope be loved? Non verbo neque lingua, sed opere et veritate. [1 John 3:18] When one loves a person, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to fulfill his will, to perform his wishes. And if Our Lord Jesus Christ said of Himself, “si quis diligit me, sermonem meum servabit,” [John 14:23] therefore, in order to demonstrate our love for the Pope, it is necessary to obey him.

Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey - that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other persons, however learned, who dissent from the Pope, who, even though learned, are not holy, because whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.

This is the cry of a heart filled with pain, that with deep sadness I express, not for your sake, dear brothers, but to deplore, with you, the conduct of so many priests, who not only allow themselves to debate and criticize the wishes of the Pope, but are not embarrassed to reach shameless and blatant disobedience, with so much scandal for the good and with so great damage to souls.

(Allocution Vi ringrazio) [†]

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[†] Ironically, the site this came from was quite happy to share it in 2012 when Benedict XVI was Pope. They don’t feel the same about Pope Francis. 

Face with rolling eyes 1f644

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

…as I went away, I thought to myself, “I am wiser than this man; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either.” [Apologia 21d]

 

Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes Translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb., vol. 1 (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1966).

Knowing less than you think you do is a dangerous situation to be in. It leads a person to act on what they wrongly think is real. When this happens, people reach wrong conclusions, perform the wrong actions, assume the wrong motives. The result is some sort of harm done to oneself or others. 

In some fields, it is apparent to most people when they are in over their heads. Take medicine. Doctors study for years to learn how the body functions, how it can go wrong, and how it can be made right—but even with all that knowledge, mistakes can be made. Now imagine the average person thinking he knows more about medicine than he does. Such a person might guess how to handle a simpler diagnosis, but not always. The more complicated the procedure, the more likely this person is to commit an error, and the more serious the condition, the more serious the consequences of an error.

Most of us know our limitations when it comes to obviously technical fields. But in other fields—especially when it comes out to determining the truth of how we ought to live—people act as if they are experts. They pass judgment on what they think is right, with no consideration as to whether their knowledge of truth or the situation might be lacking.

This is especially the case when it comes to determining the moral way to live. Human beings, by nature, tend to interpret things based on what they want. The assumption is that what they want is good, and those who interfere with that want is bad.

But, if you’re a parent who’s had to childproof a house, you know that what a child wants and what is good for the child are two different things. The child wants to put dangerous items into their mouth, or stick their fingers in dangerous places. He or she resents the parent interfering. The parent’s rules keeps them alive and eventually the child learns why the parent made the rules, learning it is not arbitrary, but based on truth about what causes harm.

In a similar manner, the person who rebels against the moral rules, thinking they know better, endangers souls and sometimes bodies. In assuming that the one who issues these rules are wrong, they think they know more than they do. To be clear, I’m not talking about a blind adherence to any rule. Yes, it is important to understand what the rules are. But it is also important to understand why the rules exist.

This is especially true when the Church teaches. As Catholics, we know that the Church has authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Because of that, we know that Church teachings create a boundary between living as we ought and living contrary to what we ought. But if we don’t understand the reasons for the teaching, we run the risk of resenting those rules or of reading more restrictions into the rules than actually exist.

Take, for example, the Church teaching on social and economic justice. Certain Catholics resent these teachings—they’re at odds with their political preferences—and say that the Church should work on saving souls, not meddling in politics. The problem is, the person who says this is ignorant of our obligation as Christians to create a society that is just and not a hardship to do what is right. As Vatican II points out:

5. Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders. These orders, although distinct, are so connected in the singular plan of God that He Himself intends to raise up the whole world again in Christ and to make it a new creation, initially on earth and completely on the last day. In both orders the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience.

 

Catholic Church, “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: Apostolicam Actuositatem,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

Reforming society is not separate from our mission to save souls—it’s part of that mission. But if we’re ignorant of the what and why of Church teaching, we can end up fighting the Church while thinking our actions right. 

And that’s a major danger. Whether it is a liberal Catholic who resents teaching on sexual morality or a conservative Catholic who resents a social justice teaching, we have a person who thinks they know more than they do and demands that the Church follow his lead. But, because they know less than they think they do, it is dangerous to put trust in their views.

Laxity is not the only danger. Rigorism is another danger. When we start thinking that only those who act like us can be saved without considering whether the Church allows for more options in being faithful, we can wind up falsely accusing the faithful of error. We can start assuming that mercy is the enemy of justice. So, when the Church shows mercy, we run the risk of resenting it instead of rejoicing.

We cannot start to set limits on God’s behalf; the very heart of the faith has been lost to anyone who supposes that it is only worthwhile, if it is, so to say, made worthwhile by the damnation of others. Such a way of thinking, which finds the punishment of other people necessary, springs from not having inwardly accepted the faith; from loving only oneself and not God the Creator, to whom his creatures belong. That way of thinking would be like the attitude of those people who could not bear the workers who came last being paid a denarius like the rest; like the attitude of people who feel properly rewarded only if others have received less. This would be the attitude of the son who stayed at home, who could not bear the reconciling kindness of his father. It would be a hardening of our hearts, in which it would become clear that we were only looking out for ourselves and not looking for God; in which it would be clear that we did not love our faith, but merely bore it like a burden.

 

Joseph Ratzinger, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, ed. Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnür, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 35–36.

From what I have observed watching critics who want to “purify” the Church is they don’t seem to grasp the mission of the Church. Some of them want to reduce the Church to a charitable organization that discards the demands of morality Others want to turn the Church into an exclusive club where they are members, but sinners of a certain type are excluded—that type generally reduced to those who commit different sins from what the critic thinks acceptable.

Neither group seems to remember that the Church was established for bringing Our Lord’s salvation to the world. Neither group seems to remember that we need that salvation ourselves. The temptation is to demand the immediate repentance of others while deciding our own sins are not sins or are not important enough to repent of.

I think this ultimately describes the danger we face in not knowing that we don’t know—that our lives require a constant turning back to God, and that we cannot write off the sinner we deem worse than us.  Our Lord warned the Pharisees that the prostitutes and tax collectors were entering the Kingdom of Heaven before them. (Matthew 21:31b). Our Lord didn’t say that because he thought they were morally good. He said that because they were repenting while the Pharisees thought they had nothing to repent of.

In other words, the Pharisees did not know that they did not know how God was calling them to live. As a result, they assumed whatever was different from their views was error. When we err in that manner, refusing to hear the Church (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16) we are ignorant about our ignorance. But since we, as Catholics, have no excuse for not knowing that Our Lord made the Church necessary and authoritative, our ignorance is vincible and can endanger our souls. And that is more dangerous than not knowing that we know nothing about medicine.