Friday, September 20, 2019

On the Need For Dialogue

Therefore, let us not be provoked with these men, let us not use anger as an excuse, but let us talk with them gently and with kindness. Nothing is more forceful and effective than treatment which is gentle and kind. This is why Paul told us to hold fast to such conduct with all the earnestness of our hearts when he said: “The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome but must be kindly toward all.” He did not say “only to your brothers,” but “toward all.” And again, when he said: “Let your gentleness be known,” he did not say “to your brothers,” but “to all men.” What good does it do you, he means, if you love those who love you? 

(St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Homily 1.40)

While doing the somewhat irritating task of studying non-Catholic Christian theologies, I came across this “interesting” claim from an Eastern Orthodox professor about what Catholics supposedly believe:

A natural consequence of this is the attempt of Roman Catholics to dematerialize as much as possible the offered gifts of the Eucharist, since they represent symbolically the completed transubstantiation. The bread of the Eucharist is not the everyday bread of people; they have replaced it with “hosts”, an unleavened, almost transparent preparation. And they deprive the laity of sharing in the cup, because the taste of the wine is dangerously opposed to the idea of transubstantiation. (Yannaris, Christos. Elements of Faith: An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith)

To which, the informed Catholic is tempted to respond in this manner:

The reason we are tempted respond this way (and the reason I call studying non-Catholic theology “irritating”) is because the author of the book is either grossly ignorant or deliberately deceptive about what Catholics believe to the point of being insulting.

In doing so, he invented a ridiculous reason to explain why we “believe” something so foolish. But Catholic belief on Transubstantiation does not have anything to do with what Professor Yannaris falsely claims we believe.

[Excursus: Before going forward, I want to make something clear. When I say these writings—described or quotedin this article—speak falsely or falsehoods about us, it doesn’t mean that I automatically accuse them of deliberately lying. I leave it to God to judge whether they who speak falsely lied or simply erred. Rather, based on Aristotle’s definition of truth, the person who says of what is, that it is not, or says of what is not, that it is, speaks falsely. All lies are falsehoods, but not all falsehoods are lies. A lie is when a person knowingly says what is false. But a person who believes a falsehood is true or repeats it without investigating whether or not it is true does not lie, but still speaks falsely. Whatever their culpability, because Catholics do not believe what they accuse us of, these claims should be rejected as false by all people of good will.]

We have the same problems when modern anti-Catholics repeat the falsehoods of Luther, Calvin, and others. They speak falsely about what we believe, take Scripture and Patristics out of context [¥], and invent a false motive for why we “believe” them. It seems like a huge poisoning the well fallacy used to turn the reader against considering the Catholic perspective before they ever encounter it. 

For example, Calvin’s misrepresentation of Catholic concepts of repentance as external works (for example, Insitutes of the Christian Religion Book III Chapter 4) and his claims of what we believe about Confession are plain and simple falsehoods, misquoting people like St. Thomas Aquinas to make it seem as if the Catholic Church invented doctrines, either ignoring or being ignorant of the fact that the Saint anticipated and answered his objections 300 years previously.

Ironically, Luther was quite angry at those who dared to misrepresent him. In his introduction to the Smalcald Articles [€] he writes (The Annotated Luther, volume 2, p. 425):

I must tell a story. A doctor sent from France was here in Wittenberg. He stated publicly in our presence that his king was persuaded beyond the shadow of a doubt that there was no church, no government, and no marriage among us, but rather that everyone carried on with each other like cattle, and all did what they wanted. Now imagine, how will those people, who in their writings have represented as pure truth such gross lies to the king and to other countries, face us on that day before the judgment seat of Christ? Christ, the Lord and Judge of us all, surely knows that they lie and have lied. They will have to hear his judgment again; that I know for sure.

Yet, he and Calvin did exactly that with Catholic teachings. Luther was correct in saying that those speaking falsely would be judged. But he apparently didn’t ask questions about whether what he said was true. As Our Lord said in Matthew 7:2, For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

Unfortunately, some Catholics are guilty of doing what anti-Catholics do to us. Some are perfectly willing to yank quotes out of context and repeat things as truth without investigating whether they were actually said or what they meant. Then there’s the Catholics who commit the same calumny against Muslims that 19th and 20th century Americans used against us [*]. If it’s wrong for non-Catholics to misrepresent us, then logically we must not misrepresent them either. As the Catechism points out:

2464 The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.

I think this is where the oft maligned concept of dialogue comes into play. Dialogue is not a stealth attempt to make the Catholic Church “Protestant” (a popular charge from the anti-Vatican II crowd). Dialogue [#] is “discussion directed towards exploration of a subject or resolution of a problem” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary). The Catholic Church enters discussion with other groups to eliminate misunderstandings and resolve needless religious conflicts with the aim of working to restore communion. The Code of Canon Law makes this obligation clear:

can. 755 §1.† It is above all for the entire college of bishops and the Apostolic See to foster and direct among Catholics the ecumenical movement whose purpose is the restoration among all Christians of the unity which the Church is bound to promote by the will of Christ.

That doesn’t mean all problems will vanish once everyone understands what we believe and why. There will cases where the accurately understood beliefs of those involved in dialogue will conflict with each other. For example, the Catholic Church professes: “We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men” (Dignitatis Humanae #1) and “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved” (Lumen Gentium #14). So, Catholics cannot say that we have “part of” the truth and the “whole” will only be found in coming together.

This is obviously going to be a stumbling block. Faithful Catholics cannot deny these teachings or try to undermine them [^], while those who believe that the Catholic Church is in error and think that dialogue means we want them to embrace error will be scandalized. Many Christian denominations and non-Christian religions think we’re arrogant to make the claim that the fullness of truth is found in the Catholic Church. At the same time, those Catholics who either don’t know or don’t believe that Vatican II reaffirms the past teachings about her nature fear we're going to “give away the store.” If we’re going to avoid needless conflict and perhaps close gaps between us, we need to make sure that all parties involved understand what the others believe and why, even if we disagree afterwards. As St. John Paul II put it during his June 26, 1985 audience: “On our part we shall make our entire commitment of prayer and of work for unity, by seeking the ways of truth in charity.”

But that unity can only happen if we [§] talk to each other instead of at each other; if we strive to understand what the other parties believe and why, instead of merely inserting our own meaning into something we don’t understand. That’s why the Church takes part in dialogue. And that’s why we must not treat it as some sort of “capitulation to error” when we take part. Because if the Church doesn’t take part, how will those who accuse us learn that their charges against us are false? And if they never learn that their charges are false, how can we hope to restore communion?

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[¥] Reading Luther’s The Babylonian Captivity, I am struck by how brazenly he makes ipse dixit, argument from silence, and begging the question fallacies in claiming that the Scriptures that contradict him don’t count (e.g. “In the first place the sixth chapter of John must be entirely excluded from this discussion, since it does not refer to the sacrament in a single syllable” The Annotated Luther vol 3, p. 21) when it is precisely his assertions that need to be proven in the first place.

[€] The accusations in the Smalcald Articles are so bizarre that I find myself wondering just how bad Luther’s priestly formation was in his monastery that he could possibly believe the Church taught these things. If he wasn’t knowingly distorting things to justify his schism, it certainly explains why the Council of Trent insisted on a reform of priestly formation.

[*] No, they didn’t worry about a Catholic al-qaida. But they did worry about Al Capone.

[#] Technically, dialogue between different groups of Christians is “ecumenism.” Dialogue with non-Christians is “religious dialogue.”

[^] To make it clear to those who might misunderstand me, I fully believe and profess these things that the Church teaches.

[§] When I say “we,” I don’t mean individual Catholics should decide for themselves what the “real truth” is, ignoring what the Church teaches. The Church wisely warns against casual and uncritical reading of works hostile to the Church to prevent people from making a shipwreck of their faith. Too many think that if they don’t know an answer to a challenge, that means there is no answer. I suspect that many ex-Catholics are in this category.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

False Meaning From a Failure to Understand

One of the annoyances in daily Catholic life is encountering people who have no comprehension of what Catholics believe and instead insert their own meaning into what they see Catholics do. The result is a wild claim that the Catholic Church teaches something that actually no informed Catholic believes.

Let’s start with something obvious. The manga panel to the left is a ridiculous version of that behavior [#]. Catholics don’t believe that rosaries are a “protective charm” which holds a reservoir of prayers. A Rosary is a sacramental. A sacramental is something which prepares us to “receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.” (CCC #1670). 

A Catholic who has forgotten his Rosary can certainly use his fingers instead. A simple set of Rosary beads made out  of knotted cord is no less efficacious than a set of Rosary beads made out of gold beads and silver chain [§]. The person who would be foolish enough to think that Catholics view Rosaries as having some sort of “magical” power based on the meaning a person gives it is grossly mistaken and guilty of superstition. If anyone were to to spread that view, they would be guilty of spreading a falsehood.

As I said above, the manga panel is just being cited as a ridiculous example. I strongly doubt Yosuke Kaneda intended anything other than using a convenient mysterious Western spiritual image [@]. But let’s look at something real—the anti-Catholic attacks which are just as ridiculous as Kaneda’s version of the Rosary but done with the intent of discrediting the Catholic Church in order to make their own theology look better. 

When I read writings of Calvin, Luther, or certain Eastern Orthodox theologians [*], the significant thing I notice is not the explanation of what they profess. It’s how they portray the beliefs of the Catholic Church to justify their divergence. The portrayals of the Catholic Church take local abuses (for example, the misuse of indulgences) and accuse us of inventing a “doctrine” that the Church not only never taught, but actually condemned. Those anti-Catholics who proselytize, often target uneducated Catholics by contrasting these false claims about the Church with their own beliefs to make them seem reasonable in comparison [£]

Catholics don’t believe that we’re saved by our own merits or that we earn our salvation through works. We don’t worship Mary or the saints. We don’t believe that the Pope is impeccable. Indeed, our view of Papal infallibility is much more limited than the authority given by some non-Catholics to “personal interpretation” of the Bible. We don’t rely on forged writings to justify the authority of the Church. But those hostile to the Catholic Church turn their lack of understanding about what we believe and the personal error by some in the Church into a “theology” that the Church never taught in the first place.

If you’re familiar with my blog, you are probably expecting a “bait and switch” at this point. And you’re right. I’m not interested in writing polemics against non-Catholics. But I am interested in writing about attitudes that Catholics deplore when used against them but risk falling into when they dislike something that the Pope or bishops say.

The fact is, some Catholics who are offended by the misrepresentation that some non-Catholics make against us, do use those tactics in dissenting from what the Pope and bishops teach. Whether they don’t understand what the Church teaches or whether they do understand, but want to justify their rejection of the Catholic Church, they misrepresent what the Church teaches, or what the Pope said, and claim that the (misrepresented) view of the Pope contradicts Catholic teaching. Because of this redefinition by the dissenters, they claim that they are justified in refusing religious submission of intellect and will. And, just like those anti-Catholic proselytizers, these dissenting proselytizers also use misrepresentation to target uneducated Catholics by making false claims about the Pope or the Church to make their own claims seem reasonable in comparison.

If we deplore the misrepresentations made against the Catholic Church from those outside of it, we should make sure we do not focus on the misrepresentations that come from the mote of ignorance in the anti-Catholic’s eye while ignoring the beam of culpable ignorance or knowing misrepresentation in our own. Because if we profess that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ—something other groups do not believe—we have more culpability if we misinterpret or misrepresent the teachings and act in defiance on that basis.


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[#] Boarding School Juliet is a pretty awful story, even setting aside the issues of cheap fanservice. I gave up after two chapters and don’t recommend it. Other notorious examples include One Pound Gospel where nuns hear confessions, or the “anime Catholicism” of Negima.

[@] Japan has many misconceptions and negative understanding of Catholicism dating back to the Tokugawa era. As a result their portrayal of Catholics (TV Tropes calls it “Anime Catholicism”) is heavy on the trappings but devoid of actual understanding, portraying it as mysterious and slightly sinister. It’s similar to how early to mid 20th century pulp fiction portrayed Eastern culture and religion.

[§] If you’re curious about my own Rosary, for years I used one with knotted cords and plastic beads. My current one is made out of knotted cords and wooden beads that came from Jerusalem. I don’t think that one is holier by nature than my plastic one or that it “works better.”

[*] I would like to make clear that the described behaviors do not mean that I accuse Protestants or Eastern Orthodox in general of being guilty of what is described here and this article should not be interpreted in this way. Also, what I describe is based on the actual works of Calvin, Luther, and Eastern Orthodox theologians (post AD 1054), not what some Catholics claim that they say.

[£] For example, in Luther’s Large Catechism, he writes:

There is, moreover, another false worship. This is the greatest idolatry that we have practiced up until now, and it is still rampant in the world. All the religious orders are founded upon it. This kind of worship involves only the kind of conscience that seeks help, comfort, and salvation in its own works and presumes to wrest heaven from God. (The Annotated Luther, vol. 2, page 303)

This statement is manifestly false. If Luther was unaware of that fact, it means he grossly missed the point of his religious life as a monk and could be no reliable authority against the Catholic Church. If he was aware of that fact, it makes him a liar. Either way, he would not be an “expert witness” to cite against what Catholics believe.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Brief Thoughts about the Catholic Acrimony on Immigration

It’s legitimate when Catholics have different ideas on how to best carry out the Church teaching on treating migrants. However, it’s not legitimate to reject the Church teaching on immigration and accuse those who teach it of being against Church teaching. But many Catholics are choosing the illegitimate action while claiming that those in authority are wrong.

Church moral teaching can be traced back to the Greatest Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40), where Jesus says:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

If we love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15), not look for an excuse to refuse obedience. The problem is, we are seeing an alarming disregard for the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. When people leave their homes and travel ~2100 miles on foot to come here, some of them dying on the way, many more being victims of crime, disease, and other hardships, the commandment to love our neighbor as ourself means we don’t say “It’s your own fault for coming here.” It means we don’t accuse our bishops of “ignoring” other issues when they say we have a responsibility to ease their suffering. We don’t ask why somebody else in Guatemala isn’t helping them.

But the things we must not do are what an alarming number of Catholics are doing. For example, when I blogged about the father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande, I received a number of people who said exactly those things and worse (like claiming it was a staged picture). 

The problem with that way of thinking is, we don’t get to think that way and call ourselves faithful Catholics. Our Lord gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The one person who would have been most justified in refusing to get involved was the one person who acted according to the commandment to love our neighbor as ourself. We’re called to emulate the Samaritan, but we’re acting like the Priest and Levite.

Different people can legitimately have different ideas about how to best help those in need our doorstep, and yes, we should prudently consider safety of citizens. But if we act like the rich man who outright ignores the person suffering on his doorstep, things will go badly for us at the end of our life (cf. Luke 16:19-31).

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Rethinking the All or Nothing Approach to Government: A Reflection

American Catholics tend to fall into extremes about our Presidents. We tend to either think of them as pure villains or national saviors because of their policies or personal behavior. In doing so, we tend to downplay, or even ignore, the policies or behavior that go against our assessment. 

That’s a bit of an aberration. The Church in different times and places throughout history had a different perspective: that rulers and governments can be morally bad and still benefit the Church in some way, or live by a lofty moral code and still do great harm to the Church.

Take the quote to the top left of this article. It’s from Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History. The emperor, Commodus (reigned AD 177 [*] to 192) lived a morally dissolute life and ran a corrupt government. He was strangled in the bath, rumor has it his assassin was a homosexual lover. Whether that’s true or not (historians are divided), he was not a praiseworthy person. But a few of his policies brought about good and, whether by intent or distraction, he stopped the general persecution of the Church. The Church could recognize this good while not approving of his life in doing so.

In contrast, his father—Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161-180)—was a Stoic philosopher known by historians as the last of the Five Good Emperors. He lived by a strong moral code and was a good governor. However, under his rule, the persecution of Christians greatly increased—historians debate about whether this was done with his direct support. The Church recognizes the harm he did despite his other actions.

If we were to judge these two emperors by the standards of American Catholics, some would say that Commodus was the greatest emperor ever and his “moral failings” were unimportant in comparison. Others would say that the first group were partisan and we would need to go back to the policies of Marcus Aurelius, ignoring the evils he did as a cost of the “greater good.”

Both groups would be wrong. The moral wrongdoing and the unjust government policies must both be opposed by Catholics. But the good that a government does should be encouraged. Both would have to be part of the Catholic assessment and we could not say that one was unimportant compared to the other.

This is how we need to respond to the policies of our government and those who rule. When our government does good, we support it. When it does evil, we oppose it. If we do this selectively, ignoring the good of those we dislike, or the evil of those we support, we are not acting as Catholics ought. We are acting as partisans who bring up or set aside things depending on how they benefit our worldly views, not on their objective good or evil.



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[*] From AD 177-180, he co-ruled with his father, Marcus Aurelius.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Cum Petro et Sub Petro

If I had to say what I thought caused the biggest harm to the stability of the Church and acceptance of her teachings, I would say it was the loss of respect and obedience to the Holy Father when he teaches, and the assumption that when the Pope teaches what we dislike it means he must be an idiot or a heretic.

In the period of 1968-2013, this behavior was seen in those Catholics who were at odds with the teachings on sexual morality and women in the priesthood. They believed (and still do) that the Church went wrong on those teachings and, until the Pope reversed those teachings, they could “legitimately” disobey him. They argued that, since these teachings were not defined ex cathedra, they were not protected, and could be in error.

In response, Catholics began stepping up to defend the authority of the papacy. They pointed out that the authority of the Pope was binding when he intended to teach and, even if we should wind up with a morally bad Pope, God would prevent him from teaching error (whether by guidance or by diverting him from attempting to implement a false teaching). 

There were warning signs we should have seen however. Because some of the Church teaching on moral issues superficially coincided with conservative values, it became easy to confuse the two. When Popes wrote on other issues, these Catholics fretted that the Church was “moving left” or argued that the Pope was just expressing an “opinion” where his Polish (St. John Paul II) or German (Benedict XVI) background gave him a distorted view of the West. 

Beginning in 2013, we saw the first non-European Pope. He was solidly orthodox, but had a different perspective on the world, based on different experiences than Catholics in the US and Western Europe had. Misinterpreting these perspectives as a “change of teaching,” we soon wound up with same problem but with different actors and reasons for dissent. Because he spoke out on the social justice teachings of the Church—the ones the defenders of his predecessors wrote off as opinion—we saw the Catholics who confused Church teaching with conservatism begin to question him, then challenge his orthodoxy.

And, similar to before, the superficial similarities between Catholic teaching on social justice and political liberalism leads some Catholics to assume that the Church was finally agreeing with them, despite the fact that the Pope confirmed that he held the teachings of the Church, calling himself a “son of the Church.” [§]

Both of these factions of dissenters lost sight of the Catholic understanding of cum Petro et sub Petro—with Peter and under Peter. This is the recognition that one must be in communion with the Pope and offering religious submission of intellect and will to him when he teaches. This was the obedience of the saints even in darker times when some Popes were more interested in self than in God.

Professing that God protects His Church is not some misplaced trust in the holiness and knowledge of the individual on the Chair of St. Peter. It’s faith in God that we can trust Him to protect His Church under the headship of the Pope, even if some of the Popes should prove to live unworthily. 

If we believe this, we can understand why we give obedience to each Pope when he teaches—even if we don’t particularly like him or his behavior—because we can trust God to protect His Church and prevent it from teaching error when we give obedience to the visible head of the Church. But if we refuse to give religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope when he teaches, if we refuse to be cum Petro et sub Petro, we are not faithful Catholics. We’re merely schismatics (cf. canon 751).


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[§] It should be noted, despite the constant predictions of Pope Francis changing teachings on contraception, woman priests, homosexuality, etc., he has always strongly reaffirmed Church teaching on these subjects. Maybe it’s time to stop listening to the critics and alarmists.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Ahab, Dissent, and the Art of Misrepresentation

When Catholics openly dissent from a teaching, but want to appear as if they’re really the faithful ones, they develop misrepresenting the Church into an art form. Doctrines are reduced to merely human teaching. The teachings of the ordinary magisterium are reduced to optional, often partisan, opinions. The dissenters effectively says, “yes the Church might say this, but they’re wrong and we’re justified in not obeying it.”

One of the most common tactics is to claim that the Church, or a member of the magisterium, is wrongly intruding into the concerns of the state or offering a political opinion. Such dissenters overlook seem to forget that totalitarian dictatorships made the same complaint about the Catholic Church. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and many other regimes have bitterly complained when the Church condemned the evils of their regimes. It becomes especially bizarre when those who hold positions that the Church speaks out against are themselves Catholic. Those individuals come across like King Ahab speaking bitterly against the prophet Micaiah:

Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the Lord here we might consult?” The king of Israel answered, “There is one other man through whom we might consult the Lord; but I hate him because he prophesies not good but evil about me. He is Micaiah, son of Imlah.” (1 Kings 22:7–8)

Common sense says that, when one who speaks with God’s authority speaks against the position a person holds, the person who recognizes that authority in general is a fool if they reject it when directed at him or her. We might laugh at Ahab’s foolishness in refusing to listen, but if we start saying in response to a bishop acting in communion with the Pope, “the Church should be silent, and stick to what they know,” we’re behaving like Ahab did.

Another application of this misrepresentation is when Catholics draw a line in the sand where the Church stays on one side and the state stays on the other. The problem is, this line is arbitrary and does not resemble what the Church actually believes. The Church does in fact have something to say when the state behaves in an unjust way, persecuting those who do right and permitting evils. This is because the Church has a role in speaking out to ensure justice when those who govern violate what is right. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out:

1930 Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.

A state only has legitimacy if it acts in a way that is just. When the state acts unjustly, the Church must speak out to warn those who govern about the danger to their souls and to the legitimacy of the state, as well as to warn Catholics who live within not to be swept up into supporting the evil. So, when the dissenters side with the rule of government or ideology of a politician in opposition to the teaching of the Church, they are choosing to reject the Church. And, since Catholics should know that the Church teaches with God’s authority (Matthew 16:19, 18:18), then to reject the authority of the Church is to reject God (Luke 10:16).

To get around that, dissenters like to point to sin in the Church and try to claim that grevious evils by some means the guilt of the whole. And, if the whole is guilty (they argue), then the Church cannot teach with authority until those in authority eliminate those evils. Some go so far as to say that the existence of evil removes the authority to teach. It’s a sort of neo-Donatism that pops up in the Church from time to time. Those who promote it will point to evils that exist, and say that the Pope and bishops have lost their authority (something they assume but do not prove). From there (through a non sequitur) they argue that what they teach is right. When the Church rejects their erroneous views, they point to the evil and rejects the authority of the Church. (Martin Luther and John Calvin were especially notorious with this tactic).

The problem is, even though Scripture has a lot to say about what will happen to faithless shepherds, they don’t say that sinful behavior removes authority. Aaron created a golden calf. He did not lose his office for his sin. Peter denied Jesus three times. He did not lose his office. Indeed, Our Lord pointed out (Matthew 23:2-3) that there was a difference between authority and personal behavior. Those who teach with authority must be heeded, but we may not use their bad behavior to justify ours.

Yet another tactic is to argue that X is a worse evil than Y, therefore the Church should not focus on Y while X exists. This is a red herring fallacy, aimed at discrediting those in the Church speaking against Y. Yes, some sins are worse than others. But, if X is less common in the Church in a nation, while people routinely commit Y, it makes sense that the Church would remind the faithful of the fact that Y is evil, lest they go to hell for committing it. As Ezekiel warned through prophecy:

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

When the Church calls us out for supporting Y, we often say “the Church should speak out on X instead,” overlooking the fact that we forget their speaking out against X because we resent being called out over Y. But we should be grateful that the Church, as watchman, does not remain silent when we are the ones in danger of hell.

When we’re tempted to balk at the teaching of the Church, we should consider these ways in which we try to evade the religious submission of intellect and will. The Church teaches with the authority of Christ, and we should be very wary around arguments denying that authority. 

Yes, there will be those in the Church who do fall into error when they try to teach in opposition to the Pope. But we trust that God will not permit His Church under the headship of the Pope to teach binding error. Yes, a teaching of the ordinary magisterium is changeable. But that means it can be refined, not that it was heresy before.  If we accuse the Church, when she teaches, of teaching error, we are acting like Ahab who dared to be angry when a prophet warned him of his destruction.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Church and Politics

The Catholic Church was established by Jesus Christ and given the authority and mission to bring His salvation to the entire world, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). When the Church teaches, it is with His authority (Matthew 16:19, 18:18) and rejecting the teaching of the Church is rejecting Him (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). Indeed, He warns that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

This obedience is not simply limited to the ex cathedra teachings. We are also obligated to give religious submission of intellect and will to the ordinary teaching authority of the Pope and bishops teaching in communion with him (cf. Canons 751-753Lumen Gentium 25Humani Generis 20 among others). If we knowingly do not accept this, we are heretics and schismatics.

The political field exists as a manner of agreeing how best to govern. In many circumstances, the government does enforce the common good through authority given it by God. As St. Paul (Romans 13:1-7) points out:

Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience. This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. 

The exception, however, is when the government tries to carry out what the Church which teaches with God’s authority. As Peter told the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When the Church teaches that X is required or Y is forbidden, the state that refuses to do X or demands we do Y is demanding that we render what is God’s to Caesar (see Matthew 22:21). Nor can we be silent over what does not directly impact us but the Church condemns (See Matthew 25:41-46). As St. Caesarius of Arles points out (Sermon 157), if it’s wrong to do ignore the suffering, what will become of us if we participate in the evil:


Vatican II (Apostolicam Actuositatem #5) tells us:

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.

Because of this, we must listen to the Church when she teaches and “penetrate and perfect” the temporal order. But a dangerous attitude is arising among Catholics who used to pride themselves as faithful Catholics. That danger is treating the teaching of the Church as a “prudential judgment” (in a complete abuse of the term) or “interfering in politics” as if the bishops were corruptly abusing their authority to demand that we vote for a specific political party.

But that is not what they are doing. They are saying it is evil to support or be indifferent to abortion, same sex “marriage,” or the inhumane treatment of immigrants regardless of legal status. As Gaudium et Spes #27 puts it:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

If the political party we favor supports one or more of these evils, we must oppose the evil, not point to the evil of the “other party” as worse and, therefore, justify the evil of our own party as unimportant in comparison. We cannot (if we are Democrats) downplay the evil of our party supporting abortion because our opposing the moral evil of the immigration policy. Nor can we, if we are Republicans, downplay the evil of our party’s role in the immigration policies because we oppose the evil of abortion [§].

The problem is, when the Pope or the bishops of this country [#] condemn an evil act or intent that is a political plank in a party platform, we automatically assume they are “getting involved with politics” instead of acting as the successors of the Apostles. By refusing to consider that the party or the candidate we favor as being evil in the eyes of God, we risk turning the party or candidate we favor into an idol, acting with a dual allegiance forbidden to us.

When our political party embraces something that the Pope and bishops condemn as evil, we have a choice: to fight to overturn the evil in our party, or to leave the party. In the first option, Archbishop Chaput wrote about abortion, in 2004, something that applies to every grave evil:

My friends often ask me if Catholics in genuinely good conscience can vote for “pro-choice” candidates. The answer is: I couldn’t. Supporting a “right” to choose abortion simply masks and evades what abortion really is: the deliberate killing of innocent life. I know of nothing that can morally offset that kind of evil. 

But I do know sincere Catholics who reason differently, who are deeply troubled by war and other serious injustices in our country, and they act in good conscience. I respect them. I don’t agree with their calculus. What distinguishes such voters, though, is that they put real effort into struggling with the abortion issue. They don’t reflexively vote for the candidate of “their” party. They don’t accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They don’t reflexively vote for the candidate of “their” party. They don’t accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They won’t be quiet. They keep fighting for a more humane party platform—one that would vow to protect the unborn child. Their decision to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate is genuinely painful and never easy for them. 

(Render Unto Caesar)

If we look at his words as “Democrats bad, Republicans good” (or look at the denouncing of our immigration policy as “Democrats good, Republicans bad”), we’ve missed the point. What it means is when our party chooses evil, we must fight to change our party if we choose to remain in it—NOT to condemn our Church for pointing out that evil. Not saying “the other party is worse.”

God desires the salvation of all. That includes Trump and Ocasio-Cortez. It includes McConnell and Pelosi. We have to convert all the world to Him, not convert all the people to our preferred political party, and especially not demand the Church embrace our party.

If we will not obey the Church, we will reject from Him who sent His Church. Then He will say about us, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” (Matthew 22:13). And when He does so, there will be no excuses to justify us at the final judgment.
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[§] To avoid the accusation of bias (Succeed or fail, I try to keep my blog non-partisan) I put the party names in alphabetical order and used the first person plural with both to avoid giving the impression of siding with one over the other.

[#] Being an American myself, I write about what I know politically. I would hope that the general ideas work anywhere, but I don’t pretend to know the nuances of the politics in another nation.