Sunday, April 2, 2017

Deus Vult Illud? On Selective Obedience

More: Roper, the answer’s ‘no’. (Firmly.) And will be ‘no’ so long as you’re a heretic.

Roper: (firing) That’s a word I don’t like, Sir Thomas!

More: It’s not a likeable word. (Coming to life.) It’s not a likeable thing!

Bolt, Robert (2013-12-04). A Man For All Seasons (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 568-570). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.


I had a strange encounter on Twitter with racists who argued that their racism was in keeping with being Christian, and even Catholic. Their arguments involved a superficial understanding of Scripture and history. It misuses the meaning of the Hebrew חָרַם (hārām) to treat God’s sentence carried out on certain cities because of their abominable practices as if they justified racial separation and keeping undesirable races (like Middle Eastern refugees) out of their lands. These people seemed ignorant of the actions of the Church to reach out to people of all races and nations to bring them into the faith. Of course this behavior is disgusting. I really get angered when people misrepresent the Catholic faith to justify their odious views, ignoring what the Church says when it goes against them, and citing things out of context to make it seem like they are being faithful when actually they are seeking to sanctify their own preferences.

But then I thought about something. While racism is the obvious example of misusing Church teaching to justify evil, it is by no means the only example. Whenever we try to portray our own sinful activity as justified—either by misrepresenting Scripture or Church teaching, or by trying to set God against Church teaching—we are still doing the same thing. It’s just that we find our own behavior less odious than theirs. The problem is, they also think of their actions as if nothing was wrong with them. Here’s where we behave just as wrongly as the racists, even though our own sins are not as obviously repugnant as that of the White Separatists. 

Defining the Issue

At this point, I should make clear this is the other side of what I normally talk about. In some past articles, I have warned against accusing people of sins they have no intention of committing, on the basis of assuming that a disagreement on how to be faithful to the Church meant being unfaithful to the Church. In this case, I am talking about those who disagree with a Church teaching and try to portray their disobedience as being faithful to a higher authority. For example, anti-Francis Catholics try to appeal to earlier writings to argue they are being faithful to the Church and the Pope is not. Other Catholics who don’t like Church teaching on issues like contraception, abortion, homosexuality, or divorce/remarriage try to appeal to selective verses in the Bible, arguing that they must dissent from the Church to be faithful to Him.

Obedience and Authority

For a Catholic to take those positions shows ignorance of what we believe the Church is and what her relationship to God is, or refusal to accept that belief. Because we believe Jesus is God, we cannot try to divide Jesus from God in the Old Testament. God is God eternally, and God does not change, which means God is Trinity eternally. So God does not change His mind on what is good and what is evil. We need to recognize that God designed His laws for a purpose. We need to understand the differences between the moral law, dietary law, and cultic law. We also need to understand the concept of Divine Accommodation: God choosing one group of people (the Israelites) gradually moving them away from the barbarism of their neighbors towards holiness in preparation of the salvation of the world through God the Son, Jesus Christ.

We also need to realize that what we know of Hell was taught by Jesus. Yes, God does desire all men to be saved. But He also created man with free will, and with that free will, man could choose to reject God and choose evil. Jesus constantly warned His disciples that it was not just agreeing with God, but doing His will, that was required of us. Jesus’ death and resurrection was what made our salvation possible. However, Catholics also believe Jesus established His Church under Peter and his successors. We believe Jesus gave that Church the authority to bind and loose. We believe that rejecting His Church is rejecting Him (Luke 10:16). We believe that Jesus is with His Church always (Matthew 28:20). 

This means we can’t set Jesus against His Church, or the earlier magisterium against the magisterium today. We believe that God protects His Church from teaching error. When she teaches X is wrong, it is because X is wrong. However, some confuse the teaching of the Church with the behavior of the individual members in the Church, or confuse teachings and disciplines of the Church with the governance of the Papal States. It does no good to point to a tenth century Pope behaving badly when the issue is what the Pope teaches as binding on the faithful. We don’t believe that whatever the Pope happens to do is sanctified simply because the Pope did it. However, when the Pope condemns something as being contrary to the faith, we do need to give assent.

Disobedience and Dissent

Once we grasp that (and if we don’t grasp that, we will make all sorts of errors), we need to realize that when we reject what God teaches, or what the Church teaches with God’s authority, we are rejecting God. That is sin. The Church can decide in different times what is needed to defend the faith. She can speak strictly or gently as needed. When she decides on one way for approaching sinners in a certain era, she is not blocked from taking the opposite tack later if it is needed. We can’t decide for ourselves what the Church should do. We can’t decide for ourselves how important or unimportant a sin is. 

So, if we choose to selectively cite Scripture or Church teaching to justify our disobedience, we are still rejecting the Church, and as Our Lord said, that means we are rejecting Him. While some humans may be deceived by this dishonest application, God is not deceived. The worse behavior of some does not mean our own dissent is ok in God’s eyes. We will still have to answer for our own actions, regardless of how much worse others act.

This is true regardless of whether one is a racist, an abortionist, a radical traditionalist, or a “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholic.

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