[H]e would answer: ‘My good friend, he who would be a harmonist must certainly know this [i.e. how to pitch the highest and lowest note], and yet he may understand nothing of harmony if he has not got beyond your stage of knowledge, for you only know the preliminaries of harmony and not harmony itself.’
Plato, Phaedrus. The Dialogues of Plato, trans. B. Jowett, Third Edition, vol. 1 (New York; London: Macmillan and Co., 1892), 477.
A common problem for our times is thinking that because we have some knowledge on a subject, we are qualified to pass judgment on that subject and those who have authority on that subject. The problem is, this is false. A little knowledge of First Aid does not make one qualified to serve as a surgeon. A little knowledge on changing an oil filter does not make one qualified to serve as an auto mechanic. Likewise a little knowledge in theology does not make one qualified to be a theologian. Yes, the surgeon needs that knowledge of First Aid. The mechanic needs that knowledge of changing the oil filter, and the theologian needs that basic knowledge found in the Baltimore Catechism. But, to be qualified in their field, the surgeon, the auto mechanic, and the theologian need to know much more than that.
As the dissenting Catholics (whether radical traditionalist or “Spirit of Vatican II”) grow more defiant against the Church teachings they dislike, we see more clearly their deficient knowledge that leads them to false conclusions. Compassion for the sinner was also taught before Vatican II, while moral obligations were also taught after. Yet the dissenter insists that the Church was/is defective for not teaching those things. But their criticism is based on gaps in their knowledge, while assuming they know enough.
The Saints, the Popes, the Councils, the Theologians have written a great deal on our Catholic faith over the almost 2000 years our Church has existed. One individual Catholic cannot hope to read it all. So, it is not surprising that a Catholic will discover something unfamiliar to them. It may even seem excessive or deficient based on their own experience [†]. But we have to recognize that what seems strange or false to us might actually be due to deficiencies in our knowledge. This is why it is dangerous to quote mine Scripture or Church documents in order to declare something the critic dislikes as being contrary to God’s will or Church teaching. Certainly individuals in the Church can and do go against these things, but it does not follow from the fact that sin exists in the Church that those with the authority to teach are teaching error.
I would say this error revolves around making the wrong choice on how to look at things:
- What could the Church mean by this?
- What else could the Church mean but this?
[†] Examples might include St. Louis de Montfort, whose writings on the Blessed Virgin Mary can seem to go too far for some, or some medieval teachings on keeping order in society might seem to be deficient in mercy. In both cases, we need to know the context.