Saturday, January 11, 2020

Pressing Forward, Blindly

Certain Catholics proudly announce their “orthodoxy” by citing certain Scripture and Church documents—the latter usually from the time of St. Pius X—used to argue that later statements they dislike must be heretical. Their behavior is very much like other Christians who claim rely solely on their reading of the Bible.

The reason I say that the two are similar is because they make the same error, even though both would disagree with the other’s theoretical understanding of the Church. That error is confusing their own interpretation with what is actually taught. Because they rely on their own interpretation instead of on the Church established by Christ to bind and loose, they assume that they have not erred in their interpretation and—as a result—will not heed anyone who warns them that their interpretation went wrong. If the Church should warn them, that correction is assumed to be proof of error on the part of the Church.

Ultimately, what they seem to do is (perhaps unwittingly) assume that their conviction over the meaning is a sign that they are right and, as a consequence, the Church must be wrong. But conviction is not proof of error. Numerous heretics were convinced that Arius or Nestorius was right. Many Christians today are convinced that God, being love, didn’t really mean that God condemned certain acts as evil—even though it is literally in the Bible. Many are convinced that despite Our Lord founding a visible Church and giving it His authority to teach, that they can freely ignore the Church or accuse it of error when it teaches contrary to their interpretation. The question that they need to answer is: what gives them the authority to interpret contrary to the Church?

Such questions usually are answered with a begging the question fallacy. The one rejecting the Church authority assumes that the “errors” of the Church—based on their interpretation—mean that Scripture on false teachers and Church teachings on heretics must apply. Social media discussion usually turns into something like this:

Why do you say that the Pope/Church is in error?
Because the Bible/Church teaching contradicts them.
But how do we know that you interpret correctly? 
Because that’s what it says. 
But what about others who interpret it differently and say you’re in error?
They’re in error.
Why are they in error?
Because the Bible/Church teaching contradicts them*.

But it’s precisely their own interpretation that they have to prove is correct, and that is precisely what they don’t answer. The fact is, when someone tries to argue their own interpretation, we have to see if it squares with what the Church teaches—under the leadership of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him—before we accept it.

This has always been the criterion for discerning what is authentic vs. what is counterfeit. When the Church teaches, whether ex cathedra or from the ordinary magisterium, we are bound to accept it. If one will not, they should remember that refusing obedience is a schismatic act (see canon 751).

The mentioning of bad Popes and heretical bishops throughout history are a fallacy of false analogy. Those bishops who fell into heresy or schism acted in opposition to the Popes, not in concert. We have never had a Pope who was a manifest heretic. The history of the Papacy gives us three categories of bad Popes: 
  1. Those who were morally or intellectually bad but did not teach#.
  2. Those who were suspected of privately holding error but did not teach@.
  3. Those who were derelict or incompetent in their administration, but did not teach§.
But, when it comes to the current attacks on Popes and Councils, the accusations are about teaching, not private behavior, private error, or failure to act. Laudato Si and Amoris Laetitia are Papal teachings. Vatican II is an Ecumenical Council. They, not individuals (even clergy), make binding interpretation.

This has always been understood: even when there were Saints who challenged the moral or administrative faults of Popes, they were always respectful of the teachings of the Popes, giving obedience when he taught. But now, we see people claiming to be faithful Catholics but refusing obedience out of the belief that the Pope and bishops in communion with him are the ones spreading error or causing confusion. That is the accusation made by every heretical and schismatic group that emerged throughout Church history.

They might sincerely think that their rebellion is faithful. But they are blind in doing so. They are pressing forward blindly, confusing their interpretation for what actually is true. If one would follow them, that person would be the blind being led by the blind.

______________

(*) This is also what reading Luther or Calvin feels like.
(#) We would include Popes like Benedict IX and John XII here.
(@) We might put John XXII here.
(§) We might include Honorius I here. He was not condemned (posthumously) for holding error—scholars disagree on that. He was condemned for failing to take actions against it. It should be noted that the Pope at the time of the Council’s condemnation rejected that canon, so it seems to have no validity.
(€) The criticism by St. Catherine of Sienna was about the Pope not being in Rome and the moral decay in a Rome that came from that fact.



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