Which Is It? How Do You Know?

In reading through documents from the magisterium, I continue to be amazed by how right next to affirmations that Roman Catholics still defend are teachings those same Christians choose to ignore or chalk up to a mulligan for the magisterium. For instance, the same council that codified transubstantiation also weighed in on the place of Jews in Christendom:

1. Confession of Faith: . . . His body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been changed in substance, by God’s power, into his body and blood, so that in order to achieve this mystery of unity we receive from God what he received from us. Nobody can effect this sacrament except a priest who has been properly ordained according to the church’s keys, which Jesus Christ himself gave to the apostles and their successors. . . .

68. Jews appearing in public: A difference of dress distinguishes Jews or Saracens from Christians in some provinces, but in others a certain confusion has developed so that they are indistinguishable. Whence it sometimes happens that by mistake Christians join with Jewish or Saracen women, and Jews or Saracens with christian women. In order that the offence of such a damnable mixing may not spread further, under the excuse of a mistake of this kind, we decree that such persons of either sex, in every christian province and at all times, are to be distinguished in public from other people by the character of their dress — seeing moreover that this was enjoined upon them by Moses himself, as we read. They shall not appear in public at all on the days of lamentation and on passion Sunday; because some of them on such days, as we have heard, do not blush to parade in very ornate dress and are not afraid to mock Christians who are presenting a memorial of the most sacred passion and are displaying signs of grief. What we most strictly forbid however, is that they dare in any way to break out in derision of the Redeemer. We order secular princes to restrain with condign punishment those who do so presume, lest they dare to blaspheme in any way him who was crucified for us, since we ought not to ignore insults against him who blotted out our wrongdoings.

But the problem doesn’t go away. Take the descriptions of papal power from the era of Pius IX. First, from the First Vatican Council:

Since the Roman pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole church, we likewise teach and declare that
he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment.
The sentence of the apostolic see (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon.

And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman pontiff.

So, then, if anyone says that the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that
this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.

This understanding of papal primacy also means for Pius IX (down to the Second Vatican Council) that freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state in government are forbidden:

And, against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that “that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require.” From which totally false idea of social government they do not fear to foster that erroneous opinion, most fatal in its effects on the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls, called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, an “insanity,”2 viz., that “liberty of conscience and worship is each man’s personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way.” But, while they rashly affirm this, they do not think and consider that they are preaching “liberty of perdition;”3 and that “if human arguments are always allowed free room for discussion, there will never be wanting men who will dare to resist truth, and to trust in the flowing speech of human wisdom; whereas we know, from the very teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, how carefully Christian faith and wisdom should avoid this most injurious babbling.”

The question is not how does someone reconcile these contradictory statements. The much more substantial issue is how anyone is to know which of these statements is the right one but the other, less liberal one, is just a reflection of the fallibility of human beings. Sure, someone can try to distinguish between the opinions of popes and their ex cathedra statements. But since so many of the modern papacy’s or Vatican councils’ pronouncements contain doctrines that conservative Roman Catholics both affirm and resist, the interpretive lengths to which Rome’s apologists must go exceeds almost any of the hermeneutical gymnastics that Protestants perform.

After all, not many Protestants would be comfortable today (except for the fire eaters who attack 2k) with Joshua’s depiction of Israel’s conquest in the Holy Land. Nor for that matter, do many Protestants who defend inerrancy also teach that we need to keep kosher kitchens because God’s word says it, I believe, that settles it. In point of fact, Paul and other New Testament authors had to struggle mightily with how the church would appropriate God’s dealings with Israel and they gave clear and infallible ways of explaining why much of the Old Testament no longer is binding on those who believe the Bible to be God’s inerrant word.

It seems that the closest Roman Catholics come to such an explanation of how to consider the old teaching in the light of new times is the Second Vatican Council where Vatican officials engaged the modern world and called off implicitly many of the papacy’s previous claims about politics and social arrangements — not to mention the previous condemnations of Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. But I still cannot fathom what Vatican II did to Pius IX’s claims for papal supremacy and infallibility, along with his rejection of liberal political and economic arrangements. That council did not establish either a hermeneutic or a theology that would allow a defender of the papacy, the way Paul tries to defend and distance himself from the law, to say that the Second Vatican Council is the fulfillment of what previous popes had taught and so now the post-Vatican II church can live in the glorious liberties purchased by Paul VI.

32 thoughts on “Which Is It? How Do You Know?

  1. Darryl,

    how anyone is to know which of these statements is the right one but the other, less liberal one, is just a reflection of the fallibility of human beings.

    What you’re missing here is the distinction between doctrine and discipline. Without an awareness of that distinction, you’ll be left like you are here, scratching your head. But head-scratching is not an argument.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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  2. Bryan – But head-scratching is not an argument.

    Erik – It might be where fleas or lice are concerned.

    We Protestants apparently lack the secret decoder ring to grasp these distinctions.

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  3. Headscratching isn’t an argument? How about becoming a scratch golfer to beat the Bishop of Rome? Unfair, I know, let’s just say we presbys have a leg up in the golf category, and not beg that question anymore.

    Er, scratch all that.

    Drop by oldlife anytime, Mr. Cross. We know sometimes everyone’s got an itch to scratch….

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  4. Erik,

    We Protestants apparently lack the secret decoder ring to grasp these distinctions.

    Indeed. It is called “Tradition.” But Protestant critics of Catholicism often approach Catholic documents the same way these critics approach Scripture, namely, as if they are self-explanatory and self-interpreting, not realizing that these documents, like Scripture, were written within a Tradition, and are rightly interpreted only within and by the light of that Tradition. Once again (surprise!) the problem is presupposing a Protestant paradigm [this time at the level of how writings are to be interpreted and understood] when criticizing Catholicism, and thus begging the question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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  5. Erik, the much simpler answer is to engage your own lay charism as well as that of your divinely appointed priest and maybe even bishop. Of course, when they don’t share the interpretive take of the trad, they are in fact a rebellious malformation, according to the infallible charism, in principle anyway, of the rad trad and his bishop, though not in any ex cathedra way, and without proper training in canon law, it will have varying binding force as it awaits official adjudication. Though you can rest confidently in their certainty it will agree with them and their interpretation of the some 800 page catechism. Of course, not in any exercise of extraordinary charism but instead the charism of the prot-catholic on the internet. It’s a new category, very few people were aware of it’s existence in Lumen Gentium until Al Gore invented the interweb. You could always seek out Pope emeritus in the Abbey, but he’s busy praying to Mary and calling in old favors, and his directive toward the CDF was; “continuity and reform but not rupture”. So, you do have that. The CDF is certainly busy working up the implications of all that.

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  6. Vat I: “In order that the offense if such a damnable mixing may not spread, [discipline].”

    Problem: the discipline is based on something, namely a doctrine that such a mixing is damnable.

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  7. Nothing wrong with ‘tradition’…small ‘t’.

    But when “Tradition” goes against the pure gospel…it is a hinderance…at best…and in some cases it is a outright denial of that pure gospel.

    You can keep and kiss that decoder ring.

    No thank you.

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  8. Nothing wrong with ‘tradition’…small ‘t’.

    But when “Tradition” goes against the pure gospel…it is a hinderance…at best…and in some cases it is an outright denial of that pure gospel.

    You can keep and kiss that decoder ring.

    No thank you.

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  9. these documents, like Scripture, were written within a Tradition, and are rightly interpreted only within and by the light of that Tradition.

    Bryan,

    Still can’t leave your protestant hermeneutic behind? Scripture is self-attesting to it’s sufficiency. You assert that “Tradition” is self-attesting to its sufficiency (or else your just making a bald claim to authority that has and ‘needs’ no proof). The only problem is when your ‘sufficiency’ is fraught with contradictions, like the ones Darryl is pointing out.

    At least in science when someone shows your evidence is erroneous they change their conclusions and move on.

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  10. The Pope(s) said it, I believe it and that settles it. (God’s got nothing on the Pope, nor Mary of course, either.)

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  11. Bryan, I see no fine print in the Syllabus of Errors, Vatican I, or Vatican II which distinguishes between doctrine and discipline. Why can’t papal infallibility be a discipline? I bet you one day it will be. But you may not be around to revise CTC.

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  12. Bryan, do you have a guide book to Tradition? Or is it something that simply allows you to be unconvinced by any challenge.

    You know, if you’re going to call us to communion, you may want to adopt some kind of transparency.

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  13. Bryan,

    According to yesterday’s New York Times, CTC is engaged in nothing more than “solemn nonsense”, according to Pope Francis:

    “They were particularly alarmed when he told a prominent Italian atheist in an interview published in October, and translated into English, that “everyone has his own idea of good and evil” and that everyone should “follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them” — a remark that many conservatives interpreted as appearing to condone relativism. He called proselytizing ‘solemn nonsense.'”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/us/conservative-us-catholics-feel-left-out-of-the-popes-embrace.html?hpw&rref=us&_r=1&

    If nothing else, you guys should be talking more about youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.

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  14. But Erik, there’s a reason the cap is so big. It’s like a big piece of attena-foil from back in the day. it picks up signals. You could call it a decoder hat. Without the hat his interpretive super powers are all gone.

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  15. Darryl,

    I see no fine print in the Syllabus of Errors, Vatican I, or Vatican II which distinguishes between doctrine and discipline. …

    This is exactly the mindset I’m talking about.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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  16. Bryan, come on, now it’s only a mindset? When was I degraded from paradigm?

    You know, that without some instructions, your tradition is arbitrary, and arbitrariness is what produces institutions that cover up shenanigans.

    So you have a chance to enlighten us with your charism. Go ahead. No link (or five)?

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  17. Once again (surprise!) the problem is presupposing a Protestant paradigm [this time at the level of how writings are to be interpreted and understood] when criticizing Catholicism, and thus begging the question.

    This is exactly the mindset I’m talking about.

    This from a gentleman, pointy cap or no, who continually, repeatedly, habitually misconstrues Sola Scriptura to be on par with an Anabaptist burning in the bosom, all the while failing to acknowledge his own time spent and history in a P&R seminary/church – which if it was genuinely P&R – abjures the Illegitimate Quest for Ecclesial Infallibility, just as much as it renounces the same regarding Personal Infallibility. IOW it inhabits that happy middle ground between chaotic and totalitarian ecclesiology.

    That not to mention the distinction between the NT apostles then and the Murmun (sic) Apostle now, the Utah Callers & Door Knockers provoking our member of the Philosphical Tribe of Flatheads to envy and thereby precipitating his premature bailout over Vatican territory because he found their “apostolic” appeal “unanswerable”. No prob. I’ll just get one of my own without having to call him an apostle, performatively or no. Sweet. Sounds like a sterling egs. of private judgement to me, but hey the ignerunt implicit faith card trumps all Roman arguments.
    IOW Viva La Primma Donald Trump.
    Or something like that.

    And you guys that are hung up on caps ought to get hip to pyramid theory. A pointy round conical hat is performatively equivalent to a sandblasted pyramid and attains to all the occult hyper intellectual qualities of the same. They who abjure them, humbly wish to descend to our level. Let’s stop being so ungrateful.
    AOB

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  18. Darryl, the hermeneutical principle of Vat II is; “the hierarchy is NOT the church”. Even Francis affirms this. More cradle, table side, you catch more than you learn Charism. Legacy has its privileges.

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  19. Bryan —

    I agree with you that Catholicism does distinguish between doctrine and discipline though I don’t think it matters in this case. Pope Pius IX is quite clear in Quanta Cura that he is writing one of the “Letters and Constitutions to unveil and condemn all those heresies and errors which, being adverse to our Divine Faith, to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, to purity of morals, and to the eternal salvation of men, have frequently excited violent tempests, and have miserably afflicted both Church and State.” He is unambiguously declaring what he is writing to be doctrine.

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  20. Chorts, nothing personal, but you know that story in Acts about the ship in the storm? They toss all kinds of stuff overboard to keep afloat. Or was that the story of Jonah? Anyway, when life gets hectic I toss all the heaviest stuff overboard. Being civil, courteous, emotionally sensitive, blah blah blah is the most burdensome stuff onboard the SS Muddy. Off it goes. So talk to the hand cuz the prooftext ain’t listening.

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  21. More extraordinary charism from Francis, doing what popes do, pontificating. About Vat II, I think I know who has the bad attitude.

    “The council was a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “But after 50 years, have we done everything the Holy Spirit in the council told us to do?”-backhand Ratz and JPII

    People think it’s better to be comfortable, but that is not what the fire of the Holy Spirit brings, Pope Francis said.

    While Catholics today may be more comfortable speaking about the Holy Spirit than they were 50 years ago, it doesn’t mean the temptation to tame the Spirit has diminished, he said.

    Pope Francis said reactions to the Second Vatican Council are a prime example.

    The pope asked if Catholics have opened themselves to “that continuity of the church’s growth” that the council signified. The answer, he said, is “no.”-Hello Kung, let’s talk conciliar like.

    Catholics seemed willing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the council’s opening in 1962, he said, but they want to do so by “building a monument” rather than by changing anything.-ooh not so much on that continuity reform but not rupture hermenuetic.

    Prot-catholics are part of the problem not the solution.

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  22. Thinking too hard about RC doctrine over the last 500 years is enough to produce mental whiplash. One the one hand, Trent with all its anathemas is still good and binding doctrine and in Vatican I the RCC doubled down on the application of that kind of conservative theology.

    One the other hand, you have the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church and the pope both expressing borderline universalism.

    So somehow near-universalism and Trent’s anathemas are doctrinally consistent. Seems to me like one of them has to give and it is pretty clear that Trent has practically, if not officially, given way to the spirit of Vatican II.

    The RCC has seen liberal Protestantism and raised it a pope. Sorry, but I’m out. .

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  23. @Mad Hungarian, wise move. Nice comment.

    @internet: The answer, it seems to me, is church history. Biblical training dot org, church history lectures by Gerald Bray (a man who happened to chime in on Leitharts post on Friday, by the way). The biblical training website ain’t reformed, but if Christians study the history of the church (and amazingly, the lectures I promote here are even entertaining, hard to believe, I know), they’ll gain at least an understanding of why we are here, in the current situation, as we are. It’s time that won’t be wasted, it hasn’t been for me, anyway.

    I’m out, too.

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  24. This quote from the Mad Hungarian needs to be published far and wide:

    The RCC has seen liberal Protestantism and raised it a pope. Sorry, but I’m out.

    Like

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