What's In Your Kitchen?

John Zmirak adds to the confusion that Protestants have about papal audacity and the magisterium’s authority:

There is such a thing as a cafeteria Catholic. That term refers to people who pick and choose from the Church’s non-negotiable teachings, based on what seems right to their private consciences formed by the secular culture around them; their own urgent desires; and the writings of disaffected Jesuits, and radical nuns who traded in Thomas Aquinas for Karl Marx, Carl Rogers or Carl Jung. Do you find the Church’s historical teaching on divorce too much of a “hard saying”? There are theologians, up to the level of Cardinal Kasper (the friend of the Zeitgeist), ready to nuance it into oblivion. Do you feel that the Church’s condemnation of abortion or homosexual “marriage” is too “patriarchal”? Here’s a coven of nuns ready to teach you all about the love of Goddess.

But when theologically faithful Catholics question the current pope’s exotic economic views, which he himself has said are not binding on Catholics, suddenly those who dissent from core Church teachings are ready to break out the thumbscrews and light the stake.

In the piece that so offended Michael Sean Winters and provoked our phantom debate, I showed how the statements of popes over the centuries on economics and politics were at such variance with each other that it was simply false to pretend that the Magisterium extended to cover such questions. By definition, the Magisterium includes only teachings that have remained fundamentally consistent since the time of the Apostles. It is those teachings, along with the Bible, that form the core of Catholic faith. So if we find that popes and councils have differed with each other on an issue (as they indisputably have over slavery, lending at interest and religious freedom), then those papal teachings are not part of the ordinary Magisterium. They may contain worthy insights, like St. John Paul II’s forays into philosophy, but they are not part of the Faith.

There are some Catholics who are uncomfortable admitting facts like these. For whatever reason, these people — whom I will call Feeding Tube Catholics — crave the certainty that the Holy Spirit guides every single step taken by the church through its 2,000 years of history. The Holy Spirit picks each pope, they believe, and guides his daily steps, public statements and decisions. So whatever the pope is saying at the moment, you should simply shut down your critical faculties and believe it — regardless of what previous popes and councils might have taught. Those go into the Memory Hole, and pfft! They never existed.

Well wouldn’t that be nice? Except that then we’d have to explain why the Holy Spirit picked so many corrupt and cruel pontiffs, and why throughout the Renaissance He seemed to favor the cardinals who offered the highest bribes. That’s kind of a weird coincidence, isn’t it? We’d also have to ask why the Holy Spirit inspired one pope to dig up his innocent predecessor and try his corpse for heresy. Why did the Holy Spirit guide popes like Gregory XVI, Pius IX and Leo XIII to denounce religious freedom as a diabolical snare, then direct Pope Paul VI and Vatican II to declare religious freedom a fundamental right, based in both divine revelation and natural law?

The answer I usually get to questions like these is along the lines of: “Shut up, you sound like a Protestant.” Commentators like Mark Shea have demanded that Catholics adopt a pet-like “docility” to whatever the Vatican is saying at the moment, while one learned writer at First Things called on conservatives to accept Pope Francis’ statements on economics as the fruit of a “spirit-led Magisterium.” To which one must respond: Did the same Spirit lead all those previous popes who contradicted each other on issues ranging from slavery to the right of Protestants to worship freely without being arrested by the Inquisition? He sure seems to change His mind a lot.

Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the threat of Feeding Tube Catholicism, which if seriously pursued would reduce Catholics to the kind of mindless zombies imagined in the worst stereotypes of anti-Catholics like Jack Chick. Ratzinger had already pointed out one case where a pope (Pius IX) had issued a comprehensive manifesto of political statements (the Syllabus of Errors), only to be later contradicted by a council in its documents (Gaudium et Spes). Ratzinger spoke specifically of the case of Pope John Paul II, whose teaching on the death penalty differed from that of previous popes. Ratzinger sharply distinguished between dissent on issues where the church had spoken clearly and consistently, such as abortion and euthanasia, and disagreement with a pope who was saying something new. Ratzinger reminded us that the teaching of the Church is not some Moscow-style “party line” meant to wipe clean the minds of believers like the shake of an Etch-a-Sketch.

Let me propose instead of Cafeteria or Feeding Tube Catholicism a kind of Thomistic golden mean. Let’s call it Knife-and-Fork Catholicism. No, we won’t pick and choose from the Church’s teachings as if we were scanning for our favorite muffin type at a Shonee’s breakfast bar. Nor will we lie back, brain-dead, as the latest pope’s latest statements are downloaded into our brains like one of Apple’s or Microsoft’s non-optional updates.

Instead we will sit up like men and women with knives and forks at a restaurant. We will accept the balanced, healthful meals sent out by a chef whom we trust. But if there seems to be some kind of mistake, if we find on our plates gorge-raising dollops of stale Cuban, Venezuelan and North Korean prison rations, we drop our forks. We assume there has been a mistake, since none of this was on the menu. We send the chef a message that we will pass, in the happy faith that the restaurant’s Owner will agree and understand.

So far, I detect all three stripes of Roman Catholic here at Old Life. Many converts are Feeding Tube faithful — all that papal audacity in denial of all that history.

Some of the cradles seem to be the Cafeteria type, picking and choosing among the two infallible dogmas.

And some are Knife-and-Fork, level headed, understand discrepancies in the past and the present, and register dissent.

But what puzzles me is how it is John Zmirak’s pay grade to determine which meal is balanced and healthful. For most of Roman Catholic history, that determination was the responsibility of the bishops, the ones who would protect the church from error and shepherd the flock. So while I don’t want to upset John by comparing him to Luther, I’m not sure how his independence of thought is any different from Luther’s before the excommunication ax fell.

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28 thoughts on “What's In Your Kitchen?

  1. So while I don’t want to upset John by comparing him to Luther, I’m not sure how his independence of thought is any different from Luther’s before the excommunication ax fell.

    This essay is getting there, Dr. Hart. Luther’s ego eventually presumed to go after the doctrinal “non-negotiables” of the Magisterium, not dicta,

    popes and councils have differed with each other on an issue (as they indisputably have over slavery, lending at interest and religious freedom), then those papal teachings are not part of the ordinary Magisterium

    As for the “Feeding Tube Catholics” who seem to be unable to distinguish between the magisterial and the non-magisterial, those who

    crave the certainty that the Holy Spirit guides every single step taken by the church through its 2,000 years of history. The Holy Spirit picks each pope, they believe, and guides his daily steps, public statements and decisions. So whatever the pope is saying at the moment, you should simply shut down your critical faculties and believe it — regardless of what previous popes and councils might have taught. Those go into the Memory Hole, and pfft! They never existed.

    I have never read one or met one, and by your own trumpeting of near-universal Pew poll dissent by everyday Catholics, they seem quite the straw man, making the premise of this essay untenable.

    Pope Ratzinger, infra:

    Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the threat of Feeding Tube Catholicism, which if seriously pursued would reduce Catholics to the kind of mindless zombies imagined in the worst stereotypes of anti-Catholics like Jack Chick. Ratzinger had already pointed out one case where a pope (Pius IX) had issued a comprehensive manifesto of political statements (the Syllabus of Errors), only to be later contradicted by a council in its documents (Gaudium et Spes). Ratzinger spoke specifically of the case of Pope John Paul II, whose teaching on the death penalty differed from that of previous popes. Ratzinger sharply distinguished between dissent on issues where the church had spoken clearly and consistently, such as abortion and euthanasia, and disagreement with a pope who was saying something new. Ratzinger reminded us that the teaching of the Church is not some Moscow-style “party line” meant to wipe clean the minds of believers like the shake of an Etch-a-Sketch.

    Dude is a heavyweight. You ever want to argue the Catholic Church against the Catholic Church, Dr. Hart, stop screwing with the liberal National Catholic Register or even the sincere internet blog Called to Communion.

    Buck up. You want to try your luck in the major leagues, you wrestle with Ratzinger. 😉

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  2. vd, t, you confuse me with Zmirak. If you object to Feeding Tube Catholics, then take it up with him.

    Somehow when I report what Roman Catholics say and do you always shoot the messenger.

    #romaninquisition

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  3. Ratzinger is no heavyweight. Emperors New Clothes there despite Rowan Williams and Scott Hahns heavy breathing. See his Principles of Catholic Theology, where he simply dismisses previously binding teachings, or his ambiguous-to-Barthian explanation of Biblical veracity. Also see his prefacing books on the life of Jesus with a caveat that nothing he wrote should be considered more than mere opinion! A noble man in his attempt to keep Catholicism orthodox, but also a noble failure. Calling a pope who resigns a heavyweight is on the face of it a rhetorical sleight of hand.

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  4. DG-

    But what puzzles me is how it is John Zmirak’s pay grade to determine which meal is balanced and healthful. For most of Roman Catholic history, that determination was the responsibility of the bishops, the ones who would protect the church from error and shepherd the flock. So while I don’t want to upset John by comparing him to Luther, I’m not sure how his independence of thought is any different from Luther’s before the excommunication ax fell.

    The Holy Ghost does not choose popes, it marely grants authority when the pope-elect is fit to receive the office (intends the good of the Church, is a Bishop, consents to being pope).

    Papolatry exists and should be condemned, but is a secondary (if culturally fundamental in the US) problem.

    There my agreement with Zmirak ends. He dissents from the ordinary magisterium on Catholic Social Teachings makes numerous false and confusing statements (JPII on capital punishment, for example).

    Perhaps he wishes to be the inheritor of Buckley’s contemptible “Mater si, Magister no” position.

    Firm disagreement with the hierarchy (private judgment making reference to the traditions of the Church) in charity isn’t Protestant when it respects the structure of the Church and the proper role a layman is to play, c.f. Doctor of the Church and Patroness of Rome, Italy, and Europe Catherine of Siena.

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  5. D. G. Hart
    Posted August 23, 2015 at 8:11 am | Permalink
    vd, t, you confuse me with Zmirak. If you object to Feeding Tube Catholics, then take it up with him.

    Somehow when I report what Roman Catholics say and do you always shoot the messenger.

    The messenger should be shot. He spreads false information about the Catholic Church, for his own opportunistic and insidious reasons.

    Mr. Zrimak is at least sincere in his confusions. Dr. Hart has no such alibi.

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  6. Joe m
    Posted August 23, 2015 at 8:45 am | Permalink
    Ratzinger is no heavyweight.

    Only a lightweight would attempt such a comment. Unlike “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” Pope Ratzinger could hang in any forum, any milieu, anywhere anytime against modernity. Here he is in a public forum with one of the most respected philosophers of the 20th century.

    http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/opinions/jurgen-habermas-pope-benedict-xvi-ratzinger

    Sadly, the Catholic Church, in its weakness and timidity on the sex scandals, needed a pastor more than a theologian, and a non-European at that. Pope Benedict’s work was done. The papacy and magisterium are more than the measure of any one man. I saw the retirement of Benedict and the elevation of Francis as more a vindication of the Catholic claim to the providence of the Holy Spirit than an indictment of its legitimacy, but your mileage may vary, and it clearly does.

    But Pope Ratzinger is a giant in the Catholic Church, and will be recognized as one, make no mistake. He was John Paul II’s theological right-hand man.

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  7. vd,t, it is not false if it is what Zmirak said.

    But it’s false if you don’t like it.

    You should work for Daleiden. I hear he’s in your part of the country.

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  8. The messenger should be shot. He spreads false information about the Catholic Church, for his own opportunistic and insidious reasons.

    Sheesh. Sounds like someone needs some Valium in their feeding-tube.

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  9. Kevin:proper role a layman is to play

    would be interested to hear more what you say the Bible says about this Kevin

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  10. TVD, insisting something is so does not make it so. I said I thought Ratzinger noble, but as I said, a heavyweight? I am glad when he vindicates conservative positions, but really…. Name on significant book of his that 1. Would be read and referred to it he were not a Catholic big wit, and 2. Will be widely read in 15 years. While I could be wrong, I see neither. Good, respected, but a heavyweight? He’s, in Catholic circles? Yes, I guess so, like Kasper and Schonborn. As for Benedict XVIs abdication, and Francis’ astounding muddification of continuity, I guess we all see through coke bottle glasses sometimes.

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  11. Fun post, Hart. Glad to see you guys still at it. Wish I could really join in the conversation. One question just to feed my curiosity… what type of Catholic do you see me?

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  12. Interesting… I am most definitely “subject to the Roman Pontiff.”[Unum Sanctum] Just not necessarily in his every opinions, but subject because of Scripture and Tradition. Cool. Curiosity appeased.

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  13. “The messenger should be shot. He spreads false information about the Catholic Church, for his own opportunistic and insidious reasons.” -TVD

    Actually, Zmirak’s the messenger here, TVD. And his message is the confusion of the Magisterium. And you all wouldn’t be confused if you just believed it’s utterly unbiblical.

    “Zmirak’s at least sincere in his confusions”. And sincerity is all that matters.

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  14. Rubin-

    Actually, Zmirak’s the messenger here, TVD. And his message is the confusion of the Magisterium.

    I pray that God will bring to Zmirak what is best for his soul and the state of the Church, in whatever form He sees fit. I hope it won’t involve fire, brimstone, or bullets, but that’s His call.

    Are you familiar with the Garry Wills – William F. Buckley phrase “Mater si, magistra no” -? He published it in response to John XXIII’s “Mater et Magistra” because he disliked John XXIII’s reiteration and application of Magisterial social teachings. Buckley was, of course, a liturgical traditionalist and somewhat praiseworthy in his earlier days.

    John XXIII taught the state has in complex, unstable modern societies a responsibility to intervene at times in health care, education, farming, retirement, and housing in order to secure a basis for “authentic community” (i.e., the opposite of what the US has: Yugoslavia writ large) in order to rule justly.

    He offered specific “practical suggestions” on policy (especially for farming), all reasonable, yet none magisterial (suggestions aren’t definitive teachings of the faith).

    I take Zmirak to imply we can reject Catholic Social Teachings since we’re Americans and the rules are different here. That’s not Catholic and not Magisterial.

    Most Catholics have little understanding of this (it’s a problem), so I’m not surprised you don’t. The confusion is in the poorly catechized and those who compromise teachings, not the Magisterium.

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  15. DG-

    That laws not in accord with the morality taught by the RCC are invalid? That governments have a duty to the common good to protect the activities of the RCC? That governments also must tolerate the private association and worship of JWs, Mormons, and others who reject the RCC, while at the same time prohibiting them from proselytizing?

    Summary of the long comment below: These all remain part of RC social teaching, and can be proven from VII docs, the current catechism (CCC), and Pope Francis (not that there is any justification at all to exclude Pius IX and Leo XIII and Unam sanctam).

    We both know we can easily find quotes from popes and bishops which are ambiguous and misleading, but they will contain terms which refer to VII documents and the CCC – terms which when looked up force a clarity to the statements the popes and bishops prefer to avoid.

    In a way, this subject captures all of the contemporary internal problems of the RCC.

    Misleading ambiguities are a (grave in the extreme) failure to teach, not a teaching of falsehood, and require (alas) private judgment- that is simply how the human mind works when confronted with a lack of clarity.

    Still, even Dignitatis Humanae states that it “leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of […] societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.

    And:

    In Dignitatis Humanae itself there are two limitations of the right to religious freedom. First, this freedom is restricted “within due limits” and by “the just requirements of public order.”

    Pope Francis:

    Reason recognizes in religious liberty a fundamental right of man that reflects his lofty dignity, that of being able to seek the truth and adhere to it, and it [reason] recognizes in it [religious liberty] an indispensable condition to be able to display all his potential […] Therefore, the juridical, state and international regulations are called to recognize, guarantee and protect religious liberty

    Putting it together, governments are required “to recognize, guarantee and protect” something (“religious liberty”) that allows man “to seek the truth and adhere to it,” the seeking of which is “indispensable.”

    If we are to find it, then where is the truth? Well, Francis (despite his lamentable ambiguities) does call the RCC “the Mother of all.” Yes, that’s the best I could find on short notice. But the phrase does, I think, clearly point to “Mater et Magistra” and the traditional role of the RCC to teach society.

    Consonant with DH is the expression of magisterial teachings the CCC: “They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it.” And indeed, the catechism has a great deal to say on what “the truth” entails:

    2108 The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error [Cf. Leo XIII, Libertas praestantissimum 18; Pius XII AAS 1953,799], nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right. [Cf. DH 2.]

    2109 The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a “public order” conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner. [Cf. Pius VI, Quod aliquantum (1791) 10; Pius IX, Quanta cura 3.] The “due limits” which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with “legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order[DH 7 § 3.].”

    So what are the just limits to the constraint political authorities are required to impose? What legal principles determine the conformity of legislation to the objective moral order? The references to Pius IX and Leo XIII help quite a lot. The references to DH send us to a VII gem:

    This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion […] within due limits.

    “Immunity from coercion… within due limits.” (Does that get anyone at all excited?) Ok, so how are we to determine the limits of immunity from coercion?

    [Government’s] action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of […] the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

    And where is the proper guardianship of public morality to be found?

    2032 […] “To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order”

    So once again you ask a one-sentence question, and I spend an hour on something no one will probably read or respond to. Oh well. Francis could save a lot of Catholics a lot of time with a one-page encyclical clearly addressing the subject. That would be Francis doing his job.

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  16. Ali,

    Kevin:proper role a layman is to play
    would be interested to hear more what you say the Bible says about this Kevin

    Sorry for the delay. I don’t think I have anything surprising to say, or anything you couldn’t find quotes for much more quickly than I could, but:

    Having come through Baptism to the supernatural life, being members of the Christian society and adopted children of God, the laity belong to the “chosen race”, the “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) formed of all those who are born again in Christ. –Catholic encyclopedia, “Laity”

    Christ established a Church with ministers to serve the laity (all societies/organizations need a leadership of some kind) – while they truly and fully participate in the Church, they also have a duty to be sheep to the shepherds – a duty to be taught. The clergy have a duty to teach and sanctify (Am I correct the Reformed teach that preaching and the prayers of Reformed worship result in sanctification in those appropriately disposed- in Reformed theology, the elect?).

    The laity are obliged to learn the faith, and therefore the clergy obliged to instruct them.

    The laity are obliged to support the clergy so that they don’t have to work second jobs, just as the Christian community in the NT supported the Apostles and provided food for Jesus.

    I don’t have Biblical citations for you which explicitly or implicitly name the laity (I’ll now be looking out for them), but I believe the laity has obligations:
    – to worship God in the manner he taught us (the nature of which which Catholics and Reformed disagree on, of course),
    – to assist the clergy in spreading the faith to children and neighbors, to protect the Church via the state by means of force when necessary,
    – to participate in government and ensure laws do not violate the moral teachings of Christianity,
    – to accept delegation from Church authorities for specific tasks – e.g., to teach or participate on a Church committee, or as a trustee or parish councilman.

    I don’t take any of this to be controversial. I would also add – to baptize in case of necessity, if someone unbaptized is near death and expresses that they have the faith and seek baptism, and no clergyman is near. This used to be common in hospitals for those near death, and in some areas may still be.

    I would truly love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you have Biblical citations at hand.

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  17. Kevin:proper role a layman is to play
    Kevin :I would truly love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you have Biblical citations at hand.

    Thanks for your explanation Kevin – Don’t’ know if I understood in that any distinct Catholic beliefs which I was wondering about.

    As far as verses from me – think I’ll just give 1 Cor 12; Rom 12; Eph 4, this am
    In summary – each believer is given their own gift(s) of the manifestation of the Spirit….. for the common good….. The one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills…. for the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. growing up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body…… for the building up of itself in love.

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  18. Ali- What are you wondering about?

    Thanks for the summary you provided- we each have a distinct role to play and contributions to make, which will become apparent insofar as we are faithful.

    Distinctly Catholic vis-a-vis the laity would be that it is bishops in communion with papacy at present and through time that Catholics are to listen to and in whose celebration of the Mass and sacraments to be sanctified by.

    So the fundamental difference between Catholics and non-Catholics for the laity may be the identification of ‘the Church,’ and the Church structure, teachings, and form of worship that entails.

    Also, DG says the OPC (all Reformed?) laity either shouldn’t – or even literally can’t? – baptize under any circumstances. Catholics view this as in circumstances necessary as a part of the priesthood of all believers.

    P&R find ridiculous that even non-Catholics can baptize, which is prima facie understandable, but the efficacy of baptism doesn’t depend upon the ‘minister’ as long as they have the intention of baptizing as the Church does. That’s really another discussion, though.

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