Fussy Certainty

The interview with Brad Gregory about his latest book on Martin Luther revealed a fundamental difference between Roman Catholics and magisterial Protestants. Around the twenty-minute mark, Gregory starts to challenge Luther’s quest for certainty of salvation in ways that would make you think the Notre Dame professor had been reading Scott Clark’s, Recovering the Reformed Confession. According to Gregory, Luther was on an illegitimate quest for certainty or freedom from doubt, especially considering all the ways (acts of devotion) the church had for helping Christians along the path of salvation.

But here’s the thing, Luther wanted to know that he could stand before the judgment seat of God as a righteous man. The best Rome could do was get Luther to purgatory. He had no assurance he would go to heaven (this was a time when all Roman Catholics worried about sin and damnation). And so, the idea that a sinner could be righteous through faith, having Christ’s righteousness imputed to them, was not part of some illegitimate quest for certainty. It was what every single person should want who knows God is holy and humans are sinful. Who will stand on that great day? Not how do I get through this life so that I can endure millennia of purging my remaining sin?

Which leaves us with two rival certainties. On the one hand, Roman Catholics have the certainty that comes through trust in the church:

the Catholic Church enjoys some Divine guarantees, but they are not numerous. Christ promised to be with the Church to the end of time, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against her. This means essentially that the Holy Spirit will not permit the Church’s Divine constitution to be lost (such as the disappearance of the Catholic hierarchy), that the fullness of all the means of salvation will always be available in the Church, that the Church’s sacraments will always be powerful sources of grace, that the Church’s Magisterial teachings will be completely free from error, and that the Church will remain the mystical body of Christ under the headship of Our Lord Himself, as represented here on earth by His Vicar, the successor of Peter.

A Roman Catholic knows that the institutional church won’t fail even if he or she doesn’t have assurance about the eternal destiny of their body and soul.

On the other hand, Protestants who affirm justification by faith, have certainty that their sins are and will be forgiven thanks to the work of Christ. Here is how Luther put it in his commentary on Galatians (excerpted here):

This I say, to confute that pernicious doctrine of the sophisters and monks, which taught that no man can certainly know (although his life be never so upright and blameless) whether he be in the favor of God or no. And this sentence, commonly received, was a special principle and article of faith in the whole Papacy, whereby they utterly defaced the doctrine of faith, tormented men’s consciences, banished Christ out of the Church, darkened and denied all the benefits and gifts of the Holy Ghost, abolished the true worship of God, set up idolatry, contempt of God, and blasphemy against God in men’s hearts. For he that doubteth of the will of God towards him, and hath no assurance that he is in grace, cannot believe that he hath remission of sins, that God careth for him, and that he can be saved.

Augustine saith very well and godly, that every man seeth most certainly his own faith, if he have faith. This do they deny. God forbid (say they) that I should assure myself that I am under grace, that I am holy, and that I have the Holy Ghost, yea, although I live godly, and do all works. Ye which are young, and are not infected with this pernicious opinion (whereupon the whole kingdom of the Pope is grounded), take heed and fly from it, as from a most horrible plague. We that are old men have been trained up in this error even from our youth, and have been so nusled therein, that it hath taken deep root in our hearts. Therefore it is to us no less labor to unlearn and forget the same, than to learn and lay hold upon true faith. But we must be assured and out of doubt that we are under grace, that we please God for Christ’s sake, and that we have the Holy Ghost. ‘For if any man have not the spirit of Christ, the same is none of his’ (Romans 8:9).

I don’t know why anyone would choose to lose Luther’s version of certainty to gain Gregory’s confidence in an institution that has not always been so worthy of trust.

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Why Worry About Change?

When you can always interpret.

George Weigel tries to get out in front of Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the family. But he couldn’t beat Cardinal Kasper (and, oh, by the way doesn’t a Cardinal outrank a layman in teaching authority?):

As is his wont, Cardinal Walter Kasper was first out of the starting blocks, announcing that the apostolic exhortation (whose date of publication he got wrong) would be a first step in vindicating his proposals for a “penitential path” by which the divorced and civilly remarried could be admitted to holy communion—despite the fact that his proposal had been roundly criticized and rejected at both Synods and in various scholarly articles and books in between. The Kasper spin was then picked up by some of the usual media suspects, who called on the usual Catholic talking heads on the port side of the Barque of Peter, who took matters further by speculating that the apostolic exhortation would open up even more revolutionary paths, involving the Church’s eventual acceptance of same-sex marriage and other matters on the LGBT agenda.

But not to worry, the Council that many think unsettled the church has actually settled what popes can do:

By declining Paul VI’s suggestion about a papacy “accountable to the Lord alone,” Vatican II made clear that there are limits to what popes can do. On the bottom-line matters at issue in the two recent Synods, for example, no pope can change the settled teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage, or on the grave danger of receiving holy communion unworthily, because these are matters of what the Council’s Theological Commission called “revelation itself:” to be specific, Matthew 19.6 and 1 Corinthians 11.27-29. Nor has Pope Francis indicated in any public statement that he intends any deviation from what is written by revelation into the constitution of the Church.

Michael Sean Winters is even later to the pre-publication spin and offers his own prebuttal.

But what if the bishop whose job it is to interpret Scripture and tradition interprets dogma so it doesn’t change but its meaning does? This was the option favored by Protestant and Roman Catholic modernists. If modernism could happen once, why couldn’t it happen again (as if it ever went away)?

And then we have the problem of reason and what people with minds do to texts. Sam Gregg recently invoked Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address to call not his communion but the entire West to its former high esteem for reason:

One of the basic theses presented by Benedict at Regensburg was that how we understand God’s nature has implications for whether we can judge particular human choices and actions to be unreasonable. Thus, if reason is simply not part of Islam’s conception of the Divinity’s nature, then Allah can command his followers to make unreasonable choices, and all his followers can do is submit to a Divine Will that operates beyond the categories of reason.

Most commentators on the Regensburg Address did not, however, observe that the Pope declined to proceed to engage in a detailed analysis of why and how such a conception of God may have affected Islamic theology and Islamic practice. Nor did he explore the mindset of those Muslims who invoke Allah to justify jihadist violence. Instead, Benedict immediately pivoted to discussing the place of reason in Christianity and Western culture more generally. In fact, in the speech’s very last paragraph, Benedict called upon his audience “to rediscover” the “great logos”: “this breadth of reason” which, he maintained, orthodox Christianity has always regarded as a prominent feature of God’s nature. The pope’s use of the word “rediscover” indicated that something had been lost and that much of the West and the Christian world had themselves fallen into the grip of other forms of un-reason. Irrationality can, after all, manifest itself in expressions other than mindless violence.

Gregg warns rightly that “irrationality is loose and ravaging much of the West—especially in those institutions which are supposed to be temples of reason, i.e., universities.”

But if Father Dwight is any indication, irrationality also has its moments well within the confines of Roman Catholic parishes (even beautiful ones). If you wonder why the virgin Mary is the Queen of Heaven, just take a rational look at your Bible:

We simply have to read the Scriptures with Catholic eyes and understand the Jewish context of the Scriptures to see how the Catholic beliefs about Mary are all contained in the Scriptures. The problem is, they are not stated explicitly. Instead they are locked in the Scriptures to be understood and teased out. As the church came to understand more fully who Jesus really was they then began to understand more fully the role of his Mother, and as that became clear they also began to see that these truths were already there in the Scriptures. . . . The truths about Mary are subservient to the truths about Jesus because she is always subservient to her Son and always points to her Son. It is about him. It is not about her. . . .

Luke chapter 1:26-38 and Revelation 12. Consider first the passage from Luke. This is, of course, the story of the Annunciation of Jesus birth by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. . . . The angel Gabriel is called “the Angel of the Lord”. He is the main messenger direct from God. Therefore his words can be taken as a direct revelation from God. His message to Mary is therefore God’s message to the world. He declares solemnly that Mary’s Son will be the Son of the Most High, but he will also be the heir of David and the King of the Jews and furthermore his kingdom will have no end. In other words, he is king of heaven.

In the Jewish understanding of monarchy the Queen of heaven was not the king’s wife, but the king’s mother. Solomon’s mother Bathsheba played this role in the Old Testament. It follows therefore that if Jesus is to be the heir of David’s throne and be king, then his mother would be the Queen. Furthermore, if Jesus is also to reign over the kingdom of heaven, then his mother would be the Queen of Heaven.

At some level, Christians on both sides of the Tiber need to give up the idea that their convictions are rational in the sense that people with well functioning minds will recognize the point of Christianity. Aside from the noetic affects of the fall which predispose unbelievers to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, Christians also affirm truths that defy reason — like the resurrection and the Trinity.

But if what Father Dwight does with Scripture is any indication of the interpretations that attend sacred and infallible texts, no amount of bishops and cardinals bringing their conciliar foot down on papal authority will prevent interpreters from interpreting.

#interpretationhappens

Mercy, Mercy

Pope Francis has launched the Year of Mercy and so the comments about being merciful are frequent these days. But the pope may have gotten ahead of himself when he said that Jesus needed to ask forgiveness of Joseph and Mary (and only the Remnant seems to have objected):

. . . to give credit where credit is due, the Holy Father said some very fine things in his homily for the Mass of the Holy Family. Indeed, his pronouncements nearly always contain much that is good, true and spiritually helpful. He could surely never have been elected to the highest office on earth if his track record revealed that most of what he said was foolish, mistaken, superficial or heterodox. Nevertheless, it will only take a small drop of venom to make a rich and delicious Christmas cake highly dangerous for your health. Likewise, just one shocking affirmation in a papal homily can make its overall effect deeply unsettling and dangerous for our spiritual health.

In this case, the Pope has said something which makes many of us shudder; for it is something which it is not easy to exculpate, at least at the objective level, from the charge of blasphemy. Intentionally or otherwise, he has spoken words which, taken in their natural, unforced sense, imply that the Son of God himself has committed sin.

Consider these words by which His Holiness, preaching in Italian, commented on the Gospel incident: “We know what Jesus did on that occasion. Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, provoking great suffering (provocando una grande pena) to Mary and Joseph, who were unable to find him. For this little ‘escapade’ (questa ‘scappatella’), Jesus probably had to ask forgiveness (dovette chiedere scusa) of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it.”

That may raise problems for the theologically picky, but Pope Francis has also said that Mary has lots of forgiveness to give since she is the “mother of forgiveness”:

For us, Mary is an icon of how the Church must offer forgiveness to those who seek it. The Mother of forgiveness teaches the Church that the forgiveness granted on Golgotha knows no limits. Neither the law with its quibbles, nor the wisdom of this world with its distinctions, can hold it back. The Church’s forgiveness must be every bit as broad as that offered by Jesus on the Cross and by Mary at his feet. There is no other way. It is for this purpose that the Holy Spirit made the Apostles the effective ministers of forgiveness, so what was obtained by the death of Jesus may reach all men and women in every age (cf. Jn 20:19-23).

For anyone wondering if the pope’s statements might qualify as heretical and so complicate the doctrine of papal infallibility, keep in mind the fine print. In order to define infallibility in a way that made room for the seventh-century pope, Honorius, the Vatican Council had to finesse papal authority (with papal approval, of course):

In order to save infallibility it is better to admit the historical possibility of a heretic Pope, rather than shatter the dogmatic definitions and the anathemas of a Council ratified by a Roman Pontiff. It is common doctrine that the condemnation of the writings of an author is infallible, when the error is anathematized with the note of heresy, whereas, the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church is not always necessarily infallible.

During the First Vatican Council, the Deputation of the Faith confronted the problem by setting out a series of rules of a general character, which are applied not only in the case of Honorius, but in all problems, past or future that may be presented. It is not enough for the Pope to pronounce on a question of faith or customs regarding the universal Church, it is necessary that the decree by the Roman Pontiff is conceived in such a manner as to appear as a solemn and definitive judgment, with the intention of obliging all the faithful to believe (Mansi, LII, coll. 1204-1232). There are, therefore, non-infallible acts of the Ordinary Papal Magisterium, since they are devoid of the necessary defining character: quod ad formam seu modum attinet.

Pope Honorius’ letters are devoid of these characteristics. They are undoubtedly Magisterial acts, but in the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium there may be errors and even, in exceptional cases, heretical formulations. The Pope can fall into heresy, but cannot ever pronounce a heresy ex- cathedra.

Bottom line, Pope Francis should be okay. Back to your regularly scheduled shrugging.

Today's Topic for the Epistemology Seminar

Mark Powell’s new book Papal Infallibility: A Protestant Evaluation of an Ecumenical Issue shows that the path from papal infallibility to epistemic certainty is hardly uniform or successful.

First, maximal infallibility:

[Henry Edward Cardinal] Manning’s maximal infallibility, which stressed the problems of private judgment in theological reflection, looked to the pope to decisively settle theological disputes and secure doctrinal unity. . . . However, Manning’s maximal infallibility is fraught with problems. His position is dependent on a strong foundationalism with unfeasibly high standards for knowledge that has been largely abandoned in contemporary epistemology. Rather than rescuing Manning from the problem of private judgment, maximal infallibility only continues his pursuit of epistemic certainty on an endless cycle. Infallible papal pronouncements must be properly identified, and then they too, like scripture and tradition, are subject to private interpretation. In this regard, papal pronouncements bring no more certainty than scripture and tradition do. (202-203)

Second, moderate infallibility:

[John Henry Cardinal] Newman’s moderate infallibility and his theory of doctrinal development were proposed to address many of the problems that result from maximal infallibility. The moderate position substantially limits the number of infallible papal pronouncements, and the theory of doctrinal development explains the lack of historical support for recent Catholic doctrines. Newman, though, shares many of Manning’s assumptions in epistemology. Like Manning, Newman is seeking epistemic certainty, and this certainty is required for religious claims to qualify as knowledge….

However, the complexity of Newman’s proposal subtly undermines the epistemic certainty he seeks. To avoid papal absolutism, Newman highlights the problem of identifying and interpreting infallible papal pronouncements. For Newman, the church as a whole has a part in adopting infallible papal pronouncements, and theologians in particular play a crucial role in interpreting infallible doctrines. While Newman recognizes the problem of past papal errors, some of which are quite inventive, in an attempt to preserve papal infallibility. When he considers the possibility of future papal errors, he employs a number of epistemic resources, primarily conscience, to counter these potential errors….

While the theology of doctrinal development worked in Newman’s favor for the doctrines he supported, it was also used against him by proponents of doctrines he opposed. Suddenly, Newman could no longer appeal to historical problems in contemporary doctrinal proposals since such doctrines could be legitimate doctrinal developments. Further, proponents of theological liberalism could appeal to doctrinal development to bypass historical beliefs like the Trinity and Chalcedonian christology. (203-204)

Third, minimal infallibility:

[Han’s] Kung’s minimal infallibility, which is actually a rejection of papal infallibility, refuses to engage in the epistemic practices of moderate infallibility. Kung does not call doctrinal change a doctrinal development, and he does not retain the term “infallibility” when he is in fact speaking of indefectibility. Kung admits historical problems in the doctrinal history of the Catholic Church without attempting to explain these problems away. And he is not interested in retaining the notion of religious certainty. . . .

The debate over Kung’s Infallible? An Inquiry demonstrates once again the inadequacy of doctrines of infallibility. In Infallbie? Kung gives the example of Humanae Vitae, which bans the use of artificial contraception, as an example of erroneous teaching of the Catholic magisterium that has the status of an infallible doctrine. Kung’s example, though, sparked a substantial debate over whether Humanae Vitae is indeed an infallbile exercise of either the extraordinary papal magisterium or the ordinary universal magisterium. The debate clearly shows the problem of identifying infallble doctrines by the foremost officials and theologians of the Catholic Church. Obviously, doctrines of infallibility have not brought the epistemic certainty first envisioned by Manning and even Newman. (206)

Powell’s conclusion is that with out infallibility, the pope “could still exercise primacy in the Catholic Church while exercising a different role of leadership in any potential ecumenical union, as the bishop of Rome did in the first millennium of the church’s existence.” (213)

Some Days You Eat the Bar

And some days the bar eats you.

That equivocation is readily apparent in Father Dwight’s on-again-off-again regard for the papacy.

He recently warned conservatives about being too hard on Pope Francis:

Conservatives, for their part, should take a deep breath, avoid extremist language and disloyalty to the Successor of Peter. If they don’t like their pastor they should thank God that they were never supposed to put their faith in the Pope in the first place and take the opportunity to draw closer to Jesus and Mary, grow deeper in their faith and live out that faith more joyfully in the world.

But wasn’t this the same South Carolina priest who three months ago waxed a tad triumphalist?

Divisions and chaos in church result because of a plethora of questions both small and great, theological, moral, political, economic, cultural, liturgical—you name it.

The Protestants have two ways of coping with this conundrum: schism and heresy. The schism solution means when Christians disagree they simply agree to disagree, split up and form yet another new church. The heresy solution is to sacrifice the unchanging truths in some way, and increasingly that way its to dispense with dogma altogether because, “Dogma divides.”

The Catholic solution is to have an infallible authority. The catechism teaches that Christ is the infallible authority, and that he grants a measure of his infallibility to his church with the successor of St Peter at her head.

We constantly see the Catholic Church exercising this authority to preserve dogma on the one hand and adapt to changing circumstances on the other. The authority is often exercised through conflict in the church. Catholics quarrel over what can be changed and what cannot. Then they discuss further and finally the referee—in the form of the Pope—makes the final call.

Which is it? Or is this an example of “development”?

We're Not Supposed to Notice

Boniface explains the confusion that many Protestants experience when reading older papal claims and try to parse infallibility:

It seems to me that there are certain dogmas or declarations of the Catholic Church that some in the Magisterium wish they could forget about. I’m thinking of declarations like those found in Unam Sanctam (1302), the Syllabus of Errors, the Council of Florence, etc. These declarations on issues such as the reality and eternality of hell, the necessity of membership in the Church for salvation, the permanent invalidity of Jewish ceremonial law, the condemnation of secular political concepts and many other such un-ecumenical positions stand out to them as embarrassing monuments of a bygone era. I think many in the Church would like to get rid of these declarations, if they could – and I am speaking not only of liberals, but of mainstream, even certain “conservative” members of the hierarchy. These teachings are like antiquated family heirlooms that one can’t get rid of but effectively hides by stuffing them in the attic.

Obviously and thankfully, these declarations cannot be gotten rid of. They can be ignored and wished away, but they will not go away. Definitive, infallible ex cathedra statements remain for all time and are irreformable of their very nature. No matter how much any bishop or cardinal would like to contradict or get rid of these dogmatic heirlooms, they cannot.

Yet, though these declarations will not go away, there is a way that the hierarchy has found to get around this problem. I have noticed that, in areas where the modern hierarchy takes vastly different positions than the traditional Church, novel positions are not given to the faithful by means of encyclicals or dogmatic statements, but are found throughout lower-level pronouncements, such as speeches, letters, addresses, bishops’ statements etc. By repeating these novel positions again and again in very low-level pronouncements, the faithful get accustomed to hearing certain novelties “from the Church” and over time come to accept them as “Church teaching.”

A classic example is the death penalty. Granted, JPII called for a lesser application of the death penalty in Evangelium Vitae; but besides this, most of the very strong words offered against the death penalty have come from bishop’s committees, papal speeches, statements and letters and articles in publications like L’Osservatore Romano and on Zenit. Many of these statements condemn capital punishment absolutely, in contradiction to Church teaching and tradition. The Catechism, the official teaching of the Church, of course says that capital punishment is licit and that the state cannot be denied the right to wield it. That is the official teaching and it cannot be altered. But, at every level lower than official teaching, capital punishment is condemned absolutely, and with such frequency that many orthodox Catholics no longer know that capital punishment is allowable. They have heard the voices of the popes and the bishops (in low-level pronouncements) condemn it so much that this erroneous position has effectively become “the Church’s teaching,” leading to a situation where something other than Church teaching takes the practical place of Church teaching while allowing the contrary and official position to remain in place.

Thus the strategy for “changing” Church teaching seems to be this: If you want to teach something contrary to what the Church has always taught, just do it at low enough levels of authority and eventually people will start to accept your low-level declarations as “Church teaching” if they are trumpeted about long enough.

Did the faculty of Auburn Seminary take over the Vatican? It’s not the letter of infallible statements but the spirit?

If only Denzinger were alive. He could fix this.

At Least Pretty Good?

Is this what happens when the Bible has to take a number behind Homer and Aristotle?

Our students immerse themselves in the Great Books (the Western Canon), the Good Book (the Bible), and God’s “First Book” (nature)—all of which we consider necessary for a true liberal education. Our humanities curriculum starts our freshmen off in Homeric Greece and brings our seniors through modernity and postmodernity. In a time of cultural amnesia, this deep study in the sweep of Western literature, history, politics, and philosophy cultivates the intellect and the heart.

If an awakening can be “great,” if a revolution can be “glorious,” and if a canyon can be “grand,” can’t the Bible at least get a “pretty good”?

If in fact Christianity is a revealed religion as opposed to one that relies on communications from priests, shamans, or oracles, then why isn’t the Bible the final authority for Christian reflection? Even H. L. Mencken could figure this out:

I confess frankly, as a life-long fan of theology, that I can find no defect in his defense of his position. Is Christianity actually a revealed religion? If not, then it is nothing; if so, then we must accept the Bible as an inspired statement of its principles. But how can we think of the Bible as inspired and at the same time as fallible? How can we imagine it as part divine and awful truth and part mere literary confectionery? And how, if we manage so to imagine it, are we to distinguish betwen the truth and the confectionery? Dr. Machen answers these question very simply and very convincingly. If Christianity is realy true, as he believes, then the Bible is true, and if the Bible is true, then it is true from cover to cover. So answering, he takes his stand upon it, and defies the hosts of Beelzebub to shake him. As I have hinted, I think that, given his faith, his position is completely impregnable. There is absolutely no flaw in the arguments with which he supports it. If he is wrong, then the science of logic is a hollow vanity, signifying nothing. . . .

I have noted that Dr. Machen is a wet. This is somewhat remarkable in a Presbyterian, but certainly it is not illogical in a Fundamentalist. He is a wet, I take it, simply because the Yahweh of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New are both wet – because the whole Bible, in fact, is wet. He not only refuses to expunge from the text anything that is plainly there; he also refuses to insert anything that is not there.

If the Bible is the word of God, then why do some spend so much time defending the words of church officers?

The Answer

James Fitzpatrick has doubts and James Martin’s advice about discernment are not resolving them. The source of these doubts and advice is the 2015 Synod of Bishops. Martin appears to be optimistic about the direction of the Roman Catholic Church:

“Discernment,” Martin continues, “is the term used by Jesuits and their colleagues to describe the way that decisions are made in a prayerful way. St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit founder, lays out many of these methods in his classic text The Spiritual Exercises. At heart, the process begins with the belief that God wants a person, or a group, to make good, healthy and life-giving decisions; and through the ‘discernment of spirits’ sort out what is coming from God and what is not.”

What does “discernment” look like in practice? Martin writes, “At the heart of every group discernment is the idea that everyone should be…radically free to follow God’s will wherever it may lead.” This means that the participants in the group should free themselves from “disordered attachments,” including “fealty to things, ideas and people” — including previously accepted beliefs and figures in authority — “that prevent one from thinking, speaking and acting freely. The most essential element of group discernment is this absolutely radical freedom.”

Martin acknowledges that this freedom may “create tension among those who feel that any movement away from the status quo is in opposition to fidelity to the church or that change itself would cause confusion.” This fear, Martin claims, must be rejected: “Group discernment calls for a willingness to be open with one’s thoughts and feelings, and also to be open to another person’s thoughts and feelings, no matter how threatening they may seem,” since “in group discernment it may be the least likely person or group through whom the Spirit moves most strongly.” It well may be, he continues, that the Spirit is moving in opposition to “those who feel that those with the most authority, learning, or experience naturally have the correct ‘answer’.”

It is for this reason, Martin asserts, that we should not overreact when we hear leaks about things said at the synod. Many of these early positions taken by participants will be rejected before the synod ends; they will not be part of the final report. We must have patience: “The Spirit blows where it will. It takes its time for people to offer their reflections, for questions, for discussion, for clarifications, for prayer and discernment. The Holy Spirit cannot be rushed.”

It is amazing to see a Jesuit appeal to the Holy Spirit as freely as Gilbert Tennent.

But Fitzpatrick, a conservative I suppose by virtue of his writing for The Wanderer, is not so reassured by Martin’s advice:

How can we feel confident that the participants at the synod are proceeding with a “prior commitment and fidelity” to the teachings of the Church, when recent years have given us so many examples of members of the clergy who have demonstrated their opposition to what the Church teaches?

We have seen Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee retire in 2004 after it was revealed that he had used $450,000 in archdiocesan funds to settle a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment of a male lover.

We remember how Pope John Paul II in 2003 found it necessary to remove Hans Hermann Cardinal Gröer from office because of allegations of sexual misconduct with young students in his care. In September 2005, Juan Carlos Maccarone, the bishop of Santiago del Estero in Argentina, was forced to resign after pictures were released of him engaged in sexual activity with another man.

More recently, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Keith Cardinal O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, because of allegations from three priests and one former priest that O’Brien had engaged in improper sexual conduct with them during the 1980s.

And just a few weeks ago, Fr. Krzysztof Charamsa, a Polish priest and Vatican official, came out publicly as an active homosexual with a male partner. Charamsa condemned what he called the “institutionalized homophobia in the church,” calling for a change in the Church’s teaching on homosexual sex.

And just this past week, according to crux.now, Archbishop Basil Cupich of Chicago said, concerning Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, that there are some ideas surfacing in the synod hall about “penitential paths” in order to integrate people back into the life of the Church.
“[Archbishop Cupich] pointed to the so-called Kasper Proposal, an idea floated by German Cardinal Walter Kasper that would create a pathway to Communion for the divorced and remarried, and he expressed support for the theology behind the idea, published in a book last year,” reported crux.now.

LifeSiteNews reported: “When asked by LifeSiteNews if the notion of accompanying people to ‘the Sacrament’ who had a clear indication of conscience to do so also applied to gay couples in the Church, Cupich indicated an affirmative answer.

“‘I think that gay people are human beings too and they have a conscience. And my role as a pastor is to help them to discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the Church and yet, at the same time, helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point. It’s for everybody….”

So, I ask this question sincerely, without an axe to grind: How can we feel confident, given the above history and with some of the statements that have come from certain synod fathers?

Is the cure for such worries two multi-syllabic words — wait for it — papal infallibility?

The Real Peril of Discovery

National (Roman) Catholic Reporter has two stories about the Doctrine of Discovery that raise intriguing questions for those who put their hopes in papal supremacy, authority, antiquity, and infallibility.

First, the Doctrine (which is not what attorneys do):

The first bull of consequence was issued in 1436 and titled Romanus Pontifex, he said. It concerned “the concession of the right of domination over the Guanches people” and the Canary Islands, which was taken over by the crown of Castile, a medieval state in the Iberian Peninsula.

The bull marked the first time the papacy “made it look as though no one was living there,” or had any ownership over the land being pursued by European powers, “because there were no Christians there,” Newcomb said.

That “pattern of thought” then began marching through history.

In 1452, the papal bull Dum Diversas instructed the Portuguese crown “to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.”

In 1454, another bull titled Romanus Pontifex furthered that thinking, sanctifying the seizure of non-Christian lands in parts of Africa and restating the legitimacy of enslaving non-Christian people.

In 1493, after Christopher Columbus’ fateful voyage, Inter Caetera granted Ferdinand and Isabella “full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind,” over almost all of the Americas, save for a portion of modern-day Brazil and a few island outposts.

Notice again that the social teaching of the church was going on a long time before Leo XIII, but it’s not always so congenial to modern sensibilities, so Roman Catholic social thought winds up being predominantly a 20th-century concern.

Second, what the progressive Roman Catholics want the papacy to do:

The letter called on the pope to “formally and publicly repudiate and rescind the Dum Diversas Bull of 1452, and other related bulls, which grant the Pope’s blessing ‘to capture, vanquish, and subdue the Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ and put them into perpetual slavery and to take all their possession and their property.’ We also call upon the Pope to repudiate and rescind the Inter Caetera Bull of 1493 that granted authority to Spain and Portugal to ‘take all lands and possessions’ so long as no other Christian ruler had previously claimed them. These bulls instilled the Doctrine of Discovery, the papal sanctioning of Christian enslavement and power over non-Christians.”

The letter stated the papacy had done some positive work regarding the rights of indigenous peoples — such as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s supporting the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Pope John Paul II’s asking of forgiveness for the misdeeds “of the sons and daughter of the church” — but not nearly enough.

(Recently, Pope Francis asked forgiveness in South America “not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”)

The Loretto letter included a message from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Religious Friends (Quakers), which stated:

“You [as Pope] have the power and responsibility to do more, by issuing a new papal bull that formally, directly, unequivocally rescinds and revokes the Doctrine of Discovery and the horrible, cruel, un-Christian language in those bulls that denigrates entire peoples with no justification.”

Comeaux said the Loretto letter was sent to the Vatican and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She said the Loretto community received no response from the Vatican. U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Joseph Kurtz sent a note with a “polite thank you for including me,” she said.

The sisters have contacted Kurtz, who heads the Louisville, Ky., archdiocese, and “he’s expressed interest in getting more information,” she said, “and we’re preparing [that] for him.”

The important question is why a pope should be believed in apology when we haven’t believed the truth of an earlier utterance. If the encyclicals supporting the Doctrine of Discovery were wrong, why isn’t the papal statement that says the Doctrine of Discovery was wrong and asks for forgiveness also erroneous? How do you know when the pope is right? When he conforms to modern notions of fairness and equality? But what if in 500 years, in some sort of Mad Max world, when the current civilization has collapsed and another phase of globalization is starting, with certain people discovering people previously unknown, and the former interact with the latter the way that Europeans treated natives in America, it makes sense to colonize and enslave? If those explorers and exploiters discover papal apologies for the Doctrine of Discovery and judge those apologies to be out of synch with the times, might a pope apologize for the apologies?

One last thought, do the progressive Roman Catholics always think that what comes latest (what is up-to-date) is the best guide to truth? In other words, since we moderns find Christopher Columbus barbaric (even though in Columbus’ day he was considered civilized), is whatever is most recent the way things are supposed to be? That’s an odd view for people who are looking for a papal apology since the papacy is (apparently) an ancient institution. If you really want Roman Catholicism to be up to date, don’t you get rid of the papacy altogether? Who actually believes in ecclesiastical monarchs (except perhaps the gospel allies in their most celebrated status)?

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.