14 November 2015

"The temporary suspense of the function of the Ecclesia Docens"

I've been thinking about this elegant and careful phrase with which Blessed John Henry Newman, not writing theologically but factually as an historian, described the period of the Arian ascendancy. I take it in the sense in which he subsequently clarified his use of it, and not otherwise.

I suppose we had a good example of this phenomenon of 'suspense' in the pontificate of Blessed Paul VI, in the period between his setting up of a Commission to consider the question of Contraception, and his very courageous subsequent reaffirmation of the Church's Magisterial Teaching with the publication of Humanae vitae.

I presume we are in another such period now. The question of  the admission of adulterers to Holy Communion was magisterially dealt with as recently as 2007 in Sacramentum Caritatis para 29; it had  received synodical and papal clarification in each of the last two pontificates; and is embedded in the Catechism. But a 'suspense' began when it was opened up to synodal debate; and that 'suspense' will end when this or a subsequent Roman Pontiff or an Ecumenical Council reasserts the teaching of the Magisterium (or possibly when the error, having run its course, dies a natural death).

It puzzles me that so little theological work appears to be offered on the implications of this phenomenon of 'suspense'. Would it help to identify other historical examples? Does anybody have any suggestions?

Our learned Patron Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman made clear that he in no way implied the cessation of the Magisterial teaching or office during a 'suspense'. The Dogma of Nicea remained de jure fully in force; but was simply not treated as such by many bishops and so did not 'function'. The bishops remained ex officio guardians and teachers of the Faith; but de facto failed to guard and to teach it.

Things now are very similar. The teaching of the Magisterium is still, obviously, formally still vigore pleno; but numbers of unfaithful or negligent bishops behave as though it were not.

After a 'suspense' has been brought to an end, do the precedents available from the Arian period suggest that canonical penalties (or the removal of their names from succession-lists) ought to be considered for the worst of those prelates who chose to pull down rather than to build up the Lord's Household?

And lastly: during a 'suspense', does the episcopal ministry of those bishops who are heterodox on this one point still call for religiosum obsequium on other matters? Or is one obliged to consider their entire episcope vitiated by just one point of formal heterodoxy? I suspect and suggest that a rereading of Blessed John Henry's work on the Arians would, again, afford guidance on this and similar practical matters.

What is called for here is a subtle combination of historical and doctrinal skills, far beyond my capacity. But I do not think I am the only Christifidelis to be (merely) asking questions about the possible problems of Christian discipleship in certain (widely-anticipated) possible situations.


Don Camillo SSC said...

The Holy Father has said repeatedly that there is no sin so great that it cannot be forgiven. This is poles apart from saying that certain forms of behaviour are not sins, and do not need to be forgiven.

fr. Thomas said...

If I remember correctly he drew a distinction between 'suspense' and 'suspension', but I find it obscure.

mark wauck said...

Thanks, Father. Lots of food for thought here--and a bit of light in this dark night of the Church.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

While reading The Apocalypse this morning, it occurred that Chapter Two is applicable to the modern Church for it has lost its first charity and no longer teaches the fullness of truth with zeal nor does it hate the deeds (heresies) of the Nicolaites and so Timothy must do penance and return to his first charity in which he taught the truth with zeal and rooted out false teachers with zeal or else the candlestick would be removed

And so must we. We must reach the fullness of truth and excommunicate heretics and hate their actions or we will suffer an increase in schisms and heresies.

Of what use is a year of Mercy if we do not, like did Timothy after penance, preach the truth in season and out of season and Reprove, Entreat and Rebuke...(2 Tim)

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Father: indeed he did. I took the difference to be that a suspension would mean that the Magisterium no longer existed. He believed that it did, even though the people who should have upheld it failed to do so. It seems to me that the word "function" makes the same point; the Magisterium never failed, but its "function" ceased. To talk of the "suspense of the Ecclesia docens" would be a very dodgy thing to argue ... Newman was, in any case, delated to Rome for what he had said.

Stephen said...

Would not any such suspension have been operative only if there was no orthodox bishop? And so, then, gratefully at least for St Athanasius and perhaps others who remained steadfast, suspense or suspension still remained only as a what if scenario?

Ben of the Bayou said...

Father Hunwicke,

I wonder what mechanism we would have to decide that this or that Bishop has left off teaching the Faith. There seems to me to be a very dangerous road that way. It is close to deciding for ourselves what the Faith is.

Nonetheless, this is a real problem and so, looking back to the Arian period, what can we discover? I obeseve that Bishops of that time (esp. the Bishop of Rome) withdrew communion one from another and in this way the faithful could be assured of not taking on themselves the role of arbiter. This seems to me to be the only answer to this question.

Pax et bonum,


Melinda said...

Thanks for linking the current issues to the bigger picture, as always. A "temporary suspense of the function" is a very helpful and somewhat calming way to think about it. It seems to me like it falls upon the laity, then, to live out more courageously the Church's life-giving doctrine so that as few souls as possible are lost meanwhile.

Rose Marie said...

The suspension of the function of Ecclesia Docens has been a fundamental feature of the last 50 years. There were few, if any, sermons preached on not believing in the Real Presence, or not going to Confession, or not marrying in the Church (or at all), or not accepting Humani vitae. The strategy was simply not to teach and, surprise, very soon people no longer believe.

Rose Marie said...

Humanae vitae. Well, really, Father, how could you let that pass? I need you to keep me from embarrassing myself!

Michael Lofton said...

I've asked these same questions. Furthermore if all we have access to are masses in a diocese that allows for sacrilegeous Communion, are we obliged to abstain from such masses? What about our Sunday obligation?