26 February 2018

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

REPRINTED FROM DECEMBER 2017

A world-wide group of laymen and laywomen have just issued a defence of Catholic doctrine concerning Family and Life matters. The crucial paragraph, in my view, is this:

We pledge our full obedience to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the legitimate exercise of is authority. However, nothing will ever persuade us, or compel us, to abandon or contradict any article of the Catholic faith or any truth definitively established. If there is any conflict between the words and acts of any member of the hierarchy, even the pope, and the doctrine that the Church has always taught, we will remain faithful to the perennial teaching of the Church. If we were to depart from the Catholic faith, we would depart from Jesus Christ, to whom we wish to be united for all eternity."

This seems to me exactly right and exactly proportionate to the present situation in the Catholic Church. By a happy disposition of Providence, this Statement hit the media at the same time as Walter Kasper's gleeful conviction that Amoris laetitia has now become irreformable and that the 'controversy' is now over. Gracious me, what ultrahyperueberpapalist views of the Petrine Ministry these Liberals do have when they get a foul wind in their sails.


And the Statement reminds me of the phrase which Blessed John Henry Newman used in the context of the Arian controversy, in which the great majority of the Bishops, the Ecclesia docens, and including the Successor of S Peter, were either heretics, or were cowed into silence or compromise by the heretics. It is the phrase I have put at the head of this post, which I take in the sense in which Newman 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.

Surely, we are in another such period of suspense now. The question of  the admission of adulterers to Holy Communion was magisterially dealt with as recently as 2007, only ten years ago, 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' grew wider when PF issued a document which has been interpreted in diametrically opposed ways. The Suspense will end when this or a subsequent Roman Pontiff or an Ecumenical Council reasserts with unmistakeable clarity the teaching of the Magisterium (or possibly when the error, having run its course, happily dies a natural death).

The learned Patron of the Ordinariate, 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; not a microgram of their God-given authority to teach the Faith was lost to them; but de facto they failed to guard and to teach that Faith. The concept of suspense is not so much theological as historical; an observation that anybody can make if they just look around.

Things now are very similar. The teaching of the Magisterium is, obviously, formally still vigore pleno; but numbers of unfaithful or negligent bishops behave as though it were not. In many cases, they appear and/or claim to do so with the connivance of the Successor of S Peter.

A QUESTION

During a 'suspense', does the episcopal ministry of those bishops who are heterodox on just 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 heterodoxy?

Looking back into the great Anglican Patrimony which Pope Benedict invited us to bring with us into Catholic Unity, I recall a phrase dear to a distinguished and erudite Bishop of Oxford, Charles Gore [1853-1932; a doughty asserter of the doctrine which was re-asserted by Casti Connubii]: "the wonderful coherence of Christian doctrine". A later, even more erudite occupant of the same See, Kenneth Kirk, [1886-1954] commented: "Gore saw Christian doctrine as a unified whole ... It was his conviction, shared of course with the great Scholastic tradition in theology, that if any single article in this totality was attacked, varied, or distorted, the attack, variation, or distortion would be seen on inspection to affect every other article to a greater or lesser degree. ... if two systems each of which can claim some real degree of logical principle are in conflict on any one point, investigation will ultimately prove that they differ on every point, though at first sight this may be anything but apparent. For each system is, by hypothesis, self-consistent, and therefore all its members are interlocked, and whatever affects one of them must affect them all."

This is still one of my own working hermeneutical tools. Accordingly, I feel a tentative hesitation, during this lamentable suspense, about taking seriously any teaching statement of an apparently less that orthodox member of the hierarchy.

I throw open the above position to discussion, totally aware of my own fallibility, and anxious to be in all things a docile subject of the authentic Magisterium of the Catholic Church.


And I applaud the statement of Fidelity to Catholic Teaching issued by these eminent and admirable laypeople.

20 comments:

Peter Youngblood said...

Father,

I find myself with the same tentative hesitation. There is something amiss when the faithful are told to assent religiously to an irreligious doctrine, simply because it comes from the mouth of an ecclesiastical official. I'm reminded of two things. First, St. Paul's anathema to the Galatians of anyone, even the person of an Apostle, who would attempt to hand on a Gospel which he had not himself received. The auctoritas of tradition is surely the only safe guard against such novelty.

I'm also reminded of St. Thomas treatment of the question whether a heretic who errs on one point of doctrine can have even lifeless faith in the other points of doctrine (ST, IIa-IIae, Q. 5, A. 3). He answers in the negative, saying that even if the heretic holds some propositions in common with the faith, he will have shown himself not to hold those by an act of faith, since the formal object of faith is the First Truth as revealed in Holy Write and the teachings of the Church. As the Common Doctor says, "Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith." Of course, these remarks apply only to those who are formally heretics; that is, those who are obstinate in their error. In any case, it seems that we get here the idea of the formal principle of unity of the Faith, that is, obiectum formale a quo of the virtue of Faith: the full and complete Deposit of Faith, handed down to us from Christ through the Apostles. This is why novelty in one point of doctrine the enemy of the whole Faith.

In societate passionum Christi,
Peter Y,

Fr PJM said...



During a 'suspense', does the episcopal ministry of those bishops who are heterodox on just one point still call for religiosum obsequium on other matters?

Yes. As long as a diocesan Ordinary is recognized as such by the Holy See then he must be obeyed in all that is legitimate. If he silences a priest, removing said priest's faculty and mission to preach, then silent must that priest remain.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

In trying to decide how to respond to heterodoxy and heresy, it is helpful to first ask why we are being asked to do such a thing and the plain and simple truth is this is a way that God tests us to see if we love Him.

St. Vincent, "Commonitory," explains

Chapter 10.

Why Eminent Men are permitted by God to become Authors of Novelties in the Church.

[27.] But some one will ask, How is it then, that certain excellent persons, and of position in the Church, are often permitted by God to preach novel doctrines to Catholics? A proper question, certainly, and one which ought to be very carefully and fully dealt with, but answered at the same time, not in reliance upon one's own ability, but by the authority of the divine Law, and by appeal to the Church's determination.


Let us listen, then, to Holy Moses, and let him teach us why learned men, and such as because of their knowledge are even called Prophets by the apostle, are sometimes permitted to put forth novel doctrines, which the Old Testament is wont, by way of allegory, to call “strange gods,” forasmuch as heretics pay the same sort of reverence to their notions that the Gentiles do to their gods.

[28.] Blessed Moses, then, writes thus in Deuteronomy: “If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams,” that is, one holding office as a Doctor in the Church, who is believed by his disciples or auditors to teach by revelation: well—what follows? “and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass whereof he spoke,”— he is pointing to some eminent doctor, whose learning is such that his followers believe him not only to know things human, but, moreover, to foreknow things superhuman, such as, their disciples commonly boast, were Valentinus, Donatus, Photinus, Apollinaris, and the rest of that sort! What next? “And shall say to you, Let us go after other gods, whom you know not, and serve them.” What are those other gods but strange errors which you know not, that is, new and such as were never heard of before? “And let us serve them;” that is, “Let us believe them, follow them.” What last? “You shall not hearken to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams.” And why, I pray you, does not God forbid to be taught what God forbids to be heard? “For the Lord, your God, tries you, to know whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The reason is clearer than day why Divine Providence sometimes permits certain doctors of the Churches to preach new doctrines— “That the Lord your God may try you;” he says. And assuredly it is a great trial when one whom you believe to be a prophet, a disciple of prophets, a doctor and defender of the truth, whom you have folded to your breast with the utmost veneration and love, when such a one of a sudden secretly and furtively brings in noxious errors, which you can neither quickly detect, being held by the prestige of former authority, nor lightly think it right to condemn, being prevented by affection for your old master.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Commonitory

Chapter 3.

What is to be done if one or more dissent from the rest.

[7.] What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.

Chapter 8.

Exposition of St. Paul's Words, Gal. i. 8.

[21.] When therefore certain of this sort wandering about provinces and cities, and carrying with them their venal errors, had found their way to Galatia, and when the Galatians, on hearing them, nauseating the truth, and vomiting up the manna of Apostolic and Catholic doctrine, were delighted with the garbage of heretical novelty, the apostle putting in exercise the authority of his office, delivered his sentence with the utmost severity, “Though we,” he says, “or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8

[22.] Why does he say “Though we”? Why not rather “though I”? He means, “though Peter, though Andrew, though John, in a word, though the whole company of apostles, preach unto you other than we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Tremendous severity! He spares neither himself nor his fellow apostles, so he may preserve unaltered the faith which was at first delivered. Nay, this is not all. He goes on “Even though an angel from heaven preach unto you any other Gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” It was not enough for the preservation of the faith once delivered to have referred to man; he must needs comprehend angels also. “Though we,” he says, “or an angel from heaven.” Not that the holy angels of heaven are now capable of sinning. But what he means is: Even if that were to happen which cannot happen—if any one, be he who he may, attempt to alter the faith once for all delivered, let him be accursed

++++++++++ end quotes++++++++


O, and don't sweat the St Gallen Group and its success in carrying out its plan.

Such a thin shas happened before - a pre-conclave plan to put in place a particular Pope - in just the time span of the life of ABS

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Asseritur potius quam probatur?

Belfry Bat said...

... my zeroth observation is that mathematics (the portion of Science that depends only on what you are willing to assume) has known, for a long time now, a number of general constructions, taking Recognizable Foundations for All Mathematics, and producing Undecidable Propositions. For example, it is reasonably a truism these days that Computer Programs can be treated like large whole numbers, while the point of a program is to print out some other number; and given any particular detailed working out of that idea (together with a detailed working-out of what assumptions are admissible), there is a computable particular size N such that No Single Number can be shown to require a Program of size at least N to print it out. ... And That Means Mathematicians can go on quite happily to assume that any particular number (as large and complicated as you like) is the print-out of some small program. (... there are small programs that work away cheerfully without ever starting to print anything... and we can pretend that, in some far-away world after the eschaton, they did eventually say "Hello")

On The Other Hand, to the extent that Catholic Dogma is (or ought to be) exactly what you can decide given Scripture and Tradition, your Gore and Kirk seem to be correct: if the decision can be made, then non-contradiction applies: two sound reasoners should arrive at the Same Decision.

However (and ... you will have seen Fr. Zed quote him quite recently... ) Screwtape lets slip that the evils of the age are not encumbered by human use of logic. His Holiness F. I PP. can quite easily accommodate a personal belief about Supernatural Prudence in Sacramental Matters which is Incompatible with his other beliefs about, say, the Historicity of the Transfiguration — simply because he need never consider if Moses who Obediently Never Crossed Jordan is not greater than... say... Edward Duke of Windsor. Mind you, I don't know if F. I PP. has ever opined on the Transfiguration.

What that really means, though, is that Francis saying some thing, in the ordinary way, is not evidence for, Or Against, any given proposition; it is not by his authority that revelation is revealed. Anyway, as you say, suspense.

GOR said...

On a purely human level if a bishop or Pope appears to be advancing a doctrinal view deemed heretical, or at least ambiguous, one is not required to assent to it. That alone would call into question all other utterances of those persons. In such cases one should adhere to the perennial teaching of the Church as found in Sacred Scripture and Catholic Tradition.

However, in administrative or disciplinary matters one might have no choice but to assent, however unfair or malicious such matters might be. St. Padre Pio’s assent in such a situation is an example to which we should aspire but - not being saints - may not achieve.

rick allen said...

Let me say first that the root of the problem seems to me to be a growing and unwarranted “hermeneutic of suspicion” among some about everything that Pope Francis says. For example, the recent uproar over the Lord’s Prayer led me to look at Pope Benedict’s treatment of the sixth petition in the first volume of his Jesus von Nazareth, where he starts out by affirming that “Gott führt uns doch nicht in Versuchung.” There was no uproar about Pope Benedict re-writing the Lord’s Prayer, despite his making observations quite similar to those of Pope Francis. Why not? Because we listened in the context of continuity with tradition, not looking for every intimation of error we could find. A spirit of faction in the Church is certainly nothing new, but it is much exacerbated today by social media , where the bitterness of partisanship approaches that of our secular politics.

As one who was baptized and raised Presbyterian, and who has been a Catholic layman now for some thirty-four years, I am sorry if any group of Catholics feels it necessary to declare fealty to (their conception of) Catholic tradition over against the magisterium, even if only during a period of “suspense” (presumably coinciding with a particular pontificate). I myself have no anxiety for the Church, and I can certainly sympathize with those who genuinely, if mistakenly, believe that the Church is being led into teaching heresy, but their approach seems squarely in the spirit of Luther and Calvin.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

t was late in 1958 and the death of Eugenio Pacelli was bringing renewed activity to the offices at Piazza San Calisto, when coming on a weeping Elizabeth Gerstner, Miss Goldie asked what troubled her. The answer seemed obvious so the German countered with a question of her own, “Tell me, Rosemary, who do you think is going to be the next Pope?”

“Why, didn’t you know? Angelo Roncalli, of course.”

Who? Oh, you mean the Patriarch of Venice? But why ?”

“Oh, Elizabeth, you don’t know anything, do you? Roncalli will be Pope for a few years and then Gianbattista Montini of course.”

Cardinal Heenan of Westminster who took part in the 1958 Conclave, confirms the Roncalli-Montini plan. In his biography, Crown of Thorns he relates, “There was no great mystery about Pope John’s election. He was chosen because he was a very old man. His chief duty was to make Msgr. Montini (Archbishop of Milan) a cardinal so that he could be elected in the next
conclave. That was the policy and it was carried out precisely.”


Mary Ball Martinez, "The Undermining of the Church"

The revolutionaries required a place holder Pope while Montini marinated in Milano.

Fr. VF said...

Since 2004, the American bishops have repeatedly approved a document, "Catholics in Political Life," which declares that a bishop may "legitimately" give Communion to pro-abortion politicians.

I.e., the bishops have nullified canon 915. Canon 915 exists precisely because the thing it prohibits is grave matter.

I.e., the bishops have voted themselves permission to commit mortal sin!

Surely, the teaching function of such bishops is "in suspense"!

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

Regarding the point about Pope Benedict's book, I looked it up too. He was writing theology. And he said in the beginning of that book that he was writing in his capacity as a private theologian, not as Vicar of Christ, and anyone is free to disagree with him.
It would be good if Pope Francis said that when he makes statements that are simply expressions of his opinions. That doesn't seem likely, however.

John Vasc said...

I wonder if I am alone in being unable to pray for the departed soul of Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, the éminence grise behind the last papal election. What is needed is a prayer that goes: 'Requiescat in pace - sed noli modo!'

Jhayes said...

The USCCB document says that it is a prudential decision for eaxh bishop to make for his own diocese.

"The question has been raised as to whether the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life is necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand. Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. Nevertheless, we all share an unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity and to preach the Gospel in difficult times."

Liam Ronan said...

I say bully for those pro-life leaders who have had the backbone to sign this 'Pledge of Fidelity'; their motto being "Faithful to True Doctrine, not to Erring Pastors".

I am certain that the Bishop of Rome and his theological sympaticos will be acquainted with the expression: “Hier stehe Ich, Ich kann nicht anders."

Randolph Crane said...

1) Why say "heterodox" when you can just call them heretics? I would never say PF himself was one, but Cardinal Kasper certainly is, he has proven that many times.

2) I totally agree with your "hermeneutical tool". The Catholic doctrine is a perfect system, and there are no just and logical reasons to object to it. It is perfect because it is truth. If one rejects one teaching, one rejects all teachings. Simply because in the act of chosing you make faith not objective truth, but personal choice. I cherry-pick the teachings I like, and the others I will let fall under the rug.

Then again, if I were to deny the Church's teaching on the Eucharist, e. g., I would at the same time question God's truth, the Church's infallibility, the teaching on the priesthood, on sin, on penance, on metaphysics, on Christ's death on the cross, on the Last Supper, on Scripture, on Christology, on Soterology, on Jesus Christ himself (he obviously was a liar), on Ecclesiology, on Epistemology. You have basically everything in there. And even if you would reaffirm every other teaching, it wouldn't mean the same - eodem sensu eademque sententia.

Unknown said...

Indeed Randolph Crane,
Why are these very words of our Lord so difficult to understand and to accept?

"He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little, is unjust also in that which is greater.
If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon; who will trust you with that which is the true?" (Luke 16,10-11)

Isn't it so that we here must see the word "...who will TRUST you..." as most important, clear message about to whom should and shouldn't be given such important trust to lead the nothing less,- but the Church Militant?

And why it is, (or better to say- for who?) so difficult to understand the very words from the Scripture:

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.
As we said before, so now I say again: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema." (Galatians 1,8-9)

Were in this case Christ's truly disciple and apostle St. Paulus repeat words "another gospel" and word "anathema" even twice seriatim.

Because most people, especially clerics, theologians and similar have forgotten that every building must be based on the foundations. Which must be solid of course. And we know, this applies to the knowledge and the Faith too! Instead of their continuously looking, let's say, at the problem of a visibly rakish chimney, while never looking down, any lower of the roof of the building, they should start with verifying of the foundation, which is often times simply weak, poor, feeble, slender, wispy, sleazy...
Ivan

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

@ Fr PM

Here is from a purportedly "orthodox" Catholic in Portugal:

"Nem todos os relatos bíblicos são factuais. É o caso das Bodas de Caná. É um episódio meramente catequético."

Here is how he defends it, inter alia:

"Depende da perspectiva. Eu acho que o senhor está errado, o senhor acha que eu estou errado. É palavra contra palavra, com a diferença que minha está certa, porque concorda com o que está no site do Vaticano."

OK, if saying that Marriage in Cana never actually happened and that he finds his exegesis confirmed by the site of the Vatican, how much worth is the Vatican's recognition of a bishop with "one heterodoxy"?

I can give full details later, if Fr Hunwicke explicitly allows it first, it is on a link which his usual policy forbids him to publish the comment.

Liam Ronan said...

@John Vasc,

Were my own sins, offenses, and wickedness to be laid bare now before the world (as they invariably will at the Final Judgement) I wonder if anyone would be moved to pray for the repose of my soul after death.

Notwithstanding my inclination to the contrary I pray for Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, Martini, etc. and a host of others and, please God, excluding no man or woman deliberately. For their souls' sake as well as my own.

Mike Sheil said...

Since the topic has been raised in these comments of Pope Benedict's commentary on the Lord's Prayer and its similarity to the recent words of Pope Francis, I'd like to mention something and I will try to be brief.
Pope Benedict cites St. Cyprian's commentary on the Lord's Prayer (De Dominica Oratione, 25). The Latin translation which St. Cyprian knew and comments on is this – 'ET NE NOS PATIARIS INDUCI IN TENTATIONEM,' that is, 'And do not allow us to be led into temptation.'
I think this sheds some light on Cyprian's talking about God's permission here; his Latin text explicitly mentions it.
Of course, I am in no way implying that St. Cyprian or Pope Benedict is wrong.
It's another matter what the correct and best translation of the Greek text is. I'm sure you all have heard something about that the last few days.

coradcorloquitur said...

If there is a "hermeneutic of suspicion" regarding what Pope Francis does and says, to whom exactly can we attribute that unfortunate situation. Many serious Catholics are indeed very concerned about the future of the Church as a unified, visible and orthodox institution. After all, does not Holy Scripture itself ask, apparently rhetorically: "Will the Lord find any faith on earth when He returns"? To have those misgivings is not to have a Protestant cast of mind; quite the opposite: it is indicative of respect for reality and of love for sound doctrine and the unquestionable besieged Church that Christ established, hardly a quasi-heretical position.