25 October 2014

New Sins

In Mgr Ronald Knox's brilliant collection of Essays in Satire, there is a piece about a 'Professor' who invents a new sin. Now, even Knox's brilliance has been quite superseded. Now, you see, we have completely new types, genres, of Sin. The Third Millennium has branched out into a whole novel taxonomy of Sin.

Earlier this month I approached this subject and asked three simple questions, as tests to apply to any newly fashionable theory about Sin. Here they are again:

(1) Can you square it with the Sermon on the Mount and the ethical teaching of S Paul?
(2) Can you square it with the Lord's parables about not knowing 'the Day or the Hour'?
(3) Does it apply to murderers and paedophiles?

Let me remind you what the New Casuistries teach about Sin.
(a) Graduality. "People cannot give up their Sin instantaneously. They should be given the time, and the grace of the sacraments, to wean themselves off it gradually."
(b) Acceptance without Approval. "Remarried divorcees may be in a position to which the Church cannot give formal approval; but she may welcome them as they are into her Sacramental life."
(c) Elements of truth. "Outside the relationship of heterosexual monogamy, other models of relationship exist in which important elements exist of the values proper to Marriage itself: and it is these elements which we should emphasise (permanence; self-sacrificing love ...)."

Now apply Fr Hunwicke's Question (3).  Would you accept that, since a paedophile has very strong inclinations, his aim should be to work hard to abuse children less and less frequently? How do you feel about the Church accepting that some paedophiles are gentle and affectionate to the children they abuse, and that we should concentrate our attention on those good elements of gentleness and affection? Take someone with a pathological impulse to murder: would you want the Church to continue to maintain the teaching of the Ten Commandments about Murder, but, without approving of the murders, to accept the unrepentant murderer as he is?

Probably you wouldn't. Probably most people, even very liberal Catholics wouldn't, unless they are themselves paedophiles or murderers or both. Why not?

What we have is, in fact, the adoption by liberals of two quite distinct categories of Sin.  There are sins which (most people would agree) are really sinful. Such as abusing and/or killing children. The clever little games (a), (b), (c), would never be acceptable here. If somebody suggested that it really is in accordance with a nuanced Christian morality for a paedophile to abuse children as long as he does it gradually less frequently, most of us would probably kick him. However they contrive to control their behaviour, paedophiles should just give up, or genuinely try to give up, their vice. They should receive Absolution and then "Go and Sin No More".

But there is now, for the Liberals, an additional, quite different category of Sin. It consists of things which, because they are condemned by Christ or by long centuries of Christian Tradition, liberals might agree are in some sense technically sinful. But liberals do not feel that they are really wrong. So they devise sophisticated ways of avoiding the requirement of the Gospel: repentance and a firm purpose never to offend again and to avoid the occasions of Sin. Like children who have cheated and found out the answer to a sum, they start with the conclusion and then try to find the right 'workings' to get to the answer. "I want to argue that a homosexual couple may continue to live in a genitally sexual relationship: where can I find clever arguments to support that conclusion?"

                                    SO WE NOW HAVE

(I) REALLY WRONG SINS; they really turn me upside down in my tummy.

(II) SINS WHICH ARE ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG; my tummy feels completely OK about them. We've just got to find a way for the Church to shift her line without completely losing face.

Those are the two radically distinct categories of Sin in which Liberals now believe.

Neither in the Bible nor in two Christian millennia is there evidence for (II).


Bibliography: the important discussion here in the Church's Magisterium is paragraphs 79-83 of the Encyclical of S John Paul II Veritatis splendor, together with its footnoted sources. The Holy Pontiff quotes (para 81) a passage of S Augustine in which that Doctor discusses the 'absurdity' of any notion that sins done for good motives (causis bonis) might be thought of as 'sins that are justified' (iusta peccata: I think this would have to be S Augustine's Latin term for what my account above calls (II) SINS WHICH ARE (in the view of Liberals) ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG).

The Holy Pontiff cleverly takes (para 80) the list of sins in para 27 of Gaudium et Spes and says that they are good examples of acts intrinsice mala, that is, always wrong, independent of circumstances. What is neat about this is that it includes sins which Liberals would consider (I) REALLY WRONG SINS (such as genocide, trafficking in women, slavery) and mixes them up with (II) SINS WHICH ARE (in the view of Liberals) ONLY TECHNICALLY WRONG (such as abortion). He then goes on to the intrinsically evil contraceptive acts and, in para 81, includes S Paul's condemnation (I Cor 6:9-10) of categories including the sodomised and the sodomites (malakoi, arsenokoitai; molles, masculorum concubitores).


Jason W. said...

Mysterium fidei by Paul VI:

"Once the integrity of the faith has been safeguarded, then it is time to guard the proper way of expressing it, **lest our careless use of words give rise, God forbid, to false opinions regarding faith** in the most sublime things. St. Augustine gives a stern warning about this when he takes up the matter of the different ways of speaking that are employed by the philosophers on the one hand and that ought to be used by Christians on the other. 'The philosophers,' he says, '**use words freely, and they have no fear of offending religious listeners** in dealing with subjects that are difficult to understand. **But we have to speak in accordance with a fixed rule, so that a lack of restraint in speech on our part may not give rise to some irreverent opinion** about the things represented by the words.' Paul VI.

Trisagion said...

Brilliant, Fr John: quite brilliant. A new triple-bladed Occam's Razor de nos jours.

Left-footer said...

Bravo, Father! Beautifully succinct.

GOR said...

After reading comments by persons close to the Vatican on the secrecy of the Synod, I have distinct feelings of 1967.

It has been a year since the Commission set up by St. John XXIII and expanded by Pope Paul VI - to study birth control and population - had issued their report to the Pope. Now news is leaked to the press about the conclusions of the Commission and the existence of ‘Majority’ and ‘Minority’ reports.

For the next year speculation would be rife as to which report would sway Pope Paul VI - with a preponderance leaning to approval of some form of artificial birth control. Expectations had been set and it was considered a done-deal, a slam-dunk – things will change!.

Then came July 25th 1968 and the publication of Humanae Vitae and all hell broke loose – something from which we have still not recovered. I fear the same from this Synod and especially the one next year, after which the results will be published.

The secrecy surrounding the deliberations cannot but foster expectations that doctrinally cannot be met - and I fear 2015 may be a repeat of 1968…

Willard Money said...

Conservative Catholics should be happy with the synod because obviously liberals are not very bright.

If I was a liberal at the synod, I would ask one question. "Cardinal Burke, you say the Church cannot change her doctrine. If that's the case, could a hypothetical Catholic state execute a heretic in light of Vatican II's teaching on religious liberty?"

English Catholic said...


Please refer to Thomas Pink's essay 'What is the Catholic doctrine of religious liberty?'. Professor Pink argues -- fairly convincingly, at least to this non-expert -- that the pre-V2 popes, when discussing coercion of the baptised, were specifically referring to the Church's powers.

Dignitatis Humanae, on the other hand, is limiting the state's power. The power of coercion over the baptised is a power of the Church, which power she for a while delegated to the state. Think of it as a principal-agent relationship. DH ended that relationship.

Please refer to the essay. Liberals (and those trads who think V2 wasn't a real council) can't argue that Dignitatis Humanae changes doctrine; at least, they can't casually state it as though it's an obvious truth. No doubt DH is a poorly-written and ambiguous document that has caused more harm than good (after all, religious liberty means in practice that the state gets to decide everything). Probably it was drafted with the help of formal heretics, and no doubt it can be interpreted in a heretical way. But it needn't be.

123 said...

As one writing from the perspective of the East (though in the West), i can't help but think a heaping dose of official economia solves all these problems, rather than the perhaps more usual and unsaid pastoral dispensation. The exercise of economia is as much a part of the tradition of Rome (in its Eastern churches) and in the early church as it is that of the West. And it's not as if, pastorally, Rome hasn't drawn strict lines for murderers and paedophiles while allowing lines to be moved for others. Church history is replete with such examples.

I'm wondering if the real problem has to do with acknowledging there isn't an Archimedian point of theology to lever. That there isn't a hard and fast, objective standard who can answer all questions with a clear, ringing appeal to an unquestionable Mejesterium rather than acknowledging the fact that the church argues such things, fights about how best to proceed, etc. and doesn't simply know, doesn't simply defer to a standard set in stone. There has been an edifice of a certain kind of apologetics built up about what Catholicism is and how it works that can be tumbled down if the reality of how what we thought had always been came to be. This is as true in the East, mind you, with all the appeals of "the Fathers say", "the canons say", "the Tradition is", etc., when that is clearly not the case across the board (and across time). And it's not like any of the sausage making that is Roman church history is secret, it's just that it's being brought to bare in more every day areas where the nuanced view of the development of doctrine is less, well, nuanced. Why should development only ever take place in the past, for instance?

Personally, I think it a little funny to hear 'traditionalist Catholics' scream in ways oddly reminiscent, to me, of Protestants exclaiming against the presumption of the Pope in changing the apostolic faith. Chickens, home, roost. Whether fair or not, it's sadly humorous to one on the outside.

Scelata said...

"Graduality. People cannot give up their Sin instantaneously. They should be given the time, and the grace of the sacraments, to wean themselves off it gradually."

This seems patently obvious. Human nature is weak.
We need sin "patches" to take the edge off our cravings while we're cutting back on cigaret-- I mean, cutting back on sin.
Maybe a Doctor of the Church could prescribe something.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

Scelata said...

You know,this would be a great way for the German bishops to make up for the coming shortfall in Church Taxes.
They could market either a gum or a patch to take care of sin cravings.
(Save the Liturgy, save the Wor5ld)

Jacobi said...

More than ever I become convinced that the spreading confusion about the nature of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church today is caused by the habit of routine Communion

If all and sundry are worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ under “Graduality”, or whatever, and are seen to be doing so, then something inherently incompatible is being witnessed.

Logic, not to mention 1 Corinthians 11 : 29, suggests either that the Blessed Sacrament is being received by many unworthily, or that it is not the Blessed Sacrament but a symbol - a Protestant position.

Now as Catholics we accept the concept of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. It is not a means to an end, but an end to be achieved. As such at any one time a large proportion of an ordinary congregation, for a variety of reason will not be in a position to receive, and certainly not if they do so ”out of routine, or vain glory, or human respect”, specifically forbidden in Quam Singulari.

The quicker we get back to the pre-Vatican practise of reception when appropriate i.e., in a state of Grace, the better.

The Sacrifice of the Mass is all that is need to progress.

Anonymous said...

The Liberals you mention should just become Lutherans and they and their clients could be fine "peccatores in re, iusti autem in spe". Is the process of beatification of Martinus opened already? 2017 would be a nice year for a respective ceremony. Any news from Rome in this regard?

William Tighe said...

A friend to whom I sent a link to this posting responded:

"But perhaps the inestimable Fr Hunwicke has rather understated the case. What liberals maintain, in the matter of homosexuality, is that there is something admirable in relationships which are permanent and faithful. In what other area of moral theology is dogged perisitence in a sin thought to be a mitigation of it?"

Anonymous said...

The temptation toward the "liberal" categorization of sin is one of the the many pervasive corrosives of modern culture; and who is immune? I am inspired to pull out Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos to gauge whether I've been too far into the current and may have dragged my anchor.

Joseph Pasquella said...

I consider myself an orthodox faithful Catholic, I am also a deacon, and one who has been involved for years with deliverance ministries. Let me tell all that many who come to us with demonic oppression, obsession and even full possessions, in most cases have contributed to their condition, opened a door for the evil spirits to enter their lives. When Jesus to the Woman in Adultery to Go, and sin no more it wasn't just a suggestion at all, but it was a command.When someone has a true encounter with Jesus Christ, they desire above all else to follow Him, obey him, love Him greater,share Him with others etc. When one falls into sin, there should be true sorrow and contrition, going to the Sacrament of Confession is not valid if one decides even before confession they are too weak to stay away form the sin that befalls them. A spiritual illness needs a spiritual prescription to heal the fractured soul. However we don't presume upon God's mercy so we just go out and sin more. The Church needs to conform not to be more worldly but to conform more into the Icon of Jesus Christ.Each of us individually is called to become a Saint, we are told not to conform to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds according to the will of God.

Grupo editorial said...

Dear Fr. Hunwicke,

I took the liberty of translating your article into Spanish and posting it in my blog (with a link to Fr.H's Mutual Enrichment, of course).


A brilliant article.