30 August 2016

(3) The Magical Magisterium: Naught for your comfort

As readers will have surmised from my narrative and my rhetoric so far, it is my view that a dogma with an implicit "Use Before" note on the packaging is not really dogma at all, however much it blusters and flusters.

This pontificate, whatever ever else it has done, has forced upon us a reconsideration of the question "What degree of obsequium religiosum is to be attached to the statements of Roman Pontiffs, or of Episcopal Conferences?" This is far from being a new question; but the eccentricities and unpredictabilities of the current Successor of S Peter pose it in a new and acute form. I have lived under six previous Roman Pontiffs and one Ecumenical Council, and, without attempting detailed and precise discrimination of the levels of authority involved in different types of document, I received everything they said in the simple hope and expectation of being fed and led by it. Benedict XVI was a fantastic Leader and Feeder!! But Francis has completely changed (what I believe North Americans for some peculiar reason call) the Ball Game.

I assure you that I am not sitting here in front of my computer impatiently waiting to unload upon you my own instantaneous and brilliant solution to this most grave problem. Indeed, I feel that I have 'naught for your comfort' to say to you.

For starters ~ I feel I have nothing much better than this to suggest: a piece of teaching makes a claim on our assent and respect directly in proportion to the extent to which it can be most plainly seen to be in unruptured continuity from, and compatible with, what has been taught before.

Sadly, this puts the old, easy, comfortable, perhaps even lazy, receptivity and docilitas I describe above in my second paragraph out of court.

Even more deplorably, it puts us to a degree into the hands of "Experts"; those with the technical expertise to help us to discern how 'continuous' and 'compatible' a particular papal or episcopal statement is. But is there any alternative? In any case, under the old system we did rather tend to need experts to analyse the magisterial level of a document.

One example, indeed, of the technical expertise we're going to be needing more of in the future is the judgements Cardinal Burke, a canonist, has expressed about the extent to which Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia can attract the convenient old label of 'Magisterial'. One might, indeed, fearfully wonder whether Papa Bergoglio has volens nolens rendered the entire concept of the 'Magisterial' potentially obsolete. I simply do not know. I hope not. The Church so badly needs it. Let us pray that damage already done will not prove irreparable. Deep waters.

A second example has to be the Letter to the Cardinals which 45 writers from all over the Catholic World sent to Their Eminences, humbly asking them to beg the Sovereign Pontiff to resolve apparent ambiguities in his strange document Amoris laetitia. If you have not yet read that Letter, I urge you to do so, and to urge others to do likewise. Do not be put off by the hostility shown towards the Letter by some prominent cardinals and other prelates. After all, one of the practical difficulties in this present crisis is working out whether such Eminences and such Most Reverend Gentlemen are parts of the problem or parts of the solution. We had a similar problem a just few years ago during the Arian Crisis.

Hard days. Hard graft.

One more section will, Deo volente, conclude this piece.


Dad29 said...

a piece of teaching makes a claim on our assent and respect directly in proportion to the extent to which it can be plainly seen to be in unruptured continuity from, and compatible with, what has been taught before.

One might add "and to which it conforms to the truth."

That in response to one US theologian's call for Catholics to give religious assent to Pp. Francis' declaration that Mohammedanism is "a religion of peace."

Stephen said...

Some choice morsels you may find relevant and enjoyable...

The more corrupt the republic, the more numerous the laws. ~Tacitus, Annals
The greater the number of laws and enactments, the more thieves and robbers there will be. ~Lao-tzu
It is hard to say whether doctors of law or divinity have made the greater advances in the lucrative business of mystery. ~Edmund Burke

Anonymous said...

Do you have a link to the letter of the 45, Father?

Jim Pennington

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Sorry, I don't know how to do links (or a whole lot of other things). But I think it was on RORATE 28 July.

GOR said...

Being of an age with you, Father, I have also witnessed six pontificates prior to the current incumbent’s. I know of no time in those years when so much doubt and uncertainty was foisted upon the faithful. Until now.

Pace the conspiracy theorists, I feel the current turmoil roiling the Church is of the Devil. I see no other explanation than that Satan appears to have temporarily and with Divine permission (as with Job awhile back…) gained the upper hand.

One refrains from attributing absolute or intentional evil to the Successor of Peter or those of the Apostles, but one can assume wily satanic machinations “corrupting even the elect”.

The Church has been here before. It has survived. It will again – and always.

Simple Simon said...

One is not required to be a theologian in order to have the capacity to be able to distinguish between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty. Or obvious contradictions. In the days of my youth I was taught that the Church cannot err in matters of faith and morals. Is this still the teaching? Familiaris Consortio and Amoris Laetitia are absolutely contradictory where it matters. Which Pope got it right? Such is the gravity of the situation that nuances are now absolutely forbidden. Jesus said ‘Let what you say be simply ‘Yes ‘ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.’ What must we do? Fr H your suggestion ‘a piece of teaching ………’ is helpful and comforting and proper. If I act on your suggestion it might bring some personal solace. However, I fear that this solace would be constantly undermined by the lack of any action by Bishops faithful to the Church’s teaching in the Catechism. Francis loves praxis. What he has done so far is surely just the first gentle waves of the tsunami predicted by Cardinal Pell. What is needed from orthodox Bishops is concrete action. Simply remaining silent, or restating the traditional teaching, or writing letters to the Pope will not suffice. Nothing less than a counter tsunami is required, and would suffice, God willing. A resolution is required, not a standoff. If it is the case that depending on who your Bishop is, you are expected to believe that divorce is acceptable for Catholics or not acceptable for Catholics, how can the claim of never erring in matters of faith or morals be have any credibility? Would not such a Church be dishonest and discredited beyond redemption?

Anonymous said...

You can find the critique together with its covering letter here:


Donna Bethell said...

The Rorate post with links to the letter was on July 28 and is here:

Sandpiper said...

Theological Censures against Amoris Laetitia Revealed.

Go to the blog One Peter Five and search for the above title. Contained within is a link to the fascinating analysis of the exhortation. It is chilling to learn just how morally corrupt, from a theological standpoint, AL really is. You can almost smell the sulphur.

Opacus said...

Everything becomes much simpler if instead of asking whether Amoris Laetitia is binding one asks instead whether it is more or less binding than certain other documents. Thus however binding Amoris Laetitia may be it is certainly no more binding than the decrees of the Council of Trent. And that judgement, which is clearly true, enables one to pose the following dilemma. The decrees of the Council of Trent are either binding or not. If they are not binding then neither is Amoris Laetitia - or any of the rest of Pope Francis's documents for that matter - since it is no more binding than they are. If, however, they are binding then the anathemas they pronounce against those who accept the Lutheran doctrine of justification are also binding. Neither horn of the dilemma looks good for Pope Francis, however, since either his teaching turns out to have no force or he has cut himself off from the Church by his declaration that Luther was not wrong on justification. Furthermore, it has to be asked whether any Catholic could contemplate accepting the first horn since if the decrees of the Council of Trent are not binding then very little in Catholicism is and the whole thing collapses like a pack of cards. So it increasingly looks like we are impaled on the second horn of the dilemma whether we like it or not unless, perhaps, Pope Francis decides to retract his statements and teachings on Lutheranism and other matters!