Worth Revisiting: Development and negation: the struggle continues

May 7, 2011

Development and negation: the struggle continues

 

The latest installment in my “Development and Negation” series was about slavery. More specifically, the question was whether the development of Magisterial teaching on the moral status of slavery negates any previously taught doctrine that meets the Church’s own criteria for irreformability. My answer was, of course, no—as it has been in every case where dissenters of the right or the left charge the Magisterium with discrediting itself by contradicting itself over time. What I shall do here is illustrate the significance of the general topic by presenting what happened to the debate over the slavery question.
The critic against whom I have lately defended the Magisterium was theologian Joseph O’Leary, an unreconstructed prog of a kind all too familiar on ostensibly Catholic theology faculties. The original target of his criticisms was Avery Cardinal Dulles, who had addressed the slavery issue among others in his article “Development or Reversal?” In criticizing my own position on the slavery issue, which accords with Dulles’, O’Leary repeats a charge he has made in almost every debate he and I have had in the past: “Liccione has devoted huge intellectual effort to proving that the Church has never reversed its official teaching on any point of morality.” As anybody who reads my series can verify for themselves, however, that is not what I have devoted effort to proving. I have openly acknowledged cases in which Church authorities have reversed their application of moral principles to specific moral questions, such as how heretics may be punished, whether borrowers may ever be charged for loans beyond the principal, and when the death penalty can be justified. What I have instead sought to show is that no moral tenet taught by the Church in such wise as to meet her own criteria for irreformability has thereby been repudiated. Tenets that do meet such criteria are, to be sure, sometimes wrongly applied; others take time to be recognized and formulated for what they are. That is why development and refinement in Catholic moral teaching are both possible and necessary. But my thesis has been that such development and refinement do not entail negation of any tenet taught in the past with the Church’s full authority. Tenets so taught are infallibly taught and are thus “irreformable,” meaning “not to be contradicted.” So the Church does not contradict or negate them. What’s happened in my debate with O’Leary well illustrates the importance of that point.

In his last comment here on my slavery post, O’Leary proceeds in characteristic fashion by throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. I had claimed, as an aside, that magisterial support in the Middle Ages for the physical punishment of heretics—such as the papal bull Ad Extirpanda—did not meet the Church’s own criteria for irreformability. I have made that claim before, and I’ve made it because AE’s subject matter was not any irreformable moral tenet, but rather a prudential judgment on the specific, very time-bound question whether the good of the body politic requires that heretics be physically coerced into confessing their heresies. Those who exercise magisterial authority, including popes, can be wrong about that without logically discrediting their own claims to teach infallibly, and thus irreformably, about “faith and morals” under certain conditions. In this case medieval ecclesiastics, including St. Thomas Aquinas, were wrong about the socio-political importance and necessity of torturing heretics. I’ve explained why before, but I don’t want to distract readers any further by getting into that again. Here, rather, is what O’Leary says in response to my claim that “Ad Extirpanda does not satisfy the Church’s own criteria for the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium”:

 

Do you refer to the papal teaching office or the universal teaching office of bishops, which is usually what people mean when they talk of the ordinary magisterium? As far as I know there are only 2 candidates for infallibility of the former, namely the dogmas of 1854 and 1950. I tend to follow G. Hallett SJ in thinking the claim of infallibility to be meaningless (thus neither true nor false), The infallibility of bishops is a Bellarminian thesis unwisely embraced, without disucssion, by the bishops at Vatican II and ruthless exploited since then to claim infallibility for Vaticanist doctrines on contraception, women’s ordination etc., at the very time as any autonomous teaching authority of bishops is beiing undercut.

Let’s leave aside the rather elementary point that the “ordinary” magisterium of the Church is not to be contrasted with the “papal” magisterium but rather with the “extraordinary” magisterium. Either the pope or the bishops can and do exercise either magisterium (though the bishops can only do so legitimately in communion with the pope). It’s bad enough that O’Leary, an ostensibly Catholic theologian, has missed that. But he’s actually suggesting that the dogma of papal infallibility is “meaningless” and asserting that the doctrine of the infallibility of bishops, authoritatively taught in Lumen Gentium 25, is “a Bellarminian thesis unwisely embraced, without disucssion [sic], by the bishops at Vatican II.” Again, let’s leave aside the irony that a theologian who signs himself “Spirit of Vatican II” is rejecting a very important ecclesiological doctrine authoritatively taught by the Fathers of Vatican II. O’Leary is out to end the game before it starts.

If the dogma of papal infallibility is “meaningless” and the infallibility of the bishops, as explained in LG §25, a mere thesis “unwisely embraced,” then the question whether the Church’s development of doctrine has ever negated an irreformably taught doctrine cannot be usefully debated. Before that question can be usefully debated, there must be some agreement among the participants both that there are infallibly taught doctrines and that there are consistently applicable criteria for identifying doctrines as such. For reasons I’ve given, the class of “infallible” doctrines is co-extensive with that of “irreformable” ones. Among Catholic theologians who care about teaching with and in the name of the Church, such agreement holds in substance, if not always at the margins. But between me and O’Leary, it does not hold in any sense at all. So, we do not even agree on the premises of the discussion. Perhaps that is why O’Leary consistently misrepresents what I aim to do.

The only useful strategy for the O’Learys of the world—and their name is legion—would be to argue that the historic development of Catholic doctrine precludes any doctrine of magisterial infallibility (ordinary or extraordinary, papal or episcopal) that could be (a) meaningful, (b) useful, and (c) definitively held. If there is no such doctrine of infallibility, then the question which tenets count as irreformable is purely a matter of opinion, and my “development and negation” project is not worth pursuing. That is roughly the tack Hans Küng took in his once-celebrated book Infallible? An Inquiry. A debate about his argumentative strategy is worth having because it can be settled by facts and logic. As I read Küng’s book and researched his sources three decades ago, my debate with him was gradually settled. I concluded his case was not compelling on either historical or logical grounds. More important, I soon realized that if he were right, then the claims of the Catholic Magisterium to be preserved from error under certain conditions are so much hot air. In that case, there would be no compelling reason to remain in full communion with Rome, other than to undermine her claims from within.

That, I suspect, is the real point of the O’Learys of the world.

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Pope St. Gelasius I

November 21, 2009

Pope St. Gelasius I  (image source)

November 21

Gelasius was born in Rome, in the fifth century, the son of an African named Valerius. Later, ordained a priest, he was elected Pope on March 1st, 492.  Gelasius had a reputation for learning, justice, holiness, and charity. However, he was burdened with difficulties caused by a conflict with Euphemius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, over the Acacian heresy. He also protested the encroachments by Constantinople on Alexandria and Antioch. Gelasius was influential in setting aside Roman pagan festivals. Moreover, in opposition to the Manichaeans, he ordered reception of the Eucharist under both species. Gelasius is known to have composed liturgical Prefaces and Orations for Sacramentaries, which may be part of the Leonine Sacramentary. However, he had nothing to do with the Gelasian Sacramentary or the Gelasian Decree (listing the Canonical books of the Bible) – which have been erroneously attributed to him. He died at Rome on November 21, 496.

Source: Saints & Angels


BENEDICT XVI’S PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR NOVEMBER

November 1, 2009

Ratzinger

BENEDICT XVI’S PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR NOVEMBER

VATICAN CITY, 30 OCT 2009 (VIS) – Pope Benedict’s general prayer intention for November is: “That all the men and women in the world, especially those who have responsibilities in the field of politics and economics, may never fail in their commitment to safeguard creation”.

His mission intention is: “That believers in the different religions, through the testimony of their lives and fraternal dialogue, may clearly demonstrate that the name of God is a bearer of peace”.

BXVI-PRAYER INTENTIONS/NOVEMBER/…                         VIS 091030 (90)


All Souls Day Plenary Indulgences for the Poor Souls in Purgatory for All Souls Day

November 1, 2009

All Souls

Plenary indulgences for the Poor Souls in Purgatory are  granted to the faithful who:

On All Souls Day, November 2, piously visit a church, a public oratory or — for those entitled to use it — a semipublic oratory. This is easy. There are plenty of Requiem Masses in my area, but even if that’s not true in where you are, there should also be Daily Mass as usual.

In visiting the church or oratory, it is required, according to recite “one Our Father and the Creed.” Another easy one as that’s included in Mass.

You must also pray at least one Hail Mary and one Our Father, or other appropriate prayer for the Pope’s intentions.

Communion must be received;

You must also go to Confession; and,

Have no attachment to sin, even venial sin.


Pope Benedict on Christ

September 20, 2009

Pope-Benedict-greets-the--001

CHRIST DID NOT TEACH A PHILOSOPHY BUT SHOWED US A PATH

VATICAN CITY, 13 SEP 2009 (VIS) – At midday today Benedict XVI appeared on the balcony overlooking the internal courtyard of the Apostolic Palace of Castelgandolfo to pray the Angelus with the faithful gathered below.


Commenting on today’s Gospel text, the Pope noted how it “raises two crucial questions which I would summarise thus: ‘who is Jesus of Nazareth for you?’ and ‘is your faith translated into actions or not?'”. To the first of these questions, “Peter’s response is clear and immediate: ‘You are Christ’, in other words the Messiah. … Peter and the other Apostles, unlike most people, believed that Jesus was not only a great teacher or prophet, but much more. They had faith. They believed that God was present and worked in Him.


“However”, the Holy Father added, “immediately after this profession of faith, when for the first time Jesus openly announced that He would have to suffer and be killed, Peter opposed this prospect of torment and death. Jesus had …. to make him understand that it is not enough to believe that He is God but, impelled by charity, we have to follow Him on His journey, the journey of the cross. Jesus did not come to teach us a philosophy but to show us a path, the path that leads to life”.


Pope Benedict went on: “This path is love, which is an expression of true faith. If someone loves his neighbour with a pure and generous heart, this means he truly knows God. If on the other hand someone claims to have faith but does not love his brothers and sisters, he is not a true believer. God does not dwell in him”.

In this context the Holy Father quoted St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on the Letter of James which was the second reading of today’s Mass: “A man may have an upright faith in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit, but if he does not lead an upright life, his faith will not serve him for his salvation”.

Finally, recalling that tomorrow and the day after are, respectively, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Pope said: “The Virgin Mary, who believed in the Word of the Lord, did not lose her faith in God when she saw her Son rejected, humiliated and placed on the cross. She stayed near Jesus, suffering and praying unto the end. And she saw the radiant dawn of His Resurrection. Let us learn from her to bear witness to our faith through a life of humble service, ready to pay personally so as to remain faithful to the Gospel of charity and truth, in the certainty that nothing of what we do will be lost”.

ANG/FAITH CHARITY/…                                                              VIS 090914


LA Times on Catholic Outreach

September 11, 2009

5 Bob to the Curt Jester, for linking to an article in the LA Times about a Catholic Outreach program in Sacramento that has had a couple of test runs.

I hope other Dioceses are paying attention. I’m acquainted with and related to many alleged Catholics and would love for them all to return to the church. Some left due to lifestyle changes, others due to changes in marital status; in one case, a man called his daughter to find out if he and his wife ever got their marriage annulled. Not that I have experience in that area, but I don’t think it’s quite that passive a process that it would’ve taken place without his knowledge or memory thereof, so if it had been annulled, he’d know.

Others have issues regarding church teaching. Nothing I can do about that but pray and tell them to shut up when they say nasty things about the Pope or the Church in my presence.

What is it, about 30% of Baptized Catholics sit in the pews each Sunday? I don’t know if that’s accurate but I think it’s close.


How Long do Catholics keep a Pope?

August 7, 2009

Pope john paul IIPope John Paul II

Today I talked to someone who commented on how much he had liked Pope John Paul II but wondered why we had him so long. When I said he was one of the longest reigning Popes ever, the guy said he thought the Pope was elected every four years, just like the President of the US.

I informed him that we keep the Pope until he dies, like the Supreme Court Justices but didn’t think to mention that he lives in our hearts forever.

And chose not to mention that in some cases, we keep them longer.

PopeGregoryVIITombPope St. Gregory VII