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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DhimmiWatch: “We Need Slaves To Build Monuments”

October 14, 2008

5 bob to DhimmiWatch which writes: “We Need Slaves To Build Monuments”

“We need slaves to build monuments”

Immigrant workers treated in slave-like conditions in Dubai. And why not? With attitudes like this to be found on the Arabian peninsula, this is hardly surprising. “In the shadows of splendour,” by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in WAToday, October 13 (thanks to JE):

[…] All of these men are part of a huge scam that is helping the construction boom in the Gulf. Like hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, they each paid more than 1000 ($A2559) to employment agents in India and Pakistan. They were promised double the wages they are actually getting, plus plane tickets to visit their families once a year, but none of the men in the room had actually read their contract. Only two of them knew Read the rest of this entry »


The Curt Jester: Catholic Vote 1860

October 8, 2008

A post of parody genius from The Curt Jester:

I am a Catholic and I am anti-slavery. I deplore slavery and have been an active part of the abolitionist movement. But this November of the year of Our Lord 1860 I am voting for Stephen A. Douglas.

Now I know my announcement will befuddle many Catholics who think that Abraham Lincoln is the only possible choice if you are truly as anti-slavery as I say I am. Some of my friends ask me how can I possibly support Senator Douglas when he was largely responsible for the Compromise of 1850 and supported the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857?

Though Senator Douglas does not regard a slaveholding society as one whit inferior to a free society I think he is the best choice to reduce slavery. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 proves that he is pro-choice on the issue of slavery since the act allowed these new states coming into the union to make up their own mind as to whether slavery should be allowed in their territory. He lets the people in the state decide as to whether slavery is moral or immoral. Surely this will limit slavery and as we work for a more just society more and more slaveowners will decide to reduce the number of slaves they own. Just because Sen. Douglas has invoked racist rhetoric and accused Lincoln of supporting black equality which he believes the authors of the Declaration of Independence did not intend, does not mean that he is pro-slavery. Even supporters of slavery can be conflicted about slavery and whether blacks are equal to us or not and we should work to move to a society where slavery is safe, legal, and rare. Plus it is not true to call him pro-slavery. He is for the choice of slavery and people can decide on their own whether they want to become slaveowners or not. Shouldn’t we let people make their own choices on this issue? Do we really want to legislate morality? Now as a Catholic I personally believe that slavery is wrong, but lawmakers need to represent the people.

Catholics should not be single issue voters and let slavery dominate the discussion. Human dignity and the acceptance of the government of human rights is just one issue of many. What about economic and other social justice issues? The election of Lincoln could even lead to civil war. Do we want a president whose “personal” moral code could lead us to war with all of the horrific deaths that could result? Plus if a war does start no doubt someone like Mr Lincoln would infringe on our civil liberties by suspending the right of Habeas Corpus.

This year the best choice to reduce slavery is to vote Sen. Douglas.

Signed Douglas Kmiec

Go to the original post to read some of the pure gold in the combox, or leave a comment yourself. So far my favorite combox entries are
by By Heather on October 1, 2008 6:17 PM

If you don’t like slaves, don’t have one!
Keep your rosaries off my slaveries!
Slavery, it’s safe and legal.

…and by Scott W. on October 1, 2008 6:42 PM

How many slaves have YOU bought, freed, and given a job? If you haven’t, then all your anti-slavery talk is empty rhetoric.

To read or leave comments on this post, go here.

5 bob to Dr. Eric.


CTA: Slavery and the Catholic Church

May 29, 2008

Slavery and the Catholic Church


For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. But when the kindness and generous love of God our Savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of His mercy, He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…
Titus 3:3-5


Once again the Catholic Church is being accused of another grave scandal. Some people claim that the Church before 1890 was either silent or approved of slavery. It is claimed that no Pope condemned slavery until then. According to one modern theologian: “…one can search in vain through the interventions of the Holy See – those of Pius V, Urban VIII and Benedict XIV – for any condemnation of the actual principle of slavery.” [Panzer, p. 2] Other people further claim that the Church changed Her teaching on slavery, so the Church can change Her teachings on other issues too. A recent book, entitled The Popes and Slavery written by Fr. Joel S. Panzer (Alba House, 1996), shows that the Popes did condemn racial slavery as early as 1435. Most of the information below is found in this book.

The issue and history of slavery are quite complex. Throughout history, the Church found Herself among cultures practicing slavery and had to deal with it. An early example is St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. St. Paul appears to tolerate slavery, but he also warned slave masters that they too Read the rest of this entry »