"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, June 30, 2008

Why they still don't get it

The Continuum is a traditional-Anglican blog whose contributors have, of late, grown gloomier than ever about the prospects of salvaging the Anglican Communion. Given the events surrounding this year's Lambeth Conference, that is probably inevitable. And I am very sympathetic with the concerns of the Continuum. But as a Catholic, I can't help noticing something pivotal that they still don't get.

Consider this peroration from a recent post there by Fr. Robert Hart:

Can they not see that the confusion of sexual identity comes from the world, not from the Holy Spirit? Can they not see that if a person's sex is irrelevant to the sacrament of Holy Orders, they cannot then make it relevant to the sacrament of Matrimony? If Connie can be a priest and father to God's people, why can Adam not marry Steve? If the entire Tradition of receiving God's word as taught from the beginning, when the earliest Fathers interpreted scripture, can be overthrown for the first, how can it hold its authority for the second? In fact, for anything?

Spot on, Padre. Given how women's ordination opens the way to gay marriage, both signify rejection of the Great Tradition—not just this or that aspect of it, but the very raison d'etre of it. Thus, Fr. Hart also says what I have long argued in my own way: "[t]he issue is one of rebellion against the authority of Almighty God, and the denial of his word. But, that rebellion did not begin when Gene Robinson's consecration was approved in 2003. It began when orthodoxy went from being taught authoritatively to being merely tolerated as one option among many." As a Catholic, I see the fundamental issue in Anglicanism today as the one raised by "progressive" Catholicism too.

For Anglican "reappraisers" and Catholic "progs," orthodoxy has become just "one option among many" in the Church. The more charitable among them might fitfully tolerate orthodoxy in the name of that deracinated form of Christian charity known as "inclusivity"; but having forsworn the very possibility of anybody's teaching orthodox doctrine irreformably, they resent anybody's purporting so to teach it. That is why my experience over the last thirty-five years has been that, when I present a clear, constant, yet currently controversial teaching of the Catholic Church as irreformable, progs see me as falsely arrogating to myself and my party within the Church the right to impose certain opinions and values on the rest of the Church. Having been reduced among them to a matter of opinion, they can neither receive nor present orthodoxy as such. Many of them no longer even know what the concept truly involves. Even when some orthodox doctrines are retained by the more temperamentally conservative among them, the authority with which those doctrines have been propounded, and which extends to other doctrines too, is no longer understood as such. Such people might, for a time, remain orthodox per accidens, in a historically transitory way; some surely do; but no member of their set of religious opinions is any longer, indeed cannot be, understood as permanently and definitively normative for the Church as a whole. For such a mentality, that Great Tradition which is the proximate object of "orthodoxy" becomes, sooner or later, a mythology outliving its time. That is the mentality destroying the Anglican Communion, and would destroy the Roman too if the progs had their way.

On that much, Fr. Hart and I are probably in full agreement. Nevertheless, his basic criticism of the Anglican reappraisers (and, to a degree, the "Global-South" reasserters as well) is, at bottom, not only my own about Catholic progs, but also of any and every brand of Anglicanism—and therefore of the brand he so eloquently represents.

After the peroration I block-quoted above, Fr. Hart invokes an old standby:

I believe in the word of God, as revealed by the Holy Spirit and received and understood by the Church Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est- "What has been believed everywhere, always and by all."

That last quotation-within-a-quotation is the well-known "Vincentian Canon." Some time ago, I complained on this blog about use of the VC as "theological sloganizing," but what I was reacting to in that post is not precisely what Fr. Hart is doing. What he's doing with the VC is something I criticized in a related post a few months later.

Against an argument adduced by Orthodox scholar Perry Robinson, I wrote (emphasis added now):

The VC states: "Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally." Now that is obviously untrue if taken fully literally; some qualifying interpretation of it has to be given if its original, contextual meaning is to be explained fairly, and I gave that interpretation in my earlier post. Specifically, one needs to know what counts as "the Catholic Church" in order to know what the relevant logical extension of "everywhere, always, and by all" actually is. According to Perry, what relevantly counts as the Catholic Church for VC purposes is the set of sees founded by the Apostles. Now, was it literally true in the 5th century that each and every such see was always orthodox according to the VC? Of course not. At that time, the apostolic sees of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, as well as that of Constantinople, had been falling in and out of what even Orthodoxy considers heresy for at least a century. So if the VC is usefully applicable at all, it is applicable only to that communion of churches which, as "the" Church, had remained in the true Faith indefectibly. And which Church was that?

The question cannot be convincingly answered simply by an historical appeal to what this or that collection of sees, even apostolic sees, had "always" held. It can only be answered, if at all, by a theologically prior identification of what counts as "the" Church, so that the unfortunate heresies sometimes infecting this or that occupant of such sees do not weigh against identifying the relevant collectivity, the Church. But that identification, of course, is precisely what is at issue here. Accordingly, there is no convincing way to apply the VC while remaining ecclesiologically neutral. What counts as "the Catholic Church" for purposes of ascertaining how VC should be interpreted cannot be effectively addressed by interpreting and applying the VC in a manner logically independent of one's ecclesiological commitments.

Now Fr. Hart is neither Orthodox nor Catholic, precisely because he does not believe that either the Roman communion of churches or the Orthodox communion of churches is identical with "the" Church of Christ. Fr. Hart is, rather, what many theologians would call a "branch theorist"—a term he rejects because he believes his ecclesiology to be true doctrine, not mere theory. Thus he believes that the Roman communion, the Orthodox communion, and the Anglican Communion (of the good old days before women's ordination and sanctified sodomy, of course) are each "branches" of "the Catholic Church," i.e. the one Church of Christ. Correspondingly, he believes that the doctrinal content of orthodoxy is the faith of the "undivided" Church of the first millennium, which each of those branches has managed to preserve, though not always without an admixture of error. Of course, on this showing the Episcopal Church and perhaps even the Church of England are no longer part of the Catholic Church as Fr. Hart understands that term, precisely because they have abandoned the Great Tradition. Only the really traditional Anglicans, those whose position is exactly his or as close as makes no difference, still belong to the Catholic Church as that term is understood by branch theorists like himself. So in Fr. Hart's eyes, not only do neither of the two ancient communions claiming to be "the" Church count as such; only his minority party within the communion counting as the junior branch of the Church understands what the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" ('OHCAC' for short) professed in the Nicene Creed actually comprises. In effect, Fr. Hart purports to profess orthodox ecclesiology while rejecting the ecclesiological self-understanding of each of the three historic bodies he recognizes as branches of OHCAC. Even somebody who finds such a stance appealing for its irony has to see something amiss here. In my reply to Perry Robinson, I've already pointed to what's amiss.

I described the upshot in yet another post: "Like the finest vodka, this is private judgment distilled so effectively that one hardly knows when one is drinking it." As I explained in my essay Faith, Private Judgment, Doubt, and Dissent, what I mean by 'private judgment' is precisely what John Henry Newman meant. Since branch theorists believe they understand better than anybody else what the phrase 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church' really means, they believe they understand what orthodoxy—i.e., adherence to the faith of said church—really entails better than either of the two ancient communions with unassailable claims to apostolic succession. Although such a position is absolutely untenable, it explains why branch theorists also merit a description that most of them believe applies to Anglicans less traditional than they: 'Protestants who think they're Catholic'.

My friend and fellow philosopher Scott Carson puts the problem better still:

...it is the great Protestant Burden, it seems to me, to maintain two incompatible ideas at the same time. On the one hand, it must be maintained that something called "the Tradition" is not to be located in any one time or place, but in all times and places, that is, it is what has been believed by everyone everywhere. That's what "catholic" means, after all: "universal". On the other hand, it must be maintained that, when it comes to deciding what, exactly, fits this description--well, then it's confined to one time and one place: it's me. If you start to do or to teach something that is not all that consonant with what I and my cronies have been doing and teaching, clearly the only explanation is that you have departed from "the Tradition". I can prove this, too, by showing you the documents and other artifacts that constitute the evidence of "the Tradition" and interpreting them for you in the proper way, not in the heterodox way that you interpret them. If you insist, for some perverse reason, that I am interpreting them wrongly, then I will just point out to you that their meaning is plain and that you are the one jumping through hermeneutic hoops to get it to come out your way, while I am simply looking at all the data in the plain light of day, with no interpretive lens other than sheer rationality.

Scott recognizes, of course, that such a game is not limited to Fr. Hart and his allies. A lot of people play it for very serious purposes. What must be kept in mind, however, is the mentality according to which neither of the two ancient communions with unassailable claims to apostolic succession can cogently claim to be the OHCAC, and therefore cannot rightfully demand adherence to their authority as necessary for orthodoxy, i.e., for adherence to the faith-once-delivered. According to said mentality, only certain people who have made a sufficiently careful study of theology and church history know what OHCAC, and with it orthodoxy, truly are. This kind of Protestantism is the opposite of unthinking fundamentalism and emotional pietism. But it is Protestantism all the same. The tragedy of it is how effectively it prevents its adherents from knowing that. It's why they still don't get it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Peter, Paul, and the Pope's fashion statement

Today is the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, who were martyred in Rome together. The Church of Rome still "has the bones"--a fact whose providential signifcance is often unappreciated. I do not refer merely to the claim of the popes to have inherited Peter's authority as leader of the Apostles. I also and especially mean the continuity between the Petrine and Pauline charisms in the Church.

Peter, the uneducated fisherman, represents the ordinary believer being faithful to what he knows. That is why the chief function of the papacy is not to innovate but to conserve: conservation takes less learning, if more humility, than innovation. But what the Peters thereby know is too limited just by itself. In Acts, for example, it is clear that Peter needed a good deal of prodding to accept the idea that Gentile converts to Christ did not have to become Jews in any recognizable sense. He was given a vision in the house of Cornelius; more painfully, he needed to be upbraided by Paul for backsliding on table fellowship with the non-kosher. In the end he was brought along, even as his leadership was never questioned in principle.

Paul, on the other hand, was the educated Pharisee. Lacking the advantage of having known Jesus in the flesh, he persecuted the Church zealously at first, and had to have a vision of the Lord to blind him to what he thought he knew before he could open his eyes to Truth. But once in possession of that Truth, he saw its implications with greater range and clarity than his apostolic colleagues. It took the first "council", with Peter presiding even over James at Jerusalem, to vindicate Paul's vision of God's call to the Gentiles. His theology was much more elaborate and thoughtful than Peter's even though the Gospel he preached was the same as Peter's. In due course they could die as brothers at the hands of the Romans, not long after James had been killed by the local Jewish tetrarch.

The story of Peter and Paul is rich fare for meditation. It tells us, among other things, that we need both the conservatives and the visionaries. That's because the faith-once-delivered shows its full integrity and scope in how our understanding of it develops. We must see the unfolding of revelation recorded in Scripture as continuous, just as the authentic development of doctrine and tradition generally since than has been continuous. That is important to recognize in every age of turmoil and growth. It is especially important today.

Most readers of this blog have become familiar with the concept of "the hermeneutic of continuity," and with my advocacy of that theological program. As a theologian, Joseph Ratzinger was one of its primary exponents. He very much remains so as pope. Apparently, the HC has become such a priority with the Vatican that even the Pope's choice of liturgical vestments is touted as a way to reiterate it. Check out this story.

This is another one of those cases when a fashion statement is not just a fashion statement. Actually, it is an anti-fashion statement. The fashion being countered by the papal fashion statement is of course the hermeneutic of discontinuity. As I've often pointed out, the HD is alive and well on both the left and the right in the Church. One can even observe trads and progs, in support of the HD, quoting each other's accounts of Vatican II and its aims--for completely opposite purposes, of course. Each side of the HD has its own reasons for depicting the Council as a sharp break with the Church of the past: the trads criticize the "post-concilar Church" as having thrown off too much of the past; the progs criticize the "post-conciliar Church" as not having thrown off enough of the past.

It's a pleasure to see the Pope's wardrobe saying that both are wrong. And why not? He does sit over the bones.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Quotation of the Day

I saw all the devil's traps set upon the earth, and groaned and said, " Who do you think can pass through them?" And I heard a voice saying, "Humility."

-- St Anthony the Great

Thursday, June 26, 2008

From "Can do" to "Can't do"

As Victor Davis Hanson points out, that's America's direction now.

Whether it's strengthening the family, reforming health care, building infrastructure, reducing energy costs, or any of a host of goals we agree are worthy, we spend a lot more time squabbling about the means than moving toward the ends. Nobody and nothing seems good enough anymore for getting where we need to go. Meanwhile, Asia surges forward with the optimism and energy we used to have.

I wonder what's happened to the American spirit.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Creedal amplification

In the combox to my post The Filioque VIII, Photios Jones addressed me as follows:

If some Hierarch in the Orthodox Church were to use a formula of Gregory of Cyprus II that the "Holy Spirit the Lord the Giver of Life Who procheisthai (flows forth) from the Father and the Son" as an interpolation in the Creed it would be "another" Creed because it goes against the intentions of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed even though an Orthodox expression. It would be reflecting something else than what the original text established and breaking the bond of love in the Church as she professes Her faith. Of course, I think you already know this, but it is on that basis that the "filioque" should be dropped so we can profess the original intention of our Fathers as Pope Leo III engraved on those two silver shields. I know you don't have any control of such things, but one can only hope.

This is where the difference between the usual Catholic and Orthodox perspectives on development of doctrine makes itself so keenly felt. Photios and I agree that Gregory of Cyprus’s phrase is, in its context, a good bit of triadology, in the sense that it accurately expresses an aspect of the faith-once-delivered. But I simply cannot agree with Photios that interpolating said phrase into the Creed of 381 would run counter to “the intentions” of that Symbol. If that Symbol can be said to have an intention, the intention was to express the faith-once-delivered for the universal Church, in response to some heresies of the fourth century. Now for all I know, Gregory’s expression might run counter to the pneumatology of some of the bishops active at Constantinople I; that is an intensely academic matter of opinion; but since Photios concedes that the expression is Orthodox, he is logically committed to holding that the interpolation would not go against the Faith expressed by the Creed of 381. Therefore, on my account, it cannot go against the intention of that Symbol.

Of course Photios might be urging something more specific: that “the intention” of the Fathers of Constantinople was to rule out any formal amplification of their Symbol in future, even if such an amplification would accurately express the faith of the Church. If that is so, then any formal amplification would be “reflecting something else than what the original text established”; for the text only “established” what it actually and formally says; and hence adding any truth, even by way of explication and amplification, would be adding “something else” just in virtue of the formal difference. But why would interpolating an agreed-upon truth, by going beyond what the text formally says, thereby constitute “breaking the bond of love in the Church as she professes Her faith”? Ex hypothesi, Gregory of Cyprus’ expression is a truth, and is therefore at least compatible with the truths expressed by the Symbol of 381. Interpolating such a phrase would “break the bond of love in the Church” only if, unrecognized by many as expressing a truth belonging to the deposit of faith, the phrase were nonetheless imposed on the Church as a whole, without general agreement, by formal addition to the Creed. But if the phrase were to be recognized by the Church as a whole as expressing a truth, what would be the problem?

Even if the Fathers of Constantinople I did intend to rule out any formal amplification of their Symbol via interpolation of some phrase expressing an agreed-upon truth of the Faith, I do not believe that such a stricture binds all subsequent ecumenical councils (and, as a Catholic, I would also deny that it binds the papacy). That is because the question whether a given creed should be formally amplified by a truth expressing an aspect of the Faith is not, itself, a doctrinal question but a disciplinary one. That a particular creed should or should not be formally amplified by a truth is not a matter belonging to the deposit of faith. It is a matter of deciding which is best for the unity of the Church in a particular set of historical circumstances. That is why, as I’ve said many times, my objection to the papacy’s 11th-century interpolation of the filioque into the Creed of 381 is pastoral rather than doctrinal. The interpolation did not introduce a falsehood; rather, it broke the bonds of love in the Church as a whole by professing, as the faith of the Church as a whole, a truth that was not carefully enough formulated to be recognized by the Church as a whole as a truth in the sense intended.

But it is also for pastoral reasons that I reject the proposal simply to delete the filioque from the Latin Church’s creed. Of course I would not object to such a deletion in principle as an ecumenical gesture meant to reverse the Roman error of 1014. If Rome made such a move tomorrow, my faith would not be affected in the slightest, nor would the Catholic faith be compromised in principle. The filioque has, after all, been formally defined as a dogma by more than one council whose decrees were ratified by Rome as binding on the Church as a whole; and in the course of discussing that dogma in several of my previous posts, I have taken it for granted as an article of the divine and Catholic Faith. Logically, none of that would be affected by the ecumenical gesture of deleting the mere phrase from the Creed. But I say that only as a theology geek. I am also a lifelong, practicing Catholic who came of age in the decade following Vatican II. I know the mentality of Catholics, especially American Catholics, very well. Given as much, I would strongly advise against Rome's making such a move as a pastoral matter. I do not suspect, I know, what would happen in the Catholic Church if such a move were made.

A millennium has now passed in which Catholics have simply taken the filioque for granted as a truth of the Faith. They recite it every Sunday at Mass without a second thought. But only forty-odd years have passed since the close of Vatican II. During that time, many Catholics of my and the previous generation got the idea that everything is basically up for grabs in the Church, that even dogma is a kind of extended policy paper which the next administration in Rome might rewrite if and when it suits them. That idea is false, and deeply so; but I'm afraid that the average Catholic, who is not a theology geek, can be forgiven for holding it. For in the 25 years or so after Vatican II, many priests and theologians held it too, and taught accordingly. Some still do hold it. Of course, after 26 years of John Paul II and three of Benedict XVI, they are now a defensive minority. But if the filioque were dropped from the Latin-Church creed, at least within my lifetime, those guys would be right back in business. They would succeed in reinforcing, in the mind of the average non-geek, the idea that everything is up for grabs. After all, the thought would go, if even the Creed can be changed by subtraction, then what couldn't be? The resulting confessional chaos would make the fights over birth control and women's ordination look like garden-party repartee.

Let me hasten to add that there would be nothing logical about such a development. I've already explained why, logically speaking, nothing substantive about the Catholic faith would thereby be changed. But right now I'm not talking about the logic a theologian can savor in his study; I'm talking about the mass psychology of average believers. I shudder even at the thought of confronting that if the filioque were dropped from the Creed.

What I'd like to see instead is unlikely to happen for a long time, but could happen in principle: an ecumenical council of East and West in which the Symbol of 381 is amplified in such a way as to exhibit the harmony between the filioque, properly understood, and the original Symbol. To get to that point, of course, much will have to change by way of ethos. Any such changes will be glacial. But when it comes to issues of dogma, glacial change is almost always preferable.

Monday, June 23, 2008

By popular demand: a filioque category

Two readers have suggested that I create a category, or what Blogger calls a "label," for all of my posts dedicated to the filioque issue. By my standards, that's popular demand. I have met it by creating a label you can find in the list in the sidebar.

Two political notes

1. I recommend David Mills' first column for Inside Catholic, entitled "Gay Marriage and the Slippery Slope to Polygamy." You can surmise his thesis from his title. But there's something curious here nonetheless.

The curious thing is why his point doesn't seem obvious to most people. Consider the course of "the sexual revolution," which today doesn't seem so revolutionary. First there was the contraceptive mentality, followed by easy divorce, widespread cohabitation and illegitimacy, acceptance of homosex as an "alternative lifestyle," and now gay "marriage." At each stage, we have been assured by the partisans of change that the next stage was not going to be the next stage. Well, it was—at every stage. Polygamy is next, then bestiality. Things can sink lower still, but I'd rather not speak more names of sin.

Barring unforeseen and radical change brought on by divine intervention, the very concept of specifically sexual morality will be considered quaint within our lifetime. Perhaps by then some people will see that the whole course of degeneration was foolish. At that stage, those among such people who do not already belong to the quaint minority of traditional religious believers will join them.

2. Frank Beckwith, a philosopher at Baylor and a recent Catholic revert, has some superb observations on Prof. Kmiec on Obama. Here's a sample, from the middle of the piece:

Given the overwhelming evidence that Senator Obama's understanding of life, parenthood, the human person, and pregnancy are inherently hostile to the prolife position on these matters, what can possibly account for Professor Kmiec's infatuation with the Illinois lawmaker? It seems to me that the only way to explain the cognitive dissonance of an otherwise stellar mind is that Professor Kmiec has never really had a good conceptual grasp of what the prolife position actually is. It is not about "reducing the number of abortions," though that is certainly a consequence that all prolifers should welcome. Rather, the prolife position is the moral and political belief that all members of the human community are intrinsically valuable and thus are entitled to protection by the state. "Reducing the number of abortions" may occur in a regime in which this belief is denied, and that is the regime that Senator Obama wants to preserve. It is a regime in which the continued existence of the unborn is always at the absolute discretion of the postnatal. Reducing the number of these discretionary acts by trying to pacify and/or accommodate the needs of those who want to procure abortions--physicians, mothers, and fathers--only reinforces the idea that the unborn are objects whose value depends exclusively on our wanting them. So, ironically, there could be fewer abortions while the culture drifts further away from the prolife perspective.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

The right kind of consumption

The "responsorial psalm" at today's Mass got me thinking and praying. This part in particular, from Psalm 68:

For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my children,
Because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.

I was given to realize two things: that the above has, in due time, applied to me, and that I had nothing to do with the "zeal" in question. Indeed, not only can I take no credit for having been ostracized; what contributed most to my greatest ostracization was my own, earlier resistance to the zeal that was consuming me. So, I don't merit victim credentials on anything like the order of the psalmist's, or the prophet Jeremiah's.

Even so, I suspect that if the above psalm verses don't apply, in some measure and fashion, to each confirmed Christian, they're not doing their job.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The filioque VIII

In the "insanely long" combox to my post of June 9 "A rad-trad converts," I finally broke down and summed up for my long-time Orthodox interlocutor Photios Jones the current state of my thinking about the filioque issue. Naturally Photios had a good deal to say in reply, even though I had indicated that I felt the combox was not the place to continue the discussion and left open the possibility of continuing elsewhere. Well, now that I see fellow philosopher Brandon at Siris weighing in on the issue, I see the occasion to continue.

Before I get to the substance of the matter, two observations are in order. One is that, in my view, the sole good purpose to be served by discussing the filioque at this stage of history is to exhibit how the Catholic dogma thereof is compatible with what Orthodoxy is concerned above all to uphold: the doctrine of the "monarchy of the Father" (MF), meaning that the Father is the sole fons et origo of the Godhead. That is the necessary point of departure for any effort to move the issue off the polemical dime it has occupied for so many centuries. My other preliminary observation is that most of my critics, whether Orthodox or Catholic, tend to see my efforts on the filioque as discontinuous, if not downright incompatible, with what the Catholic Church has dogmatically defined on the subject: to wit, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son "as from one principle" (quasi ab uno principio). Of course the Orthodox tend to see that as, ceteris paribus, a plus, and the Catholics as a minus. But that is usually how theologizing that tries to move the state of a given question forward is greeted—whether or not the theologizing in question turns out to be sound. If and where somebody can demonstrate that I am in error, I will happily concede the point; and of course I submit my efforts to the judgment of the Magisterium, supposing that I will ever be fortunate enough to see them actually noticed at that level.

With that said, I issue a final caveat: if you have to ask what any of Greek or Latin terms in what follows mean, read no further than that term. This one is for the true nerds.

Here's what I substantively wrote in the aforementioned combox:

First, my position takes for granted three things: the truth of the definitions of Lyons and Florence on the filioque; the truth of the main assertions of the Vatican's 1995 white paper on the filioque (a document you know well); and the logical compatibility of the Lyons-Florence definitions with the "monarchy of the Father." As the historical record of discussion shows, the bishops who signed on to the Florentine definition of the filioque accepted that compatibility, else they could not have signed on in good conscience. Said compatibility is also implied by CCC 248. Second and accordingly, the sole question that concerns me is how the two doctrines are compatible....

The key step is to recognize the polyvalence of the Latin word
causa. If the two doctrines are compatible, then the Son cannot be understood to be a "cause" of the Spirit in the sense of ekpoureusis—a kind of causation which, ad intra, belongs solely to the Father. So, assuming that the Son is, with the Father, a "cause" of the Spirit, that must be in at least one sense of causa other than that of ekpoureusis. The Latin theological tradition recognizes many senses of the term causa, e.g. the "four causes" postulated by Aristotle. The main conclusion I've reached is that, in order to get at the relevant sense of causa, it must be recognized that the two Trinitarian processions are somehow mutually interdependent. Conceptually speaking, if two activities A and B depend on each other, then there's a sense of 'cause' in which the products of A and B respectively are causes of each other. In the present case, it follows that there's a sense in which spirituque is as true as filioque, and it's that consequence which irritates my Latin brethren. So, given the traditional taxis of Father, Son, and Spirit, what I need to work out is the sense in which filiation has a certain priority over spiration. From that standpoint, even though both spirituque and filioque are true, the mutual interdependence of filation and spiration is asymmetrical, with the former having priority over the latter. My work is far from complete even in conception because I haven't been able to give much thought to the asymmetricality I feel obliged to acknowledge.

I'm not working in the dark; I've read a number of Fathers and Doctors of the Church, both East and West, on the subject. I pray about this. But I'm not sure that the effort involved in going further would be worthwhile. It seems to me that the effort would be worthwhile only given insight into the inner life of the Trinity that I'm not sure anybody can reasonably claim to have. So, all I've tried to do is sketch out a logical space where the dogmatic
affirmations of East and West can be understood as mutually compatible. I think I've made some modest progress on that.

Those who are interested in seeing just what progress, if any, I've made can do a search on the term filioque within this blog. But my hunch is that anybody who's read this post this far has already read that earlier stuff.

As I've said, Photios had a good deal to say in response to that comment of mine. Much of it was praise not criticism. But one point he made included both:

...I think you still need to work out how the Father and Son are "one principle," and the Spirit not also be "one principle." Causa is not really the term that the Latins use to describe the relation, but rather principle. Causa is used more of how God relates to creation if I'm not mistaken. So when we say "cause" we mean ekpoureusis. Proienai is a type of cause, but not a relation of origin, or express the uniqueness of hypostatic origination. It is within THIS CONTEXT I see your interpretation being the greatest benefit.

Before I get to those comments of Photios' that caught Brandon's eye, I want to respond to that passage.

From both the record of discussion and the relevant decree at the Council of Florence, it is evident that most of the Latins were disposed to use the terms causa and principium as synonyms in this context. What led them to use the latter rather than the former in the final dogmatic definition is that the Greeks, for old and understandable reasons, were wont to treat the Latin causa as a cognate for the Greek ekporeusis, meaning 'origination', so that only the Father is to be seen as the originating "cause" of both the Son and the Spirit. That is nothing other than a formulation of MF. Now as I interpret both Florence and earlier Western conciliar statements on the filioque, the Latins were willing to concede this point. They did not believe that the filioque was to be interpreted as being incompatible with MF. Nor, I would add, should they have believed that; that much is also implied by the Vatican's 1995 white paper on the filioque.

As for the Spirit's not also being "one principle" (with the Father?), I'm not sure what Photios is talking about. From the claim, which I make, that the Son's coming forth from the Father is in some way dependent on the Spirit's coming forth from the Father, it does not follow that the Son comes forth from the Father and the Spirit in the same way in which the Spirit comes forth from the Father and the Son. Hence, on the (disputed) hypothesis that there is a sense in which it can be said that the Son comes forth from the Father and the Spirit "as from one principle," that would not be the sense in which Lyons II and Florence defined the Spirit's procession from the Father and the Son "as from one principle." If the Son can be said to come forth from the Father and the Spirit as from one principle, that would be more like what's suggested in Photios' point (3) below, to which I do not object. So I don't think I've got a problem just yet. One problem at a time, please.

What caught Brandon's eye in Photios' comments also caught mine:

One must be able to fit together these unique things from the Fathers:
(1) The Father as sole cause and originator of Son and Spirit *as* relation of origin (one by genesis, the other by ekpoureusis). - St. Photios
(2) The taxical order of the Persons coming forth: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, expressing their consubstantiality - Sts. Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor
(3) The Spirit rests in the Son as his object, the Son's existence from the Father is the Sprits aim for Spiration. - St. Gregory of Cyprus II
(4) The Spirit as bond of love between Father and Son, because it is this bond of love as the energy of the Spirit that is common to all. - St. Gregory Palamas, St. Augustine, St. Gregory of Cyprus II. This is how the Gregory's interpret Augustine anyway.

What doesn't fit well here is the Carolingian and Scholastic view of 'relations of opposition' since there is no step of two-ness in the Trinity, and dialectic can only consider two and not three.

Like Brandon, I basically disagree with the last sentence. Since Brandon's exposition of what's wrong here seems correct to me, I shall not pursue the matter further in the body of this post.

Nonetheless Photios' (1)-(4) are all true, and I am familiar with them from my patristic reading. I also agree that any adequate account of the filioque must take account of them. So, how would I take account of them on my current theory?

Well, for one thing, the Augustinian idea that the Spirit is the "bond of love" between the Father and the Son, which is what Photios' point (4) alludes to, can be interpreted in a weaker or a stronger sense. In the weaker sense, it means only what St. Gregory Palamas says: that the loving activity (energeia) of the Spirit within the Godhead is the love uniting the Father and the Son. That much can be and has been called the "energetic procession" of the Spirit ex Patri filioque and is not, I believe, in dispute. What is in dispute is the Augustinian idea taken in the stronger sense, viz., that it is also the Spirit as hypostasis (or: prosopon, "person") who is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. In this stronger sense, the Holy Spirit-qua-hypostasis must be thought to proceed ex Patri filioque because, as the Spirit of both uniting them both, his existence is logically posterior to and dependent on that of the Father and the Son. As I understand the matter, it is to that idea among others that the 9th-century bishop Photios the Great so strongly objected, in his Mystagogia, as incompatible with MF.

I doubt that the dogma of the filioque, as defined by Lyons II and Florence, needs to be interpreted in terms of the stronger nexus amoris idea. The Orthodox present at those councils certainly did not do so. But given Photios Jones' point (3), there might be a way to salvage the stronger interpretation.

Thus we could say that the Father, as sole producing cause of the Spirit, produces the Spirit precisely for the sake of the Son. From this standpoint, the Father is like the efficient cause of the Spirit, and the Son like the final cause of the Spirit. Thus the Spirit can be said to "proceed" or come forth from the Father and the Son "as from one principle" because the one principle is the Father not only as Father of the Son, but as the one who eternally and perfectly loves the Son in generating him. Photios Jones cites Gregory of Cyprus on the general point, but I think we could also cite Gregory of Nyssa for greater specificity of the kind I'm striving for. For an extended presentation of what that might yield, go here.

Let me stress that I am offering only sketches of a theory that I look to refine in light of criticisms and further suggestions. The purpose of such a theory is not to strive for greater knowledge of the Trinity's inner life than the Fathers and Doctors of the Church attained. Any such purpose would be laughable hubris on my part. My sole purpose is to logically reconcile those ways of speaking about the Trinitarian processions to which both sides are dogmatically committed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why we need to be more Jewish

Here's the first Scripture reading at today's Mass (Exodus 19: 2-6):

In those days, the Israelites came to the desert of Sinai and pitched camp. While Israel was encamped here in front of the mountain, Moses went up the mountain to God. Then the LORD called to him and said, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”

With all their suffering, sinning, and exile since then, it is faith in that divine promise which has kept the Jewish people alive. A similar faith is needed to keep the Church, the New Israel, relevant in today's world.

On the whole, the ancient Israelites did not much like their vocation. Many fell away; even in the Sinai desert, those who didn't fall away had to endure "forty years" of wandering there—i.e., a heckuva long time—as the price of their grumbling half-faith. The Church as a whole, as People of God, resembles them; each of us sinners, as individuals, resembles them. God has called us out of slavery to a sinful world into a desert of dispossession where we can be free to hear his will for us and act accordingly as his priests for the world. He knows we cannot do that ourselves; so, by a continuous miracle of grace, Christ the One High Priest makes it possible for us. But on the whole, we aren't grateful. We think it's too hard, and unfair, and we didn't ask for this anyway. When the day's manna is gone, we're not sure the next day's will come. After all, you can't get something for nothing; at least the Egyptians (the world) kept us alive for doing their work for them. And though we may have left our former taskmasters behind, there's always those nasty Amalekites waiting near the next wadi. Anything good is taken by sweat and blood. Not even God's going to let us out of that. This business about faith and the law that Moses and Aaron (the saints and the hierarchy) keep selling us only makes everything harder. Let's just be realistic and get back to ordinary life like other, saner, happier people. No more Catholic hangups for us.

I'm keeping things general because the ways in which we do that, as both church and as individuals, are myriad. The Church's most visible temptation to be like the faithless Israelites is the temptation of the hierarchy to preserve the Church's institutional apparatus, and therefore their perks, at the expense of true witness—and therefore at the expense of those in and out of the Church who most need that witness. That's happened time and again in Church history, the most recent example being the systemic coverup of the sexual abuse of minors. We always see that, in the end, it doesn't work. But there are other sins; and our sins precisely as ordinary lay people all add up to a refusal to belong to a nation of priests. Priesthood is the business of the pros, it is thought; I'm just an ordinary person who wants what's rightfully mine and, having got it, to be left alone by the religious fanatics. They need to stay out of the bedroom and the boardroom.

The Jews have always had a "faithful remnant"—sometimes smaller, sometimes larger—to carry on in spite of everything. Sometimes they had to carry on in spite of persecution from members of the New Israel. We Catholics need to adopt a similar mentality. There needs to be a faithful remnant—which can sometimes embrace those outside the Church's visible boundaries—to preserve the fullness of the faith and the determination to live lives that don't water it down. In our day and age, there is no longer a Catholic culture to ensure that we can do that if we want. Our lives of faith, hope, and love must be intentional and countercultural. If we stop whining long enough to trust, the One High Priest will make up for our inability to do it ourselves.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Infallibility agonistes: contraception

In my two previous posts on infallibility in the Church, Infallibility again and Infallibility 2.0, I sought to establish two points:

(a) There is such a thing as the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium (IOUM)


(b) The normative criteria for identifying a given doctrine as having been taught with IOUM are clear enough in magisterial documents themselves to be authoritatively extended to particular teachings.

I supported (b) by exhibiting what John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger did about the traditional teaching on women's ordination. In this third and final post of the series, I shall argue that the traditional teaching about contraception that was reaffirmed by Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, and reiterated verbatim at CCC 2370 in 1994, is amenable to exactly the same treatment.

First, let's quote HV §14 directly (emphasis added):

...We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. (14) Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (15)

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.(16)

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

Since I am not now concerned with the quality of expression and argumentation in the document—which ranges from the inspired to the dispiriting—I shall focus solely on the question of the degree of authority enjoyed by the teaching I have highlighted.

It is evident from HV §15, which immediately follows the above in the text, that by "action...specifically intended to prevent procreation" the Pope does not mean periodic abstinence, restricting sexual intercourse to the woman's infertile period, but physical action that actively and intentionally blocks any process of conception that might otherwise naturally occur in the circumstances. There can be little doubt that the Church has condemned action of that sort for as long as we have records on the subject. Indeed, prior to the Anglican Church's Lambeth Conference of 1930, Christendom as a whole can be said to have held by diachronic consensus that contraception is evil in itself. In response to Lambeth's cautious authorization of contraception in "serious" cases for married couples, Pope Pius XI at once issued the caustic, wide-ranging encyclical Casti Connubii to reaffirm the traditional teaching. The issue only became controversial in the Catholic Church when the anovulant pill was invented and marketed in the 1950s by (Catholic) Dr. John Rock. For reasons I shall shortly consider, the advent of "the Pill" led many Catholics to hope that the Church would permit its use by married couples.

By the time the Second Vatican Council opened in 1962, the laity had been encouraged in that hope by not a few theologians, who didn't see what was supposed to be wrong with the Pill. A papal commission was appointed to study the issue, which was so sensitive that Paul VI, who became pope in 1963 after John XXIII's death, removed the issue from the purview of the Council and reserved it to himself. Eventually the majority of the commission recommended changing Church teaching so as to allow not merely the Pill but any non-abortifacient form of contraception—for married couples only, of course, and only for "serious" reasons entertained in good conscience, etc. After agonizing for several years, Pope Paul issued HV, which reaffirmed the traditional teaching in terms that covered the Pill as well as older contraceptive methods. The ensuing outrage in most quarters, including that of academic theologians, reverberates to this day and, in the opinion of many writers across the theological spectrum, entrenched a culture of dissent in the Church that remains intact, especially in the developed countries.

I have said that it was the Pill that had led to the hope, on the eve of Vatican II, that the traditional teaching would change. That was possible because, prior to the Pill, the popular shorthand for the intrinsic wrongfulness of contraception was that contraception was "unnatural." Contraception belonged, the Church taught, in the same category of evil as any form of sexual activity involving ejaculation somewhere other than the vagina, i.e, sexual activity that is not fit to lead to conception. Since "natural" sex was understood to be sex of the sort that is fit to lead to conception—even when one or both parties happened to be involuntarily infertile—any action intended to make conception impossible was accordingly thought to be "unnatural." Now until the 1950s, anything that one might readily do to render otherwise "natural" sex "unnatural" tangibly affected the experience of the sexual encounter itself—such as coitus interruptus, douching, or the use of condoms. But "the Pill" did not do that. The Pill was a dose of artificial hormone designed to trick the female body into treating itself as though it were pregnant, thus suppressing ovulation. The Pill did its work invisibly to the naked eye; and in the popular mind, that meant that contraceptive sex with the Pill was not "unnatural." It did not involve forms of sexual intercourse that had been called "unnatural," and it did not alter the experience of vaginal intercourse in any way. Of course the Pill was "artificial" in the sense that it was a human artifice affecting the body. But then, most therapeutic medicines were like that too—and their use was generally considered praiseworthy, not evil, by the Church! Accordingly, the hope was widespread that the Church would not condemn the Pill as "unnatural."

All of that was, at bottom, confusion. Once the concept of "natural law" is properly understood— as that divine legislation which applies to humanity in general, just in virtue of what we are by nature—any sort of action, non-sexual as well as sexual, that is "intrinsically" wrong must be said to violate the natural law and is, in that sense, unnatural. To be sure, the particular term "sin against nature" had been commonly used in scholastic theology for forms of sexual intercourse that involved ejaculation somewhere other than the vagina. That essentially rhetorical usage was only going to feed later confusion. But the belief it expressed was correct. "Wasting the seed" in such a fashion was believed, rightly, to involve the capital vice of "lust," i.e. the pursuit of sexual pleasure in a manner entirely unrelated to the natural (or, as we'd now say, the "evolutionary") procreative purpose of sex (see Thomas Aquinas, ST SS Q154 A11). Contraception was also thought to be a sin against nature because it impedes the production of the next generation. Why that was supposed to be so bad was never, in my opinion, convincingly explained; and that too helped cause confusion. But with HV, Paul VI helped to clear up the confusion.

I do not have time here to explain just how he did that. HV was part of a doctrinal development that first manifested itself with Casti Connubii and continued with John Paul II's "theology of the body." On this blog I have written extensively about that; the most directly pertinent post of mine is Development and Negation VI: Contraception. My point here is that even the majority of the birth-control commission, whose recommendation Pope Paul rejected, realized what was at stake: if the Pill were allowed, then for consistency's sake, so would any other form of non-abortifacient contraception. And if any such form were allowed, the ancient teaching of the Church would have to be altogether negated. And why would that have been a problem?

I'll let one of the leading dissident theologians of the period, Hans Küng, explain that. By way of presenting how the Roman doctrine of IOUM applies to the contraception issue, he writes:

A truth of faith or morals is (thus) infallible by the mere fact of being promulgated as binding by the episcopate in universal agreement; it does not have to await promulgation as infallible truth. And who could deny that such a consensus on the birth control issue existed for centuries, and that from the beginning of this century the condemnation of it has been upheld by numerous episcopal conferences and individual bishops whenever controversy about it became acute outside the Catholic Church or isolated Catholic theologians diffidently tried to raise questions about it? Thus the conservative minority of the Papal Commission (on reproduction) was able to point out that history provides the fullest evidence that the answer of the Church has always and everywhere been the same, from the beginning up to the present decade.

One can find no period of history, no document of the Church, no theological school, scarcely one Catholic theologian, who ever denied that contraception was always seriously evil. The teaching of the Church in this matter is absolutely constant. Until the present century this teaching was peacefully possessed by all other Christians, whether Orthodox or Anglican or Protestant. The Orthodox retain this as common teaching today. The theological history of the use of matrimony is very complicated ... On the contrary, the theological history of contraception, comparatively speaking, is sufficiently simple, at least with regard to the central question: Is contraception always seriously evil? For in answer to this question there has never been any variation and scarcely any evolution in the teaching. The ways of formulating and explaining this teaching have evolved, but not the doctrine itself. Therefore it is not a question of a teaching proposed in 1930, which because of new physiological facts and new theological perspectives ought to be changed. It is a question rather of a teaching which until the present decade was constantly and authentically taught by the Church. (Source: Infallible? An Inquiry [1970]; Doubleday edition, 1983).

What Küng did in that passage, now nearly forty years old, was show precisely how Vatican II's doctrine of the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium, which I've been expounding and confessing in this series, applies to the case of Church teaching on contraception. If the doctrine of IOUM as presented in LG §25 is true, then the traditional teaching on contraception must be said to be taught with IOUM, and thus to be irreformable. Of course Küng made clear in his book, and has since continued to make clear, that he does not believe the Roman doctrine about IOUM—the same one I've been expounding and confessing in this series. But his description of how it applies to the issue of contraception is perfectly correct. And it makes clear why, given the doctrine on IOUM, Paul VI had no choice but to reject contraceptive use of the Pill along with all other forms of contraception.

So much is already recognized in Rome. For instance, the Pontifical Council on the Family's Vademecum for Confessors (1997) says: " The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable" (§4; emphasis added). So, why isn't that stated by Benedict XVI in a manner similar to how John Paul II's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis dealt with the women's-ordination issue? I don't know. That B16 too believes the teaching to be "definitive and irreformable" is clear enough from this if it isn't clear enough already. Perhaps he just believes that more groundwork needs to be laid if such a ruling is to avoid causing a mass exodus from the Church. If that's what he thinks, he's probably right. Of course I don't know whether that means such a ruling would not be the will of God. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Infallibility 2.0

In my previous post on the topic of infallibility in the Church, I argued that there really is such a thing as "the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium." It may be inferred from my argument that such infallibility is the normal kind enjoyed by the Magisterium. Although most rank-and-file Catholics have little or no awareness of IOUM, the idea is well-known among theologians and appears pretty clearly as a doctrine in §25 of Vatican II's dogmatic constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, which I've quoted more than once before. My aim in this post is to establish the next premise in my argument that the ancient teaching reaffirmed by Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), and reiterated verbatim at CCC 2370, is one of those doctrines that has actually been taught with IOUM. That premise is that "the normative criteria for identifying a given teaching as IOUM are clear enough in magisterial documents themselves to be authoritatively extended to particular teachings."

That may surprise many people. For as an explicit idea and doctrine, IOUM is a relatively recent development in the Church's history, and recent developments have a way of being hard to nail down. But IOUM is no mere invention: the doctrine itself is an authentic development, and hence the reality has obtained ab ovo. For one thing, theologians had for centuries been debating whether this-or-that doctrine taught by the OUM is "irreformable." Such debates would not even make sense without the assumption, be it tacit or explicit, there there is such a thing as the IOUM. For another, and for reasons I gave in my previous post, the very authority of the extraordinary magisterium depends on the IOUM. Third, Vatican I had already taught definitively that "[a]ll those things are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith and which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment, or by her ordinary and universal magisterium, proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed" (Dogmatic Constitution De Fide Catholica, Ch.3; emphasis added). It would make no sense to require that a doctrine thus taught by the OUM be believed "with divine and Catholic faith" if the doctrine were not taught with that infallibility which the Church as a whole enjoys in such matters—which, in this case, could only be instantiated by the IOUM. So we're not feeling our way in the dark here.

Granted that IOUM is a reality, however, there remains considerable controversy about how to identify this-or-that doctrine precisely as having been taught with IOUM. But of course the controversy does not swirl around doctrines which are themselves uncontroversial. Catholic theologians do not waste time debating whether, for example, the doctrine that God loves all people is and has been taught with IOUM. That doctrine is taken for granted as obviously fulfilling the criteria for IOUM that were enunciated by Vatican I and Vatican II. And for good reason: it belongs to the deposit of faith and has been taught by the Magisterium with diachronic consensus, even though it has never been formally defined and has sometimes been denied by heretics. There are many similar cases, some of which are enumerated by ecclesiologist Francis Sullivan, SJ, in his widely cited book Creative Fidelity. But for purposes of dealing with the truly controversial cases, there is a critical lesson to be drawn from the magisterial and ecclesial consensus on uncontroversial cases.

The lesson is that, in order to satisfy the relevant criteria for teaching a given doctrine with IOUM, the episcopal college need not teach the doctrine by a particular, collective, and definitive act. So much ought to be obvious given the uncontroversial cases; but when it comes to the controversial cases, it seems anything but obvious to a lot of theologians. For the very first controversial case in which the Magisterium explicitly applied the criteria of LG §25 to a doctrine taught by the OUM was the case of women's ordination; and while that ought to have quelled the controversy, everybody knows it has not. I shall accordingly examine the state of that particular question in order to show why continued controversy is unjustified.

In his peremptory 1994 “letter” to the bishops on women’s ordination, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis [OS], Pope John Paul II made the following celebrated (or notorious, depending on one’s viewpoint) statement:

Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful [emphasis added].

On October 28, 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s responsum ad dubium [RAD] on OS asserted:

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith [emphasis added].

Note well: then-Cardinal Ratzinger cited LG §25 for his claim that JP's teaching that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women" has been taught with IOUM. Specifically, he cited paragraph 2 of that section, which I quote yet again: "Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held." Now there is no clear evidence that the thousands of Catholic bishops alive in 1994, or even today, have enjoyed a synchronic consensus on the question of women's ordination. The issue is, after all, controversial; obviously there is not unanimity. But consensus does not require unanimity; it only requires a very substantial majority. My hunch is that such a majority obtains. But nobody really knows that. There is no clear and formal evidence, such as a carefully-worded-enough public poll, establishing that such a majority obtains, or did obtain when OS was issued. Accordingly, given what the RAD says, we must conclude that Ratzinger was citing a diachronic consensus among the bishops as sufficient for fulfilling the criteria for IOUM laid down in LG §25.2. Obviously, such a diachronic consensus is not the same as, and cannot supply us with, a particular and definitive act. But for the reason I've already stated, no such act is necessary for the purpose.

Some theologians, of course, argue that no such consensus can be shown to have obtained in the case of women's ordination. I shall return to that issue of empirical fact shortly. For now our intermediate result is important; for it is often said by those who object to the RAD that some particular "definitive act" on the part of the bishops is necessary for identifying a given doctrine as having been taught with IOUM according to LG §25's criteria. Sullivan and many others, for example, cite Canon 749 §3 of the Latin Church's Code of Canon Law in this (and other) cases: "No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident." By itself, of course, such a citation is actually irrelevant; for in cases where what's at issue is only a doctrine taught by the ordinary magisterium—such as the one on women's ordination—there can be no question of any formal act of definition to be, or fail to be, manifestly evident. The quoted canon only applies to formal acts of definition, which aren't and can't be at issue here. But Sullivan actually had an earlier argument that CIC 749 §3 also applies to non-defined doctrines taught only by the OUM ("The 'Secondary Object' of Infallibility," Theological Studies 54 (1993) 536-50, at 549-50). Claiming that "the consequences for the faithful are the same" when the degree of assent called for by formal definitions is called for by doctrines which are only IOUM, Sullivan argues that, given a well-known principle of canonical jurisprudence, it follows that 749 §3 applies as much to doctrines taught with IOUM as to those infallibly taught, by way of formal definition, by the extraordinary magisterium.

But that argument simply cannot be correct. If it were, then the question whether it is "manifestly evident" that the doctrine at issue has been taught with IOUM could only be settled in one of two ways: by an empirical fact which no reasonable person could deny, or by a viciously self-reflexive act of the Magisterium. But neither is applicable. And the fact that neither is applicable enables us to see why Sullivan is wrong.

As to empirical fact, I myself believe that Cardinal Dulles has shown that the doctrine that the Church "has no authority" to confer priestly ordination on women has been taught by the OUM with diachronic consensus (cf. "Gender and Priesthood: Examining the Teaching," Origins 25, no. 45 (1996), 778-784). But that hardly settles the main question at hand in this post. When the degree of authority enjoyed by a given teaching is a controversial question, no mere historical appeal to fact is going to settle the question in principle, even if it might do so in fact for a while. For such an appeal is a matter of revisable scholarly opinion; and if the degree of authority enjoyed by a given teaching must always remain that kind of matter, then the teaching at issue must, itself, remain such a matter. That would ipso facto rule out its being recognizable as taught with IOUM. Hence, the question whether OS's teaching on women's ordination is taught with IOUM cannot be settled just by examining the history of the question. If it can be settled at all, it could be settled only by the authority of the Magisterium itself, using historical research as an important guidepost to be sure, but not as one definitive in itself. Yet given that formal definition is not what's at issue here, how could such authority itself be "manifestly" exercised?

The dissenters always point out that Ratzinger’s responsum was not an “infallible” statement and therefore cannot be cited to establish that JP2’s declaration in OS was itself infallibly made. But that reflex reaction misses the point altogether. It is true that neither document is the sort of document, or utilizes the form of statement, to which Catholics are accustomed as media for infallible teaching; but that is because Catholics traditionally expect, for that purpose, definitions that are acts of the extraordinary magisterium, whereas the two documents were meant to be taken jointly as establishing that the ineligibility of women for priestly ordination has been infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium. Trying to establish that by means of an act of the papal extraordinary magisterium would have been self-defeating. Doctrines taught with IOM are, by definition as it were, not defined as dogmas. So when there is controversy about whether a given doctrine is taught with IOUM, then the papal ordinary magisterium has to be able to settle the controversy by means short of an act of the extraordinary magisterium. That’s just what Wojtyla and Ratzinger did on the question of women’s ordination. And they could do no more, save by moving on to formal definition itself. When the doctrine at issue, in this case that on women's ordination, is taught with IOUM and is to be so understood, there can be no more "manifest" act of the Magisterium to verify that fact than the kind that was jointly given by OS and RAD.

But that still doesn't satisfy the dissenters. They require, in effect, that any papal or conciliar statement appealing to the IOUM to settle a controversial matter of doctrine make that appeal by referring to itself as infallible, rather than by using a mere CDF document to make such a statement. But that requirement is altogether idle. That a given particular teaching meets a juridical criterion for being "understood" as taught with IOUM is not, itself, the sort of truth contained either materially or formally within the deposit of faith; hence no magisterial meta-statement to the effect that such-and-such a teaching meets that criterion could itself be de fide. Yet if the Magisterium cannot all the same say, authoritatively and definitively, that a given doctrine is taught with IOUM, then it cannot settle any controversy about the doctrine short of formal definition. Therefore, all doctrine not so defined would remain matters of opinion. That would be incompatible with the very idea of the IOUM and even, I would argue, with that of divine revelation entrusted to and preserved indefectibly by the Church.

In the final analysis, Sullivan's position entails that, if and when a given doctrine is taught with IOUM, that can be manifest enough to require the assent of faith only in uncontroversial cases, precisely because they are uncontroversial cases. But so what? Those are precisely the cases in which an appeal to authority is unnecessary; and when a previously uncontroversial doctrine becomes controversial, Sullivan's approach has nothing useful to say about how the actual exercise of magisterial authority in such cases can be manifest enough to call for the assent of faith to the doctrine in question. Sullivan's position, which is popular among ecclesiologists, thus renders appeal to the IOUM useless, leaving appeal to the extraordinary magisterium as the only way of resolving controversies even in principle. But since the time of John XXIII and Vatican II, Rome has avoided the nuclear option of recourse to the extraordinary magisterium. There are several reasons for that, each one of which, in my opinion, would be good enough. But that is another discussion. In the meantime, it has proved important for Church unity to close a very important loophole exploited by dissenters. That's what the Magisterium's application of LG §25 to the case of women's ordination does, at least in principle. Thus the normative criteria for identifying a given teaching as IOUM are clear enough in magisterial documents themselves to be authoritatively extended to particular teachings.

It remains now to apply those criteria to the question of contraception. I will do that in the third and last post in this series.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The really scary thing...

...is that one doesn't know, just from its content, whether this column about Obama is parody or not. One only realizes it's serious by noticing where it's published.

I can deal with frothing-at-the-mouth hatred of President Bush. He's been around long enough, and done enough, to elicit such irrationality in some quarters. And not even his supporters would confuse him with a saint. But this adulation of Obama by people who are not "coweringly religious" but, you know, "deeply spiritual"—I mean, not even Mother Teresa got this from the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd, and she had some really spiritual stuff goin' on. I guess she cowered too much before you-know-who.

I didn't think "the elect" could be deceived by somebody who is not even a candidate for Antichrist. Sheesh.

A rad-trad converts

As I work out in my head what I shall say in my next installment on the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium, I want to pause to take note of one man's significant choice, and an argument for it, that pertain directly to this blog.

A sophisticated, articulate trad Catholic about whom I've posted before has converted to Orthodoxy. For reasons he and his friends will know, I shall refer to him simply as "Ben." Since his blog has been a good feeder of traffic to mine for some time now, I thought I should comment on Ben's conversion, if only for the benefit of readers who are led by his blog to mine.

Given what Ben had been complaining about for quite some time, I am not totally surprised by his move. He is not the first disaffected Catholic of conservative bent to have doxed, and will not be the last. (I've also known disaffected Orthodox to become Catholics, but the reasons are naturally quite different from those operative when the change goes the other way.) But I am somewhat taken aback all the same. When I posted about Ben's critique of contemporary Catholicism, I accused him of being a "hermeneut of discontinuity," i.e. of being one of those Catholics who believe that the post-Vatican II Church is, in doctrine as well as in sensibility, sharply discontinuous with the (Catholic) Church of the past. (The main difference between progs and trads is that the former approve, and the latter disapprove, of what they both agree is the practical and theoretical discontinuity.) I contrasted Ben and the HDs unfavorably with the HCs, the "hermeneuts of continuity," among whom are the present and previous popes and those who loyally follow them, such as yours truly. But in the last comment he addressed to me in the combox to my post, Ben objected to my criticism. He said that he just "wanted the Mass back," for good reasons of his own, and only then would he welcome seeing "the theologians and their ponderous apparatus [i.e., people like me—ML] play catch-up." My reply was, in effect, "fair enough." And sure enough, not long after Ben and I interacted, the Pope gave back to him and his ilk what they refer to as "the Mass." Yet less than a year later, Ben was chrismated into Orthodoxy. Obviously, getting "the Mass" back wasn't enough. Why not?

I was rather shocked to find the reason in an entry of his own in the combox to his last post. Here it is:

I have come inescapably to the conclusion that of the two views (broadly) of the Roman Papacy persisting from the first millennium, one is substantially correct and the other – the one that leads inexorably to the Roman Magisterium waging a pitiless forty-year campaign of extermination against the objective Catholic patrimony and most profound sensibilities of its own faithful – is not.

It's tempting to explain that explanation by posing a dichotomy: either Ben has changed his mind since he and I last interacted, or my initial accusation was correct and, despite his protestations, he was an HD all along. But I think it would probably be more accurate to say that the road he was headed down when we last interacted would, barring something altogether unforeseen, inevitably lead to the "conclusion" stated above even if he was not then ready to reach that conclusion. It includes a stark formulation of the rad-trad version of the HD. Regardless of its provenance, that's what I want to focus on.

I still want to fair to people like Ben. Thus I'm willing to grant that in liturgy, popular devotion, ascesis, and art, much was tossed overboard in the dozen or so years between the end of Vatican II and the end of Paul VI's papacy. I came of age during those years, during which I developed the distinct if somewhat blinkered impression that the Church had lost interest in precisely those aspects of the "Catholic patrimony" which have the strongest influence in forming the sensibilities of the faithful. Many loyal Catholics, even among HCs such as the present pope, had the same impression. Even though I actually prefer the Missal of Paul VI—at least when Mass according to it is celebrated rubrically and in Latin—I could not help feeling some sympathy for Catholics who objected to the post-Vatican-II devastation of Catholic culture and who, in that spirit, wanted the old Mass back along with much else to which I had been exposed as a young cradle-Catholic.

But when one looks closely at the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, of whose minds "the Roman Magisterium" of the past thirty years has been a very important expression, do we actually find "a pitiless forty-year campaign of extermination against the objective Catholic patrimony and most profound sensibilities of its own faithful"? As a cradle-Catholic with broad and deep experience of Catholic life over five decades, I must say that we find absolutely nothing of the kind. Since the mid-1980s, we find instead not only a clearly expressed awareness of much that was good in the liturgy, devotional life, and art of the pre-Vatican-II Church, but also actions designed expressly to encourage the restoration of that goodness. Admittedly, in those sectors of the Church where prog sensibilities have taken firm root, such encouragement has often fallen on deaf ears and even elicited protest itself. But that is mostly in spite of Rome, not because of her. And much to the consternation of progs, the restoration of sensibility about which Benedict XVI has been so open actually is taking place in many sectors—especially among younger, more intellectual Catholics.

Indeed, I don't think that the HD-HC debate can be plausibly sustained on the salient of esthetics anymore, as important as esthetics are and have always been. The real debate is, and I'm beginning to think always has been, at the level of doctrine. But this is where the hermeneutic of continuity is on firmest ground. Resistance to the discontinuants effectively began with Paul VI himself, in his courageous encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968); even though the widespread rejection of HV left him deeply dispirited, the Resistance has picked up steam in the subsequent papacies. That is why I make my own HC case on doctrinal grounds. And that, I suspect, is why I've seen very little in Ben's work, either in the past or now, that is both expressly designed to rebut the HC case at the doctrinal level and shows sufficient understanding of the history of doctrine to make such a rebuttal plausible. Once we get past an esthetic critique that is steadily becoming outdated, there's no there there.

No doubt Ben and his ilk will believe I'm missing the point. And I probably am missing the point. I think that what Ben and his ilk really want is what scholars of religion are wont to call "the re-enchantment of the world," with "the" Church leading the way. I am very sympathetic to that. Ever since the "dis-enchantment" of the world started taking hold with the rise of modern science and secularism, human sensibility has been slowly and steadily starved of that transcendent Beauty which alone can satisfy the human soul. The Catholic Church has not arrested that process and, at times, has been complicit in it. The devastation that ensued on Vatican II made the problem worse still. Perhaps the world is now so far down the road of disenchantment that there's no respite save in some ornate world of liturgy, devotion, or mysticism. That would explain why rad-trads like Ben become Orthodox. But explanation is not the same as necessitation. There is always hope in the barque of Peter.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Infallibility again

As we approach the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (HV), I shall continue developing my argument that the ancient teaching reaffirmed by HV has been infallibly taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium, and is thus irreformable—meaning that nobody, including popes, may contradict that teaching. (I designate that quality with the acronym 'IOUM'). In the present state of Catholic theology, such an argument must establish two points first: (a) there really is such a thing as the infallibility of the OUM, and (b) the normative criteria for identifying a given teaching as IOUM are clear enough in magisterial documents themselves to be authoritatively extended to particular teachings. Only after (a) and (b) are established can one go on to identify which teaching(s) in particular, such as that teaching of HV's which is restated at CCC 2370, are IOUM. And so my purpose in this post is to develop an argument for (a). My next post on this topic will develop an argument for (b).

In my youthful naïveté, I long ago took (a) for granted, i.e., that there is such a thing as the infallibility of the OUM. For reasons that will become clear in this post, I still believe I was justified in doing so. But I have found over the decades that (a) is not taken for granted in the Church at large. Most rank-and-file Catholics are unaware of (a), even as a thesis, and the majority of Catholic ecclesiologists either disbelieve (a) or have not explored the issue in depth. (The main exception is the indefatigable Jesuit Francis Sullivan, whose scholarly writings have indeed addressed the issue in depth, but have not managed, at least to my mind, to clarify it much. And of course a minority of faithful theologians, such as Germain Grisez and William May, do hold (a).) In the form raised at and since Vatican II, the issue itself rarely even came up explicitly before the 20th century. Since the Counter-Reformation, of course, there's always been discussion among theologians about whether this-or-that non-dogmatic teaching is irreformable; but until the 1990s, there had been little clarity either from the Magisterium or from theologians about the general criteria for identifying non-dogmatic teachings precisely as IOUM. The issue seemed to have been left as almost entirely a matter of opinion, if not of intuition. Ironically, though, the reason for that is also one of the reasons why Catholics, whether ordinary lay people or professional theologians, can and ought to take (a) for granted. That reason takes its place as part of the larger argument I aim to develop.

Even relatively "progressive" Catholics take for granted that the Church as a whole is "indefectible" in the truth. That means that, in the Church, the deposit of faith given "once-for-all to the holy ones" (cf. Jude 3) will always be preserved and taught faithfully. That belief belongs to sacred Tradition, and thus itself to the deposit of faith. Of course it does not tell us, by itself, which individuals in the Church will remain faithful to the entire deposit of faith. But by the same Tradition, Catholics profess that there is a body in the Church, namely the episcopal college with the pope as its head, who by divine authority teach to the Church as a whole; that is what is meant by the term 'Magisterium', the "teaching authority" of the Church.

Now when those who exercise the Magisterium teach authoritatively to the Church as a whole about a matter comprised by the deposit of faith, they also speak authoritatively for the Church as a whole. As the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church is the "sacrament" of salvation in and for the world; it is thus in and through her that what God has revealed in and through Christ is given to the world. Hence, whoever speaks authoritatively for the Church thereby preaches the Gospel authoritatively not only to the Church but to all humanity. But there just isn't anybody besides the bishops, in union with the pope, who have divinely given authority to speak for the Church as a whole—even when, at a particular time and on a particular issue, the majority of bishops happen to be heterodox and the majority of non-bishops orthodox, as has occasionally occurred in the Church's history. (The question how such anomalies are to be resolved raises rather quickly a major issue between Catholicism and Orthodoxy; but that is another issue for another time.) Now since the Church as a whole is indefectible in that truth which is contained in the deposit of faith, she cannot speak error about said deposit when she speaks as a whole. Therefore, when the Magisterium teaches authoritatively as a body to the Church as a whole about a matter comprised by the deposit of faith, it is preserved by God from teaching error about that matter. In other words, it teaches infallibly. And what is taught infallibly is ipso facto irreformable.

That is why Vatican I, in defining specifically papal infallibility, said that when the pope defines a doctrine on "faith or morals" infallibly, he does so only with "that infallibility which the Church enjoys" in such matters. Papal infallibility is not a personal quality of any man; it is but a specification of the infallibility of the Church as a whole. But papal infallibility is not the only or even the most important way in which the Church manifests her infallibility about matters of faith and morals.

As most of my readers know, there are two general ways for either the episcopal college as a whole or the pope in particular to exercise the Magisterium: the "ordinary" and the "extraordinary." As I wrote in an article I published a few years ago (adding emphasis now):

The ordinary magisterium is simply the teaching authority of the Church as exercised in ordinary, day-to-day circumstances. The extraordinary magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church as exercised in special circumstances calling either for resolution of a disputed question or clarification of traditional doctrine in more precise and authoritative terms; almost always, that occurs by means of the decrees of a general council or an explicit papal definition [ex cathedra]. The ordinary magisterium proposes for our belief the entire deposit of faith entrusted to the Church by Jesus Christ him self for preservation and ever-deeper but never-exhaustive understanding; the extraordinary does not add to that deposit, but expresses this or that aspect of it in terms that may never be repudiated even if and when they can be improved. Traditionally, and not terribly controversially, Catholic theologians acknowledge the exercise of the extraordinary magisterium as manifesting the infallibility of the Church as a whole. And in theory at least, most will now grant that the ordinary magisterium can also be exercised infallibly by the bishops as a whole, with or without formal papal confirmation. Thus Lumen Gentium §25:

Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held [definitive tendendam]. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.

The standard way in which the infallibility of the extraordinary magisterium is exercised is by means of "definitions" issued by the bishops "gathered together in an ecumenical council." Many dogmas have been defined in that fashion; precisely as such, they are irreformable and require the unqualified assent of the faithful. So much is also Tradition, and as such has remained relatively uncontroversial in the Church. Dogmas so defined are vastly greater in number than those unilaterally and infallibly defined by popes, which are few and relatively recent. But it is at this point that our main question arises: granted how the episcopal college manifests its infallibility as a whole by means of its extraordinary magisterium, can it manifest its infallibility as a whole by exercising only its ordinary magisterium?

For two reasons, the answer to that question has to be affirmative.

First, the very authority of the extraordinary magisterium depends on it. When said magisterium, either of the episcopal college as a whole or of the pope individually as its head, defines a doctrine as dogma, it does not materially add anything to the deposit of faith. It merely makes clearer or otherwise more explicit some aspect of that truth which was always comprised by said deposit and believed as such by the Church. And it is the entire deposit that the Church indefectibly professes and teaches over time; nothing is lost even when some forget it. But prior to formal definition, no aspect of the deposit is taught by the extraordinary magisterium; for formal definition is the exclusive province of the extraordinary magisterium. Indeed, before there was any exercise of the extraordinary magisterium by and for the Church as a whole—i.e., before the fourth century—the deposit was indefectibly preserved and taught, whole and entire, by the OUM. Therefore, the OUM did so infallibly; for if it had not, there would have been no subject matter for the extraordinary magisterium to present as the sure and certain truth that God reveals and the Church believes; there would only have been, at best, pious opinions and traditions. This is also why the extraordinary magisterium has never even seen fit to define its own authority. Such a definition would be viciously self-reflexive if the infallibility of dogmatic definition by the extraordinary magisterium were not always, itself, been an IOUM doctrine and understood as such. But given that it has always been IOUM and understood as such, there is no need for the same belief to be formally defined by the extraordinary magisterium.

The second reason why there must be such a thing as the infallibility of the OUM is that, if the Church as a whole is indefectible in professing what's comprised by the deposit of faith, then whoever is divinely authorized to speak for the Church as a whole in professing that which is "to be held definitively" as belonging to said deposit—in this case, the episcopal college—speaks infallibly when they teach to the Church as a whole what is thus professed. But there is no traditional belief to the effect that the bishops can do that only when physically together or are otherwise in a position to issue an act of definition. It is quite possible for the bishops to be "in agreement on one position as definitively to be held" while being spread out over the world or even over history. Such agreement or consensus can thus be either synchronic (i.e., at a particular time) or diachronic (i.e., over time). One example of a "position to be definitively held" in such fashion is that God loves all people—a doctrine which has never been formally defined as dogma, and which some heretics have denied, but which the bishops and the pope have long taught with diachronic consensus. That doctrine is therefore IOUM. There is of course no guarantee that IOUM doctrines were never controversial or will always remain uncontroversial. Although, for example, Christians have always professed that God created the universe, the Bible did not make clear that God's act of creation is ex nihilo—i.e., done without any pre-existing material to work on. But once philosophical and theological reasoning reached that conclusion, it was universally accepted and became IOUM.

Now even granted that there is such a thing as IOUM, the question remains whether it is itself a matter of doctrine, or only a matter of opinion, whether a given doctrine is in fact IOUM and is thus "irreformable." That question becomes very important when the doctrines at issue are old but have never been defined formally, and have also become controversial in the Church. The best-known examples of such doctrines today are the Church's lack of authority to ordain women and the intrinsic wrongfulness of contraception. In my next post, I shall argue that although the Church sometimes and wisely leaves it to theologians to debate the question whether a given doctrine is IOUM, the Magisterium must have the authority to rule in such a way as to settle the question definitively, and has in fact begun to do so.