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

Monday, July 28, 2008

America repents

At least praying might help make it so. We do indeed have much to repent of. A friend of mine has composed an ecumenical prayer service for the purpose. It will appeal to those Christians who agree with him about what we have to repent of.

The Immaculate Conception: trying to be erenic

Several friends have called my attention to a pair of posts over at Eirenikon: one called "On Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception," the other "More on the Immaculate Conception in Eastern Orthodoxy." Well, they have my attention.

I like Eirenikon: its Orthodox "editor," to whom I shall refer as "EE" in deference to his wish for anonymity, openly states that his blog's purpose is "Orthodox-Catholic reconciliation." That makes EE almost as quixotic as I and certainly braver, considering the reaction he sometimes gets from his co-religionists. At any rate, the long combox to the first of the two aforementioned posts, a combox that took me nearly an hour to read, tends to confirm that impression. EE's support came from "the West" not "the East"—unsurprising given that the post consisted of a quotation from a Jesuit theologian. Of course that should be balanced by the quotation of which the second post mostly consists; from a Greek-Catholic scholar, it impressively presents evidence for old, established Eastern-Christian belief in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception ('DIC' for short). EE invited refutation of said scholar's point, but did not really get one.

Of course the naysayers had already said their nays in the combox to the earlier post. In response to them, I offer again two old posts of mine: Freedom, evolution, and original sin, and Our "solitary boast". The best point of that might be to take some of the pressure off EE.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Prayers needed

Budding Orthodox scholar Perry Robinson of Energetic Procession, whose critiques of Catholic doctrine prompted me to begin blogging three years ago, is facing a couple of pressing personal challenges at the moment. Their edge is sharpened by his having a growing family to take care of. From my own personal experience, I know how much he needs your prayers right now.

Hang in there, Perry. Prayer for you and yours is an ecumenical no-brainer.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Getting the Church up to scientific speed

John Farrell of Farrellmedia has published a rather bracing article in Faith magazine called "Has the Church Missed the Import of Science?" It should go without saying that I believe the answer to be no, at least if we consider the historic role of Catholic priests in the progress of modern science. Consider just Copernicus, who first promoted heliocentrism as a hypothesis; Fr. Gregor Mendel, founder of modern genetics; and Fr. Georges Lemaitre, who first formulated the "Big Bang" theory in cosmology. But John certainly has a point about the contemporary Catholic hierarchy, who by and large are clueless about scientific developments.

What is to be done? John proposes:

It seems the time has come – and if not now, when? – for the Church to establish an order specifically dedicated to training theologians as scientists – or taking scientists and turning them into first-class theologians, so that they can more closely delve into the modern science of the natural order and its continued importance for Christian theology. A Church with philosophers of firsthand experience in the study of the natural order, would go a long way to helping her regain for the West what Pope Benedict rightly praised in his Regensburg address, that dedication to the importance of reason in its service to Faith.

My favourite example is Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, a neuroscientist, who is currently the director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He was in the lab full-time while he was taking night courses in theology and preparing to enter the seminary. The church needs more priests like him, some for example who could head a new faculty dedicated to training scientists in theology and also overseeing the recruitment and scientific training of seminarians and clergy who have the aptitude and the wish to become experts in branches of science.

Does this sound unrealistic? The Belgian Cardinal Mercier, who died in 1926, would not have thought so, I think. Cardinal Mercier not only began the revival of the study of St. Thomas in the late 19th century, with the gratitude and encouragement of Leo XIII, but it was he who noticed the mathematical precocity of a young seminarian, and fellow Belgian, whom he encouraged to study the then revolutionary new branch of physics developed by Albert Einstein. Georges Lemaître not only quickly mastered Einstein’s physics, he took it to the next level by convincing Einstein and his generation that the universe itself was dynamic. In doing so, he laid the foundations of modern cosmology that still guide research to this day. The metaphysical implications of this insight have still to be worked out.

Pope John Paul II liked to repeat Cardinal Newman’s adage that truth cannot contradict truth. The Church should not only not fear the truth of the natural order, it should take the lead in studying it, in championing it. For there is nothing to fear in the workings of the natural order and a lot to be gained from deepening our interpretation of it. If this can be grasped by those who have no faith, why can it not be grasped by those who claim they do?

Fair enough. We don't have enough men like Tadeusz Pacholcyzk, or Stanley Jaki and Michael Heller for that matter. But I'm not entirely convinced that it's up to a new generation of theologian-scientists to get the Church up to scientific speed. You almost have to be a celibate priest, free of family obligations, to do the amount of professional study necessary for attaining competence in both natural science and Catholic theology; and there aren't enough priests of any degree of talent to begin with. Yet there are plenty of laymen out there, John Farrell included, who are doing a creditable job in steering Catholic thought between the shoals of fundamentalism on the one hand and materialism on the other.

The chief obstacle to their success, it seems to me, is academic politics rather than a failure of will on the part of the hierarchy and the Catholic intelligentsia. But even fashions like that come and go.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

For the culture-war tactical manual

On this Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, I just thought it appropriate to post this vignette from the pro-life front.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The development of the "development of doctrine"

The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun's light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory, the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated.

(St. Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, 31.26; HT to "Ioannes.")


But some one will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged n itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same....This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.

In like manner, it behoves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits....

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God’s Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance and go forward to perfection.

For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated. They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties.

(St. Vincent of Lerins; HT to "e".)


This Tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. (5) For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church's full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).

(Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum §8.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Of what use is "the Vincentian Canon"?

Let me say at the outset that I believe there is an important use for the Vincentian Canon. I did not always believe that. I believe it now because, as we shall see toward the end of this post, the Pope does, and I greatly respect his intellect as well as his office. But I don't think that will satisfy my critics. Of that, I should probably be glad. But what's the use of the thing?

On this blog, I have more than once criticized the rather frequent citation of the Vincentian Canon against the Catholic Church, even though the canon itself speaks of "the Catholic Church" as that church whose faith the VC was intended to help identify and clarify. Progressive Catholics, traditional Anglicans, and most Orthodox—i.e. people who, for different reasons, reject the idea that the Roman communion just is the Catholic Church—are wont to task Rome for requiring more of believers than some common doctrinal core that is alleged to have been "held always, everywhere, and by all." And the VC is said to forbid, with great authority, requiring any more of believers than that. Now, my most recent defense of Rome on this subject was occasioned by a critique made by Continuing-Anglican priests Robert Hart and Matthew Kirby, who hold forth at The Continuum. And I answered Fr. Kirby's criticism of my argument by pointing out that the allegedly Roman "doctrine of manifest unity," which he claims fails to meet even Rome's critieria for having been definitively taught, is not in fact the doctrine Rome teaches. Yet as Fr. Al Kimel has pointed out, I neglected to also directly rebut Fr. Kirby's criticism of my remarks about the use of the VC itself. Since I consider this issue very important, I shall now remedy my neglect.

Rather than simply re-quote my argument, which was originally made to a different person in a different context, I shall sum up my position here for greater clarity.

The following from St. Vincent of Lerins (ca. 434 CE), which includes both the VC and an explication of its use, is true:

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. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.

But the VC is not literally true. It is not literally true that every tenet taught by the Catholic Church has been believed "everywhere, always, and by all," even restricting the universal quantifier "all" to formal members of the Catholic Church. For there have always been heresies aplenty among those who are, or at least started out as, formally members of the Catholic Church. But given that the VC is true all the same, there must be rules of application for the VC which, if followed, exhibit the sense in which the VC is true. St. Vincent indeed states several of them. Yet my main point is that one such rule is implied by St. Vincent's words and must be this: the doctrinally true referent of the term 'the Catholic Church' must always be understood and followed in order for the VC itself to be truly understood and reliably applied.

That is the point which Fr. Kirby criticizes as follows:

...Dr Liccione’s rendering of the Vincentian Canon is in danger of being reduced to a useless tautology, and one that Catholics could not accept inasmuch as it would imply all past appeal to this principle was an invalid circular argument. That is, if it is true one cannot appeal to the Vincentian Canon to judge a controversial doctrinal issue without first successfully determining exactly who or what churches are definitely orthodox and Catholic (so that their consent counts), then one must determine who is on the “right side” of any disputed matter before one can use consensus to determine which is the right side! That really would be incoherent.Indeed, the numbered argument I have given above as, I think, an accurate summary of our friend’s position does not use the Vincentian Canon in consistency with this tautological interpretation. Instead, it attempts to show that, even without knowing a priori who is the OTC, one can use the principle of St Vincent of Lerins to conclusively reject Anglo-Catholicism. Hence, any polemical attempt to deny the right of Anglican Catholics to appeal to the Canon in support of their teaching and identity, such as Manning’s infamous reference to the treachery of an appeal to history or his glorying in the triumph of dogma over history, is unreasonable.

As I understand him, Fr. Kirby is making two criticisms: (1) If I really stuck to my main point, my position would be incoherent; (2) Given why I don't stick to my main point, Continuing Anglicans are free to cite the VC to justify their ecclesiology, which it was my purpose to reject.

Perhaps the best way for me to begin answering Fr. Kirby is to explain just why I have maintained the point he criticizes. My first and lesser reason is that to reject or ignore it is to downplay the context in which, and the purpose for which, St. Vincent wrote. He was writing primarily for a literate minority of Catholics at a time when the Western Empire was disintegrating and the Church, in the East as well as the West, was rife with heresies. St. Augustine, for example, had died in 430 while still fighting, among other evils, Donatism and Pelagianism. In 431, the third "ecumenical council" (at Ephesus), amid street riots and bitter episcopal machinations, anathematized Nestorius and thus caused a schism that has lasted down to this day. We do not know whether St. Vincent, a Western father, knew about that council when he wrote. But his purpose in that tumultuous time was clear: to give thinking Catholics a reliable criterion for determining whether a given controversial doctrine expressed the faith of the Catholic Church (his term, mind you) or not. To insist that one need not know what the term 'the Catholic Church' antecedently refers to in order to apply the VC reliably for such a purpose is to make an argument that St. Vincent did not make and, I would venture to say, would not have accepted. Why that's so is the second and major reason for my position.

Consider how St. Vincent himself goes on to recommend applying his "canon":

What then will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb. But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty. What if in antiquity itself two or three men, or it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils, if there are such, to the irresponsible ignorance of a few men. But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort is to be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church; and let them be teachers approved and outstanding. And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this as to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.

The methodology St. Vincent recommends in the above paragraph could not even get off the ground if the person applying it did not already know what the term 'the Church'—i.e. the Catholic Church—concretely and specifically refers to. That emerges even more clearly when we attend to what St. Vincent does with the phrase 'the ancient General Councils'.

Which councils did he mean? Surely not the well-attended Council of Antioch in 268, which among other things considered how to speak of the divinity of the Son in relation to the Father. That council sharply rejected using the term homoousios, "of the same substance," to describe that relation; yet fifty-seven years later, the council which is universally deemed the first "ecumenical" council, at Nicaea, adopted that very term to combat the Arian heresy that had arisen less than two generations after the Antiochene council. Even so, by the time St. Vincent wrote his canon, the Arian heresy was still very much alive, despite the efforts of the only other "ecumenical" council to be held before St. Vincent came of age: that of Constantinople in 381, a purely Eastern council which had not yet been acknowledged by Rome as universally binding by the time St. Vincent wrote. So, what does St. Vincent think the authority of "general councils" consists in?

He simply could not have meant that their authority derived from any unbiased student's being able to see, on the basis of other criteria, the conformity of their creeds with what had "been held always, everywhere, and by all." Why not? Because he was recommending that we consult general councils precisely in order to determine what had thus been held, and precisely at a time when some orthodox but controverted doctrines were by no means held "everywhere and by all." On St. Vincent's methodology, then, the authority of "general councils" to determine which statements were "orthodox,"—i.e. which statements truly expressed the faith of the Church—could not, either logically or historically, have derived simply from some clear and general recognition that the statements approved by such councils expressed what had been "held always, everywhere, and by all." It's rather the other way round: the dogmatic decrees of general councils are what enable Catholics to recognize what had been "held always, everywhere, and by all" to begin with.

Given as much, St. Vincent was appealing to the authority of such councils to speak for the Catholic Church as a whole and thus define the faith of the Church as a whole. That authority is not, to be sure, entirely independent of the deposit of faith it claims to hand on definitively, nor did St. Vincent believe it to be thus independent. He knew that the teaching authority of the Church is not above the Word of God but only serves it. By the same token, however, the authority of general councils as convocations of bishops speaking for the Church as a whole had already been, by St. Vincent's time, long acknowledged to be that of the successors of the Apostles. The teaching authority of the Apostles was abundantly clear in the New Testament, and was long understood by Tradition to have been passed down to validly ordained bishops. The authority of the Magisterium to interpret the deposit of faith in an authentic, binding, and definitive manner was already, itself, understood to belong to the deposit of faith. But such authority would be nugatory if its exercise stood under judgment by people who simply decided for themselves whether or not the dogmatic decrees of a given general council conformed to what had been "held always, everywhere, and by all."

This of course immediately raises the question how, for St. Vincent, an authoritative "general council" is to recognized as such. Is it just the sheer number of bishops attending it and approving its decrees? Not exactly: the Council of Rimini (359), called to once again address the Arian controversy that Nicaea had fail to quell 33 years earlier, had more bishops in attendance than Nicaea and ended up approving an Arian creed! That result was what caused St. Jerome to observe: "The whole world groaned in astonishment to find itself Arian." Presumably St. Vincent, who accepted Nicaea, rejected Rimini too. Well then, how are we to know that one big council is to be accepted as authoritative and another not? St. Vincent is silent on that question, although I doubt it is coincidental that Pope Liberius was known to have annulled the decrees of Rimini a few years after it adjourned. Neither do I think it coincidental that Pope St. Leo the Great taught, less than thirty years after the writing we have from St. Vincent, an understanding of the papacy that can only be described as "Vatican I in nuce" (to borrow a phrase from Fr. Kimel). Regardless of the criteria by which we distinguish truly ecumenical councils from latrocinia, however, my point about the role of the former in using the VC stands.

How about when there is no "general council" to settle a question? St. Vincent answers by recommending, in effect, that we diligently seek a consensus patrum. But such a consensus is not to be sought among just any old writers claiming to be Christian; it is to be sought only among "teachers approved and outstanding." Approved by whom? Well, who else than the authorities of the Catholic Church? Outstanding among whom? Among those Catholics who are not Catholics in name only, but who humbly submit their judgments to the Magisterium and those writers whom the holders of the Magisterium recommend. When a consensus is to be found among such approved and outstanding writers on a matter pertaining to the deposit of faith, then we can identify and embrace the faith of the Church as such in their consensus.

An example of how the Magisterium itself employs the VC illustrates what that involves. Consider then-Cardinal Ratzinger's CDF responsum ad dubium on Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, a document of John Paul II's which had ruled that the Church's lack of authority to ordain women priests was a doctrine to be "definitively held by all the faithful."

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.

Notice how Ratzinger ended: OS's teaching is to be "held always, everywhere, and by all." That is a clear allusion to the VC, and it is a fair allusion because it had already been said that OS's teaching was "from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church." Knowing that the VC is not literally true as a description, in this or in most other cases, Ratzinger transforms it into a prescription. But it is a prescription founded in large part on the methodologies St. Vincent himself recommends. I am thus led to believe that the VC is useful not as a empirical method of polling the Christians of the past, still less of the present, than as a normative method of ascertaining the faith of the Catholic Church by synthesizing the statements of her duly constituted authorities and those they approve. Such a normative method is highly useful for those willing to accept it. But it would not make sense without the visible, historical Catholic Church, and her teaching authority, taken as givens.

Hence, pace Fr. Kirby, my position is not "incoherent." The way one knows who has the authority to settle controversial doctrinal issues is not, as Fr. Kirby says I say, to first "determine who is on the right side." That would be Protestantism, and I am not a Protestant because I don't believe that such a stance, if generalized, is compatible with the gift of faith. The way one knows who has the authority to settle doctrinal controversies is simply to locate the Catholic Church, which is where the the authority to determine what the right side is abides. Nor do I abandon that position for the sake of using the VC to reject Anglo-Catholicism, while prescinding from the question which ecclesial communion is "the" Church. I believe it is inherently implausible—VC or no VC, Catholic Church or no Catholic Church—to claim to know who and where "the Church" is while rejecting the ecclesiological self-understanding of each of the communions one claims to be branches of the Church. And I believe St. Vincent would support me in that, if he were still concerned with ecclesiological polemics.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

La Dowd finally gets it right

In her July 6 column, Maureen extensively quotes an elderly priest on "whom not to marry." To many groups of (mostly) females, he gives a talk on that subject which has been finely distilled by his "decades in marriage counseling." The last line quoted from him in the column is this:

“After I regale a group with this talk, the despairing cry goes up: ‘But you’ve eliminated everyone!’ Life is unfair.”

This priest is wise indeed. Maureen finally got something right. Makes me think of Romans 5:20. Which makes me think that sacramental marriage is possible after all!

(HT to frequent commenter John Hanson.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

"Why they still don't get it:" replies to objections

As I expected, Fr. Robert Hart and one of his Continuum colleagues, Fr. Matthew Kirby, have replied to my post "Why they still don't get it," where "they" refers to the Continuum. They did so in comboxes both to that post and to one at the Continuum, where my post was re-posted for convenient discussion. I was pleased to see, in the latter combox, contributions by my friends Fr. Al Kimel and Scott Carson; the latter has even followed up with a post of his own, delightfully entitled Have a Hart, whose moderation is commendable. Having been taken to task for my "sanctimonius triumphalism" (Scott's description of what I've been criticized for), I see the moment now to respond to my main critics.

Fr. Hart believes I have misunderstood his position, and accordingly has urged me to study his ample posts relevant to "Roman Catholicism" where, I was assured, my misunderstanding would be dispelled and I would find the refutations of all my arguments. Having duly made the study, I find that most of the arguments he constructs, along with most of his supporting material, are both old in themselves and familiar to me—from the time in college when I was exploring the question whether to be Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic, and from my more recent participation at the now-defunct blog Pontifications, whose newer version Fr. Kimel writes here. I shall clear away some of the kicked-up dust so as to focus what is worth debating.

The dust cloud is what is taken to be the evidence of history. Obviously Fr. Hart does not see historical arguments for "the papal claims" as intellectually compelling; nor do I think he ought to, for I don't either. But given that he has called Joseph Ratzinger "as close to being infallible as any one man can get," I should think Fr. Hart would hesitate to deny that said claims are intellectually defensible. That is as it should be. For neither I, Fr. Kimel, Prof. Carson, the Pope himself, or the many Roman-Catholic minds as great as the Pope's and greater than mine would presume to say that the evidence of history proves the Catholic doctrine of the papacy as that has developed over time. We believe said doctrine to be an article of faith and therefore to be assented to by the gift of faith. While considerations of history, and of reason generally, are and must be relevant to deciding whether to accept said gift and what comes with it, no such considerations could in themselves be decisive and thus compelling; for an article of faith expressing a truth knowable only by divine revelation cannot be subject to rigorous demonstration without ceasing to be an article of, precisely, faith. Much the same could, of course, be said about Eastern-Orthodox ecclesiology from a strictly Orthodox standpoint. In fact, on scholarly grounds alone, a number of mutually incompatible ecclesiological doctrines are defensible—in the sense of not being obviously contrary to purely historical fact—including Fr. Hart's. A matter such as this is not going to be decided by how much data we have in hand or even by how "reasonably" one particular inquirer interprets data that others have too. For even when the parties have the same set of data in hand, they operate within competing theological paradigms for interpreting the data. Which paradigm one adopts is thus underdetermined by the data and shapes how one sees the data. If things were or even could be otherwise, then after nearly two millennia of Church history and several recent centuries during which more and more data have been emerging for scholarly discussion, Christians would have less, not more, dissensus over theology generally and ecclesiology in particular. But in fact we have more than ever. Where, then, are we to look if not to the evidence of history?

Well, it would be a start to ask just what ecclesiologically significant questions the evidence of history fails to adjudicate. One such question is whether to be Protestant or Catholic.

I agree with Newman that "whatever be historical Christianity, it is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this." A respectable case can be made that either Catholicism or Orthodoxy is the faith-once-delivered, even though no set of historical data could objectively suffice to decide between their competing ecclesiological paradigms. But there just isn't anything called "Protestantism" on behalf of which one could make such a case. I think so not because I am an expert Church historian—I am not—but because it seems evident to me that "Protestant" denominations share too little positive doctrinal content with each other for something called "Protestantism" to present a clear doctrinal alternative to the indisputably apostolic communions. Aside from the existence of some sort of deity, and the importance of Jesus in showing us something about the deity, the only point on which they all seem to stand is, well, protest against the idea of any particular, visible church's being protected from error by God when it invokes its real or imagined authority to hand on divine revelation.

Now I have argued, in effect, that Fr. Hart is a Protestant rather than a Catholic. In more than one place, however, Fr. Hart has insisted that he is both Protestant and Catholic. Needless to say, one can reconcile such contraries by going beyond ordinary usage and construing the terms so that they cease to be contraries. That is what Fr. Hart does. But I have no wish to debate lexicography. I'd rather get right to the crux of the matter.

See here, which is a comment of his under one of his RC posts. He begins by quoting another commenter, and then responds.

The fault is not in the Scriptures but in the desire to part with its authoritative interpreter—the Church.

On this point traditional Anglicans are in complete agreement (and I dare say that my lengthy quotations for Hooker have demonstrated this fact). The disagreement is about how we know the infallible teaching of the Church. To the RCC it is by the teaching authority of the Roman Magisterium, whereas to us it is the 1,2,3,4,5 and Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition ("the Church with her Authority"). This, we say, is not embodied in one man, but in the consensus of the Church when it was united in the first millennium, regarding those doctrines that all of us, when really up against it, not only believe, but would die for.

Now all parties to this particular discussion agree that "the Church" is the "authoritative interpreter" of Scripture. All agree that the Church, qua such an interpreter, teaches infallibly when she addresses a point of faith or morals with her full authority. Disagreement, as Fr. Hart points out, arises over the question how we know what is the infallible teaching of the Church. I would add, and I don't think Fr. Hart would dispute, that disagreement also arises over the question what the referent of the phrase 'the Church' really is in this context, with the emphasis on "the". As we shall see, the two questions are closely related and the latter is just as important as the former.

Regarding the first, Fr. Hart has seriously mischaracterized the Roman-Catholic meta-teaching about "how we know." In some of the ipsissima verba, the actual teaching is as follows (emphasis added):

Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit, the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort. (7)

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission; and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. (Dei Verbum §10).

Therefore, Fr Hart's contrast between the role of "the teaching authority of the Roman Magisterium" and "Scripture, Right Reason, and Tradition" depends on a fundamental misstatement of how "the Roman Magisterium" sees the relationship between itself on the one hand and "Scripture and Tradition" on the other. Of course he could defend his view by maintaining that he sees through the teaching, i.e. that knows the real, underlying doctrine of the Magisterium behind the official teaching of the Magisterium itself. I have often observed this tack among those who reject what they believe to be the claims of the Church of Rome. But it is necessarily implausible to claim to know that what the Roman Magisterium means is incompatible with what it says. So the actual teaching should be taken at face value. Yet if it is so taken, then Fr. Hart's intended contrast between the Roman Magisterium on the one hand and "Scripture, Right Reason, and Tradition" on the other is merely a covert begging of the question. As for "Right Reason," no party to the dispute is going to say either that Right Reason is irrelevant or that their own reasoning fails to conform with Right Reason. (Indeed, Roman Catholicism is often accused of relying too much on "reason" as distinct from "faith.") And so I shall leave aside the altogether sterile question whose reasoning conforms to Right Reason. I shall also leave it to Fr. Hart to adjust his position, or at least his arguments, in light of actual Roman-Catholic teaching.

Pending that, if wants to see himself as both Protestant and Catholic, he has to do two things: affirm that something called "the Church" infallibly teaches the faith-once-delivered (the "Catholic" part), yet at the same time deny that any particular, visible church, such as the Church of Rome through her Magisterium, has in fact always done so over time when teaching with its allegedly full authority (the "Protestant" part; though it is not in dispute that all churches have erred when teaching with less than such alleged authority.) That, as I continue to read him, is just what Fr. Hart does, though in a manner I haven't found convincing since I decided, in college, to remain Catholic rather than become Orthodox. And that is the crux of my dispute with him. I do not believe, and have never been able to believe, that the affirmation can be made consistently with the denial.

I've already produced, in my previous post on this topic, an argument for that position that Fr. Hart's colleague, Fr. Kirby, analyzes well into what he calls "a valid and powerful one, granting all its factual premises." For the benefit of readers, the best way to clarify my disagreement with both worthy clerics is to defend the one factual premise of mine that Fr. Kirby rejects and, with it, my argument.

Here is how Fr. Kirby formulates that premise:

Whether one limits one’s survey (i.e., one’s search for Catholic consensus) to the Catholic Church of the First Millenium before the schism between East and West, or the RCC since then, or the EOC since then, or even a hypothetical combination of the EOC and RCC, in each case there is a consistent dogmatic consensus that the unity of the OTC (i.e., "the one true Church") is always outwardly visible and thus that any outward separation of jurisdictions cannot possibly leave more than one of the separated bodies inside the OTC. That is, East and West always have asserted and still do assert a doctrine of manifest unity (DMU) of the OTC.

Fr. Kirby goes on to criticize that premise as follows:

The problem is that premise 2 is simply false. There is no binding DMU and there never has been. The DMU, at most, has been a common opinion or sometimes has been asserted or assumed in official but non-infallible teaching contexts. But the actions of the Church (using any of the hypothesised identifications above) and the statements of various of its theologians and bishops (in good standing) in the past have often been manifestly inconsistent with such an absolute position. And I have made this very point before and given the relevant evidence on this weblog in 3 parts.

The problem with Fr. Kirby's criticism, even as he expounds it more extensively in other writings of his that he cites, is that his construal of the DMU fails to observe a crucially important distinction contained within the Roman Magisterium's official teaching, even as the matter is left to opinion alone within Orthodoxy.

By way of stating the content of the DMU, which he rejects, Fr. Kirby says that the One True Church (OTC) "is always outwardly visible and thus that any outward separation of jurisdictions cannot possibly leave more than one of the separated bodies inside the OTC." Regarding Orthodoxy, that seems a fair-enough generalization of the doctrinal state of things. But even though the Orthodox regard their communion as the OTC, they lack consensus on the precise ecclesial status of the Roman communion, otherwise and more commonly known as "the Catholic Church." As Fr. Kirby rightly puts it, "they know where the Church is, but not where she isn't." Admittedly a vocal minority, including the monks of Mt. Athos and Fr. Justin Popovich, sees the Catholic Church as a satanic counterfeit of a church, with papism and (on some versions) the filioque as the fons et origo of all the ills of "the West." But the majority seem to see the Catholic Church, though indeed as heretical and schismatic and thus not part of the OTC, yet nonetheless as possibly quite helpful for her members' salvation. A few are even willing to see the Catholic Church pretty much as the Catholic Church sees the Orthodox communion. What, and how, is that?

A careful reading of Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), along with the "ecumenical" decrees related to it, makes three points clear:

(1) The Catholic Church sees herself as the OTC, i.e. that body in which the Church of Christ visibly and continuously "subsists" as a perduring whole;

(2) All the same, the Orthodox churches in schism with the Catholic Church are "true, particular churches" that are in real but "imperfect" communion with the Catholic Church;

(3) As such, the Orthodox communion "belongs properly" to the Catholic Church, i.e., ought to be in full communion with the OTC.

Without the use of the word 'Orthodox', all of that is reiterated in the CDF's most recent "instruction" on ecclesiology, which I quoted in full and discussed at length here last year.

Pace Fr. Hart, this is not Rome's branch theory. According to branch theory, neither the Roman nor the Orthodox nor the Anglican communion, indeed no visible communion of churches, can rightly claim to be, simply, the OTC. But Rome has time and again insisted, with her full authority, that she is the OTC; and her version of the DMU follows from her ecclesiological self-understanding. Yet, on that version and pace Fr. Kirby, it does not follow that the Orthodox communion is simply "outside" the OTC. Rather, for Rome the Orthodox communion consists of true churches that are in imperfect communion with the OTC. Thus, in relation to the OTC, the Orthodox communion exists ectopically as it were, but still with a real connection of sacramental grace and authentic Christian faith. That teaching was never clearly formulated in Magisterial teaching prior to Vatican II; but the very historical evidence Fr. Kirby cites against what he calls "the DMU" serves rather effectively to show that Vatican II's teaching about Orthodoxy is merely a making explicit of Rome's practical stance toward the Orthodox all along. Accordingly, the problem with Fr Kirby's formulation and rejection of the DMU is that the DMU he formulates and rejects is not the DMU that Rome teaches. It fails to note Rome's adoption of the idea of partial communion, and thus fails to formulate the version of the DMU which she holds and which, accordingly, I hold.

As I indicated above, Fr. Hart has complained that I misunderstand him. Perhaps I have, even though I don't think so. But I think it pretty clear that Frs. Hart and Kirby have misunderstood how Roman-Catholic ecclesiology has developed. By thus misunderstanding my own ecclesiology, they have failed to appreciate the force of my argument against theirs. In this as in so many debates, the hardest work for the antagonists is simply getting clear on what each other means.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Remember this when you hear "ACLU"

“From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the ‘self-evident truth’ that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society that faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement."

Pope Benedict XVI, on the White House lawn, April 16, 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The vocations front

In casual conversation this week with a few local Catholics, I heard more of the old CW about how the growing shortage of priests can be resolved simply by ordaining married men, women, and even the actively homosexual. When I pointed out that the Episcopal Church has been doing just that for years, only to witness a growing shortage of laity, I was assured that the Catholic Church is not the Episcopal Church. My response was what it could only be: "Let's keep her that way." Unlike those who want the Catholic Church to be the Episcopal Church—or as close to it as makes no differenc—the Catholics I spoke with conceded I had a point. And on the vocations front, there are proven ways to keep her from becoming the Episcopal Church.

The most important way is for Catholic families and parishes to be prayerful and orthodox. Both prayer and orthodoxy are equally necessary; for even as spirituality without orthodoxy is gnosis, orthodoxy without spirituality is pharisaism. But when both are present in sufficient measure, the people understand what a great and special vocation the priesthood is and are willing to transmit that attitude to the young men they influence. Dioceses where that process occurs, such as Omaha, St. Louis, and Denver, get ample vocations. The last of those three is even building a bigger seminary. In the solid and growing Diocese of Charlotte, plans to build a seminary from scratch are well advanced.

There are other ways too, but I lack time to get into more detail about them. Here I'd rather focus people's attention on the biggest obstacle to the spread of such ways: the extent to which American cultural values shape the outlook of most lay Catholics themselves.

I just came across a blog called Roman Catholic Vocations, where today's post offers a vignette about the young author's process of discerning a priestly vocation. What most struck me was not the post, however, but the first and, so far, the only comment. It is by "A Simple Sinner," who often comments here too. He wrote:

A dozen years ago before I left for seminary, the most common comment I got from my suburban neighbors when I told them my plans (you know, people who are members of suburban parishes, put their 2.1 kids through the parish grade school because it was a better "private school" and bragged about being buddies with priests...) Don't do that! You'll find a girlfriend!" The message being clear - I wasn't such an unattractive loser that I couldn't do far better than becoming a priest! I later came to suspect that a young man taking a step to be a sign of contradistinction to all that we hold dear in the US - sex, money, fame - is a challenge that bothers people who themselves may feel guilty how NOT seriously they take their own faith. Sure they will put $25 in the collection plate on the Saturday nights they do go to Mass... But give up their granit-counter-top homes, his & hers SUVS, birth control, sex, money? Now that is just plain crazy!

SS is right about one thing: the default assumption is that the priesthood is for losers, so that a young man who could get a girlfriend and a good job doesn't belong in the priesthood. That problem was fully apparent during the aftermath of Vatican II. As a young man in the 70s, one who could and did get girlfriends and could have had a remunerative career if he'd actually been interested in something that remunerates, my interest in the priesthood drew mostly the reaction that SS describes. I'm still interested in the priesthood and, when I express that interest, still draw the same reaction (even before the perennial child-support issue comes up, which it doesn't always). But I don't think SS is quite right to "suspect" that many of the scoffers secretly feel guilty. If I thought they did, I wouldn't be in the least disturbed; for somebody's guilty conscience is a sign that they know, at some level, that they're guilty of something. The real problem is that, among most Catholics, the necessary formation of conscience isn't even taking place.

They don't think of the priesthood as a noble vocation from God at all. That is partly because nobody has told them—at least not in any convincing way—and partly because they have no idea that to adopt sacrificial service willingly as a lifestyle, for love of God and neighbor, is to be divinized. But they don't see as much mostly because all the cultural icons that suffuse their environment send the opposite message. As some wag once asked: "Why does the Devil have all the best tunes?"—a question much more apposite now, if only given the state of Catholic liturgy, than it was a century ago. The gods and goddesses the young know today play sports and movie characters, or at the very least drive BMWs and have lots of sex without consequences. They simply cannot conceive that a life with no sex and hardly any money could be for anybody but a loser.

Nonetheless, I'll venture a challenge in the form of a question. Everybody has been outraged by the clerical sex-abuse scandal. But which scenario is more likely to produce clerical pederasts and their enablers: one in which only losers are thought fit for the priesthood, or one in which real men are admired for following that vocation?