Past Elder – the only Commentator worth reading?

No, of course not – so please don’t get offended, Louise, your Eminence, Athanasius, Tom and all others who participated in (are still participating in?) the discussion going on here.

But the only commentator who I didn’t engage with there (because it would have led us off topic wie gewoehnlich) was Past Elder’s comment, reminding us that in 1864, Pope Pius IX condemned (inter alia) the following statements:

#15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.

#55. The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.

#77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.

#78. It has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.

#80. The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization.

To which, as ever, PE (the Artful Dodger) concludes:

Ah Catholicism. It is whatever you want it to be. A statement is condemned here, but not there, condemned then, but not now, means this, but also that, once was that, but now is this and never changed — all made perfectly clear to the faithful by the magisterium Christ instituted for that purpose, themselves!

We admire consistency of argument on this blog, and have to hand it to PE that he keeps whistling the same tune.

But the issue he raises is a serious challenge. What can explain the fact that the institution which claims to speak with Christ’s authority in a reliable (nay, infallible) way on all matters of faith and morals can

– condemn something here, but not there
– condemn something then, but not now
– and teach that something was once that, but is now this?

This is the sort of thing that can really unsettle someone committed to the ideal of “The Catholic Church, the same, today, tommorrow and forever.” [It did unsettle PE himself once, before he realised that the whole thing was a “perposterous and monstrous sham”.]

The fact is that I could pick any number of similar issues:

eg. “Condemn something then, but not now”
The classic case is that of slavery. St Paul once sent a run-away slave back to his master because he was his master’s rightful property. Today we would condemn the master and defend the slave’s right to emancipation.

eg. “Condemn something here, but not there”
The classic case is of justification by faith apart from works – vigourously defended by St Paul and equally condemned by St James.

eg. “something was once that, but is now this”
Well, I will pluck one out the hat. In the early apostolic era when the Christians were weak they viewed it as a violation of justice that they were persecuted by the Jews of the Synagogue (eg. Rev 3:8-9); but when the tables were turned it was the Christians who used their power to persecute the Jews in their weakness.

It is not a difficult game to play, my dear Past Elder. And anyone could point out endless difficulties. But, again as the Venerable JHN himself said, ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt!

In all the three cases I have cited above, the first two can be explained by a simple case of difference of context (my third example is unjustifiable – it is simply an example of how easily, with human beings, something which “was once that” easily becomes something which “is now this”.)

I propose that Pius IX differs from Benedict XVI for the simple reason that 1864 differs from 2008. Our Popes, learning from the faith of the past, always speak to the present. Except when he prophecies (which happens from time to time, eg. Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae), we cannot expect that the Pope is able to foresee what shall come. His magisterium are therefore always conditioned by the simple limits of time and space. He is not an oracle, whose words may be taken from there and transplanted to here and interpreted like the words of Nostradamus. All this should be too obvious, but I have to say it. You can say “A fire is a good thing” and you would be right if the fire was in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night. But you would be wrong if you said it in the middle of the Australian bush on a hot windy summer’s day…

So, 1864 is different from 2008. Staggeringly different. When we (in 2008) read in our context what he (in 1864) wrote in his, we need to recalibrate our thinking (as it were) by the light of the context in which he spoke. To get a handle on it, here is a paragraph from the Wikipedia entry on Pius IX:

Politically, the pontificate after 1848, was faced with revolutionary movements not only in Italy but throughout Europe. Initially Pius was very liberal, freeing all political prisoners of his predecessor, and granting Rome a constitutional framework. He turned conservative after assassinations (e.g. of his Minister of the Interior, Pellegrino Rossi), terrorist acts, and the 1848 revolution in Italy, France and Germany. He had to flee Rome in 1848 for a short time and lost the Papal states permanently to Italy in 1870. He refused to accept an Law of Guarantees from Italy, which would have made the Vatican dependent on reliable Italian financing for all times to come. His Church policies towards other countries, such as Russia,Germany and France, were not always successful, due in part, to changing secular institutions and internal developments within these countries. Concordats were concluded with numerous states such as Austria-Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Tuscany, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti.

Turbulent times!

Keeping that in mind, are the propositions he condemned really those now espoused by the Church? I think not. Let’s look at them:

#15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.

You can understand why, in the light of the revolutionary period in which Pius IX was living, he might condemn this proposition. But does the Church, in fact, defend such an idea today? I think not.

The hermeneutical question here is: “Free before whom?” The answer is different if you are saying “Free before God” or “Free before the State”. Today when we speak of freedom of religion, we mean that the State (and much less the Church) cannot with justice force someone to “embrace and profess” a faith which they do NOT “consider true”. Can we suppose that Pius IX was proposing that it could? Of course not. Such a thing was an infringement upon the dignity of the human being then as much as it was now, and Pius IX knew it.

What he was saying is that it is wrong to say that such freedom exists existentially “before God”. Reason alone cannot be relied upon to lead one to the truth. Revelation is necessary. Those who ignore the revelation that God has given to them, claiming instead to have found their own path by the light of reason, will need to give an account to God (and God alone) of their actions.

#55. The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.

Today we use the slogan “separation of Church and State” very sloppily – often in the sense that one should not allow one’s convictions of faith to impinge upon one’s life as a citizen of the state. This is, of course, quite wrong, and in that sense we today would also condemn a notion of “separation of Church and State” (you see, even today, the same words can be taken to mean different things by different people in different contexts).

In Christian societies, such as in Europe of Pius IX’s day, it is easy to see that a good working relationship between Church and State would be seen as a positive thing – and since the “separation of Church and State” being proposed by the revolutions was rather a demolition of the Church in the favour of the State, you can see why Pius IX condemned it. But you can also see that there was no way that Pius was thinking about the Catholic Church in Japan at the time. Or Mumbai. Or the highlands of New Guinea. His words only make some sort of sense in the context of a Christian society. Outside of that context they make no sense at all.

#77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.

It goes without saying that this statement is itself time conditioned – a condition of time is built into the very statement itself: “In the present day”. The statement only makes sense (and therefore can only be condemned) when and where the religion of the State “in the present day” currently IS the Catholic religion. The condemnation of this statement certainly not advocating the establishment of a “confessional Catholic state”.

#78. It has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.

Perhaps of all the statements condemned by Pius IX, this is the hardest to reconcile with the current conviction of the Church that it IS a matter of simple justice that aliens within our borders should “enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.” We shall look at it from two directions to show that these Pius IX was not condemning this current conviction.

First, today the Church vigourously speaks up for the principal of “reciprocity”, ie. we expect that if we give your guys the freedom to worship in our country (eg. Italy), you should give our guys freedom to worship in your country (eg. Saudi Arabia). We call this justice. It is more than obvious that Pius IX did not have this context in mind.

Secondly, Pius IX explicitly confines his condemnation of this sentiment applied only to “some Catholic countries”. He is not condemning those who express such sentiments about the laws of countries that are not “confessionally Catholic”.

#80. The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization.

Well, it ought to be obvious enough that the Roman Pontiff today, Benedict XVI now gloriously reigning, acknowledges no more obligation to “reconcile himself, come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization” than Pius IX did in his day.

But we can raise the issue of whether the Pope can reconcile himself with these things. I would say that he can and may (never “must” or “ought to”) only if he does so on the Church’s own terms, not on the terms of these ideologies. And thus our most loved pontiff of the present moment (and his predecessor of blessed memory) have done exactly this. John Paul II, for instance, took the secular idea of human rights, gutted it, refilled it with a biblical and theological anthropology of man made in the image of God, and handed it back to the world.

So, there we are. Not one of Pius IX’s condemnations apply to the Church’s modern defence of the freedom of religion.

You will say, PE, that this just goes to show how clever we Catholics can be – how artfully we can dodge your every accusation! But I never thought I could convince you on the matter.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Past Elder – the only Commentator worth reading?

  1. Past Elder

    Well, David, it seems that if 2008 is different than 1864, it is exactly like 1874, when Newman said pretty much what you say as a way out of statements meaning what they say.

    He argued that these were not proposed as matters of faith, are not doctrinal, are not infallible (he was right on that one, they were not taught under a specific claim of ex cathedra, but, would still share the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium), that they only refer to the specific historical circumstances in which they arose, and that obedience to them consisted in understanding what those historical circumstances were, not in their apllication now.

    Of course that completely ignores what a syllabus of errors is, this or any other, but that’s Newman, and now the Catholic Church, for you.

    A syllabus of errors is much like an anathema, except no anathema is stated. The syllabus states the error, the opposite of which is to be affirmed. This is absolutely crucial to the whole endeavour: it is precisely on the truth of its opposite that the statement identified as error is recognised as such, and the holder of such a statement anathematised if that step is taken.

    I realise Catholic thinking is rather foreign to the post conciliar Catholic Church, but really, David! But you are typically post conciliar in the infinite regress in which statements endure an endless cycle of what they “really” mean, so that they mean whatever they need to at the time. Thus does a syllabus of errors become an ideal (Dupanloup), then true only historically (Newman), then something to be balanced with its counter (Ratzinger), then off topic to be brought up (Schuetz).

    News flash from the world, in which I actually spend most of my time. The world is quite unimpressed when its own thought is handed back to it with a newly minted Christian dress. Having come to its conclusions already and quite apart from Christianity, it at best finds it nice that the Catholic Church is finally catching up even though it insists in doing so in a Christian dress, but having come to its conclusions already and quite apart from the Catholic Church, finds the dress unnecessary.

    Sort of like, why bother with another manufacturer’s knock-off when you already have the name brand.

    I like though your usage “the only commentator worth reading”. That was great! An actual Nietzschean dance and to the tune of one of my signature phrases, about Nietzsche to boot! Maybe I’ll send you a copy of Ecce Homo or Der Antichrist for Christmas!

  2. orrologion

    Isn’t it a lot simpler than all this? The RCC only claims infallibility for pronouncements made ex cathedra regarding faith and morals. Anything less than or apart from this is therefore not an ‘infallible’, unchangeable position of Catholic dogma. Now, were the Pope to contradict a predecessor regarding a teaching that has been ‘infallibly’ taught, then there would be an issue.

    I am sure it would be rather easy to point to similar ‘fallible’ teachings of the Lutheran churches that have changed in more recent years, though that would not therefore negate the validity of the Lutheran position on matters salvific and unchanging.

    Or, just because I broke the Lenten fast in the past doesn’t mean I will break my marriage vows in the future.

    (The same line of argumentation regarding positions taken by the Papacy can be used regarding certain lines of argument by the Orthodox. For instance, just because Honorios was censured/anathematized for supporting monotheletism doesn’t mean that he was less ‘infallible’ in any ex cathedra pronouncements on faith or morals he may have made while Pope; in fact, there may not have been any such pronouncements that would have risen to meet the requirements for ‘infallibility’ set out by Vatican I. I don’t buy this doctrine, but even according to Rome’s own definition, such arguments do not really undermine anything.)

  3. Schütz

    Orrologion, you are right, these anathemas of Pope Pius IX were not “infallible” by the standards of his own council, Vatican I. However, we do say that the Church is a “reliable” guide to Truth, and that as Catholics we are bound by conscience to attend to the teaching of the Magisterium at all times, whether the decrees meet the technical requirements for “infallibily” or not.

    That being said, even the most “infallible” statements of popes and councils are nevertheless “timebound” in the sense that they have to be interpreted according to the way they were understood in their historical context.

    And PE, I am kind of gratified to find that Ven. JHN and I am in agreement on this. Unlike you, I think his doctrine of the development of doctrine (understood as he understood it, and not re-written to meet the various demands of “conscience” of the current age) is not only on the spot in theoretically, but can be proved to be an accurate representation of historical reality.

    But in saying that 1864 was not 2008, I am not so much saying that the meaning of Pius IX’s condemnations have changed between 1864 and 2008 (or even 1864 and 1874), rather that in 2008 we tend to read them through our own glasses rather than in the context of 1864. I have shown that even in 1864 these condemnations cannot have had the meaning that most people would ascribe to them today (as shown for instance in the condemnation of the separation of Church and State – which could not have had a universal application even in 1864).

  4. orrologion

    Yes, of course, but when the Magesterium is of various minds on a topic one may be allowed to respectfully dissent as long as one were to give deference to those that hold responsibility. I liken it to the obedience due to one’s bishop in the Orthodox Church, or to monastic obedience to one’s abbot or staretz. While they may not be ‘right’ on a given topic not of moral question, obedience to them bears fruit nonetheless, e.g., the traditional story of the abbot commanding a pharisaical novice to eat meat during Lent to teach the novice a lesson about the spiritual life and the means used to achieve it.

  5. Past Elder

    Geez Dave, you’re slipping. Why did you not say — I mean, I was waiting for it and everything — that the nearly all of the prior papal citations to demonstrate continuity date from no earlier that 1848, a fateful year of revolution and just 16 years before the syllabus, as opposed to citations drawn from across history?

    Hey, maybe you’re on to something. We see the same thing now. Official Catholic documents rarely cite anything prior to the documents of Vatican II these days. Well, since there’s rarely anything prior to the documents to support them, that’s hardly a surprise.

    But, how old are you? Got another 40 years or so? I don’t, but maybe you do. If things run true to course, the changeless will change yet again. This church of to-day in which you find church as you learnt it will become the church of yesterday, its norms and documents time-bound and not to be understood apart from the times in which they arose and to which they were addressed, no longer normative for us now. New norms and statements will “doctrinally develop”. You will wonder how do these exhibit any continuity or hermeneutic thereof with what you previously were taught was Catholicism …

    Pray it does not happen in Winter, as they say!

  6. Schütz

    The Church has already made significant “changes” since I left the Lutheran Church only seven years ago. But since the changes are all in the right direction (ie. the pendulum is swinging back from the extreme end of the arch) I’ve absolutely no problem with that. Given time, yes, the pendulum will keep swinging, but the other end of the pendulum will always remain on a fixed point. Perhaps I had better drop the analogy there…

  7. Cardinal Pole

    “Orrologion, you are right, these anathemas of Pope Pius IX were not “infallible” by the standards of his own council, Vatican I”

    False. The citations in the Syllabus of Errors that were extracted from Quanta Cura are indeed proposed infallibly; read the last paragraph of that encyclical.

    “I propose that Pius IX differs from Benedict XVI for the simple reason that 1864 differs from 2008.”

    Nonsense. Circumstances change, principles don’t.

    “Our Popes, learning from the faith of the past, always speak to the present.”

    So they can’t enunciate permanently valid doctrine?

    “Today we use the slogan …”

    What does today’s use of the slogan have to do with anything? All those errors are condemned in the sense in which the Holy Pontiffs intended. The Syllabus of Errors contains permanently valid doctrine.

  8. Past Elder

    Good on ya, Reg. Hell, read the whole bleeder:

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/P9QUANTA.HTM

    Here’s section 6, for appetisers:

    Amidst, therefore, such great perversity of depraved opinions, we, well remembering our Apostolic Office, and very greatly solicitous for our most holy Religion, for sound doctrine and the salvation of souls which is entrusted to us by God, and (solicitous also) for the welfare of human society itself, have thought it right again to raise up our Apostolic voice. Therefore, by our Apostolic authority, we reprobate, proscribe, and condemn all the singular and evil opinions and doctrines severally mentioned in this letter, and will and command that they be thoroughly held by all children of the Catholic Church as reprobated, proscribed and condemned.

    Don’t hear much of a here’s what we have to say right here and now about these problems right here and now but later on it could be doctrinally developed into something else. He brings them up because they are false, period, and now they spring up everywhere.

    Get the papal “we”. In case they left that out in Gunrunning to Leftist Revolutionaries 101, this is no editorial convention. “We” is used in papal prouncements because the visible head of the church the pope teaches una voce with its invisible head Christ, hence the plural, not a figure of speech but a literal reality.

  9. Schütz

    Your Eminence, however strong the language of the closing paragraph Quanta Cura, the Church obviously does not regard this piece of magisterial teaching as being an infallible, timeless, dogmatic definition of doctrine. That is a demonstrable fact. So however you chose to read it, you must be reading it in a way contrary to the thinking of the Church.

    So you have to ask yourself WHY this is so. Are they just ignoring Quanta Cura? I don’t think so. I think they have recognised that (as I said above) Quanta Cura is, by its nature, a “negative” theology of Church-State relationships. A positive theology must be enunciated.

    As for circumstances changing but not principles, Pope Pius did not outline any principles in Quanta Cura. He reprobated, proscribed, and condemned certain “singular and evil opinions and doctrines”.

    As I have demonstrated, it is not at all clear what his actual “principles” were – he made no definitive positive pronouncement of principle concerning the universal relationship between either religious institutions in general or the Church in particular in relation to the State.

    His anathemas are bound in particular only to the expressions he cited, which had currency only in the particular instance in 19th Century Europe which he was addressing. They do not have universal validity, as I have demonstrated.

    As for whether popes can “enunciate permanently valid doctrine” – of course they can. Just as ecumenical councils can. But no pope or council can escape the fact that every enunciation is timebound and open to further reflection and clarification and interpretation in the new contexts AND hermeneutical correction in the light of the continuity of apostolic teaching.

    That is as true of the pronouncements of Vatican II as it is of the pronouncements of Pius IX.

    “Today we use the slogan …”

    What does today’s use of the slogan have to do with anything? All those errors are condemned in the sense in which the Holy Pontiffs intended. The Syllabus of Errors contains permanently valid doctrine.

    I pointed out the sloppiness with the way in which we use the slogan “separation of Church and State” to point to the fact that today’s use of the slogan “the sense in which the Holy Pontiff” Pius IX intended the slogan are two very different things.

    Indeed I agree one hundred percent that the sense in which magisterial pronouncements were intended at the time of their declaration is one of the normative factors for their interpretation today. But as any student of biblical exegesis knows, discovering and clarifying the intention of the original author is only half the job. Once this is ascertained, the next part of the job is to faithfully and correctly apply that intention to the (often vastly different) situation of today.

    “The Syllabus of Errors contains permanently valid doctrine.”

    Yes, but even more so do the Scriptures, and yet we do not hesitate to apply the principles of scientific exegesis and hermeneutics to them. Quanta Cura is not exempt from the need for such processes of interpretation and application.

  10. Christine

    The Church has already made significant “changes” since I left the Lutheran Church only seven years ago. But since the changes are all in the right direction (ie. the pendulum is swinging back from the extreme end of the arch) I’ve absolutely no problem with that.

    Well, in all honesty not all of them good, David. Look at how many religious orders have crashed and burned. St. John’s University where PE attended is a hotbed of heterodoxy, no thanks to the Benedictines. Heterodox female religious are legion. The Ursuline sister who was my “mentor” during RCIA revealed herself to be a firm proponent of women’s ordination and we subsequently parted ways because I made it very plain I did not agree.

    We have a few good and orthodox bishops in the U.S. but the majority of them are “the Democratic party at prayer”.

    So that pendulum had better swing very hard in the right direction.

  11. Christine

    On the other hand, for some reason I am just recalling a visit I paid many years ago to a bookstore run by the Daughters of St. Paul. It was staffed by some very orthodox and “old school” sisters and I had a short conversation with one of them. Reminded me of the ones that taught my husband (I won’t repeat what he called them).

    When the good Sister found out I was a Lutheran she castigated me saying Oh you Lutherans, you want the easy way to heaven! Works. Righteousness. To. The. Core.

    When she found out my husband was Catholic she insisted that I purchase a Catechism for him because one never knew, time on earth is short and he’d better get right because only the Catholic Church had the truth (my Catholic grandmother would have been proud).

    I don’t particularly want to go back to THAT era, either.

  12. Cardinal Pole

    “Your Eminence, however strong the language of the closing paragraph Quanta Cura, the Church obviously does not regard this piece of magisterial teaching as being an infallible, timeless, dogmatic definition of doctrine.”

    However ‘strong’ the language??? Bl. Pius IX chose his words with the utmost precision. He condemned the doctrines:

    1) in matters of faith or morals
    2) in his teaching capacity as Head of the Church
    3) addressed to all the Faithful
    4) in a definitive and irrevocable manner.

    All the boxes are ticked, Mr. Schütz.

    “So however you chose to read it, you must be reading it in a way contrary to the thinking of the Church.”

    I am going to start pulling my hair out. Demonstrate how my thinking contradicts that of the Church, I beg you. Whither has fifteen hundred years of practice and one hundred years of written teaching once the practice was seriously challenged gone?

    “A positive theology must be enunciated.”

    Not when Proposition +A and Proposition -A are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. In such a case it suffices to condemn either proposition.

    “Are they just ignoring Quanta Cura?”

    That is exactly what is going on. Hence the omission of the Syllabus from post-Conciliar Denzinger-Schoentmetzer editions.

    “As for circumstances changing but not principles, Pope Pius did not outline any principles in Quanta Cura. … it is not at all clear what his actual “principles” were”

    Stunning. Bl. Pius IX stated the errors with crystal clarity.

  13. Past Elder

    God bless me sideways then blow me out the door! We Benedictines single handedly save Civilisation itself from your ancestors running amok, and we’re hotbeds of heterodoxy!

    Judas H Priest at Footlocker shopping for sandals, how much clearer does this need to be: to amply my man Reg’s statement, not to mention re-state my own since it was completely passed over, in the format of the syllabus, as with the formula for anathema, the statement condemned is neither postitive nor negative, speaking or reading later thinking into stuff God bless us. The statement is simply stated. Period. Then, because of the truth of the opposite statement, which is thereby affirmed, the statement is condemned.

    EG if one must condemn the statement “The Church ought to be separated from the State”, one must affirm the statement “The Church ought not be separated from the State”. How this works out in this or that particular time and place is to be worked out, but in no case, no bloody case, does “The Church ought to be separated from the State” become, after historical critical study, really what is affirmed rather than condemned!

    Except in post-conciliar Catholicism, where add a little dash of Newman and anything can be anything else yet still be the same — itself an absolutely un-Catholic, non-Catholic, mode of thought.

    Great Zeus Cloudgatherer!

  14. Christine

    God bless me sideways then blow me out the door! We Benedictines single handedly save Civilisation itself from your ancestors running amok,

    Heh — not the Benedictines at the Abtei, I would submit!

    Is that good Father Godfrey I hear snarking in the background ??

  15. Past Elder

    Judas at chapter, we are the very outpost of civilisation ever since Gamelbert monked his first monkery at Metten in 766! Godfrey knew him, btw, told me all about it.

  16. Christine

    “monked his first monkery” — does it get any better than that 🙂

    Mettin is, nevertheless, an exquisitely beautiful place.

  17. Past Elder

    I stole the phrase from Rabelais, one of the few novelists worth reading (Mark Twain being on the short list too).

    As long as I’m unpacking things, Godfrey did indeed know him, by which I mean a rather lengthy discourse I had with him one time on “institutional memory”, that an institution has a memory much like a person, which for a person formed by the institution becomes part of his memory too.