An idea worth discussing…

Something that one often hears is the criticism of the Second Vatican Council that it included no condemnations. This is held up as proof of what John XXIII intended when he said that this was not to be a “dogmatic” council. Thus it is argued that no new formulation of dogma can attributed to the Council.

On the other hand, we have often had discussion on this blog as to the positive meaning of negative condemnations – in particular, the condemnations of liberal democracy by Pope St Pius IX, and the condemnations of Luther by Pope Leo X.

I can well remember it being pointed out to me as a young Lutheran seminarian that the Augsburg Confession was therefore a precise dogmatic document in that it was formulated as positive statements followed by negative condemnations. This is a standard in dogmatic teaching which the Reformers took from the Catholic tradition, as exemplified by the decrees of the Council of Trent.

So, here is the point I wish to propose for discussion (and probably a good time for those regular readers who like to comment on this blog and have not yet registered as commentators – your first comment will be moderated after which, if I approve you, you can comment freely). It is from Chris Burgwald’s excellent (unpublished) dissertation on “The sinfulness of the Justified in Lutheran Catholic dialogue in the United States of America” (page 138):

One must be careful in determining exactly what the Magisterium is postively proposing when it negatively condemns a proposition.

Go for it.

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48 responses to “An idea worth discussing…

  1. Peregrinus

    Burgwald seems spot on to me. A few points:

    I think the practice of councils teaching in negative terms, by anathematising this or that proposition as heretical (or by anathematising those who hold it or teach it as heretics) reflects the historical circumstances of the church, and in particular the circumstances in which councils tended to be called. They were called to address specificcrises, usually consisting of a challenge to the teachings of the church, or divisions within the church about its teaching, and the council would refute what it saw to be the erroneous side of the argument – hence the anathemas.

    This partly reflect the fact that new ideas were usually promoted in explicit opposition to, or confrontation with, the church, or else their advocates explicity sought to have their ideas accepted by, or within, the church. This is because until the modern era the church was far and away the pre-eminent intellectual and philosophical institution in Christendom.

    This isn’t true any more. Lots of people promote new ideas without greatly caring what the Catholic church thinks about them (and this includes many faithful Catholics). Even if the ideas have potential religious implications – as, say, ideas in psychology about free will, volition, intention, etc may have implications for moral theology – those advancing them are not primarily concerned to find out what the church thinks, or to secure the church’s endorsement. Nor, equally, are they worried about avoiding the cricitisms of theologians or bishps; the utility and credibility of their ideas in the academic, intellectual or professional spheres no longer depends on this in the way that it once did. The result is a lot less appeals ot the church,and a lot less explicit, overt confrontation of or challenge to the church.

    This, I think, is part of the reason why all councils up to Trent framed their decrees in terms of anathema; they were responses to existing explicit challenges to, or controveries over, church teaching.

    There was no general council between Trent and Vatican I – far and away the longest period in church history without a council. And it was during this time that the position of the church changed so radically.

    Although Vatican I did frame its decrees in terms of anathemas, there was already a significant change. Its decrees consist of positive, affirmative teachings. (“We teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that . . . [formulation of dogma of papal infallibility].) The “anathema” is tacked on to the end of the decree, almost as a formality or as a gesture to the way these things have always been done. (“Should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.”) Already the practical signficance of the anathema had diminished to practically nothing. Those who rejected the teaching – e.g. some groups which became branches of the Old Catholics – left the church not because they had been anathematised, but because they could not accept what it definitively taught.

    By Vatican II, even this vestigial anathema has disappeared. Vatican II, of course, sought to address the modern world – a world utterly indifferent to, and unaaffected by, the possiblity of anathematisation. Had Vatican II framed its decrees in terms of anathemas, even nominally, it would have confirmed its own irrelevance to the modern world. So, wisely, it did not, and the move to expressing teachings in positive terms was complete.

    But back to the way things used to be done. Burgwald is quite correct; it can be difficult to see what the council is saying is true, as opposed to what it is saying is false.

    Consider this statement from Trent:

    “If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema.” [Decree on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Canon X]

    I found myself in a debate on the the old Cathnew Discussion Board, RIP, with someone who argued that this was an endorsement of clerical celibacy; celibate clerics were in a “better and more blessed” condition that married lay persons such as myself (and, in fairness, himself).

    I thought then, and still think, that he was wrong. The first clue lies in the fact that this statement is contained in a teaching about matrimony, and not in the Decree on Holy Orders. It has nothing to do with clerical celibacy. (FWIW, the Decree on Holy Orders explicitly canvasses the possibility of married clergy.) The second clue lies in the fact that the council was addressing the challenges proposed by Protestant reformers, some of whom argued that the injuction in Genesis to “go forth and multiply” was a universal ethical norm, that marriage was a duty or at least a morally preferred path and that a commitment to celibacy was therefore always contrary to God’s plan for us. Seen in this light, it is easy to understand that the Council was not saying that celibacy was inherently and always a better and more blessed condition, but rather refuting the view that celibacy was inherently and always perverse. This still leaves plenty of middle ground, including the (to us, fairly obvious) viewpoint that whether celibacy is in accordance with God’s plan for me depends on what God’s plan for me is; there is no one-word answer which is equally true for all of us.

    The point is that, precisely because councils considered their decrees as responses to specific challenges, to understand the decree properly you have to know what the challenge was.

    • I am demonstrating something of which most of our commentators may not be aware. Unlike Blogger, Word Press allows “nested” discussion – rather like the old Cathnews Discussion Board. In other words, you can reply to a particular commentator and follow a thread from that commentator – up to 10 comments deep, I understand. I have yet to see what this looks like, which is why I am replying to Perry like this.

      Nor, equally, are they worried about avoiding the cricitisms of theologians or bishps; the utility and credibility of their ideas in the academic, intellectual or professional spheres no longer depends on this in the way that it once did.

      Yes, I think you are right. The Academy is the New Magisterium.

      The point is that, precisely because councils considered their decrees as responses to specific challenges, to understand the decree properly you have to know what the challenge was.

      It certainly helps! This is the importance of context. For instance, the particular context in which Pius IX found himself directly affected the stance he took on liberal democracy. I don’t believe that the condemnations can simply be divorced from the context of the particular challenge, especially when they are related to historical circumstances.

      • PS. you have to hit the “reply” button at the end of the comment you are particularly responding too for this “string” theory to work in practice…

  2. Excellent analysis, P!

    I think, though, that when considering your chosen example, it is certainly the common teaching down the ages that, objectively speaking, in the general case, celibacy is “better” (St Paul puts this best, in I Cor. vii) – but, of course, in each person’s individual case, it may or may not be more suitable to marry.

    • We’ll try again.

      Josh said: objectively speaking, in the general case, celibacy is “better” (St Paul puts this best, in I Cor. vii) – but, of course, in each person’s individual case, it may or may not be more suitable to marry

      It is actually fairly useless, I would think, to speak about which is “better” or not objectively. God isn’t going to reward virgins more than married people. He will reward all according to how they responded to his call in their own specific situation: if to celibacy, then to celibacy; if to marriage, then to marriage.

      I can think of a thousand ways (or at least half a dozen) in which celibacy is better than marriage, and equally of a thousand ways (or at least half a dozen) in which marriage is better than celibacy.

      So this is why Perry’s example is such a good one in this case: can we determine from the condemnation itself exactly what the positive affirmation was?

      Interestingly, one thing that the Reformers were asserting is that virginity was not “better than” marriage in respect to eternal rewards. Was Trent saying that it was? Surely not…

    • Peregrinus

      David has put it better than I can.

      If we accept, as I think we must, that some people have a vocation to marriage and others have a vocation to celibacy, then [i]a priori[/i] we cannot say that celibacy is superior to marriage in any general or inherent sense (or vice versa). That would imply that God calls some people to be less than they could be, which makes no sense. Furthermore it implies a notion of “good” which is not>/i> “what God wants”, which raises the question, well, what is “good”?.

      As for St Paul, this passage has always troubled me. We know that in this passage (1 Cor 7) Paul was addressing specific questions put to him by the Corinthians but, sadly, we don’t know what those questions were. (So this isn’t a problem which relates just to council decrees, David.) It seems – but we can’t be sure of this – that some of the Corinthians were advocating sexual abstinence within marriage, and Paul’s remarks need to be read in this light. A further factor is that an unstated premise in Paul’s argument is the circumstances in which the Corinthians found themselves, and Paul’s (mistaken) belief that those circumstances included an imminent parousia.

  3. Lucian

    By looking at Your post-schism Catholic Councils, I was hard-pressed to find too much dogma there (they’re like flying feathers in comparison to the first Seven, which are like heavy bedrock). Trent was the only one with any magnitude of importance mandated by any actual or real necessity.

  4. “Thus it is argued that no new formulation of dogma can attributed to the Council.”

    Well, Magisterial texts, whether Conciliar or Papal, do not necessarily have to have condemnations of the contrary propositions attached in order to formulate dogma infallibly (whether definitively or non-definitively), but such condemnations can help one to know precisely the propositions to which one is required to assent.

    “Although Vatican I did frame its decrees in terms of anathemas, there was already a significant change. Its decrees consist of positive, affirmative teachings …”

    Followed by many canons as well, though, as with previous Councils.

    “By Vatican II, even this vestigial anathema has disappeared.”

    But that hadn’t been the original intention.

    “I don’t believe that the condemnations can simply be divorced from the context of the particular challenge, especially when they are related to historical circumstances.”

    But a doctrinal definition (condemnation) does not merely ‘express’ truth (error), it contains it; the formulation itself enjoy the Divine protection. A well-formulated definition, such as in Pastor Æternus, or well-formulated condemnations, such as those in Quanta cura, won’t require any reference to contemporary circumstances.

    “God isn’t going to reward virgins more than married people.”

    Er, yes He is (all else equal).

    “If we accept, as I think we must, that some people have a vocation to marriage and others have a vocation to celibacy, then [i]a priori[/i] we cannot say that celibacy is superior to marriage in any general or inherent sense (or vice versa).”

    Non sequitur. God predestines the Elect and prepares their respective rewards, and these rewards will vary according to works. All else equal, the eternal reward of a monk or nun will exceed that of a married man or woman.

    “That would imply that God calls some people to be less than they could be, which makes no sense.”

    Again, a non sequitur. God calls each person to be all that they can be (as the U.S. Marines might put it), but what one person ‘can be’ might exceed what another ‘can be’.

    “Furthermore it implies a notion of “good” which is not>/i> “what God wants”, which raises the question, well, what is “good”?.”

    But there is no contradiction between the varying rewards of the Elect and the fact that God wants us to reach our full potential. What is ‘good’? Here, it is merit; all else equal, a monk or nun will merit increase of grace and glory more than a married man or woman will.

    Back to the original topic, though: readers interested in this topic might care to read Prof. Amerio’s survey of several historical syllabi of errors, from Exsurge Domine to the quasi-syllabus of Humani Generis, early in Iota Unum, and the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia has a good article under the heading Syllabus:

    http://newadvent.org/cathen/14368b.htm

    which contains the following information on interpretation:

    “The view held by the Church in opposition to each thesis is contained in the contradictory proposition of each of the condemned theses. This opposition is formulated, in accordance with the rules of dialectics, by prefixing to each proposition the words: “It is not true that . . .” […] In itself no opposition is so sharply determined as by the contradictory: it is simply the negation of the foregoing statement. However, the practical use of this negation is not always easy, especially if a compound or dependent sentence is in question, or a theoretical error is concealed under the form of an historical fact.”

    and there’s another good article on theological censures:

    http://newadvent.org/cathen/03532a.htm

    which contains more information on interpretation:

    “When categorical propositions are condemned in their import, and not in their wording or consequences only, their contradictories present themselves for our acceptance as de fide, proximæ fidei, certæ, or communes as the case may be.”

    Reginaldvs Cantvar

  5. Frank

    With regard to condemnations I belive that the mighty Bull Ubnam Sanctam says exactly what the Church condemns and says it clearly. Outside the Church there is no salvation. And it is absolutely necessary for every creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. Those who err and are in heresy are therefore lost and will not go to Heaven. This is true pastoral zeal for salvation of souls. The Church must return to the clear and unequivocal promulgation of same.

    UNAM SANCTAM (Promulgated November 18, 1302)

    Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins, as the Spouse in the Canticles [Sgs 6:8] proclaims: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one. She is the only one, the chosen of her who bore her,’ and she represents one sole mystical body whose Head is Christ and the head of Christ is God [1 Cor 11:3]. In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism [Eph 4:5]. There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide, i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed.

    We venerate this Church as one, the Lord having said by the mouth of the prophet: ‘Deliver, O God, my soul from the sword and my only one from the hand of the dog.’ [Ps 21:20] He has prayed for his soul, that is for himself, heart and body; and this body, that is to say, the Church, He has called one because of the unity of the Spouse, of the faith, of the sacraments, and of the charity of the Church. This is the tunic of the Lord, the seamless tunic, which was not rent but which was cast by lot [Jn 19:23-24]. Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter, since the Lord speaking to Peter Himself said: ‘Feed my sheep’ [Jn 21:17], meaning, my sheep in general, not these, nor those in particular, whence we understand that He entrusted all to him [Peter]. Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John ‘there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.’ We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: ‘Behold, here are two swords’ [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: ‘Put up thy sword into thy scabbard’ [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered _for_ the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

    However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: ‘There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God’ [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

    For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: ‘Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms’ and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man’ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven’ etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

    • Peregrinus

      Hi Frank

      “With regard to condemnations I belive that the mighty Bull Ubnam Sanctam says exactly what the Church condemns and says it clearly. Outside the Church there is no salvation. And it is absolutely necessary for every creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. Those who err and are in heresy are therefore lost and will not go to Heaven. This is true pastoral zeal for salvation of souls. The Church must return to the clear and unequivocal promulgation of same.”

      The problem with this analysis is that it ignores authoritative magisterial teachings which run directly counter to the universal meaning that you draw from Unam Sanctam. One way of resolving this apparent conflict is to choose the teaching that can be read to support the meaning you want, and to ignore the ones that don’t, but this is not an approach which commends itself. Some would describe it as a modernist approach, though that’s not a term that I find very useful myself.

      The second is as already suggested; to ask what problem Unam Sanctam was addressing, and to seek to understand it in that light. Having already illustrated this by reference to the decrees of Trent on matrimony, I leave undertaking the same task for Unam Sanctam as an exercise for the student.

      • Frank

        That’s a very post Vatican II comment Peregrinus.

        • Peregrinus

          Actually, I think it was Newman who pointed out that to understand magisterial documents, you have to lookat the problems they are addressing. So, no, not post-Vat II at all.

          • Frank

            Oh yes the Anglican convert Newman was very Vatican II in his opinions. In point of fact that is the name that the Vatican II propagandists quoted ad infinitum about liberty of conscience etc……I also think that he was very suspect on papal Infallibility. So yes he was VERY Vatican II.

            • Peregrinus

              Well, Frank, given that just last week you denounced St Luke the Evangelist as a modernist, I suppose John Henry is getting off quite lightly!

              • Frank

                You need to provide evidence before you make wild accusations. You sem disturbed because someone knows all about Newman and his fallible ideas. Please point out the sentence where I denounced ST Luke as a modernist. Ther isn’t one and you are simply peeved because I called you on Newman and all the fake traditionalists who look to him as some kind of guide to Catholicism.

                • Peregrinus

                  Relax, Frank, I’m neither peeved nor disturbed. I am amused, though.

                  I do have to correct myself on one point. It was not Luke whom you denounced as a modernist, but Matthew. Surely you haven’t forgotten? It was in the thread on David’s post, “The Glamour of Suicide”; apropos of nothing in particular, you mentioned that “Our BlessedLord was born in AD zero.(modernists will tellyou he was born say 6years before Christ.)” It is in fact St Matthew who tells us that he was born not later than 4 BC.

                  I would have thought that this gaffe might lead you to be a little less hasty in your accusations of modernism, but Joshua can testify that it hasn’t. You should reaslise, though, that the liberality with which you award this title does rather devalue its currency. If the Ven. John Henry Newman, St Matthew the Evangelist, Joshua and “nearly everyone” who joins in the discussions on Sentire cum Ecclesia are all modernists, I can bear the prospect of being judged a modernist myself with comparative equinamity.

  6. I’m afraid, David & P., that Aquinas as a first-rate representative of the tradition doesn’t agree with you – look at S.T., II-II, 186, 4:

    “On the contrary, The Apostle says (2 Corinthians 7:1): “Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting sanctification in the fear of God.” Now cleanness of flesh and spirit is safeguarded by continence, for it is said (1 Corinthians 7:3)4): “The unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord that she may be holy both in spirit and in body [Vulgate: ‘both in body and in spirit’].” Therefore religious perfection requires continence.

    “I answer that, The religious state requires the removal of whatever hinders man from devoting himself entirely to God’s service. Now the use of sexual union hinders the mind from giving itself wholly to the service of God, and this for two reasons. First, on account of its vehement delectation, which by frequent repetition increases concupiscence, as also the Philosopher observes (Ethic. iii, 12): and hence it is that the use of venery withdraws the mind from that perfect intentness on tending to God. Augustine expresses this when he says (Solil. i, 10): “I consider that nothing so casts down the manly mind from its height as the fondling of women, and those bodily contacts which belong to the married state.” Secondly, because it involves man in solicitude for the control of his wife, his children, and his temporalities which serve for their upkeep. Hence the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 7:3)2,33): “He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God: but he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife.”

    “Therefore perpetual continence, as well as voluntary poverty, is requisite for religious perfection. Wherefore just as Vigilantius was condemned for equaling riches to poverty, so was Jovinian condemned for equaling marriage to virginity.”

    Of course in a specific case a married person may outpass a religious in virtue; but in general, religious, having more chance to devote themselves to things divine, will profit therefrom above the married.

    • The notion of varying eternal rewards – some greater some lesser – is hard to get one’s head around, although I recognise that it has a good history in the Catholic tradition. It is one thing to argue that it is easier to be a saint in the celibate state than it is in the married state (I think any married person would probably agree with this, wouldn’t they?), and thus possibly to describe (as St Paul does) the celibate state as “better”, but precisely for that reason, if a married person attains sanctity, surely their reward ought to be greater (rather than lesser) than that of the sainted virgin (presuming there are various degrees of reward in heaven)?

      And then there is the matter of how we look at this question in the light of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body… Afterall, what St Thomas et aliter led to was a situation by the 16th Century where the estate of marriage was considerably devalued. That is what sparked the Reformers objection to this traditional doctrine (which objection was condemned at Trent). Today we live in a similar era of devaluation of marriage, to which the antidote was not an attack upon celibacy, but (in JPII’s theology of the body) a reassessment of the sanctity of marriage. While not “new” teaching per se, the Theology of the Body does give a radical reappraisal to the tradition evaluation of marriage as being “second-rate”.

      Which returns us to the original point Perry made. Surely the best interpretation of Trent’s condemnation today would be one which sees both marriage and virginity as being of equal value in the sight of God. This is not to deny that the two callings are strikingly different, and thus it is possible that one may, from various aspects, be said to be “better” than the other.

  7. David,

    I do think Joshua is right on this.

    In terms of the theology the body, I believe Pope John Paul II actually devoted several weeks to his exposition to the state of virginity. He certainly reiterates the line about virginity being an objectively higher state of life in Vita Consecrata, saying:

    “As a way of showing forth the Church’s holiness, it is to be recognized that the consecrated life, which mirrors Christ’s own way of life, has objective superiority.” (para 32)

    He makes the point though that the objective superiority of consecrated celibacy or virginity does not in any way denigrate marriage – rather it reminds us all of the nature of our future life in heaven, and encourages those who are married (or single) to practice chastity appropriate to their state.

    In terms of reward, it seems to me that Scripture implies that our reward comes from two different streams as it were! The first is our good works and deeds – so for example, accepting a call to the total consecration of one’s life to Christ and live under obedience rates above those who, on the face of it, enjoy greater freedom to enjoy the pleasures of this life; apostles and martyrs rate above other types of saints, etc. But there is also a scale of perfection that flows from the degree of charity we have, and that is something we can all strive for.

    • Peregrinus

      Reread your quote, Terra. What JPII says is that, if we consider the question from the point of view of achieving one particular objective (namely, “showing forth the church’s holiness”), then the consecrated live is, objectively, better. But that’s not at all the same thing as saying that it is intrinsically better. We could make exactly the same statement about married life by simply substituting a different objective.

  8. “…so was Jovinian condemned for equaling marriage to virginity.”

    Watch out, David! Sentire cum Ecclesia!

    A good reading of St Jerome’s treatise Against Jovinian should clear this up:

    “It is our task, according to our different virtues, to prepare for ourselves different rewards… If we were all going to be equal in heaven it would be useless for us to humble ourselves here in order to have a greater place there… Why should virgins persevere? Why should widows toil? Why should married women be continent? Let us all sin, and after we repent we shall be the same as the Apostles are!” (Adversus Jovinianum 2, 32-34)

    Remember, “star differeth from star in glory” – the Blessed Virgin is exalted above all the saints, and the saints differ in rank: but all mutually love each other, all enjoy the Vision of God, Face to face; rather may we be among the lowliest in heaven, rather than not get there at all! (“It is better to marry than burn.”)

  9. Marriage, let me be clear, is most holy (cf. Casti conubii, 1930). I by no means disparage the sanctity of wedlock; but do observe that a rightly-lived state of continent chastity is (as the Apostle declares) the better part, since it allows one to focus on the Lord, without the distraction of transient and earthly cares. It is also, most importantly, an eschatological sign of the Kingdom, when men and women will no longer marry nor be given in marriage.

    Frankly, if one says (against tradition) that both virginity and marriage are equal – why would anyone choose the former?! Come on! It is a more explicitly supernatural state.

    • Yes, thank you everyone, for helping me with this. I am especially thankful to Terra for finding that mention of virginity in JPII’s theology of the body. That makes sense.

      I remember now that the differing rewards of heaven were explained to me as if we were different sized vessels for receiving the heavenly rewards. All of us would be filled to the brim – thus no-one would “miss out” – but some are, by their way of life – capable of holding more than others, and thus are able to receive a “greater reward”. That would be a bit like my children and I at dinner. They ask why I get more dessert, and I say “Coz I’m bigger than you”. In the end we all eat as much as we can, and no-one goes away saying “that’s not fair, you had more than me”, even though I eat more than my kids do.

      How’s that?

  10. Peregrinus,

    I applaud your creativity in trying to find a way of reconciling JPII’s statement, but you are not on a winner here! Joshua and others have pointed to the constant tradition of the Church (as well as Scriptural teaching on the subject). And I picked out one particular quote from Vita Consecrata to give a flavour of that teaching from a post-Vatican II source. I don’t want ot endlessly trade quotes, but in fact there are lots of others, both in VC and elsewhere (try, for example VC 105, which says ‘It is important that Bishops, priests and deacons, convinced of the evangelical superiority of this kind of life, should strive to discover and encourage the seeds of vocation through preaching, discernment and wise spiritual guidance’).

    The most that fervent (but orthodox) theologians on the mission of the laity such as Russell Shaw and Germain Grisez argue is that while celibacy may be objectively superior, in practice that doesn’t matter much, because at the individual level it is all about being true to our personal vocation (which is broader than state of life) that counts. Subjectively, in other words, if I am called to marriage, then that is the highest state of life for me, and trying to be a nun would be lower as it isn’t God’s will for me personally.

    The problem here is that immediately after Vatican II, the universal call to holiness was promoted as something radical and new, rather than as something that had always been there, and as promoting a new equality that appeals to an egalitarian age. So you got a lot of otherwise solid writers worrying that holding up celibacy as an ideal somehow denigrated marriage.

    To me that’s like saying that the ideal of Superman denigrates those who can’t fly faster than a speeding bullet! The existence of ideal types who we can never fully emulate doesn’t denigrate, it calls us to apply the appropriate virtue in our own small way.

    I do think this particular anathema is a very nice example both of the interpretation problem David raised, and the resulting prevalence of a hermeneutic of rupture!

    • Peregrinus

      Hi Terra

      You make a good point, but I have to say that I’m still troubled. I confess that I’m not familiar with Vita Consecrata or the TotB writings generally, and so I don’t know the context from which your various quotes are taken. I do note, though, that JPII refers to “the consecrated life”, “this kind of life”, and so forth, and obviously this embraces a great deal more than just celibacy. So, from what you quote, his comments are not necessarily addressed to celibacy, or at any rate to celibacy as such; at most they refer to celibacy ancillary to the religious life and/or ordained ministry.

      Joshua’s quote from Jerome is clearly not so constrained; he specifically includes widows, married women, etc. But, it seems to me, he is exhorting married women to sexual continence; this is difficult to reconcile with current sacramental theology regarding matrimony. I cannot but suspect that, in this area, Jerome may have been constrained by prevailing cultural attitudes to sexuality. (Hint; why is he addressing his remarks to widows and married women, but apparently not to widowers and married men?)

      The most that fervent (but orthodox) theologians on the mission of the laity such as Russell Shaw and Germain Grisez argue is that while celibacy may be objectively superior, in practice that doesn’t matter much, because at the individual level it is all about being true to our personal vocation (which is broader than state of life) that counts. Subjectively, in other words, if I am called to marriage, then that is the highest state of life for me, and trying to be a nun would be lower as it isn’t God’s will for me personally.

      Is this having your cake and eating it? If God’s will for me is that I should marry, then it is not good that I should commit myself to celibacy; it is contrary to the will of God. How can doing something that is contrary to the will of God be “objectively” good? What does “good” mean in this context? I haven’t read Shaw or Grisez, but I would be interested to see whether they say that “objective good” doesn’t matter much in this context, or whether they lean more towards saying that it doesn’t mean much in this context.

  11. Peregrinus,

    Its true that Vita consecrata is about…consecrated life. I think that just reflects the reality that for most of Christian history the assumption was that you either got married, became a religious (but maybe still living in the world as a third order or under private vows) or cleric of some kind. Still, my real point was that he is just continuing to teach what the Church has always taught, and articulated clearly at Trent.

    And in fact, I’m pretty sure you could find quotes from JPII’s to confirm the traditional hierarchy of states whereby contemplative religious life ranks above that of a priest or active because it involves a more total commitment and sacrifice. I haven’t actually read JPII’s comments on virginity/celibacy etc in the theology of the body series, but based on the brief summary of it that I have read, it would be the place to look.

    On Shaw, Grisez et al, I have to admit that I’m not particualrly a fan, but I think the point is that while objectively it may be better to be a bishop, or a contemplative religious (to take St Thomas’ order of merit), those options are going to be pretty irrelevant for most people! My view would be that we shouldn’t be envious or dejected because someone else is doing something objectively superior, but rather admire them, as we would an elite athlete. But Shaw et al’s point is that in the end all we can worry about is ourselves and what we should be doing! As David suggested, it’s the parable of the talents really.

    • Peregrinus

      Hi Terra

      I think we need to distinguish between the affirmation of celibacy in connection with, or in the context of, religious life or ordained ministry, and the claim that celibacy per se is inherently, intrinsically, superior, regardless of its purpose and regardless of any connection with the consecrated life. It is only the latter claim that I am challenging. Consequently affirmations of celibacy in connection with the consecrated life, however authoritative, don’t really refute my challenge.

      I also think we need to distinguish between celibacy and sexual continence. True, a commitment to celibacy implies a commitment to sexual continence, but it implies a great deal more besides, and the claim that I am challenging in one which exalts celibacy over matrimony, rather than sexual continence over sexual activity.

      I suspect you are right that TotB is the place to look for at least one authoritative angle on this.

  12. Peregrinus,

    Narrowing down the scope of your issue is certainly helpful – but I think your somewhat narrower claim is even easier to refute!

    On the association with religious and clerical celibacy vs celibacy per se, you have to ask why does the Trent canon not talk specifically about consecrated life and the clergy if it meant to restrict the meaning in that way? You raised this point earlier, but I think you had the argument there back to front. If it was purely meant as a defense of religious or clerical commitments to chastity (which were certainly being hotly contested by protestnats), it could have been placed in the relevant collections of canons. Instead, it appears under marriage and specifically refers to virginity and celibacy…

    Above all though I do think we need to refer back to Scripture here. You talked earlier about St Paul, but the other key source cited in the canon is Mt 19 (becoming eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven). In both this case and Corinthians the contrast is directly between married and unmarried, not married and priests/consecrated persons.

    So the traditional teaching is that a celibate priest is in a higher state objectively speaking than a married person – not because he is a priest (although arguably that too!), but because he is a celibate. But in terms of the hierarchy of states, there are other factors that traditionally also come into play, so a contemplative is objectively higher than an active religous etc etc.

    • Peregrinus

      On the association with religious and clerical celibacy vs celibacy per se, you have to ask why does the Trent canon not talk specifically about consecrated life and the clergy if it meant to restrict the meaning in that way? You raised this point earlier, but I think you had the argument there back to front. If it was purely meant as a defense of religious or clerical commitments to chastity (which were certainly being hotly contested by protestnats), it could have been placed in the relevant collections of canons. Instead, it appears under marriage and specifically refers to virginity and celibacy . . .

      That’s exactly my point. Trent has several decrees dealing with the clergy and – slightly surprisingly, given Protestant challenges on this very point – none of them take the trouble to affirm clerical celibacy. This particular canon is in the decree on matrimony. It’s a teaching about marriage, not about the consecrated life.

      But – and this is crucial – it does not take the form of a simple affirmation of the superiority of celibacy over matrimony. You are only subject to the anathema expressed by the decree if you subscribe to two statements.

      1. “The marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy”.

      2. “It is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony.”

      Remember, the first statement is not included here by way of background or context. What I’m quoting from here is the canon; the final statement of the essence of what the council is teaching. The first statement is included because it needs to be there; it is essential to the meaning of what the council is teaching.

      Those who make only the second statement are not anathematised. This is important, because it means that the simple converse of the second statement (which would be “It is better and more blessed to remain a virgin or a celibate than to marry”) is not being taught.

      The first statement is key not only because it defines and determines the scope of the teaching, but also because it links the decree to the error being refuted – specifically, the teaching of certain Protestants that all should marry. If that teaching were true, the corollary would be that virginity/celibacy could never be superior to matrimony, and the decree rejects both the teaching and its corollary.

      If the council had wished to teach that virginity/celibacy is universally and inherently “better and more blessed” than matrimony, it could have done so by not mentioning the first statement at all, but simply anathematising all those who subscribed to the second statement. It chose not to do that, and I don’t think that’s a choice we can simply ignore.

      In short, I think the view that celibacy is inherently superior is consistent with the Tridentine decree, but is not required by it; Trent does not teach that, and offers only a more limited teaching, rejecting the view that marriage is inherently superior to celibacy.

      And, in relation to your point on Mt 13, it commends only those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom, i.e. in the service of an objective extrinsic to celibacy itself. It is not, therefore, a teaching on the inherent superiority of celibacy.

  13. Peregrinus,

    I need to check the Latin on this and I haven’t time to hunt it down at the moment, but I think you are completely misconstruing this canon. The two components are necessary to establish the correct hierarchy of states, ie it is not just that they are equal states, but that virginity or celibacy is better. And aren’t all Christians called to the kingdom?

    • Peregrinus

      . . . The two components are necessary to establish the correct hierarchy of states, ie it is not just that they are equal states, but that virginity or celibacy is better.

      There are, logically, three possible views here:

      1. Marriage is inherently superior to celibacy [and not vice versa]

      2. Celibacy is inherently superior to marriage [and not vice versa]

      3. Neither of these states is inherently superior to the other.

      If Trent wished to teach the second view, that would not require a decree of two components. Even if the teaching is to be expressed in negative terms, as an anathema, only one statement is required. (““If any one saith that the celibate or virgin state is not to be placed above the state of marriage, let him be anathema.”)

      What Trent if fact did was to anathematise the first view, and its corollary. Note that not only are there two components in the relevant canon, but neither of them is the direct statement about the state of marriage per se that your understanding would seem to call for.

  14. Ahhh, P. – you have persuaded me!

    “Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish” – thus I was taught by good Thomists.

    Trent, as you say, was declaring against heretics who made marriage almost compulsory, and ranked it over celibacy: so it anathematized their heresy.

    While the traditional teaching is than celibacy per se is higher, Trent did not dogmatize that, but rather rejected the denigration of celibacy.

    My compliments on your fine analysis.

    It seems to me that Vatican II said something similar (see long ago on my own blog, my essay on this) when it spoke of Our Lady as mediatrix and advocate, but refrained from dogmatically defining her as mediatrix of all graces. In its own manner, it prevented an anti-Marian position being taken, since clearly (since the Incarnation, Cana, the Cross and the Upper Room) her maternal intercession has borne much fruit, but it did not once and for all pronounce the last word on this subject. The exact meaning of “mediatrix of all graces” and related titles remain quæstio disputata.

    However, are you serious in saying you haven’t read in Theology of the Body, or Vita Consecrata, or the moral theology of Grisez? You surprise me: these are all seminal works in their different ways.

  15. The Catholic Encylopedia provides a helpful summary of this issue:

    “The Church, following this teaching of St. Paul, has always considered the state of virginity or celibacy preferable in itself to the state of marriage, and the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIV, Can. 10) pronounces an anathema against the opposite doctrine. Some heretics of the sixteenth century understood Christ’s words, “for the kingdom of heaven”, in the text above quoted from St. Matthew, as applying to the preaching of the Gospel; but the context, especially verse 14, in which “the kingdom of heaven” clearly means eternal life, and the passage quoted from St. Paul sufficiently refute that interpretation. Reason confirms the teaching of Holy Scripture. The state of virginity means a signal victory over the lower appetites, and an emancipation from worldly and earthly cares, which gives a man liberty to devote himself to the service of God. Although a person who is a virgin may fail to correspond to the sublime graces of his or her state, and may be inferior in merit to a married person, yet experience bears witness to the marvellous spiritual fruit produced by the example of those men and women who emulate the purity of the angels. “

    And the latin I think is much clearer than the various translations, partial translations or attempt to deconstruct the sentence:

    “Can. 10. Si quis dixerit, statum coniugalem anteponendum esse statui virginitatis vel caelibatus, et non esse melius ac beatius, manere in virginitate aut caelibatu, quam iungi matrimonio (cf: Mt 19, 11s; 1 Cor 7, 25s 38 40): an. s.”

    • Peregrinus

      You’re quoting from the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, Terra. It has the merit of being readily accessible (because it’s on the web, because it’s out of copyright), but there have been two subsequent editions, and it would be interesting to compare what they have to say on this subject. I confess that, quite apart from its age, I find the quoted text unpersuasive. It does seem to me to confuse the idea of intrinsic superiority of celibacy with the idea of superiority because celibacy is helpful to the pursuit of some external end (“. . . gives a man liberty to devote himself to the service of God”.) The argument also ignores the fact that I may serve God in loving service to my wife or children (or anyone else). And the writer seems to proceed from assumptions which I have to say seem to me to be theologically questionable; virginity represents a victory over “the lower appetites”, for instance. All in all, I think the CE article shows that this opinion was held, and probably widely held, within the church at the time (and no doubt before), but I don’t think it does much more than that.

      Thank you for digging up the original text of the canon concerned. I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest Latinist, but from what I can make of it I see nothing to undermine my analysis of the English version that we have been discussing. The anathema is clearly directed at those who make both of two distinct statements, only one of which explicitly addresses the conjugal state. And neither of the statements is the one you would expect if the church taught as you think it teaches.

  16. Frank –

    Have a care!

    Newman’s about to be beatified… that means that (1) the miracle is still being examined, but more importantly for us (2) his writings and doctrine have been examined and declared free from error – such is always necessary when a person’s cause is introduced.

    Hence, given the fact he is already Venerable, not only is he declared to have exercised all the virtues to an heroic degree, but his teachings are sure guides to Catholicism.

    Surely you know that at his speech at the time of being appointed Cardinal, he declared that all his life he had been an enemy of liberalism?

    It is wrong and uncatholic to impugn the entire orthodoxy of this great man, soon to be raised to the honours of the altars.

  17. Ooops – that above comment was for the other discussion…

    David, how can one delete one’s own comments?

  18. P.,

    Ought we not observe the Vincentian Canon, and – confessing the general opinion of the Church down the ages, which you yourself agree was at the least widely held – assent to the proposition that virginity, not in and of itself without reason but precisely as helping one to come nigh unto the Lord, is a higher state?

    It really surprises me that this opinion seems foreign and unknown to you. It would certainly be demonstrable as the common teaching on this subject – isn’t that enough?

    What was true in 1913, is still true in 2009 – per omnia sæcula sæculorum.

    Development of doctrine cannot result in denial of doctrine.

    • Peregrinus

      It’s not at all foreign and unknown to me. All I’m saying is that (a) I find it troubling, and (b) I don;’t believe that it is definitively taught by Trent (which is where I came in to this discussion). Of course, I cheerfully admit that the fact that I find it troubling might mean that I am more open than would otherwise be the case to concluding that it is not definitively taught by Trent, but that doesn’t mean that the conclusion has to be wrong.

      At this point I am going to bow out of the discussion. I am grateful to everyone, and in particular to yourself and Terra, for engaging with me on this. But, as was identified several posts ago, there is almost certainly material of relevance to this in TotB, and I think discussing the matter further without having tackled that would be pointless. We’ve all restated our positions often enough the discussion that we understand them pretty well, and I feel that I can’t move forward (as opposed to moving around in circles) without finding out what TotB has to say, trying to understand it and trying to take it into account.

  19. Frank

    “What was true in 1913, is still true in 2009 – per omnia sæcula sæculorum.” so you write Joshua however most people here are doing their level best to avoid the plain truth of Unam Sanctam by explaining away the necessity of subjection to the Roman Pontiff for salvation.

  20. Remember too, P., that you may be falling into Americanism – the heresy that emphasises the active over the passive virtues, action over contemplation, good works over faith – by claiming that caring for wife or children makes you as meritorious as any celibate-for-the-Kingdom.

    Where have all the vocations gone, one wonders? With no supernatural outlook, who would not forsake or give up spouse and children? But for the Kingdom, ought we not be willing to give all?

    Here’s the issue: as a wise old Dominican once told me, the relevant documents of Vatican II, in not restating the teaching that celibacy-for-the-Kingdom is a higher state, cut the ground from under religious orders. Note that just because the Council didn’t mention it cannot be said ipso facto to have become (!) untrue, nor can it be said to have been denied…

    • Peregrinus

      I know I said that I’d bow out, but I just want to raise what I think is a different point here.

      Assume for the moment that it is true that a failure to assert that celibacy is superior lead to a decline in the religious orders.

      To argue from this that celibacy must be superior would be a consequentialist (i.e. fallacious) argument. If the health of the religious orders is in fact dependent on a widespread belief in the superiority of celibacy, but celibacy is not in fact superior, then I’m afraid the health of the religious orders just has to suffer in the pursuit of truth.

      Scary? Yes, but that doesn’t mean the argument is wrong. It may be that we are so used to the idea of a church supported by strong religious orders that we have difficulty in conceiving that things might be otherwise, but God has no such limitations. There was, after all, a time when the church had no religious orders, and it is certainly the case that they have at various times in the church’s life waxed and waned in significance and strength. The fact that a particular insight or understanding tends to undermine or diminish the religious orders is not evidence that it is wrong.

      The church does not, in the end, exist to support religious orders. How we shape the church should be is dictated by how we understand divine revelation, not the other way around.

  21. And while we sentire cum Ecclesia, here is St Ignatius Loyola’s contribution to our conversation:

    “To have the true sentiment which we ought to have in the Church Militant

    “Let the following rules be observed. […]

    “Fourth Rule. The fourth: to praise much religious orders, virginity, and continence, and not so much marriage as any of these.”

    ++++++

    Some commonsense: who, without the advice of the Apostle in I Cor. vii, or without the witness of the Church, choose to live celibacy and virginity?

  22. P.,

    Thanks for your gracious comments. I hope I can be as gracious some day!

    Frank,

    Recall the Boston heresy case, and its outcome: Fr Feeney was excommunicated under Pius XII for teaching literally Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus; Pope Paul VI remitted this excommunication.

    The then Cardinal Ratzinger, in a communication to the diocese of Hartford where disciples of Fr Feeney are active – all in communion with the Church – explained that, as there are differing interpretations of this dictum, those who argue for it strictly (as you do, Frank) are as free to do so as those who interpret it more broadly (for example, as my old parish priest, now Bp Jarrett of Lismore, told me when I quizzed him years ago: all who are saved are saved only through the One Church of Christ, albeit perhaps – I paraphrase – without having full communion with it): neither party may accuse the other of heresy.

    As you well know, Christ is our Only Saviour: and He founded one Church to be the Ark of Salvation. The issue is – Must one be a Catholic to be saved in that Ark? Vatican II taught explicitly that those who come to know that the Catholic Church is the true Church cannot be saved otherwise than through membership therein – but what of the righteous pagan who has never heard of Christ, or the Protestant unknowing of the Church? The Church down the ages has always argued for the salvation of the righteous pagan, and rejected the heretical Jansenists who denied this; and likewise the Church has taught that those outside the visible Church may be saved. But you must know all this, Frank. The old joke was, There are no Protestants in Purgatory – they became Catholics when they arrived there!

  23. Peregrinus – I too am bowing out – I took a quick look at the relevant catechesis of JPII (April 7 1982 and following weeks) and I think it supports what I’m saying (but you may of course read it differently!). I don’t see much point in pulling out any more individual quotes though (and in any case it all has to be read in context, and with a sound understanding of the theological foundations on which JPII was writing)! Unfortunately, as was the want at that time, it is pretty much footnote free, with general references to ‘the tradition of the Church’ rather than Trent anathemas in particular for example.

    Still, I think Joshua has it right – if the constant teaching of the Church runs one way, one needs a very strong contrary indication from the Magisterium to take a different position. That doesn’t seem to exist here, and I’m surprised that you are clinging to your view despite admitting not having read any of the serious studies and magisterial documents on the subject!

    On Outside the Church, this is clearly an areas where a number of theological opinions can legitimately be held (which is not to say that some of the more extreme positions popular today are especially credible theological opinions….