In what sense is it possible to believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Catholic Church?

Proph has posted an important post on the danger of a new “pastoral” Church practice that would contradict her witness on the indissolubility of marriage (more brazenly than our farcical annulment industry already does, that is).  Like everyone else, I think it possible and even probable that this will happen.  That is, I don’t think that God has given us any assurance that such an evil thing won’t happen.

There is then an important sense in which I don’t have faith in the Church, at least in that I don’t trust Rome to promote Roman Catholicism and discourage sin.  However, before anybody tells me to get lost and become officially Protestant, consider the fact that no one believes anymore in the reliability of Rome in the way that seemed like the self-evidently Catholic position one hundred years ago.  No one believes it for the very good reason that there is no way to believe it.  Every position one could possibly take involves effectively dismissing the Magisterium as a usefully reliable guide.  Consider the options:

  1. What Proph calls “the Magisterium of the moment”:  Pope Francis’s Catholicism is great, and what looks like a gutting of morality and the sacraments is really a Spirit-mandated work of mercy.  But if that’s true, then all the popes prior to Francis were completely wrong about what they thought was their most important duty.
  2. Magisterial minimalism:  basically, no special trust is to be extended to papal or episcopal statements per se when infallibility is not explicitly invoked.  The trouble with this (aside from it being explicitly repudiated in Lumen Gentium) is that it means the protection the Holy Spirit gives the Magisterium is practically worthless.  I have no guarantee that the pope and all the bishops won’t deny the existence of God tomorrow, just that they won’t formalize it in a particular way.
  3. Sedevacantism:  Since we all admit that the Church has gone off the rails, I don’t see how this is a crazier position than anything else.
  4. Catholicism is a false religion, and the contradictions between Pius X and Francis I prove it.

All of these undermine the Church’s authority in serious ways.  We Catholics should keep that in mind when we criticize each other.  Here, for example, is a sedevacantist website criticizing the SSPX for not trusting that the Holy Spirit would prevent the true Church from falling into error (although He won’t, apparently, prevent her from being usurped and replaced by a false religion without noticing it).  And here is the SSPX attacking sedevacantists for drawing a distinction between a ruler having legitimacy and him having authority, which again is an odd point for the Lefebvrists to be emphasizing.  I myself certainly will not criticize the SSPX, like most Catholics do, for “disobedience” given that I will never submit to a change in the doctrine of marriage, no matter how many popes should demand it of me.  (One could argue that I’m already in rebellion against the Magisterium for what I’ve written on this blog on the subject of immigration.  I would disagree, of course, but that would be my Magisterial minimalism talking.)  The fact is that any contemporary Catholic can be accused of failing to trust the Holy Spirit to take care of the Church.

35 Responses

  1. Appeals by some Traditionalists to past pronouncements of the Magisterium to question current teaching remind me of the Tractarian, satirised by Bl John Henry Newman, whom he pictures as saying: “And then I read the Fathers, and I have determined what works are genuine, and what are not; which of them apply to all times, which are occasional; which historical, and which doctrinal; what opinions are private, what authoritative; what they only seem to hold, what they ought to hold; what are fundamental, what ornamental. Having thus measured and cut and put together my creed by my own proper intellect, by my own lucubrations, and differing from the whole world in my results, I distinctly bid you, I solemnly warn you, not to do as I have done, but to accept what I have found, to revere that, to use that, to believe that, for it is the teaching of the old Fathers, and of your Mother the Church of England. Take my word for it, that this is the very truth of Christ; deny your own reason, for I know better than you, and it is as clear as day that some moral fault in you is the cause of your differing from me. It is pride, or vanity, or self-reliance, or fullness of bread. You require some medicine for your soul; you must fast; you must make a general confession; and look very sharp to yourself, for you are already next door to a rationalist or an infidel.”

    They are appealing to their own interpretation of authors no longer alive to contradict them. It is the same fallacy as Scriptura Sola, which is an appeal, not to scripture, but to a private interpretation of it

  2. I’ve always just assumed Magisterial minimalism is manifestly true. Christ’s explicit promises to the Church were pretty narrow in scope: it will not perish (a position technically satisfied so long as there exists at least one faithful Catholic who is a bishop with ordinary jurisdiction — not that the Church will continue to exist in any particular area, or in particularly great numbers, or in any recognizable form, etc.), and it will not authoritatively teach error (though it may teach it un-authoritatively [as it has done in the past], or it may evince a neglect for doctrine altogether, or it may authoritatively teach technically-true statements lacking critical context, etc.). This isn’t to say no more graces are given the Church but that to claim that they necessarily are is a kind of pietism totally unrooted in divine revelation and the deposit of faith.

    Regrettably nearly everyone takes that pietism for granted and it is, I suspect, the chief motivator of that servility I lament among the faithful laity. Nothing’s going wrong because nothing can possibly go wrong. Who are they trying to convince?

  3. Practically speaking, Magisterial minimalism is also my position. I do worry that it puts me out of compliance with LG’s “submission of mind and will” to the pope’s non-infallible teachings. However, this requirement itself seems bizarre to me, too close to telling us “You must accept as true these things I’m telling you, even though I myself won’t assure you that they’re necessarily true.” That is, we are to believe the pope’s statements more rigidly than he does, since he is at liberty to change his mind tomorrow. How can it be demanded that I believe something without an assurance of infallibility? I could make sense of it as a command restricting my actions rather than my beliefs: “This is Church policy, and we order you not to criticize it.” But I think more is being required of me.

    Of course, when a pope non-infallibly contradicts previous teaching or practice, it is simply impossible to demand that I accept it as good and true just because a pope does it. Thus, Magisterial minimalism is forced on us, even though we are trying to be obedient Catholics.

  4. The Church has always taught that “obsequium religiosum” is limited to teachings on faith or morals, proposed as certain.

    Thus, in dealing with the Anti-Modernist decree, Lamentabili, Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, has suggested that the individual articles of that document should not be “over-valued.” The value of the text lies simply in its condemnation of a “radically evolutionist and historicist direction” for the interpretation of doctrine – “in a word, and for want of a better word, ‘Modernism.’” The particular assertions condemned may be acceptable enough, but they are condemned in the context of the system of which they formed a part. Just as a sentence can be understood only in the context of which it forms a part, a magisterial pronouncement must be understood in the context of its historical setting.

    It is owing to a neglect of this obvious truth that Chillingworth could argue “There are popes against popes, councils against councils, some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves, a consent of fathers of one age against a consent of fathers of another age, the Church of one age against the Church of another age.”

    The process of discernment is not always an easy one and, as Bl John Henry Newman warned, “Every consideration and the fullest time should be given to those who have to make up their minds to hold an article of faith which is new to them. To take up at once such an article, may be the act of a vigorous faith, but it may also be the act of a man who will believe anything because he believes nothing, and is ready to profess whatever his ecclesiastical, that is his political, party requires of him.”

  5. I think this is basically true, and it means Catholics should be more restrained when criticizing Protestants for “privately interpreting” the Bible as if we are in a position where interpretation is no longer necessary.

  6. The difference being that the Catholic’s “private interpretation” is always subject to review by the Magisterium.

    Thus, Innocent X’s Cum Occasione of May 31, 1653 condemning the five propositions of Jansenism was followed up by Alexander VII’s Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem of October 16, 1656, confirming they were condemned “in the sense of Jansen.” Then we had his Regiminis Apostolici of February 15, 1664 imposing the Formula on the clergy. Next came Clement XI’s Cum Nuper of February 12 1703 condemning the famous distinction of Law & Fact and his Vineam Domini Sabaoth of July 16, 1705, in which “Respectful Silence” was condemned and “obsequium religiosum” – “religious submission of intellect and will” was required, ending half a century of prevarication by the Jansenists.

    That is the fundamental difference between Catholic and Protestant “private interpretation.” It is the difference between a text and a living voice.

  7. Thanks Michael P-S. Bl. JH Newman is invaluable on these matters, and an aid to faith. To pit one authority against another is to presume what one cannot, and is not meant to, know: how would the precedent authority respond if placed in the exact same time and place as the later authority?

  8. That’s pretty explicitly the Magisterium of the Moment position that Bonald outlines above, and it does seem to sit uncomfortably with a faith that places a high value on the prudent use of human reason.

    Your position, when fully articulated, may well be nuanced enough to avoid the Church falling into ceaseless innovation and novelty, but I’m not seeing it here. Rather, it seems to me that it would effectively inscribe onto Catholicism the same incoherence that we see in Islam or Protestantism, in which prior teachings can be (de facto) vacated if they are thought to no longer serve the needs of the present time, whatever those might be.

  9. So, when a historically informed Catholic is faced with a novelty that he cannot harmonize with Scripture or the weight of prior teachings, what is he to do? Pray for wisdom, certainly, and for the discernment to understand how the novelty does in fact so harmonize. But if he finds himself at a loss, should he remain silent? Or pretend that no such difficulty exists?

  10. What kind of novelties are you referring to? That one must no longer necessarily abstain on Fridays, that the Novus Ordo is the Ordinary Form of the Mass, that the Blessed Mother is no longer to be held as immaculately conceived, that adultery is no longer a mortal sin?

  11. Fridays were a discipline, and I believe the NO is valid, though the latter is, properly speaking, a novelty since it was much less an organic development of the liturgy than a top-down imposition:

    We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over the centuries and replaced it — as in a manufacturing process — with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product. – Cardinal Ratzinger

    The novelties I have in mind are more along the lines of your last example. (The Holy Father himself seems to be uncertain about the Immaculate Conception, based on his homiletic speculation that Our Lady may have thought Lies! I was deceived! at the foot of the Cross, but I accept that this is no kind of magisterial pronouncement.) If the Church admits unrepentant adulterers to Holy Communion, she would seem to be either voiding Christ’s teaching about adultery, or her own teaching about what makes a person fit to receive the Eucharist. Should this “reform” go through (as Cardinal Kasper and perhaps Pope Francis seem to desire), what do you recommend we do? It seems you counsel a kind of quietism, no?

  12. Maybe there’s something I’m not understanding but……

    The inability to teach error through the ordinary/universal or the extraordinary magisterium is a charisma that He promises the true Church. There is no such promise wrt the visible hierarchy being usurped and (whoever you’re referring to) not noticing it.

  13. Above I’m responding to this quote by Bonald:

    “Here, for example, is a sedevacantist website criticizing the SSPX for not trusting that the Holy Spirit would prevent the true Church from falling into error (although He won’t, apparently, prevent her from being usurped and replaced by a false religion without noticing it). “

  14. My main point was that a sedevacantist can’t criticize other Catholics for failing to trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church, because the Holy Spirit’s failure to do so is greatest if he is right.

    Also, if a pope teaching error means he’s not valid, the assurance that the Church won’t teach error is tautological. It guarantees nothing.

  15. What about their argument that previous popes have warned of the possibility of apostate/heretical/false popes?

  16. I too am a Magisterial minimalist in practice, although I admit it’s both unsatisfactory and a double edged sword. The most radical of the progs often say that they don’t have to believe the doctrines they don’t like because they’ve not been declared ex cathedra. John Paul II wrote that it was impossible for the Church to ordain women. But since he wasn’t speaking ex cathedra, the progs say, it’s not an infallible pronouncement which means we just have to wait for those sexist old men to die off before we can usher in our golden age of married lesbian priests blessing abortions and concelebrating the Mass with openly Muslim priests.

    I think most Catholics subscribe to the Magisterium of the moment. If the upcoming Synod changes Church discipline to allow public adulterers to receive communion, I’m positive the National Catholic Register will publish many opinion columns about how fundamentalist extremists who hold to the indissolubility of marriage are mean and divisive and disobedient and must be silenced.

  17. I actually think the sedevacantist position is a reasonable one to take. But then again, I don’t reject positions for being insufficiently trusting.

  18. This is what I worry about with being too explicit about Magisterial minimalism. It makes it more complicated to establish even such obvious truths as that the Church has a settled position on contraception and polygamy.

    The Catholic population probably shakes out something like this (just making up numbers, but my impression):
    85% for the Magisterium of the New York Times
    10% for the Magisterium of the moment
    5% orthodox Magisterial minimalists
    sedevacantists in the noise

  19. The problem with sedevacantism, as I see it, is that they assign the pope much more power, wisdom, and holiness than he actually has. The argument goes something like this:

    1. The pope cannot possibly be mistaken about anything or do anything destructive.
    2. Every pope since Pius XII has said and done many destructive and scandalous things.
    3. Therefore, they were not valid popes.

    Was the See vacant when John XXII was pope? Or Benedict IX? In any case, Scripture tells us that God gives us the leaders we deserve.

  20. The novelties I have in mind are more along the lines of your last example. (The Holy Father himself seems to be uncertain about the Immaculate Conception, based on his homiletic speculation that Our Lady may have thought Lies! I was deceived! at the foot of the Cross, but I accept that this is no kind of magisterial pronouncement.) If the Church admits unrepentant adulterers to Holy Communion, she would seem to be either voiding Christ’s teaching about adultery, or her own teaching about what makes a person fit to receive the Eucharist. Should this “reform” go through (as Cardinal Kasper and perhaps Pope Francis seem to desire), what do you recommend we do? It seems you counsel a kind of quietism, no?

    I don’t really know what I would do. Maybe ask me again when one of these novelties actually takes place.

  21. @ Bruce —

    “What about their argument that previous popes have warned of the possibility of apostate/heretical/false popes?”

    We’ve had heretical (heresy-believing), apostate (Christ-denying), and false (anti-) Popes in the past. There’s no guarantee we won’t have them in the future. Here again, what Bonald calls Magisterial minimalism means simply that these things don’t contradict Christ’s promise because his promise was fairly narrow to begin with.

    @ Beefy —

    “The most radical of the progs often say that they don’t have to believe the doctrines they don’t like because they’ve not been declared ex cathedra. John Paul II wrote that it was impossible for the Church to ordain women. But since he wasn’t speaking ex cathedra, the progs say, it’s not an infallible pronouncement which means we just have to wait for those sexist old men to die off before we can usher in our golden age of married lesbian priests blessing abortions and concelebrating the Mass with openly Muslim priests.”

    Well, it wasn’t an extraordinarily infallible statement. But it is certainly infallible via the ordinary Magisterium, i.e., the common teaching of the bishops always and everywhere till about 5 minutes ago. And even by the sensus fidelium, I’d argue until, again, about 5 minutes ago.

  22. Bruce wrote, “a charisma that He promises the true Church”

    But what is the “true Church”? We risk falling into tautology – “The true Church is the Church that teaches the true faith” and “The true faith is the faith taught by the true Church.”

    What we need is a test and any test that seeks to define Christians by their tenets or the church by her teaching is sure to end in just this vicious circle.

    There is a test, proposed by Mgr Ronald Knox, that avoids this circularity: “The fideles, be they many or few, be their doctrine apparently traditional or apparently innovatory, be their champions honest or unscrupulous, are simply those who are in visible communion with the see of Rome… And in fact there can be little doubt that, in the West, our labelling of this party as orthodox and that as heterodox in early Church history comes down to us from authors who were applying this test of orthodoxy and no other.”

  23. Reblogged this on Creakings of a Cog in the Machine and commented:
    A Roman realises that infallible Magisteriums themselves in need of interpreting are more or less worthless… something which I’ve been saying for sometime already.

  24. “Infallible Magisteriums themselves in need of interpreting are more or less worthless”

    Well, no. Of course, there is no “perfect language” which mirrors reality without remainder and every language is a way of life based on patterns of communal experience.

    Nevertheless, St Paul insists that “faith comes by hearing and, in his Reflections on the Creed, Joseph Ratzinger (as he then was) has traced the history of dogma to the baptismal dialogue, where it is the representative of the Church who identifies the content of the shared faith, and the individual candidate who appropriates this with his “I do believe.” The word in which the message of faith is spoken, striking me and summoning me to response is ever “pre-ordained and precedent to my thinking.”

    For Ratzinger, the baptismal dialogue and the liturgical use of the Creed, in their communal and liturgical character show the indispensible rôle played by dogma in the life of faith. Dogma creates a unity of spirits through a unity in the word, all for the sake of the common service of God and communion in the sacred reality itself. That it is always open to re-interpretation does not diminish its value.

  25. @Dominic

    “A Roman realises that infallible Magisteriums themselves in need of interpreting are more or less worthless… something which I’ve been saying for sometime already.”

    I suppose there are some things held by the Magisterium that do need to be interpreted by someone like myself, but where there is that legitimate need, it seems absurd to my thinking that there should be any equivocation as to how to interpret the Magisterium. Does a Catholic have a doubt, for instance, as to whether it is right or wrong to extort money, to murder, to use artificial contraception, to be slothful in daily duties, to fail to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days?

    Do I have a need to delineate beliefs that I hold unwittingly that may be Nestorian or Semi-Pelagian? Not if I submit to that Faith held by the Roman Pontiff. If what I believe unwittingly is shown to be in contradiction to that Faith, then I would adjust my belief accordingly, meaning that I never willingly held to unorthodox position in the first place. The need to interpret a matter such as this is not mine, but ultimately the Roman Pontiff’s to whom I give my assent in matters of the Faith.

  26. Hi Mr. Paterson-Seymour,

    That our situation is different from the Protestants’ because our Magisterium can talk back to us is a good point. Let me think this through and see if I can tell how it would work.

    Let’s take an example of one of my own dissensions. The last several popes and many, many bishops have made multiple relatively clear statements to the effect that nations may not seek to preserve their native cultures by restricting immigration, that in fact it is generally sinful to forbid anyone from a poorer country to move into your society. I have argued the opposite on this website. This is definitely a question of morals, since we’re not arguing over a practicality but over what considerations can licitly be taken into account when making decisions, not what the actual facts of the matter are. So, the question is, have I passed into heretical disobedience yet?

    My only defense, I suppose, would be to say that Catholic doctrine only seems to be pro-civilization replacement, but it isn’t really, as evidenced by the fact that in previous ages the Church quite publicly supported efforts to resist the Islamizaton of Europe, and even in this century popes have made comments to the effect that affection for one’s own people is a legitimate thing if not taken to excess. So, do I get to hold out until a pope explicitly rejects this position? However, its rejection is implicit in the papacy having already taken a contrary position, and surely a Catholic should be bound by all the logical implications he is able to draw from a pope’s binding statements. If an abortion advocate were to say “yes, the pope says that all abortions are sinful, but he hasn’t explicitly said that abortions in this or that particular week of pregnancy are sinful” we’d have no trouble seeing the sophistry.

    So I guess the answer is yes, I have passed into sinful disobedience, and the Magisterium is working effectively. I’ve tried to find a loophole but failed. And if I did find one, the pope could plug it any time he wishes. Of course I am displeased to be in a state of sin, and that loyalty to the Church demands the destruction of the historic peoples of Europe, but an effective Magisterium should displease people. We should not be able to make its statements mean anything we want them to.

  27. If for one, would like to see the Popes condemn your views as you here state them, and hold to the views you reject as you here ascribe to them before I would judge you in a state of rebellion, if I sat in such a seat that could do such a thing.

  28. Gentlemen,

    There are many replies here and I fear that it would consume too much of my time to reply to each point one by one. As such, at the risk of making a sweeping generalisation and ignoring the individual merits of your arguments, I shall make a general argument and refer you to this post of mine here where I’ve dealt with your objections in greater and fuller detail.

    My broad argument is simply that we have to beware of the seductive ambiguity of the word “Church”, “Tradition” or even “submission to the Pope” whereby the ambiguity of those concepts are merely handwaved over to conceal the complexity of the appeal to them.

    For example, I can most certainly agree that it is “the representative of the Church who identifies the content of the shared faith, and the individual candidate who appropriates this with his “I do believe.”” But this “representative” is simply nothing more than whoever preaches the Word rightly in accordance to the Scriptures. According to my Protestant understand, I do not throw out the Church but most highly exalt it, I merely understand the Church differently from the Roman. Neither do I deny the role and use of dogma and liturgy in the articulation of the faith, I merely subject it to the scrutiny and explication of the Scriptures, not as autonomous self-justifying documents.

    Secondly, appeals to the Pope or the “infallible Magisterium” is highly problematic in that no Roman believers every single piece of ecclesiastical document which has been issued out of the papacy or the “Magisterium”. Out of thousands and thousands of ecclesiastical documents, whether of bulls, conciliar or papal decrees, etc, the contemporary Roman necessary is selective as to which one he accepts and which one he rejects, if for no other reason than that as Romans themselves do acknowledge, councils have contradicted councils and popes against popes. This brings us of course to the great difficulty as to how does one go about selecting which document “counts” as part of the Magisterial teaching and which ones are infallible and which ones are not.

    Here of course we have basically two approaches. We can spin a “Newmanesque narrative” attempting to trace a “development of doctrine” throughout history to justify one’s present conclusions. The problem of course with the Newmanesque approach is simply that anyone can form a narrative throughout history justifying any conclusion or innovation. Thus ultimately, each individual Roman has to interpret the Roman tradition for himself and formulate for himself what is the “true” doctrine of the Roman Church. Thus the appeal to the Pope or Magisterium does not solve any Scriptural interpretative problems but merely defers the problem to that of interpreting the tradition itself. For the Protestant to make sense of his faith, he only needs to interpret one book, the Bible, for the Roman, he has to interpret, not only the Scriptures, but thousands and thousands of ecclesiastical documents, selecting which parts to receive and which to reject, and interpreting their sense for today. Who has the easier task?

    We come now to the second approach. It is interesting to note that Newman’s contemporary, Cardinal Manning, sensed this problem, that the Roman insistence upon the historical pedigree and continuity of their present teachings cannot stand up to the difficulties of history and complex plurality of the church’s documents which resists simplistic claims of a uniform and singular doctrinal continuity and constancy. Of course, we know that Newman in response to this historical criticism with regards the copious absence of Roman doctrines from the beginning of the Church resorted to his theory of development. Manning however refused such spin and simply rejected history itself in favour of the present living voice:

    The other objection I shall touch but briefly. It is often said that Catholics are arbitrary and positive even to provocation in perpetually affirming the indivisible unity and infallibility of the Church, the primacy of the Holy See, and the like, without regard to the difficulties of history, the facts of antiquity, and the divisions of Christendom. It is implied by this that these truths are not borne out by history and fact: that they are even irreconcilable with it: that they are no more than theories, pious opinions, assumptions, and therefore visionary and false.

    We very frankly accept the issue. No Catholic would first take what our objectors call history, fact, antiquity and the like, and from them deduce his faith ; and for this reason, the faith was revealed and taught before history, fact or antiquity existed. These things are but the basis of his faith, nor is the examination of them his method of theological proof. The Church, which teaches him now by its perpetual living voice, taught the same faith before as yet the Church had a history or an antiquity. The rule and basis of faith to those who lived before either the history or antiquity of which we hear so much existed, is the rule and basis of our faith now.

    But perhaps it may be asked: If you reject history and antiquity, how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed ? ‘I answer : The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum, of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.

    -The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost

    Thus, according to Manning, it doesn’t matter what the Pope or even the Church has said in the past. “The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum, of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation.” Manning discards all historical evidence and past acts of the Church in favour of an utterly unashamed presentism which exalts the “living Church of this hour” above every past act of the Church. Therefore the difficulties of needing to make sense of thousands and thousands of past ecclesiastical documents is swept away in one bold move by simply postulating “one thing needful”, only the present voice of the Church at this very hour.

    Naturally such unashamed “presentism” is inherently unstable and would enable the justification of any innovation and any deviation from past practices simply on the pretext of the “present living voice of the Church” as the final and ultimate authority over the Church. This is therefore the inherent instability which the Roman Church faces and will continue to face as long it maintains its unashamed presentism.

  29. Dominic

    Newman and Manning were doing two different things, which are not irreconcilable.

    Manning is insisting that one cannot use history as a criterion by which to judge the living voice of the Church, any more than one can use reason as a criterion to criticise the content of Revelation. It does not amount to an admission that, rightly understood, there is any contradiction between past and present teaching – That is only a seeming.

    Newman, on the other hand, frankly admits that he is trying to deal with a difficulty in apologetics, “the difficulty, as far as it exists, which lies in the way of our using in controversy the testimony of our most natural informant concerning the doctrine and worship of Christianity, viz. the history of eighteen hundred years.” He admits, or rather, insists that his theory of development “is undoubtedly an hypothesis to account for a difficulty; but such too are the various explanations given by astronomers from Ptolemy to Newton of the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies, and it is as unphilosophical on that account to object to the one as to object to the other.”

  30. Whether Newman is reconcilable with Manning is peripheral to my main point. My main point is that either Newmanesque or Manning routes comes with their own difficulties. The Newmanesque approach leads to a pluralityof narratives whereby any denomination and any theologian can spin a narrative showing how the past is consistent with their denominational teachings, whereas the Manning alternative which sacrifices history for an unashamed presentism is in danger of a “Magisterium of the moment”.

  31. Dominic

    Asa Catholic, I believe the Church to be infallible because God revealed this; and I believe God revealed it because it is affirmed by the Church. In the second proposition “because” is not taken in the same sense as in the first, for in the first it signifies the formal motive of faith, but, in the second, only the indispensable condition of faith, that is, the infallible proposition of the object of faith.

    Hence my certainty that the present Magisterium does not contradict tradition. “Tradizione!” thundered Pope Pius IX, at Cardinal Filippo Maria Guidi of Bologna, “La tradizione son’ io!” – “I am the tradition!”

    In this, both Manning and Newman are my doctors

  32. Hello Dominic,

    Thank you for laying out the difficulty so well. In a sense, my ongoing series on Catholicism is my way of showing a resolution. It is, of course, true that Catholicism would be untenable if it meant having to constantly check one’s thoughts against thousands of documents, assuming these documents are all essentially independent, disjoint data sets. But for that matter, Protestantism would hardly be in any better shape if one considers the Bible as thousands of pages of disjoint statements to which one must constantly refer. This is already an unlivable demand, and adding an order of magnitude to the volume of material hardly changes the situation. What is livable is to have a worldview validated by the Bible within which one thinks. Most worldviews are inconsistent with the Bible, but a few are broadly consistent. That is, there is a degeneracy in the Biblical data, that it can be accommodated by the Catholic model, the Calvinist model, and perhaps some others.

    Whatever the difficulty is in establishing the Catholic position on something, it must be a solvable problem, considering that both you and I have solved it many times already. I’m sure you and I both know what the Catholic doctrines on, say, abortion and the historical nature of the Resurrection are, and we know them without having to comb through two millennia of documents. The Church’s settled doctrines have this quality that they don’t rest on just one document, but everybody knows them nonetheless.

    What I’m trying to demonstrate in my series is that these doctrines are not independent claims but form a coherent whole and follow from a single perspective. The effect will be to devalue the Magisterium, in that I regard its authority as being derived from Catholic belief rather than being the epistemic ground of Catholic belief. This does of course set me in conflict with some Catholic writers, especially of the Protestant-baiting variety. However, in a time of heretical bishops and (it seems very likely) popes any overestimation of the role of authority in the Church is harmful.

  33. “However, in a time of heretical bishops and (it seems very likely) popes any overestimation of the role of authority in the Church is harmful.”

    Thankfully it seems the Popes themselves (Benedict with his resignation, Francis with his whole conduct) seem intent on de-mystifying the Papacy by their actions after nearly a century of centralization and the cultivation of near-mystical devotion to it.

  34. […] reasons  to be Catholic (or a member of one of the other rites in communion with the Pope).  The (highly conditional) reliability of the Church as a doctrinal-proposition-factory is probably even one of them, though […]

  35. […] with respect to the Vatican and the Magisterium. (FYI: My current thorn is trying to understand what the point of internalizing and defending Holy Tradition is, if all we are obliged–and allowed–to embrace therefrom is “what Rome says […]

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