In which the pope is reminded that you don’t have to always log in as root, and probably shouldn’t

Even when one is an absolute monarch, it is best to bring the plenitude of one’s authority to bear only when necessary.  This is quite clear to me as absolute lord of my computer.

A Catholic’s relationship to the Papacy.

Edward Peters on Popes making laws and then not feeling bound by them (which I first saw here):

Little point:Francis has appointed five more papal electors than Church law authorizes.

Large point: Antinomianism (ignorance of, disregard for, and sometimes contempt toward, law) is so pervasive in the Church (and in the State, for that matter) that almost no one notices it anymore.

Let’s back up:

Church law  limits the number of cardinals eligible at any given time to vote for a Roman Pontiff to 120. See Universi Dominici gregis (1996) n. 33. Now, UDG (issued by John Paul II, following the example of Paul VI) is an “apostolic constitution”, the highest form of legislative document used in the Church, and its cap on electors is set out by a negative subjunctive (Maximus autem Cardinalium electorum numerous centum viginti ne excedat) which construction, as the Canon Law Society of America notes in the introduction to its 1999 English language translation of the Code, is regularly used by the Church to express straightforward commands and prohibitions…

Let me be clear: it does not make a fig’s worth of difference whether 120 or 125 cardinals vote in the next papal conclave, but it does make a fig’s worth of difference, I suggest, if yet another ecclesiastical rule, set out in a major legislative document using terminology indistinguishable from that which conveys many other considerably more important rules, is ignored because this leader or that doesn’t feel like abiding by it. We have processes to reform law in the Church; looking the other way isn’t one of them—at the very least, it’s a very dangerous way to change laws.

Antinomianism has been a long time spreading, and we are going to be a long, long time repairing the damage it has done to the Church (and the State). Where to start, then, except with the first step: recognizing that antinomianism is the default setting today. + + +

* Supposing, for a moment, that John Paul’s use of the subjunctive in this passage was merely hortatory (there are grammatical arguments for, and against, that interpretation), we would still have a problem: namely, popes deliberately using legislative documents to express wishes about how they might act in an important matter of ecclesiastical governance. Bad approach, that.

Much more serious is how cluttered Magisterial teaching is becoming.  Example:  we are now expecting an encyclical on climate change.  Now, I suppose it’s possible that the Pope will limit himself to matters of faith and morals, but I doubt he will.  There will surely be empirical statements and non-binding policy preferences (or else it couldn’t be about climate change specifically), and those statements will be made to all appearances in as formal and authoritative a way as anything a Pope has ever decreed.

If a Pope must share personal opinions and wishes to lay aside his Magisterial authority, he must make clear that this is what he is doing.  Actually, it’s better not to do it at all.  Fr. John Hunwicke on the inadvisability of Popes spouting off on their private opinions:

This piece appeared at the beginning of last July. I am repeating it because it approaches a problem which is still very much with us: witness the endearing remarks which our beloved Holy Father made in the airliner about how he would thump anybody who insulted his mother. In the present circumstances, I don’t see how any reasonable person could fail to see this as being at least a mitigation of the condemnation due to the Islamic terrorists who murdered the Paris Blasphemers. Yet again, Fr Lombardi went out afterwards to try to clear things up. It seems to me arguable that Popes should not make public statements which have not been vetted by the responsible dicastery of the Roman Curia. Because a Pope is not … or should not be … sharing his very interesting personal opinions (as I do in this blog). He should be reproving doctrinal error and strengthening us in doctrinal truth. And he is not enabled to do this by magic, but by a spirit-filled process of discernment in which his servants in the Roman Curia are indispensable assistants. He does not teach qua individual, but as the Bishop of Rome faithfully handing on the Tradition which the Roman and Petrine Church (pre-eminent and rock-like among all the Particular Churches in which the deposit of Faith has been handed down from the Apostles) has received. 

The admirable Fr Zed sensibly and judiciously reminded us that much of what our beloved Holy Father says, and not least his daily fervorino, is ‘Non-Magisterial’. He is right.  But I sense a problem starting to emerge here which will not go away. It is not totally new (it has been growing particularly since Popes started chatting to journalists in airliners), but it seems to me to get more acute as the decades pass.

The Pope’s remarks to the Latin American religious who went to see him were, I presume, very definitely non-Magisterial. They claimed he hinted rather heavily that they should not lose too much sleep about CDF interventions. But … those worthy religious who went half-way round the world to Rome did not do so because they have a private hobby of chatting to emeriti Argentinian bishops. They went to see, to question, to hear, the Pope qua Pope. And journalists who hear a Roman Pontiff speaking in an aeroplane are not ordinary airline passengers who find that chatting to some genial fellow-passenger relieves the boredom of the flight. They are specifically there to talk with, to listen to, to report the words of, the Pope qua Pope. And these journalists, for the main part, are not theological specialists in the status of papal utterances. 

By the way, I actually kind of like the Pope better knowing he would sock somebody who insulted his mother.  I know, I’m a bad Christian.

Even the Catechism is cluttered with things that don’t seem to be strictly speaking part of the deposit of faith.  For example, in an early comment thread, ArkansasReactionary linked to the Catechism’s teaching on Just War.  It includes banalities like this:

2315 The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations;111 it thwarts the development of peoples.Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.

2317 Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars.

So, am I morally obliged, on pain of heresy, to believe that deterrence (and what other kind could there be that doesn’t involve accumulation of arms?  Is accumulation of soldiers okay?) doesn’t avert war?  Am I obliged to believe that economic inequality causes wars (and constantly does so)?  Note that these statements are causal, not normative.  A person who believed that arms accumulation is effective at deterring attacks but nevertheless immoral, or that economic inequality is wrong but stable, would still be held in error by the catechism.  I’m not asking here whether or not the above statements are true.  I’m asking whether it is possible to hold the Catholic faith while doubting them.  If it is, then adding these claims makes the Catechism useless.  We can say, as anyone with a sense of the Tradition knows, that one cannot hold the Catholic faith while denying the presence of Christ in the Eucharist or advocating for abortion, but we can’t just point to the catechism to prove it.  It makes one wish they would release a real catechism with only the stuff that the Church really, seriously cannot change.

26 Responses

  1. I think it’s largely the rise of modern journalism, when average lay people, who don’t know how to tell whether a statement is magisterial, hear the Pope’s every word, these sorts of problems arise. Perhaps it would be better if the Pope refused to talk to journalists?

    P.S. I actually liked the Pope’s comments as well, not because of the part about his reaction, but the point that people shouldn’t just say whatever they want.

  2. “It makes one wish they would release a real catechism with only the stuff that the Church really, seriously cannot change.”
    But that is impossible, in the nature of the case, which is why the Apostles did not produce one.
    As Bl John Henry Newman describes the Tradition of Faith, “It is latent, but it lives. It is silent, like the rapids of a river, before the rocks intercept it. It is the Church’s unconscious habit of opinion and sentiment; which she reflects upon, masters, and expresses, according to the emergency. We see then the mistake of asking for a complete collection of the Roman Traditions; as well might we ask for a full catalogue of a man’s tastes and thoughts on a given subject. Tradition in its fullness is necessarily unwritten; it is the mode in which a society has felt or acted during a certain period, and it cannot be circumscribed any more than a man’s countenance and manner can be conveyed to strangers in any set of propositions.”

  3. @Michael Paterson-Seymour: While it’s quite true that the fullness of tradition must remain unwritten, I’m fairly sure what Bonald is saying here isn’t that the Catechism should contain the full set of immutable propositions describing the content of the Apostolic Tradition (which you rightly note to be impossible), but rather that the Catechism should be free of propositions that aren’t of this sort, like the ones he raises as examples in his post.

  4. The progressive gambit is in effect to make the pastoral into the new dogma, and then control the pastoral direction. This worked pretty much to completion on usury by the end of the 1800’s, and is now proceeding apace on other moral subjects. So these kinds of conflation serve their purposes.

    I like the analogy of logging in as root, but it may admit of some refinement. Progressives almost never use the sudo command, because making dogmatic definitions and such is just not the progressive way, would indeed directly undermine the whole progressive worldview. It is more a matter of being logged into the moderator’s account all the time, with all non-progressive comments kept in moderation.

    Moderns never log in as root unless they are cornered and losing: that is when the swastikas, brown shirts and jack boots come out.

    It is true enough in theory that the strategy of diluting the Faith can backfire on progressives who attempt to coopt the authority of Faith through this kind of gambit. But that hasn’t happened in reality yet. As far as boots on the ground go the strategy has been working in practice for at least a couple of centuries now.

  5. It seems to me now (converted in ’98) that one really DOES need at least a master’s degree if not a PhD, in a half-dozen subjects in order to really be a Catholic. I must not only know what all those pages in the CCC say, I must also know what they DONT say.
    It’s one thing to have a religion that is subtle, and has “a number of ideas in reserve,” it’s another to have one so subtle and self-contradictoy that it is literally beyond almost anyone’s grasp.
    I can’t ‘evangelize’ anymore, or speak meaningfully about my ‘faith’ with others, because I don’t understand it anymore, and apparently never did.
    I became a Catholic because it seemed at the time to hold out a measure of certainty, moral and theological benchmarks which never moved. It featured a deity who was willing to give me a straight answer.
    But now there is so much subtlety, so much careful parsing of statements, so much historical and theological background required in order to place statements in context, that I wonder how much I really gained by renouncing agnosticism. It seems that no one really knows what the Church teaches after all.
    I don’t want to live, if I can’t be Catholic. Not threatening here, merely expressing the depth of my disappointment. It seems now that the Church is just another religious sect, a group of men with a theory about what the Bible might mean.
    I wish Newman or Augustine or Chesterton were alive to help me know what to think about all this.

  6. Good point, Mr. Paterson-Seymour, and one I might have been expected to make myself given my past writings on the subject. As John said, what I really had in mind was not a complete exposition of the Faith but something with no admixtures from outside it, something where the Church is really willing to say of every line “You must believe this, or you are a heretic.” Actually, I guess what I’d prefer is just a longer creed.

  7. @Zippy, you’re right that the analogy doesn’t work very far. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that the Pope really does have the authority to do the equivalent of wiping the whole operating system or that I’d be fine with gay marriage if Pope Francis just said “sudo” first. The analogy just makes the point that even if the Pope did have such power, he would be wise not to use it carelessly.

  8. TCA,

    I’m in despair about it myself and so don’t have any easy answers. (Fortunately, I’ve got some wise readers who might chime in.) Pope Francis’ scorn for those who want doctrinal certainty seems more appropriate for theologians engaged in intellectual play than for the real human condition, in which a person has only one life to live and must hold fast to God’s word against the machinations of the world. I’m pretty confident in what I see as the preconciliar consensus as (part of) the real Catholic Faith, as well as a coherent and compelling system of doctrine and practice, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to prove that this is more than my private opinion.

  9. Bonald,

    Aye, and I wasn’t really intending criticism (I do think the analogy is effective); just taking the OP as a jumping off point for my own obsessions I suppose.

  10. TCA:

    It seems to me now (converted in ’98) that one really DOES need at least a master’s degree if not a PhD, in a half-dozen subjects in order to really be a Catholic.

    It can seem that way at times, especially in Internet conversations. I have an old post that you might find appropriate to the subject.

  11. TCA

    You might wish to reflect on a very important distinction drawn by Bl John Henry Newman: “Revelation sets before it certain supernatural facts and actions, beings and principles; these make a certain impression or image upon it; and this impression spontaneously, or even necessarily, becomes the subject of reflection on the part of the mind itself, which proceeds to investigate it, and to draw it forth in successive and distinct sentences… as the inward idea of divine truth, such as has been described, passes into explicit form by the activity of our reflective powers, still such an actual delineation is not essential to its genuineness and perfection. A peasant may have such a true impression, yet be unable to give any intelligible account of it, as will easily be understood.”

    Thus, the creed, which summarises Revelation or the Deposit of Faith, is categorical, not argumentative; concrete, not abstract; concerned with facts and actions and, above all, with a Person; not with ideas or notions or reflections on those facts.

    First comes Revelation; then the believer’s spontaneous reflections on it; lastly comes theology, which is an analysis and critique of those reflections.

  12. Bonald

    I do not believe the “pre-conciliar consensus” ever really existed.

    As Maurice Blondel wrote in 1907, “With every day that passes, the conflict between tendencies that set Catholic against Catholic in every order–social, political, philosophical–is revealed as sharper and more general. One could almost say that there are now two quite incompatible “Catholic mentalities,” particularly in France. And that is manifestly abnormal, since there cannot be two Catholicisms.” Responding to a national survey in 1907, Blondel articulated his sense of the “present crisis”: [U]nprecedented perhaps in depth and extent–for it is at the same time scientific, metaphysical, moral, social and political–[the crisis] is not a “dissolution” [for the spirit of faith does not die], nor even an “evolution” [for the spirit of faith does not change], it is a purification of the religious sense, and an integration of Catholic truth.”

  13. Here’s a thought experiment to show that it did. Take any issue that’s dividing the Church today and ask whether in 1907 anyone would have doubted which is the Catholic position.

  14. It makes one wish they would release a real catechism with only the stuff that the Church really, seriously cannot change

    The do (or more precisely did): the Baltimore Catechism

  15. “Take any issue that’s dividing the Church today and ask whether in 1907 anyone would have doubted which is the Catholic position.”
    Pretty well everything that divides supporters and opponents of Karl Rahner, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar and Marie-Dominique Chenu.

    In 1907, their position was pretty well represented by Duchesne, Le Roi, Laberthonière and Brémond.

    It is these differences that underlie the headline issues that come and go.

    Blondel summarised the underlying philosophical roots: “First, the scholastic ideology, which still exclusively dominates, includes the study neither of religious psychology nor of the subjective facts that convey to the conscience the action of the objective realities whose presence in us Revelation indicates; this ideology only considers as legitimate the examination of what objectively informs us about these realities as designated and defined. Moreover, and especially, everything is instinctively resisted that would limit the authoritarianism born of an exclusive extrinsicism. And, without formulating it, the conception is entertained according to which everything in religious life comes from on high and from without. Only the priesthood is active before a purely passive and receptive flock”

    “From on high and from without” – That is the heart of the matter – Read Lamentabili

  16. > the scholastic ideology, which still exclusively dominates

    My point exactly. The modernists knew they were a fringe group acting against the mind of the Church.

  17. TCA,

    What one has to do to “really be a Catholic” is unimportant. What one has to to do to grow closer to God is the better question. Love God. Love your fellow man. Submit to the authority of his Church. Partake of his sacraments. Try to understand and to live out what is asked of you as best you can. That’s it. There is no percentage of the faith you must understand. No secret knowledge you must discover. No test of knowledge you must pass. The only test is love.

  18. Reactionary Linux geeks.

    Hopefully His Holiness doesn’t log in as root and do a “rm –r *”

  19. Maybe we should pray that this Pope corrupts the root password in the shadow file the way I did once.

  20. It makes one wish they would release a real catechism with only the stuff that the Church really, seriously cannot change.

    The Catechism of the Council of Trent has you covered. It provides suggestions on what priests should sermonize about on every Sunday of the pre-Vatican II year. I know what Father is going to preach about every time I attend an FSSP Mass.

  21. Mark Yuray had a piece I think every Catholic would be interested in over at Social Matter.

    Felix Don Sarda Y Salvany. If every Catholic priest was as sharp-witted and scorching of sin in the political realm as Sarda back in 1800s Spain, then I have a hunch the church would be booming.

  22. Thus, the creed, which summarises Revelation or the Deposit of Faith, is categorical, not argumentative; concrete, not abstract; concerned with facts and actions and, above all, with a Person; not with ideas or notions or reflections on those facts.

    First comes Revelation; then the believer’s spontaneous reflections on it; lastly comes theology, which is an analysis and critique of those reflections.

    As against

    “From on high and from without” – That is the heart of the matter – Read Lamentabili

    Whatever the theological merits of Modernism, its pastoral application is exactly the disaster any sane person would expect from these descriptions. Since all men find “From on high and from without” inspiring and things which are “concerned . . . above all with a Person” either boring or repulsive, you get no men.

    You get women, particularly older ones who can’t attract men any more in reality and who are therefore prepared to enter a dreamworld concerned above all with a person. You also get various utterly broken un-men. Particularly, you get prancing, bitchy queers. The better ones, like the Pope “emeritus,” have enough self-respect and recollection of the Faith to struggle against their vice. The worse ones, like the roly poly Modernist of Fort Worth, (the videos on that page seem to be broken, but there are links to longer ones) or the current Pope’s banker buddy, indulge in their unholy brokenness.

  23. Dr Bill wrote, “Since all men find “From on high and from without” inspiring and things which are “concerned . . . above all with a Person” either boring or repulsive, you get no men.”

    I believe the reverse is true. As Bl John Henry Newman says in his incomparable Grammar of Assent, “The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description. Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us.”

    Likewise, “If an image derived from experience or information is stronger than an abstraction, conception, or conclusion—if I am more arrested by our Lord’s bearing before Pilate and Herod than by the “Justum et tenacem” &c. of the poet, more arrested by His Voice saying to us, “Give to him that asketh thee,” than by the best arguments of the Economist against indiscriminate almsgiving, it does not matter for my present purpose whether the objects give strength to the apprehension or the apprehension gives large admittance into the mind to the object. It is in human nature to be more affected by the concrete than by the abstract.”

    Is our patriotism more likely to be kindled by the “Dulce et decorum est” of the poet (especially if Philippi is the index of his own patriotism) or by the story of a Wallace or a Tell?

  24. Nobody needs a doctorate to understand the Baltimore Catechism, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the Catechism of St. Pius X, and Canon Ripley’s book This is the Faith.

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