I don’t have a conscience. Neither do you. They don’t exist.

…if geometry were as much opposed to our passions and present interests as is ethics, we should contest it and violate it but little less, notwithstanding all the demonstrations of Euclid and Archimedes…

                                                                             — Gottfried Leibniz

Obviously, “conscience” in the general sense of a capacity for moral deliberation exists.  However, when contemporary Catholics invoke “conscience”, they seem to refer to a particular mental faculty.  It sounds very sophisticated to say that moral rules cannot be mechanically applied to particular cases.  Each case is unique, meaning no finite number of specifications suffices for one to deductively apply general moral rules.  Even for a unique case, moral evaluations perhaps reveal themselves only from the first person perspective.  This is done through a mysterious, mystical faculty called “the conscience”, through which each person intuits whether or not the relevant general rules apply to him.  “Conscience” is thus some sort of moral authority independent of the deductive application of universal norms to specific cases.

Examples of the need for this mysterious supra-rational moral sense are unconvincing.  A popular one is the poor remarried divorcee who has to render the adultery debt to her new partner for some dire reason–to keep her partner around for the children being the only one I’ve seen.  That’s funny in itself:  there are supposed to be an infinite number of distinct situations so that we could never hope to formulate universal rules, yet very few examples (namely one) are given as evidence of this.  Couldn’t we at least try refining our general rule?  Suppose, for the sake of argument, there really are cases of morally acceptable adultery.  Then we need to alter the sixth commandment to something like “Thou shalt not commit adultery except in case of dire need of someone within one’s care”, and we’d have to define “dire need” with sufficient precision that one’s own “need” for companionship and sexual fulfillment do not qualify.  But the Church has recognized similar qualifications to “Thou shalt not steal” for centuries without the exceptions swallowing the rule.

Yet the Kasperite party, which now rules the Catholic Church, will not follow this path.  Their whole claim to orthodoxy is that they have not admitted the existence of categories of morally permitted adultery, only individual cases.  How can this claim be tenable?  If one woman is justified in committing adultery to secure some good for her children, then surely every other woman in similar situations is also so justified.  Surely we can identify the morally relevant facts of the case and use it to define a category.  To avoid this conclusion, the Kasperites must invoke “uniqueness”, i.e. that the morally relevant facts are infinite in number or somehow do not survive abstraction.  This despite the fact that, in their one example, only a few facts seemed to be needed to morally size up the situation.

The new Catholic party line conflicts with modern ethical philosophy on a deep level.  Kant, for example, saw abstraction as a key part of moral reasoning, particularly with his formulation of the categorical imperative that we must be able to consistently will our acts to be universal laws for everyone in like situations.  Morality is associated with the third-person view, of replacing the question “what should I do” with “what should one in this situation do”.  Because of our interests and passions, it has been assumed that people are less reliable moral reasoners when analyzing their own cases.

Despite the insistence of clerical hacks, the new official Catholic doctrine of “conscience” also conflicts with her own ethical tradition.  Thomas Aquinas denies that conscience is a distinct power, identifying it rather as the act of applying general moral principles to specific cases.  Moral reasoning is, for the Thomists, a deductive “top-down” affair.  Moral first principles are innately known by synderesis.  They are elaborated into secondary principles (like “don’t commit adultery”) and properly applied through the virtue of prudence.  It would be a grave misreading to assign prudence a role similar to the Kasperite conscience.  An analogy inspired by Leibniz’s quote above should make this clear.  In Euclidean geometry, all demonstrations proceed from the five axioms.  This is like the first principles of practical reasoning known by synderesis.  The truth of any conclusion depends only on the axioms and the logical validity of each step of the proof proceeding from them.  Certainly, geometric reasoning involves a sort of skill (analogous to the virtue of prudence), but this skill is not a separate source of information; it reveals nothing not logically deducible from the five axioms.  In this analogy, conscience is like the result of a geometric proof.  It is inconceivable in a system like Aquinas’ for conscience to turn against, to grant exceptions to, the moral rules of which it is only the application.  Nor should we respect a man’s conscience more than we respect his arithmetic.  An outsider can detect errors in the one as surely as he can detect errors in the other.

To deny “conscience” is to deny the existence of a moral sense that judges particulars and does not depend on general rules.  Against this, one could point out that people don’t start out with perfectly refined sets of moral principles.  Moral education proceeds by recognizing certain acts as worthy of praise or condemnation and then asking why, and how could this process get off the ground without something like “conscience”?  I suspect that moral education must start with a presentation of heroes and villains, clear cases where the synderesis can be applied even by the unpracticed.  From the case of clearly treacherous adultery, one comes to understand what is wrong with adultery in general.  Then knowledge of the general rule makes it possible to judge more complicated cases with morally irrelevant distractions to one’s sympathies (“…but her husband didn’t appreciate her, and she was lonely…”).  These “complicated cases” are not ones where we must set aside general rules and return to undifferentiated synderesis, but are in fact the ones where general rules are most important.

It’s not clear if Catholic moral theology is salvageable.  I suggest that a sane ethics of the future must drastically reduce the role played by “conscience”.  Surveying the larger history of ethics, this should not be so shocking.  Plato and Aristotle discussed ethics at length without needing it.  It was only with early 18th-century philosophers like Shaftesbury and Butler that conscience assumed the dominant role we think natural today.  We are used to hearing conscience described as an interior authority, as the ultimate authority.  However, this does not reflect our actual experience of conscience.  My conscience applies the general rule “Thou shalt not commit adultery” to “I should not have sex with Alice, the cute girl in the office next to me who is a woman other than my wife.”  The authority here is not in the application itself, but in the general rule.  Whatever authority “I shouldn’t sleep with Alice” has, it derives from “nobody should commit adultery”.  But what about the duty to obey an erring conscience?  Even here, the authority one experiences comes from the general rules one is misapplying, and the sin in failing to obey comes from the intention to violate these rules.  One cannot appeal to one’s conscience as some sort of separate authority.

43 Responses

  1. Cardinal George Pell has thought about this a bit more deeply. The problem isn’t so much conscience as an uninformed one. The culpability lays in not taking the effort to know. Many of those who claim conscience are–as you rightly say–using it as a get out of jail card.

  2. Each case is unique, meaning no finite number of specifications suffices for one to deductively apply general moral rules. Even for a unique case, moral evaluations perhaps reveal themselves only from the first person perspective. This is done through a mysterious, mystical faculty called “the conscience”, through which each person intuits whether or not the relevant general rules apply to him. “Conscience” is thus some sort of moral authority independent of the deductive application of universal norms to specific cases.

    Another place this sort of thing crops up is in intuition-pump style arguments. The argument form goes 1) Here are four highly stylized situations where your moral intuitions are thus and such. 2) From the intuitions in these four cases, we infer the existence of moral rule R, 3) We apply moral rule R more generally to get all sorts of conclusions we really want to get.

    This method obviously partakes (implicitly) of a very stupid version of natural law. Instead of taking “law inscribed on the human heart” as some kind of extremely loose metaphor, they take it as a scientific description. Moral intuitions from particular highly stylized cases are then like well-controlled experiments, yielding especially useful information about the underlying laws.

  3. The reasoning seems to go something like this: since we can’t force people to believe in Catholicism, we can’t force Catholics to believe in Catholic teachings. So we must respect their “conscience”. It’s some kind of moral invincible ignorance.

  4. I’ve never really understood Newman’s contribution to Catholic thought on the role of conscience as being particularly “catholic”. It’s patently protestant, in all the worst possible ways…

  5. If I can exercise my concscience and be an adulterer then I can exercise my conscience and be a racist and sexist.

  6. Derivation is not meaning, but it is worth examining the origins of “conscience.”

    Curiously, in English, we have no verb precisely corresponding to the Latin conscire, from scire = to know and con- which means together – compare spirare = to whisper and con-spirare = to whisper together, to conspire. It means to be privy to. When Tacitus says that Sallust was “Agrippinae interficendi conscius” it means he was “in the know” about Agrippina’s murder; the colloquialism is the nearest thing English equivalent.

    The Greek word for conscience is συνείδησις from vb συνοράω (which occurs some 30 times in the NT) is similarly formed, again meaning “to know together”

    Now, there is a sense in which we are observers of, privy to, our own motives, intentions and actions. Thus, Horace speaks of the man “nil conscire sibi, nulla pallescere culpa” – to know nothing against oneself; not to grow pale with guilt.” “συνείδησις ἁμαρτία” – consciousness of sins, in Heb 10:2 means pretty much the same. Dr Johnson was using the word in the same sense, when he says, “I am conscious to myself of many failings” – “to myself” makes this clear.

    This is the only sense in which συνείδησις is used in the NT; it is never used to mean the moral sense, the syderesis of the Scholastics. Incidentally, συντήρησις (= to watch over), from which syderesis is derived, is never used in that sense either in Classical Greek or the Koine of the NT. That, for a Greek, belonged to the practical intellect

  7. Andrew

    I certainly do not see Newman’s views on conscience as being particularly Protestant; I do think that his underlying analysis in the Grammar of Assent was about 100 years ahead of his time.

    For example, “[A]s regards the first principles expressed in such propositions as “There is a right and a wrong,” “a true and a false,” “a just and an unjust,” “a beautiful and a deformed;” they are abstractions to which we give a notional assent in consequence of our particular experiences of qualities in the concrete, to which we give a real assent. As we form our notion of whiteness from the actual sight of snow, milk, a lily, or a cloud, so, after experiencing the sentiment of approbation which arises in us on the sight of certain acts one by one, we go on to assign to that sentiment a cause, and to those acts a quality, and we give to this notional cause or quality the name of virtue, which is an abstraction, not a thing.”

  8. It is good to point out that conscience – moral reasoning – is not an authority. We can refer to the “moral mind” or the “mathematical mind” but they don’t refer to actually distinct minds. There is no entitlement to be objectively wrong. Morally wrong choice of behavior comes from defective knowledge and defective will, and “invincible ignorance” refers to the rare case of a pure mistake, ignorance of the facts involving no defect of will.

    One of the characteristics of “pure defect of knowledge” is that a person immediately regrets and is devastated by his own action once he learns the facts. The cop who shoots a kid waving a toy gun is rightly devastated, even if the cop was invincibly ignorant (of the objective facts) in the heat of the moment. It is not possible to be informed of the fact of adultery and then persist in it with a good will. This is true of intrinsically immoral kinds of behavior in general: it is not possible to knowingly choose those kinds of behavior with a good will. That is what “intrinsically immoral” means.

  9. MPS

    What about that quote is particularly revolutionary?

    In the spirit of constructive criticism, your habit of posting context-less, unelaborated quotes as if their meaning was obvious is a bit maddening (though perhaps they are only not obvious to me).

  10. Arisokles Contra Mundum

    “What about that quote is particularly revolutionary?”

    Contemporary philosophy tended to grope around in the recesses of the mind, in an attempt to formulate a definition of abstract nouns, like “right,” “wrong,” “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.”

    Newman was among the first to insist that we must look at how words are actually used in concrete situations, or to quote Wittgenstein, “the meaning of a word is its use.”

    Hence, his suspicion of universals and of deductions from them. To give you a flavour: “What is called a universal is only a general; because what is only general does not lead to a necessary conclusion… General laws are not inviolable truths; much less are they necessary causes.”

    Also, his insistence that “All things in the exterior world are unit and individual, and are nothing else; but the mind not only contemplates those unit realities, as they exist, but has the gift, by an act of creation, of bringing before it abstractions and generalizations, which have no existence, no counterpart, out of it.” And, in the same vein, “Each thing has its own nature and its own history. When the nature and the history of many things are similar, we say that they have the same nature; but there is no such thing as one and the same nature; they are each of them itself, not identical, but like.”

    No wonder he was deeply suspicious of the Schoolmen.

  11. The more I learn about Newman, the more (literally) out of touch with reality his views seem. Denying the reality of universals is just the old argument over nominalism and its anti-realist cousins, venerable liberators of vice. He probably shouldn’t have done it, but it is hard not to sympathize with Heloise’s father’s purported castration of Abelard.

  12. “Newman was among the first to insist that we must look at how words are actually used in concrete situations”

    Did Socrates not do this?

  13. Socrates doesn’t lend himself to being quoted in an undecipherable manner as Newman does.

  14. And yet Ratzinger is a huge fan of Newman.

    http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/09/16/3013343.htm

    Maybe it’s not Newman who is opaque. Maybe the subject matter is beyond the capabilities of the critical audience.

  15. And yet Ratzinger is a huge fan of Newman.

    http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/09/16/3013343.htm

    Maybe it’s not Newman who is opaque. Maybe the subject matter is beyond the capabilities of the critical audience.

    Perhaps, but I for one do not find Ratzinger’s fandom of Newman to be surprising in the least. We shouldn’t go around kidding ourselves that Benedict XVI was the “traditional” pope (as opposed to Francis the progressive pope). Benedict was a theological progressive in many ways. True, he had a fondness for the traditional liturgy and I will always be grateful to him for Summorum Pontificum, but if we’re being frank here, it is easier to find severely problematic statements in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger than it is in JPII.

  16. Ratzinger, Newman and the Syllabus. When Catholic teachings went over the capabilities of normal people.

  17. You have a fair point their Todor. I think one of the big problems in the contemporary approach to religion is theologians assuming the laity is capable of profound reflection. Ritual, custom and habit by-pass the cognitive limitation of the masses and “keep things real” for those who don’t live the life of the mind.

    The problem with this approach, though, is that the external appearance of faith may mask a profound spiritual poverty. I think this was the great warning of guys like Blondel and Peguy. They saw in the early 1900’s that this was precisely where Catholicism was at. They would have been totally unsurprised at the events following Vatican 2, when we “didn’t have to keep appearances” any longer. The faith collapsed.

  18. Donnie.

    Benedict was not a “traditional” Pope. As a man of profound intellect and faith, he was too holy for that position. Wherever Catholic Integralism has been practiced it has poisoned the faith of the country. Portugal? Spain? Returning to the Past and doubling down doesn’t work.

    JPII also saw this. This is why he didn’t go “full Trad.” And I don’t think you fully appreciate the continuity of thought between he and Benedict.
    If Benedict eludes you, with all respect, it may be because it is you who have the problem.

  19. Wherever Catholic Integralism has been practiced it has poisoned the faith of the country. Portugal? Spain?

    By all objectively measurable criteria, the faith was extremely strong in both of those countries while Integralism was being practiced.

    Now I know how you’ll reply, you’ll say that they weren’t really sincere, they were just going through the motions, etc., which you know because of your magical mind reading powers. Well, I once heard of this guy in Africa who got eaten after poking a tiger with a stick. I suppose you must think him a wise man for uncovering the tiger’s secret dispositions.

  20. ArkansasReactionary wrote,“By all objectively measurable criteria, the faith was extremely strong in both of those countries while Integralism was being practiced.”

    In most societies or institutions, social pressure to conform is strong and people tend to be reluctant to voice any doubts or misgivings they may have; outward conformity often masks private dissent and this reticence, in turn, contributes to and reinforces the social pressure to conform.

    When circumstances combine to relax that pressure, it can initiate a “preference cascade,” as dissenters realise they are not singular in their views and more and more people feel free to express their previously unvoiced dissent. Now, fear changes sides. Not only are opponents of the status quo emboldened to speak out, but genuine supporters of it start pretending that they support the change, too.
    This theory of Kuran’s is a useful tool (to be employed with caution, of course) for analysing what appear on the surface to be sudden and dramatic shifts in public opinion and practice.

  21. Donnie wrote, “Benedict was a theological progressive in many ways.”

    Like Newman, he was sceptical of the Scholastic method and the belief that the structure of reality could be deduced from the grammar of description; that there is a necessary correlation between the structure of our descriptive language and every describable thing.

  22. Just get an average person alone and ask them, under assurance of complete secrecy and acceptance, whether they really believe that the medieval Catholic Church was wrong to execute heretics.

    The answer you’ll get from almost anyone is an unequivocal and unquestioning yes.

  23. That’s how conscience works; you ask a question and look deep inside to see what’s the answer. If the little voice say “yes”, no need to go further. And that little voice is sacred, somehow. If the little voice says, “I’m not adulterer”, you can go to communion. Don’t you have any respect for the little voice?

  24. > n most societies or institutions, social pressure to conform is strong and people tend to be reluctant to voice any doubts or misgivings they may have; outward conformity often masks private dissent and this reticence, in turn, contributes to and reinforces the social pressure to conform.

    Exactly. That’s why we want social pressure to be exerted toward a good consensus rather than toward a bad one.

  25. “Conscience” in the Current Year takes one of Anscombe’s “little speeches” about where you’ve directed your intentions and doesn’t even bother with the intention part. If the voices in your head tell you that your abortions, murders, usuries, and adulteries are OK it means that, for you, they really are OK. Sure you intend them; but you don’t intend them to be bad.

  26. Ratzinger, Newman and the Syllabus. When Catholic teachings went over the capabilities of normal people.

    If you’re familiar with Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk you’d know that the Syllabus flew way over Newman’s head.

    http://www.newmanreader.org/works/anglicans/volume2/gladstone/section7.html

  27. Newman was generally inclined towards nominalism, I think, and I find his philosophy extremely tedious.

    That said, I think Letter to the Duke of Norfolk is far his best work; the essay on the Syllabus is a very serious examination. His basic argument is that the Syllabus is a reference work that guides you to the many things specifically condemned in other documents, rather than something having condemnatory force in its own right. Newman pretty compellingly defends this view with reference to the structure of the document, church history, & principles of canonical interpretation.

    What do you object to about it?

  28. Just get an average person alone and ask them, under assurance of complete secrecy and acceptance, whether they really believe that the medieval Catholic Church was wrong to……….;

    a) Execute heretics
    b) ban contraception.
    c) pursue the war against Protestants
    d) etc.

    People will agree with whatever their limbic system approves of. The above is not an argument.

    That’s why we want social pressure to be exerted toward a good consensus rather than toward a bad one.

    Yeah, Franco and Salazar did that, but the best they got was a situation where people “honoured me with their lips and not their hearts.” Soon as the thumbscrews were taken off they rejected religion. The only long term sustainable solution is where the people want God, not when the state is punishing them for not doing so.

  29. Roepke wrote, “[T]he essay on the Syllabus is a very serious examination…”
    It bears a strong resemblance to his treatment of the XXXIX Articles in Tract XC, which I would rank as one of his best polemical works.

  30. Zippy wrote, ““Conscience” in the Current Year takes one of Anscombe’s “little speeches” about where you’ve directed your intentions…”

    The fallacy consists in treating intention as a private mental process. That is what Wittgenstein is getting at, when he asks, “What is the natural expression of an intention?—Look at a cat when it stalks a bird; or a beast when it wants to escape.” (PI 647).

    Miss Anscombe was, one recalls, a student, the literary executor and translator of Wittgenstein. I recall her saying, during a tutorial, “Suppose I am drawing a square.” She drew a square in the air with a pen. “Now what I want to say is that as I do this you see a soul in action, not the effects of intelligence but actual intelligence, intelligence publicly on display in my movements. These movements are not the effects of thought but embody thought as I move my arm.” So it is with intention.

  31. Slumlord attempts to serve up the usual liberal bullshit sandwich. Of course some people are going to do evil and go to Hell no matter what law and convention encourage. And doubtless some will be saved despite wicked law and convention which undermines them.

    But even a consequentialist, if he is half sane (which is about the extent of sanity a consequentialist can achieve), can see that wicked law/convention promote wickedness in general while good law/convention promote the good in general. Even in a consequentialist numbers game of “greatest number saved” the good law/convention wins.

    Law/convention should encourage/protect objectively good behavior and discourage/punish objectively bad behavior. That this won’t save incorrigibly bad people from hellfire doesn’t even slightly undermine the principle.

  32. What do you object to about it?

    For starters, this:

    [T]he Syllabus then has no dogmatic force; it addresses us, not in its separate portions, but as a whole, and is to be received from the Pope by an act of obedience, not of faith, that obedience being shown by having recourse to the original and authoritative documents, (Allocutions and the like,) to which it pointedly refers. Moreover, when we turn to those documents, which are authoritative, we find the Syllabus cannot even be called an echo of the Apostolic Voice; for, in matters in which wording is so important, it is not an exact transcript of the words of the Pope, in its account of the errors condemned,—just as is natural in what is professedly an index for reference.

    There’s a lot more, and I don’t have time to type it all out into this combox at the moment. That said, I’m far from the first Catholic to take issue with Newman’s treatment of the Syllabus, so if after rereading Letter‘s Section 7 you still don’t see its problems, I recommend the following critique:

    http://www.waragainstbeing.com/partvii

  33. For Slumlord,

    There was once a time when States were governed by the philosophy of the Gospel. Then it was that the power and divine virtue of Christian wisdom had diffused itself throughout the laws, institutions, and morals of the people, permeating all ranks and relations of civil society. Then, too, the religion instituted by Jesus Christ, established firmly in befitting dignity, flourished everywhere, by the favour of princes and the legitimate protection of magistrates; and Church and State were happily united in concord and friendly interchange of good offices. The State, constituted in this wise, bore fruits important beyond all expectation, whose remembrance is still, and always will be, in renown, witnessed to as they are by countless proofs which can never be blotted out or ever obscured by any craft of any enemies. Christian Europe has subdued barbarous nations, and changed them from a savage to a civilized condition, from superstition to true worship. It victoriously rolled back the tide of Mohammedan conquest; retained the headship of civilization; stood forth in the front rank as the leader and teacher of all, in every branch of national culture; bestowed on the world the gift of true and many-sided liberty; and most wisely founded very numerous institutions for the solace of human suffering. And if we inquire how it was able to bring about so altered a condition of things, the answer is-beyond all question, in large measure, through religion, under whose auspices so many great undertakings were set on foot, through whose aid they were brought to completion.

    Immortale Dei, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on The Christian Constitution of States, November 1, 1885

  34. donnie:
    The idea that politically the duty of authority is to provide a neutral playing field with expressly non-authoritative cajoling to do good, an environment in which people can freely choose the good without any coercion (doesn’t that sound very high-minded?), has to count as one of Hell’s greatest memetic triumphs.

  35. Donnie:
    I’m very underwhelmed by the link. For example: “To undermine the authority and importance of the Syllabus in any way can only serve the purpose of aiding and abetting these same forces of evil.” This is completely wrong-headed. Both the modern code of canon law and the 1917 code contain canons which state that restrictive laws (which include censures) must be interpreted narrowly. And it was a principle of interpretation before the 1917 code, as Newman states. So not only does interpreting the syllabus narrowly not serve the forces of evil, it’s what you’re obliged to do.

    The text and language of the Syllabus makes Newman’s interpretation the most intuitive, I would think. The link doesn’t argue about why the Syllabus should be seen as something possessing condemnatory force in its own right, rather than a guide to condemnations contained within many other works. Newman has a quite detailed examination of language typically used in condemnations to support this, which the link doesn’t engage with at all.

  36. Roepke,

    The text and language of the Syllabus makes Newman’s interpretation the most intuitive, I would think.

    Call me a simpleton but when I read the Syllabus I interpret it as, “Here are a list of statements which are false.”

    Whereas Newman’s approach to the all important question of whether the statements listed on the Syllabus are false is to say, “Oh well let’s see now, we can’t say that they are false simply because they’re on a list of ERRORS CONDEMNED BY PIUS IX that was issued by the Vatican to all the Bishops of the world. No, no, no, that’s not enough. We have to go back to the original Magisterial documents in which the errors were originally condemned and interpret their condemnation only in the context of those documents and in the unique and specific historical circumstances of each document’s promulgation.”

    Do you really not find that approach problematic?

  37. I’m so glad that we have Slumlord and his magical mind-reading powers available to aid us.

    I don’t see what the point of the Syllabus argument is. Most of the condemnations it references were in documents addressed to the Church universally, and thus are infallible in their own right.

  38. “Maybe it’s not Newman who is opaque”

    My issue was not that Newman is opaque, rather that it was unclear to me what was especially revolutionary about the quote. Judging by the responses, the answer was ultimately “not very much.”

    “I don’t see what the point of the Syllabus argument is”

    To avoid the consequences of a view you hold being on it? This seems to be the rationale for most arguments against the Church’s condemnations.

  39. AR,

    Rather than take a firm stance against the modernist and Protestant polemicists of his day and affirm to them that, yes, each of the 80 statements listed in the Syllabus of Errors is false and that, yes, this means any man who is committed to one or more of the statements listed is called to repent of his error, Newman took an entirely different approach.

    Newman argue in his supposed defense (which I linked to above) that the critics of the Syllabus are wrong, not because they are committed to erroneous beliefs, but because they have taken the condemnation of the Syllabus at face value. For Newman, the statements listed in the Syllabus are condemned as erroneous opinions only in the sense and context in which they originally occurred.

    For example, Protestants in Newman’s day (just like one of our friendly commenters here) took great issue with the 77th condemned proposition, which states:

    77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship. — Allocution “Nemo vestrum,” July 26, 1855

    Rather than defend this magisterial condemnation of a pernicious and malignant error, Newman chooses instead to argue that the condemnation doesn’t really mean what it appears to mean:

    When we turn to the Allocution, which is the ground of its being put into the Syllabus, what do we find there? First, that the Pope was speaking, not of States universally, but of one particular State, Spain, definitely Spain; secondly, that he was not noting the erroneous proposition directly, or categorically, but was protesting against the breach in many ways of the Concordat on the part of the Spanish government; further, that he was not referring to any work containing the said proposition, nor contemplating any proposition at all; nor, on the other hand, using any word of condemnation whatever, nor using any harsher terms of the Government in question than an expression of “his wonder and distress.” And again, taking the Pope’s remonstrance as it stands, is it any great cause of complaint to Englishmen, who so lately were severe in their legislation upon Unitarians, Catholics, unbelievers, and others, that the Pope merely does not think it expedient for every state from this time forth to tolerate every sort of religion on its territory, and to disestablish the Church at once? for this is all that he denies. As in the instance in the foregoing section, he does but deny a universal, which the “erroneous proposition” asserts without any explanation.

    So according to Newman, the 77th condemned statement listed in the Syllabus of Errors 1) only applies to Spain, 2) only applies to breaches of the Concordat by Spain, and 3) is not even a condemnation, merely an expression of “wonder and distress”

    Nowhere does Newman even mention Pius IX’s words from the very encyclical that the Syllabus of Errors was promulgated along with:

    For you well know, venerable brethren, that at this time men are found not a few who, applying to civil society the impious and absurd principle of “naturalism,” as they call it, dare to teach that “the best constitution of public society and (also) civil progress altogether require that human society be conducted and governed without regard being had to religion any more than if it did not exist; or, at least, without any distinction being made between the true religion and false ones.” And, against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that “that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require.”

    Quanta Cura, Condemning Current Errors, Encyclical of Pope Pius IX promulgated on December 8, 1864

    Having read the Holy Father’s own words, how can anyone as smart as Cardinal Newman deny that the much maligned condemnation no. 77 means exactly what it appears to mean?

  40. What I mean is, that the textual argument about the Syllabus specifically is besides the point. Even if it didn’t exist, the teachings it contains have been authoritatively laid down in countless other places.

    To avoid the consequences of a view you hold being on it? This seems to be the rationale for most arguments against the Church’s condemnations.

    Yeah, I was assuming that the arguments are in good faith. That probably isn’t warranted. My bad.

  41. Slumlord attempts to serve up the usual liberal bullshit sandwich.

    Yeah, because that’s what I was advocating. Dream on. Don’t do nuance, do you?

    I’m so glad that we have Slumlord and his magical mind-reading powers available to aid us.

    I’m here to help.

  42. Slumlord’s kind of “nuance” just coincidentally translates into a moral license to use birth control pills to engage in sterile sex.

    “Nuance” of this sort always seems to affirm us in doing what we’ve been taught is wrong but we want to do (or prescribe pills for our patients to do) anyway.

    What a shock.

  43. […] That the current bishop of Rome, Joseph Bergoglio, has “made the world safe” for a kind of modish po-mo antinomianism, specifically w/r/t the question of divorce— or, if not the world, then at least the Roman Church (although Fr. Bergoglio seems rather zealous to blur the line between the two)— is an irony worth noting (redolent of Prof. John Pless’s observation that a certain continuum exists between legalism and antinomianism). This is concerning, because, as they say, when the pope sneezes, Protestants get a cold— or something worse, if Vatican II was any indication. My fear is that the Hans-Küngish miasma now emanating from Rome will, upon contact with the latent antinomistic spores which lie dormant in certain perennially unwashed zones of the Lutheran body-religious, inflame them into fresh pustulation. That would be bad for all of us. (Some thoughts on Bergoglio’s antinomianism from an astute Roman Catholic blogger whose work I… […]

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