Papal Coronation Oath

15 02 2009

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I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein; To the contrary: with glowing affection as her truly faithful student and successor, to safeguard reverently the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort; To cleanse all that is in contradiction to the canonical order, should such appear; to guard the Holy Canons and Decrees of our Popes as if they were the divine ordinance of Heaven, because I am conscious of Thee, whose place I take through the Grace of God, whose Vicarship I possess with Thy support, being subject to severest accounting before Thy Divine Tribunal over all that I shall confess; I swear to God Almighty and the Savior Jesus Christ that I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His Successors and whatever the first councils and my predecessors have defined and declared. I will keep without sacrifice to itself the discipline and the rite of the Church. I will put outside the Church whoever dares to go against this oath, may it be somebody else or I. If I should undertake to act in anything of contrary sense, or should permit that it will be executed, Thou willst not be merciful to me on the dreadful Day of Divine Justice. Accordingly, without exclusion, We subject to severest excommunication anyone — be it Ourselves or be it another — who would dare to undertake anything new in contradiction to this constituted evangelic Tradition and the purity of the orthodox Faith and the Christian religion, or would seek to change anything by his opposing efforts, or would agree with those who undertake such a blasphemous venture.

I post this not in order to further throw my hat into the ring of traditionalist conspiracy theorists who seem to think that the last two Popes were invalidly installed since they omitted this oath, but rather to show such an oath as evidence for a different and increasingly lost sense of the nature of authority in the Church. One cannot reduce the truth of Christianity to a mechanism of who can make an authoritative statement; authority lies in paradosis, the fact that the Church passes on wholly and integrally the Faith given to the Apostles. Neither is their a charism to “develop” or “expand upon” it, and even the Pope himself, supposedly not subject to anyone else on earth (prima sedes a nemine judicatur), puts himself under obedience to the decrees of his predecessors and holy Tradition. In other words, authority admits something above itself. The truth of the Gospel is the “being” of the Church, its foundational essence, and as the scholastic adage goes: operatio esse sequitur (act follows from being).

The main reason such an oath has fallen out of disuse is primarily because the last two holders of the office have distance themselves from the idea of the Papacy as a sort of absolute monarchy, and thus have laid aside the coronation altogether. Nevertheless, the lack of such a ritual is perhaps indicative of a view of the Church whose origin lies in the movements around Vatican I, and not the Second Vatican Council. For the very idea of an oath seems to be a reminder to the one about to take the office of the Vicar of Christ that he can indeed fail in the office; i.e. the mere fact that he has been made Pope does not create a self-fulfilling prophecy that guarantees the success of his reign. He too can fail, and he too can be excluded from the Church for it. Such an idea seems to be far from the “realized eschatology” of the ultra-montanists and their latter day descendents (the Church will succeed by virtue of being the Church). Even in the old Papal ceremonial that can give the impression of making the Pope a god on earth (the sedia gestatoria, the kissing of the foot as a sign of obedience), it is ironic that the toned-down ceremonial of today does not carry such a threat of self-anathema for failure to uphold the traditions of the Church.

In this day and age, we are confronted by pluralism and the burden of historical scholarship. We can be led to believe that those ideas that we held to be most archaic are creations of such and such a century, or that our ideas of what is “normal” are perhaps not so normal afterall when compared to the general family of humanity. The temptation can then become one of merely trying to assert who can speak the truth and not necessarily what that truth is, or why it is. Cardinal Newman, for example, began with a “hermeneutic” of suspicion when approaching the Catholic Church primarily because he was confronted with his Protestant past, the plurality of modernity and historical scrutiny. His attempt to reconcile the Church that Christ founded with the contemporary Catholic Church was noble but flawed from the start; historically, the power of the Christian mystery lies in the authority of Christ’s message being immutably passed down through the Church, not in an institutional mechanism that is insurance against epistemological uncertainty. It is what is said and not who said it that is important; power does not create truth, but only testifies to it.

The way this works on the ground is admittedly is not cut and dry, as is the case for many things in history. Perhaps the Immaculate Conception was not passed down to the Apostles as is, but the sinlessness of Mary arguably was (though in historical evidence, you are never going to find a smoking gun). It is worth noting that even in such declarations as that of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, it was not simply declared by virtue of Papal power, but was seen as a testament of the whole Christian faithful, a mirror image of what was already the consensus fidelium. This was procedurally reflected in both ex cathedra pronouncements of the Immaculate Conception and of the Assumption of the Virgin one hundred years later. In other words, historically the Papacy has not been as enamoured with the idea of its own power as many of its theological advocates.


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32 responses

20 02 2009
ochlophobist

JP,

“I found Zubiri’s reconciliation of evolution with Catholic dogma quite adequate to the purpose. Indeed, I might well have had a crisis of faith had I not come across it.”

Prejean maintains his position as that neo-Cath who argues in the manner I most appreciate – the ruthless practice of methodological naturalism – why not go all the way with it? I can’t for the life of me understand how there could have been a “might” in the above quote. From everything else you write it would seem “I sure as #@!* would have had a crisis…” would be more accurate. Evolution is part of that really real reality that we moderns can be sure of; any attempt at faith must needs be subject to such really real realities that a proper appropriation of Aristotelian method has granted us. Whew. Still, I have to admit that yours is a thesis that is at least workable in modernity as a modern, you don’t play games man. I don’t have the gall, so I will stick with my anachronisms.

ML,

If there were ever a reunion of the RCC and the EOC in which the RCC stated that an Orthodox understanding of the filioque is the only dogmatically correct one (while others may be fine as theologumenon and have been useful in local debates, of course) and that the Papacy has no universal juridical authority, or at least none over Orthodox, I have every confidence that the neo-Caths will provide coherent, logical arguments as to why this is an authentic DD and speak of the lack of diachronic consensus here and there. Indeed, when BenXVI dies should we see a liberal Pope install female deacons or declare that non-abortificient birth control is appropriate for Catholic couples in a range of settings (economic hardship, psychological stress, ill health), I am sure that the neo-Caths will explain to us how it is that it makes perfect sense that we arrived at this new place. Of course, the Holy Spirit won’t let that happen, but when it does happen then the wouldn’t ever happen becomes subject to those lacks of absolutely clear diachronic consensus now clarified by DD, in retrospect. There is virtually no realized eschatological confidence in this game – unless modern methods of overcoming a lack of diachronic consensus are the eschaton, or, perhaps modern methods of overcoming long periods of relatively little change and submitting them to DD (such as the replacement of the view that was “standard between Augustine and the discovery of the New World”) is a sort of punctuated equilibriumish occasional eschaton. It reminds me of a paper of Al Kimel’s on the question of Anglican Orders (as it is sometimes used by polemicists against the RCC) – he actually used the phrase “circular thinking” and confessed its requisite use in that case. Once one assents to the hermeneutics of continuity and trust, there is a heck of a lot of work to be done.

But that is not to say y’all don’t do a stellar job of it. There is a reason so many bright Christian lawyers are Catholic or on there way there.

Hope all is well with you.

18 02 2009
Michael Liccione

Arturo:

I’m pleased to see that you acknowledge DD in a few interesting cases as well as in a broad sense. I also see that you object to alleged “development” that actually reverses certain teachings. Thus:

It is one thing to say that a doctrine can evolve over centuries, but it is another thing to measure development in terms of decades or less, or use development to legitimize questionable changes that are at least materially contrary to what came before….Mortalium Animos is hard to reconcile with the current policy of ecumenism; the Syllabus of Errors with liberal talk of human rights. Many of the errors condemned in Mediator Dei became liturgical policy less than a generation later. As much as one would like to say that some were “preparing the ground on the down low”, what we are seeing here is an about-face, not development. Indeed, this is also behind the ambiguous language of Dei Verbum, 8.

Though I am a firm subscriber to the Vatican II’s dogmatic constitutions, I agree that there are places where the Council’s language (e.g., in DV §8 and LG §25) does not by itself make clear enough the criteria by which the Church needs to distinguish between prior doctrines which must be upheld and those which may be negated. The negations made by, and the ambiguities left by, Vatican II are partly why there has been so much trouble in the Church since Council, and I have not been shy about about discussing all the troubles on my blog. Thus the negations and ambiguities are precisely why the trads feel betrayed and why the progs feel justified in believing, falsely, that any teaching which enjoys neither synchronic consensus nor formal definition may be jettisoned no matter how ancient and consistent it is.

In discussing the infalibility of the bishops, LG §25 only adumbrated the criteria for making the needed distinctions. But the criteria’s application has been emerging under the post-Vatican II popes, especially the current pope. For example, in its interpretation of LG §25, Ratzinger’s 1995 CDF responsum made clear that if a given doctrine pertains to the deposit of faith, and has been upheld by the Church “since the beginning”, then it has been “infallibly taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium.” The particular occasions for that clarification was the issue of women’s ordination, which had only recently begun to aggravate the Church; but there are plenty of other issues where essentially the same criteria could be applied. Further progress was made with JP2’s issuance of Ad Tuendam Fidem (1998) and Ratzinger’s Doctrinal Commentary thereon. On the vital question of contraception, the criteria have already been applied (see, e.g., the Vademecum for Confessors §4) because, as even Hans Kung recognizes, the application is obvious. But that’s been kept very quiet, and thus largely ignored, because the hierarchy from the top down is not yet ready to face the mass exodus from the Church that would result from really drawing a line in the sand that’s on the ground. Such a failure is unacceptable, but it is quite understandable. We’re by no means out of the woods yet.

On the questions of religious liberty and extra ecclesiam nulla salus, the distinctions seem pretty obvious to me and many others. It is true, e.g., that “error has no rights,” but it is also true that people who are in error do have rights; the Church’s understanding of what those rights are, and what the basis for them is, has developed without negating the idea that error, which is not a person and therefore not a subject of rights, has no rights. But it just isn’t, and never was, an article of faith that the coercive power of the state must be used to combat heresy. As to EENS, the “development” has been LG’s position that, while some sort of communion with the Church remains necessary for salvation, what counts as constituting such communion can, in many cases, be a matter of degree. That negates the view that one must belong explicitly to the Roman communion in order to be saved; but there is zero evidence that such a view, standard between Augustine and the discovery of the New World, was taught with diachronic consensus “from the beginning.”

I could go on, and indeed have gone on in my “Development and Negation” series. You can dismiss that sort of project as lawyerly maneuvering all you want. But the thing can be done, must be done, and is being done—not just by yours truly and the “neo-Cath” apologists, but by Rome herself.

Best,
Mike

18 02 2009
Jonathan Prejean

this thanks to a millennium-old scholastic tradition, based on the Hellenistic view of description by contra-distinction, wherein the two are anti-thetical: as it is the case with the Augustinian view of Grace and nature, for instance

Except that the Western view isn’t based on this Hellenistic contra-distinction. If anything, Western authors analyzed this belief to the point of discerning its error: that one didn’t have to resort to a transcendent, apophatic understanding to avoid the false dichotomy (see, e.g., Anselm’s account of the filioque given above). But if you want to keep believing that only the Christian East’s understanding overcame Hellenism and the Origenist dialectic, you go right on ahead. Again, I’d prefer to deal with what actually happened rather than what someone in the past inaccurately believed to have happened.

18 02 2009
Jonathan Prejean

Theistic evolution is a great example. There’s lots of talk about it in general terms, but I’ve yet to see a single coherent effort at reconciling evolution with Catholic dogma. The attempt just isn’t made. Why? Because it would result in a freakish hybrid theory that isn’t accepted by anyone. It would certainly be the laughing stock of the scientific establishment, and it would be so married to the supernatural that the Church would have no compelling reason to abandon its traditional understanding.

You’ve summarized why I consider “theistic evolution,” “intelligent design,” and whatever other label they decide to slap on miraculous bodily creation of man a hoax. You don’t modify a scientific theory to make it acceptable to dogma; that is chimerical. With respect to God, evolution has “no need of that hypothesis.”

I found Zubiri’s reconciliation of evolution with Catholic dogma quite adequate to the purpose. Indeed, I might well have had a crisis of faith had I not come across it. It seems quite sensible in its take on St. Paul and generally harmonious with the cosmic account of St. Maximus Confessor (probably better than von Balthasar’s attempt IMHO). It also seems to meet the requirement of removing the difficulty for which Pope Pius XII considered a solution “not apparent”:
http://catholicphilosophy.com/sys-tmpl/chapter3224231/

18 02 2009
Lucian

I’ve yet to see a single coherent effort at reconciling evolution with Catholic dogma

Well, here’s my attempt to lift the charges of heresy from upon the shoulders of scientific theory of evolution, but from an Orthodox perspective: we don’t [shouldn’t] believe in creationism for the same reason we don’t believe in trans-substantiation. Our approach is apophatic, and we should stick to it (if we want to be Orthodox, and not something else). I don’t believe in “theistic evolution” for the same reason I don’t believe in “God-driven rain”: I believe in One God, the Father All-keeper (All-holder), as we say in the Creed. If someone’s belief in God is undermined by the law of gravity, by the water-cycle, or by evolution, (as is the case in the West, where nature magically subsists fine-thank-you all by itself, and the existence of natural laws is the natural enemy of God’s Grace: this thanks to a millennium-old scholastic tradition, based on the Hellenistic view of description by contra-distinction, wherein the two are anti-thetical: as it is the case with the Augustinian view of Grace and nature, for instance), then that certain someone has to understand that his problem lies not with Reality, but with his perception of it. When the Protestants departed and ruptured themselves from the Church, they’ve set up Sola Scriptura in its place: Good for them! Kudos! And how are we then to interpret the Bible? Well, why, literally, of course! How else? (since Tradition has been already done away with). So, how are we to interpret the first chapters of the First Book of Moses? Hmmm? I personally am not gonna offer my life on the altars and trenches of Protestantism, if that’s what you might wonder …

18 02 2009
Jeff Culbreath

With respect to Newman and development of doctrine, as I recall he makes it clear that it isn’t doctrine itself that develops, but the Church’s understanding of the eternal deposit of faith. Development leads to greater clarity. What we are seeing with the neo-Caths is not development in my view, but undevelopment, going from clarity to ambiguity and confusion.

Theistic evolution is a great example. There’s lots of talk about it in general terms, but I’ve yet to see a single coherent effort at reconciling evolution with Catholic dogma. The attempt just isn’t made. Why? Because it would result in a freakish hybrid theory that isn’t accepted by anyone. It would certainly be the laughing stock of the scientific establishment, and it would be so married to the supernatural that the Church would have no compelling reason to abandon its traditional understanding.

18 02 2009
Arturo Vasquez

elysia,

I am not at all uncomfortable with the idea of development. I don’t think, for example, that Newman’s ideas are at all objectionable in and of themselves. I think the idea that a doctrine evolves over hundreds of years is not something objectionable. It is just like the evolution of language; it will develop no matter what.

What I find objectionable is the paradigm of development as a way of approaching Christian doctrine in general. It is one thing to say that a doctrine can evolve over centuries, but it is another thing to measure development in terms of decades or less, or use development to legitimize questionable changes that are at least materially contrary to what came before. Even in the case of something like the Immaculate Conception, “development” happened over the space of a hundreds of years, and very few vocally opposed it as an interpretation after a while. (Though the Dominicans fought it tooth and nail at first.) On the Assumption of the Virgin, you can’t point definitively to a time when people did not believe in it.

This was not the case with the pet theories of Vatican II theologians. Mortalium Animos is hard to reconcile with the current policy of ecumenism; the Syllabus of Errors with liberal talk of human rights. Many of the errors condemned in Mediator Dei became liturgical policy less than a generation later. As much as one would like to say that some were “preparing the ground on the down low”, what we are seeing here is an about-face, not development. Indeed, this is also behind the ambiguous language of Dei Verbum, 8.

Thus, it matters very little when faced with the deposit of Faith today how many centuries something took to develop before the fourth century. One must assume that it is indeed the Faith once delivered to the Apostles. What else, I would ask, can you assume, and what would it matter anyway? Does “development” mean that what we have now is any more the subject of manipulation than if what I am saying is correct? Does that entitle people to turn around and change things over the course of a few decades? I would say no. Again, we are not trying to build the best “doctrinal machine” but rather preserving the Faith and applying it to the world we live in today. Enough of the novelty.

18 02 2009
elysia

Arturo,

This I can concur with — at least, in principle:

“Your idea that ‘salvation outside the Church’ developed ‘out of the recognition that the Church’s own traditional teaching on the dignity of man as a rational being’ for me is really problematic. I always am suspicious of the hubris at the heart of such ideas, as if those who were far closer to the Apostolic kerygma got something wrong that we almost two millenia later have suddenly realized. And what have we replaced it with? Lumen Gentium ch. 2, paragraphs 15-16? That doesn’t define that people outside the Church can be saved; only some vague things about the how the Holy Ghost uses those communities for salvific purposes, whatever that means. In other words, the non-binding speculation of theologians, i.e. a P.R. stunt. ”

That is, I don’t believe that we can ever formally accommodate heresy as concretely producing instances of salvation; if there is any salvation to be had in such a case, it may very well be because Christ Himself has willed it so, but this would be an extraordinary circumstance which one should not arrogantly presume as a rule.

The only aspect of your arguments (one among others, but this one mainly) which I continue to differ with you is what then is your resolution to the principal matter in question?

Clearly, a development has occurred, which only the blind or the oblivious would still remain unawares; however, the more appropriate question now being if whether or not that particular development is genuinely part of our long-standing Tradition or merely a disfigurement.

I have, yet, to be convinced by your arguments that the case is the latter.

And even if your arguments were to be so compelling, where then resides the Tradition as we have known for 2000 years?

Certainly, as you well know, it is not with the heretics who abandoned the True Church at the time of the Reformation and, surely, it cannot possibly be wholly or even partly absent in Rome which, in concert with the presiding bishops of both the Roman Catholic & Orthodox, continues to hold its rightful place as due Papal Authority and considered still, in the case of the Orthodox, as proper occupant to the “First Throne”, and especially in our own Roman Catholic ecclesiology, the very Chair of St. Peter himself.

17 02 2009
Jonathan Prejean

I think at this point we should wrap it up, since we seem to be talking past each other.

That’s probably true, but then again, that might be the point. At any rate, I’ll own the behavior that you characterize as “hubris,” I’ll admit that my view of Scripture has more in common with the late Fr. Raymond Brown than with many of the Fathers, and I will confess that the difficulty I see with the approach of the Episcopalians is not a fundamental error but rather a failure to rein the method in and to impose any sort of standard by which the theory should be judged (which is not the same thing as a a priori judgment of what theory is correct, i.e., what criteria for development should be used). What you make of that is your own decision, of course. But it seems to me that you are talking about those characteristics as if they are bad things, and I don’t see them that way.

17 02 2009
kepha

Last consecutive comment, I promise. What is this talk of a “theory of tradition”? When did Apostolic Tradition become a theory? Is that what the Apostles left us, a theory? The Council of Trent declared that Roman Catholics are to hold God-breathed Scripture and theories of Tradition with equal reverence?

17 02 2009
kepha

In that vein, while you would contest that tradition is dead, I would contest that it did not die a natural death in the West. Through the Paul VIs, the Bouyers, the von Balthasars, the Congars, tradition was basically immolated on the altar of novelty. It was murdered by ecclesiastical technocrats who thought the sky would fall if they didn’t do something. But the sky fell anyway, and the baby was thrown out with the bathwater.

Amen. Something has died, but it is not Tradition.

17 02 2009
kepha

If you and your Neo-Cath buddies are so intent on telling women that they can’t be priests or telling couples that they can’t use the Pill, how do you think it looks to the casual observer on the outside who can’t help but see the inconsistency in you disposing the historical Adam so easily?

This is such an acute question. God forbid that the non-Christians ever get wind of modern Rome’s understanding of an untraceable, organic development, because this is precisely the question that they will be asking on the front page of the New York Times.

17 02 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Jonathan,

I think at this point we should wrap it up, since we seem to be talking past each other. I will just reiterate that I don’t think your evolution argument is as rock-solid as you feel it to be, nor does it totally send me into a panic that makes me want to jettison the first few chapters of Genesis altogether. Pace elysia, I am not a young Earth Creationist, nor am I saying that Genesis is literally true if literal truth is taken to be scientific truth simpliciter. I really don’t know how someone could have read that into what I said. However, I will say that since our origins continue to be shrouded in mystery, and will probably always be shrouded in it, we would best be patient with regards to our own sacred texts before we start rejecting them whole cloth.

My main problem, however, is that you continue to skirt all of the issues that I was addressing, hence my contention that we are talking past each other. Your idea that “salvation outside the Church” developed “out of the recognition that the Church’s own traditional teaching on the dignity of man as a rational being” for me is really problematic. I always am suspicious of the hubris at the heart of such ideas, as if those who were far closer to the Apostolic kerygma got something wrong that we almost two millenia later have suddenly realized. And what have we replaced it with? Lumen Gentium ch. 2, paragraphs 15-16? That doesn’t define that people outside the Church can be saved; only some vague things about the how the Holy Ghost uses those communities for salvific purposes, whatever that means. In other words, the non-binding speculation of theologians, i.e. a P.R. stunt.

More unsettling, however, is that you never really address my central question to begin with, which is: what makes your doctrine of development more legitimate than that of the modernists or the heretics of the Episcopal Church? If anything, it’s Paul’s chauvinism in this day and age that makes women shut up in church that needs a whole lot of developing. Heck, if you are to question human origins, why not accept the whole “Adam and Steve” argument that allows Gene Robinson to parade around in a shiny new chausable? If Genesis is pure myth, and should be rejected unless we incur the penalty of being deemed “Averroist”, then why do we have to follow any of it? What are the legitimate criteria for real development? You are oddly silent on all of this.

“As far as I can tell, this bell was rung once the Schoolmen started formally studying reason itself, and it’s not going to be unrung. It doesn’t strike me as being particularly “reactive” so much as just carefully thinking in the manner I outlined above.”

That is a complete non sequitur in relation to what I was talking about, but we can go down that route if you like. I would say that this process did not just begin with the Schoolmen. The bell rang millenia before, once man had to begin sythesizing various regional atavistic myths with each other to create what are now the world’s great religions. It is what occured when the pharaoh Akhnaten tore down all the idols to clear the way for the cult of the One God, Aten. It is what the prophets did in Israel when they declared that God does not eat the flesh of the beasts of the field. It is what Socrates did when he began to scrutinize the myths of the Greeks, or what Krishna does with Arjuna on the Kuru field before battle, or Mohammed cleansing the Kaaba of its idols. In other words, it is the process of human reason trying to grapple with something that is above itself, all the while trying to reconcile it to the divine patterns encoded in the human soul (the True, the Good, and the Beautiful). The process of cleansing, however, is not the same as the skeptical project of European modernity. It seeks a dialogue with divine sources of revelation, not their complete disposal.

The main epistemological difference here is that I am far more “pessimistic” (not the right word, but used for clarity’s sake) when it comes to man’s ability to confront the divine. Help must inevitably come from without, as our concept of faith, Hindu bhakti, or Neoplatonic theurgy often demonstrate. Man has a yearning in himself to return to the Divine, but he cannot do it alone. In this process, he must use his reason to examine tradition, and all great religious traditions, including our own, are the result of such a purification of the mythos. We see Our Lord doing this all the time in the Gospels. But purification is not the same as “discarding”. You are dangerously close to the latter in your intellectual speculations.

So when I approach the Scripture, I do so with full knowledge that it (or rather, He) is divine, and I am not. I don’t see how you can be a Christian without such an attitude.

Thus, when I say, “modernity is not static”, I do not say this in a fit of romanticist discarding of reason, but rather as an affirming that the game has not played itself out yet. In that way, at least, I am not as pessimistic as some.

17 02 2009
Matt H.

This post reminds me of another coronation practice that fell into disuse after the death of John XXIII. From the ever-useful Wikipedia:

“As the newly chosen pope proceeded from the sacristy of St. Peter’s Basilica in his sedia gestatoria, the procession stopped three times. On each occasion a papal master of ceremonies would fall to his knees before the pope, holding a silver or brass reed bearing a piece of smoldering tow. For three times in succession, as the cloth burned away, he would say in a loud and mournful voice, ‘Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi!‘ (‘Holy Father, so passes worldly glory!’) These words, thus addressed to the pope, served as a reminder of the transitory nature of life and earthly honors.”

17 02 2009
elysia

Arturo,

How can you be so close-minded in your attempts at refutation against Jonathan here?

It is my belief (and, indeed, by right of Tradition itself) that the Church and its presiding Bishops as well as the venerable Fathers of the Church themselves have been blessed with an expressed competency as regarding spiritual matters, more specifically, matters precisely dealing with Faith & Morals, and not in the realm of Science, which is far beyond that which is rightfully under their purview as granted by Our Lord & Saviour, Christ, Himself.

To think as you do, the Church would’ve continued with their mistaken belief in the ‘t’radition concerning the Ptolemaic universe all in the mistaken notion that this is corroborated by even verses in Scripture and, furthermore, corroborated by literary works of the early fathers themselves.

Before you invite such utter scandal into the Walls of the Catholic Church herself such as that which you unreservedly do so here, I would advise that you choose your choice agent of advocacy rather carefully prior to disingenuously invoking the 2000 years ‘T’radition for your own Cause rather than that of the Church, and against which, rather ironically, you yourself have quite unwittingly brought opposition against and, subsequently, have instead provided the very fodder for which fuel even the enemies of the Church are herein, even now, using for their own ends.

God Bless.

17 02 2009
Tim Enloe

Alright, Jonathan, thanks. You and I already discussed the “object of faith” thing some months back, I think, and didn’t get anywhere except your plea that you’d have to think more about what I said. I’m not familiar with Zubiri, and frankly, don’t have time to get familiar with him, so if he’s who you’re relying on for much of your account I’ll have to leave discussion to those who are familiar with him.

17 02 2009
Jonathan Prejean

Tim:
What, then, are the metaphysical constraints on what can count as divine revelation, and how do those metaphysical constraints necessitate the “theoretical assumption” deployed to evaluate the theory’s explanatory power?

I don’t believe that they necessitate the theoretical assumption. The metaphysical accounts of the relationship between ontology and epistemology to which I am partial all would require some object of faith immediately perceived. For that reason, accepting those views is incompatible with certain other views. For example, under a Thomist or Zubirian account of the relationship between epistemology and ontology, the way that Protestants view Scripture would not count as divine revelation (or at least I can’t see how it would). I think that the Church functioning under papal authority could in principle, but that doesn’t prove by necessity that the papacy is such a thing.

And, btw, how do you square an intensive interest in metaphysics like yours with the ruthless practice of methodological naturalism that you describe? Methodological naturalism is its own metaphysic, and, as I think Arturo has rightly implied, is quite contrary to any robust concept of “faith.” I am no Thomas expert, but I just can’t see how your position is even remotely compatible with Thomas’ on the limits of empirical investigation relative to the claims of the Faith. This may be a superficial thing to say, but you sound more like an Averroist than a Catholic.

Metaphysics governs methodological naturalism, not the other way around. I simply accept a metaphysical account in which methodological naturalism works for some things and not others, and I accept the conclusions where the method ought to work. I am not advocating an empirical methodology to prove the faith; what I am advocating is an empirical methodology to do what it can in order to inform the relevant decisions. As to the charge of Averroism, I would have thought that this was exactly the opposite and that I am denying rather emphatically the existence of either a single intellect or an absolute separation between philosophy and religion.

Arturo:
You seem to be making a bunch of intuitive leaps here that have little to do with proof.

The intuitive leaps are my theoretical assumptions, which I am explicitly disclaiming as being realistically provable or disprovable in any meaningful way. But we also have to take into account what we DO consider provable through other methods, at least if we wish to be consistent. I can’t accept physical science, for example, just until it requires me to reject tradition.

I am far more disturbed, however, by your idea that “the traditional ideas don’t work” and that somehow your system does. I am at a loss to figure out what “working” at this point would mean. In other words, in doing a scientific experiment or any sort of research, you are out to prove a hypothesis or theory. In what way, would I ask, has tradition been disproven?

Well, let’s take evolution as a working example. I don’t have any real difficulty accepting that there was probably not a common, single human ancestor from which every human being on earth was descended. Now, if the tradition anywhere makes use of this notion, then I think the tradition is wrong, not because I set out to prove tradition wrong or incorrect, but because I did set out to see whether the notion was true or false as best as I could tell.

In a way, I suppose, that is a “test” of tradition, but really, it is simply the use of a method within its sphere of competence to identify truth. In that respect, “working” simply means allowing that method to do what it reasonably ought to be able to do. If I have no reason to think that the method wouldn’t work and if I get what appears to be a correct answer from that method, then any “working” theoretical understanding must be compatible with that answer. Otherwise, you’re separating truth in a way that I consider to be really metaphysically untenable, a la Averroism.

According to the ideas of current Catholic theologians, the old idea that error had no rights that the truth was bound to respect was flawed and ultimately unchristian. But where were the tests? What were the criteria that were used to judge such an idea? Or the idea of the Church in Lumen Gentium: in what way was the old idea of the exclusivity of salvation in the Roman Catholic Church “proven wrong” by modern scholarship? Because we finally figured out that God wasn’t such an old fuddy-duddy to condemn people to Hell just because they did not have a political affiliation with the Roman Pontiff? Because pluarlistic society is surrounded by people who will probably never be Catholic? What great insight or discovery moved such a change? Or is it because such views made us look wildly unpopular with the rest of the world?

I don’t think any of those reasons are the explanation. What I think is true is that IF you revise your theoretical understanding of tradition to be compatible with what I’ve said above THEN you’re obliged to take what comes as a consequence. IOW, if traditional doctrinal understandings are revisable in the manner I outlined above and only irreformable in certain respects, then it follows that the same sorts of revisability obtains in other cases. All that I believe happened was that the Church looked at the reality of the world over history, particularly in light of the eminently traditional belief that many pre-Christians were considered to have been illuminated by a divine light, and determined that the traditional interpretation could not be reconciled with the reality. Not out of peer pressure, not out of pluralism, but out of the recognition that the Church’s own traditional teaching on the dignity of man as a rational being could not be reconciled with the traditional interpretation, so one of them had to go. That seems to me to be consistent with any other sort of rejection of tradition based on metaphysical or scientific grounds.

To say, “this is the only way modern people can believe” is very deterministic and very provincial when considering the American penchant for being a-historical and chavinistic. Modernity is something that has always been vague and is in continual formation. In this light, aggiornamento can be seen not so much as a reaction to the signs of the times, but a propaganda campaign that seeks to impose some very novel theories on a very broad scale.

As far as I can tell, this bell was rung once the Schoolmen started formally studying reason itself, and it’s not going to be unrung. It doesn’t strike me as being particularly “reactive” so much as just carefully thinking in the manner I outlined above.

I would exhort you, then, not to impose your malaise on others, nor to play with metaphysical ideas that can scandalize and undermine the entire edifice of 2000 years of tradition out of an unhealthy attachment to a few pet theories.

Well, I hope people have the good sense not to allow me to impose my ideas on them. But if you mean “dude, be a downer if you want, but don’t drag the rest of us into your funk” or (more seriously) “think before you trash people,” I can respect that as well. I just wanted to give my take because you don’t see a lot of physical scientists weighing in on these things, and when you come from a tradition which respects people just by saying “you were completely wrong, but since you got results, we’ll preserve your name forever,” I suppose veneration takes a little different cast. That’s how I tend to view a lot of the Church Fathers, particularly the early ones: they blew it big time, but without their efforts, we never would have had the opportunity to get it right.

17 02 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Jonathan,

I am a bit baffled by your insinuations that your theory is “more scientific” or “in tune with reality” than others. I think your approach begs a lot of questions, and shows a lot of baggage that only you would have. For one thing, I really have to question your views on the relationship between proof and history. I suppose my only real academic training is as a “social scientist” and I will tell you that mixing history, culture, and human opinion with the scientific method really don’t mix (unless you’re Frederich Engels, even Marx wasn’t so vulgar). You are never going to find the “smoking gun” of the empirical evidence of the resurrection of Christ or the Petrine presence in Rome, not enough for belief to rise and fall on. It is about as likely to find a body of an obscure Galilean carpenter from 2,000 years ago as it would be to find my tomb two thousand years from now. And even if we do not find the tomb, that doesn’t necessitate Christ being divine. Nor will it ever be the case that we will disprove the existence of an historical Adam. You seem to be making a bunch of intuitive leaps here that have little to do with proof.

I am far more disturbed, however, by your idea that “the traditional ideas don’t work” and that somehow your system does. I am at a loss to figure out what “working” at this point would mean. In other words, in doing a scientific experiment or any sort of research, you are out to prove a hypothesis or theory. In what way, would I ask, has tradition been disproven? I’ll give an example, probably the most problematic: religious liberty. According to the ideas of current Catholic theologians, the old idea that error had no rights that the truth was bound to respect was flawed and ultimately unchristian. But where were the tests? What were the criteria that were used to judge such an idea? Or the idea of the Church in Lumen Gentium: in what way was the old idea of the exclusivity of salvation in the Roman Catholic Church “proven wrong” by modern scholarship? Because we finally figured out that God wasn’t such an old fuddy-duddy to condemn people to Hell just because they did not have a political affiliation with the Roman Pontiff? Because pluarlistic society is surrounded by people who will probably never be Catholic? What great insight or discovery moved such a change? Or is it because such views made us look wildly unpopular with the rest of the world? The early Church had no problems with these ideas, and they lived in a situation that was even more hostile to Christianity than our own. Again, it seems your criteria of “development” and “continuity” are quite arbitrary at this point. The same case can be made for sexual morality, and the only consistency, the only “relationship to reality” as you put it is the one that makes sense to you. Other criteria, also different from tradition, make sense to other people, and that is why many Catholic theologians oppose Humanae Vitae, just as many resourcement theologians opposed Unam Sanctam. Your resorting to scientific principles is about as appropriate in this case as the State resorting to eugenics or Comte’s positivism to govern the affairs of human societies. It is the elaborate masking of an unfounded opinion.

I will not say that my own theories do not have problems, but I will question here static categories that you seem to be taking for granted. Again, I was formed in many ways as a student of the social sciences, and I know that what Catholic thinkers tend to think of “modernity” is often an arbitrary creation based on prejudicial categories. That is perhaps the hazard of trying to read “the sign of the times”; such readings tend to tell us more about the reader than they do the actual times themselves. That is also the danger inherent in aggiornamento: you risk deifying your own times at the risk of perennial truth. An American strip-mall is modern, and Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles is modern, but so is an ancient Hindu temple in Bangalore, a Sufi shrine in Turkey, or the incantations of an Aymara witch doctor in the Antiplano of South America. To say, “this is the only way modern people can believe” is very deterministic and very provincial when considering the American penchant for being a-historical and chavinistic. Modernity is something that has always been vague and is in continual formation. In this light, aggiornamento can be seen not so much as a reaction to the signs of the times, but a propaganda campaign that seeks to impose some very novel theories on a very broad scale.

I would exhort you, then, not to impose your malaise on others, nor to play with metaphysical ideas that can scandalize and undermine the entire edifice of 2000 years of tradition out of an unhealthy attachment to a few pet theories.

17 02 2009
Tim Enloe

And, btw, how do you square an intensive interest in metaphysics like yours with the ruthless practice of methodological naturalism that you describe? Methodological naturalism is its own metaphysic, and, as I think Arturo has rightly implied, is quite contrary to any robust concept of “faith.” I am no Thomas expert, but I just can’t see how your position is even remotely compatible with Thomas’ on the limits of empirical investigation relative to the claims of the Faith. This may be a superficial thing to say, but you sound more like an Averroist than a Catholic.

17 02 2009
Tim Enloe

I don’t actually believe that the papacy is metaphysically necessary, although I do believe that there are metaphysical constraints on what can count as divine revelation (and concomitantly, reject theories that don’t qualify)

Ok, I’ll bite. What, then, are the metaphysical constraints on what can count as divine revelation, and how do those metaphysical constraints necessitate the “theoretical assumption” deployed to evaluate the theory’s explanatory power?

17 02 2009
Jonathan Prejean

True, but that the individual referred to as “Adam” is the literal progenitor of the entire human race is not necessarily one of them. (I suppose one or the other of the Popes may have made that claim. If so, I don’t care since I am not Catholic.) The accounts of the Creation and Fall in the early chapters of Genesis are not history and they do not purport to be history.

Given, then, that these accounts are not history it is hardly reasonable to represent them as making claims of historical or scientific fact.

I concur, but this is a problem for more than just Catholics, since the Fathers took them as historical in at least that respect, reasonably or not. And that was not based on the “early chapters of Genesis,” as you suggest, but rather on St. Paul in, e.g., Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15.

What these accounts are is not history but prophecy, and as such the claims that they make are neither historical nor scientific, but specifically theological. Thus they are not falsifiable in the sense that I think you mean. That is not to say that Christianity does not make falsifiable claims — only that this is not one of them.

“Fathers? Fathers? We don’t need no stinkin’ Fathers” makes for a good rhetorical zinger. But when you say that “claims” here is equivocal between the Biblical claims and the patristic claims, you would seem to be in danger of running squarely afoul of your own criticism.

17 02 2009
Chris Jones

This strikes me as simply trying to apply Stephen Jay Gould’s “non-overlapping magisteria” in the other direction.

Perhaps. I have heard (in passing) about Gould’s notion but I don’t know it in enough detail to compare it to what I am saying here. But the notion that the Scriptures (and the Tradition) are not, do not claim to be, and should not be read as, providing specifically scientific facts is hardly unique to Gould.

Christianity, at least, makes falsifiable claims.

True, but that the individual referred to as “Adam” is the literal progenitor of the entire human race is not necessarily one of them. (I suppose one or the other of the Popes may have made that claim. If so, I don’t care since I am not Catholic.) The accounts of the Creation and Fall in the early chapters of Genesis are not history and they do not purport to be history. History, properly so-called, is dependent on eyewitness testimony or primary or secondary sources. Moses was not an eyewitness to the events, and the idea that he could have written a history of those events using primary or secondary sources (even via oral tradition) several millenia distant beggars belief. Given, then, that these accounts are not history it is hardly reasonable to represent them as making claims of historical or scientific fact.

What these accounts are is not history but prophecy, and as such the claims that they make are neither historical nor scientific, but specifically theological. Thus they are not falsifiable in the sense that I think you mean. That is not to say that Christianity does not make falsifiable claims — only that this is not one of them. The Resurrection is certainly a falsifiable claim; if the bones of Jesus were ever to be found we should safely conclude that He was not, after all, both Lord and Christ, and we should still be in our sins. But the Gospels, unlike the early chapters of Genesis, do claim to be historical writing, based as they are on eyewitness testimony.

17 02 2009
Jonathan Prejean

Mr. Jones:
I take it, then, that you are unfamiliar with the differences between the Western, Augustinian understanding of the transmission of original sin and the Eastern understanding of it.

No, I’m saying that even transmission of the consequences of sin (even Christ’s voluntary acceptance of mortality) was viewed as something resulting from the occasion of Adam’s literal fatherhood over the entire human race. The “/” was an attempt to compress that range, and if it was confusing, I apologize for the confusion. Nonetheless, I don’t think any of the Fathers doubted that we were all literal descendants of the historical Adam; many were even traducianists, and Daniel Photios Jones has even argued that the patristic view is necessarily traducianist. I wouldn’t think so narrowly; I think a modified conception of “nature” and the soul common to nature allows something *like* a traducianist account to prevail, although special creation of the soul is more congenial. Zubiri’s metaphysical account strikes me as the best in that regard, but I think that earlier metaphysical accounts can be suitably “retro-fitted.”

The idea that “the scientific method” could in any way undermine the Apostolic Tradition indicates a misunderstanding of the purpose and scope of that tradition — a scope which does not overlap with the scope within which the scientific method is applied.

This strikes me as simply trying to apply Stephen Jay Gould’s “non-overlapping magisteria” in the other direction. Christianity, at least, makes falsifiable claims. I concur that there must necessarily be a “misunderstanding of the purpose and scope of that tradition” when such an error is found, but from my perspective, that means you need to work on your theory of tradition.

Arturo:
At times, I have felt that the way you expressed it seems to give precedence to metaphysical necessity rather than to the historical/traditional arguments for the office.

I think your feelings are reasonable, but the reason I wrote this response is that I finally realized why your and Tim Enloe’s criticisms struck me as “off” in some sense. I don’t actually believe that the papacy is metaphysically necessary, although I do believe that there are metaphysical constraints on what can count as divine revelation (and concomitantly, reject theories that don’t qualify). In my own theory, though, the papacy is simply a theoretical assumption, which is then deployed to evaluate the theory’s explanatory power. That is the respect in which I am similar to Newman, even though our theories are not really identical. I’m not saying that you could conclusively prove (or disprove) any theoretical assumption; my only point is that accepting a divinely instituted papal succession sure explains a lot. There are, of course, anomalies, but in terms of functioning as a robust theory, I’d be thrilled to have any scientific law with difficulties so minimal.

In other words, in your argument, you seem to be perfectly comfortable with disposing completely of any idea of a historical Adam, but what would you say to me saying that it is also possible that St. Peter never landed in Rome, or that he was never really bishop there? It seems you have cut the legs right out from under yourself. If you want to apply the razor of scientific skepticism to history, where will it end?

I haven’t disposed completely of the idea of a historical Adam. I think the first created human soul committed a sin and that the sin had metaphysical consequences for all subsequent specially created human souls. I just don’t think that person was the lineal genetic father of all humans on earth. You should ask AG about that one as well; I’d be curious as to whether she disagrees.

As to where it will end, I don’t think one can prescribe an ending point other than where it does end. If it is ever proved that Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, we’re done. I haven’t seen anything to that effect, and I highly have firm belief that it won’t happen. But if it were true, I don’t see how any theory of Christian tradition can survive. Likewise, if there is no real spiritual death, no eternal damnation, no fixed and eternal end, but only a cyclical apokatastasis, then Christianity is idle as an explanation (hence, the condemnation of Origenism). The advantage is that whatever theory survives is robust.

Likewise, if whatever happened with St. Peter were wrong, then my theory might have problems. But I think that there is certainly enough historical evidence to accept the theoretical assumption that St. Peter was the first Bishop of Rome even as being probable or highly probable, which gives me more confidence in applying it. If “St. Peter was never in Rome” were true, then the theory would have to be revised, possibly to the point of being junked entirely.

In the end, it seems that you are going to be stuck with a bunch of arbitrary opinions as to what is “definitive” and what can “develop”. The Catholic idea of the State: that can develop. The Catholic position on marriage: that cannot develop. The Catholic doctrine of the Church: that can develop. The Catholic position on a male-only clergy: that cannot develop. Why? Because the present Pope says so. It is no wonder that the Charles Currans of the world have a field day with you people.

I’d be happy to talk to him about that over coffee at Cafe Brazil, but he is probably as sick of “Neo-Caths” as you are. 🙂 But I’d agree that our approach is not entirely incompatible, in that once you realize that the old theory of authority suffers from fatal anomalies, there is necessarily some competition over what will replace it. What I would argue to Curran is that his theory is “unscientific,” that it is too detached from reality and that its metaphysical grounding is too wobbly and subjective to count as a robust scientific theory. It takes one theoretical account of moral psychology from St. Thomas, extracts it from its context, and then tries to redeploy that explanation outward, but the very process detaches that moral psychology from what gave it explanatory power in the first place. In that respect, it has a great deal in common with what I consider pseudo-scientific explanations.

My main point is that I see no real difference between your position and that of the Episcopal Church. Only a difference of the label on the door and what suits your fancy at the moment.

To me, it’s as clear as the difference between a young earth creationist and an evolutionary biologist. One is simply dealing in his own wishes and avoiding reality, and the other is dealing with reality.

Revelation, both natural and supernatural, has been around for thousands of years; scientific theory has only been around for a fraction of that time.

On the contrary, it’s been around formally at least as long as Aristotle and at least implicit in human behavior for as long as there have been tools and language. The modern account of methodological naturalism is nothing other than the basic cause-and-effect reasoning that has been around as long as there has been reason.

There are things in the symbolism, those doctrines, and the smell ‘n bells, that speak profoundly to who we are as human beings; they speak to a realm of consciousness that far transcends empirical evidence or dianoia in general. Instead of discarding tradition, we must chew it over and over again until we discover what it has to say to us in this day and age.

Certainly, but where we differ is that I would try to make clear what, why, and how they do so. That’s what the Schoolmen did. Take Anselm’s argument for the filioque, which is nothing less than a formal demonstration of why the Pythagorean belief regarding one and three being “stable” ontological points is correct. Now we can say “odd numbers do not seek another” and “even numbers seek the other” like the Pythagoreans did, we can chew over that tradition and wrangle over our subjective acceptance. Or we can seek clarity in these matters and try to perceive where it is that reason stops and why it stops, viz., why the object of our scrutiny is beyond the grasp of reason. And we’ve actually done that several times in the mundane sciences, particularly in quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, so there’s certainly nothing inherently offensive in reaching such a boundary (provided the scientist in question does not have his own Cartesian or positivist prejudices). Indeed, it strikes me that the sort of unguided retrospective reimagining of tradition is more likely, not less, to result in something that makes a jumble of what came before. To do what you would propose to do really requires an unchanging culture, and that strikes me as an ideal completely unreachable in reality.

In that vein, while you would contest that tradition is dead, I would contest that it did not die a natural death in the West. Through the Paul VIs, the Bouyers, the von Balthasars, the Congars, tradition was basically immolated on the altar of novelty.

Same thing happened in quantum mechanics when Bohr bullied through the Copenhagen interpretation. It’s not that he was necessarily wrong, but moving imprudently probably slowed rather than hastened the work that needed to be done to articulate the theory (particularly dealing with wavefunction collapse), because there was so much antipathy to the way the underlying premises were shoved down everyone’s throats. The guys you mentioned derailed a lot of good work by people like Garrigou-Lagrange, and in all fairness, even the Neo-Thomist renaissance had its excesses (particularly vis-a-vis Scotus and Blondel). So yes, all of this happened fast, and yes, it probably wasn’t done as well as it should have been. But the great joy of any theory based on perennial principles is that the historical accidents do not vitiate it. Good ideas survive; the genetic fallacy does not hold.

I hope you recognize that I don’t want to minimize your concerns. But I don’t want to let those concerns dictate what must be either, because reality doesn’t stand for dictators.

17 02 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Jonathan,

There are so many places I can go with that, but the first thing that came to mind was an anecdote told to me by my Anti-Staretz. In effect, he said that while Orthodox have liturgical fundamentalism, and Protestants have Scriptural fundamentalism, we Catholics suffer from historical fundamentalism. To state it another way, I think what you wrote has not so much demonstrated that the traditional understanding of the Church is faulty, but that you view any faith as impossible in this day and age.

My basic understanding of how you believe is that you think there is something external that is metaphysically necessary to merit some sort of belief (in contrast to the Protestant conscience) and that is the magisterium of the Catholic Church, and more specifically, the person of the Roman Pontiff. At times, I have felt that the way you expressed it seems to give precedence to metaphysical necessity rather than to the historical/traditional arguments for the office. In other words, in your argument, you seem to be perfectly comfortable with disposing completely of any idea of a historical Adam, but what would you say to me saying that it is also possible that St. Peter never landed in Rome, or that he was never really bishop there? It seems you have cut the legs right out from under yourself. If you want to apply the razor of scientific skepticism to history, where will it end? If you and your Neo-Cath buddies are so intent on telling women that they can’t be priests or telling couples that they can’t use the Pill, how do you think it looks to the casual observer on the outside who can’t help but see the inconsistency in you disposing the historical Adam so easily?

I don’t think the science is at all conclusive here, but that is far from the point. You of all people should know that we are speaking of two different orders of knowledge. We cannot put on par the discoveries of the last 200 years with the perennial wisdom of the past 3,000 years. Reconciliation may be difficult, but far more difficult is putting the genie back in the bottle of universal skepticism.

This part of the post, however, is the most problematic:

“But I thought it might illuminate why those of us who probably seem callous toward the tradition are, in fact, callous toward the tradition only in the manner of the surgeon during operation. Sometimes cutting away what is dead is the only way to preserve life.”

Yes, but that presumes that we know where to cut. If, as I was saying, you are absolutely certain that “modern science” has definitively discounted monogenism, and therefore there was no historical Adam, no historical Fall, etc., what makes you think that the content of Matthew ch. 16 is certain, or the tradition that Peter landed in Rome is correct, or that the Pope has never fallen into error? In other words, if the Bible and Tradition are not reliable, what other basis is there for an infallible office in the Church whose only basis is the same Bible and the same Tradition? Presumably, this is the only real surgeon competent enough to know what stays and what goes. In the end, it seems that you are going to be stuck with a bunch of arbitrary opinions as to what is “definitive” and what can “develop”. The Catholic idea of the State: that can develop. The Catholic position on marriage: that cannot develop. The Catholic doctrine of the Church: that can develop. The Catholic position on a male-only clergy: that cannot develop. Why? Because the present Pope says so. It is no wonder that the Charles Currans of the world have a field day with you people.

My main point is that I see no real difference between your position and that of the Episcopal Church. Only a difference of the label on the door and what suits your fancy at the moment.

The metaphysics of what I believe is something that I find far more consistent. I think that we do have a problem and a serious one in approaching modernity. Like Islam and Hinduism, however, I do not think it merits jettisoning the “old myths” that modern people may find hard to swallow. Revelation, both natural and supernatural, has been around for thousands of years; scientific theory has only been around for a fraction of that time. There are things in the symbolism, those doctrines, and the smell ‘n bells, that speak profoundly to who we are as human beings; they speak to a realm of consciousness that far transcends empirical evidence or dianoia in general. Instead of discarding tradition, we must chew it over and over again until we discover what it has to say to us in this day and age.

In that vein, while you would contest that tradition is dead, I would contest that it did not die a natural death in the West. Through the Paul VIs, the Bouyers, the von Balthasars, the Congars, tradition was basically immolated on the altar of novelty. It was murdered by ecclesiastical technocrats who thought the sky would fall if they didn’t do something. But the sky fell anyway, and the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. It is hard to say if the collapse in the Church in Europe would have occured otherwise had the dictatorship of novelty not taken hold, but at least the patrimony would still be there. All I know is that from your comments, to paraphrase Chesterton, I feel that tradition was not something that was tried and found wanting, but was something that was found difficult and never tried, at least in relationship to modernity.

17 02 2009
Chris Jones

Mr Prejean,

there was never even a glimmer in all of the patristic era of anything other than inherited sin/death from generation by literal descent from Adam.

I take it, then, that you are unfamiliar with the differences between the Western, Augustinian understanding of the transmission of original sin and the Eastern understanding of it.

I think the scientific method killed the common understanding of tradition (that “unwritten deference”), plain and simple.

The “common understanding” of tradition (the partim … partim understanding) is not the only, or the correct, understanding of tradition. The idea that “the scientific method” could in any way undermine the Apostolic Tradition indicates a misunderstanding of the purpose and scope of that tradition — a scope which does not overlap with the scope within which the scientific method is applied. If Pope Pius claimed the mantle of Tradition for his pronouncement on a matter of science, then he mis-applied the Tradition. That takes nothing away from the authority of Tradition, but it calls the Pope’s good judgment into question.

If one’s rough-and-ready definition of “Tradition” is “whatever the Popes have ever said over the centuries,” then yes, you have a problem. If, on the other hand, Tradition means the rule of faith and rule of practice (and, in particular, the rule of prayer) actually handed down by the Apostles and preserved within the Church by the grace of the Holy Spirit, then there is less of a problem.

17 02 2009
Jonathan Prejean

This seems to keep certain blogs in business, but I always thought that even to speak of a “hermeneutic of continuity” is a bit of a lawyer’s ploy; such rhetoric would have been deemed redundant when speaking of the Papacy only fifty years ago. The fact that people have to try to say that “things haven’t changed” seems to smack of a cover-up. Something has changed; it is the nature and legitimacy of the change that are on the table.

Hey, I resemble that remark!

I don’t think there’s any “cover-up” to it. I think the scientific method killed the common understanding of tradition (that “unwritten deference”), plain and simple. I certainly think that there are things methodological naturalism can’t penetrate, but with respect to what methodological naturalism can penetrate, it does so with ruthless efficiency. It is probably the most efficient instrument devised by the human mind, rendering practically everything else useless by comparison.

I think it’s telling that the article you brought to my attention mentions “evolution” as one of the areas where the papacy has gotten too big for its britches vis-a-vis the tradition, because I think that’s probably the nexus of the whole thing. I’ll quote Zubiri’s Christianity for a succinct summary of my view:
“Above all, there is no obligation to think that the whole of mankind descends from just one couple. Monogenism is an interpretation, and that is all it is, an interpretation, besides there is no obligation to affirm it.”

Also, it would be biologically improbable that the whole of mankind, which covers such extraordinary dimensions in the biosphere, would proceed from only one couple. That would be absolutely improbable. Humanity proceeds from several, multiple couples.”

But you’ve got a Pope in *1950* saying “Now it is in no way apparent how [polygenism] can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis).

The thing is, Pope Pius XII is absolutely right. There is no question whatsoever that there was never even a glimmer in all of the patristic era of anything other than inherited sin/death from generation by literal descent from Adam. To me, that’s the death knell of pretty much every common understanding of tradition there was. No wonder people worried about aggiornamento are touchy about the popes speaking on evolution; that’s the most cutting indictment that what they consider “tradition” is unreliable!

For me, anyway, this is not a question of needing epistemic certainty, except maybe obliquely, so I think your assertions regarding anxiety about pluralism and historical scholarship miss the mark. I’m just doing the same thing I do with any theory: when it stops working to the point that I can’t do anything with it anymore, I kick it to the curb. There’s nothing particularly Nietzchean about that; if anything, I’m letting the facts redefine what I can claim rather than trying to force the facts to fit my claims. People can wave their hands about the limits of scientific understanding and plead ignorance and point to gaps in theories all they want, but if we simply do what we would do with respect to anything else, we would abandon the old theory and adopt the new one. If that means that Christianity’s self-understanding has been false in some respect for a couple of thousand years, well, it wouldn’t be much different than any other field of endeavor in that respect.

The trick is that one needs another theory that preserves those respects in which the failed theory was accurate (so it doesn’t entirely vitiate continuity; it still has to explain the data) but which also explains the errors and differences. That’s more or less what the Neo-Catholic hermeneutic of continuity does. I doubt that Newman had something so extensive in mind, but his position was certainly helpful, just as Aristotle’s position was helpful for the Western scientific method.

If I thought I could honestly pursue any other theory of traditional as a real possibility, then sure, maybe I’d try to preserve that too. But as a matter of historical contingency, it looks to me like the Neo-Catholic account, which I refer to as a kind of “doctrinal minimalism” with respect to both formal and unwritten tradition, is the last man standing from the Christian perspective. I don’t see it as a question of whether Catholicism is right as against other Christian views of tradition or other views of tradition within Catholicism. I see it as a question of whether any viable theory of Christian tradition can be saved at all.

Granted, people at this point often go into digressions about the Enlightenment and rationalism and Cartesian assumptions etc. etc. But methodological naturalism, and particularly its practical effectiveness, doesn’t depend on any of these things. As you pointed out, people will value what works for them as fact, and if religion is useless compared to science, then people will take science.

And to take the analogy even a bit further, I don’t consider what Dr. Liccione does to be all that different from showing that Newton’s Laws still hold under non-relativistic approximations. One is still saying that Newton was completely wrong in explaining why the laws worked, but you are preserving his accurate description of the real phenomena. So we do with dogma. It is very much based on the underlying reality and truth; indeed, it is a theory that allows the underlying reality to take precedence over the positive declarations of this or that pope while still allowing those positive declarations as they reflect reality to serve as landmarks for the life of the Church.

Of course, this is just autobiography of my own experience, more Prejeanisms as it were, so your mileage may vary. But I thought it might illuminate why those of us who probably seem callous toward the tradition are, in fact, callous toward the tradition only in the manner of the surgeon during operation. Sometimes cutting away what is dead is the only way to preserve life.

16 02 2009
Ron

Arturo, I think you are correct about the transformation that has taken place in the Catholic church. Is it perhaps that there is some truth to the old caricature about Catholics not being able to think for themselves? Michael Davies, in one of the volumes of his Liturgical Revolution, tells a rather disturbing story about one of the priests who was most influential in his conversion to Catholicism, who had instilled in him a deep reverence for the antiquity of the Mass. According to Davies, as soon as the revolution commenced, the same priest, without missing a beat, was telling him, “Thank God we are finished with all of THAT!” I’ve known many Catholics like that over the years, and I find them incomprehensible. It is a kind of holy amnesia and it mystifies me. There is no tradition in the objective sense. They may quote Ambrose and Bernard and Aquinas, but all that really matters is what the current pope teaches this morning.

16 02 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Mr. Jones,

Indeed, if one was to follow what Catholic Internet pundits generally speak of when referring to the Papal office, I would see the difficulty as well. However, Pastor Aeternus itself says:

“For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”

This seems to be at loggerheads with the ideas insinuated in Dei Verbum of doctrine developing, but then again the story of the last 150 years of magisterial decrees in our Church seems to be one of ambiguity. This seems to keep certain blogs in business, but I always thought that even to speak of a “hermeneutic of continuity” is a bit of a lawyer’s ploy; such rhetoric would have been deemed redundant when speaking of the Papacy only fifty years ago. The fact that people have to try to say that “things haven’t changed” seems to smack of a cover-up. Something has changed; it is the nature and legitimacy of the change that are on the table.

How does one then try to reconcile Pastor Aeternus with Ut Unum Sint, or Unitatis Redintegratio? Or what of the rhetoric of the Papacy now with the Orthodox which says that they only need accept the Papal office as it existed 1,000 years ago? And the list can go on. If my ideas are less “Catholic” than others, I would stipulate that this is because there is a confusion as to how authority functions in the Church that far outstrips the legalistic maneuvering of the Catholic “cyber-intelligentsia”.

What I am asserting here, perhaps the fruit of my twenty years as a thinking Catholic, including stints in the seminary and religious life, is that in the past there was an unwritten deference to tradition that was present in the Church up to very recently. The idea among Catholics that we could throw out or “reform” 2,000 years of Catholic patrimony would have been unthinkable not so long ago. As my reference to Pastor Aeternus seems to indicate, it seems that what I hold to, what was the case in the past, is that the Church was seen as a guardian of a very ancient treasure, whereas some would now see it as a project to “build a better machine” of divine operation in the world. Needless to say, I find the latter mentioned position quite problematic.

16 02 2009
Chris Jones

Arturo,

Thanks for your support over at Processions.

You wrote:

… historically, the power of the Christian mystery lies in the authority of Christ’s message being immutably passed down through the Church, not in an institutional mechanism that is insurance against epistemological uncertainty.

Of course I agree with this, but it strikes me that this is not the view of authority commonly advanced by Catholics. Nor does it seem to me that it’s consistent with Pastor Aeternus.

The Catholicism suggested by what you wrote is a Catholicism that Orthodoxy could deal with — with which actual reunion could be envisaged. I fear, however, that it is Catholicism as I wish it were, rather than Catholicism as it is.

16 02 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Christina,

I most certainly have taken that into consideration, however, I have found references to this text in other places, and it does show some antiquity regardless of who has taken it in the past few centuries, or whether it was considered an integral part of the ceremony. It is found in the Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum, Patrologia Latina, 1005, S. 54.

It seems that the translation here quite botched and simplified, but here is an excerpt in the original Latin that basically affirms my argument:

Si praeter haec aliquid agere praesumpsero, vel ut praesumatur, permisero, eris, mihi, in illa terribili die divini judicii, depropitius.

Haec conanti et diligenter servare curanti, in hac vita corruptibili constituto, adjutorium quoque ut praebeas obsecro, ut irreprehensibilis appaream ante conspectum judicis omnium Domini nostri Jesu Christi, dum terribiliter de commissis advenerit judicare, ut faciat me dextrae partis compotem, et inter fideles discipulos ac successores tuos esse consortem.

Source

16 02 2009
christina

That “Papal Oath” is very questionable. I know Wikipedia isn’t inerrant on everything, but it does point out that:

“The detailed account of the coronation of the nineteenth-century Pope Leo XIII that can be consulted at this site makes no mention of the taking of this particular oath, or of any coronation oath, by the Pope.

In fact, all evidence of papal coronations, including that of Pope Paul VI on 30 June 1963, which was the last, excludes the taking of any oath by the Pope in the course of the ceremony. The claim that Pope Agatho and his immediate successors took the alleged oath at their coronation ceremonies is also evidently false: popes of that time had neither crown nor, in consequence, coronation”

from this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_Oath_(Traditionalist_Catholic)

It links to the site that describes Pope Leo XIII’s coronation, where you can see that there is no “papal oath” mentioned. This whole thing may just be the traditionalist equivalent of an “urban legend.”

16 02 2009
Leah

For many people in the US and probably other places as well, being Catholic is akin to saying, “I’ve given trust of my brain to an old man in Rome.” Given the way the media reports on religion in general and Catholicism in particular, the Catholic is constantly being called upon to defend some thing the pope supposedly said. This is why there are so many apologetics seem to be devoted to defending the papacy. I think the roots of the modern attitude of “pope as Church” goes back to Pius IX after the fall of the Papal States. Since there was a huge battle between Church and state going on in Europe and Latin America during this period, Pius IX became a visible symbol of the world against the pope/Church. The fact that mass media and photography were just being introduced also helped in the dissemination of this message.

Moving into the 20th century, I think this TIME cover explains a lot: http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/time/2389-1.jpg
I believe that this is from the period in which Humanae Vitae was just published, and there was all out rebellion from the hierarchy and the laity. Because HV was promulgated by the Paul VI, the rejection of HV became a rejection of the authority of the pope himself. Thus, to many orthodox Catholics, I think that they conflated rejection of the papacy and HV with the rejection of the Church itself.

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