The hollow victory over Jansenism- part IV

13 08 2009

auxerre-1b

Some notes on historical theology

Conclusion

This is of course a lot to digest and understand. From the metaphysical to the liturgical, the theological and the sociological aspects, Jansenism is a hard nut to crack. From a few reflections on grace in St. Augustine, it inflamed the national sentiment of the Gallican Church, spread into other countries, and threatened to change the very fabric of Catholicism on the European continent. While it reflected in many ways the tendencies of early modern thought, its defeat, I have argued, facilitated the growth of the “secularized” and “politicized” Catholicism that exists today, especially in the developed world. Most of the positive content of the Jansenist message (the fewness of the elect, the need for penance before absolution, the tendency of the Church to degenerate from its pristine origins) is as foreign to modern Catholicism as the doctrine of the transmigration of souls or millenarianism. But the methods of the Jansenists are alive and well, being used to carry out a program that is the mirror opposite of what they advocated.

What we were left with in the aftermath of Jansenism is a Church in a structural crisis in terms of its theological and pastoral paradigms. On the one hand, you have the official line of the Vatican that seeks to have its feet in two realms: the modern liberal realm of license and “right”, and the hierarchical realm of tradition and authority. In seeking to create an “internal” religion based on love and positive assent, as opposed to “rules and regulations”, it has left the average Catholic open and undefended against the torrent of the modern world. And that indeed is the ethos that governs the Church on the micro-systematic level especially in the First World: the average Catholic isn’t just influenced by the world, he is the world, full stop. By trying to “update” the sacred, the Church in many places has chucked it out the window. And in the Third World, the new land of opportunity that will “save the Church”, what is emerging is a fascination with the miraculous and charismatic that is divergent in many ways for the character of traditional Christianity.

So whither the Catholic mind? I do not have to reiterate that I am not optimistic on the human level. While I am not a Jansenist, I do share the Jansenist eschatological vision of the Church. The Lord’s promise to be with the Church to the end of the world does not promise the visible Church success as the world would see it. Indeed, in terms of numbers and institutional strength, there is an equally valid promise that the Church will be eclipsed in the march of human history. What I know the Church must do is cast off from itself the thinking of 1960’s liberalism and create a method of approaching modernity that leaves behind warn metanarratives of “progess” and “right” to focus on how people actually believe and practice their faith on the ground. I am not asserting that this is the answer, but rather I am proposing a different approach. Maybe Catholic scholarship needs to de-throne philosophical and archeological approaches to Faith and begin to apply theological principles to the fields of anthropology and sociology. Maybe the question should not start with a “what is the best way to get people to conform to our theories?”, but rather, “how are our theories reflected in what people actually do and how is this convergent/divergent with Tradition?” In this way, we stop trying to re-invent the wheel and use what we actually have before us.

In terms of the individual Catholic, a paradigm must be developed that allows for critical but loyal dissent on the level of the members of the Gallican Church during the Jansenist crisis. In this, we have to put away the radical ultramontanism that has decayed the fabric of Catholic thought. To use the analogy of the stool attributed to the Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, Catholics must once again lay claim to the idea that we have a multifaceted approach to questions of Faith. Indeed, instead of three legs, our stool has four: Scripture, Tradition, authority, and reason. In the ultramontanist mutation, authority often replaces the other three legs instead of mediating between them. What we get left with in this deviation is a “magisterial positivism” (to use the phrase of Fr. Chad Ripperger in his article, Operative Points of View), in which the positions of the authorities of the Church must be affirmed by any means necessary. In more recent times, this irrational and totalitarian ideology morphed into its opposite; instead of truth being determined by the power of ecclesiastics, it is determined by the power of the “People of God”. Vox populi, and so forth. The positive deposit of Faith becomes entirely irrelevant. What is said is no longer the issue, but rather who says it.

I will be the first to admit that perhaps we are too far gone to re-create such an ethos. Perhaps “loyal dissent” using tradition and reason is no longer an option in a world without confessional coercion. If people disagree with an institution, they will not stay and wrestle with it; they will simply vote with their feet and leave the institution behind. Perhaps secularism will just wipe out the Church in the long run as a mass institution. But personally I see no middle ground between the “secularized” Catholicism of the people in the pews and the crypto-fascistic conservatism of those “loyal to the Magisterium”. If the Church survives into the next century, it will be in spite of those movements, not because of them. I will continue to argue, however, that maybe we need to backtrack and see if the critics of Catholic modernity, even those unseemly nuns and emaciated ascetics of Port Royal, had a point. There is a spectre haunting Europe, and indeed, the rest of the Church, and it is the spirit of Jansenism


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26 responses

23 12 2009
keith smith

E.
This is apparently the point of Arturo, that Monism (no external critique) is taken as the paradigm for authority in Catholicism. Hence when any body thinks differently about the philosophical validity as to the direction some a going in, it is immediately considered “out of bounds”. This is circular and merely self serving to the powers that be. Loving God with the mind is relegated to the paradigm of the Monist presupposition and no real diversity is allowed say. The purported approaches to Faith in his article that are to be dethroned, are examples not of Diversity but of contrary faith . It seems his emphasis is on a plea for faith presupposed critique instead of divergent quests (liberalism) or magisterial views that have too tight of parameters to serve and not undermine the very Faith one is defending. Merely because he asks one to qualify the faith is he considered a protestant? Is his individualism always defined by monism rather than the faith once delivered to the Saints? With the shortcomings of the Church through the ages, does it make since that only the leaders figure out for themselves where they went wrong? Keith

17 08 2009
AG

To the poster to whom this was addressed:

I am editing this comment now that I know you have read it. I wanted to let you know why you are no longer welcome to post comments here, and why any comments you do post here will be deleted.

Have a nice day!

17 08 2009
Tom Smith

Arturo,

Keep up the good work, dude. You articulate what I think better than I ever could.

Death Bredon,

How is Arturo “closet Orthodox?” I am interested; please explain…

17 08 2009
Juana Inés

I am indeed surprised not to find any quotation from Kolakowski’s God Owes Us Nothing (particularly the chapter on “La religion triste de Pascal”) in any of these articles.
There is nothing on the great 17th-18th C. controversy De Auxiliis, central to the matter.
And noone quoted that very apt comment: ‘pure as angels, proud as devils’.
Curious.

17 08 2009
Death Bredon

OK, P.T. Barnum — enough cynicism, that’s my schtick.

17 08 2009
Death Bredon

I think “e.” is Escalante’s evil twin. 😉

17 08 2009
Sam Urfer

Welcome to the Internet.

16 08 2009
A

I think some of these highly apologetics-focused professorial Catholics deserve some sort of neoscholastic asperger diagnosis.

16 08 2009
Jonathan Prejean

Trust me, e., whoever he is, is entirely his own man. He certainly isn’t Dr. Liccione’s “pet” anything!

15 08 2009
Arturo Vasquez

AG said it best when she said that “e.” or “evagrius” or any other pseudonym of Dr. Liccione’s pet cheerleader does not just specialize in making straw men, s/he/it makes a whole straw village when s/he/it starts to argue. Luther? Who would have thought? Never read this post, I suppose.

15 08 2009
Rob

-Indeed, in that position, I see only the abyss: a Catholicism where we replace theologians with lawyers, philosophers with media spin-artists, and saints with cheerleaders. All we speak about is what binds and what doesn’t, what constitutes “irreformable dogma” and what doesn’t, as if we were planning a robbery or a demolition and wanted to do some preemptive self-justification.-

I mostly lurk here, because I don’t have the intellectual capacity to engage in these discussions (though they are usually edifying, thank you all). But I do have to say that Arturo’s zinger here (and let me say that much of Arturo’s talk annoys me, probably why I come back) really hit home. I am a pseudo-wanna-be traditional Catholic (too far away from an FSSP or SSPX chapel to indulge myself and really go hasid) but this remark strikes a nerve.

I am repelled, of course, by the whole mess that has come out of Vatican II, but the “conservative Catholic” take (or retake) on things disturbs me as well, mostly the lawyerly view of everything and the apparent lack of, er, well, mysticism (there, I said it). The austerity and elegance of tradition, viewed through the occasional TLM and on the internet, has so far been a salve, but I am filled with doubt by a number of things, including VI and VII, and many of the saddening remarks I hear from conservative, Catholic intellectuals that just seem like dead words.

Anyway, I think Arturo has made a good point (much as I respect Dr, Liccione, on whose blog I also lurk). I can’t be the only Catholic caught in the middle and fearing that the whole structure is quivering.

Yet, I can’t be closet Orthodox because I believe sincerely in the primacy of the pope. What do I do? Pray, I guess. And follow the commandments.

14 08 2009
e.

Arturo:

While I might concur with some of your more reasonable, conservative Catholic opinions; you would do well to advance your cause by being a little more Lerins and less Luther, my friend.

14 08 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Judging from the state of much of the Catholic Church, pardon me for not trembling in anguish at being so wildly unpopular.

14 08 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Mundus vult decipi, decipiatur ergo.

14 08 2009
Death Bredon

I suspect that the remnants of the very in-house Catholic conciliar movement, which lost a lot of its force after the “reunion” council at Florence and then again after Vatican I, would agree with Arturo, as well as many SSPXers.

Additionally, I would note that Dr. L’s lines of argument, which are excellent representatives of the ascendant brand of contemporary Catholicism — not picking on L. here he does what he does very well — are precisely of the kind that many Orthos find so disheartening about contemporary Catholicism — the “wondrously developing ‘theology,'” as opposed to our ‘stagnant’ variety, does indeed appear, as Arturo notes, to be nothing more than disingenuous legal fiction plus philosophy, not theology.

14 08 2009
e.

“But I suspect you’ll find, as I have, that it is mostly the non-Catholics who agree with you.”

Amen.

Arturo has proven more often than not that he has become (and has been for quite some time) an unwitting advocate of the very arguments espoused by even the anti-Caths.

14 08 2009
Michael Liccione

Never is there a discussion if such theories were a good idea, or how they specifically have been deemed to be binding on all faithful. The conclusion with you is always, “this is the party line. I know we used to believe X, but times change, and besides, this is not really a change because [insert legal fiction here]”. Never is there really a discussion of the root issues involved, only an apologia for the ethos that you think most popular among chic ecclesiastics. Nor do you see how, when the rubber hits the road, such theoretical forms only play into the hands of those “progs” who you see as your enemy.

Since you no longer read what I write, it’s understandable that you’ve ignored my specifically theological arguments for the changes to which you object. Yet, for the benefit of our readers, I think it good to restate the general issue between us more succinctly.

I agree with you that theological reasoning from the data of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium is necessary for better understanding the issues involved and for sorting out what’s binding in OUM teaching from what isn’t. That’s why I do it, and that’s why it’s a sorry caricature to suggest that I don’t. But you hold that it plays into the hands of the progs to argue, as I do, that such reasoning is not sufficient to settle such questions, and that recourse to living magisterial authority is <also necessary. On the other hand, I hold that it plays into prog hands to deny that such recourse is necessary. Such is the crux of the issue between us, and between trads and neo-cons generally.

If I am right, then there’s no avoiding the question how to develop criteria for distinguishing, quite generally, between what is and what is not irreformable in the teaching of the OUM. If you’re right, then the salient issues in dispute, taken severally, can be settled against the progs without recourse to the living Magisterium. Since this is your blog, and only a combox therein, I shall leave the matter to our readers to ponder for themselves. But I suspect you’ll find, as I have, that it is mostly the non-Catholics who agree with you.

14 08 2009
Arturo Vasquez

“What is said is no longer the issue, but rather who says it.”

Unfortunately, even in your attempts to refute what I say, you succeed only in proving my point. For you say, “That makes them illegitimate only if the older teachings were irreformable. But were they?” Never is there a discussion if such theories were a good idea, or how they specifically have been deemed to be binding on all faithful. The conclusion with you is always, “this is the party line. I know we used to believe X, but times change, and besides, this is not really a change because [insert legal fiction here]”. Never is there really a discussion of the root issues involved, only an apologia for the ethos that you think most popular among chic ecclesiastics. Nor do you see how, when the rubber hits the road, such theoretical forms only play into the hands of those “progs” who you see as your enemy.

That is why, truth be told, I stopped reading what you write a long time ago. I gave it the old college try, but really, a one note symphony can only be interesting for so long. (La Monte Young used to compose works that consisted in an hour long drone, but I could never stomach them.) Everything you write basically develops along the same line: “this changed, but it wasn’t really a change. And besides, it was a good idea.” Indeed, in that position, I see only the abyss: a Catholicism where we replace theologians with lawyers, philosophers with media spin-artists, and saints with cheerleaders. All we speak about is what binds and what doesn’t, what constitutes “irreformable dogma” and what doesn’t, as if we were planning a robbery or a demolition and wanted to do some preemptive self-justification.

I won’t go into the issues you cited, mainly because I don’t want this combox discussion to degenerate into the typical free-for-all that usually emerges when a bunch of guys have too much time on their hands (I do not), but I will direct you to the essays I have written on the topics you mentioned:

religious liberty: Nature – Supernature – State

limbo – Duendes

the Church – Three Posts on Love – I

ecumenism – Exorcising the Ghosts of Assisi

…and the list could go on. Not that I expect anything fruitful to come out of it, but at least I won’t have to spend more time doing pseudo-intellectual navel gazing in which I wonder whether my navel is really there or not.

14 08 2009
Fr. Anthony

See my reflections under August 14 on
http://pagesperso-orange.fr/civitas.dei/reflections08.09.htm

Fr. Anthony

14 08 2009
Death Bredon

1. “The positive deposit of Faith becomes entirely irrelevant. What is said is no longer the issue, but rather who says it.”

Check. Authority must have an auxiliary function within the Church to serve the Body, not a constitutive one to Lord over it. (I thought the Lord made that clear enough in the Gospel.)

2. “Maybe Catholic scholarship needs to de-throne philosophical and archeological approaches to Faith and begin to apply theological principles to the fields of anthropology and sociology. Maybe the question should not start with a “what is the best way to get people to conform to our theories?”, but rather, “how are our theories reflected in what people actually do and how is this convergent/divergent with Tradition?” In this way, we stop trying to re-invent the wheel and use what we actually have before us.”

Check. St. John Damascene already spilled more ink than was necessary over a millennium ago.

* * * *

Yep, now I am sure — you are closet Orthodox.

14 08 2009
Michael Liccione

Thanks for that info, Jonathan. I will have to go back and read Blondel again. It’s been over 30 years.

13 08 2009
Jonathan Prejean

And I certainly don’t know any “neo-cons” who are fans of Hegel or Blondel.

As to Blondel, you know me, and you at least know OF John Paul II, who was also an admirer. I think he was misunderstood by Garrigou-Lagrange, although that might have been as much Blondel’s fault for being controversial as his neo-Thomist critic’s.

13 08 2009
e.

Dr Liccione:

Thank-you for that thoughtful reply to another of Arturo’s notorious articles.

However, as to this:

To imagine that it suffices for distinguishing between the latter two would be ironic indeed for a traditionalist Catholic: it would leave him with the progressives as well as with the Anglicans and the Gallicans. None have thought they need the Roman Magisterium to make the distinction for them. Within such frameworks of thought, the only guarantor of doctrinal unity would be the extraordinary magisterium; everything else would be up for grabs.

Isn’t this actually the model that Arturo himself currently follows?

After all, he seems to disagree with most, if not, all magisterial teachings issued post-VII and have decided independently, presumably on his own authority, what is genuinely Catholic from what is not.

It would seem that the very hermaneutic he seems to employ is not unlike the Protestant one, really.

13 08 2009
Michael Liccione

Arturo:

I won’t spend time on Fr. Ripperger’s suggestion that a hollowed-out, modern “immantenism” pervaded Vatican II, as distinct from some of the progressives who went on to spin the Council in that direction. I don’t find that in the documents, even in the over-optimism of Gaudium et spes. And I certainly don’t know any “neo-cons” who are fans of Hegel or Blondel.

More interestingly, you seem to have adopted Ripperger’s concept of “magisterial positivism.” But I see that he offers no clear, non-arbitrary criteria for distinguishing that which may be changed in the “extrinsic tradition” from that which may not be changed. Surely, e.g., he doesn’t think that everything in the Syllabus of Errors and Mortalium Annos is irreformable. Or does he? If he does, I’d like to hear the argument; he doesn’t offer one. But if not, then what is his argument that accepting Dignitatis Humanae and Unitatis Redintegratio is magisterial positivism while accepting the former documents is not? Is it just their relative age? And if so, then why not go whole hog back to Ad Extirpandum and Execrabilis?

Yes, DH and UR represent reversals of long-standing teachings. That makes them illegitimate only if the older teachings were irreformable. But were they? There are many other instances where the OUI has effectively reversed itself—slavery, usury, torture, and limbo being the most commonly cited examples today. All that means is that the OUI is not always infallible. But nobody has ever said it is, and to say otherwise would be indeed be magisterial positivism of the worst sort. What we really need are non-arbitrary criteria for distinguishing between what is and is not irreformable in OUI teaching.

Magisterially speaking, Vatican II started on that process with its notion, in LG §25, of teaching that is definitive tenendam. Wojtyla and Ratzinger continued down that path in a series of documents: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and the CDF responsum thereon; the formal confirmations of certain OUI teachings in Evangelium Vitae; and the further specifications in Ad Tuendam Fidem and Ratzinger’s “Doctrinal Commentary” thereon. But of course, all those are magisterial documents. Is it magisterial positivism to look to the Magisterium to clarify what is and what is not permanently binding in OUI teaching? Or should that be left as a matter of opinion?

The latter is exactly what we’d be stuck with if the following advice of yours were followed:

In terms of the individual Catholic, a paradigm must be developed that allows for critical but loyal dissent on the level of the members of the Gallican Church during the Jansenist crisis. In this, we have to put away the radical ultramontanism that has decayed the fabric of Catholic thought. To use the analogy of the stool attributed to the Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, Catholics must once again lay claim to the idea that we have a multifaceted approach to questions of Faith. Indeed, instead of three legs, our stool has four: Scripture, Tradition, authority, and reason.

That’s a perfectly acceptable model for theological speculation. Indeed, it’s really the only model; I follow it myself. But it is not a substitute for distinguishing between theological opinion, authoritative but non-infallible OUI teaching, and irreformable OUI teaching. It is a means of helping, among other things, to draw such distinctions. To imagine that it suffices for distinguishing between the latter two would be ironic indeed for a traditionalist Catholic: it would leave him with the progressives as well as with the Anglicans and the Gallicans. None have thought they need the Roman Magisterium to make the distinction for them. Within such frameworks of thought, the only guarantor of doctrinal unity would be the extraordinary magisterium; everything else would be up for grabs. That does not appear to be what you and Ripperger want. But that’s exactly what you’d get.

13 08 2009
Michael Liccione

Arturo:

The Ripperger article, which seems to be important to you, has been roundly criticized from several points of view. The longest critique also happens to be the most easily accessible and is from Shawn McIlhenny: http://matt1618.freeyellow.com/distinctions.html.

Ripperger’s notion of “magisterial positivism” is fundamentally flawed because he does not and, indeed, cannot supply a non-arbitrary criterion for distinguishing those aspects of “extrinsic” tradition which may be changed from those which may not be. How, e.g., can it be said that Cyprian’s and Fulgentius’ version of extra ecclesiam nulla salus could be legitimately refined by the post-Reformation Church so that, by 1949, the Holy Office could condemn Feeneyism in saying that some people could be saved by “implicit” faith? Why wasn’t Augustine’s idea of original sin as personal guilt, so long dominant, also irreformable, so that §405 of the current universal catechism must be accounted as heresy? Why was the Magisterium’s embrace of Thomism in the 19th century legitimate in view of its condemnation of Thomism in the late 13th century? Why should we accept the idea that it’s sometimes necessary to coerce people to fulfill baptismal promises made on their behalf—an idea which can in no sense be said to belong to “intrinsic tradition”, i.e. the deposit of faith? Ripperger’s only answer to such questions would have to be his preferred way of appealing to what he otherwise condemns as magisterial positivism.

I’m rather amused by this passage of yours:

In terms of the individual Catholic, a paradigm must be developed that allows for critical but loyal dissent on the level of the members of the Gallican Church during the Jansenist crisis. In this, we have to put away the radical ultramontanism that has decayed the fabric of Catholic thought. To use the analogy of the stool attributed to the Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, Catholics must once again lay claim to the idea that we have a multifaceted approach to questions of Faith. Indeed, instead of three legs, our stool has four: Scripture, Tradition, authority, and reason.

When you tell me how Gallicans and Anglicans can accept Pastor Aeternus and Lumen Gentium together, as we “neo-cons” do, I’ll tell you how they can be Catholics.

13 08 2009
Peter Escalante

Querido hermano,

These essays on Jansenism have been some of your finest reflections to date, and have given me much to think about. The Roman church in the US is blessed to have you. Keep writing, and writing,and writing.

Of course I agree with you about the sorriness of “magisterial positivism”. Yes, I am very much a Protestant, so of course my view there is no surprise; but there are resources within Romanism itself from which one could make the same critique. I think of the Dominican tradition especially, with its emphasis on conciliarism, reason, and primacy of conscience; ever the enemy of Jesuit authoritarianism and voluntarism. And the approach of Luigi Giussani (and a number of other Italian lay movements), or that of Pere Marie-Dominique Philippe, or the KiG, are all things a man such as yourself might see as promising possibilities, even if, for now, only that: possibilities. And you’ve got writers like Jean Borella, whose work must please you, I would think. So surely there are some things in modern Rome which might cheer you in your ecclesially Spenglerian mood?

paz
P.

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