Belated inopportunism

I was pondering lofty things the other day, as great minds are wont to do, and a thought began to form that I decided to submit to my fellow traditionalists for consideration…

The ultramonantanist in each of us loves Vatican I, and Pastor Aeternus shines so brightly as to cast a shadow over all the other documents of the council (we don’t typically see references to Dei Filius, for example). As useful as this invocation of the extraordinary magisterium may have been for quelling any doubts about papal supremacy, I wonder if we aren’t feeling some residual effects in our modern culture of dissent.

How so, Andreas? Well, I think we’re seeing damage on two fronts. First, conservatives seem to have innocently blown it beyond its original proportion so that it often sounds as if the Church is bound only by the Magisterium of the moment. So if Benedict XVI asserts some theological position in a public audience it immediately receives an aura of Gospel truth, without any cross-checking against the Church of the past to see if it conforms with Tradition. This makes it exceptionally hard to question any single change in discipline or theological expression because an interlocutor is merely referred to an isolated statement that someone trusts too naively because of an un-nuanced conception of papal authority.

On the other side, we have liberals who refuse to acknowledge any matter as settled unless solemnly defined by some extraordinary act. This is the flip side of the coin. Conservatives, knowing the pope to be a trustworthy and sometimes infallible teacher, tend to assume his utterances reflect irreformable truth. Liberals, knowing that extraordinary infallibility is only applicable to specific utterances or formulae under rather restrictive circumstances, throw out the ordinary magisterium and pooh-pooh anything not solemnly proclaimed by a council or ex cathedra. Take, for instance, the Church’s teaching on contraception. A retarded chimp could see that if anything meets the standards of Lumen Gentium for the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium, our condemnation of contraception is certainly one. But a liberal says, “It has never been infallibly defined,” by which he means, “It’s not from a council or ex catheda statement.”

I certainly wouldn’t say Vatican I caused these misunderstandings of the Magisterium, but does anyone think it may have contributed in some way? It seems like before that council we had a fairly good grasp of just what Tradition means, and that we can be certain about everything acknowledged by all, always, and everywhere, regardless of whether we’ve gone to the trouble of using extraordinary means to express it. Now that we’ve brought those extraordinary means into the spotlight, it seems like most Catholics have reduced the Church’s sure teaching authority to the meagre amount of extraordinary instances of teaching. Am I on to something? A penny to each of you for your thoughts.

You speak of needing a balance, and as much as the traditionalist in me is suspicious of ecumenism…I think the real balancing device we need is reunion with the Orthodox. Strong eastern Patriarchs could help reduce some of the monarchist, over-centralizing tendencies of the papacy that developed when only the West was left in the Church. At the same time, the authority of a universal primal See could help settle some of the petty bitter politics so common among the Orthodox. This “top-down” “pyramid structure” political organization of power within the Church does not reflect theological ecclesiology in which each local Church with its bishop is a microcosm of the whole, and where the Pope’s relationship to the rest of the dioceses of the world should really be more analogous to that of the Archbishop to the suffragen dioceses in the province.

Pope Pius XII in an address given to the Congress of Philosophy on November 29, 1946 answers your questions. It’s much too long to post here but it is a prophetic address. I will search around and see if I can find it on-line for you. It’s a magnificent statement.

batteddy,

Sorry, I meant to quote A.H.'s post not yours.

Tomster

The issue is not Vatican I. The issue is communication and literacy. In modern times average folks like us have access to all the magesterial documents of the past and of our day (although often without the proper historical context and understanding of the issues of the times). Until very recently, Catholics not only had no access to that, they had very little access to any teaching besides that of their bishop or priest and whatever vulgar language books were permitted to them. They simply had to take it on faith that what they were getting was true.

Nowadays, we regular folks can read it all. Popes no longer write just to bishops, their letters are addressed to everyone and are translated into many vulgar tongues. The natural tendency to trust your pastor and the virtue of giving him due obedience which used to apply to your bishop or priest is now given directly to the pope (and often him alone)–except by those who want to dissent from some point or another.

Then, because of the internet and other sources, there have sprung up all sorts of armchair theologians (liberal or “traditional”) who then pass various judgments on the popes and the councils past and present (which would have been considered an act of criminal pride by popes and bishops of the past.)

So, the unique issue of individuals judging the Magisterium is a very new one created by technology and literacy, not by the First Vatican Council. It is a difficult conundrum. Very few are qualified to judge such things (in fact, only the Pope has a God-given right to do so), yet in good conscience who can accept something he firmly believes–according to his informed as well as possible conscience–is an error (regardless of whether in reality it is or is not)? At the end of the day, all we can do is pray that God may have mercy on all our souls.

How so, Andreas? Well, I think we’re seeing damage on two fronts. First, conservatives seem to have innocently blown it beyond its original proportion so that it often sounds as if the Church is bound only by the Magisterium of the moment. So if Benedict XVI asserts some theological position in a public audience it immediately receives an aura of Gospel truth, without any cross-checking against the Church of the past to see if it conforms with Tradition. This makes it exceptionally hard to question any single change in discipline or theological expression because an interlocutor is merely referred to an isolated statement that someone trusts too naively because of an un-nuanced conception of papal authority.

Well, Andreas, since you and I and everyone else, for that matter, knows that this is one of my favorites, I’d like to comment on this part which would think would be me.

I’ve never thought that any theological position uttered in a public audience falls under the Pastor Aeternus. This idea, of course, is where we hear cute little arguments like “The Pope likes oatmeal for breakfast, so therefore I must eat it too.” Now, if you’d like to insert encyclical you might be onto something.

I certainly wouldn’t say Vatican I caused these misunderstandings of the Magisterium, but does anyone think it may have contributed in some way?

No, I wouldn’t say it contributed. I believe we have to lay the blame at the foot of original sin. Anyone can take any Church document know matter how concise and twist it to what they would like it to mean. One might look at it as a way the Holy Spirit separates the wheat from the chaff.

I think you are right here.
Let’s say I’ve got two coins, one of which is normal and one of which is double-headed.
How many times do I need to toss the coin to be sure that it is the double-headed one? A statistician would say that normally ten times is enough for the 0.1 % level of significance, which is the highest njormally used.

So I toss the coin seven times. All heads. It is pretty clear that we’ve got the double-headed coin. In fact at the 1% level of significance we would declare the matter closed. But since we are using a more stringent rule, it is legitimate to say, “wait and see”. However, in the interim, the working assumption has got to be that the coin will be heads.

Similarly, with contraception, we are at the “seven heads” stage. It is obvious that the modernist idea that contraception is an unproblematic fix to unwnated pregnancy is simply false, but we are not quite firmed up on what the alternative should be.

Personally I dislike the phrase “infallibility”. It implies a very shocking and radical claim, whilst in fact the Church is only saying something very obvious. Could a good God allow His Church to fall so far into error as to be effectively no longer the Church? If you think not, then He must protect it in some way.

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