Laudatur Iesus Christus.
Dear Just Lurking:
I can sympathize with the desire to avoid controversy and to have a united body of believers. I gather this is the point, if I have understood you aright. However, the proffered theory of interpretation is not tenable, even with so noble a goal in mind.
The structure of certainty in the Faith as established in the teachings of the Church is reflected definitely in the Scriptures:
Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, (Matt. 16:18). This in contrast to a man who built on sand and could not weather a storm, (Matt. 7:24-27).
Peter in his own right is given the keys to the Kingdom and given the power to bind and loose, (Matt. 16:19). Peter alone is told to strengthen his brothers, (Luke 22:31-32). Peter alone is told to govern and feed the sheep, (John 21:15-17).
Peter teaches that the roles of the Twelve are offices and that successors must take up the faculties assigned to the Twelve Apostles by the Lord, (Acts 1:15).
The Apostles as a group, including Peter, are given the power to teach (Matt. 28:19), to bind and loose (Matt. 18:18), and are assured that Christ will remain with them (Matt. 28:20). One Apostle does not repent and is lost, showing that individual bishops are not immune to error, (John 17:12).
Priests and deacons are given the power to teach, to cast out demons, and to resist false doctrine, in Christ’s name, (Luke 10:1-20).
The faithful are revealed as only some of the members of the Church, (Matt. 13:24-29, 47-48, 7:21-23, 25:1-12). The members of the Church are foretold to be susceptible to error and to apostasy, (Matt. 24:5, 10-11, 22; Mark 13:20; see e.g. Rev. 2:20). Teachers of false doctrine are foretold and warned against (Matt. 7:15, 24:24; Mark 13:22; 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 4:3; 2 Peter 2:1) – making even the body of “theologians” an unreliable argument against the doctrines properly defined and understood.
This nesting hierarchy of certainty is exactly matched by the teachings of the Holy Spirit with the Conciliar Fathers of Vatican II. Infallibility rests in the teaching office of the Pope; it is also shared by the Bishops in union with the Pope; and by the body of the faithful, when in union with the Pope and Bishops. This is not contradictory, or watered down, rather it is the image of reliable teachings when the Holy Spirit succeeds at all levels of the promise, to the extent allowed by proper regard for the freedom of individual persons. This does result in a perfectly unified body of the Faithful, but it does not lead to perfect unity among the nominal members of the Church.
It may be that one difficulty with the analysis which you propose is that it proceeds on lines appropriate to the political systems establishing checks and balances to control fallible men. However, the structure described in the Scripture and in Vatican II is the result of the guidance of the Holy Spirit who is unified in His person and mission, and not dependent on “checks and balances” to correct possible errors. Because the same unerring Spirit is the cause of each level of certainty, there is no opposition among them; this is the meaning of the phrase, “activity of the same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith,” in Lumen Gentium 25. (We know that this does not mean unanimity among “believers,” because, “not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord,” will be saved, (Matt. 7:21).)
Further, the understanding of “appeal” which you propose is inconsistent with the practice of the judiciary in the United States. The jurisdiction on appeal is a jurisdiction of error, where the appellate court determines if an error has been made in the lower court. Exactly as you describe the supposed “pre-existing error” in teaching, the appeal determines whether there is a “pre-existing” error in the proceeding below; the appellate court does not make “wrong” what had been “correct,” but declares the pre-existing errors. This is precisely the meaning of an “appeal” in civil law (see, FindLaw legal dictionary, “appeal”). Thus it is untenable to assert a completely novel reading for the phrase, “nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment,” as used in Lumen Gentium, 25. It is precisely the possibility of “pre-existing error” in the properly declared teachings which this phrase excludes. Thus, no appeal to any other “litmus test” is allowed or needed.
Finally, one must object to the claim that “[t]he infallibility of various Church teachings is uncertain,” if by this is meant a denial of my previous statement: “*t seems clear that this view cannot be correct or the intention of the teaching in Lumen Gentium; it would render all of the teachings of Christ and His Church uncertain,” (post no. 14). It is one thing to assert that a particular idea or supposed teaching may be uncertain until it is clarified by appeal to the Pontiff; it is quite another to deny the stability and infallibility of the body of teachings as a whole.
I do not agree with the apparent meaning of the phrase, “the *sensus fidei *can be checked directly, even today,” when it is opposed to the historical nature of the certainty about the teachings of *Unam Sanctam *and its reiteration in the documents of the Fifth Lateran Council (1516). Does the quoted assertion imply that the “current” *sensus fidei *could disagree with the Faith as understood by those members of the faithful who have died? It is precisely insistence that the Faith be understood in the same sense as it has always been understood which eliminates any transient “spirit of the age” as a threat to the content of the Faith. Consider: if a proposed understanding of a given dogma were to differ substantively from that held by the faithful in previous generations, the *sensus fidelium *would be at odds with the current shared opinion, which might otherwise be mistaken as a part of the sensus fidei. Hence, historical information is needed in both the case of *Unam Sanctam *and of the sensus fidei; both are unchanging through time; both require historical verification.
The Faith is clear and well known, confidently taught by the Pope, the Bishops in union with the Pope, the priests and other teachers in union with them, and by the faithful, lay members of the Church. Disputes over details of phrasing or formula do not amount to substantial doubt about the content of the Faith itself.
The success of the Holy Spirit in His guardianship of the Church and the Faith need not be imagined. The Society of Saint Pius X is in schism; this has been clearly declared. This state of affairs makes certain their error in the matters disputed, while allowing the schematics to learn more clearly the meanings of the teachings they mistake. Turning the evil results of human weakness to good, the Holy Spirit also allows this schism to serve as a foil for more clearly articulating the teachings which confuse or mislead some people, thus correcting the members of the Society ***and ***those members of the Church who oppose them too extremely and thus fall into error in the opposite direction. Far from requiring speculative imagination, this is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s “real and powerful” working for the protection of the content of the Faith.
I hope these comments are helpful in some way.
Spiritus Sapientiae nobiscum.