Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Layman's Attitude... Towards the Magisterium?


Share/Bookmark Hi again Dr. Romero,

Thank you for … your post [on what a layman’s attitude should be in this crisis]. I understand broadly what you are saying, but I'm having a difficult time coming to grips with what a Catholic should do in response to Magisterial teachings.…

Not everything that a Catholic believes today was "taught always, everywhere, by everyone". Doctrine developed (in the good sense of that term) regarding many aspects of our Faith over the centuries; most times as a response to heretical attacks. The first centuries saw a 'fleshing' out of the Christological doctrines; mainly, the person, nature, wills, etc. of Our Lord. Concurrent with Christological development, saw a development in the areas of original sin, Petrine primacy, etc.

The first centuries of the Church would have had an implicit belief in all the developed doctrines as they are today, but many, if not most, were latent waiting fuller explication by the Church. The Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption; the Ordinary, Universal Magisterial beliefs of Limbo, guardian angels, etc. were not taught "always, everywhere, by everyone". If everything in the Church was taught "always, everywhere, by everyone", we would have no need of the Magisterium.

By way of further example, the de fide doctrine of extra ecclesiam, nulla salus has developed through the centuries. The nuances of being 'within' versus 'outside', being a member versus non-member, invincible ignorance, etc. only became further explicated in the last 150 years. The proper development of this doctrine was not taught "always, everywhere, by everyone".

We are not the Eastern schismatics, where life stopped in 871 or 1021. Catholic life doesn't stop with the Roman Catechism (although today it seems that way). Catholic life grows, develops, matures always faithful to tradition and the deposit of the Faith. As a Catholic living in 2007, I look to the Pope and Magisterium to guide me today. If they teach something that is a fuller explication of a Catholic truth, I as a Catholic want to joyfully try to understand, and even if I don't understand it completely, joyfully submit to the teaching because I'm submitting to Our Lord as the Way, Truth and the Life through His Church.

Now, how do I as a Catholic sort through present day Magisterial Teachings? What appears to be happening is that most of us Catholics trying to hold onto the Faith in its complete sense of an institutional, hierarchical structure that is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic filter everything coming from the present day 'magisterium'. The SSPX becomes for many the current Magisterium. They 'filter' and decide what's right or wrong. The indulters do the same, although most won't admit it so frankly. The sedes, of course, have no need to filter because they are the Magisterium; at least they act like it.

I don't think it's quite so easy as comparing present day teaching with the Roman Catechism. The actual process of comparing and filtering admits of the protestant notion of 'private interpretation'. If I as a Catholic had done that in prior years on the example of "extra ecclesiam, nula salus", I would have said the Church was in error because it appeared that the 'constant' teaching of the Church (Council of Florence, etc.) did not allow the subtle nuances of 'within' vs. 'without', etc. The correct Catholic notion taught "always, everywhere, by everyone" is that a Catholic submits to the Church in Her Magisterium without weighing, judging, filtering, and personally deciding if it 'fits' with prior teachings. As Pope Pius XII taught in his encyclical "Humani Generis" using the words of Our Lord, "he who hears you, hears Me". What the Church taught in her magisterial documents (encyclicals, etc.) was Our Lord speaking to His flock.

Well, Dr. Romero, I've taken enough of your valuable time with my ramblings. I'm sure you understand completely the nature of my question, and its implication for our Catholic life. If you have any further thoughts on this, I would be most grateful to you.

Thanks again, in the Holy Family,
Maria.


-Dear Maria,
I did not mean to say that the faithful should believe only in what has been taught “always, everywhere, by everyone.” In fact, as you say, not all of the doctrines that we are bound to believe have been taught “always, everywhere, by everyone,” at least in their explicit form. In addition to that which has always been taught, the faithful must adhere to the teachings of the Magisterium. Thus, you are right to say that the faithful need to listen not only to the Catechism, but also to the Magisterium. (We are not some sort of Catechism-alone fundamentalist sect.)

However, I cited St. Vincent de Lerin’s rule, not to limit the range of beliefs that belong to the faith, but to give assurance to the faithful that those things of which St. Vincent speaks are never going to become ‘obsolete’. The rule actually states that “above all one must take care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all” (magnopere curandum est ut id teneatur quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est). Obviously, this does not mean that one should hold only to what has been believed always, etc., but rather, that one should weigh novel-sounding doctrines against what has been believed always.

I wrongly thought that your question was about those novel-sounding doctrines. Now, if your question is not about what our attitude should be regarding those novel-sounding doctrines, but regarding the recent teachings of the Magisterium, then my answer is quite different.

The Magisterium (both extraordinary and ordinary) is infallible. Hence, our attitude towards the magisterium should be that of obedience. However, we must distinguish here “the ordinary Magisterium” (and binding Papal teachings) from mere “post-Conciliar novelties.” Not everything the Pope or bishops say or do is a doctrine of the ordinary Magisterium or a binding doctrine. There are many requirements for a certain teaching to become binding, one of which is that the teaching be proposed with a “certain and manifest intention of obliging all the faithful to [give] absolute assent” (certa et manifesta intentione obligandi omnes fideles ad absolutum assensum—cf. Salaverri, S.J., De ecclesia Christi, ex Professores SJ in Hispania Docentes, Sacrae Theologiae Summa. Matriti: BAC, 1958; p. 693.)

Now, usually, post-Conciliar novelties are never taught with this “certain and manifest intention.” Rather, they are proposed loosely, sometimes as being merely ‘alternate’ ways of expressing the faith of always; other times as being 'insights' which have been discovered as the result of the Church’s recent ‘enlightenment’ and new-found self-consciousness. I, at least, am not aware of any novelty—and by “novelty” I mean a teaching that at least seemingly contradicts previous magisterial doctrine—that has been taught by the Pope, or by the bishops in consensus with the Pope, with the “certain and manifest intention of obliging all the faithful to give absolute assent.”

In fact, in the last 40-or-so years, apart from canonizations and other similar infallible acts, I can only think of a couple of times when the Pope has taught in writing anything with such an intention of obliging the faithful to assent. One example is Pope John Paul II’s declaration in Ordinatio sacerdotalis, where he binds us all to hold that the Church has no authority to ordain women to the Priesthood:

Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

This is no "novelty."

Another example could be--although it is certainly not self-evident--Pope Paul VI’s Humanae vitae, where he appears to bind all the faithful to give assent to the proposition that artificial contraception is intrinsically immoral:

Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

This is not a “novelty” either.

There are, perhaps, a handful of other examples, which consist mainly of corrections of modern abuses and moral issues--nothing that even seemingly contradicts previous teaching. Thus, none of the "novelties" that have been taught after the last Council fulfils the requirements for being “Magisterial teaching” or binding in any way. There is nothing binding in the last 40 years regarding ecumenism, collegiality, the 'new theology' of the Mass, denial of limbo, the possibility of salvation outside the Church, universalism, religious liberty, etc., etc., etc. All of that is, therefore, to be judged against the faith of always--and if it is incompatible, our attitude should be quite simple: we resist it. But such resistance should not be interpreted as resistance to the Magisterium.

In conclusion, a layman’s attitude towards mere novelties should be the attitude that St. Vincent recommends: he should judge novelty against what has always been taught. But a layman’s attitude towards new Magisterial teachings should be the attitude that St. Vincent, and all the saints, would recommend: perfect obedience. The two are compatible: despite our unease regarding the novelties, the attitude that the faithful should have with regards to Magisterial teaching remains unchanged.
Best,
-FJR.
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