Monday, June 5, 2017

Crito and Critics: Thoughts on Who to Listen to Regarding the Church

Over 400 years before the Birth of Christ, the Socratic dialogue known as Crito was written. It involves Socrates in prison. His friend Crito comes to see him to arrange bribing the guards so he can escape prison before his execution. One of the arguments Crito uses is appealing to what others might think if he and his friends don’t free him. Socrates’ response is to ask who should be listened to.

Soc. […] Tell me then, whether I am right in saying that some opinions, and the opinions of some men only, are to be valued, and that other opinions, and the opinions of other men, are not to be valued. I ask you whether I was right in maintaining this?


Cr. Certainly.

Soc. The good are to be regarded, and not the bad?

Cr. Yes.

Soc. And the opinions of the wise are good, and the opinions of the unwise are evil?

Cr. Certainly.

Soc. And what was said about another matter? Is the pupil who devotes himself to the practice of gymnastics supposed to attend to the praise and blame and opinion of every man, or of one man only—his physician or trainer, whoever he may be?

Cr. Of one man only.

Soc. And he ought to fear the censure and welcome the praise of that one only, and not of the many?

Cr. Clearly so.

Soc. And he ought to act and train, and eat and drink in the way which seems good to his single master who has understanding, rather than according to the opinion of all other men put together?

Cr. True.

Soc. And if he disobeys and disregards the opinion and approval of the one, and regards the opinion of the many who have no understanding, will he not suffer evil?

Cr. Certainly he will.

Soc. And what will the evil be, whither tending and what affecting, in the disobedient person?

Cr. Clearly, affecting the body; that is what is destroyed by the evil.

Soc. Very good; and is not this true, Crito, of other things which we need not separately enumerate? In questions of just and unjust, fair and foul, good and evil, which are the subjects of our present consultation, ought we to follow the opinion of the many and to fear them; or the opinion of the one man who has understanding? ought we not to fear and reverence him more than all the rest of the world: and if we desert him shall we not destroy and injure that principle in us which may be assumed to be improved by justice and deteriorated by injustice;—there is such a principle?

Cr. Certainly there is, Socrates.

Plato, Crito (47), The Dialogues of Plato, trans. B. Jowett, Third Edition, vol. 2 (New York; London: Oxford University Press, 1892), 147–148.

I think of this when some Catholics, or some outside the Church, try to tell us that our Church teaching and the teachings of our Pope are wrong. Whether it is the dissenter who says Pope Francis and/or Vatican II was wrong, or whether it is the dissenter who tells us that Popes betrayed Vatican II, we have to ask whether these views are wise and good, or foolish and evil. We need to ask where we can find those who have the wisdom and authority to explain what the Church teaching means and how it is applied. We already know the answer to that. As the Catechism tells us:

890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms: (851; 1785)

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.”420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 235–236.

This means we can identify the foolish and evil views by seeing if they are at odds with the Magisterium, which is headed by the current Pope and the current bishops. Thus, the Catholics who claim the Pope is teaching error and the “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics cannot hold positions which are wise and good. If we don’t want to suffer evil, we must not listen to those who are at odds with the Magisterium today.

Yet, many people get this backwards. They will listen to bloggers, or to churchmen who offer opinions, while trying to deny the authority of the Magisterium. They rewrite history to imply a handful of past Popes—who were morally bad or were suspected of privately holding error—were “spewing error” and trying to “force” the Church to accept it. In doing so, they undermine the justification for obeying the Church where they happen to agree with her. If these past Popes were like this, and if Pope Francis and Vatican II were like this, then why should we believe the Church was right elsewhere? Likewise, if the “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics are right about the Church’s past history, why should we give Vatican II any credibility either?

It is only if we recognize that only because of God’s protection that the Church can speak on what is compatible with her timeless teachings that we can accept the Church teaching as binding. But if we recognize God’s protection, we have to recognize that God always protects His Church. And that means we have to obey Pope Francis when he teaches, just as much as we have to listen to his predecessors. We have to accept both Vatican II and the previous Ecumenical Councils. 

Once we realize that, we have to stop listening to those who tell us the Church is in error now, or has been in the past. They are the ones with no understanding.

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