Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Ipse Dixit: Just Because You Say it Doesn’t Make it So

But to return to the matter in hand! If your papist wants to make so much fuss about the word sola (alone) tell him this, “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and says that a papist and a jackass are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic jubeo; sit pro ratione voluntas. [Luther is quoting Juvenal here. The phrase means “thus I wish, thus I order, my will stands in place of reason.”] We are not going to be the pupils and disciples of the papists, but their masters and judges.

—Martin Luther, On Translating: An Open Letter (1530) [#]

The Protestant Reformers of the 16th century and the current Catholics attacking the authority of the Church today have vastly contradictory ideas on what the Church should look like. But, in terms of tactics and response to correction, they’re virtually identical. Both believe that the Church went beyond having corruption and sin in it and actually fell into teaching error. Both insist that their interpretation of Scripture and Church documents are accurate, and both believe that any attempt at correction is proof of the error. In fact both seem unable to discern the difference between their interpretation of Scripture and Church teaching and the actual texts, applying text against us when their applicability is what is under dispute.

The result of this is a mindset that makes the Reformers and critics into the judge and jury of their disputes. They insist their views of the Church are right, they insist their interpretation of the Scriptures and Church documents are right, and any who say otherwise show they are in error by the fact that they disagree.

However, we must disagree all the same because making these claims are not the same thing as proofs. They are simply bare assertions and we do not have to accept bare assertions. We must (if we’re wise) insist on their showing either their evidence for the claim or their authority to teach in a binding manner. If the person replies with a bare assertion and/or an insult, we have a right to be dubious.

Catholics profess that the Church established by Christ, which Scripture tells us about, was the Catholic Church, under the headship of St. Peter and his successors. This is testified to by history and the writing of the Church Fathers. Not just in the West, but in the East too:

And why, having passed by the others, doth He speak with Peter on these matters? He was the chosen one of the Apostles, the mouth of the disciples, the leader of the band; on this account also Paul went up upon a time to enquire of him rather than the others. And at the same time to show him that he must now be of good cheer, since the denial was done away, Jesus putteth into his hands the chief authority among the brethren; and He bringeth not forward the denial, nor reproacheth him with what had taken place, but saith, “If thou lovest Me, preside over thy brethren, and the warm love which thou didst ever manifest, and in which thou didst rejoice, show thou now; and the life which thou saidst thou wouldest lay down for Me, now give for My sheep.”

—St. John Chrysostom, Homily on John LXXXVIII

As a result, whoever wants to argue that the Church has taught error has to prove it. If they want to teach by authority, they have to demonstrate that they have the authority to teach in a binding manner. Just because you think the Church erred doesn’t mean she did, or that it means she lost her mandate, or that it gets passed on to you. So, simply asserting that “the Church is wrong,” doesn’t make it so.

So, if someone wants to argue there is a break in Church teaching, where something was taught in contradiction to the Church teaching today, they need to demonstrate that it is so, and that their understanding of both past and present teaching is correct in doing so.

For example, certain critics of the Church today argue that St. Pius V taught that the Mass of 1570 was established infallibly and forbade any change. Therefore, they argue that the Mass of 1970 was invalid and heretical because St. Paul VI implemented a changed Mass. But the part of Quo Primum that they cite [§] refers to forbidding any person other than the Pope from changing or overruling the implementation of the 1570 missal.

But the Missal was changed. Changes were made by Popes in 1604, 1634, 1884, 1920 (many changes to the rubrics). Then Ven. Pius XII (1951 and 1955) made changes that required changes to canon law, permitted some use of the vernacular, and completely revised Holy Week. Finally, it was revised in 1962. So, before 1970, the Missal of St. Pius V had been substantially changed—and none of the Popes involved believed they were violating Church teaching in modifying the Missal. It’s evidence that this interpretation of Quo Primum by critics is not proof, but merely another ipse dixit claim. Their rebellion against the Church and rejection of the Ordinary Form of the Mass is founded on a baseless assertion.

This is pretty much how it goes in every attack on The Church (as opposed to individual sinners or regions falling into error). The condemnation of the Church is based on the personal interpretation of Scripture and Church documents over the teaching of the Church while refusing to consider the possibility of their own error. But that’s how the heresies of history formed. The ancient heresiarchs interpreted Scripture in a way contrary to the understanding of the teachings of the Apostles from the beginning. I don’t doubt that they were sincere and thought they were helping the Church. But they did not have the authority to teach and they did not prove that the Church deviated from the teaching the Apostles passed on from Our Lord.

The modern anti-Vatican II or anti-Francis Catholic is no different. They draw conclusions at odds with Church teaching, rejecting the authority of the Church and making ipse dixit statements, treating them as “proof” that the Church remains in “error” until it acts the way they imagine was a golden age in the Church.

These things should always be rejected.


[#] As a standard disclaimer for my non-Catholic readers, I don’t write this article to attack non-Catholics today and respect and try to follow the Church on Ecumenical issues. I cite the 16th century Reformers as a “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7) moment by showing that the super Catholics at odds with the Church are behaving in the same manner as the 16th century Reformers that they hate. 

[§] “We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is forced or coerced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force notwithstanding the previous constitutions and decrees of the Holy See, as well as any general or special constitutions or edicts of provincial or synodal councils, and notwithstanding the practice and custom of the aforesaid churches, established by long and immemorial prescription – except, however, if more than two hundred years’ standing.”

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