Showing posts with label error. Show all posts
Showing posts with label error. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Thoughts on Truth and Sincerely Believed Error

I’ve been encountering a lot more conspiracy theories—though not by choice—on social media lately. The tendency always seems to be based on the taking the facts of a case and giving dubious interpretation to those facts. There might be liars out there who feed this information to those who believe it, but many of them seem sincere in their belief and are shocked if you question their ideas. Because it’s “obvious” to them, they think it should be obvious to everyone.

Of course, we can all think of examples among certain groups of people. The anti-Francis Catholics and the like immediately come to my mind. Others might immediately think of the COVID-19 deniers. But it goes way back. I don’t doubt that the people who believe Jack Chick tracts or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion get equally shocked by our disbelief, thinking their bizarre ideas are true. 

But other falsehoods are given more widespread credibility. I’ve seen people allege Christian conspiracies against whatever sinful behavior gets transformed into a “minority.” So, our objections to certain behaviors—especially by those who work at Catholic schools and can cause public scandal—is often treated as a sort of conspiracy to discriminate. Our teaching on contraception and abortion becomes a “war on women.” These are just as dubious as the rest of the conspiracy theories, but they are repeated and believed by many more than the wingnuts of society that we’re alarmed by.

In all of these cases, we have people who feel threatened by a certain Church teaching or government policy. They cannot perceive any other reason for that action than hostility to what they hold. That results in a belief that hostility towards X must be the cause for the position. It’s true we do need to beware of extremists and factional media who believe that legitimate policies or teachings are malicious. But we also need to beware of the mainstream media leading others to think this way about causes they simply disagree with.

Ultimately, we must scrutinize whatever we hear. Just because what we hear goes along with what we want to be true doesn’t make it so. Yes, our enemies can do evil, but so can our allies. And our allies can cause harm with good intention, but so can our enemies.

We cannot assume the worst of our enemies while being silent on the wrongs of our allies. Truth and charity are obligations for the Catholic. If we want others to speak truthfully and charitably about us (even if they’re sincere in believing their errors), we have an obligation to speak truthfully and charitably about others (even if we are sincere about believing our errors). That’s the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), and it applies to us even if others do not respond in kind. God will judge those who bear false witness against us, and He will judge us if we bear false against others.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

On Anti-Francis Catholics, Calvin, and the False Case Against John XXII

Some people have reacted with hostility or mockery to my articles about the Pope Bashers behaving like Luther or Calvin. Presumably they think I mean they share the same errors on theology. Since they know they don’t, they think I’m making wild claims. But that misses the point. My point is that, whether or not they realize it, they show the same contempt for the Church that teaches against them and corrects them as the founders of Protestantism did. Both groups use the same arguments to deny the authority of the Pope while insisting that they are the true Christians for rejecting him

To give an example, let’s look at how the two groups point to the example of Pope John XXII.

To give a brief description, John XXII was a reforming Pope who ruled against the abuses of a certain religious order—the Spiritual Franciscans. This resented the restrictions he placed on their religious practices and, because they thought their ways were legitimate, responded by constantly accusing him of heresy. The main issue came about when, during some private homilies, he expressed the opinion that those who die do not experience the Beatific Vision until the Final Judgment. Certain French theologians expressed concerns. And they convinced John XXII that their understanding was correct. So he changed his personal opinion. Remember, that’s what his private homilies were: opinion. He gave no formal teaching on the subject. What’s important to remember here is that the Church had not yet defined the issue but some Catholics thought he was changing Church teaching. It’s similar to how some Catholics misinterpreted Benedict XVI when he used an example of “a male prostitute with AIDS” and thought he was relaxing the teaching on contraception. The Spiritual Franciscans portrayed this as “The Pope teaches heresy, therefore he has no right to condemn us!”

On the matter of when people experience the Beatific Vision, it was not defined until after his death. His successor, Benedict XII issued the decree after ordering both sides to present their case#. If a Catholic were to insist on John XXII’s position now, such a one would be a heretic because they would be obstinately holding a position against the teaching of the Church. Likewise, we regard St. Thomas Aquinas as a saint despite the fact that he did not believe that Mary was immaculately conceived. The topic had not yet been defined either by ordinary or extraordinary magisterium§. But if a person today were to deny it, that person would be a heretic.

With this background, let’s look at this section from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book IV, chapter 7, section 28). Where he misapplied the case to justify rejecting the authority of Popes:

28. Apostasy of John XXII

But let us imagine that the impiety of the pontiffs whom I mentioned is hidden, because they have neither published it by preaching nor by writings, but have betrayed it only in table, in bedchamber, or at least within walls. However, if they wish this privilege (which they allege) to hold good, let them expunge from the list of the popes John XXII, who openly asserted that souls are mortal and die along with bodies until the day of resurrection. And that you may mark that the whole see with its chief props was then utterly fallen, none of the cardinals opposed this great madness, but the School of Paris impelled the king of France to force him to recant. The king forbade his subjects to communicate with John unless he should promptly repent, and published this by herald in the usual way. Compelled by this necessity, the pope abjured his error, as Jean Gerson, who was then living, testifies. This example relieves me from having to dispute with my opponents any longer over their statement that the Roman see and its pontiffs cannot err in faith, because it was said to Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” [Luke 22:32]. Surely with such a foul kind of fall did John XXII fall from the true faith that here is a notable proof to posterity that not all are Peters who succeed Peter in the bishop’s office. Yet of itself this claim is also so childish it needs no answer. For if they wish to apply to Peter’s successors everything that was said to Peter, it will follow that they are all Satans, since the Lord also said this to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” [Matt. 16:23]. Indeed, it will be as easy for us to turn back this latter saying upon them as for them to cast the other against us.

Under Calvin’s reasoning, because the Pope privately believed something that was not yet defined differently  from what we profess now, it was “proof” that Popes could formally “teach error.” Therefore the Catholic Church could not be the true Church.

The current crowd of Pope bashers don’t want to go that far. They only want to argue that the Popes they dislike can teach error and, therefore, be ignored. Meanwhile, the Popes they like are to be obeyed. But there are problems with that. Logically:

1. All Popes are human beings.
2. All human beings are sinners*.
3. Therefore all Popes are sinners.

So, you will always be able to find embarrassing things in the actions of any Pope that any critic who wants to use that argument can use to refuse obedience. When one faction argues that they don’t have to obey Pope Francis because of his “errors,” while another argues that they don’t have to obey St. John Paul II because of his “errors,” who decides whether the claims have merit? If the critics can make that decision, then no Pope can ever be trusted to teach and we might as well accept Calvin’s reasoning—or that of the sede vacantists

But, even though these critics accuse the Pope of “Protestantizing” the Church, they make the same error that Calvin did: they treat a personal error on an undefined matter (or, in the case of Pope Francis of thinking the Pope made an “error”) into a “proof” of heresy and use it to reject the Church when they disagree. Calvin goes further in his rejection, taking it to the “logical” conclusion that comes with denying that God protects the Pope in any case at all, but it’s still the same flaw that leads them to reject the legitimate use of papal authority.

These critics should be cautious. Rejecting obedience to a Pope is a schismatic act (canon 752), and performing a schismatic act while professing to be the true faithful shows a failure to understand Scripture or Tradition. As St. John Paul II (Ecclesia Dei #4) put it:

The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.

If the modern Catholic critics resent being compared to the founders of Protestantism, they should tale pains to avoid the forms of schism and not think they can’t be guilty because they don’t share the form of Calvin’s schism.

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(#) This doesn’t mean that the Church could have just as easily defined it the other way. God protects His Church from teaching error.

(§) Yes, the ordinary magisterium is binding. Berengarius was condemned for denying the Real Presence. It wasn’t infallibly defined until 1215, but had been consistently taught before then. 

(*) Obviously, we are not denying the Immaculate Conception here. I do confess that Our Lady received, from the moment of conception, a special grace that kept her sinless. But the rest of humanity does fall under that premise.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Repeating the Tragedy

I will take one more instance. A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.

—Saint John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid to a Grammar of Assent, p. 240

The continuing aftermath of the Amazon Synod serves as a reminder that there is a certain hazard that orbits around the Church despite the endless attempts to eliminate it over the past two millennia. 

That hazard is the belief that the Church can fall into error but the critic cannot. Whether the rejection of the Church is rooted in heresy based on how the critic reads Scripture, or whether it is simply a schism based on the interpretation of the discipline of the Church, the fact remains that the critic has effectively made himself a “Pope” who insists on his own view of the Church while rejecting the authority of the real one. The result is we see people repeating the same errors over and over, convinced that the falsehoods they were told are true. The result is a repeated tragedy.

Repeating the Logical Errors

Those critics who do make a shipwreck of their faith this way deny that they are doing so because they define heresy and/or schism in an overly limited manner. Since they do not believe what Tertullian, Sabellius, Arius, Nestorius, Berengarius, Wycliffe, Luther, etc. etc. believe, they reason that—because they don’t hold the same errors—they are not guilty of what those infamous individuals did. But that’s the logical logical fallacy of  Denying the Antecedent. Just because one does not break with the Church over the same grounds as those people did does not mean that they are not in error. Consider this:
  • If I am in Los Angeles, I am in California.
  • I am not in Los Angeles.
  • Therefore I am not in California.
Contrary to what the media might think, there is more to California than Los Angeles. Likewise, contrary to what the Pope bashers might think, there is more to heresy and schism than the errors of those listed above. 

Repeating the Canonical Errors

The Church defines things like heresy and schism in light of what they reject. Canon 751 reads:

can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

So, if one refuses to submit to the Pope on a matter involving his office (teaching, governing), such a person is committing a schismatic act, whether they formally reject the Papacy as a whole or just a specific act. Moreover, this is not limited to the ex cathedra teachings of the Pope. The ordinary teachings of the Pope are also binding. Canon 752 says:

can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

This canon bases itself on past Church teaching, including: Pius IX Syllabus of Errors #22, Humani Generis #20, Lumen Gentium #25. It’s also found in Vatican I and Unam Sanctam. So, the Catholic dissenters who try to reject the Pope and claim that those who insist on obedience are Ultramontanist, or Papolators* are actually the ones in error. If they refuse submission, they are behaving in a schismatic manner. If they deny that submission is not required at all, that is a heretical position. As Canon 331 reminds us:

can. 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.

Since these critics insist that they—not the Pope—are faithful Catholics, they invent counterfeit theology that they claim exempts them from obeying this Pope or this Council, saying that their “errors” prove that these statements cannot be binding. For example, they take one of the theological opinions of St. Robert Bellarmine§ that if a Pope becomes a manifest heretic, he stops being Pope. That effectively means that, should the Pope happen to join the Foursquare Gospel Church, he’s effectively renounced his office by leaving the Catholic Church. But the Pope’s  critics conflate it with three positions that the Saint actually rejected: that the Church can depose him. However there no procedure for deposing a Pope (canon 1404), and the idea that one can appeal to a Council against the Pope is the heresy of Conciliarism. Indeed, canon law says (canon 1372):  A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.

Repeating the Theological and Historical Errors

Since there’s no canonical process that allows for any body in the Church to accuse, judge, or depose a sitting Pope. So, some try to point to certain morally bad Popes to argue that because they existed, it means that the current Pope can also be a bad Pope. The critics like to imagine themselves as following St. Paul in opposing Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) by opposing Pope Francis for “teaching error.” But while St. Peter and the bad Popes had personal moral failings, the critics claim that the fact that a Pope can be morally bad also means he can teach error (a non sequitur fallacy) and when he does, he must be opposed. 

The problem is: neither Scripture nor Church history can justify that position. Our Lord taught that the moral failings do not take away the authority to teach (cf. Matthew 23:2-3). Church history shows that a morally bad Pope does not justify rebellion. Remember the Popes leading morally bad lives did not justify the Protestant Reformation. Luther had obligations to obey the Pope, his bishop and his religious superiors. He believed they erred and that he was not obligated to obey them. If a Pope can err—and must be opposed if we think he does—when teaching in the ordinary magisterium, then we have no way of saying Luther was wrong to refuse obedience.

This is why I say that the Pope bashers are like Luther: not because I think they have the same theology. But because I think they share the same attitude towards the Church authority which they disagree with. Since that the critics are often vehemently denouncing everything they dislike in the Church as “Protestant,” it is ironic that they duplicate Luther’s treatment of disliked Church Teaching.

Some even go so far as to misapply the term “antipope.” The term is properly used to distinguish one who is falsely set up to be Pope against the real Pope. There are several in Church history, all set up by those who opposed the election or the policies of the actual Pope. 

In the current iteration, some critics claim that Benedict XVI was forced out of office, and Pope Francis was installed by his enemies as an antipope. Under this argument, whatever Pope Francis does is invalid. The problem is, there is no basis for the claim. Using a form of the No True Scotsman fallacy, whatever Benedict XVI said affirming his renouncing of his office and recognition of Pope Francis is deemed to be “coerced.” It’s a sedevacantist claim which is about as silly as St. Paul VI being a “Prisoner under the Vatican while a imposter took his place.”

Repeating the Factual Errors

When I read the writings of those who broke away from the Catholic Church, they all make false claims about the Catholic Church which purport to show that the Church “fell into error” and had to be opposed. For example, men like St. Hippolytus (who died reconciled to the Church) and Novatian, Luther and Calvin, Lefebvre, etc., treated abuses as intended policy under the Popes they disliked, took Scripture and Church Fathers out of context, misrepresented the real intent of the teaching etc. Unfortunately, modern critics do the same. 

For example, Luther miscited Church Councils and Augustine in order to portray a “break” between the past teaching and the teaching of his time. Calvin treated the veneration of religious imagery as idolatry. They contrasted their views of what they thought the Church should be with their portrayal of certain problems in the Church. What they left out was answering the question, “Is this portrayal actually true?”

Likewise, we saw in the Synod on the Family and are seeing in the Synod on the Amazon, critics portraying the words and actions of the Synod in as negative a light as possible and contrasting that portrayal with their own claims of what past Councils and teachings of the Church said. They insisted their interpretation of events were indisputable fact even though a large number of Catholics were disputing their claims.

Take the so-called Pachamama image. The term was given to an object that—by all accounts of those who brought it—had no religious significance at all. The name stuck and was adopted by the secular media. Critics of the Pope used the popularized label as “proof” that it was an idol (Begging the Question fallacy) and when the Pope referred to it using that popularized label, critics seized on that as “proof” that he was “promoting paganism” despite the fact that the Pope said there was no intent to worship and that the Vatican pointed out that the Pope’s use of the term Pachamama was common usage and not technical descriptions.

Repeating the Rash Judgment

The response of the critics was very much a violation of the Church teaching on false witness^. As the Catechism points out:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

When critics do not give a favorable interpretation of what the Pope says; when they do not accept his statements that give a Christian intent in his words and acts, they are judging rashly if they assume and calumniating if they do know his intent but say something contrary to it.

At this point, someone might ask me, “How do you know you’re not the one misinterpreting the Pope.” I would reply that, based on the transcripts that report the Pope’s words in full, what he says shows that he very much believes in God, the Catholic Church and its teachings. I would view any claim that he intends syncretistic or heretical meaning with the same level of disbelief that I would have if someone told me that Elizabeth Warren was in favor of a laissez faire approach to healthcare. That is to say, it is entirely out of character. But many Catholics do not read his writings, but instead rely on brief quotes in articles—which might be drastically out of context. When one reads something by Pope Francis, you need to read the whole thing to understand the point he makes.

Conclusion

As always, I don’t write to point fingers at and condemn specific individuals. Rather, I wish to show how certain attitudes of hostility against the Pope have no basis in terms of logic, Church teaching, theology, history, or avoiding false witness. If one wants to avoid falling into error, he or she needs to avoid those accusations and tactics that lead people to dissent while thinking they are the faithful ones. 

As St. John Henry Newman pointed out, those who lost faith in the infallibility of the Church—forgetting that God protects His Church from binding us to obey error—have failed to grasp what the Church is and who is in charge. If we do not want to trick ourselves out of the Church, we must cling fast to the Church, trusting that God will always protect the Church from teaching error.

If we refuse to do that, if we think that the Church which does not go where we desire is a Church that errs, then we will be deceived into rejecting what God has made necessary. And, if we reject that Church, we will be rejecting Our Lord who established it (Luke 10:16).


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(*) My personal favorite was when one Pope basher called me a “Papist,” which is a term used by anti-Catholic Protestants against faithful Catholics. A Freudian slip perhaps?

(§) I wrote about this HERE. The Saint’s book is available on Kindle if you don’t want to take my word for it. But briefly: there are five positions that he considers. Three he rejects (all involving the claim that the Church can depose the Pope). Two he accepts. Those latter two are: 1. That the Pope cannot be a heretic (I hold this view). 2. That the Pope only stops being Pope if he is a manifest heretic.

(†) Interestingly enough, there has been an editing war going on with Wikipedia’s entry. If the reports are accurately reported, critics of the Pope are editing the article to portray the image as Pachamama and to make it seem that the Pope was implementing the worship of a vile idol.

(^) One priest I know on Facebook pointed out it is also Rash Judgment of the indigenous peoples to assume their actions were idolatrous. I think he makes a good point.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

False Accusations revisited

Parvus error in principiis, magnus error in conclusionibus (Small error in the beginning leads to great error in the conclusion). It’s a maxim that means that if you start with errors in your assumptions, your conclusion will build on those false assumptions and wind up with an even greater one [§]. So, when we set out to prove something, it’s vital to make sure that our assumptions and research are correct.

This is especially true if you’re planning to accuse a person or group. We might think something is an error. But before we argue that it is in error, we need to investigate whether our understanding about the thing is true. If it isn’t, our opposition might be what’s really in error.

I think of this when I come across anti-Catholic attacks. In attempting to show why they are right in their beliefs, they start by attacking our “errors.” The problem is, Catholics don’t believe what they accuse us of. So, if they justify breaking with the Catholic Church on grounds of the Church teaching error [#], but the errors they allege we teach are things we don’t we actually reject then their break remains unjustified. So when Calvin alleges we worship idols, when some Orthodox allege Catholics think we “earn” our way out of Purgatory by our suffering (The Orthodox Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Eastern Church, Question 66) [*], when Luther alleges (Commentary On Galatians, Chapter 5 v. 15) [+] that we believe we can earn salvation, these things are simply false. The Catholic Church does not and never had believed these things.

Whether Calvin, Peter Mogila (the author of the Orthodox Confession) and Luther were badly taught on these matters, whether they badly misunderstood the correct teachings, or whether they were barefaced liars (I leave it to God to judge), they used false statements to justify rejection of the Catholic Church and encourage others to do the same. Not only at the time of writing, but in the present time where modern anti-Catholics assume they had accurate knowledge of Church teaching. [%].

Of course, we must follow Our Lord’s teaching in Luke 6:31. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” If we would have others speak truthfully about us, we must speak truthfully about others. That means if we want to speak about another’s errors, we must be sure we have properly understood their statements as they intended it to be understood. Whether we speak or write about others, inside or outside of the Church, we have the obligation to make sure we speak accurately about what they really said and did.

Sadly, that isn’t the case. There is a (probably informal) movement that is aimed at opposing what they think is error in the Church. They take “Who am I to judge” to be approval of homosexuality. They take “rabbit Catholics” to mean opposition to large families. They take his words on the permissive will of God to be something approved of by God. From here they use their false interpretation (whatever the culpability might be) to attack the Pope, some having gone so far as to formally accuse him of heresy and urge the bishops to take action.

But these are false accusations, even if the anti-Francis Catholics believe them. We have an obligation to understand a person correctly before accusing him if we are to avoid rash judgment (you’ll notice that, while I pointed out that reformers, anti-Catholics, and anti-Francis Catholics spoke falsely—which can be established by comparing what they wrote with what the Church wrote—I never accused them of lying. That would require knowledge of their heart and mind that only God knows).

Whoever you are, whatever you do (I’m looking at our politicians and media here), whatever you profess to believe, you have an obligation to speak accurately when making an accusation, not assuming that what we hear or what we think it means is what our opponent holds.



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[§] In logic, if one or both premises are false and/or the logical form is invalid, the conclusion is unproven. It might be correct by sheer coincidence, but the person didn’t prove his point.

[#] We need to distinguish between what the Church teaches and what an individual Catholic might believe—contrary to the teachings of the Church. If one assumes that the error of one is the error of the whole Church, that’s the fallacy of composition.

[*] This catechism reads in part: “Our Church doth not admit or approve of such Fables as some Men have fancied concerning the State of Souls after Death; as that they are tormented in Pits and Waters, and with sharp Prongs, when they are snatched away by Death before they can have done sufficient Penance for their Faults.” To which Catholics can say, “we don’t believe that either.

[+] “This we see also in the Papacy, where the doctrine of faith being cast aside, it was impossible that concord of spirit should remain, and in the stead thereof there arose through the doctrine of works innumerable sects of monks, which being at variance with one another, did measure their holiness by the straitness of their orders and the difficulty of their superstitious works which they had themselves devised.” To which Catholics can say “Luther knew less than he thought about the Catholic Faith.”

[%] That doesn’t mean that the Catholic Church teaches the Protestant position of course. Rejecting A does not mean accepting B.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Do You Believe...? Do You Understand...?

Do you believe in God? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God? do you believe that He can be trusted to keep His promises? Do you believe He established the Catholic Church to bind and loose in His name? Do you believe that the authority He gave His apostles continues through their successors?

If you do not believe one or more of these things, you are one of the following: A non-Christian, a non-Catholic, or an erring Catholic. But if you sincerely profess belief in all of the above, then you should realize that a belief that the living magisterium of the Catholic Church today has fallen into some sort of error is incompatible with our professed belief. This article does not intend to address the non-Christians or non-Catholics. Rather, in this time of struggle, I intend to reach out to the Catholics who have fallen into, or are struggling with, the belief that the Catholic Church is teaching error and only a handful of Catholics remain faithful.

I say this because to believe in God is to believe He seeks our good. To believe that Jesus is God is to believe that what He teaches holds the same weight as what God the Father and God the Holy Spirit teaches. To believe He keeps His promises means we must trust that whatever seems to contradict His promises cannot be true—even when things seem bleak. To believe that He established the Catholic Church, gave it the authority to teach in His name and that authority continues through apostolic succession means that we put our trust in what the Church teaches, giving obedience when required.

This belief does not mean that some individuals who hold the office of priest, bishop, cardinal, or Pope will be impeccable. We believe they can and do sin—not just the notorious Popes like Benedict IX or John XII, but the saints among them as well. But we believe that since God made obedience to His Church necessary (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16), He will ensure that the Church teaches without error. If we did not have that assurance, we could never know when the Church should be obeyed and when it should not.

That’s why I have to reject the idea that the Pope is in error while a small number of bishops/cardinals who disagree with him are correct. The Pope is the final arbiter of what is authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching. He draws the final line. If it turned out that sometimes the Pope was in error, and another see was correct, we could never know who spoke for the Church at any particular time. For example, take the Arian Crisis. Most of the Church embraced this heresy. But the Pope did not. He was the beacon of orthodoxy we could trust when there was confusion over which interpretations of Scripture were correct.

Without the belief that God protects His Church from teaching error, we could never know that any particular Pope was correct, whether any particular council was correct. We could only say we think that a certain opinion was correct. But other Catholics would deny that claim and who can we appeal to to prove who is right?

This is why the Church has always held that when the Pope teaches we must give religious assent of intellect and will. Not only in the matters of ex cathedra teachings, which must be treated as doctrine, but in the ordinary magisterium and in the governance of the Church. When there is a conflict of interpretation of past teachings, it is the Pope that has the final say.

“But what about...?” There is no “what about?” If we believe that Our Lord established the Church, made it necessary, and gave it the authority to bind and loose in His name (Matthew 16:19, 18:18), then we must trust Him to protect the Church from teaching error. In Vatican I (Pastor Aeternus, chapter 3), we are taught:


Some Catholics, opposed to Pope Francis, try to deny his right to teach and to modify discipline and governing of the Church. They claim to appeal to past teachings, claiming that the Pope contradicts them. But what they are actually appealing to their personal interpretation of past teachings. It’s similar to the anti-Catholics who point to the Bible to claim we contradict it. We do not reject the Bible. We merely reject their personal interpretation of it.

You may have heard anti-Francis Catholics point to St. Robert Bellarmine (I discuss it HERE). [§] They claim it is “doctrine” that a heretical Pope can be deposed and devote time to trying to prove that things the Pope does are signs of “Manifest Heresy.” But the Saint was exploring five opinions on the subject, accepting two and rejecting three:
  1. The view that the Pope cannot be a manifest heretic (which he calls probable and easily defended) [#]
  2. The view that the Pope can be deposed even for personal heresy (he rejects this)
  3. The view that the Pope can’t even be deposed for manifest heresy (he rejects this)
  4. The view that the Church has the authority to depose a Pope for manifest heresy (he rejects this)
  5. The view that the Pope ceases to be Pope if he falls into manifest heresy in the same sense that a heretic ceases to be a member of the Church (he calls this a “true opinion”)
Unfortunately, people misunderstand St. Robert Bellarmine. A “true opinion” doesn’t mean a doctrine. It means an opinion backed by reasoning instead of arbitrary belief. “Manifest heresy” does not mean a Pope declaring the death penalty inadmissible in this time. It means openly declaring that he rejects the doctrine of the Church in some manner.

St. Robert Bellarmine was not defining a doctrine (he couldn’t if he would—his De Controversiis is not a magisterial document. It’s an apologia for the authority of the Church against those who reject it), and his work must be understood in light of later magisterial teaching such as Vatican I, Vatican II, and Code of Canon Law 1404 (“The First See is judged by no one.”). If a Pope should become a “manifest heretic” (a notion I find incompatible with the promises of Our Lord), we would need to trust in God to protect His Church because we would have no means of deposing him.

Critics of Pope Francis should consider the existence of literally bad Popes like Benedict IX or John XII or those suspected of personal heresy (Liberius, Honorius I, John XXII [+]). They never taught error. If they were ever tempted to, it seems Our Lord prevented them from doing so.

Catholics who believe that the Church or the Pope has fallen into error need to ask themselves the questions I began the article with:

Do you believe in God? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God? do you believe that He can be trusted to keep His promises? Do you believe He established the Catholic Church to bind and loose in His name? Do you believe that the authority He gave His apostles continues through their successors?

If a Catholic believes these things, then he or she should believe that these things remain true with the Pope and the Church today. But if a Catholic doesn’t believe these things, then such a person should realize they have fallen into deeper error than that which they accuse Pope Francis of.

————————————

[§] The book can be purchased HERE. The relevant pages are 304-310 in my version. The translator has issued a new edition and the pagination may be different.
[#] As a disclosure, I personally believe that the promises Our Lord made justifies this view. A Pope might fall into personal error as some think Liberius, Honorius I, and John XXII did. But that personal error will not spread to his teachings.
[+] I contend John XXII was no more a heretic over the beatific vision than St. Thomas Aquinas was over the Immaculate Conception  Both were mistaken, but the Church had not yet defined the matter, so there was nothing to obstinately reject.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Reflections for the Struggling

There are a certain set of Catholics who began by supporting Pope Francis but reached a point where certain news (the Barrios case and the Vigano allegations, or the refinement of the teaching on the death penalty) led them to think their previous trust was misplaced. Some of my followers have asked me to blog on this. I’ll certainly do my best. Of course, since I believe that the Pope has done nothing to warrant revoking my trust, this attempt may disappoint them. We may end up yelling to each other, “Why the hell are you so blind?”

I don’t intend to be arrogant or condescending to the Catholics who want to be faithful. Instead, I hope to give the struggling Catholics other things to consider than the either-or dilemma they see no way out of.

The Credibility and Proof Issues

I think we need to keep in mind that allegations are not proof of wrongdoing. The claims can be false—even if the accuser sincerely believes them to be true—or the reasons for the actions remove culpability. If the claims are false or reasons remove culpability, then these actions are not valid reasons to reject the Pope. If Vigano’s accusations are false, then we can’t use them as a reason to mistrust the Pope. 

At the current time, there has been no proof to those accusations. The people cited as proof have refused to provide their own testimony and the so-called independent confirmation have been rejected. Benedict XVI’s secretary has called the claim “fake news” and those who were said to have assisted Vigano draft the letter have now denied it. We have gone from seeing claims that Pope Francis willfully overturned Benedict’s censure of McCarrick shrivel into claims that the Pope may have issued some kind of request.

The problem then is we don’t have a basis to justify an accusation against the Pope. Those American bishops [†] who say they found the claims “credible” do not do so from evidence. They did so from having a favorable view of Archbishop Vigano’s character. One problem I have with this is it indirectly says that they don’t have as favorable a view of the Pope’s character if they would accept Vigano’s ipse dixit statements as having merit. They have made demands of the Pope, but not similar demands of Archbishop Vigano. 

It’s not for me to question those bishops’ motives, but I find it a little troublesome.

The FUD Factor 

“FUD” stands for “Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. It certainly fits the undermining of the Papacy over the last five years.

Certain Catholics have been hostile to Pope Francis since before he became Pope [§]. They have consistently given a negative interpretation to his actions, attempting to portray them as proof of his being a heretic. They take soundbites that seem terrible when taken in isolation and treat that isolated quote as the whole. Thus the Pope is portrayed as thinking homosexuality is morally allowed based on the “Who am I to judge quote” but take no notice of the context or his affirmations of marriage as being between one man and one woman. He’s portrayed as opening up the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried when he actually called on bishops and confessors to assess whether all the conditions for mortal sin were present instead of merely assuming they were. He’s accused of calling the death penalty intrinsically evil (contra past teaching) when he actually said recourse to it was inadmissible at this time—which built on St. John Paul II’s teaching and closed a loophole that essentially negated what he said.

These words, yanked out of context and constantly repeated, lead Catholics to begin to think “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” But that’s a refusal to determine the truth as we are required to. When different factions constantly argue that the Pope is a heretic when He teaches contrary to their ideology and these factions point to each other’s disputes as “proving” their points, it’s easy for faithful to think there is truth behind baseless accusations.

The accusations against the Pope that he causes confusion are ironic because
it’s the critics themselves who spread the confusion they blame him for...

The problem is, these critics do not have the authority to interpret what past Church teaching means in opposition to the magisterium. If the Pope decides to change a discipline or determine how doctrine is best applied in this era, he absolutely has that authority. The Catholic who argues that what a Pope says contradicts past teaching, he means that the Pope rejects his personal interpretation of past teaching. But the individual Catholic lacks the office to judge the teaching of the magisterium. 

An imperfect (because the Supreme Court lacks the authority and protection the Church has) analogy might being us disagreeing with the Supreme Court over a ruling. Regardless of what we might think the law should be, it is the Supreme Court, not us, whose decision has authority. Unlike the Supreme Court and its disastrous rulings, we believe God protects His Church and that the decrees of the magisterium are binding (Matthew 16:19, 18:18, Luke 10:16) and require our religious submission of intellect and will (Canon 752).

Sin and Authority

St. Augustine once said, “For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian. The former title speaks of a task undertaken, the latter of grace; the former betokens danger, the latter salvation.” The Pope and bishops in communion with him are sinners in need of salvation, just as we are. But the fact that they are fellow Christians and fellow sinners does not mean that we can disregard what they teach as Pope and bishops. Because what they teach is binding on us (provided a bishop does not go against the Pope), the fact that some of them might turn out to be notorious sinners does not negate their teaching office.

So even if Vigano’s accusations were true (a notion I absolutely reject!) this would not remove the Pope’s authority or give anyone authority to depose him. His instructions on Amoris Lætitia or changing the Catechism would remain binding. His call for continuing the synod on youth would not be negated.

What people need to remember is that regardless of what scandals come along, Our Lord has given us the Great Commission (Matthew 28:20) and we cannot set this aside on the grounds that some bishops have engaged in coverups or scandalous behavior. Did they do wrong? Yes, some did. But the Church remains Our Lord’s Church with His promises remaining kept.

This teaching authority doesn’t mean that the Pope or bishops will always make the best appointments—some may turn out to be scandalous. It doesn’t mean they’ll carry out the best sanctions against wrongdoers. It doesn’t mean that a successor won’t need to make revisions. It doesn’t mean that a Pope won’t do something embarrassing out of misunderstanding or bad advice...


But it does mean when the magisterium says “We’re going to do things this way,” they do have the authority to make that decision. If it turns out that they made a bad one (like appointing McCarrick), that doesn’t mean that none of their teachings or rulings have authority. 

So, if (this is the point the accusers have to PROVE) it turns out that Benedict XVI did make a request about McCarrick (it seems that Pope Francis’ accusers have backed away from claiming that he imposed canonical sanctions) then we can’t say that the Pope engaged in a coverup. It could mean he made a bad decision that could easily have been made in good faith. The accusations not only say he knowingly did wrong, but claim to know his intentions in doing so.

It’s still “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

One tactic I’ve seen involves people saying that because the Vigano claims are “credible,” the Pope needs to open up the archives to refute them. No. That’s shifting the burden of proof. It assumes that the Pope is guilty until proven innocent. The Pope doesn’t have to open up the archives to prove his innocence. The burden of proof lies with the accusers. That means we don’t sign petitions demanding that the Pope clear this up. Church teaching on rash judgment means we don’t assume he is guilty without proof... which Vigano and company have not provided. Instead, he’s said to check the records. But, if there are no such records critics will (they already have!) accuse the Pope of stonewalling or destroying the records. The only way his critics will accept what the records reveal is if they prove guilt.

In other words, the accusations combined with the call for the Pope open the archives is effectively an admission of no evidence combined with a demand for the Pope to enable a “fishing expedition.”

Things Take Time 

If we want things done right, as opposed to a superficial fix, they take time to plan. No, it’s not just a matter of setting up a videoconference between the Pope and all the bishops. It’s going to involve each bishop involved collecting the data on their diocese—both under their leadership and under their predecessors. They’re going to have to look at what worked and what failed. They’ll have to bring forth suggestions that must be discussed and evaluated in order to create a just solution free of loopholes.

What we have is a revelation that some bishops chose to conceal wrongdoing instead of correct it. The Barrios case and the Pennsylvania report show that the old ways of doing things are ineffective. We’ll probably need some changes to canon law and put a system in place to report wrongdoing by bishops.

Personally, I think that the Pope was working on this since the news broke of McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report. I don’t believe that the Vigano letter put pressure on the Pope to act. I think it probably was a distraction, not an aid to this work.

We Must Recognize When We Lack Knowledge 


We all have a tendency to “fill in the blanks” when we hear partial information. We assume motives for actions and think that not seeing action means a willful refusal to act. We rely too much on rumors and news sources who consistently misreport news from the Church when they rely on soundbites.

Most don’t look at canon law, relevant documents, or transcripts from the Pope. They say “Something has to be done!” but don’t ask what the Church already does. Yes, the Pope has full authority of teaching and governing the Church. But we also have rules in place designed to protect from unjust treatment. The Pope can change these rules if he sees fit. But he will not do so arbitrarily.

Now I won’t tell everyone to pick up a huge library and start studying. While we need to understand the truth of things, people have different levels of education and needed time to study. What works for me might not be possible for others. But the first step is to stop filling in gaps in our knowledge with assumptions. If we don’t know something, we need to learn.

Conclusion: But I Can’t Trust Anymore!

Some people I know have stopped trusting the Pope. Whatever they thought the last linr would be, they think the Pope crossed it. The problem is, as I see it, the Pope hasn’t crossed any lines. There has been an effort to undermine him from the beginning. Those people involved have made so many claims that the Pope is heretical that it has virtually become a schism. They have led people to lose trust in God’s promises and to think there must be something to these anti-Francis Catholics’ claims by the sheer volume.

Does the Pope sin, make errors of judgment, and do things we wish he didn’t? Of course. Just like his predecessors and just like his successors will do! It is naive to think Pope Francis is the only Pope to do these things.

Do I think the Pope has taught error or willfully chosen to act against the Church? No. Do I think the devil is trying to deceive us into thinking that the Pope has done these things? Definitely.

We will always have bad priests and bishops in the Church. That’s been a problem since Judas. We will always have Popes who sinned. That’s been a problem since St. Peter. But that doesn’t change the Church or her authority. The existence of a McCarrick doesn’t discontinue the teaching authority of bishops. 

Yes, we need to reform the Church. But we need to realize that the true state of the Church is not as her enemies claim. We don’t place our trust in a mere human being or a mere human institution. We place our trust in Jesus Christ and the Church He established and promised to protect.

Once we do that, we can reasonably approach the sins of the current age instead of falling into panic.

____________________________

[†] Outside of the United States where some bishops sided with Vigano, the bishops have largely stood with Pope Francis. The exceptions I have heard of are one bishop from Scotland and Bishop Athanasius Schneider from Kazakhstan.

[§] As head of his archdiocese, he cracked down on a group who was abusing the Extraordinary Form, forbidding the use.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Does Our Reaction Show Our Preconceived Notions?

In his Mere Christianity, CS Lewis wrote, “We may think God wants actions of a certain kind, but God wants people of a certain sort.” Depending on the accent the reader puts on certain words, this can either be interpreted as “God wants us to continually turn to him and not simply check off boxes,” or as “God doesn’t care what you do.” The first interpretation would be theologically correct. The second would be false. But the person who praised or condemned CS Lewis because that person assumed the second interpretation would be wrong. 

That is a problem I constantly see in the attacks on Pope Francis. This week, we had a beautiful Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, which urges the readers to constantly seek a life of holiness and evaluate where one needs to change ways of thinking. The exhortation is inspiring and accessible to the average reader. In my first reading (this is something that rewards repeated reading), I found things that confirmed what I thought the Church thought, and I found things that challenged me to go beyond my previous assumptions. In no way did I feel like I was being unjustly attacked by the Holy Father. 

But some people do. People have accused him of contradicting St. John Paul II on the teaching of the Right to Life. People have accused him of denigrating religious life. People have accused him of being a Marxist. But, when I compare what the Pope actually wrote with what his accusers claimed he said, I found no truth to their claims.

In fact, when one reads St. John Paul II in Christifideles Laici #38, we see that what he said on the right to life gives a definition that goes beyond (but must include) opposing abortion:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

The Church has never yielded in the face of all the violations that the right to life of every human being has received, and continues to receive, both from individuals and from those in authority. The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor. The Second Vatican Council openly proclaimed: “All offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator”(137).

If, indeed, everyone has the mission and responsibility of acknowledging the personal dignity of every human being and of defending the right to life, some lay faithful are given a particular title to this task: such as parents, teachers, healthworkers and the many who hold economic and political power.

Nor can we say that this is merely an opinion of St. John Paul II. The sacredness of human life has long been taught by the Catholic Church. Take St. John Chrysostom in his Homilies on Matthew (Homily 50, #4):

St. John Chrysostom Homily on Matthew #50, ¶4
The problem is people have preconceived notions on what the Church teaches. If their assumptions are excessive, then they accuse those who do less of laxity. If their assumptions are lax, then they accuse those who do more of being excessive. Moreover—and this is the most dangerous part—if the person is error about what the Church teaches, then they accuse the actual Church teaching of being in error. The liberal dissenter might argue that Church teaching “goes against Jesus.” The conservative dissenter might argue that Church teaching goes against Sacred Tradition. But both are using their erroneous views to judge the Church when they should be listening to the Church in order to judge their own values.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
The Church can teach in an ex cathedra manner. The Church can teach using the ordinary magisterium. But in both cases, we must give obedience to the teaching. Tragically, some in the Church assume that what God intends mirrors their own preferences. The conservative assumes Church teaching must mirror conservative ideology while the liberal assumes the Church must mirror liberal values. The lax assume Jesus was lax while the rigid assume He was rigid.

So, when we see people claiming that the divisions in the Church are the fault of the Pope, we need to realize that these divisions are caused by people who insist on their preconceived notions are “true” and judges whatever a Pope should formally teach according to their notions. The confusion in the Church can be laid at their doorstep.

If we want to be faithful to the Church, and we find a stumbling block, then let us remember the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises:

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises
That does not mean “follow the Church if she teaches error.” It means, “When there is a conflict between your view and the Church, follow the Church as the Pope teaches.” Otherwise, we’re following our preconceived notions into error.



Monday, March 5, 2018

False Narratives: Garbage In, Garbage Out

One temptation in life is to replace seeking and finding the truth with attaching ourselves to a narrative and following it—even if it leads to error. I suspect that the reader immediately thought of people they disagree with (I did, and I’m writing it). But the problem is, it is difficult to look at one’s own narrative with the same scrutiny. If our assumptions are false, the way we interpret events and motives will be useless and probably harmful.

We see these false narratives everywhere. Whether in religion or politics (and, tragically, we tend to confuse the two), we are tempted to take our preferences on how the world should work and treat any deviation from that preference as a proof that the person we disagree with is in error—and probably maliciously so.

For example, in the 2016 elections, we saw Catholics struggling over which candidate would do the least harm. Disagreement over this issue led to accusations that the person with a different view was openly supporting the evils of that candidate. Or, after the Parkland shooting, we saw Catholics accusing each other of willingness to let innocents die or willingness to let people become victims.

Or, in terms of the Catholic faith, we see people assume that their personal views on what Church teaching means are true, and whoever takes a different view—even if it is the Pope—must knowingly support error.

In each case the assumptions ran:

1. My views are correct
2. This person disagrees with me
3. Therefore, this person willingly supports error.

But the first premise must always be investigated. Even if we desire to be faithful to the Church, it does not follow that the interpretation we give is correct. The magisterium, led by the Pope and bishops in communion with him, determines the correct interpretation. To go against that interpretation is to show that one’s assumption is false.

The second premise’s relevance then depends on whether the first premise is true. If my views are objectively true, then disagreement is a concern: For example, because abortion is an intrinsic evil, a person who disagrees with Church teaching is doing wrong.  But if the person disagrees with the view that opposing abortion means supporting political platform X, that disagreement is not necessarily wrong.

The conclusion is only true if the person has accurately interpreted Church teaching and the opponent has knowingly rejected Church teaching. If the person has misinterpreted Church teaching or confused Church teaching with an opinion on interpretation then the first premise is false. If the person has wrongly confused disagreement with rejection of truth, then the second premise is irrelevant. In either case, the conclusion is unproven. (Remember, it’s possible that both opinions can be in error).

To avoid a false narrative, we constantly investigate whether our assumptions are true and whether there are other ways moral obligation can be legitimately applied. As Catholics, we believe—or are supposed to believe—that the Church authentically guides us on how we must live. But there are different ways we can legitimately apply Church teaching. If the person we disagree with uses one of those different ways (as opposed to trying to evade Church teaching), we cannot accuse them of error.

From “Dogma and Preaching”
[From “Dogma and Preaching”]

The false narrative we must reject is that our preferences are truth and that to reject our preference is to reject the truth. We can be mistaken about things: Whether about how Church teaching works [†] or about the motives of the person we disagree with. To avoid this, we must constantly seek the truth about what Church teaching means and what those we disagree with really hold.

Otherwise, we are the blind trying to lead the blind (Matthew 15:14) because we cannot see past the view that we might err. The old computer programming maxim applies here: Garbage In, Garbage Out. If we assume error to be true, or truth to be error, the conclusions we draw will be worthless, if not harmful.

________________________

[†] I reject the notion that the Church teaches error. While she can change disciplines, she will never go from teaching X is evil to X is allowed. Many critics of the Church confuse discipline with doctrine with disastrous results.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Danger in Being Unable to See We Might Be the Ones in Error

Putting the common “Church is in error” claim into a syllogism [†], it would look something like this:

1. [My interpretation] is [True] (A = B) [§]
2. [Church Teaching X] does not hold [My Interpretation] (C is not A)
3. Therefore, [Church Teaching X] is not [True] (Therefore C is not B)

The syllogism is logically valid [*]. But that does not make the argument true. We must also investigate whether the premises are true. In this case, the problem is in the first premise (antecedent). The history of heresy shows that no matter how sincere a person is in their belief being true, that does not make the belief true. The antecedent is a begging the question fallacy. The person accusing the Church of error has to prove that his interpretation is true. 

The problem is, the Church has a magisterium which has the authority and responsibility on how to interpret and apply Church teaching (doctrine or discipline) [∞]. Whatever goes against the magisterium is error. If obstinately held, that error is heresy. If one refuses to assent to the magisterium, that error becomes schism (See canon 751). So, the antecedent being true requires (A = C). But the consequent (second premise) denies that. Therefore the conclusion is false.

What we have to remember is, when a member of the Church—even if he be a priest, bishop, or cardinal—teaches in opposition to the Pope, his words lack authority. Canon 752 reminds us that even if the Pope does not teach in an ex cathedra manner, if he teaches, we must give “a religious submission of the intellect and will.”

Some may bring up the cases of Popes Liberius, Honorius I, and John XXII to argue that Popes can teach error. But the problem is these cases did not involve Popes teaching, but Popes privately held opinions [•]. But the teachings of Amoris Lætitia are not opinions. They are teachings, taught with the same level of authority as St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio (both are Apostolic Exhortations). They are disciplinary teachings—which means a later Pope can legitimately change Pope Francis’ disciplines if he sees it as necessary without that “proving” that Pope Francis was in error [º].

So, the fact that the person opposing the Pope is a priest blogger, concerned bishop, or dubia cardinal, that rank does not give his opposition authority. It’s not for me to judge the state of their souls or their intentions. So I won’t accuse them of malice, heresy, or schism. Rather their words must be judged by whether they match up with the authoritative teaching of the Pope (See canon 750). If they don’t match, it is the critics’ words that must be found wanting—not the Pope’s words.

But if we insist on our own interpretation over the magisterium, then we’re no better than previous members of the Church who rejected authority. Church opposed the error of Hippolytus, Arius, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Matthew Fox, or Hans Küng—all of whom believed themselves to be right in rejecting a Church teaching.

All of us should strive to be faithful to the magisterium under the current Pope and bishops… lest, in the future, the Church should talk about our errors.

_____________

[†] Ethically, we’re required to put an opponent’s argument into a valid logical form if possible—we can’t create an illogical straw man to make it look bad.
[§] This premise is usually assumed, but not stated. The technical term is enthymeme
[*] In classical logic, this is an AOO syllogism. But if the person was not making a universal claim, the argument would be IOO, and logically invalid.
[∞] This is not an ipse dixit fallacy here. The Pope and bishops in communion with him IS the valid authority and not an opinion.
[•] Scholars disagree over whether Liberius and Honorius I actually held error privately. In the case of John XXII, the issue was not yet defined. So while Church teaching later declared his opinion to be error, he did not reject established Church teaching.
[º] I fully expect that clarifications will come either during this pontificate or from his successor.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mistaken Papal Critics and History We Forget

Preliminary Note

I have no intention of passing judgment on successors of the apostles like the "dubia cardinals" led by Cardinal Burke, or the Kazakh bishops. Just as anti-Francis Catholics have misrepresented the Holy Father to support their narrative of a "heretical" Pope, I find that these cardinals and bishops were also misrepresented, with anti-Francis critics making it sound as if these cardinals and bishops "supported" their schismatic behavior.

This article does not claim to say that these churchmen are guilty of the same wrongs Sts. Cyprian and Hippolytus committed. I merely write this article to show that misinterpretation and attacks on Popes were not limited to the pontificate of Pope Francis. Rather, I wish to point out these two cases where the Popes were misrepresented and attacked as a reminder that even men known for their holiness can go wrong if they put themselves in opposition to Popes using their teaching office.

Introduction

One of the popular narratives in opposing Pope Francis is to point out some of his predecessors—such as Liberius, Honorius I, and John XXII who were suspected of privately holding error. The anti-Francis Catholics point out that these Popes are proof that a Pope can err. From that, we have a string of tortured logic arguing that because those Popes privately erred [a claim disputed among Church historians], Pope Francis can publicly err in his words and actions that sound unfamiliar to our own understanding of Church teaching.

These critics overlook a different part of Church teaching—where Popes have taught and certain bishops of the Church mistakenly thought the Popes were teaching error and publicly took a stand in denouncing them.  I would like to briefly discuss the case of two papal critics from the Third Century AD.

Pope St. Stephen I vs. St. Cyprian

One example of this took place in the Third Century AD. St. Cyprian held that the baptism of heretics was invalid, and if any of these heretics should convert to the Catholic Church, they needed to be rebaptized. 

However, St. Stephen I taught differently. He held that if the heretic was baptized in the proper formula, the baptism was valid. If this heretic turned/returned to the Catholic faith, he did not need to be rebaptized, but merely perform penance. Instead of realizing he had misunderstood the nature of baptism and changing his views, St. Cyprian accused St. Stephen I of promoting heresy in a series of letters to his fellow African bishops. For example, in his Epistle LXXIII, to Pompey:

2. He [Pope Stephen I] forbade one coming from any heresy to be baptized in the Church; that is, he judged the baptism of all heretics to be just and lawful. And although special heresies have special baptisms and different sins, he, holding communion with the baptism of all, gathered up the sins of all, heaped together into his own bosom. And he charged that nothing should be innovated except what had been handed down; as if he were an innovator, who, holding the unity, claims for the one Church one baptism; and not manifestly he who, forgetful of unity, adopts the lies and the contagions of a profane washing.
Cyprian of Carthage, “The Epistles of Cyprian,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 386.

But the fact is, the Catholic Church followed the teaching of St. Stephen, not St. Cyprian. If a person who was validly baptized by a non-Catholic intending to do what the Church intends, we hold that baptism to be valid. Even an atheist can validly baptize. The Catholic Church holds it is wrong to rebaptize. If a person was never validly baptized, we baptize. If there is a question about whether a person was validly baptized, we give conditional baptism. 

St. Cyprian’s error was in assuming that his position was correct and that the Pope must be wrong. From that assumption, he drew the false conclusion that the Pope was doing damage to the Church from his “error,” and had to be opposed. But since St. Cyprian was in the wrong about baptism, his condemnation of the Pope was simply wrong.

Pope St. Callistus [†] vs. St. Hippolytus 

Another example of a bishop wrongly accusing a Pope involved Pope Callistus. In a time when the Roman Empire held that slaves could not marry free citizens, the Pope decreed that such a marriage was valid. 

St. Hippolytus thought the Pope was in error. In a denunciation, he declared that the Pope’s action would lead to divorce, use of contraception, and attempted abortion on the part of a free woman who married a slave, writing [§]:

For even also he [Callistus] permitted females, if they were unwedded, and burned with passion at an age at all events unbecoming, or if they were not disposed to overturn their own dignity through a legal marriage, that they might have whomsoever they would choose as a bedfellow, whether a slave or free, and that a woman, though not legally married, might consider such a companion as a husband. Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth.9 Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church!
Hippolytus of Rome, “The Refutation of All Heresies,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. J. H. MacMahon, vol. 5, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 131.

I find this remarkably similar to the statements of some Catholics who claim that what the Pope said in Amoris Lætitia would mean people in a state of mortal sin seeking to receive the Eucharist—assuming that the abuse was directly caused by the Pope’s action as opposed to being an abuse of his teaching. 

Yes, a third century Catholic could think about becoming pregnant by a slave husband in that way, but that would be doing evil that was not in accord with the Pope’s teaching. This was a post hoc fallacy by St. Hippolytus which is similar to the one committed by Pope Francis’ critics.

Conclusion

These cases are examples of members of the Church who confused their interpretation of what should follow from Church teaching with Church teaching itself. Because of this, they falsely accused Popes of promoting error, attributing worst case scenarios as directly caused by the Pope who declared the teaching. These cases also involved the accusers assuming the worst of the Popes, leading them to think they must support the worst abuses.

I believe that these are the proper historical counterparts to the opposition to Pope Francis, not the examples of “bad Popes” people try to cite. People who have assumed that all people who are divorced and remarried must be in a state of mortal sin cannot reconcile that assumption with the Pope correctly pointing out that assessing culpability must be done with remarriage as well as with every other grave sin.

Like the third century critics of Popes, the 21st century critics of this Pope have confused their view with Church teaching itself. The Pope has made a reasonable teaching, but some people, failing to understand it, assume their fears of negative consequences through abuse is the intended teaching.


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[†] Also known as Callixtus.
[§] This is commonly cited [correctly] as proof that the Church consistently condemned contraception and abortion.  But I find it interesting that Hippolytus slandered Callistus in doing so just as some critics today slander Pope Francis. These critics are correct that the teaching they defend is true. But they err in thinking the Pope’s teaching contradicts it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Collision of Errors: Reflection on the Anti-Francis Movements

On social media, I regularly encounter critics of the Holy Father. While these critics do not all move in lockstep, and do not all share the same outlook in general, they do tend to make the same arguments. It seems to me that this is the result of a growing number of Catholics believing attacks against the Pope and interpreting his words according to their own outlook. As these different groups agree with each other that the Pope is “wrong,” they tend to start viewing each other’s claims as a reinforcement of their own suspicions.

The Radical Traditionalist Error

One of these factions is the radical traditionalists [†]. They tend to view the Church and the Popes since St. John XXIII as suspect, if not heretical. While we tend to forget it nowadays, they hated St. John Paul II because of his actions against the SSPX, and they elevated his rare gaffes to deliberate heresy. They were hostile to Benedict XVI until his motu proprio permitting the increased use of the extraordinary form of the Mass

John paul ii kisses koranSt. John Paul II was mistaken about how to be polite,
but some said this was “proof of heresy.”

Some of them join fringe movements and a few even go so far as to claim that there is no Pope. Such Catholics start with the assumption that the Church and the Pope can indeed fall into error, while they are a “faithful remnant,” defending the faith. So, they have no problem with thinking Pope Francis can be a heretic. 

The Political Slant Error

Another way of thinking is that of the political conservatives. They tended to like St. John Paul II because of his defense of life and opposition to communism and Benedict XVI because he was the one who took action against politically liberal dissent. The exception was when they pointed out social and economic injustice. Then they try to downplay the authority of Papal teaching, calling it an “opinion” or “prudential judgment.” They have alleged that St. John Paul II was out of touch with “real” capitalism, since he lived in communist Poland. They also tend to think of issues like immigration reform and environmentalism as politically liberal.

They tend to think of a Pope speaking on an evil in general as a specific attack on them personally. So, when Francis became Pope, warning of injustices in these areas, they assumed he was anti-American or anti-Trump. Their assumptions on liberal vs. conservative led them to think of Pope Francis as a “liberal” and assume he supports the entire agenda of political liberalism in America.

The Self Appointed Interpreter Error

Another mindset seems to think that Catholic teaching is a case of “You make the call” from the NFL [§]. They rely on what they think the Pope means or what they think a previous Church document mean. But they don’t seem to consider that their own understanding can be flawed. They see a past document of the Church as saying X, and Pope Francis saying Y. They assume X and Y are contradictory, but lack a study in theology to understand the nuances. They often confuse discipline with doctrine, and misunderstand the phrasing in older Church documents. The result of this is, when a Pope decrees something that is different from their understanding, they think the Pope must be the one in error.

For example, when St. John Paul II taught that conditions when the death penalty could be justly applied were virtually nonexistent today, they appealed to older documents where the Church spoke about whether it could be legitimately used at all, thinking St. John Paul II was contradicting past teaching. But he wasn’t. It was the faulty reading by his critics that led them to draw that conclusion.

With Pope Francis, these “interpreters” assume that Amoris Lætitia tries to ignore the fact that remarriage after divorce is grave matter. It does not. 

The Guilt By Association Error

Another error I see is from those who assume “guilt by association.” So, if a liberal likes Pope Francis, that is a sign that Pope Francis is a liberal. They assume that the Pope appointing certain people to commissions for their expertise on a subject is “proof” that he approves of their errors and political slant—but they ignore the fact that he also appoints conservatives. From this, they also assume that whatever bishop or cardinal speaks in the Pope’s defense must be proof that they themselves must be in error.

They assume that he approves of everything Cardinal Kasper says, but do not realize that the cardinal went well beyond what the Pope was willing to accept. The cardinal seems to support the Eastern Orthodox idea of valid marriages after divorce. The Pope does not. Yet, people assume that the Pope endorses everything Cardinal Kasper stands for. A study of Pope and cardinal shows this is a false accusation.

Where it Collides

I see these groups (and they are not the only groups out there [¶]) reinforcing each other. The conservative who is suspicious of the Pope’s so-called liberalism hears the accusations from the radical traditionalists and thinks they are a confirmation that something is wrong with the Pope. The person relying on their personal interpretation of Church documents gets swayed by the conservative accusing the Pope of liberalism. The radical traditionalist assumes the Pope appointing someone they dislike is a confirmation of his “heresy.”

Each of these groups have false accusations against the Pope, based on their flawed outlook. Each of these groups hear the false accusations of other groups and thinks it is a confirmation of their own suspicions. Thus, they think there is a mountain of evidence when it is actually a begging the question fallacy. The “evidence” depends on their assumptions being proven true. If their assumptions are false, then their claims are not evidence.

Conclusion

Once we are aware of these factions and their errors, we can understand why a collection of small groups can have a large impact. As they continue to repeat their claims and more people assume that there must be something to them, people think, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  The Pope must be in error or people wouldn’t be complaining about him.

But if the groups making the complaints are in error (and I hold they are) about what the Pope said or what earlier Church teaching said, then they are not proof against the Pope, but rather a case of “the blind leading the blind” (Luke 6:39). To avoid falling into the pit they lead to, we must make the Church the final guide in interpreting Scripture and applying past teaching to the present circumstances. We must remember that Our Lord promised us He would protect His Church, and that promise is just as valid today as it was in our idealized period of Church history.

That doesn’t mean we think the Pope is infallible in his opinions or his press conferences. What it means is we trust that when the Pope gives a teaching we must give assent to (see canon 752), that God will prevent him from teaching error. An old example I recall is: if the Pope were infallible in mathematics, he wouldn’t have to get a 100% to be infallible. He could turn in a blank test, not answering any questions.

In other words, the charism of infallibility doesn’t just work in guaranteeing that what the Pope is 100% pure. I think that limited view is part of the problem. It also means the Holy Spirit can dissuade a bad Pope from teaching. Liberius, Honorius I and John XXII never taught error, because they never taught on the error they are associated with. So, for example, while some renaissance era Popes may have believed in a geocentric universe, they never taught geocentricism as a belief of the Church. If the accusations against Pope Francis were true, that would disprove the Catholic teaching on protection from error and call into question previous declarations from the Church.

To avoid error, we must hold fast to our faith in Christ protecting His Church under the headship of the Pope. If we believe this, then we must consider the possibility of our own error if we perceive a contradiction.

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[†] It is important not to confuse radical traditionalists with those who simply prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. While all radical traditionalists are traditionalists, not all traditionalists are radical. [All A = B does not mean All B is A].

[§] I haven’t followed the NFL for years so I don’t know if they still use this as filler.

[¶] For example, I haven’t really touched on the modernists and political liberals who wrongly interpret the Pope according to their own prejudices and add to the fears of the “Guilt by Association” error.