Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts

Monday, March 15, 2021

What Else Could You Possibly Expect?

The CDF published a response to a dubia about whether the Church could bless homosexual unions and a commentary explaining why the Church could not give anything other than a negative answer. While I did not know that an answer was in the works, I knew it was an issue that had to be addressed when certain German bishops seemed determined to go their own way.


I was not surprised by the answer. I knew that the Church could not answer in any other way than she did. The Church teaching was not a matter of discipline that could be changed to fit the needs of Catholics in these times. Sure, the Church can explain a teaching using language that is clear for the current times, but she cannot turn “X is a sin” into “X is morally good/neutral.”


Yet, not only the religiously illiterate media (which spoke of “setbacks” and “disappointment”), but some Catholics did seem surprised by this response. One faction expressed surprised disappointment. Another expressed surprised relief. These reactions are two sides of the same coin: The false assumption that the Pope intended to change this teaching. It shows that too many people relied on the secular media’s coverage of the Pope… which involved nothing more than sound bites wrenched out of context. The difference between the two sides was whether or not they approved of what they falsely believed to be the Pope’s views.


But the dismay and the relief show that these factions have failed to grasp what the Church is and the protections God provides that go along with the authority to teach in His name. Yes, the Church was established by Jesus Christ to teach in His name and bring people to His salvation. Those who know this are without excuse when they rebel against the Church teachings that they dislike. When the Pope intends to teach in a binding manner, we are not free to dismiss it as an “opinion” or an “error.” Nor are we allowed to dismiss the ordinary magisterium, the teaching of our bishop when teaching in communion with the Pope, or the Congregations that teach under the direction of the Pope. That’s laid out in canon law:


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.


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.


can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.


can. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.


These canons are derived from our belief of the relationship between God and His Church, and Luke 10:16. While people are not physically compelled to accept them, the person who does not accept the authority of the Church cannot pretend to be a faithful Catholic.


Yet, ignoring this, both factions have instead invented a counterfeit “teaching” that claims we are free to ignore any teaching from the Church that “errs,” which really means “does not go along with their personal preference of what should be.” Claiming that the Church is in error is nothing new. But obedience to the Church is what separates a reforming saint from a schismatic. Keep in mind Martin Luther argued that the Church had stopped following what she originally believed, and used that as an excuse to refuse obedience.


We have seen the dissenters from one side claim  St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI were wrong about their teachings on sexual morality. They are no different from the dissenters who call Pope Francis’ teaching on social justice “error.” Both will portray a change of discipline—or bad personal behavior in past centuries—as either “proof” that the Church can issue contradictory teachings without error or “proof” that the Church can err… but neither faction asks whether they are in error about what they see as the Church “contradicting” herself.


Critics must ask themselves if the Church is established by The Lord to teach in His name while protected from error or not. If they profess this is so, then they must submit to the Church teaching on matters of faith and morals as taught by the Pope and bishops in communion with him as continuing the authority Christ gave His Apostles.


But if they will not profess this, then it means nothing when they do agree with a teaching. They give the Church no authority. They can only say that the Church was right for once. But such a conception of the Church is worthless to follow because it could not bring Christ’s salvation to us… because such a Church could never correct us when we were wrong.


This is what we need to ponder when we think that the Church is wrong. If the Church is what she professes to be, then we cannot expect the Church to teach error. If we think something sounds wrong, we should consider that we have misunderstood what was reported or the teaching itself… or both. God will not abandon His Church. So, when the Church teaches, what else could you possibly expect but the truth?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Rebellion of False Prophets

When the priest Zephaniah read this letter to Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: Send to all the exiles: Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah, the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah prophesies to you, although I did not send him, and has led you to rely on a lie, therefore thus says the LORD, I will punish Shemaiah, the Nehelamite, and his descendants. None of them shall dwell among this people to see the good I will do for this people—oracle of the LORD—because he preached rebellion against the LORD. (Jeremiah 29:29-32)

As I continue working through the Book of Jeremiah, I’m struck by the emergence of the false prophets who either say what they think and attribute it to God, or say what they think others want to hear. Both are treated as leading people in a lie and as preaching rebellion against God who had something different in mind for the people of Israel as they faced exile in Babylon.

The concept of preaching rebellion struck me as something relevant for our times. Back then, God sent certain prophets who spoke His message to the people while false prophets tried to undermine his message. In this time, we have the Church which was established by Christ to preach and to teach while people who do not agree with what the Church is doing argue that it has gone astray, and God wills something different.

It seems to me that both are examples of the false prophets. In both cases we have those who were given authority by God to teach in His name and people who do not like what is taught and try to undermine it. I suspect that both cases are not so much about deliberate malice as it is not believing the authority of the ones God has sent. The false prophets might sincerely think they understand the situation better. But it is rebellion against God nonetheless because the prophet or the Church which they oppose is teaching with God’s authority.

Things are as bad as they have always been. In 1974, writing about the hostility towards the pontificate of St. Paul VI, Hans Urs Von Balthasar could write about a rebellion that fits the same problems today, 46 years after it was originally written:

To use, for once, the nonsensical division of humanity into a “left” and a “right”, we can say that the “left” is closed to the monarchic, aristocratic, bureaucratic and any other “cratic” claims of the central “apparatus”, while the “right” is split: there is a small segment in which “papolatry” still prevails, but the majority is plagued by a growing fear that the Pope might be captured by the “progressives”, if he himself is not a “leftist” who, at the expense of the “silent Church”, spins questionable diplomatic threads to Moscow and Peking. [Paul VI is meant. The original text was published in 1974—Ed.]

Of course, there is—and always has been among Catholics—a healthy popular sentiment that is faithful to Rome without being blind to the faults and human failings of the curia and even of the pope. Ordinary common sense is able to handle this as a matter of course and without embarrassment. But this sentiment (sound, from the Catholic point of view) is steadily undermined by the mass media, the press and the numerous publications that demonstrate their Christian “adulthood” by an arrogant and even venomous superiority toward all that comes from Rome, happens in Rome or goes to Rome.

—Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, trans. Andrée Emery, Second Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), 25–26. Bracketed editor notes from the original text.

These parallels between the false prophets in the time of Jeremiah and the critics of the Church today should lead us to consider whether our tendency to downplay the Church when she teaches what we do not want to hear—claiming that her teaching is false—might be seen by God in the same way that he saw Shemaiah, the Nehelamite… as being in rebellion against Him and leading people into a lie. We as Catholics believe that Jesus left us with the Church which teaches with His authority. So, if we follow a false prophet who teaches that this Church is in error, we are following the rebel against God and are without excuse.

We are constantly told that the Church is promoting all sorts of errors. But when we look at what the Church teaches, we see that the false prophets making these accusations are confusing their political and cultural preferences with God’s will. The result is they lead rebellion against God by saying that the Church is being hijacked by “the left” or “the right,” when in fact it is their preferences that are trying to hijack the Church.



(†) The original title of this work translates as “The Anti-Roman Attitude.”

Friday, February 14, 2020

Deceptive Claims

As the official teachings on the authority of the Pope become more widespread, showing that his badgers are in the wrong, and as it becomes obvious that the claims about what the Pope is supposed to change are false, the anti-Francis Catholics have been forced to shift tactics. Now they’ve come up with new justifications about why they’re not in the wrong.

The first tactic they use is to argue that the authority of the magisterium doesn’t apply because the Pope isn’t teaching but expressing an opinion. Therefore—they claim—what he says isn’t binding, isn’t protected from error and they aren’t being disobedient by rejecting what he says.

The problem is, what they are calling his “opinion,” are things that are recognized as teaching when it comes from any other Pope. Eliminating misconceptions about the Death Penalty by making a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an act of teaching. Teaching about our moral obligations regarding the environment through an encyclical letter is an act of teaching. Writing about the needs to strengthen marriage and helping those at odds with the Church through an apostolic exhortation* is Church teaching. But, because the critics do recognize the authority of these teachings from previous Popes and denounce Catholics who reject them, they are without excuse when they reject Pope Francis and call his teachings “opinions.”

The second tactic, used to accuse the Pope of error is to say that he never mentioned something. Therefore, that lack of a mention is considered “proof” that he supports whatever bad thing the anti-Francis Catholics want to accuse him of.

For example, after the recent synod, the Final Document suggested that the Church consider ordaining “proven men” who were married. The Pope, however, said that he was not in favor of removing the celibacy requirement in the West. But the anti-Francis Catholics argue that, since he didn’t explicitly reject married priests in Querida Amazonia, he must favor it and plans to implement it. 

But what the Pope actually said about the priesthood in the Amazon shows a belief that the the Church has other options, writing:

90. This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region. At the same time, it is appropriate that the structure and content of both initial and ongoing priestly formation be thoroughly revised, so that priests can acquire the attitudes and abilities demanded by dialogue with Amazonian cultures. This formation must be preeminently pastoral and favour the development of priestly mercy.

In the footnotes for this section, he notes that many Brazilian priests go overseas for missions instead of to the Amazon, and he notes there needs to be more effort to find vocations among the indigenous people. These are evidence against these accusations.

Both arguments share a logical fallacy: argument from silence. It is an error because it assumes Either A or B. Then the person draws a conclusion by way of claiming a lack of evidence for A is proof that B is true. But no evidence for A is not proof of anything at all.

The anti-Francis Catholic who argues that the Pope is only offering opinions or is secretly planning to implement a married priesthood—these two contradict, by the way—is basing it on the argument that since he didn’t explicitly see the Pope reject their interpretation, his claim must be true.

Such claims are deceptive and should be rejected, lest they lead us into error.


(*) Ironically, the critics of Amoris Laetitia argue that it can’t take precedence over Familiaris Consortio because it is “only” an apostolic exhortation. But Familiaris Consortio is also an apostolic exhortation. If Amoris Laetitia isn’t teaching, neither is Familiaris Consortio.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Seeking Truth: The Foolishness of "That's Just YOUR Opinion"

I find myself shaking my head in disbelief when I come across people who write off Catholic teaching with some variant of “that’s just your opinion.” I shake my head because rationally that means we can write off their views of right and wrong on the same grounds. If one rejects a Christian’s arguments on these grounds, one can reject the arguments of an atheist on the same grounds. Under those assumptions, we can’t find truth about anything and we can only use legal or physical force to compel anyone to accept something. It’s ironic that people who claim to champion reason and enlightenment should promote a throwback to “Do what I say or I will bash you with my club!"

It’s not surprising that people believe this tripe. I recall a teacher in High School once give us a couplet: "Opinions are never right or wrong. Opinions are only weak or strong.“ The couplet confuses “opinion” with “preference” or “feeling,” leading to people thinking that a religious view on abortion is no different than a preference for a flavor of ice cream. Many dictionaries give that interpretation to opinion as well. But that is only one of the meanings.

An opinion on matters of right and wrong, as Merriam-Webster describes it, “implies a conclusion thought out yet open to dispute.” This means that the value of the opinion depends on how it matches reality. A person may dispute what another says about right and wrong, but the value of the dispute also depends on how it fits reality. This means when people disagree on moral obligation, we have an obligation to investigate what is right, not simply dismissing what we dislike.

The problem is, the modern rejection of Christian morality is not based on truth or facts. Opponents distort Christian teaching and opponents accuse us of bad will (bigotry, etc.). Since opponents misrepresent our teachings and motives, they do not refute us. Nor do they prove we hate people belonging to certain groups popular with political and cultural elites. What they do is slander us, whether they do so out of ignorance or out of hostility.

To avoid slander or misrepresentation, people must investigate claims to see if a claim is true. If it is not true, we must stop repeating it. If it is true, we must act in accord with it. For example, when a culture learns that human beings are equal regardless of ethnicity, it can no longer treat some ethnicities as less than human. That means we must abandon slavery, segregation and racial hatred.

Those are obvious examples. Few people support those evils any longer. But people forget that today’s elites defend today’s evils in the same way that elites in past centuries defended slavery and segregation. For example, abortion denies the humanity of a fetus in the same way that slavery denied the humanity of a certain ethnicity. On the other hand, people assume moral objections against behaviors are the same thing as racism in the past. For example, some people see the Church opposing “same sex marriage” as the modern version of racism and segregation. But the Church does not see people with same sex attraction as less than human, nor justify mistreatment (legal, physical or in other ways) against them. 

What the Church does do is deny that de facto unions are the same thing as marriage, so we should not treat them like marriage. In making this denial, the Church offers definitions about the purpose of marriage and family. A person might disagree with how the Church defines these things, but one has to show that the Church speaks falsely in order to refute her. But proving that is not done by shouting words like “homophobe” or “bigot” (the common response).

Reason demands we examine the truth of claims and not shout down things we dislike hearing. If Catholics oppose abortion on the grounds that the unborn child is a human person, then accusing Catholics of being “anti-woman” is speaking falsely. If Catholics oppose “same sex marriage” on the grounds that marriage between one man and one woman open to the possibility of raising children is the basis of the family, it is wrong to use epithets like “homophobe” and “hateful."

Before anyone asks, yes, this means Christians must also use reason and examine truth, not shouting down opponents. Yes, some Christians do make the rest look bad by rashly judging motives and misrepresenting arguments. That is not how God calls us to behave. We must refute falsehood with truth, not with the tactics of those who hate us. An educated Catholic, faithful to the teachings of his Church will deplore the tactics of the Westboro Baptist Church as being unjust. If a Catholic should embrace those tactics, he does wrong.

But because the Church does oblige us to behave rightly, blaming the Church for those who behave wrongly is unjust. There is a difference between Catholics behaving hypocritically by ignoring Church teaching and Catholics behaving badly because they follow Church teaching. Assessing where blame lies calls for us to discover the truth in a situation, not merely assuming an unpopular opinion caused bad behavior.

But, doing that will force people to recognize that their accusations against the Church are false. That’s why people will continue to treat Catholic teaching as odious opinions instead of seeking the truth about us.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Pharisees Ride Again

Curses Against the Pharisees"Alas You Pharisees!"


We all know the story of Jesus denouncing the Pharisees for thinking their holiness came through their observance of the Law, while missing God’s commandments of love of God and neighbor that permeated all the rest of the Law. So, it seems rather ironic that so many like to point their fingers at members of the Church for not observing what they think is most important, not showing love for God and neighbor in doing so.

Such behavior is not limited to one particular political perspective or one specific way of living out the Catholic faith. One is not automatically guilty of, nor automatically free of, such behavior on account of being conservative or liberal, traditionalist or modern (not to be confused with modernist of course). The behavior can be found in any person who confuses their behavior with “The only way one can be Catholic."

We Cannot Express the Faith In Such A Way As To Drive People To Despair

Of course, we need to make sure we understand the difference between the Pharisaical person and the Catholic faith. Our Lord did not condemn the keeping of the commandments—rather He considered that to be part of the requirement of taking up one’s cross and following Him. So, it is not being Pharisaical to say that doing what is good and avoiding what is evil is important.

But, in doing so, we cannot close the doors to the person who is outside of the Church, barring them from the possibility of returning or driving them into despair or resentment so that the thought of repentance becomes impossible.

This seems to be a major problem in the Church today, particularly in America. Whenever the Pope or a Bishop responds in a way to something we dislike that is not a strongly worded condemnation, he is immediately accused of being heretical, or liberal/conservative and being unfit for his office. When the Pope or a bishop meets with a politician who holds positions in opposition to Church teaching and the meeting is proper or even cordial, the assumption is he is in agreement with the views of the politician.

Reaching out to the Sick is Not Dependent on Whether The Sick Will Accept Help

Meanwhile, I find myself thinking the whole thing sounds similar to what the Pharisees had to say...

10 While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. 11 The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’* I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Luke 9:10-13)

Some people try to counter this fact by saying that Matthew repented, while these current politicians do not. But that strikes me as being a false interpretation. The Scriptures say many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and His disciples. It does not say that many repentant tax collectors and sinners came. So it is quite possible that some of those who came and dined with Him did not repent. (Don’t make the argument from silence fallacy that assumes that because the Bible did not say one thing, it means the opposite must be true). Certainly, we know that Jesus called some who did not follow, or else put conditions on following Him that effectively meant not following (see Luke 18:18-24 and Luke 9:59-62).

Jesus called even those He knew would not follow Him. We, not being God, can’t even know who would not follow in the long run. Remember the Parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21:28-32…

28 “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. 30 The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. 31 *Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

The person who announces his intention to obey can end up disobedient. The person who announces his defiance can end up repenting. The Pope knows this, and seeks a way to reach out so that the sinner will not continue to sin, but to turn back to God. So do the cardinals and bishops who are denounced because they do not always publicly condemn the politicians, the divorced/remarried, and those performing other sexual sins.

Our Lord Spoke Strongly to the Pharisees, and Sometimes Bishops Speak Strongly to Our Zealots

There is a time for mercy, and there is a time for strong words. Jesus employed both. However, the strongest words He employed involved those who had missed the point of what God’s teaching was about, thinking that condemnation was to be employed (Luke 9:51-56), not the attempt to bring back the lost. Christ spoke of the sinner in the parable of the lost sheep. (Luke 15:1-7). He spoke of the Pharisees in the condemnations of Matthew 23:1-36. The difference between the two is that the Pharisees believed they were fine as they were, and it was the others who needed to repent—while making them feel that they were permanently cut off.

That seems to be the other side of the coin, where people get angry at the bishops who seem to take a strong stand against a person who expresses an opposition to sin in a harsh way. When this happens, sometimes Catholics get angry. The question is, “Why does he speak harshly to a person who thinks like us, but not to this person here who has done this wrong?” 

Pharisee and the Publican“I Thank You I Am Not Like That Tax Collector…"

I would answer this by saying that sometimes there are different circumstances for different people. For a person who has a mistrust of the Church, who assumes that the Church hates them, a gentle approach can be best. On the other hand, for a person who is convinced of their own rightness, sometimes being jolted out of their overconfidence is needed.

Of course, mistakes can be made. Perhaps a person is treated too gently or too harshly for the circumstances. We should be praying for our priests, bishops and the Pope that they may shepherd us well, and we should be praying for God to open our hearts to be willing to be shepherded.


The Church, being made up of sinners, is going to have cases where members—even those who are shepherds—make mistakes or even choose to be disobedient. We cannot say they are right to do so, or that it doesn’t matter. However, I think we do need to be careful about how we express our concerns and be careful to determine whether our perceptions actually match the reality of the situation. Not everything is done in the open where we can see it, and we cannot assume that just because we do not see something, that nothing is done. Nor can we assume that just because it is not handled in the way we would like it to be done, that it is done in opposition to Church teaching.

We need to remember that the Pharisees were not impious men—in fact they were quite religious. They probably would have accepted Our Lord if He had met their idea of what they thought a Messiah to be. The problem is they wanted religion on their own terms, making the mistake that their terms were God’s terms and thus missed the wonderful thing that God had done for them (Matthew 23:37-38).

As Catholics, we believe that God has established the Catholic Church to teach in His name (John 20:21-23, Matthew 28:18-20) and that He protects the Church from error. So when one begins rejecting the Pope and Bishops (successors of the Apostles) teaching in communion with him on the grounds that it does not match their own views is rejecting Christ (Luke 10:16) just as the Pharisees did. We need to beware the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:5-12) and not trust in ourselves and think the Church has failed (Matthew 28:20)...

…Otherwise, Alas for us.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sez Who?

There are times when an individual who disagrees with the Church—whether an anti-Catholic, a modernist, or a radical traditionalist—will cite the Scriptures or a Church document in order to justify their rejection. I’ve seen this tactic take a number of forms. The fundamentalist who is convinced that a Catholic practice goes against the Bible, the atheist who wants to prove an inconsistency, the modernist who wants to ignore everything before Vatican II (and everything after St. John XXIII), or the radical traditionalist who wants to ignore everything from St. John XXIII forward. But in spite of these different goals in rejecting the authority of the Church, there is one common assumption—that the individual dissenting is interpreting the document in question correctly, while the living magisterium of the Church is not. In other words, a rejection of the authority of the Church when one disagrees with it.

The problem is, it is the living magisterium of the Church (the Pope and the bishops in communion with him) that has the authority and the responsibility to determine what is and what is not the proper interpretation of the teachings of Our Lord passed on by the Apostles and how to best carry out that interpretation in our times. We don’t believe that the magisterium usurped this power, or gained it from being the smartest people in history. We believe that it was Our Lord who gave the St. Peter and the Apostles this authority and responsibility, and it was passed on from the Apostles to the Pope and Bishops of today. So, the rejection of that authority by Catholics kind of comes across like this...

However, even though it is irrational for Catholics to reject this authority, some do. Moreover, anti-Catholics never accepted this authority in the first place. So, it’s not enough to appeal to the authority of the Church, because some people do think she is in error. But it’s not enough to say, “I think the Church is wrong!” Anybody can have an opinion about anything, but not all opinions are rational or grounded in reality. So one has to consider the truth of the claim—does the critic “say of what is, that it is or of what is not that it is not” (to paraphrase Aristotle). So, when someone makes reference to the Scriptures or to the Church documents or the writings of the saints, the question is whether or not they have properly understood the document they cite, or whether they accurately contrast it with the magisterial teaching they dislike.

Before the Church teaching (current or past) can be rejected, the challenger has to show they know what they are talking about (authoritative), and not insisting that we accept a personal opinion masquerading as fact. Anyone can have an opinion about what a document means, but not everybody has the knowledge to teach about it with authority. For example, the well known Neal deGrasse Tyson has the knowledge to teach about his scientific field, and that can make him an authority in that field. But he doesn’t have the authority to teach in a field outside his knowledge. To assume that his views on subjects outside his field are authoritative is to commit the fallacy of irrelevant authority.

So when the atheist, the fundamentalist, the modernist, or the radical traditionalist invokes the Scriptures or the writings of the Church, their authority needs to be established. When someone takes Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not…”) to challenge the teaching of the Church, or Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge…” to argue that the Church must change her teaching on sexual morality, the first question is, do they interpret what was said properly? (Short answer: No). If not, then their challenges have no authority.

With that understood, we need to look at what the teaching authority of the Church is, and why it is to be given more credence than the opinions of others. Where there are people talking, there are going to be different opinions. But when it comes to deciding the way things will be, someone has to have authority. In America, we have elections to determine who is given the authority to pass laws, and we tend to view this system as being the norm for everything (for example, the churches where the congregation chooses their minister). It’s very individualistic, and if a group does not agree with our personal views, people either go elsewhere or try to force change on the group.

But the Catholic Church does not take this view of leadership. We do hold that Jesus Christ intended to establish a Church on Earth, giving His authority to the Apostles with Peter as the head of this Church, and their successors—the Pope (the successor of Peter) and the bishops (successors to the Apostles)—to preach the message of salvation, with the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18, John 20:21-23). So, it is the Pope and the Bishops who continue to carry out this role. When they intend to teach, they must be heeded...

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.


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.


can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.


can. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.


can. 755 §1.† It is above all for the entire college of bishops and the Apostolic See to foster and direct among Catholics the ecumenical movement whose purpose is the restoration among all Christians of the unity which the Church is bound to promote by the will of Christ.


§2.† It is likewise for the bishops and, according to the norm of law, the conferences of bishops to promote this same unity and to impart practical norms according to the various needs and opportunities of the circumstances; they are to be attentive to the prescripts issued by the supreme authority of the Church. [Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247–248.]

…it’s basically codifying what Our Lord said to his disciples: “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16). As Catholics we believe that the Pope and the bishops who teach in communion with him (as opposed to a loose cannon who does whatever the hell he wants) have authority to teach, and we have the obligation to listen to them with religious submission to these teachings.

So, when it comes to the teaching of the Church, we hold that it is the bishops in communion with the Pope and not a Catholic politician like Nancy Pelosi who speaks with authority on what is the proper understanding about the Church teaching on abortion. We believe it is the Pope and the bishops in communion with him who speaks with authority on what is and is not permitted in the Mass—not the SSPX. We believe that the Pope and bishops in communion with him have the authority to explain what the Catholic Church believes about the Eucharist, not a Protestant minister. It’s the Pope and bishops in communion with him who has the authority to interpret scripture, not the extremely irrational atheist blogger who thinks Ezekiel 4:12 was commanding the Jews to eat bread made out of dung (the verse is actually Ezekiel warning the Jews about the extreme conditions of a siege that would reduce the inhabitants of Jerusalem to dire conditions, and yeah—this guy actually showed up on my blog during my Xanga days).

Now the individual is free (in the sense of “free speech exists”) to reject the authority of the Church and to say things against the Church. But when it comes to saying who has the authority to speak in the name of the Church and decide what is and what is not in keeping with the Catholic faith, it is the Pope and bishops in communion with him—not the individual who rejects that authority.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Considering the Authority of the Church Before One Finds Oneself in Conflict


It always saddens me when I encounter a fallen away Catholic online—the kind who obviously feels betrayed by the Church. Obviously they are in a lot of pain, and their pain is real. It's not going to go away just because you explain to them why the Church cannot change her teaching for them. For such people, all you can do is pray, comfort and explain at the level they're willing to hear.

So why am I writing?

The problem is, online, many people read the bitter hurt and anger and are led to believe that the Church is a cruel, bureaucratic institution that couldn't care less about the "little people" who are crushed by these rules. These people believe that the Catholic Church is in opposition to the love of Jesus Christ. Few explore the actual teaching of the Church and why she feels obligated to teach as she does.

Yes, it is true that the Bible says "God is love" (1 John 4:8). But the Bible says so much more than that . . . it also speaks of moral obligations and commandments. Reading the Bible isn't a matter of keeping score—there's no contrasting Paul or the Old Testament with Christ here. Because God inspired the authors of Scripture to write what He intended and no more, we can't say that one part of the Bible contradicts another. Rather, we see a growing awareness of understanding God brought to the final fulfillment that Jesus Christ gave us.

This brings us to the heart of the matter: When there is a dispute, what living authority which can determine what is and what is not in keeping with the will of Christ? It does no good to argue that the Bible is that authority . . . it is the meaning of the Bible which is being disputed.

So this is why I write—so that people who have not yet found themselves running afoul of the Catholic Church might recognize her authority and obligation in teaching, and perhaps avoid finding themselves in opposition to the Church to begin with.

The Catholic Church and Authority

Ultimately, the dispute between the Catholic Church and those in opposition to her is the issue of what authority she has to make decisions binding on the faithful. If what the Church claims about her nature is true, then when she teaches, it is binding on the faithful and rebellion against the Church teaching is rebellion against God. But, if what she claims is not true, then she has no "teachings" at all. The Church would then be nothing more than yet another NGO with an agenda . . . one to support if you agree with it and oppose if you don't.

What the Catholic Church believes about herself is that she is the Church that Jesus said He would establish (Matt 16:18-19). The Pope and the bishops the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles. If what she believes about herself is true, then she does have the authority of Christ. What Christ has said about giving His authority to carry out His work is important here:

18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:18-19)

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. 18  Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matt 18:17-18)

18  Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

16 Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)

21 [Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  (John 20:21-23)

New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011)

These words are important. Jesus makes some important promises about His Church.

Laying all this out, we can see that whatever this Church may be, it was not a mere incidental point in Jesus' mission. He intends His mission to continue, even after His Death and Resurrection. So, considering all these points that the Bible makes, if the Catholic Church is not the Church established by Christ, where is it?

  • It can't be Invisible . . . otherwise, how could we go to it?
  • It can't have ever died out . . . or have come into existence centuries or millennia later.
  • It has to have the authority of Christ.
  • It has to have the authority to bind and loose . . . which means it has to be protected from teaching error. Otherwise Jesus would have to bind sin and loose His commandments in Heaven.
  • It has the authority to forgive sins.
  • It is centered under the headship of Peter.
  • It has to be carrying out the mission of Christ to the whole world . . . not merely serving one community or one ethnicity or one nation.

As Catholics, we believe that this Church is the Catholic Church, given the authority and the responsibility along with the protections needed to avoid teaching error.

What This Means

That leads us to the moment of truth. There are two (and only two) options:

  1. If the Catholic Church is this Church established by Christ, then her teachings are not arbitrary, but have the authority of Christ behind them.
  2. If the Catholic Church is not this Church established by Christ, then her teachings have no authority behind them except perhaps the power of persuasion.

Once one realizes this, the Catholic has a decision to make before there is ever a risk of winding up in conflict with the Church. If one recognizes this authority as being from Christ, then one should be aware that the Church teachings need to be followed and that decisions that might put one in conflict to the Church must be avoided.

Once this is grasped, one can look at the different issues on Church teaching. For example, Abortion, Contraception, Divorce and Remarriage, "Gay" Marriage, Women's Ordination and others. There's no sense in getting angry at the Church. She does this because she thinks she must teach this way to be faithful to Christ. If one agrees that Christ gave her that authority, then the Church teaching has Christ's authority and fighting the Church teaching is fighting God.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thoughts on Those Who Think the Pope Errs


Nine months into the pontificate of Pope Francis, there is a certain subset of orthodox Catholics in the blogosphere who think he is going in the wrong direction. Because Pope Francis gives a certain emphasis that doesn't mirror their preferences, the response is to view him as one or more of the following: naive, out of touch, not knowledgeable on the topic or even heretical.

Some of them are polite in their misgivings. Some seem to treat him like an "idiot uncle" who needs to be endured. But what they're not doing is treating him like the Pope.

Many bloggers in this subset have expressed concern with the Pope's teachings, making comments asserting that what he says goes against Church teaching by either poorly expressing himself or by lack of understanding. When the Pope speaks on moral theology in relation to political or economic issues, the assumption is he said something wrong. Nobody seems to ask whether their own understanding of what he said or of Church teaching is faulty.

In other words, this subset of bloggers tends to consider themselves to be more knowledgeable than the Pope on these issues.

I really can't follow these bloggers. They are going in a direction conscience forbids me to go.

There are two reasons for this.

The First Reason

The first is I have a belief that God is active in His Church and will not permit it to teach error in matters of faith and morals binding on the faithful.

Now many might say, "Oh! I would never deny an ex cathedra statement by the Pope, but he didn't speak infallibly." The problem is, the faithful are not only bound by ex cathedra statements. The Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis #20 tells us:

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

The ordinary teachings of the Pope still require the assent of the faithful. Now, is it reasonable to think that when we have the obligation to assent, the Holy Spirit will permit the Pope to teach that which is harmful to the soul of the faithful?

I can't buy into that thinking. It means that unless the Pope declares everything he does ex cathedra, there must always be doubt about what he teaches... we can never know whether a teaching we must assent to is true unless it bears this mark.

That's spiritual chaos and something that contradicts Christ when He says, in Matt 28:20b, "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

Even if Pope Francis turned out to be like Pope John XXII, with a faulty understanding, God protects His vicar from teaching error in a binding way.

The Second Reason

And that brings me to the second reason: I don't believe Pope Francis is a Pope like John XXII. I believe he is a holy man, teaching in full accord with what the Church has always taught.  Reading his insights from before he became Pope, in books like Only Love Can Save Us, Open Mind Faithful Heart and On Heaven and Earth show what he believes and speaks on is not at all going against what the Church had said previously. His recent encyclical and exhortation are solid Catholic teaching as well.

While sloppy journalism has misrepresented him at times, that misrepresentation is not his fault and it is our obligation to seek the true meaning and not rely on the misinterpretation.


I believe that whatever troubles may come to our Church, we cannot accept as valid any group which holds that they are right and the Pope is wrong in matters which require assent. When the Pope speaks on moral obligations towards economic and political actions, we do not do right by saying the Pope doesn't really understand economics or politics. We do right by heeding the moral obligations he warns us about.

Deciding we can ignore the Pope is wrong, whether the disobedience is liberal or conservative in nature.

A good rule of thumb is, if the Pope is reported as saying something that sounds like it goes against Church teaching,  the safe bet is that the error is with the reporter or reader -- not the Pope.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Arnobius' Maxim of Voting Revised for 2012

Preliminary Note: I never claim binding authority for myself.  I believe my original maxim and this updated one reasonably follow from Church teaching and reflect things we are called by the Magisterium to keep in mind when forming our decisions.  Of course this article mainly applies to a situation like America's (effectively) two-party system.  A nation with multiple parties and coalitions would probably have a different set of criteria to consider.


Back in the 2008 elections, I wrote an article dealing with an attitude among some Catholics which invoked conscience to vote for the party they preferred even though that party promoted policies explicitly condemned by the Catholic Church.  That maxim was, I believe, what reasonably followed from the Catholic obligation to obey the Church and the Catholic obligation to never disobey our conscience when it condemns something.  To sum up, I had said that if one political party holds a view which the Church condemns and the other holds views which an individual's conscience cannot allow them to vote for the other, then in order to reconcile these views, one could vote for a third party or decline to vote but could not vote for the party promoting views the Church condemned.

It made sense for the time.  In 2008, the dispute was essentially based on whether or not the Catholic could vote for the pro-abortion, fetal stem cell research, gay "marriage" party.  I think it still applies for voters who are choosing between these two parties.

A New Situation

However, in 2011, we see a few Catholic bloggers who oppose both parties as equally rotten and argue that the proper attitude is to vote for a third party or not at all.  We also see some opponents of these bloggers who claim that to act this way is to throw the election over to those who support the greater evil by taking away votes from the only party with a chance to oppose them.

It was this new perspective which leads me to reconsider the former maxim I drafted to take into account this new dispute.

The Issue of Double Effect

In considering the two sides of this dispute, we need to consider the principle of Double Effect.

Briefly, Double Effect deals with the situation where an action intends a good result but has an unintended and undesired negative effect which cannot be avoided.  Catholic teaching holds that the negative effect must be unintended and that the intended good must outweigh the unintended bad.  This is why the Church permits a hysterectomy (removing a diseased or damaged uterus which cannot safely undergo pregnancy) with the unintended bad effect of removing the woman's fertility but condemns the sterilization of the woman (directly intending to remove the woman's fertility).  The first views the loss of fertility as an undesired effect which would be avoided if possible.  The second directly intends the loss of fertility.

In terms of the debate of not voting for one of the major parties vs. the risk of allowing the greater evil to become elected is essentially a dispute over Double Effect.


  1. The intended good is to obey conscience by not voting for candidates who are considered to have immoral positions.
  2. The unintended bad effect is that the greater of two evils may benefit from a split votes.

The moral dilemma is then to balance out the obligation to follow conscience vs. the preventing the greater evil from taking effect.

Voting and Morality

Voting is not a neutral act.  It is a moral act in which we are obligated to use to achieve a greater good or oppose a greater evil.  We need to consider the ends our vote is intended to achieve and whether the unintended negative consequence outweighs that intended good.  Certain actions are intrinsically (by their very nature) evil and can never be done.  The Church authoritatively teaches abortion is a grave evil:

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. 'Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action' (Evangelium vitae #57)

So it seems to follow that not only are we never to vote for a candidate who supports this grave evil, we cannot permit the grave evil to become possible by our inaction either.

On the other hand, since we are never to support evil actions, what are we to do if the other party also seems to support evil?  Especially since they seem lukewarm on the issues of Life?  After all, Blessed John Paul II also pointed out:

Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. (ibid #74).

An Attempt to Find a Solution to the Impasse

Conscience is not infallible.  It must be formed with the teaching of the Church in mind and it requires us to inform ourselves to the facts to avoid making an error by wrongly interpreting the situation or how the Church teaching is to be applied.

There are times when Catholics must vote for a lesser evil to avoid the greater evil.  Blessed John Paul II gave an example:

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. (ibid #73)

In this case, we can see that voting with the intent of limiting the evil of abortion is not a cooperation with evil.  If we can't abrogate an abortion law, we can certainly vote to limit its effects.  Lukewarm opposition to abortion is superior to no opposition.

Finding the Least Evil

So it seems to follow that when it comes to voting for a third party or not voting, we are obligated to consider the consequences of such an action.  Is it, in fact, the least evil?

That is the hard decision to be made.  Since we may never do what our conscience condemns and may never refuse to do what our conscience commands, we are obligated to inform our conscience through the teachings of the Church and to educate ourselves on the consequences of our action or inaction.  Conscience is not sentiment.  It is not a matter of like and dislike.  Conscience is the interior voice which says I must or must not do.

The Arnobius' Maxim of Voting Revised

So with these points in mind, I would reformulate the maxim on voting as follows:

  1. We must never vote for a candidate who openly supports a position condemned by the Church if an alternative exists.
  2. We must never vote in violation of our conscience.
  3. We must always form our conscience to be in line with the teaching of the Church.
  4. We must be informed so as to recognize the greatest evil and the least evil and act accordingly in casting our vote.
  5. Finally, whomever is elected, we must not ignore their lesser evils but instead make it known to them the importance of rejecting those evils.

Final Caveat

Again, I do not claim binding religious authority for this maxim.  Rather I write this as what I believe is a summary of Church obligation on this subject.  I certainly submit to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church and nothing I write should be given an interpretation against the lawful teaching authority of the Church.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Obedience and Dissent Within the Catholic Church (Part II)



When I left off last time, I mentioned I would begin with the motives which lead to dissent.  As I said, malice is not the only motive.  Some others might think they have no alternative in the matter.  Perhaps they might not see the error of their reasoning.  Emotion can cloud the mind of any person.  It can even be that they do not understand what the Church teaches and therefore think their misconception is what the Church teaches.

A Little Backtracking First

In this article, I would like to look at some of these motives behind dissent.  I think, however, I should speak a little on what dissent is, and also on the authority the Church teaching holds.

Preliminary Disclaimer

The issues discussed here are not intended to be making reference to any specific individual or website.  It is not for me to judge the specific cases of any person or their motives.  The examples I use are widespread, and therefore used by many.  

PART I: Understanding what Authority and Dissent is in Relation to the Church

Understanding Authority Within the Church

There are many kinds of authority: Governmental, Parental, Ecclesial, Moral and so on.  One can easily commit the error of equivocation, using a meaning other than the one intended.  So to clarify, this article intends to speak on what Authority means in relation to the Catholic Church.

In America, we're used to the idea that truth is defined by what 50%+1 of the voting population holds… though we seem to be moving towards an idea of ideological illegitimacy, where authority is rejected if it does not hold with a certain ideology.  As a result, from 2001-2008, a certain portion of the population thought George W. Bush was illegitimate (the 2000 election flap was a handy excuse), while in the present administration, a portion thinks Obama is incompetent to be president.

Authority within the Church is threefold, with the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling the Church.  It isn't based on the consent of the governed, but rather is considered bestowed by the authority of Christ, and is to be viewed as service and not power.  This has not always been practiced by some of those in authority (Pope Leo X's infamous quote of enjoying the papacy for example), but it is recognized that this is the abuse which runs against the norm.

Unlike civil societies, the Church is a society of faith, and the intent of the Magisterium is to teach on the duties of the believer before God.  The Church doesn't tell us who to root for in the Stanley Cup, for example, or what to eat for dinner.  However, it can and does tell us what we are to believe if we want to consider ourselves part of the Catholic Church.

If we choose to deny what the Church says we must assent to, or if we assent to what the Church says we must deny, our behavior cannot be considered a legitimate expression of the Catholic Church.

In the roles of teaching sanctifying and ruling, the Church Magisterium acts under the belief that it must teach, explain and pass on the teachings which Christ handed on to the Apostles.  We reject the notion of the personal interpretation of Scripture as the infallible guide because of the possibility of self delusion.  Cardinal Newman, in his Development of Christian Doctrine expressed this problem as follows:

…those who maintain that Christian truth must be gained solely by personal efforts are bound to show that methods, ethical and intellectual, are granted to individuals sufficient for gaining it; else the mode of probation they advocate is less, not more, perfect than that which proceeds upon external authority. (Chapter 2. Section 2)

In other words, how can we know the ethical and intellectual gifts needed to interpret Scripture are given to all… especially considering the contradictions on different issues?

Thus, the Catholic Church believes the truth is given to the Church, passed on through the apostles by their lawful successors.  The authority to teach, and protection from error, is not something given simply to individuals who become part of the Magisterium.  Rather, the authority they have is due to the office itself, and exists when exercising their office in communion with the successor of Peter (this is why a sacramentally ordained Bishop who is not a member of the Catholic Church has no authority over a Catholic).

Extraordinary and Ordinary Exercise of Authority

What we must remember here is that the Church can make use of their authority in two ways.  The way most non-Catholics have heard of (but do not understand) is infallible teaching.  This means that when the Church teaches ex cathedra, all Catholics are required to accept this teaching as true.  The one who denies the ex cathedra teaching would be a heretic.  If you deny, as a Catholic, the Trinity or the Immaculate Conception, your belief is entirely against what we believe is the faith passed on, and protected from error by God's protection of the Church.

The ordinary exercise of authority is one which still binds the faithful to obedience.  Denial of these teachings might not make one a heretic, but it does indicate that what they hold is in opposition to the Church teaching, and is unacceptable.  Christ gave Peter and the Apostles the authority to bind and loose (See Matthew 16:19, 18:18).  If what the Church binds and looses will be bound and loosed in Heaven, one cannot dissent from this binding and loosing without also being in disobedience to Christ.

Keep in mind here, that we do not believe that the Magisterium can arbitrarily change Church teaching on a whim.  The Magisterium serves Christ and must be faithful to the teachings of Christ.  Thus we believe the Magisterium cannot permit woman priests, gay marriage or the like… the Church does not have the authority to defy Christ who gave the authority.

This seems like a good point to look at the issue of dissent.

What Is Dissent?

Dissent within the Catholic Church can be described as a refusal to accept the teaching authority of the Church as binding (either in entirety or on a single issue), and generally takes one of two forms:

  1. Protest against Church teaching, with the aim of changing the teachings (Groups like Dignity and We Are Church fall into this group)
  2. "If it's not ex cathedra infallible, then it is an opinion which we can ignore." (Many people, including those who simply misunderstand the Church teaching hold to this.)

The result is to refuse to accept Church teaching in the first case, and to think it is not binding in the second case.

PART II: A Look at Motives Behind Dissent

As I said above, not all people who dissent do so from malice.  I am inclined to think much of it is based on a lack of understanding of what the Church teaches and why it is important.  Thus the level of culpability will differ depending on the reason the person who dissents from the Church does so.

Dissent seems to be caused by certain things which lead us to put our personal desires first.  Some of these are:

  1. Ignorance of why the Church teaches as it does
  2. Fear of losing something one values
  3. Pride in thinking one knows better than the Magisterium
  4. Being Deceived

Let us look at these categories.

#1: Ignorance

Most of us would bristle at the thought of being in this category.  None of us wants to be thought of as "stupid" after all.  However this is not what we mean by ignorance.  To understand ignorance we need to know how the Church understands it.  We believe that there are true things and true ways which we must choose in order to live according to God's will.  Now not all people do know this truth.  Such people are said to be ignorant of what they should do to behave rightly.

Now of course, not all people have the ability to know everything.  A poor peasant in a region entirely dominated by Islam may have never had the chance to even hear the Gospel, let alone make a decision on it.  Such people are called Invincibly Ignorant.  It would be impossible for such a person to learn what they should know to do right.  Because they could not learn what they needed to do to avoid doing wrong, we believe that such a person has done wrong, but it is not his fault he has done so.  God will judge us on what we could have known, not what was impossible for them to know.

Take for example, the Holy Office and their statement against Fr. Leonard Feeney:

Not only did the Savior command that all nations should enter the Church, but He also decreed the Church to be a means of salvation without which no one can enter the kingdom of eternal glory.

In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man’s final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing. This we see clearly stated in the Sacred Council of Trent, both in reference to the sacrament of regeneration and in reference to the sacrament of penance (<Denzinger>, nn. 797, 807).

The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as she is the general help to salvation. Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing.

However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.

However, if a person could learn the truth, but decides that doing so is inconvenient or potentially problematic, the person is said to be vincibly ignorant.  He has no excuse for not seeking to learn what is right.  This is why the Catholic Church has taught in Vatican II:

In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism(124) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart."  All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged. (Lumen Gentium #14)

The anti-Catholic who has grown up believing the Church is "the whore of Babylon" might be forgiven for not believing the claims of the Church [It would depend on how earnestly he or she sought to learn and do God's will].  The Catholic who has the teaching authority of the Church and still fails to seek or learn what is required has much less of an excuse.

So how does this relate to the issue of dissent?  Sometimes it happens that an individual either is ignorant of why their own preference is disordered.  At other times, they do not have a clear understanding on why the Church says we must or must not do a thing.  Because they do not know, they say, "This makes no sense!  Why should I follow this?"

However, just because a person does not know the reason for a teaching does not excuse them from seeking to understand.

#2: Fear of Loss

There are times when a believer is put into a position of having to choose between their faith and something they value.  In the extreme sense, we can refer to martyrdom (please do not confuse the Christian concept with the "Suicide Bomber" version), where a person chooses to suffer death rather than to give up their faith.  However, there can be other, lesser, ways where a person may have to suffer for their faith.

However, some people fear the loss of something to the extent that they choose something evil rather than to lose something desired.  Consider the extreme example of the woman who chooses two abort two of her triplets for fear of being inconvenienced by having to shop at Costco.  [Note: Before anyone starts, I never said Amy Richards was Catholic.  Rather this is an illustration of the fear of giving something up]

Or how about the couple who chooses to contracept because they fear that they will either have to reduce the frequency of sex or have the added expenses of children?  How about the woman who fears she'll lose her chance at love if she doesn't "put out" for her boyfriend?

Now we need to make clear that there is a difference of course between the person who falls into sin and repents and continues on vs. the person who says "I shouldn't have to give anything up!  The Church should change!"  The second is the attitude of dissent.  If Christ tells us that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15) and that rejecting the Church is to reject Him (Luke 10:16).  If we refuse to follow the teaching of the Church because we do not want to lose something which we can only do through disobedience, this is dissent.

#3: Pride

Pride is defined by the OED as "quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself."

Unfortunately this motive happens a lot.  The belief is that the Magisterium is not as well informed as the dissenter, whether in knowledge of history, theology, science as fields of knowledge… or even believing one knows better about what God would want through personal feelings. 

The problem is, people can use spurious reasoning to justify themselves, and not all sources of authority are legitimate.  We need to remember there were many false prophets in Israel, teaching in contradiction to what God required.

30 A shocking, horrible thing has happened in the land:

31 The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests teach as they wish; Yet my people will have it so; what will you do when the end comes? (Jeremiah 5:30-31)

Pride is, in essence, a refusal to recognize authority greater than the self, because the one afflicted with pride has an opinion of oneself which is higher than that of others.

Pride, then, pits an individual's abilities against the charism given to the Magisterium.  Admittedly the individual may not think of it in these terms.  If he or she thinks of the Magisterium as nothing more than "a bunch of out of touch celibate old men" and deny the claim that the Magisterium speaks with the authority given by Christ, then it is easy to fall into this error.

#4: Deception

This can be the self-deception or being deceived by others.  I spoke on Self Deception awhile back, so I think the main point to be made here is that if one is self-deceived into thinking their reasoning is correct, they may decide "…and therefore the Church must be wrong," with no basis to justify this.

Deception can also come from others… particularly if the deception sways a person to justify what they want to do anyway.  This is often the fallacy of irrelevant appeal (false expert), where a person makes an interpretation of Church teaching which in fact contradicts how the Church understands it.  However, before taking the word of an individual who urges a person to dissent by citing a Church teaching against the Church, the question comes up, by whose authority can they teach?

However, when such a question is unasked, a person might be tempted to use the dissenter's argument as an excuse to justify their own dissent against a Church teaching which is inconvenient to their way of life.

The Underlying Motive

All of these reasons for dissent generally have the emphasis of emotion first which leads to dissent, and then the dissent is hardened with excuses to justify the defiance of the teaching authority of the Church.  However, if the desire to do a thing contrary to Church teaching was not present, there would be no reason to dissent.


Now I recognize that those who are outside the Catholic Church do not accept the authority of the Church.  Their rejection I believe is wrong, but it is not the same thing as dissent.  For those within the Catholic Church, part of what one is expected to follow is the recognition that the Bishops, as successors to the Apostles, under the headship of the Pope (the successor of Peter) have the authority to teach and to pass on the faith handed on by Christ to the Apostles.  We are expected to recognize that Christ remains with His Church and protects the Church from binding and loosing error.

Dissent rejects both of these things.  It denies that the Magisterium can teach authoritatively, and it denies that when the Church teaches formally, it can bind us to follow.

Dissent often confuses sins of an individual as "proof" that the Church cannot teach authoritatively.  However, as Catholics we believe that the teaching of the Church and sins of the individual are not the same thing.  We can (and have) see individuals who share in the teaching office of the Church scandalize by their behavior and may act in a way which fails to meet their responsibility.  However the abuse of authority does not deny legitimate authority.

Thus the Dissenter has a dilemma which he or she must necessarily ignore.  If they accept the idea of membership within the Church, it follows that certain views must be incompatible with membership, and there is an authority to rule on what is and is not authentic Catholic belief.  If they reject this authority and belief, then the question is why be a member?  If the Church is only relevant when it agrees with the individual and wrong in other cases, it makes membership superfluous.

It is a question some will have to answer when they stand before the Lord.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Traditions of Men

One of the more annoying misinterpretation of Scripture is that of Matthew 15:1-8, which reads:

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,

2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash (their) hands when they eat a meal.”

3 He said to them in reply, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’

5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,”

6 need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

7 Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said:

8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’”

The argument put forth is:

  1. [Jesus] condemned [traditions]
  2. The [Catholic Church] promotes [Tradition]
  3. Therefore [Jesus] condemns the [Catholic Church].

This is to entirely miss the point of the Scripture reading.

History and Context

The Pharisees, in Jesus time, had their own code of laws which were put on the same level as the Torah, indeed claimed that one could only follow the Torah through their interpretation, and the one who violated the rules of the Pharisees were considered as one who broke the Torah.

Jesus, in opposing the Pharisees, pointed out that these laws were focused on the legalism, and ignored the intent of the Law.  They would pay tithes on the very small plants mint, cumin and dill (See Matt 23:23) in observance of Lev 27:30 and Deut 14:22–23, but they were missing the point, by neglecting "judgment and mercy and fidelity."  They would strain the gnat (the gnat was the smallest of the unclean animals) pouring what they were to drink through a cloth to avoid accidentally swallowing one, but Jesus describes them as swallowing the camel, again missing the big picture (see Matt 23:24).

In other words, what Jesus was condemning was a rigid observation of religious requirements in the Law, while ignoring the greater parts.  Jesus didn't say Pharisees were not to keep the law (See Matt 23:23, "these you should have done, without neglecting the others.")

The idea of Qorban/Corban which Jesus condemned involved the donation of the individual's wealth to the Temple (sort of like a living trust today) after his death, and claiming that because the man did this, he was not obligated to use his wealth to support his parents in their need.  Thus for the claim that Qorban negated the obligation of the son to the parents was to make a human tradition go against the command of God.

When one considers this, one sees that the objection to Catholic disciplines and practices as being condemned by Christ by the very fact they are small-t traditions is to miss the point.  He did not condemn the authority of the religious authorities to make regulations on the governing of worship (See Matt 23:2-3), but on the wrong they did in thinking their laws were equal to the law of God, and could even circumvent the laws of God.

A Look at Tradition (παραδόσεις): Meaning and the Fallacy of Equivocation

There is a logical issue here over equivocation: Assuming a different meaning than the speaker intends.  Tradition has a range of meanings going from mere customs to Sacred Doctrine.  One needs to look at what Jesus meant by παραδόσεις and compare what He denounced to the Catholic use of the word.

Keep in mind that not all uses of a word in Scripture hold the same context.  Jesus is described as the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5).  Satan is described as a 'roaring lion" looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  In one sense, the use of lion is used in a dangerous sense.  In another in a majestic sense (and yes, it is the same word in Greek: λεων [leōn]).  Likewise, Scripture speaks of tradition in numerous ways.

Let us not forget that St. Paul has also invoked Tradition.  In 2 Thessalonians 2, he says:

15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

Oops.  Either Paul is contradicting Jesus, or else what Paul is praising is not what Jesus is condemning.  Paul is speaking as an Apostle sent to take the teachings of Christ to the world.  We believe he had authority.

So let's look at the word for tradition.

The word Paul uses is παραδόσεις (paradoseis) which means:

"that which is handed down or bequeathed, tradition, doctrine, teaching"

Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) (1309). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.

Meanwhile, the word Jesus uses is… the same word.  The phrase he uses is τὴν παράδοσιν ὑμῶν (Tēn paradosin umōn), literally "the tradition of you (Second Person plural)."

Paul also speaks favorably of traditions in 1 Cor 11:2, saying "I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions [παραδόσεις], just as I handed them on to you."

He speaks of these traditions in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 when he says "We instruct you, brothers, in the name of (our) Lord Jesus Christ,to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition [παράδοσιν] they received from us. "

Thus the difference between Paul's παραδόσεις and the Pharisees' παραδόσεις is the authority they have to make it binding and whether or not it contradicts God's law.  The Pharisees traditions are self created laws which go against God's laws and indeed allow one to get around God's commands.

Now, while there are disputes about which Church is the Church Christ established, we do know that the Church created by Christ did have the power to bind and loose (see Matt 16:19 and Matthew 18:18), that it spoke with His authority and to reject the Church was to reject Him (See Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

Tradition and the Catholic Church

This seems to be the underlying dispute over the Catholic traditions that certain Protestants label as condemned, the denial that the Catholic Church is the Church which Jesus established.  One can see a certain logic in their objection.  If the Catholic Church does not have the authority which it claims, then yes, any traditions they make binding would be condemnable as the traditions of the Pharisees which Christ denounced

However, if the Catholic Church does have this authority, if it is the Church established by Christ, then she does have the authority to bind and to loose with the authority Paul invokes when writing to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians.

Now this article is not the place to delve into the arguments on what the true Church is.  Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows I remain in the Catholic Church because I believe she is the Church established by Christ.  Anyone who is interested can look at our Catechism to see what we believe and why, and investigate many defenses of the Church.

However, it is not enough to say "I don't believe the Catholic Church is the Church created by Christ."  What do you believe Christ's Church is?  Do you consider its teachings and interpretations of Scripture binding?  If so, you are invoking Tradition, even if you claim you interpret the Bible through the Bible.


Before one can condemn the Church teaching on account of a word in Scripture, one has to assess the meaning of the word within context, and be certain that the meaning and intent is the same.  Otherwise, one could create all sorts of alleged "contradictions" in Scripture and turn the Inspired Word of God into a partisan tool to advocate a position or bash another based on one's own personal reading.