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Remarks on the Willingness to Dissent

January 21, 2011

All thought begins in the middle of things. It takes its first steps upon ideas already thought. It uses words previously defined. Thought is situated in history; it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. All thought begins with presuppositions. Thinking about the particulars of moral truth presupposes that there is such a thing as moral truth and that we can know it. Thinking about aspects of human nature presupposes that there is such a thing as nature (and humans!) and that it’s intelligible. Even debates about whether such things exist presuppose that the questions about the existence of these things can be answered.

It’s with this in mind that I wish to address the topic of dissent. The word dissent has a negative connotation in orthodox circles because it implies a disagreement with what is true. It may well mean that, in particular instances of dissent, but I want to consider the idea in a more favorable light. While I wouldn’t go so far as to encourage dissent in every situation, I do here advocate for the willingness to dissent from the prevailing presuppositions upon which our acts of thinking begin. A few remarks:

First, while the pursuit of truth requires making presuppositions – there’s no way of pursuing truth from nowhere – these presuppositions may be an aid to the exploration or they may be an obstacle. Or they may be both. If we pursue the truth earnestly and responsibly, then no presupposition should achieve an untouchable status, a position where we hold it as unquestionable and beyond critique and contestation. To do so is to cease the pursuit of truth, and at most to pursue a particular way of thinking about it.

Second, responsible thought means responding to what has been thought. It is irresponsible, in the willingness to dissent, to take hold of an opposing idea and run with it as if the opposing idea had never been thought of or considered at length. Doing so not only reveals an arrogance of the dissenter, but also puts the dissenter in an imagined vacuum in which he or she is seemingly detached from the history of ideas. It may be responsible to reconsider morality not as living in accordance with moral truth but rather as having arisen from a psychological source and genesis, but it is irresponsible to assume 1) that the former conception has no answers to give to the latter and 2) that history hasn’t witnessed debates between these positions from which one can learn.

Third, if the willingness to dissent from prevailing presuppositions means something more than an academic exercise, it must imply a willingness to change one’s way of thinking and, as a consequence, a change in the way one lives. The willingness to dissent implies a willingness to go where the journey leads.

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72 Comments
  1. January 22, 2011 11:19 am

    Excellent thoughts, Kyle. (I, of course, disagree…)

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      January 22, 2011 11:27 am

      Thank you, Rodak. (As well you should…)

  2. Catholic thinker permalink
    January 22, 2011 11:28 am

    The money quote is this

    “If we pursue the truth earnestly and responsibly, then no presupposition should achieve an untouchable status, a position where we hold it as unquestionable and beyond critique and contestation”

    in other word, we can claim to seek truth but never to catch it, so to speak…

    The author takes this idea as self-evidently true. I disagree. Either no

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      January 22, 2011 7:53 pm

      we can claim to seek truth but never to catch it, so to speak…

      Yes. I would say the truth can be touched, but never contained. Breathed, but never exhausted. Seen, but never possessed.

  3. January 22, 2011 5:00 pm

    Kyle writes, “The word dissent has a negative connotation in orthodox circles because it implies a disagreement with what is true. It may well mean that, in particular instances of dissent, but I want to consider the idea in a more favorable light.”

    I disagree with this. Dissent has a negative connotation with orthodox Catholics not because it disagrees with what is true, but because it disobeys authority.

    When one becomes a Catholic, or decides as an adult to remain one, he professes to “believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches”, based on the fact that it has been revealed by “God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived”, i.e. he believes based on authority. Dissent rubs us the wrong way because it strikes us as hypocrisy to profess to be a believing Catholic while refusing to “believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches.”

    Further, the main kind of dissent that bugs us is public dissent, because it’s hazardous to souls. And what’s even worse is the deliberate attempt to spread the idea among Catholics that they are permitted by the Church to dissent.

    Kyle writes, “… while the pursuit of truth requires making presuppositions….”

    It does, in a sense. But once one reaches a decision to be Catholic, in effect what he is saying is that he has found the truth (that is, religious truth, obviously). Therefore he is no longer pursuing it. If he purports to be still pursuing truth, then he should not profess to be already a Catholic.

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      January 22, 2011 7:50 pm

      Agellius,

      Yes, when a Catholic dissents from Catholic teaching, there is a disagreement with authority, but the dissenter has brought into question the legitimacy of the authority precisely because he or she no longer holds the teachings of the authority to be true. There may be disobedience involved, but really the authority is rejected only because the authority is no longer held to speak the truth. The truth is the measure of the authority, not the authority the measure of the truth.

      • January 22, 2011 10:49 pm

        Kyle writes, “Yes, when a Catholic dissents from Catholic teaching, there is a disagreement with authority…”

        There is not merely a disagreement with authority. There is a decision that he no longer believes the authority speaks for God. In which case, the non-hypocritical thing to do is to stop professing to be a Catholic.

        In which case, he is not a dissenter, he is a nonbeliever. He should be honest enough to say so.

        • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
          January 22, 2011 11:34 pm

          Yes, this disbelief in the authority would mean a disbelief that the authority speaks for God. If one believes God speaks the truth, but believes an authority claiming to speak for God speaks what is not true, he or she will conclude that the authority doesn’t speak for God.

        • January 23, 2011 12:24 am

          And if the authority is the Catholic Church, then an honest person finding himself in this situation would stop professing to be a Catholic. Right?

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      January 22, 2011 7:52 pm

      Truth may be found and touched, but cannot be possessed. We may know what is necessary for salvation, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’ve said all that can be said about the meaning of salvation, or evil, or human nature, or God.

      • January 22, 2011 10:52 pm

        Kyle writes, “… we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’ve said all that can be said about the meaning of salvation, or evil, or human nature, or God”

        I’m not aware of anyone having claimed to know “all that can be said about the meaning of salvation, or evil, or human nature, or God”. Such a thing can’t be dissented from since it has not been taught by any authority.

        • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
          January 22, 2011 11:35 pm

          Then the pursuit continues!

  4. Catholic thinker permalink
    January 22, 2011 8:23 pm

    So the question for Kyle is is he a modern-day pontius Pilate who denies the possibility of a deposit of faith and therefore those sacred truths that Catholics hold and value, or is he a Catholic seeker, on a very, very personal journey like all of us? Kyle, have you read the Instruction On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian?

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      January 22, 2011 11:29 pm

      I have not read that work, no. Regarding Pilate, he didn’t ask a bad question. “What is truth?” is very fine question. Pilate’s problem was that he didn’t care to know the answer.

    • January 23, 2011 3:29 am

      Catholic thinker:

      Can the Catholic Church be 99% right and 1% wrong, or must it be either 100% right or 100% wrong? Suppose a Catholic simply can’t believe (for whatever reason) in the dogma of the Assumption, but believes every other Catholic teaching. Would you say, “Go elsewhere.You are a heretic, not a Catholic”?

      I can understand (since I was taught it in Catholic school) the idea that the Catholic Church is 100% right. What I can’t understand are those who believe the Catholic Church is 100% right but would be of no value to people who don’t believe it is 100% right.

      Can John T. Noonan, after writing A Church that Can and Cannot Change, be considered a Catholic?

      • January 24, 2011 1:00 pm

        David writes, “Can the Catholic Church be 99% right and 1% wrong, or must it be either 100% right or 100% wrong? Suppose a Catholic simply can’t believe (for whatever reason) in the dogma of the Assumption, but believes every other Catholic teaching. Would you say, “Go elsewhere.You are a heretic, not a Catholic”?”

        The point is, you don’t become Catholic because the Church’s teachings happen to coincide with what you find believable. You become Catholic because you believe the Church was founded by Jesus Christ and given authority to teach in his, i.e. God’s, name. Based on that, you believe what the Church teaches is true, because God would not authorize someone to teach in his name and then allow it to teach falsely.

        If you don’t believe the Church teaches in God’s name, then you don’t become (or remain) Catholic.

        The Catechism says, “What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe ‘because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived’.” 156

        Further, “Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but ‘the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.'”

        The proportion of the teachings you accept versus those you reject are irrelevant. God is not trustworthy 99% of the time and untrustworthy 1% of the time. If you find the Church’s teachings untrustworthy at all, then clearly you don’t believe it is teaching in God’s name.

    • January 24, 2011 1:02 pm

      I have read it and find that it does not permit dissent:

      http://agellius.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/does-donum-veritatis-permit-dissent/

  5. Kyle R. Cupp permalink
    January 23, 2011 9:26 am

    Agellius,

    You wrote above: And if the authority is the Catholic Church, then an honest person finding himself in this situation would stop professing to be a Catholic. Right?

    If the honest person holds that the authority of the Church is an essential aspect of Catholic identity, then, yes, the consistent position would be to cease professing to be a Catholic. The same person, however, may not view the teaching authority of the Church in this way. He or she may dissent from core teachings and yet consider other aspects of Church life (sacraments, for example) to be of value. In other words, this person wouldn’t agree with everything the Church says about itself, but may continue to find the Church overall a good means of responding to God.

    • January 24, 2011 1:04 pm

      A believing Catholic is not defined as “someone who considers certain aspects of Church life to be of value”, nor someone who finds the Church to be “overall a good means of responding to God”. Rather, it’s someone who believes the Catholic faith.

  6. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    January 23, 2011 9:53 am

    I think that David Nickol touches on something important with his emphasis on avoiding a false dichotomy between always right and always wrong. We are the spotless bride of Christ but at the same time we are a pilgrim church that stumbles on the road to the New Jerusalem. Or, as Dorothy Day so trenchantly put it: “The Church is a whore, but She is our mother.”

    We owe her love and obedience and correction simultaneously. There is a tension among these, and they cannot be eliminated by simply saying, “I am a Catholic, I owe the Church unquestioning obedience.” The history of saints and theologians shows how this tension plays out in practice. St. Thomas Aquinas was condemned by the bishop of Paris: in effect, he was dissenting as he continued to develop scholastic theology. John Courtney Murray was silenced by the Vatican, only to become the author of one of the most important decrees of Vatican II. Both of these cases illustrate the interlocking nature of love, obedience and correction.

    There is a passage in Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience which I find very important in understanding the relation between a person and the state. I wonder if it can also be seen as a model for the relation between a person and the institutional church (not between a person and the Bride of Christ—the two overlap but I think they are ontologically distinct).

    The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others—as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders—serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few—as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men—serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.

    Kyle has laid out ground rules for those who would serve the Church in this way.

    • January 24, 2011 1:14 pm

      The quoted passage may apply in terms of how people relate to the Church in secular matters. It can’t apply in terms of how people respond to the Church’s teaching, since when the Church teaches it does so in Christ’s name, not in the name of the “institutional church”.

  7. January 23, 2011 11:04 am

    Kyle,

    In a comment above, you said, “Yes, when a Catholic dissents from Catholic teaching, there is a disagreement with authority, but the dissenter has brought into question the legitimacy of the authority precisely because he or she no longer holds the teachings of the authority to be true.” I can see why you say this, but I’m not convinced that you need to make this concession. Authority is more like a habit-term than an act-term, more like virtue than like a particular act of virtue. And I think it’s a useful analogy to keep in mind in this sort of case: it’s entirely possible to have a virtue and yet have lapses. The lapses don’t automatically mean a loss of the virtue (although it depends on the lapse and the virtue in question) — you can be a prudent person and make a very imprudent mistake without ceasing to be a prudent person. At least, this is the way virtue has traditionally been understood. And I think someone with the position you are suggesting in your post could in fact say that dissent is not a questioning of the legitimacy of the authority unless the dissent is relatively global — i.e., it’s not just occasional dissent but a whole lot of dissent. If my bishop decides something and I dissent from it, it’s not automatically a denial of his authority even in that case, but could be the claim that, even respecting his authority, he is making a mistake.

    As David says, it does seem that there’s a real need for an accurate characterization of the conditions for legitimate dissent. I suspect some of the commenters reading above are simply reading the post as an argument for dissent from “the authority of the Catholic Church”. But, of course, it’s not uncommon for people to dissent from a given authority because of the greater authority of the Church as a whole; that’s still dissent from authority, and often dissent from legitimate authority.

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      January 23, 2011 12:56 pm

      Brandon,

      Fair enough.

      I suspect some of the commenters reading above are simply reading the post as an argument for dissent from “the authority of the Catholic Church”.

      They may be, but that was not my intent. I meant to address the willingness to dissent from all presuppositions we hold, those that are of a religious sort and those that are not. What I have to say obviously applies to dissent from Catholic teaching, but it also applies to dissent from scientific, historical, philosophical, moral and other presuppositions.

  8. January 23, 2011 11:48 am

    I should say, too, with regard to Catholic Thinker’s comment above, that while the Instruction mentioned reserves the word dissent for what Kyle calls “a disagreement with what is true,” it does explicitly have a category for what Kyle is primarily talking about, namely, when theologians find difficulties with a teaching that remain after serious research. And its guidelines for them, though brief, aren’t really that far from what Kyle says about response.

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      January 23, 2011 12:50 pm

      In my initial post, I was using dissent in a universal sense, a sense that includes but is not limited to religious dissent.

      • January 23, 2011 3:21 pm

        Hi, Kyle,

        Yes, that was the way I read you; I don’t think all the commenters did.

  9. January 24, 2011 7:47 am

    I just read all the comments and I may have missed it, but I don’t remember any of the commentaries being based on the concept of trust. If one is talking about an authority figure of any kind–ecclesiastical, political, familial, philosophical, institutional–one is talking about a figure in whom one has placed trust. If one discovers that an authority is sometimes (or often) wrong, or self-contradictory, or hypocritical, or ignorant, that trust is destroyed. Moreover, others, seeing a person claiming to trust an unreliable authority, will lose respect for that person’s discretion and integrity.
    Where Christian truth is what is sought, nothing in this world cuts closer to the bone than the four Gospels. And each individual has the responsibility, as well as the God-given intellectual capacity, seek the Truth embodied in those Gospels for himself. Preachers are guides; they may provide helpful suggestions; but they do not possess the final word. The individual is tasked with undertaking the study, prayer and contemplation necessary to find the Truth in his own heart. Sola scriptura über alles.

    • January 24, 2011 1:17 pm

      This is well and good if you are telling us the Protestant or Mormon attitudes towards revelation. It’s obviously not the Catholic one.

  10. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    January 24, 2011 2:00 pm

    Agellius,

    I understand what you are saying, but how do you reconcile this with the empirical fact that the church has been wrong, or at least has changed its mind? The classic example is usury: to charge interest was a grave sin, but now it is not. This change came about by dissent: by faithful Catholics disagreeing, either by word or by deed.

    • Bruce in Kansas permalink
      January 24, 2011 3:04 pm

      Steve Kellmeyer had a recent piece on usury, which I thought was pretty good. Excerpt:

      “The Church has never changed her teaching on usury. It’s still a sin. You can’t sell something that doesn’t exist. The teaching didn’t change, but the cultural definitions of ‘money’ and ‘interest’ did. The definition of money is dramatically different now than it was in the first millennium of the Church’s existence. Now money is an electronic cypher in a computer somewhere, a set of bits flipping back and forth, the swap of electrons on a silicon wafer.

      We have changed the meaning of money.

      More here http://skellmeyer.blogspot.com/2010/12/usury-did-church-change-teaching.html

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        January 25, 2011 3:47 pm

        Bruce,

        thanks for the link, but I am not persuaded by the argument. First, the prohibitions on usury also held in the late patristic period, under the Roman empire, which was not a subsistence economy. Second, the prohibitions continued long after mercantilist and proto-capitalist societies had arisen. The last significant condemnation of usury is Vix Pervenit in 1745, long after the establishment of recognizable banking institutions.

        I found John Noonan’s arguments on this subject very persuasive.

    • January 24, 2011 7:40 pm

      David writes, “I understand what you are saying, but how do you reconcile this with the empirical fact that the church has been wrong, or at least has changed its mind? The classic example is usury: to charge interest was a grave sin, but now it is not. This change came about by dissent: by faithful Catholics disagreeing, either by word or by deed.”

      Your assessment of the purported change in the Church’s teaching on usury and how it came about is debatable (as Bruce as already pointed out). But in any case it’s a red herring. We can debate whether this teaching or that one changed, or was contradicted by this pope or that. Each instance of which could provide material for a thread in its own right.

      But the point is that when the Church presents a teaching as having been revealed by God, then a faithful Catholic is bound to accept it as true — or else cease being a faithful Catholic. If this is not the definition of a faithful, or believing, Catholic, then the Faith ceases being a divinely revealed faith. It becomes merely a set of practices and beliefs which either appeal to people or don’t, some of which they may assent to and some of which they may not. In other words, the basis of faith becomes “the light of our natural reason”. Which the Catechism says, quite plainly, is not genuine faith.

      • January 24, 2011 9:01 pm

        So, Agellius, you’re only talking about those teachings which have been presented by the Church as having been “revealed by God”?

        Are you really going to stick with that, or is this just a moment of imprecision.

        Given all the discussesions you and I have had on matters of this nature, do you see the significance of the language you’re using?

        Having been “revealed by God” are those teachings that ecclesiologists would identify as being part of the first gradation, and there’s only two of those that have been solemnly determined to have been revealed by God.

        The problem is that ordinary exericses of the magisterium can also be “divinely revealed,” but there is not a solemnly judged sort of list identifying WHICH teachings of the ordinary magisterium are divinely revealed. This then leads to discussion about what properly fits into this category, as you know.

        So, I am troubled by your comments here, because you are presenting very simplistic conclusions about a very complicated subject.

        You simply do not have a strong enough background in ecclesiology to be making the claims that you are. Would you care to clarify?

        • January 25, 2011 2:12 pm

          Kelly! Long time no argue. : ) It’s good to hear from you again.

          You write, “You simply do not have a strong enough background in ecclesiology to be making the claims that you are.”

          As I have pointed out previously, it’s fallacious to argue against an opponent’s position on the ground of his level of education. (Not to mention snobbish. ; P)

          You write, “Given all the discussesions you and I have had on matters of this nature, do you see the significance of the language you’re using?”

          Yes, we have had a discussion on a matter of this nature ( http://misterkellywilson.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/church-teaching-the-divinely-revealed/ ). As I recall, you forcibly terminated that discussion on your blog (reserving the last word for yourself) because you found me “bothersome” in various ways. Do you now propose to resume it? It’s cool with me, but remember, you don’t have control over the on-off switch here — though you may be closer buds with the moderator of this post than I am. : )

          You write, “Having been “revealed by God” are those teachings that ecclesiologists would identify as being part of the first gradation, and there’s only two of those that have been solemnly determined to have been revealed by God.”

          Would you please tell us what those two things are?

        • January 25, 2011 9:50 pm

          Agellius,

          It is good to hear from you as well.

          Can you do me a favour?

          Be so kind as to read my only comment at this topic, and then your response to me.

          Then ponder: Kelly, like anyone else has only 24 hours in a day. Do I really expect him to engage in a debate on this subject when he sees the quality of my initial response to him?

          Agellius, do interpret my response here in light of that fact that you don’t actually engage with what I have written, which as I have mentioned repeatedly before forms the reason why a certain previous discussion was shut down.

          But as you provide a link, I leave it to anyone interested to follow it and make their own determinations.

          All the best.

          Let me know.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      January 25, 2011 3:23 pm

      Agellius,

      I don’t think this example or related examples are red herrings: they get right to the heart of your argument. You are saying that any dissent or disagreement abrogates ones standing as “faithful Catholic.” So in these cases change was brought about by unfaithful Catholics? I think that this is far too narrow a definition of “faithful.”

      I am not advocating dissent at the drop of a hat, and there must be listening by all. (From the Latin, “to obey” is derived from “to listen”.) But this includes the Church listening to her faithful members.

  11. January 24, 2011 3:58 pm

    “It’s obviously not the Catholic one.”

    Thus, the dissent.

    • January 24, 2011 7:26 pm

      You’re not a dissenter if you’re not Catholic! : )

      That is, in the sense which the original post mentions, i.e., the kind of dissenter which “orthodox” Catholics would disapprove of.

      We don’t call non-Catholics dissenters, we just call them non-Catholics.

  12. grega permalink
    January 24, 2011 4:15 pm

    Hmm Attempting to formalize a process that would officially grant permission to beg to differ. Sounds like a nice postmodern solution.
    The average person of course will continue to do what generation after generation of human beings from the beginning of times have done – let reality take the lead and move the religious/moral goalpost along -with a modest delay that is. Of course religious leaders would beg to differ.
    Seems to me that for most folks religion is not the cumbersome brain twister that it seem to turn into in the hands of the religious studied man and women.

  13. Ryan Klassen permalink
    January 24, 2011 10:23 pm

    Agellius hits on an important point when he says “You’re not a dissenter if you’re not Catholic!” That is, dissent must always be tied together with loyalty. For the idea of dissent to make any sense, it must take place from within a community – leave the community and you are no longer practicing dissent, you’re practicing schism. And if push comes to shove, the loyal dissenter choses exile over schism.

    Dissent has always been practiced in the Roman Catholic Church. Heck, many of the theologians who were instrumental in Vatican II had been barred from teaching, censured and essentially exiled. John Courtney Murray, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner and Yves Congar all disagreed with various aspects of authoritative teaching in the church. When confronted with their “unbelief,” they obediently submitted themselves to the punishment of the church without giving up their “unbelief.” They did not recant but remained silent.

    This is not to say that dissenters just need to wait and they will always be vindicated, or that the community leaders will eventually come to follow the lead of the progressive vanguard. Sometimes dissenters are simply wrong. But it shows that one can practice obedience (that is, remain loyal) while also practicing dissent.

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      January 24, 2011 11:04 pm

      For the idea of dissent to make any sense, it must take place from within a community – leave the community and you are no longer practicing dissent, you’re practicing schism.

      I pretty much agree with this, though I’d use the word “community” loosely. Hence my speaking of “the willingness to dissent from the prevailing presuppositions upon which our acts of thinking begin.”

  14. January 25, 2011 4:46 am

    “We don’t call non-Catholics dissenters, we just call them non-Catholics.”

    The “dissent” of which I speak is dissent within the Christian family. The fact that Catholics are generally dismissive of the faith of anyone who is not Catholic is saddening, but ultimately irrelevant, to us “non-Catholics.” The boundary lines of the Christian universe, despite what you’ve been told by your priests, are not charted in Rome, but in the human heart, and not by men, but by the Holy Spirit.
    The only dissent that matters is dissent from the Word.

    • January 25, 2011 2:14 pm

      Rodak writes, “The boundary lines of the Christian universe, despite what you’ve been told by your priests, are not charted in Rome, but in the human heart, and not by men, but by the Holy Spirit.”

      And in so saying, are you not being dismissive of the faith of Catholics?

  15. January 25, 2011 7:27 pm

    No. I’m dissenting from Catholic doctrine.

  16. January 25, 2011 7:31 pm

    Which is to say, I’m not being dismissive. I’m here. I’m trying to engage you in a discussion of doctrinal issues.

  17. January 26, 2011 1:59 pm

    Kelly:

    Whether the quality of my response makes it worth your time to respond, only you can say. Judging by the amount of time you have spent debating various issues with me in the past — and the fact that you chose to initiate this very discussion — it seems like generally the answer has been yes.

    As to “engaging” with your initial comment, I gave direct responses to at least three of the statements you made. (For example, you said that there were only two issues that have been “solemnly determined [by the Church] to have been revealed by God”. I asked you what those issues were. You didn’t answer.) If there is a particular point you wanted me to respond to, which I didn’t, why don’t you just say so?

    Now it’s true that I didn’t answer your question, “So, Agellius, you’re only talking about those teachings which have been presented by the Church as having been ‘revealed by God’?”

    The reason I didn’t answer (which I thought I made clear, but apparently not) was that I found it hard to believe that you actually wanted to embark on another debate with me, since the last time we did so you abruptly and unilaterally terminated it. Hence my question, “Do you now propose to resume it?”

    But let me approach it from another angle: Is there something in my comments in this thread which you find to be inaccurate? If so, would you please state what it is?

    That might have been preferable to a blunt (not to say rude) assertion that I’m too ignorant to discuss the issue intelligently.

  18. January 26, 2011 6:10 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with not being particularly informed about a particular issue.

    Don’t be so touchy.

    It certainly wasn’t rude of me to take issue with the conclusions you were presenting in light of your next-to-no background in ecclesiology. Most people have lives, and don’t spend a lot of reading in this field. If you’ve read Dulles, or Sullivan, or Gaillardetz, or even someone like Orsy (to offer a few examples) then let’s talk. If not, then let’s not waste each others time.

    Evidence being informed, and it won’t be questioned.

    Evidence the opposite, and the conclusions you draw will be seen through that lens.

    But we’re not discussing what I want to be discussing. Right now we’re discussing you and me, and not the topic, so I leave the matter in your hands. If you want to continue the discussion on the topic, engage with the questions I asked.

  19. agellius permalink
    January 26, 2011 6:29 pm

    Kelly writes, “There’s nothing wrong with not being particularly informed about a particular issue. Don’t be so touchy.”

    Thank you, but I’m not distressed over not being a professional ecclesiologist. I’ve been that way my whole life and it’s never been a problem for me. For you, it did seem to be a barrier to my expressing opinions on the topic under discussion, but I never saw it that way.

    Kelly writes, “If you want to continue the discussion on the topic, engage with the questions I asked.”

    You are the one who purported to be challenging what I’ve said in this thread. You can challenge it by attacking my level of expertise (i.e. the fallacious way), or you can challenge it by attacking my statements. In my last comment I invited you to tell me which prior statements of mine you believed were incorrect. You can do it or not, it’s up to you. It’s not going to upset me to not have my arguments attacked. : )

    • January 28, 2011 2:47 pm

      Agellius, you misread.

      You (not me) are using the language of education, profession, academics (both here and privately) as if I am supposing that because you are lacking these you don’t know what you’re talking about.

      I didn’t say that.

      But you have read me right in the sense that, yeah, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, that should be a barrier to presenting your opinions about the subject in question.

      Now, I am giving you a chance to defend your claims, so do it, and lets move beyond this silly side-stepping.

      I am giving you a chance to engage with the theological ambiguity which surrounds the ordinary exercise of the magisterium, and how that relates to your claims.

      You used the language of being “revealed by God.” I question you, because you should know that what has been “solemnly judged” to have been “revealed by God,” are only two teachings. So as to all these claims “revealed by God,” two have been solemnly judged. The rest are subject to debate (not necessarily to the truth of the teaching, but with what authority it has been communicated), and that determines how we evaluate the “Catholicity” of those who do not agree with a particular teaching).

      So let’s be precise, and if we can’t be, let’s find something we’re more comfortable discussing. If you’ve see the movie “Creation” I have initiated a discussion about it at my blog. :)

  20. January 27, 2011 5:31 am

    “That is, dissent must always be tied together with loyalty. For the idea of dissent to make any sense, it must take place from within a community – leave the community and you are no longer practicing dissent, you’re practicing schism.”

    Presumably the loyalty of all Christians is to Christ. This shared loyalty would seem to form the basis of a “community,” in the same way that any of our extended families will be comprised of nuclear families with different surnames, but shared genes.
    It almost always becomes apparent, when talking to Catholics, however, that for them the Church comes before Christ, and therefore before God, in the hierarchy of their loyalties. A non-Catholic is beyond the pale–not really a Christian–damned unless granted a theoretically possible, but not freakin’ likely, dispensation by the Deity.
    I realize that this is an old charge. I’ve said nothing new. But I say it again, anyway, since I’ve just seen it played out anew in the responses above. Just think about what you’ve said.

    • Ryan Klassen permalink
      January 27, 2011 9:58 am

      Rodak – I am not Roman Catholic, and I understand exactly where I stand in relation to the Roman Catholic Church. I also know where I stand in relation to Jesus Christ, although perhaps some of those you refer to above would disagree with my self-assessment.

      But note that I used the word “community” and not “Church” (although I then used examples from the Roman Catholic Church, since this is a Catholic blog). My point is that dissent, by definition, must come from within a community. I cannot dissent from Roman Catholic teaching since I am not a Roman Catholic. Only a Roman Catholic can dissent from Catholic teaching. Once they cease to be Roman Catholic, they are not longer dissenters but schismatics.

      Kyle’s point on dissent was broader than just the Roman Catholic Church, and I hope my comments would be more broadly applicable. When we dissent from any community, by definition we dissent from within. Even the willingness to dissent from our own presuppositions must start from within our own presuppositions. We cannot wipe our slate clean or completely un-situate ourselves in order to seek truth from a completely neutral and unbiased perspective.

      Dissent then is not done for its own sake, but to confirm the veracity of our presuppositions (or the doctrines and practices of our community), or to change our presuppositions so that they are in conformity with the truth. Of course, if a person or community believes that they have already attained “the truth,” then any change must necessarily be a falling away from truth. How ironic that the two communities where I have experienced this attitude the most are Roman Catholics and Baptists.

    • January 27, 2011 12:39 pm

      Rodak writes, ‘Presumably the loyalty of all Christians is to Christ. This shared loyalty would seem to form the basis of a “community,” in the same way that any of our extended families will be comprised of nuclear families with different surnames, but shared genes. It almost always becomes apparent, when talking to Catholics, however, that for them the Church comes before Christ, and therefore before God, in the hierarchy of their loyalties. A non-Catholic is beyond the pale–not really a Christian–damned unless granted a theoretically possible, but not freakin’ likely, dispensation by the Deity.’

      I find this inaccurate in several ways. Yes, the loyalty of all Christians is to Christ. But Catholics’ loyalty to the Church is not in opposition to their loyalty to Christ. On the contrary, it grows out of their loyalty to Christ — for the simple reason that we believe Christ founded the Church! He authorized it to teach in his name, therefore to obey the Church is to obey Christ, and to belong to the Church is to belong to Christ. If you love Christ, then you love what is Christ’s. You may think this is all wrong, but you can’t find anything illogical about it.

      Non-Catholics are not automatically “beyond the pale”, nor automatically damned, as the Church has made very clear. The extent to which a non-Catholic Christian is culpable for rejecting Christ’s Church depends entirely on his individual circumstances and the intentions of his heart, which are known only to God.

      Rodak writes, “I realize that this is an old charge. I’ve said nothing new. But I say it again, anyway, since I’ve just seen it played out anew in the responses above. Just think about what you’ve said.”

      Speaking of old charges, I would just remind you that it’s an old charge among several branches of non-Catholic Christians, that Catholics themselves are “beyond the pale”, not really Christian, and damned because of their beliefs.

  21. January 27, 2011 1:59 pm

    “Non-Catholics are not automatically “beyond the pale”, nor automatically damned, as the Church has made very clear.”

    The Church has not made this “very clear” to me. And I have heard individual Catholics vehemently state the opposite.

    “The extent to which a non-Catholic Christian is culpable for rejecting Christ’s Church…”

    Right there you begin by assuming at least some degree of “culpability” pertaining to any non-Catholic. Since the non-Catholic is presumably completely unrepentant for being “non-Catholic,” it would seem to follow that you believe that to reject (or ignore) the Catholic Church is to reject Christ.
    This makes an idol of the Church, but never mind that one, for now. What it also proclaims (perhaps without voicing it aloud; perhaps not) is that there is no direct aspect for the believer to his Savior. I need to be led to my God by a card-carrying priest. I have to deal with the bureaucracy.
    It is amusing that many conservative Catholics rage when in political mode about the crimes and misdemeanors of “the Nanny State,” while at the same time being so very smug about their membership in a “Nanny Church.” The Church tells you that you aren’t smart enough, or righteous enough, to read the Gospels on your own and understand what God wants you to understand; sola scriptura is verboten. You need to hear it filtered through the “Authories”–the magisterium–you aren’t worthy of approaching the Holy Spirit in person.
    While I disagree with all that, I still wouldn’t hesitate to share Holy Communion with you. I wouldn’t prevent, or attempt to prevent my daughters from marrying into your faith, if they should so desire. I don’t believe that being sincerely wrong puts one outside the pale. I don’t believe that you can honestly say the same.

    • January 27, 2011 4:04 pm

      Rodak:

      As much as I would like to continue this discussion, my comments seem suddenly susceptible to unexplained censorship, therefore I won’t be posting here any longer until this is resolved. But since censors usually like to hide the fact of their censorship as well as the material they are censoring, chances are you won’t be seeing this comment in any event.

    • January 28, 2011 1:02 pm

      Rodak writes, ‘[quoting me] “Non-Catholics are not automatically “beyond the pale”, nor automatically damned, as the Church has made very clear.”’ The Church has not made this “very clear” to me. And I have heard individual Catholics vehemently state the opposite.’

      Regardless whether the Church has made it clear to you, it has made it clear. I’m sorry if some Catholics have misrepresented its teachings to you, however human nature being what it is, that’s to be expected from time to time.

      Rodak writes, ‘[quoting me] “The extent to which a non-Catholic Christian is culpable for rejecting Christ’s Church…” … it would seem to follow that you believe that to reject (or ignore) the Catholic Church is to reject Christ.’

      That is true: Objectively speaking, rejecting the Church is rejecting Christ, since the Church is His Body, and He is its Head. But the extent to which any individual is culpable of having rejected Christ, only Christ knows. The Church teaches a thing called ‘invincible ignorance’, which is not a term of insult, but simply means that sometimes people are incapable of believing the Church’s teachings, through no fault of their own. This teaching alone proves that the Church does not automatically condemn non-Catholics. There are several other proofs of this fact, however this is not the place for an in-depth analysis.

      Rodak writes, “This makes an idol of the Church, but never mind that one, for now. What it also proclaims … is that there is no direct [access] for the believer to his Savior. I need to be led to my God by a card-carrying priest. I have to deal with the bureaucracy.”

      Well, of course. There is no way to hear the Gospel except through other people. Even Protestants can’t deny that. A lot of non-Christians criticize Christanity for insisting that people can only find God through this particular book, while excluding other books such as the Koran or the Book of Mormon. Does this make the Bible an idol?

      Rodak writes, ‘The Church tells you that you aren’t smart enough, or righteous enough, to read the Gospels on your own and understand what God wants you to understand; sola scriptura is verboten. You need to hear it filtered through the “Authories”–the magisterium–you aren’t worthy of approaching the Holy Spirit in person.’

      This seems to be turning into a criticism of the Catholic faith in general. I am happy to discuss each of these issues with you individually. But to tackle them as a whole in a comment thread, I doubt is going to be feasible. For now I will just say that individuals are free to read and interpret the Gospels, they simply may not contradict the defined doctrines of the Church in doing so. However only a small proportion of the scriptures have been given an official, authoritative interpretation by the Church. The rest we are free to ponder, debate and interpret to our hearts content.

      Rodak writes, ‘While I disagree with all that, I still wouldn’t hesitate to share Holy Communion with you. I wouldn’t prevent, or attempt to prevent my daughters from marrying into your faith, if they should so desire. I don’t believe that being sincerely wrong puts one outside the pale. I don’t believe that you can honestly say the same.’

      Well, I hope I wouldn’t dishonestly say it. : )

      As far as I can discern, your main point seems to be that the Catholic Church believes itself to be certain things which other Christian communities are not. If so I can only say, guilty as charged. What next?

  22. January 27, 2011 2:01 pm

    NOTE: I wrote “aspect” above where I meant “access.” My bad.

  23. January 28, 2011 3:45 pm

    Kelly:

    So we’re not done after all! : )

    I can only repeat: If you will tell me what I have said that you contend is incorrect, then I will respond and tell you why I think it’s correct. (A quote might be helpful.) Or, who knows, I might admit that I was incorrect. That depends on how strong your argument is.

    As of now you are only saying that I used the language “revealed by God”. Yes, I did. But please tell me, which statement in which I used that phrase, do you contend is incorrect?

  24. January 28, 2011 5:21 pm

    When you wrote: “But the point is that when the Church presents a teaching as having been revealed by God, then a faithful Catholic is bound to accept it as true — or else cease being a faithful Catholic.”

    This is a TRUE statement (with necessary qualifications, I’m sure you agree), but the problem is that the phrase “revealed by God” is a very specific statement in ecclesiology. What I’ve said is that only 2 teachings have been solemnly judged to have been “revealed by God” in the ecclesiological sense.

    But, but, but…these aren’t the only teachings that have been “revealed by God.” They’re simply the only ones to have been “solemnly judged” to have been revealed by God.

    All the other teachings, however, that some people THINK have been “revealed by God” are just interpretations. Some interpretations are better than others, but there isn’t a solemnly judged list of ordinary exercises of the Magisterium that are “revealed by God.”

    Do you see the implications this has in evaluating Catholicity?

    • January 30, 2011 7:37 pm

      Kelly writes, “Do you see the implications this has in evaluating Catholicity?”

      To be honest, I don’t. As we have discussed previously, the Church, in the Code of Canon Law, sets forth three levels of teaching, and the three levels of assent/acceptance/submission that are required in response thereto. Catholics must either give the assent of theological faith; or they must firmly accept and hold; or they must give, at the very least, religious submission of will and intellect, to magisterial teaching, even when not defined infallibly.

      Frankly, I don’t know how one distinguishes, in practice, between “firmly accepting and holding” something, and giving “religious submission of will and intellect” to it. For that matter, I personally don’t see any substantial difference, in actual practice, between giving the assent of theological faith, and firmly accepting and holding something. (Maybe this is something that only qualified theologians are capable of doing. : ) For me, there is only a choice of believing magisterial teachings or not. And my choice is to believe them.

      This is because I am perfectly willing to place my trust in the judgment of the Magisterium over my own judgment. And this because “By its nature, the task of religiously guarding and loyally expounding the deposit of divine Revelation (in all its integrity and purity), implies that the Magisterium can make a pronouncement “in a definitive way” (14) on propositions which, even if not contained among the truths of faith, are nonetheless intimately connected with them, in such a way, that the definitive character of such affirmations derives in the final analysis from revelation itself.’
      DV 16. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19900524_theologian-vocation_en.html

      For this reason I cannot help considering that people who try to figure out ways of being allowed to dissent, do so because of a problem of the will. Faith, after all, is an act of will. And the decision whether to submit to the Magisterium, is a decision whether to place one’s trust in the authority granted to it by our Lord, or to place more trust in one’s own judgment.

      As to your contention that only two teachings have ever been solemnly judged to have been divinely revealed, even assuming for the sake of argument that you are right about that, I don’t see how that should affect a Catholic’s willingness to submit to magisterial teaching, whether ordinary or extraordinary.

      In any event, let’s not forget that the topic of this thread is “dissent”. And as noted previously in this thread, DV says that ‘To succumb to the temptation of dissent, … is to allow the “leaven of infidelity to the Holy Spirit” to start to work.’ DV, 40. So, dissent is opposed to Church teaching and therefore proscribed – even for qualified theologians. I submit that to persist in dissent is to oppose the Church and its teaching authority granted by Christ. Which is the opposite of what a faithful Catholic would do.

      • January 31, 2011 12:27 am

        Agellius,

        A clarification, and (what I hope will be) a very quick answer that I hope gets to the point of one of your questions.

        First, the clarification. Please don’t assume “for the sake of argument,” that I’m right about noting that only twice have teachings been proposed by solemn judgment through an extraordinary exercise of the magisterium. You either know that, or you don’t, and if you don’t you should, and this is why.

        It’s very much connested with the very issue being discussed. A practical implication that this has in the evaluation of Catholicity is this:

        In this first gradation, if you read someone like Dulles, if you engage in “obstinate denial or doubt” you are guilty of heresy and could be subject to the canonical penalty of excommunication. I am using Dulles’ language here. Whether or not we agree is secondary to the fact that Dulles notes the seriousness of obstinancy in this regard.

        Now, as for the second gradation, if you read paragraph 6 of the Ratzinger-Bertone Commentary, they state that “who denies these truths [my own insert: truths which have been 'definitively communicated' rather than 'divinely revealed'] would be in the position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.” This is, of course, serious, but the CDF, when asked whether such a person would find him or herself being excluded from the sacraments as a result, simply responded ‘Negative.’

        So in my opinion, this is a very practical difference between the first gradation and the second gradation. Hence the need, I think, to deal with the theological ambiguity surrounding the matter of the universal magisterium.

  25. January 28, 2011 9:24 pm

    “Objectively speaking, rejecting the Church is rejecting Christ, since the Church is His Body, and He is its Head.”

    That is a circular argument: the Church is X because the Church says that it is X. It also presupposes what is meant by “church.” Have you ever read “Acts?” The first churches–those founded by men AND WOMEN who actually walked with Christ–were nothing like the rigidly formal, hierarchical, professional, bureaucratic institution, blatantly modeled on the government of the Roman Empire, that is the Catholic Church. There is nothing in the Bible which indicates that what the Catholic Church became was what Jesus had in mind when he used the word. Again, you claim that the Church is X because the Church says that X is the church. I ask you to find any support for that contention other than support coming from the Church itself.
    The Bible is not an idol any more than a road map is a highway. That said, to say that the “Church is Christ” is idolatry. Jesus never said that. Paul said that. Paul was wrong about a number of things and wildly inconsistant about almost everything. Paul was a saleman who adjusted his rap to fit the audience he was addressing at any given time. He was a genius; but he did not speak for Jesus–he spoke for Paul.
    You ask “What next?” What I would call for next is that Catholics remove their doctrine from the public square, since their doctrines are applicable–by their own choice–only to them. I would ask that since Catholics are exclusionary, they quit bitching and moaning about being “victims.” You can’t push everyone else away from you, sneer condescendingly at others’ beliefs and then expect to be loved and respected by the very people whom you disparage. You also can’t be taken seriously as being followers of Him who taught “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and who sat down to eat with sinners and outcasts, when you won’t share communion with those you consider to be sinners and outcasts. As I said before, you worship not Christ (who was all-inclusive), but the Church (which is rigidly exclusive): an idol.

    • January 30, 2011 7:43 pm

      Rodak writes, “That is a circular argument: the Church is X because the Church says that it is X.”

      I wasn’t making an argument. I was telling you what I believe as a Catholic. If we were debating whether the Church’s claims about itself are true, then I would respond differently. As I said before, if you want to engage in such a debate, I’m willing. But I don’t think the comment box of this thread is the best place for it.

  26. January 29, 2011 9:17 am

    I will add to the above, btw, that the conservative fringe of Prostestantism–the so-called Evangelicals–are also invited by me to stay out of the public square with their idiosyncratic doctrines and tend their own gardens in seclusion. Their brand of “Christianty” also breeds separation and hatred where love is called for. They have not, however, as nearly as I can tell, made an idol out of any earthly institution.

  27. January 30, 2011 9:08 pm

    “But I don’t think the comment box of this thread is the best place for it.”

    Why not? This post was about dissent. I don’t think that we’re off topic. If what you believe as a Catholic is derived from the Church’s claims about itself, then the Church’s claims about itself must be defended against all dissent for your beliefs to have a sound basis. That would seem to be fundamental.

    • January 30, 2011 11:20 pm

      I’m sorry, we just seem to be seeing this from very different viewpoints. To take the discussion in the direction you want, would mean changing to topic to “Whether or not the Catholic Church is what it claims to be”. It would be basically an apologetical discussion. I’m game for that, I’m just not going to do it here. We can do it on your blog or on mine, or by email. Take your pick.

  28. January 31, 2011 8:41 am

    Thanks. But it would probably be pointless.

  29. January 31, 2011 2:22 pm

    Kelly writes, ‘Please don’t assume “for the sake of argument,” that I’m right about noting that only twice have teachings been proposed by solemn judgment through an extraordinary exercise of the magisterium. You either know that, or you don’t, and if you don’t you should, and this is why.’

    If it’s true I would certainly like to know it. I have already asked you which two teachings you were referring to (and then later pointed out that you had not answered the question). If you would tell me, that might help to start the process of coming to know it for myself.

    Also, to further clarify: Do you mean to say that there are only two teachings that fall under the first gradation? Or are you actually saying that there are only two teachings of the ordinary universal magisterium that were later formally defined by the extraordinary magisterium as being among those that have been revealed by God? If that’s it, then I assume you’re taking about the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, right?

    Kelly writes, “So in my opinion, this is a very practical difference between the first gradation and the second gradation. Hence the need, I think, to deal with the theological ambiguity surrounding the matter of the universal magisterium.”

    Certainly, I understand that there are different practical consequences for dissenting from teachings of different gradations. What I don’t understand is why a faithful Catholic would do so.

  30. January 31, 2011 4:04 pm

    No, I don’t mean to say that only two teaching fall under the first gradation. What I say is that only two teachings have been “solemnly judged” to have been divinely revealed, and as such, only two have been “solemnly judged” to have fallen under this gradation. It does not mean to say that other teachings aren’t also rightly part of this gradation. The difficulty in light of the ambiguity I have already identified as existing, is that any other determination outside of a solemn judgment would be a matter of interpretation. Against its not to say the truth of the teaching would necessarily be a matter of debate, but its status would be, and as I have noted, proper status had consequences depending on the response given.

    But, certainly there are other teachings that have been divinely revealed, but they haven’t been solemnly judged to have been “divinely revealed.” And yes, the two are the Marian teachings.

    As for your failure to comprehend why a faithful Catholic would dissent, find one and ask him or her.

    • February 1, 2011 12:51 pm

      Two things:

      First, the Ratzinger-Bertone commentary (“RB”), which you cite above, states the following:

      “With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is *no difference* with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings.” RB, 8 (emphasis added).

      http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDFADTU.HTM

      So while there may be a difference in the consequences for dissenting from these two gradations of teachings, according to Ratzinger-Bertone there is no difference in the level of assent required.

      In that case, why classify them according to two different gradations? “The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God (doctrines de fide credenda); in the case of the truths of the second paragraph, the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).” RB 8.

      Second, you say that only two teachings have been “solemnly judged” to have fallen under the first gradation. But RB specifies a lot more than two teachings as belonging to the first gradation, including “the articles of faith of the Creed, the various Christological dogmas21 and Marian dogmas;22 the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace;23 the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist24 and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration;25 the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ;26 the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff;27 the doctrine on the existence of original sin;28 the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death;29 the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts;30 the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.31″ RB 11.

      So whom do I believe? You or Ratzinger? : )

      I assume your response will be that RB’s listing these in their commentary does not constitute a “solemn judgment”. Nevertheless, since the same level of assent is required whether the listed teachings fall under the first gradation or the second, I don’t think whether they have been solemnly judged to fall under the first, or “merely” under the second, makes any practical difference to a faithful Catholic.

      He is obliged to assent to them either way, since to do otherwise would either (a) make him a heretic, or (b) cause him to be “no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church”. Is he going to split hairs and say, “I don’t mind being no longer in full communion with Christ’s Church, so long as I’m not technically a heretic!” Or would he not rather shudder at either possibility?

  31. February 1, 2011 7:59 pm

    We distinguish between the two, in my opinion, because the Church does, and because the Church has a good reason for doing so.

    Let me explain: The first gradation speaks of those things “divinely revealed.” As for the second gradation, the RB Commentary itself distinguishes between teachings connected to the revealed by a sort of “logical necessity,” and those connected by a sort of “historical necessity.” So, I think the source or origin of the teaching, would be one way of explaining the difference. One is “revealed by God,” the second is a sort of consequence of what has been revealed. The first is primarily, the second built upon that. That’s just off the top of my head, but its probably not too bad of a way of distinguishing.

    I did say that only two teachings have been “solemnly judged” to have fallen under the first gradation. But I have repeatedly said that this does not necessarily mean that those are the only teachings that fall under this gradation. Remember the whole business about the ordinary exercise of the universal magisterium. So yes, of course, the RB Commentary identifies more than just the solemnly judged as being part of the first gradation. So it’s not a question of believing me or the Cardinals. It’s a question of reading carefully, of recognizing nuance, and once having done so of presenting the thoughts of another accurately. What I said, and what remains significant is that anything proposed as part of this first gradation, outside of the “solemnly judged” is an interpretation, and a fallible one.

    The difficulty is the theological ambiguity surrounding the ordinary exercise of the universal magisterium.

    What’s what is important. Knowing the Church presents a particular teaching in an ex cathedra manner is extremely different from the Church presenting something on, what the CDF calls, a “matter per se not irreformable.”

    I’m not quite sure what the goal is here for you. What are you getting at? I feel like I’m giving you Ecclesiology 101, and I’m not sure its worth the time, especially when there’s lots of good books out there that you could be reading.

  32. February 2, 2011 2:04 pm

    Kelly:

    You write, “We distinguish between the two, in my opinion, because the Church does, and because the Church has a good reason for doing so.”

    I agree, and I gave the Church’s reason in my last post. (RB 8.)

    You write, “I did say that only two teachings have been “solemnly judged” to have fallen under the first gradation. But I have repeatedly said that this does not necessarily mean that those are the only teachings that fall under this gradation.”

    I never disputed that.

    You write, “Remember the whole business about the ordinary exercise of the universal magisterium. So yes, of course, the RB Commentary identifies more than just the solemnly judged as being part of the first gradation. So it’s not a question of believing me or the Cardinals.”

    It appeared to me that Ratzinger was positively identifying quite a number of specific teachings as being in the first gradation. Of course I know that there’s a difference between his having done so, and a “solemn judgment”. I noted that difference in my last comment.

    You write, “What I said, and what remains significant is that anything proposed as part of this first gradation, outside of the “solemnly judged” is an interpretation, and a fallible one. The difficulty is the theological ambiguity surrounding the ordinary exercise of the universal magisterium. What’s what is important. Knowing the Church presents a particular teaching in an ex cathedra manner is extremely different from the Church presenting something on, what the CDF calls, a “matter per se not irreformable.””

    I understand that that’s your position, and I understand the distinctions you’re making. I just disagree that it should make any difference to a faithful Catholic in actual practice, for the reasons explained previously.

    You write, “I’m not quite sure what the goal is here for you. What are you getting at? I feel like I’m giving you Ecclesiology 101, and I’m not sure its worth the time, especially when there’s lots of good books out there that you could be reading.”

    In answer to your question: My goal is only to answer you. As previously noted, you began this discussion with a challenge of my prior statements. I’m responding to the challenge. If you have better things to do with your time, don’t let me stop you. : )

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