"What is essential, for me, is the Newman-type vision of the Tradition acting as a 'vehicle', but not only 'transporting' but also developing our understanding of revelation as things get better understood through study and contemplation - and arguing against heresies. This is a notion that doesn't at all well go down with many 'traditionalists'. It is what brought Newman to Catholicism, otherwise he would have had to conclude that being Christian is exactly reproducing what the early Church might have been like, according to our limited historical view.A few contemporary Catholics still maintain that to acknowledge that doctrine develops is to adopt a liberal agenda.
"There are people today who maintain that the Catholic Church is able to change her teachings, so that they may acquire a different meaning or interpretation from that previously held by the Church. These liberals pretend that certain doctrines are no longer relevant, or that they are able to evolve so that they may sometimes even obtain a meaning entirely opposite to that which was once believed in the Catholic Church. For instance .... that no one at all can obtain eternal salvation outside the Catholic Church .... These liberals .... are in grave error".This paragraph is full of loaded words. Mr Sparkes has one valid point. It is a fact that on a small number of matters the official teaching of the Magisterium has changed so much over time that it is difficult to see how the change is developmental rather than evolutionary or even revolutionary. He uses this fact to argue that the contemporary Magisterium is heretical, I prefer to argue that:
"A developing Tradition is a Living Tradition. Talk about this with some people from the Society of St. Pius X or the 'sedevacantists' - and they'll condemn you as a 'heretic' and a 'liberal'. I have had some arguments with a traditionalist bishop in America who thinks the whole problem in the Church is non-adherence to scholastic theology. When I said that scholasticism is merely one method among others, and not a source of revelation, he went nuts. This is the kind of thing we have to deal with." [Private Communication from a priest (2005)]
I am not saying that something is true because it works, but rather that something will work if it is true.
If a doctrine evolves successfully in the long-term; it is plausible that its very success is indicative of its continuing correspondence with (and perhaps improved approximation to) reality. Change that was never justified with reference to a continuity with Tradition, may in outcome prove to be a faithful development.
This might happen when a dissident pastor, with no concern for Catholic Unity implemented some policy or proclaimed some teaching which he impetuously believed was necessary, given the pastoral conditions that he found himself caught up in. If the policy or teaching in fact turned out to be helpful and contributed to the well-being of his flock, then it is plausible that this dissident pastor, in spite of his intention to revolutionize, in fact perceived a truth and so contributed to the authentic development of doctrine.
The difficulty here is in setting up "success criteria". Such are always debatable. Objective measures of "popularity" as in baptism, marriage, conversion and ordination statistics are not reliable means of judging what is good: else the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, the New Rite of Mass, and the Second Vatican Council which gave rise to it must all be accounted deviations from Tradition, and Islam approved as true.
Some Quantum Mechanical insightsIn this essay I explore the role of magisterial pronouncements in the process by with doctrine develops. A physicist by training, I shall argue that there is an analogy between the process of doctrinal development and the continuous propagation of the Quantum Mechanical wavefunction, with experiment and magisterial definition playing similar roles in "collapsing the wavepacket". I hope that those readers unfamiliar with Quantum Mechanics will bear with me. My treatment will not be mathematical, and the ideas involved are quite simple.
Councils are a powerful testimony to the Church's awareness of the
charism of indefectability promised by Her Lord "I
will send you another advocate, who will lead you into all truth."
From the point of view of the Traditionalist, eager to defend Magisterial infallibility, this epistemological dilemma is regrettable. It would seem that no statement made in human language can possibly be irreformable! This is just because it is necessarily a fragment of a whole. Unless the immutability of the definitive formula were somehow communicated to its context, subsequent change in that (otherwise mutable) context will change the applicability and significance of the formula.
I take it as obvious that any such propagation of infallibility beyond a definition to all that the Magisterium (implicitly!) envisaged in a definition is extravagant and entirely outside any orthodox account and understanding of Ecclesial Infallibility.So it would seem that the Church is wrong when She says that She could define doctrine inerrantly!
clearly imposed the doctrine on the Catholic Faithful "that
it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human
creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." It is difficult to see
any difference in form between the mode of address of this magisterial
act and those which defined the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption
of the Holy Mother of God. Unlike the recent Pope's declaration regarding
women and the Apostolic Ministry, "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis",
it was not issued in the context of an official commentary
from the Prefect of the Holy Office to the effect that it was not in itself
infallible! Now while Boniface did not couch his teaching in negative terms
and did not explicitly attach an anathema, in the context these are poor
arguments against its intended infallibility. The positive statement is
trivially negated and is not then extravagant in its extent: though it
is highly objectionable in its intention. Moreover, the preface "we
declare, we proclaim, we define" makes it quite obvious that Boniface
meant to teach in the most solemn manner possible, especially given that
he has just referred to the Petrine power of Binding and Loosing!
Pope Eugenius IV, teaching in explicit fellowship with the Oecumenical Union Council of Florence said much the same thing.
I think it is clear from the general content and tone of "Unum Sanctum" that Boniface meant by his definition to proclaim that if some one died without explicitly, unequivocally and formally submitting to the Roman Pontif, then that person was inevitably damned. This is particularly obvious, given that the manifest political aim of the Bull was to intimidate the King of France into doing what the Pope wanted him to! This is certainly the understanding that certain small but vocal groups of reactionary Catholics have of this Bull.
Now this doctrine, at least in its manifest and simple meaning, has been utterly repudiated in subsequent Catholic thought. For example, Pope Pius IX, taught that "By faith it is to be firmly held that outside the Apostolic Roman Church none can achieve salvation .... Nevertheless equally certainly it is to be held that those who suffer from invincible ignorance of the true religion, are not for this reason guilty in the eyes of the Lord." This apparent contradiction is reconciled by the doctrine that those in "invincible ignorance" of the True Faith are united to the Church imperfectly before they die and perfectly at their particular judgement: at the moment of death.
Hence, either Pius IX deviated from Apostolic truth in this matter (and with him the overwhelming majority of Catholic theological thought!) or Boniface VIII went too far in what I take to be his infallible definition. The situation is compounded by Vatican II, which takes Pius IX's teaching even further.
Other examples of magisterial error exist: Semi-Arianism, Pelagianism, Nestorianism, Monothelatism, Usury, anti-Semitism, Slavery, Geo-centric Cosmology, Contraception. It is not my business here to painfully rehearse them again.
way. It is argued that when a Pope or Synod is about to make an erroneous
infallible definition, he/they must have subjectively adopted the error
that is about to be proclaimed as his/their own personal belief. As it
is in objective fact heresy, he/they will have by this adoption become
(a) heretic(s) and so ceased to be Catholic. He/they would by this fact
cease to be the Pope/Oecumenical and so forfeit the charism of Infallibility.
"A pope who is a manifest heretic automatically (per se) ceases to be pope and head of the Church, just as he ceases automatically to be a Christian and a member of the Church. Wherefore, he can be judged and punished by the Church. All the early Fathers are unanimous in teaching that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction. St. Cyprian, in particular, laid great stress on this point."Hence at the moment that they made the apparently infallible definition they were constitutionally unable to do any such thing! Once it was realized by the Church that an error had been apparently been proclaimed by the Magisterium, it would be up to the Church at large to denounce the putative Pope or Synod and if the parties to the false decree did not repent of their act, to pronounce them excommunicate and deposed.
Moreover, many of the errors are clearly acts of the Ordinary Magisterium, rather than the Extraordinary, and as such can be argued to be non-infallible.
Hence the traditional answer is based on a circular argument and tends to make infallibility meaningless.
While a Pope who is about to attempt to define an erroneous doctrine is by that very fact a material heretic: as long as he holds the mistaken opinion in good faith, then he does not thereby cease to be a Catholic, and so remains the Pope when he makes the definition. He can certainly be in good faith when he does not act in opposition to the consensus of the Church, perhaps manifested by the advice or admonishings of the Episcopacy. In passing, it is worth remarking that before the definitions of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption, the Pope took the trouble to consult the entire Episcopacy, in a spirit of true Christian fellowship, in order to formally confirm that exactly this condition held true!
Hence the traditional answer doesn't help. It is logically quite possible for a pope to innocently attempt the definition of heresy.
Hindsight is a wonderful thingThe final problem with the traditional answer is its aptness for misuse. All past erroneous pronouncements of the Ordinary Magisterium (no matter how terrible in consequence) can be excused as non-infallible: "the Pope was only teaching as a private theologian", we may be told. At the same time, it can be maintained that many pronouncements of indistinguishable character (e.g. Humanae Vitae, Dignitatis Humanae) are infallible, because they represent the manifest consensus of Episcopal teaching.
Hence the traditional answer confuses the issues at stake and offers no guidance as to how acts of the Ordinary Magisterium are to be interpreted.
"Wherefore, by divine and catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgement or in her ordinary and universal magisterium."In effect, I believe that: "By divine and catholic faith all those things are to be believed as divinely revealed, which are proposed by the church to be contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition, whether by exercise of her extraordinary or ordinary magisterium." This is subtly different (stronger than, though compatible with) the Conciliar teaching.
However, I do not believe that one can always clearly perceive when the Extra-Ordinary Magisterium is exercised, still less when and in what particulars the Ordinary Magisterium is infallible. Neither do I believe that the true meaning of any definitive teaching can be apprehended without difficulty at the time it is made. Holy Spirit only protects the Magisterium from error. She does not, at least ordinarily, direct the Magisterium to speak the truth, still less speak the truth in a helpful manner.Unum Sanctum" is moot here. I contend that:
I suggest that Holy Spirit did indeed prevent Boniface from defining error. To see this we must look at what in fact he said. Not what he meant to say nor what he was understood by his contemporaries to have said. Neither of these are accessible to us. The simple meaning of Boniface's words is an almost triviality. While he means much more, he says only that it is a universally necessary condition for salvation that a person be subject to the Roman Pontif.
Boniface does not in fact say that this subjugation must be:
I grant that Boniface meant all or most of the above: perhaps even more! I also expect that his contemporaries believed that Boniface had in effect said all the above. It would never have occurred to them to dissect the statement in the way that I believe it is absolutely necessary that we do.
So, the objective import of Boniface's definition is more or less the opposite of what he subjectively intended. He meant to impose his coercive will on the King of France by threatening His Majesty with damnation if he didn't do as he was told. In fact he established only the liberality of God, in that every person appearing in good faith before the Judgement Throne can benefit equally from the "Church's Treasury of Grace", whether or not they were in their earthly life a formal member of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Evangelical and Orthodox Church!
As a correspondent has put it to me:
".... the Unam Sanctam issue .... is easier to resolve than you think. I certainly wouldn't go as far to say that it was repudiated by Vatican II. The definition is lifted verbatim from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Contra Errores Graecorum (2,38) where, in context, it was simply a restatement of ‘No salvation outside the Church’, as stated in the first sentence of Unam Sanctam.All I can say is that I agree.
A lesson in humilityAn immediate lesson to be learned is that one should treat all statements issuing from the Magisterium of the Church with a great deal of care. One should not presume that their true significance is manifest, and certainly not that it is what is intended or contended by the Magisterium! Just as it was obvious to Boniface's contemporaries that Unum Sanctum settled the question at issue (it turned out not to, even though it was infallible) it is obvious to conservative Catholics that Paul VI's Encyclical "Humanae Vitae" or Vatican II's Declaration "Dignitatis Humanae" or John-Paul II's Apostolic Letter "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" (though none of these are infallible) settle the questions that they deal with ("hormonal contraception", "religious liberty" and "women priests").
"It should be noted that the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium is not only set forth with an explicit declaration of a doctrine to be believed or held definitively, but is also expressed by a doctrine implicitly contained in a practice of the Church's faith, derived from revelation or, in any case, necessary for eternal salvation, and attested to by the uninterrupted Tradition: such an infallible teaching is thus objectively set forth by the whole episcopal body, understood in a diachronic and not necessarily merely synchronic sense. Furthermore, the intention of the ordinary and universal Magisterium to set forth a doctrine as definitive is not generally linked to technical formulations of particular solemnity; it is enough that this be clear from the tenor of the words used and from their context." [Doctrinal commentary to "Ad Tuandum Fidem", note 17]In this commentary, Ratzinger does no more than set forth the positive (non infallible) doctrine of the Oecumenical Vatican Council that the Episcopacy can teach infallibly outside Oecumenical Council. Hence when a doctrine is in fact "attested to by the uninterrupted Tradition" by being "set forth by the whole episcopal body" throughout an extended interval of time (diachronically, not just at some specific moment: synchronically), the Ordinary Magisterium has taught this doctrine infallibly. However:
Whereas the Fathers of the Oecumenical Vatican Council may have thought that the doctrine that the ordinary Magisterium (that is, themselves when they went home) could teach infallibly would counterbalance the definition of Papal Infallibility, in fact it is leading to a totalitarian exercise of arbitrary power by the Vatican. In effect the Vatican is getting into the habit of telling the College of Bishops "We know what you believe better than you do yourselves!"
Mechanics. Generally, the state-of-affairs (the Wavefunction) is ambiguous
and subject to point-of-view: full of potentiality and open-ness to various
possible resolutions. It develops (propagates) continuously and
smoothly as time progresses in accordance with certain principles of internal
coherence (the Dirac equation, or its approximate form the Schrodinger
equation) and the environment or context in which it finds itself (the
"potential"). Every so often, things are brought to a head when specific
questions are posed (an experiment is conducted) and on such occasions,
an unambiguous answer to the very specific and particular question is obtained.
The Wavefunction is said to suddenly and discontinuously "collapse",
all its ambiguity (regarding the question at issue) dissipates.
Epistemological ambiguitySimilarly, the only person for whom a doctrinal definition is clear is the agent making it: and that is in fact not even the Pope or Synod who profess the form of words, but rather Holy Spirit. All other observers have a remote view of the definitive event, and for them it is not epistemologically definitive!
Linguistic ambiguityMoreover, any answer obtained either from a physics experiment or an ex-cathedra definition is itself properly part of the same state-of-affairs and so; while unambiguous in principle, can only be apprehended in practice subject to human uncertainty. With the best will in the world, texts (including technical papers published in learned journals and Papal Encyclicals) are ambiguous; and the more succinct and clear in themselves, the more they rely on reference to presumed background knowledge.
Questions and AnswersFurther, the question may not have been adequately proposed, as in "What is the answer to life and everything?" [D. Adams "The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" (1979)], so although the correct answer is obtained, in this case "42", one might not be any the wiser! (An aside addressed to fellow physicists: One presumes that "42" is the Eigen-value of the many-body Hamiltonian of the Entire Cosmos :-) Worse still, one might obtain the correct answer but entirely misinterpret it, as in "Unum Sanctum": with potentially disastrous consequences.
|episteme", either an immediate knowledge of a thing by intuitive apprehension of its inner form or certainty obtained by remorseless induction. It is always and inevitably subjective "doxa": obtained by a process of continual approximation [Sir K.R. Popper "Conjectures and Refutations" (1963)]. Remember that orthodoxy means straight-opinion, not correct-knowledge. In all this I beg to differ with the epistemology espoused by John Henry Cardinal Newman ["Grammar of Assent" (1870)].|
Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other .... Hence, so far is the church from hindering the development of human arts and studies, that in fact she assists and promotes them in many ways .... but .... she takes particular care that they do not become infected with errors by conflicting with divine teaching, or, by going beyond their proper limits, intrude upon what belongs to faith and engender confusion. For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated. Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy mother church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.This anathema seems to directly contradict the import of my essay. It seems to say that if Popes Boniface VIII and Eugenius IV themselves (together with their contemporaries) meant by their declarations that all those who were not explicitly in Communion with and submissive to the Pope during their mortal lives prior to their deaths were damned, then this is the meaning that must be attached to their declarations.
Of course, it does not.
In the case of Unum Sanctum, the understanding that developed over time is not "different" from the original understanding of its promulgator: for this did not properly exist! It is not that a clear and acknowledged signification (like that of the homousion) has been changed for another meaning, altogether foreign to Apostolic Tradition. Rather, the passage of time allowed the doctrine to take substance and the orthodox understanding of it (as championed by Pope Blessed Pius IX) to develop.
Now that this understanding has developed, it is fixed: so far as it is clear and coherent. The advance of secular and theological knowledge may further deepen the Church's understanding of the dogma, and further surprises may lie in wait: but the realization at the heart of the dogma will never change. It would be heretical to assign a sense to it that is at odds with this core signification. The case is similar to the legitimate progress of physics. Einstein's kinematics, mechanics and gravity did not refute or contradict the Newtonian system: they merely revealed Newton's theories as approximate, valid as far as they went in the non-relativistic limit of ordinary experience.
The Truth will Out. Time will Tell. The fact that each infallible definition is immediately caught up in the onward flow of the living Tradition does not make it less certain in itself: but the onward flow is the context in which its meaning has to be understood and evaluated.
"True knowledge is modest and wary; tis ignorance that is bold and presuming. They that never peeped beyond the common belief in which their easy understandings were first indoctrinated, are strongly assured of the truth and comparative excellency of their receptions; while the larger souls are more cautious in their resolves, and more sparing to determine." [Joseph Glanville "Scepsis Scientifica"]Conservative catholics, like physicists (understandably) clinging to deterministic mechanics, may wish that this untidy situation was a nightmare from which they will wake: to find a tidy pile of magical papal bulls granting certain knowledge on any number of issues awaiting their immediate attention. They create their own nightmare. Reality is nothing to fear:
"Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'" [Jn 8:31-32]Liberal catholics may revel in the license that they may perceive in what I have said. There is none. One has no license with reality. One cannot choose what is true. As Prof. Feynman said in a Physics context "you know something's real when it kicks back". Politicians may subscribe to the idea that if one makes an assertion enough times it becomes true, but this is not the business of either the physicist or theologian.
They are traitors to the Gospel who do not enter into the process with integrity, seeking to understand the Living Tradition, not trying to warp it to their own ends and agendas. I am not saying that all who identify as "liberal Catholics" do this. Certainly, some who identify as "conservative Catholics" behave as if they have personal agendas. In the end, it doesn't matter how one self-identifies. All that matters is personal integrity, a commitment to be Faithful to the Truth, wherever it leads. The contrary stance is the sin against Holy Spirit, it cannot be forgiven because it denies that truth is truth and that it matters.
"....one of the joys of being Catholic is that we are nota group united by an ideology,but a group being brought into being along with an ordered way of life as we undergo a certain form of listening: listening to a crucified and risen victim, as he shows his forgiveness of us and undoes our ways of being together - which tend to be judgmental, violent and so on - so that we can share God's life forever.
should/does mean would help in a lot of the trouble that the Church has
gotten itself into. Traditionalism does not mean simple static
conformity to the exact ideas and practices of some short time ago.
all of the Church at the same time, then he will take the greatest care to attach
himself to antiquity which, obviously, can no longer be seduced by any lying novelty."
[St. Vincent of Lerins: C400-C450]
However, it cannot simply be said that any tendency or new outlook or
new understanding that arises within the Church is
I reserve my judgement on what "new-fangled" ideas will eventually be recognized as orthodox and authentic developments of Tradition. The more sure that anyone is that something is either right or wrong, the more I suspect their judgement.
"There are still aspects of theology undergoing development, particularly our understanding of the Church, and, precisely, this question of Tradition. The doctrines of the Trinity and Christ were largely complete by the 7th Ecumenical Council (Nicea II). The Council of Trent clarified the Sacraments. All these things were the result of long reflection, debate and decisions by the Pope and the Bishops."
Pius IX, "Ineffabilis Deus", (8 Dec 1854) The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin.A near maximalist position is that all of the following papal decrees are infallible:
Pius XII, "Munificentissimus Deus", (1 Nov 1950) The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.
|Pope and Date||Title of decree.||Topic||Pharsea's Comment|
|A long gap!||The Christological Debate|
|Leo I (449)||"Lectis Dilectionis"||The doctrine of the Incarnation.||Not infallible.|
|Agatho (680)||"Omnium Bonorum"||Condemnation of monothelatism.||Not infallible.|
|A very long gap!||Assertion of Papal Authority.|
|Boniface VIII (1302)||"Unam Sanctum"||Subjection to the Pope is necessary
for the salvation of any human being.
Boniface believed himself
to be infallible and intended
to exercise that power.
|Benedict XII (1336)||"Benedictus Deus"||Definition of the immediacy of the
Beatific Vision upon death.
|Single use of the word "define".|
|Another gap.||The Reformation|
|Leo X (1520)||"Exsurge Domine"||Condemnation of Martin Luther.||Some suggestion of infallibility.|
|Another gap.||The Jansenist Controversy.|
|Innocent X (1653)||"Cum Occasione"||First condemnation of Jansenism.||Some suggestion of infallibility.|
|Innocent XI (1687)||"Coelestis Pastor"||Condemnation of Quietism.||Not infallible.|
|Clement XI (1713)||"Unigenitus"||Further condemnation of Jansenism.||Not infallible.|
|Pius VI (1794)||"Auctorem Fidei"||Final condemnation of Jansenism.||Not infallible.|
|Now we really get going!||The Modernist Controversy.|
|Pius IX (1854)||"Ineffabilis Deus"||The Immaculate Conception.||Clearly infallible.|
|Pius IX (1864)||"Quanta Cura"||Condemnation of Modernist errors.||Not infallible.|
|Leo XIII (1896)||"Apostolicae Cura"||The invalidity of Anglican Orders.||Not infallible.|
|Leo XIII (1899)||"Testem Benevolentiae"||Condemnation of Americanism.||Not infallible.|
|Pius X (1907)||"Lamentabili"||Condemnation of Modernist errors.||Not even a papal decree!|
|Pius X (1907)||"Pascendi"||Condemnation of Modernism.||Not infallible.|
|Pius XI (1930)||"Casti Connubii"||The theology of marriage.||Not infallible.|
|Pius XI (1931)||"Quadregesimo Anno"||First enunciation of social teaching.||Not infallible.|
|Pius XII (1950)||"Munificentissimus Deus"||The Assumption.||Clearly infallible.|
|Paul VI (1968)||"Humanae Vitae"||Condemnation of contraception.||Not infallible.|
|John Paul II (1994)||"Ordinatio Sacredotalis"||Women priests are impossible.||Some suggestion of infallibility.|
I must stress that I enthusiastically accept as entirely authentic teaching the content of almost all of the decrees that I here assert are not infallible. The teachings which a Catholic is bound to accept are not limited to just to those that carry the charism of infallibility. The doctrine that Our Lord rose bodily from the dead has not yet been defined infallibly, but it does not follow that Catholics are free to reject the doctrine!
I should also say, in accordance with remarks I have made elsewhere, that any exercise of infallibility subsequent to the great schism of 1054 is flawed; as not having occurred within the context of Catholic Consensus. Hence, it will only become subjectively clear beyond any reasonible disputation that even the three papal decrees that I state above to be "clearly infallible" were in fact objectively infallible, if and when organic union with the Eastern Church(es) is restored.
I suspect that proponants of the "maximalist position" only identify
selected decrees prior to 1850 AD as being infallible in order to set a
context for the torrent of later decrees that they wish to account infallible.
It is interesting that none of pope John-Paul II's Encyclicals are included
in the above list. The single Apostollic Letter of John Paul II that might
be thought to be infallible, "Ordinatio Sacredotalis", has been specifically,
publically and explicitly categorised as "not infallible" by the Cardinal
Prefect of the Holy Office.