Puzzlin’ Evidence

One of our favorite scenes in David Byrne’s (sort of uneven) 1986 film True Stories is the scene where the preacher, played perfectly by John Ingle, begins spooling out an entirely secular web of conspiracy theories. Ingle’s preacher hits every note of the 1980s evangelical preacher as he sings “Puzzlin’ Evidence.” It is a shame that the album version of “Puzzlin’ Evidence” on the True Stories soundtrack is a version by Talking Heads with vocals by David Byrne. Whatever Byrne’s talents as a vocalist, he does not bring the same rollicking style to “Puzzlin’ Evidence” that Ingle did. At any rate, we could not help but think of “Puzzlin’ Evidence” as we saw some of the reactions to Fr. Romanus Cessario’s very fine piece in First Things about the Mortara case.

Princeton professor Robert George, one of the grand old men of the interfaith coalition of neoconservatives, reacted to Cessario’s piece with horror. On Twitter and Facebook he decried the very idea of baptizing a child against the will of his or her parents as “an unspeakable injustice,” condemned by no less an authority than Thomas Aquinas. Somewhat surprisingly, George does not note that the current canon law of the Church, promulgated by St. John Paul II in 1983, notes that an infant—whether the child of Catholic parents or non-Catholic parents; it does not matter—in danger of death is baptized licitly even against the will of his parents (can. 868 § 2). The same code states that a child in danger of death “is to be baptized without delay” (can. 867 § 2). This, by the way, was the law under the 1917 Code, which clearly authorized baptism even of the children of non-Christians in danger of death (1917 can. 750 § 1). By the way, did you know that pastors have long been supposed to teach their subjects the correct way to baptize, in case of emergencies (can. 861 § 2; 1917 can. 743)? Stop for a moment and think about this: the law of the Church practically directs the faithful to baptize infants in danger of death notwithstanding any objections by their parents, and it commands pastors to make sure that the faithful know how to do this. Despite this clear teaching, George calls the baptism of Edgardo Mortara “an unspeakable injustice.” Does George really mean to say that the law of the Church for the past century, if not longer, constitutes an unspeakable injustice?

Plenty of the responses to George have happily pointed this out. One might also ask George what he thinks Matthew 28:19 means, to say nothing of the canons of the seventh session of the Council of Trent (March 3, 1547). We wish to emphasize another point, however, which might be overlooked otherwise. We come to the puzzling evidence.

In George’s haste to decry the baptism of Edgardo Mortara as “an unspeakable injustice,” he echoes some of the most vicious modern critics of the Church. In his (revolting and revoltingly titled) attack on Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens cited Teresa’s order’s practice of baptizing the dying as evidence of her “hypocrisy.” Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth: the saint consistently baptized those persons in her care. Fr. Leo Maasburg recounts that in Communist Armenia—where baptism was by no means a risk-free proposition for anyone—a hospital under Mother Teresa’s direction made sure that children (and some adults) dying were baptized. Nevertheless, the entirely true allegation that Mother Teresa baptized the dying has become one of the favorite slurs of the secularists against the Saint. In a review of Hitchens’s book for the New York Review of Books, Murray Kempton gleefully took up the charge. Indeed, Kempton is spurred to heights of fury rarely seen even in the explosive pages of the NYRB by the idea that an Albanian nun might want to succor the dying spiritually. The charge that Teresa baptized the dying remains one of the more popular charges, even twenty-some years after Hitchens’s book: Michael Stone, writing at Patheos in 2016, found nothing but horror in the idea that Teresa might baptize the dying.

Is there really any difference between George’s language regarding the Mortara case and the savage polemics directed at Mother Teresa? Is there any difference, really, between the spirit of George’s frantic denunciation and the lacerating blows directed at the Albanian saint? George calls the baptism of Edgardo Mortara and its consequences “an abomination” and “an unspeakable injustice.” Hitchens calls the baptism of many of Teresa’s patients a “hypocrisy.” Murray Kempton calls her baptisms “tickets of admission contrived in stealth and sealed with a fraudulent stamp.” And the Patheos blogger called them examples of “her moral corruption, and her callous attitude toward the sick and dying in her care . . . .” He goes on to call this “[t]he stuff of horror movies.” Surely George does not mean to indict Mother Teresa in the same terms that her most hateful critics have used! Surely he would find some way to distinguish his outrage over Romanus Cessario’s mild, intelligent defense of Pius IX from the gleeful, spiteful attacks of Christopher Hitchens and Murray Kempton! But try to think how you can indict Pius IX and exonerate Teresa. Try to think how you can distinguish contempt for Pius IX and Cessario’s argument from contempt for St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Harder than it looks, isn’t it?

On the value of the Mortara Case

At First Things, Romanus Cessario, O.P., has an interesting review of a new book about the Mortara Case. Cessario’s review, discussing the recent publication of Mortara’s memoirs, provides an excellent historical, canonical, and theological introduction to the case. If you are unfamiliar with it, we encourage you to read the review. (For transparency’s sake: we contribute a regular web column to First Things.) The reaction to Cessario’s review, especially on every writer’s favorite microblogging platform, Twitter, was swift and outraged in many instances. This outrage is largely because Cessario does not seem to think that Pius IX did anything wrong when he removed little Edgardo Mortara from his parents’ home following his baptism by a servant girl. The reactions take a couple of major forms, but they boil down to this: the Mortara Case contradicts liberal ideas about the role of the state and the family in the state. Such reactions, however, seem to overlook some facts about the liberal state and they ignore the value of the Mortara Case as a historical example.

The Mortara Case has been in the air a while, on Twitter and elsewhere. There is a sense that it is an important event, though in many cases it is not always spelled out why it is important. On prior occasions, the reactions have been no less outraged, but the length of Cessario’s treatment and its prominence have provoked a larger, more sustained reaction. It’s too bad. Taken on its merits, Cessario’s piece is very good. It provides a large helping of historical, canonical, and theological material about the case and, more generally, baptism. We suspect that Cessario’s piece will not be read with all the attention it deserves, and that many of the thoughts it was clearly intended to provoke will be lost in the broader chorus of condemnation.

The immediate reactions—that is, to Cessario’s review—have been, as we say, outraged. On one hand, you have outraged progressive-modernist theologians who insist that Nostra aetate and Dignitatis humanae mean—either individually or collectively—that Pius IX was wrong and wicked in his actions. Neither document says any such thing, and such a reading requires the invocation of the long-discredited Spirit of Vatican II. (Plus a healthy dollop of liberalism—more on that in a bit.) The theologians do not grapple with the argument Thomas Aquinas makes in Question 10 of the Secunda Secundae Partis, to say nothing of the manualist tradition after Thomas. Nor do they address the magisterial weight of Thomas’s thought in the light of Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris and Paul VI’s Lumen Ecclesiae. Moreover, the doctrinal weight of Nostra aetate and Dignitatis humanae are open to debate, as Francis and officials in Francis’s Curia, like Archbishop Guido Pozzo, have recognized. In other words, there is potentially a debate about the Mortara case along the lines sketched out by the theologically inclined, though they do a poor job indicating the status quaestionis (to say nothing of advancing their arguments). Nevertheless, this is an interesting line of argument to explore with greater rigor.

It is less edifying, if possible, to see the extreme reactions of those who suggest that the Mortara case is some sort of shibboleth for traditionally minded Catholics. Naturally, at least some prominent authors who have said as much are not Catholic. Their argument is that the view that Pius IX acted consistently with sound doctrine, however that view is modulated or couched, is some sort of performative demonstration of orthodoxy, unalloyed with baser concerns, like feelings. In other words, they argue that an argument in favor of Pius IX, however uncompromising that argument may seem, is ultimately some sort of signal (or initiation ritual) for traditionally minded Catholics. One is reminded of Cardinal Newman’s statement in the Apologia pro Vita Sua that Kingsley was “poisoning the wells” against him. No matter what the arguments, no matter how rationally marshaled and logically sound they are, these young Christian writers say, whenever someone discourses on the Mortara case with anything but shock and horror, you may rest assured that he or she is actually just playing at orthodoxy to impress his or her friends.

There is also a sense in many of the reactions—just a brief word about this, as it is not an enthralling subject, though it goes along with poisoning the wells—that a clear expression of Catholic orthodoxy is somehow unkind. In other words, a statement that Pius IX did nothing wrong is seen not only as performative orthodoxy but also as unkind. Perhaps it is in this case; we cannot speak for every Twitter power user. Nevertheless, it is deeply worrying to see orthodox views characterized as insincere and unkind, not least because there is no end to that sort of thinking. Moreover, as a dear friend of ours is given to saying: every dispute about tone conceals a substantive dispute. The allegation of insincerity or unkindness seems especially apt to conceal such a substantive dispute. Perhaps it does not in this case; as we said, we cannot speak for every Twitter power user. Nevertheless, it seems to be a strong current in this debate.

Of course, theological imprecision and poisoning the wells are necessary in this argument because the real motivation for the reaction to the Mortara case is comfortable, bourgeois liberalism. However the Twitter sages phrase it, this is what they mean: in a liberal society, in 2018, the Church ought not go around taking children from parents. Pius IX’s actions strike at two crucial components of bourgeois liberalism: low-stakes religious pluralism and the family as the only building block of society. Consequently, to take a position on the Mortara case other than horror that Pius IX would do as he did is to take a position against pluralism and the inviolable family. Of course, liberals fail to recognize that pluralism tends toward ostracizing believers who believe too strongly. Moreover, they fail to see that the state is already enormously intrusively involved in families through the child welfare apparatus, which is no less intrusive than Pius IX’s gendarmes. The liberal state is no less intolerant and intrusive than Pius IX. However, liberalism presents itself as a perfectly neutral option, and, therefore, its intolerance and intrusion are frequently disguised as the rational, necessary actions of an impartial adult.

Moreover, precisely because liberalism presents itself as perfectly neutral and free of ideological content, it relies entirely on the will of electoral majorities to implement juridical provisions. That is, the will of the majority—or their representatives—becomes the neutral, inerrant viewpoint. Consequently, the intrusiveness and intolerance of the liberal state really represent the tastes of the majority. And electoral majorities require dissensions in the body politic; it is, therefore, necessary for those who wish to represent the people’s will to create and maintain those dissensions. None of this actually means that the liberal state is all that interested in protecting the rights of minorities. Consider the United States: it has existed for over two hundred and thirty five years as a liberal state. For how many of those years has it adequately protected the rights of minorities? More could be said on this point, but it is worth noting that adopting an attitude of horror at the Mortara Case misunderstands the situation of minorities under liberalism.

Nevertheless, because the Mortara case implicates some of the most cherished liberal values, it is worth considering as people begin to think about a post-liberal world. Cessario’s review moves in that direction, and we think it sets up the parameters of an interesting and fruitful discussion along those lines. And despite thinking that the reactions we saw today are not uniformly cogent (or even coherent), it is worth noting that some of those reactions point toward lines of discussion that are useful for considering the Church’s posture toward liberalism today. This, then, is the value of the Mortara Case as we see it: as a situation where some of the issues confronting serious Christians today intersect and require serious thought.

The year of Paul VI

Here is a prediction for 2018: it will be the year of Paul VI. In addition to canonization talk, there are two important anniversaries connected with Paul’s papacy. On July 25, the feast of St. James, we will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Paul’s landmark encyclical On the Regulation of Birth, known around the world by its incipit: Humanae vitae. Shortly before that, on June 30, we will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Paul’s Credo of the People of God, which Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre called, “an act which from the dogmatic point of view is more important than all the Council.” Both events—the promulgation of Humanae vitae and the Credo of the People of God—are of acute importance at this moment in the life of the Church, when the role of the Petrine ministry seems to be hotly contested. Both events saw Paul acting as a guardian of tradition against the innovations urged upon the Church in the wake of the Council. These events, however, contribute to Paul’s complicated legacy as a pope who was staunch in his defense and appreciation of tradition one day and who indulged the reformers’ whims on another day.

As noted above, there is already talk that Paul VI will be canonized this year. There are reports that the medical and scientific experts have already reported favorably upon the second miracle necessary for canonization. There remain some steps for canonization, according to the Crux article, including the approval of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints and approval by Francis. However, these steps are largely administrative. The idea, according to the reports, is that Paul would be canonized during the ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops this fall. Paul, you see, established the Synod of Bishops in the wake of the Council. It would also be appropriate for a meeting already deeply penetrated by Boomer notions about young people to see the canonization of the Boomers’ pope.

Paul’s canonization will likely be controversial, despite the events of 1968 discussed here. At New Liturgical Movement, Gregory DiPippo anticipates that “St. Paul VI” will be used to argue that the reformed post-Conciliar Mass is to be regarded with the same reverence as St. Pius V’s Tridentine Mass. DiPippo argues that canonization does not erase mistakes that saints made during their lifetimes, pointing most notably to the example of St. Alphonsus Liguori. He also notes that canonized popes, like Pius V and Pius X, initiated liturgical reforms that had both foreseen and unforeseen consequences—not all of them good. For example, St. Pius X’s reform of the breviary was extremely radical and resulted in ancient liturgical traditions being discarded practically overnight. So, DiPippo argues, there is no reason why Paul VI’s canonization would have any effect on the merits of the Novus Ordo. (Or at least the ongoing debate over its merits.)

Now, it is far from clear that the canonization actually matters to the partisans of the reform. In August, Francis, citing, among others, the example of Paul VI, declared “with magisterial authority” the liturgical reform “irreversible.” (It is not exactly clear to us what that means, however.) Furthermore, Francis, anticipating one of DiPippo’s arguments, observed that Paul VI’s liturgical books were “well received by the very Bishops who were present at the Council”—not including Alfredo Ottaviani or Marcel Lefebvre, one feels inclined to add. In one sense, therefore, the canonization of Paul VI means as little to the defenders of the reform as it does to DiPippo. They have arguments about the merits of the Novus Ordo that do not rely on a missal promulgated by a saint, just as the partisans of the traditional Mass have arguments that do not rely on a missal promulgated by a saint.

However, it seems to us that the rock-ribbed traditionalists who argue that the Novus Ordo is in some way bad or noxious to faith and morals (or illicit or invalid or whatever) will have a problem if Paul VI is canonized. Indeed, DiPippo seems to anticipate this argument somewhat with the example of St. Alphonsus. The controversy of the Regolamento is not easy to understand, but it boils down to this: in 1779 or 1780, for a variety of reasons, the Redemptorists wanted the approval of the Neapolitan monarchy for their Rule. The Rule was finally submitted, and edited grievously, with the connivance of Alphonsus’s friends and colleagues. (The Neapolitan government did not want the Redemptorists to be a religious order, so one of the chief amendments was the removal of the vows of religion.) Alphonsus was induced to sign it and the king approved it. Redemptorist priests reacted sharply and quickly, telling Alphonsus in no uncertain terms that he’d wrecked the Redemptorists. They also appealed to the pope, Pius VI, whose relations with Naples were strained. Following a trial, Pius essentially suppressed the order outside the Papal States, installed a new superior general, and effectively expelled Alphonsus and the Neapolitan members of the order. In 1793, the Neapolitan government recognized the original Rule and the order was reunified.

Now, on one hand, the parallel between Alphonsus and Paul VI is fairly easily made: just as Alphonsus was tricked (essentially) into ratifying a bad Rule, so too was Paul VI tricked (essentially) into ratifying a bad Missal. Fair enough. However, we are not sure the example quite meets the argument. A Rule is not the Mass, and an imprudent Rule, at variance, however great, with the high and noble purposes of an order is not necessarily noxious to faith and morals or illicit or invalid. It may be administratively destructive and morally harmless. Consequently, it seems to us that the canonization of Paul VI is liable to have some impact—though just what impact, we cannot say—on the argument that the Novus Ordo is positively harmful. It will be, we think, awfully tricky to argue that a canonized saint did something as pope that is bad (or whatever). Obviously, the arguments about its prudence or historical correctness or aesthetic merits remain unaffected.

But liturgical arguments are not the only arguments about Paul VI’s legacy that 2018 will see. As mentioned, 2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae, the moment when Paul stood up in the face of the world (and many of his own cardinals, bishops, and priests) and proclaimed the intrinsic immorality of artificial contraception. Paul’s prophetic act was a true sign of contradiction and an exercise of the most fundamental duty of the Petrine office. It was widely anticipated that Paul would approve at least hormonal birth control methods—i.e., “The Pill”—not least because a papal commission, managed by the Dominican Henri de Riedmatten and the American philosopher John T. Noonan, had almost unanimously reported in favor of that resolution. Paul, however, was unwilling to take that step, not least because Pius XI’s Casti connubii proclaimed, possibly infallibly, that most forms of artificial contraception were intrinsically evil. Assisted by Cardinal Ottaviani, and famously Fr. John Ford and Germain Grisez, Paul prepared Humanae vitae and declared clearly that even hormonal birth control, which does not interfere with the reproductive act itself, was immoral.

The progressives and modernists in the Church have never forgiven Paul for his iron-willed refusal to surrender to the spirit of the age.

It is also clear that the same progressives and modernists, taking full advantage of the opening offered to them by the Holy Father’s marriage document, Amoris laetitia, intend on taking the opportunity of the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae to gut the encyclical. In the summer of 2017, reports broke of a four-member commission, established with some degree of Vatican approval, to study the historical circumstances that led to Humanae vitae. Of course, the original deliberations of the papal commission played out in the press, with the majority report, minority report, and schema of an encyclical leaked and analyzed at length. (You can read many of the original documents at Grisez’s website today, and we encourage you to do so.) The current commission, allegedly headed by Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, has allegedly been given unprecedented access to Vatican archives, including the usually sealed archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as part of its mission to study the encyclical. The suggestion is that the historical commission will discover what everyone knows: that the papal commission was almost unanimously in favor of some forms of birth control. Based upon this finding, the fear is that the commission will propose a modification or reinterpretation of Humanae vitae. Now, there was a lot of back and forth about just what the Vatican commission was—beginning with the question of whether it even existed? If it existed, was it a commission tasked with reinterpreting the encyclical or was it just a private study group? Given the climate of this pontificate, it is understandable that official denials are given perhaps less weight than the officials issuing the denials might hope.

But setting to one side the question of an official reconsideration or interpretation of Humanae vitae, it is clear that the modernists and progressives, emboldened by what they see as official support, will seize the opportunity to undermine Humanae vitae. We will hear, no doubt, that some great majority of Catholics, especially Catholics in the United States and Europe, not only support but use various forms of birth control. (It may be suggested that a lot of Catholics “have left” the Church because of the Church’s inflexibility on this point.) We will be told, we imagine, that Paul’s teaching has not been “received” by the faithful. We will be told that so-called natural family planning, a doctrine developed in large part by Pius XII but approved quite definitively by Paul VI, is not infallible and, moreover, is a serious burden on some Catholics. We will be told that the Church needs to attend closely to pastoral realities of couples, especially couples who, for whatever reason, live together without being married. In sum, we will hear all of the arguments in favor of bourgeois sexual ethics from Boomers.

This is, of course, not new, but the proponents of such errors will no doubt state their case louder and longer and with a more favorable reception by the hierarchy, as it will be implied that their views are, as we noted early, shared by prelates in the very highest circles of the Church. Perhaps there will be a press conference or an address to this or that association that gives fuel and oxygen to the fire.

And this is why it is so important to commemorate Humanae vitae and the Credo of the People of God. When he made his profession of faith, Paul recognized that the mandate entrusted by Christ to Peter was to confirm the brethren in the faith. The Petrine ministry, Paul observed, requires the pope to resist even those in the Church who are seized by a desire for novelty, lest the faithful be perplexed and scandalized. Both Humanae vitae and the Credo of the People of God are moments when Paul resisted the innovators and proclaimed doctrine clearly part of the deposit of faith—good, old Christian truth, to put it another way. Indeed, the documents of the Second Vatican Council ought to be read through the lens of Paul’s Credo, as some points that are murky in the Council’s documents are admirably clear in Paul’s creed. Today, unfortunately, the Pope’s loudest supporters see the pope as a magical figure, who is infallible in every utterance and who has (apparently) the power to amend the doctrines handed down from the apostles, who received them from God.

Of course, it must be mentioned that 1969 and 1970 mark the fiftieth anniversary of the full implementation of the liturgical reform. And it is impossible to separate Paul’s prophetic acts of 1968 from the difficulties posed by the liturgical reform. It is strange, for example, to read in the Credo of the People of God a ringing reaffirmation of the sacrificial dimension of the Mass knowing within a couple of years, the sacrificial dimension would be obscured for many in a haze of optional texts. It cannot be said that Paul did not understand the Petrine ministry, either, given his clear summation of his mandate on June 30, 1968. Instead we are left to grapple with both aspects of Paul’s legacy and come to what conclusions we can.

A development in Aquinas’s thought on the constitution

One point that integralist Catholics have to consider from time to time is the proper form of the state. It is not uncommon to cite Thomas’s De regno in support of the proposition that monarchy is the best form of the state. Consider this passage from the De regno (c. 3):

Ad hoc enim cuiuslibet regentis ferri debet intentio, ut eius quod regendum suscepit salutem procuret. Gubernatoris enim est, navem contra maris pericula servando, illaesam perducere ad portum salutis. Bonum autem et salus consociatae multitudinis est ut eius unitas conservetur, quae dicitur pax, qua remota, socialis vitae perit utilitas, quinimmo multitudo dissentiens sibi ipsi sit onerosa. Hoc igitur est ad quod maxime rector multitudinis intendere debet, ut pacis unitatem procuret. Nec recte consiliatur, an pacem faciat in multitudine sibi subiecta, sicut medicus, an sanet infirmum sibi commissum. Nullus enim consiliari debet de fine quem intendere debet, sed de his quae sunt ad finem. Propterea apostolus commendata fidelis populi unitate: solliciti, inquit, sitis servare unitatem spiritus in vinculo pacis. Quanto igitur regimen efficacius fuerit ad unitatem pacis servandam, tanto erit utilius. Hoc enim utilius dicimus, quod magis perducit ad finem. Manifestum est autem quod unitatem magis efficere potest quod est per se unum, quam plures. Sicut efficacissima causa est calefactionis quod est per se calidum. Utilius igitur est regimen unius, quam plurium.

And in Phelan and Eschmann’s translation:

This question may be considered first from the viewpoint of the purpose of government. The aim of any ruler should be directed towards securing the welfare of that which he undertakes to rule. The duty of the pilot, for instance, is to preserve his ship amidst the perils of the sea. and to bring it unharmed to the port of safety. Now the welfare and safety of a multitude formed into a society lies in the preservation of its unity, which is called peace. If this is removed, the benefit of social life is lost and, moreover, the multitude in its disagreement becomes a burden to itself. The chief concern of the ruler of a multitude, therefore, is to procure the unity of peace. It is not even legitimate for him to deliberate whether he shall establish peace in the multitude subject to him, just as a physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal the sick man encharged to him, for no one should deliberate about an end which he is obliged to seek, but only about the means to attain that end. Wherefore the Apostle, having commended the unity of the faithful people, says: “Be ye careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” Thus, the more efficacious a government is in keeping the unity of peace, the more useful it will be. For we call that more useful which leads more directly to the end. Now it is manifest that what is itself one can more efficaciously bring about unity than several—just as the most efficacious cause of heat is that which is by its nature hot. Therefore the rule of one man is more useful than the rule of many.

(Emphasis supplied.) We have discussed previously that the unity of peace is the secular common good, and that the state must be ordered to that end. One finds Aquinas’s point intuitive: it is easier for one person to order the state to the unity of peace than for a group of people, among whom dissensions will inevitably emerge. Indeed, Aquinas makes just this argument (multitudes mean dissensions) in criticizing group rule in the De regno:

Dissensio enim, quae plurimum sequitur ex regimine plurium, contrariatur bono pacis, quod est praecipuum in multitudine sociali: quod quidem bonum per tyrannidem non tollitur, sed aliqua particularium hominum bona impediuntur, nisi fuerit excessus tyrannidis quod in totam communitatem desaeviat. Magis igitur praeoptandum est unius regimen quam multorum, quamvis ex utroque sequantur pericula.

In our trusty translation:

Group government most frequently breeds dissension. This dissension runs counter to the good of peace which is the principal social good. A tyrant, on the other hand, does not destroy this good, rather he obstructs one or the other individual interest of his subjects—unless, of course, there be an excess of tyranny and the tyrant rages against the whole community. Monarchy is therefore to be preferred to polyarchy, although either form of government might become dangerous.

In other words, rule by a group of people is in a sense more dangerous than tyranny: a tyrant might obstruct the particular goods of this or that subject or group of subjects, but, unless he is opposed to all of his subjects, he might not wound the unity of peace as badly as group rule. We admit: this argument is somewhat opaque, but it has a certain force. Thus, the danger of tyranny—a monarchy gone rotten—is not so acute as the danger of group rule when the band breaks up, as it were.

However, in the Summa Theologiae (Ia IIae q.105 a.1 co.), Aquinas makes a very different point:

circa bonam ordinationem principum in aliqua civitate vel gente, duo sunt attendenda. Quorum unum est ut omnes aliquam partem habeant in principatu, per hoc enim conservatur pax populi, et omnes talem ordinationem amant et custodiunt, ut dicitur in II Polit. Aliud est quod attenditur secundum speciem regiminis, vel ordinationis principatuum. Cuius cum sint diversae species, ut philosophus tradit, in III Polit., praecipuae tamen sunt regnum, in quo unus principatur secundum virtutem; et aristocratia, idest potestas optimorum, in qua aliqui pauci principantur secundum virtutem. Unde optima ordinatio principum est in aliqua civitate vel regno, in qua unus praeficitur secundum virtutem qui omnibus praesit; et sub ipso sunt aliqui principantes secundum virtutem; et tamen talis principatus ad omnes pertinet, tum quia ex omnibus eligi possunt, tum quia etiam ab omnibus eliguntur. Talis enim est optima politia, bene commixta ex regno, inquantum unus praeest; et aristocratia, inquantum multi principantur secundum virtutem; et ex democratia, idest potestate populi, inquantum ex popularibus possunt eligi principes, et ad populum pertinet electio principum.

In the English Dominican translation:

Two points are to be observed concerning the right ordering of rulers in a state or nation. One is that all should take some share in the government: for this form of constitution ensures peace among the people, commends itself to all, and is most enduring, as stated in Polit. ii, 6. The other point is to be observed in respect of the kinds of government, or the different ways in which the constitutions are established. For whereas these differ in kind, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5), nevertheless the first place is held by the “kingdom,” where the power of government is vested in one; and “aristocracy,” which signifies government by the best, where the power of government is vested in a few. Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rules are chosen by all. For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.

(Emphasis supplied.) This seems to cut strongly against the points Aquinas makes in the De regno. That is, we hear in the De regno that the risks of a monarchy (i.e., a tyranny) are less dangerous than the risks of group rule (i.e., dissensions). Now, in the Summa, we hear that everyone should take part in the government, since this better preserves peace among the people.

Moreover, Aquinas, in a reply to an objection (obj. 2 / ad 2), seems to hold that a tyranny is worse than dissensions:

Ad secundum dicendum quod regnum est optimum regimen populi, si non corrumpatur. Sed propter magnam potestatem quae regi conceditur, de facili regnum degenerat in tyrannidem, nisi sit perfecta virtus eius cui talis potestas conceditur, quia non est nisi virtuosi bene ferre bonas fortunas, ut philosophus dicit, in IV Ethic. Perfecta autem virtus in paucis invenitur […]

In translation:

A kingdom is the best form of government of the people, so long as it is not corrupt. But since the power granted to a king is so great, it easily degenerates into tyranny, unless he to whom this power is given be a very virtuous man: for it is only the virtuous man that conducts himself well in the midst of prosperity, as the Philosopher observes (Ethic. iv, 3). Now perfect virtue is to be found in few […]

And in the notes to Phelan and Eschmann’s translation to the De regno, it is observed that  Aquinas’s chapter on the avoidance of tyranny (c.7) is incomplete. They suggest, following Carlyle, that if Aquinas had completed the section, he probably would have wound up at the same place as the Summa: advancing the form of a mixed polity. And this seems at least plausible in some respects. The reply to Objection 2 in Question 105 certainly suggests that Aquinas had tyranny on his mind when considering this matter. However, this argument does not address Aquinas’s point in the Summa that a democracy—even a limited democracy—is desirable to ensure the unity of peace. Certainly he is correct when he suggests that dissensions arise among groups of people, and it is inevitable that in the group of all persons in the polity (however one wishes to qualify eligibility) there will be more dissensions. One replies to this, one suspects, by arguing that the monarchical aspects of the mixed constitution will tame the dissensions threatened by the aristocratic and democratic aspects of the constitution. Perhaps this is true.

It is an interesting question, however, and one best considered through Aquinas’s various positions on the question. It is clear, we think, that Aquinas’s thought developed, perhaps even as he wrote the De regno, but certainly by the time he wrote Question 105 of the Prima Secundae Partis, from the position that monarchy is the best constitution, if a constitution with risks, to the position that a mixed constitution is the best constitution. This development is worth considering, not least because of the reasons implied in the De regno and in Question 105. It is also worth considering because grappling with Aquinas’s thought on these matters is an essential part of reclaiming the Church’s political thought and determining how best to implement that thought today.



The Shouting

Rorate Caeli reports that in the October 2016 edition of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis the Holy Father’s letter to the Buenos Aires bishops regarding their interpretation of Amoris laetitia is presented as an apostolic letter. The bishops’ interpretation is also included. And, topping off this bounty, there is a note from Cardinal Parolin, which reads:

Summus Pontifex decernit ut duo Documenta quae praecedunt edantur
per publicationem in situ electronico Vaticano et in Actis Apostolicae Sedis,
velut Magisterium authenticum.

In Rorate‘s translation:

The Supreme Pontiff decreed that the two preceding documents be promulgated through publication on the Vatican website and in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, as authentic Magisterium.

Of course, astute observers knew this was coming. Archbishop Fernandez’s essay in the CELAM theological journal relied heavily on the letter to the Buenos Aires bishops. This simply adds the icing to the cake. One wonders—though how ingenuously is another matter—how the bishops in Francis’s old diocese managed to come up with guidelines that happened to come across his desk and happened to receive a favorable reply. (Maybe Cardinal Baldisseri knows.) No matter. Did anyone have any doubt that this is how the story of Amoris laetitia would end? That is, did anyone really think Francis would really leave Familiaris consortio untouched? When the only responses to the dubia were sneering insults from the commentators in line with Santa Marta on one hand and fuzzy casuistry from the serious theologians on the other? It is, as they say in our neck of the woods, all over but the shouting.

Or is it? There are orthodox interpretations of the Buenos Aires guidelines. A very clever friend of ours has pointed out that paragraph 6 is frustratingly vague and requires interpretation. It is possible to read an orthodox interpretation into the guidelines. Here’s Matthew Hoffman’s translation:

In other, more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, the aforementioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, it is equally possible to undertake a journey of discernment. If one arrives at the recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (cf. notes 336 and 351). These in turn dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the aid of grace.

(Emphasis supplied.) This passage, despite being now “Magisterium authenticum,” is full of perplexities. Does it apply in the United States, where almost everyone who asks can obtain a declaration of nullity? What does it mean to be “feasible” in this context? Millions of people live continently every day, and, recalling the Tridentine anathema, it seems to us that continence is always “feasible.” And, taking a step back, if the presence of children is the guiding star, have we not found a new regime crueler than anything John Paul established? Does not the middle-aged childless bigamist who found new love have to step aside for the professional who ditched his “starter wife” for a younger woman and had a couple of children? After all, the yuppie might judge “that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union.” And his younger wife could be put out if he suddenly got religion. Indeed, it seems as though he is the target recipient of these guidelines. But, given all the Pope’s talk of pastoral solicitude and helping the poor and the Church as a field hospital, it cannot be the Pope’s intention to encourage the practice of “starter spouses” and new families in smart suburbs. Or is it? As we say, the Buenos Aires guidelines do not clear much up. Maybe it is all over except the shouting, but there’s still plenty of shouting to be done.

Of course, the case will be judged in the court of history by future Catholics and future popes. The partisans of Santa Marta, like Archbishop Fernandez, the microblogging platform enthusiast Massimo Faggioli, and the writer Stephen Walford, have been banging the “development of doctrine” drum. Fair enough. In response to one of our columns for First Things, we received a note from a learned correspondent on a point relating to Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine. (Despite our Email Policy, we won’t reveal our correspondent’s details.) Our correspondent pointed out that Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine was written in 1845 as part of Newman’s conversion to Catholicism, though revised in 1878. One can read about this in the Apologia pro Vita Sua or Ian Ker’s biography. The Development of Christian Doctrine should be placed in its proper context. Our learned correspondent noted that, consequently, we should be cautious in proposing Newman’s tests or notes of authentic developments as a toolkit for speculative theology or a means of judging the magisterium. This is true as far as it goes, though, in response we would submit that Dei verbum formalizes, with the assent of an ecumenical council, the idea of development of doctrine without providing a clear understanding of how to separate developments from corruptions.

And this is where Newman comes in. The tests set forth in Development of Christian Doctrine might not be especially good for speculative theology; that is, one would have a hard time sketching out a theological argument on a given topic by means of the notes. However, as a method of approaching magisterial interventions—which are asserted to be developments of doctrine—you could do a lot worse than the notes in Development of Christian Doctrine. We have made this argument before. It is obvious that the proposed development contained in Amoris laetitia fails to pass several of the tests set forth by Cardinal Newman, not the least of which is whether or not the proposed development is conservative of the course of prior developments. Amoris laetitia contradicts Familiaris consortio. This is clear. If it is proposed that Familiaris consortio is itself a development of doctrine, which seems entirely plausible, then Amoris laetitia is not conservative of the course of prior developments. If we walk a little bit forward in time, and look back at this moment, we can say, without doing violence to Cardinal Newman’s intent in the Development of Christian Doctrine, that the development proposed by Francis by means of Amoris laetitia and his apostolic letter to his friends in Buenos Aires would not be an authentic development by Cardinal Newman’s lights.

Now, one may reject Newman’s approach. We have it on pretty good authority that one of the Pope’s most prominent defenders in the media has been presented with this argument and has made precisely this rejection. The response is, of course, Newman is not magisterial and, as our learned correspondent rightly pointed out, did not write the Development of Christian Doctrine as a work of speculative theology, intended to be applied to proposed developments as a means of judgment. Fair enough. Both are quite valid points. And one may go further, as we believe this prominent defender did, and argue that authentic developments are those which the pope says they are. Such an approach is simply wrong under the ecclesiology of Lumen gentium, insofar as it obliterates the teaching offices of the other bishops in the world in communion with the pope. And it is nowhere found in Dei verbum:

Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, this commentator would chuck the finely wrought teachings of the Second Vatican Council in favor of a papal autocracy beyond the dreams even of Pius IX and the Vatican Council itself in Pastor aeternus. Perhaps we ask a lot of Newman, but, the fact remains that Newman is the one best situated to help the Catholic who wishes to “remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles” and to contribute to the “single common effort” of “holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith,” identified by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

And it is this “single common effort” that we refer to when we say that the case of Amoris laetitia will have to be judged by future Catholics.


Francis, Faggioli, and the Medieval Imagination

At Commonweal, Professor Massimo Faggioli, a Twitter power user who moonlights as a Church historian, has an essay arguing, essentially, that the periods following the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council were just as tumultuous and contested as the period that has followed the Second Vatican Council. The implicit argument is that the post-Conciliar chaos often adduced as an argument against certain Vatican II acts is not dispositive, since there was likewise chaos following Trent and Vatican I. This point is not devoid of force; however, Professor Faggioli does not quite carry the day with his examples. Indeed, his analogies are a mixed bag. For example, he seems to think that St. Pius X’s anti-modernist crusade following Vatican I was “the most serious tragedy in the modern intellectual history of Catholicism,” apparently because the Saint decided that it would be best for theologians not to hold modernist ideas. All of this is very much of a piece with Professor Faggioli’s basic point: everything was terrible until about 1963, then it was fine until the fall of 1978, then it was bad until the spring of 2013. Now everything is fine again.

However, Professor Faggioli pivots from this point to make a broader argument about American Catholicism: it is too enamored of an imaginary medievalism. On its face, this is rubbish. The average American Catholic in a suburban church built in the 1970s, who hears Eucharistic Prayer II week in and week out, and sings the same ten egregious songs  is no more enamored with an imaginary medieval vision of the Church than Professor Faggioli. Indeed, we imagine that many suburban American Catholics subscribe happily to Professor Faggioli’s view that, before Vatican II, the Church was dark and gloomy, and then the Council happened and all those oppressive doctrines were changed. Many probably also subscribe to his views on the liturgical reform. In this regard, Professor Faggioli joins Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa on the list of the Pope’s partisans who seem to have almost no understanding of American Catholicism. We shall see in a moment that Professor Faggioli has other, deeper affinities with Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa.

First, one also wonders how seriously Professor Faggioli has considered the medieval Church. Recent books like Andrew Willard Jones’s Before Church and State ought to force us to reconsider our biases about the Church in the medieval period, particularly with respect to how it interacted with the state. (Pater Edmund Waldstein’s recent review at First Things of Before Church and State is essential reading.) Moreover, Eamon Duffy’s towering study, The Stripping of the Altars, presents, in many ways, a very different vision of the Church in medieval, pre-reformation England than the gloomy, oppressive vision that one learned in school. Given the pictures painted by Jones and Duffy, one may be excused, we think, for seeing in the medieval world better solutions to the problems that liberalism purports to solve.

That historical quibble aside, what Professor Faggioli means is that some Christian intellectuals have some affinity for a medieval Church or at least the characteristics of a medieval Church. No doubt he would lump Before Church and State and The Stripping of the Altars and the response to those books in as part of this tendency. Now, Professor Faggioli rightly identifies this affinity as a response to religious and political liberalism, especially the crisis that political liberalism now finds itself in. He is not wrong when he says that the fascination with medieval Christianity is a response to a post-Christian world (he limits it to the United States, but we doubt he’d contend that Europe professes the Faith today). However, he seems to find some blameworthiness in this affinity. However, this is simply his hermeneutic at work. Liberalism appears to be breaking down. Now, only a fool would contend that liberalism is not hugely resilient and it may well adapt to the current crisis. It is natural that people begin to ask themselves “what comes next?” One answer to this question is found by recovering the pre-liberal tradition, especially in the teaching of the Church, which was a staunch opponent of liberalism far longer than anyone else.

One wonders whether this is what Professor Faggioli actually objects to; that is, the consideration of a world after liberalism by means returning to the pre-liberal and anti-liberal tradition of the Church. Yet, just as Fr. Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa found themselves at odds with Francis’s thought when they complained about integralism, so too does Professor Faggioli find himself at odds with the Pope. In Laudato si’, Francis appears to call Catholics to consider a world beyond liberalism, if not after liberalism. Consider this passage, one of our favorites:

The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They are less concerned with certain economic theories which today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their actual operation in the functioning of the economy. They may not affirm such theories with words, but nonetheless support them with their deeds by showing no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion. At the same time, we have “a sort of ‘superdevelopment’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation”, while we are all too slow in developing economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources. We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.

The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or from a single set of interests. A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence. In the concrete situation confronting us, there are a number of symptoms which point to what is wrong, such as environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and of community living. Once more we see that “realities are more important than ideas”.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) And Francis, with brilliant clarity, captures the crisis of modern liberalism and proposes a solution:

There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate the present situation and need new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness.

All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

(Emphasis supplied.) Take a moment and consider that: “a bold cultural revolution,” which “appropriate[s] the positive and sustainable progress which has been made” and which “recover[s] the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”

Francis understands the crisis of liberalism—in the pastoral language for which he has become so famous, he realizes that “people no longer seem to believe in a happy future”—and he understands the answer to “what comes next?” Keep the positive and sustainable progress that has been made, but recover the values that we discarded as we ran toward an ultimately illusory future. Additionally, Faggioli spends some time complaining about Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher, and others who seem to be interested in recovering authentic Christian community in the West. However, he seems to forget that Francis argues that “a loss of the purpose of life and of community living” is a symptom of what is wrong in a modern society in thrall to the technocratic, anthropocentric paradigm. One can say, therefore, that the writers about whom Faggioli complains are attempting to address one of the problems that Francis has identified in modern society. In other words, Christians looking to the medieval Church for guidance in an era of liberalism in crisis are doing nothing more or less than contributing to the “bold cultural revolution” that Francis called for in Laudato si’, even to the point of addressing some of the symptoms of a sick society that Francis identifies.

In a very real sense, then, the Catholics who explore post-liberal possibilities by returning to the Church’s medieval tradition and its subsequent anti-modern and anti-liberal teaching are far closer to the Pope’s vision in Laudato si’ than the Pope’s supporters who cite the same shopworn passages from Dignitatis humanae and Gaudium et spes. What better source for the values and great goals of Christians could there be than the teachings of the Church from Augustine to Aquinas? What better exemplars for this “bold cultural revolution” than France under Louis IX? It is no secret that the most exciting, most interesting thought today is being done by Catholics trying to reclaim the Church’s anti-modern and anti-liberal teachings, so carelessly discarded by Professor Faggioli’s forebears. One has a hard time imagining that a Pope who so perceptively diagnoses the sickness at the heart of modernity could complain that this is somehow inconsistent with his own vision of a postmodern, post-liberal society.

Nevertheless, one might respond that Francis does not want Christians to turn to the medieval Church and the subsequent anti-modern and anti-liberal tradition of the Church as part of this cultural revolution. Yet such a reading is hard to square with Laudato si’, which fits squarely into the Church’s suspicion of modernity and liberalism. At First Things (a publication for which we occasionally write), R.R. Reno, shortly after Francis handed down Laudato si’, described the encyclical as a return to the Church’s anti-modern teaching. Indeed, Reno argues that Laudato si’ presents a postmodern reading of Vatican II’s landmark document, Gaudium et spes. Professor Faggioli makes a similar point, arguing that some conservative Catholics adopt a conciliar postmodernism. That is, some Catholics think that Vatican II no longer has anything to teach us. (Precisely why this matters especially in the case of Vatican II, he never says. Certainly most Catholics no longer think that Trent or Chalcedon have anything to teach us, but you don’t see Professor Faggioli writing articles in Commonweal about that.) But consider this: in 172 notes, Laudato si’ cites Vatican II three times—in point of fact, Gaudium et spes—and generally only for a phrase. Is it possible that an ecumenical council rooted so firmly in the circumstances of the early 1960s is no longer quite so relevant? Indeed, is it possible that, despite the wishes of some aging liberals in Bologna and Berlin and Boston, the world of 2017 does not have overmuch in common with the world of 1965? Francis, at least, seems to understand that the crises of today require thoughtful responses on their own terms, without nostalgia for the false promises of liberalism that were so beguiling in the 1960s.

Whether his staunchest supporters get that is another question.

On the Weinandy letter

As you no doubt know, Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap., wrote a letter to Pope Francis, arguing, essentially, that the Pope’s demeanor was causing great confusion among the faithful. Note that Weinandy’s argument is somewhat different than the arguments advanced by the cardinals who submitted dubia and the so-called filial correction that was much in the news recently. That is, Weinandy does not argue that Amoris laetitia contradicts doctrine or advances heretical teachings; instead, he argues that the Holy Father’s general demeanor is causing confusion. Dom Hugh Somerville-Knapman has an excellent piece looking at some of the more prominent responses to Weinandy, and pulling apart the shoddy logic of some critics. One ought to read very carefully both Weinandy’s letter and Somerville-Knapman’s piece.

For our part, we delayed somewhat in covering Weinandy’s letter, not least because it seems manifestly different from the other documents we have discussed. It is not a technical, theological argument; indeed, to us, it is a humble plea not for a doctrinal retreat but for a little clarity and a little kindness. Additionally, Weinandy has explained that he wrote the letter only after significant discernment and receiving what he took to be a sign from God. This is by no means something to be ignored or diminished, especially in an age when discernment has such primacy. Consequently, we did not want to rush to judgment or present Weinandy’s letter without a little time on our part to consider it carefully.

Naturally, the media supporters of the Pope swung into full gear almost immediately. The accusation seems to be that Weinandy, such a staunch critic of dissenting theologians, himself dissents. This misrepresents Weinandy’s letter almost to the point of malice. Moreover, it represents a mindless ultramontanism that has appeared among progressives and modernists since, oh, the spring of 2013. The theologians Weinandy criticized held views that contradicted, squarely, revealed truths. It contradicts no revealed truth when Weinandy asks the Pope to clear up the confusion that exists in the Church today. However, progressives like Fr. James Martin, the public face of changing the Church’s doctrine on homosexuality, argue that Weinandy is just as bad as the dissenting theologians he criticized. The implicit argument is that any request for clarity is dissent. Robert Royal today has an excellent piece along these lines, in which he argues:

I argued here about a month ago that we’re starting to see emerge a kind of faith without reason that is quite different from the mainstream Catholic tradition. As sadly happens when you make any argument on the Internet these days, commenters accused me of calling people I disagreed with stupid – including the pope himself. But what I actually said is that I think there’s been a conscious decision to emphasize a kind of pastoral sentimentalism over the older hard-head/soft-heart Catholic realism – sometimes even bordering on the belief that clear doctrine obstructs the workings of the Holy Spirit. Something considered “pastoral” is assumed to trump other teachings, even consistency and fidelity to tradition.

(Hyperlink in original and emphasis supplied.) The Weinandy affair shows precisely this: we are entering a phase in the history of the Church where clarity is considered inimical to faith.

Royal goes on to make this excellent point:

When you take that approach, you look less to what others actually say and more to how it might help or harm what you are trying to achieve. In the Weinandy case, it’s telling that the omnipresent Fr. James Martin has weighed in saying that “dissent” is a two-edged sword: how is Fr. Weinandy’s belief, he asks, that God personally encouraged him to write the letter different from LGBTQ people who believe God finds their inclinations just fine? It’s tiresome to have to point out the obvious here, but Fr. Weinandy was speaking up for the whole Catholic tradition and those who believe in it – not “dissenting” or pushing a personal interest – and sincerely asking the Holy Father to take up his role as the promoter of Church unity.

Such a view is ultimately the triumph of theological liberalism. Martin’s implicit argument is ultimately that the view that Pope Francis is permitting confusion to mount is as good as the view that homosexuals ought to be normalized in the Church. We are reminded, when we hear of Fr. Martin’s latest false equivalency, of Cardinal Newman’s biglietto speech:

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man’s religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is why we return to Newman so often. He was an implacable opponent of theological liberalism, and the progressives and modernists are enthusiastic proponents of liberalism. Newman shows that liberalism is incompatible with the Catholic faith. (So too, frankly, do the progressives.)

The Weinandy affair shows also that the Pope’s supporters in the media are incapable of having the dialogue that even high prelates like Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state, have called for. Within hours—minutes—of the release of Weinandy’s letter, they started their all-too-familiar drumbeat: he’s an extremist, he’s a dissenter, he’s a bitter minority. We have seen already that they conflate dissent from actual doctrine with merely asking for clarity regarding the Pope’s teachings. Their vicious response to Weinandy only underscores the fact that, for them, this is not a matter of unity but party politics. Their man, as it were, is in government, and the loyal opposition must be excluded and mocked for as long as the ride lasts.