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.

Müller’s latest on “Amoris laetitia”

We have posted several times about Rocco Buttiglione’s arguments concerning Amoris laetitia. Buttiglione, a confidant of John Paul II, has come out against the critics of the exhortation, including the cardinals who submitted dubia, on several occasions. It seems that his various essays have been collected into a book. Of great interest is the fact that Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a cardinal without portfolio at the moment, has written a preface for the book. The preface has been excerpted at Vatican Insider. The relevant passage is this:

The formal element of sin is the departure from God and his holy will, but there are different levels of gravity depending on the type of sin. Spirit’s sins can be more serious than flesh’s sins. Spiritual pride and avarice introduce into religious and moral life a more profound disorder than impurity resulting from human weakness. The apostasy of faith, the denial of the divinity of Christ weighs more than theft and adultery; adultery among married people weighs more than among the unmarried and, the adultery of the faithful, who know God’s will, weighs more than that of the unbelievers (cf. Thomas Aquinas, th. S. I-II q. 73; II-II q). Moreover, for the imputabilty of guilt in God’s judgment, one must consider subjective factors such as full knowledge and deliberate consent in the serious lack of respect for God’s commandments, which has as a consequence the loss of sanctifying grace and of the ability of faith to become effective in charity (cf. Thomas Aquinas S. th. II-II, q. 10 a. 3 ad 3).

This does not mean, however, that now Amoris laetitia art. 302 supports, in contrast to Veritatis splendor 81, that, due to mitigating circumstances, an objectively bad act can become subjectively good (it is dubium n. 4 of the cardinals). The action in itself bad (the sexual relationship with a partner who is not the legitimate spouse) does not become subjectively good due to circumstances. In the assessment of guilt, however, there may be mitigating circumstances and the ancillary elements of an irregular cohabitation similar to marriage can also be presented before God in their ethical value in the overall assessment of judgment (for example, the care for children in common, which is a duty deriving from natural law). 

(Emphasis supplied.) This is essentially the argument Buttiglione himself has propounded, which is essentially that Amoris laetitia implements the traditional moral analysis, particularly with respect to deliberate consent.  There is a more interesting passage, however, when Müller goes on to argue:

In paragraph 305 and in particular in note 351, which is the subject of a passionate discussion, the theological argument suffers from a certain lack of clarity which could and should have been avoided by referring to the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Trent and Vatican II on the justification, the sacrament of penance and the appropriate way of receiving the Eucharist. What is at issue is an objective situation of sin which, due to mitigating circumstances, is subjectively not imputed. This sounds similar to the Protestant principle of simul jus et peccator, but it is certainly not intended in that sense. If the second bond were valid before God, the marriage relationships of the two partners would not constitute a serious sin but rather a transgression against ecclesiastical public order for having irresponsibly violated the canonical rules and therefore a minor sin. This does not obscure the truth that the relationship more uxorio with a person of the other sex, who is not the legitimate spouse before God, constitutes a serious fault against chastity and justice due to one’s spouse.

(Emphasis supplied.) One argument, even in the context of the internal forum solution, which Müller more or less advances earlier in the preface, is that the public scandal of communion by bigamists is independent of their culpability in the second union. That is, even if they are really not gravely culpable, the fact that they are publicly in a second union is an independent basis for denying communion. Müller seems to respond to that contention, arguing instead that they have committed only the “minor sin” of “irresponsibly violat[ing] the canonical rules.” On the other hand, Müller doesn’t want to follow that argument all the way home:

The sacraments have been established for us, because we are corporeal and social beings, and not so that God may need them to communicate grace. Precisely for this reason it is possible that someone receives the justification and mercy of God, forgiveness of sins and new life in faith and charity even if for external reasons one cannot receive the sacraments or has a moral obligation not to receive them publicly in order to avoid a scandal.

Cardinal Müller was shut out of the Amoris laetitia drafting process by all accounts. Indeed, we think in one or another of his recent, frank interviews, he has said as much. However, it is hard to see why in the light of this essay. His argument seems to be essentially the argument implicit in Amoris laetitia: sometimes it is not subjectively a grave sin to live more uxorio in a second marriage, even if adultery is objectively a grave sin; and, moreover, it is possible for the second marriage to be a true marriage even if that fact cannot be established judicially. This is not hugely surprising, given that Müller was part of the German-speaking small group at the 2015 Synod, which came out unanimously largely in favor of the internal forum solution. (Cardinal Marx, we recall, took some measure of credit for brokering a solution that got both Walter Kasper and Gerhard Müller to sign on.) Nevertheless, it is strange to see this essay after a year or so of media portrayals of Müller as one of the cardinals resisting the Pope’s agenda of mercy.

More on the Latin “Amoris laetitia”

Anthony Holmes, a professor of theology at Wyoming Catholic College, has an interesting piece at his blog, confirming that the Latin text of Amoris laetitia, used by Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein to argue against certain interpretations of the exhortation, is ultimately derivative of the various vernacular translations. We won’t spoil the surprise of his piece, which is quite clever, and instead encourage you to read it at his blog. In sum, anyone who suggests, as Fastiggi and Goldstein do, that the Latin text expresses the mind of the Holy Father in Amoris laetitia is going to have a hard time making their case. The original text of Amoris laetitia, from which the other vernacular translations were made, is the Italian or Spanish text, given what we know of the drafting process. The Latin text was likely prepared from the same original text. Nevertheless, Holmes suggests, it might be worthwhile to translate the Latin text of Amoris laetitia. It is, after all, the official text, even if it is probably not the most revealing text.

Cardinal Müller speaks

At the National Catholic Register, there is a very lengthy and very frank interview with Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, until recently the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is well worth reading in its entirety. Naturally, it is with Edward Pentin, who is, we are comfortable saying, the single best English-language Vaticanista today by a country mile. We are sure—as Cardinal Müller himself says—that excerpts will be selected and warped by his enemies, especially in the press, and used to allege that he is a reactionary, out of touch, or an enemy of the Holy Father. This is the tactic progressives have settled on in their frantic attempts to shore up their agenda against the rising resistance from faithful Catholics. We won’t quote every interesting passage, but we will quote what we think is the heart of the interview:

All my life, after the Second Vatican Council, I’ve noticed that those who support so-called progressivism never have theological arguments. The only method they have is to discredit other persons, calling them “conservative” — and this changes the real point, which is the reality of the faith, and not in your personal subjective, psychological disposition. By “conservative,” what do they mean? Someone loves the ways of the 1950s, or old Hollywood films of the 1930s? Was the bloody persecution of Catholics during the French Revolution by the Jacobins progressive or conservative? Or is the denial of the divinity of Christ by the Arians of the fourth century liberal or traditional? Theologically it’s not possible to be conservative or progressive. These are absurd categories: Neither conservatism nor progressivism is anything to do with the Catholic faith. They’re political, polemical, rhetorical forms. The only sense of these categories is discrediting other persons.

We have Holy Scripture, we have eschatological revelation in Jesus Christ, the irreversibility of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, the salvation of the cross, the Resurrection, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ for the end of the world. … The responsibility of the Pope and the bishops is to overcome the polarization. Therefore, it’s very dangerous for the Church to divide bishops into friends and enemies of the Pope regarding a footnote in an apostolic exhortation. I am sure that anybody will denounce me also for this interview, but I hope that the Holy Father will read my complete interview here and not only some headlines, which cannot give a complete impression of what I said.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing.

Exemplar, oblatio, and terra firma

At Vatican Insider, there is an article by theologian Robert Fastiggi and the theologian and journalist Dawn Eden Goldstein, arguing that the Latin version of paragraph 303 of Amoris laetitia has a significantly different meaning than the English translation. Their argument hinges on the translation of objectivum exemplar as “objective ideal” instead of “objective model” and on the nontranslation of oblatio. It is their opinion that these translation choices have had an impact on the understanding on Amoris laetitia by its critics. In short, Fastiggi and Goldstein argue that the critics are wrong about what paragraph 303 says because they are basing their arguments on translations at variance with the Latin original. It’s an argument.

On one hand, it is nice to be back on the terra firma of arguing about Latin words and precise interpretations of papal texts in Latin. On the other hand, it would have been altogether more generous of Fastiggi and Goldstein to admit that Amoris laetitia was released in Latin only in the last few months. Some of the essays they critique may have been written and in the publication process before the Latin text of Amoris laetitia was widely available. Ordinarily, we agree that it is best wait for the Latin text, but the Holy Father, since his accession to the Petrine See, has not always released important texts in Latin. (As far as we know, Evangelii gaudium, despite its incipit, is not available in Latin.)  And, as everyone knows, the initial round of debate over Amoris laetitia was based upon the versions initially released in vulgar tongues. Indeed, it seems to us to be profoundly ungenerous to critique interpretations of Amoris laetitia that were based on vernacular versions that everyone, including high prelates, were using at the time. The critiques were based upon the texts that were considered definitive until earlier this summer. Furthermore, it is far from clear to us that the vernacular versions are not in some way definitive. Fastiggi and Goldstein neglect to note that the Argentine bishops’ based their norms upon the vernacular text. And, as Archbishop Fernandez helpfully observed, the Pope sent an appreciative letter to the Argentine bishops about these interpretations. If this appreciative letter has magisterial weight, as Archbishop Fernandez contends it does, which it has conveyed to the Argentine bishops’ norms, can it be said that the vernacular translations of Amoris laetitia are entirely meaningless? It is not an easy question. And, again, it would have been more generous of Fastiggi and Goldstein to answer the question—or at least acknowledge it.

Turning from the authority of the Latin text to the argument, we have a couple of points in response. We acknowledge that exemplum more precisely means “pattern, model, exemplar, original, an example” (per the standard reference Lewis & Short dictionary). Fine. But what is the difference between a pattern or a model and an ideal? They never say. It is enough for them to suggest that, well, the Latin original says exemplum. Their philological argument, to our mind, comes up short. Examples of usage of exemplum would have been more persuasive, especially if they could find examples of exemplum in comparison to other terms closer to their sense of “ideal.” Maybe they have a philological point, but it would be nice if they’d condescend to make it in terms comprehensible to a philologist.

Second, as most defenders Amoris laetitia do, Fastiggi and Goldstein set aside their technical discussion of exemplum (and oblatio) to play the what-if game. But their argument raises a couple of more interesting points that they simply leave to one side. First, they talk about the conscience discerning what God is asking a person to do in a given situation. But we have seen—and Cardinal Caffarra would have explained had he not gone on to his reward—Bl. John Henry Newman’s argument about what conscience is or is not. In Newman’s account, conscience is God’s law apprehended in the minds of men more or less well. It is emphatically not a free will responding or not to conditions it apprehends. Fastiggi and Goldstein come close to this sort of argument, but never quite manage to get across the goal line. For example, they say:

We believe the key to understanding what Pope Francis is saying in Amoris laetitia 303 is found in Amoris laetitia 305, where he quotes section 44 of his 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium: “Let us re­member that ‘a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.’”

It is very clear from the Latin text of Amoris laetitia 303 that Pope Francis is describing how conscience can discern that God himself is asking for a small step in the right direction in the midst of a mass of impediments and limitations. The Holy Father is not saying that God himself is asking certain people “to continue to commit intrinsically wrong acts such as adultery or active homosexuality.” This is a most unfortunate reading of the text by Seifert. Instead Pope Francis is saying that in certain difficult situations God is asking for a “generous response” (liberale responsum), an offering (oblationem)—that is, a step in the right direction. 

(Emphasis supplied.) What does this mean? Is this a case of an individual better apprehending God’s law, and therefore following better his conscience? Or do they mean to imply that God’s law is not written on our hearts and we choose to respond to God’s law once we apprehend it more or less well? The former case seems to us to be more readily reconciled with Newman’s definition of conscience. The latter case seems to be fraught with difficulties. And it is unclear, even from Fastiggi and Goldstein’s example, what they mean. While we are perfectly happy to be polemical, we are genuinely curious.

Moreover, what is the relationship between the oblatio “requested” by God through the means of conscience and the eighteenth canon of the Council of Trent on justification (sixth session, January 13, 1547)? That is, “Si quis dixerit, Dei præcepta homini etiam justificato et sub gratia constituto esse ad observandum impossibilia: anathema sit.” This remains a serious question. In other words, “If anyone says that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to observe, let him be anathema.” God does not demand the impossible, and thus it seems to us that there is some question about the oblatio in a given situation, particularly if the oblatio is somewhat less than compliance with God’s law. Once again, we are simply curious as to what Fastiggi and Goldstein mean.

An interesting article, to be sure, and one that leaves much room for further discussion.

Newman on the brain

At Gloria.tv, there is a translation of a conference that the late Carlo Cardinal Caffarra would have given on October 21 in London. Cardinal Caffarra’s address would have touched at length on Bl. John Henry Newman’s doctrine of conscience, especially as conscience relates to the papacy. Rather than quote from Cardinal Caffarra’s lecture, which you ought to read, we shall quote from the fifth chapter of Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk:

I say, then, that the Supreme Being is of a certain character, which, expressed in human language, we call ethical. He has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy, as eternal characteristics in His nature, the very Law of His being, identical with Himself; and next, when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels. “The eternal law,” says St. Augustine, “is the Divine Reason or Will of God, commanding the observance, forbidding the disturbance, of the natural order of things.” “The natural law,” says St. Thomas, “is an impression of the Divine Light in us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” (Gousset, Theol. Moral., t. i. pp. 24, &c.) This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called “conscience;” and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience. “The Divine Law,” says Cardinal Gousset, “is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says, ‘Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ædificat ad gehennam.'”

(Emphasis supplied.) Cardinal Caffarra quotes from this section, but turns also to chapter five of the Grammar of Assent. (We have no wish to upstage Cardinal Caffarra, especially now, so we will not parallel his argument, and instead again encourage you to read both his address and the relevant passages of Newman.) Turning back to the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, we see also that Newman recognized that almost no one spoke in these terms when referring to conscience in his day:

When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman’s prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one’s leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is no less true today than in 1874 that conscience is man’s apprehension of the divine and natural law laid down by God, which must be obeyed at all costs. And it is no less true today than in 1874 that few understand by “conscience” what Newman, relying on authorities no less weighty than Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, meant. Indeed, it seems more true in 2017 than in 1874 that people view conscience as “the right of self-will.”

Indeed, in so much recent discourse in the Church, it seems that the world’s definition of conscience has been taken instead of Newman’s. Not so long ago, an American bishop, now raised to the purple by the Holy Father, spoke of conscience not as God’s law apprehended by a rational creature, but as a decision, made at the end of a process. Now, it is true that this bishop did not go so far as the liberals of Newman’s day, but once one accepts conscience as a sort of judgment, rather than an individual’s implementation of God’s “sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority,” one is already skipping down the primrose path of liberalism. And no one was a stauncher opponent of liberalism than Cardinal Newman. Difficult questions of moral theology—questions of adultery, homosexual behavior, and access to the sacraments, to name but three—are once again being debated, with liberals invoking conscience in support of their positions. Liberalism is on the march again in the Roman Church. And, as an opponent of liberalism, Newman stands squarely against any attempt to turn conscience into nothing more than private judgment, into the more or less educated decision of a person to comply or not with God’s law. It is no wonder then that Newman was on Cardinal Caffarra’s mind.

As it becomes clear that progressives in the Church insist on relitigating every battle since 1965—as they obviously think that the Holy Father will give them their every wish, whether he will or not—it becomes equally clear that a return to theologians like Newman is necessary. You have no doubt heard the disquieting rumors that even Humanae vitae is in the sights of the modernists and progressives, to say nothing of the recent fights in Catholic social media over homosexuality. We do not think the Holy Father is prepared to go as far as the modernists and progressives demanding this or that accommodation, but it is in the nature of modernism for its adherents to go beyond legitimate authority. At this moment, it is necessary to recover the entire anti-liberal teaching of the Church, including the great papal teachings from Gregory XVI to Pius XI, in addition to Newman’s thought. Liberalism is nothing new, however new and upsetting the assault of the progressives may be. And the great anti-liberal popes and thinkers like Newman fought liberalism to a standstill.

 

Why not Newman?

It occurred to us, after writing about Cardinal Newman’s sixth note of an authentic development, set forth in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, that some may resist approaching contemporary questions through Newman’s schema. But this presents a serious problem, to our mind: where else is the notion of development set forth? That is, if you do not approach the question through Newman, how do you approach the question? We will see that not every notion of development has met with ecclesiastical approval. Indeed, St. Pius X condemned in strong terms the sort of development that many progressives today want to employ. However, we shall see in a moment that St. Pius X provides us with a way forward—under the terms recently articulated by Archbishop Fernandez in defense of Amoris laetitia. The answer? Newman’s notes.

The question is of course more than merely academic. The progressives want—need—some doctrine of development in the Church. Otherwise, their project is dead in the water. Hopelessly, irretrievably dead. Of course, they could simply abandon it, but one does not abandon the stuff which careers are made of. At any rate, they want development, but they do not always want Cardinal Newman’s development. Sure, it’s great to mention Cardinal Newman in an essay. The mere mention of his name evokes all sorts of warm feelings of theological brilliance and English charm. Unfortunately, one does not always want to let Newman say very much. Why? Well, it turns out that Newman was just as ready to find corruptions of doctrine as authentic developments. Readier, perhaps, when one goes through the seven notes carefully. Newman’s project, at least superficially, was to show that the faith of Leo XIII and the faith of St. Peter were indistinguishable, not to open the door to communion for bigamists or same-sex “marriage.” Therefore, while Newman is a fine mascot, he’s by no means as tame as the progressives would like; accordingly, they are leery of giving him too much say. However, without Newman the proponents of development are left in a sticky situation.

The fact of the matter is that Lamentabili and Pascendi both come down, quite strongly, against some ideas of development. Consider this passage from St. Pius X’s Pascendi:

To finish with this whole question of faith and its shoots, it remains to be seen, Venerable Brethren, what the Modernists have to say about their development. First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be, among the chief of their doctrines, that of Evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject – dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself, and the penalty of disobedience is death. The enunciation of this principle will not astonish anybody who bears in mind what the Modernists have had to say about each of these subjects. Having laid down this law of evolution, the Modernists themselves teach us how it works out. And first with regard to faith. The primitive form of faith, they tell us, was rudimentary and common to all men alike, for it had its origin in human nature and human life. Vital evolution brought with it progress, not by the accretion of new and purely adventitious forms from without, but by an increasing penetration of the religious sentiment in the conscience. This progress was of two kinds: negative, by the elimination of all foreign elements, such, for example, as the sentiment of family or nationality; and positive by the intellectual and moral refining of man, by means of which the idea was enlarged and enlightened while the religious sentiment became more elevated and more intense. For the progress of faith no other causes are to be assigned than those which are adduced to explain its origin. But to them must be added those religious geniuses whom we call prophets, and of whom Christ was the greatest; both because in their lives and their words there was something mysterious which faith attributed to the divinity, and because it fell to their lot to have new and original experiences fully in harmony with the needs of their time. The progress of dogma is due chiefly to the obstacles which faith has to surmount, to the enemies it has to vanquish, to the contradictions it has to repel. Add to this a perpetual striving to penetrate ever more profoundly its own mysteries. Thus, to omit other examples, has it happened in the case of Christ: in Him that divine something which faith admitted in Him expanded in such a way that He was at last held to be God. The chief stimulus of evolution in the domain of worship consists in the need of adapting itself to the uses and customs of peoples, as well as the need of availing itself of the value which certain acts have acquired by long usage. Finally, evolution in the Church itself is fed by the need of accommodating itself to historical conditions and of harmonising itself with existing forms of society. Such is religious evolution in detail. And here, before proceeding further, we would have you note well this whole theory of necessities and needs, for it is at the root of the entire system of the Modernists, and it is upon it that they will erect that famous method of theirs called the historical.

(Emphasis supplied.) Consider also some propositions condemned in Lamentabili:

  • “Revelation, constituting the object of the Catholic faith, was not completed with the Apostles.”
  • “Dogmas, Sacraments and hierarchy, both their notion and reality, are only interpretations and evolutions of the Christian intelligence which have increased and perfected by an external series of additions the little germ latent in the Gospel.”
  • “Christ did not teach a determined body of doctrine applicable to all times and all men, but rather inaugurated a religious movement adapted or to be adapted to different times and places.”
  • “Scientific progress demands that the concepts of Christian doctrine concerning God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word, and Redemption be re-adjusted.”

These, and other propositions, cut strongly against the proposition that the Church broadly approves the notion of the development of doctrine. In sum, we can say that Pius was deeply suspicious of the idea of development or evolution.

Now, the clever progressive will at this moment cite Dignitatis humanae 1, which talks about bringing forth new things from the treasury of the Church’s doctrine and about developing the doctrine of recent popes on the rights of man and the constitution of states (i.e., Pius IX and Leo XIII). Ah, this hypothetical clever progressive will assert, the Church says doctrine can develop, and therefore we do not need Newman. Two responses come to mind. First, it is true: Dignitatis humanae says these things. But, as Francis and Archbishop Guido Pozzo have said in their comments about the situation with the Society of St. Pius X, the magisterial weight of Dignitatis humanae is by no means clear or clearly great. Second, what theory of development does Dignitatis humanae actually propose? It makes some broad assertions about development, but it also observes that “it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ” (DH 1). It touches therefore only upon “immunity from coercion in civil society” (DH 1). So, in addition to lacking an overarching hermeneutic of development, it is unclear how much development Dignitatis humanae itself actually does. Now, we admit that this is a greatly disputed topic, with all sorts of arguments advanced one way and the other, but we are by no means sure that citation to Dignitatis humanae will save the progressive who wants to chuck Newman for a broader idea of development.

And turning to the progressives’ idea of development more broadly, that is, the process by which development is supposed to take place, consider Pius’s description of the methods of the modernists:

Still continuing the consideration of the evolution of doctrine, it is to be noted that Evolution is due no doubt to those stimulants styled needs, but, if left to their action alone, it would run a great risk of bursting the bounds of tradition, and thus, turned aside from its primitive vital principle, would lead to ruin instead of progress. Hence, studying more closely the ideas of the Modernists, evolution is described as resulting from the conflict of two forces, one of them tending towards progress, the other towards conservation. The conserving force in the Church is tradition, and tradition is represented by religious authority, and this both by right and in fact; for by right it is in the very nature of authority to protect tradition, and, in fact, for authority, raised as it is above the contingencies of life, feels hardly, or not at all, the spurs of progress. The progressive force, on the contrary, which responds to the inner needs lies in the individual consciences and ferments there – especially in such of them as are in most intimate contact with life. Note here, Venerable Brethren, the appearance already of that most pernicious doctrine which would make of the laity a factor of progress in the Church. Now it is by a species of compromise between the forces of conservation and of progress, that is to say between authority and individual consciences, that changes and advances take place. The individual consciences of some of them act on the collective conscience, which brings pressure to bear on the depositaries of authority, until the latter consent to a compromise, and, the pact being made, authority sees to its maintenance.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Pius condemns no less strongly the idea that the development of doctrine is some kind of negotiation between progressives and reactionaries. Therefore, in Pascendi, one finds a strong condemnation of the sort of development that a lot of commentators want to enshrine in the Catholic faith. They seem to envision progressive theologians battling reactionary theologians until the pope decides the question definitively, usually opening up a little room for the progressive opinion without forcing the reactionaries into schism. This little room, then, becomes an authentic development. (The fact that it was a compromise extracted from authority through disobedience and dissent is, like a first marriage, politely passed over as soon as the case is closed.) Not so, St. Pius X tells us, not so.

Now, of course, one can pause here to critique the revolutionary, Hegelian approach adopted by the progressives. Note that, to put it in those terms, Pius condemns the idea of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. And it is obvious that the progressives intend to make a revolution in the Church through these means, as they have intended for many years. But such a critique is unnecessary at this moment. It is enough to know that their method was condemned, even if it was successful, oh, not quite sixty years after Pascendi was promulgated. It is more than enough to recall that the goal of the method is fundamentally revolutionary.

At any rate, without Newman, the progressives have a hard time articulating a coherent vision of development that has not been itself condemned by competent authority. But there is an argument, following lines recently advanced, that Newman’s vision of development has been approved by competent authority. Since—as Archbishop Fernandez has told us recently, citing Lumen gentium‘s citation in the supplementary notes of a letter of Pius IX to the German bishops—the correspondence of a pope can, as if by magic, bestow magisterial authority upon various documents, we must consider St. Pius X’s 1908 Letter to the Bishop of Limerick Tuum illud opusculum, A.S.S. 41 (1908) 200–02, which approved the tract by Bishop O’Dwyer, demonstrating that Newman’s works were entirely consistent with Pascendi and Lamentabili. There, Pius stated:

We hereby inform you that your essay, in which you show that the writings of Cardinal Newman, far from being in disagreement with Our Encyclical Letter Pascendi, are very much in harmony with it, has been emphatically approved by Us: for you could not have better served both the truth and the dignity of man. It is clear that those people whose errors We have condemned in that Document had decided among themselves to produce something of their own invention with which to seek the commendation of a distinguished person. And so they everywhere assert with confidence that they have taken these things from the very source and summit of authority, and that therefore We cannot censure their teachings, but rather that We had even previously gone so far as to condemn what such a great author had taught. Incredible though it may appear, although it is not always realised, there are to be found those who are so puffed up with pride that it is enough to overwhelm the mind, and who are convinced that they are Catholics and pass themselves off as such, while in matters concerning the inner discipline of religion they prefer the authority of their own private teaching to the pre-eminent authority of the Magisterium of the Apostolic See. Not only do you fully demonstrate their obstinacy but you also show clearly their deceitfulness. For, if in the things he had written before his profession of the Catholic faith one can justly detect something which may have a kind of similarity with certain Modernist formulas, you are correct in saying that this is not relevant to his later works. Moreover, as far as that matter is concerned, his way of thinking has been expressed in very different ways, both in the spoken word and in his published writings, and the author himself, on his admission into the Catholic Church, forwarded all his writings to the authority of the same Church so that any corrections might be made, if judged appropriate.

(Emphasis supplied.) Pius concludes his letter, ringing with denunciations of the modernists by saying:

Would that they should follow Newman the author faithfully by studying his books without, to be sure, being addicted to their own prejudices, and let them not with wicked cunning conjure anything up from them or declare that their own opinions are confirmed in them; but instead let them understand his pure and whole principles, his lessons and inspiration which they contain. They will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith.

(Emphasis supplied.) If Francis’s politely appreciative letter to the Argentine bishops about their norms for the implementation of chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia is enough to invest those norms with magisterial authority or to constitute an authoritative interpretation of Amoris laetitia, then it seems unavoidable that Pius’s letter to Bishop O’Dwyer is enough to invest not only his pamphlet but also Newman’s work with some magisterial authority. At the very least, it is sufficient to spare Newman’s notion of development, including his seven notes, from the condemnations of evolution and development in Lamentabili and Pascendi.

Therefore, we see that the progressives disregard Newman at their own peril. For one thing, development of doctrine has not met with uniform favor from the Church. Pius X condemned in strong terms the sort of development that one sees most commonly advanced by progressives, furthering their revolutionary agenda. It is true that the Second Vatican Council, notably in Dignitatis humanae, spoke of development, but it is impossible to say more than that without wading into controversy and uncertainty. On the other hand, Pius X approved Bishop O’Dwyer’s pamphlet showing that Newman was by no means a modernist and the pope recommended warmly Newman’s writings. Following the recent argument of Archbishop Fernandez regarding Francis’s letter to the Buenos Aires bishops (and Pius IX’s letter to the German bishops), we can say that Pius X’s letter has provided some measure of official approval to Newman and Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine. And all of this brings us back to Newman’s notes.