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.

 

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.