The sensus fidei, “Amoris laetitia,” and the state of the Church

At Rorate Caelithere is a translation of a talk Roberto de Mattei gave back in October. It is all about infallibility, indefectibility, and the sensus fidei. It is stupendously good, and you need to read it. A brief selection to whet your appetite:

The ultimate rule of the faith is not the contemporary ‘living’ Magisterium, in what it contains as non-defining, but Tradition, or rather the objective and perennial Magisterium, which constitutes, along with Holy Scripture, one of the two sources of the Word of God. Ordinarily the Magisterium is the proximate rule of faith, inasmuch as it transmits and applies infallible truths contained in the deposit of Revelation, but in the case of a contrast between the novelties proposed by the subjective or “living” Magisterium and Tradition, the primacy can only be given to Tradition, for one simple motive: Tradition, which is the “living” Magisterium in its universality and continuity, is in itself infallible, whereas the so-called “living” Magisterium, meant as the current predication by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, is only so in determinate conditions. Tradition, in fact is always divinely assisted; the Magisterium is so only when it is expressed in an extraordinary way, or when, in ordinary form, it teaches with continuity over time, a truth of faith and morals. The fact that the ordinary Magisterium cannot constantly teach a truth contrary to the faith, does not exclude that this same Magisterium may fall per accidens into error, when the teaching is circumscribed in space and time and is not expressed in an extraordinary manner.

This does not mean in any way that the dogmatic truth must be the result of the sentiment of lay-people and that nothing can be defined without first hearing the opinion of the universal Church, as if the Magisterium was simply a revealer of the faith of the people, quasi-regulated by them in its magisterial function. It means, however, as Padre Garcia Extremeno asserts, that the Magisterium cannot propose anything infallibly to the Church, if it is not contained in Tradition, which is the supreme regula fidei of the Church.

Tradition is maintained and transmitted by the Church, not only through the Magisterium, but through all the faithful, “from the bishops down to the laity”[70], as the famous formula by St. Augustine, cited in Lumen Gentium no. 12 expresses. The doctor from Hippo makes an appeal in particular to “the people of the faith”[71], who do not exercise a Magisterium, but on the basis of their sensus fidei guarantee the continuity of the transmission of a truth. 

(Emphasis supplied.) The whole talk is absolutely essential reading, not least since questions of infallibility (or lack thereof), indefectibility, and the sensus fidei have come up with some regularity in recent years.

In addition to his own cogent and engaging argument, Professor De Mattei does us a great favor by pointing to a 2014 intervention of the International Theological Commission: Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church. It is a lengthy document, but it is very accessibly written and well worth your time. We have some comments of our own upon it, as a matter of fact. The document observes:

Three principal manifestations of the sensus fidei fidelis in the personal life of the believer can be highlighted. The sensus fidei fidelis enables individual believers: 1) to discern whether or not a particular teaching or practice that they actually encounter in the Church is coherent with the true faith by which they live in the communion of the Church (see below, §§61-63); 2) to distinguish in what is preached between the essential and the secondary (§64); and 3) to determine and put into practice the witness to Jesus Christ that they should give in the particular historical and cultural context in which they live (§65).

‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God ; for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1Jn 4:1). The sensus fidei fidelis confers on the believer the capacity to discern whether or not a teaching or practice is coherent with the true faith by which he or she already lives. If individual believers perceive or ‘sense’ that coherence, they spontaneously give their interior adherence to those teachings or engage personally in the practices, whether it is a matter of truths already explicitly taught or of truths not yet explicitly taught.

The sensus fidei fidelis also enables individual believers to perceive any disharmony, incoherence, or contradiction between a teaching or practice and the authentic Christian faith by which they live. They react as a music lover does to false notes in the performance of a piece of music. In such cases, believers interiorly resist the teachings or practices concerned and do not accept them or participate in them. ‘The habitus of faith possesses a capacity whereby, thanks to it, the believer is prevented from giving assent to what is contrary to the faith, just as chastity gives protection with regard to whatever is contrary to chastity.’

Alerted by their sensus fidei, individual believers may deny assent even to the teaching of legitimate pastors if they do not recognise in that teaching the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd. ‘The sheep follow [the Good Shepherd] because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run away from him because they do not know the voice of strangers’ (Jn 10:4-5). For St Thomas, a believer, even without theological competence, can and even must resist, by virtue of the sensus fidei, his or her bishop if the latter preaches heterodoxy. In such a case, the believer does not treat himself or herself as the ultimate criterion of the truth of faith, but rather, faced with materially ‘authorised’ preaching which he or she finds troubling, without being able to explain exactly why, defers assent and appeals interiorly to the superior authority of the universal Church.

(Emphasis, both bold and red, supplied and footnotes omitted). De Mattei discusses this at some length, calling it ultimately “Catholic common sense.” That is, when confronted with an intervention of a “legitimate pastor,” which includes, we would think, anyone from one’s parish priest up to the most exalted prelates in the Church, a believer needn’t check his or her “common sense,” so to speak, at the door. If, to use the ITC’s music analogy, the notes are wrong, that may not be rigidity or stiff-necked resistance, but, instead, the sensus fidei alerting the believer to trouble. And, alarmed by the inconsistency between the teaching and one’s common sense, one “appeals interiorly to the superior authority of the universal Church.”

A little later on, discussing concrete applications of the sensus fidei, the ITC document observes:

There is a genuine equality of dignity among all the faithful, because through their baptism they are all reborn in Christ. Because of this equality they all contribute, each according to his or her own condition and office, to the building up of the Body of Christ.’ Therefore, all the faithful ‘have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church’. ‘They have the right to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reference to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.’ Accordingly, the faithful, and specifically the lay people, should be treated by the Church’s pastors with respect and consideration, and consulted in an appropriate way for the good of the Church.

The word ‘consult’ includes the idea of seeking a judgment or advice as well as inquiring into a matter of fact. On the one hand, in matters of governance and pastoral issues, the pastors of the Church can and should consult the faithful in certain cases in the sense of asking for their advice or their judgment. On the other hand, when the magisterium is defining a doctrine, it is appropriate to consult the faithful in the sense of inquiring into a matter of fact, ‘because the body of the faithful is one of the witnesses to the fact of the tradition of revealed doctrine, and because their consensus through Christendom is the voice of the Infallible Church’.

The practice of consulting the faithful is not new in the life of the Church. In the medieval Church a principle of Roman law was used: Quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus tractari et approbari debet (what affects everyone, should be discussed and approved by all). In the three domains of the life of the Church (faith, sacraments, governance), ‘tradition combined a hierarchical structure with a concrete regime of association and agreement’, and this was considered to be an ‘apostolic practice’ or an ‘apostolic tradition’.

Problems arise when the majority of the faithful remain indifferent to doctrinal or moral decisions taken by the magisterium or when they positively reject them. This lack of reception may indicate a weakness or a lack of faith on the part of the people of God, caused by an insufficiently critical embrace of contemporary culture. But in some cases it may indicate that certain decisions have been taken by those in authority without due consideration of the experience and the sensus fidei of the faithful, or without sufficient consultation of the faithful by the magisterium.

(Emphasis, bold and red, supplied and footnotes omitted) Now, this is interesting. On one hand, one sees that the canonical provision that the faithful have the right to express themselves to their pastors and one another is not a condescension of the hierarchy, which could be revoked and replaced by “pay, pray, and obey” at any minute. No, the right of the faithful to express themselves is founded in the equality of dignity, itself founded in baptism, of all the faithful. Certainly one would not, keeping in mind the Apostle on the various ministries within the Church and the papal documents Quod apostolici muneris and Fin dalla prima nostra, though those documents are from another context, argue that this equality of dignity makes everyone equal in a natural sense. There is still a hierarchy—multiple hierarchies, really. And this must be kept in mind when the faithful manifest their opinions to their pastors and to each other.

Putting that to one side, this is important: the sensus fidei “enables individual believers to perceive any disharmony, incoherence, or contradiction between a teaching or practice and the authentic Christian faith by which they live.” Based upon this perception, which may be more or less inchoate (the individual may not be able to explain precisely why he or she perceives a disharmony, incoherence, or contradiction), the believer has the right, founded in his or her dignity as an adopted son or daughter of God, to express to the magisterium (i.e., the hierarchy) his or her concerns about the teaching. Obviously, this must be done in keeping with the believer’s state in life, but St. Thomas teaches all Catholics how to correct their prelates, if necessary, while remembering not only their station in life but also the demands of charity. This is interesting enough, insofar as it draws a connection between one’s Catholic common sense and the correction, if necessary, of one’s prelate.

But it is what the document goes on to say that is more interesting. On one hand, a teaching that is not received by the faithful, either through indifference or outright rejection, may reflect a failure of faith on the part of the faithful. The most obvious example of this is the teaching against contraception in Humanae vitae. (Though we are sympathetic to the argument that the prohibition was actually proclaimed, perhaps infallibly, by Pius XI in Casti connubii, and merely restated by Paul in response to the clamor of the proponents of contraception in the 1960s.) However, this is not the only possibility. It is possible that the resistance of the faithful represents a failure on the part of the hierarchy to consider the Catholic common sense of the faithful or to consult with the faithful sufficiently. That is, if, exercising their common sense, the faithful don’t accept a teaching, then there is a possibility that the faithful know better than the hierarchy, and this ought to be considered by the hierarchy. In this regard, the sensus fidei can serve as a firewall within the Church.

What does this mean? Does it mean, as some might have it, that the question is to be decided in majoritarian terms? Does it mean that, if a majority of the faithful are okay with a teaching, then the matter is settled, the teaching is consistent with the sensus fidei? By no means. The ITC notes:

It is clear that there can be no simple identification between the sensus fidei and public or majority opinion. These are by no means the same thing.

i) First of all, the sensus fidei is obviously related to faith, and faith is a gift not necessarily possessed by all people, so the sensus fidei can certainly not be likened to public opinion in society at large. Then also, while Christian faith is, of course, the primary factor uniting members of the Church, many different influences combine to shape the views of Christians living in the modern world. As the above discussion of dispositions implicitly shows, the sensus fidei cannot simply be identified, therefore, with public or majority opinion in the Church, either. Faith, not opinion, is the necessary focus of attention. Opinion is often just an expression, frequently changeable and transient, of the mood or desires of a certain group or culture, whereas faith is the echo of the one Gospel which is valid for all places and times.

ii) In the history of the people of God, it has often been not the majority but rather a minority which has truly lived and witnessed to the faith. The Old Testament knew the ‘holy remnant’ of believers, sometimes very few in number, over against the kings and priests and most of the Israelites. Christianity itself started as a small minority, blamed and persecuted by public authorities. In the history of the Church, evangelical movements such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, or later the Jesuits, started as small groups treated with suspicion by various bishops and theologians. In many countries today, Christians are under strong pressure from other religions or secular ideologies to neglect the truth of faith and weaken the boundaries of ecclesial community. It is therefore particularly important to discern and listen to the voices of the ‘little ones who believe’ (Mk 9:42).

It is undoubtedly necessary to distinguish between the sensus fidei and public or majority opinion, hence the need to identify dispositions necessary for participation in the sensus fidei, such as those elaborated above. Nevertheless, it is the whole people of God which, in its inner unity, confesses and lives the true faith. The magisterium and theology must work constantly to renew the presentation of the faith in different situations, confronting if necessary dominant notions of Christian truth with the actual truth of the Gospel, but it must be recalled that the experience of the Church shows that sometimes the truth of the faith has been conserved not by the efforts of theologians or the teaching of the majority of bishops but in the hearts of believers.

(Emphasis, bold and red, supplied.) This is, we think, a strong rebuke to some voices in the Church today, who claim that this or that disputed question has been resolved because this or that group—be it the College of Cardinals or the Synod of Bishops or this or that group of theologians—has made a decision or endorsed a decision. (We will have more on this in a moment.) The sensus fidei, which serves as an important voice in the Church (indeed, one may argue that it may be the response of the faithful to the voice of the Holy Spirit), is not a numerical question. And when the sensus fidei is opposed to this or that decision, taken by this or that pastor or group, even if the group of faithful is not numerically large, it is necessary, the ITC observes, to consider what that means. It could be, as with the case of Humanae vitae, that the faithful have simply embraced worldly concerns. But it could be that the hierarchy has simply gotten out of tune with the pure, apostolic faith and the Catholic common sense of a group of faithful detects the sour notes. This is a question of discernment, obviously, but discernment is not buffaloing the faithful with indignant pronouncements of division and numerical superiority. It is a process of consultation.

Now, one might object and say that this is simply traditionalist rhetoric: “the Tradition of the Church is thus and such and I know thus and such as well as the pope by virtue of my sensus fidei.” In a very real sense, the whole point of the sensus fidei fidelis is that a believer, by virtue of his or her Catholic common sense, who makes efforts to form his or her sensus fidei correctly, may well know thus and such as well as a pope, especially when something sounds off. But the ITC undermines that argument in another way, noting that the Second Vatican Council, which it refers to in dreary “new Pentecost” language, reinvigorated the concept of the sensus fidei, which is indeed an ancient idea. Moreover, the ITC argues that it was none other than Yves Congar who led the Council to inject new life into the doctrine:

 Yves M.-J. Congar (1904-1995) contributed significantly to the development of the doctrine of the sensus fidei fidelis and the sensus fidei fidelium. In Jalons pour une Théologie du Laïcat (orig. 1953), he explored this doctrine in terms of the participation of the laity in the Church’s prophetical function. Congar was acquainted with Newman’s work and adopted the same scheme (i.e. the threefold office of the Church, and the sensus fidelium as an expression of the prophetic office) without, however, tracing it directly to Newman. He described the sensus fidelium as a gift of the Holy Spirit ‘given to the hierarchy and the whole body of the faithful together’, and he distinguished the objective reality of faith (which constitutes the tradition) from the subjective aspect, the grace of faith. Where earlier authors had underlined the distinction between the Ecclesia docens and the Ecclesia discens, Congar was concerned to show their organic unity. ‘The Church loving and believing, that is, the body of the faithful, is infallible in the living possession of the faith, not in a particular act or judgment’, he wrote. The teaching of the hierarchy is at the service of communion. 

In many ways, the Second Vatican Council’s teaching reflects Congar’s contributionChapter one of Lumen Gentium, on ‘The Mystery of the Church’, teaches that the Holy Spirit ‘dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple’. ‘Guiding the Church in the way of all truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and unifying her in communion and in the works of ministry, he bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her; and he adorns her with his fruits (cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22)’. Chapter two then continues to deal with the Church as a whole, as the ‘People of God’, prior to distinctions between lay and ordained. The article (LG 12) which mentions the sensus fideiteaches that, having ‘an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1Jn 2:20, 27)’, the ‘whole body of the faithful … cannot err in matters of belief’. The ‘Spirit of truth’ arouses and sustains a ‘supernatural appreciation of the faith [supernaturali sensu fidei]’, shown when ‘the whole people, … “from the bishops to the last of the faithful” … manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals’. By means of the sensus fidei, ‘the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (magisterium), and obeying it, receives not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God (cf. 1Thess 2:13)’. According to this description, the sensus fidei is an active capacity or sensibility by which they are able to receive and understand the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3)’. Indeed, by means of it, the people not only ‘unfailingly adheres to this faith’, but also ‘penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life’. It is the means by which the people shares in ‘Christ’s prophetic office’.

(Emphasis supplied.) Now, one needn’t get too far into Congar’s argument or the argument in Lumen gentium, to say nothing of the ITC’s argument, to see that we are not adverting to ancient doctrines to serve as a bulwark against Modernist innovations. Such bulwarks should not be needed, though whether that is the case is up to you, dear reader. Our point is merely this: one finds oneself deep in the heart of the thought of the Second Vatican Council and the theologians of the 20th century who shaped that Council’s thought when one talks about the sensus fidei.

Obviously, we’re talking about Amoris laetitia. So is Professor De Mattei. The Santa Marta party has decided to defend that document’s troubling conclusions about communion for bigamists in a couple of ways, most notably these: (1) the Pope has acted with a definite act of the magisterium, which must be obeyed; (2) most of the world’s cardinals and bishops are with the Pope, except for a few malcontents; and (3) a Synod reached these conclusions. (The third is actually false, but we’ll take it as true.) And for all these reasons, the sensus fidei is relevant.The faithful do not have to check their Catholic common sense at the door when receiving teachings from pastors. Now, they owe, as a threshold question, submission to teachings from their pastors, and we would argue that that means that they ought to make every reasonable effort to reconcile a troubling teaching with the tradition of the Church and the previous magisterium. However, that the faithful may retain the use of their Catholic common sense when receiving teachings has consequences for each of the arguments advanced by the Santa Marta party. In short, if the teaching of a pope, joined by any number of cardinals and bishops, based upon a synod’s relatio, doesn’t jive with one’s Catholic common sense, this is a problem.

Of course, this does not mean that snap judgments and prejudices are the order of the day; instead, the faithful have an obligation to form their Catholic common sense carefully and with reference to the authentic life of the Church, including participation in the sacraments, the reading of scripture, and right reason. But, if one has formed one’s common sense carefully and with reference to the authentic life of the Church and one still hears a false note in a teaching, that cannot be ignored or set aside lightly. In extreme cases, the faithful may defer assent and appeal to the authority of the universal Church, making, we suspect, every effort to resolve their difficulties about the teaching. And if there is a group of faithful who share these doubts, they may not be dismissed purely on numerical grounds; the sensus fidei is not a question of numbers (even numbers of prelates), but instead a question of faith. And, given the dignity of the faithful as sons and daughters by adoption of God, a dignity that they share with the most exalted prelates, they have the right to make their doubts and concerns about a teaching known to their pastors and to each other.

Now, we hasten to note, briefly, that the response to Humanae vitae must be kept in mind. Sometimes the faithful will delay assent to a teaching because the faithful are too close to the lures of the world. This is obvious. Yet, there is a difference, manifestly, between ignoring or rejecting out of hand a teaching, and expressing concerns or doubts about a teaching, founded carefully in a well-formed sensus fidei fidelis. To treat one like the other does violence not only to the concept of the sensus fidei but also to the dignity of those Catholics who, in good faith and in communion with Peter, want to talk about a teaching in the light of the tradition of the Church. It may be inconvenient for some of the leaders of the Santa Marta party to explain themselves or take seriously the objections of prelates and faithful alike, but the faith is occasionally inconvenient.

To put it another way, this is hardly the teaching of rigid traditionalists who imagine themselves as Paul addressing Peter in Antioch. It is certainly, as the ITC document demonstrates clearly, an ancient teaching with Patristic origins. But, more relevantly for our purposes, it is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, of Yves Congar, of the International Theological Commission under the Holy Father. Therefore, it may be said that the arguments of the Santa Marta party, seeking to silence Cardinals Burke, Brandmüller, Caffarra, and Meisner, to say nothing of the faithful who have expressed grave concerns about Amoris laetitia, or certain interpretations of Amoris laetitia, cut against the teachings of the Council. So far from representing the sort of dialogue and discernment that is required whenever groups of the faithful, appealing to the universal Church, defer assent to magisterial acts, their response represents an ossified clericalism that, we are told, was rejected at the Council.

Garrigou-Lagrange on coercion of faith

At some point, we will stop reblogging every post from Lumen Scholasticum. However, it will be passing hard to make good on our resolution if Gerardus Maiella keeps posting consistently interesting material. For example, recently, he posted an excerpt from Garrigou-Lagrange’s commentary on the Summa on whether infidels may be compelled to hold the true faith. As Maiella hints, the question of the Church’s coercive authority has been a question of significant dispute among traditionally minded Catholics, since the time of the Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae, which seems, to some extent, to depart from the Church’s prior teaching. We won’t spoil the post by quoting it, instead telling you to read the whole thing there.

The Holy Father pours cold water on women’s ordination?

Like many readers, we follow the Holy Father’s in-flight press conferences closely, since they appear to be, if not an action of his papal magisterium, then a means of communication close to his heart. Following the Holy Father’s recent trip to Sweden, he was asked a question about women’s ordination. You may recall that he recently established a commission to explore the historical aspects of deaconesses. While Benedict XVI’s Omnium in mentem severed in some way—or, more precisely, concretized finally a process of severing that began with Lumen gentium—the diaconate from the episcopate and the presbyterate, it has nevertheless been seen by many that the push for deaconesses is but the thin end of the wedge for women’s ordination into the presbyterate and episcopate. This is, obviously, one of the great dreams of progressives in the Church today. But the Holy Father appears to draw a bright line under St. John Paul II’s Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which teaches infallibly that women may not be ordained.

Here is Hannah Brockhaus’s coverage at the National Catholic Register:

During a press conference Tuesday aboard the papal plane from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis said the issue of women priests has been clearly decided, while also clarifying the essential role of women in the Catholic Church.

“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains,” Pope Francis told journalists Nov. 1.

The question concerning women priests in the Church was asked during the flight back to Rome after the Pope’s Oct. 31-Nov. 1 trip to Sweden to participate in a joint Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

(Emphasis supplied.) Brockhaus goes on to note that the Holy Father has been clear on this point previously, citing Ordinatio sacerdotalis repeatedly:

In a press conference returning from Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5, 2013, he answered the same question: “with reference to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says, ‘No.’ John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That is closed, that door.”

He said that on the theology of woman he felt there was a “lack of a theological development,” which could be developed better. “You cannot be limited to the fact of being an altar server or the president of Caritas, the catechist … No! It must be more, but profoundly more, also mystically more.”

On his return flight from Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Sept. 28, 2015, the Pope again said that women priests “cannot be done,” and reiterated that a theology of women needs to “move ahead.”

“Pope St. John Paul II after long, long intense discussions, long reflection said so clearly,” that female ordination is not possible, he said.

(Emphasis supplied.) However, it is unclear to us the extent that the Holy Father sees the question of deaconesses as inextricably tied up with the broader question of women’s ordination, which he apparently views as settled by Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

As we noted at the time, some members of the Holy Father’s deaconess commission are known to be advocates for the ordination of women at least to the diaconate. The argument of Phyllis Zagano, for example, is that while Ordinatio sacerdotalis (probably, she would say) settles the question of ordination to the presbyterate and, a fortiori, the episcopate, it does not settle the question of ordination to the diaconate. In other words, the question of deaconesses is not connected to the questions answered by Ordinatio sacerdotalis. Of course, such an argument likely creates disunities within Holy Orders and immediately serves to create two tiers of ordained ministers. Which is the next step in the argument from the advocates for women’s ordination, to be sure. At least, it has always been the argument.

So, while it is greatly cheering to hear the Holy Father reaffirm simply and directly the infallible pronouncement of John Paul II, we are left wondering what his overall picture of the situation is. Does he, like Zagano and her associates, think that Ordinatio sacerdotalis is limited to the episcopate and presbyterate? Or does he think that the diaconate is somehow off to one side? Certainly he would not err if he considered the diaconate somehow different. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council, St. John Paul, and Benedict each considered it as somehow separate from the episcopate and presbyterate. However, the extent of the difference is, we think, an open question.

 

More on “De concordia inter codices”

As we mentioned a few days ago, the Holy Father has issued an Apostolic Letter motu proprio data, De concordia inter codices, amending the 1983 Code of Canon Law to bring certain provisions into line with the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. There has been some coverage of De concordia inter codices, which gives some important background.

Cindy Wooden, of Catholic News Service, has an article at the Catholic Herald. She notes that the motu proprio was the result of fifteen years of study and consultation. A note at the Vatican website, translating (apparently) an article by Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta in L’Osservatore Romano, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which informs the reader:

Indeed, to this there may be added the conviction that, wishing to harmonise the two Codes in the pastoral matters most in need of clarification, it was enough to limit the modifications to some texts of the Latin Code, without the need to touch the Oriental one. It is precisely this that is established by Pope Francis’ recent Motu Proprio, accepting the proposal to modify the canons approved in the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts of 31 May 2012.

(Emphasis supplied.) Another note on the Vatican website implies that the drafting process involved revisions based upon comments from a wide range of experts:

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, by means of a Commission of experts in oriental and Latin canon law, has identified the issues most in need of normative adjustment, and has drawn up a text sent to around thirty Consultors and experts throughout the world, as well as to the Authorities of the Latin Ordinariates for oriental faithful. Following an appraisal of the observations thus gathered, the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts approved a new text.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is interesting to observe that De concordia inter codices is the mirror image of Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus, which was apparently drafted nearly in secret by an ad hoc committee, without widespread consultation, and on a highly abbreviated timetable.

It is interesting to note that this expansive gesture to the Eastern Churches comes at a time when, perhaps, things are a little rough on that front. Earlier this summer, the formidable Sandro Magister wrote a long article about the treatment of the Eastern Churches under this pontificate:

But at home ecumenism is not to be found. Blow after blow, the Vatican congregation for Oriental Churches does nothing but dissipate what remains of important dioceses and institutions of the Byzantine Catholic rite, instead of reinforcing their identity.

The congregation is governed by Argentine cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who was trained in the secretariat of state and is assisted by the Jesuit Cyril Vasil, secretary, and by the Dominican Lorenzo Lorusso, undersecretary, both canonists and members of two religious orders that have nothing Eastern about them.

And the effects can be seen. This site has already given extensive coverage to the slap in the face inflicted by Rome on the Greek Orthodox Church last winter, by appointing as apostolic exarch of Athens Manuel Nin, a Catalan Benedictine monk who is therefore a Latin in Byzantine clothing, former rector of the Pontifical Greek College in Rome, which in the eyes of the Greeks is still the detested institution founded in 1577 to prepare Catholic missionaries to be sent to Hellas to convert the Orthodox:

And three months before there was the appointment, as president of the special commission for the liturgy at the congregation for Oriental Churches, of a liturgist who has never had any competence whatsoever on the Eastern rites: Piero Marini, former master of ceremonies for John Paul II and a disciple of that Annibale Bugnini whom all see – whether for him or against him – as the true architect of the postconciliar liturgical reforms of the Latin Church.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink omitted.) Magister goes on to discuss at length the precarious situation of the Italo-Albanian Catholics, heirs to the ancient Italo-Greek tradition (though the Italo-Albanian tradition began in earnest in the fifteenth century with migration by Albanians to Italy), both in their Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi and their Abbey of Grottaferrata.

And who could forget the recent spectacle of the Holy Father and the Patriarch of Moscow issuing a joint statement with oblique references to the Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Sviatoslav, the patriarch of Kiev, whose continuing existence is an affront to men like Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of the Moscow Patriarchate? Despite Sviatoslav’s position, it does not appear that he was consulted about the statement before it was issued. This was not exactly what one hopes to see, and one can imagine, given the perpetual hostilities between Kiev and Moscow, the heroic Catholics of Kiev felt some pain seeing the Pope cozy up to Moscow without, apparently, so much as a second thought for what that spectacle would mean to men and women who have suffered much to remain in communion with the See of Peter.

Indeed, in an interview following the release of the statement, Patriarch Sviatoslav noted:

It was officially reported that this document was the joint effort of Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) from the Orthodox side and Cardinal Koch with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from the Catholic side. For a document that was intended to be not theological, but essentially socio-political, it is hard to imagine a weaker team than the one that drafted this text. The mentioned Pontifical Council is competent in theological matters in relations with various Christian Churches and communities, but is no expert in matters of international politics, especially in delicate matters such as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Thus, the intended character of the document was beyond their capabilities. This was exploited by the Department of External Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is, first of all, the instrument of diplomacy and external politics of the Moscow Patriarchate. I would note that, as the Head of our Church, I am an official member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, nominated already by Pope Benedict. However, no one invited me to express my thoughts and so, essentially, as had already happened previously, they spoke about us without us, without giving us a voice.

(Emphasis supplied.) The whole interview with Sviatoslav is well worth reading. We note in passing that Sviatoslav is one of the most compelling and interesting men in the Church today, and a true pastor. (Would that all Latin bishops were like him.)

The upshot of all of this is that De concordia inter codices comes at a time when relations between the Latin church and the eastern churches, even the eastern churches in Italy, has not been at its best. Given the lengthy period of drafting and revision of the text that would become De concordia inter codices, we suspect that the document antedates the current rough patch. However, one may hope that the formal release of the motu proprio portends a new phase in those relations.

 

Another “mega-dicastery” established, this time for “integral human development”

Today, the Holy Father issued his Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Humanam progressionem, establishing another so-called mega-dicastery, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, by merging the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, effective on January 1, 2017. The Holy Father also approved ad experimentum the statutes of the new Dicastery, and, while there is a link on the Vatican website to those statutes, the link goes nowhere. We observe that Humanam progressionem has happily been issued in the full range of modern languages, opposed to Latin and Italian only.

Rorate Caeli reports that this dicastery has long been expected, and there were reports that it would be called the Congregation for Charity and Justice, not the unpleasant, ungainly name it did receive, “Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.” Rorate also reports that Peter Cardinal Turkson, long known for an interest in matters of economics and development, has been tipped as the head of the Dicastery. Finally, Rorate reports that the section of the Dicastery responsible for refugees and migrants will be under the immediate direction of the Holy Father. (One assumes that this will be treated in the statutes approved today ad experimentum of the Dicastery when they are finally available.)

At this point, one wonders—we wonder, at any rate—whether the consolidation of dicasteries is going to be the extent of the Holy Father’s much vaunted reform of the Curia. He was elected, if you’ll recall, amid a broad consensus of the cardinals that something had to be done about the Curia. Indeed, his Council of Cardinals was constituted largely to address revisions to Pastor Bonus and reform of the Curia. There were some lightning moves, such as the establishment of the Council for the Economy under Reinhard Cardinal Marx and the Secretariat for the Economy under George Cardinal Pell, but those moves seem to have collapsed for the most part, with, for example, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See retaking most of the competencies it had lost in 2014. It would be interesting to know what the internal view of these things is.

New “mega-dicastery” for laity, family, and life formally established

Today, the Holy Father has handed down the Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Sedula Mater, formally establishing the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. He has also appointed the Bishop of Dallas, Kevin Joseph Farrell, as the first prefect of the new dicastery. Recall that the statutes of the Dicastery were approved ad experimentum in June, and scheduled to come into force in September. In an interesting twist, the statutes anticipate that the secretary of the Dicastery may be a layperson, and three lay undersecretaries (for the laity, family, and life divisions). (Art. 2 § 1.) Indeed, much about the new dicastery is interesting in comparison to the ordinary structure of a Roman congregation under Pastor Bonus. (Though Pastor Bonus, art. 3 § 1, plainly anticipates that particular law might create a unique dicastery.)

All of this is interesting, to be sure, but we are especially interested in the fact that the Holy Father approved the statutes before he created the Dicastery. Certainly, since the Dicastery is ultimately the product of a merger, for the moment, of the Pontifical Council for Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family, with, we suppose, the anticipated involvement of the Pontifical Council for Life, perhaps it was easier to put the cart before the horse this time, but still the optics are passing strange.

Further interesting developments in the SSPX situation

We admit, at the outset, that, perhaps, “developments” isn’t the right word.

From the Society’s standpoint, one probably ought to assume that SSPX situation is where Bishop Fellay left it in his communiqué regarding negotiations with the Holy See (obliquely) and his communiqué to the members of the SSPX. That is, the Society will continue to do business as it has done business for some time, waiting, in its words, for the restoration of Tradition. Easy enough. That said, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei and the Vatican’s point man on negotiations with the SSPX, has given an interesting interview to Die Zeit‘s Christ & Welt section. Dr. Maike Hickson at One Peter Five has translated portions of the interview. Some coverage has been given to Pozzo’s suggestion that the canonical structure of a personal prelature (e.g., Opus Dei) has been offered to the SSPX, and Fellay has accepted. However, we’re inclined to leave that to one side, not least since there does not appear to be any confirmation from the Society that that is the case. Indeed, the public statements on the matter appear to be quite otherwise. (More on this in a minute.)

It is good, however, that there has been more, and more serious, coverage of some of Archbishop Pozzo’s statements about the Second Vatican Council. And it is perhaps proper to speak of “developments” primarily with respect to Pozzo’s statements, though we recall that these statements are not the first statements that Pozzo has made regarding the Council. In this latest interview, Pozzo continues to articulate a vision of Nostra aetate, Unitatis redintegratio, and Dignitatis humanae that seeks to assign them their proper magisterial weight, but no more than their proper weight, particularly in contrast to Lumen gentium and the Nota explicativa praevia.

In particular, Archbishop Pozzo characterizes Nostra aetate, Unitatis redintegratio, and Dignitatis humanae as essentially pastoral documents, which do not contain binding dogmatic or doctrinal declarations. Indeed, Pozzo notes (or suggests) that an erroneous interpretation of Nostra aetate has indeed sprung up, which had to be corrected in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Declaration Dominus Iesus. Father John Hunwicke has caught on to this last bit, and observed that the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in its fiftieth anniversary “reflection” on Nostra aetate, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”, has itself acknowledged that there are frequent over-interpretations of Nostra aetate. (Though the Commission immediately cites John Paul’s address in Mainz in support of the interpretation that was not supported by Nostra aetate.) This is, we think, a good development, in line with Benedict’s project of the hermeneutic of continuity, though perhaps a little stronger than that project.

Of course, Archbishop Pozzo seeks to emphasize that his interpretation of the Second Vatican Council was well supported from the beginning, by noting a statement by Pericle Cardinal Felici, general secretary of the Council, that only those pronouncements explicitly declared to be binding were binding. We note, as a brief parenthesis following up on our comment on Timothy Wilson’s translation of Cardinal Bacci’s intervention, that it would be helpful if the faithful had ready access to the volume of the Acta Synodalia covering November 16, 1964, when Cardinal Felici made his statement, and November 18, 1964, when the secretary of the commission for the Unity of Christians made a similar statement about Nostra aetate. We could, then, read the statements, make our own judgments, and discuss them. But, closing the parenthesis, one wonders why Pozzo hastens to tie his interpretation to the proceedings of the Council if he does not know that, over the last fifty years, the conciliar declarations and decrees have been given nearly dogmatic weight, without serious resistance from the Roman authorities. Thus, one may speak of an implicit admission that the prevailing popular interpretation of the conciliar documents has been mostly wrong this whole time. (And the Society’s mostly right, by the same token.)

Returning to the question of a personal prelature and whether or not Bishop Fellay has already made a deal, the details of which are simply being hammered out, we observe that the Roman authorities’ position is proceeding to a place where one needs to ask if a deal is even necessary. As author and lawyer Chris Ferrara points out in the comments at One Peter Five (we’re not so clever as to think of all this ourselves), when Benedict XVI remitted the excommunications of Fellay and the other Écône bishops, he was at pains to note that the problems between the SSPX and Rome were essentially doctrinal. Indeed, Ferrara notes that Benedict stated that the Society did not possess a canonical status for doctrinal reasons, though he did not really articulate what the doctrinal roadblocks were. (One could assume that they had to do with the Council, however.) However, Archbishop Pozzo argues now that the most vexing documents with respect to the SSPX situation—documents that have been problematic from the outset of the case, if you’ll recall, for example, Archbishop Lefebvre’s unanswered dubia regarding Dignitatis humanae—are not really binding or not really doctrinal or whatever he intends to argue. The upshot of Ferrara’s argument is clear: Benedict said the problem was doctrinal, but Pozzo now says that there really is not a doctrinal problem. Based upon the evidence available—Benedict’s letter and Pozzo’s interview(s)—we find Ferrara’s position fairly compelling.

So, then, what is the problem? Is there even a problem—other than that some high prelates don’t like the Society all that much?

 

A comment on deaconesses

The Holy Father, following up on a promise he made in a Q&A to some nuns or some such, established a commission to study the question of deaconesses or women deacons, particularly the role of deaconesses in the early Church. Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is the president of the commission, and its members are frankly a mixed bag. For example, American Professor Phyllis Zagano has been appointed to the commission, and she has been a longtime advocate for ordination of women as deacons. However, other members are allegedly somewhat more traditional in their mindset.

The argument—which can be seen at some length in the 2002 International Theological Commission study of the diaconate—is that there were deaconesses in the early (i.e., patristic-era) Church, though there remains some question about the nature of their ordination and their duties. Thus, the argument goes, notwithstanding Ordinatio sacerdotalis, the Church can return to the practice of the early Church by blessing or ordaining women to serve as deacons. Of course, in Mediator Dei, Pius XII warned us about the archaizing mindset—an “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism”—so often adopted by progressives in the Church:

The same reasoning holds in the case of some persons who are bent on the restoration of all the ancient rites and ceremonies indiscriminately. The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.

Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.

Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas. No more can any Catholic in his right senses repudiate existing legislation of the Church to revert to prescriptions based on the earliest sources of canon law. Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.

(Emphasis supplied and paragraph numbers omitted.) Of course, Good Pope Pius’s argument, despite its evident authority, has not uniformly carried the day in the Church, especially since dear Archbishop Bugnini and his industrious Consilium relied on its understanding (or, occasionally, as in the case of Eucharistic Prayer 2, what it claimed as its understanding) of the antiquities of the Church to justify so many of its most egregious quote-unquote reforms. Indeed, since 1947 there has hardly been an enormity or outrage propounded by the progressives in the Church, many of whom so obviously yearn to make of the Church an ecclesial community as vibrant as the Anglicans and liberal Lutherans, that is not justified by some or other practice of the early Church.

All that having been said, we wish to contribute in a small way to the discussion by rescuing the meat of a lengthy post we had written once commenting and expanding upon a series of fascinating posts by Fr. John Hunwicke about the true nature of the diaconate. The thrust of the post was that Amalarius of Metz (Liber officialis 2.12), citing a letter of St. Jerome to Evangelus (No. 146, PL 22:1192), points out that the Levites of the Old Testament were the forerunners of the deacons of the New Testament. Amalarius then goes through the Book of Numbers at some length to outline what the duties of the Levites were, coming finally to the point that the deacons of the Church of the New Testament are responsible first for guarding, bringing, and arranging the vessels to be used on the altar during the Mass. Amalarius even views the evidence of Acts 6 as evidence that the diaconate was constituted primarily for service at the altar. Of course, there are other roles of the deacon, such as the reading of the Gospels and service as a servant in the Church, but Amalarius, citing the earlier evidence of Jerome, focuses on the deacon as a liturgical assistant to the bishop and the presbyter. St. Jerome, of course, lived in the fourth and fifth centuries, and Amalarius in the eighth and ninth. Thus, if we are being exaggerated, senseless antiquarians, we ought to be consistently so and consider their evidence, too. If we wanted to be especially polemical we would ask whether there were female Levites and whether tradition is also a means of revelation, leading you inexorably to a certain conclusion.

Once upon a time, if we wanted to be especially polemical, we would have remarked about the unity of the orders of bishop, presbyter, and deacon, but, as we learned to no small chagrin and even mild horror today, among the canon law changes implemented by Benedict XVI’s Omnium in mentem was a change to canon 1008 severing, to a greater or lesser extent, the diaconate from the episcopate and presbyterate, implying strongly that deacons do not act in the person of Christ the Head. (What precisely the deacon does when he proclaims the Gospel, thus, is somewhat mysterious to us.) Therefore, we will refrain from discoursing upon that subject, though with perhaps a haunted look over our shoulder to the older tradition of the Church.

And we have no wish to be hugely polemical on this subject—in part because others will play that part better than we could, in part because every time questions have been asked under the Holy Father, the discussion always seems to tend, as if by magic, to a particular conclusion—only to point out some interesting resources that might inform you, dear reader, as you grapple with these changes. Also, we did not want to lose forever our work with the resources of Jerome and Amalarius on the question of deacons. We are not without our vanity, it seems.

Seeking the background to “Vultum Dei quaerere”

Has anyone figured out what the Holy Father’s intention behind his Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei quaerere was? The Vatican Press Office has an informative summary of the document. But it is not a difficult—or even a hugely lengthy, at just shy of 40 pages—read,  so a summary may not be hugely necessary. When we first read it, we remarked to some sharp young Catholics of our acquaintance that it seemed like walking in on a conversation that was both hugely important to the participants and utterly unintelligible to outsiders. To put it another way, the Holy Father is plainly addressing concrete situations, though what those situations are is a mystery to us.

A Catholic News Agency report, which is for the most part a summary of the document, contains this information:

During the July 22 presentation of the constitution, Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo O.F.M., secretary for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, told journalists that the constitution was “a gift” from Pope Francis to the Church.

The process started two years ago with a questionnaire the congregation sent to cloistered communities around the world, he said, explaining that the answers they got back were “rich” and useful, so a synthesis was compiled and given to the competent authorities so that the constitution could eventually be written.

He said there are no plans to issue a similar constitution for cloistered male religious, given the fact that the majority of contemplative communities are composed of women.

Although there is a vocational crisis throughout across the globe, the archbishop noted that there are 4,000 contemplative communities in the world, with the highest numbers being “in Italy and Spain.” 

Carmelites “singularly possess…the most numerous” contemplative community in the Church, he said, noting that others such as Benedictines, Dominicans, and Augustinians are also high in number.

(Emphasis supplied.) However, this does not seem to match the tone of the document, which seems to want to impose a very specific vision of contemplative life on cloistered communities. A very sharp young canonist of our acquaintance was very enthusiastic about the document and thought it was a necessary tonic to some of the ongoing problems with women religious. On the other hand, there has been some criticism, notably from some traditionalists, of the document’s prescriptions. So we are left wondering if there are specific situations that the document was intended to address.

Not being a contemplative nun ourselves, we do not have a huge investment in the constitution; however, it appeared suddenly, receiving apparently very great importance from the Holy Father (indeed, having been given the form of an apostolic constitution, which is reserved for important things, indeed), and it seems to have a definite intent in mind. Accordingly, it is awfully curious that the media coverage does not seem to delve too deeply into that intent.