A quick update on the new book on Luther

We hope you, dear reader, and yours are having a blessed and profitable Triduum. We had not intended to post anything during this time; however, a friend of Semiduplex has informed us that the full table of contents to the Roman Forum’s collection of essays on Luther is available in the preview at Amazon.com.* The list of titles looks fascinating.

*We want to emphasize that we are not an Amazon Associate or affiliate or whatever. We are not pointing you to Amazon because we get money for it. Just to be crystal clear.

Things we have not been writing about

You may have noticed, dear reader, that we have not been writing about some topics of considerable interest in the Church today. We thought we’d give you a brief rundown of them and explain, briefly, why we have not been writing about them:

  • The SSPX Situation. So far, we have found that Bishop Fellay and Archbishop Pozzo have been pretty transparent. They have repeatedly said that discussions are ongoing and proposals are being evaluated. So far, despite rumors that something is imminent, things appear to be proceeding along the lines they have marked out. We are confident that if (when) something changes, Bishop Fellay and Archbishop Pozzo will let us know, and we look forward to commenting then.
  • The (Order of) Malta Situation. It is regrettable that Fra’ Matthew Festing was forced out of his sovereign position by the Secretariat of State. However, it is not so surprising that the Secretariat of State would come down so definitely on the side of monied Germans, is it? As for Cardinal Burke, it has been for quite some time clear that his career is not going to advance during this pontificate. At any rate, Edward Pentin, Edward Condon, and Edward Peters have covered this situation admirably, and we would not want to repeat their commentaries ad nauseam.
  • The (Dioceses of) Malta Situation. We were a little surprised by the reports that the Maltese bishops, including Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who was a close collaborator of then-Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, doing really heroic work to clean up the filth in certain quarters, have gone in so enthusiastically for the most radical interpretation of Amoris laetitia. (Then again we have never asked too many questions about why Universae Ecclesiae wound up the way it did.) Again, there are many excellent reports on this topic, and we don’t want to try your patience by telling you what you already know.
  • Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s Book. An interesting study, to be sure, but we will wait until it comes out in English to read it and offer comments.
  • The Posters, the Parodies, and the Statements. We are sure that hypercritical posters, parodies of L’Osservatore Romano, statements by cardinals constituting the pope’s crown council, and statements by the Secretariat of State promising to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who misuses the image of the pope or the various heraldry of the Holy See are part of every pontificate and so commonplace as to be beneath comment.

We hope these brief explanations answer any questions you may have. The bottom line is that we do not want to bore you by regurgitating information you may well have read at other sources.

More on De Koninck

Pater Edmund Waldstein is at it again. His father, the eminent theologian Michael Waldstein, has translated a bunch of the letters between Yves Simon and Charles de Koninck and Jacques Maritain about the common good, including Simon’s proposed points of agreement and Maritain’s approval of Eschmann’s In Defense of Jacques Maritain. However, they also present a subsequent letter by Maritain taking up Eschmann’s cause in sort of sentimental terms. Pater Waldstein has provided an introduction. We encourage you to check out all of the letters. They are hugely fascinating.

For example, we found this bit hugely interesting, “You have understood well that ‘Ego Sapientia’ is a much more radical attack against Personalism than The Primacy of the Common Good… Since we must love the Holy Virgin more than ourselves we must subordinate our person wholly and entirely to that Mary who is nevertheless a purely created person.” We have had Ego Sapientia very much on our mind since John Hunwicke’s post about the Wisdom literature as applied to Our Lady. Perhaps De Koninck’s assessment of his work as “a much more radical attack against Personalism” is cause enough for us to return to Ego Sapientia with that in mind.

An update from Pius XI

A few days ago, we posted Pius XII and the question of transsexuality, essentially calling for a ressourcement of the magisterium of Papa Pacelli in the light of a recent intervention by Christian Spaemann. A good friend of ours contacted us to remind us, gently, that there was more than one Pius to address this question. In Casti connubii, the towering Papa Ratti briefly touched upon the issue. We quote a longer passage, because Pius XI’s point comes at the very end of his argument about compulsory sterilization:

Finally, that pernicious practice must be condemned which closely touches upon the natural right of man to enter matrimony but affects also in a real way the welfare of the offspring. For there are some who over solicitous for the cause of eugenics, not only give salutary counsel for more certainly procuring the strength and health of the future child – which, indeed, is not contrary to right reason – but put eugenics before aims of a higher order, and by public authority wish to prevent from marrying all those whom, even though naturally fit for marriage, they consider, according to the norms and conjectures of their investigations, would, through hereditary transmission, bring forth defective offspring. And more, they wish to legislate to deprive these of that natural faculty by medical action despite their unwillingness; and this they do not propose as an infliction of grave punishment under the authority of the state for a crime committed, not to prevent future crimes by guilty persons, but against every right and good they wish the civil authority to arrogate to itself a power over a faculty which it never had and can never legitimately possess.

Those who act in this way are at fault in losing sight of the fact that the family is more sacred than the State and that men are begotten not for the earth and for time, but for Heaven and eternity. Although often these individuals are to be dissuaded from entering into matrimony, certainly it is wrong to brand men with the stigma of crime because they contract marriage, on the ground that, despite the fact that they are in every respect capable of matrimony, they will give birth only to defective children, even though they use all care and diligence.

Public magistrates have no direct power over the bodies of their subjects; therefore, where no crime has taken place and there is no cause present for grave punishment, they can never directly harm, or tamper with the integrity of the body, either for the reasons of eugenics or for any other reason. St. Thomas teaches this when inquiring whether human judges for the sake of preventing future evils can inflict punishment, he admits that the power indeed exists as regards certain other forms of evil, but justly and properly denies it as regards the maiming of the body. “No one who is guiltless may be punished by a human tribunal either by flogging to death, or mutilation, or by beating.”

Furthermore, Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no other power over the members of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends; and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is, in capsule form, essentially what Pius XII said in his address to the Italian urologists. Thus, we see that Pius XI and Pius XII are in complete accord on this issue. However, we think it would probably do violence to Pius XI’s argument to prooftext or excerpt the last paragraph without acknowledging the context or the trajectory of the argument. That is, it appears that Pius is arguing that neither by compulsion nor persuasion may a person be sterilized prospectively. (He appears to leave the door open for retributive, penal sterilization or therapeutic sterilization, but he does not explore those possibilities.) In other words, no one has the authority to do this: not the state, not the individual. Does this change the bearing Casti connubii has on Spaemann’s argument? Maybe. But it is worth talking about in any event.

Now, none of this should be taken to imply an answer. Indeed, Pius XI and Pius XII merely get us to the point where we can formulate the question. Too often there is a willingness to approach these questions in an environment more or less sterile from a magisterial standpoint, and, certainly, there is no reason why natural reason may not be invoked in the first place. However, given the Church’s unique role as the authentic interpreter and guard of the natural law, it would be altogether wiser to begin where good and holy popes have left off.

Some interesting posts from Sancrucensis (and a response)

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., well known to regular readers of Semiduplex, has a fascinating post today iterating some of his conclusions about the assent the faithful owe to Amoris laetitia (and, indeed, any document at greater or lesser variance with the tradition of the Church). He comes to this point:

Regrettably, the Holy Father himself has endorsed the Argentine document in a letter. This letter of the Holy Father’s example is a perfect example of a case I envisioned in the reflections on submission to magisterial teaching with which I introduced my letter to Cardinal Schönborn. The case has to do with that category of magisterial teachings with the least authoritative weight. In the Professio Fidei we promise religious submission of will and intellect to to “the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.” But this submission is not absolutely unconditional and certain, as it is with regard to definitive teachings. Teachings that are not intended to be proclaimed by “a definitive act,” do not fall under the definition of infallibility, and there is therefore a possibility that they might be in error.  Usually one submits to them, since one ought to trust the legitimate authority to teach reliably. But if the teachings are in conflict with more authoritative statements of the same or a higher authority then one has to start making distinctions. In some cases one can give a reverential reading, interpreting the problematic statement in the best possible light, but if there is no reasonable means of “saving of the appearances” then one must give preference to the more authoritative teaching. Pope Francis’s letter to the Argentine bishops seems to me a clear case where the appearances cannot be saved.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Pater Waldstein makes the important point, furthermore, that this does not implicate more generally the Pope’s teaching authority, nor does it justify rejecting the Pope’s teachings root and branch. We still owe religious submission and will to the Pope’s teachings. We are, of course, aware of a contrary argument on this point, including, perhaps, the ongoing series posts by “Thomas Cordatus” at the splendid Laodicea blog. We may have something to say about those when the series wraps up. But for now, we will say simply that Pater Waldstein’s view seems to us to be correct and prudent. (And well supported by historical precedent.)

In another post today, Pater Waldstein was kind enough to link to our note on the Pope’s letter to the Argentine bishops. He made this observation:

Semiduplex is solid as always, though I think he is a bit too harsh on St. John Paul II’s letter to Cardinal Baum on how one can intend not to fall into a certain sin again while expecting that one will. This is certainly often the case with habitual sins (eg. gluttony and drunkenness). Of course, one ought to avoid the near occasion of sin, but the supposition here is that there are very serious reasons for not extricating oneself from the occasion. This does, of course, show that those reasons must be very strong indeed, if they are to justify staying in a situation so dangerous to one’s immortal soul.

(Emphasis supplied.) We appreciate Pater Waldstein’s praise, but we feel that we ought to respond to his very mild criticism. There is something about the very mild criticism of a monk that makes one absolutely frantic to clear things up.

Our point, perhaps infelicitously expressed, is not that there is any fundamental problem in John Paul’s letter to Cardinal Baum. Or at least not a problem that we’re interested in. Instead the problem is that Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops distort John Paul’s teaching in a crucial way. John Paul highlights a tension that all of us—all of us who struggle with habitual sins, at any rate—know well: the firm intention of amendment is in tension with the knowledge that we will probably screw up and sin again. John Paul resolves this tension in a humane way. Recall that this is what he says:

If we wished to rely only on our own strength, or primarily on our own strength, the decision to sin no more, with a presumed self-sufficiency, almost a Christian Stoicism or revived Pelagianism, we would offend against that truth about man with which we began, as though we were to tell the Lord, more or less consciously, that we did not need him. It should also be remembered that the existence of sincere repentance is one thing, the judgement of the intellect concerning the future is another: it is indeed possible that, despite the sincere intention of sinning no more, past experience and the awareness of human weakness makes one afraid of falling again; but this does not compromise the authenticity of the intention, when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, one resolves the tension by willing to do what one can do avoid the sin in the future. (“I know I may screw up, but I’m going to try not to, with God’s help.”) Our point was that John Paul’s point, as expressed, is eminently sensible and in keeping with the traditional moral theology of the Church; however, the view of Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops takes John Paul’s view and strikes out the final clause (“when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin”). To put it another way, it lowers the requirement of the final clause to the point that it is not possible to do anything to avoid sinning. Either way, the proponents of Amoris laetitia want to get that final clause out of the way. We’ll see in a minute why we think this is so. But first, let us consider first Footnote 364 of Amoris laetitia:

Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution” (Letter to Cardinal William W. Baum on the occasion of the Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary [22 March 1996], 5: Insegnamenti XIX/1 [1996], 589).

(Emphasis supplied.) Indeed, that’s what John Paul said; but something’s missing. What? It’s the final clause!  And now the Argentine bishops’ protocol (or at least the leaked version). First, in Spanish:

Cuando las circunstancias concretas de una pareja lo hagan factible, especialmente cuando ambos sean cristianos con un camino de fe, se puede proponer el empeño de vivir en continencia. Amoris laetitia no ignora las dificultades de esta opción (cf. nota 329) y deja abierta la posibilidad de acceder al sacramento de la Reconciliación cuando se falle en ese propósito (cf. nota 364, según la enseñanza de san Juan Pablo II al Cardenal W. Baum, del 22/03/1996).

And now in LifeSiteNews’s translation:

When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a journey of faith, it is possible to propose that they make the effort of living in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties of this option (cf. note 329) and leaves open the possibility of receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation when one fails in this intention (cf. note 364, according to the teaching of Saint John Paul II to Cardinal W. Baum, of 22/03/1996).

(Emphasis supplied.) If Amoris laetitia removed the last clause of John Paul’s teaching, the Argentine bishops compress it into unrecognizable dimensions. But again the final clause is missing. But such compression is, frankly, in the logic of Amoris laetitia‘s argument. The tension between the firm intention of amendment and the fear of failure in the future is resolved by the will to do what you can to avoid failing. Remove the requirement of the will to stop sinning, as Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops do, and you’re left in a situation where the fear of failure can overwhelm the purpose of amendment. The only other way to resolve the tension is to diminish to the point of irrelevance one of the two forces at work. And this, we think, precisely what is done. “You’re going to fail, so don’t worry too much about the firm purpose of amendment.” Now, in another post, we talked about how pessimistic and infantilizing this view is, and this is certainly the case; however, we have yet to see how this isn’t the view of Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops.

This, then, is the fundamental problem with Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops’ use of the letter to Cardinal Baum. It guts the meaning of the teaching by leaving out a crucial clause. (This is, coincidentally, the progressives’ favorite thing to do to poor St. John Paul; cf. the tendentious partial quotation of Familiaris consortio so much in the news.)  And by gutting the meaning of John Paul’s teaching which resolves the tension between the firm purpose of amendment and the possibility of future failure in a humane way through the will to stop sinning (with God’s help, which he promises all of us), it leaves the door open to resolve the fundamental tension between by diminishing the purpose of amendment to the point where it is no longer in tension with the possibility of future failure.

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?


Some background on “Vultum Dei quaerere”

We wrote a couple of days ago about Vultum Dei quaerere, the Holy Father’s new apostolic constitution addressing female contemplative life. We remarked that, frankly, the document was a little mysterious to us; it seemed very specific, but ultimately obscure in its specificity. Ann Carey, at the National Catholic Register, has answered some of our questions with a lengthy, detailed background piece. Carey’s sources present Vultum Dei as a necessary update to Pius XII’s 1950 apostolic constitution Sponsa Christi, addressing particular concerns that have cropped up among cloistered religious since then:

For example, formation was a topic stressed by Pope Francis in the new document, and Sister Gabriela noted that formation had been “a major concern” that religious voiced to the CICSAL in response to the questionnaire.

“Contemplative life is so special and so demanding that it demands good formation specific to the life,” she said.

The prayer and liturgical life of the nuns also was stressed in the document, and this is related to formation as well.

“Our life will depend on our spirituality,” she said, “and the depth of our spirituality determines how well we are going to live our vocation. Cloistered life doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have a deep prayer life. It’s our relationship to Our Lord that makes the life, that demands the enclosure.”

Sister Gabriela explained that this need for good formation, plus the difficulty for modern young people to make a commitment and trust authority, no doubt prompted a change in which the Pope raised the required number of years in formation before final vows from a minimum of six years to nine years.

(Emphasis supplied.)

We still have some questions about Vultum Dei quaerere, but Carey’s informative piece has cleared up some of the mystery. Read the whole thing.