Yoder on Newman

At his blog, The Amish Catholic, Rick Yoder has a lovely personal appreciation of Cardinal Newman. We have, despite our resistance to the idea, become convinced that there are few thinkers more vital at this moment in the Church’s life than Cardinal Newman. However, Yoder’s appreciation is not framed in those terms. Instead, he discusses Cardinal Newman’s influence—even now—on his life through his prayers. For our part, to commemorate Newman’s feast, we present a particularly excellent passage from Newman’s The Arians of the Fourth Century:

Let it be granted, then, as indisputable, that there are no two opinions so contrary to each other, but some form of words may be found vague enough to comprehend them both. The Pantheist will admit that there is a God, and the Humanitarian that Christ is God, if they are suffered to say so without explanation. But if this be so, it becomes the duty, as well as the evident policy of the Church, to interrogate them, before admitting them to her fellowship. If the Church be the pillar and ground of the truth, and bound to contend for the preservation of the faith once delivered to it; if we are answerable as ministers of Christ for the formation of one, and one only, character in the heart of man; and if the Scriptures are given us, as a means indeed towards that end, but inadequate to the office of interpreting themselves, except to such as live under the same Divine Influence which inspired them, and which is expressly sent down upon us that we may interpret them,—then, it is evidently our duty piously and cautiously to collect the sense of Scripture, and solemnly to promulgate it in such a form as is best suited, as far as it goes, to exclude the pride and unbelief of the world. It will be admitted that, to deny to individual Christians the use of terms not found in Scripture, as such, would be a superstition and an encroachment on their religious liberty; and in like manner, doubtless, to forbid the authorities of the Church to require an acceptance of such terms, when necessary, from its members, is to interfere with the discharge of their peculiar duties, as appointed of the Holy Ghost to be overseers of the Lord’s flock. And, though the discharge of this office is the most momentous and fearful that can come upon mortal man, and never to be undertaken except by the collective illumination of the Heads of the Church, yet, when innovations arise, they must discharge it to the best of their ability; and whether they succeed or fail, whether they have judged rightly or hastily of the necessity of their interposition, whether they devise their safeguard well or ill, draw the line of Church fellowship broadly or narrowly, countenance the profane reasoner, or cause the scrupulous to stumble,—to their Master they stand or fall, as in all other acts of duty, the obligation itself to protect the Faith remaining unquestionable.

(Emphasis supplied.)


Abhinc duos annos

Dear Reader:

October 4th—the greater double feast of St. Francis, a fact which has escaped us until this moment—is the anniversary of Semiduplex. Last year, we wrote a fairly lengthy post reflecting upon the past year. We will spare you a similar post. Instead, we will simply thank you for your time and attention.

Yours very truly,


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.

Totam habet potestatem

This October is a special one, as it is the 100th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fátima, which remains one of Our Lady’s greatest miracles. Furthermore, the course of the year brings around the great feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7. All in all, a good time to review one of our favorite Marian readings, from Charles de Koninck’s stupendous Ego Sapientia:

33. Nigra sum, sed formosa

Seeing the immensity of the mercy that the Almighty chose to manifest, it was eminently suitable that the universal royalty of Christ and of His mother be manifested in his Passion. “Pilate said to Him: You are then a king? Jesus answered: It is you who say it. I am a king.” (Jo. XVIII, 37). It is the same Christ who says: “I am a worm and not a man, the shame of men and the outcast of the people” (Ps. XXI, 7), and: “I am a king, king of kings, and lord of lords” (Apoc. XIX, 16). It is in the Passion that the nigra sum, sed formosa shows forth in all its profundity and to its fullest extent.

Queen of mercy, the Blessed Virgin is so profoundly rooted in the divine omnipotence that in her issue, in her procession from that power, she participates, so to speak, in the incomprehensibility of that same poser. Sol in aspectu annuncians in exitu, vas admirablile opus excelsi (Eccli. XIII, 2)—Coming out of God she announces the sun in its glory: what an admirable vase is this work of the Most-High. Was she not herself troubled at first before the proximity to God, which Gabriel announced to her? She was troubled by his words (Luke I, 29). If the most powerful blessed angels tremble and humiliate themselves before the power which elevates them so high above the dignity that is appropriate to them by nature, how much more profound will be the astonishment and the humility of the Blessed Virgin called to the sovereign dignity. Totam habet potestatemShe possessed all power. This astonishment, this imperfect knowledge of the cause, will remain for us to the end. Admirabilis ero—I will be astounding (Wis. VIII, 11). In plentitudine sancta admirabitur—She will astound the assembly of saints (Eccli. XXIV, 3).

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.