What Francis shows Catholics about Catholics

The orthodox Catholic position regarding the Holy Father is that his authority comes from Christ, and therefore is a fact we must live with whether he is a living saint, a silly old fool, or a degenerate scoundrel. No one knew this better than St. Francis of Assisi who dealt with some of the scummiest of the scummy Popes at one of the worst times in the history of the Church, yet who resolved nevertheless to obey them in all things but sin and to make a spirituality of that obedience in order to inspire and transfigure the faithful. This authentically Franciscan orthodoxy made clear the way forward for genuinely holiness-minded Catholics living through difficult times: we need not like the man who is Pope any more than we need like the man who is our father, we may even be inclined to complain to like-minded friends about this or that injurious decision of theirs, but both remain nevertheless our fathers with a legitimate claim to our piety and our prayers, which we sin by withholding.

The modern Western Catholic, who is basically just that and in that order (modern, Western, and only then Catholic), wants and desires to be pious toward the Holy Father but, lacking even a remotely effective formation in history or spirituality or anything else, cannot conceive of such piety and obedience being offered on anything other than (essentially modern) consensual terms. So he convinces himself that he does not love and obey the Pope because he is the vicar of Christ but because he is a good man who never ever says anything stupid, and if you disagree, go to Hell with the rest of the Pharisees.

What Pope Francis is showing Catholics about Catholics is that, what they lack in St. Francis’ holiness, they make up for by being remarkably competent suck-ups.

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50 thoughts on “What Francis shows Catholics about Catholics

  1. I think this raises the question of what does it mean to “obey” the Pope or be in communion with him. The Pope, after all, despite claiming an “immediate” jurisdiction over the entire Church of Christ, does not directly command or rule everyone, but does so through an intricate bureaucratic and administrative machinery which is quite difficult to make sense of.

    So the question is, what does it mean to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church? And I think there are three possible solutions:

    (1) Your name is on some parish registry or roll or you have some baptismal/confirmation certificate or something (the “administrative/bureaucratic” membership)

    (2) Take communion at a parish on a weekly basis (the “living church” membership, because your membership is renewed “live” by literal communion with the Church)

    (3) You believe everything or assent to a certain set of ecclesiastical documents (the “credal/confessional” membership)

    Each definition is obviously problematic. One can simply go through the administrative bureaucracy of the Roman church and get one’s name “on the list” and then completely drop out of the parish after that. And given the way that the Roman Church rarely ever really publicly and administratively excommunicates anyone or strike anyone’s names off the parish rolls, then according to the “administrative” definition, One can be a practicising Protestant and be Roman Catholic in on the list. (Dinesh D’Souza comes to mind here)

    The “living church” membership is also problematic in that most priests do not know their members by name or face, and anyone can simply go up and take communion. And even in the case where the person takes communion is a well-known figure who is clearly not Roman Catholic or has been “publicly” denounced by some Cardinal or bishop, most priests will still not refuse them communion. In Europe, most priests won’t even refuse open Protestants from communion. (An interesting case in point was Stanley Hauerwas, American’s “Greatest Theologian” and a Methodist back then, who used to take communion from a Roman chapel in Notre Dame University and when one time a Roman priest refused to give it to him, he simply joined another queue!)

    Finally, the “confessional” approach would shrink the church to a very tiny “true believer” remnant who actually fervently believes and subscribes to the CCC while the vast majority of Romans hold beliefs and practices incompatible with the CCC, and some of them openly reject its teachings and remain both in both administrative and “living” communion with their church.

    In short, the concept of being a member of a visible church actually makes very little sense without localised concrete empirical definitions and practices, and a sufficiently vast empirical bureaucracy or canonical polity becomes a mere unreal abstraction.

    Of course, one can always say that one’s membership in the church cannot be captured by empirical definitions and is an essential mystery.

    If you do, congratulations, you’re a Protestant and believe in an invisible/hidden Church

    • The Church’s self-understanding has always been that it has two natures, mirroring the human and divine natures of Christ — one that is visible/institutional/human, one that is invisible/mystical/divine. True membership in the latter almost always entails membership in the former but of course the reverse is not always the case.

      As to your speculation that the population of the mystical Church is probably quite small, yes, I am inclined to agree: http://orthosphere.org/2012/02/28/how-many-saved-how-many-damned/

    • If one is simply content with being called a Roman Catholic, having no concern about the state of your soul, then the problems you raise are legitimate. But what good is it to your soul just to be known as a Catholic? Isn’t it all about eternal life? The Church has taught clearly and often on this matter. If you are concerned about being in a state of grace, then you are not content with simply being on a parish roll, and you are concerned not simply with the receiving of Holy Communion, but also being properly disposed to receive it.

      • Many different councils, decrees, papal bulls, fathers, doctors have taught many different things, often in contradiction to one another. To be able to identify out of these myriad, myriad thousands of ecclesiastical documents which one is The Church teaching would be quite a task which is not an easy one to navigate, even for the best of Roman theologians, and hardly a “clear” matter.

        Therefore, it is up to every Roman to decide for himself, out of the thousands and thousands different ecclesiastical documents and writings, which one is The teaching of the Church and edifying for his own salvation…

        In short, we need to be able to interpret the ecclesiastical interpreter itself.

      • I don’t intend to discount the difficulty you have had wrestling with these questions, which from all indications are obviously sincere difficulties. My experience in and of itself is no more valuable or to be relied upon than yours as far as I can tell. That said, ten years ago I knew that I needed to become a Catholic for the sake of the salvation of my soul, and I knew that meant enrolling in the (mostly banal) RCIA class at the local church, going to my first Confession, receiving Confirmation and First Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil, because that is what those who were clearly in charge of such things required for me to be received into the Catholic Church. It didn’t occur to me then, and it still doesn’t occur to me now, that I needed to understand why Pope Leo [insert Roman numeral] issued Papal Bull [insert Latin phrase] in the high Middle Ages for whatever temporal circumstances were plaguing whomever they were plaguing back then on the chance that said Papal Bull might possibly cast obscurity upon the actual need for me to have enrolled in RCIA, for example, as a condition to being received. What exactly and in essence it was that made me a Catholic I cannot say for certain. I’m sure I could have become a Catholic without first going through RCIA, and was I truly a Catholic after receiving Confirmation at the Easter Vigil without yet having received Holy Communion, or did I need to receive that before I could be bona fide? Perhaps this question is addressed in a Papal Bull somewhere, but it was irrelevant to me as what I needed to do to become a Catholic was clear and I was able to do it.

      • Thanks for your kind tone buckyinky, I appreciate the grace with which you are responding.

        I thoroughly understand “existential” or experiential reasons for becoming Catholic, and I would say that if I were born a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, I would probably never leave my own church given the powerful way in which the Roman Church in some instances impacts one’s life and faith in a very real and existential way, and which it would be difficult, if not impossible, to leave simply because of rationalistic or intellectual difficulties. If I were so powerfully impacted, my response to such “intellectual difficulties” would be simply to shrug it off or not let it impact my practical living faith. Not every Roman or Eastern Orthodox believes everything in some book and is more often than not focused upon living existential piety rather than systematic rationalism.

        That said, I hope you do thereby appreciate the cognitive dissonance which I found myself in in trying to become Roman. On the on hand, my only reason or motivation for being Roman are purely “rationalistic” ones of believing in the purest and most abstract of truth, no matter how bad the church is “live” and in reality, on the other hand, to be able to navigate the “intellectual difficulties” of a pure rational faith and overcome them requires a living existential piety and practice which doesn’t exist where I am. Unlike you, I unfortunately lack the capacity to handle such cognitive dissonance and eventually I realised that the Roman faith was impossible for me.

  2. The Church does not contradict itself. The teaching of the Church is one, eternal, holy and true.

    Where do you see a contradiction in official Church teaching?

      • Obviously “The Church” does not contradict itself, I never said that it did. But ecclesiastical documents, fathers and councils have, and it is not easy to determine out of the myriad such writings which one is The teaching of the Church and “one, eternal, holy and true”.

      • Well, if you are only trying to determine WHAT is the official Church teaching is, all you have to do is read the CCC and the documents and passages it references. For the layman, this is more than enough.

        If this is not enough for you, whether out of curiousity, skepticism or obstinancy; then, by all means go to the ecumenical councils, papal bulls and encyclicals, writings of the church fathers and doctors, etc. But these do not contradict. At least the teachings of the popes and ecumenical councils do not contradict each other. Cannot. Will not.

        Would you please provide an example of these apparent contradictions?

      • If this is not enough for you, whether out of curiousity, skepticism or obstinancy; then, by all means go to the ecumenical councils, papal bulls and encyclicals, writings of the church fathers and doctors, etc. But these do not contradict. At least the teachings of the popes and ecumenical councils do not contradict each other. Cannot. Will not.

        Well, you see herein lies the problem. They do contradict. It is well-known that St Thomas Aquinas and St Bernard of Clairvaux denied the immaculate conception, and ironically Aquinas himself seems to have taught a form of sola scriptura as you can see here:

        It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference: that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and others of this kind, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is his meaning when he says ‘we know his testimony is true.’ Galatians 1:9, “If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!” The reason is that only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith. Others, however, so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things.

        Thomas Aquinas, Lectures on the Gospel of John, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, O.P., Editio V revisa (Romae: Marietti Editori Ltd., 1952) n. 2656, p. 488.

        And I seriously doubt many conservative catholics today would embrace papal bulls such as Unam Sanctum wholeheartedly, etc. Furthermore the “ecumenicity” of a council is a retroactive reading after the fact and there isn’t any empirical maker of what makes a council “ecumenical”, many councils have been revoked and condemned by subsequent councils, etc, and only a form of Newmansque history written by the victors sort of narrative can justify the choice of one council over another as the Eastern Orthodox theologian, Georges Florovsky puts it well,

        Charismatic tradition is truly universal; in its fulness it embraces every kind of semper and ubique and unites all. But empirically it may not be accepted by all. At any rate we are not to prove the truth of Christianity by means of “universal consent,” per consensum omnium. In general, no consensus can prove truth. This would be a case of acute psychologism, and in theology there is even less place for it than in philosophy. On the contrary, truth is the measure by which we can evaluate the worth of “general opinion.” Catholic experience can be expressed even by the few, even by single confessors of faith; and this is quite sufficient. Strictly speaking, to be able to recognize and express catholic truth we need no ecumenical, universal assembly and vote; we even need no “Ecumenical Council.” The sacred dignity of the Council lies not in the number of members representing their Churches. A large “general” council may prove itself to be a “council of robbers” (latrocinium), or even of apostates. And the ecclesia sparsa often convicts it of its nullity by silent opposition. Numerus episcoporum does not solve the question. The historical and practical methods of recognizing sacred and catholic tradition can be many; that of assembling Ecumenical Councils is but one of them, and not the only one. This does not mean that it is unnecessary to convoke councils and conferences. But it may so happen that during the council the truth will be expressed by the minority. And what is still more important, the truth may be revealed even without a council. The opinions of the Fathers and of the ecumenical Doctors of the Church frequently have greater spiritual value and finality than the definitions of certain councils. And these opinions do not need to be verified and accepted by “universal consent.” On the contrary, it is they themselves who are the criterion and they who can prove. It is of this that the Church testifies in silent receptio. Decisive value resides in inner catholicity, not in empirical universality.

        -The Catholicity of the Church

        It seems therefore in response to the conflicts of empirical facts the Catholic has two options:

        (1) The first recourse is always to say that all these writings do not “really” mean to say that and have to be “interpreted rightly” and can be harmonised with the present teachings of the Roman Church. Although it is questionable whether they can all be so reconciled (I think most Catholics do concede that St Thomas Aqunas did deny the immaculate conception), but this recourse introduces an even greater problem: The threat of relativism and the possibility of an infinite regress of interpretations. Ecclesiastical documents are meant to be authoritative interpretations of the faith and the Bible, and yet now they lack clarity of meaning and seem to be in need of interpretation themselves, leading us to a need to interpret the interpreters and so on and so forth. The regress contradicts one of the fundamental features of “authoritative” reading, certainty and clarity. But if every ecclesiastical pronouncement themselves are subjected to “authoritative interpretation”, it would collapse into an infinite self-referential loop. (A problem all the more stark given the context of our present discussion, the problem of needing to “interpret” the words of Pope Francis.)

        It is interesting to note in this respect that in a discussion I had on the “sinfulness” of masturbation, a Roman friend of mine pointed out the necessity of a Magisterial authority to ground this teaching. But I pointed out that there have been many roman priests who have used the following clause in the CCC,

        To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

        to argue that masturbation is therefore permitted in certain contexts where moral culpability diminishes to a vanishing point. Remember, this is the church and book whereby “There is no salvation outside the Church” does not literally and directly mean that but is hedged by a thousand qualifications and clauses and thereby heavily laden with “interpretations” which goes beyond the literal plain sense of the words.
        As such, arguments over interpretations of interpreters rarely interest me and whenever a theological discussion turns into an argument over what some document of theologian “really meant”, I would more often than not tune out of the debate. Such arguments are first and foremost, incredibly tedious and more often than not an exercise in logomarchy and more importantly, even if one manages to prove one’s interpretation of some ecclesiastical document or father, the Catholic is always given the option of saying, well, okay, so he does contradict Catholic teaching, but he’s not here exercising his magisterial teaching authority or his infallibility, etc, but was merely expressing his own opinion and not an official pronouncement, and all that time wasted in arguing over interpretations goes down the drain.
        (2) Which brings me my second option for the Catholic confronted with a “contradictory” ecclesiastical document. This option is the more frequently employed one in that Catholics would often say that some decree, writing or teaching is not “infallible” or are not exercises of the teaching magisterium, etc. But the problem with this of course is that the question then collapses into the question of which writings are infallible and can be considered authoritative teachings of the infallible Magisterium and “one, eternal, holy and true” and not merely exercises of temporal ecclesiastical authority? And it is by no means certain or obvious as to which writings can be considered a part of the infallible magisterium, etc.
        In this there is an interesting discussion within Roman Catholicism regarding the scope of papal infallibility and the problem which comes to determining the extent of this which this Anglican theologian captures very well,

        …as modern debates about papal authority make clear, the appeal to infallibility does not provide the kind of epistemic certainty that is needed here. There are both maximalist and minimalist interpretations of papal infallibility. Despite Newman’s claim that one is required to believe “whateveran Apostle said,” the official teaching about the magisterium is that the pope is infallible only when he speaks ex cathedra. Popes can and do make moral and theological errors. A doctrine of infallibility is helpful only in those instances when we can be sure the pope or magisterium is not making such an error.
        Minimalist defenders of papal infallibility emphasize that there are only a handful of times when the magisterium has spoken infallibly, namely, the definition of papal infallibility itself, and the Marian dogmas of the immaculate conception and the assumption. Maximalist defenders engage in what has been called“creeping infallibility,” the tendency to presume that any statements of the magisterium must be presumed at face value to be infallible until subsequent statements to the contrary indicate the lack of infallibility. Roman Catholic apologists often take either one stance or the other, depending on whether they are trying to persuade their audience that infallibility is not really a burden (minimalist), or, to the contrary, emphasizing infallibility’s epistemic value in providing certainty (maximalist).
        That infallibility proves to be of little epistemic help can be seen in the conflict over artificial contraception that has been raging in the Roman church ever since Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae on artificial contraception. Dissidents from the doctrine frequently claim that it has not been defined infallibly. Defenders claim that while it has not been so defined, it nonetheless meets all the criteria of infallibility, and must be accepted as such.
        However, until it is so defined, whether one decides that it does or does not meet the criteria means that one must exercise one’s private judgment in determining whether it has been so defined. An interesting case in point is the correspondence between former Catholic University of America Professor Charles Curran and then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) during the process through which Curran was eventually deprived of his status of being a Catholic theologian on the grounds of his challenging Humanae Vitae. (The documentation can be found in Curran’s Faithful Dissent, (Sheed & Ward, 1986).) Throughout the correspondence, Curran repeatedly raised a single issue, whether or not it was permissible for faithful Catholics to dissent from non-infallible statements of the magisterium. Repeatedly, Curran insisted that he adhered to the doctrine of infallibility, but that Humanae Vitae was not infallible. He repeatedly asked clarification from his prosecutors as to whether Humanae Vitae was infallible, and said that such a clarification would lead him to submit. Curran’s opponents simply refused to answer his question. Certainly if the maximalists are correct, it would have been easy to do so, since, as maximalists argue, it meets the criteria of infallibility. Instead, Curran was repeatedly asked simply to renounce his teachings because he had disagreed with the magisterium. In the end, Curran had to be left wondering whether he was disciplined because he disagreed with an infallible teaching of the magisterium, or, instead, whether he was disciplined simply because he challenged a statement of the magisterium, which might have been infallible, but might not have been. A doctrine of infallibility which might or might not apply in specific instances provides no more epistemic assurance than what Newman calls “private judgment.” (For an argument along the same lines, see Mark E. Powell, “Canonical Theism and the Challenge of Epistemic Certainty: Papal Infallibility as a Case Study,” Canonical Theism, 195-209.)

        Thus, eventually, the determination as to which documents are part of the “infallible” teaching magisterium and which ones are not comes down to a question of interpretation whereby one has to exercise his own judgement in this regard.
        I realise that this post has gone long enough, but I merely wish to be clear as to where I am coming from, and as I’ve pointed out in the previous post, I really have no real interest in debating the merits of Protestantism versus Catholicism, but I am more interested in a “live” meta-issue concerning what it means to be part of a “living church”, etc. In a sense for me, the Roman ship has long sailed for me, and that if I were ever interested in going more “high church”, I would probably go for SSPX or Eastern Orthodoxy which in a “real”, “live” and existential sense, provides that sort of stability and certainty which is the core appeal of high church denominations and which is severely diminished in the current Roman Church.
        If I may end off with a quote from Cardinal Manning, a contemporary of Cardinal Newman, he alone, out of most Roman theologians, seem to realise that the complexities of church history and writings cannot by itself bear the weight of the claims of the Roman Church, and he utterly denounces grounding the Roman faith upon history, antiquity or the past, but simply upon the present voice of the living Church whose announcement at each present moment exhaustively enunciates the entirety of the Roman faith regardless of what the church has written or said in the past,

        The other objection I shall touch but briefly. It is often said that Catholics are arbitrary and positive even to provocation in perpetually affirming the indivisible unity and infallibility of the Church, the primacy of the Holy See, and the like, without regard to the difficulties of history, the facts of antiquity, and the divisions of Christendom. It is implied by this that these truths are not borne out by history and fact: that they are even irreconcilable with it: that they are no more than theories, pious opinions, assumptions, and therefore visionary and false.

        We very frankly accept the issue. No Catholic would first take what our objectors call history, fact, antiquity and the like, and from them deduce his faith ; and for this reason, the faith was revealed and taught before history, fact or antiquity existed. These things are but the basis of his faith, nor is the examination of them his method of theological proof. The Church, which teaches him now by its perpetual living voice, taught the same faith before as yet the Church had a history or an antiquity. The rule and basis of faith to those who lived before either the history or antiquity of which we hear so much existed, is the rule and basis of our faith now.

        But perhaps it may be asked: If you reject history and antiquity, how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed ? ‘I answer : The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum, of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.

        -The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost

        Indeed if in the words of Cardinal Newman, to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant, than Cardinal Manning clearly believes that to be deeper in history is to cease to be Roman Catholic.

      • Dominic:
        Well, you see herein lies the problem. They do contradict. It is well-known that St Thomas Aquinas and St Bernard of Clairvaux denied the immaculate conception, …

        Since when do the opinions of private theologians – however eminent – count as Magisterial at all, let alone infallible?

      • As to the bit in the CCC, what is objectionable about it? Moral responsibility (culpability) does actually depend on circumstantial and subjective factors, and pastorally leading a penitent to the truth isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe. This has no bearing on the absolute objective moral impermissibility of masturbation.

        I guess I can only say, there would be many conservative Catholics who would disagree with you, which simply reinforces my point that interpreters of the faith, and the Scriptures, are themselves as much in need of interpretation, and when there are interpretations, there would inevitably arise conflicts of interpretation. Thus, the irony of course, that your argument is simply one interpretation of the church’s teaching amongst many other interpreters of the church’s teaching.

        I actually agree completely with the abstract point, though I don’t think contraception makes the best example. No set of texts produced by a Magisterium (or any author) is capable of nullifying the requirement to actually think and judge. People who think that having a Magisterium eliminates the need to make judgements and determinations for onesself, and that that is the reason to be Roman Catholic, are just being foolish.

        But this simply nullifies one of the key (rhetorical) benefits of having a Magisterium, the settlement of disputes of interpretation, or the end of the need for interpretative judgement. The rhetoric is always that having a centralised authoritative Magisterium is necessary to interpret the faith rightly and settle disputes about interpretation of the Scriptures, especially when compared to the Protestant “chaos” of the pluarity of interpretations.

        But now it seems that the Magisterium, far from settling interpretative issues, themselves seem to generate a whole set of interpretative problems of needing to use one individual private judgement to decide what the Magisterium is saying, or even which acts of the official church bureaucracy or ecclesiastical documents constitutes the “Church” or Magisterial teaching. In other words, for Protestantism, they simply need to make sense of 66 books, for the Roman Catholic, they need to make sense of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Church documents including the Scriptures, why should not one simply take one’s chances with 66 over the overload of documents?

        The irony of one of your comments in Sunshine Mary blog that,

        You are mistaken if you think I am going to buy into your frame. Scripture is not self-interpreting, etc — cannot be, by the very nature of text, language, and reason. You are a positivist, basically a Lollard lost in the modern world, who has yet to fully realize that textual positivism leads to the postmodern catastrophe and the destruction of all meaning.

        is that what you are precisely advocating for is a postmodern form of differance and dissemination, where texts do not have inherent meanings nor be interpreted in themselves, but their meanings would always be “deflected” or deferred to other texts, e.g. magisterial or ecclesiastical texts, etc. But of course, this “dissemination” or infinite deflection of meaning, as I’ve already pointed out, leads to a postmodern collapse of all meanings by virtue of the infinite regress generated. Scriptures needs magisterial interpreters, and magisterial interpreters themselves require interpreters, and so on and so forth.

        Either texts have an inherent intelligible meaning or they do not. If they do, and not only can we understand and interpret rightly ecclesiastical texts, but we can also understand and interpret rightly Scriptural texts. If Scripture has no inherent meaning or interpretation because no text can be “self-interpreting” but needs to be interpreted by some other texts, than those text themselves cannot be “self-interpreting” and an infinite regress results and the whole thing collapses into total nihilism.

        Where there are texts, whether those texts are Scriptural, magisterial, patristic or ecclesiastical, there must be interpretation, and the interpretative task is not advanced by a deflection of meaning to another text themselves as much in need of interpretation.

      • Dominic:
        But this simply nullifies one of the key (rhetorical) benefits of having a Magisterium, the settlement of disputes of interpretation, or the end of the need for interpretative judgement. The rhetoric is always that having a centralised authoritative Magisterium is necessary to interpret the faith rightly and settle disputes about interpretation of the Scriptures, especially when compared to the Protestant “chaos” of the pluarity of interpretations.

        No it doesn’t. The fact that words always have to be interpreted doesn’t mean that further clarification, using additional words, is never helpful. You are quite precisely falling into the postmodern trap — either the textual fixed canon is complete or it means nothing at all, to wit:

        But of course, this “dissemination” or infinite deflection of meaning, as I’ve already pointed out, leads to a postmodern collapse of all meanings by virtue of the infinite regress generated. Scriptures needs magisterial interpreters, and magisterial interpreters themselves require interpreters, and so on and so forth.

        The postmodern trap is a consequence of your view of the relation between text and meaning. But there is no reason for me to buy the false dichotomy that either Scripture is complete on its own – that no additional authoritative words can help with its correct interpretation (positivism) – or that definite meaning is impossible in general (the postmodern catastrophe).

      • It seems to me that Dominic, you are under the impression that the collection “of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Church documents including the Scriptures” makes up the Magisterium. If that is indeed your contention then this is incorrect. I will quote from the excellent article from the Catholic Encyclopedia entitled “Tradition and the Living Magisterium”:

        I apologize for quoting so much but I think all these are quoted passage are very salient to the topic at hand.

        [Quote]
        [The deposit of faith] in fact is not an inanimate thing passed from hand to hand; it is not, properly speaking, an assemblage of doctrines and institutions consigned to books or other monuments. Books and monuments of every kind are a means, an organ of transmission, they are not, properly speaking, the tradition itself. To better understand the latter it must be represented as a current of life and truth coming from God through Christ and through the Apostles to the last of the faithful who repeats his creed and learns his catechism…..

        …The existence of tradition in the Church must be regarded as living in the spirit and the heart, thence translating itself into acts, and expressing itself in words or writings; but here we must not have in mind individual sentiment, but the common sentiment of the Church, the sense or sentiment of the faithful, that is, of all who live by its life and are in communion of thought among themselves and with her. The living idea is the idea of all, it is the idea of individuals, not merely inasmuch as they are individuals, but inasmuch as they form part of the same social body. This sentiment of the Church is peculiar in this, that it is itself under the influence of grace. Hence it follows that it is not subject, like that of other human groups to error and thoughtless or culpable tendencies. The Spirit of God always living in His Church upholds the sense of revealed truth ever living therein.

        Documents of all kinds (writings, monuments, etc.) are in the hands of masters, as of the faithful, a means of finding or recognizing the revealed truth confided to the Church under the direction of her pastors. There is between written documents and the living magisterium of the Church a relation similar, proportionately speaking, to that already outlined between Scripture and the living magisterium. In them is found the traditional thought expressed according to varieties of environments and circumstances, no longer in an inspired language, as is the case with Scripture, but in a purely human language, consequently subject to the imperfections and shortcomings of human thought. Nevertheless the more the documents are the exact expression of the living thought of the Church the more they thereby possess the value and authority which belong to that thought because they are so much the better expression of tradition……..

        …The teaching Church is essentially composed of the episcopal body, which continues here below the work and mission of the Apostolic College. It was indeed in the form of a college or social body that Christ grouped His Apostles and it is likewise as a social body that the episcopate exercises its mission to teach. Doctrinal infallibility has been guaranteed to the episcopal body and to the head of that body as it was guaranteed to the Apostles, with this difference, however, between the Apostles and the bishops that each Apostle was personally infallible (in virtue of his extraordinary mission as founder and the plenitude of the Holy Ghost received on Pentecost by the Twelve and later communicated to St. Paul as to the Twelve), whereas only the body of bishops is infallible and each bishop is not so, save in proportion as he teaches in communion and concert with the entire episcopal body.

        At the head of this episcopal body is the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff, the successor of St. Peter in his primacy as he is his successor in his see. As supreme authority in the teaching body, which is infallible, he himself is infallible. The episcopal body is infallible also, but only in union with its head, from whom moreover it may not separate, since to do so would be to separate from the foundation on which the Church is built…

        …There is, therefore in the Church progress of dogma, progress of theology, progress to a certain extent of faith itself, but this progress does not consist in the addition of fresh information nor the change of ideas. What is believed has always been believed, but in time it is more commonly and thoroughly understood and explicitly expressed. Thus, thanks to the living magisterium and ecclesiastical preaching, thanks to the living sense of truth in the Church, to the action of the Holy Ghost simultaneously directing master and faithful, traditional truth lives and develops in the Church, always the same, at once ancient and new–ancient, for the first Christians already beheld it to a certain extent, new, because we see it with our own eyes and in harmony with our present ideas. Such is the notion of tradition in the double meaning of the word; it is Divine truth coming down to us in the mind of the Church and it is the guardianship and transmission of this Divine truth by the organ of the living magisterium, by ecclesiastical preaching, by the profession of it made by all in the Christian life.
        [/Quote]

    • I never said the fathers constitute infallible magisterial authority, please observe that I was quoting Kevin who said that the church fathers do not contradict the councils, encyclicals, etc.

      • Dominic:
        please observe that I was quoting Kevin who said …

        Ah, ok then. It is true enough that Catholics themselves frequently present an easy straw man to knock down. “Here comes everybody” and all that.

        I guess that is true of other parts of your comment too, to wit:
        It is interesting to note in this respect that in a discussion I had on the “sinfulness” of masturbation, a Roman friend of mine pointed out the necessity of a Magisterial authority to ground this teaching.

        Your RC friend is wrong, certainly in asserting “necessity”, since masturbation falls under the natural law. The Magisterium can certainly help reinforce what is known to reason, and even has a special charism in doing so; but knowledge of the natural law is not part of revelation so the Magisterium is not necessary, strictly speaking, in order to know it.

        As to the bit in the CCC, what is objectionable about it? Moral responsibility (culpability) does actually depend on circumstantial and subjective factors, and pastorally leading a penitent to the truth isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe. This has no bearing on the absolute objective moral impermissibility of masturbation.

        As for this:
        That infallibility proves to be of little epistemic help can be seen in the conflict over artificial contraception that has been raging in the Roman church ever since Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae on artificial contraception. Dissidents from the doctrine frequently claim that it has not been defined infallibly. Defenders claim that while it has not been so defined, it nonetheless meets all the criteria of infallibility, and must be accepted as such.
        However, until it is so defined, whether one decides that it does or does not meet the criteria means that one must exercise one’s private judgment in determining whether it has been so defined.

        I actually agree completely with the abstract point, though I don’t think contraception makes the best example. No set of texts produced by a Magisterium (or any author) is capable of nullifying the requirement to actually think and judge. People who think that having a Magisterium eliminates the need to make judgements and determinations for onesself, and that that is the reason to be Roman Catholic, are just being foolish.

        But that isn’t the teaching of the Church. The (much abused) teaching of the Church is that we actually do have consciences, and a responsibility to form them with and conform them to the mind of the Church. A text cannot stand in the place of a conscience.

      • As to the bit in the CCC, what is objectionable about it? Moral responsibility (culpability) does actually depend on circumstantial and subjective factors, and pastorally leading a penitent to the truth isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe. This has no bearing on the absolute objective moral impermissibility of masturbation.

        I guess I can only say, there would be many conservative Catholics who would disagree with you, which simply reinforces my point that interpreters of the faith, and the Scriptures, are themselves as much in need of interpretation, and when there are interpretations, there would inevitably arise conflicts of interpretation. Thus, the irony of course, that your argument is simply one interpretation of the church’s teaching amongst many other interpreters of the church’s teaching.

        I actually agree completely with the abstract point, though I don’t think contraception makes the best example. No set of texts produced by a Magisterium (or any author) is capable of nullifying the requirement to actually think and judge. People who think that having a Magisterium eliminates the need to make judgements and determinations for onesself, and that that is the reason to be Roman Catholic, are just being foolish.

        But this simply nullifies one of the key (rhetorical) benefits of having a Magisterium, the settlement of disputes of interpretation, or the end of the need for interpretative judgement. The rhetoric is always that having a centralised authoritative Magisterium is necessary to interpret the faith rightly and settle disputes about interpretation of the Scriptures, especially when compared to the Protestant “chaos” of the pluarity of interpretations.

        But now it seems that the Magisterium, far from settling interpretative issues, themselves seem to generate a whole set of interpretative problems of needing to use one individual private judgement to decide what the Magisterium is saying, or even which acts of the official church bureaucracy or ecclesiastical documents constitutes the “Church” or Magisterial teaching. In other words, for Protestantism, they simply need to make sense of 66 books, for the Roman Catholic, they need to make sense of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Church documents including the Scriptures, why should not one simply take one’s chances with 66 over the overload of documents?

        The irony of one of your comments in Sunshine Mary blog that,

        You are mistaken if you think I am going to buy into your frame. Scripture is not self-interpreting, etc — cannot be, by the very nature of text, language, and reason. You are a positivist, basically a Lollard lost in the modern world, who has yet to fully realize that textual positivism leads to the postmodern catastrophe and the destruction of all meaning.

        is that what you are precisely advocating for is a postmodern form of differance and dissemination, where texts do not have inherent meanings nor be interpreted in themselves, but their meanings would always be “deflected” or deferred to other texts, e.g. magisterial or ecclesiastical texts, etc. But of course, this “dissemination” or infinite deflection of meaning, as I’ve already pointed out, leads to a postmodern collapse of all meanings by virtue of the infinite regress generated. Scriptures needs magisterial interpreters, and magisterial interpreters themselves require interpreters, and so on and so forth.

        Either texts have an inherent intelligible meaning or they do not. If they do, and not only can we understand and interpret rightly ecclesiastical texts, but we can also understand and interpret rightly Scriptural texts. If Scripture has no inherent meaning or interpretation because no text can be “self-interpreting” but needs to be interpreted by some other texts, than those text themselves cannot be “self-interpreting” and an infinite regress results and the whole thing collapses into total nihilism.

        Where there are texts, whether those texts are Scriptural, magisterial, patristic or ecclesiastical, there must be interpretation, and the interpretative task is not advanced by a deflection of meaning to another text themselves as much in need of interpretation.

      • No it doesn’t. The fact that words always have to be interpreted doesn’t mean that further clarification, using additional words, is never helpful. You are quite precisely falling into the postmodern trap — either the textual fixed canon is complete or it means nothing at all, to wit

        I never claimed that “further clarification, using additional words, is never helpful“. (An interesting term) Protestants after all write voluminous commentaries and exegesis and contribute “clarifications” and “additional words” to aid in our understanding of the Scriptural texts. Protestants therefore never refuse any “additional words” which can “help” us in our understanding of the Scriptures and if the Roman Church wants to contribute their “help”, we certainly would not refuse it, in fact, we would accept any contributions to aid us in our understanding of the Scriptures regardless of their denominational affiliation.

        But the Roman claim is much stronger than that, their additional words are not merely a “help”, but they are also necessary to interpreting the Scriptures, and without their “additional words”, it would be impossible to understand the Scriptures, and the words of the Scriptures would have no inherent meaning or interpretation. This is what leads to the postmodern emptying of meaning of the texts of Scripture, that the texts of Scriptures have no inherent meaning but are “necessarily” deflected to Magisterial texts which alone can determine the meaning of the Scriptures. Thus, the magisterial texts don’t merely “help”, they constitute the very meaning of the Scriptures itself, turning it into a “deflection” of meaning.

        But there is no reason for me to buy the false dichotomy that either Scripture is complete on its own – that no additional authoritative words can help with its correct interpretation (positivism) – or that definite meaning is impossible in general (the postmodern catastrophe).

        You’re not posing the dichotomy correctly. Again, additional words can help in their interpretation, authoritative words even from Greek and Hebrew experts. But that’s not what you’re saying. You’re saying that not only does the Roman Church provide expert advice and “help” with their treasure stores of Fathers and Church documents (documents which everyone, including Protestants, had always access to), but the Roman Church provide divinely inspired and necessary interpretation of the Scripture without which it would be impossible to determine the meaning of the Scriptures.

        Therefore, it seems to me that you’re engaging in a bit of special pleading, that somehow the Scripture necessitates Magisterial documents to be understood rightly, while the Magisterial documents themselves do not require another layer of interpretation. Again, the issue is not a matter of whether additional words “help” in our reading of Scriptures, they certainly do, but it is the necessary claim which is what is distinctive about the Roman claim.

      • Dominic:
        You’re saying that not only does the Roman Church provide expert advice and “help” with their treasure stores of Fathers and Church documents (documents which everyone, including Protestants, had always access to), but the Roman Church provide divinely inspired and necessary interpretation of the Scripture without which it would be impossible to determine the meaning of the Scriptures.

        Not “determine the meaning” as if the text itself carried no meaning whatsoever to being with. There are obvious things that “take and eat” cannot mean: it cannot mean go ride an ostrich. But there are any number of things it could mean in context — and in general no sufficiently interesting finite text is complete, in the sense of having one and only one possible interpretation.

        Therefore, it seems to me that you’re engaging in a bit of special pleading, that somehow the Scripture necessitates Magisterial documents to be understood rightly, while the Magisterial documents themselves do not require another layer of interpretation. Again, the issue is not a matter of whether additional words “help” in our reading of Scriptures, they certainly do, but it is the necessary claim which is what is distinctive about the Roman claim.

        There is no special pleading about it, because nobody sane claims that Magisterial documents do not themselves require interpretation. The Bible could mean lots of different and mutually incompatible things on its own — but it doesn’t follow that it could mean anything whatsoever. As long as the Bible is interpreted through some hermeneutic as consistent it can have one of any number of definite phase spaces of meaning. But unless it is formally complete (which ultimately contradicts the requirement for consistency) there will always be multiple possible reasonable interpretations.

        Once you’ve conceded that the scope of possible meaning is narrowed by additional authoritative commentary, and that false interpretations can be ruled out by authoritative commentary, we are done: the Catholic Magisterium is capable of defending the faith by ruling out false interpretations authoritatively, while Protestantism is not. Or said differently, everyone has a Magisterium: for the sola scriptura protestant, the Magisterium is the autonomous self.

      • There is no special pleading about it, because nobody sane claims that Magisterial documents do not themselves require interpretation. The Bible could mean lots of different and mutually incompatible things on its own — but it doesn’t follow that it could mean anything whatsoever. As long as the Bible is interpreted through some hermeneutic as consistent it can have one of any number of definite phase spaces of meaning. But unless it is formally complete (which ultimately contradicts the requirement for consistency) there will always be multiple possible reasonable interpretations.

        Once you’ve conceded that the scope of possible meaning is narrowed by additional authoritative commentary, and that false interpretations can be ruled out by authoritative commentary, we are done: the Catholic Magisterium is capable of defending the faith by ruling out false interpretations authoritatively, while Protestantism is not. Or said differently, everyone has a Magisterium: for the sola scriptura protestant, the Magisterium is the autonomous self.

        Unfortunately, what you said about the Bible is equally applicable to the Magisterial texts,

        “The Magisterium could mean lots of different and mutually incompatible things on its own — but it doesn’t follow that it could mean anything whatsoever. As long as the Magisterium is interpreted through some hermeneutic as consistent it can have one of any number of definite phase spaces of meaning. But unless it is formally complete (which ultimately contradicts the requirement for consistency) there will always be multiple possible reasonable interpretations.”

        Thus, I fail to see how the “scope of possible meaning” is “narrowed by additional authoritative commentary”. All it does is to shift it into another field of commentary and disputes (what does the magisterium say or mean?), another systems of concepts and field and yet still does not conclude anything.

        Thus, I do not concede at all that the “scope of possible meaning is narrowed by additional authoritative commentary”, in fact, I would argue that it is expanded by the inclusion of thousands of different and contradictory ecclesiastical documents which creates an even create permutation of interpretative possibilities.

        Ultimately, for the Catholic as well, their Magisterium is also the autonomous self, who must judge for himself what the meaning and scope of the documents which constitute Magisterial teaching consists of.

      • Says Zippy:

        “For the sola scriptura Protestant, the Magisterium is the autonomous self.”

        Wrong.

        The actual meaning of the doctrine of sola scriptura is that the Bible, being the written words of God and not just the words of men, is the highest earthly authority, as well as the sole infallible authority. The Bible is not the only authority, but it is the highest authority, other than God Himself. But since God does not hold office hours, we have to go by the public record of His words, which is the Bible.

        The Catholic position requires their organization to have been given authority by God Himself. But this claim is difficult to prove, and appears to be largely self-serving. The simpler position is the one more likely to be correct: God authored the words of the Bible (working through men, to be sure), and these words can be understood (when unclear) by ordinary literary investigation rather than requiring ad hoc assertions by an alleged authority.

        The main problem with biblical interpretation is not that the text is unclear, but that men often ignore or suppress its clear meaning.

        Now, to be sure, there are plenty of ignorant Protestants for whom the self is the de facto highest authority. But there are also many Catholics like that.

      • Dominic:
        Thus, I do not concede at all that the “scope of possible meaning is narrowed by additional authoritative commentary”,

        See, that’s what I thought you were saying all along. But when I suggested that that is what you were saying, you replied:

        I never claimed that “further clarification, using additional words, is never helpful“.

        So which is it: is further clarification using additional authoritative words from the Magisterium helpful in getting at the authentic meaning (and ruling out inauthentic meanings), or isn’t it?

      • I spent a lot of time making a distinction between “authoritative” contributions and simply expert opinions. We can be selective over which expert opinions to take, (most of us, for example, can safely disregard St Augustine’s sometimes strange views on sex or St John Chrystom’s anti-Semitism, or Unam Sanctum, etc), but unfortunately, we can’t be selective over “authoritative” words from the Magisterium, and determining which “words” from the masses and masses of ecclesiastial documents constitutes “magisterial teaching” is itself quite a titanic scholarly problem which generates an entire field of problem in itself and “scope of interpretation” in itself.

        As I said before, for the Protestant, he only needs to make sense of 66 books, and he reads any material in aid of that end, and whatever is not helpful doesn’t matter, the Catholic does not only need to read those 66 books, but he must attempt to grapple and make sense of thousands of ecclesiastical documents as well which possess an intrinsic authoritative and value in themselves.

        It’s really that simple.

      • Why can we ignore Unam Sanctum and St John Chrysostom?

        As I said before, for the Protestant, he only needs to make sense of 66 books, and he reads any material in aid of that end, and whatever is not helpful doesn’t matter, the Catholic does not only need to read those 66 books, but he must attempt to grapple and make sense of thousands of ecclesiastical documents as well which possess an intrinsic authoritative and value in themselves.

        Huh? This is completely backwards. “I believe what the Church teaches, whatever that should turn out to be” is what Catholics need to believe. Obviously, they have an obligation to figure out what the Church does indeed teach, each according to his ability and station, but that does not require that they read anything. How could it? For most of history, most Catholics have been illiterate.

      • Huh? This is completely backwards. “I believe what the Church teaches, whatever that should turn out to be” is what Catholics need to believe. Obviously, they have an obligation to figure out what the Church does indeed teach, each according to his ability and station, but that does not require that they read anything. How could it? For most of history, most Catholics have been illiterate.

        It may not require that they learn how to read, but it requires that they learn how to discern and judge which priest or travelling friar or bishop is truly speaking “for the Church” no? And many times in history, a cacophony of contradictory theological opinions can be heard from the clerical class. Looks like there is simply no escape from the need to use one’s own individual reason and conscience to judge between the various opinions…

      • Dominic:
        I spent a lot of time making a distinction between “authoritative” contributions and simply expert opinions.

        An “expert” is a kind of authority. We at least seem to agree that everyone has a Magisterium. It is just that a Catholic takes the Magisterium as given by Apostolic succession, whereas the Protestant takes the Magisterium to be whomever he happens to think is “expert” at the time — which ultimately means his autonomous self, since he (rather than succession) chooses who is “expert”.

        Anyway, it seems unlikely that we will zip up the rift caused by the Protestant Revolt in a combox. But thanks for the discussion.

      • … which ultimately means his autonomous self, since he (rather than succession) chooses who is “expert”.

        As I’ve already pointed out, there is no essential difference between the “autonomous self” who must chooses which documents and its meaning are “magisterial” and the autonomous self which decides which expert rightly interprets Scripture.

        Whether it is a “Protestant revolt” or a “Roman degeneration” from Apostolic Tradition of course depends on one’s interpretation of history. But ultimately, you seem to persistently lump together the “autonomous self” with the exercise of one’s individual reason and his conscience. Though I would protest the connotations of “autonomous self” (how Protestant of me), but if by “autonomous self” you mean the necessity of each individual to exercise his own reason and judgement in good conscience, I shall give you the phrase “autonomous self” and grant that it is a good thing. In this, our fundamental premises diverge.

        But my firm contention remains that ultimately, the Roman position is also very much a matter of decisions of the “autonomous self”, except that the scope of texts over which he exercises his judgement are far larger than that of the Protestant.

        I guess to unashamedly acknowledge my praise of each individual exercising his individual reason and conscience, in the words of the Calvinist International

        We must begin, as Old Princeton did, with the proper role of reason. Far from being a latent threat to vibrant faith, reason is the common light of all mankind, given to us in our creation as imago dei. Though not autonomous, reason is still authoritative, leading us away from confusion and incoherence. As such, it is itself a necessary precondition to all dialectic, even the logical and consistent reading of the Holy Scriptures. It is reason illumined by faith, ultimately, that convinces our consciences to accept a belief ascertain. No external mechanism, no Pope, no presbytery, no liturgico-narrative faith community prancing in chasubles, can ever take its God-ordained place. Abandoning one’s personal reason in a move to allow someone else’s reason to work vicariously on your behalf is a moral failure and a grave sin. The answer to such a vice is the virtue of courage. Evangelical reason only speaks to brave men.

      • It may not require that they learn how to read, but it requires that they learn how to discern and judge which priest or travelling friar or bishop is truly speaking “for the Church” no?

        It’s hard to tell which guy is your Bishop? It’s hard to tell which guy is the Pope? There have been exceptional circumstances like that in history, I guess, but that is not the norm.

        Your Bishop, supervised by the Pope, is in charge of explaining what the Church’s teaching means to you. The exceptions to this general rule are pretty exceptional.

      • It’s hard to tell which guy is your Bishop? It’s hard to tell which guy is the Pope? There have been exceptional circumstances like that in history, I guess, but that is not the norm.

        Your Bishop, supervised by the Pope, is in charge of explaining what the Church’s teaching means to you. The exceptions to this general rule are pretty exceptional.

        Actually, absentee bishops and vicars were rather common in the medieval times, that is, individuals from rich families were simply appointed to various Sees to collect the tithe without actually having ever set foot in the diocese, and since we are operating on the assuming that most of these people can’t read, and therefore can’t read the various decrees and appointment of bishops, in effect, most parishioners have no idea who their bishop is. And even if the bishop did occupy the See, they rarely, if ever, personally visited their parishes and so in effect, most Catholics at that time would truly have no idea who their bishop is.

        All they have are simply various priests and roving preaching friars who preached an entire plurality of opinions.

      • Dominic:
        As I’ve already pointed out, there is no essential difference between the “autonomous self” who must chooses which documents and its meaning are “magisterial” and the autonomous self which decides which expert rightly interprets Scripture.

        You may have asserted that there is no essential difference, but there in fact is an essential difference. If there weren’t, sola scriptura Protestants would have no reason whatsoever not to become Catholics. The difference between having one definite living authority (the Apostles and their explicitly appointed successors) on a body of subject matter versus having no particular authority on a body of subject matter is obviously an important essential difference.

        But my firm contention remains that ultimately, the Roman position is also very much a matter of decisions of the “autonomous self”, except that the scope of texts over which he exercises his judgement are far larger than that of the Protestant.

        To the extent that you are affirming the reality and necessity of conscience that’s true — and in fact is a teaching of the Church. And while it is true that the body of Magisterial texts – and unwritten Tradition – plus Scripture is larger than Scripture qua text alone, it isn’t true that this gives rise to a greater number of possible interpretations. Canonical text plus clarifications covers a narrower scope of reasonable meanings than Canonical text alone.

        Consider the US Constitution qua text alone. Then consider the US Constitution plus the Federalist Papers. Two things can be said:

        1). Even the latter requires interpretation; and

        2). The scope of reasonable interpretations of the latter is narrower than the scope of reasonable interpretations of the former.

      • You may have asserted that there is no essential difference, but there in fact is an essential difference. If there weren’t, sola scriptura Protestants would have no reason whatsoever not to become Catholics. The difference between having one definite living authority (the Apostles and their explicitly appointed successors) on a body of subject matter versus having no particular authority on a body of subject matter is obviously an important essential difference.

        Some Protestants are not Catholic in the way that some Protestants are not Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, etc, factors more to do with locality, tastes in worship, spiritual practices, etc, rather than something as exalted as theological considerations.

        I would freely grant you that if I were born and bred a Roman Catholic in a Catholic majority country like the Philippines, I would remain Catholic and simply hold on to my non-CCC beliefs or beliefs which doesn’t sync with the Orthosphere. This was what sparked off my first post anyway, what does it mean to be a member of the Roman Church and to “submit” to the Pope. I would probably be a sort of Jansenist, accepting the outward trappings of the church’s liturgy and bureaucracy while holding semi-Protestant beliefs. But given what the Roman bureaucracy allows into the episcopate today, nevermind the priesthood and laity, I would probably be more “orthodox” than most of them anyway. I don’t have to lie to remain a Roman Catholic, but I would have to lie to become one, especially if we make me swear to adjure my “Protestant errors”, etc. (I’m not sure if they even make you do that today. Hmm… what do you know, maybe I’ll just go through the motion of RCIA and get confirmed and right after that return back to my Protestant services so that I can claim to be Roman Catholic. :P )

        To the extent that you are affirming the reality and necessity of conscience that’s true — and in fact is a teaching of the Church. And while it is true that the body of Magisterial texts – and unwritten Tradition – plus Scripture is larger than Scripture qua text alone, it isn’t true that this gives rise to a greater number of possible interpretations. Canonical text plus clarifications covers a narrower scope of reasonable meanings than Canonical text alone.

        Consider the US Constitution qua text alone. Then consider the US Constitution plus the Federalist Papers. Two things can be said:

        1). Even the latter requires interpretation; and

        2). The scope of reasonable interpretations of the latter is narrower than the scope of reasonable interpretations of the former. .

        It is interesting that you added the “Federalist Papers” rather than thousands upon thousands of case law which has a much greater bearing upon the “authoritative interpretation” of the Constitution than the Federalist Papers, which can at most be considered to be a sort of “expert opinion” in the Protestant sense. Whereas the thousands upon thousands of case law made by the actual “living” authoritative interpreters of the Constitution, i.e. the Supreme Court Judges would actually be the direct analogy to the “living Church” or Magisterium model of the Roman Church.

        Your selection of the “Federalist Papers” over what should be the more obvious authoritative case law in a common law country ironically goes to prove my point. Your very selectivity of which set of “legal” documents you choose to “interpret” the Constitution is already an act of the “autonomous self”, which has exercised its individual interpretative judgement to decide which documents to use to read the Constitution over the rest, a judgement made over thousands and thousands of different legal documents and over a greater number of permutations of interpretative possibilities and selections of legal texts.

        Your analogy in fact would go on to strengthen my main point about the virtually infinite permutations of possibilities. The interpretative disputes in Roman Catholicism bear a remarkable resemblance to the legal disputes over the Constitution in America. Is Roe Versus Wade a “proper” interpretation of the constitution? How should we read interpret Judicial History? Originalism? Or “Living Text”? These are analogous precisely to the problems which today plagues Roman Catholicism, how should we read the entire magisterial history of the Church: “Spirit of Vatican II”? Or “Hermeneutic of Continuity”? Who is to say which interpretation of the “living Church” is the right reading? Who is to say which is not? Councils have arisen and have been deposed by subsequent councils, papal decrees have been revoked by subsequent Popes, etc, bearing an analogy to the fact that case law has been made and has been revoked by subsequent legislation, and so on and so forth.

        The fact remains that your interpretation, as well as the interpretation of the Orthosphere Catholics in general, remains simply one interpretative option and possibility among the thousands of other options and possibilities jostling together today in the Roman Church, the possibilities enabled by permutations of ecclesiastical texts and their interpretative possibilities. Who indeed is to say which is the “true” Catholic? Who indeed is to say that your interpretation is more “Catholic” than the rest?

        This all ties in with the original point of this post and my comment, the problems of interpreting Pope Francis and what it means to be a member of the Roman Church.

        To need to interpret simply 66 books is evidently the easier choice, with narrower interpretative possibilities, than to need to interpret thousands of ecclesiastical documents…

      • I wasn’t being selective in choosing the Federalist Papers. It was just an obvious example of how text plus authoritative commentary engenders a narrower scope of possible meanings than text alone.

      • Y’all do realize that Catholics believe the Bible to be inerrant, right? — that no true doctrine can contradict the authentic meaning of Scripture?

      • Well, I know some Catholics believe this, as to what the official stance is…

        I read Father Raymond Brown’s introduction to the New Testament where he cites the CCC section about how the Scriptures teaches without error those things pertaining to salvation to say that the Bible is only infallible/inerrant in matters to do with salvation, etc.

        But of course, I’ve no interest into getting into an argument over who among you Catholics have the “right” interpretation of your own documents, as I said before, debating the interpretation of interpreters is a dispute which I can’t be bothered with…

      • So. It has come down to this when you clearly know that as a Protestant, I would probably say that it is the Scriptures which is the only authority I accept and rather than engage the point, you rather make cheap one liner assertions.

        I think this conversation is at its end.

      • It isn’t a cheap one liner. It is, in the context of the whole discussion, straightforwardly true.

        When multiple interpretations of text are possible – which is always – the only authority you accept to determine what is authentic and what is not, is you.

      • When multiple interpretations of text are possible – which is always – the only authority you accept to determine what is authentic and what is not, is you.

        I’m not rehearsing again my arguments that there is no difference between the Protestant who claims the Scriptures as his authority and needs to engage in individual reading of that Scripture and the Catholic who claims the “Magisterium” as his authority and needs to engage in individual reading of that. If claiming the necessity of individual interpretation of an authoritative text (Scriptural or Magisterial) is to say that the “only authority” is oneself, then this is also so for the Catholic.

        It is clear that you’re simply not going to accept this point and want to simply insist that there is somehow some qualitative difference between the authoritative text of the Scripture and that of the Magisterium.

        This discussion is going in circles. You may have the last word on this.

      • Dominic:
        I’m not rehearsing again my arguments that there is no difference…

        You keep claiming that having a Magisterium to correct errors in interpretation makes no difference. But the claim is manifestly ridiculous. The history of Christendom is riddled with counterexamples: nestorianism, Arianism, etc etc etc.

        I’ve attempted to point out the intellectual error you are making which sets your argument against reality — basically that your understanding of the relationship between text and meaning is positivist-postmodern, which are two sides of the same coin. But really, even if you don’t understand why it makes a difference, it should be crystal clear that it makes a difference, because your basic contention is refuted by rudimentary facts of the history of Christendom. The magisterium has corrected all sorts of heresies, and it isn’t because nestorianism is a wildly unreasonable interpretation of Scripture.

        None of that proves that RC is true or that all possible Protestantisms are false. But it does show that there is something basically incoherent in your arguments (that something is, again, your positivist-postmodern understanding of meaning), and you ought to abandon them.

      • Actually, absentee bishops and vicars were rather common . . .
        All they have are simply various priests and roving preaching friars who preached an entire plurality of opinions.

        All of which is perfectly irrelevant. The Bishop appoints and supervises their parish priest—that is, he delegates. Are you going to claim that they not only don’t know who their Bishop is but also that they don’t know who their parish priest is?

      • You’re shifting the goalpost. You said that,

        It’s hard to tell which guy is your Bishop?… Your Bishop, supervised by the Pope, is in charge of explaining what the Church’s teaching means to you. The exceptions to this general rule are pretty exceptional.

        And now that I’ve pointed out that most bishop have never stepped into their diocese, therefore making themselves unknown to their parishioners, nevermind to be able to explain the Church’s teaching to you, you say that it is irrelevant and that it is not that the Bishop actually directly teaches the church’s doctrine to you, but indirectly through his appointment and supervision of the parish priest.

        I will indulge your goalpost shifting just this once.

        Actually in the medieval times, parish priests were appointed by the local lords of the manor, the bishop simply consecrates them, but their appointment is made by secular rulers. Even bishops themselves were also appointed by secular rulers until the issue came up in the investiture controversy of 1103.

        And in the case of “absentee bishops” who have never step foot in their diocese, it is evidently impossible for them to “supervise” their parish priest if they were never there in the first place.

    • I’m sorry for the late reply Dominic. I am terrible at following up on internet conversations.

      I did not mean to imply that the works of Church Fathers or Doctors are infallible. I thought this sentence, “At least the teachings of the popes and ecumenical councils do not contradict each other” clearly indicated that I was only referring to these official teachings; but, looking back that may have not been so clear.

      As for the rest of your post I see that Zippy has already replied to your post so I will not reply to all the points you make. He is much better suited for that task. I will only say that Truth is much larger than any text or any finite amount of accumulated knowledge can contain. Any truth must always be “interpreted rightly” and the surest method to determine how to righly interprete any older Church teaching is to see how the Church has interpreted it since. We know how to rightly interpret Old Testament because of the New. We know how to intepret the New Testament from the teachings of the Apostles. We know how to interpret those by the teaching of their successors. We can rightly interpret Unam Sanctam by the light of Lumen Gentium.

      • Any truth must always be “interpreted rightly” and the surest method to determine how to righly interprete any older Church teaching is to see how the Church has interpreted it since… We know how to interpret those by the teaching of their successors. We can rightly interpret Unam Sanctam by the light of Lumen Gentium.

        Cardinal Manning would seem to agree with you here when he said,

        But perhaps it may be asked: If you reject history and antiquity, how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed ? ‘I answer : The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour, is the maximum, of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening.

        Thus, this seems to be a very strong form of presentism whereby whatever the church says now at this very present moment or hour, is the maximum of evidence of what is divine revelation and everything else which the church wrote in the past will simply be forced to be reconciled with it. Thus, if tomorrow Pope Francis wants to adopt an Eastern Orthodox view of divorce and remarriage and allow such couples to take communion, everything else which the church has said about marriage, divorce, the state of grace, communion, etc, would have to fall in line and be interpreted in the light of Pope Francis’s present judgement. If fifty years from now the Roman Church decides to have gay marriages, everything else which the Church has said in the past will be forced to be reconciled to the judgement of the Church at that very hour.

        In short, this collapses into a sort of postmodern carpe diem where the past and all the history and tradition of the church has no meaning or relevance of itself but the entire history of the church’s teachings is “re-created” at every moment and at every hour in time by the living voice of the Magisterium and simply re-interpreted in the light of present proclamations.

        Honestly, this seems a bit too nihilistic for me.

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