Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Articles by colleagues on recent issues

I thought some of you might be interested in seeing what two of my eminent colleagues at Sacred Heart Major Seminary have been saying about events in the recent news. I leave the commentary to any who wish to respond:

The first set is by Dr. Janet Smith, who is Father Michael J. McGivney Professor of Life Ethics, but needs no introduction.The second set is by Dr. Eduardo Echeverria, who is Professor of Philosophy and Theology, but would likely hold the chair in Ecumenical Theology if the Seminary had one.Out of personal curiosity, I would solicit in particular your thoughts on what Dr. Echeverria has to say in his last article about the "temptation" concerning "traditionalists and intellectuals" mentioned by the Holy Father in his closing remarks at the recent synod.


JM said...

Having read previous posts by EE I can say that as a rule I find him to be irenic and insightful. But I also see him here wearing what I call ultramontanist blinders, insisting on seeing something profound instead of the fact the Holy Father here has no clothes, so to speak. Francis is the Pastor of the Church, and yet in hundreds of words he delivers to his Bishops, and in even more interpretive words EE offers to us all, I challenge anyone to offer concrete examples of these absurdly rigid theologians and closed systematicians he warns us about time after time. It all reminds me of Obama abjuring those who cling to "guns and Bibles." Like who? I have never met a Traditionalist, for example, who thinks our terms and concepts exhaust the meaning of doctrines, or who objects to restatements that maintain the full thrust and clarity of orthodoxy. I have, however, met many advocates of fresh expression that seem to actually want to alter the meaning of belief. So it would be helpful to everyone if instead of clever but cryptic rhetoric our Pastor said what he meant so all could get his meaning. So many Catholics like William Oddie or Mark Brumley or M Voris -- all excellent men -- want to bust peoples' chops for cynically thinking the Pope may mean something troublesome. Meanwhile, It takes Ross Douthat in the NYT to say "Hey, we may need to give this Pope a not so subtle shove back to Tradition!" He's saying what we already should know: the misgivings of thousands faithfult0-the-bone Catholics are probably not wrong. But when something is so unclear it takes thousands of words to explain, something probably is askew. Before you can be relevant you have to be clear. Despite EEs well-intentined exposition, who would argue Francis at the Synod was either, any more than so much of Vatican II? That's the pleasantly uncomfortable truth.

Robert Allen said...

I fail to see any 'temptation' in being inflexible when it comes to something so obvious as the meaning of 'What God has joined man must not put asunder.' (Or even St. Paul's condemnations of sodomy.) We are not talking about some abstruse piece of Hegelian philosophy here, but a clear cut admonition. The meaning needs to be carefully drawn out of our Lord's parables, but His commandments are so clear as to be comprehensible to schoolchildren. There is no need to update the 'formulation' of a law that came straight from God Almighty's mouth, whose meaning has been clear for millennia and is written upon every human heart. ANY tinkering with the wording here in the form of 'pastoral' codicils would be tantamount to abandoning the rule itself, given its lucidity, which is exactly what liberals want to do because it has proven too hard for many to follow. (Ask yourself this: how could a principle whose formulation was vague provoke such widespread opposition? The folks arguing for changes here know darn well what our Lord has asked them not to do.) It is not for nothing that Pious V anathematized those who would change the rubrics of the Mass. And would I not be asking for philosophical trouble were I to consult any explication of Aristotle besides St. Thomas'? To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, fanaticism in defense of lucidity is no vice.

Robert Allen said...

JM, I take your point about the HF's obfuscation. But I'd also like to introduce you to a 'rigid' Traditionalist 'who thinks that our terms and concepts exhaust the meaning of (RC) doctrines': me. It took the HMC 1200 years to produce STA and there is simply no upgrading perfection, which is why St. Pious X admonishes us to couch our discussions of RC doctrine in Thomistic terms.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

"In short, truth is unchangeable, development of dogma is not a development of truth, but a development in the Church’s understanding of the truth."

What is this "unchangeable truth", what form does it take today? It takes the form of a text, correct? Words. We only know truth through dogma, and dogma consists of words.

In what sense are words -- especially those words in which we believe truth to reside -- "unchangeable"?

I would refer to them as symbols, and thus very changeable indeed. This is why the Oxford English Dictionary exists. You can of course obfuscate all of this changeability by describing it all as "development," a favorite word of Echeverria. But the very definition of "development" implies change, to which is added a sense of "improvement." In Webster's New World, for example, words like "strengthen," "enlarge," "better," "evolve," among many others, are used to give "development" a sense of making it better.

If the meanings of words can be "developed," and the expression of dogma through words can be "developed," what guarantee can there be that the truth we receive through these developments is received as unchanged? New formulations of any statement whatsoever will inevitably tend to reduce its clarity and univocity. New formulations, in other words, always tend to corrupt older ones. If the linguistic vessels by which truth is expressed are subject to "development," what happens to the truth these vessels contain? How is it UNaffected?

Well of course at this point reference will be made to guarantees given by the Holy Spirit that development is not change, but good change (if that makes any sense). In the recent bungle of a synod, however, it is reasonable to think that each participant believed that he acted in concert with the Holy Spirit. Were all of them right?

I would argue that the only thing that guarantees that dogma remains the vessel of truth is its UNCHANGEABILITY. That is the true standard of the Holy Spirit’s guidance – to guarantee preservation of dogmatic truth – preservation from the corruption of change, even change called development But who worries about such things today? Today, dogmatic “developments” emerge from within the Church like clowns from a little yellow Volkswagen. Just as with today’s liturgies (actually anti-liturgies by any sensible judgment), the importance of words, the preservation of meaning, is no longer a consideration. What matters, instead, are the quantities of words and the creative “development” and exploitation of their polysemous potentials.

One of the first principles of propagandists is to pick the key words of one’s opponents and change their meanings.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Thanks for your thoughtful and considered remarks, Ralph. There is a lot of food for thought in what you say.

My colleague adheres to the principle formulated by St. John XXIII that "the deposit or the truths of faith, contained in our sacred teaching, are one thing, while the mode in which they are enunciated, keeping the same meaning and the same judgment (eodem sensu eademque sententia), is another” -- as Echeverria cites in his article on this subject HERE.

What one of my erstwhile theology professors pointed out, nevertheless, is that no advance is ever made where the "development" in formulation is in the direction of greater generality and breadth of interpretation rather than more specificity and precision. The latter, I fear, is the legacy of modernity.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

"no advance is ever made where the 'development' in formulation is in the direction of greater generality and breadth of interpretation rather than more specificity and precision"

I believe the opposite is true, PP, unless I am misunderstanding you here. I would say that "development" is the death of "specificity and precision." Others, perhaps your colleague among them, would call this process of corruption of meaning "greater generality and breadth of interpretation." Or perhaps the blossoming of a parched juridicism into the full bloom of mercy, niceness, delight in diversity, etc. If redemption were a matter of greeting card poetry, V2 pastoralism would have the inside track.

Pertinacious Papist said...

I wasn't being clear, Ralph (at least if I'm understanding you correctly).

I wasn't using "development" here in the pejorative sense, but a positive one, and I think there could be such a thing.

My point is that greater specificity and precision is a good thing. So, for example, when Nicea and Constantinople specifically defined Jesus has having a divine nature and Ephesus defined the formulation of the hypostatic union of Christ's two natures, this added greater needed clarity to our understanding of who Jesus Christ is in relation to God the Father and to ourselves.

If by "development," we meant something like this, then I could agree that it is something positive.

If, on the other hand, we move from clear specific formulations in, say, the Catechism of the Council of Trent to the nebulous formulations in, say, the Dutch Catechism of 1966, I do not see how that could be seen as "progress" in clarity.

That was my point.