May I direct the readership’s attention today to an amusing piece at First Things? The pseudoanonymous writer pokes fun at inconsistencies in a speech recently delivered by a certain prelate at a certain well-known English university.
As it opens, we read:
In a recent lecture on the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (not to be confused with the rather older treatise by the Doctor Consolatorius, De coitus gaudio), His Eminence Cardinal Blase Cupich explained the document as an endeavor to help families face up to the problems posed by the realities of life in the modern world. In the lecture, which would perhaps have been more timely had it been given on February 14, he analyzed this papal initiative in terms of six hermeneutical principles for the “decipherment” of the experiences of the faithful in contemporary family life, principles which together constitute a “paradigm shift” in the Church’s pastoral ministry.
Now in some ways, the cardinal’s use of the term “paradigm shift” might be thought problematic. Its primary sense, according to the online Cambridge English Dictionary, is “when the usual or accepted way of doing or thinking about something changes completely.” The Oxford English Dictionary, more laconically, regards it as a “major change in technology, outlook, etc.” The scholar who coined the phrase, Thomas Kuhn, used it to explain “scientific revolutions” such as the Copernican, the Newtonian, or the Einsteinian, and interpreted it as the rejection of one paradigm in favor of another. It is not surprising, then, if some of the audience (as became apparent in the questions) balked at the suggestion that the Catholic Church had been led by the pope into some process of radical doctrinal change. Fortunately, the cardinal was swift to correct this misapprehension:
I reject the idea that a paradigm shift is a rupture and is not part of organic development. . . . The premise that “paradigm shift” means a break from the past is unfounded.
With these words, of course, he implicitly proclaimed his intellectual affiliation with that Victorian pioneer of the “linguistic turn,” the eminent Oxonian Dr. H. D’Umpty. Armed with this realization, the astute reader is in a much better position to interpret the cardinal’s words, and indeed those of the pope as well. For the pope’s achievement in Amoris Laetitia (not to be confused with “Plaisir d’amour,” the well-known French song) was to pursue doctrinal development only by way of “retrieving a way of thinking” which had “deep roots in tradition.”
Important speeches are supposed to provide food for thought and discussion.