More theological gobbledygook about degrees of doctrinal authority

There is a piece at Jesuit-run Amerika.  I was going to post about it earlier, but a theologian friend of mine sent me an email about it with some analysis.  With his permission I repost some of what he wrote with judicious edits:

[There] is a piece in America Magazine, a despicable Jesuit publication. The author of it is unknown to me, but his argument is not.  [Back in the day many of us] students heard about the various degrees of doctrinal authority that are ascribed to papal documents by theologians. In this post at America, the author tries to explain that between magisterial teachings which oblige belief/assent on the part of Catholics, there are papal/magisterial teachings that require our thoughtful consideration and conscientious reflection even though they do not reach the high-water mark of magisterial teachings that oblige belief or assent. The author observes that these “instructions” from the Magisterium cannot just be tossed into the dustbin simply because they do not OBLIGE a full assent on our part, and/or because we do not agree with them. This is a truism in Catholic theology, of course. But from this springboard, the author wants to return to a doctrinal question introduced by Karl Rahner, i.e. the status of a “pastoral constitution”, in this case Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II.  Again, back in the day, many liberal “theology” professors insisted that GS was a pastoral Constitution and not a dogmatic Constitution, such as Lumen Gentium.  Back in the day, again, Rahner was god, so if Rahner said it, it must be true.

Let’s jump ahead in the America article. The author’s real gripe is with my new heroine, Maureen Mullarkey, and with Congressman Paul Gosar, because they diss Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’  out of hand on the basis of his incompetence as a scientist/economist. The America author argues that no Catholic should do this. To his credit, he also points out to liberals that some among them are quick to dismiss papal/magisterial teachings that they don’t like, so the problem is not one that pertains only to conservatives/traditional Catholics.

So far, ok. But in discussing Rahner’s article in Theological Investigations, vol. 10, in which the German Jesuit addressed the “pastoral constitution” matter, the author of the America article points to Rahner’s insistence that the Holy Spirit guides the Church’s pastors, and that therefore Catholics should not dismiss non-binding magisterial teaching out of hand. THIS is what I don’t like. Now, of course credo in spiritum sanctum, and of course I believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Magisterium and pastors, as well as theology teachers who hold a missio canonica (cfr. Donum veritatis, n. 22). And I welcome the caveats that the author of this article sees Rahner attaching to his proposition that the Holy Spirit guides the pastors of the Church in the promulgation of pastoral constitutions and instructions, even when they are non-binding. There is nevertheless a sort of liberal bias at work in this article. First, the author points out Rahner’s praise for certain (here unspecified) instructions from among St John XXIII’s writings (and I somehow doubt that the author has Veterum Sapientia in mind). This praise, coupled with the fact that the occasion of this article is the censoring of Maureen Mullarkey and Congressman Gosar for their opposition to Laudato, tilts the bias in the article toward the green, socialist, mushy Left. Missing here is any praise of, say, Familiaris Consortio, or even the observation that St John Paul II’s virtual condemnation in Evangelium vitae of capital punishment also constitutes a non-binding teaching. Liberals like to remind us that non-binding magisterial teaching is STILL important only when the teaching in question pleases them (ok, conservatives sometimes do this too).

In the end, the America article is not very helpful because, except for platitudes and generalities, it does not and cannot tell us how we are to make sense of the kind of non-binding magisterial instructions that are all the more frequent in the post-Vatican II Church and in what I call the “post-doctrinal era” that we now inhabit. But that won’t stop liberals from jumping up and down about them. So let’s not allow the theological gobbledygook to scare us. [Do I hear an “Amen”?]

And we are going to see a lot more of this too, as we hear more and more third category teachings described in Ad tuendam fidem.  Libs are going to wag their fingers at us and tisk and say “Neener neener neener!  You have to give consee-eent!”   And all we will have is, “Yes, but there are levels of assent… so go square that circle! Neener neener neener!”

When libs start paying attention to Veterum sapientia or Veritatis splendor or Humanae vitae … I’m just sayin’….

Again, when I am elected Pope, and take the name of Pius X-II (“Pio Decimo Secondo” – or maybe “Clement Ganganelli”), We shall not give interviews or press conferences.  We shall disallow the Lord Cardinals from speaking to the press without permission.  We shall disappear into the Apostolic Palace for lengths of time so long that the press will begin to speculate that We may have died.  Our encyclicals will be limited to five pages in Latin.  And Our first act as Supreme Pontiff will be to suppress the Jesuits.  But I digress…

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  1. LeeF says:

    The most simple way to engage these liberal fawners of the current HF, is to simply say, “If you are going to pick and choose according to your personal preferences, then so am I. Let me know when you are willing to adhere to the whole Magisterium and then we’ll talk.”

    And also remind them that Francis censured those with “one foot out the door.” We must not make concessions to those who will leave if they don’t get what they want.

  2. MKR says:

    I think “Pius X Strict Observance” would be a better name. :p

  3. Gerard Plourde says:

    I find the statement that Pope Francis has no competence as a scientist troubling. While the reports that he possesses a Master’s degree in chemistry are not true, he does apparently possess the equivalent of an Associates Degree in the subject. This would indicate familiariarity with the scientific method.

  4. Hugh says:

    Dear future Pius X-II,
    please open your first encyclical with the grand words “Oriens ex alto”, thus entitling it. I don’t really care what it’s about – I’ll leave it to your greater wisdom to decide that – though if, according to your declared intentions above, it simply ended with: “Furthermore, the Jesuits are to be suppressed.” (in Latin) it would be a nice touch. You could rub that in by reminding us at the end of every subsequent encyclical of your long and glorious pontificate (“Ceterum … The Jesuits have been suppressed”). I suggest you save valuable writing time by making up a rubber stamp to this effect.

    Should all these things come to pass, I shall promptly set about forming the Pius X-II Society.

  5. Viva Cristo Rey says:

    Last paragraph! Hahahahaha
    Oh I needed that!

  6. benedetta says:

    Could the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which encourages those with pastoral authority over souls to “be generous” in extending the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite to the faithful, be one such papal fiat that isn’t necessarily magisterial but is something greater than press statements and therefore requires our active attention?

    [In his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta, St. John Paul II commanded by his Apostolic authority: “respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.”]

  7. just knowing what your first act would be, if I were an elector, would guarantee my vote.

    [I am definitely NOT campaigning!]

  8. frjim4321 says:

    I would take the time to read the article and the riposte above but I find that when I make a serious, positive, time-consuming contribution there’s not much feedback.

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Let’s jump ahead in the America article. The author’s real gripe is with my new heroine, Maureen Mullarkey, and with Congressman Paul Gosar, because they diss Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ out of hand on the basis of his incompetence as a scientist/economist. The America author argues that no Catholic should do this.”

    In this case, the theologian is wrong. No Catholic should dismiss anyone out of hand, without first giving them a hearing. Even Nicodemus said as much for Christ when the authorities tried to dismiss him out of hand for being a lowly itinerant preacher. Of course, after giving them a good hearing, then one might dismiss what they have said.

    That being said, the best Pope Francis can do with regards to scientific matters is to report the preponderance of belief. This is what Pope St. John Paul II did with regards to evolution. There is global climate change. To deny this is to deny overwhelming evidence and there are moral aspects to this climate change that are within the Pope’s purview to pronounce on. The question of whether this climate change is anthropogenic, however, is not a matter for the Pope to pronounce on. That question is still unsettled.

    As for the Holy Spirit guiding a pastoral council – well, He will, if the council will let Him. I mean, after all, they invoke Him at the beginning of most councils. Unfortunately, the council is made up of human beings and we all know how hard it can be to corral them into the truth. Heck, even saints can disagree. Still, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Lurker.

    The Chicken

  10. One of my uncle’s favorite admonitions is that if you lose your wallet, you should pray that a theologian doesn’t find it, because he will rationalize some justification that he should keep it.

  11. Michelle F says:

    Hugh – I like your idea for Pope Pius X-II’s first encyclical, especially the part about ending it with announcing the suppression of the Jesuits, but you forgot one important thing at the end: “And if anyone says/thinks/acts otherwise, let him be anathema.”

    Of course, faithful laymen the world over hope Pope Pius X-II will use anathema sit many times in the preceding pages of his glorious encyclical!

  12. iamlucky13 says:

    I once again point out that it is close to meaningless to accuse anyone of “dissenting” from Laudato Si because there is so little in Laudato Si that can be construed as a clearly formulated teaching from which to dissent.

    Do not reject out of hand, but certainly, feel free to read and explain which sections one does not agree with and why.

    “Pio Decimo Secondo” – brilliant!

  13. The Cobbler says:

    Considering progressives’ general refusal to admit of things like consistency, I think it might be more effective to hit them in one of their favorite Catholic bugaboo stories*:
    “How do you explain the Gallileo case?”

    *(And we know it’s not all that accurate a story, but that’s not what’s important; what’s important is the people most likely to want to elevate papal thoughts on climatology to some quasi-doctrinal status are usually the same people who not only believe but make a big deal out of this old story…)

    On the other hand, for a more detailed and less biased article on the matter as it relates specifically to papal teaching, there’s recent stuff from Dr. Feser. (Dr. Peters voices a minor point of disagreement in application, FWIW, but the bulk of it is apparently sound — or, to quote another internet-dweller on numbers like 99.953%, “That is not a small number! That is a big number!”)

    Gerard Plourde, I don’t know about you, but I could find people with advanced degrees in scientific fields who couldn’t explain the difference between the scientific method and philosophical empiricism, or who couldn’t explain the difference between the scientific method and the sort of caricature of “for science!” one sees in videogames and their internet fandoms (e.g. Dwarven Science or the work of Aperture Science…). That’s not to say I could tell you Pope Francis doesn’t understand the scientific method, it’s to say I couldn’t tell you whether he does or not based on level of education alone. I would, on the other hand, echo the Chicken’s comment that dismissing anyone out of hand is generally intellectually (and arguably morally) fruitless, and the question is rather what weight the Pope’s opinions on a matter have when we do consider them.

  14. Eonwe says:

    Interesting that this Jesuit Theologian and other libs should take this view on assent. I would ask them about their “assent” to the past 2000 years of Church teachings. When it comes to assenting to Church teachings as a whole (whether binding or non binding) their house is build on sand.

  15. MikeR says:

    Please Father, pleeeze get the Jesuits suppressed again!

  16. Hugh says:

    Agreed, Michelle.
    Indeed, inspired by your suggestion, I’m now hoping “Anathema sit” will be the great and glorious Pius X-II’s second encyclical.

  17. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Cobbler,

    I agree with you and the Chicken. My point was that the claim that Pope Francis is not a competent scientist appeared to be an ad hominem attack rather than a reasoned examination of the content of the encyclical. Whether the fluctuations in weather that have been documented are the solely result of human activity is less important than attempting to determine how they affect agricultural production and populations whose habitats are at risk due to sea level rise and what steps, if any, we can take to ameliorate these effects. As Catholics, our faith requires to consider the plight of others and to assist those in need without reservation.

  18. benedetta says:

    All of these ideas about “have to” listen to and adhere to certain doctrines, do not at all square with what I was taught growing up in the Diocese of ______, wherein we were told essentially that only two things were paramount whenever we were being Church: personal conscience and local customs. Aside from that, if we wanted to tune in to hear what the Bishop of Rome was saying or doing, that was entirely at our election, not encouraged, something we would have to seek out on our own, and knowing that we were going out on our own and a bit against the collective consensus of the local group’s customs, and, whatever we might make of his words or actions if we on our own went out investigating, that had to be wholly regarded, as to us here in our circumstances as were merely suggestions which we were always free to reject especially given our own relative thoughts and situations and consciences. As a matter of fact, it was considered bad form to cite to the Bishop of Rome because that would be shaming or judging others’ consciences which disagreed or were entitled to form these apart from citing knee jerk authority as something all needed to heed. Perhaps this sounds familiar to others who grew up similarly catechized?

  19. Augustine says:

    How about Pio Z-I or PiuZ I? Anyway, for no other reason than for 5-page encyclicals, I forward Fr. Z as papabile. Show of hands?

  20. benedetta says:

    Also, I was taught that people who defer to authority for authority’s sake, or who think obedience to papal authority, even against conscience, would always be people who were rigid, excessively judgmental, intolerant, and suffering from numerous psychological issues, who looked to such things in a burst of desperate sentiment for a past that never was, out of nostalgia or lack of a grip on the changing times. Yes?

  21. benedetta says:

    Also, and of course others may chime in with their remembrances and memorializations, but to just round out the comprehensiveness of the teachings, we were instructed that those who deferred to papal authority at all, on any old thing, were further in all likelihood afflicted with the inability to completely enjoy and appreciate the blessings of human sexuality, so much so that indeed they could not recognize that such things as condoms, the pill/synthetic hormone injections, and the elimination of human developing life were all important accoutrements that we must have in our progressive society in order to experience sexuality in its full darwinian natural forms and act upon the impulses to procreate. Or something like that. I’ve been out of it for so very long now though I don’t know if they are even teaching that anymore. For all I know some new timely dogmas are being enforced.

  22. Michael_Thoma says:

    In this ordination video (English, Malayalam and Eastern Syriac spoken) from about 6 weeks ago, the new Exarch for Syro-Malabar Catholics in Canada, His Grace Mar Joseph (Kalluvelil) is witnessed making the oath (scroll to about midway or so) of obedience to the Pope of Rome, the Head and Father of the Syro-Malabar Church, the Syro-Malabar Holy Synod, the Holy Ecumenical Councils, the ‘Ordinary Magisterium’ and teaching authority of the Church – do Latin bishops take a different oath or no oath at all?
    Its seems many Eastern Church bishops are more loyal to Rome than some Roman Church bishops, even though they have their own primate and Holy Synod.

  23. ConstantlyConverting says:

    I was admonished once, in a papal authority discussion, that much of the current argument is the result of the speed and accessibility of information. A thousand years ago there might not have been such a discussion over who has what and which and authority. One relied more on the bishop. I thought it was a good point, although I don’t know if that was a rewriting history “dark” ages thing. Obviously, people communicated because of the back and forth letters regarding papal authority before the first crusade.

    That aside, Laudato Si was hugely disappointing. I was hoping for a theology that centered around the priestly work of man to bring God’s order to creation. You know, only the first task we are given in the bible. Something that would elequently support the goodness of creation and man. A need to really meditate on nature as a gift, the importance of subsidiary and solidarity. It was a thinly veiled advertisement for authoritarian government. A wasted opportunity, if you ask me.

  24. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “And Our first act as Supreme Pontiff will be to suppress the Jesuits.”

    Wilt Thou, O Pater, suppress the Jesuits if I can find but five and twenty faithful and true men among their number?

    [Too late.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  25. robtbrown says:

    Global Warming/Climate Change is a serious scientific issue that unfortunately has been trivialized because it has been taken up by politicians. Thanks to the contribution of political consultants, most of whom seem to have a lot in common with pond scum, those who question it become the target of personal attacks. It is both pathetic and amusing to see a world famous neurosurgeon accused of rejecting science. BTW, I heard Ben Carson in an interview long before he entered the political arena saying that “the planet is dying”.

    Re Ecclesial authority:

    The third type of assent (obsequium religiosum) refers, just as the first two, to matters of faith and morals. And so it would not be relevant to climate change or its causes–even though what Francis said might indeed be true. Morally, prudential judgments refer to actions that are the means to a moral end. There are also, however, prudential judgments that don’t directly refer to a moral end: For a businessman courting a client who doesn’t like Mexican food, it would be imprudent to take him to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. The prudential judgment that carbon based fuels might or might not have anything to do with changes in temperature has nothing to do with Magisterial Infallibility.

  26. robtbrown says:

    Interesting that a few days before the comment that the SJ’s should be suppressed, a priest friend told me that he had meant a young SJ who had done his doctorate at Santa Croce (Opus Dei).

  27. robtbrown says:

    I am in complete agreement with Karl Rahner’s comment that the Church should read the signs of the times.

    Anyone who halfway notices the signs of the times will come to the obvious conclusion that the policies of the post Vat II Church, much influenced by the obfuscation of doctrine inspired by Rahner’s Existentialism, has emptied the churches, seminaries, and religious orders.

  28. Hugh says:

    Every authentically Catholic Jesuit I’ve met over the years has averred that the Jesuits should be suppressed. It’s now my litmus test for a good Jesuit.

  29. Ben Kenobi says:

    Pio Decimo Secundo. Well said, Father Z. Came for the comments, and was not disappointed.

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