Of “paradigm shift” interest

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.[1] 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.[2] 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)[3] was to pursue doctrinal development only by way of “retrieving a way of thinking” which had “deep roots in tradition.”


There’s more.

Important speeches are supposed to provide food for thought and discussion.


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  1. JamesA says:

    “Dr. H. D’umpy” ? (Insert uproarious laughter) Excellent.
    If His Excellency insists there is no rupture, then that means the age-old teaching of the Church is unchanged, right ? Good, I’m glad we cleared that up.

  2. JabbaPapa says:

    The Catholicity is not a “paradigm” — I also think that those who are over-using this word in recent times are mis-using it from a lack of understanding of what it means in the first place.

  3. richiedel says:

    I would like to tell Cdl. Cupich the following:

    The world teaches families to do what feels good and to be accepting of family members who do things you may not agree with, then, when things fall apart, there is a Netflix movie to watch with characters to whom we can relate.

    So, when families are faced with such mores as that which the world has to offer, we don’t need a paradigm shift. We need clear and cogent mores articulated with the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When things get tough and we are tempted to behave in ways which would result in our families falling apart, we don’t need such reassurances that if we just go ahead and do so, we can just keep going to Communion later on, anyway. We need standards for life and our families which make it apparent that the good of our families are worth fighting for.

    In addition, if Amoris Laetitia were really meant to help families, it would have been written to be at most one fourth of its current length, having lines of thought which coherently build one upon another. As it was composed, it is an incredibly disjointed and cumbersome document – this is coming from one who took the effort to read it cover to cover.

  4. LarryW2LJ says:

    As Inigo Montoya would say: “Paradigm shift? You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.”

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    For those with a good enough French, there’s a good set of definitions of the word HERE : http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/paradigme

    (uncharacteristically, the OED definition is worse than useless)

    This talk of “paradigm shifts” might be some half-understood and undigested semi-Foucauldianism ; whereas one of Foucault’s primary theoretical concepts is that all civilisational and cultural shifts are centred around a core of intrinsic stability. The baby in the bathwater.

    And LarryW2LJ ? All of this paradigm shifting is inconceivable … :-)

  6. Kennedy says:

    Back in the late 80’s or early 90’s, I attended a talk by Hans Kung. He introduced the theory of paradigms, which he said he had learned from Thomas Kuhn, claiming that it would allow for different expressions of Christianity all being valid. Having studied Thomas Kuhn as part of my B.A. degree course, I suggested that this would lead to relativism. He advised me that he had dealt with that in his latest book. I can’t remember which book it was, as I neither bought it or read it. Is it possible that those promoting the idea of paradigm shifts have gotten it from Kung, and not Kuhn?

    [The Kung reference here is interesting.]

  7. Absit invidia says:

    The only real tangible paradigm shift is the explosion of traditional latin masses across the US. Meanwhile Francis’ real tangible results are the shuttering and demolitioning of post V2 churches everywhere with feminist ranks ruining the modern church.

  8. Mariana2 says:

    LOL. I trust that chagrin d’AL won’t dure toute la vie.

  9. robtbrown says:


    At least one of Kung’s books mentions paradigm shift, Theology for the Third Millenium. There might be others–Kung gas been accused of writing the same book over and over. Besides, his idea of the Third Millenium theology has more than a bit in common with liberal Protestant theology of the Nineteenth Century. The irony is that Kung’s theology generally considers the Historical Critical Method to have obliterated matters of faith and morals, and H-C method is systematic, thus prior to any paradigm shift.

    The idea of Paradigm Shift comes from the move from a Newtonian world to that of Einstein. The problem is that Newtonian Mechanics lends itself to paradigms while Einstein’s Relativity does not.

  10. Kennedy says:


    Many thanks. The date of publication of Third Millennium would fit in with the time frame when I attended his talk.

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