From a reader…
I have become increasingly convinced by those who say that Pope Benedict XVI purposefully performed an invalid resignation of the papacy.
Does this belief potentially place me in a state of serious sin? I do not besmirch Francis and largely keep these thoughts to myself.
I know that ideally I simply would adopt some medieval peasant piety and worry only about my own prayer life and soul and not Church politicking, but now that the “Genie is out of the bottle” so to speak, I am finding it very hard to put it back.
I am not going to get into the arguments on either side of the issue. Personally, I am carefully weighing what I read. What I can say is this in general terms.
Writing about his struggle with the Anglican Church and his conversion to the Catholic Faith St. John Henry Newman wrote in his Apologia, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” He is writing about doctrine, but it applies also to the issue at hand. Let’s see the context with some emphases.
Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of Religion; I am as sensitive of them as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and yet borne in upon our minds with most power.
Sorting out the arguments about the resignation of Benedict, though they touch on the theological, ecclesiological reality of the Petrine Ministry and the indefectibility of the Church as guaranteed by Christ, are really juridical issues. That doesn’t make them unimportant, but it shifts our questioning into a different category. As Newman wrote, above, there is a difference between the annoyance we can have in struggling to understanding God and in understanding a mathematical problem. It seems to me that this is more a math kind of problem than a God kind of problem.
The effects of Original Sin force us to struggle with vexing questions in the tangle of our minds. However, we also have the help of proper authorities (e.g., forebears, experts, Scripture, the Magisterium, etc.). Our task is made more complicated when our questions concern authority’s authority, not whether some authority is doing a good job or not, but if it is indeed proper authority. In most cases we are argue the rightness and wrongness of something on its merits. But when rightness also flows from an office, and when the legitimacy of the office itself is in question, we are in a hard place.
At this point I want to bring in another point upon which is anchored our traditional Act of Faith: “O my God, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three divine persons, Father, Son … Thou hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.”
Let us also attend to the Apostle to the Gentiles, writing to the Galatians: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption. But he that soweth in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap life everlasting.”
As I said before, we struggle with certain questions in the tangle of our minds even as we make use of authority.
We had better be pretty sure about our motives if we are going to raise questions or even perhaps stand firm against something which seems to most people to be clear. And the more important the issue, the more urgently, unswervingly we must test ourselves.
Sincere questions are not sins. Still in the matter of doctrine, there is a distinction between doubts which are involuntary and doubts which are voluntary.
The CCC 2088 distinguishes, “hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity” (CCC 2088) from what arises when you “disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief.”
That has to do with articles of Faith. I think we have to apply this also to the less doctrinal and more juridical issue of Benedict’s resignation. One can have questions and doubts and then, with complete sincerity, struggle to work them out, seek answers now from here now from there, looking at all possible angles with honest appraisal while seeking wise authority’s help.
On the other hand, it is also possible to engage in subtle self-deception, by a reluctance or maybe even stubborn refusal to consider the other side of the question. That kind of voluntary doubt is an attack on truth. An attack on truth is an attack on God and is sinful.
There are a lot of smart people on both sides of the questions that surround Benedict’s abdication. They deserve a respectful hearing. I’ve heard good arguments on both sides. Most of them seem to be trying sincerely to get to THE TRUTH of the matter. Some have come down on one side because they simply don’t like Francis. That’s not a good enough reason. Others are really drilling. They have to be taken seriously.
There is something tangibly diabolical in the way that this has all transpired, which is evident from the obvious division and distress that is swelling in the Church in many sectors.
It is particularly distressing that the very office Christ created within the Church, the Petrine Ministry, intended to be a focal point of unity and a source of certainty, has become, in both respects, less unifying and less calming than the other popes of this century and of the last.
Whatever it is that do with your questions or doubts or convictions, test them and do not engage in any self-deception. God is not mocked and God cannot be deceived. God knows you better than you know yourself. God is closer to you than you are to yourself.
Finally, if you sense that you might be placing yourself in a state of spiritual peril by getting into these matters, then put them aside.
Frankly, I am not convinced that we are going to be able to sort out your question any time soon and that the troubling effects of the doubts will continue to grow for sometime, at least until the end of this pontificate. But remember always that hundreds of generations of Catholics went through their whole lives hardly even knowing the name of the current Pope. They lived and died in their Catholic vocations and now enjoy the bliss of heaven barely aware of the concrete details of the papacy or the Roman Curia or maybe even who the bishop was, since often the bishop resided far away even from the diocese.
We don’t have to know every little thing that goes on. There is a sin called curiositas. We humans by nature desire to know things. But when that desire becomes immoderate, for the sake of the knowledge of things itself rather than for the good that can come from knowledge, we stray into the realm of sin. It may be better for many people to “fast” and “abstain” from current Church news, lest the taste of that which titillates the palate of the new, the now, the scoop and skinny draws us into dwelling on questions that none of us can solve, at least with speed and ease.
You yourself must police your conscience in these matters. When it comes to your topic, what could be sinful for one, might be still sound for another.
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