Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Plea for Genuine Love: Willing the Good of the Sinner

Recall an episode. Two Saints once walked the streets of Lystra. At their feet, a paralyzed man, a cripple from birth. He was handed this life of exterior woe! He asked for it not. He heard the glorious words of the Apostles, received them with faith; and one of the Saints, Paul, ministered unto him a genuine miracle, not a sham pronouncement of words. He said not, “Your sins are no sins.” He said, “Walk.” And the man walked.

Immediately the crowds gathered round to do Paul homage, and they worshiped him and Barnabus. Nowadays, one’s portrait makes a cover or two.

These saints, loving souls, knowing that this worship of mere men were an evil thing for them, knowing that by this worship they would be led astray, led even to hell for their misguided love of Apostles, pointed them away from themselves and to The Only One Who is Good. They bade them repent of their former way of life (Acts 14:8-18).

Let us learn from this ancient episode. The Saint’s good love of this poor man inadvertently caused scandal. Yes, scandal.

Scandal is leading someone astray by words or deeds. Some scandal is intended. Some is not. Unintended scandal cannot always be avoided. Witness this very deed! Intended scandal is Satanic. It is worse than fornication, worse than murder, worse than the unnatural sins.

The act of the Apostles was one of love and divine healing, yet without their intent it led men astray. The instant they observed the effect of this scandal, they immediately pointed out the error, having the man right before them. So quick they were to tear their very robes: We are only men! They exclaimed. Worship God and repent of your former ways in paganism. God hath wrought this, not we.

What must we learn from this episode? If we embrace some sinner whom no one had been embracing, who felt that communion with God would always be impossible, if we embrace such a man, so as to awaken him to God, to show him that God seeks him, …. If we do so and this poor wretch conceives in his mind that his sin is no longer sin, that his life is no longer hostile to God, that he has nothing of which to repent, that he can embrace his sin, identify with his sin, live in his sin, then we have scandalized this poor sinner.

If we love him, surely we intend no harm.

Lovers, we must therefore clarify for him immediately that this was not our intent, that he must repent, that sin is always an obstacle, that sin leads to damnation, that living in sin is worse than sin – for it approaches the impenitence of the damned, and that calling evil good and good evil is an abomination worse than all the above. For it is one thing to be a weak man aiming to do good but falling, when you are seduced by a woman. It is another to embrace an unnatural sin by oneself. It is yet another to defile both self and another in unnatural sin. It is yet another to carve out one’s being in the world by defining oneself according to this sin. It is finally the ultimate step when one wages war against one’s very mind – upon which shines the truth of the order of nature – and declares that what is sin is no sin and that what is right and just is rather sin. This last sin imitates Satan more than the unnatural lusts which cry out to heaven for vengeance.

 

Let us exhort ourselves to true love. Let each man say to himself:

O lover who has embraced sinners whom too few before embraced! O true lover: Love until the end (Jn 13:1). Do not let your beloved be led astray into the excrement of vile sin, where no life comes forth, where lies only “dung and death” (T.S. Eliot). Let him not descend into the raging pit of fire, the hell of sulfur in which he shall find “No hands, no limbs for pleasure, on earth that had such leisure.”

Now, if the sinner cites us, praises us, extols our embrace as the reason he can continue in his misdeeds…! Then, us has he misread

 

Let us exhort ourselves if this should happen.

Love, then, until the end. Even if he should turn and denounce you. You must pick up your Cross, O Man! For you are but dust yourself!

Pick up your Cross, O Man, and speak the whole truth plainly to him. Misread, your words cause him scandal. Mistaken, your embrace becomes his poison! Let your love, then, fulfill its good work. Bring it to completion. Preach to him the wickedness of his ways and the right understanding of mercy. Tell him of St. Paul’s stark warnings:

“Do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2)

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those committing unnatural sex acts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God”

If the man has not been washed, then let him be washed and cleansed in baptism. If he has been washed, let him come forward to Confession, do penance for his offenses.

Only then, O Lover, shall you have helped him to the good, that Good alone which will satisfy his heart.

But God forbid: Flatter yourself not. For the man yearns not for your embrace. He yearns for Truth’s Embrace. Mere words are vapid; they have sound but no health; letters, but they cannot heal; signs but no substance.

Why delay? Why delay? He is aged and aging. And our years are but seventy; eighty if we are strong!

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development and Sound Doctrinal Interpretation

Part 16

So, we must return to Scalfari’s report. It is a truism to say “God is not a Catholic.” It is a truism because it would be a total category mistake to think that “God is a Catholic”. What, is God, who is pure spirit, to be baptized with water? While the rejection of a statement that involves a category mistake is true, it is often not helpful.

Precisely because it would be a category mistake to say that God is Catholic, it is unhelpful to say that he is not.

The rejection is unhelpful because it can lead to an erroneous conclusion in the hearer’s mind. For one might hear “God is not Catholic” to mean that God did not establish the Catholic religion as the one true religion. If one embraces the statement and this meaning of it, one embraces heresy. For God did establish the Catholic religion as the one true religion.

And the most important matter for each of us is to hold what is true and reject what is false.

Thus, I return to my formulation of the principle behind the hermeneutic of continuity. Here is my formula: No Catholic has any excuse on earth – for whatever reason whatsoever – to reject any defined teaching of faith or any teaching of faith held infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium. Regardless of what you hear rumored about or rustling in the leaves, no matter what “interim document” you have read on whatever website or press report, no matter what opinions of whatever men you have heard: You have left the true faith and abandoned Christ if you use any statement from whomever or whatever source as reason to hold what contradicts dogma.

It is time to return to St. Paul’s formula: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached [past tense], let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8).

Paul is indicating the crucial second rule of dogmatic interpretation I laid down above. That rule is that dogmas can never be overturned. So, any proposal, dressed in the guise of “development,” that contradicts dogma, must be utterly rejected as false. We must ever keep in mind the dogmas, with the same meaning and judgment with which they were propounded. Whoever departs from them is a heretic. Whoever is a heretic loses membership in the Church. And no one who has not membership in the Church has authority over her.

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development and Sound Doctrinal Interpretation

Part 15

But what about the salvation of non-Catholics? This is the question I think most people have in mind. For there are some who really do hold that all religions are equal. But most people simply worry about non-Catholics being saved. It is a legitimate concern. What is the Church’s answer to this?

The individual who is outside the visible confines of the Church cannot be saved if he knows that Christ founded the Church as necessary for salvation and yet refuses to enter her or remain in her, the individual cannot be saved. The very act of refusing to enter or of leaving would constitute grave sin.

Similarly, the individual who is vincibly ignorant of the truth of the Catholic faith cannot be saved. One is “vincibly” ignorant if one’s free acting is responsible for one’s ignorance. For instance, if I neglect to inform myself as to what the good and true way of life is, if I simply devote myself to myself and my immediate pragmatic needs, then my ignorance of things religious is culpable. Therefore, I am accountable for not being in the Church if I have not pursued the truth of God with sufficient interest and care.

However, if the individual is invincibly ignorant of the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation, then he will not be condemned for not entering her. For God holds us accountable for those things about which we have free action. To say “invincibly” ignorant is to say that his own free acting is not responsible for his ignorance, either by neglect or by something else. Someone condemned in this state would be condemned for some sin, but not for not entering the Church. It could be, for instance, that such a one is tempted to sin and sins, yet has precious few means of being restored to God’s grace. After all, the Catholic himself who is serious about the life of faith will acknowledge that he is beset by sin; he can fall into mortal sin. This serious Catholic will admit, in self-knowledge, that if he should fall into mortal sin and not have the opportunity to receive the Sacraments, how difficult it would be for him to lean on God and love God above all things, a necessary condition for final salvation.

How wide the road and how easy that leads to condemnation, and how many there are who take it.

But the person invicibly ignorant of the necessity of the Catholic Church might be saved. If so, he is not saved by his religion, which as a whole is false and thus evil, but rather by the grace of God that works in his circumstances, if he cooperates with this grace.

 

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development and Sound Doctrinal Interpretation

Part 14

So, there is no argument from silence. Even if Pope Francis were to remain silent through all this confusion about marriage and sex, there is no argument anyone can make from this silence.

The truth is available. Read Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals; read the New Catechism. Read Sources of Catholic Dogma. Be informed and do not lose the faith.

But there is another strategy someone might employ. Someone might take an interview by Pope Francis as though it were a magisterial act.

But in fact, these interviews are not magisterial acts. They are merely “words of a pope,” at best. I say at best because many of them are also second hand reports of what the pope said. But interviews do not constitute magisterial acts. It is creeping infallibility to proclaim that they do. Thus, we cannot use these interviews to mount theological arguments.

Nor is the pope protected by Christ when he issues his own opinions about things. Then, he speaks for himself, as an individual man living in the world. But because he is the man charged to defend, guide, and feed the flock of Christ’s only Church, the Catholic Church, because he is the man, because even Protestants who find certain things Catholic to which they cannot consent – because even these have for centuries found in the Vicar of Christ a kind of anchor in the midst of secularization, liberalization, banalization, because his words have often defended Truth and Goodness, and denounced Evil and Heresy, these too find in him a crucial point of reference. Thus, Catholic or non-Catholic Christian look to the pope to feed them with truth in the proper season.

Thus it is that the eyes of all the world look on the man.

So it was that every news press in the world reported a certain interview of the pope with the atheist Scalfari (2013). Of the interview, Scalfari writes, “The most surprising thing he told me was: ‘God is not Catholic.’ I asked him what he meant, since he is the leader of the Catholic Church, and he told me that ‘God is universal, and we are catholic in the sense of the way we worship him.”

First to note, we have this statement second hand. We do not have it from the pope’s own pen.

What do people like to do with this statement? People like to say, “You see! God did not establish just one religion that is true, just the Catholic religion. Other religions are also true. They are also ways God has divinely laid out for people to come to him.”

But that is totally false. God has appointed only two identifiable religions in the history of the world. First, there was Judaism and its rites. Second, there is the Catholic Church and its rites. Judaism is fulfilled in the Catholic Church and no longer has any divine appointment apart from its fulfillment in the Catholic Church. Thus the only religion presently appointed by God is the Catholic religion. The Catholic Church is sent out to the world to preach the Gospel of Christ, to offer the means for union with Christ and attainment of final salvation, and to guide human acts towards this glorious end. The Catholic Church was sent out by Christ that he might seek and save all that is confused, lost, wandering, straying, helpless, starving, blind in the world.

There is no other divinely appointed religion.

Do other religions have grains of truth in them? Yes; it is not practically possible to have a large set of truth claims that are all false. Are there good elements in these other religions? In many of them, yes. Are these elements sufficient to make the religion as a whole good and salvific? No, they are not. For religions are just that, wholes. Though each religion has some truth in it and most religions have some good in them, yet as a whole, none but ancient Judaism and the Catholic religion can be called good. Why? Because the errors in other religions are at the service of lies. If one presents himself in the name of God, “I am a prophet; I come speaking for God,” and yet God has not appointed him, he is a liar. Thus, all religions that now claim divine appointment, except the Catholic religion, are false religions. Their package deal destroys, it does not raise up and heal, even if isolated elements within them can be true and good.

 

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development and Sound Doctrinal Interpretation

Part 13

What I have laid out in the previous twelve posts is relevant for a Catholic today. Someone might, for instance, take the apparent silence of Pope Francis on the Truth of Marriage, Sexuality, etc., as tacit acceptance of a revolution in Church doctrine.

Indeed, there are a number of bishops and theologians who wish to destroy the Catholic Church’s teaching, and hence the very Church of Christ, and hence the very face of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who reigns now at the right hand of the Father. They wish to re-configure the Church to their image. They wish to late the latest pseudo-magisterial utterance confuse the public, weaken the public, assist them in the overthrow of Truth Himself!

But these are renegades and revolutionaries. They are enemies. Traitors. Betrayers of innocent blood. For if blood is life, and if salvation, our life, is lost, by this confusion, then they are slaying innocent blood. Murdering innocent souls. Preying on the weak to fill up their measure of honor on earth, human honor, not to lose their precious German Religious Tax! Hounds for blood, not for life. Predators.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

And after their nine month trumpeting of their position, while all the world in silence waits, finally a noble shepherd, a true man after the lamb of God, Cardinal Burke, calls upon the Pope to speak up and once again reaffirm Catholic dogma on marriage and sex. Amen to this appeal from Cardinal Burke. Amen.

However, I would add one thing. It would be pastorally helpful, a true act of feeding the flock, for Pope Francis to make such a statement. The Pope urged us to ask bishops to feed us. We need his food now, for our practical solace, our encouragement, our vigor, our ability to carry our cross, our confidence in Truth as the dictatorship of relativism wages its mightiest against us.

However, in order for you and me to know the truth, such a papal statement is not necessary. It is not, for the teaching is already in place. It is dogma.

Thus, if we wait like deer in dry lands, weary, yearning for consolation and healing, if we wait for Pope Francis’s words to feed and encourage us, yet we wait not with any worry about the truth of the matter. We do not wait, in expectation that the truth could be overturned. It cannot.

Any real attempt, internal or external, by any Catholic official, explicitly to overturn the dogma of the Church would constitute the sin of heresy. Heresy entails the loss of the teaching office. Hence, no one could utter such a statement and continue to hold the office, but would lose it. And we would wait for competent authority to state that this is so.

It wouldn’t matter if the whole world went after such a statement, in hopes that all its lust and lascivious lifestyle were thereby affirmed. None of that would matter.

Those who hear the voice of the Shepherd would know not to heed the voice of heresy.

Our Lord declares, “The sheep follow him [the true shepherd], for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (Jn 10:4f).

All shepherds must come through the one shepherd, must heed his voice, must follow his way, must embrace His Truth. All who do not are thieves and robbers (v. 8). “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10).

In the face of the thieving wolf, the raging dragon, the good shepherd lays down his life.

But in the face of the thieving wolf, the hireling flees.

Let us not leave our posts or our faith. Let us pray for the Victory of Truth in the midst of this confusing synod, the confusion of which is no doubt wreaking havoc in people’s lives.

But those who are being confused are perhaps vincibly ignorant. God knows who they are. Those who have long wished for ears to be tickled. These are now being tickled, even deceived. No wonder that “God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false” by his permissive will. No wonder; this is so that “all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess 1:11), words very well chosen by the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development and Sound Doctrinal Interpretation

Part 12

Of course, it is absurd to use the “words of one who subsequently became pope”. But some people sloppily do this as well. Before he was no pope, obviously none of his words can be papal. But people still cite the “early so-and-so” as though we should read that text because of its authority. Rather, if anything is good in the text, keep it; if anything is unworthy, reject it.

For instance, people will refer to Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla, the later Pope St. John Paul II. Or, people will refer to Introduction to Christianity by Josef Ratzinger, the later Benedict XVI.

But these works should be judged for their theological merits or demerits. They must not be confused with Magisterial teachings.

In practice, it is good to say, “Karol Wojtyla” or “Joseph Ratzinger,” etc., instead of “Pope John Paul II” when referring to these texts.

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development and Sound Interpretation of Doctrine

Part 11

Another example illustrating the importance of already being informed by the Tradition when reading recent texts.

In Ut Unum Sint, John Paul identifies some areas in need of fuller study and dialogue before non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communions can enjoy full communion with the Catholic Church. He indicates first of all: “The relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God,” art. 79.

Let’s say theologian “Gary” reads this text and concludes that Sacred Tradition is important only for the interpretation of the Word of God. Further, Gary concludes that Sacred Scripture is to be identified with the Word of God. Finally, Gary concludes that Sacred Tradition is not to be identified with the Word of God but to have a role simply as an aid in its interpretation.

Gary’s big argument is an argument from silence. Because John Paul did not explicitly add other things, Gary contends, we can reject these other things. This argument for silence puts a big burden on the pope. If he doesn’t repeat everything, we must reject what he leaves out! That’s a burden, because the pope is bound to submit to the Deposit of Faith. He has no authority over it. He is its servant. Thus, if Gary is right, the pope has to repeat everything. But that is absurd. Therefore, Gary is out to lunch.

But we should not worry about Gary. We should ask, What, in fact, is the constant doctrine of the Church? That’s what we need to know, above all. What is the Catholic Truth?

First, Trent is very clear. The Word of God—promulgated above all by Jesus—is found both in Scripture and in Tradition. Vatican I confirms this teaching of Trent. Finally, Vatican II confirms the teaching of both Vatican I and Trent.

Vatican II teaches, “Tradition transmits in its entirely the Word of God…” (Dei verbum, art. 9). That is, every truth of Revelation is present in the Tradition. That is, the Tradition has real content. Thus, contra Gary, Tradition is not merely useful for the interpretation of the Word of God. It contains all the truths in the Word of God. This is important to keep in mind, lest, like Gary, we read Ut Unum Sint and come to think erroneously that Tradition is not the Word of God but rather is merely a help in its interpretation.

Second, Vatican II reiterates Trent’s teaching that both Scripture and Tradition are to be “accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence,” art. 9. Since “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God,” art. 10, we should not, like Gary, say that only Scripture has the “highest authority”. The Word of God has the highest authority and its two witnesses are Scripture and Tradition. If Tradition transmits the entire Word of God, as Vatican II teaches, it too enjoys this highest authority.

Finally, the fathers at Vatican II left unanswered the following question: Are there any truths found in Tradition that are not found in Scripture. They chose not to answer this question. Thus, one can still maintain that Tradition holds truths that Scripture does not. In such case, Scripture cannot be identified with the Word of God; whereas Tradition transmits this Word in its entirety! This is where Vatican II leaves us.

But then again, Vatican II also teaches: “By means of the same Tradition the full canon of the sacred books is known to the Church,” art. 8. Now, one could argue that the knowledge about what constitutes the canon of sacred books is an element in the deposit of faith. But this element cannot compellingly be present in the Scriptures, as Vatican II implies that it actually is not. Hence, Vatican II points in the direction of stating that the Tradition, but not Scripture itself, gives us the knowledge what the canon is. If that knowledge is an element of the deposit, which I think it is, then Tradition contains one truth that Scripture does not.

When we read Ut Unum Sint, we should know these things, those that are certain and those that are importantly probable. We cannot map our journey accurately if we do not read the Tradition!

Above all, in connection with things ecumenical, it is necessary to have the rock solid foundation laid by Pius XI of immortal memory in his superb encyclical Mortalium Animos, which I recommend most highly.

So, in a nutshell, we cannot let theologians such as Gary argue from silence that we have “left behind” some dogmas. Our response: No dogma left behind!

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development

Part 10

What is the point in these examples? The point is that in order to remain in the bosom of the faith, one needs to do more than simply read recent documents. A fortiori the point is that one needs to be informed about whether or not statements are authoritative or not.

That is, there are two basic principles that should guide our interpretation of dogma. One rule is that more precise statements issued recently should be our proximate norm for reading less precise, older statements. That is, when a more recent pronouncement is more precise than an older pronouncement, losing nothing of the content of the older pronouncement but in fact adding further precision, organically developing the past, then this recent pronouncement should be our guide about the past statement.

There is a second rule: Never leave behind any element whatsoever of dogma already defined. A sub-rule is: Always base less authoritative recent statements on solidly, i.e., long-, established teaching (and a fortiori on dogma). The second rule is of supreme importance whenever a recent statement is not clearly a precision of the past. If the recent statement is a “new mode of discourse”, a “new way of putting things”, etc. In such cases, the language is not common to the past and the recent pronouncement. One must ever retain the full truth asserted in the older dogmatic formula. One must not abandon a well-established older teaching on account of a passing, less authoritative but recent statement.

In short, one needs to be grounded in the Constant Tradition above all.

Being thus grounded, one can remain in the bosom of the faith. If something reported in the news contradicts the Tradition, one must know that the Tradition remains the measure. We must not reject the Tradition because of news.

Spe salvi illustrates the importance of the second rule. If I read Spe salvi and come away thinking that Catholics should believe that we cannot merit heaven, I have gone astray. I have left the faith. I have objectively committed heresy. Perhaps I did so unwittingly; hence, I am not formally a heretic because I was ignorant of the Tradition.

But we are meant to be informed about the Tradition. We ought to be informed about the Tradition. In fact, in the measure that I have the leisure to read recent Magisterial statements, I have the obligation to be proportionately formed by the Constant Tradition. That way I will know the dogmas according to the measure God has given me. Since this is an obligation proportionate to my capacity and circumstances, I should not claim to be “invincibly ignorant”. Rather, I should be informed.

For this reason I highly recommend buying Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. I believe there is also a paper edition (the link is to the hardback).

I will return to this basic exhortation a number of posts from now.

In order to impress the importance of being informed and not running merely with the latest statements, I will recommence my series on reasons to be formed by the Tradition when reading Magisterial texts of the past 50 years or so.

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development

 

Part 9

So, we are left with the task of coming to a right understanding of Pope Benedict’s meaning. What was he getting at?

He was teaching us that in order to merit, we depend upon God’s prior offer of grace and his ever offered, freely-given help to pilgrim man. Also, he was teaching us that God is more generous than our merits deserve. Also, he was teaching us that we should not understand merit in an impersonal or merely contractual sense. Because he, Pope Benedict XVI, took the term “merit” in this statement to mean “merely impersonal or contractual, self-interested claim on a payment,” he rejected it. And the term so understood should be rejected. I think Thérèse rejected it thus understood in her own way.

Sadly, however, this is not the real meaning of merit. To reject this caricature of merit is fine, but one should explicitly uphold the reality of merit truly understood. Hence, this citation is unfortunate. The Constant and Universal Tradition of Holy Mother Church employs the term merit with regard to our attainment of glory. And the Council of Trent dogmatically declared that we indeed merit. Now, if one is to maintain the language and understanding of the Church, one would have no problem in affirming merit. However, if one changes the meaning of the term, or fails to follow the language of the Church’s tradition as affirmed by the Church herself in her infallible decree on merit, one can easily invite confusion. It is a discipline for a pope to follow the traditional mode of expression. He submits to it and adheres to it.

Of course, one also wants to communicate to the public and to a contemporary audience which is not necessarily discipling the Church’s teaching. Thus, the recent mode of discourse in the Magisterium is to employ new terms and new approaches. However, we are all bound, the Pope as well as the lowly lay person receiving First Communion, to affirm all the dogmas the Church has ever proclaimed. I think that the key problem here is poor communication.

Poor communication: In wanting to reach out to a contemporary audience, especially one that is wider than Catholic, one uses terms differently than does the Tradition. That allows the pope to reach some who otherwise would not be reached. However, this can leave Catholics in the dark for a while, because he thereby fails to point out that this is not a denial of the Tradition. Were it a denial of the Tradition, he would be a heretic and lose the papal office. Since the Magisterium has been laboring to reach out to all men, it has not done as good a job at communicating in house to the actual members of the Church, Catholics. Then, in the interval between this charity and this lack, rebel theologians come in to plunder the very Tradition!

How should merit be understood? What would be a way to bring together the Tradition – which never errs – with the contemporary concerns? As follows, briefly. (I am not treating merit as such but only as an example of what perverse things someone can do with papal words.) We should see merit as the truth in the order of justice between friends who love each other. For, in inviting and equipping us, God is as the lover who awakens his beloved. God remaining faithful to this awakening invitation, it were unjust for him to reject his beloved after she embraces him in love! It were unjust for God to awaken love and then to leave it unconsoled. It were unjust for God to draw you to him only to leave you in the dark, though you embraced him and love him! Merit is the word that indicates the justice entailed in the invitation to love. Hence, merit and love are by no means antithetical.

Pope Benedict’s concerns about misinterpretations are all reasonable, crucial.

However, it remains unfortunate that the citation as such leaves the rebel theologians a “crumb” by which to mount an anti-dogmatic argument.

But against all these rebels, we must resolutely reject all “hermeneutic of discontinuity”.

I would like to formulate the rejection of the hermeneutic of rupture this way: “Anyone who takes any papal word or word of a pope in such a way as to embrace what is contrary to the Deposit of Faith is a heretic.”

Positively put: “There can be no justification to take any papal word or word of a pope as a reason to reject any element of the Deposit of Faith.”

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development

Part 8

Today, an example of people, with an evil intent, using “papal words” in an improper manner in order to subvert the Tradition. A theologian today who is desirous of the union of Lutherans and Catholics can mischievously misuse the following citation from Pope Benedict XVI in order to reject Catholic Dogma:

“And we cannot—to use the classical expression—’merit’ Heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something “merited”, but always a gift. However, even when we are fully aware that Heaven far exceeds what we can merit, it will always be true that our behaviour is not indifferent before God and therefore is not indifferent for the unfolding of history” (Spe salvi, art. 35).

The theologian maintains: Pope Benedict has authoritatively declared that “We cannot merit heaven through our works.” He points out that Luther agrees. He concludes: Therefore, we can once again be united in one faith.

But this is facile nonsense. The theologian is taking an isolated statement from Pope Benedict, which would have a low level of authority in itself considered as such, and pits it against Catholic Dogma, which cannot be subverted by anyone except under pain of heresy and automatic excommunication.

This theologian has gone astray, done a disservice to you and me, to Pope Benedict, and to the Lutherans.

When we want dogma on justification and merit, we go to Trent. Nothing that comes after Trent can water Trent down or minimize it, much less deny it! Let us read what Trent has to say:

 “If anyone says that the good works of the justified man are the gifts of God in such a way that they are not also the good merits of the justified himself, or that the justified person himself—in the good works which are wrought by him through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ of whom he is a living member—does not truly merit an increase in grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life (if he dies in grace) and even an increase in glory: let him be anathema” (Trent VI, canon 32).

This canon leaves absolutely no wiggle room. One can thus find Pope Benedict’s expression unfortunate. It was a poorly turned phrase because it appears to contradict Trent. So, if Pope Benedict actually intended the phrase to contradict Trent, he would have become a heretic and forfeited the papacy at that point. But that was not his intention. His statement should be read in a higher light, and his own words give us the hermeneutical key to do this.