Monthly Archives: October 2014

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development

Part 7

Today I can relate an example of attempt to argue for a position from “words of a pope”. In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II muses about the possibility whether “all may be saved”. As a matter of fact, his musing is more careful than many make it out to be. He also speaks of the “terrifying character” of the “two groups” in Mt 25, the sheep and the goats. Thus, it is not as though he simply and explicitly embraces the hope unequivocally. However, on the other hand, he does muse about the possibility that all men may be saved, and he wonders about our having a hope for this.

The theologian chiefly behind the idea of such a hope is Hans Urs von Balthasar. I have written a piece challenging each of his arguments for this hope, especially his soteriology. You can find my piece “Balthasar’s Delirious Hope” here. The soteriological mechanics Balthasar draws on are erroneous: e.g., the idea that someone already damned can finally “break” or “repent”; or, the idea that “sin is a reality” (an existing reality, as opposed to a privation of due good in human action); or, the idea that Jesus “removes” this “reality sin” from you so that unless you identify yourself with sin you will be saved; or, the idea that there are no predictive lists of damned in Jesus’ statements but only “warnings about possibilities”; etc.

A pastor should also size up the pastoral side-effects of a theory. Balthasar and others (rightly) caution about painting too bleak a picture because it can lead people to despair. This is a good warning; we must not arouse despair. We must arouse for each living pilgrim a deep hope in Divine Mercy. Amen to that. However, we must also caution about arousing false optimism. A cavalier attitude. Yet, this attitude is exactly what the present world is swimming in. People in the western countries think that “all shall be well” when they die. Thus, they euthanize themselves; they do not heed the law of God; they think that things will “finally get better”. Maybe they won’t! Purgatory’s heating system is just about the same as hell’s. And from hell no one escapes, contra false hopes.

Back to the opening topic. Come who call on John Paul II as an authority in this matter of “hope for all” do so with a blurred distinction between “words of a pope” and “papal words”. But we must be clear: Crossing the Threshold is not an authoritative text. Therefore, one cannot make an argument from Magisterial authority by this text.

But someone might say, “OK. So it is not authoritative; still, these are words of a saint.” True enough. But that is just one saint. There are hundreds of saints who are very clear not only that “some” are damned but that many are damned. In fact, if we weigh the evidence, this is what we get. A handful of saints propose universal salvation; and the rest propose the opposite. Now, let’s look at those who propose universal salvation. Gregory of Nyssa was one. His theory was in fact adamant “apokatastasis,” everyone including the devil will be saved. Well, that theory is a heresy. So much so that embarrassed fans of Gregory “altered” some of his texts to reflect a different view. But we must admit that Gregory made a mistake on this issue. Then we have a few saints whose writings are ambiguous. Then we have Saint John Paul II. But I would cite against him a saint of mercy whom he canonized, St. Faustina. She states:

“These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners” (Diary of St. Faustina, 741)?

I would suggest that John Paul II’s musing in his non-authoritative Crossing the Threshold was a terrible mistake. I consider this musing as little to be emulated as is his drinking from a pagan chalice at Assisi. That was a scandalous act. Saints make mistakes.

At the end of the day, in my opinion, the idea that we might hope that “all men” may be saved is really an insane delusion captivating contemporary Catholics. It is thinking very abstractly, not concretely. For I can humanly relate to you and to my relatives, my family, my friends, my known enemies, to each person I encounter, and then vaguely to “other people”. If X is a living person of whom I know, I can have humanly a divine hope for his salvation. If X is a dead person of whom I know, I can have humanly a divine hope that he died well and is being purified in purgatory. But to lump the “all” together is so abstract, so contrary to Scripture, so contrary to the constant mind of the Church as evidenced in her documents, that it seems to me an insanity to be up at night wondering whether “all” are actually saved. Rather, better to worry about the day and the day’s evil, to offer up one’s little crosses, to plead for mercy of conversion for the living.

Moreover, except for the few people out there who are so unbelievably noble that they entertain a “real fear” for their own damnation while entertaining “good hope” that every human person shall be saved – and there are those who claim to fit this category, with all humility – except for these rare birds, I think that most people who hear about this “possibility” strike up a smile and go on with their lives, saying, “Of course! God would not damn anyone. He is love. That’s silly to think we could go to hell.” And they go on, indulging in porn, or a carefree life, paying mild attention to God Almighty in their lives. In short, they live idolatrous lives and “justify” themselves because of an insane hope.


Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development

Part 6

Rebels pay no attention to this distinction between “papal words” and “words of a pope.” Why? Because blurring this distinction is a powerful way for them to confuse the faithful and the public. They take non-authoritative words which seemingly or out of context undermine the Tradition and use them to do just this. The “lay faithful” who are loyal to the Pope and who have a faulty notion of papal authority – it’s called “creeping infallibility” – will imbibe the venom of these rebel vipers because they (the laity) are unaware that these words are non-authoritative.

“Creeping infallibility” is the error of putting more authority into a statement than is there. This can happen when “words of a pope” (which have no authority) are taken as being “papal words”. This can also happen when “papal words” are seen as having more authority than they actually have. Especially is this the case when people think that whatever the pope says is infallible. All of these are errors; to practice them is not to be a loyal Catholic.

The recent rebels are using “Creeping infallibility” in order to (attempt to) undermine the Constant Faith of the Church. They know that many laity are upset about dissent and cling to the hierarchy’s every word. Well, the rebels use that attitude, which in its origins is good but in its manifestation is carried away with itself, in order to subvert the actual teachings of the Magisterium.

They’ll take any statement they can—words of a pope or papal words—and use it to reject the Constant Tradition.

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development

Part 5

Next, one should take stock of the strategies employed by rebels. Rebel theologians do not hold fast to the Tradition. Rather, they lie in wait for an opportunity to reject it. They will use any means they can. What many of them find useful is a casual statement by a Church authority which, on its surface or taken out of context, appears to overthrow the Tradition. Thus, these venomous rebels pounce on a badly turned or out of context phrase and use it to gut the very heart of the faith.

In order to find these phrases, they scour all the papal words and even the “words of a pope” (on the phrase “words of a pope”, see some of these posts: here and here) until they find just the right ones which, especially taken out of context, appear to support their case. They don’t care whether these are “words of a pope” or “papal words”. Now, “words of a pope” are not authoritative; they are private expressions of thought which the pope, a public figure, allows the public to hear. Examples of “words of a pope” are the following: (1) personal books (which have no authority), for example John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope. These may be of interest but they are not papal words; they are not authoritative, not acts of the Magisterium. Pope Benedict’s Jesus volumes also belong to this category. (2) Interviews also are not acts of the Magisterium; they have no authority. In an era of ever increasing social communications, the number of these seems to increase. (3) Personal musings also have no authority. John Paul once said in passing, “Even if I wanted to ordain women, I couldn’t.” We is correct about the second clause: “I couldn’t”. However, one can readily regret him even putting the matter as he did in the first clause “Even if I wanted to”. In other words, “Even if I wanted to reject Christ’s Church.” Well, one might argue that this is not a fruitful way of putting it; after all, he simply wished to be a loyal disciple. The “supposition” seems to split his personal activity and his papal activity in two. And indeed, the very fact that in the past few pontificates there has been much “personal activity” that is not papal activity could perhaps be imprudent. Many will find it “wonderful” that the pope shares his private opinions. However, it remains the case that he is Peter. Therefore, for him to “take a break” and express private opinions is for him to act outside his role of Peter. This can cause a diminished appreciation of the actual authority Peter does have when he acts as Peter.

By contrast, “papal words” do have authority. These are found in actual doctrinal texts or official means of teaching.

Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development

Part 4

Are there not similar kinds of disingenuous notions of dogmatic development today? Are there not sundry theologians, priests, and even bishops and cardinals, defending a notion of dogmatic development that would water down or minimize foundational dogmas of the past? Granted, these more recent strategists are clever; they are doing this in various ways; mostly by dodging dogma all together and focusing on “pastoral practice.” At any rate, they are throwing the faithful into confusion.

But we need to tell ourselves: “Be not confused!” Be Not Confused!

If in the face of a geopolitical threat, John Paul II had to urge us “Be not afraid!” today, in the face of a worldwide disorientation on a spiritual or religious plane, we now need the words, “Be not confused!

We must equip ourselves to avoid confusion. I have ever recommended, as of first importance, learning the dogmas of the faith. Read genuine treatments of these dogmas. I highly recommend Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. The book is old, to be sure; 60 years old. However, no new dogma has been taught since that book was released. Thus, you will not be missing any new dogma if you learn that text. To be sure, there are further doctrinal developments, short of dogmas, that you will also want to learn. The New Catechism can help supplement your knowledge in these other areas. The Ott text is also very accessible.


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

Part 3

There is a classic example of a perverse attempt of theologians to water down or alter Church dogma in the name of “development”. Consideration of this treacherous strategy shows us the importance of ever heeding the glorious declaration of Vatican I that dogma once defined stands forever, with the same meaning and the same sense.

Those who pretend to be faithful but really water down previous dogma, and do so in the name of a later statement or idea, are not true serving Christ well. At best, they think merely as men and oppose his Cross; at worst, they are his real enemies, even if, especially if, they reside within her bosom.

After the Council of Chalcedon, a certain group of “Neo-Nestorians” attempted to defend Nestorian ideas. Chalcedon, as we saw, defended the two natures of Christ. Well, the Neo-Nestorians used this defense of truth against the monophysites to deny an earlier dogma—that of Ephesus. The monophysites claimed that in Jesus there is only one nature; they misunderstood the teaching of Ephesus, which defined the dogma of one hypostasis, one person, in Christ. Ephesus had condemned Nestorianism. The Nestorians proposed that “The Christ” was a tag team of two agents, God the Son of the Father and Jesus the son of Mary. Thus, the Nestorians denied the very incarnation. Ephesus totally rejected Nestorianism and defined that Jesus is but one person, the divine Son of God.

Now, Chalcedon condemned monophysitism but did not give license to Nestorianism, which Ephesus eternally condemned. But after Chalcedon, the Neo-Nestorians attempted to dodge the foundation laid at Ephesus in the name of the spirit of the recent council at Chalcedon. The Neo-Nestorians tried to re-introduce two persons into Christ, with fancy intellectual decorations “disguising” their heresy. (Wolves in sheep’s clothing.)

They caused great confusion in the Church. Decades and decades went by of great confusion. Finally, the Church – ever slow to move – condemned these Neo-Nestorians as heretics at Constantinople II. This council reiterated the foundational doctrine of Ephesus: one hypostasis, one person in Christ, while reaffirming as well the doctrine of two natures defined at Chalcedon.

All of this teaches us important lessons for our times. We must be ever wary about those false prophets who proclaim a development of dogma when in fact they are pushing the revolutionary overthrow of Catholic Faith.

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

An example of a later dogma simply furthering a previous dogma, simply making explicit what was earlier left implicit, is the movement from Chalcedon to III Constantinople.

At Chalcedon, it was defined that Jesus is “consubstantial with us according to his humanity, and consubstantial with the Father according to his deity”. Nothing was said definitively about Jesus’ “wills”. However, if Jesus has the same humanity that we have, he surely has a human will. Likewise, if he has the same deity as the Father, he surely has a divine will. So, the implication of Chalcedon was that Jesus has two wills. However, this was unstated at that council. It was only at Constantinople III. This glorious council, which with the approval of the Popes who ratified it preserved the Church from the heresy that was given shelter by the profane treachery of by Pope Honorius, condemned as a heretic, explicitly defined the dogma of two wills. So, we can read Chalcedon in light of Constantinople III because the latter is a precision in the same mode of discourse.

However, sometimes those who want to “run with the latest statement” are really trying to evade the constant Tradition. They use a recent statement in order to justify a rupture from the Tradition. This is nothing short of revolution within the Church. It is cancerous heresy. It is to pretend that one is defending development when in fact one is defending perversion. An ancient example of this next time.

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

Part 1

Interpretation of Magisterial statements can be a delicate task. Pius XII lays down a common principle: Interpret the older statements in light of the new. This makes sense when the newer statement makes more precise what the older statement left implicit or imprecise.

When the mode of discourse is the same, as it was in Pius XII’s day, this principle is a solid rule of thumb.

Note however, that even when the mode of discourse is the same, this rule of thumb must be balanced by another principle, enunciated at Vatican I: That once a dogma is defined, all must ever confess that same dogma, in the same sense, and in the same understanding with which it was first defined. Thus, there can be no pretext of “watering down” or “tweaking” an earlier dogma. No pretext on earth could ever justify either of these things: No alteration, no minimization! Semper Idem as a great 20th century theologian used to say: Always the same.

Thus, we must keep these two principles carefully in mind. Of course, if the newer statement is but a precision of an older statement, then it presents no threat to the older statement. Thus, a newer precision simply unfolds and organically develops the germ in the older statement. The same truth is held, but a deeper insight is found.