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.