Thursday, May 29, 2014

Basil Loftus denies the infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium

St Vincent of Lerins
Last weekend (25th May 2014) Mgr Basil Loftus presented his readers with another confection of crafty confusion. First, he assures us that he beleives in infallibility. But it would appear that this is understood as applying only to Papal definitions of doctrines ex cathedra, exercises of the 'Extraordinary Magisterium'. He ignores the question of the infallibilty, also part of the Extraordinary Magisterium, of the anathemas of General Councils; there's no telling what he thinks about that. But as far as the Papal Magisterium is concerned, without a decree like the one defining the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Our Lady, Loftus thinks there is no infallibility: as with contraception.

'Where such doubt [sc. that infallibility has been invoked] does exist, infallibility is not relevant to the argument. And it certainly exists in the case of Humanae Vitae. How else could Cardinal Walter Kaspar have said this month: "The Church is clearly not against birth-control at all"? Outwith the formulas of dogmatic definitions, such as of the Assumption, it is difficult to see where and when and how such certainty can be acquired that infallibility has been invoked.'

As is always the case with Loftus, one falsehood is hidden inside another. One is what Cardinal Kasper actually said. Loftus is quoting a radio interview, and no one has produced a full transcript (though you can listen to the whole thing here); nevertheless the key passage is this:

Kasper: “Well, the Church is not against birth control at all. … It’s about the methods of birth control. … I do not want to enter into this characteristic…how they have to do it. It’s their personal conscience and their personal responsibility.

It is perfectly evident that, while Cardinal Kasper did not want to be drawn into a discussion of the details of the teaching, his remark 'the Church is not against birth control' means nothing more than 'the Church does not prevent people limiting their family size: certain methods of doing this are licit'. He clearly has Natural Family Planning in mind. He doesn't want to say more. In the context of an interview that is understandable; once you get onto condoms you can never get off the subject again. Perhaps there is a hint also that there can be a gap between the Church's teaching and what people actually do, in conscience: however that is a way of avoiding a denial of Church teaching, not of making a denial of it. Whatever more complicated views Cardinal Kasper may turn out to have, Loftus' selective quotation is entirely dishonest.

The other falsehood is about the nature of infallibilty. The teaching of Humanae Vitae is infallible, not because of the authority of the document in which it is contained - an encyclical, as opposed to an ex cathedra decree - but because it reiterates the constant teaching of the Church, and the constant teaching of the Church is infallible. The Pope has the gift of picking out and clarifying the constant teaching of the Church, the 'Ordinary and Universal Magisterium', and in doing so we find passages, in encyclicals, like this.

Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 14, on abortion and contraception:
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. 
Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

St John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 62, on abortion:
Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishopswho on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrineI declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

St John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4, on the ordination of women:
Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

These are infallible statements, as St John Paul makes particularly clear, on the basis not of the Extraordinary Magisterium but the Ordinary Magisterium. Since the last of these statements continued to be contradicted on the basis that it was not clearly infallible, its status was clarified by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Ratzinger, as follows.

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

What Loftus does not want his readers to understand is that it is above all the Church which is infallible. The Pope and the Councils exercise 'extraordinary' acts of infallibility from time to time, but it not necessary for them to reaffirm in this way every single thing which the Church teaches. It becomes necessary, generally speaking, only when heresy has disturbed the Faithful and the teaching is being denied, or, less often, when, as with the Immaculate Conception, the necessary connection between what was understood by all since forever and the theological consequences of that, need to be made explicit and clear to everyone. The fact that the Church has never, ever, allowed contraception, abortion, or the ordination of women, and that these things have been condemned every time they have been proposed, by every kind of council and by innumerable Popes, tells us enough. The Church has spoken. If it needs reiterating, the Pope can do so, by his special gift and duty of 'confirming the brethren', through an ordinary encyclical letter.

The idea that, unless nailed down by the Extraordinary Magisterium, no theological proposition can be regarded as beyond doubt by Catholics, is dizzying. As Loftus would be the first to point out, the number of propositions nailed down in this way is very limited, even if you include (what he ignores), the anathemas of General Councils. No: we don't have to back up every assertion that 'the Church teaches X' with a reference to the Canons of the Council of Trent or of Lateran IV. We can just say: this is the constant teaching of the Church. To deny it is to put yourself outside the Church. St Vincent of Lerins (d.445) expressed it in a way which has ever since been regarded as definitive:

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.


  1. Anonymous11:45 pm

    How irrational of Monsignor Loftus. Man, as created by God, is naturally rational and capable of recognising human acts that are intrinsically evil, such as contraception, which is an attack against God, marriage and the family. It is not necessary that Our Lord have listed every example of grave sin and for it to have been recorded in the Bible. Neither is it necessary for the Magisterium to make an explicit declaration where the evil of a particular act clearly follows as a matter of reason from the nature of man and Revelation.

    1. Lynda,
      Neither you nor Joseph Shaw are affirming the ex cathedra dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus, defined by three Church Councils. Here is one of them.

      Pope Eugene IV, Cantate Domino (1441): "The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the "eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41), unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church."-, Wikipedia, extra ecclesiam nulla salus

      Neither are both of you affirming Vatican Council II in accord with this dogma on exclusive salvation in the Catholic Church.Here are relevant passages.

      Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism(124) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church.-Lumen Gentium 14

      Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church's preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself "by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door.-Ad Gentes 7

      Here is Dominus Iesus making the same point in the Ordinary Magisterium.

      Above all else, it must be firmly believed that “the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door”. This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); “it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation”.- Dominus Iesus 20

      So when you both do not affirm the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus in accord with Vatican Council II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (845,846) this is the same position as Cardinal Walter Kaspar and Monsignor Basil Loftus.

  2. "Mgr Basil Loftus presented his readers with another confection of crafty confusion" Nothing new here.

  3. Personally, I decided some five years back to give up reading the Catholic Times, or whatever it is called? because I was absolutely fed up with Basil and his inanities.

    If he does deny the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, then he is guilty of Heresy. if that is his considered opinion after reflection or whatever, that Heresy is Formal. He has incurred excommunication.

    As such, he should not be writing for a so-called "Catholic " paper, since that paper is complicit in the Heresy.

  4. I have often had discussions with Catholics of a "liberal" persuasion. It is amazing how many think the only infallible teachings of The Church are those formally pronounced ex cathedra. In fact this is a position which I have read senior members of ACTA espousing.

    The problem with this line of argument is it suggests that such basics of our faith, such as the divinity of Our Blessed Lord, are not infallible teachings. That we may in fact have it wrong on these things.

    It leads me to think that people who espouse these views are not heretics - they are apostates.

  5. Can anyone prove that Jesus is the Son of God, or that God exists at all? We may believe it to be so, we may have faith that it is so, but can we prove it? If not, how can there be infallible teaching about anything to do with God? The Church claiming itself to be infallible does not make it so and believing the Church to be infallible is itself an act of necessarily fallible faith.

    By the way, I wonder if Mgr. Loftus pays as much attention to your writings, Mr. Shaw, as you do to his. Somehow I doubt it. Do you not have a bit of an obsession about him?

  6. Savonarola
    Can anyone prove that Jesus is the Son of God, or that God exists at all? We may believe it to be so, we may have faith that it is so, but can we prove it? If not, how can there be infallible teaching about anything to do with God?

    Using your reasoning I would ask how can there be a secular faith claiming there is no God ?.
    My faith and surety of God, could be based on personal experiences which are not yours.
    Why would I have to accept your secular faith?

    The Church claiming itself to be infallible does not make it so and believing the Church to be infallible is itself an act of necessarily fallible faith.

    Conversely, believing that the Church is not infallible makes it an act of faith, which could be fallible.

    By the way, I wonder if Mgr. Loftus pays as much attention to your writings, Mr. Shaw, as you do to his. Somehow I doubt it. Do you not have a bit of an obsession about him?

    Hell is a reality.l hope that is part of your faith and that of Mnsgr. Loftus.

  7. Sav,

    You obviously have a sense of humour. You should try pulling the legs of the NSS by way of a bit of variation?

    But I leave you with a thought. Without God, time and matter, including you, are meaningless and nonexistent. With God and, in particular the Resurrection, we have to sit up and pay attention.


  8. Savonarola, call it off. You don't seriously think a) that every single one of those questions has never been asked, or answered; or b) that they can begin to be answered in a comment box.

    You may not think that the Aristotelian-Thomistic proofs for God's existence work; you may believe evidence for the Resurrection (and therefore Christ's being the Son of God) is lacking; you may think that the Church claims authority that she doesn't have. Fine. But don't ask those questions as though they've never been thought of before, or as though no Catholic has ever considered them, or as though thousands and thousands of pages of argument -- well summarised in popular literature -- haven't been written in support of them. It sounds quite silly.

    If your intention is genuinely to ask intelligent questions in the hope of getting an intelligent answer, you could do a lot worse than start with this:

  9. English Catholic, I didn't say that the questions had never been thought of before: that would be silly. But how is it unintelligent to say that after the thousands and thousands of pages of argument we are no nearer satisfactory answers than ever? This is why we keep on asking.

    I agree with Lionel that not believing in God is just as much an act of faith as believing in him, so we seem to be left with faith which is not the same as infallible knowledge. Our faith is of course based on many things: our experience, that of others through the centuries, Scripture, the authority and teachings of the Church, the use of reason and so on. All I am saying is that we can have assurance through these sources (which may be better than certain knowledge), but without definitive proof of our beliefs there can be no such thing as infallible teaching. What interests me is more a psychological point: considering that at every moment human life is faced with any number of uncertainties, why are religious people (who should be better placed than others to deal with this) so often prone to wanting infallible certainty?

  10. I agree also with Jacobi that without God nothing has meaning. But we can still conceive that there is no God and therefore no meaning in anything, including Jacobi. Any meaning we devise could be just illusion, wishful thinking. I don't believe it, but it is a conceivable possibility.

  11. Savoranola, it is an infallible teaching of the Church that we can know with certainty the existence of God, and that we have rational justification for accepting the claims of the Church herself. See, for example, the first two propositions of the Syllabus of Errors.

    1. Saying it is so does not make it so. You may have decided to put your faith in the infallibility of the Church, but leaving that aside you might ask, do I Joseph Shaw know with certainty that God exists? Is it not normal, indeed unavoidable, for human beings to have doubts about questions of faith, which is not the same as certain knowledge? A distinguished writer even said, 'Faith that does not doubt is dead faith.'

  12. "But as far as the Papal Magisterium is concerned, without a decree like the one defining the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Our Lady, Loftus thinks there is no infallibility: as with contraception."

    And one can't help the suspicion that Msgr Loftus really is not happy with the Marian dogmas of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, either - these are embarrassments to ecumenical relations, after all, which is why Bea, Congar et al worked so hard to keep the Council from saying anything about Our Lady at all (they best they could manage, of course, was to reduce it to an epilogue in Lumen Gentium). Unable to revoke or reverse these definitions, they are reduced to simply ignoring them as much as possible, or reducing them to bland and gauzy bromides about the feminine nature of the Church.

    Which leaves these sticky moral teachings, which is where they concentrate their fire, since this is the sort of stuff they really care about - stuff that most directly affects how we live our lives as Catholics, or so they think. So the tactics we see here are no surprise: reduce infallibility to as small a nubbin as possible, which can be ignored as much as possible, leaving everything else up for grabs in a Rahnerian contingent that can be endlessly reformed and adjusted as the zeitgeist requires.