Tuesday, October 06, 2015

To what do we stay faithful?

This is a very frightening time for faithful Catholics. As the teaching of the Church is questioned, we look for something to hold onto. But today's crisis is not about the denial of doctrinal formulas, so much as the evacuation of their meaning.

Pompous and boring as he is, Mgr Basil Loftus is an excellent illustration of the process. He avoids denying the classical formulations of the the truths of faith, but he evades their meaning. He creates a little structure of obfuscation which allows him to assert something in practice the opposite of the truth. Christ rose from the dead, but - says Loftus - he wasn't physically present after the resurrection, and the empty tomb is just distracting. Marriage is indissoluble, but a valid marriage can 'die'. Christ is in the Blessed Sacrament in some sense, but mercy requires us to hand out Communion like sweets, to everyone.

It isn't very convincing, but it doesn't need to be. The self-contradictory statements of today's liberals aren't the sort of thing which could sustain a living faith, or even the false faith of a false religion. That isn't what they are for. Their purpose is to allow people who did believe the truth to cease to do so with the minimum of heartache. That is the real danger, when these sorts of statements gain some kind of official recognition.

At the time of writing the precise outcome of the Synod is impossible to predict, but suppose it combined the annulment reforms we've already has with some of the ideas about 'mercy' vigorously floated by quite a few influential people, what would that mean? It would mean that the teaching of the Church that marriage was between one man and one woman, that the marriage between Christians was sacramental, and that it was indissoluble, would be proclaimed in some footnote or other to be unchanged. And yet for the sake of the marginalised, the victims, those unhappy people banging on the gates of mercy and justice, people will be able to write their own annulment decrees and, if they prefer not to do that, they will be able to remarry and receive Communion if they express (or can be taken to express) regret for past (if not present) sins. The Church's teaching will make no difference to the way we live. It will be as if it did not exist.

Observe the parallel. The teaching on the Real Presence, on Transubstantiation, has not been changed by the Church. But suppose we didn't hear about it in catechism classes or in sermons because that language is 'difficult', and suppose it were not reflected in the liturgy by any signs of reverence. What would happen? It is not that lots of people would adopt the incoherent position: that Christ is fully and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament but that we don't talk about it and shouldn't genuflect or think twice about picking it up in our fingers. No: the problem is that the ordinary Catholic in the pew will stop believing it altogether, while a bunch of 'conservative' Catholics will tell us that there is no problem, really there isn't, because the traditional formula has never been contradicted formally by the Church, and, gosh, looky here, there's a footnote in this long document on the Vatican website in Hungarian which implies it is still true.

The situation just described is alarmingly close to the reality we have been living through for the past 40 years. There are, in fact, still signs of reverence in the Novus Ordo, for those priests who observe the rubrics; there has even been something of a revival of popular interest in the Blessed Sacrament, for reasons which I won't go into here. The massive loss of faith in the Real Presence among even church-going Catholics, then, has come about as a result of an only partial victory by the liberals. And so has the massive rate of divorce among Catholics.

A complete victory, at least for now, does not include an explicit repudiation of the traditional doctrinal formula, because the libereals want to keep with them the 'conservative' Catholics who will accept everything short of that. A complete victory, at least for now, means the complete eradication of the teaching's practical implications, without the denial of the formula. If we really believe in the indissolubly of marriage, it will naturally make a difference to the way we live. If it makes no difference, if it is prevented from making a difference, then, human nature being as it is, we will soon cease to believe it.

To return to the question of the title of this post, what are faithful Catholics presented with this situation, who want to remain faithful to the truth, to remain faithful to? Repeating the classical formula of the doctrine will not be enough, because it will be (semi-)officially regarded as compatible with a life, a practice, which gives the lie to the classical forumula as classically understood.

Staying faithful means not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. It means avoiding the accusation made by the prophets of the Old Testament, and again by Our Lord, of the lukewarm: not that they deny God, oh no. Rather, as Our Lord says, quoting Isaiah (29:13):

This people honour me with the lips, but their heart is far away from me.
Populus hic labiis me honorat, cor autem eorum longe est a me. (Mat 15:8)

His first hearers would immediately remember remember the next words of Isaiah:

they have feared me with the commandment and doctrines of men.
timuerunt me mandato hominum et doctrinis.

Are we going to follow the doctrines of men and honour God only with our lips?

This has implications for our private lives, but it must be more than that as well: our faith must be manifested publicly. As I've noted before on this blog, although the issue of marriage is supremely an issue for the laity, it is faithful priests and bishops who are going to be between the hammer and the anvil with the proposed new practices. Our faith as laity may find its public expression in our support for them.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'm going to be honest - this strikes me as stoking the fires of paranoia. I am more confident that neither the Holy Father nor the bishops are going to take any steps to nullify our dogma or closely connected practice surrounding marriage/Eucharist; individual bishops might go into schism over this, but I am much more confident in the world-wide episcopate and the Holy Father personally. I think it is well-nigh irresponsible to encourage the thinking that the Holy Father and bishops might commit an act tantamount to apostasy.

    1. It is not tantamount to apostasy, though, which is Dr. Shaw's point. Or if it is, it is no more tantamount to apostasy than the formal disregard for the Real Presence we've already endured for decades.

      What in the world is the point of the Synod if not at least trying to find a way to achieve this outcome? Why all the talk about it? Why has the Holy Father dug up the most hideous, cretinous specimens he could find and stuff them into every position of power over the Synod if not to achieve this outcome? Why else his endless harangues about legalism, Pharisaism, rigidity, etc.?

      Dr. Shaw may be right or it may be wrong but you cannot deny that the institutional Church has clearly intended to broadcast that this option is on the table. Charity certainly doesn't oblige us to believe BS.

    2. The Holy Father has done more to encourage this thinking than anybody else. The very fact that he has called a Synod with the intention of reconsidering infallible dogma, doctrine and associated discipline will be an indelible stain on this papacy which will go down in history. Just by appearing to support the position that all these issues are "up for grabs", he has already done the damage which Satan wanted him to do.

      What does he want to revisit next, the divinity of Christ, the historicity of the Resurrection?

    3. Why has the Holy Father dug up the most hideous, cretinous specimens he could find and stuff them into every position of power over the Synod if not to achieve this outcome? Why else his endless harangues about legalism, Pharisaism, rigidity, etc.?

      The questions that must be asked, but which do not have any comforting answers as yet.

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  4. Hasn't Catholicism been emptied of its meaning already? Take for first instance the Second Vatican Council: the Council Fathers professed the Catholic Faith but in practice and outlook they were Nineteenth century Liberals and the documents of Vatican II are saturated with view, particularly in an expression of faith in humanity that contradicts the doctrine of original sin. This was a direct consequence of the seperation of church and state, where the Church was banished from public life, including losing the right to educate Catholic youth on its own terms.

  5. Re: StMichael

    Would such a situation, once the hubbub died down, be all that much different than the current situation with usury?

  6. I suspect believe it will come back to the liturgy. I take some comfort from various predictions that in say 20 /30 years time there will be as many or more priests practising the traditional liturgy, than the Pauline Mass(s).

    It will be a smaller Church, but that has happened before. Most Catholics just have not as yet grasped that history has not yet come to an end.