Monday, October 02, 2017

A few fallacies of the opponents of the Correctio


The other day I had a long exchange on Twitter with Stephen Walford, which was a frustrating experience, so I thought I'd set out in more detail a few of the things he and others don't get about the Correctio Filialis.

As I've noted before, Walford and others like say that Pope Francis has not changed doctrine, only practice. But with the same breath Walford appeals to Pope Francis' magisterial authority, and Catholics' obligations to believe, assent to, what he teaches, as applying to the new practice.

This suggests an incapacity to distinguish correctly between dogmatic and disciplinary acts. When I pointed out that 'assent' is something which only has relevance in relation to propositions, as opposed to commands (or questions, etc.), he still failed to see what difference it made.

It makes this difference: while Popes have the grace of office ('divine assistance') to help them make good disciplinary decisions (Walford gave the example of Pope St Pius X moving the age for First Communion), these are in a completely different category from dogmatic statements. They are assessed in relation to prudence; we don't ask if they are contained in the Deposit of Faith. That is why practice, including liturgy, can vary a fair amount from place to place and from time to time, whereas the Faith cannot. This is so even though what I mean by 'prudence' will take account of tradition and dogma, where these are relevant.

Walford needs the distinction, because he wants to say that giving Communion to public sinners is a 'practice', not a dogma. But having climbed up by it he kicks it away, claiming for a practice what is only available for a dogma: an obligation to assent. New practices may oblige us in some ways, obviously: we are now obliged to abstain from meat on Fridays in England and Wales, and weren't before 2009. Other disciplinary changes may apply to us without bringing in any obligations, such as Pius X's ruling on the earliest date for First Holy Communion. But while we should have respect for the bishops, councils, and Popes who make disciplinary decisions, and abide by them where applicable, there is absolutely no reason for us not to criticise them, or campaign for them to be changed. The present discipline on the Eucharistic Fast, for example, is ludicrous, and I and others have urged a change to it - while, obviously, observing it in the meantime. There is nothing disobedient about that.

If what is going on with Communion for the divorced and remarried were a matter of disciplinary change, we would expect a clear, legally effective statement to that effect from the Holy See, since the present discipline is a matter of law. We have seen nothing of the kind, and the Code of Canon Law still strictly prohibits the practice which, as far as it is possible to see, the Bishops of Buenos Aires and Malta want to apply. (I've just checked: yep, Canon 915 is still there.)

Another thing -- I'd say 'trick' but I think Walford is confused, not deceitful -- is the treatment of the Ordinary Magisterium. Walford points out that the Ordinary Magisterium is binding on Catholics, and can teach infallibly. These claims are true. Since Pope Francis has not issued the kind of formal document that would count as an act of the Extraordinary Magisterium, Walford suggests that he is teaching with the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium. Walford appears to think that the Ordinary Magisterium is anything the Pope says to change whatever the Pope wants to change, but this is not so.

First, if Walford is correct that the change at issue is disciplinary not dogmatic, the Pope does not need the Ordinary Magisterium. The Magisterium does not come into it. Disciplinary matters are laid out by reference to disciplinary / legislative authority, not teaching / magisterial authority. The Pope's authority to make disciplinary changes are in fact limited by law: though he can change the law, he must make the changes he wants to make through the law. If he refuses to change Canon 915, for example, priests are still bound by it however much he may, non-legislativly, tell them to act contrary to it. To obey the Supreme Legislator, the Pope, they must obey Canon 915.

Secondly, the Ordinary Magisterium, like the Extraordinary Magisterium, does not exist to change doctrine. Walford points out that it happens that Catholics become obliged to believe certain things, such as the Assumption, only when they are dogmatically defined. This is true, but they already believed things which implied the apparently new doctrine. Christ gave the Church the Deposit of Faith, and everything binding about the Faith is contained in that.

Since we don't (indeed, can't) articulate to ourselves and then believe all the things which are implied by our existing beliefs, we can discover new things to believe which aren't exactly new, but implicit in our existing beliefs. I might not realise, for example, that 317 is a prime number, but its being a prime number is a logical consequence of other things I do believe. In the case of doctrine, it becomes an obligation to believe those implications of the Deposit of Faith which are drawn out authoritatively, from the Deposit of Faith, by the Church, by the Ordinary or Extraordinary Magisterium.

The Ordinary Magisterium can draw these things out without a General Council or an Ex Cathedra statement by the Pope. But for it to make sense to say that something has been taught by the Ordinary Magisterium, it has to be part of the Deposit of Faith. As Cardinal Pell said, you can't have 'doctrinal backflips'. That would suggest that the Deposit of Faith had changed. Or that the Truth was a liar.

Walford also claimed that you can't use the content of purportedly authoritative doctrinal statements as part of the process of working out whether Catholics are obliged to believe them. Presumably, he imagines that only the outward form of pronouncements is important. It is strange indeed that we are having this discussion, because the present issue has arisen in the form is has precisely because Pope Francis has declined to use recognised, authoritative forms to make the assertions which he apparently wants us to accept, if his endorsement of the Maltese and Buenos Aires guidelines, for example, is to be believed. Walford should postpone his championing of the outward form of dogamatic pronouncements until the time when he has some to show us.

Rather than go on about that, therefore, I will simply repeat that the Ordinary Magisterium is what the Church has always taught. An infallible use of the Ordinary Magisterium takes place when a Pope or Council reiterates what the Church has always taught, when, for example, it has been contradicted. It is not a tool to remake doctrine, and it cannot contradict itself. Popes cannot bind their successors in terms of discipline and law, but popes are certainly bound by their predecessors, and by the Doctors and Fathers, in terms of interpreting the Deposit of Faith. These are all, clearly, matters of the content of dogmatic statements.

Another issue is raised by Austen Ivereigh. Ivereigh likes to point out that not all the divorced and remarried are necessarily in a state of mortal sin, and that for this reason Pope St John Paul II allowed such as are living as 'brother and sister' to receive Communion. This is true, and opponents of the kind of practice advocated by the bishops of Malta and Buenos Aires should avoid saying either that all divorced and remarried Catholics are barred from Communion, or that priests should refuse Communion to those the priest judges to be in a state of mortal sin.

The discipline of the Church is different. Canon 915 says that those

'obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.'

Those not known to be obstinately persevering in grave sin - i.e. those not doing so 'manifestly' - are not to be refused Communion. The discipline is helpful to public - manifest - grave sinners, and is fitting in terms of the nature of the Blessed Sacrament, because it prevents a sacrilege. But the reason they are refused and others are not is because of scandal to the congregation. 

Ivereigh's suggestion is that what has changed a little in how divorced and remarried couples are treated (e.g. not insisting they live separately) could change some more. But although the argument of scandal may seem weak to modern eyes, it goes back to the discipline of the early Church and the words of St Paul. Here is the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, in the year 2000.

1. The prohibition found in the cited canon [915], by its nature, is derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church. The scriptural text on which the ecclesial tradition has always relied is that of St. Paul: "This means that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the body and blood of the Lord. A man should examine himself first only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks a judgment on himself."

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  1. You write:

    "Disciplinary matters are laid out by reference to disciplinary / legislative authority, not teaching / magisterial authority."

    I understand this to be the common interpretation. Yet, I wonder if this is entirely correct. That is, I wonder if there is not need of a distinction within the category of "discipline". For example, is there not a tremendous difference between, say, whether or not we may eat meat on Fridays and whether a public adulterer may receive Holy Communion? As late as Pius VII, the Roman Pontiffs were aware that their inability to change doctrine extended to disciplines mandated by Christ or inherently connected to doctrine:

    "With respect to such principles, the Roman bishops have never thought that they could admit any change in those parts of discipline which are directly ordained of Jesus Christ Himself; or of those which, by their nature, enter into a connection with dogmas; or of those which may have been attacked by erroneous believers to sustain these innovations; or also in those parts on which the Roman bishops, on account of the consequences that might result to the disparagement of religion and of Catholic principles, do not think themselves entitled to admit a change, whatever the advantages might be offered, or whatever the amount of evils might be threatened." - Esposizione del sentimenti de Sua Santita (1821)

    If the discipline regarding marriage, divorce, adultery and the reception of Holy Communion doesn't fall under such a provision, I can't imagine one which would.

    1. You are right. Some disciplinary matters, like some aspects of the liturgy, are matters of Divine Law, others are matters of Apostolic Tradition. The first category cannot be changed; the second certainly should not be.

      I talk about disciplinary matters in the sense Walford does - specifically those things which can be changed.

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    4. Thank you @RadicalCatholic, you have exposed the trap people fall into. The innovators define the terms and once one agrees with their definitions, one is lost in the labyrinth they have created.

      No communion for the divorced and civilly remarried living more uxorio is not just disciplining as in 'you did not do your homework and therefore, there is no dessert for you'. There is an undergirding doctrine that cannot be dispensed with, which the great and saintly Pope St. John Paul II taught in Familiaris Consortio, 84.

      What is it that cannot change? The entire depositum fidei, the sacred Deposit of Faith = Sacred Scripture + Holy Tradition. This, no pope, no Magisterium can add to or subtract from.

      So in the Church, what are those things that can change?

      "[E]very one knows that the Church has the power to change and abrogate what she herself has established." - Pope Pius XII


      Concluding, this is how the innovators have described Amoris Laetitia [paraphrasing]:

      - It is not repeating perennial doctrine. For that, go to Denzinger.

      - It changed no doctrine.

      - It is novel but there is no rupture.

      - The change is only disciplinary/pastoral.

      Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia: we have a problem!

  2. Walford seems to believe that the Pope cannot err in matters of prudential judgement. By logical extrapolation this would imply that the Pope is impeccable as well as, on occasion, protected by the grace of infallibility. Needless to say, this is not what Catholics believe about the Petrine office.

    On the point about the "Ordinary Magisterium", I assume that what is being referred to here is the "Ordinary and Universal Magisterium" which is also preotected from teaching error. The significance of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium is that its universality is both diachronous and synchronous i.e. it is universal throughout time as well as throughout space. Hence for any proposition to be considered part of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium it CANNOT contradict anything which has previously been taught via the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium. As you say, it must be consonant with everything which has always and everywhere been believed in the same sense and meaning.

  3. There are two options facing the Church:-

    1) Reboot the sacrament of marriage by annulling all marriages in tandem with a program of marriage vow renewal similar to the renewal of baptismal vows at Easter. This would serve to flush out all the failed and broken marriages 'in the system' whilst affirming the successful. Debt forgiveness or a debt jubilee is a tried and tested way to resolve a debt crisis within an economy and is referenced numerous times by Our Lord notably at the start of his public ministry in Mark’s gospel.

    2) Ban all Catholics from receiving communion i.e. make the reception of communion the exception and not the norm as was the pastoral praxis prior to St. Pius X.

    Of the two options I prefer the second.

    These debates are ridiculous.

  4. From the CDF's Primacy of the Successor of Peter: "the primacy of the Pope implies the authority effectively to serve the unity of all the Bishops and all the faithful, and "is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments, the Church's mission, discipline and the Christian life";35 on these levels, by the will of Christ, everyone in the Church - Bishops and the other faithful - owe OBEDIENCE to the Successor of Peter, who is also the guarantor of the legitimate diversity of rites, disciplines and ecclesiastical structures between East and West." Thus Joseph, you are required to show obedience to this change in sacramental discipline. Or again from Donum Veritatis "It is also to be borne in mind that all acts of the Magisterium derive from the same source, that is, from Christ who desires that His People walk in the entire truth. For this same reason, magisterial decisions in matters of discipline, even if they are not guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, are not without divine assistance and call for the adherence of the faithful." Thus the "adherence" is to believe in or follow the practice. Did you see the CDF tells us they have divine assistance?

    1. If I could try my hand at a brief encapsulation:

      We owe obedience to the Pope’s changes of discipline, but we do not have to consider them prudent. They have nothing to do with the Magisterium. The Pope could, say, extend the Eucharistic fast to 72 hours, and although we would have to obey it most of us would consider it rather dim-witted, and we would be free to say so.

      If the Pope had formally changed the discipline about receiving Holy Communion with AL, he would have said so openly and the relevant canon would have been updated. That hasn’t happened, so there has in fact been no change in discipline. There is no change to obey, so the question of obedience is irrelevant.

      The difficulty is firstly that although he has not changed the discipline, the Pope has caused widespread confusion about whether it has in fact changed, which could lead people into error.

      Secondly, because this particular discipline is so intimately connected with doctrine, he has caused people to think that changes to the doctrine (which IS Magisterial) are afoot.

    2. "Thus Joseph, you are required to show obedience to this change in sacramental discipline."

      This is a perfect example of the ignorance of Catholic teaching that has plagued the Church since Vatican II.

      The pope has no authority to "change sacramental discipline" such that adulterers are permitted to receive Holy Communion.

      Had this viewpoint been publicly made during the pontificate of any other pope, it would have been considered heresy.

    3. Moreover, he simply hasn't changed sacramental discipline: the canon against communicating unrepentant, manifest sinners remains in force. The most he has done is simply waved his hand in a way vaguely suggestive of such a change and allowed his subordinates to finish his thought, which is not how Church governance works: it's not a game of charades.

    4. Thus Joseph, you are required to show obedience to this change in sacramental discipline.

      Can you point us to what this new discipline is, and where it has been promulgated?

  5. For the record Rachmaninov is Stephen Walford

  6. So Stephen you are simply incapable of understanding what I have writen in this post, even to disagree with it. I am not going to waste further time engaging with you.

  7. In the Wake of #AmorisLaetitia, will ‘A Simple Prayer Book’ be Revised? (A Response to Dr. Edward Peters: ‘I do not think that Francis changed any doctrines in Amoris’) -

  8. "But the reason they are refused and others are not is because of scandal to the congregation. "

    Not only scandal to the Congregation and not only under Canon 915. As the CDF declared during the reign of John Paul II, it is "intrinsically impossible" for those living in a state of continuing adultery to receive Holy Communion without confessing their sin and resolving to cease committing it in the future. Their state in life is radically incompatible with reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

    Moreover, a priest in the confessional has no power whatsoever to issue spot judgments on which adulterers are not subjectively culpable for their objective state of adultery. The confessional is not a tribunal for assessment of guilt, which can hardly be determined on the basis of a penitent's self-serving statements. Rather, it is the place where one confesses one's sins and is absolved of them by the priest acting in persona Christi. God alone judges subjective dispositions.

    This notion that priests, via "discernment," can decide which adulterers are good adulterers who can receive Communion while continuing sexual relations outside of marriage and which are bad adulterers who must continue to be barred is pernicious nonsense.

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  10. Joseph,
    I understood exactly what you were saying, and typically you have decided yourself what type of assent we should give. Your understanding of the ordinary magisterium is totally up the creek, and explains why you have the attitude you have. To suggest the ordinary magisterium has nothing to do with disciplinary changes is very odd indeed. John Paul II stated"This does not mean only the power to formulate points of doctrine or general norms of action. According to Jesus, it is the power of "binding and loosing," that is, of doing whatever is necessary for the life and development of the Church. The opposing terms "binding-loosing" serve to show the totality of the power." With regard to canon 915-the Pope- as rightful interpreter of the law (can 17) obviously does not interpret these souls he talks of as being obstinate in their sin. He said in AL that a new general norm could not be done because it was never his intention to allow all d&R to receive the Lord. You may well think certain disciplinary changes are imprudent, but the point is the CDF tells you obedience and adherence are required to the actual decisions taken by the Pontiff (who exercises supreme full immediate governing authority), and who has the assistance of the Holy spirit, as cardinal Ratzinger stated " The concrete contents of its exercise distinguish the Petrine ministry insofar as they faithfully express the application of its ultimate purpose (the unity of the Church) to the circumstances of time and place. The greater or lesser extent of these concrete contents will depend in every age on the necessitas Ecclesiae. The Holy Spirit helps the Church to recognise this necessity, and the Roman Pontiff, by listening to the Spirit's voice in the Churches, looks for the answer and offers it when and how he considers it appropriate." You should ask yourself, why did Cardinal Muller say the CDF could not correct the Pope? Simply because you cannot correct him who is guided by the charism of truth. Its a contradiction.

    1. You are simply repeating yourself, not engaging with the point I've made. There is no point my repeating myself in turn.

    2. "He said in AL that a new general norm could not be done because it was never his intention to allow all d&R to receive the Lord."

      Then there has been no "disciplinary change" to anything.

      People in the state of mortal sin cannot receive Holy Communion. There are no exceptions to that.

      See Saint Paul.

  11. There is a question which seems to me to be an important one, which I haven’t yet seen addressed anywhere in the Filial Correction context. I’ll try and keep it as simple as I can.

    Current pastoral practice―certainly in the diocese where I live, and as far as I know in all dioceses worldwide―requires the celebrant and all lay ministers of Holy Communion to give communion to everyone who joins the queue, with only one or two exceptions, the only one of which we’re likely to witness in normal circumstances is a child who is obviously under age and who has joined the queue by mistake.

    In other words, there is a mismatch between theory and practice. Even if a priest knows that a given communicant is a separated or divorced person (whether civilly remarried or not) living in what canon law deems to be an adulterous relationship, the “pastoral practice” rule says that the person should be treated in the same way as every other communicant. Perhaps we can all agree to regard that as an acceptable state of affairs, in which case no action is required. But if we see it as an anomaly that needs to be addressed, then there are two possibilities open to us: either we relax the restrictions laid down in canon law, which seems to be what Amoris Laetitia is aiming at, or we approach it from the opposite side and filter out all communicants who fail to comply with the “no adultery” clause. Either alternative, it seems to me, is bound to be a bit of a minefield.

    1. There is a much simpler alternative - nobody takes communion except the sick, dying and the handicapped. I don't want to take communion in the scenarios you outline. They are an insult to Our Lord.

    2. ".... the “pastoral practice” rule says that the person should be treated in the same way as every other communicant" Yes, because the priest has no way of knowing the state of that person's soul at that precise moment. They might, for example, have been to confession earlier in the day and expressed the firm intention to rectify their situation ....

    3. Is that the only reason? When I posted that comment I was paraphrasing, from memory, the explanation that my parish priest once gave me, several years ago, but I’ve now found a reference (of pre-Vatican 2 vintage) where it says it has to do with not giving scandal to the other communicants.

  12. Well Walford should not have any complaint then because every traddy agrees with doctrine!

    There problem solved!

    "As I've noted before, Walford and others like say that Pope Francis has not changed doctrine, only practice. But with the same breath Walford appeals to Pope Francis' magisterial authority, and Catholics' obligations to believe, assent to, what he teaches, as applying to the new practice."

  13. I think Newman's remark is revelant here: "Though the Pope come from Revelation, he has no jurisdiction over nature." He can't abrogate the 6th Commandment.