As the Church Has Always Taught (Except When it Hasn’t)

Here is an ecclesiological proposition with far-reaching pastoral implications: we need an ecclesiology that accounts for fallibility.  Let me explain.

When the Church has recognized the need to confess its own sins, the language of its confessions has been constrained by a sense of doctrinal timelessness, which is tied to a well-established view of the Church’s credibility as dependent on its authoritative status as guarantor of truth – or even, as some would interpret, on its never being wrong.  This view is too well precedented to be blithely dismissed, yet it sometimes has the strange effect of forcing Church teaching into a kind of magisterial double-speak, in which any admission of having been wrong at any point in time cannot be explicitly construed as such.

Take for example Vatican II’s groundbreaking Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), which was discussed at some length in the comments to my post relating to 16th-century interconfessional martyrdom.  In such a context, the declaration is cause for great rejoicing as well as a bit of bewilderment.  The repudiation of religious coercion based on universal human dignity is a welcome development that is solidly grounded in the Church’s social tradition.  But there is something a bit odd about how this development is maneuvered, for example in article 12:

The church, therefore, faithful to the truth of the Gospel, follows in the path of Christ and the apostles when it recognizes the principle that religious liberty is in keeping with human dignity and divine revelation and gives it its support.  Through the ages it has preserved and handed on the doctrine which it has received from its Master and the apostles.  Although, through the vicissitudes of human history, there have at times appeared patterns of behavior which was not in keeping with the spirit of the Gospel and were even opposed to it, it has always remained the teaching of the church that no one is to be coerced into believing.

Thus, the leaven of the Gospel has long been at work in people’s minds and has contributed greatly to a wider recognition by them in the course of time of their dignity as persons.  It has contributed too to the growth of the conviction that in religious matters the human person should be kept free from all manner of coercion in civil society.

The ecclesiological sleight-of-hand here turns on the sentence I have bolded, which serves as a sort of pivot point between faithful continuity going back to the very foundations of the Church and “the growth of the conviction” which admittedly has not always been adequately recognized as it is in this document.  There is nothing contradictory about this juxtaposition in and by itself.  It would simply be a brilliant articulation of the Catholic tradition’s beautiful paradox of development in continuity, were it not for the dubious claim in the middle of it.  Here is where the council seems to suddenly find itself backed against a wall, as the Church is not willing or able to attribute to itself the actions it now condemns.  Responsibility for wrong behavior must therefore filter down from the institutional to the individual level: certain members of the Church have not always recognized this principle as they ought, but “it has always remained the teaching of the church that no one is to be coerced into believing.”  Wait – really?  This statement is hard to defend historically, to say the least.  To our shame, coercion of religious belief by the Church at the highest organizational levels, from Reformation-era executions to the infamous Inquisition to forced baptisms under Charlemagne, remains on the record.

When Catholics pick up on this discontinuity (!) between history and doctrine, they often respond in one of two ways.  Some, including a few commenters here, have taken the position that if the Church has ever done or approved of anything, it can’t be wrong.  Church teachings that would lead to the conclusion that the Church has at any time acted wrongly, let alone justified it doctrinally, are either absurdly twisted to support this view or dismissed as not carrying doctrinal weight.  I suspect this position is taken out of fear of the second option, which may take a tone of derision toward the institutional Church (essentially passing the buck the other way by distancing oneself as an individual from any problems with the big bad institution); or, if the cognitive dissonance of that is too much, it can become a full-blown crisis of faith: if the Church was wrong on this one thing, how can I believe anything it tells me?

Neither of these responses is adequate.  We need a third option – one that can allow the Church to say, in so many words, “we were wrong.”  The Church needs a theological paradigm in which it can say this without undermining its own credibility.  Put another way, the faithful need a paradigm in which they can trust the Church without needing it to be perfect.  Current events give this need a particular pastoral urgency.  With an abuse cover-up conviction making national news in the United States, and the still unfolding scandal at the Vatican over leaked documents that point to corruption, there can be no illusions of ecclesial perfection.  That is why we need a different ecclesiological epistemology.  Pardon my Greek, but this is no mere ivory-tower abstraction.  The implications for the faith of many Catholics are all too concrete.  A faith that depends on the Church being absolutely perfect or infallible is a house built on sand, which cannot survive the storm of scandal.  It’s an epistemic crisis waiting to happen.

I wonder if a well-rounded conception of continuity may provide a solution.  It has already become fairly commonplace, at least since John Henry Newman, to refer to the development of doctrine.  Development in this sense is best seen as being in continuity with the Church’s tradition, which in turn is best seen as something that moves and develops.  As I’ve hinted above, this dynamic paradox is strongly precedented not only in the content of Church tradition but in its very nature.  The same tradition has long insisted that fidelity does not demand a perfection that is not humanly possible, and why should this apply any less to the whole Church than to its members?  To trust that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit at least some essential kernel of true Gospel is and has been and will be preserved does not excuse the Church’s grave mistakes, past or present.  But perhaps it does mean that its mistakes cannot cause the Church to cease to be the Church, with all that entails.  If this is the case, then developments or changes or even outright retractions in Church teaching need not be feared.

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  • turmarion

    Excellent post, Julia!

    I think a large part of the problem is the very nature of the Western Church. When we say “Greco-Roman” we forget just how extremely different those two cultures were. The Greeks were philosophers and mystics; the pragmatic Romans were administrators and legislators. These cultural and psychological differences, IMO, rubbed off on the Orthodox and Catholic churches, respectively.

    Ever since the High Middle Ages, the tendency in the West has been to legislate and micromanage, theologically speaking. In my opinion, despite its good points and the brilliance of scholars like St. Thomas Aquinas and others, I think the Scholastic movement was a hugely wrong turn in Church history in the West. The tendency to want to define, analyze, and dissect everything in the minutest detail, to the nth degree is the very thing that ultimately led to the types of mental and theological gymnastics of which you speak. In short, it leads to a Church that can never admit it’s wrong–at least, not with out “clarifications” that mostly obfuscate, when they don’t outright take away with one hand the supposed statement of error given by the other.

    In the East, the absolutely, formally defined areas of doctrine are minimal, and most other things are dealt with, when needed, on a case-by-case basis–what the Eastern Church calls “economy”. There have even been entire Church councils that, not having been “received” by the people,were later completely voided. This is because the Eastern Church acknowledges that the Holy Spirit speaks through the people, too, not just the hierarchy–something the West tends to forget. While it’s not perfect, either, I’m inclined to see the Orthodox approach as being superior to that of the Catholic Church.

    The problem is how we could get out of the bind we’re in–which you describe admirably well–and get to something healthier. That is the conundrum, isn’t it?

  • A Sinner

    In reality, the position you espouse here is simply the “other half of the problem.” If there was something problematic about the era of burning heretics, there is also something problematic about the era of this sort of liberal narrative of “Progress.”

    In reality, the great thing about Christianity is its reconciling of paradoxes. As a recent article I (and others here, probably) read about Modernity in First Things said: “This is the true message of Gaudium et spes, when interpreted correctly–that is, not as a replacement of the Syllabus of Errors, but its complement. After Vatican II, no Catholic can interpret the prior social teaching and theology as simply a rejection of modernity, but neither can they reject or dismiss the prior teaching as outdated or simply mistaken.”

    The antithesis is “as bad as” the thesis. It is only the synthesis that really has value. But it is not a repudiation or rejection of the old (or the new), but rather their paradoxical reconciliation or integration.

    The problem isn’t that burning heretics was wrong and religious liberty is right, nor that burning heretics was right and religious liberty is wrong. The “problem” we have to deal with is that they’re both right, and so the dialogue now cannot take the form of absolute negation in either direction. You see this as “doublespeak” but the Church sees it as a hermeneutic of continuity.

    • Julia Smucker

      A Sinner,
      I agreed with you completely until you got down to specifics. The paradoxical synthesis is, I believe, at the heart of the Catholic tradition, and this is what I was ultimately trying to point to. I fundamentally agree with a hermeneutic of continuity, but it’s a misapplication of it to conclude that it relativizes the morality of religious liberty and coercion. The council unequivocally took the position, which (as Tausign reminds us below) Pope Benedict has also affirmed, that coercion of belief has never been in keeping with the true nature of the Christian faith. The doublespeak is not in avoiding the negation of a previous position, but in negating it while saying we’re not – to be specific, saying that the Church has always taught that coercion of belief is wrong, despite the historical fact that the Church has sometimes deemed coercion acceptable or even imperative.

      In saying that the Church should be able to overtly change its mind when necessary, I am not trying to say that a newer position is automatically better, but rather that the Church, having implicitly recognized its own ability to learn from its mistakes, needs the ecclesiological framework to say so explicitly. As you say (and this is where I agree with you wholeheartedly), oldness or newness should never be the defining criterion of truth – which leaves unresolved the epistemological question of how the Church is to discern between conflicting positions it has held and acted on. I don’t know the answer to this question, but we’ll never find it by denying the contradiction and thus circumventing the question.

      • A Sinner

        Well, I’m not sure where my “specifics” say anything about coercion of belief.

        The Church teaches apostasy is a sin. It teaches that the death penalty can be applied by the State to protect society and its ends in certain cases. The Church also teaches that Faith can only ever be a free choice.

        Note that well: the teaching that faith cannot be coerced does NOT take the form of a moral imperative, but rather the form of a metaphysical declaration. The teaching is not “faith SHOULD not be coerced.” It is that faith CANNOT be coerced (that this is a logical impossibility based on what Faith IS.)

        So the question of “coercing faith” is not at issue here. That is simply impossible and the Church has always known it.

        The doesn’t, however, necessarily tell us anything about the “ought” of how we approach non-believers.

        Indeed, the Church uses all sorts of means of “pressure” including attempts at persuasion, familial loyalty, the threat of excommunication (which in the past exiled you from the whole of Christian society), and even the threat of Hell. And if a threat of an eternity of suffering can be a valid “incentive” for getting people to make the right free choice (note also: pressure/incentive and freedom are NOT mutually exclusive)…I hardly see how a threat of death or mere temporal pain could somehow be radically different. If we’re allowed to use “tribal” social pressure, and if we’re allowed to invoke the threat of Hell…excluding the threat of physical punishment (which lies somewhere between those two, I’d think) can’t just be arbitrarily excluded absolutely.

        That nowadays it is in many people’s minds seems to indicate a new set of values that make the rights of the body sacrosanct, and physical pressure somehow different in nature than other sorts of pressure. But are those values, themselves, intrinsically Catholic?? I’d question that.

  • Paul Connors

    What understanding of the word “Church” are you using? The encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi defines something of the meaning that the Church assigns to itself, but that seems to be radically different to the one you are using.

  • tausign

    “As a Christian I [Pope Benedict XVI] want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature.”

    Assisi, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels
    Thursday, 27 October 2011

  • Melody

    “We need a third option – one that can allow the Church to say, in so many words, “we were wrong.” The Church needs a theological paradigm in which it can say this without undermining its own credibility.”
    I totally agree with you. I think one way this can be done is to consider the Church’s teaching over time; what is true and good is timeless and is preserved. What is an artifact of a given time, or is a result of faulty understanding or knowledge, is ultimately stripped away. The Declaration on Religious Liberty is a perfect example of this happening. An analogy would be a stream or river which is polluted. If it is allowed to, it will purify itself, flowing over sand and rocks, and be restored to its pristine condition. But it will only do this if people refrain from dumping waste and garbage into it.
    Put another way, as it is expressed in 2 Peter 3:15, “Our Lord’s patience is directed toward salvation.” The long-suffering patience of God needs to be understood as transcending time.

    • Jimmy Mac

      If the church is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, how can it be wrong?

      Could it be ….. Naah. We can’t admit THAT!

      • Julia Smucker

        Exactly why we need an ecclesiology that accounts for both the human and Spirit-led dimensions.

  • elizabeth00

    Thanks for the post, Julia. I’ve just been reading James Alison’s Undergoing God. He suggests there that while Development of Doctrine is a “nice try” it doesn’t go far enough since it can’t account for the Church holding diametrically opposed teachings at different times in history.

    His alternative – at least as I read it – is a concept of the Church over time as “navigating wrath.” It has the job of teaching people how to be wrong – or as I’d prefer to put it, how to be right in the right way, ie. not at the expense of a victim. Precisely because of this, the Church looks like it belongs to the world of wrath in order to “give comfort to those who are distressed by the loss of the sacred by apparently offering a bulwark to hold onto in the midst of the loss of their identity…it is a shock absorber for wrath…a safe space for brethren of weak conscience.” It has to wait for everyone to catch up before moving on. Perhaps (though JA doesn’t actually say this) its prophetic function is in its willingness to be wrong for the right reasons. I’ll poach a fabulous phrase on a completely unrelated topic from Mikhail Bakhtin, since none of my comments here are really complete without a reference to him – “to stay with the mistake and with Christ.”

    I’m not entirely sure what I think of this. My biggest question is whether it’s really adequate for the symbiotic relationship that ought to exist between the Church and those of strong conscience.

  • Brian Martin

    It must be remembered that while the Church is of divine origin, it’s representatives/adherents here on earth are human, and we all are limited by our humanity, this includes priests, Bishops, and even popes. That would mean that while Truth remains Truth, the implementation of the teaching of said Truth is subject to human failings except in very specific cases where things are said to be infallible.

  • Bill Wilson

    Good point, Turmarion. However the roots of this inability of ecclesiastics (not the “church” since that’s us) go back much further than the schoolman. Augustine, whom Aquinas called The Theologian and who in and of himself was reckoned a sufficient source when arguing from authority, formulated the theory of the two cities. The City of Man was imperfect, fallible and in need of redemption…and subordinate to the City of God, which was perfect and incapable of committing any wrong. This may have made sense in the abstract realms of a NeoPlatonism where Augustine lived. It is patently false in the real world or in the Kingdom of God preached by Joshua Ben Joseph.
    The Greeks have it right. Wouldn’t it be cool if the Holy Spirit could bring it to pass that our Teutonic Pontiff Maximus could be succeeded by a spiritual leader grounded in the great Greek theologians?

    • turmarion

      That’s a good point–the Scholastics may have caused it to ossify, but such views do go back to Augustine.

      Wouldn’t it be cool if the Holy Spirit could bring it to pass that our Teutonic Pontiff Maximus could be succeeded by a spiritual leader grounded in the great Greek theologians?

      I’m not holding my breath, alas, but that would be neat!

  • brettsalkeld

    Thank you Julia! Two things I would note in addition. Another option people take when faced with changes like the one you’ve bolded is to say the Council fathers, and perhaps the following Popes, have apostacized. The other thing is that it seems to me that one of the chief loci for developing the theology you’re asking for is in the area of infallibility. So called “creeping” infallibility is a fairly common ecclesiological error. Oddly enough, those with the strongest sense of infallibility are often the ones who end up electing anti-popes because the real pope is so obviously wrong!

  • Ronald King

    Julia, I agree totally with Turmarion. You have written an excellent post with the insight and sensitivity that only a self-aware introvert can attain:) which gives evidence to the discovery that when we have better communication and integration with all areas of the brain through the development of compassion and empathy then our spiritual development and perspective becomes more inclusive and holistic. I did not proof read that, hope it makes sense.
    Since the church and the hierarchy are composed of human beings it seems the solution to all of this would be the open confession of its sins accompanied by a year marked for fasting and prayer to promote a deeper understanding of the truth that the Holy Spirit has no boundaries and goes where she may.
    It seems that the Church’s credibility would be maintained through the acknowledgement that the Holy Spirit moves it to seek and proclaim the infallible Truth through the fallibility of human perception. Truth, it seems, can only be Truth when it is tested in vivo and when we are able to see the results it produces. If the results are counter to the basic Truth that God is Love then what was proclaimed as truth must be purged as in the dark night of the soul which then would create a spiritual identity crisis for the Church. This is what every human soul must go through in order to delve deeper into the Mystery of God’s Love. It is no different for the institutional church. The institution must allow everyone to see its shame and to ask for forgiveness just as we do individually with those we love and in the confessional. The institution must practice what it teaches, confess and do penance.

  • dominic1955

    Of course the Church can be wrong, but not on anything formally defined. Nigra sum sed formosus. It has been ultramontanism that has led people to think that everything that comes from a Pope, a Council or “Rome” was something that fell from the heavens.

    In recent years, I think half our problem is that the Church has thought it a good thing to engage in navel gazing and silly apologies-and for what? Or to issue ambiguous documents that makes it look like there really is a problem in teaching or that something substantially changed.

    The sword cuts both ways. We cannot hold that just because something is most recent it is most accurate and thus the much of the post-Vatican II program is up for criticism as one big birdwalk to the funny farm.

    We also must distinguish properly when we are speaking of infallibility and scandals. The two cannot be confused as somehow being effected by the the other. An evil pope has the charism just as much as a holy pope, he might not be able to “tap into it” as well but its there. Scandals and moral failing do not in any way detract from the truth of Catholicism and such are not even part of the issue of infallibility anyway.

    This is why it has puzzled me that some people leave the Church over the sexual abuse scandal. How does the sins (even wholly depraved ones) of some priests and bishops do anything to the truth of Catholicism? That someone’s personal failings, which are obviously against Church teaching, somehow induces someone to leave the Church is pure lunacy to me.

  • Neil

    Thanks for this very good post. I suspect that your point was implicitly acknowledged by the Pope in his Christmas 2005 address where he spoke of “freedom of conscience” as the “deepest patrimony of the Church” because of the teaching of Jesus, the practices of the “ancient Church,” and “the Church of the martyrs of all time.”

    “[T]he Church of the martyrs of all time” is an interesting formulation that might be read as a concession.

    I wonder if I can ask a question? Obviously, when we speak of “development,” we can be more (excessively?) generous when looking at the history of the Church by allowing for a very, very slow process or a very limited “essential kernel of true Gospel” that must always be preserved.

    But can we imagine the process of development to be characterized by irony and/or tragedy? That’s my question …


  • Kyle R. Cupp


    • Julia Smucker


  • Agellius

    Aren’t we just talking about a difference between teaching and action? I don’t see why the fact that the Church has always taught that faith can’t be coerced, yet at times has used coercion (if that’s the case), has to involve discontinuity or paradox or “sleight of hand”.

    In any case this assumes that such coercion can and should be attributed to “the Church” as opposed to individuals. To me this is the question. Can the Church make blanket statements like “we were wrong” to coerce faith? Who is the “we” that’s being referred to? Certainly not the Second Vatican Council. Certainly not the contributors to Vox Nova.

    As an analogy: Some have said that Americans should feel sorry about slavery and the country as a whole should apologize for it. But should the descendants of abolitionists and soldiers who died fighting against slavery, feel the need to participate in an apology for slavery? Or what if your mom is a descendant of slaves, and your dad a descendant of a slaveowner? Some Americans participated in it, and some didn’t, but one thing is certain: Slavery was not something that Americans ratified in any kind of a uniform manner. In fact they were bitterly divided and fought a war over it.

    In other words, it’s at least a question whether “the Church” as a whole did it, rather than the Church in a particular time and place. It’s not an action that was ratified by the Church at all times and in every place, nor was it ever taught by the universal magisterium as a matter of doctrine. Therefore I’m not sure how valid it is to expect “the Church” to apologize for it, or admit that “the Church” was wrong.

    • dominic1955

      Agellius-Excellent points which truly answer the question handily.

    • Julia Smucker

      There’s a word for the difference between teaching and action: hypocrisy.

      • turmarion

        High five, Julia! 😉

      • Kimberley

        Wrong. The differnce between teaching one thing and acting contrary to that teaching is called sin. Hypocrisy is when you don’t believe the teaching yet keep teaching.

        • Julia Smucker

          Whatever your semantic quibbles, my point stands. Actually, you’ve just succinctly highlighted the dilemma between implicitly admitting that the Church sinned by coercively enforcing the faith while never failing to teach that coercion is wrong, and explicitly admitting that the Church once believed something that it now repudiates. Faced with this dilemma, the Second Vatican Council went with the former option.

    • Ryan Klassen

      I was under the impression that the Church today was continuous with the Church through history. Certainly you aren’t saying that the saints and martyrs and inquisitors were not part of the same Church that is present in the world today, are you? Or that the Church you are baptized into now is not the same Church as was present in the 1st, 10th or 15th centuries. If you want to say that it was not the Church that did coerce faith in the past but only certain members of the Church, I’m not sure how you can say that the Church does anything – unless you want to say that it is the Church that does the good things and the members of the Church that do the bad things. Or perhaps that the Church only teaches, and it is only her members who act.

      • Agellius


        As I said, it’s at least a question whether “the Church” as a whole, a united entity, is guilty of coercion in belief, even if parts of it in particular times and places have been so guilty. I can at least understand that position, but personally I think that if you’re going to say “the Church” is guilty of coercion since it has done it now and again, then you equally need to say the Church is innocent of coercion since it has opposed it in just as many times and places. Is “the Church” then, as a unit, both guilty and innocent?

        For that matter, parts of the Church have engaged in various heresies; parts of it have performed invalid masses, and taught bad theology. Should “the Church” apologize for those things too? Should it be accused of having changed its teaching since in certain times and places it taught and practiced Liberation Theology, but now repudiates it?

        • Ryan Klassen

          The problem is that “the Church” is a whole, a unified entity, the body of Christ. If you want to say that “the Church” as a whole can act, and not only teach, I fail to see how you can deny that “the Church” has not been guilty of coercion. So what if “the Church” has been guilty of coercion at times and innocent of coercion at times. Would you not say that you have been guilty of some sin at some times, and not guilty of that same sin at other times? So what do you do? When you realize that you have committed a sin, you repent. When you realize that you have not committed a sin, you do not repent. I’m not sure why you think the Church shouldn’t repent of those occasions when it has tried to coerce faith or taught heresy.

          It still seems to me that either the Church (as the one body of Christ) did not in fact do these things (i.e. the persons who did them excommunicated themselves by their actions and so the Church itself was not involved), or the Church did them and they were not sinful at the time, or that it was only the members of the Church who did them. But that still leaves us with a Church that sins or a Church that only teaches and never acts.

    • Jimmy Mac

      Who, then, is the Church? And under what conditions? And how often?

  • A Sinner

    The problem, again, is that the “humility” of “we were wrong (then)” is actually just equivalent to the arrogance of “we know better now.”

    This sort of progressive narrative is ultimately groundless, because we have to ask something like “Where exactly is this ‘new knowledge’ coming from?”

    Has there been new Revelation? No. Where then is this “better understanding” coming from, and by what standard can we be sure it is “better” as opposed to simply different.

    Generally, the issues in question are those of morals (as opposed to “faith”/dogmatic questions). The latter can develop by increasingly precise formulations or the evolution of concepts (like the Immaculate Conception) that nevertheless can be called implicit in the logic of the original axioms. This development can be compared, I suppose, to the development of pure Mathematics.

    However, moral issues are a different category. Morality cannot be said to develop like Math. If there are things the Church has only taught explicitly later in the dogmatic sphere (say, defining transubstantiation), it’s never like she taught the opposite before hand. Things weren’t as advanced, but they weren’t contradictory.

    Yet this sort of contradiction is being proposed here. “We know better now.” It’s not just that you’re saying we didn’t know AS MUCH in the past, but that somehow something in our knowledge changed.

    The analogy here, then, seems to be less the development of Mathematics, and more the development of, say, the natural empirical sciences which proceed with the gathering of experimental data.

    But this analogy seems problematic to apply to the moral sphere as well. Is does-not-equal Ought, so in moral questions…what sort of “experimental data” could really advance our knowledge (beyond revelation)? MAYBE I would concede that there could be progress in spiritual consciousness along the lines of greater achievement in holiness and contemplation and mysticism.

    But I hardly think THAT’S the sort of empirical input that you’re claiming has led to these “changes.” It’s pretty clear that mysticism and contemplative life was much more widespread phenomenon in the Middle Ages, say. It would be that sort of arrogance once again to imagine that we are living in an Age of Saints more than any other in history.

    But, it seems, there must be some concrete CHANGE which would justify a change in the moral beliefs. Yet it is not simply greater progression along some sort of pathway of mathematical-style proofs (which would deepen knowledge, but never contradict the past.) It can’t be new Revelation. And I really have a hard time buying the notion that somehow sheer experience (ie, empirical data) has “disproven” our old hypotheses, because the only sort of data that could possibly prove an “ought” (mystical experience) has not in fact increased or become more widespread.

    I hate to sound like a Marxist…but it seems to me that the only “new information” on which this alleged “knowing better now” is based is simply the evolution of socio-political structure, which is itself based on evolution of the economic structure/means of production, which is based, in turn, on technological progress.

    But that hardly seems the grounds for making an absolute value judgment that is anything other than historically contingent. Indeed, by buying into the “we know better now” narrative which reaches certain premises (like “religious liberty” in the Liberal sense) based simply on the form of economics (for example, in this case: the good is privatized ideologically because goods are privatized materially)…one actually winds up being JUST as “chained” to The Age in This World as much as our forebearers, and may wind up being JUST as “superceded” when the substructure once again changes.

    The “progressive” narrative about human moral development winds up SERVING whatever the current regime is.

  • Ron Chandonia

    This is a very important post–one far more important than the debate on public policy issues, I think. The problem, of course, is that the Church has very obviously–and time and time again–changed its collective mind on points of morality. John Noonan talked about that in his book A Church That Can and Cannot Change. At the Council, the bishops offered two quasi-explanations for such change: the gap between teaching and practice (as seen in the quote from Dignitatis Humanae above) and the “development of doctrine” theory borrowed from John Henry Newman.

    What they failed to address was the problem of REVERSAL of teachings now thought to be erroneous–teachings that may in practice have led to behavior that Catholics today would regard as profoundly unChristian. How can a Church guided by the Holy Spirit ever have held moral teachings that would have legitimated the Inquisition or the Crusades?

    I think the notion of “development” is still the key to answering that question, but it must take into account the way real “development” occurs: not in a smooth trajectory from the past (as Newman himelf suggested) but through many false starts and after backing out of many blind alleys. That is in fact how we got where we are today–as a result of a process of trial and ERROR.

    But what standard can we then use to separate truth from error? The Council told us that in Dei Verbum. Our standard must be the Word of God, apostolic preaching captured in a special way in the scriptures and continuously offering us opportunities to increase our understanding of the truths it reveals. It is in light of this preaching that we can look back on the past and admit, “Now we know better.”

    • A Sinner

      “That is in fact how we got where we are today–as a result of a process of trial and ERROR.”

      But that’s exactly what I’m asking. What constitutes an “error” in the “experimentation” when it comes to morality? What constitutes a hypothesis-disproving outcome when it comes to values if we DON’T a priori assume the actions themselves were already wrong?

      I see little way to do it.

      • Ron Chandonia

        I don’t think it’s all that hard, at least in retrospect. Was the Inquisition compatible with the Sermon on the Mount? In no way, shape, or form. The Word of God wins over the rationalizations of mere mortals.

        • A Sinner

          But, see, this is the arrogance I’m talking about. Your answer is basically just “It’s obvious!” But it definitely WASN’T obvious to those alive at the time. They were not merely “rationalizing” to justify something for ulterior motives, but many in fact did the things they did exactly BECAUSE they thought this was the IMPLEMENTATION of Christ’s teachings. And what “new knowledge” do we have to refute them? I don’t think we do. “It’s obvious” is not an answer.

      • MS

        The model is not the arrogance of the myth of progress, but the humility of the metanoia of repentance. The question is: can the church repent if, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit leading it into all truth, it recognizes that a teaching has been taught or lived in error? If it is impossible for the church to repent, are salvation and sanctification real possibilities within the church?

        The question is not one of “new knowledge” but of a deeper understanding of the knowledge we have–again, being led into all truth. A model of repentance is not a historically contingent model but is a model which recognizes a radical (we might even say childlike!) dependence on the mercy and grace of God to become the people we are called to be. As the church, we cannot be the people who know it all already. But we can be the people who, by grace, are willing to recognize when we are in error and, by that same grace, are willing to be led to apprehend more clearly the Master’s voice.

        • A Sinner

          This avoids the question. To admit “error”…we do need some new information, whether it new data or a new syllogism or proof. Admitting we were “in error” has to be relative to something. Someone who admits they were wrong about who committed a crime…admits this in the face of evidence that demonstrates the contrary. But what new data do we have which proves that they were wrong in the past, even though they had many arguments for why they were right. By what standard other than our own a priori assumptions do we have for reaching this conclusion of error?

  • Ronald King

    Since I know very little theology, my question is, is the church considered the Mystical Body of Christ? Is that Mystical Body qualitatively different from the physical/institutional church? If the Truth about God can never be understood through human intellect, then is everything outside of identified dogma open for further understanding? Does the church possess a tolerance for ambiguity? Is the Church afraid to say we were wrong? Is it afraid to say we failed as in WW1 and WW2? Is it afraid to say that we as an institutional church acted contrary to the teachings of Christ in that particular part of history? Action or lack of action exhibits whether a faith is valid or invalid.

  • Anne

    Excellent post on a very important topic. In fact, for Catholics who rely on the authority of tradition and magisterium, you might call it THE issue; all the rest follows. How do we know that what the Church teaches on any given subject is true when we can look back in history and see that it has, in fact, reversed its teachings on a number of important theological matters? And *reversed* is the correct word. Doctrine on slavery and religious liberty didn’t simply *develop* in some more or less straight line, but like many other teachings, it got to where it is today through, as Ron Chondria put it, many false starts and dark alleys….be they erroneous bulls, edicts, councils or, worse, violent campaigns, crusades, penalties and penances. We should not forget that people have died because of the Church’s theological *underdevelopment* as often if not more so than for its members’ formal sins.

    Religious liberty is a timely example, considering how America’s bishops today speak of it as if the Church had invented the idea when, in fact, popes and bishops fought the liberal spin they themselves now give it up until the mid-20th century. And yet the *reverse* teaching that allowed the Inquisition, not to mention wars against heretics, infidels and apostates, was controversial at its outset when Augustine, holding that faith cannot be coerced, taught first that it would be sinful to either torture or execute heretics, and then, noting that torture seemed to work, reversed himself on that one issue, thus ushering in a rationale for nearly two millenia of ecclesial sins to which execution was added in short order. Again, people died. Many, many, many people. Considering the profoundly tragic consequences of that “error,” Newman’s “development of doctrine” seems a woefully inadequate explanation for what happened and why.

    Our greatest lights have steered us into some of the darkest alleys. Even Augustine’s doctrine of original sin involved teachings — disputed by others at the time and virtually all today (e.g., that unbaptized babies go to Hell and that marital intercourse for any motive other than procreation is a grave sin) brought mental suffering to ordinary believers for generations upon generations.

    Anyway, this is a big subject. How do we know what’s true? Back in the 60s certain theologians were fond of saying we shouldn’t expect to find all the answers, finding the right questions was the point. I thought that was lame then, and I still do today. But they were right to point out that demanding the kind of certainty American Catholics used to think we could claim simply because we have an “infallible” Pope is foolish. As Paul said, here on earth we see as if through a glass mirror, darkly. How we jibe that reality with the old claims of biblical inerrancy and various forms of infallibility is the challenge at hand.

    • Ron Chandonia

      One of the great insights of Vatican II was its endorsement of the concept of historical development in our understanding of God and of God’s will for us. The scholastic notion of timeless truth, borrowed from Greek philosophy, was displaced. But this paradigm shift raised more questions than it answered, as Anne’s comments illustrate. An excellent text that explores these questions is The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity (Oxford, 2011) edited by Michael Lacey and Francis Oakley. I particularly like the essay by Fr. Francis Sullivan called “Catholic Tradition and Traditions” because it examines the impact of cultural change on Catholic moral theology.

      • Julia Smucker

        Except that the notion of timeless truth was not displaced. And I don’t think it should be – not entirely, anyway – but it does lead to the very conundrum I was describing, in which the council could not admit to saying anything contrary to what the Church has sometimes believed.

        A more honest option might have been to call the universal right to religious liberty a timeless truth (which they clearly did) that the Church has, to its shame, sometimes failed to recognize. But again, that would still leave open the epistemological question: if we’ve gotten it wrong before, how do we know when we’re getting it right?

        Either way, there are unresolved problems.

        • Ron Chandonia

          I guess “displaced” was too strong a term, but once the principle of historical development was recognized, as it clearly was in section 8 of Dei Verbum, the absolutist paradigm could no longer operate unchallenged. Francis Sullivan suggests that another principle recognized by the Council also makes it easier to account for reversal of some of our teachings: the idea of the “hierarchy of truths” cited in section 11 of Unitatis Redintegratio. Sullivan sees that applied to our former teaching that the unbaptized were denied salvation:

          “The necessity of baptism for salvation is an important truth of faith. But it is not so close to the foundation of our faith as is the truth of God’s love and mercy and his universal savific will.”

          In Sullivan’s view, it is the “sense of the faith,” a gift of the Holy Spirit, that enables us to gain insights from the culture of our times that lead us to more correct understandings of this hierarchy of truths and thus of God’s will for us. Sometimes that requires us to reject past beliefs, even some that were considered timelessly true. No doubt this view presents new problems, but not as many as we face if we insist that the Church never really changes its collective mind.

        • A Sinner

          I still don’t see how you can know that the change is for the better. Even if we concede change, maybe it’s change for the worse. Maybe we are the ones whose culture has blinded us to truth rather than the people in the past.

        • Julia Smucker

          That’s always a possibility, and the epistemological question you keep raising is exactly what I’m asking here. Since the Church has, in some circumlocutive way, admitted to having been wrong or at least done wrong, how do we know when the Church has it right? I think you misunderstand me to be proposing an answer when I’m really just raising the question.

        • A Sinner

          Which is what I question, though: is this really a matter of “either we were right then, or we’re right now?”

          On these political/economic questions…the Church has seemed to just basically endorse a certain docility to whatever the political/economic values of the current age are, yet always tempering them with a warning (something along the lines of Paul’s advise to Onesimus and Philemon: “Onesimus go back and submit, but Philemon welcome him as a brother.”) So is it really a question of one being wrong and one being right?

          I doubt it. The Church endorsed feudal values during feudalism, and liberal democratic values during liberal democracy, and if we ever find ourselves in feudalism again, I bet you’ll see a “resourcing” of the old feudalist literature/”teachings” in order to deal with that situation (I find it unlikely the Church would, after a couple centuries, keep insisting on liberal democratic stuff as absolute values in a world that simply didn’t work that way anymore, just like they no longer insist on Christendom in a world that isn’t.)

          I (with Cardinal Dulles) tend to think this is a question of, as it were, “balancing” values that are in some sense “competing.” This is why the social sphere is different than private morality. In private morality, we can always (in some sense) expect perfection of ourselves, we can always hold ourselves to the true Ideal.

          When it comes to social questions, however, because of the Fall…we may have to emphasize one value over another.

          For example, when it comes to religion, we have two values. There is the value of freedom, yes, but there is also the value of religious hegemony in society (or whatever you want to call this “pole.”)

          In the eschaton, we can have both in perfect harmony. Everyone will be Christian AND everyone will be perfectly free without any sort of pressure. BOTH values are “right” or the ideal.

          However, in a Fallen world, you can’t really have both. If you emphasize freedom more, you will lose religious hegemony because some people will invent heresies and follow them. And if you emphasize religious hegemony…you won’t be able to have full freedom, because it takes active intervention or pressure of some sort to sustain hegemony.

          So it’s a question, in a given social situation, which to emphasize. In Christendom, with a hegemony already in place…the maintenance of that hegemony was considered simply less costly and more realistic. One of the two value “poles” was always going to be limited, and in that case limiting liberty was the lesser evil. That doesn’t mean liberty wasn’t always value, but it was something like an eschatological one. Trying to maximize liberty would have caused hegemony to collapse and been chaos (and, indeed, we saw the horrors of the Revolutions, etc).

          The reverse situation is true today. The revolutions being an accomplished fact, in a pluralist society, the value we can now maximize socially vis a vis religion is freedom or liberty. That doesn’t mean we’ve given up the IDEAL of religious hegemony (indeed Vatican II “leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral obligation of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ”) but it is now the “sacrificed” or eschatological value of the two, because it is unrealistic to try to reimpose hegemony by force, and would probably “cost more than it was worth” (just like the shift over to freedom did in the first place.)

          I guess my point is, it’s not a matter of one value being right and one being wrong. Religious liberty and religious social hegemony are BOTH real values. Furthermore, it’s not a matter of one taking absolute priority, as if it is ALWAYS correct for hegemony to bow to freedom or freedom to bow to hegemony. Rather, which value takes priority will be based on the given social context.

          But that also implies: given that we can’t ever maximize both values at the same time this side of heaven, we can’t condemn absolutely EITHER World Order for having to sacrifice one or the other.

          So we should look with a certain tragedy upon the burning of heretics. But, likewise, the Medievals would be correct to look with an equal degree of tragedy upon our loss of a hegemonic Christendom. Both, however, would (or should) recognize something along the lines of “necessary evil,” unideal but not to be absolutely condemned.

          • Julia Smucker

            This is getting ironic, since I’m usually the one championing the both/and. But it is not logically possible in this case. If forcible religious coercion is always a wrongful violation of human dignity, as Dignitatis Humanae insisted and the current and previous popes have affirmed, then it cannot have been justified even when sanctioned by the Church. If the pope himself is not afraid to admit this and to ask forgiveness on behalf of the Church for its sins, why should the rest of us be?

        • A Sinner

          Because Popes made statements to the contrary with equal authority in the past. THAT’S the whole “problem,” isn’t it?

          If it were a question of the Church coming to condemn past non-infallible teachings with a “trumping” level of authority, then it would be no issue.

          The problem is that we have absolutely equal authorities endorsing (seemingly) opposite things.

          The reconciliation then cannot be a simple “they were wrong then, we know better now.”

          You say that violations of human dignity can’t be justified, but I’m not so sure when it comes to the State as opposed to the individual.

          For example, it’s quite clear to me that the death penalty, but also even simply imprisoning someone, are violations of their “human dignity” (when THAT became a touchstone for Catholic teaching, I have no idea.) However, there is a competing value with their human dignity, and that’s the common good of the society they committed crimes against and threaten.

          I don’t know when an execution could EVER be a full upholding of the executed’s “human dignity.” But I do know there are situations where it would nevertheless be a justifiable action on the part of the State on account of the inability to maximize all values socially at the same time.

          • Julia Smucker

            The social encyclicals are very clear that human dignity is universal and inviolable, and that therefore no affronts to it can be morally justified, whether carried out by individuals or the State – or even the Church. This has been a touchstone of Catholic social teaching starting with Rerum Novarum in 1891.

            As for the word of one vicar of Christ against another, here is attempt at an answer to the epistemological question, in the form of another question: are swordpoint conversions and torture compatible with the Gospel that our Lord proclaimed? How’s that for a trumping level of authority?

            Otherwise, you can pick your poison, select a contrarian papal statement that suits your preferences and call John Paul II and Benedict XVI apostates or heretics. But you won’t find much support at that point.

        • A Sinner

          Well, I’d point this out too, then: superfluous condemnation of things (actually) merely allowed but not obligatory is not “heresy” nor nearly so troubling as approbation of something positively evil would be.

          Benedict could condemn eating broccoli for all I care. He’d be wrong, as eating broccoli is not in fact a sin. But that wouldn’t make him an “apostate or heretic,” because as far as I know there is no contra-indicative dogma “Eating broccoli is morally okay.”

          So he’d have made a “wrong” teaching in the sense of being superfluous or an over-extension, but not a wrong teaching in the sense of contradicting any point of the faith either.

          • Julia Smucker

            OK, I concede that point. So then would you call the popes’ apologies and repudiation of force in the name of Christianity “superfluous condemnations”? If so, the same epistemological question applies: how do you know that you are right and the popes are wrong?

            One further question: since “superfluous condemnation of things (actually) merely allowed but not obligatory is not ‘heresy’ nor nearly so troubling as approbation of something positively evil would be”, would it not then be better to err (if indeed it is an error) on the side of supposedly unnecessary repentance for those actions that have caused great harm, rather than to risk calling an evil good or permissible?

        • A Sinner

          “would it not then be better to err (if indeed it is an error) on the side of supposedly unnecessary repentance for those actions that have caused great harm, rather than to risk calling an evil good or permissible?”

          Well, but it works both ways: in fact, when I wrote that response, I was thinking about how it would have been wrong/negligent for medieval government (say, St. Thomas More, who was in fact involved in this sort of thing) to NOT burn the heretics.

          Either way, I’d say, we can perhaps learn something from Eastern Christian attitudes here. For example, in how they approach the topic of divorce-and-remarriage, war, executions, etc.

          As far as I understand, they take a “penitential” attitude towards such things even while simultaneously recognizing that they are allowed. They may be a “necessary evil” or “the lesser of two evils” and so participating won’t condemn you to Hell, BUT, as I understand…they still recognize the tragic un-ideal nature of such things. So the subsequent marriage liturgies have a penitential character. Soldiers fighting in even a just war are still supposed to abstain from communion for a certain time (as are executioners, etc).

          I think this is possibly on part of an epistemological “reconciliation” of past and future teachings that DOESN’T involve absolute anathemization of the past or a haughty sort of “we simply know better now, and can wag our finger at the past even though we weren’t there to experience and understand the historical contingencies that might have made such things politically/socially/economically necessary.” (You say you’re only offering a question, not an answer, but you seem pretty insistent that the answer does have to involve this sort of total repudiation of the past, even though I’m offering many ways in which it doesn’t necessarily.)

          We can recognize something as evil and regrettable even without, necessarily, sitting in judgment on an age that was not our own. War is evil, but sometimes a defensive war is just. The Eastern churches would recognize this, but say “Evil is nevertheless evil” and take a penitential attitude nonetheless (I’ve heard it compared to chemotherapy, where sometimes the cure is also a poison). Same thing with the death penalty (or, indeed, ALL State use of coercive force to maintain social order); it is a tragedy, and the result of the Fall (there would be no need for Government violence in a sinless world), and we should mourn it. But does that mean it can be absolutely condemned? No, maybe it is a necessary evil. Maybe we even (as instruments of the State) need to get “blood on our hands” for it (say, if someone worked as an executioner; we cannot absolutely condemn this person.)

          Sometimes there are conflicts in the common good. Freedom and religious hegemony vis a vis the State is one, as I described.

          Nevertheless, as Dominic1955 (and Cardinal Dulles) points out: there is a huge lack of precision in these modern statements. Words like “slavery,” “torture,” “subhuman living conditions,” “deportation,” and “religious coercion” are thrown around without any philosophically precise operational definition for how exactly we distinguish them in nature and not merely degree from other phenomenon. I’ve discussed this as regards “torture” in other threads (technically, a boy pinching his brother is committing a venial variety of torture; but the same condemnation cannot necessarily apply to the State anymore than State inflicted death can be called “murder.”) I’ve also brought it up regarding “slavery” and “religious coercion” on this thread.

          Family pressure is a degree of religious coercion (whether implicit, or explicit like parents making their children go to confirmation even when they don’t want to). Persuasion or apologetics are a form of coercion, even, as an “enticement.” So would a bribe be. And so, indeed, is the threat of Hell (or even just the threat of a loss of intellectual integrity). Why physical ‘pressure’ or threat of such should be singled out as special and different…seems rather arbitrary. And as far as I know, no one in the Church has laid out a particularly coherent underlying philosophy to justify this distinction.

          • Julia Smucker

            All manner of evil can be justified by fixating on technical definitions, which is why, to name one example, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanted to narrow the definition of torture in direct defiance of the Geneva Convention. But the same could be said about things like torture, slavery, and subhuman living conditions that some have said about pornography: “I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.” Better in any case to define such things too broadly and avoid evil than to define them too narrowly and excuse it.

            And again you misreprsent my position: I have never insisted on a “total repudiation of the past,” only on institutional repentance for the parts of it in which grave wrong has been done. Even if you remain unconvinced of the necessity of this, you have to at least recognize that it is a doctrinally legitimate position – otherwise the pope really is a heretic.

        • A Sinner

          Well, it depends what your position exactly IS.

          I think of the case of the reconcilled Feeneyites in things like this. They weren’t required to renounce their belief that God never saves anyone outside the Sacrament of water baptism. However, they WERE required to admit that the OTHER interpretations were ALSO tolerable/non-heretical. In other words, that the deposit of Faith may not guarantee that God saves the unbaptized, but that it doesn’t necessarily EXclude it either.

          I certainly recognize your position as a doctrinally legitimate one if all you’re saying is that on these questions of Social Teaching or proper Church/State relations…the institutional Church did wrong in the past in discreet historical instances, and even promoted political values or systems not in best keeping with the Gospel, and so is write to “repent” institutionally for this, at least as qualified by the ITC document accompanying the “Purification of Memory” in 2000.

          I would, however, have to consider it more problematic if you believed these “social teaching” questions of political/economic values/systems were an abstract absolute matter of Faith or Morals of the sort covered by infallibility, as opposed to just incorrect casuistic application to historical circumstances.

          I would also, of course, have to find it problematic if you did not give me the same consideration in turn, and were to insist that my position/interpretation is or should be made a heresy or anathemized absolutely.

          • Julia Smucker

            Fair enough, on that last point: I admit I enjoy having the pope on my side here, but I’m willing to suspend judgment on the technical points of your orthodoxy, pending further study.

  • A Sinner

    This won’t be resolved, ever, by a recognition that “we were wrong in the past” exactly because there are many still who will defend the thought of the past. And so the Church will go on tolerating BOTH opinions as prudential questions.

    The Church can, perhaps, reconcile itself to something like religious liberty today. But you are very misguided if you think they are ever going to anathemize the past or suddenly call people heretics who are merely holding what it was allowed, and even almost obligatory, to support in the past (Think, for example, if an SSPX reconciliation were to take place, etc.)

    The best the Church can say, then, is something along the lines of “Neither is dogma, this turned out to be a prudential question of casuistic contingency, Catholics are free to judge either approach better (even if the institutional Church is, currently, using the more modern approach.)”

    But it will never recant such things on principle, because that would require making “new heresies” of things that never were before, and would require making heretics of many Catholics who do defend the old ways (or who at least, like me, argue that they are equally as tolerable as the current approach.)

  • A Sinner

    For example, Avery Cardinal Dulles treated this sort of question skillfully in 2005 in this article before his death:

    I would consider myself, generally speaking, an adherent to the “Dulles explanation” of these changes.

    What I see in this thread, however, are progressives licking their lips hoping that the magisterium will somehow deliver a final definitive blow anathemizing the past, beyond just recognizing a sort of “adaptation of the same principles to new social/political/economic circumstances” (like usury, say; I’d identify the principle as “credit is social rather than private” rather than a condemnation of all “interest” in se, though in pre-modern economies the latter surely transgressed the principle) or recognizing a distinction between things that are unideal/undesirable but not intrinsically evil in all hypothetical circumstances (like slavery, say; I don’t think it’s possible to come up with an internally consistent definition of slavery that would make it absolutely evil, covering all historical instances while at the same time being different in nature, and not merely degree, from any other system of labor we can imagine.)

    However, I’m confident the Church won’t actually do that. They are not going to ever declare Cardinal Dulles’s interpretation of the matter to be heretical and dogmatize the “we simply were wrong then and know better now” progressive interpretation.

    In fact, I suspect, beyond just being tolerated, the official hermeneutic will continue to be (and in fact will move closer towards) something like the “Dulles interpretation”…NOT a progressivist “we know better now.”

    • Julia Smucker

      The complication to your argument is that the that the Church at Vatican II, with regard to religious liberty, did not say anything remotely like, “Neither is dogma, this turned out to be a prudential question of casuistic contingency, Catholics are free to judge either approach better (even if the institutional Church is, currently, using the more modern approach).” The council in fact said that “the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself,” rather than being based on “subjective attitude” (DH 2). Having thus absolutized the principle of religious freedom, it may have been the (understandable) concern to avoid any appearance of chronological progressivism that got the council into the bind of having to say, contrary to historical fact, that the Church has always taught this principle.

      Please understand that a “progressivist” approach that would assume the newer position to automatically be the truer one is a misrepresentation of my position – unless you are simply responding to those who do make that assumption, in which case I also disagree with them (although I’m not sure that’s a fair representation of other comments here either). On the one hand, as I’ve said, I believe there needs to somehow be room doctrinally for the Church to admit its own mistakes. On the other hand, I generally prefer Dulles’ interpretation of the “nuancing” of doctrine rather than looking for discontinuity everywhere, and I wonder if he might provide a way out of this tangle. It would be dishonest, he says, to claim that the Church has always taught that slavery is wrong, but as the Church came to recognize its evils through the gradual workings of “the leaven of the gospel,” its leaders “constantly sought to alleviate the evils of slavery and repeatedly denounced the mass enslavement of conquered populations and the infamous slave trade, thereby undermining slavery at its sources.” But this leaves me with two questions:
      1) Are there any grounds for making a parallel statement about Church leadership working to undermine or alleviate religious coercion? I’d be hard pressed to find any examples there.
      2) Does this allow for an adequate response to slavery and other social evils? By itself, the above statement is at least honest about the Church’s failure at certain times to unequivocally condemn slavery, allowing for some kind of transformation in the Church’s understanding without having to say that the Church has simply reversed its position. But I have grave moral concerns about the way Dulles mitigates John Paul II’s naming of slavery – and by extension “deportations, subhuman living conditions, and degrading conditions of work” – as intrinsically evil. I don’t think he sufficiently gets around the condemnations of these evils in the social encyclicals. Indeed, the very attempt to get around them is appalling. It ends up sounding like just another argument to the effect that if anything has ever been permitted by the Church, it can’t be wrong – a perverse line of reasoning that has been used to justify any number of things that the Church itself rightly deems morally reprehensible.

      So I guess we’re back where we started with the tension between the Church’s mistakes and its credibility. I haven’t found any definitive resolution to the tension, but it can’t be attained by simply flattening out the tension and eliminating one side of it. The Church’s credibility cannot depend on its having made no mistakes.

      • A Sinner

        “The complication to your argument is that the that the Church at Vatican II, with regard to religious liberty, did not say anything remotely like, ‘Neither is dogma, this turned out to be a prudential question of casuistic contingency, Catholics are free to judge either approach better (even if the institutional Church is, currently, using the more modern approach).’ The council in fact said that ‘the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself,’ rather than being based on ‘subjective attitude’ (DH 2). Having thus absolutized the principle of religious freedom, it may have been the (understandable) concern to avoid any appearance of chronological progressivism that got the council into the bind of having to say, contrary to historical fact, that the Church has always taught this principle.”

        Well, but that’s exactly my point: the contrary principle was ALSO phrased in an “absolute” way.

        In the face of this, we have to conclude that NEITHER is really all that absolute, and that any absolutism refers to abstract principles behind the contingency.

        It certainly would be absurd to complain that the modern teaching supercedes the older one, both promulgated at various points with EQUAL levels of authority…simply because it came LATER in history!

        As Cardinal Dulles points out, Vatican II explicitly, “leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral obligation of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.”

        So whatever the promulgation of this “right to religious liberty” means, it can’t mean a change in moral principles.

        “Please understand that a ‘progressivist’ approach that would assume the newer position to automatically be the truer one is a misrepresentation of my position”

        Well, I’ll trust you that that’s “officially” true, but I’d ask you how much of this is really true on the gut level, though.

        In other words: your argument may be phrased in such a way as to avoid the appearance of “automatically assuming the newer is truer”…but part of me suspects that even most people holding your position do not come at it from some sort of unbiased “outside of history” perspective, but as products of the modern era.

        If this weren’t true, “you” would have existed BACK THEN. And yet, there weren’t a lot of “yous” back then. Your position is almost exclusively found among moderns. Is this because moderns have some sort of new data? If so, I’d like to know what it is; that’s what I’ve been asking all along in this thread.

        Otherwise, it seems to me that there are a priori assumptions you have before any reasoning has been done (like, that burning heretics is bad) simply due to the fact that it is virtually unnacceptable to say otherwise (without “sounding crazy”) in the liberal-democratic culture you/we have been raised and socialized (and, yes, indoctrinated with its narrative) in. And then try to find a rationalization for that.

        That’s what it honestly always looks like to me.

        “1) Are there any grounds for making a parallel statement about Church leadership working to undermine or alleviate religious coercion? I’d be hard pressed to find any examples there.”

        Would you? It’s well known that in the middle ages people often PREFERRED to be tried by a Canon court because they were known to be MORE merciful. Heretics were generally given every possible chance to repent, and the requirements of due process were very stringent. Furthermore, the Popes were known to protect the Jews in the Papal States much better than they were in other kingdoms, etc.

        You also have to look at this from the perspective of Dulles’s other point: there will never be total freedom outside the eschaton. Ideological coercion exists TODAY in the form of parents “forcing” their children to go to confirmation classes, in the form of the messages we hear in the media, in the form of apologetics, in the form of social pressure to conform, in the form of “the mainstream” defining which positions are tolerable, which are laughable, and which are considered unnacceptable.

        Whatever “religious liberty” means, it can’t mean freedom from all ‘pressure’ in the choice of faith, anymore than a condemnation of “slavery” could mean a requirement that all dynamics of subservience or inequality of power in labor arrangements must be gotten rid of (impossible this side of heaven).

        “2) Does this allow for an adequate response to slavery and other social evils?”

        If we need to condemn something absolutely in order to work for its alleviation, I think we’re missing something morally.

        Take the death penalty itself. I am very much against it practically speaking. I think it’s awful, would vote against it, would commute all sentences were I governor, etc etc.

        But I also (with the Church) recognize it’s theoretical permissibility, and the doctrinal permissibility of other people making the prudential judgment that its use should be sustained more often.

        I think this is another facet of the hermeneutic we need to have of such development. Yes, some things (slavery, burning heretics, the death penalty in general) might be theoretically permissible IF in a given historical context it is arguable that they were necessary for the common good. BUT then also take an attitude of “the cases in which th[is] is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent'” in the modern world.

        On the other hand, though, while we are free to look back and, with hindsight being 20/20, decide that a given application of these things in history was not truly necessary or prudent or for the common good…I’d say it’s rather presumptuous to do this given that we weren’t alive then and have all the benefit of hindsight, of being removed from the realities and practicalities of the situation, etc.

        You might say, “No, burning heretics is absolutely wrong, and I would have opposed it in conscience even back then.” And then you go back in a time machine and everyone just laughs at you and says, “Ha! Listen lady, if we implemented your principles, all chaos would break loose and society would collapse.” And for all you know, they might have been right! Though it seems strange to us in our circumstances, maybe they legitimately believed social order would collapse if you were to try to introduce democracy and pluralism and “religiously liberty” into medieval Christendom.

        And maybe they would have been right! Even if you think the modern situation is more ideal, sometimes the COST to GET TO a more ideal maxima is not worth the trauma needed to get there. I think, starting with the Reformation, we saw almost 500 years of horrible war and more deaths than Christendom ever caused…all in the name of creating the modern liberal world order we have today. Maybe burning a few heretics, while not ideal, was the cost of holding this off for 1000 years. And if that’s the case, I can’t absolutely condemn it.

        “By itself, the above statement is at least honest about the Church’s failure at certain times to unequivocally condemn slavery,”

        Dulles position is that slavery STILL hasn’t been “unequivocally” (ie, absolutely) condemned, and that it shouldn’t be, because in itself a certain type of social arrangement of labor and power is not absolutely impermissible, even if it is the result of the Fall.

        “But I have grave moral concerns about the way Dulles mitigates John Paul II’s naming of slavery – and by extension ‘deportations, subhuman living conditions, and degrading conditions of work’ – as intrinsically evil. I don’t think he sufficiently gets around the condemnations of these evils in the social encyclicals. Indeed, the very attempt to get around them is appalling.”

        So no one can ever be deported??? Huh?

        “The Church’s credibility cannot depend on its having made no mistakes.”

        In Faith and Morals it ABSOLUTELY depends on that.

        As I’ve kept asking: by what standard or new data can any of these things be judged “a mistake”??

        • Julia Smucker

          I never claimed an unbiased “outside of history” perspective. I’m not that naive. But are you presuming that your perspective is unbiased and ahistorical simply because it goes against the grain of the modern zeitgeist?

        • A Sinner

          But here’s the thing: my perspective is not simply the opposite of yours. It is not “We know better now, they were wrong then” OR “We have become corrupted now, they were right then.”

  • LM

    Let’s leave the realm of religious liberty and/or tolerance and go to something more controversial: the issue of the castrati. Traditionally (that is, from the 16th century up until the late 19th century), it was the norm for castrated males to sing in the Sistine Chapel choir, because women could not speak or sing in church. Castrati were also found in other church choirs, operas, and royal courts. An estimated four to five thousand boys were castrated per year during the 17th and 18th centuries to keep up with the demand for castrati in the Church. Eventually, Pope Leo XIII banned the hiring of new castrati for the Sistine Chapel choir and St. Pius X outlawed adult male sopranos altogether. Given this, I have several questions:

    1. The traditional practice of the Church, at least during most of the Tridentine era, was been to have choirs made of up castrated males. If we are really concerned about tradition and not having women in the sanctuary, why can’t we bring back the castrati?

    2. Why was it okay for a man to castrate himself to sing in the Sistine Chapel choir but it is not okay for a man to castrate himself if he feels like he was born into the wrong body (i.e., transgenderism)?

    • Julia Smucker

      I’m trying to figure out how this is on topic: are you intending to introduce a parallel example of a once-normative practice that is now overwhelmingly viewed as indefensible?

      • LM

        I think that the issue of the castrati is very pertinent to your original post. The use of castrati was based on the Church’s understanding of I Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Timothy 2:11-12. Since women could not speak or sing in church, and the shelf life of boys sopranos was short, castrati seemed like a logical replacement. They were used in the Sistine Chapel choir for more than 400 years, and were certainly considered to be part and parcel of papal tradition by the time they were phased out in the 19th century. In the interest of the Church’s traditional understanding of these Biblical passages, as well as the restoration of traditional liturgy, why is no one advocating the reinstatement of the castrati today similar to the way some want the papal tiara to return? I mean, there is more of a tradition behind castrati than hand missals for the laity, which only came into existence in the late 19th century.

        Another issue that the castrati raise is that of the Church’s views on sexuality, which is what my second bullet point was supposed to address. The Church does not believe that a person can change his or her sex, which is implied in the Catechism when it says, “Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law (2297).” However, it seems like the castrati were viewed as a “third sex” by the Church and secular society. They were not allowed to marry or enter the priesthood and were viewed as androgynous curiosities outside of a musical context. The castrati really throw a wrench into the strict complementarianism that has characterized much orthodox Catholic rhetoric pertaining to sexual issues. As I said in my original post, I don’t see how one can say that it is immoral for an adult male to castrate himself of his own volition in a sex change operation, but then say that the Church was justified in accepting children who had been castrated at the behest of their parents to sing in its choirs.

        Furthermore, the Church benefited from and created a market for the mutilation of children – the operation was usually performed between the ages of seven and nine – for more than four hundred years. By the time the castrati began to be phased out of the church, they hadn’t been regularly employed in secular music for more than fifty years. I actually agree with your original thesis that that Church needs some way to say, “We were wrong.” There are people who say that an apology needs to be issued regarding the Church’s role in the demand and creation of the castrati. As issues surrounding sexuality become more pronounced, we’ll probably be hearing more about the Church and the castrati in the future.

  • A Sinner

    I think it also bears emphasizing this:

    As far as I can tell, all the areas commonly pointed out as areas of “change” or “reversal of teaching”…are in the realm of politics/economics.

    This alone is something to consider very carefully when it comes to discussing these issues.

    Slavery, usury, religious liberty vs burning heretics, the divine right of kings, etc etc…

    None of them are, in essence, questions of personal individual morals.

    Oh, you could argue they are inasmuch as an individual participating is sinning by doing so. But are you really willing to condemn absolutely the benign slave-holder in an age where social immobility and inherited (mutual) obligations was simply the political/economic order of the day?

    No, it seems to me, all of these “changes in teaching” are about political/economic system or structure.

    About the rights or obligations of the State or the State’s bastard-child Money, and about the relation of these to the community/society and the Church or religion.

    As such, I would first of all say this makes it simply invalid to imagine the same idea of change being extended to PERSONAL individual morality, such as sexual morality, let alone dogmatic questions like women’s ordination or the necessity of auricular confession. It really isn’t comparable at all.

    All these questions, as far as I can tell, would have fallen under the realm of “social teaching” and not personal morals. (Which raises interesting questions for those who treat Social Teaching as Absolute or infallible today).

    That also raises my second point, which is that the fact that all these things are political/economic questions…really should make one question how much they are really absolute moral questions at all, or how much they are just a reflection of the political/economic order of a given age. And what it means (for one’s philosophy) to promote them (whether then or now) as absolutes when His Kingdom is not of This World, and when a progressive value judgment regarding the change in economic/political order is something foreign to the Church’s system itself, which has no notion of historical progress or ascendency in the political/economic order.

  • dominic1955

    One little point I wonder about is how we could define something like “subhuman living conditions” such as to make it a theologically anathematizable (I made that word up) position? That is a problem I have with some of the theologies that came out around and after Vatican II along with some attempts by some to make some of the statements of Vatican II to be a functional equivalent of the Canons of Vatican I or Trent.

    Does anyone believe in “subhuman living conditions”? Does anyone uphold some sort of right to “subhuman living conditions”? Sounds like one of those things that simply cannot be defined in the same way that one has to believe in the Trinity.

    This also belies the foolishness in trying to anathematize people who do not support certain “social justice” programs. Does the “right” to health care somehow necessitate all of us to support any such push for something in that direction? Or, has there and will there always be more than one way to skin a cat. If I think all this Obamacare stuff is just another socialistic money sinkhole for the bloated Federal bureaucracy to screw up, did I just excommunicate myself? The idea is laughable.

    As to castrati, where is the document that says, “Anyone who says that castrati are not profitably employed in the services of the Sistine Chapel, let him be anathema.” One could argue that the Sistine choir was merely giving those people a chance at an honest living. However, I wasn’t alive back then (neither was anyone else on this board) so who knows what all was going on back then. Its kind of silly to try to play “gotcha” with the Church doctrinally with something that obviously did not touch on doctrine.

    • Julia Smucker

      I’m living in squalor and my children are starving, but how ’bout that trinitarian hypostasis?

      • dominic1955

        Totally misses the point. I’m talking about theological propositions, not justifying telling poor folks they can go eat cake. Do not try to make it a matter of theology vs. social justice as if concern for theological precision somehow necessitates or causes someone to starve.

        Again, just try to make that sort of thing into a defined dogma. “If anyone says that living in squalor is a good thing, let him be anathema.” It is ridiculous, it cannot be theologically defined and thus it is of a different matter.

        That we are bound to help the poor and perform the Corporal Works of Mercy is beyond doubt. That someone somehow excommunicates themselves or makes themselves a bad Catholic by not supporting some social issue because they disagree with its execution rather than principle is the problem. That is untenable.

        • Julia Smucker

          Do not try to make it a matter of theology vs. social justice…

          My point exactly: they are inextricably interrelated and should not be dichotomized.

          …as if concern for theological precision somehow necessitates or causes someone to starve.

          This, on the other hand, is a distortion of my point, which was rather that an inordinate degree of concern for theological precision can overlook the Christian duty toward justice, as you seemed to be doing by dismissing social doctrine as “vague” and difficult to dogmatize, unlike what one must believe about the Trinity. Doesn’t that detach theology from social justice and thus set up the same false dichotomy?

        • dominic1955

          However, such things must be dichotomized. Not in order to make one over and above the other completely or to disconnect them so as to act as if they have nothing in common with each other but you cannot assent to one the same way you must assent to the other. Something dogmatic can be defined (i.e. in a Canon) but social justice things cannot in the same way because they are so dependent upon time conditioned prudential application. We all know we are bound to perform the Corporal Works of Mercy, we all know that failing to do so is detrimental (even mortally so) to our immortal soul but these things cannot be proposed in the same way as say, transubstantiation.

          Theological precision is something I can drive my tent stake into as a proposition. Social teaching is something that calls me to an action based on my own incorporation of Catholic teaching as a whole combined with my own prudential judgment on the issue as to how I’m going to apply it in the situations in life that come my way. I might come to one conclusion and be right while another might come to a different conclusion and still be right in their situation.

          Thus to the same point, it would be wrong, as in not applicable, to think of someone as excommunicating themselves or not following Catholic teaching or somesuch if they apply CST in a way that might not fit with our pet ways of applying it.

          • Julia Smucker

            If this is the position you’re going to stand by, then you’re the one who wants to make it about theology vs. social justice.

            Biblically speaking, it’s hard to imagine the Son of Man separating the sheep from the goats and saying, “Come inherit the kingdom, for you believed in all the correct doctrinal propositions with perfect theological precision … depart from me, ye cursed, for this particular belief of yours on this fine point on the doctrine of transubstantiation was heretical.”

        • dominic1955

          Yet the Church has seen fit to define certain theological propositions and to say that is anyone disagrees with them they are judged anathema.

          I’m not saying the Corporal Works are not important-they are very much so-all I’m saying is that their proper application is not something you can anathematize someone for because that does not have the same propositional formulae that dogmatic things have.

        • A Sinner

          Right. Take something like slavery. I’d think it would be hard to anathemize someone for “being in an economic relationship whereby one party acts as manager to another party bound to labor for life (in exchange for the necessities of life.)”

          Because it becomes very unclear what exactly the problem is. Is it that fact that someone is bound to labor? Not in itself, there are obviously just titles for that. Is it the fact that the binding is “for life”? Since when socio-economic mobility become an absolute value? Is it the fact that some people can be born into this situation? Well, guess what: class always exists, and is always to some degree hereditary.

          Anathemizing “slavery” absolutely speaking could, thus, only ever boil down to anathemizing the idea of economic Class in general.

          And while “Class” may be a result of the Fall…it also won’t be eliminated until the eschaton. There will always be class divisions, it will always be part heredity, part luck, and part natural talent (in different proportions). It will always involve some degree of power inequality between “capital” and “labor” (even though both can also exist in the same person).

          Systems that include slavery or serfdom are simply the most extreme manifestation of Class in the world. But they are different only in degree, not nature, from what we currently have (or ever good have).

          So, on the one hand, it’s good that they’re gone (though, they really aren’t). It is a good thing to work for their alleviation or abolition.

          On the other hand, however, this goal can only ever be “asymptotic,” can only ever be eschatological, and as such we can’t absolutely condemn any “less complete” version. We might be able to RELATIVELY condemn it (ie, if someone continued to practice such things in a context wherein it was not necessary, where it was incongruous to the level of equality otherwise achieved in that era or society, or could easily be alleviated)…but we can’t absolutely condemn it.

        • Julia Smucker

          I am astonished at how often the Fall is used as a sort of theological carte blanche for permitting all sorts of injustice – how eager some affluent Christians are to shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, it’s a fallen world, what can be done?” That line of reasoning may serve to assuage the conscience of benefiting from the exploitation of others, but it is not the Way.

          What if I were to become irresponsibly promiscuous and further shirk responsibility by procuring multiple abortions to cover my tracks? Would you grant me the same excuse? “Hey, what do you expect in a fallen world?”

        • A Sinner

          That is not at all what I said, and I’m rather frustrated that you read it that way.

          The Fall simply makes absolute equality impossible. That’s just a fact.

          I did NOT say, however, that that was an excuse for some sort of defeatism or not working “towards the asymptote” as much as we can.

          However, the fact that (just like total freedom, or total order,) total equality (economically or politically or socially) can only ever be eschatological…does mean that it is very hard (and looks very presumptuous) to absolutely condemn one “level” of inequality but then not absolutely condemn the level we have today (or, indeed, ever could have.)

          Exactly because it exists along a spectrum or continuum, it is simply impossible to draw an “absolute” cut-off line and say, “THAT level of inequality is absolutely unacceptable and cannot be participated in without sin. Whereas THIS level is unideal, but still tolerable because we have to work and function within the real world, and so we won’t call participating in this economic system a sin.”

          Basically, either participating in the economy AT ALL is a sin in the Fallen world, or it isn’t. If it is, then we’re all screwed. If it isn’t, then one cannot absolutely condemn the (benign) medieval feudal Lord or the (kindly) slave-owner in Late Antiquity anymore than one can condemn absolutely an employer or capital-owner today.

          • Julia Smucker

            But we can and should condemn the system in which a thousand benign feudal lords or kindly slave-owners can’t ultimately save the powerless from one Simon Legree. True, we can’t totally avoid some degree of complicity in unjust systems. All the more reason not to make excuses for them, and to draw the line in favor of the lesser degree of complicity whenever faced with that choice.

        • dominic1955

          OK, but again going back to the main point, how does one dogmatically condemn something that cannot be dogmatically defined? You cannot “condemn” a “feudal system”-what exactly is it that is being condemned? I am not signing onto any notion that tries to make such nebulous statements dogmatic and binding in the same way Canons are.

          On top of this, we cannot merely always look back and condemn. Like we’ve all been discussing on this thread already, its real easy to pick on dry bones that cannot defend themselves. It is a sort of Cadaver Synod w/o all the theatrics.

          Our own system has plenty of things wrong with it. Are we to sling marshmellow anathemas constantly and tilt at windmills or work and pray in and with the time God granted us?

          • Julia Smucker

            Of course we need to “work and pray in and with the time God granted us”, and it doesn’t help to just sit around slinging anathemas; that’s kind of my point. I may not have any hope of convincing you of this, but it doesn’t all come down to dogmatic definitions.

        • A Sinner

          If we can condemn the systems of the past absolutely, then we also can and should the systems of today. But that’s not how it’s ever worked. The Church has always recognized politics and economics to be a sort of necessary evil WHATEVER system is in place. The Church is not one to say “It is wrong to be a part of this system just because sometimes this system is abused.” Should we condemn liberal democracy because a thousand noble politicians couldn’t stop one corrupt one? (In reality, I think the levels of corruption and cynicism are much HIGHER in liberal democracy.)

          No, condemn the sins of Simon Legree. Cruelty, inhumanity, greed. Those were his sins. Not “slavery” anymore than “representative government” is the sin of Obama or Romney (which is much more likely to be megalomaniacal pride.)

          • Julia Smucker

            Are you saying there has to be an individual to blame in order for anything to be called sinful? That’s the very complication with social sin: it doesn’t have any one easy scapegoat. And that’s exactly where it gets messy and not reducible to easy answers.

        • A Sinner

          Ah, now perhaps we’re getting somewhere. “Social sin” or “structural sin” is real, but it’s only called “sin” by analogy, and is NOT at all the same as a personal sin. For example, we may treat certain (even ALL) political-economic structures as “socially sinful” to some degree, but when it comes to what the Church really does (Faith and Morals for the individual) we can’t say participation in a bad system (and they all will be prior to the Second Coming) is, itself, necessarily a sin (if that were the case, we’d all have to withdraw to the desert or live in caves.)

          Certainly if your position is merely that the Church didn’t work as hard as it could against “social sin” that’s fine. But, again, that’s not the sense your post and subsequent comments seem to have for me. They seem to imply that the Church was wrong ON PRINCIPAL regarding what it condemned and allowed FOR INDIVIDUALS.

      • dominic1955

        “I may not have any hope of convincing you of this, but it doesn’t all come down to dogmatic definitions.”

        No it doesn’t, and I never said it did. What I’ve been saying is that that which is not dogmatically definable is much more open to interpretation and prudential application. Thus, one cannot say that a person is a bad Catholic if they do not support Obamacare or trade unions as they currently are or if they support Acton Institute style economics. None of this stuff is definable, its not being a bad Catholic to support it. Deny the Incarnation, Hypostatic Union, Transubstantiation etc. and you are.

        As to social sin, there is no such thing other than an analogous way of speaking about the accumulation of a multitude of personal sins or sins that are committed by individuals but have a direct effect on society as a whole.. Institutions cannot sin, only people can. (cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia n. 16)

        • Julia Smucker

          Institutions cannot sin, only people can.

          Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI would disagree.

        • A Sinner

          Well, did you even read the John Paul II document that dominic just cited??:

          “16. Sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person and not properly of a group or community. This individual may be conditioned, incited and influenced by numerous and powerful external factors. He may also be subjected to tendencies, defects and habits linked with his personal condition. In not a few cases such external and internal factors may attenuate, to a greater or lesser degree, the person’s freedom and therefore his responsibility and guilt. But it is a truth of faith, also confirmed by our experience and reason, that the human person is free. This truth cannot be disregarded in order to place the blame for individuals’ sins on external factors such as structures, systems or other people. Above all, this would be to deny the person’s dignity and freedom, which are manifested-even though in a negative and disastrous way-also in this responsibility for sin committed. Hence there is nothing so personal and untransferable in each individual as merit for virtue or responsibility for sin.

          As a personal act, sin has its first and most important consequences in the sinner himself: that is, in his relationship with God, who is the very foundation of human life; and also in his spirit, weakening his will and clouding his intellect.

          At this point we must ask what was being referred to by those who during the preparation of the synod and in the course of its actual work frequently spoke of social sin.

          The expression and the underlying concept in fact have various meanings.

          To speak of social sin means in the first place to recognize that, by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others. This is the other aspect of that solidarity which on the religious level is developed in the profound and magnificent mystery of the communion of saints, thanks to which it has been possible to say that “every soul that rises above itself, raises up the world.” To this law of ascent there unfortunately corresponds the law of descent. Consequently one can speak of a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the church and, in some way, the whole world. In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family. According to this first meaning of the term, every sin can undoubtedly be considered as social sin.

          Some sins, however, by their very matter constitute a direct attack on one’s neighbor and more exactly, in the language of the Gospel, against one’s brother or sister. They are an offense against God because they are offenses against one’s neighbor. These sins are usually called social sins, and this is the second meaning of the term. In this sense social sin is sin against love of neighbor, and in the law of Christ it is all the more serious in that it involves the Second Commandment, which is “like unto the first.”(72) Likewise, the term social applies to every sin against justice in interpersonal relationships, committed either by the individual against the community or by the community against the individual. Also social is every sin against the rights of the human person, beginning with the right to and including the life of the unborn or against a person’s physical integrity. Likewise social is every sin against others’ freedom, especially against the supreme freedom to believe in God and adore him; social is every sin against the dignity and honor of one’s neighbor. Also social is every sin against the common good and its exigencies in relation to the whole broad spectrum of the rights and duties of citizens. The term social can be applied to sins of commission or omission-on the part of political, economic or trade union leaders, who though in a position to do so, do not work diligently and wisely for the improvement and transformation of society according to the requirements and potential of the given historic moment; as also on the part of workers who through absenteeism or non-cooperation fail to ensure that their industries can continue to advance the well-being of the workers themselves, of their families and of the whole of society.

          The third meaning of social sin refers to the relationships between the various human communities. These relationships are not always in accordance with the plan of God, who intends that there be justice in the world and freedom and peace between individuals, groups and peoples. Thus the class struggle, whoever the person who leads it or on occasion seeks to give it a theoretical justification, is a social evil. Likewise obstinate confrontation between blocs of nations, between one nation and another, between different groups within the same nation all this too is a social evil. In both cases one may ask whether moral responsibility for these evils, and therefore sin, can be attributed to any person in particular. Now it has to be admitted that realities and situations such as those described, when they become generalized and reach vast proportions as social phenomena, almost always become anonymous, just as their causes are complex and not always identifiable. Hence if one speaks of social sin here, the expression obviously has an analogical meaning. However, to speak even analogically of social sins must not cause us to underestimate the responsibility of the individuals involved. It is meant to be an appeal to the consciences of all, so that each may shoulder his or her responsibility seriously and courageously in order to change those disastrous conditions and intolerable situations.

          Having said this in the clearest and most unequivocal way, one must add at once that there is one meaning sometimes given to social sin that is not legitimate or acceptable even though it is very common in certain quarters today.(74) This usage contrasts social sin and personal sin, not without ambiguity, in a way that leads more or less unconsciously to the watering down and almost the abolition of personal sin, with the recognition only of social gilt and responsibilities. According to this usage, which can readily be seen to derive from non-Christian ideologies and systems-which have possibly been discarded today by the very people who formerly officially upheld them-practically every sin is a social sin, in the sense that blame for it is to be placed not so much on the moral conscience of an individual, but rather on some vague entity or anonymous collectivity such as the situation, the system, society, structures or institutions.

          Whenever the church speaks of situations of sin or when the condemns as social sins certain situations or the collective behavior of certain social groups, big or small, or even of whole nations and blocs of nations, she knows and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of higher order. The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals.

          A situation-or likewise an institution, a structure, society itself-is not in itself the subject of moral acts. Hence a situation cannot in itself be good or bad.

          At the heart of every situation of sin are always to be found sinful people. So true is this that even when such a situation can be changed in its structural and institutional aspects by the force of law or-as unfortunately more often happens by the law of force, the change in fact proves to be incomplete, of short duration and ultimately vain and ineffective-not to say counterproductive if the people directly or indirectly responsible for that situation are not converted.”

          • Julia Smucker

            Here John Paul seems to be contesting the false dichotomy between personal and social sin, but reacting so far against overemphasis of the latter that he overemphasizes the former and ultimately falls into the same dichotomy himself. The thing to remember here is that it’s not a zero-sum game.

            And in terms of coherency in John Paul’s own view, the above statements would have to somehow be reconciled with all the apologies he made on behalf of the Church during his papacy.

        • dominic1955

          “A situation-or likewise an institution, a structure, society itself-is not in itself the subject of moral acts. Hence a situation cannot in itself be good or bad.”

          That’s a direct quote from Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, signed on by Pope John Paul II himself.

        • A Sinner

          Or, Julia, we conclude that the two things aren’t really coherent, and that the document above represents good solid logical theology and philosophy, whereas the “apologies” represent a sentimentally-motivated political expediency.

          • Julia Smucker

            Well, to use your words, “if it’s what you need to believe to avoid messy questions with an easy blanket one-size-fits all answer about [ecclesial repentance], so be it.”

        • A Sinner

          Ah, but I think that insisting that John Paul’s two positions were somehow coherent with each other is the “non-messy, one-size-fits all” answer.

          To me, the “messy question” is accepting and dealing with the fact that “consistency is the hobgoblin of the small mind” and that John Paul II may, in fact, have been dealing with a significant amount of cognitive dissonance himself, and just “balancing” it, as it were, rather than ever resolving it.

          I think it’s the same thing we need to do institutionally. Note that when I said what I said above, I was not DISMISSING sentimentality or political expendiency. These things are real values too (as you and Ryan have been laying out, much of the alienation among certain groups felt towards the Church may be more about such things than about doctrine; such things are real and powerful in the human heart).

          So, we may cater to both even when they contradict. So, the Pope will apologize to satisfy the “ESFP” crowd, while also publishing rigorously logical theology to satisfy the “INTJ” crowd…even when the two things are absolutely contradictory by each other’s standard. But that’s just the point: they don’t occur in the realm of each other’s standards.

          The apology may not make any theological sense when considered according to strict logic…but it may make emotional sense. Likewise, the abstract theoretical doctrinal answer may seem emotionally troubling or repugnant to some…but it may still, indeed, be correct logic.

          The Church doesn’t have to sacrifice either to the other. The Church can apologize for the Inquisition on the “emotional” level while still absolutely upholding the theoretical/hypothetical correctness on the “logical” doctrinal level.

          • Julia Smucker

            Wait a minute, I’m an INTJ. This is not at all a debate between logic and emotion. But it might indeed be about balancing cognitive dissonance, holding some paradox in tension. That’s what Catholic orthodoxy is very often about.

        • A Sinner

          Basically, perhaps the answer boils down to this: you don’t have to admit you were wrong to say you’re sorry.

          I think this is something stubborn people (like me!) need to learn everywhere. One may have been absolutely justified in a fight. A wife may be absolutely and sincerely convinced she was “right” in an argument with her husband, and this belief is not going to change.

          But, that doesn’t mean she can’t be the one to initiate forgiveness, that she can’t be the one to say, “You know what? There are more important things to worry about. [I may be right, but] it’s more important to be reconciled to you than to extract a confession from you that I was right [even if I do still believe that, but I’m not going to rub it in your face or force you to admit it]” She may not be able to lay aside her convictions, but she can lay aside her pride.

  • A Sinner

    Another thought I recently read somewhere: there is a difference between an offensive coercion of conversion, and the use of force in the DEFENSE of truth.

    The Church has never as a matter of policy (who knows what happened in individual cases; for example the conversos in Spain) supported OFFENSIVE campaigns to convert people. It may have happened in individual cases, and these cases are what things like the “Purification of Memory” were addressing. But it was never admitted on principle, and historical theology will testify to this. Theologians throughout history, as far as I know, never said people could be converted at the point of a sword.

    HOWEVER, that’s different from the State using force to DEFEND the Truth. Indeed, the article I read made this very salient point: if the State couldn’t use force in the service of Truth, it wouldn’t be allowed to defend “religious liberty” either! If the State wasn’t allowed to use force to protect truth, then if radical Muslims started forcing Christians to convert by Jihad, the State wouldn’t be allowed to stop them (under the contradictory or ironic argument that the Muslims had a right to religious freedom to engage in such forced conversion).

    So, obviously, even the very concept of the State defending “religious liberty” as a truth…implies it will USE FORCE to protect this truth. Likewise, the State could use force to collect taxes to fund the Church (in a confessional state) or Catholic education, or to protect human life, etc etc. The State may not be supposed to impose truth offensively by force, but it certainly is supposed to protect it defensively with force.

    Under this interpretation, then, one has to ask whether something like the Inquisition was an “offensive” campaign to convert people. Or whether it was a “defensive” campaign against people undermining the social order, violating other people’s right to live in a religiously hegemonic society (and Christ’s right to be recognized as King, etc). I think in the historical context, it’s harder to say. It’s not like they were generally forcing the conversion of Jews or Muslims or pagans. They were, however, attempting to suppress fragmentation among Christians. Should that be interpreted offensively or defensively?

    Well, one historical analogy we might make is the US Civil War. Obviously, I think everyone would agree that an offensive war for the mere sake of a land-grab is wrong, because conquering territory that is sovereign and which has the right to self-determination is unjust.

    But in the Civil War, there are two interpretations: the “War of Northern Aggression” model still held by some in the South would argue that the Confederacy had a right to self-determination and to leave the union, and the North was essentially thus waging an offensive campaign to take them over in the manner of conquest or unjust coercion or denial of freedom.

    If the South had won, this “revolutionary” narrative would probably have triumphed. However, the model that has generally triumphed as a paradigm instead is that the North was simply DEFENDING the Union from those who sought to fragment it, and thus was justified. They wouldn’t have been justified in trying to conquer Canada and force it to be part of the US (since it wasn’t already), but WERE justified in trying to keep the people who already WERE part of it united. Even by force.

    Now, isn’t there something of a possible analogy to forced-conversion of pagans/jews/muslims versus the prosecution of heresy among the already baptized in a political Christendom? I think maybe.

    • Julia Smucker

      I think not. Dignitatis Humanae doesn’t provide any such ambiguity to hide behind: the right to religious freedom applies even to those who are not living up to their duty toward the truth (DH 2). Like it or not, error does have rights.

      Funny you should mention the Inquisition. I’ve just gotten wind of a study on that very subject that was commissioned by Pope John Paul II, which prompted a further theological commission that came to an affirmative conclusion on the doctrinal appropriateness of the Church confessing its own sins. That commission was headed by none other than the prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger.

      • A Sinner

        Well, the ITC document accompanying the “Purification of Memory” actually is quite nuanced. It does ultimately conclude the purification was appropriate, but only after recognizing significant difficulties in terms of historical and theological methodology.

        As for error and rights, I believe the “catch phrase” at Vatican II was something like “Error has no rights, but people do.”

        However, again, in historical context one has to wonder exactly what was being punished in the Inquisition. Obviously, “religious freedom” is NOT absolute. Oh, we can’t (not just shouldn’t, but strictly speaking CANNOT) force anyone to believe anything in the inner sanctum of their heart or mind (because we can’t even see that!) But, we can regulate external expression (and that’s all anyone was ever possibly prosecuted for). Obviously, someone whose religion compelled them to practice human sacrifice (or to forcibly carry out a jihad or something) would NOT receive protection from the State, nor even be tolerated, in the name of religious liberty.

        So, there is a recognition that “religious liberty” is limited by the common good, and it stops, at the very least, “where other people’s nose begins.”

        But in a society based on religious hegemony, where heresy threatened social cohesion itself, publicly proclaiming and promoting heresy could well be seen as a subversion akin to treason. And it would be this subversion/treason being punished, strictly speaking, not the “wrong belief” in itself abstractly.

        Error has no absolute right to compete freely in a market-place of ideas. That is a political value that CLEARLY is just an emanation from our current capitalist substructure. But given that Vox Nova folk don’t seem to be huge fans of that capitalist substructure or a totally unregulated market on material goods, it seems uncongruous to not support protecting people from the savagery of the Free Market of Ideas.

  • Paul Connors

    Julia Smucker: “…the right to religious freedom applies even to those who are not living up to their duty toward the truth (DH 2).”

    However, the right to religious freedom is not an absolute right. DH in several places has caveats such as: “within due limits”; “provided that just public order be observed”; “provided just public order is observed”; “provided the just demands of public order are observed”; “the right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms”; “the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary”; “society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion”.

    This leaves a prudential question as to exactly where the limits are. It also means it is enormously harder than usually claimed to show a contradiction between previous Church teaching and current.

    Some particular religious/moral/ideological beliefs do affect just public order. And deciding what is just public order may depend on historical contigencies. So, if someone has been punished because their beliefs are seen as a threat to just public order, the legitimacy of that punishment depends crucially on the circumstances. And if, in the course of history, decisions have sometimes been made incorrectly, that does nothing to contradict the teaching.

    • A Sinner

      Thank you, Paul, that’s exactly the point, I think.

    • turmarion

      Paul, it’s true that a religion requiring, say, human sacrifice, armed robbery, or stockpiling of arms would indeed threaten the public order. Short of such extremes, I’d say that religious freedom should be absolute. The arguments you’re using about the effects of religion on society are the exact same ones the Romans used against Christians, if you know your history, and the same motivation Islamic states use for keeping Christians or Jews as dhimmis or in some cases banning them altogether.

      Lincoln said that as he wouldn’t want to be a slave, he wouldn’t want to own one. Just as I would not want to be a dhimmi or to have my exercise of faith curtailed for any cause short of the types of situations I mentioned above, even in principle, so I would extend the same protection to other faiths, no matter how weird or wrong I might think them to be.

      • A Sinner

        I’m not sure Christians made a plea of religious liberty against their executors, however. Christ did say, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

        I’m pretty sure Christians recognized their Faith as subversive and just didn’t care; in other words, they were willing to pay the price and in fact even “wanted” to be martyred in some sense. There were no hard feelings against the executors, “forgive them for they know not what they do.”

        People killed by Christians who truly think they are right should take the same attitude of resignation, no?

        • Julia Smucker

          Historically, you are correct: in fact, the Anabaptists believed that persecution was the mark of the true Church (which, incidentally, explains why their descendants are still having a hard time figuring out how to live in a context where they are accepted and even admired, including in some cases for the comportment of their early martyrs).

          None of which makes the reality of Christians “living by the sword” in disobedience to their Lord any less disconcerting.

        • A Sinner

          Well, technically all Christ said was “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.” And let’s not forget He ALSO said, “He who doesnt have a sword sell your cloak and buy one” and indeed at His command they brought two swords that night.

          So the reality here is more double-sided than the “pacifist” interpretation would make it.

          • Ronald King

            Well, there could be other interpretations.

        • bill bannon

          On the two swords passage in Luke, it cannot be taken physically as being about violence because only several hours later Christ at Gethsemane gives the opposite admonition when He stops the disciple’s violence…”those who live by the sword, will die by the sword”. We as Christians have our right to self defense via the state to whom Romans 13:4 gives the sword…and the state deputes that sword to us in its various gun possession laws. I have a tactical shotgun just for that purpose. But the Lucan passage could be Christ speaking metaphorically…sell your cloak and buy a sword…could mean “be like a warrior spiritually from here on out”. Then a disciple mentions they have two swords and Christ is fed up that once again they have missed his spiritual meaning…and He says “enough”…. meaning “enough already…you are missing my point”.

        • A Sinner

          Except “That is enough!” is a turn-of-phrased used like that in English. I’m not sure whether or not it has that use in other languages.

        • bill bannon

          I found the source of that interpretation which I knew did not begin in me as a lone thinker.
          While I’m no fan of the critico-historical side of Fr. Raymond Brown when he is waxing his most demythologizing, he was twice on the Pontifical Biblical Commission. The man knew his Greek and had more accolades for biblical acumen than one could count. My above interpretation is from him in “Introduction to the New Testament” page 257: “The apostles misunderstand the figurative language, and Jesus responds ‘Enough of that’ to their report that they have two swords.” Anyway, consider it as time goes on. And I have zero connection to pacifism myself. Rom.13:4 suffices for our being deputized by the State to lethal self defense in the home.

        • A Sinner

          I do not believe the human right to physical self defense (yes, including lethal if necessary) is the result of some sort of “deputization” from the State. The natural right to self-defense certainly PRECEDES the State.

        • bill bannon

          The “how” of self defense though is determined by the various states such that few e.g. can carry a pistol in New Jersey and if they disobey, they may be morally right as you infer but are in legal trouble and are worse off safety-wise in a New Jersey prison for three years for carrying than they were statistically on NJ streets. P.A. on the other hand has a far easier concealed carry system for pistols in the non city areas but few probably avail themselves of it because the muggers are not in the rural areas.

  • Julia Smucker

    Let me simply quote the ending of Ivan Kauffman’s article on the Inquisition study, linked in my comment above:

    John Paul was willing to admit that the sins of intolerance committed by Christians “in the name of faith and morals” had “[sullied] the face of the church.” Such an admission does not require acknowledging doctrinal error, since the Inquisition was never formally approved either by a council or an infallible papal declaration. It does, however, require abandoning dogmatic triumphalism. It also necessitates learning from the past. That requires us to face the facts, all the facts, fearlessly and honestly, and to ask why actions were taken by our predecessors which now shame us so deeply.

    John Paul’s penitential initiative provides a way for Catholics to create a narrative of the Inquisition that tells the whole story, as opposed to any selective, biased account that Catholicism’s severest critics have fashioned or might fashion. That is the road John Paul has set us on, and surely it is the way to free us from this ghost in the Catholic closet.

    • A Sinner

      I certainly believe the interpretation in this quote is a legitimate one. I sympathize with it myself, for the most part, except that I do believe people at the time thought it was a real threat to public order, and I’m not going to judge a St. Thomas More for doing what he did. I can’t sit in judgment on the past and say what would or wouldn’t have been bad for social order; that’s a prudential call that was THEIRS to make.

      • Jordan

        (1) A Sinner [July 2, 2012 4:55 pm]: It seems to me that in the medieval world, public profession of heresy was ANTISOCIAL in a way we can’t even really imagine today living in a pluralist society. That to make such a choice of believe in a Christendom was a transgressive and antisocial act, and that should not be forgotten in any attempt to honestly assess what actions the Church took back then.

        (2) A Sinner [July 1, 2012 9:26 pm]: I’m not going to judge a St. Thomas More for doing what he did. I can’t sit in judgment on the past and say what would or wouldn’t have been bad for social order; that’s a prudential call that was THEIRS to make.

        This is how I have tried to square these two statements.

        (1) You rightly contend that confessionalist “Christendom” states openly perpetuated physical and even fatal violence against “trangressors” of civil order. I would add that premodern confessionalist violence protected against anarchy (despite the morally problematic nature of institutionalized violence) simply because rule of common and civil law is a later nation-statist construct which cannot be anachronistically attributed to these societies.

        (2) Even so, you have previously professed agnosticism towards the physical and fatal actions of these societies in the name of relativist-situational ethics and morality (“I can’t sit in judgment on the past” […]) [my ellipsis] I would certainly argue that physical violence is morally and ethically objective and never subjective despite any historical contingency.

        I have asked a question [July 2, 2012 1:22 pm] that neither you or other respondents have been able to answer. Let me rephrase this question. If past-Christendom physical violence may be situationally and subjectively pardoned, may psychological and verbal violence in (post)modern Catholicism be similarly subjectively excused for the sake of institutional coherence? Ultimately any violence may be (irrationally, immorally, unethically) rationalized to the point of individual discretion.

        • A Sinner

          “Psychological and verbal violence” is exactly one of my points though: EVERYTHING done to influence the choice of another is a form of “violence” or “coercion.” Drawing an absolute line at threats to the physical body…is just arbitrary, and certainly based on a value system that is not particularly Christian.

        • A Sinner

          As for “agnosticism”…I would, rather, characterize my position as ambivalence. A “necessary evil” is still evil, and as I laid out (citing the Eastern Christian attitude for example) I think such things should still be mourned. Violence, inequality, limits on freedom…are not GOOD, even if they can be very justified or necessary or at least tolerable.

          So I am not being subjectivist here. The objective principle is that the State has a right to use force for the public order/common good, etc. The subjective aspect is how this is applied to any given society or situation practically. It might be that force for something in one society really was necessary for the sake of public order, but in our society would be detrimental to the common good.

          But it’s a tragedy in either case that we should work to minimize as much as possible. But especially when it comes to The State, not everything “tragic” is “sinful.” I think of the death penalty in general, or fighting in a war. Bad, but not theoretically unjustifiable on the part of the State.

        • Julia Smucker

          Oh, the lengths some will go to to justify harming people. Which sort of proves Jordan’s point that it can all be rationalized if one is so determined.

          Ironically, you’re sort of doing a reverse Gonzales here: he wanted to justify certain forms of violence (specifically torture) by narrowing the technical definitions, whereas you are justifying violence by broadening it to absolute inevitability.

        • A Sinner

          I don’t want to harm anyone. But I do know that sometimes THE STATE does have to use force to MINIMIZE overall harm. That’s what the policing power is for.

        • A Sinner

          But see, this is why I have a hard time even discussing these things with progressives.

          I don’t subscribe any particular ulterior motive to your beliefs. I believe they are supremely NAIVE and the luxury of a modern first-worlder, but I don’t think there is anything but good intentions in them.

          You, on the other hand, seem to see people holding the opposite position as villains out to harm people or to sacrifice human beings for the sake of being right or for abstract ideological values. In truth, I believe my position is actually just the realistic (if sometimes tragic) truth of saving the most lives (and certainly souls) overall.

          That’s the ultimate self-righteousness of the pacifist. Non-pacifists generally look benignly on pacifists; at worst, they are merely naive or thought to engage in a sort of renunciation of agency through taking the easy (and thus, potentially, morally cowardly) path of total refusal to engage the messy questions of casuistic practicalities in a messy world. But most of us still see very good intentions.

          On the other hand, pacifists seem to view non-pacifists as bloodthirsty monsters.

          It’s not accurate. But if it’s what you need to believe to avoid messy questions with an easy blanket one-size-fits all answer about the State and the use of Force, so be it.

          • Julia Smucker

            Look, I never claimed to understand why you are working so hard to justify violence, so don’t put caricatures in my mouth. My view is not that non-pacifists are bloodthirsty monsters, but that it’s violence that’s the easy answer and nonviolence that requires a lot more creativity and engagement of the messy questions. But maybe we should leave the reader of this thread to judge who is really being under-nuanced.

        • Andrew

          I don’t think that this is what A Sinner is trying to get at. I don’t think he is trying to justify any violence against anyone in any PRACTICAL sense, i.e. against anyone in this time period under these social conditions. I would share your horror if that were the actual opinion.

          I see the point as more like this. Could violent religious coercion have ever, under any time and place and social condition that ever existed on this planet possibly, theoretically, have been justified? It doesn’t seem like it to me, but I am saying that sitting in a comfortable chair with a roof over my head in my middle-class house in a peaceful suburb with no greater worries than whether I’ll be able to get all my white-collar work done today before having to pick up my child from day care. My miniscule experience on this planet may or may not qualify me to know about all places and all times. I agree with A Sinner that such violence is always tragic, but never justified? If I truly approach the qustion with a spirit of humility, I would have to admit that my answer to that question is: I don’t know. Maybe you know better than I. Maybe His Holiness the Pope knows better than I. But I don’t.

          • Julia Smucker

            Tausign has already reminded us what His Holiness thinks about the question at hand.

        • Andrew

          Yes, Julia, I had the Pope’s comments in mind when I made the above post. That is why I can say that he has a certainty about the matter that I do not.

        • A Sinner

          You said, “Oh, the lengths some will go to to justify harming people” as if I WANT people to be harmed. I don’t. But there is a right (of the individual AND the State) to self-defense or defense of innocents, and that defense AGAINST violence sometimes takes the form of violence.

          Again, I don’t know why you are drawing this arbitrary line around PHYSICAL “violence” as if that’s the only real type.

          “Non-violent” acts are very often emotionally violent (intending, as they do, to invoke fear or guilt or shame in the opponent) and certainly there is all manner of verbal or rhetorical violence, intellectual violence, etc.

          ANYTHING that makes the Will feel any sort of negative passion…is violence.

          If you are saying we can only use 5 out of the 11 passions in getting people to act in a certain manner, that we can only ever draw people towards the good rather than, also, chasing them away from the bad…I simply think that’s arbitrary, and doesn’t actually hold up in ANYONE’S praxis that I know of.

          If you are saying that we can use emotional and mental distress of certain types, but not physical pain…I find that even more arbitrary.

          I don’t want to hurt people, but in getting other people to act, the State and individuals all use some degree of either enticement or (at least implicit) threat. And sometimes that’s necessary to PREVENT a lot of harm.

          • Julia Smucker

            When did I ever say that emotional and mental violence are justified, or that only physical violence is violence? It seems you’re the one assuming that violence is necessarily physical, if you presume “nonviolence” to mean some sort of emotional manipulation.

        • Jordan

          A Sinner [July 3, 2012 12:09 pm]: In truth, I believe my position is actually just the realistic (if sometimes tragic) truth of saving the most lives (and certainly souls) overall.

          NB: I believe that A Sinner’s accusation of naivety was (quite bizarrely and unfairly) leveled at Julia. Even so, I’ll openly say that I am joyously naive if naivety is an ultimate characterization of persons who do not hold that violence is an inevitable, precursory, and even laudable aspect of any functional society.

          Perhaps all of us, readers and respondents, should consider that postchristianity/secularism, especially in its “western” incarnations, has made strides towards not consciously forming societies on violent substrata. A century ago, German and French troops slaughtered each other by the thousands in Flanders’ fields. Today, the most violent intra-European conflict might arise when an argumentative Angela Merkel knocks a water-carafe into Francois Hollande’s lap. Water stains on a tailored suit, or gallons of blood over “no man’s land”? Europeans might have lapsed into a relativistic and hedonistic postchristian “paganism”, given their legalization of abortion, legal recognition of LGBT relationships, and even the publicly defiant use of artificial contraceptives in so-called “Catholic countries”. Despite the tolerance of abortion especially, is not a postmodern political construct (such as the European Union) nominally predicated on the basic dignity of human beings and rules of secular law? Is not postmodern rule of law a surer basis for re-evangelization than a “Boko Haram”-esque shar’ia state based on an idolization of the most violent aspects of 7th century Bedouin tribal customs?

          A Sinner, I perceive your arguments as unabashedly supportive of the latter example. Indeed, from what I have read you might argue that coercion necessarily precedes belief, or at least a superficial compulsory belief. Would you then conclude that the re-evangelization of “western”, postchristian societies resides not in a basis in a deeply flawed but nominal respect for human dignity, but in a necessary and complete subjection of any human intellectual/physical autonomy to your idol of violent confessionalism?

          Finis. Thank you for the fascinating discussion.

        • A Sinner

          I can’t assume anything about you personally. But it would be interesting to know your thoughts on, say, Gandhi’s hunger strikes, or Martin Luther King’s “non-violent resistance.” As far as I can tell, both were INCREDIBLY violent acts (all the more violent for being psychological warfare rather than physical). And rightly so! Good for them! I celebrate their extremely adept use of force against their opponents! But do you?

          • Julia Smucker

            I think you are mistaking victory for violence, power for force. Their victory through the true power of nonviolence, in imitation of Christ the ultimate nonviolent victor, is what I celebrate.

        • A Sinner

          The martyrs are valorized as “warriors” after all. And it’s not just some abstract “sin” or “evil” they were warring against. They quite literally, through their mass passive-aggression as it were, CONQUERED the Roman Empire. Even politically. But passive-aggression is still aggression.

        • A Sinner

          Jordan: the “rule of law” is ALL ABOUT VIOLENCE. Violence in the service of preventing violence.

          That’s the whole point! That if you commit a crime you will be punished, you will be imprisoned, etc etc.

          Social order is predicated on the threat of violence. Otherwise the masses would be devouring each other in the street.

          Yes, we can strive to make a society where people don’t want to commit crimes as much (with greater economic equality, better education, etc) and should strive to do so. But in a Fallen world there will ALWAYS be sociopaths and sin, and so there will always need to be a Policing Power to respond to their violence AGAINST society with violence FOR society.

          If we don’t stand up to the thugs, they’ll walk all over us.

        • Julia Smucker

          That’s what they said about a certain reported subversive named Yeshua Bar Joseph.

        • A Sinner

          And He didn’t question Pilate’s authority. “Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above.”

          The only thing that makes us not say Pilate’s act was absolutely or objectively right was, of course, that Christ was in fact right.

          The one type of the thing that the State has no objective right to punish, even when it DOES threaten social order…is objectively morally obligatory acts (which includes, of course, avoiding objective sin).

          However, there is a certain tricky question here, because the State DOES have to make a value judgment about just what acts are actually morally obligatory objectively.

          An Aztec religionist could claim human sacrifice was morally obligatory in his conscience, and that not doing it would be a sin, and the State would (rightly) basically say, “Yeah, no, it isn’t.” Of course, the Aztec would believe this value judgment was wrong, and presumably seek to institute an Aztec-confession government to support his values.

          But, from the Catholic perspective (which, of course, considers OUR religion objectively right) the government can out-law any act that truly threatens public order EXCEPT an act morally obligatory in Catholicism. Error, however, has no corresponding right in this regard. If an error threatens public safety or whatever, then there is no need to tolerate it.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I go away for week to see the absolutely great collection of Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum, filed with great paintings of saints, and Virgins and Jesuses, and what do I find here? A discussion of moral relativism, RC dogma, and…. the castrati! What a topic!I am amazed that no concerned Catholic here argued in defense of the RC Church’s onetime acceptance of this grisly practice, because clearly God at one time wanted it because it inspired so many great composers to write great music to His glory, by making use of the practice. Do you think the Lord could have lived without the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, to honor His Mother?? Think again! If I am going to fulfill the role of apologist here, I want to have my name on the masthead too!

  • Jordan

    Please forgive the length.

    A Sinner [July 1, 2012 3:34 pm]: Error has no absolute right to compete freely in a market-place of ideas. That is a political value that CLEARLY is just an emanation from our current capitalist substructure. But given that Vox Nova folk don’t seem to be huge fans of that capitalist substructure or a totally unregulated market on material goods, it seems uncongruous to not support protecting people from the savagery of the Free Market of Ideas.

    I’m going to go with your position for a moment, even if I am not immediately convinced. The underlying premise of “Fortnight for Freedom” is that the Church temporal is ideally unbound by a nominally capitalist secular republican democratic state, even if practically it must compromise with said state. The Americanist patriotic schmaltz “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign is little more than a way to rally Catholics to work with the status quo for some protection since no other option exists within the current political regime.

    From the perspective of Catholicism even post Dignitatis humanae, a secular state must respect the sovereignty of the Church (i.e. “[secularist] error has no absolute right” [my addition]) Practically, the Church is bound to the secular democratic state to two reasons. First, the Church must respect the due process of law. Second, the costs of legal incorporation would financially crush the American Church, despite the allure of greater institutional freedom and perhaps even formal political affiliation. Even then, incorporation entails a legal relationship with a secular state.

    As a “liberal Catholic”, a social democrat, and a sexual dalit, I am already rejected from (but liberated to speak freely against) the neocon political thought currently ascendant in American Catholicism. American Catholic neoconservatism values unfettered capitalism simply because within that system the possibility exists that the Church can retain its moral rights with minimal legal obligations. I hold a different, perhaps naive view: that social justice and the consistent life ethic can be effected through a secular republic. Perhaps this means greater taxation or limits on market capitalism. However, Catholic social democracy should not be viewed as antithetical to the Church’s interests simply because it is the more difficult path to human and social justice.

  • turmarion

    Julia, I’ve had some very long conversations with A. Sinner both here and at his blog (which you can get to by clicking on his name here, if you want to verify what I’m saying). He has explicitly said that he has no problem with the concept of executing heretics, and that if there were a truly, fully Catholic state in existence now, that would still be appropriate; he has said that “the purpose of love is to cause suffering”; he has linked to and commented favorably (at least in part) on a Westboro Baptist Church piece on Hell; he has said that God will “crush” every one of us, and that it’s our choice that it be willing or unwilling; he has described God as a “monster” who “hates the world” (yes, there’s more context and subtlety to it than that, but if you read the discussions, he doesn’t shrink from saying things like that); he denies that the Church has changed its teaching in any of the areas you speak of; and he says that he expects that part of his joy as one of the saved will be seeing the eternal damnation and burning in agony in Hell forever of his closest loved ones. When contested, he never backs down and always finds something to quote in support of his position. You can go to back threads here or to his blog if you want more context, but I think he’d say that I’m not being unfair in what I say here. Even a couple of conservative posters who are by and large in theological agreement with him have lately posted some very concerned comments as to the seemingly over-the-deep-end nature of his rhetoric.

    My point is that you’re wasting your time arguing with him. I finally figured that out.

    I’m not saying this to attack him or to get another dialogue going with him, which I will stoutly refuse to do. I found the discussions very bad for me, spiritually speaking, and it finally clicked that I just needed to stop it. He has his beliefs, and I mine, and sometimes you have to let it go at that. Sinner, as I said, no offense, and I am not going to get into any more direct discussions with you after this. It’s just a little discouraging to see another argument going the same way, and I think that sometimes it’s better to be clear and recognize that some views are totally incompatible and never the twain shall meat. I wish you peace and will keep you in my prayers, and as I said, I’ll shut up after this in terms of direct replies and such.

    • turmarion

      I add this since I realize that I intended to say it above but forgot to do so. If I really, truly believed that such concepts were actually the true and correct beliefs of Catholicism in particular or Christianity in general, I would have nothing to do with the faith. I’d go join the Vedanta Society or something similar–and I’m not kidding. Thankfully, the centrality of God’s love–not love as “defined” above–convinces me otherwise. It just makes me very sad that anyone can have such a nihilistic outlook and see God as such a hateful being. Once more, all one can do is pray for the other, stay away from the argument, and leave them in peace.

    • Andrew

      Turmarion, you probably remember that I argued with A Sinner on some of the topics you mentioned. He and I disagree on numerous points, but I have to say I am not inclined to characterize him the way that you do. I would say that A Sinner is very intelligent, extremely well-versed in the history and traditions of our faith, and quite articulate about his positions. I would say that he and I disagree a lot because his approach to the faith is highly intellectualized, whereas mine is very touchy-feely and intentionally UNDER-intellectualized. While I personally find some of his conclusions bizarre, I have to admit that I would reach the same ones were I to approach things in such an intellectual manner.

      I guess my point is that I have never found arguing with him a waste of time.

      This is not to say that you should argue with him, turmarion, if you find that doing so is bad for you spiritually. The same has been true for me on certain specific arguments with him (which I therefore gave up on). However, I admire his insightfulness and find the “renegade trad” approach to be unique and thought-provoking, even if I do not subscribe to it personally.

      A Sinner, I apologize for talking about you in the third person. I am glad you are here. I personally find your discourse to be a healthy challenge for me.

      Regarding the original topic, I think what A Sinner argues is completely correct. What I do wish is that the Church be more upfront about making statements (such as the one about religious coercion) for which “Neither is dogma, this turned out to be a prudential question of casuistic contingency, Catholics are free to judge either approach better (even if the institutional Church is, currently, using the more modern approach.)”, instead of making seemingly absolutist statements that don’t admit to any prior contradictions and therefore then have to be understood as prudential and contingent by appealing to the entirety of the tradition. We shouldn’t have to be as well learned as A Sinner is in order to understand what is really universal and what isn’t!

    • A Sinner

      For someone who keeps insisting he’s going to shut up (after getting in “the last word”)…you certainly know how to keep talking, Tumarion.

  • Rat-biter

    “Here is an ecclesiological proposition with far-reaching pastoral implications: we need an ecclesiology that accounts for fallibility. Let me explain.”

    ## To a lot of people, it is the claim to infallibility that needs to be accounted for. I agree with them. Rome’s insistence on infallibility is a form of self-righteousness & lack of faith, and is man-centred. But Rome is not evangelical, so it cannot see this. Its Fundamentalist insistence on the total inerrancy of its dogmas is the RC (not even “the Catholic”) equivalent of Protestant “Evangelical” Fundamentalism.

    They believe in – or rather, idolise – a book; the RCC idolises its dogmas. Books and dogmas are very convenient, because they are static, manipulable, & rei-fiable. So PEFs rei-fy the Bible, whereas RCs rei-fy the Church (& secondarily, the Pope): both are withdrawn from the human world in which they are experienced, & become authorities “over against” man, telling him the Perfect (because not human, but Divine, therefore final & unquestionable) Truth. But these authorities do not deliver the certainty sought from them, as the disagreements by those who accept them seem to show clearly enough. Which suggests these authorities are not meant to supply such certainty.

    The result is that people are not free to be Christ-ian – they become cogs in the Fundamentalist machine. Christ sets free from human ideologies – Fundamentalism is an all too human ideology, that seeks to absolutise itself, & to become all-encompassing for the believer, so that to depart from the Fundamentalism often involve breaking with the faith it supposedly serves. Christ is acceptable to Fundamentalism only so far as He serves, & does not endanger, the ideology. He has to shrink, to become less than He is, He has to be made the Guarantor of the Rightness & Righteousness & Unquestionability & Uncriticisability & Never-to-be-challengedness of the ideology.

    Luther was right – the Church tries while on earth to have a “theology of glory”. But glory is the fruit of grace, & grace will bear all its fruit only in Heaven. In this world, we have faith, but faith does not allow for the security that being always right brings. The very desire to be always right is a trap. It is a form of self-righteousness – whereas Christ is our Only & Complete Righteousness. We do not need to be right all the time – because He is. Not only that, but all good is found in Him, for He is Goodness in Person. To expect the Church, which is far from flawless, to be always right, is to clothe it in the armour of Saul, which was too heavy for David to wear.

    When The Word was made flesh, He assumed our weakness (though not our sinfulness) – & it is far from clear from the NT that He was all-knowing. The Father is, in the gospels, the One Who knows things Jesus does not. So why *must* His Church have a quality He lacked ? It seems *a fortiori* clear that a body not composed of perfected & matured Saints, but of sinful men on earth, is not going to be infallible, but is instead, meant to share in the humiliation of its Divine Head. It certainly has the very same authority-&-power that He exercised, but this was a Messianic authority-&-power: it has a specific character and end & Spirit, which need to be characteristic of it, if it is not to serve the purposes of sinful men. It is exercised in weakness – not in or by earthly or worldly power; so to make it an exercise of earthly or worldly power is to misuse it.

    That’s MO, anyway.

    • Julia Smucker

      To a lot of people, it is the claim to infallibility that needs to be accounted for.

      That was exactly my point. The fundamentalist claims you’re talking about are not made by Rome, though, just by a misguided fringe that tries to apply authority further than it goes – what some ecclesiologists call “creeping” or “galloping” infallibility.

      • Rat-biter

        “The fundamentalist claims you’re talking about are not made by Rome”

        ## The claim itself is what is Fundamentalist. And like the Total Biblical Inerrancy of Protestant “Evangelical” Fundamentalism, it does nothing to help the Christian life. Does our salvation really depend on believing that the patriarch Shem son of Noah lived 600 years ? Or that Jesus Christ had no uterine siblings at all ? Theology does not need inerrancy either – it is a doctrine of no practical pastoral value at all. Infallibility & Inerrancy result in endless perplexities & anxieties – they don’t give truth, but only an appearance of it. And they are subject to being revised when further insights into the Bible or the Church are accepted in the two groups. They both exaggerate into idols something ( i.e., theological ideas) other than Christ – & that is very bad.

        They are useful for propaganda – “We believe the Bible in its entirety”, “We accept the whole doctrine of the Church” – but the search for such rightness is not even peculiar to Christianity. Fundamentalist habits of thought, if applied to “The Lord of Rings” & the other books, could equally well “prove” the total inerrancy of those texts: they have the same explanatory power, they too provide a group self-understanding, they too explain phenomena that are perplexing; and in a few centuries, they will probably be treated as fully inspired sacred writings. The Bible “just happens” (so to speak) to be the text among certain Christians which has come to be treated as a Divine “Lord of the Rings” – Tolkienians debate whether “Unfinished Tales” is part of the “legendarium”‘s canon; Fundamentalist Christians debate whether “The Wisdom of Solomon” is part of the Biblical canon. There is no difference in attitude between a Christian Fundamentalist who tries to account for the difficulties in the
        chronology of the O.T. kings of Israel & Judah, and a Tolkienian who tries to account for similar problems in the chronology of a text by Tolkien.

    • turmarion

      Here’s an interesting take on the matter.

      • A Sinner

        Of course, Tumarion, it is Zizek where I first was exposed to the idea of God as “monstrous”…

      • Rat-biter


        Just that one line of post :) ?

  • Rat-biter

    “John Paul was willing to admit that the sins of intolerance committed by Christians “in the name of faith and morals” had “[sullied] the face of the church.””

    ## He blamed men long dead, unable to answer for themselves – how is this any different from disowning policies that have previously been very helpful for the Church, but are now inconvenient to it ? This is propaganda, not penitence or confession, let alone reparation. The individual is nothing, the Institution is everything. (One is strongly tempted to make even harsher criticisms.) This is too Soviet-like for comfort. “Star Trek” is not always a good model for Christian ecclesiology.

    • Julia Smucker

      Good to know our Polish pope was a communist. I’ll bet he’s having a good laugh over that one.

    • turmarion

      I would criticize John Paul II’s apologies for a different reason. I don’t think it was a bad idea in principle. However, there was one glaring omission in all his apologies. Never, not one single time, did he give the slightest apology on the Church’s behalf, to the victims of sexual abuse by priests after the Scandal blew up in 2002 (or in any other context, as far as I know). Say what you will about him, at least Benedict did so. The thing is, it’s very, very easy, as you point out, to apologize for the acts of “long dead, unable to answer for themselves” and “policies that have previously been very helpful for the Church, but are now inconvenient to it”. It’s harder to stand up and apologize (and maybe even do something about) things that are happening and have happened on your watch. I know that John Paul was old and sick at that time, and I know that for various reasons he had difficulty believing aspects of the scandalous news coming out, as well as probably being somewhat insulated by his advisers. Still, he continued to write and make pronouncements–and apologies–until his death, so I don’t think he gets a pass on this one. Yes, he is a beatus and may be canonized in our lifetime; but even saints have made some bad, bad mistakes. I don’t doubt he was a good and holy man in his personal life, and he was certainly one of the most influential popes of the last century; but still the one apology he didn’t make (to say nothing of his failure to do a thing about Maciel) will be a black mark on his papacy, one his adoring fans are all-too-ready to sweep under the rug.

      • Rat-biter

        The only justification for his apologies that I can see, is some such idea as that the Church, because in a way identical with the Church of the past, is responsible for the past.

        But that raises objections in its turn. It amounts to saying: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the childrens’ teeth are set on edge” – a proverb which Ezekiel was told would be current no longer.

        The only explanation I can guess at for the beatification, is that the Church has adopted a different approach to assessing who might be beatifiable. There could be something in him I’m blind to. Maybe it’s none of my business.

    • A Sinner

      You know, ironically, I have to agree with Rat-biter here. John Paul II’s “Purification of Memory” was nothing like real repentance, because how can an Institution repent?? Was anyone alive today involved in burning heretics? No.

      It was propoganda, betraying the memory of men who long ago acted as faithful sons of the Church because the political climate changed (ie, the Church finally admitted it “lost” the battle for Christendom; given that His Kingdom is not of this world, I’m not saying that loss in itself was entirely bad) and the institutional church had to thus wash its hands of its old loyalties in order to get in bed with the NEW political order.

      It almost reminds me of slimy Southern politicians who after the Civil Rights movement suddenly (or, at least, eventually) became “not racist.” (Or even look at the shift of all sorts of politicians on gay marriage, abortion, etc). Did these people really change convictions? I doubt they ever sincerely had convictions in the first place. They just did whatever was necessary to ingratiate themselves with the political values/climate of the day.

      • Julia Smucker

        Was anyone alive today involved in burning heretics? No.

        For someone who is constantly decrying modernist assumptions, that’s a pretty individualistic point of argument. It’s one that constantly tempts me too, for instance regarding slavery and colonialism: after all, I had absolutely no control over what race and nationality I was born to. And yet, much as I may wish otherwise, historical baggage is inescapable. An institution (or race or nationality or what have you) is always more than its individual members, who are all affected by its actions past and present, however we may feel about that. That’s why historical, institutional repentance and reconciliation are necessary to the healing of memories.

        • A Sinner

          Well I don’t necessarily disagree with that.

          My point is just that this sort of alleged apology/repentance can actually function to DISTANCE oneself from the actions of the institution in the past. The Inquisitors and such were, in their day, the most loyal sons of the Church. And now the Vatican wants to cut loose and disassociate from them just because, in the current political climate, they are embarrassing?? That takes the form of an apology, but it really amounts to just a dissociation.

          I wrote on my own blog once about this paradox of “guilt”:

          In that post, I discussed it in terms of an individual, but it’s no less true for an Institution: guilt is ultimately a SELF-RIGHTEOUS emotion because it involves a disidentification between the “scolding” self (who “knows better”) and the “bad self” who RECEIVES the “scolding” or renunciation and thus is constructed as Other.

          And this does lead, on the institutional level, to the sort of epistemological problem you bring up: the logical conclusion is ultimately that the Church repenting is the “real Church” (which “knows better”) and the Church of the past is this other “bad Church.” It winds up seeming like there are two churches in that construct; a Church of Today which is right and so sits in judgment on the Church of Yesterday which was wrong.

          To me, it winds up seeming very Pharisaical. John Paul apologizing in this big showy public fashion might SEEM like a repentant gesture, but I think of Christ’s anecdote about the pharisee and the tax collector. To me, John Paul’s public “apologies” essentially wind up sounding like, “Oh, thank you God that we are not or no longer like those awful medieval Catholics of the past. WE know better now and uphold religious liberty and such.”

          No. I think if we are going to have an analogy for “institutional repentance” it has to be like that for individual repentance, like the tax collector, taking place discreetly and privately without any sort of big public repudiation (which can only possibly take the form of speaking in a self-righteous language that disidentifies from the “bad self”), simply letting grace fill the gap.

          As I say in that post of mine, “It is as self-righteous and presumptuous to judge yourself as it is to judge others.” And I think this goes for the Church as an institution as much as anything. The Church doesn’t get to sit in judgment on Herself. God is the only Judge. We can only acknowledge what’s happened and appeal to grace.

        • Julia Smucker

          You are ironically getting close to the heart of the issue for me as a Catholic of Anabaptist heritage. Indeed part of the problem is a degree of self-righteousness among some Mennonites, since an identity so marked by persecution can too easily lend itself to that Pharisaical prayer. In order to move beyond that, we heirs of Anabaptism need to be asked forgiveness so that we may no longer have an excuse to vilify the other Christian traditions.

        • A Sinner

          I still don’t know. It seems to me that in the medieval world, public profession of heresy was ANTISOCIAL in a way we can’t even really imagine today living in a pluralist society. That to make such a choice of believe in a Christendom was a transgressive and antisocial act, and that should not be forgotten in any attempt to honestly assess what actions the Church took back then.

        • Ryan Klassen

          Julia has hit the nail on the head from the Mennonite perspective. One of the barriers Mennonites face when encountering other traditions is the memory of persecution that has been an integral part of shaping and forming our identity. When a tradition that persecuted and killed Mennonites apologizes for those actions, it removes an impediment to fellowship. Of course, if you think those actions were proper and just, then there is no need to apologize and no hope of a healing of memories and reconciliation.

        • A Sinner

          If the Church’s goal is eventually to reabsorb these other ecclesial communities, the “apology” is then the real threat to their existence, no?

          • Julia Smucker

            No. The apology is the only way to reconciliation, which is the only way to true unity. But in another sense, yes, a certain relinquishing of claims to victimhood status as a basis for identity will then be necessary. But only a request for forgiveness can allow that to happen.

        • Ryan Klassen

          Ah, but the Church’s goal is not to reabsorb these other ecclesial communities. The official goal of Roman Catholic ecumenism is a restoration of communion between ecclesial communities. To remain Mennonite and be in communion with Rome is the goal that both Mennonite and Roman Catholic ecumenists are working towards. So the apology is necessary for both sides to get over themselves and their vilification of the other.

        • Julia Smucker

          Exactly right, Ryan. You said it better than I did.

        • A Sinner

          And yet, obviously, individuals have converted either way. And I’m sure you could find some ex-(name an inquisition-persecuted sect) who have become Catholic and support MY position, exactly because they’ve taken up the mantle of the new identity.

          To me the imagined ideal process just seems silly: “Apologize to ‘us’ for things ‘you’ did in the past, so that our group identity can cease to exist and be assimilated to your group identity.”

          I mean, what’s the point of apologizing to a group that you, then, hope will simply become a part of YOUR group? Isn’t there, then, an identification of victim and victimizer that would make the whole thing meaningless?

          It’s like, I think someone used the example somewhere…does the person descended from BOTH slaves AND slaveowners…sit on the “apologizing” end of the table, or the “receiving apology” end of the table?? If a Southern State were to apologize for slavery, would it make any sense if it was a black descendent of slaves who was the Governor (and thus the Head of State empowered to speak for the institution like that?)

          What if someday the Pope was also a former Mennonite, had this “Mennonite Catholic” identity you’ve spoken of. Would it make any sense for him to apologize? Or would he be a subject of receiving the apology??

          This is where these things start to get absurd.

        • A Sinner

          Ryan, if what you say is true, then you are essentially positing that there is a “The Church” and a “The Roman Catholic Church” that are separate subjects, and that it is only “The Roman Catholic Church” which has apologizing and been wrong, (“The Church” being the unrepentable entity into which these other groups would be being incorporated, and thus it would make no sense for “The Church” to issue an apology because that would be equivalent to them apologizing to themselves!)

          But this is not good ecclesiology. The Church subsists in the Catholic Church. There may be elements of “church” outside of it, but only the Catholic Church is the personal subject of Church.

          A hand cut off may still be “human,” but the human person does not subsist in it. Even were we to personify the hand in some degree, it would still be strange for a person, after self-mutilation, to apologize to their hand before sewing it back on given that, once it’s sewn back on, it then becomes part of the very subject which was doing the apologizing in the first place!

          • Julia Smucker

            An awkward metaphor, but one I’ve had to deal with on a very personal level, because I did not – indeed could not – drop my Mennonite baggage when I entered the Catholic Church. What I did have to give up was the triumphalism of the martyr identity, having now, in your phrasing, “taken up the mantle of the new identity.” Mennonite scholar and ecumenist Jeremy Bergen describes this well, and also addresses the question of doctrine and theory (italics are his):

            The ecumenical promise of the confessional martyr is realized only in the overcoming of the logic of Christian division in which the memories of such deaths indeed become occasions for the ongoing conversion of the church. For Anabaptist martyrs to be true witnesses in this sense will involve a giving away and a hope of receiving something very different in return. The “giving away” asks what the martyrs might teach the entire church, not just Mennonites. It involves sharing them widely such that their gifs are freed for the whole church. Among the gifts they bear are found that which Mennonites and other Christians receive in return: an occasion for turning the whole church once again toward God in redoubled repentance and for living into God’s promise of reconciliation in Christ.

            What Mennonites receive in return is a painful communion with persecutors, a history more nuanced and flawed than the one given up. Such communion is configured as the moment of sinful rejection of Christ that occurs both within the soul of every member and within the One Body itself. Mennonites too must lament and confess the violence and unfaithfulness within the Body of Christ that is also their own as an occasion for penitential openness to the gift of God’s grace and forgiveness of the church as a whole. It may be that the testiomony of the Holy Spirit is most clearly revealed in what is done with the story of the sixteenth-century martyrs. That testimony may turn out once again to remind a forgetful people of God’s grace in the face of continued human revolt. The profound lamentation of the wounds within the Body and the repentance that is the only proper response, learned through a wrestling with a history of confessional martyrdom, may be the real gift to the church.

            It might be objected that I have left the truth question unanswered. One may still ask whether the Anabaptist who died proclaiming that Christ is not in the bread and wine died for a truth or for a falsehood. However, sorting out the location of truth in the sixteenth century – who was right and who was wrong – cannot be performed theoretically…. The logic of my proposal suggests that the condition for a truly shared practice and language in which such a common discourse has cogency is the realization of self-giving communion between Mennonites and Catholics by the power of the Holy Spirit. The ambiguities of history within which the Spirit properly works preclude a clear vision of just what happened in the sixteenth century, but a clearer vision than the one we have presently can only follow a healing toward which the Spirit may be moving us. Statements of regret and a call for penitence reflected in the report of the Mennonite-Roman Catholic dialogue are a hopeful sign of this possibility.

            Having both the Mennonite and Catholic traditions as part of my identity, I feel the split within myself. The person descended from both slaves and slaveowners is perhaps conflicted on a whole other level, having more historical baggage than many of us. And perhaps it is for the sake of such a person especially that repentance is most sorely needed.

        • dominic1955


          I know what you said probably is the goal of many in the ecumenical movement, but I know people engaged in high level discussion for which it is still very much “you-come-in-ism” Mortalium Animos style.

          It makes no sense to work to establish “communion” between “ecclesial communities”-there is no communion to establish! Communion can only be established between Churches, i.e. if a group (i.e. Eastern Orthodox) w/ valid Orders wants to join the Church, communion is established between the two of them built on a common acceptance of the same Catholic doctrine. Local customs and discussion on non-defined points of doctrine certainly can be respected. However, they cease being “Eastern Orthodox”-now they are Catholic.

          With a group like the Anglicans who have been joining us, there was no communion established between the TAC and Rome-those Anglicans were absorbed into the Catholic Church through the Ordinariates. Local customs were respected in as far as they were consistent with Catholic doctrine but those kind of Anglicans were already more Catholic than Anglican anyway. The Ordinaries dress in Roman prelate choir dress, no more rochets and tippets for them. Even this was only possible because the traditional Anglicans (and even the Canterbury group) are set up in a quasi-church fashion and did not differ from Catholicism in doctrinal matters that much and those issues that were divergent from Catholic teaching were rejected.

          A group like the Mennonites has no such structure, no such close convergence to Catholic doctrine. There are certainly echos of these structures and teachings, but no where near as close as those held by the Eastern Orthodox and traditional Anglicans. I cannot see how anything other than absorption could happen, person by person.

          By way of analogy or cultural memory there can be hyphenated Catholics of this type (Catholic Anglicans or Mennonite Catholics) but to truly be Catholic one cannot have a foot on both sides of the fence.

        • A Sinner

          But the question still remains: is that person repenting, or receiving the apology? Are they apologizing to themselves??

          Again, this all seems like weird identity politics. I am not my ancestors. Nor am I any Catholic who ever lived.

          I neither want nor expect England to apologize for the Catholic martyrs of the 16th century. It’s water under the bridge. I had some English Catholic ancestors, it seems, but so what?

          It sounds like, in the end, you want an Idea to apologize to an Abstraction.

          Reconciliation can only happen between people. You can’t forgive an institution.

          • Julia Smucker

            I am not my ancestors.

            Now that’s just denial. Much as we might like to reduce everything to the level of the individual, we cannot escape our history.

          • Ronald King

            Julia, I totally agree with you about not escaping our past. What keeps us in the past are fear based primitive responses to instinctively triggered perceived threats. What we fear most is the loss of self, which in essence is the loss of identity. We know that if one attempts to save her/his life one will lose it. This not only happens individually, it also happens institutionally.

        • A Sinner

          Well, we can construct our identity in various ways though that don’t necessarily need to involve any particular value placed on the religion or culture of our ancestors (my father was adopted, so we didn’t even know where his ancestors were from or what they were).

          • Julia Smucker

            The problem is, identity is not entirely voluntary. If we try to construct an identity detached from our ancestry, we are only lying to ourselves.

        • Ryan Klassen

          dominic1955 on July 3, 2012 @ 7:23 pm:

          My understanding through the ecumenical dialogue I have had with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox is that the only thing needed for communion between Rome and Constantinople is communion with Rome. There are no outstanding doctrinal or liturgical issues that would prevent such communion. Certainly the Eastern Orthodox would not join themselves to the Catholic Orthodox Church, nor would they need to relinquish the “Eastern” in their name.

          Certainly reconciliation is more difficult with congregational churches, but difficult is not the same as impossible. Obviously Mennonites will need to commit to the difficult task of reconciling themselves to the primacy of Rome (as Julia herself has said was the most difficult part of becoming Roman Catholic). Certainly Ordinariates would be one option where Mennonite liturgical elements could be encapsulated into the Roman structure. I’m not sure what exactly this would look like, but I think it’s possible (or at least, one could imagine it). But for it to be true reconciliation, it needs to be reconciliation between parties, not an obliteration of one party or forced change to the other. Both sides must reconcile.

          To me, ecumenism is a vital work for both parties. For Mennonites, choosing schism (however difficult it is to understand the pressure they faced at the time, as A Sinner has pointed out) was wrong, and the choice of schism has infected our very identity, making schism the default choice when faced with any difficulty. We need to deal with our decision to separate in order to heal. For Roman Catholics, who believe that there is no salvation outside the Church, I would assume that the work of bringing departed brothers and sisters back into the Church would be a work of great urgency in order to save them from damnation (especially those who want to come). Would it not be better to “become like a Jew to save Jews and a Greek to save Greeks” rather than “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders”?

        • A Sinner

          Well, I understand what you’re saying to a point. A dark person of African descent who tries to claim that they aren’t black, or a homosexual who tries to claim they aren’t gay (a rather common occurrence among conservative Catholics)…is lying to themselves, because we are constructed into identities socially, so it is not entirely voluntary.

          However, there are some things society does not construct that way, or which you can get away from. You have advocated this “Catholic Mennonite” identity and I can’t question you. But I also know there are ex-Mennonites who identify entirely as “Catholic” when it comes to religion (if not “familial culture of origin”) because they understand religious identity to be based entirely on belief.

          Otherwise, you’re saying no one can ever really be saved from problematic parts of their roots. That, say, someone from a Mafia family is always bound to see the police as the enemy, even if he himself repented of crime and criminal culture and became a police officer! Would he have unique insights? Sure, he can’t erase the past. And he certainly might still identify with mafia members AS family. But does he necessarily need to “reconcile” his mafia past specifically, or identify with them AS mafia/criminals?

          No. Renunciation is a possibility too. One can (and sometimes should) renounce rather than just reconcile. When it comes to outright heresy, this simply must be renounced. So one cannot maintain an identity with heretics QUA heretics without, logically, being a heretic oneself. And yet it is heresy, not mere cultural heritage or affiliation, which was the basis of the past persecution.

        • A Sinner

          I mean, what about converts?

          Does a Catholic who becomes a Mennonite suddenly have the right to take up the mantle of the whole “We were victims! The Church victimized us!!” narrative?? All his ancestors were Catholic, and nothing ever happened to this modern person personally. But does mere identification with the group, conversion, suddenly give him the right to that narrative??

          • Julia Smucker

            Judging from my own experience, I imagine that a Catholic-turned-Mennonite would experience profound discomfort with invocations of the Mennonite martyr narrative. Although such a person has chosen a new identity and perhaps renounced his old one, he can’t escape his history, and thus may feel caught between renunciation of the old identity and feeling unwelcome or out-of-place in the new.

            Alternatively, such a convert might be so embittered toward his own ancestry that he willingly takes up that mantle – maybe that’s what drew him to the Mennonites in the first place. But I can’t imagine this happening without a significant degree of cognitive dissonance, whether consciously acknowledged or not.

        • A Sinner

          I think identity is more plastic than you seem to think.

          However, either way, what you’re saying sort of gets to my point about how antisocial heresy was in Christendom.

          What must have been going on in the psyches of those who chose to brazenly flout the values of their childhoods, their ancestors, their families, their communities?

          Of course, the same thing can be asked about the Christian martyrs of ancient Rome. But, as I’ve said before, they never really seemed to “blame” the executioners. They accepted that their Faith was transgressive/subversive, and embraced that.

          I will also point out another sort of ridiculous contradiction: it was, in the end, the State executing heretics, not the Church.

          And yet, most of these groups do not have a chip on their shoulder regarding the States in question. (For that matter, the Jews don’t even seem to be suspicious of modern Germany or Poland as much as they are still of the Church!)

          Why do States get a pass, but the Church is vilified? Why not expect apologies from Germany or Switzerland or whatever? Would a Mennonite be able to be a citizen of any of these countries without cognitive dissonance?? Does the Mennonite narrative still contain all sorts of suspicion and ill-will towards the German State (or, even, the Holy Roman Empire that it once was)?

          And yet, presumably, the reason they were punished in the first place is because they WERE citizens originally, but being subversive to the State. And yet it is the Church, not the State, which bears the grudge? I don’t really understand that. If one get accept that one institution (the State) has “moved on” I don’t see why one would continue vilifying another (the Church) except as part of a narrative of theological justification.

        • Ryan Klassen

          One of the points of ecumenical dialogue is to come to a shared understanding of history, and thus a reconciliation of memory. This would help with the cognitive dissonance that converts experience, and that all would experience if ecumenical work actually successfully led to a type of unity. But if we can reconcile our memories of the past, we can once again become one tradition without a victim narrative on one side or a triumphalist narrative on the other. As a Mennonite ecumenist, I’m working more to help Mennonites overcome a victim mentality than I am to get Roman Catholics to do anything.

          In terms of joining a narrative, would you say that a Roman Catholic convert should know nothing of the historical Church, because they are not a part of it? That they have no right to see themselves a part of anything greater than the current church in their current location? Of course not. When one joins a group, they in some sense take up the narrative of that group. I do not want the victimization narrative to be a part of the self-identity of the Mennonite tradition, but I need some help with that.

        • A Sinner

          Hm. I find your approach sincerely refreshing. HOWEVER, I hope you don’t forget this either: the fact that the victim narrative WAS ONCE, at least, part of the Mennonite narrative or tradition…is itself a fact of history that cannot be gotten rid of or forgotten or disowned. You may say “it shouldn’t be anymore,” and I agree, but whatever the “new” form of the narrative looks like, it in itself must integrate the fact that the victim narrative WAS at one point part of the identity. We can never change the past, we may not be the same person today as yesterday, but whomever we are today, it’s only because of who we were yesterday + grace. If we totally “renounce” or “disown” the sin (as opposed to simply recognizing it contritely), we in some sense are disowning the grace for which it was the occasion, which did “more abound” from it.

          • Julia Smucker

            That sounds a lot like what I’ve been trying to say. The victim narrative is still a part of the Mennonite narrative, which needs to change somehow. My argument to Mennonites is basically that while we can’t change the past or abandon our tradition’s witnesses, we need to find some way to reshape that narrative so that our identity does not depend on vilification. Something we can agree on, perhaps?

        • A Sinner


        • Julia Smucker

          Great, now we’re getting somewhere. At the risk of perhaps toppling our precarious agreement, can we also agree that some initiative toward reconciliation (including mutual reexamination of our history) needs to be taken on both sides in order for this needed transformation to happen?

        • Ryan Klassen

          A Sinner (re. the victim narrative):

          Exactly. When one receives an apology and is able to offer forgiveness, the victim narrative changes without being covered over. It seems that those who want Mennonites to just get over it or to join Rome without having the past acknowledged and dealt with are the ones who want to paper over the past. I’m no psychotherapist, but even I know that repressing past hurts will only cause problems later. Forgiveness and grace don’t change history but they redeem it.

        • A Sinner

          I don’t know. Something still seems off about this to me. We don’t “negotiate” with God. He doesn’t apologize to us for all our suffering. We either surrender entirely, accepting all the suffering we’ve been put through, or we are damned.

          Now, the Church and God are not quite the same things, at least not in the Church’s human element. Nevertheless, if submission to the Church is basically equivalent to submission to God, I’m not sure people can expect the Church to do anything. I’m not sure what sort of spiritual message that sends.

          God hurts a lot of people too (or “lets” them be). Look at Job. The only answer you’re going to get from Him are “my ways are not your ways.” You get over it and accept Him on His terms only.

          Again, I’m not saying that’s entirely equivalent to the Church, but it’s something I need to consider.

        • dominic1955


          I do not know what Eastern Orthodox you were talking with, but some of them still have major problems with the Filioque issue, among other issues. It all depends, and even if communion would be restored with Constantinople, that doesn’t mean Mt. Athos, the Greeks, the Serbians, the Russians etc. would come along with them. The issues are dealing with much finer points than with most Protestants, but they are definitely still there.

          Precisely because we believe there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church, the urgency is all the more real to bring all peoples into the Church-and I mean actually into the Church, not some PC “convergenccy” nonsense. If people are wanting to convert to Catholicism because they are convinced that it is the true Church, they should have no problem rejecting their previously held heresy and everything that is in it that is not completely consistent with Catholicism.

          Much less needs to be done with the various E. Orthodox churches because they have retained much more Catholicity than any other dissident group and what the nature of their separation was.

          With most other groups, I see no point in even trying to somehow work to “establish communion” with them because there is almost nothing of catholicity left in their groups. We can only hope and pray that they come to the knowledge and acceptance of the truth and convert. .

          That’s also what we did while I was in the seminary and we’d have ecumenical get togethers. We had to humor some of the uppers with their little pan-relgious prayer services, but behind closed doors and away from their silliness we got down to doctrinal brass tacks with those who actually wanted a serious discussion.

      • A Sinner

        And, to carry this to the logical extremes of absurdity: the Jews still haven’t apologized for handing our Founder over to be crucified! (Or for St. Stephen etc)

        Should we demand that in exchange for apologizing for Christian antisemitism?

        If not, why are “wrongs” 500 years ago the subject of repentance, but not wrongs 2000 years ago??

        • Julia Smucker

          According to Vatican II’s Declaration on Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, “neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion.”

          But if your identity as a Catholic depends on vilification of the Jews, your problem may be ironically analogous.

        • Jordan

          A Sinner [July 3, 2012 8:14 pm]: And, to carry this to the logical extremes of absurdity: the Jews still haven’t apologized for handing our Founder over to be crucified! (Or for St. Stephen etc) Should we demand that in exchange for apologizing for Christian antisemitism?

          A Sinner, do you read biblical Greek? Do you know the form-historical-critical background of the Gospel of John? If you did, you would know that οἱ ἰουδαῖοι refers not to the children of Israel throughout time, but the conflict between Torah-observant and Gentile Christians in the peri-70 CE inter-cultural conflicts in Jerusalem and Judaea.

          I simply cannot fathom that an educated post-conciliar Catholic could even contemplate defending the deicide charge against the Jewish people. This falsehood has fueled the deepest depths of human depravity towards other human beings.

          Thank you, though, for revealing to us the ulterior motive behind your defense of unbridled violence in the hands of the temporal Church.

        • A Sinner

          Well, then I want a declaration from the Mennonites saying, “neither all Catholics indiscriminately at that time, nor Catholics today, can be charged with the persecutions of the 16th century.”

        • A Sinner

          But surely, if “institutional apologies” are in any sense meaningful and the Church could apologize, then so could the Synagogue.

          But I don’t really support either idea. In fact, both seem absurd things to expect.

        • Jordan

          re: A Sinner [July 3, 2012 8:14 pm]:

          Let me add that the first Nazi death camp was established in the Polish town from where my surname originates. I am almost certain that the Poles there gladly betrayed their Jewish neighbors unto the Nazis, as has been proven many times over. Perhaps this is why I am sensitive to the issue. Maybe, in a way, I have taken on a (perhaps unnecessary) sense of geneaological metanoia.

          And yet, should you be in my shoes, would you defend the actions of your ancestors? I absolutely repudiate their actions. So likewise we Catholics, even if [not] personally culpable, must repudiate the dehumanization so often perpetrated in the name of Church in the name of a false belief predicated on avarice and political gain. Again, I cannot understand why you cannot concede that the Church’s complicity with unjustice violence is absolutely inimicial to Christ’s mission.

        • dominic1955

          Likewise on a cultural level, I fail to see why any institution/society/culture/country etc. ad naseaum needs to apologize for what its predecessor does. I’m of Polish descent (100%), I see no reason for the Russian, German, or Austrian government or people to apologize for the crap the old empires did to the old Polish kingdom. I see no reason for me to participate in a national apology (and even less so in reparations) to descendants of slaves in this country considering my people were over in Austro-Hungarian occupied Poland at the time. We need to just acknowledge it as a historical reality and then as water under the bridge and move on.

          Also, so an apology need not be given for a historical wrong if its not politically correct? Why can’t the Jews be held accountable? The Holocaust? Something in which plenty of our Catholic people died and in which plenty of my Polish people died, it is not a crime against the Jews alone though they bore the brunt of the Nazi ideological hatred. If we Catholics of today can be “charged” with the “crimes” of the Church in the past, ones that not all Catholics at that time nor Catholics today should be charged with, I do not see why the Jews cannot be charged with theirs.

        • Ryan Klassen

          No one is demanding apologies – we are simply recognizing that they are necessary for reconciliation. Certainly, if there were to be reconciliation between the Church and the Jews (and I believe this will happen, as the scriptures have said), there will need to be a recognition that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. And, conversely, there will need to be a recognition that Christian antisemitism was wrong before reconciliation can take place.

          I’m not sure why you think that sin does not need repentance as long as enough time has past. That’s not the way it works. All wrongs need repentance, and particularly as a requirement for reconciliation. After all, is that not what purgatory is for – to cleanse us from those sins we were not able to repent and be reconciled for while alive before we are able to fully be in the presence of God?

        • A Sinner

          Jordan, you’re letting your own bizarre obsession with the Jewish thing make you not read my logic straight.

          I’m not advocating for a “deicide guilt” view, nor demanding an apology from the Jews.

          I’m just saying that if THEY (today, in the present) can’t be held accountable for the guilty act perpetrated by THEIR leaders/institution (in the form of the Sanhedrin circa 33 AD) in the past…why the double standard with acting as if the Church CAN be held accountable for what was done by ours?

          No, I think the “Nostra Aetate” principle needs to hold for ALL groups: “neither all indiscriminately at the time in question nor, certainly, those today, can be charged with crimes committed in the past.”

          Either “collective guilt” or “institutional guilt” is real, or it isn’t. It if is, then why is it absurd to blame the Jews for the death of Christ? If it isn’t, then how can the Church “apologize” for things done 500 years ago.

          • Jordan

            A Sinner [July 4, 2012 10:43 am]: Jordan, you’re letting your own bizarre obsession with the Jewish thing make you not read my logic straight.

            Okay, I went into berserk reaction mode rather than hear you out. I am highly judaeophilic in my personal life. Still, I should stop branding anyone who disagrees with my highly specific metrics as an anti-semite just because of a personal sensitivity about Judaism.

            A Sinner: No, I think the “Nostra Aetate” principle needs to hold for ALL groups: “neither all indiscriminately at the time in question nor, certainly, those today, can be charged with crimes committed in the past.” Either “collective guilt” or “institutional guilt” is real, or it isn’t.

            What’s “real”? It’s important to remember that St. John’s Passion is not a literal account but an allegorical-theological composition. After Pius XII’s Divino afflante spiritu, Catholics may employ historical-critical methods to deconstruct biblical events (e.g. Sitz im Leben). Given the allegorical nature of the Johannine passion, the text cannot be interpreted as a historical condemnation of Judaism and Jewish people in toto. Also, no sure written historical context of contemporaneous Jewish unequivocal-polemical rejection of Christianity exists. This does not prominently emerge until later redactions and commentary on the Mishnah from the 2nd century forward.

            Nostra aetate‘s condemnation of the deicide charge stems from a historical-critical view of the Johannine passion and not biblical fundamentalism. Per biblical criticism, an allegorical-narrative passion of Christ demonstrates no historical footing to extrapolate period Jewish-Christian disagreements into the deicide charge. However, the brutality of temporal Church towards Jews and other non-Christians in premodern Europe is recorded historical fact and cannot be equated with the non-empirical “institutional guilt” behind the deicide charge. Pogroms incur Catholic institutional guilt because the violence is proven in historical record.

        • Ryan Klassen

          A Sinner (re. July 3, 2012 9:00 pm)

          If you were involved in ecumenical dialogue, you would hear the declaration you ask for given at the beginning of just about any dialogue. No one is saying that all Catholics are guilty of crimes against all Mennonites, or that Catholics today bear the burden of that guilt. But the fact remains that there is a schism between the two, and confession and forgiveness must happen for reconciliation to be possible.

          And the point of all of this is reconciliation, not assigning blame. There is enough fault to go around. But reconciliation cannot happen until both sides accept their faults or errors and are willing to confess them. You’ve already said that the Church did (and does) act in error from time to time. I guess I don’t understand why you think the Church shouldn’t admit it in this case.

        • A Sinner

          “What’s “real”? It’s important to remember that St. John’s Passion is not a literal account but an allegorical-theological composition.”

          I don’t think this sort of modernism is binding on Catholics. It may not be condemned, but it is certainly not binding.

          However, again, you’re not reading what I’m saying. Instead you went into a bizarre rant about the Jews and Scripture and Christian teaching which I basically agree with, but which is a TOTAL NON SEQUITUR from what I was saying.

          I’m NOT trying to invoke St. John’s Gospel to prove “Jewish collective guilt” or anything like that. Quite the opposite.

          I’m trying to use that concept as a foil for showing why it is a double standard for Catholics to “apologize” for “institutional guilt” but then totally considered politically incorrect to think that the Jews might apologize for what their institution did to Christ.

          However, my suggestion would not be in the direction of actually expecting an apology from the Jews, but rather in the direction of NOT having the Church make such apologies.

          “the non-empirical ‘institutional guilt’ behind the deicide charge. Pogroms incur Catholic institutional guilt because the violence is proven in historical record.”

          No, this is silly. No serious historian denies that the Sanhedrin did, in fact, plot to have Christ handed over on trumped up charges. That does NOT mean “all Jews” individually can be charged with it. But, then again, not every Catholic can be charged with the pogroms. In both cases, however, no one denies that there was an institutional involvement or complicity.

          • Jordan

            A Sinner [July 4, 2012 3:16 pm]: No, this is silly. No serious historian denies that the Sanhedrin did, in fact, plot to have Christ handed over on trumped up charges. That does NOT mean “all Jews” individually can be charged with it. But, then again, not every Catholic can be charged with the pogroms. In both cases, however, no one denies that there was an institutional involvement or complicity.

            John Dominic Crossan, and the Jesus Seminar more generally, have questioned the historicity of Sanhedrin involvement in the trial and death of Jesus. See Crossan’s “Who killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel story of the death of Jesus” (Harper, 1995) [LC record]. Crossan’s theories are definitely non-binding on Catholics :-0

            From an agnostic position, I again contend that the burden of “institutional guilt” is clearly weighted towards the violent actions of Christian institutions and individual Christian actors during the course of “Christian history” towards Jewish people. Since it’s quite possible that the scriptural passions contain narrative elements which might not have taken place, including Jesus’ interrogation at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the “crowd”‘s provocation of Jesus at his arraignment, the charge that the violent actions of 1st century CE institutional Jewish authorities hastened the passion and death of Jesus Christ is not as empirically probable as premodern European pogroms and inquisitions.

            Quite rightly, postconciliar popes have apologized for past Christian violence without asking for any apology from any other ethnic or religious group. Not only must Christians answer only for themselves, but the historical record of violence weights much, much more heavily on our shoulders.

          • Julia Smucker

            Insofar as this is the case, it is the worst possible counter-witness to the truth of the Gospel that we can possibly make.

        • Rat-biter

          @dominic1955 – July 3, 2012 7:23 pm:

          “but to truly be Catholic one cannot have a foot on both sides of the fence”

          ## Hebrew Catholics manage this. They – or certainly some of them – observe the rites of both religions.

          Disgraceful & evil IMHO, but that is just me. So much nonsense goes on in the Church these days that one hardly knows what to make of it.

        • dominic1955


          Wow. I’m sure that is exactly what Pope Pius XII had in mind, Crossan and the “Jesus Seminar” and modernist readactions of the Scriptures. Biblical scholarship and progress did not start with Divino Afflante Spiritu nor would have Pius XII thought of it as some sort of landmark document and broke revolutionary new ground, even though some take it as such.

          As to pogroms and such, did the Church ever say these things should be done? I wouldn’t be surprised if even local bishops were complicit in such actions, but I do not recall any official Church teaching saying such things should be done. I do recall church documents and teaching saying that people shouldn’t treat the Jews in such ways and accuse them of all manner of evil that is unfounded.


          I know, people do all sorts of odd things and think it is perfectly Catholic and yes, no one really polices much of anything anymore so confusion reigns. It is especially evil considering the biblical injunctions against following the old ways after baptism.

          I know of people who are converts of Judaism who really converted. They even use the “Hebrew Catholic” label, but only as a description of where they came from even just culturally. They have no pretensions of somehow being both religiously Jewish and religiously Catholic.

          • Julia Smucker

            I wouldn’t be surprised if even local bishops were complicit in such actions, but I do not recall any official Church teaching saying such things should be done. I do recall church documents and teaching saying that people shouldn’t treat the Jews in such ways and accuse them of all manner of evil that is unfounded.

            We may be getting somewhere. Repudiations and apologies for past actions don’t seem to require any doctrinal backpedaling, so we should be able to address past wrongs honestly, including acknowledging the Church’s complicity where this applies, without compromising the authority of Church teaching. What’s more, such admissions would seem to me to bolster the Church’s integrity since they take a lot of maturity and genuine self-confidence (as opposed to arrogance which is often a cover for insecurity).

        • A Sinner

          However, while Church doctrine never upheld pogroms, it most certainly DID uphold the theoretical permissibility of an Inquisition. Whether the conditions inherent in the theory were ever in fact met in practice, in actual historical circumstances, is another question.

          But the theory here regarding the State’s right to defend itself against any threat that is not an objective moral obligation (and the fact that objective error does not fall into this latter category/exception of ‘obligation’)…is unquestionable.

          • Julia Smucker

            But “the theoretical permissibility of an Inquisition” has never been directly explicated in any magisterial declaration, which is significant because we are therefore not doctrinally bound to a positive judgment on the moral justification for an Inquisition, in theory or in practice.

        • Jordan

          dominic1955 [July 5, 2012 9:05 am] Wow. I’m sure that is exactly what Pope Pius XII had in mind, Crossan and the “Jesus Seminar” and modernist readactions of the Scriptures..

          I’m well aware that historical-critical biblical scholarship existed well before Pius XII’s endorsement. I mentioned Crossan only to illustrate that the Gospel passion narratives should not be the foremost consideration when the institutional Church repents for past violence towards Jewish people. As Julia has already noted [July 5, 2012 11:05 am], the issue is not doctrine or dogma but institutional responsibility and accountability.

          Unlike A Sinner (c.f. [July 4, 2012 8:41 pm]), I do not view the Old Testament typologically but rather as covenantal scripture. Acceptance or rejection of a typological view of the Old Testament is perhaps one of the bright lines between “traditional” and “progressive”/”modernist” Catholicism. Because I reject Old Testament typology, I cannot call myself a “traditional Catholic”. I cannot agree that the portrayal of Jews and Judaism in the Gospel passion narratives is integral to the paschal mystery.

        • A Sinner

          If it’s never been taught by the Church, Julia, then what is the point of this post?

        • Julia Smucker

          A good and thought-provoking question. I’m trying to work out how much consistency, constraint, precedent for repentance & reconciliation at the institutional level, etc. there is in the teaching and practice of the Church. I suppose if “it has always remained the teaching of the Church” is taken to mean the contrary has never been officially promulgated as doctrine, then the statement from DH that I found questionable stands. Obviously the teaching against violent coercion that was explicated in DH has not always been explicitly taught by the Church and has sometimes been contradicted in practice. But on the other hand, the absence of direct doctrinal justification for violent coercion leaves the way open for the Church to formally repudiate it, as it now has. As significant as that is, ultimately it’s not enough to name this as the teaching position of the Church; the Church must address its own failures to acknowledge or live up to this principle. And the more I’m learning, the more convinced I become that it can do so without damaging its credibility, and in fact that addressing its failures would show a mature Church willing to own up to the times when its actions have denied its true mission, thus making it more credible in teaching the truth. That’s the point.

        • dominic1955


          The reason I mention your mention of Crossan was that A Sinner spoke of “no serious historian” doubting the involvement of the Sanhedrin. Crossan and the Jesus Seminar are a farce, the kind of people the History Channel calls up when they want some joker with a degree to say something “controversial” in front of the camera.

          As to dogma/doctrine vs. “institutional accountability”, that was one of my points. Like this thread has been going on an on about, I don’t think there is really such a thing as “institutional accountability” for which grand-standing apologies need be issued according to. Plus, the fuzzy way people look at this certainly does get tied up in doctrinal issues. For instance, Good Friday prayer for the Jews from the ’62 (and before) Missale. Lex orandi, lex credendi after all…

          As to covenental and typological views of the OT, I guess I don’t see any real divide between the two unless we are understanding different things by the two terms. I also do not see how one can reject OT typology since the NT itself makes use of it.

        • A Sinner

          Your idea of desiring a “formal repudiation” scares me, Julia. Because there are Catholics, currently in good standing, like dominic and I…who would be anathemized and accounted heretics if this alleged “doctrine” you propose were ever actually dogmatized. Sure, the Church never quite dogmatized the opposite (though carried it through in practice)…but expecting the opposite’s opposite to be dogmatized now makes YOU seem like the intolerant one. Like the the leftists of the Revolutionary era who, because they were reacting against the ancien regime…ended up being JUST as tyrannical and authoritarian (but even worse, due to not being constrained by tradition, etc).

          There is no need to worry about anyone burning heretics TODAY. The point of repudiating the past (and thus making material heretics out of many Saints even) would only be a political/ideological point to institutionalize your own personal preference, even though the Church is obviously a big enough tent to harbor BOTH opinions regarding the practicalities.

          As long as everyone can agree to the basic principle: the State has a right to use force to defend itself, I think there is room for debate about what the limits on that right might be, and certain room to allow debate about whether and how any such limits were or were not correctly applied to given historical circumstances.

          At the bottom of the thread I have added a question (I put the number 777 at the top just for reference) regarding how this debate perhaps should be framed more in terms of limits on the State right to defend itself.

          But my concern here boils down to this: my position fully allows you and yours to maintain YOUR position as regarding the prudence of the casuistic application in any given historical circumstance. You’re still free, under my position, to say the Inquisition was in practice wrong.

          Whereas, under your proposed dogma, I would be anathemized for thinking it was sometimes correct. Because your principle would make it so that the question that my principle leaves open to debate as a matter of practice…into a matter of absolute theory.

          This scares me, as I do not consider myself a heretic.

          • Julia Smucker

            Ah, now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. Thank you for being honest about why my position scares you. I guess from a theological perspective I have good news and bad news for you.

            The “bad news” (from your perspective) is that the Church has already repudiated the idea that forcible coercion of professed belief is ever justified, as in DH 12 which I quoted in the post. We can dispute the historical ramifications, but “no one is to be coerced into believing” is the teaching of the Church.

            The good news is that if disagreement with the magisterium on any point whatsoever made one a heretic, we’d all be screwed. Certainly, the Church is a big enough tent to harbor members with dissenting opinions, otherwise its population would probably be zero. After all, the minority bishops at the First and Second Vatican Councils remained Catholics in good standing even when they disagreed with what was (always after much dispute) officially promulgated. So I’m not accusing you of heresy (although if anyone did, I would passionately defend your right not to be coerced into recanting your position), just asking you to recognize that your position is a dissenting one. If those amount to the same thing to you, then you are defining heresy too broadly.

        • A Sinner

          Well, “heresy” was perhaps used rather broadly there. But even “dissenting” is not good. You still seem to be suggesting that Vatican II’s declaration somehow trumps the practice (and promulgated discipline and teaching) of other Popes and Councils. You may not be claiming it’s a dogma, but you’re still giving your preferred interpretation that status of a teaching demanding at least religiosum obsequium rather than “a prudential opinion that happens to be the one the Vatican currently officially subscribes to, but subscribed to a different one in the past, and so could subscribe once again to a different one in the future.”

          Furthermore, I’m not sure where I ever said anyone should be “coerced into believing.” Converting people at sword-point (which is bad) and punishing heretics are two different things. The first is an offensive action. The second is defensive, and the “pressure” is not so much directed at trying to get people to convert actively, so much as acting as a DETERRENT to KEEP Catholics from apostasizing IN THE FIRST PLACE. (That, in this system, heretics can escape their punishment by re-converting…is a side-effect.) The Council never said, “There is to be no pressure put on anyone to stay Catholic.”

          Furthermore, you still haven’t defined “coercion.” In a strict sense, as I’ve pointed out, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to coerce anyone into believing. By nature, belief is a free choice. But does that mean there can’t be significant pressures (up to and including the threat of Hell)?? Of course not! So define “coercion” for me precisely, and I’ll give it a thought.

          No, I think you’re making a doctrine (maybe not a dogma, but a doctrine) out of a historically contingent approach. Not even that. You’re not even just demanding assent to that formula, but demanding that one agrees the formula was, in fact, breached by the very idea of the Inquisition. Even if I do accept “No one is to be coerced into believing,” I don’t even think that’s what the Inquisition or burning heretics was.

          Obviously: if someone winds up burnt, that very fact indicates they didn’t get coerced into believing! (If they had been, they wouldn’t have been burnt). From your logic, we can reach the absurd conclusion that the sin of the Inquisition might have been that it DIDN’T burn those who did repent, as opposed to that it did burn those who didn’t. Afterall, if repenting didn’t get you off the hook, then that could that really be called “forcing people to believe” anymore? And yet, that’s clearly strange logic.

        • dominic1955

          That’s also part of the problem, is DH 12 really part of the teaching of the Church-at least such that it is something we have to assent to in the same way we would assent to a Canon from Trent? As far as I can tell, any claim that DH actually taught something new and at variance with what came before, something we all have to drive our tent pegs into, is completely vitiated by the line from DH 1, “Therefore it leaves untouched the traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”

          Much of Vatican II was vitiated by this back and forth, clear and fuzzy language that was used. I personally take the Popes at their word-they wanted to speak to the world and use the medicine of mercy instead of condemnation, that’s nice. However, before anyone gets thrown under the heretic (or even dissenter) bus-they better start issuing some Canons. Like Bishop Athanasius Schneider spoke of, we need a new Syllabus, one that condemns the false interpretations of Vatican II and that gives us what really is to be formally believed.

          My concern in these things is that if a theological position is going to get the official thumbs up or thumbs down, it needs to be done in the clear manner of old. Approve or condemn or make it clear that its debatable, but do not throw it out there like everyone already knows what you mean but do not really want to hammer it down but punish those who aren’t all gung-ho about it and then later on come along and say it was OK all this time, etc. etc. ad nauseam. All of this fuzzy pseudo-dogmaticizing of Vatican II and after is ridiculous. At one time some of the nonsense that supposedly was “taught” by Vatican II was treated as dogmatically as Trent, and those in the good graces of the Church as Her loyal sons (i.e. Archbishop Lefebvre) suddenly found themselves on the outside while those silly season “theologians” who had been under the watchful eye of the Holy Office were pulling the strings and calling the shots.

          • Julia Smucker

            Well, now you’re really showing your true colors, Dominic. On a certain level the sweeping claims to continuity that you note point to the questions of interpretation I was raising in this post. But in any case, to claim that a statement that explicitly refers to itself as the teaching of the Church isn’t really the teaching of the Church is cafeteria Catholicism of the most illogical sort.

        • A Sinner

          But that’s the very irony that dominic is noting about Vatican II: it sweeps in, says it doesn’t want to issue any more anathemas, as such phrases its content in this fuzzy ambiguous way without making it clear how it fits in with previous Church practice or teaching. Okay, fair enough so far. But then its (liberal) proponents treat this new teaching in the same way their old enemies treated the Syllabus-era teachings, and start a “reverse persecution” on the basis of it, start trying to go after traditionalist “dissent” and “heresy.” And yet that sort of dogmatism was exactly the sort of thing these people were allegedly opposing, that was exactly the reason they DIDN’T phrase the Vatican II in the old precise language, and exactly why they harped on Religious Liberty. And yet, here they were basically making this ironic/paradoxical dogma out of non-dogmatism! To the point that we do see people like Archbishop Lefebvre thrown under the bus just for believing what he had believed his whole life!!! It’s nuts.

        • A Sinner

          In general I’d make that complaint about Vatican II.

          You know, it’s often pointed out how at one point the Immaculate Conception was debatable, how even Aquinas debated it (because he didn’t see “how” it could be accomplished while still asserting the universal necessity of Christ as Redeemer), but eventually was dogmatized.

          However, I’d observe, it was basically dogmatized long after anyone was seriously debating it anymore. There was consensus about it long before it was dogmatized. Likewise, I think of that Pope who refused to settle the Thomist/Molinist debate, basically saying neither side seemed entirely satisfying, but allowed them both to keep debating as long as neither called the other heretical.

          Then there’s certain things said at Vatican II which feel more like a COUP. That purported to “overturn” beliefs that were the OFFICIAL belief (with their opposites censured by the Holy Office) just TEN YEARS PRIOR. So it feels more like this revolutionary act, this “revenge of the liberal theologians against their persecutors.” A vindictive act of…well, vindication (almost, as it were, forced submission to the Liberal Democratic world order.)

          But how can that not seem like rupture? To tell all sorts of people that what they HAD to believe ten years previously, is now suddenly anathema?? That’s impossible. It has to mean something along the lines of “You didn’t really ever have to believe either,” and that it was a case of people getting absolutist (using the instruments of the magisterium even) with things that aren’t really absolutist.

          At least with the Immaculate Conception, say, teaching it was never forbidden, and they waited to dogmatize it long after there was general consensus so that no Aquinas was getting publicly rebuked. At Vatican II, suddenly propositions condemned within the previous decade still as at least “offensive to pious ears” were being made into teachings demanding religious submission??

          No, there’s something fishy there, and it can’t be what it looks like.

          • Julia Smucker

            Remember the hierarchy of truth. You correctly point out about the Immaculate Conception, “There was consensus about it long before it was dogmatized.” That’s why it’s the only dogma besides the Assumption to have been declared ex cathedra an infallible teaching of the Church.

            I’m wondering now if part of the value of the continuity language at Vatican II was the mitigation of the feeling of disorientation caused by the reforms. The documents certainly don’t take the tone of telling people “what they had to believe ten years previously is now suddenly anathema”. The irony now is that by talking about it as a rupture, you, my fellow Sinner, are sounding more like John O’Malley than Benedict XVI.

        • A Sinner

          The idea that “only the Immaculate Conception and Assumption are infallible ex cathedra truths” is incorrect.

          They seem to be the two most self-conscious exercises of PAPAL infallibility separate from a Council. But there is a ton of conciliar out-put that is solemnly extraordinarily defined infallible, and even among papal magisterium there are plenty of old decrees that fit the conditions even if the Pope was not, at the time, thinking “I am making an infallible act” because that sort of self-consciousness about it had not yet entered the picture.

        • dominic1955

          No, Julia, I think my “true colors” were always apparent. What I espouse is not “cafeteria Catholicism” except to the kind of progressivist Inquisitors A Sinner rightly pointed out as being a problem in the post-Vatican II era. Thoughtful Catholics in the Council (i.e. the CIP) brought up those kinds of points with things like DH. What is the deal, it says the traditional doctrine is left untouched and then it goes on to say things that seem to undermine or contradict what was taught before. They basically got the answer that theologians someday will figure that all out. Well, that is not good enough! Who in their right mind would rubber stamp something that isn’t clearly coherent with what came before? Infallibility isn’t magical.

          The same kind of thing applies here. You say its “church teaching” and I do not disagree with you necessarily. However, I would certainly agree if DH is saying basically what Pope Pius XII was saying before, that pragmatically we need to adopt a sort of universal toleration. I would not certainly agree if DH 12 is presented as if it was some sort of Canon-which is obviously cannot be.

          Much ink has been spilled trying to square things like DH with the rest of Catholic teaching. I don’t think it is heretical or some such, but I definitely think we need that Syllabus mentioned by Bishop Schneider to clarify these things.

          One of the great things about the reign of Benedict XVI is that we are finally able to have the sorts of discussions and freedom we should have had in the immediate post-conciliar period. I’m thinking of the likes of Msgr. Gherardini’s criticism of Vatican II among others. Finally, the official line (and this I mean from the various voices within the Vatican) isn’t merely akin to something like, “So you don’t think Vatican II squares with previous teaching? Well, it does, so shut up.”

          • Julia Smucker

            OK, so one thing we can agree on is that we should be discussing coherence among Church teachings. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do here. That doesn’t make me a progressivist inquisitor, just a systematician.

  • A Sinner

    Which is something I think it is important to understand about the position of people like me:

    I, at least, am not necessarily in support of Christendom either. That was just as much a Kingdom of This World as any other, was a political order subject to all the corruption of any.

    This is why, in fact, the progressive narrative troubles me.

    While some people try to spin Vatican II and John Paul II as taking a “prophetic” stand…in reality what everyone sees (from the outside) is an institution that strenuously tried to maintain its old secular power for centuries after the revolutions that toppled it, and finally when that loss became just too hard to deny and too too embarrassing (and when most people in the world took liberal democratic values as basic, and so judged the Church by them rather than the other way around) finally tried to disavow the past and whore itself out (unconvincingly) to the New Order, and pretend like the Church actually invented those values all along! Now, talk about a narrative that’s hard to swallow!

    Old political loyalties became embarrassing to the Church in the new political order, so they were disavowed as by so many Death Eaters after the First Fall of Voldemort.

    The fact that progressives are so blind as to see that mere ingratiation to (and interpretation of the Gospel to suit) the current political order is ONCE AGAIN what is going on with all this “liberty” nonsense…strikes me as very naive.

    If we were wrong to get in bed with The World, to get wrapped up in a given political order and promote its values, the first time around (and, I think, were “laid low” by God for it in the form of all the revolutions of modernity)…we should realize the second time around NOT to make the same mistake.

    I think the current Pope, as opposed to John Paul, recognizes this moreso. He’s not going to make the values of the Medieval Order OR the Modern Order some sort of dogma.

    That doesn’t mean the Church can’t or shouldn’t function in such an order. For better or worse, the institutional Church IS also a temporal human polity, and as such must engage as one in the world and with States and societies, etc.

    BUT, I think I phrased it like this recently: the Church may be able to “baptize” the political values or system of any Age, but we definitely should not “canonize” them.

    • Julia Smucker

      While the Church has to be engaged in the world in some way, I don’t believe it should be baptizing political systems at all – of any age. Is there a point of agreement in here somewhere?

      • A Sinner


        Again, I’m making the distinction between “baptizing” and “canonizing.” I think it CAN “baptize” any political system just like it can baptize any culture: ie, these things are not intrinsically evil, and all can be used for the Good if used properly. Feudalism could be used for Christian values and so could Democracy. We don’t have to be anarchists or withdraw from the temporal world. In this sense, any order can be “baptized.”

        But, we shouldn’t “canonize” them in the sense of acting as if any one is God’s Own (or Preferred) Political System at the expense of the others, or as if one political system is a better expression of God’s Truth in an absolute sense (as opposed to having some pros and some cons).

        My problem here with you, is that I DON’T seem to see any agreement at all. In taking the “we know better now” line as regards “religious liberty,” you DO seem to, then, canonize the values of liberal democracy (among which “religious liberty” is the clearest concession the Church has made in this regard) in a manner disturbingly similar to how the Medievals “canonized” the values or imagery of Monarchical Christendom vis a vis talk of the divine right of kings and the virtues of fealty and such.

        I say both are, at best, something the Church adapts to in order to work within the world, but neither value is absolute outside of context.

    • Rat-biter

      @A Sinner – July 2, 2012 12:57 pm

      “…the sort of epistemological problem you bring up: the logical conclusion is ultimately that the Church repenting is the “real Church” (which “knows better”) and the Church of the past is this other “bad Church.””

      ## I thought that point you made about guilt was also a very striking one – TY. The trouble with these apologies is that some of JP2’s acts may be apologised for in due course – such as his apologies (as they are called). It is bothersome that the folk in the Vatican could not see the moral problems with what the Pope did. Aren’t bishops meant to be more discerning than ordinary mortals :( ?

    • Rat-biter

      @Jordan – July 4, 2012 11:53 am:

      “Given the allegorical nature of the Johannine passion, the text cannot be interpreted as a historical condemnation of Judaism and Jewish people in toto. ”

      ## Even so, who crucified Jesus ? The Gentiles, and the Jews. All four gospels (not John alone), Acts, & the rest of the NT, blame the Jews as well as the Romans. Whether it is the done thing to say this or not, that is what the NT in fact says. And we can’t ignore the NT in order to spare Jewish feelings; we have to go by what the NT says & means. Judaeophilia & the desire not to be hurtful, however admirable, are not sufficient justification for muzzling the Holy Spirit. If we muffle what the Bible says, we do ourselves great harm, by depriving ourselves of what we may need to hear.

      The NT contains condemnations of the part of the Jews in the crucifixion. So the absence of Jewish agreement with the NT is unimportant. If the testimony of the NT is problematic for Catholic-Jewish relations, so be it: I would rather accept the NT, which is the inspired Word of God, than the ideas of Biblical scholars & ecumenists, which are not.

      In the past the Church had – to put it mildly – no inhibitions about blaming the Jews for the Death of Jesus, just as it supposed the NT blamed them. Apparently, the Church was mistaken in this, because apparently the NT is not to be understood as blaming the Jews for the death of Christ – not even, it seems, those who were in Jerusalem when Jesus was condemned to be crucified. But in that case, where is the Church’s infallibility in teaching, & where is its competence in interpreting the Bible ? It cannot unsay or repudiate interpretations on which it has acted & preached & taught, & claim not to have changed its teaching, its morals, or its exegesis. Or it can, but it cannot expect to be taken seriously if claims such things. It is frustrating beyond measure to see it turn & turn about, yet deny that any turn has taken place. One gets the impression of living in a hall of distorting mirrors :(

      • A Sinner

        In reality, of course, we all killed Christ. But typologically, the Jews did. Because the typology is “God’s Own People rejected and killed Him.” The Jews, in scripture, are the microcosm representing all humanity, and especially the Church. Thus, if we absolve them of the guilt, we are effectively typologically absolving humanity as a whole of the guilt. This is not acceptable, obviously.

        • Julia Smucker

          Conversely, by this line of reasoning, if we blame the Jews, must we also blame the Church by extension?

        • A Sinner

          In one sense, yes. The Church and the Synagogue are two side of the coin, two sides of the same complex reality. Ecclesia IS Synagoga, but under two different aspects. Certainly, the Church is always doing penance, “I am black but beautiful.”

          However, the Church being the locus of the repentance of sinful humanity, being the body which has taken all sin into itself like a cancer, which has “become sin” as it were by the personal sin of Her members…is a mystical/typological idea quite separate from the idea of “institutional guilt” as if She can be guilty as a mystical person. It is the Head which determines how the body acts QUA organically-united body, the Head is the seat of agency, and Christ is the Head of the Church, and He certainly never sins.

          This, of course, is the complex reality of the Church’s human and divine natures, and the “casta meretrix” (the “chaste harlot”) idea. Like Christ, She is both sinless and has “become sin” by taking all of sinful humanity into Her. This is why I think John Paul’s apology kept talking about “the sins of members or children” of the Church, not “of the Church.”

          We are all always engaged in collective penance for the sins of humanity (and, especially, Christians) collectively. The Church wears sack-cloth and ashes, fasts in the desert, is crucified, yes.

    • Rat-biter

      @dominic1955 – July 5, 2012 9:05 am :

      “They have no pretensions of somehow being both religiously Jewish and religiously Catholic.”

      ## The Hebrew Catholics I was thinking of do exactly that. A wiser & more realistic age would have them called them syncretists or Judaisers, since that is what they are. They are pseudo-Catholics & pseudo-Christians, but that is “kewl” with the hierarchy. Given the atrocious example of two Popes, this is unsurprising.

      Unfortunately for the vast majority of the Church, the Church is so structured that if the hirelings are in authority, there is nothing we can do. We are condemned to swallow as purest Christian truth whatever awfulness is dispensed by the hirelings, from Rome downward, no matter how false or noxious or dangerous it may be. The iniquity of this is beyond words.

      This sort of confusion & iniquity is what decides people to throw in the towel, and look for a religion or POV that is not so hopelessly inconsistent yet dictatorial. A religion that has decided to throw in basic morality & rationality is impossible to defend as good: let alone defend as God-given.

      – see especially the end of the article. Or there is this:

      “Neuhaus, the community’s vicar, is a 46-year-old Jesuit priest raised as a Jew in South Africa. His path to Catholicism began when his parents sent him to study in a yeshiva in Jerusalem as a teenager.


      “I attend a Reform synagogue regularly,” said Neuhaus. “I go to the synagogue as an expression of who I am historically, socially and, to a certain extent, spiritually. The melodies of the synagogue are much closer to my heart than the chants in a Benedictine monastery, because I grew up with those melodies. Many of our members attend synagogue as an act of solidarity.””

      “[N]o pretensions of somehow being both religiously Jewish and religiously Catholic” ?

      • Rat-biter

        “This, of course, is the complex reality of the Church’s human and divine natures, and the “casta meretrix” (the “chaste harlot”) idea. Like Christ, She is both sinless and has “become sin” by taking all of sinful humanity into Her.”

        ## This is the kind of ecclesiastical DoubleTalk that leaves me completely at a loss. St. Ambrose was wrong – the Church is a *meretrix*, for sure, just like its OT predecessor; but is not at all *casta*, any more than its faithless & oppressive OT predecessor was. The only way to prevent the Church being hated by Catholics, is to avoid all talk of it thaat makes it into a sort of Christ Inecclesiate, Christ “made Church”. Otherwise, it look so different from Him as to seem like an infernal parody of Him. It ceases to be a devil, only when people stop making a god of it. Many people make sex into a god; a lot of Catholics make the Church into a god.

        It reminds me of how the Pope claims to be a religious functionary for some purposes, but when sued, claims to be a head of state, & as such not responsible for predator priests. This is unspeakably callous & revolting – it is wicked & evil (except that to call it that is wretchedly insufficient).

        “Like Christ, [it] is both sinless and has “become sin” by taking all of sinful humanity into [it]”

        ## The Church has a long history of confusing God with the Virgin Mary or Christ with the Church or the Holy Spirit with the Virgin Mary. If we do this, then Christ becomes of little if any importance, even though He is central to the NT. Such confusion is also a result of idolatry – which ought to be a warning to us.

        To use of the Church words that apply to the Passion of Christ goes far too far – doing so devalues the Holy &, Righteous, Glorious & Gracious Saviour, by dragging Him down to the level of the unclean thing that is the Church. Christ is good – the Church is usually far from good, because man is not. good.

        • A Sinner

          In Catholic ecclesiology these things all do “blend” though. The Church is the bride of Christ, and in this aspect Marian. But, because of the incredibly rich symbolism Paul lays out in Ephesians, this means the Church is also Christ’s Body, and He is Her Head. And the Holy Spirit is said to be the Church’s soul. There are also resonances between the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit, to the point that St. Maximillian Kolbe used the term “quasi-incarnation.” The Church is a human and divine reality. She is infected by the cancer of our sin, certainly in the “institutional church,” but that it is not necessarily the same subject as Ecclesia in the mystical sense.

  • Jordan

    turmarion [July 2, 2012 7:53 am]: I don’t doubt he [John Paul II] was a good and holy man in his personal life, and he was certainly one of the most influential popes of the last century; but still the one apology he didn’t make (to say nothing of his failure to do a thing about Maciel) will be a black mark on his papacy, one his adoring fans are all-too-ready to sweep under the rug. [my addition in brackets]

    In Rome last July banners praising John Paul II covered Piazza S. Pietro. To the left from the Via della Conciliazione was an immense banner with a photo of the pontiff leaning on his pastoral staff. “Open wide the doors for Christ!”

    Were you to ask for my €0.02 (or even 50 lire) then, I would have immaturely quipped that the display smacked of Kimilsungism. Still, as Rat-biter [July 1, 2012 10:03 pm] writes, “The individual is nothing, the Institution is everything.” I must keep in mind that the so called “hero-worship” of a deceased pope is rather an accumulation of institutional capital. As this thread demonstrates, the Church gazes Janus-faced at a violent confessionalist past and a future of uneasy coexistence with secular democracy. Perhaps the current pontiff beatified JP II to rally the most faithful, his last reserve legion of the least critical.

    I am certainly not convinced that a “new ultramontanism” as a response to postchristian realities will be any less anti-moral than compulsory confessionalism. A “smaller Church” generated from a fundamentalist definition of magisterium might not occasion the physical brutality of inquisitions and pogroms. Still, is not the verbal abuse of persons who cannot maintain the plasticine facade of unrelenting ultramontane conformity just as sadistic and uncharitable as the rack or stake?

  • Ronald King

    If God is Love, then it appears to me that everything must be evaluated through what we understand about Love through Christ’s sacrifice. Love is all that remains of Christ and for our Church to be in the image of Christ it must be as transparent and vulnerable as Christ’s Passion. It must be sacrificial outside of the Mass. The Church and we must evaluate all of our actions from the beginning to the present and determine if Love or fear was our motivation. Chapter 13 of 1Corinthians also applies. In my opinion, knowledge without Love seeks power, knowledge with love is intelligence. Love and fear are separate realities. Love unites and fear divides.

    • Julia Smucker

      This may be the best epistemological measurement the Church has to go by.

    • turmarion

      Excellent. 1 John 4:18: “Perfect love casts out fear.” I think it was Dostoevski who somewhere said that most of our spiritual problems are not failures of faith, but failures of love. Something we should all take to heart.

      • Ronald King

        turmarion, “…spiritual problems are not failures of faith, but failures of love…” that should be a required tattoo at confirmation.

  • Ronald King

    Another option for the Church could be psychotherapy.

  • Rat-biter

    As to the opening article (not before time !):

    “Neither of these responses is adequate. We need a third option – one that can allow the Church to say, in so many words, “we were wrong.”

    ## I’m not sure that I see much difference between positions 2 & 3.

    “The Church needs a theological paradigm in which it can say this without undermining its own credibility. Put another way, the faithful need a paradigm in which they can trust the Church without needing it to be perfect.”

    ## I think one should not trust the Church at all. Cynical ? Yes – up to a point. But realistic as well, I think. A more Christian reason (I hope) for not doing so, is that the Church is not Christ. That is the point. To trust in the Church is to “hope in man”, to hope in what produces lots of bad stuff. But even if it did not did so, even if it were utterly flawless & preserved from all sin and failure in every respect & were wholly good, it still, being a created thing, cannot do for us what Christ can & does. The Church is not great enough or good enough to bear the weight of trust & honour so often laid upon it, because although it is related to Christ (in its measure), it is not Christ.

    ISTM that one should be wary of it, but open to believing what it says, without being credulous. The Roman Magisterium (not the Church itself) doesn’t allow itself “the freedom to be wrong”. I think it should; and that until it does, it is feeding a false conception of itself, one that seems necessary to it, but is not.

    • Ronald King

      I am nothing but I like your statement.

  • Julia Smucker

    Rat-biter, you and others here are illustrating the different approaches to a tee – and by extension, illustrating the need for a third way. On the one hand, we have people arguing that “one should not trust the Church at all”, and on the other hand we have people defending social evils and dismissing Church teachings against them with the argument that these teachings are too difficult to pin down into doctrinal technicalities to be worth much. A few, particularly Jordan and Turmarion, have been raising some good moral questions about this, but their questions unfortunately appear to be getting lost in the shuffle.

    The third way is for the Church (here speaking primarily in the magisterial sense, but also in the sensus fidelium) to maintain or perhaps regain credibility and trust precisely by allowing itself “the freedom to be wrong”.

    • Rat-biter

      “The third way is for the Church (here speaking primarily in the magisterial sense, but also in the sensus fidelium) to maintain or perhaps regain credibility and trust precisely by allowing itself “the freedom to be wrong”.”

      ## No disagreement with that.

    • Rat-biter

      “Jordan and Turmarion, have been raising some good moral questions about this, but their questions unfortunately appear to be getting lost in the shuffle.”

      ## It would help no end if the posts were arranged on one of those nifty skeleton-like views; the sequence of debate would be much easier to follow.

      • turmarion

        Very true!

  • Ryan Klassen

    “A Sinner” at July 3, 11:18am: “Basically, either participating in the economy AT ALL is a sin in the Fallen world, or it isn’t. If it is, then we’re all screwed. If it isn’t, then one cannot absolutely condemn the (benign) medieval feudal Lord or the (kindly) slave-owner in Late Antiquity anymore than one can condemn absolutely an employer or capital-owner today.”

    I think if we apply the point Julia was trying to make in her original post to your point here, one could say that the inability to absolutely condemn the feudal system shouldn’t mean we can’t condemn those feudal lords who were not benign. In the same way, can we not say that there were some things in the past that the Church did that were wrong? I understand your point about a certain epistemological humility regarding past actions in their context, but it seems that you want the context to trump all. If we cannot say that anything the Church did in the past was wrong because we weren’t there, how can we determine the rightness or wrongness of any action from another context?

    • Julia Smucker

      That is indeed the question, Ryan. I would even say that the uncharitability of condemning individuals who have acted justly within unjust systems does not put the systems themselves above critique.

    • A Sinner

      Oh, I’ll totally admit that, say, individual inquisitors may have acted unjustly, or reached unjust decisions (even if in good faith) in particular cases, etc etc.

      If all we’re talking about is INDIVIDUAL CASES, fine. I concede that entirely. Of course there have been plenty of bad applications of the principles to individual cases. But this is just imprudence and bad casuistry.

      However, what it seems to me the post/thread is really about is getting the magisterium to admit they were wrong ON PRINCIPLE, and not just in practice.

      Of course they’ve been wrong in practice. In fact, I’d venture to say, the institutional Church is USUALLY wrong in practice (a little tongue in cheek there, but still my general impression of the institution’s bumbling incompetence and corruption).

      But it is not and has never been wrong when it comes to doctrinal principles in the theoretical and abstract.

      • Julia Smucker

        Once again, when practice is not consistent with principles, what we have is hypocrisy.

        But since the inquisition was never dogmatically defined as being justified, a papal apology for it does not require repudiation of any doctrine, so there’s really nothing to be afraid of.

        • A Sinner

          No, but what you seem to be desiring is something like a dogmatic definition TO THE CONTRARY. I say it’s not going to happen either way. The Inquisition wasn’t dogmatically defined, but it can’t be dogmatically condemned either. Catholics are free, and will always remain free, to debate the rightness or wrongness of how the principles and theory were applied. But to the phenomenon generally (which I think is harder to condemn absolutely) and to each individual case (which is often easy to condemn; just look at what happened to St Joan of Arc!) Of course, each individual case would require individual historical research.

          My point, I guess, is that if we read John Paul and Ratzinger in 2000 apologizing for sins of the use of force in the service of truth, I don’t think I can read them as apologizing for “force in the service of truth” in general, but only for the sins that occurred in that context (and there plenty!) In other words, the Church apologizing for the wrongs of using force in the service of truth…is definitely different than the Church apologizing for the times they got it right. Just like apologizing for all the horrors of, say, New World slavery…is different than apologizing for “slavery” in the abstract.

          I don’t think the Inquisition can be condemned on principle. One is certainly free to do so IN PRACTICE. But I think an “in practice” judgment that blanket condemns the whole thing rather than admitting “some good, some bad” (even if I think the balance was in favor of good, and you think greatly in favor of bad)…is to get dangerous close to either dogmatizing it or anathemizing it on principle.

          If you want to think the Inquisition was, in practice, pretty much a horrible thing…I fully defend your right to that position as long as it is not equivalent to an “in theory”/”on principle” condemnation. In turn, I think that liberal democracy has been, in practice, pretty much a horrible thing. But I’m not going to absolutely condemn it IN THEORY.

      • Ryan Klassen

        You’re losing me here again. I hear you saying that the Church is never wrong in principle or abstract, and I’m not disputing that. But the I also hear you say that Church has been wrong in practice. So why would the Church not apologize for the sinful or erroneous practice and request forgiveness from those she has wronged?

        I read you as giving two answers to this question. First, the Church cannot judge whether a previous Church practice was in fact sinful or not, because it happened in a different time and place. If we cannot say the act was sinful, no apology is possible. Second, the Church cannot apologize because the Church never truly acts (or at least, it is never the Church who acts when the act is sinful), but only her members.

        Am I reading you rightly?

        • A Sinner

          I don’t think you are. I’m saying that it sounds to me like Julia and some others here DON’T just want an apology for mistakes that were made or sins that were committed in practice, but want the renunciation of even certain ideas or theories in the abstract.

          • Julia Smucker

            “The renunciation of even certain ideas or theories in the abstract” may not in fact be necessary, as the ideas in question were never dogamtized in the abstract. I’m simply saying that “an apology for mistakes that were made or sins that were committed in practice” requires acknowledgement of the wrong done.

        • Rat-biter

          “(or at least, it is never the Church who acts when the act is sinful)”

          ## This idea would reduce the rebukes to five of the seven churches in Asia – see Rev.2-3 – to meaningless. Jesus, or the Seer, can’t have got the memo.

          If the argument is, instead, that the Church taken as a whole “never…acts when the act is sinful”, that is still bothersome. For why should the Church be any better off than the O.T. Church ? The OT is full of ferocious rebukes of it, and to exempt the the Church from blame may spare its blushes, but at the cost of denying the righteous character of God. If God cannot (may not ?) rebuke the NT Church for its infidelities, betrayals, and other crimes & sins – how can it repent of the evil (including the possibilties of evil) within it ?

          ISTM terribly dangerous to insist that the Church cannot sin, or is preserved from doing so. This trivialises the seriousness of sin, and its results, and seems to say that no matter what the Church does, it can’t be blamed for any evil effects from its acts. How does this make sense in Christianity, when we do cause evil effects by our sins ?

          And how can those who do not face their sinfulness, know the joy of the forgiveness of their sins ? How can they experience the graciousness of God Who forgives them their iniquities & heals all their diseases, if they have, in their own esteem, no need for forgiveness or healing ? But that it seems is the Church’s position. I think it is highly significant that this seems to be the Church’s position, because the Church has always had a problem with grace – it wants either to control its distribution, or to bring in merit in some way, or to do something similar. It seems not to believe in its total, sovereign, unmanipulable gratuitousness – & IMO that is very alarming indeed, because it calls in question whether it is even a Christian Church. If the Church thinks it has nothing to be forgiven, I think that proves it does need forgiveness. Without *metanoia*/conversion/reprentance, how can it does the work it is meant to do ?

        • A Sinner

          Well, by all means lets apologize “for whatever wrongs may or may not have been committed in practice.”

          But, see, I got the sense (maybe this is all a misunderstanding) that you want some sort of doctrinal proposition enforced in the Church to the effect of “Burning of heretics by a confession Christian State can never be legitimate in any historical or socio-political context, and it is an objective sin to participate in such a thing.”

          Which amounts to saying either A) “Heresy can never actually threaten social order” [which is a practical/contingent claim you might think it RARELY threatens it, but its hard to dismiss outright as a hypothetical that it might in some imaginable case], or B) “The death penalty is always wrong in general, the State can never kill even to defend the community from greater harm,” [which is simply not Catholic doctrine], or C) “Even if heresy did hypothetically gravely threaten social order, the State could never use its policing or punitive force to criminalize it or stop this threat because the value of ‘religious liberty’ is so fundamental that preserving it outweighs any possible bad result that could come from tolerating it, even the total collapse of society” [which obviously isn’t true since we don’t allow human sacrifice and since Vatican II kept qualifying its statement with “within the limits of public order.”]

          A is the only place you can really debate. You may think that heresy practically never really does threaten public order. I say this is extremely presumptuous as someone who didn’t live in Medieval Christendom (and that, as a Medieval Studies major, I again think you underestimate how antisocial an act heresy was). At the very least, I think, you’d give a little more deference in making this judgment to the people who were actually alive at the time and knew the situation on the ground. However, you’re free to judge the contingency as you please, and may believe in general the level of force was disproportionate or unnecessary in all or almost all of the individual cases.

          However, assuming that there at least COULD be a hypothetical where heresy was a crime that generally threatened social order…I think we have to admit the burning of heretics by the State could, in such a case, be theoretically okay. Unless you want to claim B or C. But even the catechism rejects B, and C would require you to allow human sacrifice unless you come up with some elaborate (but ultimately arbitrary) system for defining which acts of religion are absolutely inviolable (even when they DO hurt society) and which aren’t.

          The only such distinction I could imagine would, once again, come down to an arbitrary line drawn between verbal acts and “physical” acts. But even then, where does “shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre” fit??

        • Ryan Klassen

          In ecumenical dialogue, which is my focus, the goal is not a doctrinal renunciation. Julia may want to challenge the political and ecclesial structures of the time, but bear in mind that she is doing so as a Roman Catholic. I, as a Mennonite, do not presume to call for such a thing. That is an internal Roman Catholic matter. If one side says to the other “I’ll reconcile with you, but only if you do this, that and the other thing,” that’s not much of a reconciliation.

          For reconciliation between Mennonites and Roman Catholics, both sides need to see what each did to create the schism. I firmly believe that both sides contributed to the creation of the schism. My masters thesis was on the social and political nature of religious sects in the late pre-Reformation and early Reformation era. Believe me when I say you will be hard pressed to find someone who thinks as strongly as I do that politics, and not doctrine, were the key drivers behind the schisms at this time. I understand how serious heresy was – it was both a complete renunciation of not only citizenship but of any kind of social relationship. You may as well have been a Turk (and were treated as such). Mennonites understood this better than most.

          Sects like the Mennonites were seen as threats to the social order by both Protestants and Roman Catholics (hence the persecution from both sides). I see the Church as being able to accept within herself all sorts of groups with doctrinal or practical oddities (usually in the form of religious orders and the like), but not groups that threatened the social and political order. And I see groups that were persecuted in much the same way but refused to leave the Church. So if the essence of the problem was not doctrinal but social and political, then the solution is not doctrinal but social and political. And social rupture requires social (and political) reconciliation.

          There are certainly actions that Mennonites took to create the schism, but by your logic we cannot say that they did anything wrong because we weren’t there. And yet we cannot say that the actions of the Roman Catholic Church were wrong, because we weren’t there. So we have a schism, but no one is at fault. How do we forgive and reconcile when no one did anything wrong?

        • Ryan Klassen

          In terms of your doctrinal points, I don’t disagree with either A, B or C.

          A: Heresy certainly can threaten the social order in societies where the State and Church are so intertwined as to be inseparable. Now Julia is asking whether that is an appropriate situation for the Church to be in, which is another question altogether.

          B: My own opposition to the death penalty is more practical than philosophical (as you will find with many Mennonites). We simply get it wrong too often. But I understand the permissibility of the death penalty in Catholic doctrine and I would have no problem with it. I think you’ll find more opposition on this as a doctrinal issue from Catholics than Mennonites.

          C: This is probably the point that gets closest to the issue. But again, the historical Mennonite response would be a request to be left alone. Don’t kill us, and in exchange we will remove ourselves as much as possible from your social and political sphere. That’s how we go the name “The Quiet in the Land.” And in some cases, the political order needs to fall (or it will fall, regardless of what the Church does). As much as the Church did to prop up the Roman Empire, it eventually fell while the Church survived.

          Now from a Mennonite perspective, we would say that burning heretics is not permissible based on the teachings of Jesus. The use of force by the State is a more complicated issue, and it is one that Mennonites are having to grapple with as they become more involved in the social order again. After all, 500 years of non-involvement takes some time to overcome. Certainly the State uses violence to enforce social order, so the level of permissible participation in that violence is the question we face. However blurry the line is, I think we can say that there are some things that are allowed for Christians and some things that are not. The blurriness does not extend completely in both directions.

          I think we have a parallel example in our contemporary political situation that may shed some light. As you know, the Church is forbidden to kill. The harshest sentence the Church can pronounce is excommunication. That is why she turned heretics over to the State for execution.

          In Canada, our intelligence agency has sent terror suspects to Syria. We did this because Canada forbids torture, but Syria does not. Canadian intelligence agents told Syrian torturers what questions to ask and gave insight into possible weaknesses in the terror suspects that could be exploited. And the intelligence gathered as a result of the torture was then given to Canada.

          I would say that Canada cannot escape the responsibility for torture simply by farming it out to Syria. If Canada decides that it cannot torture, simply asking someone else to do it on your behest is not allowed either.

          I would ask the same question of the Church. Why can the Church pronounce a sentence (heretic) and then turn the guilty one over to the State for a punishment that the Church does not allow herself to exercise?

        • A Sinner

          I VERY MUCH appreciate this response. You are being more reasonable about this question than most of the Catholics here! It is very refreshing, and I sincerely thank you.

          As for your question about “farming out” distasteful things, I don’t think this is why the Church gave heretics to the State, I don’t think the motive was comparable. The reason the Church does not allow herself to kill is NOT because She believes killing is always absolutely wrong, but because the Church in itself has a sort of “separate spheres” idea where She has power over the soul, but the State has power over the body.

          Even when they have been intertwined (even to the point of the Papal States, prince-bishops, or the Cardinal-King of Portugal, etc)…the Church has never advocated Theocracy, for very important theological and symbolic reasons. Even when the same men held both offices, the Temporal order and the Spiritual order were always recognized as “separate spheres” (but not alienated, as even the temporal life is ordered towards the spiritual in the end.)

          In terms of “whether this is a good situation for the Church to be in”…I fully sympathize there! I am not valorizing Christendom; it was as much “being in bed” with “the World” as any other system. BUT, at the same time, sometimes these things can’t be avoided. If everyone in a given society is Catholic…the State will then, thus, by default…be Catholic! So acting as if intertwining between the Church and State is intrinsically bad…is like saying that too much success in terms of converting society is bad! Unless the Church was to remain a sect forever, Christendom was the logical conclusion. But we can’t deliberately limit our own success just for the sake of retaining the purity or otherworldliness of being a sect!

          I also agree that, in some cases (especially with the radical reformation specifically), the judgment that the heresy in question was a social threat…was possibly wrong, and bad casuistry. If the Mennonites were wiling to just separate themselves quietly and not hurt anyone, perhaps that wasn’t so big a threat. That is at least a legitimate judgment to make (although, obviously, people alive at the time didn’t think so.)

          Though, let’s not forget how destabilizing even the mere existence of pluralism can be to the whole social order; we don’t allow every little group that wants to secede from a Nation-State secede, because then eventually every home and family would be its own micro-kingdom, and there could be no overarching rule of law at all! If the Confederacy could secede when it disagreed with THIS law, then next Illinois will be seceding when it disagrees with THIS one, and Maine will be seceding when it disagrees with THIS one.

          This is why even those (specifically, the Jews) who were allowed to remain as an other in Christendom were ghettoized and had to be “grandfathered” in. Religious hegemony required that everyone know that you couldn’t just defect or secede whenever you wanted to, or the hegemony itself would collapse and there would ultimately be no common order, no transcendent notion of The Good at the basis of politics (but, rather, “the void” of pluralism and the relativizing “ideological free market”; something I think has been more destructive than anything else in history).

        • Ryan Klassen

          Although I may not be the most representative Mennonite in this regard, I do have great sympathy for the historical actions of the past and I believe they were taken for good reason. When a society is predominantly Christian, the political actors will likely be predominantly Christian. Even Mennonites run into this when we set up our own communities, since any social grouping needs to be organized politically. Thus we have a type of neo-Constantinianism practiced by an isolated group within a greater Constantinianism. It is impossible to completely separate Church and State unless we want a Church of completely autonomous individuals unrelated to each other. Pretty tough for a body to work with only one part.

          In one sense, I am a member of the Church of Constantine, just as much as I am a member of a Mennonite church. Even for Mennonites, church history did not start in the 16th century (although many would like to think so). Thus when I see the faults or errors of the Church in a previous era, my response should repentance. The only other response would be rejection, and that hasn’t worked out too well. I see the Church in the past acting mostly in good faith, doing what they thought was best in the situation. I mean, what was Leo the Great to do with barbarians at the gate and no one else stepping up to the plate?

          This is one of those things that seems to work well in ecumenism, and which give me hope for the future unity of the church. We have a tradition in the Roman Catholic Church that has extensive experience in working with the State in a Christendom context but it is now working out how to be in a non-Christendom context. And we have a Mennonite tradition that has extensive experience as a social/political minority that is working out how to become more integrated into the broader political and social context. We have much to learn from each other and much to teach each other. But in order to hear each other, there must first be reconciliation. Maybe it’s selfishness, but my motivation truly is to help correct the significant flaws in the Mennonite rather than badger the Roman Catholics. And I need reconciliation to happen so that Mennonites can heal and learn from you.

        • A Sinner

          And I think that’s good. Maybe the Pope thought he could say more. But all I can say (and all I would say were I pope) to you is: I don’t want to burn you, lol.

          Whatever happened in the past, and whether it was right or wrong…I can at least say, today, in the present, I personally have no desire to see you or your co-religionists burnt temporally.

          If that isn’t enough for trust and reconciliation…

        • Ryan Klassen

          A Sinner: “Whatever happened in the past, and whether it was right or wrong…I can at least say, today, in the present, I personally have no desire to see you or your co-religionists burnt temporally.”

          The next time you’re a victim of a violent crime, let me know if a statement like that would be good enough for you to create trust and reconciliation with the person who assaulted you.

        • A Sinner

          But “You and me, we’re not part of that. That was people in the past. I have no ill will, brother” WOULD be enough for me to reconcile with the son of the man who assaulted my father.

        • Ryan Klassen

          Do I hear the strains of Kum-ba-ya coming from around the campfire? 😉

        • A Sinner

          Furthermore, once again regarding this double-standard State vs Church…I know that very often, after a war…two States will become allies or friendly between the populations very quickly, within a generation or two. Sometimes even without either side (winning or losing) admitting they were wrong. Because people just…get over it. Move on. I don’t think the US has ever officially apologized for the nuclear bombing of Japan. The official line is still that this was necessary and justified. Doesn’t stop relations between the US and Japan.

          Yet in religion some people are apparently holding 700 year old grudges?? It just seems strange to me.

    • A Sinner

      As for your question about “how can we judge any action from another context”…is it our job to do so??? We should judge OUR actions, I think. Let the dead bury their dead.

      • Ryan Klassen

        Two things: First, unless you think that the Church of today is not the same Church as existed in the past, then judging the actions of the Church in the past is judging our actions. Second, the actions of the Church (or from the actions of members of the Church who were authorized by the Church to commit said actions) created victims who cannot be reconciled to the Church until those actions are accounted for. I know it’s not exactly the same situation, but is this how you would deal with the abuse scandals that have afflicted all church traditions? Just wait until it’s not our problem anymore?

        • A Sinner

          A) As I said earlier in the thread, I don’t think it’s our job to judge ourselves (even as individuals). We are not Our Judge. GOD is Our Judge. When Christ said “Judge not lest ye be judged”…He did NOT say, “Judge not (other people) lest ye be judged.” The whole point of that assertion was that God Alone is Judge. Both of ourselves and of other people.

          Two, what victims are alive today of the Inquisition? And how do you handle the fact that their were, say, conversos (or their descendents) in Spain who were ALSO Inquisitors??

          To me this all sounds like Identity Politics.

          As for the sex abuse, of course the Church should apologize for those victims who are alive today (preferably, the same bishops who actually made the wrong decisions should be forced to apology). The best “apology” really though is not empty words and gestures, but REFORMING the system so it doesn’t happen again.

          • Julia Smucker

            To me this all sounds like Identity Politics.

            The problem is precisely that the events of the past have deep and lasting effects on the identity of the descendants of those who brought those events to pass. That cannot be avoided, therefore it must be addressed.

            The best “apology” really though is not empty words and gestures, but REFORMING the system so it doesn’t happen again.

            No disagreement there!

        • Ryan Klassen

          For me, the issue is less with the Roman Catholic Church per se, and more with my own Mennonite tradition. Persecution by Catholics and Protestants alike forms an integral part of the Mennonite self-identity – our own martyr stories that define us and give us something to emulate. Reconciliation cannot happen so long as Mennonites define themselves as victims who were unjustly persecuted.

          Part of this movement is up to Mennonites – understanding why we were persecuted and what the motives of our persecutors were (which, as has been made abundantly clear here, were not necessarily evil), and in so doing we can stop demonizing those we want to reconcile with. But the other part of this is also being able to forgive. Reconciliation cannot happen without forgiveness. Mennonites need to say they were wrong to separate themselves from and demonize the Roman Catholic Church. And the Roman Catholic Church needs to say they were wrong to persecute and kill Mennonites. Only then can each side forgive, experience forgiveness and start defining themselves together in Christ rather than in opposition to each other.

        • A Sinner

          But see…expecting an admission like that from us would mean that YOU still weren’t admitting how antisocial and potentially society-destabilizing and subversive your little revolution was to Christendom. Was the State supposed to sit back and watch anarchy unfold?

          It’s easy for us, now, to imagine a pluralist society because we have one. But try to put yourself in the shoes of a society where Church and State were organically intertwined, and where “the community” could not be conceived as separate from the Church. How, exactly, do you imagine a peaceful toleration of heresy would have worked out practically??? It may well not have.

          Heresy back then was an antisocial act of flouting the community’s deeply held values, and even of sedition towards the State and temporal order. The “persecution complex” was just part of the the antisocial personal narrative that heretics constructed to justify what essentially amounted to a transgressive or oppositional identity.

  • turmarion

    Jordan: Even so, I’ll openly say that I am joyously naive if naivety is an ultimate characterization of persons who do not hold that violence is an inevitable, precursory, and even laudable aspect of any functional society.

    Excellent, and heartily seconded, Jordan!

    On another note: If, taking the Inquisition as an example (and there are a lot of other examples here we could point to), we distinguish the principle from the practice, then I guess we have to quit ignoring the elephant in the room and ask, “Just what was the principle of the Inquisition?

    I mean, one might say, “The principle is that ideally you have a confessional state. Since members of other religions, schismatics, and heretics, by holding and propagating false beliefs, are detrimental to society, they ought not to be in a Christian state. Now the methods of the Inquisition–torture and execution–were nasty, and should be condemned, but the principle was sound. A better and more humane way to deal with the problem would be to encourage emigration of heretics, etc.; or to have more aggressive campaigns for proselytism directed at such groups; or to strongly restrict where they live, forbid them from proselytizing, tightly muzzle their public speech, deny them public institutions, etc., a là Medieval Jewish ghettos or Islamic dhimmis.”

    Something like this certainly seems to be what some here are saying. To which I respond, if that’s the principle of the Inquisition, then I have no hesitation in saying that the Inquisition was wrong in principle, not just in practice. As I said before, the only negative societal effects of religion that I think the State has a right to curtail are drastic ones such as human sacrifice. Yes, one might argue that it is a Christians duty to “defend the faith”; but if one has to defend it by violence (physical or psychological–and offering one’s faith, as opposed to pushing it is not violent) or by suppressing the rights of others, then one has, IMO, stepped outside of Christian methods and has gone over to the methods of the world. Even if this lack of opposition resulted in the de-Christianization of a society through out-conversion from the Faith–in short, the death of the Church–well, if Christ was obedient even to death, shouldn’t we be, also? What doth it profit a man (or a church) if he gain the whole world (gets to be the sole church allowed) and lose his (or its corporate) soul?

    Now if someone thinks I’m being unfair or incorrect in stating what the principle of the Inquisition was, I’m certainly open to being corrected; but I’d ask, then, just what was its principle?

    • A Sinner

      The principle is even more basic than just “Heretics threaten the Christian nature of a confessional state.” The principle is that “IF heresy truly posed a grave threat to public order, the State could theoretically punish it by a proportionate response” up to and including the State’s ultimate possible response.

      And that, in itself, is nothing other than the Church’s general principle that “If ANY type of act threatens public order, the State can punish it by a proportionate response” up to and including capital punishment. (The only caveat being that “any type of act” cannot be something objectively morally obligatory; the State can only criminalize sinful or morally neutral/non-obligatory acts.)

      Questioning it “in practice,” would mean either A) questioning whether heresy really WAS a threat to social order in Christendom, or B) questioning the proportionality of the punishments used.

      But this questioning in practice would still require an admission that hypothetically, at least (even if you believe such a situation never existed in practice), heresy could pose a grave threat to social order (which could result in more people getting hurt) and that, hypothetically, the State might even judge that the only way to effectively deter it or stop the chaos and protect the community (I’m talking even just temporally/physical here, not spiritually, which isn’t really the State’s job) might be to invoke the State’s gravest right.

    • Rat-biter

      “no hesitation in saying that the Inquisition was wrong in principle, not just in practice”

      ## And yet, it was allowed, and encouraged, not least by canonised Saints, such as Pius V. If it was wrong in practice, how can the Church be infallible in morals ? What *moral* difference is there between formally defining an evil to be good, and encouraging it in practice as a good ? IM(H)O, that would be too fine a distinction to make any moral difference between being fallible in morals, & being infallible in morals.

      “Even if this lack of opposition resulted in the de-Christianization of a society through out-conversion from the Faith–in short, the death of the Church–well, if Christ was obedient even to death, shouldn’t we be, also? What doth it profit a man (or a church) if he gain the whole world (gets to be the sole church allowed) and lose his (or its corporate) soul?”

      ## Well said.

      • Julia Smucker

        Rat-biter, I truly do not understand your far swings to opposite poles. First you say we shouldn’t trust the Church at all, and now you’re rehashing the argument that if the Church (or any individual who has since been canonized by the Church) ever did anything, it can’t be wrong, on the basis of absolute ecclesial infallibility (which is galloping far beyond any dogmatic definition of infallibility). I disagree with you in both cases, but more to the point, how in the world do you reconcile these positions?

        • Rat-biter

          “…now you’re rehashing the argument that if the Church (or any individual who has since been canonized by the Church) ever did anything, it can’t be wrong, on the basis of absolute ecclesial infallibility (which is galloping far beyond any dogmatic definition of infallibility).”

          ## I’m not saying that at all. I asked “[i]f [the Inquisition] was wrong in practice, how can the Church be infallible in morals ?”, because the Pope claims (according to the definition of July 1870), to be infallible in faith and morals. So, if it is infallible in morals, how does it allow or encourage the execution of heretics. It can’t argue that the Inquisitions were not official, or did not represent its true mind, or were an aberration, because among those who encouraged the Inquisitions have been Popes – & not only Popes: one of them is a canonised Pope. Why was he canonised, if the Church that claims to be infallible in morals believes that a man who spent a good part of his career as an Inquisitor did so while occupied in activities it now condemns ? And if his activities can be judged – by the Magisterium – to be wrong now, though they were praised in the past: how can it claim to be infallible in what is a matter of morals ?

          If Innocent IV could allow – as Pope – the use of torture, it is useless for the CCC to condemn it now. The Pope did not think he was doing wrong, and neither did those canonists who defended the use of torture in processes for heresy. The same goes for the occurrence of some other things in the Church as well.

          If the Church is infallible, Catholics have a right, even a duty, to ask hard questions like this, and not be fobbed off with half-answers and evasions. The Magisterium asks a very great deal of Catholics, so there is absolutely no reason why it should be let off without giving an answer that accounts for all the facts. The Magisterium cannot simply do X or Y, & declare itself to possess infallibility in faith and morals – & then, expect its acts not to be tested by the claims that it makes; for making claims & doing things has intellectual consequences. If an act or behaviour seems to collide with a claim to infallibility in morals, this collision means the claimed infallibility is problematic. Ignoring such problems doesn’t resolve them or make them go away. If the Magisterium has this infallibility, then it should be able to answer the objections that arise. But it cannot insist that a heretic-burning Inquisitor is a canonised Saint, & expect that Catholics will accept without question that he is still a Saint when it condemns the activities he engaged in as a Catholic in good standing. These are serious issues, because they raise problems that arise from the claims made by the Magisterium. So what is the solution to this difficulty ?

          Since it does not allow itself to adopt relativism of any kind, or to drop those Saints whose behaviour is problematic by standards it now accepts in fact, it leaves itself without much room to unsay its claims. It has painted itself into a corner; and this complicates apologetics mightily. How can the Church:

          1. be infallible in morals

          2. have the attitudes of Christ

          3. avoid moral relativism

          4. canonise in 1712 an Inquisitor-Pope who died in 1572

          5. be or maintain that it is infallible in canonisations

          6. reject on moral grounds in the later 20th century practices it did not reject as immoral, or actively encouraged, in the 16th century and thereafter

          7. expect Catholics to believe & to accept these seven points together ?

          It is immoral for the Magisterium to require acceptance of all those points, if it has no solution to them. And that is not the end of the problems, but this post is too long already.

          I hope that clarifies matters :)

          • Julia Smucker

            You’re still going from a much broader definition of infallibility than was defined at Vatican I. It only applies to specific ex cathedra declarations, and that level of authority has really only been invoked twice. It was never meant to apply to whatever any pope does or permits. And it for sure can’t apply to canonizations, as there have been a number of canonized saints whose very existence has been debunked or at least called into serious question. Nor does canonization equal a wholesale endorsement of everything any saint has ever done; the saints were all fallible human beings.

            Maybe if we could get a better grasp of the limits of the doctrine of infallibility, that would go aways toward laying the epistemological problem to rest. It is just this misconceived sense of galloping infallibility that leaves some Catholics feeling threatened by any suggestion that the Church has ever done anything wrong. Part of the solution is to show that absolute ecclesial infallibility has never been official Church teaching. That still leaves the constraint of a broad language of continuity, which is where we get statements that certain things have “always remained the teaching of the Church” despite actions that suggest otherwise. But aside from that, we may be closer than we think to an ecclesiology that can more freely account for the Church’s fallible human side.

        • turmarion

          Maybe if we could get a better grasp of the limits of the doctrine of infallibility, that would go aways toward laying the epistemological problem to rest. It is just this misconceived sense of galloping infallibility that leaves some Catholics feeling threatened by any suggestion that the Church has ever done anything wrong. Part of the solution is to show that absolute ecclesial infallibility has never been official Church teaching.

          Exactly, Julia–you’ve hit the crux of the matter. Unfortunately, the current hierarchy tends towards a maximalist interpretation of infallibility, insisting that canonizations are infallible, for example, despite the issues you rightly point out in that regard, and the fact that such infallibility logically implies revelation (there’s no way the sanctity of a specific individual somehow logically derives from generic principles), despite the fact that revelations supposedly ceased with the death of the last Apostle. We can only hope that at some time we’ll get this kind of thing cleared up in a thoughtful way that can have a due respect to tradition without having to do intellectual gymnastics to try to prove that the Church has never changed one iota.

          • Julia Smucker

            Maybe I’m being naive here, but I think the hierarchy (with some exceptions, to be sure) tends less towards a maximalist interpretation of infallibility than do certain sectors of the laity. Even the more hard-lined hierarchs would presumably be educated enough to know better than to think that everything any canonized saint ever did during their earthly life is automatically justified. (Otherwise we could all content ourselves to pray with St. Augustine, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet!”) But yes, your last sentence here is a very good description of the goal I was trying to name in this post.

        • A Sinner

          Infallibility isn’t just about the deposit of faith, though, tumarion. It is also a protection of the Holy Spirit to the Church in preserving that deposit. Is someone is held up (universally), as a canonized Saint is, as an example of the sort of life that will get you straight to heaven…then the Holy Spirit is not going to let the Church hold up a false example. The Church is not going to provide exemplars that actually guide towards Hell.

          • Julia Smucker

            True, but the Church also knows that it won’t be able to find any exemplars (besides our Lord and his mother, of course) that unfailingly represent the perfect life on earth.

        • turmarion

          Correct, Julia. And my point is still this: if the Holy Spirit prevents the Church from canonizing the “wrong” person, the It is in effect transferring information–information that this person was worthy. A transfer of revelation from God to humanity is what is known as revelation. Which is fine. However, the Church says that revelation doesn’t happen any more. As I think Kelly John pointed out on a different thread, even Avery Cardinal Dulles couldn’t wrap his mind around how the status of canonization is logically entailed by generic teachings without being revelation.

          Look at it like this. If the Church teaches that Jesus was the Messiah, then it logically follows that he must have existed–if he hadn’t even existed, he certainly couldn’t have been the Messiah! This is an example of something logically entailed by a statement of faith, no revelation needed. A more complicated example: since the teaching of the Church is that the priesthood is sacrificial; and since a sacrament must “do what the Church intends to do”; and since the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass is central to what the “Church intends to do” by ordaining a priest; and since Cranmer altered the liturgy for ordaining a priest to remove the aspects that clearly manifest the sacrificial nature of the priesthood, thus no longer intending to do what the Church intends to do; therefore Anglican orders are invalid. This is a more complex but equally valid example of something that is not a revelation but that is logically entailed by given doctrine.

          But to say that “the Church teaches that behaviors and dispositions X, Y, and Z–some of which cannot be known to human beings, since only God sees the heart–are needed for salvation; and that therefore A, who has fulfilled the visible requisites for sainthood, although we cannot know her heart or mind, and thus cannot know if she fulfilled all the requisites, is infallibly a saint in Heaven,” can’t logically follow.

          It’s interesting to note that in the excellent book Making Saints, Kenneth Woodward points out that the Church does not teach that its determination that miracles have indeed occurred through the intercession of a Servant of God or Beatus is itself infallible; but it says that the canonization which depends on such determinations is! If even greater theological minds than mine, such as Cardinal Dulles of happy memory, get headaches trying to square this circle, no wonder it’s hard to consider it credible!

        • A Sinner

          The CDF document accompanying the Professio Fidei covers this Tumarion. Not all protection from error by God is Revelation. Especially when it’s a “negative” protection. The Holy Spirit (or even just Providence) stopping the Church from ever canonizing a reprobate is not necessarily “giving information” in the sense the Church means by “Public Revelation.”

          Obviously, if a child is working on a math problem using the principles the teacher taught them during the lesson, there is a difference between the teacher giving them the answer, or teaching them NEW material in the middle of the test…and saying, “Check your work here again,” or tapping one part of their work and shaking their head, or saying “Remember that I told you…” or asking a pointed question to get them to realize why they’ve made a wrong turn.

          In some trivial sense you can call this “new information,” but the Church’s teaching on Public Revelation ending never said “God doesn’t ever communicate with us.” It says that He gives us no new ARTICLES OF FAITH, no new teachings/dogmas. It doesn’t mean He isn’t there guiding, even infallibly in some cases, the Church’s application of those principles to historical discernments.

          As the CDF document says, “these doctrines may not be proposed as formally revealed, insofar as they add to the data of faith elements that are not revealed or which are not yet expressly recognized as such.” That is to say, they are applications of the principles to particular historical contingencies (like the life of a saint, or the election of a pope). But there is an infallibility by which the Holy Spirit guides the Church, in certain cases, to not make a mistake in the application of the principles to the specific data.

          It’s the difference between a teacher giving NEW MATERIAL or lessons in the middle of an assignment or test…and simply sitting alongside the student reminding them of the old principles, helping them realize when their thought-process is taking a wrong path, and helping to guide them towards the right solution in terms of applying those general principles to this particular equation. God certainly does that for the Church in certain cases. But that isn’t “new teachings” or “new principles,” there are no new articles of Faith involved.

          Please. This is basic.

      • A Sinner

        Julia, I can’t speak for him, but I think Rat-biter is against the Church’s claims entirely. He’s pointing out how the inquisition was encouraged by Saints to prove the Church’s total lack of credibility as far as I can tell.

        Ironically, I sort of agree: if the ideas behind the Inquisition were ON PRINCIPLE (and not merely in practice) wrong in all even hypothetical cases…then the Church doesn’t have an credibility.

        Which is why, as a Catholic, I can only say mistakes were made or sins were committed in practice. I can’t renounce the theoretical principle that the State is allowed to defend itself, with force if necessary, against threats to social order (nor can I dismiss the possibility that there might be some hypothetical situation where heresy MIGHT represent such a threat.)

        • Rat-biter

          “Julia, I can’t speak for him, but I think Rat-biter is against the Church’s claims entirely. He’s pointing out how the inquisition was encouraged by Saints to prove the Church’s total lack of credibility as far as I can tell.”

          ## Got it in one :) TY

        • turmarion

          Fair enough, Rat-biter, but then why do you care? If you’re a Protestant or a non-believer, the teachings of the Church and their infallibility or lack thereof are irrelevant to you, right? I mean, no offense, but you sound a little bit like the guy who interrupts a conversation between two comic book fans over whether DC or Marvel is better by yelling, “It’s just comic books, for Pete’s sake! They’re crap literature, and who gives doo dah about ’em?” Which is to say, totally missing the point! Not that I’m reducing Catholic doctrine to the triviality of such a discussion, but you see what I mean?

          Btw, DC is better, of course. 😉

  • turmarion

    The Spiritual Franciscans or Fraticelli in some places actually started insurrections and in some cases showed their love of poverty by murdering the rich. Savanarola had his famous “bonfires of the vanities” and caused huge social turmoil (though it’s important to note that his doctrine wasn’t strictly heretical, but rather his methods). These would be good examples of heretical sects or individuals who actually caused violent threats to the public order, and cases in which the use of force by the state to restore public order was justified (whether capital punishment was appropriate is another issue). In my view, suppression would be appropriate not because of the religious motivations of the heretical groups but the material and physical violence, riots, etc. caused. The authorities at the time probably considered motivations to be an issue, too, but in that I think they were morally wrong.

    The Albigensians in the 13th Century and the Mennonites in the 17th were pacifists. They did not start riots, insurrections, etc. All they wanted was to be let alone in peace to live their lives and preach their way. In fact, before the murderous and horrific–and in my view, totally sinful–Albigensian Crusade, the Cathari/Albigensians had excellent relations with the orthodox lords (and even some bishops) in Languedoc. The persecution and violence was instigated in both cases by the established church, not by the dissenters.

    One could say that the Cathari and the Mennonites were a threat to society in that, left untrammeled, they’d have potentially converted many, or most, or perhaps all of the population to their cause, weakening or eliminating the established Church. If one views a confessional state as an ideal, and if one considers that such a state has the right to preempt, suppress, or otherwise prosecute “threats” to the spiritual health of a society, then one might justify the actions against the Cathari and the Mennonites–especially if one takes a hardcore extra Ecclesiam nulla salus perspective whereby one considers the Cathari, Mennonites, and others to be literally imperiling the eternal salvation of myriads of souls, putting them and society at large in danger of perdition.

    I reject all of this. While not denying the possibility of Hell (though that’s a tangent I don’t want to get off on), I do not hold to such an extra Ecclesiam theology, so I don’t see that as justification for the persecution of peaceful heretics. Even if I did buy such a theology, I still don’t see such actions by the state as valid or appropriate. You can suppress and murder, but sooner or later the group you’re suppressing is powerful enough to fight back, and then you get the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, and the Thirty Years War which annihilated nearly a quarter to a third of the population of Central Europe. All in the name of love of Christ! I don’t think the end result in terms of groups leaving the Church had the heretics been let alone would have been that much different, and it would certainly have been much less bloody.

    Thus I maintain that persecution, torture, suppression, dhimmi-like policies, etc. used against dissenters, heretics, and minority religious groups are wrong: wrong then, wrong now, wrong tomorrow.

    Two more things: I think that a confessional state is a bad idea, and if I lived in a society in which there was a push to create one, I’d fight against such church-state entwining even if it were my own church. The corollary to this is that I think persecution, etc. of groups or individuals for their beliefs, where no physical violence, rioting, etc. occurs is intrinsically, always and everywhere wrong. In an abstract sense, “error has no rights”; but people have the right to be wrong, whether we like it or not; and we’re not as wise as we like to think we are, and don’t have as firm a grasp on just what is right and wrong as we like to believe.

    Second, in thinking of the Reformation, I often think of Stephen’s comments on the Temple in Acts 7. He was (correctly!) perceived by his audience as attacking the most holy thing in Judaism, its very heart and core. I sometimes wonder if the sins of the faithful–orthodox especially, given the extreme corruption of the late Medieval popes, but of schismatic groups, too–were such that the unity of the Church and Christendom had likewise become a sort of idol, just as Stephen accused the Jews as having made of the Temple; and that, as with the Temple, Christendom, like all idols, needed to be smashed.

    There’s a line of thought among many more traditional and conservative Catholics that the Reformation was a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. It was a tragedy, all right, but I’m not sure that in God’s providence that it wasn’t necessary. Maybe human and institutional sin had become so great that only the shattering of Christendom could save Christianity. Yes, there were obviously horrible results; but given the unwillingness or inability of Christians to live with each other in peace, even in the midst of disagreements, and the inability of the institutional Church to reform itself, maybe the Reformation was the only way. That doesn’t mean I think Protestant theology was correct tout court; but maybe it was necessary for Christians to break away so that forgotten virtues–the peacefulness of the Mennonites, the enthusiasm for Scripture of the Baptists, the fervor of the Methodists, etc.-could be manifested and later appreciated and re-appropriated by the Church. Maybe they had to leave so that they could ultimately return.

    Sounds rather paradoxical, maybe in a Chestertonian way; but I think there may be something to it.

    • A Sinner

      No, I would not support the view that the State could suppress heretics to save souls. That’s not the State’s job. If the State can suppress heretics, it can only be for the threat to temporal order.

      You seem to deny that heresy, in itself, can threaten public order unless it is explicitly violent itself.

      I disagree. I do not think the Wars of Religion and all that were the RESULT of suppressing heresy. They were, clearly, the result of not suppressing it enough.

      Medieval Western Christendom was far from free of wars. But all the different countries were united by a common Church and thus in some sense tempered by a higher purpose, a non-privatized conception of The Good.

      When, however, the cat gets out of the bag and different groups can adopt different ideologies…well, the “fault lines” are bound to fall along the lines of power and economics. Look how many German princes became Lutheran! It wasn’t because they were really convinced, it was because of the political advantage of forming a “bloc” against Catholic ones. Look at England and its Reformation. Look at all the peasants who took it as an excuse to dissolve their obligations to their lords.

      Let’s not forget that Protestants were martyring Catholics too. Yes, you might say, “Some were pacifists.” But the very PRINCIPLE of admitting the pacifists is a slippery slope that would have also thus led to admitting the non-pacifists, and thus the entire fragmentation into warring kingdoms we saw.

      Was Christendom and idol that “needed to be toppled.” In some grand Providential sense, yes, I’m sure. I agree. I’ve retained an ambivalence about Christendom all throughout this thread. But, the good that God draws out of great evil is not a moral excuse for the sins of the individuals.

      I think it is ridiculous to believe that the Wars of Religion and such were all because of the “repress heretics attitude.” That’s just so naive. The Wars of Religion were the natural result of a shift from an ideologically hegemonic civilization, to a pluralistic one where the Good was privatized (which can only mean, in the public sphere, a Void that gets filled only with Power and Money) first on the level of each individual state, and then finally the level of each individual.

      If you don’t think this smashing of the transcendent Good, socially speaking, into a million pieces was something the State has a legitimate temporal interest to protect against…I don’t know what else to say.

      I do know that not a lot of people over in Europe complain about laws fining people for questioning the Holocaust. This is a form of “suppression of heresy.” It may not make a lot of sense to Americans, but I’m sure they think this is absolutely essential for maintaining whatever values their current order is based upon.

      • Rat-biter

        @turmarion – July 6, 2012 10:19 am

        “Fair enough, Rat-biter, but then why do you care? If you’re a Protestant or a non-believer, the teachings of the Church and their infallibility or lack thereof are irrelevant to you, right?”

        ## Completely & totally wrong. I am (now) a (nominal) Catholic, but I used to be very conservative indeed: what many would call a True Catholic (TM): one of these people who is naive enough to suppose that because the CC teaches X, & is (it says) infallible, it will not change what it teaches.

        I used – very foolishly – to take for granted that because of the things it claimed about itself it must be a moral paragon, at least at the top. IOW, I idolised the Church, as so many still do. Then came JP2 and his shenanigans: the Balamand Declaration, the Assisi Abominations, indifferentism & scandals like that. It turned out to be rather less impeded by trifles such as morality & Christianity than (say) the Mafia. Yet these are men by whose teaching we are supposed to be guided – so if their spiritual & moral vision is so poor that they cannot see that recycling predators is immoral, how can one possibly imagine that their vision qualifies them to teach us the things of God ? If they contradict themselves or their predecessors, why should we give them obedience of mind and will ? They may themselves be contradicted by their successors, as they have contradicted those before them: a little detail pointed out by Abp. Lefebvre.

        If the Catholic Faith can be held as cheap as Wojtyla held it in 1986, why should I bother with his fulminations about not ordaining women in 1995 ? Assisi was a scandal to Evangelicals as well. Or with Ratzinger’s gay-bashing ? He who undermines the doctrine of his predecessors, cannot insist that any great veneration be paid to his teaching. The truth is, I despise Wojtyla & his successor – they are heretics, by any standard that has not been warped to make their nonsense look orthodox. A further example: this anti-Traditional & anti-Biblical falsehood that the Orthodox are “the other lung of the Church”. I prefer to go with Pius IX & Leo XIII, who did not pollute the Catholic faith with their own theories. If the “Orthodox” were schismatics in 1864 or so, & did not accept the Catholic faith in its entirety, & the Petrine Primacy (as defined by Vatican 1 & taught by V2), they are still schismatics.

        But now, we have the absurdity of the Ratzinger Formula: the “Orthodox” don’t have to accept dogmas taught since about 1000 – so we have to believe in Papal Infallibility (at the cost of excommunication); but they don’t. How this not not preaching two Faiths ? It makes Catholicism into a creed of robots, who will believe anything, no matter how irrational or false, if only Church Authority comes up with it.

        What really affected me was a TV programme called “Suing the Pope”. The principal contributor was one of 66 victims of a predator priest who had been “at work” (so to put it) while still a deacon – & the bishop was aware of this. Somehow, I don’t think being *alter Christus* covers this. But could the Pope be sued ? Nope. Instead, he squirms back and forth between his two jobs – taking refuge in either, to avoid being sued for malfeasance as the other. He is not the employer of the clergy – yet they depend upon Rome for their entire ministry. He has almost boundless power, without responsibility. When the CC acts like Babylon the Great, the Scarlet Woman of the Apocalypse, it is uncommonly hard not to see it as BtG.

        I believe this is one-half of Rome’s notion of taking responsibility – the other being, to find as many groups as possible to blame, rather than having the guts to accept responsibility itself. The Vatican, as Father Cantalamessa informed the world, was the victim in this. The scandal was the fault of the media. The gays. The Freemasons. The liberals. The Jews. Or of any of over 20 other groups. But not the CC. It is fundamentally & radically selfish. Everyone else can go hang – the One Thing Needful is that Rome should not lose face. Its only god is Rome – Enda Kenny was spot on in calling it “narcissistic”. I have no respect for a group that uses people in this shameful way.

        *Of course* I care about the CC. I’m not so selfish & morally abandoned as to think that only my well-being matters. So I loathe & abominate the harm the CC does to others as well. It claims to be Christian, while doing the works of the devil – that is not the kind of Christianity one finds in the NT. The NT is supposed to be vaguely important to the CC, no ? Infallibility, and even the claim to it, has consequences in reason & conduct – if the CC is as reasonable as it boasts of being, then it cannot avoid having reason & logic applied to its claims. If they ring hollow, people should say so. The CC is a Fundamentalist cult – it misunderstands Fundamentalism, so it can’t see this.

        Apologies for the length.

        • Julia Smucker

          Oh, so you’ve gone from right-wing dogmatism to left-wing dogmatism. That explains some things.

    • A Sinner

      You say, “always and everywhere wrong.” But what this boils down to, upon analysis of the sort I’ve done in this post, is essentially an absolute dogmatization of Pluralism on principle. You can try to formulate it in such a way that the principle is “practice pluralism, even if your own conception of the good should be unitary” or something, but as we’ve learned from the rise of Secularism, that doesn’t really work. Any “playing field” that CLAIMS to be “ideologically neutral” has, by that very fact, implicit values, it’s own totalizing notion of a Good (or, sort of, Anti-Good) which then necessarily emerge.

      Basically, you seem to want to make the ideological neutrality of the State into some sort of absolute theoretical moral principle. I, however, not only disagree with this, but think it is simply IMPOSSIBLE. The State will ALWAYS have and favor an ideology. The supreme danger of the liberal/pluralist/secular narrative is that it enforces ruthlessly certain values under the mask or guise of “neutrality.”

      No, the attempt to have everyone free to hold their own private conception of the good while having there be allegedly no unitary transcendent public Good…simply hasn’t worked, because ALL notions of the Good make totalizing claims, and “the void” of “public/State neutrality” in pluralism…simply becomes an [Anti-]Good itself, enforcing its own ideology just as savagely.

      • Rat-biter


        “Oh, so you’ve gone from right-wing dogmatism to left-wing dogmatism.”

        ## You’ll have to explain that, sorry – I have no idea what you mean. By that, or by the remark that followed.

        (I’m assuming – perhaps wrongly ? – that remark was addressed to me; the only reason for thinking so, was that it immediately followed something I’d posted.)

        • Julia Smucker

          Yes, Rat-biter, this was in direct response to your previous comment in which you describe your transition from a naive conservatism in which you idolized the Church to now calling the whole Catholic Church a fundamentalist cult. Rereading your comment more closely, though, your calling the Assisi gatherings abominations and the current and previous popes heretics makes you sound more like a sedevacantist. So I’m still confused.

          Actually, I’m starting to wonder if you are a living example of the kind of crisis of faith that results from trying to build one’s faith on belief in the absolute perfection of the Church. If that’s the case, I am truly sad for you.

        • A Sinner

          I took Rat-Biter as someone who went Evangelical. I’m not sure though.

  • Ronald King

    From one who on a good day has an average IQ , I am always amazed at how complex defense mechanisms can be constructed to protect those with a superior IQ. Our hierarchy and the institutional church seem to be built on such a complicated structure.

  • A Sinner

    Frankly, it seems to me, that a lot of people today are not Catholics but really something more like “Catholic-Rite Secularists” (alongside their ideological brethren, the “Atheist-Rite Secularists,” the “Methodist-Rite Secularists,” the “Jewish-Rite Secularists” etc).

    This really does seem to be the analogy. If religion is not supposed to just be about our private good, but about our notions of the social/transcendent Good, then it seems nowadays these “Catholic-Rite Secularists” have The Void as their God, and the Holy Trinity or Christ just fill the role of what (in the old days) was private devotions or favorite patron saints.

  • turmarion

    Whether the Wars of Religion were caused by not enough suppression of heresy is debatable, but I’ll leave that to people with a deeper knowledge of the relevant history than I have. I do find that a questionable notion.

    However, consider the brutality of the Albigensian Crusade (remember, the Cathari were pacifists who rarely fought back). The finale of it, the siege of Montségur, resulted in the slaughter of every man, woman, and innocent child in the city, and in this context Arnault, I think, coined the famous saying, “Kill them all–God will know His own!” In fact, a lot of orthodox who were supportive of the Cathari were also killed, and the nobles who weren’t killed outright were dispossessed by the orthodox attackers (politics as ever). The entire, once-vibrant culture of Languedoc was destroyed, and it became a languishing backwater for centuries. Certainly it never rose up and fractured Christendom.

    If that level of suppression of heresy would have been necessary to prevent the Wars of Religion (assuming even that it could have, long term), then I say, no thanks. Whether the end body count would have been lower by the present day is unknowable and irrelevant. It is not any kind of valid moral argument to say that wars and atrocities could have been avoided by focused atrocities. It doesn’t work that way.

    God gave man free will. That and man’s reason are the main ways in which we are said to be “in God’s image”. Free will is one of God’s greatest gifts to us–perhaps the greatest. Without it, we’d be mere automata. More importantly, God is love, and love is impossible without free will. God takes our free will so seriously that He does nothing to override it, even when it leads to much nastiness. We’re supposed to emulate God–thus, I say that we must emulate him in allowing complete freedom of conscience to the extent that it is societally possible (the free will of a mass murderer can’t be allowed to manifest itself, obviously). Impinging on that is simply wrong.

    I used to think otherwise in my youth, but as I get older I believe more and more that a societal “transcendent public Good” is something we should not want. Christians have done fine for centuries in non-Christian societies without a Christian societal “transcendent public Good”. The problem is that once you get any kind of totalizing ideology, even if it’s a good one, it ultimately turns into tyranny. It’s sort of like the One Ring, which Tolkien explicitly has said represents raw power–Gandalf and Galadriel reject it since it can’t be used for good, and would warp the purest motives. Remember in the Temptation in the Desert, the Devil says that all nations have been given to him–and while Jesus doesn’t take the deal, he doesn’t dispute the fact. In a real sense, all politics and social systems of control are diabolical. To some extent necessary evils, but evils nonetheless. I think a Christian needs to be skeptical of any totalizing system, of any form of government, of any society, and skeptical of a Christian society most of all. When it’s one’s own ideology in charge it’s much harder to see the corruption and the sin, and to extricate oneself from it, and it is much easier to be tempted.

    In fact, I can think of a blog that strongly opposes totalizing systems in seminaries. It would seem to me that they wouldn’t be good for societies either.

    In this sense, I have to say I have come to a much greater appreciation of the Mennonite tradition. Julia, I think awhile back you recommended Unlearning Protestantism. I read the first chapter on my Kindle, and intend to get the whole thing soon. Excellent insights! Anyway, I think the Mennonite tradition models an IMO healthy wariness of state ideologies, even Christian ones, and of keeping as much clear as possible.

    It is true that no system is or can be neutral. Given that, I’d say that the best system is the one that stays as much out of the way as possible, coerces as little as possible, and lets the faithful–of all stripes–do their own thing. True, such a pluralistic system won’t always be to the liking of the religious. However, the more I read of the Middle Ages, the less I think the Age of Faith was quite what it was cracked up to be. For example, legalized abortion is rightly attacked as an evil of our society. However, infanticide by exposure was extremely common in the Middle Ages (the commonness of names like “Esposito”–“exposed” tells you something), and foundling houses (not developed until much later) had a near 100% mortality rate. Moreover, so-called “angel makers”–women who took unwanted children and discreetly disposed of them–were active in some countries until the 19th Century! The point is not to say we’re better, but to give an example in which the evils of the “good old days” were not as much different from the evils of today as some like to portray.

    I’ll quote Jordan from his excellent post above to close this too-long post, since it accurately states my view on it:

    Perhaps all of us, readers and respondents, should consider that postchristianity/secularism, especially in its “western” incarnations, has made strides towards not consciously forming societies on violent substrata. A century ago, German and French troops slaughtered each other by the thousands in Flanders’ fields. Today, the most violent intra-European conflict might arise when an argumentative Angela Merkel knocks a water-carafe into Francois Hollande’s lap. Water stains on a tailored suit, or gallons of blood over “no man’s land”? Europeans might have lapsed into a relativistic and hedonistic postchristian “paganism”, given their legalization of abortion, legal recognition of LGBT relationships, and even the publicly defiant use of artificial contraceptives in so-called “Catholic countries”. Despite the tolerance of abortion especially, is not a postmodern political construct (such as the European Union) nominally predicated on the basic dignity of human beings and rules of secular law? Is not postmodern rule of law a surer basis for re-evangelization than a “Boko Haram”-esque shar’ia state based on an idolization of the most violent aspects of 7th century Bedouin tribal customs?

    • Julia Smucker

      Glad to hear someone has followed my book recommendation!

    • A Sinner

      “If that level of suppression of heresy would have been necessary to prevent the Wars of Religion (assuming even that it could have, long term), then I say, no thanks.”

      Of course, tumarion. A “shoot ’em all, and let God sort ’em out” attitude is wrong. Killing innocents is never justified even for a greater good or social order. Like I said, the one limit on the State’s right to protect itself is that it can’t punish people for doing morally obligatory things. Merely being alive, or alive in proximity to guilty people who are threatening society, is one of those things the State can’t punish you for! So, yes, I’d say “No thanks” to that too. That was a pretty clear case of a sinful and wrong application of the principles.

      “I say that we must emulate him in allowing complete freedom of conscience to the extent that it is societally possible (the free will of a mass murderer can’t be allowed to manifest itself, obviously). Impinging on that is simply wrong.”

      I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, though this glorification of liberty as a central value is part of the classical liberalism which is so different than Catholic values. However, you say “to the extent that it is societally possible” and I think, indeed, that’s the caveat. Nowadays, pluarlism is possible. But it took three or four hundred years of war (and arguably, the process is STILL happening) to create a relatively stable pluralism. So in Christendom, this sort of pluralism might NOT be “societally possible.” Even if you think today’s situation is better, as I said earlier: the COST to get to such a “higher relative maxima” may not be worth it.

      “I used to think otherwise in my youth, but as I get older I believe more and more that a societal ‘transcendent public Good’ is something we should not want. Christians have done fine for centuries in non-Christian societies without a Christian societal ‘transcendent public Good’.”

      Yes and no. I actually “agree” with what you’re saying, but disagree about what it implies.

      The problem, as I intimated earlier in the thread, is that this ultimately involves something like “Willing against our own success.” Yes, the Church can survive as a sect in a pluralist context (or persecuted by another Hegemony).

      BUT, these Christians never actually ADOPTED “pluralism” AS an Ideal-in-itself as you would seemingly do or have us do now. They may have had to live with The Void in practice, but they never gave it the place of God in theory. Their ideology was totalizing in theory, and they did not hesitate to set God in His Rightful (theoretical) Place when they finally did get power.

      So my own feelings are something like, “Well, we have to honestly TRY to win, but also secretly hope we don’t” or something like that.

      “The problem is that once you get any kind of totalizing ideology, even if it’s a good one, it ultimately turns into tyranny.”

      Yes, I don’t disagree here. “God” can become an Idol too.

      “I think a Christian needs to be skeptical of any totalizing system, of any form of government, of any society, and skeptical of a Christian society most of all. When it’s one’s own ideology in charge it’s much harder to see the corruption and the sin, and to extricate oneself from it, and it is much easier to be tempted.”

      Right, but at the same time, a society where everyone is Catholic is GOING to be a Catholic State by default unless we really do make pluralism a value or ideology in itself.

      And we can’t wish that there is never a mass conversion of society (as there was once, apparently, in Late Antiquity). So it’s sort of hard to know how to deal with “too much success.”

      So it’s sort of like, “As soon as you hit your zenith, you start to fall.” And yet, does that mean we never shoot for the zenith??

    • Rat-biter

      “…and in this context Arnault, I think, coined the famous saying, “Kill them all–God will know His own!””

      ## *Apparently*, this *bon mot* is unrecorded before 1862. But this period is not my *forte* at all.

      I don’t the difficulties this thread has discussed would arise, were it not for the non-occurrence of the Second Coming. That non-event raises the question whether post-Apostolic Christianity is even a valid movement. Had there been no long deferring of the Second Coming, Christendom, and the “total society” it resulted in, would not have been possible.

      • turmarion

        I know there’s debate about whether the “Kill ’em all” statement was actually said, but it was certainly followed at Montségur.

        It is absolutely true that the early Christians, and Jesus himself in his preaching, were apocalypticists, expecting the imminent end of the world. Obviously, this didn’t occur. It’s probably true also that trying to reconcile the lack of apocalypse with the teachings that point to it is part of the root problem of religions such as Christianity and Islam. In both of these it is noteworthy that the more a sect emphasizes a real, imminent apocalypse, the more fundamentalist, fanatic, and often violent it is.

        In that regard, I note that apocalyptophiles almost always tend to be Biblical literalists: “Well, the Bible sez it’s happinin’ any day now, so that must be true!” Of course, Catholics don’t use that hermeneutic.

        On the other hand, whether a delayed Parousia invalidates post-Apostolic Christianity is another matter. I go back to what I said before: If the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ, and the God who loves us enough to die for us are the central commitments one makes, then the Apocalypse becomes secondary. Whether it happens today, a million years from now, or never, in a literal sense, is really trivial compared to the love of God in Christ. This is why, IMO, Catholics and Orthodox are amillennialists, who tend toward a realized eschatology–on some level, there was a realization that the impending Apocalypse couldn’t be understood literally. In any case, exactly how one reconciles the clear Scriptural statements of a nearby eschaton with the observed lack thereof is, in my view, totally missing the point. “No one knows the hour or the day,” (Matthew 24:36) so our attitude should, apocalyptically speaking, be “don’t worry, be happy!”

        • Julia Smucker

          My mother once had a professor who described himself as a “pan-millenialist”, meaning he believes it will all pan out in the end.

        • Turmarion

          I love it! I think I’m a “pan-millenialist,” too!

        • Rat-biter

          @turmarion – July 6, 2012 10:15 am

          “On the other hand, whether a delayed Parousia invalidates post-Apostolic Christianity is another matter. I go back to what I said before: If the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ, and the God who loves us enough to die for us are the central commitments one makes, then the Apocalypse becomes secondary.”

          ## If:

          1. Jesus is God Incarnate

          2. Jesus cannot be in error

          3. Jesus says that the SC will occur in the lifetime of “some standing here”

          4. The Bible is totally inerrant

          5. The Bible is totally accurate in what it shows Jesus saying;

          – then Jesus taught that the SC would occur in the lifetime of “some standing here”, & did so inerrantly. Since He is God Incarnate, He cannot be wrong.

          That is the traditional argument – but it does not work. But it does not allow us to wave difficulties aside, either. And if that can be waved aside, why not wave aside other problem passages, such as the teaching on prayer, or on forgiveness, or on Hell, or on the Petrine Primacy, or on anything else ? Why not junk the entire Bible ? There are sure to be excellent theological & ecumenical arguments for doing so.

          Either the Bible is “My Big Book of Excuses To Do & To Teach As I Want” for the Church; or it is (as the Church teaches) inspired & canonical Sacred Scripture, having God for its Primary Author. And as the Church teaches, some and only some, named, books are within it, “with all their parts”. Matthew 16.28 & 24.34 are among those parts. They are inspired and canonical – we have no right and no freedom to ignore them, for that would be to say we were wiser than the Holy Spirit Who inspired them, & wiser than Christ Who uttered them.

          As to “literalism” – the concept is ambiguous. But in any case, every jot of Scripture has a purpose, all of it matters, nothing is irrelevant, all is deserving of respect (BTW, I am well aware of the fact of the countless textual difficulties in the books that comprise the Bible – & I read a lot of “Higher Criticism”: but none of that can undermine the Divine authority of Scripture. It is secondary to that of Christ – that does not make it non-existent or merely human).

          BTW, the Apocalypse & the Second Coming are different: or have I misunderstood your meaning ?

        • turmarion

          Yes, I was a bit loose about conflating “Apocalypse” and “Second Coming”; but they are (in some systems, anyway) pretty close together temporally.

          Thank you for the clarity here and above in discussing where your beliefs. I didn’t quite see where you were coming from in the shorter posts. I am sad to see the obvious pain you’re in as a result of the way the Church has gone in the last few decades. I wouldn’t agree with you on many of the matters you speak of, but it is never a light or trivial thing when someone feels betrayed and abandoned by the Church, as you obviously do.

          From what you’re saying, I’m not sure if you’re having a crisis of faith over Christianity altogether, or if it’s more the post-Conciliar Church. If you think that the last few popes are heretics, then I rather wonder that you haven’t joined a Sedevacantist church. On the other hand, if you think you’re in danger of losing your faith altogether, then all I can say is to pray and try to be open to God’s will; and sinner that I am, I’ll nevertheless keep you in my prayers as well. I hope you’re able to come to some point at which you can be in peace.

        • A Sinner

          But see the very concrete scandal all this obfuscating of previous teaching is causing??

  • turmarion

    I don’t want to clog up the combox, but I ran across one of the best and most succinct statements of how the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church works on a thread at Rod Dreher’s blog:

    Moreover the Orthodox Church does contain a role for the Faithful even in the teaching authority of the Church. We have no equivalent of an infallible Pope, not even a Council. Having had too much experience with bad bishops whose errors (e.g., iconoclasm) the people resisted, we require that the people must “receive” a teaching before we consider it truly authoritative– no, not vote on it, but put it into actual practice.

    If you read the thread, no one’s claiming the Orthodox Church is anywhere close to perfect; but as I said, this is a good statement of how they do things, and as I’ve often said, I think this approach to doctrinal authority would be a model for a potential third way.

    • Julia Smucker

      Reception (and the sensus fidelium and all that) is a part of Catholic teaching too. The challenge is to allow it to be more of a conversation, a genuinely participatory hierarchy.

      • Kerberos

        “Reception (…..)is a part of Catholic teaching too.”

        ## In theory, it may be, but in practice ? Hardly. Ther is no “conversation” – just condemnation of theologians who have failed to “receive” what Rome requires them to think. Rome wants power, not dialogue or participation. The Orthodox approach is better by a very long way, because it is far more Christian, at least in that respect, where Rome is authoritarian, which it has long confused with being authoritative. As for the authority of the Holy Spirit, He has none; the Church is a Papal autocracy in which bishops have little part to play, and the laity even less. We are as we were before V2, only the Papal tendency to hoover up all life and authority below the Papacy has been worsened. All the woes of the Church today are of Papal origin, but we can do nothing about them, because the Papacy is totally unaccountable. It really has to be asked: given the long tale of woes and deformites that have resulted from the Papacy, what is the point of it ? It’s like a Trojan Horse in the workings of the Church, except that it can’t be healed: the software to do so doesn’t exist :(

        • Rat-biter

          Kerberos = Rat-biter (I have so many handles I confuse them. Sorry.)

  • turmarion

    I don’t subscribe to the oft-heard canard leveled against Christianity by skeptics that it and monotheistic religions in general are inherently intolerant, bloodthirsty, and dictatorial. Nevertheless, it is interesting that the Abrahamic religions are the ones that have historically spent the most time, effort, and lives in heretic hunting and killing of their own adherents over doctrinal differences. Judaism has done that the least, since it’s had relatively little power; but if you look at the actions of reformer kings in ancient Israel and some extreme groups and individuals now (the late Meir Kahane springs to mind), it’s quite capable of it, too.

    By comparison the more-or-less montheisitc Zoroastrianism was quite tolerant. Remember, it was the Zoroastrian Cyrus who at state expense rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. There were a few periods of persecution of non-Zoroastrians and heretical Zoroastrian sects (e.g. the Zurvanites) under later Persian kings who wanted a state ideology to shore up a weak state; but these interludes were very much atypical, compared to Christianity and Islam.

    Meanwhile, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and other Indian religions were remarkably free of heresy hunting and religiously motivated violence. There were “heresies” (what Hindus call nāstika) and written polemics, but not much fighting or violence. I’m not painting a rosy picture of other faiths–they had their own nastiness, such as caste, suttee, and so on–but pointing out that it seems, for some reason, to be a weakness of the Abrahamic faiths that they seem very much prone to violent intolerance. Once more, given that there is no such thing as religion in the abstract, and that all religions are instantiated in actual, imperfect, sinful humans, cultures, etc., all faiths have their own weakness towards which they are prone. However, the tendency towards religious wars and the slaughter of heretics and non-approved sects is a pretty big weakness.

    Frankly, if I went solely by emotions, gut feelings, and what “works” for me, I’d be Hindu or Buddhist. The dharmic religions have always resonated with me powerfully–far more than the Abrahamic, by and large. There’s much in the Abrahamic milieu that I tend to find rather repulsive, disgusting, and immoral–e.g. the “kill everyone that pisseth against the wall” attitude attributed to God in the Old Testament, the “everybody but us is gonna burn FOREVER” attitude of all too many Christians, the intellectual obscurantism of young Earth creationists and IDers, and so on.

    The thing that holds me in, the thing that got me into the Church to begin with, is Christ. Intellectually, I think that the best explanation for the Resurrection is that it actually happened; and emotionally, the idea of a God who loves us so much, unlovable as we are, that He comes down to die for us, is overwhelmingly more attractive than even the pinnacles of Hinduism or Buddhism. John 3:16 really does say it all. Christ is the axis mundi for me; in comparison to that overwhelming reality, that infinite, ineffable, and ineluctable love, everything else is negotiable to one degree or another. If the Son of God loves me so much that he died for me, why should I care if John’s account of the Sanhedrin is accurate or not in every detail? Why should I be so invested in literal truth of Scripture that I can’t believe (as I do) that the nastiness of the Old Testament God is just a savage and barbarous culture making God in its image? Why should I get too exercised over minutia of Scholastic theology or of Curial politics?

    Anyway, the point is that I’m not actually willing to give Medieval Christendom a pass on this, as some so desperately want to do. If Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists were able to avoid this kind of thing, I don’t see why, in principle, at least, Christians couldn’t have done so, too. They would have been better followers of their purported Lord if they’d done so.

    So it’s sort of like, “As soon as you hit your zenith, you start to fall.” And yet, does that mean we never shoot for the zenith??

    In light of the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (which is, in fact, especially revealing–a lot of comments here have boiled down to defending the Church’s ripping tares out of the ground and/or discussing the best ways to do so!), and Mark 4:26-29, I don’t think we’re supposed to shoot for anything. We scatter the seeds, spread the Word, follow Jesus, love one another, and let God sort all the other stuff out. If Christians–and I include myself, mea culpa–could do that and leave other faiths or those of our own with whom we disagree alone (“he who is not against us is with us” and all that)–we and the world would be a much better place, and people wouldn’t be getting persecuted or killed over their faith.

    • A Sinner

      Again, though, what happens when we’re SO SUCCESSFUL that everyone in a society is Christian and thus the State by default becomes Christian? At that point the community which is the Church and the community which is the State in a given location may be naturally co-extensive, and so naturally the two will intertwine because people can’t compartmentalize in their head and say, “Well, the cohesion of all of us as a religious group will be based on religion, but as a State will be based on something else”…because the latter idea takes the “foil” of a pluralistic millieu to accomplish. People have a hard time maintaining a “two hats” mindset when there are not, in fact, clearly delineated groups. People are not usually abstract enough to make a distinction like “The Church community is based on shared beliefs, but the State community is not…even though we all, coincidentally, DO happen to share beliefs in this case.” If a softball team and a big Catholic family are coextensive, say, it’s really meaningless to distinguish between “the team” and “the family.” Naturally the father will feel justified, say, grounding his kids AS father for disobeying him AS coach. Or, rewarding them AS family for doing well AS a team.

      But once that’s in place organically…then outsiders may be a real threat. What if the whole motivation for the success of the team is getting to stay up past the kids bedtime? But then some kid from another family is allowed to join the team. The father can’t make that same sort of promise to HIM, because he’s not his kid. But then it’s not really fair to make such a promise to ANY of the kids. So suddenly the team starts to lose integration and potential motivation and there can be serious dissension. Maybe this new kid also doesn’t feel quite as compelled to obey the coach AS coach exactly because he knows he can’t be punished in the domestic sphere, that once he leaves the baseball field, he’s “safe” because the two spheres don’t overlap.

      Yet your logic would basically say, “Then no family should ever be a baseball team too.” But that seems unreasonable.

  • turmarion

    “We have ordained a law and assigned a path for each of you. Had God pleased, He could have made of you one nation: but it is His wish to prove you by that which He has bestowed upon you. Vie with each other in good works, for to God you shall all return, and He will resolve for you your differences.”–Qur’an, 5:49, Dawood’s translation

    Islam has not taken this verse on interreligious relations to heart, alas, but I think it is a great one, and pretty much expresses my outlook. Of course there’s the Great Commission and all that, but once more, it’s just up to us to scatter the seeds and let God take care of the rest. Evidently He doesn’t have trouble with pluralism, since presumably He could ensure that only one religion existed, if He so wished. In fact, my own opinion is that God deliberately allows various religions so that we can all keep each other honest, so to speak.

    The colonies were very nearly 100% Christian, and yet the Founders explicitly set up the United States as a secular state. This is very clear from the First Amendment, the barring of religious requirements for office, the pride Jefferson took in writing the Freedom of Religion statue for Virginia, the effort John Quincy Adams took to end the establishment of the Congregational Church in Massachusetts (the Constitution hadn’t forbidden established churches at the state level), and so on. In short, they made a conscious decision to “wear two hats”.

    Now since the populace was overwhelmingly Christian, it took awhile for all the ramifications of this concept to work their way out. For example, schools once had Bible study and prayers (although if you were a Catholic, too bad–you weren’t allowed to use Catholic Bibles or prayers; and if you were Jewish, you were totally vercocked). Nevertheless, the Founders’ vision was clear. One may not like it, or the Enlightenment that spawned it; but there it is. I could go on for aye about the problems the Enlightenment brought; but then again, I could do the same for pre-Enlightenment society. It happened for a reason, you know. By and large, I’m with the Founders on this. Wearing two hats may not always be the easiest route, but in the modern world I think it’s the best; and even in the pre-modern world, as I’ve noted, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists seemed able to pull it off pretty well.

    Anyway, even if one posited a 100% Christian population, and even posited them all to be of the same church, you’re never going to have a situation in which you don’t have people with different opinions–heretics, if you will–popping up from time to time. What do you do with them? To use the family analogy, what if eventually one of the kids decides he’d rather play soccer or football or study dance or maybe decides he’s just not that into athletics period and wants to paint? Does the father enforce the kids membership in and participation in the team regardless? Or does the child ever get to be his own person, whether his father necessarily approves or not? Obviously if the kid is drifting into drug addiction or crime, the answer is “no”, but short of that, I’d say it should be an emphatic “yes”. Comes a time that the child is an adult, and no longer under the parents’ authority.

    Likewise, we are under the Church’s authority to the extent that we are members, which of course hangs on our free will, since we choose to be or remain members; and in drastic cases the Church has the rightful authority to excommunicate or interdict members; but neither it nor the temporal authorities should have the right to ban, deport, suppress, or otherwise interfere with heretics or schismatics or those who decide to found new religions. If someone wants to be a Bogomil or a Baptist or a Bahá’í, excommunicate them; but beyond that, let them go in peace.

    • dominic1955

      However, 100% Christian is not even close to 100% Catholic. A situation that A Sinner described would have to be 100% (or near) Catholic. In a situation like the 13 Colonies found themselves in, I’d rather have a secular state as well because if it isn’t going to be a Catholic confessional state, then it would be better if it was as neutral as possible-and certainly not a confessional state run by sectarians.

      • Turmarion

        I would affirm everything I said before about a 100% Catholic state, too. In my view, a confessional state is a bad idea, even if it’s Catholic. I actually said that indirectly above at 11:28 on the 4th: “I think that a confessional state is a bad idea, and if I lived in a society in which there was a push to create one, I’d fight against such church-state entwining even if it were my own church.” I stand by that.

        • A Sinner

          You may think it’s a bad idea. That doesn’t mean it isn’t INEVITABLE if the population is 100% Catholic.

          You talk about “growing up,” but we’re all children.

          Yeah, if a kid wants to play football and the family is a soft-ball team…too bad for the football kid. His practices may conflict with the family’s soft-ball games or practices. And should the whole family really be forced to waste their collective time and resources to drive the one malcontent halfway across the county to where the football games are??

          No, very often in a family the common good takes over the individual freedom. (Likewise, children can be made to work for no pay, and are “trapped” in a relationship of fealty with their parents involving certain reciprocal obligations.)

          Well, the State used to be a big family, sort of.

          This idea that it should be different because people turn 18 or 21 as if “We’re adults now, so suddenly freedom and autonomy and independence become the greatest values” only makes sense in a late-capitalist world of atomist individualism.

          • Julia Smucker

            I agree with you on the common good taking precedence over individual autonomy and independence, although we have different ideas on what this means in practice. As a Catholic, I reject the strictly utilitarian notion of the common good as “the greatest good for the greatest number” (not to say that this is what you are advocating), because universal human dignity must be respected and therefore the basic human rights of minority populations must be accounted for. Even a State where the population is 100% Catholic (or especially such a State) must allow for the just treatment of the stranger who may enter it. That goes all the way back to OT Mosaic law.

        • dominic1955

          That’s fine, I’m just saying that it is impossible to have a “confessional” state that is merely 100% “Christian” as the different Christian groups are certainly not on the same page about a number of different things.

        • A Sinner

          Well, as I’ve said, “The greatest good for the greatest number” is not correct because the State also cannot require anyone to commit objective sin, nor punish objective moral obligation, even if one of those things would maximize the good more.

          You can’t just kill or otherwise restrict the rights of people merely for being alive or because it’s convenient. If people are punished by the State like that, it has to be because they’ve broken a just law. And a just law can never require sin, or punish a moral obligation. It can’t be arbitrary either; it’s punishment must be proportionate to the harm caused by the crime, and truly directed at stopping that harm specifically. Not merely as, say, a “excuse” to use those the law makes “criminals” in a labor camp or something like that.

          Illegalizing gum chewing if it was causing the streets to get clogged up and teeth to all rot and fall out might be okay. Illegalizing it because you want an “excuse” to catch people and use them for hard labor, on the other hand, is thus not just.

          However, if no one is being forced to commit objective sin, and no one is being punished for an objective moral obligation, and if something like heresy really is causing harm, and it is THAT harm specifically the law is aiming to redress…then what other principle regarding “dignity” would put an inviolable “protective fence” around heresy, but not around shouting fire in a crowded theater (which is what it is essentially a form of in certain societies?) Error is not essential to human dignity. There are limits on conscience, hence we don’t allow human sacrifice.

          I’ll admit that mere VERBAL heresy might not be as harmful as human sacrifice in all cases. But how much harm something causes is relative to context and situation. And so it is imaginable that, in some case, a verbal act MIGHT be as harmful as a physical act. And if it’s not the [religious] MOTIVE that makes something intrinsically inviolable (as, obviously, that motive doesn’t excuse human sacrifice), and if it’s not the “merely verbal” character of the act (since that obviously doesn’t matter)…then what is it?

          I’d like to know. Do people disagree with:

          A) laws against denying the holocaust in Germany?

          B) rules requiring that people not wear gang colors in certain areas because of the disorder that can cause?

  • A Sinner


    Basically, I think the real root question here in terms of the principle boils down to this:

    A) Do you agree that the State has the right to use force to defend order/safety or to promote the welfare of the community, etc?

    Every Catholic must say yes to A. That’s well established.

    B) What are the limits on the State’s use of force even if to defend order/safety, promote the welfare of the community, etc?

    Here is where I think there is room for debate.

    At the very minimum, Catholics must say that one limit is that the State can never require objective sin, nor criminalize objective moral obligations, even for the sake of public order/safety. (“Objective” meaning “according to the objective standards of the Catholic Church,” not merely according to the conscience of the individual, who may believe in something crazy like human-sacrifice or whatever). We cannot be pure utilitarians when it comes to the State “for the greater good.” No.

    On that I think we must all agree.

    After that is the debated point about what ADDITIONAL limits may exist on State use of force for the sake of order/safety/protection of the community/advancing the community’s welfare, etc.

    Tumarion (and other people who promote “religious liberty”) seems to think that the State is not merely forbidden to require objective sin or punish objective obligation…but also must “maximize freedom.” Or, at least, that certain “special spheres” like religious belief are inviolable except when they impinge directly and significantly on the right of someone else (even if tolerating them leads to less than maximal welfare for the community, or even considerable disorder or harm).

    Again, I really don’t think there are any intrinsically required limits on State use of force to promote order or welfare EXCEPT that it cannot require objective sin, or punish objectively morally obligatory things (error, however, does not have this right to be exempt). I believe that this is all dogma itself requires us to believe.

    However, some of you seem to propose that, even when it comes to order or welfare, that there are additional limits on State force for their sake even BEYOND just “You can’t require objective sin, and you can’t punish anything objectively obligatory.” And I’d like to know how exactly you define these limits, and what your philosophical (or theological) justification for them are.

    Also note: I’m not saying their couldn’t be more limits in practice (say, by the State’s particular constitution) or that their might not be reasons to introduce such “more than minimal limits” in given cases or even most of the time. But we’re talking here about what the morally/ethically MINIMAL limits on State force (assuming it truly does advance order/overall welfare) are.

    I don’t believe Catholicism requires us, doctrinally, to believe there are any limits beyond: “You can’t require objective sin, and you can’t punish anything objectively obligatory.”

    I think this debate could be settled if the “liberal” side of this debate would admit that this is all that doctrine itself requires, and that any additional limits they propose are not dogmatic, are prudential philosophical postulates of theirs, and that someone can be a Catholic in good standing without accepting the necessity of such limits on the State beyond “You can’t require objective sin, and you can’t punish anything objectively obligatory.”

    However, the folks here don’t seem to be merely saying that or allowing for that sort of latitude or big tent, but seem to be proposing that the additional limits on State power they propose are in fact REQUIRED by Faith and Morals, or at least SHOULD be defined as such. And so I’d also like to know what grounds they have for this, for wishing the Church would (or thinking it already has) imposed belief in their “additional limits to State power” on everyone else.

    • Julia Smucker

      I don’t think this is the best way of posing the question in the first place. For Christians, it should be something like:

      A) Is the use of force ever compatible with a Christian perspective built on the Gospel?

      And the other side of the coin, applicable for believers and non-believers alike:

      B) Is force the most moral and/or effective way to preserve public order and promote the common good?

      This latter question especially lends itself to more creative solutions than simply asking whether or not the State is within its rights, because it does not presuppose that force is the only possible option.

      • A Sinner

        Oh, maybe. But then that opens the door for someone coming to the honest conclusion that “Yes, in this case, force is tragically the only effective way to preserve public order and promote the common good.”

        Obviously, we reach this conclusion for SOME things, like stopping a gunman going on a rampage. But, given the right circumstances, ANY action could theoretically cause harm equivalent to a gunman going on a rampage, even morally neutral actions, and certainly morally bad actions.

        So my question was about the limits of what we can punish. I said that it’s obvious we can’t require objective sin, or punish objective moral obligation.

        But then why this circle of inviolability around heresy? It’s not an OBjective moral obligation, and it may in fact be greatly harmful.

        And if we admit in principle that the State might sometimes need (not just being within its “rights,” but as its DUTY) to use force to stop an aggressor, and if heresy is sometimes effectively an aggressive antisocial act, and if it is not objectively morally obligatory…what principle would require that the State nevertheless NOT use force here, even though they can use it against the rampaging gunman or human-sacrificer?

        That’s what I’m trying to figure out about the “other side’s” position.

  • Rat-biter

    @A Sinner – July 5, 2012 3:23 pm

    “Infallibility isn’t just about the deposit of faith, though, tumarion. It is also a protection of the Holy Spirit to the Church in preserving that deposit.”

    ## I though the dogmaticians called that protection assistance – and distinguished in some detail between infallibility & assistance. (People *will* keep saying the Pope is infallible, even when he is not exercising infallibility. Infallibility is not a habit, but a grace attached to the Pope’s office – I suspect they should say he enjoys the Divine assistance.)

    • A Sinner

      The CDF said, however, that in certain cases the contingencies determined by that assistance were to be treated as infallible. Not, as it were, because of faith in the revealed Word, but because of trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church. So, yes, there may be two different nuances as regards the assent vis a vis the virtue of supernatural Faith. Canonizations are not really Articles of Faith. I’m not sure assent to a canonizations constitutes an Act of Faith in the strict sense. But they may still be “infallible” in the broader sense that we must trust that there are certain determinations (like canonizations, and papal elections) where the Church won’t ever be wrong, because of the Holy Spirit’s assistance.

      • Rat-biter

        They are not articles of faith – they are (to use the older terminology) dogmatic facts. So is the Pope’s declaring or approving a liturgical text fit for Catholic worship. Etc.

  • turmarion

    There’s a lot of “argument of the beard” going on around here. That is, since I can’t say exactly how many hairs constitute a beard (assuming one plucked them out one at a time) that therefore I can’t tell the difference between a bearded and a clean-shaven face. Which is obviously absurd.

    Likewise, I don’t claim to be able to set a precise point at which the exercise of force by the state is justified, and beyond which it is not. That doesn’t mean that one has to be a minimalist (a state can’t coerce sin or prevent a religious duty) or that one has to be a maximalist (an all-powerful unitary state), nor does it mean that everything in between is a prudential judgement that might be different in different circumstances. Thus, I to say that I can’t set a precise and eternal limit to what the state can do, doesn’t mean I can’t say that coercion of belief or punishment of a person for holding heretical or unpopular views is wrong, and not just as a matter of prudential judgement. I explained my reasons for this above in terms of the importance of God-given free will, which must be free even to be wrong.

    Look at it like this: If a person applies to be a math teacher, and it becomes apparent that he believes that 2+2=5, then obviously the school has a right–nay, a duty–not to hire him. End of story. If he wants to loudly proclaim his beliefs, write books about them, blog on them all day long, etc., that’s his business and no one should molest him. Now, if large numbers of people for some reason embraced his views, with the obvious results in engineering, architecture, etc., then something might have to be done.

    So, if a Cathar applies to be a religious education teacher at a Catholic school, obviously, for the same reasons as above, it ought not to hire him. End of story. No suppression, no crusades. Now, as a matter of actual historical fact, the Cathars don’t seem to have had a negative influence on Languedoc, to have caused social collapse, or anything of the sort. In fact, the culture flourished, with some of the masterpieces of European poetry being produced; and as I said before, the orthodox lords got on quite well with the Cathari. Now, hypothetically Catharism might have replaced Catholicism had there been no crusade; but, so what? Our job is to spread the seeds, not go around ripping up the tares. If the Church can’t persuade others, then that’s its problem, not the heretics’. In fact, it was precisely the extremely bad witness of the orthodox clergy and monastics that turned people off to them, and impelled them to follow the Cathars, whom they called the Bonhommes–the “good men”. Dominic, as you may know, realized the problem, and that’s why he insisted on holiness and asceticism for his order. He actually was to some extent successful, but not enough; and he eventually seems to have endorsed the Crusade (at least, there’s no evidence I know of that he ever opposed it). As you may also know, Dominicans were overrepresented in the ranks of the Inquisition, most spectacularly Tomás de Torquemada.

    I keep hearing these statements, “But what about bad effects of heresies? What about if they’re anti-social? What if they were a danger to the social order?” I’m sorry, but if people aren’t getting slaughtered in the streets and buildings burning and armed insurrection, then I don’t see it as a “threat to the social order”. Of course, the people of the time may have seen it as such; but as I’ve said, somehow Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Daoists managed to partly or completely avoid such stuff. Yes, they’re not lily-white and pure as driven snow; they have blood on their hands, too; but not from killing heretics. Something about those religions (and Zoroastrianism was not a relativistic faith as the other three were–it had fairly robustly defined doctrines, much like the Abrahamic faiths) resulted in people not seeing different beliefs as a threat to the social order. And you know what? They weren’t. There were plenty other things that threatened the social order, but the conversion of most Indians to Buddhism and Jainism from Hinduism, and then back to Hinduism later didn’t seem to.

    Finally: I think the thing about dogma as a guideline for what states should do misses the point. Of course states shouldn’t mandate sin or prevent religious duty. That’s small beans, and à la Monty Python “no basis for a system of government”. Consider: The case against Galileo was essentially that he was making the wrong prudential judgement in claiming the Earth moved around the sun, since that could not as yet be proved conclusively, and it might trouble the faithful. Of course, this seems totally absurd to us now. The Church’s job is not to tell scientists how to do their jobs. Likewise, while moral values inform government, government isn’t the Church’s business. Just because the Church hasn’t defined anything beyond not legislating sin, etc., doesn’t mean that it can’t be more than a mere prudential judgement to uphold freedom of conscience.

    I think Julia at 1:22 PM puts it about right. If we’d focus on what we’re called to do as Christians, and what is and isn’t compatible with that, rather than fight to the end to prevent the slightest admission that the Church could ever have been just plain wrong–no prudential considerations, no sophistry, just wrong–we’d get on much better and have a much better grasp of what our duties in the world are now.

    • A Sinner

      “Consider: The case against Galileo was essentially that he was making the wrong prudential judgement in claiming the Earth moved around the sun, since that could not as yet be proved conclusively, and it might trouble the faithful. Of course, this seems totally absurd to us now. The Church’s job is not to tell scientists how to do their jobs.”

      This is a compartmentalization that I don’t like. Galileo was mainly prosecuted for not being discreet (because it might trouble the faithful). Had he gone about his business and corresponded privately with other scientists about the ease of calculations if the sun is taken as the frame of reference rather than the earth (obviously, there is no “absolute” frame of reference, so objectively speaking the whole question of “which is the centre” is meaningless)…there would have been no trouble. Copernicus did just fine with the Church.

      “Likewise, while moral values inform government, government isn’t the Church’s business. Just because the Church hasn’t defined anything beyond not legislating sin, etc., doesn’t mean that it can’t be more than a mere prudential judgement to uphold freedom of conscience.”

      Compartmentalization again, and veerrry dangerous, I think. There is not “one system of values for religion, and another for government.” You can argue about what limits on government power you think are more or less EFFECTIVE at maximizing the values the Church does consider to be “the common good.” It may be “prudential” but prudence is a virtue, after all, a moral category. So in advocating what you think is the most prudent, you are making a moral advocacy.

      However, you almost seem to be speaking as if “freedom of conscience” in government comes from OUTSIDE religion, as if it’s source is not within the value system of Christianity, but some sort of Meta-value by which even Christianity can be judged. I don’t buy that at all.

      “Now, if large numbers of people for some reason embraced his views, with the obvious results in engineering, architecture, etc., then something might have to be done.”

      Right. But why do you admit no such analogy is even hypothetically possible for religious heresy??

      Like, I see outlawing holocaust denial in Germany as a clear case of a “secular heresy” being punished. And yet, very possibly for good reason! You start spreading that denial…soon enough you could have another holocaust (though, at this point in history I think they may be being a little too sensitive.)

      Or, for example, look at how abortion gained acceptance by people slowly spreading awful ideas that in themselves as individual acts of “free speech” may not have caused a problem, but cumulatively led to the dehumanization and slaughter of a whole class of people.

      You think the State has no right to protect itself against “dangerous ideas” such as these just because in the individual instance one person professing it won’t do anything?? But we can only ever address cumulative effects or demographic trends by addressing individuals!

      • turmarion

        Copernicus didn’t have his work published until after he died exactly because he was afraid of difficulties with the Church. As to Galileo, the truth is the truth and if it troubles the faithful, well, too bad for the faithful. I mean, if it were going to trouble the faithful if there weren’t enough evidence for it, how would it trouble them any less if there were? There’s about as much evidence for evolution as you could possibly want, and creationists are still troubled about it and fight it tooth and nail. Should scientists sit on the facts of heliocentrism or the Earth’s age or evolution because it might trouble people who would (wrongly) think it invalidated Scripture? Shouldn’t the Church deal with such things by catechesis, not by suppressing inquiry? I’m sorry, but I don’t see that as sufficient reason. Magna est veritas, et praevalet.

        Now if a scientist made a discovery, say, of a germ that could wipe out the human race, that ought to be suppressed or destroyed or whatever–I’m not denying that scientists have responsibility to society. I just deny that such responsibility extends to people’s religious sensibilities.

        The basic problem is that we both see slippery slopes. To you, seemingly innocent ideas can eventually and gradually metastasize into society-wide evils. To me, attempts by the state to protect the people from dangerous ideas can eventually and gradually lead to tyranny. Each of us has different opinions as to which is a worse danger. I’d be much more comfortable with what you’d perceive as nihilistic chaos, and you’d be much more comfortable with what I’d perceive as fascistic fundamentalist tyranny. Rather incompatible worldviews, which is why the communication is difficult.

        Me: “Now, if large numbers of people for some reason embraced his views, with the obvious results in engineering, architecture, etc., then something might have to be done.”

        You: Right. But why do you admit no such analogy is even hypothetically possible for religious heresy??

        I have done so more than once–the Fraticelli and Savanarola. As I point out in my post near the bottom, I deny that the kind of dangers I’d see as actionable existed with most of the major Medieval–or even Classical–heresies. If what you mean is “could a heresy in theory ultimately result in people converting out of the Church, or adopting a heterodox morality”, then yes, it could; but as I explain below, that, in my mind, is not sufficient reason to suppress such heresies. You wrote the (in my view rather morbid) post about how the only choice of the orthodox in nihilistic modernity might be suicide. Why can’t you understand that if we take Christ’s teachings on non-resistance and patient suffering seriously, that we might have to love and respect our theological opponents and their God-given free will even if doing so makes our religion go extinct?

        Not that I think that would necessarily happen–I think if Christ promised he’d be with us “even to the end of the age” that he can arrange that; but I point once more to Gamaliel’s sound advice.

        • A Sinner

          “As to Galileo, the truth is the truth and if it troubles the faithful, well, too bad for the faithful.”

          The problem is, though, that “the faithful” by and large don’t have the intellectual apparatus to understand such things, and certainly not to reconcile them philosophically.

          I’ve found that people, for the most part, have a bastardized understanding of the natural sciences. So exposing them to “the truth” doesn’t actually expose them to the truth, but just to their own strange appropriations of the terminology.

          I think of the ridiculous use of the term “God particle” for the Higgs boson that is thrown around in the media. I’ve seen stupid people basically run with this and say that somehow it disproves theism or something like that. Not the point at all.

          Then you look at how people cite “energy” and “quantum mechanics” as if they can enable anything from astral projecting to the healing power of crystals (rolls eyes).

          But should the media or scientists not be considered responsible for their scandalizing indiscretion? For putting these mental bombs in the hands of mental children?

          “Should scientists sit on the facts of heliocentrism or the Earth’s age or evolution because it might trouble people who would (wrongly) think it invalidated Scripture?”

          The problem is, though, the “fact of heliocentrism” actually just boils down to: the calculations are easier if the frame of reference used takes the Sun as stable relative to the planets.

          However, the “ideological” effect of this on the popular imagination didn’t (and still doesn’t) understand frames of reference. As such, the whole idea was used to “de-centre” the human perspective in favor of a paradigm of scientific material naturalism. Which is exactly the problem with the sort of “scientism” that then emerges: it takes the empirical science’s METHODOLOGY (which requires only looking at material causation) and turns it into a philosophical account of the universe, which is clearly impoverishing from the perspective of human meaning.

          There is an article where Ratzinger was talking about the Galileo affair, and he cited Bloch who said, “Once the relativity of movement is taken for granted, an ancient human and Christian system of reference has no right to interference in astronomic calculations and their heliocentric simplification; however, it has the right to remain faithful to its method of preserving the earth in relation to human dignity, and to order the world with regard to what will happen and what has happened in the world.”

          “I’m not denying that scientists have responsibility to society. I just deny that such responsibility extends to people’s religious sensibilities.”

          Well, take for example the question of if “intelligent” extraterrestrial life was discovered. I think even the US government and the United Nations have policies in place that basically recognize that such knowledge could potentially send all of human civilization into an existential crisis with unknown results. It could possibly be chaos. And so there is a recognition that there would need to be great caution taking in the question of if/when/how to release such information to the general public.

          “To you, seemingly innocent ideas can eventually and gradually metastasize into society-wide evils.”

          No, that’s the problem. They’re not innocent. Heresy is WRONG and a SIN. Heresy is EVIL. You may mean here “harmless” (to anyone but the soul of the heretic himself). But if the ideas were truly innocent, the State could not punish them.

          “Each of us has different opinions as to which is a worse danger. I’d be much more comfortable with what you’d perceive as nihilistic chaos, and you’d be much more comfortable with what I’d perceive as fascistic fundamentalist tyranny. Rather incompatible worldviews, which is why the communication is difficult.”

          But, you have to admit here that this IS, then, merely a question of different OPINIONS, of a prudential judgment regarding which is the worse danger.

          Presumably, if there was any way to prove which danger was more likely, and which led to more unhappiness or a higher body-count…we’d hold each other’s opinion.

          I’ve always admitted that. But for you, that has to mean dropping your self-righteous absolutism regarding your anathemization of my opinion.

          If it boils down to merely different opinions regarding which actually represents the greater or more likely threat…then that IS just a matter of contingent casuistic prudential judgment (and, in fact, one or the other could be the greater threat in different contexts, I assume; sometimes it might be one, sometimes the other).

          As such, you’d need to admit that burning heretics is not on principle wrong, but rather that you oppose it because you think the potential negatives of such a regime would [almost] always outweigh the positive.

          But if what you say here is true, it seems that you wouldn’t be able to dismiss the idea on principle IF there was a hypothetical situation where it could be guaranteed ahead of time that doing it would prevent great evil and NOT devolve into tyranny.

          Obviously, in the actual vicissitudes of history we have no such guarantees, we can’t predict the future, nor look through conditional futures to see the effects of if we do or do not act in certain ways. So I’m sympathetic to your opinion IN PRACTICE.

          But it still seems a far cry from some absolute condemnation of even the mere hypothetical on principle.

    • dominic1955

      Well, then if we are just going to focus on what we’re called to do as Christians (which sounds like an anti-intellectual push to relativise and just “get along”, but its easy to read into things), then there is no time to be wasted arguing that the Church being wrong or getting into pissing matches about the so-called “past-sins” of the Church, would there?

  • turmarion

    I hadn’t seen it before–so many posts!–but I think the thread with Julia, A. Sinner, and dominic1955 this morning illustrates the problem perfectly. When Kelly Wilson, a few threads back, posted a careful and nuanced argument about limits of interpreting whether certain doctrines are infallible, what their place is in the hierarchy of truth, and what implication that has for “dissenters”, he got dragged over the coals by Sinner and dominic.

    However, when Julia points out DH and its statements about freedom of conscience, then the same individuals suddenly start channeling Kelly in arcane and abstruse declamations about what DH really meant, how Julia doesn’t really get its true purport, whether or not it was continuous with previous teachings, whether it really required obsequium relgiousum or not, whether it was just a prudential response to modern conditions rather than a repudiation of past behavior, etc. It all got to sounding quite Talmudic, or Scholastic, or Byzantine, or, let’s be blunt, just plain slippery.

    This is what amuses me, in my better moments, to no end. Conservatives and traditionalists rail about the Evil Librul Cafeteria Catholics until it’s their ox getting gored, at which time they cruise out to line up in the cafeteria themselves.

    • A Sinner

      Whoa whoa whoa. Where did I question Kelly about the hierarchy of truths??

    • A Sinner

      Furthermore, I think there is a big difference between rejecting Church teachings OUTRIGHT in favor of ones own constructions or the doctrine of The World…and saying one prefers or gives more weight or credence to simply OTHER CHURCH TEACHING from other points in history.

      Saying that the stuff on “religious liberty” must be qualified, even heavily or extremely qualified, by reading in the light of 2000 years of teaching…is VERY different than saying you’re going to reject the teaching on contraception because it doesn’t make sense to you and adopt a different sexual ethic with no precedent in the Catholic tradition.

      Catholics are NOT “magisterial positivists.” We do not all have to sit and toe the line on “Whatever opinions the current pope happens to be offering.” We have to give them genuine consideration and respect, but always always always we are are to appropriate them with respect to the ENTIRE BODY of Catholic teaching (weighted proportionately, I’d argue) and sometimes if there is seeming outright contradiction and one authority doesn’t clearly outweigh another…then it seems this means it is something we are free to debate. Being merely later in history does not give it more authority.

      • Julia Smucker

        Of course neither being later nor being earlier gives anything more authority in and by itself. And yet, we have apostolic precedents; and yet, doctrine develops. Newman said that “doctrine is always true but never complete”, and this is the kind of balance that the CDF was going for when it said in Mysterium Ecclesiae, of all things, “It sometimes happens that some dogmatic truth is first expressed incompltetely (but not falsely), and at a later date, when considered in a broader context of faith or human knowledge, receives a fuller and more perfect expression.” They of course did not mean by this that later is automatically better, but simply that the Church’s understanding does grow. My RCIA director once compared this to the growth of the human organism: you still have the same fingers, feet, eyes, etc. that you had when you were a baby, but they look different and you know how to use them better because you’ve had plenty of time to practice. This analogy points to the interdependence between the Church’s ancientness and its development.

        In principle, I agree with your point about magisterial positivism and weighing a particular point against the whole. I would just point out that it’s not quite as simple a standard as you’re trying to make it. “Weighted proportionately” is an honest qualification, because that’s just where the complication is: we all weigh things differently according to our own preferences. So I’m not sure dismissing Church teaching on religious liberty is really all that different from dismissing Church teaching on contraception. I haven’t seen you reading DH in light of the whole Church tradition, but rather in light of the prevailing zeitgeist of your favorite “golden age”. If your hermeneutic went back to, say, the patristics or the apostles or Christ himself, it would look rather different. Where “one authority doesn’t clearly outweigh another”, the epistemological question again turns back around: how do you know that your preferred hermeneutic provides the right proportions for weighing Church teaching against itself?

        • Turmarion

          Thank you, Julia–well put.

        • A Sinner

          But the difference with something like contraception is that there is no point in church history where it was ever approved. With “religious liberty,” the almost opposite attitude was clearly “official” for at least 700 years.

          As for “which hermeneutic is right?” my point is that if this question is not clearly answered…neither is definitively. There are some questions we just don’t have a “dogmatic” answer to. The Thomists and the Molinists (and other schools) all square the circle on free will and grace differently. As long as they don’t call each other heretics, their different emphases are perhaps even “complementary.” How does it “really work” from God’s perspective I think may even be a misguided question.

          Likewise, there isn’t always one right answer for “how should I act in this case?” I can say that is especially true regarding the State. God has no preferred political system, God has no political platform.

  • A Sinner

    I’m still not getting a good answer re: theory here.

    It’s an easy question, really!

    Assuming that in some social contexts heresy causes harm which is equivalent to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, and given that we DO allow State punishment of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, and given that religious belief or motive in itself doesn’t seem to guarantee absolute freedom (because we don’t allow human sacrifice, etc)…

    Then what makes professing heresy, in a case where its harmful effect is equivalent to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, DIFFERENT from both shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre AND DIFFERENT from human-sacrifice, in such a way that we can ban those two things, but NOT profession of heresy in itself??

    I’d like to see how that distinction is being parsed out in people’s official political-ethical philosophies here. Seriously. I keep asking, and keep getting no answer.

  • turmarion

    Assuming that in some social contexts heresy causes harm which is equivalent to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre….

    I gave two examples that would perfectly fit that–the Fraticelli and Savanarola. They were rightly suppressed, for the reasons I gave way up the thread.

    Explain to me how the Cathari, the Bogomils, the Waldensians, Jan Hus, or John Wycliffe, just to name a few, were producing harmful effects “equivalent to shouting fire in a crowded theater” or to what the Fraticelli, for example, did. Put it another way: you seem to equate a peaceful overturning or altering of an existing order as equivalent to riots, wars, or shouting fire in a theater. Christianity did that to Rome (the non-peaceful acts were on the Romans’ side, not the Christians’) and almost totally peacefully in Ireland. The deconversion of Europe since the 18th Century (except for Revolutionary France), while regrettable, has also been mostly peaceful. To give non-Christian examples, India converted back and forth between Buddhism and Hinduism peacefully, and almost all Buddhist nations became so peacefully. China tried to suppress non-Confucian doctrines at times, and Japan did the same in favor of Shinto here and there, in both cases for political, not spiritual reasons, but there was never anything on the level of a Diocletian against the Christians, or the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars. Nevertheless they were wrong to do that, just as Diocletian was wrong to persecute Christians, just as later Christians were wrong to persecute heretics. How’s that inconsistent or not an answer?

    I’d put it like this: I think it is morally wrong to suppress people’s beliefs or opinions in matters of religion for anything short of physical violence or insurrection. That could result in the demise of the Faith in society in some cases, which I’m assuming you’d consider an anti-social act on the level of an armed insurrection, even if it were physically totally non-violent. I disagree. I think suppressing people’s beliefs violates the teachings of Christ, the principles of the Faith, and our God-given free will; and protecting the Faith, in my view, is not sufficient reason to do so. To put it another way: I go not with the Jews who persecuted the early Christians, but with the wisdom of Gamaliel, who said, “For if this idea of [the Apostles] or its execution is of human origin, it will collapse; but if it is from God, you will never be able to put them down, and you risk finding yourselves at war with God.” (Acts 5:38-39) That’s my attitude towards “heresies”. If they’re wrong–and as a reasonably orthodox Catholic, I think they are–then no problem. They’ll ultimately fail with no help from us. On the other hand, if I’m wrong and they’re right, then they’ll be the ones to succeed regardless of what I do. In either case, not my problem. God will handle it.

    What’s hard to understand about that?

    • A Sinner

      Nothing is hard to understand about that. But it involves an insistence that heresy is almost always “peaceful” or that the only bad effect is society peacefully becoming non-Catholic.

      I disagree. In the wars of religion, we clearly saw that when religion is the glue of society, what heresy eventually does. Henry VIII went heretic: turned and destroyed all the monasteries for his own funding, turned the Church into an instrument of the State instead of something larger than any one State. German princes went heretic: suddenly believed their allegiance to the Emperor was dissolved, war and insurrection for totally political reasons. Peasants went heretic: overthrew their lords, thought they could commit crime with impunity, etc.

      France goes heretic in the Revolution, even (much later): clergy killed, churches destroyed, Idol of Reason set up in Notre Dame, etc etc (let’s not forget THAT too: the antisocial nature of heresy from the hegemonic religion often STARTS with a chip already on its shoulder, even before any persecution, and so has an attitude not of mutual tolerance or peace, but of downright animosity and will to make war on the Church).

      Once people realize an ideological chaos is emerging, they’ll start to claim that THEIR beliefs absolve them from their debts, excuse them from serving in the military, stop them from paying taxes, allow them to steal, allow them to deny medical treatment to their own sick children, act with complete sexual license, kill infants.

      No, I don’t know what you’re imagining, but the transition from a single unitary public Good in society (which every society always had throughout history) to pluralism…was always going to be bloody. Furthermore, as we’ve discussed, even pluralism has this sort of Anti-Good set up at its centre as the public good, one that entirely serves the interests of Power and Money, and is not truly neutral at all.

      • Turmarion

        There were many peasant revolts unconnected to heresies–that was more economic. Also, history can’t be run again and again to see what happens, like an experiment can; but nevertheless, one wonders as to the causality. Is it that a change in religion or the alteration or end of a unitary public good caused the things you say; or is it that there were all kinds of pent-up social forces that were just released by changes of religion, and that they could, if things had gone differently, been released by other events that weren’t religiously related? Put it another way–if the various reformers who kept trying to point out the decadence of the late Medieval Church had been listened to, instead of getting killed as “heretics” and the abuses addressed, there would have been a defusing of the dissatisfaction that wound up brewing for another few centuries and exploding in the Reformation.

        You ought, in this regard, to read the late, great Harold O. J. Brown’s truly superb Heresies. He does a good job of showing how from about the 13th Century onward, so-called “heretics” were almost always people who questioned the Church’s prerogatives or its corruption and who didn’t usually teach manifest heresy properly so-called. In short it devolved from “What do we believe about God and Christ,” to “How do we protect the status quo and get these reformers to shut up”.

        I think France is a good example–the squalor of the peasants and the perceived extravagant lifestyle and indifference to the population among the hierarchy are, I think, as much an explanation for what happened as a mere change in faith. It’s no coincidence that the most strongly Catholic societies with the tightest entwinement of Church and state always breed the most fiercely anti-clerical reactions. One more reason I’m strongly opposed to confessional states. Heck, as you should know, more people believe in God and attend church in secular, pluralist, First Amendment, no-unitary-good America, than in Europe, where many countries still have established churches (e.g. even near-atheist Denmark and Sweden, the latter of which only recently dis-established its church). We must be doing something right here, don’t you think?

        Anyway, as I’ve pointed out several times, there are many, many examples, both in ancient and modern times, of cultures changing religions or “public unitary goods” without the kind of stuff you point to happening. South Korea, in the post-WW II era has become almost 50% Christian, and is doing great. During that same period, Christianity has practically died off in Europe. In both cases, things have been peaceful. In anticipation of your mentioning abortion as proof of how I’m wrong to use the term “peaceful”–and FWIW, I’m pro-life, too–from stuff I’ve read recently (which really stunned me, and an example of which I linked to above) given the commonness of exposure of children, the so-called “angel-makers”, and foundling houses where the death rate was 90% plus, I’m not sure that our society has degenerated from some formerly better state. We’ve made it cleaner and quieter and, perhaps more insidious; but proportionate to population, I’m not sure that the body count is that much better, really.

        Not that I’m promoting, condoning, or waving off abortion–I just don’t want to go onto that tangent, and I think it’s questionable, given what I just said, to say that our society is more violent on that basis.

        Anyway, it seems that there are many examples of peaceful and relatively non-disruptive change of religion or society unitary goods in history; and for some reason such changes seem to provoke violence much more frequently with Christian and Islamic societies than with others. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s troubling. In any case, modern changes (20th Century on) seem to have been fairly peaceful and non-disruptive. Given this, I’d rather err on the side of freedom of conscience rather than on the basis of what might–or might not–happen, and spend more time on trying to figure out why Christian cultures have tended to fight perceived threats violently, and how to stop that.

        • A Sinner

          “There were many peasant revolts unconnected to heresies–that was more economic.”

          It’s all economic. But that’s the point. That “heresy” is often just a convenient excuse for political and economic subversion!!

          “Also, history can’t be run again and again to see what happens, like an experiment can; but nevertheless, one wonders as to the causality. Is it that a change in religion or the alteration or end of a unitary public good caused the things you say; or is it that there were all kinds of pent-up social forces that were just released by changes of religion, and that they could, if things had gone differently, been released by other events that weren’t religiously related? Put it another way–if the various reformers who kept trying to point out the decadence of the late Medieval Church had been listened to, instead of getting killed as “heretics” and the abuses addressed, there would have been a defusing of the dissatisfaction that wound up brewing for another few centuries and exploding in the Reformation.”

          I think it’s hard to look at societies according to this sort of psychological analogy. As if a Society as a whole can have “pent up anger” or something like that.

          People simply calling for reform shouldn’t have been killed. By all means I would renounced THAT! Calling for reform where reform is needed is a moral obligation, and as such can never be the subject of punishment by the State.

          The heretics I’m imagining, however, really are proposing wrong doctrine.

          “I think France is a good example–the squalor of the peasants and the perceived extravagant lifestyle and indifference to the population among the hierarchy are, I think, as much an explanation for what happened as a mere change in faith.”

          You don’t understand what I’m saying. I wouldn’t disagree with this. But that’s my whole point: the “heresy” isn’t some sort of deeply held belief in good conscience. It’s just an emanation from the substructure. Just like crime may function as a sort of “barometer” for larger socio-economic problems. But that doesn’t mean the State doesn’t try to fight crime, or that the individual criminal is excused.

          “We must be doing something right here, don’t you think?”

          What we’re “doing right” is being the Hegemon. The ennui of Europe is because they have no purpose anymore. The mantle of history has been removed from their shoulders and so what they’re left with is being (as the Eurotrash told Moe on The Simpsons once) “adrift in a sea of decadent luxury and meaningless sex.” And so I look forward to Europe’s burning.

          “South Korea, in the post-WW II era has become almost 50% Christian, and is doing great.”

          Was some other religion ever the social glue for Korean society? And don’t you think the conversion to Christianity in Korea has come only AFTER a democratization process forged in the fires of horrible wars in the region in the past century or so??

          This isn’t comparable at all. “Post-WWII” is exactly the point. Korea was already modernized, so changing religions is no longer an issue.

          During that same period, Christianity has practically died off in Europe. In both cases, things have been peaceful.

          Europe ALREADY was no longer a Christendom SINCE the Reformation fragmented it. It’s not comparable. No one is saying that heresy is any long a threat in society’s that are ALREADY pluralist.

          “Not that I’m promoting, condoning, or waving off abortion–I just don’t want to go onto that tangent, and I think it’s questionable, given what I just said, to say that our society is more violent on that basis.”

          Do you think 1 in 3 children were exposed in the Middle Ages?? 1 in 3?

          “it seems that there are many examples of peaceful and relatively non-disruptive change of religion or society unitary goods in history”

          All the examples you have given have been in modern civilization that has ALREADY been pluralized/democratized.

          “and for some reason such changes seem to provoke violence much more frequently with Christian and Islamic societies than with others.”

          Yes, because Monotheism is totalizing. It has ONE God. Of course pagans know how to be pluralist, their religion is already “pluralist.” A unitary God, however, is going to demand absolute ideological levelling and submission.

          “In any case, modern changes (20th Century on) seem to have been fairly peaceful and non-disruptive”

          That’s because they were MODERN!!! That’s because the pluralization and conversion over to liberal democracy happened PREVIOUSLY already!!!

          • Julia Smucker

            Thanks for handing atheists (and pagans!) fresh ammunition to blame monotheism for religious wars and other Great Evils of the World.

        • Robert Lennon

          “Take heed diligently lest thou forget the Lord, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and shalt serve him only, and thou shalt swear by his name.
          “You shall not go after the strange gods of all the nations, that are round about you:
          “Because the Lord thy God is a jealous God in the midst of thee: lest at any time the wrath of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and take thee away from the face of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 6:13-15

          Yes, the Lord demands total obedience. We are all meant to be martyrs for the Cross! Why should you *care* what others think of that? If the Greeks and Nietzsche-ites think that folly, that’s the voice of Satan speaking in human tongue.

        • Turmarion

          Agreed, Julia. With supporters like this, who needs opponents?

        • Jordan

          Turmarion [July 7, 2012 4:19 pm]: I’m pro-life, too–from stuff I’ve read recently (which really stunned me, and an example of which I linked to above) given the commonness of exposure of children, the so-called “angel-makers”, and foundling houses where the death rate was 90% plus

          Abortion is only the pre-eminent method of pregnancy termination today because modern pharmaceutical and aseptic surgical abortion is generally “(physically) safe” for the mother. Doubtlessly many women would have chosen the modern abortion methods over infanticide and exposure were they available in earlier times. In other words, you are quite right that the legality of abortion or its sinfulness in the eyes of Catholicism are irrelevant in light of the reality that a number of women will inevitably abort their unborn children, commit infanticide, or abandon their neonate.

          Tumarion: I’m not sure that our society has degenerated from some formerly better state. We’ve made it cleaner and quieter and, perhaps more insidious; but proportionate to population, I’m not sure that the body count is that much better, really.

          By comparison, the Church’s opposition to abortion, infanticide, and exposure is constant despite questions of legality. I’ve often wondered, as many have, whether the abortion question is at all political or rather solely a question of human psychology and welfare.

        • turmarion

          I can’t find specific data just with a cursory web search, but I’d point to this, this, and this. Sometime when I have the leisure, I’ll have to track some of the articles down, since most of them don’t seem to be online.

          Anyway, according to the CDC, the abortion rate in the US is about 20-25% of all pregnancies, not a third. I can’t pin down a specific statistic about the Middle Ages in general (which I why I’ll have to dig into the sources when I have time), but according to some of the links above infanticide, despite being banned by the Church, seems to have been extremely common at some points, and I’ve come across some general estimates of 15-20%; which is not that far off from us. Once more, I’ll have to take time to get specifics over the broader time span, but it sadly looks like things haven’t changed as much as we’d like to think.

        • turmarion

          Jordan, that’s a good point. The very consistency of the Church’s teaching shows, alas, that humans haven’t changed much. I think it is more a matter of human psychology and welfare.

          I’m strongly opposed to abortion, but in the course of this discussion it clicked why I get irritated when it gets brought up in contexts like this, something I previously didn’t understand.

          Basically, conservative or traditionalist Catholics often use the rates of abortion in the US or in the First World in general as a subtle way of condemning everything they don’t like about the modern world. They use it as a cudgel against feminism or modern medicine or modernity’s loose morals or pluralism or the Enlightenment or whatever. Thus, any time you try to say anything good about any of these things, you immediately get slapped in the face with ABORTION ABORTION ABORTION. Thus, you get shouted down, if you’re pro-life you feel defensive and upset, and the discussion gets closed down.

          However, as I’m increasingly seeing, things were as bad even in the height of Christendom. They just killed the children after they were born, as a result of limitations in the technology. Thus, my view is that you don’t get to scream “abortion!” at everything you’re trying to oppose; you don’t get to play that card as a lazy substitute for actually making an argument. Modernity sucks in many ways; but so did antiquity–and in a lot of the same ways, too.

        • A Sinner

          “Thanks for handing atheists (and pagans!) fresh ammunition to blame monotheism for religious wars and other Great Evils of the World.”

          Julia, the monotheistic God is, by that very fact, Jealous.

          There’s no getting around that.

          Monotheism is, by the very fact of being “mono,” totalizing in a way that paganisms simply are not.

          However, the “monotheism” held by people who are also believers in pluralism (ideologically, and not just practically)…often does not seem to be any such thing to me anymore.

          This is what I meant when I accused Tumarion and others of just being “Catholic-Rite Secularists” for whom their God is The Void, and for whom the Holy Trinity and Christ are just like their personal private devotions or favorite patron Saints.

          It seems to me that, under pluralism, people’s private religions, even when they nominally make totalizing claims…ultimately are constructed by many people as, basically, just equivalent to being the devotee of this or that god ala paganism (“I’m with Athena,” “I’m protected by Zeus,” “I’m allied with Mars,” etc) while still constructing the truth of the universe as a whole as one where every individual’s personal cult or god is in some sense true.

          God with a capital-G, as a concept, does not broker the idea of being merely one god among many. The concept simply won’t admit that.

  • Rat-biter

    @A Sinner – July 6, 2012 6:55 pm

    The terms of the question are wrong – society has no interest in the matter, because heresy is not a sin against society: it is a sin against God. And only against God as conceived of in a certain way. Society is completely unconcerned whether there be one God, 97, or 343.9645675… of them. Or none. Society could not care less whether one worships & bows down to the Smurfs, the GOP, the goddess Isis, a lucky rabbit’s foot, or a piece of rotting cheese.

    God is not useful – that is the point. Because God is not a means to anything, least of all society.

    I don’t see that it matters what or whether one worships – as long as one does not ruin other other people with one’s own religion or lack of it. So far from Christianity being needed for morals, Epicureanism is probably to be preferred. The religion of love is no longer credible IMO.

  • Ronald King

    I realize that I am not part of this discussion but I must get this out of me. Belief is not a free choice by nature, rather, belief is first a conditioned response to interpersonal and intrapersonal influences. The freedom to choose beliefs can only begin under the influence and the direct experience of God’s Love when belief becomes personal revelation which begins the process of healing the injuries inflicted on the soul from the indoctrination of false beliefs formed from fear.

  • Ronald King

    Pardon me again. The question is not about what needs to be punished. The question is about what needs to be healed.

  • turmarion

    Well, all I can say is that I stand by everything I’ve said. You have a very strange definition of heresy. I assume that most people, no matter how strange their religious beliefs are, hold them sincerely and in good faith. You seem to think that heresy is a social disease that isn’t really about good faith disagreement, but a sort of deceptive cancer that must be excised. I must say that this does give me a clearer view of where you’re coming from, especially in light of previous discussions. In any case, if we don’t even agree on what “heresy” really is, then it’s certainly impossible to have a meeting of minds on how we should deal with it.

    Yes, because Monotheism is totalizing. It has ONE God.

    Zoroastrianism is monotheistic, but by and large it was not nearly as totalizing and prone to persecutions as the Abrahamic faiths. The Zoroastrian Cyrus had the Temple in Jerusalem rebuilt out his own pocket. I can’t conceive of a Christian, Jewish, or Islamic potentate doing something like this in antiquity.

    Of course pagans know how to be pluralist, their religion is already “pluralist.”

    Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them.

    A unitary God, however, is going to demand absolute ideological levelling and submission.

    Well, this gets back to worldview. You view seems to be of an angry, hateful God, enraged at us and the world, who demands complete and total submission from all mankind, who as you put it once will “crush” everyone, so we’d better be ready to say, in effect, “Please, Sir, may I have another?”, who will damn for eternity even over frivolous things, who will literally torture for all eternity the damned, who is correctly described by the Westboro Baptist Church, that views any disagreement at all as being automatically foi mauvaise, who is a sort of nexus of nihilism, and who expects us to take joy and delight in the suffering of the damned, even those whom we had loved most in life.

    The more I hear you go on, the more alien your perspective is to me. I mean no personal offense in saying that your view of God–which obviously colors a lot of your other views, with which I vehemently disagree–is sick and obscene. Feel free to believe in such a monster, but I’m not interested. And I notice that even when I say, “Well. we have to agree to disagree,” that doesn’t seem to be enough. You said once something to the effect that it’s not something that can be shrugged off as differences of opinion–IT’S MUCH TOO URGENT FOR THAT!!!! Well, thankfully, we live in a society in which you can have your beliefs, and I can have mine, and neither can force said beliefs on the other, or punish him for holding said beliefs. If you feel that that is “shrugging off” something that is a vital matter, well, sorry. Them’s the breaks. The Middle Ages are far more complex than people think, with much more good than they expect (and some evils they don’t know of); but it’s not completely without reason that to call something “Medieval” is pejorative. It might not have been hell on Earth, but it wasn’t the Shire, either, and I would not want to live then.

    Anyway, I can say that this discussion has really helped me to clarify points in my thinking that were unclear and in tension, and allowed me to state them in a clearer and more confident way than before. In that respect, I am thankful to all participants in the discussion (even the ones who think I’m going to split Hell wide open while they cheer) and wish “peace and all good” to all. Thank you for a fascinating (even if sometimes frustrating!) thread, Julia, and I hope I’ve contributed something of value to it.

    • Julia Smucker

      Thank you, turmarion, you’ve been a breath of fresh air. Your parting note here seems like a decent one to end on. Peace and all good to all, indeed – and, as Ronald King reminds us, healing.