Three Blind Mice Accept Understudy

In Three Blind Mice Attempt Ecclesiology, I drew from various sources within Catholic teaching and presented the view that persons who disagree with certain teachings of the Church need not feel that leaving the Church is a necessary consequence of their disagreeing. Shortly thereafter, Bonald from The Orthosphere responded (I Disagree: Faithful Dissent). I seek, here, to invite Bonald to benefit from how Catholic teaching approaches realities about which Bonald has mistakenly felt qualified to speak.

In my opinion, the content of “I Disagree: Faithful Dissent” indicates ignorance, in Bonald, toward ecclesiological principles and Canon Law. In responding as I do, I am providing occasion for Bonald to self-distance from that ignorance.

Opportunity #1: Bonald, shall I assume you retract your statement that I have “produced an argument … for why Catholics who reject Church teachings aren’t really rejecting Church teaching”?

At no point do I argue that those who reject Church teaching are not really rejecting Church teaching. Even as I conclude, and make reference to the ‘hierarchy of truths’ (as spoken of in Paragraph 11 of Unitatis redintegratio), I state: “It is not that some teachings matter and some do not but, rather, that the fundamental Christian faith is the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Being a Christian, to use the language of Pope Benedict, is found in encountering Christ. Being right about homosexuality, the ordination of women or artificial methods of regulating birth, is a separate matter”.

Nowhere is the suggestion made that persons who have come to different conclusions than the Church have not really come to different conclusions. Nowhere is the suggestion made that the Church has come to incorrect conclusions about matters being disputed. Nowhere is the suggestion made that being right about such others matters is unimportant.

Opportunity #2: Bonald, shall I assume that you retract your statement that I am “upset that conservative Catholics would like the modernist heretics to just apostasize and stop trying to undermine the Church from within”?

Heresy is not touched upon in my original post. 

Canon 1751 of the Code of Canon Law states that “heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.” Conclusions drawn about homosexuality or reserving priestly orders to men or artificial methods of regulating birth, however erroneous, are not themselves conclusions relevant to heresy. These conclusions surround teachings definitively connected with divine revelation, in the view of the Ratzinger-Bertone Commentary on Ad Tuendam Fidem which states that one who “denies these trths would be in the position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.” That is a serious condition to experience but it is not the experience of a heretic.

The New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America, states that “heresy is a denial or doubt of ‘a truth which is to be believed with divine and Catholic faith’ – the crime of heresy applies only to this narrow category of truths. It does not extend to the ‘secondary objects of infallibility’ such as those truths necessary to preserve and expound upon the deposit of faith – [existing within this narrow category of truths] are central truths like the Incarnation and Resurrection of the Lord, and not at all like [teachings surrounding] the morality of artificial contraception or the discipline of not ordaining women to the priesthood.”

Opportunity #3: Bonald, shall I assume you retract your statement that I accuse those whose comments motivate my response of being “unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying that the Magisterium must be obeyed!”?

At no point do I accuse people of being “unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying that the Magisterium must be obeyed.” Were those comments which motivated my original response themselves faithful to Catholic teaching, then no conversation would be occurring.

Bruce Burgess evidences ignorance of Catholic teaching when he writes that he “wholeheartedly agree[s]” that “those who disagree with the Church’s teachings should leave the Church”. When he states that if such persons “won’t go voluntarily, they should be expelled”, he advocates something other than Catholic thought.

Bruce is not accused of being unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying that the Magisterium should be obeyed. Rather, I question why Bruce has subordinated the teaching authority of the Church to Bill Donahue and Bill Keller. I question how Bruce would evaluate my request (a request I do not make) that Bruce leave the Church because of his disregard of Catholic teaching. Considering his subordination of Catholic teaching to his ideology, I wonder whether, given his own disagreement with Catholic teaching, Bruce will lead that exodus he calls others to join.

TCDU had written that “most” of those in disagreement with particular Church teaching had been “excommunicated automatically”. This subordinates the Code of Canon Law to a code with which I am unfamiliar.

In the Code of Canon Law, the types of offenses which incur automatic excommunication are confined to 7 canons (Canons. 1364, 1367, 1370, 1378, 1382, 1388 & 1389). None apply to those who disagree with what the Church presents as true regarding homosexuality, the ordination of women and artificial methods of regulating birth. Further, Canon 1323 identifies ways in which a person, who might seem to have automatically excommunicated him or herself, has not actually done so.

TCDU is ignorant of Catholic teaching. 

As for Squire98, I do not accuse him or her of being “unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying that the Magisterium must be obeyed.” I accuse this person of not being faithful to Catholic teaching. Squire98 speaks of those “RINO Catholics” and this Freudian slip suggests to me the entity to which Squire98 has reduced Catholicism. Further, Squire98 intends to refer to Catholics in Name Only, but what a designation such as this does is reduce Catholicism not simply to its teaching authority, but to the particular positions that teaching authority articulates on matters related, in this case, to human sexuality. That in Jesus, God has been uniquely revealed, and that in the Church, Jesus continues to be mediated, is lost in such a reduction.

Opportunity #4: Bonald, shall I assume you retract your statement that “Catholic teaching comes in three levels: (1) what comes straight out of revelation [the Bible]; (2) what follows through logical necessity from revelation and (3) other pronouncements”?

In the “Profession of Faith”, the first gradation can be discerned: “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.” It is not the Bible that the first gradation has as its interest but rather that which the Church, either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary exercise of the universal magisterium, sets forth as divinely revealed.

Paragraph 5 of the Ratzinger-Bertone Commentary states that such teachings “require the assent of theological faith by all members of the faithful [and that] whoever obstinately places [such teachings] in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy”. Paragraph 11 identifies teachings contained within the various creeds, for example, or various Christological or Marian dogmas, or the institution of the sacraments by Christ, as examples of such teachings.

Catholics are not Bibliolatrists. The first gradation has as its interest the extraordinary exercise of the Magisterium (a solemn judgment) and the ordinary exercise of the universal Magisterium. Neither of these exercises are relevant, nor does the Church suppose they are, to homosexuality or to reserving priestly orders to men or to artificially regulating birth.

To characterize the second gradation as referring simply to “what follows through logical necessity from revelation” is mistaken. Of interest is the definitive and, in the Ratzinger-Bertone Commentary, the authors distinguish between teachings which are connected to revelation by logical necessity and teachings connected by historical necessity. They identify reserving priestly orders to men as one example of a doctrine connected to revelation by logical necessity, and the legitimacy of a pontifical election as one example connected by historical necessity.

In Paragraph 23 of the “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian”, it is stated that “even if not divinely revealed, [these teachings] are nevertheless strictly and intimately concerned with Revelation [and] these must be firmly accepted and held. The Church’s infallibility extends to teachings which are sometimes called ‘secondary objects of infallibility.’”

It is within the second gradation that many of the teachings which some dispute (artificial methods of regulating birth, the reservation of priestly orders to men…) are interpreted to inhabit. Some question this interpretation (but even if such teachings are considered to be a part of the third gradation, such teachings are still owed a response that is not insignificant).

Opportunity #5: Bonald shall I assume you retract your statement that I am offering a “trick for beginning modernists to push all the stuff that offends against modern androgynist utilitarianism into the third category, and then say that the third category are teachings we must ‘respect’ but not necessarily believe”?

In no way am I offering a “trick for beginning modernists”. Paragraph 25 of Lumen gentium states that “religious submission of will and intellect is to be given in a special way to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not speaking ex cathedra”. Relevant to the third gradation are those teachings that can be described positively (ordinary, authentic …) or negatively (non-definitive, non-infallible, non-irreformable…).

At the Second Vatican Council, the Theological Commission replied to an emendation proposed by three bishops who “invoke a particular case, which is at least theoretically possible, in which a certain learned person, in the face of a doctrine that has not been infallibly proposed, cannot for well-founded reasons give his internal assent.” The response given is that the approved theological treatises should be consulted.

The Theological Commission is interpreted as showing awareness that manuals in circulation did treat the question. Francis Sullivan, in Creative Fidelity: Weighting and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium, cites the widely used manual of Ludwig Lercher who, in describing how the Church may be protected from error, describes the guidance the Holy Spirit offers the Pope as the most common. However, Lercher notes that it “is not unthinkable that the error (on the part of the Church) should be excluded by the Holy Spirit in this way: that the subjects [of the Church] recognize the decree to be erroneous and cease to give their assent to it.”

Mentioned already are the German Bishops who wrote that a Christian person

who believes he has a right to his private opinion, that he already knows what the Church will only come to grasp later, must ask himself in sober self-criticism before God and his conscience, whether he has the necessary depth and breadth of theological expertise to allow his private theory and practice to depart from the present doctrine of the ecclesiastical authorities. The case is in principle admissible. But conceit and presumption will have to answer for their willingness before the judgment seat of God (emphasis added).

Such a person may indeed be mistaken but, according to the German Bishops, such a person is not necessarily deluded simply because he or she claims to “know what the Church will only come to grasp later.”

This understanding emerges as reconcilable with the “religious submission of will and intellect” that is owed to an authoritative teaching. Avery Dulles, in Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, observes the difficulty in translating “obsequium religiousum” and he offers potential translations such as religious submission, religious assent, conditional assent, religious respect, religious adherence, religious allegiance and other variants. Francis Sullivan suggests that in the face of such ambiguity “one should not give too strong a meaning to ‘submission’ or too weak a meaning to ‘respect.’”

To Avery Dulles, Paragraph 24 of the Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, which states that “the willingness to submit loyally to the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule”, lends credibility to the notion that, in exceptional cases, the requirements of ‘obsequium’ can be fulfilled by what Francis Sullivan calls an “honest and sustained effort to overcome any contrary opinion I might have” even if that effort does not result in the actual assent of the intellect.

For some, religious submission is hard work. It is a work that cannot be avoided for teachings of the third gradation are owed “religious submission.”

To conclude, in engaging with the first one hundred and fifty three words of the response of Bonald to me, very little remains. Any disappointment Bonald may feel at having been exposed as ignorant, I hope, will motivate a new-found appreciation for Catholic theology (a theology with which, it does not seem, Bonald had previously been acquainted).

The conversation between Bonald and I matters because for persons in the pew, and for all sorts of reasons, faith can be a struggle. There has to be a difference between the sorts of orthodoxy tests which particular ideologies motivate and authentic Christianity. For persons of different dispositions, appropriation of orthodoxy will vary. As Unitatis redentigratio identifies, there exists a hierarchy of truths. If someone can recognize that, in Jesus, God has been uniquely revealed, and that, in the Church, Jesus continues to be mediated, then that is a touch more important to me than truths connected to these central ones. Those matters which my own upbringing or environment might have helped me see as logical or historical results of the kerygma might, for another and for all sorts of different reasons, unfold and be appropriated at a different pace. Persons should find, in the Church, a safe place to interact and develop and that is why I react as strongly as I do when I encounter the view that such persons should instead leave.

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  • bonald

    Hello Mr. Nicholas,

    I am honored by the thoroughness of your reply to my critique.

    Regarding #1, I would assent to your statement “being a Christian, to use the language of Pope Benedict, is found in encountering Christ. Being right about homosexuality, the ordination of women or artificial methods of regulating birth, is a separate matter”. Catholic teaching on the family and sexuality is certainly not the whole of Christianity – who ever suspected it is? – but it is an integral part of it. Catholic doctrine is tightly interconnected and a person with a problem with our sexual ethics probably has a problem with our whole sacramental view of the world.

    Regarding #2, I am happy to accept your more precise terminology since you affirm that people who reject these teachings are indeed rejecting Catholic doctrine and compromising their union with the Church. I personally do not see the need for two words for rejections of different parts of the Catholic faith – I can’t think of what effect it could have other than to sow confusion among the faithful – but it seems my quarrel is with Canon Law and not you.

    Regarding #3, your objection is only over words. You do indeed accuse these people – whose only concern is to uphold established Catholic teaching – with being unfaithful to Catholic teaching. I think it is unjust for you to say that someone who demands adherence to Catholic teaching is replacing Catholic teaching with some sort of ideology. The standard he brings to bear comes from within the faith itself rather than from outside. It seems that here we have hit on a genuine disagreement although ironically it is I who take the more expansive view of Catholic orthodoxy.

    Regarding #4 and #5, the division of Catholic teaching is only relevant if some division in the degree of certainty and adherence is demanded. Your sources claim that for a division 3 teaching, Catholics are only required to seriously try to make themselves believe it rather than actually believe it. Now, the Church’s teachings on contraception, sodomy, and gender-role distinctions are so consonant with right reason, healthy intuition, and the consensus of human history that, in most times and places, we could be sure that someone who tried to convince himself of their truth would certainly succeed. In these evil times, when sin is celebrated in popular culture and endorsed by the State, we must speak with a clearer voice. After all, these are mortal sins we’re talking about. People are very likely going to hell for lack of clear teaching from the clergy. It will only increase a person’s burden who is battling temptations of the flesh to have the certainty in what is required of him taken away. The Church has this certainty to offer. We are talking about something not just, as the German bishops say, in the “present doctrine of the ecclesiastical authorities” but rather the unanimous teaching of the Church since the Apostles.

    In conclusion, I suspect you and I disagree not in our beliefs (since I do not doubt your personal loyalty to Church teaching) but in our concerns. You worry that there are a lot of people who believe the supernatural doctrines of the Church’s and are not personally engaged in any sexual sins but who are driven out of the Church by a demand for assent to “secondary” moral doctrines. In my experience, such people are very rare. Those who endorse sodomy almost always reject the Church’s teaching authority overall and they reject the core doctrines of the creed or “accept” them only metaphorically. They openly mock Catholic teaching and the activists among them are aggressively working to undermine it. The Church has little to gain in catering to this type and much to lose. Those who are struggling to defend Catholic morality, to pass it on to their children, or to live it, are demoralized by clerical soft-pedaling. As a priest you will have to worry about these souls and not just the Anne Rice types (on whom your efforts would probably be wasted anyway). I have only the barest idea of how great a challenge this must be for our priests and I wish you good luck and God’s help.

  • James

    Bonald, I thank you for your response. I admire your courage in returning to this conversation, applaud you for your tone, and appreciate your attempt to articulate where we agree and where we disagree (these are areas I myself would like to pursue with you and the quality of your comment here indicates to me potential for progress).

    Having said this, and meaning it sincerely, I am not going to ignore what motivated my original post. Now that you know that I am preparing for ordination, perhaps I can share with you something I learned in my philosophical formation.

    Please keep in mind that you credited me with producing an argument “sure to live forever in the annals of sophistry”. I have learned about Sophists and recognize how this term is used in a derogatory manner. It implies deception. That is how you described my post.

    Let me tell you about a fallacy I learned about which shares a basis with what we consider sophistry. Like sophistry, a straw-man argument creates an impression or appearance. It creates an impression or appearance of having refuted a proposition by placing a different proposition at the opposite end of a refutation. By imposing such a straw-man on someone else, and then refuting that straw-man, it gives the impression of having refuted the proposition that someone else has made. It is deception.

    When I wrote “Three Blind Mice Attempt Ecclesiology”, you accused me of sophistry and then falsely attributed arguments to me in each of your first three sentences. The purpose of “Three Blind Mice Accept Understudy” is to identify those false attributions and give you opportunity to retract.

    You accuse me of producing an argument for “why Catholics who reject Church teaching aren’t really rejecting Church teaching.” Are you prepared to retract this? You accuse me of being “upset that conservative Catholics would like the modernist heretics to just apostasize and stop trying to undermine the Church from within.” Are you prepared to retract this? You accuse me of suggesting persons are being “unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying that the Magisterium must be obeyed.” Are you prepared to retract this?

    You then attempt to identify how Catholic teaching comes in three levels, but you misinform your readers as to the nature of the first two levels (and don’t do much of a job with the third level either). This is a factual error on your part. If you now have a better sense of the gradations of Church teaching then so much the better.

    After this you identify how “the trick for beginning modernists is to push all the stuff that offends against modern androgynist utilitarianism into the third category, and then say that the third category are teachings we must “respect” but not necessarily believe.” Now … you do seem to associate me with empowering persons with such a trick since you speak of this in the context of how I defend, what you consider to be, the “counterintuitive claim” that, I believe, you have wrongly associated with me.

    To repeat, I appreciate your response. However, there are ways I will allow a person to speak of me and ways I will not. Your original post speaks of me in ways I will not allow. Before we continue what I believe could be a very productive conversation, identify which of your false attributions you now abandon and which you maintain.

    What I would request is a retraction of the three straw-men which, in turn, invalidates the accusation that I am empowering persons with trickery. I believe that such a retraction will be possible for you since you already have distanced yourself from the nonsense persons have written about me in the comments section of your post.