“The Gift of Infallibility”

Today I finished reading The Gift of Infallibility – the relatio of Bishop Vincent Gasser at Vatican I and the commentary by Fr. James T. O’Connor (Ignatius Press 2008). It confirmed me in my desire to write a doctoral dissertation on the subject, which, God willing, will be a part of a process in which the Church will make its teaching on infallibility ever more clear and credible.

Vatican I’s arguments

Bishop Gasser’s relatio is of supreme importance in understanding the mind of Vatican I. Half of the references of Lumen Gentium 25, the key Vatican II chapter on infallibility, are to Gasser’s relatio. It is a lengthy presentation of the way the Deputation de fide at Vatican I understood papal infallibility.

Gasser presents the arguments for papal infallibility from Scripture and Tradition. Two things especially struck me. First, the seriousness of the argument that this is indeed nothing new but something given by Christ to Peter and the Apostles and always believed from the beginning. There is absolutely no talk of any “development of doctrine”. Second, the weakness of the arguments.

As far as Scripture goes, Gasser simply asserts that infallibility was given to Peter together with the primacy. So the well-known primacy passages (Mt 16, Lk 22, Jn 21) also prove papal infallibility. How come? Here Gasser resorts to unconvincing speculative arguments: If the Pope could fall into error, the “Church would dissolve”. Or: how could the Pope fulfill his mission if he did not have an authority which all other would recognize as unassailable?

Easily. There are plenty of examples of people correcting the Popes throughout history. There are examples of Popes correcting each other. If the Pope makes one mistake, but the Church still proclaims the Gospel and celebrates the liturgy throughout the world, there need be no talk of the Church dissolving. One day that mistake will be corrected, by the sensus fidelium or another Pope.

Gasser doesn’t support his philosophical-theological-speculative argument by Scripture or Tradition. Evidently the Apostles and Fathers thought you could have the Church and truth without an infallible Pope. Bishop Gasser does provide some arguments from Tradition, though. But these are “indirect” testimonies, to the effect that one must stick with the Church of Rome. As some council fathers pointed out, they do not prove anything more than the primacy.

One comment merits mention, though. My earlier intuitions, evidenced by earlier posts on this blog, that St. Irenaeus plays a key role in the discussion, were confirmed. Gasser’s first argument from Tradition was AH 3:3:2. But amazingly enough he sets this up as a “more secure rule” than the rule of faith which all the Churches agree to. He fails to cite the rule Irenaeus himself lays out in AH 1:1:10 or discuss the implications of laying it aside in favor of a “more secure rule” of the Church of Rome.

Gasser also deals with the arguments of the official text, i.e. the ecumenical councils of Consantinople IV, Lyon and Florence. Of these, only the last one really supports infallibility, if one reads the interpretations behind the original text. But if infallibility comes up only in the middle ages, then the argument is totally undermined that this is something coming from Christ and the Apostles.

Minimalism vs. maximalism

And now we come to the most astonishing part. To my suprise, Bishop Gasser’s relatio makes clear that the nowadays prevailing “minimalist” interpretation of papal infallibility (only 1-2, or even 6-10 instances), is totally foreign to the intention of Vatican I. According to Bishop Gasser, there have been “thousands and thousands” of such dogmatic judgments. How can this be?

An important detail here is the meaning of the word “define”. It was specifically clarified at Vatican I that this is not to be interpreted in a restrictive juridical sense. It requires no formula and is not limited to ending disputes. It refers broadly to any definitive judgment by the Pope on matters of faith and morals.

Whenever he has condemned something as heretical, whenever he has proclaimed something about faith or morals, no error has ever come from the Roman Pontiff. In addition, the “secondary object of infallibility” is also taught as certain, i.e. not only revealed truths but also things that are necessary to guard the deposit of faith.

Now it should be abundantly clear that this understanding of papal infallibility won’t hold. Not only would the Honorius and Galileo arguments as well as other old issues go through, but the preconciliar and postconciliar encyclicals would prove papal infallibility false by disagreeing with each other on many issues relating to faith and morals.

That is probably why most favor a minimalist approach to papal infallibility: to be able to say in the face of errors, contradictions and changes: “that was not an infallible definition”. They like to quote the canon law (which, remember, comes after Vatican I, after the definition and its interpretation had become increasingly problematic) where it says that no statement is to be understood as infallible unless it is manifestly clear.

But this is a dead end. First of all, “manifestly clear” is very subjective, and I could even argue that Ineffabilis Deus does not meet all the criteria of Vatican I for an infallible definition, maybe even Munificentissimus Deus (after all, the words “infallible” or “ex cathedra” are not used). Even granting these two cases, and perhaps a few others, the point is that now we have totally departed from the understanding of Vatican I itself, and this is very problematic.

The problem is that in the Vatican I scheme there is still a link (though imaginary) between Jesus, the Apostles, the Fathers and modern definitions. But if we adopt a minimalist view, or a “development of doctrine view” (like granting papal infallibility comes from the Middle Ages, following Tierney), there is a gulf between the supposedly revealed, Christ-given gift and the much later application of it.

What is the point in a “charism of truth” given to Peter which almost none of his successors would ever use, most of them not even being aware of it? Did Christ really think he is attaching to the promises to Peter a special gift to be discovered and used only in the 19th century? Why keep the Vatican I definition if we reject the “thousands and thousands” paradigm, where papal infallibility is absolutely central to the preservation of the Church in the truth?

Future perspectives

So what would be the way out of this mess? One insight is the Divine Providence that kept Vatican I from defining the infallibility of the Church in defining dogma. The infallibility of the Magisterium gathered in a council in matters of faith and morals is taught in Vatican I and Vatican II, but it has never been defined as a revealed dogma of faith. Thus, it is possible to disagree with this teaching after prayer and study.

Now, if it is possible that the teaching on conciliar infallibility is wrong, then it is also possible that Pastor Aeternus as a conciliar definition was not infallible, i.e., it could also be wrong. If it could be wrong, then all papal declarations could also have some errors in them. This is a criticism that seems to me is possible to make while being a fully faithful Catholic.

Vatican III will need to rethink infallibility. My suggestion is that it would be possible to keep the language about the Pope and the Bishops teaching infallibly when guarding the deposit of faith. But this should be defined to mean the real deposit of faith received from the Apostles, i.e. the Irenaean Rule or the Apostles’ Creed. Later dogmatics could still be taught, but it would be recognized as not entirely immune to error.

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10 Comments on ““The Gift of Infallibility””

  1. Nick Says:

    It seems we have our minds made up on this, and there is no sense in repeating ourselves, but the “church” you’re left with by making a private interpretation of Irenaeus is one without any ecclesiology, Scripture, Christology, Sacraments, dogma, or even theological development. Christianity in your definition is a simple affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed and nothing more – and on top of that the Creed can be interpreted however one feels. Apostolic Succession means nothing if all that matters is having a copy of the Apostles’ Creed (which anyone can copy and pass down easily).

    I don’t see how the Church Fathers or Councils fit your view of the Church and history. If you believe 95% of what was taught after Irenaeus was superfluous or distortion, then how is this different than a Great Apostasy? How is the Protestant claim that Popes and Councils “can err and have err” different from yours and somehow acceptable in Catholicism?

    It seems you don’t realize the ramifications of saying 95% of the Church’s teaching has been superfluous or even error. Every day people are worshiping the Host, having infants baptized, reading Scripture, etc, etc, and so if this is superfluous or error, then that’s akin to the whole Church practicing idolatry and paganism. There is no middle ground.

    I find it hard to believe Irenaeus would condemn Gnosticism but have no problem with worship of bread.

    • Emil Anton Says:

      Nick, you’ve profoundly misunderstood me. Of course there is an ecclesiology, and Scripture, and Christology, and Sacraments, and dogma – Irenaeus had all that. My point concerns only the contents of the dogma. I might even grant that some new things might have to be defined and dogmatized in the face of new problems, but this is very different from saying that one can define new dogmas just for the fun of it or that dogmas as such must be infallible. I will write more on this very soon, when I finish reading Kng’s Infallible? The Protestant claim that councils can err and have erred is right and can be recognized in Catholicism, first because it has not been defined otherwise and second because theologians who think so (like Kng) can be in good standing with the Church. Once more, Irenaeus himself believed in the Eucharist and it is the very center of the life of the Church. But I doubt it is a revealed and infallible proposition that the manner of change that takes place is that the substance changes while the accidents remain. That’s one way to describe it, but there is no grounds for an infallible definition of that sort. There is a LOT of middle ground, and that’s precisely what the father of Vatican I didn’t see but the Church today does.

      • Nick Says:

        But how can there be ecclesiology, canon, sacraments, etc, if there is no dogmatic authority the Church holds? Those things would naturally fall into the ‘non-essential’ category, meaning Christians were free to disagree on them.

        If dogmas are not infallible, then how does one define ecclesiology, canon, sacraments, etc, in such a way as to have a unified view on them?

        That’s the issue that the Fathers at Vatican I saw, and it seemed to be lost sight of somewhat with the Fathers at Vatican II. Irenaeus wasn’t infallible, so if all we have is fallible interpretations of Scripture and fallible interpretations of the Apostle’s Creed, then Christianity becomes a sort of “broad and liberal Protestantism”.

      • Emil Anton Says:

        Nick, I will be addressing some of that in my next post when I finish reading this excellent book:

        http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/6284/papal-infallibility.aspx

        There can be dogmatic authority without infallibility. And Christians do disagree on all those issues, even Catholics, grant infallible authorities or not. Positing some infallible criterion doesn’t make the task of interpretation any easier. Irenaeus wasn’t infallible, but so weren’t the Popes and councils in all cases, so you’re left with 1) assessing when they were (and have others disagree with you) and 2) interpreting what those left-over infallibilities actually mean (and again having to deal with differing interpretations). You see that this is no answer or solution to the problem.

        Here Powell suggests “particularism” as opposed to “methodism”, which seems promising, but as I said, more on this later.

        in Christ Emil

  2. Trebor135 Says:

    “So what would be the way out of this mess? One insight is the Divine Providence that kept Vatican I from defining the infallibility of the Church in defining dogma. The infallibility of the Magisterium gathered in a council in matters of faith and morals is taught in Vatican I and Vatican II, but it has never been defined as a revealed dogma of faith. Thus, it is possible to disagree with this teaching after prayer and study.”

    What do you mean, “defined as a revealed dogma of faith”? Defined by whom and in what manner? For example, to the best of my knowledge, requesting the intercession of the saints has never been “defined” by a pope or a council. So, in your view, could this practice potentially be completely erroneous?

    “Now, if it is possible that the teaching on conciliar infallibility is wrong, then it is also possible that Pastor Aeternus as a conciliar definition was not infallible, i.e., it could also be wrong. If it could be wrong, then all papal declarations could also have some errors in them. This is a criticism that seems to me is possible to make while being a fully faithful Catholic.”

    How?

    “Vatican III will need to rethink infallibility. My suggestion is that it would be possible to keep the language about the Pope and the Bishops teaching infallibly when guarding the deposit of faith. But this should be defined to mean the real deposit of faith received from the Apostles, i.e. the Irenaean Rule or the Apostles’ Creed. Later dogmatics could still be taught, but it would be recognized as not entirely immune to error.”

    What is the “Irenaean Rule”? Why should we limit the “real deposit of faith” to this or the Apostles’ creed?

    I’m attempting to sort out the issue of papal infallibility myself, so would just like to understand what you’re saying as clearly as possible. 🙂

    • Emil Anton Says:

      Thanks Trebor135 for the comment!

      By “defined” I mean what you said, defined by Pope or council. And you’re on to something here with your example about saints. Most of the most ancient and most central creedal and liturgical beliefs have not been defined. What has been defined are much later doctrinal developments. This to me shows how the whole infallibility stuff directs attention away from the center of the faith. It is said that infallibility is needed to guard the deposit, but the deposit has been well guarded without any definitions. What has happened is that definitions have added all kinds of secondary stuff to the deposit.

      To answer your question…I suppose it “could potentially” be wrong, but I think there’s good evidence to suggest it’s not. The practice is very very early and it’s deeply rooted in the liturgy of the universal Church everywhere. I can’t condemn anyone for holding a contrary personal opinion, but there’s no reason the Church should abolish the practice.

      On the contrary, the doctrine of the “infallibility of ecumenical councils” was developed in the 9th century, so it was not passed down by the Apostles, neither was it the self-understanding of the seven great ecumenical councils. So it’s much more dubious. The important thing here is the difference between “methodism” and “particularism”. I will write more of this in the next post. The point is we don’t need a “method” based on which we accept everything in the fear that in its absence all collapses. No,
      we can offer arguments for a particular belief, this is “particularism”. An example of which you have above.

      To your 2nd question, the CDF (Ratzinger) wrote in 1990 that the theologian can disagree with the Magisterium in non-definitive matters. To these the infallibility of councils still belongs. But if councils can err, then the rest follows…

      This is the Irenean Rule (by the disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John):

      “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” Ephesians 1:10 and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” Philippians 2:10-11 to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” Ephesians 6:12 and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.”

      Irenaeus goes on to say: As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it … It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself… For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.

      All this is from Against Heresies from AD 189, book 1, chapter 10, read online at http://newadvent.org/fathers/0103110.htm

      That is the answer to the last question: the disciples of the apostles themselves said we shouldn’t make additions to this faith, so if we want to stay faithful to them, we won’t.

      God bless! Emil

  3. Trebor135 Says:

    “By ‘defined’ I mean what you said, defined by Pope or council. And you’re on to something here with your example about saints. Most of the most ancient and most central creedal and liturgical beliefs have not been defined. What has been defined are much later doctrinal developments. This to me shows how the whole infallibility stuff directs attention away from the center of the faith. It is said that infallibility is needed to guard the deposit, but the deposit has been well guarded without any definitions. What has happened is that definitions have added all kinds of secondary stuff to the deposit.

    “To answer your question…I suppose it ‘could potentially’ be wrong, but I think there’s good evidence to suggest it’s not. The practice is very very early and it’s deeply rooted in the liturgy of the universal Church everywhere. I can’t condemn anyone for holding a contrary personal opinion, but there’s no reason the Church should abolish the practice.”

    I do wish the Catholic Church had taken the Eastern Orthodox approach of not defining everything. But what should be done about purgatory and indulgences, given that good evidence can be offered for the former from Judaism and the early church and for the latter from at least the early church? (I recall you mentioning these doctrines in another post as resulting entirely from later development of doctrine.)

    “On the contrary, the doctrine of the ‘infallibility of ecumenical councils’ was developed in the 9th century, so it was not passed down by the Apostles, neither was it the self-understanding of the seven great ecumenical councils.”

    As you present the issue, calling any church council infallible would seem to be anachronistic. This is an interesting point; I have to look into it.

    “So it’s much more dubious. The important thing here is the difference between ‘methodism’ and ‘particularism’. I will write more of this in the next post. The point is we don’t need a ‘method’ based on which we accept everything in the fear that in its absence all collapses. No, we can offer arguments for a particular belief, this is “particularism”. An example of which you have above.”

    But if the apostolic churches announce that any and all previous claims for the infallibility of three councils (for Oriental Orthodox), seven councils (for Eastern Orthodox), and twenty-one councils and at least two papal statements (for Catholics) are a man-made invention, shouldn’t one expect very large proportions of their flocks to lose faith completely?

    “To your 2nd question, the CDF (Ratzinger) wrote in 1990 that the theologian can disagree with the Magisterium in non-definitive matters. To these the infallibility of councils still belongs. But if councils can err, then the rest follows…”

    That seems a very clever way of settling the matter!

    “This is the Irenean Rule (by the disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John):

    “‘The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” Ephesians 1:10 and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” Philippians 2:10-11 to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” Ephesians 6:12 and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.’

    “Irenaeus goes on to say: ‘As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it … It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself… For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.’

    “All this is from Against Heresies from AD 189, book 1, chapter 10, read online at http://newadvent.org/fathers/0103110.htm

    “That is the answer to the last question: the disciples of the apostles themselves said we shouldn’t make additions to this faith, so if we want to stay faithful to them, we won’t.”

    But earlier you stated that maintaining the intercession of the saints would be reasonable, and Irenaeus doesn’t mention the doctrine here. And it’s worth noting that doctrinal development took place during Judaism too; while the ultra-conservative Sadducees denied a number of beliefs that Christians hold today as self-evident, the Pharisees believed in such doctrines as the final resurrection of the dead. The Old Testament doesn’t talk about an afterlife very much, but Jesus strongly emphasizes heaven and hell.

    Although this Against Heresies passage doesn’t mention the sacrament of confession at all, should it be performed publicly as was done in the very early days? Irenaeus doesn’t refer to communion in his statement of faith either, so what about Eucharistic adoration? He also is silent on the canon of Scripture, so should it be up to each individual to decide whether James and Revelation are divinely inspired?

    And, given that certain moral issues were not discussed at all in the early days of Christianity, what should the Catholic Church to which you belong do about cloning and euthanasia? Knowing how much dissent exists among heterodox Catholics nowadays on abortion and especially contraception, should its teachings against these practices be maintained?

    • Emil Anton Says:

      1) Purgatory and indulgences are not found in any of the earliest fathers: Clement, Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus, none of the 1st and 2nd century Christians. They write about how sins are dealt with, how one is saved, what happens when you die, i.e. all the stuff that Purgatory and Indulgences bear upon, but there is no place for these doctrines in their systems. They start developing in the 3rd century, perhaps due to Hellenistic influences (the Greek philosophers to my knowledge taught a kind of purgatory, and the fathers from Clement and Origen on to Augustine etc were influenced by Platonism etc). Yet I would maintain that (as with the intercession of saints) prayer for the dead is very deeply rooted in the liturgical tradition of the Church (and as you said, Judaism) and so should not be abandoned, but there should be no dogmatic description about Purgatory (all the speculation about venial sins and the temporal consequences of mortal sins and plenary and partial indulgences alleviating those punishments) in the imagined ecumenical Church. Indulgences were first related to alleviating the penance due in this life, but since penances given in confession are nowadays very light, there is no reason to replace them with indulgences, and even less reason to transfer their effect into the invisible realm of souls in purgatory.

      2) Of course the Church’s wouldn’t simply announce that all our previous claims to infallibility were a man-made invention, full stop. There would be a truly ecumenical council where the Christians of the world would publish documents together, and in a part they would affirm the office of leadership in the Church and the legitimacy of councils in general. But then they would say something in the direction that the main goal of the councils and leadership is to guard the Gospel/deposit and keep people in the Truth. But because Church leaders, too, are not more than imperfect people, there have unfortunately been exaggerated reactions and claims, even of infallibility. Together we confess that God alone is infallible, and the Church is continually in need of conversion and purification in the light of the Word of God. Despite all errors, the Church’s existence is a proof of the fact that God has never abandoned his people, that he has always preserved the Church in Truth, that is, in union with Himself. I think such a declaration would bring much credibility to the Church and bring back many children who have strayed. The Church is much less credible now, not admitting the errors it has made, though its leading theologians are well aware of them.

      3) The Rule is not all that there is in Christianity, Irenaeus believes in the Eucharist and the Scriptures etc, but the rule is what the Church teaches as the truth about God and his plan of salvation, the dogmatic core. Because the intercession of saints is not a part of the rule, I admitted it might potentially be wrong, but there is still good reason to keep it in the Church. Irenaeus continues the above with a list of “secondary issues” that can be discussed and taught in the Church, but are not part of the Rule, which is one and the same:

      “It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself, and should conceive of some other God besides Him who is the Framer, Maker, and Preserver of this universe, (as if He were not sufficient for them), or of another Christ, or another Only-begotten. But the fact referred to simply implies this, that one may [more accurately than another] bring out the meaning of those things which have been spoken in parables, and accommodate them to the general scheme of the faith; and explain [with special clearness] the operation and dispensation of God connected with human salvation; and show that God manifested longsuffering in regard to the apostasy of the angels who transgressed, as also with respect to the disobedience of men; and set forth why it is that one and the same God has made some things temporal and some eternal, some heavenly and others earthly; and understand for what reason God, though invisible, manifested Himself to the prophets not under one form, but differently to different individuals; and show why it was that more covenants than one were given to mankind; and teach what was the special character of each of these covenants; and search out for what reason God Romans 11:32 has concluded every man in unbelief, that He may have mercy upon all; and gratefully describe on what account the Word of God became flesh and suffered; and relate why the advent of the Son of God took place in these last times, that is, in the end, rather than in the beginning [of the world]; and unfold what is contained in the Scriptures concerning the end [itself], and things to come; and not be silent as to how it is that God has made the Gentiles, whose salvation was despaired of, fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers with the saints; and discourse how it is that this mortal body shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption; 1 Corinthians 15:54 and proclaim in what sense [God] says, That is a people who was not a people; and she is beloved who was not beloved; Hosea 2:23; Romans 9:25 and in what sense He says that more are the children of her that was desolate, than of her who possessed a husband. Isaiah 54:1; Galatians 4:27 For in reference to these points, and others of a like nature, the apostle exclaims: Oh! The depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! Romans 11:33 But [the superior skill spoken of] is not found in this, that any one should, beyond the Creator and Framer [of the world], conceive of the Enthymesis of an erring Æon, their mother and his, and should thus proceed to such a pitch of blasphemy; nor does it consist in this, that he should again falsely imagine, as being above this [fancied being], a Pleroma at one time supposed to contain thirty, and at another time an innumerable tribe of Æons, as these teachers who are destitute of truly divine wisdom maintain; while the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said.”

      4) Confession as such is not mentioned in the Rule, it too is a very late development in the form we know it now, but the predecessor of confession is mentioned in the Rule: “some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance“. I’m not sure whether it would be better to make confession more public, perhaps even more private, in our situation, where the masses of the faithful are huge. What should be abandoned is the necessity of oral confession to a priest and priestly absolution as a necessary condition for the forgiveness of mortal sins, at least dogmatically speaking. Repentance is what matters. Eucharistic adoration is a liturgical devotion, not a dogma, so I think it could be kept as long as it is realized that it is a medieval devotion. As for the canon, well, the fact of different OT canons in different Churches should be recognized, fortunately the NT canon is universally agreed upon… but as we know the canonicity of some books has been discussed and denied both in the early Church and in the reformation… so perhaps private doubts in these matters should be allowed and the canon not treated too dogmatically. But the canon the Church would read in the liturgy would obviously not be decided upon by individuals.

      5) Well, the Church needs to deal with modern issues, theologians need to investigate them, the Church should give its official stance, but it should also take seriously arguments to the contrary. I find it problematic to call dissenters in these issues heterodox, precisely because these things are not found in the Rule and not explicitly revealed in Scripture. These are matters where the Church can teach but infallibility should not be claimed. And the Church knows it, it hasn’t defined any moral teaching infallibly. The problem is that Rome is still presenting these issues as if they were infallibly taught, based on the ordinary and universal magisterium. But how can Rome alone decide what is taught by the universal magisterium, by definition, the bishops should universally agree. But Humanae vitae was published without episcopal consultation and numerous bishops’ conferences disagreed with it. HV also presents a soteriology which is very hard to reconcile with the Gospel. So even though I am not for contraception myself, I believe it cannot be claimed to be dogmatic and it is very likely that the Church will revise its position in a future council. The book “Why you can disagree and remain a faithful Catholic” by Fr. Kaufman goes into some detail in this question as well as abortion and remarriage. Check that out! Thanks for the excellent discussion!

  4. Trebor135 Says:

    “1) Purgatory and indulgences are not found in any of the earliest fathers: Clement, Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus, none of the 1st and 2nd century Christians. They write about how sins are dealt with, how one is saved, what happens when you die, i.e. all the stuff that Purgatory and Indulgences bear upon, but there is no place for these doctrines in their systems.”

    How are their teachings incompatible with purgatory and indulgences?

    “They start developing in the 3rd century, perhaps due to Hellenistic influences (the Greek philosophers to my knowledge taught a kind of purgatory, and the fathers from Clement and Origen on to Augustine etc were influenced by Platonism etc).”

    But John adapted the logos concept to refer to Jesus, and the council of Nicea (I believe) employed Greek philosophical categories. So, to posit the origins of purgatory in Greek philosophy might involve a genetic fallacy.

    “Yet I would maintain that (as with the intercession of saints) prayer for the dead is very deeply rooted in the liturgical tradition of the Church (and as you said, Judaism) and so should not be abandoned,”

    This raises the logical question of the reasoning behind their prayers for the dead.

    “but there should be no dogmatic description about Purgatory (all the speculation about venial sins and the temporal consequences of mortal sins and plenary and partial indulgences alleviating those punishments) in the imagined ecumenical Church. Indulgences were first related to alleviating the penance due in this life, but since penances given in confession are nowadays very light, there is no reason to replace them with indulgences, and even less reason to transfer their effect into the invisible realm of souls in purgatory.”

    But these items are all interrelated. At least some first-century Jews seem to have believed in purgatory (let me know if you would like more information on this point), and Christians about to be killed were, as I’ve heard, signing certificates for their “merits” to be “transferred” to contrite sinners whose penances could then be lightened or canceled.

    “2) Of course the Church’s wouldn’t simply announce that all our previous claims to infallibility were a man-made invention, full stop. There would be a truly ecumenical council where the Christians of the world would publish documents together, and in a part they would affirm the office of leadership in the Church and the legitimacy of councils in general. But then they would say something in the direction that the main goal of the councils and leadership is to guard the Gospel/deposit and keep people in the Truth. But because Church leaders, too, are not more than imperfect people, there have unfortunately been exaggerated reactions and claims, even of infallibility. Together we confess that God alone is infallible, and the Church is continually in need of conversion and purification in the light of the Word of God. Despite all errors, the Church’s existence is a proof of the fact that God has never abandoned his people, that he has always preserved the Church in Truth, that is, in union with Himself. I think such a declaration would bring much credibility to the Church and bring back many children who have strayed. The Church is much less credible now, not admitting the errors it has made, though its leading theologians are well aware of them.”

    It is an interesting scenario to contemplate. What would you say are the two most blatant errors made by the Catholic/Orthodox Churches which are so egregious that they completely disprove claims to ecclesial infallibility?

    “3) The Rule is not all that there is in Christianity, Irenaeus believes in the Eucharist and the Scriptures etc, but the rule is what the Church teaches as the truth about God and his plan of salvation, the dogmatic core. Because the intercession of saints is not a part of the rule, I admitted it might potentially be wrong, but there is still good reason to keep it in the Church. Irenaeus continues the above with a list of “secondary issues” that can be discussed and taught in the Church, but are not part of the Rule, which is one and the same:

    “‘It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself, and should conceive of some other God besides Him who is the Framer, Maker, and Preserver of this universe, (as if He were not sufficient for them), or of another Christ, or another Only-begotten. But the fact referred to simply implies this, that one may [more accurately than another] bring out the meaning of those things which have been spoken in parables, and accommodate them to the general scheme of the faith; and explain [with special clearness] the operation and dispensation of God connected with human salvation; and show that God manifested longsuffering in regard to the apostasy of the angels who transgressed, as also with respect to the disobedience of men; and set forth why it is that one and the same God has made some things temporal and some eternal, some heavenly and others earthly; and understand for what reason God, though invisible, manifested Himself to the prophets not under one form, but differently to different individuals; and show why it was that more covenants than one were given to mankind; and teach what was the special character of each of these covenants; and search out for what reason God Romans 11:32 has concluded every man in unbelief, that He may have mercy upon all; and gratefully describe on what account the Word of God became flesh and suffered; and relate why the advent of the Son of God took place in these last times, that is, in the end, rather than in the beginning [of the world]; and unfold what is contained in the Scriptures concerning the end [itself], and things to come; and not be silent as to how it is that God has made the Gentiles, whose salvation was despaired of, fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers with the saints; and discourse how it is that this mortal body shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption; 1 Corinthians 15:54 and proclaim in what sense [God] says, That is a people who was not a people; and she is beloved who was not beloved; Hosea 2:23; Romans 9:25 and in what sense He says that more are the children of her that was desolate, than of her who possessed a husband. Isaiah 54:1; Galatians 4:27 For in reference to these points, and others of a like nature, the apostle exclaims: Oh! The depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! Romans 11:33 But [the superior skill spoken of] is not found in this, that any one should, beyond the Creator and Framer [of the world], conceive of the Enthymesis of an erring Æon, their mother and his, and should thus proceed to such a pitch of blasphemy; nor does it consist in this, that he should again falsely imagine, as being above this [fancied being], a Pleroma at one time supposed to contain thirty, and at another time an innumerable tribe of Æons, as these teachers who are destitute of truly divine wisdom maintain; while the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said.'”

    But Irenaeus is condemning Gnostic doctrines here. If purgatory was so foreign to the unvarnished early faith, why did no one call for the excommunication of Clement (see as a counterexample the case of Marcion in 144)? Why did no one bother to write “Against Heresies, Part II” to warn the Christian world against Clement the Purgatorian?

    “4) Confession as such is not mentioned in the Rule, it too is a very late development in the form we know it now, but the predecessor of confession is mentioned in the Rule: ‘some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance’.”

    But this doesn’t necessarily mean that we should turn back the clock here. If, (1) as can be seen in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, Christians are bound to follow their deacons, presbyters, and bishops, and (2) the development of the procedure for confession of sins does not involve the fabrication of a new doctrine, then (3) I would expect a resurrected bishop of Antioch to instruct Catholics and Orthodox today to continue receiving the sacrament in the present manner.

    “I’m not sure whether it would be better to make confession more public, perhaps even more private, in our situation, where the masses of the faithful are huge.”

    What do you mean here?

    “What should be abandoned is the necessity of oral confession to a priest and priestly absolution as a necessary condition for the forgiveness of mortal sins, at least dogmatically speaking. Repentance is what matters.”

    But it was grave sins–such as adultery–that were confessed publicly back in the third century. This seems to be a logical basis for “the necessity of oral confession to a priest and priestly absolution as a necessary condition for the forgiveness of mortal sins”.

    And if we should return to doing things exactly as the earliest Christians, do you recommend that the priests/bishops of today resume handing down penances as heavy as those of the third century?

    “Eucharistic adoration is a liturgical devotion, not a dogma, so I think it could be kept as long as it is realized that it is a medieval devotion.”

    All right. 🙂

    “As for the canon, well, the fact of different OT canons in different Churches should be recognized, fortunately the NT canon is universally agreed upon… but as we know the canonicity of some books has been discussed and denied both in the early Church and in the reformation… so perhaps private doubts in these matters should be allowed and the canon not treated too dogmatically. But the canon the Church would read in the liturgy would obviously not be decided upon by individuals.”

    So, the bishops should be allowed to decide what books and epistles constitute Scripture in the context of the liturgy, but the laity should be permitted to doubt their conclusions outside the context of the liturgy? 😛

    “5) Well, the Church needs to deal with modern issues, theologians need to investigate them, the Church should give its official stance, but it should also take seriously arguments to the contrary.”

    So the laity should not receive binding instruction akin to that regarding the Apostles’ Creed on cloning and euthanasia simply because those matters were not and could not have been raised before the time of, say, Clement?

    “I find it problematic to call dissenters in these issues heterodox, precisely because these things are not found in the Rule and not explicitly revealed in Scripture.”

    But as I understand it, early Christian writers were clearly, strongly, and (almost?) unanimously opposed to abortion and contraception. Their views should surely count for something.

    “These are matters where the Church can teach but infallibility should not be claimed. And the Church knows it, it hasn’t defined any moral teaching infallibly. The problem is that Rome is still presenting these issues as if they were infallibly taught, based on the ordinary and universal magisterium. But how can Rome alone decide what is taught by the universal magisterium, by definition, the bishops should universally agree. But Humanae vitae was published without episcopal consultation and numerous bishops’ conferences disagreed with it. HV also presents a soteriology which is very hard to reconcile with the Gospel.”

    You seem to imply that a majority vote of 51% on the part of groups of bishops, in and of itself, should be the basis for determining the truth on controversial matters. But even among clergy–as I’ve read happened at the 1930 Anglican Lambeth Conference–public opinion can sway the verdict.

    “So even though I am not for contraception myself, I believe it cannot be claimed to be dogmatic”

    But what are the teachings you “believe it [can] be claimed to be dogmatic”?

    “and it is very likely that the Church will revise its position in a future council.”

    I doubt it, and I hope not. This could open the way for declaring homosexual conduct to be morally acceptable.

    “The book ‘Why you can disagree and remain a faithful Catholic’ by Fr. Kaufman goes into some detail in this question as well as abortion and remarriage. Check that out!”

    As someone who has been considering both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (I apologize for not clarifying this point earlier), and after looking into the book, I must say that I find the approach recommended by Kaufman to be very troubling. The whole point seems to be, “I want to stay Catholic, but I also want to do the absolute bare minimum in obeying the clergy placed over me. So, how can I fulfill both objectives while being able to explain away my denial of certain teachings?”

    “Thanks for the excellent discussion!”

    Same to you! 🙂

    • Emil Anton Says:

      1) Purgatory: this is too much of a side issue to go through here, it would take too much time to get the writings of the fathers out and search for passages and think about their soteriology and eschatology. Read them yourselves if you haven’t! As for the early Christian practice you referred to, it was 3rd century, and the rationale in Tertullian for prayers for the dead (the first patristic instance) is not that souls would be released from Purgatory. As for Clement (whom I haven’t even read yet), he was probably a part of a doctrinal development, not saying something completely new, and definitely not challenging the Church leaders with it, like the Gnostics did with their doctrine.

      2) Weell… I think Nicea and the consequent councils are problematic in dogmatizing hellenistic philosophy, because again foreign elements are added to the gospel/Rule as requirements for saving faith, which is problematic. Perhaps homoousios could be defended in that context, but it is mostly meaningless for modern man, so it’s very problematic to claim it as a criterion of saving faith today… same can be seen in the ecumenical dialogue with the pre-chalcedonian churches, agreements were reached precisely by avoiding old terminology, implicitly denying the infallibility and irreformability of those definitions and condemnations. I think the two biggest mistakes made by Orthodoxy and Catholicism was 1) condemnations of people and positions without sufficient reason – nowadays Catholic theologians are reluctant to condemn people whom ecumenical councils condemned, indeed the differences were sometimes very small, much smaller than what today divides “separated brethren” who are still quite generally considered to be in a saving relationship with God. Second, the extra ecclesiam is of course a very famous case, linked with the same condemnatory attitude. Most solemnly defined in the strictest terms in the middle ages, it is now completely relativized in official teaching. It is dishonesty to claim that there has been no change or error, but mere development. Florence said non-Catholic Christian martyrs go to hell, VII says the Spirit has granted the grace of martyrdom to some non-Catholic Christians… that is not development, that is contradiction.

      3) I think the development of confession has resulted in a fabrication of new doctrine. As you said, the mortal sins of antiquity were basically adultery, murder and apostasy/idolatry. But today a casual reading of the CCC suggests that a whole list of sins against the 10 commandments are mortal, and that they must be confessed to a priest for salvation. Confession and priestly absolution played no such role in the post-baptismal sins of the Pauline and Johannine churches or later early Churches. So I think we should go back in relaxing the idea of mortal sin and forward in making confession private rather than public, because today people don’t know their fellow parishioners and a public penance would really serve no purpose, the sins of parishioners are generally not scandalous to other parishioners. Further, in many parts of the world there is a lack of priests, so private confession to God with contrition would be much better. As for heavy penances, I don’t know, I’d rather leave something up to the bishops to decide;)

      4) The canon has already been decided upon, my point was simply that if people have doubts about it in private, it needn’t be such a big deal. Churches would continue proclaiming the books they hold as canonical in the public liturgy, no anarchy, but no dogmatism.

      5) Binding yes, supposedly infallible, no. As for contraception, early Christians do certainly count here, but they were also of the opinion that the marital act is only licit with the intention of procreation and that seeking pleasure in it was sinful. This has rightly been rejected despite a strong tradition (not an apostolic one though), and the same could be done with contraception. I don’t think the Church would say contraception is now good, but it would perhaps recommend natural methods and warn about the dangers of artificial birth control, yet leaving the decision up to the individual and not condemning contraception as always intrinsically evil. Not 51% of bishops in and of itself. First and foremost, the gospel needs to be considered, and then all the arguments for and against. As for what can be called dogmatic, in my humble opinion the Apostolic faith/creed, the Rule of Faith. And Kaufman is not about a bare minimum. Dissidents who disagree on contraception and remarriage can still believe most of the Church’s teachings.

      Again, thanks for the good spirit!


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