The right to be wrong

Let’s go back this week to pre-history – that is, the 1950s, before Vatican II.
At that time, I was a junior member of a large, international, financial company, and I had been asked to say grace at a company dinner. I was nervous about this because it involved praying with non-Catholics. So I consulted my (Jesuit) parish priest. He said: “No problem; you are not praying with them, they are praying with you.” Thank God for Jesuits!

You may think, even with hindsight, that I had been over scrupulous. But, perhaps not. Father Henry Davis’s Moral and Pastoral Theology, last edition 1958, taught that “It is not as a general rule permitted to Catholic nurses in hospitals to send for non-Catholic minsters to attend to non-Catholic patients.” She could of course arrange a table with flowers (since this was not per se a religious act) but she must not join in any prayers.

Against this background we can understand why The Vatican II documents on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) and religious liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) caused such a fuss. Indeed it was claimed by some, incorrectly, that Archbishop Lefebvre had chosen not to sign the latter.

A phrase that was often repeated in controversy was “error has no rights.” (Leo XIII’s phrase was, to be precise, “it is contrary to reason that error and truth should have equal rights.”) It followed, ran the argument, that the Catholic Church, secure in possession of the truth, was entitled to political favour and protection, but that other religions were not. This was reflected, for example in the concordats arranged with Franco’s Spain. It may be worth remembering here that neither error nor truth are subjects of rights: only human beings can be.

Dignitatis Humanae stated however that, by virtue of human dignity, everyone had an equal right to religion and religious practice. While Unitatis Redintegratio not only referred to the Orthodox religions and the Reformation religions with (an unfamiliar) courtesy, but suggested what we had in common and how we might learn from the emphases in these religions. It was a call for respectful, loving, dialogue. (Both documents are quite short, so worth re-reading, via Google.)

As you may imagine, the cry of “religious indifferentism” went up from certain quarters. It was seen that the Church was presenting itself as one form of Christianity amongst others, and that it was possible that the other denominations had a greater grasp of some aspects of religious truths than we did. This was a betrayal of tradition.

In fact an unprejudiced reading of these documents shows that the Church remains limpidly clear about its authority, derived from Christ’s foundation, and its apostolic origins. But there is no doubt that its understanding of human dignity, always at least implicit in tradition, was now being brought into the light of day. No wonder some people blinked.

And there were indeed precedents. The Council of Florence (1439) invited Orthodox attendance, and invited joint prayer. Trent (1545 to 1563) invited everyone whomsoever to attend and discuss the issues, and granted safe passage to those who wished to do so.

I have the impression – although it may be no more than the company I keep – that many Catholics have in fact been tempted by religious indifferentism. I encounter a feeling that we should not be emphasising the Church’s unique role, that perhaps precise denominations are more of a matter of personal choice than any objective truth. There is a nervousness about explaining where and why we differ from other Christians – no matter how kindly this may be done. Am I right in my suspicions? And, if so, is it a healthy or a dangerous development?

Advertisements

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Quentin queries, Scripture, Spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to The right to be wrong

  1. Peter D. Wilson says:

    At least in recent decades, I don’t recall any instance of diffidence (as distinct from courtesy) in discussing differences of doctrine with our Anglican and Nonconformist friends. One possible exception is on the issue of Anglican orders, where for myself it depends on who I am discussing it with since it would be easy to give unintended offence with an incautious approach. In its bluntest form the reformers invented a new ministry that while thoroughly estimable is not the Catholic priesthood, as the 39 Articles make clear, and since for that reason they could consecrate to it whoever they liked I have no difficulty with female clergy. One Anglican friend to whom I put the point subsequently joined our parish (not necessarily cause and effect!).

  2. Ion Zone says:

    There has been dialogue about holding occasional Catholic ceremonies in churches where Catholics have been buried in the past. Dunno how it’s going.

  3. claret says:

    I was recently the only Catholic at a ‘walk of witness’ in a nearby town that started at the Catholic Church and for which the P.P was meant to start them off and even he wasn’t present ! Other Christian denominations were well represented. Sadly our reputation for aloofness was the only thing that went before us.

  4. Brian Hamill says:

    What seems to me has happened over the past 50 years or so is that we have ceased to divide the world’s population into Catholics and Non-Catholics, and instead divided the world more readily into the good and the bad. Religious affiliation is important but not so important as moral integrity, what Jesus calls ‘faith’. When I was young, I was taught that the Communion of Saints consisted of the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. I think perhaps now we are more aware the the Communion of Saints is all those ‘who have not bent the knee to Baal’. The Catholic Church may have ‘the truth’ but it does not have sole access to the one who is Truth.

  5. John Thomas says:

    The main threat to the Catholic church comes from, not indifferentism as such, but the belief that it can be “liberated” by various “liberal” movements, eg. those which argue for homosexuality and abortion (are these people really Catholics? They tell us so). The threat is definitely from within (eg. Trojan horses such as Tony Blair). Just spend a few moments – it won’t take long – looking at the decline and fall of the Episcopal Church U S, caused by “liberalism”; read, say, David Virtue’s Virtueonline website; you won’t find it nice …

  6. Vincent says:

    It seems to me that there is a continuum. At one end is the structured Church, rejecting any variations, and exercising unquestionable authority. At the other there is a well-meaning emotional mess. Where on this continuum ought the Catholic Church to be?

  7. John Nolan says:

    I was fourteen when in 1965 the bishop allowed RC’s to attend Anglican services. I was glad not to have to stand outside with the other left-footers while everyone else went to Morning Prayers and to be allowed to attend the school carol service (as it was a compulsory evening do, the boys got a half -holiday in recompense; RCs had to remain in school under the supervision of the one Catholic master).

    I remember reading a memoir of National Service where someone asked to be excused church parade on the grounds that he was an atheist. He got short shrift from the CSM: “If you is not a Jew or a Roman Candle, you is Church of England! Now get fell in!”

  8. Advocatus Diaboli says:

    Yes, here I am again – keen to help as ever! What surprises me on this page is the delightful naivete. of course you are all instructed “to be as little children” – so I shouldn’t expect anything else. Of course your church was pretty much hated by everyone. Its demands for rights no one else could have, its imperious laying down of the law to all and sundry, its pathological fear of sexuality, the contempt it held for the vast majority of its members – all made it abundantly clear that it had no divine warrant. The criterion of judging by its fruits told all too clear a story.

    So your bishops, quite cynically, set out to make your church popular with the masses by smiling kindly and embracing a program of spiritual public relations. Useless of course. Any marketing person would have told you that you would lose many of your existing followers and attract few new ones. Along comes Pope Benedict. He is desperately trying to reinstate the old picture of the church. And of course it isn’t working and won’t work. Same again – you lose more of your faithful, and what do you get in return? A group of simple minded Anglicans and the possibility of a reconciliation with barmy neo fascists. It’s falling domino time, I reckon.

    • Nektarios says:

      A D & Fellow Bloggers

      I was not going to write on the blog because I am rather busy with other things at the moment, but felt it necessary to pose AD and ourselves some questions, if I may?

      AD – If I tended to agree with you concerning Roman Catholicism, I have called it Hybrid religion before now, if all this were true and were to ask, what is one to do religiously now?
      To whom does one turn to? Does anyone really have that authority on earth? Many claim it, many are in positions of Ecclesiastic Power, if we were to side-step all them,
      who or what would take its place?
      What would be the hallmarks of one who had this kind of authority, as opposed to the whole thing being hi-jacked by a bunch of eccelsiastic academics as it has been for centuries? Or, does no one actually have such power by God as pesently exercised?

      I also wanted to ask my fellow bloggers what do you mean by Freedom?
      Whether something is religious, political, social, business, or in school or the home,
      there may be an emphasis, a slogan, something we call Freedom, but that is not Freedom,is it?
      That is just dull conformity.

      For a true Freedom to exist, one can’t have it if totally conditioned, totally bound religiously, politically, and so on, one must be free to explore. Free to discover for yourself, not what some propaganists religious or political or any other field says.

      True Freedom comes in to being, when one is not dependent ( for that is their objective),
      It is then one discovers Truth at work,, not as an argument, but in actuality.
      It is written, `the Truth shall set you free.’
      Sadly, one talks about Freedom but does not recognise just how enslaved or imprisoned we are by our conditioning, and in many other areas of life.
      But we have to unshackle ourselves from Fear, see the effects of our own conditioning,
      religious, political and so on.
      It does not take years to discover Freedom, one see it instantly. Seeing it, a change takes place. And it will be the Truth working in us.

      Finally, we cannot talk about Freedom without being truly free, so when you are truly free, one is living the Truth and the Truth is living in us. This means, what you are internally, is the same externally, and living in contradition has come to an end.

  9. John Nolan says:

    Sorry, Advocatus Diaboli, if you think that Ordinariate former Anglicans such as Fr John Hunwicke are simple-minded, you obviously haven’t met any. The RC Church wished, quite naturally, to protect her flock from error. The history of the Counter-Reformation Church shows how successful she was in doing this – by the end of the 16th century she had won the intellectual argument; protestantism in Europe was not only on the defensive but was being rolled back, notably in Poland and Bohemia; Catholic universities were flourishing; the Faith was being carried to the New World and was being seeded by the blood of new martyrs.

    In the 20th century the challenges of Modernism, totalitarian atheism, and secularism led to a defensive mentality which was not entirely healthy. In her wisdom the Ecclesia semper reformanda accepted that she needed to engage positively with other Christian traditions, and in her humility accepted that she might even learn something from them, although they obviously had far more to learn from her. Benedict XVI as Cardinal did much to foster Lutheran-Catholic relations, and as Pope has done the same for Anglicans. If he were trying to reinstate the old image of the Church he would hardly have prayed with the Archbishop of Canterbury at Anglican evensong in Westminster Abbey.

    • Advocatus Diaboli says:

      It’s important to realise that “ordinariate” ex Anglicans are not converts to Catholicism. If they were that, and had integrity, they would have come over long ago out of conviction. They are in fact simply refugees with their tails between their legs.

      No, perhaps they are not so simpleminded. After all Newman’s intelligence was insufficient to save him from the gross, almost laughable, self delusion that the 39 Articles could be reconciled with Catholic belief.

  10. John Candido says:

    ‘I encounter a feeling that we should not be emphasising the Church’s unique role, that perhaps precise denominations are more of a matter of personal choice than any objective truth. There is a nervousness about explaining where and why we differ from other Christians – no matter how kindly this may be done. Am I right in my suspicions? And, if so, is it a healthy or a dangerous development?’

    We all have a ‘right to be wrong’; it is everyone’s right to religious freedom. The same right applies to all adherents of any version of a particular religion. This would be impossible for fundamentalists as they cannot tolerate difference. Religious freedom dies when adherents of specific denominations are without their freedoms.

    Dissent is a fundamental aspect of human existence and no less so in religious contexts. It is a hard task to ask people to be more accommodating with their coreligionist, especially when fellow adherents do not see eye to eye on any theological issue. It is essential to note that moderates and liberals can be as narrow-minded as anyone else, including me.

    It is so crucial to be humble, as hard as it is for most of us. The Roman Catholic Church has been guilty of this, and some of its critics compare it as a template for imperious authority, with elements of egotistical supremacy, an unassailable self-confidence, and an all-encompassing self-sufficiency. When the Roman Catholic Church has an unassailable structure built on a rock-solid impermeability, it is hard to say no to Rome, or for Rome to say yes to others.

    In an article that attacks the intransigence of the Catholic Church in maintaining clerical celibacy, Age newspaper journalist Adele Horin interestingly states,

    ‘It (the priesthood) has also attracted a share of narcissists convinced they are entitled to lecture the laity on sex, contraception and abortion.’ (The Age newspaper: 7th July 2012, accessed: 8th July 2012).

    Is this a case of the servant copying his master?

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/nothing-sacred-about-celibacy-20120706-21ly3.html

    For advocates of Dignitatus Humanae, the charge of religious indifferentism is a baseless one. The claim of the Roman Catholic Church to be the one true Church is, I believe, in both historical and theological terms a true claim, which it repeats for all in the document on ecumenism. It is just hard to convince those who have the power to lower their tone, be less pompous, and forgo long, regal, and intricate liturgies, with vestments that place them in a class so stratospherically above mere mortals, as to consign the laity to a permanent state of insecurity and inferiority.

    The nadir of the Shoah has in my view had the unintended consequence of changing the Catholic Church to better reflect the real Jesus found in the gospel. If Vatican II has failed, it is not a charge that can be levelled at the council’s bishops, but one that can be levelled at the current Catholic Church. The desire of the council fathers was to make the Church a more personal one imbued with dialogue and sensitivity for human relationships.

    It wanted a Church that made a point of being more humble through a listening of the laity, the people of the world, and the Holy Spirit. It sought a Church that placed human dignity, human freedom, and human rights at the centre of its modus operandi. What we have inherited is a Church in retreat, closed rather than open, one that refuses to listen to others; indeed, it has hunkered down because it feels under siege. The paralysis is complete.

    Brian Hamill’s reply is quite an apt guide to proper ecumenical rectitude. ‘The Catholic Church may have ‘the truth’ but it does not have sole access to the one who is Truth.’

    A compelling case has arisen in the media concerning the blood transfusion controversy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This would probably be arrogantly dismissed by most of us and remain a controversy, save for the rigour of science. Apparently, patients are far better off using your own blood than donated blood in elective surgery. How surprising! Sometimes it pays to listen to other Christian denominations.

    http://www.smh.com.au/world/jehovahs-witnesses-recover-best-from-surgery-despite-refusing-blood-20120703-21fi1.html

    • John Nolan says:

      JC

      “… a more personal [Church] imbued with dialogue and sensitivity for human relationships”; “… A Church that placed human dignity, human freedom and human rights at the centre of its modus operandi”; “Dissent is a fundamental aspect of human existence”. Wir sind Kirche. You know the rest.

      Here we have it in a nutshell – the apotheosis of Man, and the Church only existing to aid and abet him in his own self-glorification and self-gratification (but let’s talk about it in terms of ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ to imbue it with a spurious moral legitimacy). No wonder the Pope wants to rescue the Council from this sort of interpretation. Apart from anything else, it’s heresy on a scale that makes the likes of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin seem like pillars of orthodoxy.

      • John Candido says:

        John Nolan.

        Your accusation that I seek the apotheosis of men and women is completely without any substance and is utterly ludicrous.

  11. Iona says:

    Good to see you again, Advocatus Diaboli.

    “It’s important to realise that “ordinariate” ex Anglicans are not converts to Catholicism. If they were that, and had integrity, they would have come over long ago out of conviction. They are in fact simply refugees with their tails between their legs.”

    Not necessarily. Recent developments may simply have served to convince them that the Anglican Church is not, after all, and cannot be, part of the Catholic Church, and that if the Catholic Church is what they want, they have to join the Roman Catholic Church.

  12. Advocatus Diaboli says:

    Thank you for your greeting, Iona. And I must reciprocate by being kind to your Anglican friends. Newman, after having attempted a defence of the Anglican position in 1841, decided that it wasn’t a runner – and became a Catholic in 1845. So it would be unreasonable of me to expect Anglicans to to accept his arguments (which haven’t in principle, changed) in as little as 167 years. I must learn not to be impatient.

    Do you seriously think that these latecomers to Rome would be there now if the C of E hadn’t gone down the route of female clergy, or would they have happily remained in schism or heresy (take your pick)? It’s not love of Rome which attracted, but dislike of C of E decisions which repulsed them.

  13. mike Horsnall says:

    “If I were able to write with anything like the eloquence of Thomas Howard I might very well have written a book very much like this one. Like Howard I was raised in a fundamentalist church. Like Howard I felt that I was missing something very important in that setting and I moved to a liturgical church where I too spent almost twenty-five years. Like Howard I still felt that something was missing and the more I studied, the more I prayed and the more I reflected, the more I felt the call to come home to Christ’s Church. And finally, like Howard I finally answered that call and am now more at peace and closer to God than I have ever been” Dennis Phillips Journey to Rome”

    Dear AD one of the interesting things about your conversation is its tendency to institutionalise and thus denigrate the indivudual voice in its search for God, one suspects you worship principally at the throne of sarcasm. Should you care to dig around a bit you will find the above quote quite typical of Anglican and other denomination Christians, religious or Lay in their journey.

    • Advocatus Diaboli says:

      of course I can accept the concept of a “call”; and I find it documented in James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. But when that call comes to several people in proximity to a change in C of E practice, I get a little cynical. Don’t you?

  14. Iona says:

    AD –

    “Do you seriously think that these latecomers to Rome would be there now if the C of E hadn’t gone down the route of female clergy, or would they have happily remained in schism or heresy (take your pick)? It’s not love of Rome which attracted, but dislike of C of E decisions which repulsed them.”

    I had a dear aunt who was an anglo-Catholic, and she once declared to me: “If my Church accepts women priests, I’m coming over to Rome”. She died before it happened. I was interested to note that the church she attended (St. John’s, in Sevenoaks) is one of the ones that has joined the Ordinariate. I’m guessing at her motivation, but I think she simply felt very much at home in a church which was very, very similar in its practices to the RC Church. She accepted transubstantiation, she went to confession, the priest (vicar?) was celibate and from an organisation of C.o.E priests (ministers?) pledged to remain celibate.
    I don’t know if this supports your point or opposes it; I’m just trying to see the situation from my aunt’s point of view.

  15. Iona says:

    AD – Your comment about a “call”. Can one not be called away from something? A sort of “Don’t go that way, you’ll end up stuck in the mud”? And may this not be what’s happened to at least some of the Anglicans who have joined the Ordinariate? They felt themselves called not to proceed along the path which they could see was being taken by the C of E.

    After all, as a convert (and maybe other converts can confirm this?) I have found that some of the things that seemed to be calling me into the Church were far from being essential aspects of it. God calls us by whatever voice we’re able to hear and respond to. We don’t fully find out quite what we’ve got into until long after we’ve got into it. Or, put in a more positive way, we continue to discover the riches of the Church long after we joined it.

  16. Mike Horsnall says:

    I echo that (speaking as an Anglican convert that is) AD You may prefer cynicsim if you wish -and revel in it to if you so desire-but thats not the point. When I became a Catholic it was absolutely nothing to do with Anglican General Synod decision making whatsoever.

  17. Mike Horsnall says:

    PS As to several people together supporting one another in a hesitant step of faith which means leaving behind their spiritual’home’ then I don’t see anything to be cynical about at all…try it, you’ll find you need a bit of support.

  18. John Nolan says:

    @ John Candido 12:01

    Keep your hair on, mate! First of all I’m not accusing you of anything, and secondly I said nothing about the apotheosis of ‘men and women’ (which implies individuals); I talked about the apotheosis of ‘Man’, which isn’t the same thing at all. Fortunately your posts are long enough to provide plenty of debating points, so I would like to move on and crave your indulgence in clarifying a couple of points for me:
    1. How is it that you have a better insight into ‘what the Council fathers wanted’ than JPII and BXVI who had first hand experience of V II?
    2. Although in the last years of Paul VI’s reign there were indeed signs of ‘paralysis’ in the leadership of the Church, the same can hardly be said of the Church post-1978. What is your evidence for complete paralysis? NB Failure to adopt a liberal-relativist agenda is not evidence of paralysis.
    No hyperlinks, please. The one to Adele Horin was amusing. Popular journalists have never heeded Bob Dylan’s advice; “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand”.

    • John Candido says:

      Sorry! If not accuse, then your reply contains statements that say I seek or desire the apotheosis of Man. There is little difference between ‘the apotheosis of Man’ and ‘the apotheosis of men and women’ and therefore I think it is hardly worthwhile raising the point.

      ‘1. How is it that you have a better insight into ‘what the Council fathers wanted’ than JPII and BXVI who had first hand experience of V II?’

      I have my own understanding of the documents, which I don’t think are all that different to Popes John Paul II or Benedict XVI. So it is neither better nor worse. It must be said that the two individuals previously mentioned are trained theologians and I am not a trained theologian. However, despite my reading and interpretation is from a liberal perspective; the documents are not that difficult to comprehend. I accept all of the sixteen documents as de fide, even if I might have some problems with Lumen Gentium, but I do see that you have some problems with some of them, namely Gaudium et Spes, Dignitatus Humanae, Nostra Aetate, and possibly Unitatis Redintegratio.

      ‘2. Although in the last years of Paul VI’s reign there were indeed signs of ‘paralysis’ in the leadership of the Church, the same can hardly be said of the Church post-1978. What is your evidence for complete paralysis? NB Failure to adopt a liberal-relativist agenda is not evidence of paralysis.’

      There is no answer that I can give you that would satisfy your curiosity. I and others might see paralysis where other more conservative individuals might not see any paralysis at all. If I were to offer my reasons, I would mention the Vatican’s and most Catholic dioceses’ poor responses to the worldwide sex abuse scandal, the creaking acceptance of priestly celibacy while parishes and dioceses close or are in near collapse, the complete failure to re-examine the role of women regarding the priesthood, and the failure to re-examine human sexuality generally, regarding the issues of masturbation, sexual activity before marriage, homosexuality, etc.

      I cannot neglect to add that the Church has not implemented some of the more ground-breaking documents of the Second Vatican Council, for example Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatus Humanae. Those documents have been neglected by a succession of Popes and congregations. Most people have seen the turning back of the clock regarding the Second Vatican Council.

      I cannot forget to mention the parlous state of religious freedom in the Catholic Church. The latest email from ARCC (Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church), tells the story of 14 contemporary Catholic theologians/religious organisation, and Galileo Galilei. All of these intellectuals have suffered indignities at the hands of the Catholic Church. The same Church that hypocritically prays for religious freedom throughout the world will not grant the same rights to their best and brightest. How ridiculous!

      The fourteen individuals/religious organisation, that were mentioned are a list of ‘villains and heretics’ as far as some members of the Catholic Church. They are: Yves Congar, O.P., (remember him?) John Courtney Murray, S.J., Professor Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., Leonardo Boff, O.F.M., Charles Curran, Joan Chittister, O.S.B., Roger Haight, S.J., Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., Louise Lears, S.C., Margaret McBride, R.S.M., Bishop Geoffrey Robinson (retired), Margaret Farley, R.S.M., and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, accused by the CDF of expressing “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” and daring to “challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

      ‘The one to Adele Horin was amusing. Popular journalists have never heeded Bob Dylan’s advice; “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand”.’

      Have you ever thought that you could be wrong on the issue of celibacy?

      • John Nolan says:

        Celibacy as a requirement for those in the clerical state has a long pedigree, at least as far back as the Council of Nicaea. True, the eastern Churches have traditionally ordained married men, but only as parish priests – the hierarchy must be monastic and celibate. Once ordained, a deacon or priest may not marry. The Latin Church now ordains married men as permanent deacons as a matter of course, and in certain circumstances married men as priests. It is a purely disciplinary matter, and one for the Church to decide. My own view is that the ordination of married ‘viri probati’ to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments, without having to take on all the responsibilities of a PP might be a good thing – preferable to commissioning vast numbers of EMHC.

        Women’s ordination is an entirely different matter; the Church has never had the authority to do this, and only needed to clarify this in 1994 because developments in the Anglican communion were causing some Catholics (and indeed Anglicans) to speculate that Rome might follow suit. She won’t, because she can’t. Get used to it.

        I don’t think you understand what religious freedom actually means. It doesn’t mean, and was never intended to mean, that those who hold positions of authority in the Church can say what they like and still claim to speak for the Church. It certainly does not mean that they can advocate the aims of the ARCC as set out in its ‘Charter’ – I would say that this group is almost a parody of the ‘lunatic left’ of the Catholic Church, but this would imply that it is Catholic, which quite clearly it is not.

        As for Galileo Galilei, the truth about the case has been around for years, but is totally ignored by anti-Catholic propagandists. I would have thought you were too intelligent to buy into the polemic of every disgruntled and embittered Romophobe, but even intelligent men like Richard Dawkins can let blind prejudice override their critical faculties.

      • John Candido says:

        Fair enough John Nolan. I can see that it is impossible to shift your point of view on these matters, and vice versa. Let us promote a little peace and harmony by agreeing to disagree.

      • Vincent says:

        I certainly don’t want to add fuel to the flames, John. But I have always wanted to know just how the Church knows for certain that she cannot ordain women. If the evidence is conclusive there need be no further argument. If it isn’t was some direct intervention by the Holy Spirit operative?

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        Vincent – As I understand it the Church’s position is not that it knows for certain than women cannot be ordained, but that it doesn’t know that they can.

        It certainly seems reasonable to suppose, or at least suspect, that in (according to the Gospels) appointing only male apostles Jesus had more grounds than merely following contemporary conventions, since he was notoriously ready to flout them in other respects. In such an important matter caution is fully justified.

  19. John Nolan says:

    Vincent, that’s an interesting question. But turning it round, the Church would need to know for certain that she CAN ordain women before she could do so. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and the later CDF clarification which appeared over Ratzinger’s signature seem pretty conclusive. It wasn’t a case of “we don’t necessarily rule it out as a possibility but the time is not right” – this was more or less what Trent said about a vernacular liturgy, which when it was authorized 400 years later was certainly the most revolutionary thing to happen to the Church in my lifetime.

    When the Anglican General Synod was debating the women’s ordination issue (and remember a majority of the House of Clergy was opposed to it) supporters claimed the move was ‘prophetic’ and the rest of Christendom would follow. John Paul II wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury that it “signifies a break with tradition that we are not competent to authorize”. The use of the papal ‘we’, nowadays usually confined to official documents, struck me then as being significant. He was surely implying that such a fundamental change would require the consent of the whole of Christendom, east and west, expressed in a true Ecumenical Council, something that hasn’t happened in over a millennium. A tall order, but if it’s what the Holy Spirit wants, it will happen …eventually.

    • Vincent says:

      Peter and John, I think your interpretation of the Church’s attitude to women’s ordination is common sense. But I fear that the Church has excluded it.

      The ruling document is Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (JPII 1994). “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
      Later, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) issued a Responsum Ad Dubium (literally a “Response to Doubt”) with papal approval (October 1995). The Responsum Ad Dubium stated that the intent of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is that the doctrine is to be understood as infallible. However many held that a statement of a Congregation was inadequate to certify infallibility.
      The position is repeated as an example in the CDF’s Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Profession of Faith(July 1998)
      “A similar process can be observed in the more recent teaching regarding the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men. The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively, since, founded on the written Word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.”

      I suspect that the refusal of the American nuns (see Sister Farley in particular) to accept this position has been treated severely because it directly challenges such a firm position. And, if the teaching is infallible, to cast doubt on it is effectively to self-excommunicate.

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        An interesting question – can a papal statement be validly declared infallible except by the pope who makes it?

      • John Nolan says:

        But, whether they accept it or not, it remains the position. This is one issue among many in which the LCWR is at odds with the Pope and bishops, which is why the CDF is involved. Excommunicating them would have no effect since they would deny that the Church has the authority to excommunicate them; in the words of one of them they ‘have moved beyond the Church’. If this amounts to self-excommunication, so be it.

  20. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Correction – Can a papal statement be validly declared infallible by anyone but the pope who makes it?

  21. John Nolan says:

    The Pope wanted to make it quite clear what ‘definitively held’ implied and authorized the Congregation (to whom the dubium was addressed) to clarify this on his behalf. Sorry, there’s no loophole here.

    • Vincent says:

      I have in fact no difficulty in accepting the doctrine. But is is worth noting that many theologians of repute, and Catholic theological bodies, hold that it is not so.
      This brings me back to my original question. No one claims that the doctrine is a matter of revelation, rather that it is something that has always been firmly held and taught. Leaving aside the overtone that the Church is saying that it’s true because I say it’s true, I am still looking for the arguments.
      As far as I know, it is not until modern times that the question whether or not women could be ordained was even asked. Not saying whether or not women can be ordained is not the same as positively teaching that they cannot. We all have to accept that we have a substantially developed view of the equality of the sexes and the ability and rights of women. And we have plenty of precedents: e.g., the condemnation of slavery as against the natural law, the wrongness of capital punishment, the licitness of avoiding conception through the use of the safe period. These are all changes in long established teaching and practice which have come about through modern understanding – and often triggered by secular change, with the Church beinging dragged forward by the heels.
      Nor can one argue that it is only moral questions which are involved. “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” has been taught throughout the history of the Church. Yet its meaning has been changed to such an extent through our better understanding that only the most ingenious and self-serving casuistry can claim that it has remained the same.

      • John Nolan says:

        A fair point, Vincent, although if you take a longer viewpoint it can be argued that the influence of the Church on secular values has been far more significant than the other way about. However, as the non-Catholic Augustine Birrell pointed out “it is the Mass that matters” ; the 16th century reformers knew this quite well, and made the Eucharistic sacrifice their main target. Few people now know that ‘Round Robin’ and ‘Jack-in-the-Box’ were derogatory tems used by the ‘reformers’ to refer to the Blessed Sacrament. So anything touching on the Eucharist is of paramount importance.

        The reformed protestant ‘churches’ were decidedly more patriarchal than the medieval Catholic Church. John Knox would never have tolerated St Hildegard of Bingen or St Catherine of Siena. But because these bodies were founded on the rejection of the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist they found it relatively easy in the 20th century to have women ministers.

      • John Candido says:

        ‘As far as I know, it is not until modern times that the question whether or not women could be ordained was even asked. We all have to accept that we have a substantially developed view of the equality of the sexes and the ability and rights of women. And we have plenty of precedents: e.g., the condemnation of slavery as against the natural law, the wrongness of capital punishment, the licitness of avoiding conception through the use of the safe period. These are all changes in long established teaching and practice which have come about through modern understanding – and often triggered by secular change, with the Church being dragged forward by the heels.’

        ‘Nor can one argue that it is only moral questions which are involved. “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” has been taught throughout the history of the Church. Yet its meaning has been changed to such an extent through our better understanding that only the most ingenious and self-serving casuistry can claim that it has remained the same.’

        Thank you Vincent for the above replies.

        Not only has the Roman Catholic Church changed as a result of changing contemporary social circumstances throughout history, the idea of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation) has also evolved through Catholic history. My apologies for the length of the following quote by Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kallistos_Ware.

        ‘Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. All the categorical strength and point of this aphorism lies in its tautology. Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church” (G. Florovsky, “Sobornost: the Catholicity of the Church”, in The Church of God, p. 53). Does it therefore follow that anyone who is not visibly within the Church is necessarily damned? Of course not; still less does it follow that everyone who is visibly within the Church is necessarily saved.’

        ‘As Augustine wisely remarked: “How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!” (Homilies on John, 45, 12) While there is no division between a ‘visible’ and an ‘invisible Church’, yet there may be members of the Church who are not visibly such, but whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must in some sense be a member of the Church; in what sense, we cannot always say.’

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extra_Ecclesiam_nulla_salus accessed on the 13th July 2012. The previous link is a rather exhaustive introduction to the topic.

  22. John Nolan says:

    “How many wolves within!” Austin, thou shouldst be living at this hour! She-wolves too, these days, to add to the Lupine List.

    • John Candido says:

      John Nolan and any other interested party.

      You might be interested in the following website which is dedicated to the teachings of the early Church Fathers. It provides for an email subscription for daily quotes delivered to your computer of device. I am giving it a trial subscription. I hope you and others will enjoy it.

      http://www.churchfathers.org/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s