I think it was Ronald Knox who described heresy as elevating one aspect of dogma at the expense of another. Thus our belief in free will and our belief in the power of grace are so difficult to reconcile that we may only know the answer in Heaven. Meanwhile the heresy of Pelagianism (and semi-Pelagianism), by emphasising the power of will, tempts us into believing that we are able to turn towards God, at least initially, before we receive grace.
Thinking about this led me to consider, not where we necessarily fall into heresy, but where we may get the emphasis wrong and, in so doing, impoverish our understanding.
My first candidate is the Mass. Before Vatican II, a great deal of emphasis was put on the sacrificial nature of the Mass. It made sense for us as congregation, to be behind the priest who, in the person of Christ, made the offering to God. We knew that it related to the Last Supper, but this only really affected Holy Communion.
Nowadays, without of course denying the sacrificial element, the emphasis appears to be on its nature as a meal. And the churches are re-ordered so that the priest faces us across the ‘table’, and of course we converse in a common, rather than a ritual, language.
Putting full weight behind both the sacrificial and the social element of the Mass may be relatively easy for us old fogeys who were around for many years before the Council. But how about the young? Is it possible that the Mass as sacrifice is neglected?
How about the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, finally abolished in 1966? It was certainly a strange list of forbidden items. I mention random examples such as Simone de Beauvoir, John Milton, David Hume, Blaise Pascal. But not Darwin (thankfully) nor Mein Kampf (less thankfully).
The apologists made a straightforward case for at least the principle behind the Index. They argued that, just as we protect the young and the general public from the dangers of, say, contaminated food, so the Church was right to protect its members from contaminated books. And, after all, if anyone had a serious reason to read, permission was easily obtained.
While I am disinclined to argue for censorship I cannot help wondering whether giving free rein to the young is really such a good idea. And when I hear of the pubescents who now appear to be learning the uses of sexuality through pornography on the Internet, and are given to ‘sexting’ naked (and sometimes obscene) photos of themselves to their friends, I do pause for thought.
I now have a definite impression that our Catholic-educated young are more familiar with the arguments against religion than the arguments in its favour. Removing ecclesiastical censorship need not mean handing the field over to the foe. Where should we put the emphasis here? On protecting the young from contamination, allowing the young to read as they please, or teaching them much more robust apologetics? But even the most robust apologetics will be no protection for the young mind that is being presented with pornography. Whether intended or not, the child is abused and the psyche damaged.
My third question about where we should put the emphasis is one which has often figured on this Blog. It concerns the matter of conscience. There seems to be a range of views here. There are those who appear to argue that although we should nominally consult the Church, we are pretty well free to make up our own minds. And there are those who hold that to make a moral choice contrary to the Church’s teaching must be a very last resort, which can only be justified if the chooser has done all that can be done to understand and accept that teaching.
Both ends of the range tend to quote Cardinal Newman. But he clearly holds the more rigorous position. He describes the modern (i.e.Victorian) distortion of the right of conscience as, the right of self-will. In considering solemn, but not infallible, moral teaching, he says: ‘Unless a man is able to say to himself, as in the Presence of God, that he must not, and dare not, act upon the Papal injunction, he is bound to obey it, and would commit a great sin in disobeying it. Prima facie it is his bounden duty, even from a sentiment of loyalty, to believe the Pope right and to act accordingly.’ But don’t stop with that well known sentence, read the whole of the section on conscience. It’s at http://www.newmanreader.org/works/anglicans/volume2/gladstone/section5.html If you have not read it all before, ten minutes study will give you the best instruction on conscience you will ever have.
So come and tell us what views you have on these questions, and do please raise other issues where you think some of us may be getting our emphasis wrong.