Papal Infallibility

Father Longenecker Explains It All

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Father Longenecker seems to think that conservative Catholics who have problems with some of what Pope Francis says are the same as liberal Catholics who reject Church teaching on abortion and euthanasia:

 

 

Now with Pope Francis the cafeteria Catholics are the conservatives. They splutter and fume at Pope Francis. He’s the pope, but they disagree with him about this and reject his words about that just as avidly and with as much fervor as the liberals used to reject Pope Benedict. They pick him to pieces, refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt and paint him as a terrible pope—just like the liberals did with Benedict. The liberals thought Benedict was a bad and inadequate pope. Ditto the conservatives with Francis.

Go here to read the rest.  Now I think Father Longenecker is wrong on this, and I can name one person who probably would agree with me:  the Pope Emeritus.

Back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote a letter in July of 2004 in which he made some crucial distinctions:

2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorize or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. […] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. […] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74).

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

Go here to read the entire letter.  The idea that Catholics must be in lock step with every view of a Pope in order to be a good Catholic would have struck most Catholics who have ever lived as a bizarre notion.  For those confused on this point Cardinal Newman, as usual, is a font of light and wisdom: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Cardinal Newman on Papal Infallibility

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“It in no way depends upon the caprice of the Pope, or upon his good pleasure, to make such and such a doctrine, the object of a dogmatic definition. He is tied up and limited to the divine revelation, and to the truths which that revelation contains. He is tied up and limited by the Creeds, already in existence, and by the preceding definitions of the Church. He is tied up and limited by the divine law, and by the constitution of the Church. Lastly, he is tied up and limited by that doctrine, divinely revealed, which affirms that alongside religious society there is civil society, that alongside the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy there is the power of temporal Magistrates, invested in their own domain with a full sovereignty, and to whom we owe in conscience obedience and respect in all things morally permitted, and belonging to the domain of civil society.”

Pastoral of the Swiss Bishops on Papal Infallibility cited by John Henry Cardinal Newman

 

One of the shrewdest minds ever placed at the service of the Church was that of the recently beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.  I have benefited immensely over the years from reading his writings.  Here are his thoughts on the subject of papal infallibility, a subject misunderstood by the World at large and by too many Catholics:

NOW I am to speak of the Vatican definition, by which the doctrine of the Pope’s infallibility has become de fide, that is, a truth necessary to be believed, as being included in the original divine revelation, for those terms, revelation, depositum, dogma, and de fide, are correlatives; and I begin with a remark which suggests the drift of all I have to say about it. It is this:—that so difficult a virtue is faith, even with the special grace of God, in proportion as the reason is exercised, so difficult is it to assent inwardly to propositions, verified to us neither by reason nor experience, but depending for their reception on the word of the Church as God’s oracle, that she has ever shown the utmost care to contract, as far as possible, the range of truths and the sense of propositions, of which she demands this absolute reception. “The Church,” says Pallavicini, “as far as may be, has ever abstained from imposing upon the minds of men that commandment, the most arduous of the Christian Law—viz., to believe obscure matters without doubting.” To co-operate in this charitable duty has been one special work of her theologians, and rules are laid down by herself, by tradition, and by custom, to assist them in the task. She only speaks when it is necessary to speak; but hardly has she spoken out magisterially some great general principle, when she sets her theologians to work to explain her meaning in the concrete, by strict interpretation of its wording, by the illustration of its circumstances, and by the recognition of exceptions, in order to make it as tolerable as possible, and the least of a temptation, to self-willed, independent, or wrongly educated minds. A few years ago it was the fashion among us to call writers, who conformed to this rule of the Church, by the name of “Minimizers;” that day of tyrannous ipse-dixits, I trust, is over: Bishop Fessler, a man of high authority, for he was Secretary General of the Vatican Council, and of higher authority still in his work, for it has the approbation of the Sovereign Pontiff, clearly proves to us that a moderation of doctrine, dictated by charity, is not inconsistent with soundness in the faith. Such a sanction, I suppose, will be considered sufficient for the character of the remarks which I am about to make upon definitions in general, and upon the Vatican in particular.

The Vatican definition, which comes to us in the shape of the Pope’s Encyclical Bull called the Pastor Æternus, declares that “the Pope has that same infallibility which the Church has”: to determine therefore what is meant by the infallibility of the Pope we must turn first to consider the infallibility of the Church. And again, to determine the character of the Church’s infallibility, we must consider what is the characteristic of Christianity, considered as a revelation of God’s will.

Our Divine Master might have communicated to us heavenly truths without telling us that they came from Him, as it is commonly thought He has done in the case of heathen nations; but He willed the Gospel to be a revelation acknowledged and authenticated, to be public, fixed, and permanent; and accordingly, as Catholics hold, He framed a Society of men to be its home, its instrument, and its guarantee. The rulers of that Association are the legal trustees, so to say, of the sacred truths which He spoke to the Apostles by word of mouth. As He was leaving them, He gave them their great commission, and bade them “teach” their converts all over the earth, “to observe all things whatever He had commanded them;” and then He added, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

You Never Know When Something Will Come in Handy

 

 

John-Henry-Newman

 

 

 

In the coming turbulent days of the pontificate of Pope Francis, and rest assured that such turbulent days are rapidly approaching if not quite here, I rather suspect I will be accused by some of adopting an attitude towards him contrary to the way I analyzed the actions of his predecessor.  Such is not the case.  From a comment that I made on a thread relating to papal infallibility in 2010:

At Vatican I Eric, there was a conflict between those who wanted virtually every thing written or said by a Pope to be considered infallible and those who wanted a restrictive definition.  By and large those who wanted a restrictive definition prevailed.  The problem with a broad view of infallibility is that popes often contradict each other.  Consider Pio Nono’s view of religious liberty as compared to that of Pope John XXIII.

This is a complex area filled with minefields for faithful Catholics, and my thoughts in this area have been aided greatly by the writings of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, especially the essay linked below:

http://www.catholicapologetics.info/modernproblems/vatican2/newman.html

“It in no way depends upon the caprice of the Pope, or upon his good pleasure, to make such and such a doctrine, the object of a dogmatic definition. He is tied up and limited to the divine revelation, and to the truths which that revelation contains. He is tied up and limited by the Creeds, already in existence, and by the preceding definitions of the Church. He is tied up and limited by the divine law, and by the constitution of the Church. Lastly, he is tied up and limited by that doctrine, divinely revealed, which affirms that alongside religious society there is civil society, that alongside the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy there is the power of temporal Magistrates, invested in their own domain with a full sovereignty, and to whom we owe in conscience obedience and respect in all things morally permitted, and belonging to the domain of civil society.” →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Cutting the Papa-Bull

I’m off from work, so you get a whole two posts from me today. Aren’t you lucky?

Pat Archbold has written an excellent post at the National Catholic Register that counters some of the arguments we’ve heard in light of Pope Benedict’s resignation, abdication, retirement, ummm not being Pope anymore. Our own Jake Tawney touched upon some of these issues last week, but it’s worth re-emphasizing.

The Holy Spirit picks the Pope, so don’t worry. This is probably the most common bit of balderdash. I refer to this is ‘Holy Spirit as conclave Puppeteer fallacy.’

Let’s get this straight, the Holy-Spirit does not pick the Pope, 117 fallible men do. For certain, many or even most of these men will call on the Holy Spirit in fervent prayer to guide their judgement, but it is still their judgement, their fallible judgment.

To suggest that the Holy Spirit picks the Pope is an insult to the Holy Spirit born of ignorance. To put the blame for some of the horrible Popes that we have had on the Holy Spirit is to blame God for our own contrary wills. No, the Holy Spirit does not pick the Pope.

The Holy Spirit protects the Church from anything bad, so don’t worry. If you worry, you don’t trust the Holy Spirit. I call this the ‘Holy Spirit as fairy-godmother fallacy.’ If you have the temerity to express a bit of apprehension over the abdication of the Pope or for the future, the pious will pummel you as an unbeliever. While the Holy Spirit protects the Church from certain things (more on this later), the Holy Spirit does not protect the Church from calamity. To make such an argument is to be woefully ignorant of history. Ignorant of not only the whole 2,000 years of history, but ignorant of just the last 50 years of history.  Bad things happen, even to the Church.

Part B of this fallacy are those who trot out “The gates of Hell shall not prevail!!!” as their defense of this nonsense. Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, but this is no guarantee that there will be not be tremendous loss of life and souls along the way. The Nazis did not prevail, but they sure did a lot of evil before they lost. This line of thinking is merely sticking your head in pious sand.

How dare you critique the Pope! He is guided by the Holy Spirit!! If you have the temerity to question the Pope’s (past, present, or even future) prudential judgment, then you are a cafeteria catholic and a moral relativist of the worst sort. I call this the ‘Pope as God or Jack Chick fallacy.’ I have seen many people comment that we have no right as Catholics to question the Pope’s prudential judgement on anything or even offer advice to a future Pope. The Holy Spirit guides the Pope, dont’cha know, so to question or advise the Pope is to question or advise the Holy Spirit. Heretic!!

In one bit of commentary I warned of the dangers of a ‘trend’ of papal abdications and advised a future pontiff to avoid it. I didn’t even critique the current Pontiff’s decision, just advised a future one. For this, I was branded a moral relativist and a heretic.

Of course, proper respect should be given to any Pope, even in prudential areas, but the Pope is not infallible in this. While I am certain that this Pope prayed and discerned over his decision to abdicate, this is no guarantee that this is the right thing to do or that it is the will of God. There are real consequences to this decision and there are real dangers too. That is not to say that the Pope is doing the wrong thing, but only that he is doing what he thinks is best. It may be, it may not be.

Pat’s previous post, referenced in his third point, was savaged some commenters because he had the brazen temerity to tell the Pope what to do, though that wasn’t exactly the message of his column.

One mistake that some Catholics make is treating every papal utterance and action as divinely inspired and thus immune from even the slightest bit of criticism or doubt. This tendency only fuels the suspicions of non-Catholics and heterodox Catholics that we treat the Pope as something like a deity. Neither Pat nor I are suggesting that we should make like Hans Kung and vigorously dissent in the most arrogant manner possible, however; we need to recognize that Popes are human beings, and though guided by the Holy Spirit, not free from error in everything they do. One reason it’s so important to remember that we have a Pope who is not personally infallible in all things is because he desperately needs our prayers, and we might be less inclined to offer up those prayers if we think he’s got this all covered. So keep those prayers coming for the Pope and for the Cardinals who will be selecting the next Pope.

MONDAY EXTRA EDITION

Are Orthodox “Masses” Valid? – Father John Zuhlsdorf, WDTPRS?

If Fr. Pfleger is Church’s Spiritual Magnet. . . Reason to Suspend Him – L. Graas

Universities Respond to Cardinal Newman Society Report – Tim Drake, NCReg

Osama bin Ladin, Death Penalty, & Targeted Killings – Eduardo Penalver, MOJ

Lepanto, 1571: The Battle that Saved Europe – H. W. Crocker III, InsideCthlc

Question About Infallibility – Mark Shea, The Daily Register

How to Respond When a Loved One Leaves the Church – Eric Sammons, OSV

SSPX Threatens Legal Action Against Friendly Catholic Forum – Tancred, TEF

The Monster – Dale Ahlquist, The Distributist Review

Don’t Block Your Blessings – Monsignor Charles Pope, AOW

Pope Appoints New Bishop to Florida Diocese – Catholic News Agency

Divine Mercy Sunday – Doctor Anthony Lilles, Beginning to Pray

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If you liked this roundup of the best posts from around the Catholic blogosphere, visit ThePulp.it for daily updates twice a day.

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The Infallibility of the Pope and the Magisterium

In discourse in the Catholic blogosphere in the last two years, it has become increasingly evident that Catholics grossly misunderstand the infallibility of our holy ecumenical Pontiff, presently, Benedict XVI, pope of Rome, and the universal Magisterium. This point of clarification is, to be honest, in response to a dispute on another column that began with the claim that “an encyclical is not dogma.”

Following the First Vatican Council, a number of Catholic theologians oversimplified the dogma of papal infallibility due to Orthodox and Protestant criticisms. The unfortunate result is that it has given rise to a flawed understanding of the dogma promulgated by the Council. The most prevalent, profoundly erroneous practice has been to view the dogma of papal infallibility as a formula, which severely misunderstands the teaching of Vatican I.

This is most obvious in a number of myths surrounding the dogma that are unfortunately still taught to some Catholics. For example, to exercise papal infallibility, the Holy Father does not have to be actually seated on the Papal Throne, nor does the ecumenical Pontiff have to explicitly cite the fact that he is invoking infallibility, and neither does the Bishop of Rome have to be issuing a dogma or doctrinal definition for his words to be infallible and therefore binding on all the faithful.

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Top 15 Misconceptions About Catholics

Karen L. Anderson of Online Christian Colleges wrote a timely piece on the many myths, misconceptions, and outlandish lies told about Catholics:

With nearly one quarter of the U.S. population Catholic, they make up a huge part of society and the largest Christian denomination. Yet with so many, how is it they are so misunderstood and characterized by films, television shows, etc.?

Failing to do the proper research explains a great deal of it. With a simple search on the internet, we were able to find many interesting answers to the top 15 misconceptions about Catholics. They are both from official sources, reporters, academics, and more.

1. Priests Are More Likely to be Pedophiles : The most dangerous of all myths concerning Catholics, this can lead to many negative and unfair consequences. Recently in a book entitled Pedophiles and Priests, an extensive study – and the only one of it kind – took a look at the pedophile statistics of over 2,200 priests. It found that only 0.3% of all Catholic clergy are involved in any pedophilia matter, guilty or not. This number is actually very low and according to Counter Pedophilia Investigative Unit, who reports that children are more likely to be victims of pedophile activity at school with nearly 14% of students estimated to be molested by a member of the school staff.

2. Everything in “The Da Vinci Code” is True : Even author Dan Brown himself doesn’t agree to this. In this free film from Hulu, Mr. Brown admits to writing his novel as a step in his own spiritual journey. As he confesses to being swayed by his extensive research, the experts behind the research weigh in with facts. Simon Cox is the author of “Cracking the Da Vinci Code” and tells more about his work in this documentary. If you don’t have 90 minutes to view it, you can get the real story behind Opus Dei, the villain organization in the novel, from ABC news.

3. Women Are Oppressed in the Catholic Church : Although women are still not eligible to become priests as explained by Pope John Paul II, they were still acknowledged as valued members of the church as far back as 1947. In a Papal Directive from then Pope Pius XII, he expressed his admiration of women “to take part in the battle: you have not sought to do so, but courageously you accept your new duties; not as resigned victims nor merely in a defensive spirit.” Also, in 2004 then Pope John Paul II historically appointed two women theologians to the International Theological Commission and named another as the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

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