Sunday, 21 July 2013

Answer wars. Sigh...

When I read, over at Dallas Area Catholic, about a new traditionalist oriented version of Catholic Answers I was, briefly, excited.

When I read Mark Shea's latest rabid attack on traditionalists focusing on it, I was even more inclined to think it must have something going for it.

Alas, 'Faithful Answers' looks, so far at least, seems to represent the extreme fundamentalist fringe of traditionalists who do the cause more harm than good in my view.

The heresy of Americanism

Catholic Answers is a great concept - but even before their latest traddie sledge act, I often found, when I bothered to read it, myself pretty uncomfortable or outright disagreeing with many of the answers offered over there (and for the latest on that particular battle, have a read of Modestinus' sensible take on it.

That isn't surprising - the traditionalist perspective is often rather different to the brand of American conservatism that is mainly on offer over there.

A lot of it is fine.  But from time to time I'm forcefully reminded by it and other similar places that there is an American Church establishment of professional Catholics who often seem to confuse conservative politics with tradition (and accordingly jettisons most of the Church's actual Social Teaching); seem to think Church history and practice began with Vatican II (or possibly the start of the Pontificate of JPII depending on the particular sub-stratum); are strongly ultramontanist; and believe they have a monopoly when it comes to evangelization.

Mark Shea's latest hate piece reflects that mentality pretty well, and it is not, to my mind, attractive.

Unfortunately, ''Faithful Answers" seems to represent that other, equally repellent to my mind, strand of extremist American Catholicism, viz protestant fundamentalism masquerading as Catholicism.

No, Catholics don't have to believe in creationism!

When I went to take a look at Faithful Answers, I'm afraid I was appalled at the sampling of material I found on it.

First, it seems to be closely linked to creationism, featuring a video by a protestant, billed as doing do "what every Catholic in America should be doing: exposing the Evolution myth".

Now it is certainly open to Catholics to take a literal view of Genesis if they so choose.  But here is the thing.  Catholics - even (perhaps especially) traditionalists - do not have to believe in creationism.   And honestly, in my view it really is a position more compatible with Protestant fundamentalism than genuine Catholicism.

Real Catholicism does not read Scriptures purely literally.  Indeed, the early Fathers (such as St Augustine, who pointed out that the days of creation aren't likely to be literally twenty four hours since the first one occurred before the earth was created...) and Theologians offered much richer readings of Genesis.

Moreover, real Catholicism surely respects the proper role of reason and science, provided that science in turn respects its proper limits.

The fact is that the Magisterium has never condemned the theory of evolution, quite the contrary.  Darwin's famous book was never even placed on the Index of Prohibited Books.

Sure we can't accept the undiluted 'selfish gene' view of the world.

But we can accept a view of evolution that takes into account God's providential guidance of the universe, provided we accept the requirements set out by Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis (1950), essentially around the direct individual creation of the soul, and that all men are descended from Adam.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI made several statements accepting that evolution is no longer mere hypothesis, and is completely consistent with the faith.  In particular, Pope John Paul II said:

"In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points.... Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory." (1996 Address to Pontifical Academy of Sciences)

Sure these later statements are only Ordinary Magisterium.  The Ordinary Magisterium should not lightly be rejected though.  And Pius XII's opening to the debate is more than that, and I don't think the cause of traditionalism is aided by insisting that Catholics must be creationists.

Head covering and canon law

The answers currently on offer there also feature a piece on that touchstone question of whether women are required to/should cover their heads in Church.

Now I'm generally in favour of this practice - traditional practice aside, I've read good arguments for it in a number of places. And I'm certainly not a rampaging feminist.  But the arguments offered over there (essentially a rant on the evils of women in the workforce and being insufficiently subservient to their husbands) almost made me want to leave my hat off in Church this week in protest (however the weather here in freezing Canberra this Sunday dictated pragmatism!).  Perhaps testing out these kind of posts on some actual women (or even getting them to write them, or would that be an affront to male headship?!) and seeing whether or not they are persuaded would be a good idea!

Moreover, the piece claims too much and is disingenuous about it.

In particular, it devotes several paragraphs to arguing that the 1917 Code of Canon Law on this subject is still in force.

The author, who is not a canonist (but is in fact Robert Sungenis who seems to hold shall we say 'interesting' views on a number of subjects including that the earth is the centre of the universe) says that he has written to the Vatican on this matter in 2009. There is no note of what response he received though.

Still, I think we can guess, since Cardinal Burke, who is a canonist, and is in fact Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, has elsewhere indicated that in fact the 1917 Code is not still in force in this matter, and that accordingly wearing head covering in Church is not required, but merely an 'expectation' in the context of the Extraordinary Form. Sure this is merely an advisory opinion, but why over egg the custard?

Not a good start!

These are not, in my view, promising signs.

Nor, I have to say is the response offered to Mark Shea's admittedly outrageous attack piece.

It is true of course that Mr Shea outright 'verballed' Faithful Answers, putting words in their mouths that they didn't actually say.

But when you do things in the public domain, you cannot argue, as Faithful Answers founder Chad Arneson does, that the requirement to rebuke someone privately first (Matthew 18) applies.

Our Lord didn't just rebuke the Pharisees in private, he debated their views publicly and he called them names!  His rebuke of Simon the Pharisee for his lack of the normal gestures of hospitality (in contrast to St Mary Magdalen's attentions) has come down to us in the Gospels.  And perhaps the most classically famous of all examples of the (genuine) expression of the Sensus Fidelium is of a layman, Eusebius, yelling out in the middle of a sermon that Mary is the Mother of God in contradiction to a sermon of the then Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius.

In short, say or do something in public, as opposed to in private, and you should expect a response in the same domain.

Moreover, while Shea typically goes too far, he surely isn't entirely wrong to see Faithful Answers as a counter to Catholic Answers (yes, another name might have been preferable in my view)!

Where Shea is way off the mark, in my view, is in seeing the initiative as divisive and necessarily counterproductive.  We are a broad Church: there is room for different perspectives on many issues.  And if part of the objective is to influence the mainstream and provide a corrective, what is wrong with that?  Let them compete on their merits ( or lack thereof).

There is a desperate need for an authoritative traditionalist apologetics oriented forum of some kind.

Perhaps Faithful Answers can yet evolve into that.  But given their antagonism to evolution in any form, I'm not holding my breath!


R J said...

It's this sort of thing which makes me suspect (and the following will probably shock you, Kate Edwards!) that in most cases, letting the lay faithful - and more especially the American lay faithful - partake of theology makes about as much moral sense as letting rock stars partake of heroin. Leave the big-time theology to the likes of Fulton Sheen, say I.

Unless I have totally misremembered, Ryan Grant (I suspect from his familiar-looking portrait that he has blogged under other names) is the same person with whom I tangled a few years ago online, regarding a bizarre post of his which - I am not making this up - accused non-smoking and non-heavy-drinking trad Catholics of heresy. Literal heresy.

Well, as it happens I am a non-smoker and an extremely sparing drinker (a family history of alcoholism makes me leery about the grog save at Christmas) so I rather resented being equated with Arius, Pelagius, and co. Yet no amount of polite logic could make the blogger see reason on the issue. My non-smoking has occasionally caused me to suffer accusations of being a communist; but this was the sole time that my distaste for breathing others' tobacco smoke and for having public lavatories' floors stained with booze-induced vomit had caused my Catholic orthodoxy to be disputed.

Anyhow the blog has now been closed down; the incident was mind-bendingly trivial to start with; and calumnies from a blogger educated beyond his intelligence are a very small hardship indeed compared with what's befalling Catholics in, say, Syria. But the whole business did teach me, afresh, how many barking lunatics - invariably male lunatics for some reason - are out there specialising in matters irrelevant to the Catholic faith. (Female lunatics are more likely to jump on Mejdugorje bandwagons etc.)

Kate Edwards said...

Hmmm yes whether or not the gentleman is the one you tangled with RJ, I did wonder about the wisdom of a picture of someone with a (weird looking) pipe! Was he smoking pot I wondered!

I would have thought that a very good case could be made that smoking is a fairly grave sin (mitigated to some extent by the problem of addiction) since it pretty much invariably causes at least some degree of ill-health in terms of reduced lung capacity etc, and essentially amounts to playing russian roulette, with a good chance of taking others with you via secondhand smoke.

That said, I'm not inclined to agree that theology should be restricted to the clergy. Many non-clerical saints - men and women alike - have made wonderful contributions to theology down the ages and I see no reason why that shouldn't continue in our time. There are certainly a number of theologically oriented and apologetics sites that have helped a lot at times.

Consider also the serious shortage of priests, and the sorry state of the theological education of many of those we do have.

The real problem, it seems to me, is the reluctance of Rome and hence diocesan bishops, to take a tough line on those claiming to be theologians but in fact promoting either outright heresy, or extremely questionable directions (like Medugoogo). And the greater number of such people are liberals not traddies (mind you the traddies are more annoying because they are harder to ignore if you are one!)!

R J said...

Oh, I freely concede the excellence of some lay theologians. How could I not concede it, when I cut my catechetical teeth on F.J. Sheed and Arnold Lunn? I meant that other things being equal, I would rather be taught theology by a member of the clergy with serious scholastic training (Fulton Sheen, I understand, spoke eight languages) than by some self-appointed lay expert.

If our friend the tobaccomane was consuming pot, I would be very surprised, given the frequent American lunacy on the topic of illicit drugs. (Millions of Americans really do seem to believe that whereas a career devoted to exterminating Iraqi civilians - or raping several hundred little boys on the home front - is entirely compatible with eventually possessing the Beatific Vision, acquiring one ounce of marijuana will send you headlong to hell's seventh circle.)

Reading Bradley Birzer's volume on Christopher Dawson, I was surprised how severe the diocesan censorship of even Dawson's books (and therefore, presumably, of other Catholic intellectuals' books) could be. Not that Dawson ever got into trouble; but acquiring that imprimatur could mean a long wait while the diocese went through the text chapter by chapter. This at least ensured that while a pre-1965 treatise on Catholic themes by a Catholic lay person might well be boring, it would never be downright psychotic.

Kate Edwards said...

I wasn't entirely serious about the marijuana RJ, but I do think piccies with pipe set a bad example. I actually led the Canadian team that developed the first round of gory picture warnings for cig packs that have subsequently spread around the world including Oz - the one piece of work I did as a public servant that I can say actually saved many lives - so know the evidence base on the ills of tobacco extremely well indeed!

R J said...

That's very interesting about the Canadian team, I most certainly did not know that any nation save Australia had such pix on packets of ciggies.

Kate Edwards said...

Actually its up to over 28 now - Canada's were introduced in 2000, Australia was 7th, in 2006.

Where Australia is leading the way is on plain packaging - Canada tried to do that back in the 1990s, but lost a constitutional challenge, though I gather another attempt is being considered.

Tabernacle of David said...

Actually, Catholics do have to believe in Creationism:

Tabernacle of David said...

It's so funny. You guys talk as though there are no priestly contributors to Faithful Answers. Or did you miss that Fr. Ripperger wrote a book against evolution? Or that on the Kolbe Center website they sell a book from Cardinal Ruffini blasting evolution? Or how about that book on the Faithful Answers website "Creation vs Evolution" by Eric Bermingham with the Imprimatur? Eh?

Admit it. You don't seem to care about whether it comes from a priest. It is just that you don't want to believe what the fathers believed. So you label it (and them) "protestant." Sick.

Kate Edwards said...

First, Tabernacle, priests do not possess a charism of infallibility!

Personally I'm happy with this charism being confined to popes, which is why Pope Pius XII's encyclical which does open the way for us to accept evolution subject to certain conditions, is what I am advocating following.

I have a lot of time for Fr Ripperger's work on other subjects, but that doesn't mean he or any priest or bishop is automatically right on this one.

Secondly, an imprimatur does not mean that the author's opinions are correct, simply that they are open to catholics to believe.

Thirdly, in my view the response offered by Faithful Answers on this subject is a confused morass of half truth, distortions and worse.

I for one am certainly not suggesting that Genesis is a myth, and one doesn't have to believe that to reconcile it with evolution.

Cardinal Pole said...

One of the points raised in the Faithful Answers answer whose U.R.L. Tabernacle of David provided is this:

"All the Fathers who wrote on the subject believed that the Creation days were no longer than 24-hour-days. (Consensus of the Fathers of the Church)"

I have also seen that, or something like it, asserted elsewhere; I would be interested to see whether a full and referenced list of the relevant citations is available anywhere. (Not that it would surprise me if it were true, and I suspect that indeed it is true; St. Augustine is sometimes cited in rebuttals of Creationism, but my understanding is that he was only proposing a solution to the question of how to fit the creation of the angels into the timeline, rather than teaching in virtue of his authority as Bishop and Father.)

Cardinal Pole said...

And while I'm here, a correction might be in order: R J, I think you're mistaken regarding Mr. Grant's position on drinking and smoking; in his Athanasius contra Mundum blog post "The Goodness of Smoking" a couple of years ago, he simply argued that smoking is not intrinsically evil, and that it can be a legitimate part of the virtue of right leisure.

Mr. Grant published some valuable posts at his blog over the years, especially regarding Feeneyism and Sedevacantism, and I'm sure he will make a fine contribution to Faithful Answers.

Kate Edwards said...

Yes I too would like to see the list of citations.

But first, I don't think St Augustine can be dismissed as quickly as that - first, how do you know when a Father is teaching by virtue of his authority as a Father? And secondly, his comments on this are repeated in a number of different places. In fact the author of the piece has elsewhere attempted to dismiss St Augustine's different opinion on the grounds that his Hebrew was nonexistent and Greek poor, but that sounds like an interesting new interpretative principle for the 'unanimous consent of the Fathers' (ie the views of those Fathers as I interpret them and that I happen to agree with?) to me!

And I've seen a number of other Fathers convincingly cited in favour of more allegorical interpretations. Indeed, even quite a few of the 'literalists' on the part of the Fathers favoured the view that a day meant not 24 hours but a thousand years on the basis of Psalm 90, 'the day of the Lord is a thousand years'.

There is a useful summation of at least some of these in a piece with an imprimatur on the rivals answers site:

Anonymous said...

Gerard Keane cited the Church fathers and showed they were unanimous. I would point you to him.

The Church follows the standard of St. Vincent of Lerins on unanimous consent:

"In the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors" (Commonitory 2).

So it is "all, or at the least of almost all."

Kate Edwards said...

Anon - Please give yourself a moniker. In the interests of debate I've let this one through, but please, give yourself some name so we can separate out who is participating in this thread.

To go to the substance of your comment, simply asserting that the Fathers were unanimous does not make it so!

I'd strongly recommend a read through the excellent pre V2 reference the Fundamentals of Dogma by Dr Ludwig Ott on this subject.

In particular he does not accord the literal interpretation of six days any theological weight but instead provides a helpful discussion on the reconciliation of apparent contradictions between Scripture and science citing St Thomas and Vatican I.

He also cites some important decisions of the Bible Commission that are relevant here. In particular: "The word "day" need not be taken in the literal sense of a natural day of 24 hours, but can also be understood in the improper sense of a longer space of time" (D2128; D 3002).

Ott goes on to identify different groups of theories that have evolved to explain the Hexaemeron. He suggests that the 'verbal theory' (ie literalist) was followed by most - but not all - of the Fathers, but also points to the second group of theories following "The allegorism of St Augustine".

Formerly Anonymous said...

St. Justin Martyr
24 hrs
1.First Apology in Defense of the Christians
2. Hortatory Address to the Greeks, XXXIII
2. St. Irenaeus of Lyons
24 hrs
Against the Heresies 5,28,3
3. St. Clement of Alexandria
24 hrs
Stromata, Book VI,
Chp 16
On and on goes Keane through 33 Fathers and all the doctors.

It is poor argumentation to say that because yom "can" mean an extended period of time (which both sides accept) that in Genesis it "does" against the Fathers and Doctors and against any serious Hebrew scholar.

Formerly Anonymous said...

Mr Arneson's response in the Dallas blog comment box was spot on:

Kate Edwards said...

'Formerly anonymous' - I'm not going to get into a debate on the interpretations of citations and provision of counter citations. It is sufficient for me that Pope Pius XII could leave the question open to differing opinions. Presumably he was influenced by the fact that others (including the PBC) have found no such unanimity of the Fathers on this point.

The bottom line is that there are no de fide statements (or anything close) requiring us to believe in a 24 day for the seven days of creation.

You have one theological opinion on this matter; the Ordinary Magisterium from Vatican I onwards has taken a different view. There are enough genuine points of contention to debate without inventing new lines in the sand for traditionalists.

Formerly Anonymous said...

Sed contra: Pius XII only allowed discussion by two groups with a grave warning. He did not leave it open to differing opinions. Paul VI allowed debate about contraception. Does this mean that contraception was open to differing opinions while science and theology were discussing it? Of course not. So your logic is defective.

Faithful Answers has shown today that the fathers were in fact unanimous:

Kate Edwards said...

Sorry but a bare list of citations proves nothing. I took a quick look at a couple of them, and from the context I don't actually think they say what the author is claiming for them.

That is unsurprising given that others who have looked at this area more closely than I have also looked at what the Fathers said and concluded it is not unanimous. Yes many read it very literally - but not unanimous, thus leaving it open for the Church to arrive at a different view.

Indeed, if the Fathers really were unanimous on this, how was the PBC (back in its magisterial days in 1948) able to say that day need not be taken in the literal sense of 24 hours?

Nor is Pius XII's Humani Generis in the least bit analogous to the extent to which debate is allowed on contraception.

In HG he set out certain propositions we must accept (which did not include Genesis days being literally 24 hours) and invited theological and scientific consideration within the limits suggested by Providentissimus, that is that science and theology respect their own proper limits, without making rash claims about the others area of expertise. Wise advice that 'Faithful Answers' would do well to heed.

Since Pius XII, of course, the state of the science has moved on and moved from probable to certain, as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have both acknowledged.

But I fear we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one...