Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sadly, not too surprising

Bill Cork -- recent convert from Catholicism to the Seventh-Day Adventism of his youth -- jettisoned his belief in the immorality of contraception when he swam the Tiber (the other way).

Unfortunately, it's relatively common to see those who once presumably recognized the destructive nature of contraception to abandon that belief when they abandon Rome... the cultural current in favor of contraception is an especially strong one, which relatively few Christians (including Catholics) seem able to swim against. (NB: I'm not psychoanalyzing Bill here... just making a more general observation.) And there's another issue at play here, which might get closer to addressing Bill's recent spiritual wanderings...

Generally speaking, Christians accept the truths of their faith not (necessarily) because they are convinced of the arguments offered in favor of said truths, but precisely because of their faith, their faith in God: they accept as true the things which He has revealed, even if they don't (yet) understand the "why's" with regard to each of those truths. This is in no way to disparage the process of seeking to answer those "Why?'s"... that's exactly what theology does, and it would be strange for a theologian to disparage his own discipline. However, as Christians we don't withhold assent to our doctrines until we have been presented with a proof with demonstrates their rationality... instead, we recognize He who is the origin of those doctrines, and give our assent accordingly. In those instances wherein we do not fully understand a particular doctrine, we can still give our assent because of our confident faith in God, and at the same time we can seek to understand the intelligibility of said doctrine.

For Catholics in particular, this is (or should be) a fairly easy process: because we understand the Magisterium (the pope and the bishops in union with him) to be infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit in the teaching of Christian doctrine, we have confidence that what the Magisterium proposes for our belief is in fact true, even if we do not see the rationality of a particular doctrine at any particular moment. The Magisterium acts, then, as God's concrete instrument by which those who follow His Son can know what He proposes for our belief, and therefore what we can give confident assent to in faith, even prior to an understanding its intelligibility.

What this means is that we do not need to earn PhDs in theology in order to follow Jesus Christ! For if there is not a concrete means by which we know the doctrines which He teaches and therefore what we can give assent to, we are forced to examine each allegedly Christian doctrine to determine if it in fact is authentic Christian doctrine, and only then can we give our assent to it. Such a proposal strikes me as non-sensical: while we are all called to grow in faith and in our understanding of it, the divine pedagogy as we find it in Sacred Scripture certainly does not indicate that assent is to be withheld from each and every supposedly Christian doctrine until every such doctrine is judged as true by the (Almighty!) individual and his quasi-divine intellect. In addition, it's ahistorical: although the Church did not substantially and dogmatically articulate its Trinitarian & Christological doctrines until forced to by the Arian heresy, Christians before Arius still assented to the truths which were precisely formulated at Nicea and the other early Councils. And we're seeing the same thing today with regard to the reservation of ordination to men alone: the theological arguments which explain this teaching are only know being thoroughly developed (because the teaching has been challenged), but that doesn't mean that Catholics who lived centuries ago did not believe this teaching... they in fact did, despite the fact that they were not presented with elaborate theological argumentation in its defense.

I praise and thank God for giving us the Magisterium; even though I do have a doctorate in theology, I have just enough self-awareness to recognize that if I had to arrive at the intelligibility of a doctrine prior to giving my assent to it, the content of my faith would be extremely sparse. Thankfully, I don't have to do so to revel in the truths which God has revealed for my salvation.

(Feel free to offer your critical comments... this line of thought is very much a work in progress.)

17 comments:

Steve said...

It surprised me. The immorality of contraception is a question of simple right and wrong, it isn't really a question of "dogma" or denominational distinctives.

Dan said...

So once you believe in an infallible Magisterium, you can let wiser heads fly the plane, ?

Perhaps, but there first would seem to be a pretty long, involved chain of theological reasoning and analysis to get from believing nothing, or even from believing in 'Mere' Christianity to believing in 'your' Magisterium.

Along the way, at any one of thousands of syllogistic or logical 'decision gates' a person of good will might well take a divergent path.

Chris Burgwald said...

I generally agree with your comments, Dan, although I do think that for many Catholics, the argument for an infallible Magisterium is fairly straightforward: the NT indicates that Jesus' Church would not teach error, and the teaching structure he provided for His Church was the Apostles (and their successors), who are protected from teaching error by the Holy Spirit.

Having said that, I realize that arriving even at that argument sometimes takes some time. But my central point was somewhat different, as you seem to acknowledge: without a Magisterium, our only option is to determine the truth of each allegedly Christian doctrine on our own.

Aunty Belle said...

Ya'll, one trouble is that folks have forgotten that the whole reason we have so many denominations is because every time a fellow decided he had a different interpretation of scripture, he felt free to start a new "church."

The Magisterium is not drag, it is a gift--the gift of unity in truth

Dan said...

Perhaps I'm out of my depth here, perhaps not.

(More than my syllogisms have an 'undistributed middle', but then, so did Chesterton, perhaps explaining his enthusiasm for Distributism.)

But seriously, Chris, your "argument," as you call it, that "the NT indicates that Jesus' Church would not teach error, and the teaching structure He provided for His Church was the Apostles (and their successors), who are protected from teaching error by the Holy Spirit" seems more like an _assertion_ to me.

I wouldn't be the first to question that assertion.

Like any assertion or proposition it can be true, false, or partly true, partly false. Or beside the point altogether.

You can say, "Thus and so is the structure laid down in the Bible"
and be quite mistaken.

Anyway, do you even BELIEVE the Bible, in the sense that the Evangelical does, that it is free of mistakes in the original text ?

I cannot speak for Mr. Cork, but I think appeals to a Book that you even partially reject will fall on deaf ears.

Anyone in a position to have already done sufficient theological legwork, weighed the pros and cons, to sign off, in good conscience, on the entire Roman Catholic Church apparatus, including, let's stipulate, your understanding of the Magisterium, is surely someone open and reasonable enough to be suceptible to a compact, simple argument about 'unnatural' forms of contraception.

In your final comment, above, Chris, you don't seem happy having folk determine the truth of each alledgedly Christian doctrine on our own (I'm not overjoyed myself) but do you want people to DO WRONG in their eyes, to go against their consciences ?

Would you put us back at,
"I will call the white object before me "black" if the Church bids me to ?"

Chris Burgwald said...

Hi Dan,

You're right: I made an assertion more than an argument; of course, I think that an argument can be made for an assertion, but I didn't do so.

I do believe that Scripture is inerrant, that every assertion made by the writers is true.

As a Catholic, I believe that people are both bound to follow their conscience, and to form it correctly; we hear a lot about the former these days, but not so much about the latter.

Thoughts?

Dan said...

Chris ! I do follow, albeit at a 'safe' distance, certain intra-Catholic controversies, and so I very nearly anticipated your response in my comments, but decided I'd become too verbose already.

_Of course_ there is what one Catholic of my acquaintance called a 'rogue' conscience, and that one's conscience should of course be rightly formed.

What is less certain in my worldview is that a "rightly formed conscience" equals "a conscience in accord with the Roman Catholic Church."

(Every time the Roman Church apologises for something bad they've done, are they not often in a sense saying that those who opposed them at the time had the better understanding?)

But in the normal application of these concepts I think you'll find me solidly on your side, as the usual 'villains' in this particular piece are pro-choice Catholic politicians of a certain mindset, who SAY they are doing what is right as they understand it.

Although the trouble is not necessarily a warped or defective conscience, except insofar as they are lying to themselves and others.

In other words, even if they've 'stuffed it' deep within their psyche, deep down they know they are doing wrong.

Maybe I'm too cynical, uncharitable for being unwilling to give them the benefit of the doubt. That could be my failing.

But we're so used to politicians defying reason itself !

One presidential candidate says that he believes Roe v. Wade must be kept as settled 'law', but if elected, he will nonetheless appoint only strict constructionists as judges.

So let me get this straight: he's OK with baby-killing-for-money, but he'd never tell a lie ?

Sorry. Where were we ?

Innerrancy: would you ascribe your view to the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, that your Church holds Adam and Noah and Jonah to be all historical figures ?

Catholic Church teaching on evolution seems to vary. I know that there was a 1996ish statement that strengthened the force of a 1950 proclamation or encyclical.

(The Bible-believing Evangelical would say that the "days" of Genesis might be longer than 24 hours, and would also allow for Macro-Evolution. But he'd insist on a lot more than simply "God creates each human soul")

That's enough for now.

Dan said...

Oops ! Of course I meant to say Micro-Evolution, above. The Bible-believing Evangelical is completely comfortable with the idea that today's dogs descended (evolved or devolved, as the case may be) from a pair of creatures off Noah's Ark..

Anonymous said...

Okay, so where does the Holy Father come down on the fact that you can't build a 450-foot wooden boat (or barge) of any hull type that won't break apart and sink when loaded on even moderate seas. I'll give you the straightest cypress, cedar, oak, whatever you want. You can use the most precise cutting tools, the most modern adhesives and fasteners and the biggest and best shaping molds Weyerhauser lumber can provide and a 450-foot wooden boat will still sink.

I mean, if ya can't build a boat that'll float, what the heck are we even talking about here? Isn't a little embarrassing that Christians don't even TRY to re-create the ark AT SCRIPTURAL SCALE (these down-sized "arks" prove nothing but that people have too much time on their hands and too little faith - it's the actual length of the boat that is the problem)

A 150-cubit boat won't float. So why didn't God ask Noah for a 200-cubit or a 300 or 225 or 175. They're all equally unseaworthy designs, at least the animals might have been a little more comfortable.

dan said...

Anonymous: You are a naval architect, then ?

Care to cite some sources or data on your assertions ?

They managed to float the concrete auto-tunnel sections for the Chesapeake Bay from Galveston, Texas around Florida, to Virginia Beach. Just a matter of proper sealing so trapped air will keep it afloat.

Perhaps the "cover it with pitch" from Genesis, is relevant, or the 120-year construction time ?

Chris Burgwald said...

anon, what does your comment have to do with my post or the comments which preceded yours? What am I missing?

Brian Killian said...

Hey Chris,

In the spirit of Fr. Giussani, I think we can say that we give our assent to doctrine because we have come to trust the Church. And we trust the Church because we have experienced the truth of it. We can't necessarily prove by purely intellectual arguments that this or that is true, but we can accept it on much stronger grounds than mere rational proof -- our experience.

I sort of touch on this on a series of posts I'm doing called "Why I am a Christian".

Dan said...

brian killian:

Of course this seems rather circular--you seem to be saying, "I believe what my Church teaches a b o u t the Sacraments because I have
e x p e r i e n c e d the Sacraments"--an argument(?)that gets us no closer to answering whether these phenomena are in fact Sacramental, or precisely how Sacramental they are.

Have you experienced, for yourself, the Infallible Magisterium ?

You can say, "No, but I've experienced Christ" and millions of non-Catholic Christians are right there with you.

But more to the point, basing our theology on experience seems quite dangerous. Nearly every ism, schism, cult and contagion offers some sort of experience, no ? Their devotees at least think they are gaining something from their involvement.

And I think Russell has two "Ls"...

Brian Killian said...

dan, I'm just saying that I can believe in the infallable magisterium because I feel that I can trust the Church. And I trust the Church, because of my experience of living her life, of living a life of faith.


If I come to the conclusion that there is power in Christ's church, that it is what it says it is, then its very easy for me to have moral certainty that Christ rose from the dead, or whatever. What does experience the truth of it mean?

It means I experience something that brings me a deeper life, that gives me light, that conforms to the deepest needs of my soul, something I can't deny the status of reality, or truth. Some kind of experience, in short, that led the apostles to say, "Lord, where can we go, you have the words of eternal life".

dan said...

brian,

To see how your comments look from here, I suggest an exercise:

Re-read them, above.

But first pretend that you, the speaker, is a 'Mormon'.

Now, as Brian Killian, how would you go about refuting this Mormon's claims ?

This Mormon seems happy with his Church.

We can hardly prove that he's unhappy.

I suggest that the only way you COULD refute such is with reason and facts, dates and places: Joseph Smith, golden plates, stuff like that.

But Paul didn't say that Christianity, though true, wasn't falsifiable, he didn't say that the onus was on the unbelieving world to somehow prove that Paul DIDN'T feel better for believing in the Resurrection.

He said "If Christ be not raised, we are of all men most miserable."

Conclusively finding the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, THE REAL, one and only true Jesus of Nazareth, ENDS Christianity.

Here's Peter: "...being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you."

The Apostle doesn't say, tell people about your hope, that is your experience of hope.

He says to be ready with the reason for it, which would seem to inescapably go into the stuff of creeds: ."...crucified for us also under Pontius Pilate", etc.

Falsifiable stuff.

Theses.

Antitheses...

Deech said...

Burgy,you know, I leave this blog for a awhile and return to find non-catholics like Dan counseling catholics that Christianity is the intersection of Faith & Reason and not just some emotional experience.

If that's ecumenism then I'm all for it!

Your post does deftly illustrate once again that until man recognizes the Catholic Church as Divinely guided and inspired man will continue to be dogged in his denial of the explicit infallibillity of the Church and insistent on the implicit infallibility of his own judgement.

dan said...

Yo, deech !

(in case you wander back here)

Actually I'm not in 'denial' of the 'explicit infallibility' of your Church.

But the case for that is very far from proven, established as fact.

I also would hastily beg off any that I have some infallibility of judgment.

The Bereans in the Book of Acts are said to be MORE noble, not less, for having checked the assertions of Paul against Scripture.

Certainly, if the assertions of your Church indeed can be shown to fully harmonise with Scripture, without doing any violence to the texts, history, ethics (see my comments under burgy's Oct 11 entry)etc. then it would seem incumbent not only on myself, but every non-Catholic Christian to believe them--but someone would have to make that case to us.