Friday, June 14, 2013

Papal Developments.

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types--the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob.
 G.K.Chesterton.

Note: This is a religious post so those of an atheist disposition might want to leave now.

It appears that Pope Francis may have been surreptitiously hanging about on this blog. In this speech to some assembled priests, Francis outlines two approaches which stifle the development of the faith. Now, these comments that Francis makes are not ex cathedra, and therefore not binding on anyone, but they represent a certain strain of thought that I've noticed amongst some members of the more intelligent upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy.

Prior to his election as Pope, Ratzinger/Benedict was colloquially known as God's Rottweiler, a sobriquet earned as result of being the inflexible orthodox enforcer of the Catholic faith.  Now it's on the record that Ratzinger, privately, deplored the modern liturgy, the liberalisation of morals and the general decline of the faith which followed Vatican 2, yet, he never either privately criticised it, and in fact many times reaffirmed it's goodness  privately ,publicly and on theological grounds. I imagine that his failure to "turn back the changes" must have infuriated the traditionalists who initially thought his election was going to put things back on track.

It's also interesting to see the current pope, Francis, in some ways echo his sentiments. Firstly, in the audience where his confirmation of the the "gay lobby" was noted, Francis, also made some disparaging remarks with regard to the traditionalist practices of some members of the Church. Francis, it seems, is operationg with a similar mindset to Ratzinger in that he  recognises that the further development of doctrine involves steering a middle course between errors of traditionalism and "adolescent progressivism";

This freedom of the Spirit requires embarking on “a path of continuous discernment to do the will of God” and this can frighten us, the Holy Father observed.

He warned that the fear that comes with this way “brings two temptations with it.”


The first, is to “go backwards” to say that, “it’s possible up to this point, but impossible beyond this point” which ends up becoming “let’s stay here.”


It’s a fear that “it is better to play it safe.”........


........ The second temptation that comes with relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance is to engage in “adolescent progressivism,” which ends up sending things off-track.

The temptation, Pope Francis said, lies in seeing a culture and “not detaching ourselves from it.”


“We take the values of this culture a little bit from here, a little bit from there ... They want to make this law? Alright, let’s go ahead and make this law. Let’s broaden the boundaries here a little.”


“In the end, let me tell you, this is not true progress,” he stated.

I think its safe to say that here he is criticising both traditionalists and progressive factions within the Church. Now, this may surprise many orthodox Catholics who tend to blame all the ills of the Church on the progressives, little realising that the traditionalist element is the Trojan horse in Church affairs. It's quite true that the liberal factions of Catholicsm have effectively abandandoned the Church but it is my feeling that should the Church liberalise some of its teachings, not in response to societal pressure but doctrinal development, it will be the Trads who will abandon it in droves.

G.K. Chesterton once said that Catholicism will end up keeping the "best bits" of Protestantism, and I suspect any new doctrinal developments will be "Protestant" in nature I think that the Church will move towards a more "Church assisted" rather then "Church mediated" relationship between man and God. I also think that there will be more room for "rigorous* conscience", and I feel that there may be further developments in sexual ethics and economics. On the other hand, things like the prohibitions against adultery, fornication, abortion  and homosexuality will be reaffirmed again.  I think we're in for interesting times.

*Rigorous conscience means a conscience that is properly formed, not merely opinionated. Note, to both trads and liberals. A properly formed conscience is open to the truth, no matter how inconvenient it is.

12 comments:

Novaseeker said...

What do you think in terms of sexual ethics? Rethinking about artificial contraception? perhaps rethinking rules on extra-marital sex?

mdavid said...

...it is my feeling that should the Church liberalise some of its teachings, not in response to societal pressure but doctrinal development, it will be the Trads who will abandon it in droves.

Doctrinal development shouldn't erase the prior beliefs, only develop them more fully. So...exactly what doctrine(s) are you thinking about?

Methinks the Church will get less mainstream in the next 100 years. This will attract trads, not repulse them. Sooner or later, the church leadership will, under persecution, get more trad themselves. Liberalism comes from easy times, and trads are a response to liberal overreach. Depending, of course, on how one defines trads.

mdavid said...

Sidenote: I always find it amusing, this obsession with trads. They must be the least socially powerful people on the planet. They don't even have power within their own churches; heck, gays and '60's hippies have a bigger punch within the RCC than trads, for example. They can be safely ignored, politically. They are so reclusive, staying within their own family circles, it's hard to actually define what a trad is. Personally, I find trads, by any definition, quaint, amusing, and harmless, sort of like the prevailing media view of the Amish.

The fact that any angst exists against this nearly powerless group says a lot more about the people talking about trads than the trads themselves. Maybe they must be created so the dominate thread of religious liberalism can muster energy. Or perhaps moderate conservatives need trads as a scapegoat to make themselves feel more moderate.

I do agree if trads are merely defined down to religious people with large families, they certainly are are making inroads into the culture, merely in a Darwinian sort of way, and could be hated for this. Large families often make others feel judged for having a smaller families, as well as creating a sort of fear larger families are taking over the next generation. But I really don't know what drives the anti-trad meme, and am merely grasping as straws.

20c38902-d3b5-11e2-847b-000bcdcb2996 said...

Pope Francis is a progressive. In due course, marriage will not be a sacrament. Not long after that, abortion will be.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Nova

I think there is some possible wriggle room in the contraception debate. Whilst I think "doing the act wrongly" will always be condemned, I think there may be some scope for allowing the "regulation" of ovulation. i.e the pill may be able to gain some legitimacy.

The other area where there may be a change is in the way how divorcess are treated in the Church. Both Francis and Benedict are sympathetic to the plight of divorcess in the Church but more theological groundwork needs to be done on this issue.

With regard to premarital sex , I think the Church's position on that will not change. Nor will it change on adultery and other permutations where sex occurs outside the context of marriage.

@Mdavid.

Doctrinal development shouldn't erase the prior beliefs, only develop them more fully. So...exactly what doctrine(s) are you thinking about?

Correct.

But in order for doctrinal development to develop you've got to allow change to happen. If you've got a lobby that says no to everything it's a bit hard to change.

I mean the medieval prohibition against usury was not negated by recognition that there were morally legitimate instances where interest could be charged. Though, I imagine at the time, it would have been hard for some people to accept.

I think with regard to sexual ethics, the Church's understanding of the nature of the sexual act needs to be rethought. I'm not talking about contraception here, but an understanding of the teleology of coitus. The tradition of the Church is that the purpose of coitus is reproduction and yet, what we see from empirical observation, is that coitus is only able to achieve that end only during a limited period of a woman's menstrual cycle. During the infertile phase of a woman's menstrual cycle and post menopause, coitus is deliberately frustrated from it's "natural end" by the design of God. This would appear to be theologically contradictory and is an area where I think further theological work needs to be done.

As for the trad obsession, I tend to concentrate on them a bit more because whilst everyone recognises that the liberals are toxic, trad "toxicity" tends to go unnoticed.
And I do mean toxicity.

As I've said before on this blog, the collapse of Catholic practice following V2 should not have happened if the faith was strong. Catholicism had become a sect and a habit, something which the more perceptive theologians recognised at the time. People forget that Ratzinger was one of the moderate liberals who felt that the Church needed to change.

However, needing to change and the direction in which change is made are two separate issues. The trad's error is in not recognising that change was necessary and blame the liberals for changing, not for changing in the wrong direction.

mdavid said...

@SP: Interesting. I agree with you, pretty much. Points:

1) Regarding resistance to proper theological change: I think it has a lot to do with IQ, and thus I have a hard time taking it seriously. Look at resistance to God's plan for human evolution, for example. I often tell trads I know that that there is only one God, and Darwin is his prophet when discussing the demographic disaster of the West. The smarter the person, the more they laugh, but many are so gun shy and reactionary they can't think clearly. But this is a minor problem, since most power brokers in the Church are higher IQ. Unfortunately, lots of these morally rotten, not stupid.

2. SP, ...but an understanding of the teleology of coitus

This is more like people in the past thinking that masturbation was murder. Not bad theology, just bad science. But my word, you are deep in the weeds here: it's like worrying about unjust wages in the middle of a world war...

The Social Pathologist said...

@mdavid

I think it has a lot to do with IQ,

I think it has less to do with IQ than temperamental dispositions. I've been strongly influenced by Stanovich's view of the nature of intelligence. In many cases it isn't stupid as much as it is willful obstinacy in denying facts which conflict with temperamental preferences. I hoping to do a post on this in the future.

it's like worrying about unjust wages in the middle of a world war...

Cue Harry Lime.

mdavid said...

@SP, I've been strongly influenced by Stanovich's view of the nature of intelligence. In many cases it isn't stupid as much as it is willful obstinacy in denying facts which conflict with temperamental preferences.

Want to read this post. It's already got me stewing: is it merely part of my personality that I'm not bothered only amused by willful obstinacy, or am I simply rational like I think I am?

Heck I'm even envious of willful obstinacy. Like enjoying kids who believe in Santa...

Nick B. Steves said...

The problem is: The Church, when speaking authoritatively, cannot ever have been wrong... and so it is also the Solution. It will take at least another century to get an authoritative interpretation of Vatican II—how the Church wasn't wrong in it... or before... or since. In the meantime, any further doctrinal "development" would make that job even harder... Therefore we ought not expect any... we'd be quite blessed to not get any.

Something that is, objectively, a grave evil is not going to be suddenly tolerated. Certainly if doctrine "develops" in this way, you can be quite certain that trads will leave "the church" in droves... to try to find the actual Church which was never wrong.

kurt9 said...

"Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."

Robert Heinlein

ElectricAngel said...

@SP,

The tradition of the Church is that the purpose of coitus is reproduction and yet, what we see from empirical observation, is that coitus is only able to achieve that end only during a limited period of a woman's menstrual cycle. During the infertile phase of a woman's menstrual cycle and post menopause, coitus is deliberately frustrated from it's "natural end" by the design of God. This would appear to be theologically contradictory and is an area where I think further theological work needs to be done.

The tradition of the Church is in conflict with the Theology of the Body, JP2's work. Now, there might be some Trads who regard him as a raging liberal (sedevacantists, I think), but most accept him as a good pope.

Following this theology, one sees the special nature of the Sacrament of MArriage. It it the only sacrament not administered by priests, but by the married couple, to each other. Sex is the method of celebrating that sacrament. If this were not so, the Church would forbid couples with post-menopausal women from the act.

ElectricAngel said...

@SP,

As I've said before on this blog, the collapse of Catholic practice following V2 should not have happened if the faith was strong.

Perhaps it was simply repeating the lines, and maybe the faith needed to shrink back to a remnant of true believers. But I get the sense that the Pre-V2 Church was not just a faith, but an entire social system. I get the sense that V2 was inspired by the same rebellious, revolutionary spirit seen in Paris in 1790, with a desire to sweep clear the decks and start over. What has been lost, at least in America, is that sense of religion married to social system, with a result of collapsing vocations, charities, parochial school attendance, and empty parishes. Pre-V2 RCC seemed to recognize that faith was not enough to build a community.

I would think that the last major upheaval before V2 was the Council of Trent. In the 50 years following that council, did the Church suffer as much defection as it has since V2?