Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Man's First Office

Dear Auntie's readers and nephews and nieces,

I am a Christian --- in fact, I hold to the universal and apostolic faith of the first Christians, which is to say I am a Catholic (from the Greek, in latin letters "kata-" and "holos"; think of "catastrophe"--- all tumbled about --- and "holographic" --- the whole picture); this has probably been made obvious before, but it bears mentioning.

For the record, I don't at all mind being (called) a Latin Rite Catholic, because I am. I'm also trying to shore-up my scant Latin.

My objection to the conjunction "Conservative Catholic" (or "Liberal Catholic") is that they start as lies. "Liberal", in the mouth of a "Coservative" is meant to be an insult synonymous with "libertine", and second cousin to "libertarian". "Conserative", spoken by a "Liberal" means "much-too-conservative" --- unimaginative and unforgiving. Making them names for mutually-opposed groups of people disguises the fact that the Church teaches all Catholics to conserve the sacred traditions handed on to us from our ancestors in the faith, and also to liberally share with our neighbors in need that wherewith God has blessed us in plenty --- e.g. in spiritual and coroporal works of mercy.

Understandably, it's helpful --- as Ms. White emphasizes --- to distinguish between the distinct; on the other hand, it is creatures that most need names, not delusions1. And this is why, in the documents of the various Church councils up to Concilium Vaticanii I you will find

Any who teaches that the Holy Trinity is made of chocolate LET HIM BE ANATHEMA.

Any who teaches that even moderate enjoyment of chocolate is inherently inimical to salvation LET HIM BE ANATHEMA.

That is, particular errors are first defined (described plainly) and then condemned.
The councils and creeds and canons and anathemas have a technical language, but it doesn't become a jargon --- the words are used to be precise, not to be obscure or lazy; and so we don't find anything like

Pelagians are wrong.


Anyone who agrees with Pelagius is wrong.
Instead, we would read of anyone who might teach that "men are saved and justified solely through their own personal good works or by the own merit", that such folk are teaching error, they are a scandal to the faithful, and for the good of their faith all faithful must have no dealings with such folk until they recant and correct their teaching.

Some years ago, a friend I haven't seen in a long time argued that the now-disused so-called Anti-Modernist Oath had been a mistake in the first place because it condemned a collection of errors that no person had ever held altogether --- that is, he saw it as defining a creed which as an assemblage was to be condemned --- and which had never had any adherents. This struck me as odd then, and now I can hypothesize that he was distracted by the parenthetical "modernist" label, and answer that modernism as a movement may never have existed in the form of adhering to all of such-and-such errors, but such and such errors had severally become fashionable, and in all cases motivated by a desire for modernitas, of wrongly wanting to update something that was inherently eternal. Because there had been found several ways for modernizing desires to fall into error, it was convenient in the Scholastic sense to condemn the several sorts of error. To say that the oath was to reject a belief called modernism is as much to mistake the Councils of Nicaea I and Constantinople I as rejecting Arianism as the errors of Arius. rather than as errors. Instead, the canonical form might have allowed Arius to repent and recant, had he accepted such grace.

That's all I have right now.

a taxonomist of errors

1: not being psychiatrists, we are not making a study of delusions; we are distinguishing them from creatures.


Enbrethiliel said...


I believe that Hilary is on to something when it comes to the Catholics who make a big show of shunning labels. (Of course I don't mean you, dear Dev.) It is so easy to be disingenuous in announcing that one has risen above the fray--which is not to say that such transcendence of shibboleths and delusions isn't possible. Just because one has renounced the label of the delusion, it doesn't mean that one has also renounced the delusion itself. To mangle a metaphor that never really made sense to me, anyway: you can't have your clique and eat it, too.

On the other hand, many of the mock epic spats that occur in political and religious circles these days remind me of something C.S. Lewis noticed about two historical groups he had been studying. (I'm ashamed to say I can't remember which ones!) He said that while both sides believed they were irreconcilably opposed to one another, they were actually arguing about two sides of the same coin.

/dev/null said...

Hmmm... it would seem that anything he actually wrote to which you allude doesn't include the word "coin", because The Monstrous Search Engine isn't helping.

Yes, you're right about the ostentatious (btw, that's a Latin word; do you know the Middle Greek word for the actor who wears a persona?)

Enbrethiliel said...


It would help to have the actual quote, wouldn't it? ;-)

Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united--united with each other and against earlier and later ages--by a great mass of common assumptions.

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