Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Real Controversy that Needs Addressing

So, the commission given to Consilium II Vaticani, the "Pastoral Council", was to express in new words but eodem sensu eademque sententia What the Church has Always Taught. That might make it sound like a huge exercise in homiletics (which... wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing...); but I think it was actually a sincere attempt to address sideways a real controversy, which we still have not yet shaken.

Now, just as to what that controversy was, and why Pope St. John might have thought sideways was the best ways to address the trouble... It is probably a child of modernism, but I don't know if it has itself a name yet. Whatever we shall call it, with a mix of just enough science-speak to get oneself into trouble, enough metaphysical scepticism to muddle one's thinking, enough historical scepticism to miss huge blocks of genuine history, ... the upshot of whatever unnamed heresy we mean is: to doubt tradition itself as a reliable guide to God's Will as expressed in the founding of His Church. That is, it is a protestantizing heresy, though it is not itself protestantism. It is a scepticalizing heresy, though it is not itself scepticism. It might be an "I know better than thou" heresy...

Anyways, that's the trouble: to doubt Tradition as Revelation; and I think I shall call this heresy Textualism. What modern philosophy, following the model of al Ghazali and then everyone who said he was too lenient on the Philosophers, there has arisen in various places a technique of reading words, chains of words with well-established historical meanings which any... honest high-school student... can grasp; the moderns have found ways of reading them and construing whatever meaning they please. (The "Living Constitution" faction of the Supreme Court do not even defer to texts, so let us never-mind them. Textualism is distinct from "Sola scriptura" in that it gives no special preference to sacred scripture either of reverence or disdain.)

There are, for instance, surprisingly many... phrases... not to say “sentences”... that, in their English forms, anyway, both orthodox Catholics and modern Muslims might casually assert; but we and they would not agree about them, for they would not mean the same thing (this is why I hesitate to say “sentences”). For instance, submission to the Divine Will is indeed a good and holy thing. Submission, on the other hand, to we cannot tell what, but they still call it God, well, it seems to have terrifying, inhuman corollaries — not often, perhaps, but often enough.

So, Textualism, the adherence to texts as primary over (or completely without) the traditions that have preserved the texts with their sound interpretations, lending itself to the scientists' instinct via “I can see the text, I cannot see its author entrusting it to his children”...; and again, lending itself to Sir Humphrey's dictum “Theology is a device for allowing agnostics to stay within the [Anglican] Church”. This is, I think, the heresy-as-such, that St. John apprehended, and decided to fight. After all, it's one thing for those outside the Church to oppose whatever they think the Church teaches, whether they understand her teaching or not — the Church has enemies, has always had, and always shall have; but to subvert the words the Church uses to unmean her teaching, and thus prevent Catholics as-such from understanding their Faith, that is diabolical.

And I think, (following the Hermeneutic of Surprise) that St. John's aim was two-fold: On the one hand to not capitulate: Church teaching means what it always has meant; on the other hand: to bolster the ancient meaning with an independent reference text. Whether that is what the Council acheived, ... I haven't read enough of it to say. I do know that even in this, there were many who fought against it. It may also be that St. John hoped that the new text might appeal to the opponents of the ancient content of Tradition; I am doubtful of whether it would, for one determined to not believe will find any excuse for not believing. But St. John did not ask his Council to define any new heresies and exclude them from Tradition. St. John did not ask his Council to uphold Tradition-itself as a principle of revelation, except insfoar as it is described as such already, and re-expressed now in new words.

It might have been a reasonable attempt! It might well have been a brave trial! To express one thing in two ways... that is a great part of the work of Mathematicians (we call them “equations”), and when we manage it, this really advances the understanding of both ways of speaking. But, again speaking as a Mathematician: it is a difficult task, even when there is no metaphysics, no ontology with which one must accord. And again: one who is determined against understanding will not be helped in this way.

As for the more direct approach, the never-pronounced “anathema sit”, as to why it was not sought, ... I cannot guess. I do not know why sideways was thought better. Neither am I sure that it was better (it's hard to tell, from History, what would have happened if it didn't). I do think that, eventually, someone shall have to try the direct approach. Happily, tradition is not dead!


Post a Comment