Thursday, September 20, 2007

Obsequious and Docile...

Hat tip to Fr Ian Ker, who pointed out that the Second Vatican Council actually used the word "obsequium" (from which we get our word "obsequious") TWICE in the twenty-fifth paragraph of the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. I highlight these passages in the following English translation:
25. Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place.(39*) For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old,(164) making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock.(165) Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent [eique religioso animi obsequio adhaerere debent]. This religious submission of mind and will [Hoc vero religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium] must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra [Nota bene!]; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

There is another word that is worth mentioning, and that is "docility". It is one of Pope Benedict's favourite words. For instance, he uses it four times in Sacramentum Caritatis. Eg.:
23. ...The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord's hands.

33. ...[Mary's] immaculate conception is revealed precisely in her unconditional docility to God's word.

40. ...Attentiveness and fidelity to the specific structure of the rite express both a recognition of the nature of Eucharist as a gift and, on the part of the minister, a docile openness to receiving this ineffable gift.
Of course, "docile" here means "teachable" rather than "slavish". He uses the word most often of Mary, but also recommends it as the attitude most appropriate for all Christians who follow Mary in this virtue. In regard to obedience to the Pope, he used it in exactly this context when addressing a group called "Circolo San Pietro" back in July 2005:
Dear brothers and sisters, this is my first meeting with you since God called me to carry out the Petrine Ministry in the Church. For some time, however, I have been well acquainted with your service, motivated by convinced fidelity and docile attachment to the Successor of Peter.
So, there you have it. Obsequious and docile. That's me folks. That's "Sentire Cum Ecclesia".

I might just say that I have been having a private correspondence with Brian Coyne clarifying our point of contention. This is a necessary preliminary to me preparing anything for Catholica Australia. I might say that I am rather inclined to go with Brian's suggestion of the hypothetical situation in which the Pope, when expressly exercising his charism of infallibility, "calls it wrong". Rather along the lines of St Paul's "if Christ be not raised, we are of all men most miserable"...

In other words, I will try to imagine a world in which the teaching of the Successor of Peter--or for that matter of the Episcopal College or the Church or the Scriptures or the Fathers or Sacred Tradition--is not reliable. Where would that leave us? Only with our own private judgement. And on what would we base such private judgement? See where this leads?


At Friday, September 21, 2007 1:15:00 am , Blogger Peter said...

Brian insisting that you approach the problem using his question is similar to arguing along the lines of ...

"Imagine you and wrong and I am right... hard to imagine you being right is such a world eh?"

In other words it assumes what it is trying to prove.

At Friday, September 21, 2007 4:35:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Judas, it is precisely the charism of infallibility which prevents calling it wrong when exercised.

What is really being said is, assume there is no charism of infallibility; what if you believed in something that doesn't exist. Could that not be applied to anything we believe? Why stop with infallibility? Unless that's the target.

At Friday, September 21, 2007 7:16:00 am , Anonymous John Weidner said...

I think it's a good question. Imagining a world where the Pope "calls one wrong" gives you a great opportunity to explain Infallibility, and to point out that, historically, he hasn't ever done so. Most people probably don't know that.

And then you have a chance to vividly show how things fall apart once our trust in the Magisterium is lost. I look forward to your tale about the frightful schisms and confusions that shake the world during the short unhappy reign of His Holiness Rowan I.

At Friday, September 21, 2007 9:13:00 am , Anonymous John Weidner said...

And best of all, when your dream Pope renounces his old-fashioned charisms, the usual suspects are first. But really they are like your children, who would not be happy for long if the parents stopped having rules and limits. Soon they find it to be boring to have no one to rebel against. (And the would-be female priests discover they are not so keen to face 8 years of tough formation in the seminary.)

Eventually Hans Küng has to stand barefoot in the snow for 3 days, begging the Holy Father to be his father once more, and make the game fun to play again...

At Friday, September 21, 2007 10:50:00 am , Blogger Athanasius said...

Peter, you're right on the money there. As I commented in David's entry "How to reply to Brian Coyne? HELP!" below, this is actually a recognised logical fallacy in philosophy. "Begging the question" is when you implicitly demand your opponent accepts your conclusion at the start of the discussion. It renders any discussion meaningless.

At Friday, September 21, 2007 1:39:00 pm , Anonymous John Weidner said...

If a statement is hypothetical (as David said this one is to be) then it does not implicitly demand acceptance of a conclusion. It is something supposed for the sake of argument. It is explicitly something not yet accepted as true.

In similar wise, a hypothesis proposed by a scientist is something that will be tested by experiment.

At Friday, September 21, 2007 3:47:00 pm , Blogger Athanasius said...

John, I see what you mean. I agree that Brian's question is phrased hypothetically. But remember the context. The original challenge is for poor old David to justify the title of his blog, i.e. to justify his confidence in the Church's and the Pope's magisterium. In that context, I think Brian's "hypothetical" is begging the question.

But maybe I've got it wrong, and this new question is meant to be taken entirely separately from the original challenge.

You could then use Brian's second question as a "proof by contradiction" strategy. That is, let's assume David is horribly, horribly wrong, enslaved to Babylon etc. Then show that this assumption leads to a contradiction, or at least to some unpleasant conclusions.

But in that case, Brian's hypothetical would only help David's case, not Brian's!

It's a very confusing way to conduct a debate. Perhaps the best way to proceed would be to ask Brian to clarify which of the two challenges he wants David to address.


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