Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Hermeneutic of Continuity"?

The Pope's letter raises issues of continuity and discontinuity in the teaching of Church as regards the Second Vatican Council - a topic that has often been discussed on this blog. He writes:
The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 – this must be quite clear to the Society. But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.
A simple word count of this passage will show which tendancy the Holy Father views as more injurious to the Church.

Nevertheless, the question of legitimate and illegitimate change, of continuity and discontinuity, clearly remains at the heart of the question of the interpretation of (or even validity of) Vatican II.

In light of this, I find two recent articles of special interest. The first is by our eminent friend and companion of the port bottle, Cardinal Pole, on his blog: "On traditional socio-political doctrine and Vatican II". It is fairly long and lengthy, but worth ploughing through to get to the end where he writes:
But as you know, the Conciliar document that really sticks in my craw is the Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanæ... I could see how Dignitatis Humanæ might, might, be reconciled with Tradition, and would have no problem whatsoever with taking it as a policy document, but I do not see how its teachings could be regarded as constituting a development of the earlier body of doctrine; at best they would be a statement of some abstract, subjective principles. As for the other documents, if unambiguous clarification from the Magisterium is not forthcoming then I find the solution of Pope St. Gregory the Great in the aftermath of Constantinople II, mentioned recently at Athanasius’ blog, rather appealing: St. Gregory “counselled prelates to ignore the 2nd Council of Constantinople for the sake of peace and unity.”
The main point in Cardinal Pole's assessment of Dignitatis Humanae is the distinction he makes (originally made by Lefebvre himself) between "subjective freedom" and "objective freedom". He makes the piont that while the declaration is clear about the rights of the subject who worships, it does not make any statement regarding the object towards which one is free to direct one's worship.

I am not sure that this point can be conceded. The Declaration clearly defends the individual's right to "his own beliefs". Would this not imply that the "object" of the individual's subjective right to religious freedom is the object of the subject's "own beliefs"? And yet the question of the object of the freedom of religion can be thrown into relief with the following set of questions:

1) Does a Muslim have a right to practice his religion?
2) Does a person who is convinced of Islamic doctrines have a right to act upon this conviction (ie. the right of conversion)?
3) If everyone has a right to be Christain, does everyone have a right to be a Muslim?
4) If everyone has the right to hear the Gospel, does everyone have the right to hear the message of the Prophet?
5) Is there a distinction to be made between divine and human rights in these questions?

But let's get back to the question of hermeneutics and Vatican II.

Yesterday, I read this entry on the first things blog by Edward Oakes: "Benedict's Vatican II Hermeneutics" in which he argues that there are regularly four different possible assessments of Vatican II based on a a matrix of whether it is assessed in terms of continuity or rupture, and whether this continuity or rupture is seen to be good or bad. He even names examples of these four hermeneutics:

Continuous, and thus good: Cardinal Dulles.
Continuous, and thus bad: Hans Küng
Discontinuous, and thus good: John O'Malley
Discontinous, and thus bad: Marcel Lefebvre


However, he suggests that the reality is far more subtle and complex than this, and goes on at length to analyse the Holy Father's address to the Roman Curia in 2005 in which Benedict famously didn't coin the term "Hermeneutics of Continuity". The term the Pope really coined was "innovation in continuity". Oakes says that Benedict was precisely not proposing that Vatican II was completely continuous with the teachings of the past. He says that the pope pointed to a real discontinuity that occurred in the Second Vatican Council, a change that was necessary for the sake of reform:
How best should the Council be understood? For Benedict the key term is reform: “It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists” [all emphases are added]. In other words, to refuse to admit any disjunction with the Church’s past would not only distort the historical record (which shows clear instances of both continuity and discontinuity in the conciliar documents), but also would inevitably block reform, which requires not a convoluted combination between continuity and discontinuity but rather, in the pope’s own words, “innovation in continuity.”
And then, as an example of this "innovation in continuity", Oakes pointed to Benedict's choice of Dignitatis Humanae:
Among these undeniable innovations, Benedict above all stressed Vatican II’s Decree on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae). Frankly admitting that Vatican II broke with the “fortress mentality” set in motion by Pius IX’s open hostility to the modern world and by his condemnation of religious liberty in his Syllabus of Errors (1864), Benedict explained the reasons for the Council’s departure from that teaching.
Oakes' analysis of the Pope's analysis of the complete "volte-face" between the teaching of Pius IX and the teaching of Vatican II on religious liberty and church and state is that the circumstances in which the teaching was made had changed and hence the teaching itself needed to be reformed in order to remain true to the essential principles of the Church's teaching.

This in fact, has always been the way I have understood the discontinuity inherant in the Second Vatican Council. Only blind Freddy would deny the real discontinuity that exists between the Council's teaching and some of the explicit teachings of the Magisterium before the Council. The times changed, and so therefore the way that the essential teaching of the Church was expressed and practiced had to change. We call this "reform". I agree that Vatican II proposed no new doctrines - but it certainly reformulated the doctrines in a totally new way for a new world - just as John XXIII originally requested.

The difficulty in this is always the question of how much change or what change can be made without throwing the baby out with the bath-water. In other words, what is and what is not "authentic" reform. There are many different answers to that question. Five hundred years ago, the Protestants used "Sola Scriptura" to determine the answer. Catholics, on the other hand, rely on the authority of the Church to make this distinction for them. We think with the Church.

I guess that opens us to up to the accusation of being docile sheep in this matter. A good thing we have a Good Shepherd, then.

12 Comments:

At Sunday, March 15, 2009 10:51:00 am , Blogger Terra said...

On the 'hermeneutic of continuity' however you might also want to look at the New Liturgical Movement's defense of the term.

It is true I think that major changes (like Trent) can look pretty discontinuous to those in the midst of them - I always think of St Charles Borromeo rushing home and remodelling his cathedral to reflect the new directions of the Church. But to be authentic, renewal does also have to demonstrate continuity with what has always been believed.

The jury is still out in my view on a lot of the ideas and practices justified under the claim that they are what Vatican II decreed, and on some of the pastoral and other ideas in the documents themselves.

Personally I've always liked the then Cardinal Ratzinger's analogy to Lateran V, long since consigned to the dustbin of history.

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2009 11:37:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Once again, to buy this load of, well, load, one has to have a faith that consists of exactly one thing, the Catholic Church.

Good God, a council issues documents, the RCC goes through spasms and convolutions of change, and nearly half a century on we don't know how to "interpret" them?

What utter word play to justify something. "That's not what the church REALLY teaches" is used to explain away the fact of what the church does in fact teach in specific places one experiences.

This is another version of that, for documents rather than places. "Oh, that isn't really new, it's the same thing expressed in a new way."

And how is one to tell? Either in the case of "authentic" as in how much or what change before it becomes something different, and of "authentic" as in no change at all but only a change in expression or formulation.

Why, you can't!

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck but the Catholic Church says it's not a duck but a dog, then it's a dog, even if it doesn't walk like a dog or bark like a dog.

Innovation in continuity. War is peace. Black is white. Pure nouvelle theologie. The only difference between Ratzinger et hoc genus omne and those who find Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier an equivalent expression to Father, Son and Holy Ghost for example is not kind but only the degree to which they take their revolution.

St Paul did not exempt even himself from the possibility of delivering "another" Gospel, so where do these guys get off? Not to mention, but hell, let's mention, St Paul's advice should that happen -- let them be anathema!

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2009 11:51:00 am , Blogger christl242 said...

Oakes says that Benedict was precisely not proposing that Vatican II was completely continuous with the teachings of the past. He says that the pope pointed to a real discontinuity that occurred in the Second Vatican Council, a change that was necessary for the sake of reform:

Well, it's refreshing to at least see Benedict acknowledge the first part. Change necessary for the sake of reform? Change there was, and not of the kind that proved edifying. In the U.S. it is estimated that the second largest group of Catholics are those that no longer attend mass or formally affiliate with the Catholic church. They decidedly do not think with the mind of the church.

I wonder if John XXIII were around today what he would think about the "fruits" of the Council.

Christine

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2009 5:54:00 pm , Anonymous Salvatore said...

In my experience these discussions often fail to distinguish adequately between development and change. When a thing develops it becomes a richer, larger or more complex version of what it already was. When a things changes it becomes something other that what it already was. Which is another way of saying that development includes continuity and change avoids it.

Consequently the strict answer to your question “how much change or what change can be made” is: none. The Church cannot change; she can only develop.

As you can imagine I was rather taken aback by your claim that “Only blind Freddy would deny the real discontinuity that exists between the Council's teaching and some of the explicit teachings of the Magisterium before the Council.” Would you care to give some examples? (In fairness I should point out that if you were to convince me of this “real discontinuity” I would have no choice but to follow some of your other regular contributors out of the Church). ;)

uncep - lacking in cepidity.

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2009 9:32:00 pm , Blogger Vicci said...

"Oakes' analysis of the Pope's analysis of the complete "volte-face" between the teaching of Pius IX and the teaching of Vatican II on religious liberty and church and state is that the circumstances in which the teaching was made had changed and hence the teaching itself needed to be reformed in order to remain true to the essential principles of the Church's teaching."

I'm no catholic, and don't 'think' with that body.
But what some are calling 'reform' sounds a bit like a 'doctrine of wind-blown sand'.
Which once again causes one to consider the 'tradition' side of teaching with some nervousness.

Hardly Rock-Like, is it?

 
At Monday, March 16, 2009 6:50:00 am , Blogger Cardinal Pole said...

Regarding a distinction between "his beliefs" and "his own beliefs": the latter is just an emphatic expression of the former. To reiterate the point I made a while ago: wherever one sees 'his beliefs/her beliefs/their beliefs', this is at the level of the subject. Wherever one sees 'this belief/that belief/any belief/all beliefs', this is at the level of the object. With this in mind, let's address the five points listed:

1) Yes--"his religion" is clearly subjective.
2) No--"this conviction" is clearly objective.
3) No--as with 2)
4) No--any given message is an object
5) Can't answer--not sure precisely what is meant by divine and human rights

In any case, the most serious difficulty that one encounters in D.H. is its notion of the "due limits" on religious activity.

Now, on to Fr. Oakes's article: firstly, it has to be stated that the whole idea that new circumstances demanded new teaching is baseless, since the pre-VII teaching covered all the possible circumstances--when the populace is united in the Catholic Faith, offenders of the Catholic religion ought to be fully restrained; when the greater part of the populace is non-Catholic, offenders of the Catholic religion ought to be tolerated.

Fr. Oakes quotes the Holy Father thus:

"People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern state that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution."

But the American model was condemned specifically by Leo XIII, in Longinqua Oceani
(in 1895, a century after the French Revolution), section 6:

"it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced."
(http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_06011895_longinqua_en.html)

Also, Fr. Oakes makes the following interpretation:

"But for the pope, this is not the fault of the Council but of a categorical mistake arising from the fact that the liberal democratic state must be neutral to religious truth claims while the Church cannot be."

But if this is true then it means that liberal democracy is irreconcilable with Catholicism, since Bl. Pius IX condemned the following error definitively:

"the best plan for public society, and civil progress absolutely requires that human society be established and governed with no regard to religion, as if it did not exist, or at least, without making distinction between the true and the false religions."
(Dz. 1689, http://www.catecheticsonline.com/SourcesofDogma17.php)

Is it too much to hope that the Vatican's discussions with the S.S.P.X. will result in a renewed condemnation of liberal democracy and all its false and pernicious principles?

P.S. In another post you mentioned you were thinking of posting on Exsurge Domine, Mr. Schütz. I for one would be interested to read such a post.

 
At Monday, March 16, 2009 9:58:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Sorry, Your Eminence, I was unclear in my fifth question. I meant: Is there a difference between divine rights and civil rights?

My problem with the way you interpret the Church's doctrine with regard to religious freedom is largely because, if you substituted Islam as the object of religion rather than Catholicism, you would end up with exactly what is claimed by law in Islamic countries: ie. no right of conversion to Christianity, no freedom to proclaim the gospel, no right to be a Christian. We have usually combated these laws by saying that they are against human dignity, ie. against the right to religious freedom. The way you interpret the Church's teaching would seem to suggest that the only basis on which we could argue with an Islamic regime on the matter of the freedom to be a Christian would be to tell them that our religion is true and theirs is false, therefore they must allow us the freedom to practice our religion! I don't think that would work, somehow...

Regarding "Americanism", what Oakes seems to be suggesting is that for Leo XIII, the liberal democracy of America seemed to be of a kind with the liberal democracy of France. Oakes suggests that we have "come to realise" that there is a difference.

Thus, Leo XIII would have been correct in his condemnation of what he considered Americanism to be - and yet wrong in what Americanism actually was. For the Pope is not infallible on matters of politics, only in matters of faith and morals. His political understanding, like his economic understanding and scientific understanding, could be wrong, and hence his condemnation wrong. Thus the condemnation of liberal democracy belongs to the same waste-paper basket as the condemnation of Galileo and the helio-centric view of the solar system.

However, when the Church teaches on the nature of human dignity, this is a teaching in the area of faith and morals. It is within the Church's competancy to teach in this area.

I agree with you that the really tricky area of discussion in regard to religious freedom in civil society is the question of "limitations". We are facing this as a nation at this time, with the current review of religious freedom issues being undertaken by the federal and Victorian governments.

Thank you too for reminding me of my intention to post on Exsurge Domine. I will get to that.

 
At Monday, March 16, 2009 10:05:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Vicci,

I am rather sympathetic to your view that the theology of Vatican II looks rather like a "weather vane" kind of theology. My one reason for caution on this is that in my experience of the Catholic Church, she is the one institution on earth who seems to have demonstrated the most resistance to the winds of fashion and ideas. Thus I think that there is a legitimate way in which the Church can be responsive to the changes in human understanding and society - and an illegitimate way.

That's the nub of Salvatore's point about "change" and "development". My one criticism of your point, Salvatore, is that really development is a kind of change - change being the broader idea that encompasses both development and rupture.

What then is a true development. For that, Newman's analysis will have to remain our guide. Although (to head PE off at the pass here), we need to make clear that being "true to the original idea" in the case of the teaching of the Church means being "true to the Word of God".

This is where the necessary possibility for reform comes in. If the Church is to grow, it must also be able to be reformed. To think of the image of a Vine, we have times when the branches must be pruned or re-trained for the sake of bearing fruit. Sometimes tendrils will head out in directions that are not valid - despite the fact that they have a legitimate claim to have "developed" as an outgrowth of the vine.

 
At Monday, March 16, 2009 2:06:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

And here's another way of approaching the problem:

Sandro Magister has a summary of a conference held at the Gregorian University on Evolution and Creation. He provides snippets from an article by Jean-Pierre Sonnet on Genesis 1 and evolution.

There is something very interesting in his introduction.

"Fr. Marc Leclerc, professor of natural philosophy at the Gregorian, summed up the two opposing ideological tendencies as follows: "Too often, the adversaries of Darwinism have confus[ed] the scientific theory of evolution with the all-inclusive ideology that deformed it, in order to reject it entirely as being completely incompatible with a religious view of reality. This situation could explain the contemporary return of 'creationist' conceptions, or that which sometimes presents itself as an alternative theory, so-called 'intelligent design'. At this level, we are far from scientific discussions.""

I would like to suggest that the same has happened with regard to the political theory of liberal democracy. We need to distinguish between the political theory itself, various manifestations of it in reality, AND the "all-inclusive ideology that deformed it" so that it was incompatible with the Catholic religion.

My assertion would be that what Pius IX condemned was precisely this deformed "all-inclusive ideology" and not the political theory as such or concrete manifestations of it which were not opposed to the Catholic religion.

The first paragraph of Jean-Pierre Sonnet's article might also be instructive. He writes (of creation and evolution):

"When speaking about origins, the challenge for Christians in our time is that of living a dual citizenship: an intelligent fidelity to the teaching of Genesis 1, and an attentive openness to the proposals of scientific research. [...] Today, in any case, they must refine this twofold loyalty, at a time in which some enjoy pitting the notions of creation and evolution against each other, under the form of ideologies – creationism and evolutionism – that are mutually exclusive."

In relation to political science, Christains also inhabit a similar "dual citizenship": how to be faithful to Pius IX's judgements against liberal democracy and how to be faithful to the legitimate political science involved and the concrete manifestations we find of it in our world today.

Vatican II "refiend this twofold loyalty" in such a way to show that the Catholic faith and liberal democracy were not "mutually exclusive".

 
At Monday, March 16, 2009 9:19:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Right. That way we can keep an ancient religion born from the ignorance of the times and still enjoy the advance from that ignorance that science and political science have made.

 
At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 6:31:00 pm , Anonymous Salvatore said...

Ah! So what I’ve called “change” you would call “rupture” – as you prefer to reserve “change” as an umbrella term to cover both “development” (change-in-continuity) and “rupture” (change-in-discontinuity). I can live with that – it’s your blog after all.

But I’m not sure that it gets us any further. Because (to return to your original question) as far as I can see the only sort of change that doesn’t “throw out the baby with the bath-water” is change-in-continuity. Any sort of rupture is fatal to the whole enterprise.

Neither do I think that “reform” gets us much further. It seems to me that “reform,” by its very nature, seeks to recapture the virtues of an earlier “state-of-play” in the existence of its subject. So from the outset it exhibits a consciousness of the continuity of the subject over time. Furthermore, true reform will not ignore the value of development later than its “target era” – so, for example, an attempt to restore the primitive vigour of Christological doctrine by avoiding the definitions of the first Council of Nicea would not be a “reform” but a mutilation. The essence of true reform is continuity. The only legitimate reform, like the only legitimate change, is that which exhibits substantial doctrinal continuity with the whole history of the Church.

Thus we seem to have come full circle; and I keep thinking I must be missing something in your argument. Sorry if I’m being dense. :)

 
At Wednesday, March 18, 2009 4:22:00 am , Blogger Cardinal Pole said...

"Is there a difference between divine rights and civil rights?"

Yes, of course, but when the latter contradict the former they are rights in name only.

“We have usually combated these laws by saying that they are against human dignity, ie. against the right to religious freedom.”

Historically, no: as I’ve mentioned before, the first way the Church tried to combat these laws was by appeal to the veracity of the Church’s own message; when that failed, the subjective argument/argument in abstracto was invoked—‘people ought to be able to worship according to their [=> subjective] beliefs’—and when that failed, the argument ad hominem was invoked—‘you let him/them preach his/their message, why not let us preach ours too?’. And it’s not as though Christians had no liberty in infidel lands until after Vatican II—for instance, shortly after becoming Pope, Bl. Pius IX, the exemplar of Catholic socio-political doctrine, restored diplomatic relations with the Turkish Court and got permission to re-establish the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

It’s interesting that you use the example of Catholic-Muslim relations. At the time of Dignitatis Humanæ it was Catholic-Soviet relations that were foremost in many Churchmen’s minds; for instance, in a conversation between Msgr. Lefebvre and (if I recall correctly) the Bishop of Valais (Valais then being one of the officially Catholic cantons of Switzerland), the latter spoke of his hope that D.H. would make things easier for Catholics living under the Soviets. But one doesn’t abandon sound principles as part of some realpolitik strategy; the end doesn’t justify the means. And let’s face it, does anyone really think that a hard-line Islamist régime would hesitate to revoke any commitment to religious freedom once it can get away with it? After all, isn’t the Islamic understanding of human dignity, not to mention Church-State relations, radically different from ours? So what you’d have would be a situation just like the situation with the current Catholic mainstream position on the death penalty—bending over backwards to appeal to secular humanists by renouncing the death penalty in the hope that they might reciprocate by restricting abortion access. But as we see the secular humanists have no intention of restricting abortion, so we’ve betrayed our principles without even achieving anything by it. This is just what we can expect from Catholic-Muslim dialogue that renounces the principle of the Confessional State in the hope that Muslims will be more accommodating to Christians living in their territories.

“The way you interpret the Church's teaching would seem to suggest that the only basis on which we could argue with an Islamic regime on the matter of the freedom to be a Christian would be to tell them that our religion is true and theirs is false, therefore they must allow us the freedom to practice our religion! I don't think that would work, somehow...”

Of course it’s unlikely to work, but it is still the right principle.

“Thus, Leo XIII would have been correct in his condemnation of what he considered Americanism to be - and yet wrong in what Americanism actually was.”

But your continued insistence that Leo XIII misunderstood the American system assumes a level of naïveté and ignorance on the part of Leo XIII and his Curial advisors that is simply not plausible. If one wants to understand the American system, it’s not hard—just read its Constitution. And in that Constitution one will find all the false and absurd tenets of liberalism—liberty as an end in itself, equal rights for truth and error, permission for any activity so long as it doesn’t disturb the public peace, separation of Church and State; liberty as an end in itself, for instance, is clear from the famous ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ section. Far from being naïve or ignorant, Leo XIII was very prescient in his verdict on American values, a verdict which is so clearly correct these days that I find it incredible that anyone can dispute it; when a liberal democracy is run by people with good moral standards, liberal democracy can seem to have a certain (illusory) appeal, but once public morality has slid far enough and the country is run by positivists and practical nihilists the illusion can no longer be maintained.

 

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