Friday, July 03, 2009

On the Authority of Catechisms

Recently, in a comment, Cardinal Pole suggested that Catechisms are not binding magisterial documents. [Actually, as in the comment below, this was an error of recollection on my part. It was Kiran in dialogue with the Cardinal and not the Cardinal in dialogue with Kiran who made this point. I should have checked my sources. Somewhere I got the commentators jumbled.] I asked another commentator, Kiran Newman [in fact, I was asking the person who originally asserted it - see below], what he thought of this, and this was his response:
For instance, the stance of the CCC on Capital Punishment us debated frequently in traddie circles, and I don't think that constitutes rebellion, even if I think those who disagree with the disagreers. But then again, I am loath to multiply the number of binding instruments. The Catechism is, I think, authoritative, without being binding. Too nice a distinction? Or maybe, the Catechism can be seen as a kind of indication of what the Church in her concrete historical circumstances, is thinking. She can change her mind and has done so on what is in the Catechisms, while she cannot contradict herself on doctrine. I think one can however be required not to teach against the Catechism, if the Church so chooses. But she doesn't seem to do so in reality now. On the other hand, JPII says in publishing the current Catechism that it "is a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion." He carefully avoids binding, but says everything else. In sum then, I do not know. A worthy question for your blog?
Sure is, so we are asking it.


At Saturday, July 04, 2009 8:08:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...


At Monday, July 06, 2009 8:53:00 pm , Anonymous Kiran said...

That is alright. It is more the case that I sometimes think by speaking, or writing, even when I publicly put forward positions. Actually, it gave me occasion to look up a text of Cardinal Newman's which I otherwise would have missed, which I am using in my talk this weekend. So, all is to the good!

At Tuesday, July 07, 2009 11:58:00 am , Anonymous Cardinal Pole said...

"My sincere apologies to you, your Eminence."

Apologies accepted, and the changes to the original post are quite sufficient.

"In other words, what other sources of magisterial teaching in this regard other than the Catechism of St Pius X and Thomas Aquinas can you muster?"

None as yet, but I trust the Catechism of St. Pius X and expect that its teaching on this point has a firm foundation in Tradition, and given how concise the Catechism is, I expect also that this point of doctrine is a significant one; one could hardly accuse the Catechism of St. Pius X of being cluttered with speculation.

At Tuesday, July 07, 2009 12:04:00 pm , Anonymous Cardinal Pole said...

"What CP did do was to make a vague comment as to how the CCC sides with certain “scholastic positions.”"

What the ....... I did not say that! Go back and read that combox!

"[You] would say that that particular matter (whether human beings would have been transferred to heaven, had there not been a fall) is not one which admits of definition ..."

Surely not; the Church has condemned many errors on different aspects of original justice, and it would certainly be within her power to pronounce definitively on the particular aspect which we are presently discussing.

At Tuesday, July 07, 2009 10:21:00 pm , Anonymous Kiran said...

Here is your original quote, in response to my statement to the effect that I imagine you would quarrel with the current Catechism:

"Yes. Keep in mind also that the Catechisms of St. Pius X and of Trent tried diligently to avoid ‘the opinions of the schools’, whereas the New Catechism is dense with all sorts of phenomenological/symbolist/&c. curiosities."

The problem is not with the Church defining things about original justice, but on whether and the extent to which counterfactuals of that sort admit of ontologization to the point of de fide definitions, where God's will in the matter hasn't been defined, or that a conclusion doesn't follow logically from a revealed premise. "Scholastic" I admit was my faulty memory, but I don't think I substantially misrepresented what you said.

For instance, that Adam and Eve wouldn't have died, had they not sinned, is a counterfactual. But it is a logical consequence of the revealed position that death is a consequence of the Fall. What would have happened to Adam and Eve had they not sinned does not seem to partake of the same nature. At best, it is a scholastic opinion. And while, I myself tend to take my own views from Thomas read in the light of Augustine, I wouldn't say that this is De Fide.

At Wednesday, July 08, 2009 9:13:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Do you imply from this that you do not "trust" the Catechism of John Paul II, that its teaching does not, at points, have a "firm foundation in Tradition", and that it is "cluttered with speculation"? Or am I reading too much into your comment? In other words, why do have a greater trust for the Catechism of St Pius X than for the Catechism of Pope John Paul II? And what, I might ask in addition, of the Compendium of the Catechism - what might be called the "Catechism of Benedict XVI"? The latter is certainly concise.

At Thursday, July 09, 2009 3:58:00 pm , Anonymous Cardinal Pole said...

"Do you imply from this ..."

As a matter of logic one cannot infer those things from what I just said, but as a matter of fact, as I said to Kiran at the other post, I do indeed have problems with the C.C.C. I prefer the Catechism of St. Pius X (C.S.P.X.) to the C.C.C. because of the former's superior, timeless clarity and simplicity. As for concision, I have a copy of the Compendium of the C.C.C. (a WYD08 copy which I purchased for $1 at last year's Sydney Uni book fair) but I have not read it yet. Perhaps I will read it and compare it with the C.S.P.X. at some point in the future.


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