"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Is schism ever justified?

For a Catholic, schism is always a sin. We may never separate ourselves from the Body of Christ. (Protestants who appeal to the dispute between St. Paul and St. Barnabas as a justification for schism are, from the Catholic point of view, falsely interpreting that account, mistaking a difference in mission as a difference in communion.) To separate ourselves from the Body of Christ is to separate ourselves from Christ. When the Church excommunicates a heretic, the Church is not committing schism, or placing herself in schism. The person being excommunicated, by his rebellion and obstinacy, is separating himself from the Church. Excommunication formally acknowledges this separation and implements the changes in sacramental practice viz-a-viz that person that must accompany his sinful actions.

In the opinion of some non-Catholics, however, being in schism is justified when the Church has fallen into heresy. Notice that this non-Catholic claim about the occasion when schism is justified assumes (contrary to the teaching of the fathers) that there is no See that is both (1) protected from heresy in its ex cathedra teachings and (2) is the rock upon which the Church is built, i.e. is that See with which we must be in communion in order not to be in schism. So, for example, according to this non-Catholic opinion, if I think the rest of the Church has fallen into heresy, then, ceteris paribus, I do no wrong by cutting myself off from the rest of the Church. But why then call it schism? Why not simply say in that case: "I and all who presently agree with me are the Church; those in heresy are not the Church; schism is always wrong, and I am not in schism since I and all who presently agree with me are the entirety of the Church."

This non-Catholic opinion therefore has a problem. It simultaneously treats heresy as insufficient to place its proponents outside of the Church (for we do not say that we are in schism with pagans, and yet this non-Catholic position claims that we are justified in making a schism from heretics), and yet sufficient to justify placing oneself out of communion with them. If heresy places those who hold it outside the Church, then it is impossible to be in schism from heretics unless we are also in schism from pagans. But if heresy does not place its holders outside the Church, then we are not justified in making a schism from them, for we are not justified in dividing the Body of Christ.

The Catholic position does not have this problem because we do not claim to be in schism from anyone, nor do we claim that schism can ever be justified. From the Catholic point of view, where there are schisms, they are schisms from (i.e. separations from, not separations by) the Holy See, or from those in communion with the Holy See. (see CCC #2089) This follows from St. Peter's role as the Church's principium unitatis.

I raise this issue because I believe that we cannot understand true unity without understanding what schism is. And we cannot attain true unity if we do not understand true unity. That is why I believe that we need to understand what schism is in order to attain true unity.

11 comments:

Tim A. Troutman said...

"I and all who presently agree with me are the Church; those in heresy are not the Church; schism is always wrong, and I am not in schism since I and all who presently agree with me are the entirety of the Church."

Precisely what Calvin said. It's nearly a direct quote from him.

Another good post, keep 'em coming.

John said...

Bryan,
Is dissent or opposition to your priest/bishop(s) ever justified? If so, under what conditions then are you to trust your analysis of things as opposed to submitting to their viewpoint? How do you determine they are teaching contrary to the faith and it is not you misunderstanding things who should submit? What prevents lawful dissent from becoming unlawful schism?

Principium unitatis said...

John,

Good question. From a Catholic point of view, we will never have to choose between making a schism and believing heresy. If a priest or bishop is teaching heresy, we should hold on to orthodoxy. But the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility entails that even if a pope becomes a heretic, he will never teach heresy ex cathedra, (and neither will an ecumenical council ratified by the pope). Therefore, if a pope becomes a heretic, we may reject his heretical beliefs, but we may not break communion with him, for his heretical beliefs do not justify our dividing the Body of Christ. So, the short answer is that this question about choosing between heresy and schism, is, for Catholics, a false dilemma, because it is an impossible scenario, given the doctrine of papal infallibility. If you are interested in reading about the possibility of papal heresy, from a Catholic perspective, Dave Armstrong talked about that recently here, in the first half of that article. Dave also refers to this article from This Rock which may be helpful in answering your question.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

John said...

"If a priest or bishop is teaching heresy, we should hold on to orthodoxy". Exactly - how do you determine what is orthodoxy/binding and what is still open/debateable. This gets into the whole common Protestant objection "where is the infallible list of infallible doctrine" of course (I'm sure you're aware of the conflicting views amongst Catholics as what teachings have been ex cathedra or what conciliar decrees are infallible).

I agree a lot of it is pretty clear - predestination for example is allowed a lot of theological opinion within boundaries and if some priest said purgatory doesn't exist or Christ wasn't divine or something, it's heresy. But for instance, suppose you believe your priest (or pope) is promoting heretical beliefs on some not-as-clear issue. You could very well likely just resist him privately but say it starts going outside an isolated homily here or there and starts having a wider effect. What if you just resist him privately but you are actually wrong about what you view as orthodoxy and so you should've actually submitted to him instead of quietly resisting him your whole life - is that a problem (seems like it could be - say the issue of birth control - http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt12.html reviews a book 1000 pages long whose sole purpose is to defend that humana vitae is infallible and http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt43.html shows the confusion of theologians following vatican 1 in interpreting what is and isn't infallible).

But let's say you confront him about it and he appeals to his pastoral authority and gives you his interpretation of official documents that bolster his viewpoint. But you of course have your own interpretation (again the common Protestant argument - perspicuity of Scripture vs. perspicuity of Magisterial documents - i.e. the confusion over vatican 1). Are you at a stalemate or what? What if he thinks you are fundamentally in error on this point that he thinks requires assent and demands you to assent? You would leave that parish for a new one? And now extrapolate this to bishop, archbishop, pope (heh of course the poor laypeople don't have a hotline to the pope but you see my point).

Even if we grant papal infalliblity, there's the issue of resisting the local shepherds. Consider the issue in Latin America with excessive Marian devotion that can border on (if not becoming outright) idolatry that pretty much goes on unfettered from the shepherds, both local and global. Obviously no pope or council has promulgated beliefs expressed in those activities as binding or orthodox (quite the contrary) but they are supported by the local priests and bishops without any sanctions I'm aware of whatsoever. Or say the issue with Arianism holding sway over many of the bishops (Athanasius contra mundum).

Yes this was lengthy - my apologies :) The point is simply that in a lot of the talks on authority - it isn't just a simple matter of:
"Use your private judgment to evaluate the claims of the churches that claim infalliblity in some capacity (as any church that doesn't claim this such as all Protestant bodies has no justification to ask for your continued submission and so shouldn't be considered) and when you decide on that church (RC/EO/Mormons/JW although I admit the historical claims of Mormons/JWs are not very convincing in my mind - but of course you are supposed to submit to their interpretation of church history/scripture so it's a catch-22), you must submit to all infallible teachings, but we can't tell you exactly what those are, but you are free to hold your own opinions on undefined things, which we can't enumerate completely given the issue with infallible teaching. What you may think is infallible now may turn out not to be or may undergo development of doctrine into something else that you never even considered depending on the Church's growing in understanding."

So Protestantism's issues with authority are admittedly messy. But so are Catholicism's imho.

Principium unitatis said...

John,

From the Catholic point of view, the deposit of faith was given to the saints once and for all. That deposit has been clarified (but not departed from) over time by the Ecumenical Councils and the Popes. And the Church has also exercised its teaching authority on issues that have arisen (e.g. contraception). For various reasons, different Catholic doctrines are taught with different "grades of certainty" and 'binding-ness'. If you haven't already, pick up a copy of Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. He goes through these degrees, and shows which apply to which doctrines. The lowest of such grades of certainty are "theological opinions" about which there can be "free opinion". When the Pope pronounces on such matters, then they cease to be theological opinions, and become binding on Catholics. Dogmas likewise are not up for dispute; they are non-negotiable. And they are laid out clearly from the ecumenical councils, and the ex cathedra teachings. Doctrinally, what divides Protestants and Catholics is not at the level of disputable doctrines; it is at the level of dogma.

In the case of your example of resisting a priest's preaching on birth control, the lay person should not be resisting that teaching, because it concurs with the teaching of the Holy See, and it is not in contradiction with any previously-established dogma. So there is no reason to think it is heresy.

In order to be justified in resisting a priest's teaching, it must clearly be in opposition to the teaching of the Holy See or previously-established dogma.

But let's say you confront him about it and he appeals to his pastoral authority and gives you his interpretation of official documents that bolster his viewpoint. But you of course have your own interpretation (again the common Protestant argument - perspicuity of Scripture vs. perspicuity of Magisterial documents - i.e. the confusion over vatican 1). Are you at a stalemate or what? What if he thinks you are fundamentally in error on this point that he thinks requires assent and demands you to assent? You would leave that parish for a new one? And now extrapolate this to bishop, archbishop, pope (heh of course the poor laypeople don't have a hotline to the pope but you see my point).

Priests and bishops cannot "demand assent", because that is contrary to the Church's teaching regarding religious freedom. We freely give assent to the Church's teaching. If we rebel, then we can be excommunicated. But we can appeal to the pope if we think that we are being wrongly or unjustifiedly disciplined. Now, it is theoretically possible for the Pope to excommunicate someone for heresy, when the person is actually orthodox. But that doesn't justify schism. Just because the pope could theoretically err in excommunicating an orthodox person does not mean that we are justified in being in or remaining in schism. We should (in this hypothetical case) seek to remain in communion with the pope (and thus the Church), and try to work out the theological disagreement while still *in* the Church.

There is a fundamental difference between going to a different Catholic parish (because of a bad priest), and (for the same reason) leaving one's Catholic parish and going to a schismatic sect. Two wrongs don't make a right. Just because your parish priest is a heretic doesn't mean you are justified in leaving the one true Church that Christ founded and joining or forming a schism.

What you may think is infallible now may turn out not to be or may undergo development of doctrine into something else that you never even considered depending on the Church's growing in understanding."

That notion was condemned as heresy at Vatican I. I wonder how familiar you are with the Catholic understanding of development of doctrine. Development of doctrine is understood organically, such that no development can contradict the dogmas the Church has always held. Development is not equivalent to "change". It is a certain kind of change, i.e. organic change, the way a plant grows. It brings out and makes explicit what was always there implicitly. It never contradicts or goes against what was before.

I don't use the word "messy" when I evalute positions. I use the words "true" and "false", because if it is true, then I'm going to believe it, whether it is messy or not. And if it is false, then I'm not going to believe it, even if it is not messy. So whether it is messy or not is completely irrelevant. The problem with the various Protestant positions, in my opinion, is not that they are messy, but that they are, in certain respects, not true.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

John said...

I understand the distinctions between the degrees of certainty on doctrine. However, it is still the case that there is no existing binding/infallible list of binding/infallible dogmas - your "laid out clearly" statement just doesn't wash - plenty of educated, intelligent Catholics disagree on what is infallible (or authoritative - as infallible items are a subset of authoritative items). Surely we know some, but not the full extent - the catechism is not infallible, all the documents in denzinger are not necessarily infallible - Ott certainly isn't infallible. Now, there is something to be said for not just submitting to the barest of essentials (i.e. all infallible/binding things) - Catholics shouldn't be legalistic and think the Church should be reduced to solemnly defining every point of doctrine before it it can be taken seriously and Protestant confessions aren't infallible but members of the church submit to them. So if one simply submits to the catechism's teachings, it makes sense. But this issue does come up when you start talking about dissent/schism (since one must know what teachings are not infallible or not authoritative and so can be dissented from). Even if denzinger was completely infallible (or just consider the ecumenical councils themselves), there is still the issue of interpretation. That's why some of your questions in your latest post just push the issue back - who authoritatitively interprets the authoratitive interpretation and so on - the common Protestant objection of infinite regress.

In the case of your example of resisting a priest's preaching on birth control, the lay person should not be resisting that teaching, because it concurs with the teaching of the Holy See, and it is not in contradiction with any previously-established dogma. So there is no reason to think it is heresy.

Not that it is necessarily heretical - but whether it is infallible. I should be able to dissent from a non-infallible and non-authoritative teaching, yes? I would say the Jesuit/Molinist position on grace/predestination is the dominant position of the Church and many of its leaders, but I am perfectly justified in dissenting from that viewpoint and embracing the Dominican/Thomist perspective if I consider that one more accurate. So if the priest was advocating that in some bible study, I could certainly disagree with him. The previous pope was against the death penalty. Not everything the Holy See teaches or every encyclical is infallible.

In order to be justified in resisting a priest's teaching, it must clearly be in opposition to the teaching of the Holy See or previously-established dogma.

So it's necessary to ascertain what teachings are exactly dogma or authoritative (again with the infallible list problem).

Just because the pope could theoretically err in excommunicating an orthodox person does not mean that we are justified in being in or remaining in schism. We should (in this hypothetical case) seek to remain in communion with the pope (and thus the Church), and try to work out the theological disagreement while still *in* the Church.

Sure, I agree schism in any ecclesiological model should be a last resort. But dissent is not schism; but if my dissent is actually against an infallible teaching/dogma, hasn't that made me de facto a schismatic, even if I'm unaware of the teaching being infallible? But maybe I stop holding it privately and am confronted about it so I have no ignorance - but again, what if I'm not convinced the priest or bishop's interpretation of magisterial documents is correct and that they are really being unlawful towards me?

That notion was condemned as heresy at Vatican I. I wonder how familiar you are with the Catholic understanding of development of doctrine. Development of doctrine is understood organically, such that no development can contradict the dogmas the Church has always held. Development is not equivalent to "change". It is a certain kind of change, i.e. organic change, the way a plant grows. It brings out and makes explicit what was always there implicitly. It never contradicts or goes against what was before.

Yes I am of course familiar with the Catholic viewpoint. The problem is, you can never question the development given the Church's authority - there is no way to determine whether the plant has become some mutated abberration because the Church can simply claim you are not understanding Scripture or history correctly. This is why the charge of sola ecclesia often comes up - there is simply no way to validate Rome's claims when she determines what is Tradition (without ever defining exactly the contents therein), what is valid development, what the proper interpretation of Scripture is, etc. The Orthodox certainly think Rome has contradicted what was before, not just papal infallibility of course but a host of other issues. People living during Florence or who were granted absolution and remission of sins for fighting in the Crusades would probably be a bit surprised with the current position towards Muslims and non-believers. Many more examples could be mentioned, but you get the point that the theory is a nice utility that prevents any critical examination - seriously, how would you determine whether a development was valid or invalid - you pretty much just have faith that God is leading Rome - if Rome approved it, it's valid, if not, it's not; note Humani Generis:
"It is also true that theologians must always return to the sources of divine revelation: for it belongs to them to point out how the doctrine of the living Teaching Authority is to be found either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures and in Tradition." Maybe that's not eisegesis, but sounds like it.
Josh S. noted the circularity at BHT:
1. Who determines which councils are authoritative? The pope.
2. Who determines that the pope is authoritative? Jesus, with his words, “Thou art Peter.”
3. Who authoritatively determines that Jesus’ words, “Thou art Peter” establish the Roman papacy?
4. The First Vatican Council. [Return to Question 1]
Note I'm not against development; I'm not saying the Trinity or sola fide or the penal substitutionary theory of atonement weren't developments.

Principium unitatis said...

John,

There is no infinite regress for Catholics because we have a living Magisterium. If we are misunderstanding the Pope, he can issue a clarification (as the CDF recently did). And if we are misunderstanding the clarification, he can issue a further clarification. We can ask him, "Do you mean X?", and he can answer "yes" or "no". The existence of a living Magisterium allows for this buck-stopping point with respect to clarification. There is no magisterial organ in Protestantism, and this is why (in my opinion) Protestantism is intrinsically individualistic, and thus intrinsically disposed to fragmentation. Since my concern is Church unity, in accordance with Christ's prayer in John 17, you can see why I think it is important to talk about *authority*. Without agreement about authority (i.e. who are the rightful shepherds), we cannot have the true unity that Christ wants His sheep to have.

Also, just to clarify, a magisterial teaching does not have to be infallible to be authoritative. We should submit to all magisterial teaching. If a pope believes or says something heretical (contrary to previously established Catholic dogma), we should not accept it. There is no magisterial position on the Molinist/Thomistic debate; so we are free to hold either position. You seem to think that not having an infallible list of dogmas is a problem. But as far as I can tell, you have not shown that we need an *infallible* list of dogmas. My impression is that you think authority and infallibility are biconditionally related; but that is not the Catholic position. I also agree with you that dissent per se is not necessarily schism, if we are dissenting from an heretical opinion. But obviously dissent can become schism if we otherwise refuse to submit to the Pope.

The problem is ... there is simply no way to validate Rome's claims

And why is this a "problem"? How would you have "validated" the Apostles claims had you lived in 50 AD? There is a difference between faith and rationalism. (See here.)

As for the alleged circularity that you quoted from the BHT, the mistake is in step #3. It was not Vatican I that authoritatively established that "Thou art Peter" established the Roman papacy. The papacy itself has, from very early on, authoritatively taught that Christ's words to Peter gave the primacy of authority and jurisdiction to the Petrine See. So for that reason, there is no circular authority chain. Vatican I's teaching on this subject *is* authoritative, but its authority is dependent on the Pope's authority.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

John said...

You talk about a living authority that can issue clarification, saying Protestantism has no such organ. Of course, each Protestant body has its own governing entity that can clarify things - for example the General Assemblies in Presbyterianism that recently issued statements on the FV controversy. Just becuase people wouldn't claim the GA's decisions were infallible, doesn't mean they don't have authority - as you just said - "a magisterial teaching does not have to be infallible to be authoritative." Are his clarifications infallible? Probably not - so they could actually be wrong. A future pope could certainly re-clarify them in a different light or abrogate his clarifications completely as they weren't infallible statements.

My impression is that you think authority and infallibility are biconditionally related; but that is not the Catholic position.

No I do not think an authority has to be infallible to have genuine authority (I don't think my parents or boss are infallible, but they do have authority over me) - but that seems to be the view many Catholic apologists hold; Protestants believe their churches and creeds/confessions are authoritative, but not infallible. If you're saying one should also assent to Church teachings that are authoritative, but not infallible, then that isn't much different than what Protestants do. If you, as a Catholic, felt the authoritative (but non-infallible) teaching was erroneous, why would you be compelled to believe it? God only safeguards infallible teachings right? That's why it's important to get the infallible list, or to define what it means to be an ex cathedra statement. Perspectives can be so different on papal infalliblity, so that papal statements can be qualified in hundreds of different ways after the fact to safeguard the infalliblity clause - that's why papal infallibility seems nice in theory, but in practice often dies the death of a thousand qualifications when you start studying it closer and in history - no one can give a list of all infallible/ex cathedra statements; the doctrine itself that is to help in clarifying truth is itself not at all clear.

I also agree with you that dissent per se is not necessarily schism, if we are dissenting from an heretical opinion. But obviously dissent can become schism if we otherwise refuse to submit to the Pope.

What if the Pope is teaching heresy authoritatively, but not ex cathedra? Again, the only safeguard from error is ex cathedra/infallible statements/ratifications of conciliar decrees. We should still submit?


And why is this a "problem"? How would you have "validated" the Apostles claims had you lived in 50 AD? There is a difference between faith and rationalism.


Yes, I agree faith plays a role. How does Scripture say the Bereans validated Paul's claims? It's not a "problem" if you do not claim you have some epistemological advantage over Protestants - your faith in the RCC can not be justified more than a Protestant's faith in Scripture being the sole infallible norm. If Tradition is infallible, or even revelational (if taking the partim-partim view), isn't it kind of important to know what constitutes Tradition (that's one problem Protestants have with the RCC view on Tradition - it is so nebulous that it can be invoked for nearly any cause).

I'm also curious as to your view of authority in the OT vs. the NT - do you think the Incarnation changed things in terms of authority given the divine precedent set in the OT?

Principium unitatis said...

John,

Each Protestant body does have its own governing entity. But none of them claims to determine authoritatively what all Christians should believe. That's what I mean by "authority". Anyone can start up a denomination and then give the 'authoritative' determination of what that denomination believes and teaches. This is one of the differences between the Catholic Church, and denominations. Take, for example, the denomination named the Presbyterian Church in America. By its very name, it shows itself not to be claiming to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. To be "catholic" is to be universal, to include (in some respect) all Christians, for Christ founded only one Church. It is true that some Presbyterian denominations have ruled against FV, but the CREC is pro-FV, and it is a Presbyterian denomination. So which denomination's decision is authoritative? See the problem? When you can just start your own denomination when you disagree, then it is clear that denominations have no actual authority. That is why the only actual ecclesial authority is found in the Church that Christ Himself founded, as I explained here and other places in my blog (click on the label at the left titled 'sacramental magisterial authority').

Probably not - so they could actually be wrong. A future pope could certainly re-clarify them in a different light or abrogate his clarifications completely as they weren't infallible statements.

The sort of clarifications I am talking about are not off-handed remarks by the Pope, but those that meet the ex cathedra criteria spelled out in section 9 of chapter 4 of Session 4 of Vatican I. May I recommend also that you read Newman's An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

If you, as a Catholic, felt the authoritative (but non-infallible) teaching was erroneous, why would you be compelled to believe it?

You have described a hypothetical situation that I cannot possibly imagine myself being in. I cannot imagine believing a Catholic teaching to be authoritative and simultaneously believing it to be erroneous. If I believed it to be authoritative, I would believe it to be true, even if I did not see for myself that it was true. Instead of dealing with hypotheticals, perhaps you have some particular doctrine in mind.

God only safeguards infallible teachings right? That's why it's important to get the infallible list, or to define what it means to be an ex cathedra statement. Perspectives can be so different on papal infalliblity, so that papal statements can be qualified in hundreds of different ways after the fact to safeguard the infalliblity clause - that's why papal infallibility seems nice in theory, but in practice often dies the death of a thousand qualifications when you start studying it closer and in history - no one can give a list of all infallible/ex cathedra statements; the doctrine itself that is to help in clarifying truth is itself not at all clear.

Is there a particular Catholic doctrine that you have in mind? Anyone can speculate with hypotheticals and generalizations, but it establishes nothing. (E.g. What if Jesus had actually sinned? What if Judas had not betrayed Jesus?)

What if the Pope is teaching heresy authoritatively, but not ex cathedra?

If it is heresy, it is not authoritative, and we shouldn't accept it. All these hypotheticals are making me curious: why are you not Catholic? Is it because of (in your view) the hypothetical possibility that the Church could teach heresy as doctrine to be believed and received by all Catholics?

How does Scripture say the Bereans validated Paul's claims?

The Berean passage does not mean that the layman's interpretation is authoritative. The Apostles' interpretation of the OT was authoritative. Luke tells us that the Bereans were noble-minded, because they were truth seekers; they didn't simply reject Paul's teaching, they were open-minded enough to look to see whether the OT really said the things Paul was saying that it said. But that does not mean that Paul's interpretation of the OT had no more authority than did that of the Bereans. Praise of open-mindedness does not constitute or entail a denial of hierarchical ecclesial authority.

your faith in the RCC can not be justified more than a Protestant's faith in Scripture being the sole infallible norm

I don't agree. But I'm willing to discuss this with you.


I'm also curious as to your view of authority in the OT vs. the NT - do you think the Incarnation changed things in terms of authority given the divine precedent set in the OT?

I'm not exactly sure I understand your question, but I think you are asking about whether the religious authority under the Old Covenant was changed under the New Covenant. And my answer is definitely *yes*. The Spirit has been given, and the gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit protects and guides the Church, leading her into all truth. This allows for development of doctrine is a way that could not take place under the Old Covenant.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

John said...

Each Protestant body does have its own governing entity. But none of them claims to determine authoritatively what all Christians should believe. So which denomination's decision is authoritative? See the problem?

The one I choose to submit to (same as you); everyone is in the same boat. Once again, I do not deny you have to use your private judgment to choose what church you will join. And we choose to submit, yes - but is this blind submission to a self-appointed authority? Or is this rational submission to someone who can make a reasonable case for his interpretation? Most Protestant churches do not claim their particular denomination is the one, true church. And of course we view Rome and Constantinople as denominations as well, in fact ones whose claims are just as much a barrier to unity as your view of us. This also minimizes the RCC magnification of the problem of denominationalism - we don't think just one particular denomination can exemplify the true church - shockingly, Baptists and Presbyterians and Lutherans can get along. Paul also says divisions will be necessary so the correct position will emerge by process of comparing and contrasting.

The sort of clarifications I am talking about are not off-handed remarks by the Pope, but those that meet the ex cathedra criteria spelled out in section 9 of chapter 4 of Session 4 of Vatican I. May I recommend also that you read Newman's An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

I did read Newman a few years ago in college, but I was not completely persuaded of course - he failed to show me how legitimate development differs from corruption aside from it boiling down to "some infallible entity must be chosen that can arbitrate". I should re-read him as it's been a while, but I'm sure you are aware there were rebuttals of that essay as well when it was published. More importantly related to development of doctrine, what is the value of a definition that is never definitive? Do you believe someone living at the time of "Unam Sanctam" would agree with its understanding now? Also interesting to note that Newman and Dr. Ward disagreed on the extent of ex cathedra statements (Ward ridiculing Newman as a "minimalist").

You have described a hypothetical situation that I cannot possibly imagine myself being in. I cannot imagine believing a Catholic teaching to be authoritative and simultaneously believing it to be erroneous. If I believed it to be authoritative, I would believe it to be true, even if I did not see for myself that it was true. Instead of dealing with hypotheticals, perhaps you have some particular doctrine in mind.

Okay, let's say the teachings of popes like Liberius, Zosimus, Vigilius, Julius I view on communion, Honorius I, Eugenius IV, the Sistine Vulgate? Now I'm aware of all the counterarguments to these cases, but they boil down to, as I mentioned earlier, jumping through all the qualifier hoops to protect infalliblity. But you're not even talking about infallible cases, just non-infallible authoritative teaching in general, so you've made the case much harder and now you have to show all these cases were not even authoritative at all; no faithful Catholic exposed to the errors of these men really believed anything that could be construed as heresy or "damaging to the soul" (as Honorius' letter was deemed by a council) or were simply MISLED in any way by these teachings because they knew they weren't really authoritative. How about "Unam Sanctum" with Florence/Lateran IV? Or the syllabus of errors? Or the granting of absolution/remission for sins for engaging in the crusades against the infidels? Innocent I and Gelasius I declaring that infants must receive communion since those who died without it go to hell? Galileo? Papal bulls that have been abrogated by subsequent popes? Many more examples could be brought forth. And if you succeed, why do I trust your criteria for determining what is and isn't authoritative and not some other catholic or published theologian or even a priest/bishop? I would also argue that (non-infallible) authoritative teaching directly touches on the indefectibility issue, even though you might save papal infalliblity.

I will say your thinking does align with Lumen Gentium though - "This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; 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" so yes, even non-infallible teaching must be assented to it seems.

It just seems there's no way to salvage that an "authoritative" teaching at one time cannot turn out to be deemed heretical or simply erroneous or misleading later on given history but maybe I'm wrong.

If it is heresy, it is not authoritative, and we shouldn't accept it. All these hypotheticals are making me curious: why are you not Catholic? Is it because of (in your view) the hypothetical possibility that the Church could teach heresy as doctrine to be believed and received by all Catholics?

Once again, I ask how do you determine it is heresy if the Pope or Church is teaching it at some time? You do not have the benefit of hindsight that all the counterarguments to the cases in history provide. Once you're committed to your church as the one and only true church, you'll put up with anything because you'll believe you must submit or you will be showing your unfaithfulness to God (as you said, you have faith that the Church will not teach heresy). As you know, Jesus warns us against the dangers of man-made tradition, and judges that tradition by the standard of scripture, but if human tradition comes to be identified with a divine institution, it is then impervious to the correction of Scripture, and we’re right back to the situation that the Lord cautioned against. How would you invalidate a Copt's or EO's or Mormon's claims using your RC methodology? It seems impossible. And of course there remains the trickle-down effect - the teaching comes from the top but then you consult Catholic commentaries and theologians, your priest/bishop, other magisterial documents to try to ensure you're interpreting correctly.

The Apostles' interpretation of the OT was authoritative.

Yes the Apostles' interpretation was authoritative. Their interpretation is Scripture - they were creating inspired texts - but that interpretation was also grounded in exegeting the OT scriptures as the Bereans could testify to. But revelation has ended; we no longer have inspired people walking around.

your faith in the RCC can not be justified more than a Protestant's faith in Scripture being the sole infallible norm
I don't agree. But I'm willing to discuss this with you.


Okay, how do you identify the true church? How is an authoritative church sufficient while an authoritative Bible is insufficient? Please keep in mind Scripture is a covenantal document - just as the OT was for Israel.

I'm also curious as to your view of authority in the OT vs. the NT - do you think the Incarnation changed things in terms of authority given the divine precedent set in the OT?
I'm not exactly sure I understand your question, but I think you are asking about whether the religious authority under the Old Covenant was changed under the New Covenant. And my answer is definitely *yes*. The Spirit has been given, and the gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit protects and guides the Church, leading her into all truth. This allows for development of doctrine is a way that could not take place under the Old Covenant.


Okay, right - my main point was that many of your objections to sola scriptura would equally apply to the OT community, so then the question is how could the OT covenant community get along without a Magisterium, but not the NT covenant community, all the way from Abraham to Jesus? There was plenty of doctrinal diversity and sects in second temple Judaism, yet God never saw fit to install an infallible Jewish Magisterium in order to prevent this plurality of viewpoints, so why is doctrinal diversity an argument for the necessity of a Magisterium under the New Covenant? One might think it would be reasonable for God to establish such an entity, but that doesn't make it so when you see what He has actually done in the past.

I would also venture that your citation of Jn 17:21, if taken in context, points more towards an ethnic unity rather than some institutional one, as the Gentiles and succeeding generations are to be engrafted into the convenant community. Have you considered that this utopian ideal of institutional unity simply might NOT be the divine will and rather the diversity is part of God's redemptive plan (like how Israel still fell away after God sent prophets - did He fail? No, it was part of His plan). History was messy with God, even for his people, according to His plan, and it could very well still be messy now, according to His plan. But I acknowledge the Incarnation could have changed all this - it's just not supremely evident (many of Christ's promises are to the Apostolate and aren't necessarily extended to some institutional structure).

Principium unitatis said...

John,

Thank you for your comments. It seems to me that you possibly do not have a conception of sacramental magisterial authority. That is revealed in your following two questions:

And we choose to submit, yes - but is this blind submission to a self-appointed authority? Or is this rational submission to someone who can make a reasonable case for his interpretation?

For a Catholic, the two options you have listed here do not exhaust the possibilities, and so we would treat this as a false dichotomy. From a Catholic point of view, we do not have to choose between a self-appointed authority and someone "who can make a reasonable case for his interpretation". A third option is that we could choose to submit ourselves to those with sacramental magisterial authority. Sacramental magisterial authority is neither "self-appointed" nor defined by its ability to make [what to us seems like] a reasonable case. It may the case that the teaching put forward by the sacramental magisterial authority seems to us unreasonable. Otherwise, there would be no possibility for "fides quaerens intellectum". If you want to understand the concept of sacramental magisterial authority more deeply, just click on "sacramental magisterial authority" under the label section at the left-side of my blog page.

Your not having the concept of sacramental magisterial authority would (in part) explain why you think that "everyone is in the same boat", i.e. you (apparently – please correct me if I'm wrong) think that no present community of believers is the one that Christ founded when He spoke of building His Church (St. Matthew 16:18), and that no ecclesial authority can give an authoritative pronouncement concerning what all Christians should believe, but only concerning what Christians in his own denomination should believe. If that is your position, then it is as if you think that at some point in time in the history of the Church, schism from the Church (as opposed to schism within) became impossible. There was then only 'schism within', or apostasy (i.e. formal heresy). So your position seems to reduce schism to either of the following: formal heresy or 'schism within'.

And of course we view Rome and Constantinople as denominations as well, in fact ones whose claims are just as much a barrier to unity as your view of us. ... we don't think just one particular denomination can exemplify the true church

I'm glad to have found more common ground with you in your use of the phrase "barrier to unity", because at least we share the desire for unity. What do you think true unity would look like?

The 'denominational' concept is, if I remember correctly, less than two hundred years old. I wonder what you think about the early Church; was it, in your opinion, a denomination? If 'yes', then how did it not "exemplify the true church". But if 'no', then what is the principled difference between what the early Church was and a denomination, and why do you think the Catholic Church is a denomination and not what the early Church was? Until the Reformation, almost all Christians believed that Christ established an organization/institution (i.e. one hierarchically organized body). Were they all wrong? Was the true Church not exemplified until the plethora of denominations arose after the Reformation?

Paul also says divisions will be necessary so the correct position will emerge by process of comparing and contrasting.

We have to be very careful not to misconstrue what St. Paul is saying here. St. Paul is not here advocating schism. He says clearly in 1 Cor 1:10 "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." He tells us to "keep away from those who cause divisions by teaching things contrary to what has been received". (Romans 16:17) So in the verse you cite (1 Cor 11:19), St. Paul is not encouraging schism or division or disunity. He says, "For there must also be factions/dissensions [haireseis] among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you." (The etymological roots of this word 'haireseis', as you may know, have to do with choice.) He does not mean that disunity in itself is in itself necessary or in itself desirable. He has in mind, I believe, examples such as that of Moses and Korah (Numbers 16), where there needed to be a separation in order that God could show who was favored, Moses or Korah. So likewise, St. Paul is saying, it is necessary (conditionally and instrumentally) that these dissenting persons in the Corinthian church separate into factions, so that God can reveal which are the ones divinely approved. So visible separation, St. Paul is saying, is conditionally and instrumentally necessary when there is disagreement among the leadership. That does not mean that the Church continues among each of the resulting schisms/factions, or that the true Church is exemplified among each of the factions/sects. St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians definitively and authoritatively (i.e. with Apostolic authority) showed to the Corinthian believers which of the factions were approved, and which were not. Jesus tells us that it is inevitable that stumbling blocks will come. (Luke 17:1) I think that is the same sense of necessity that St. Paul has in mind here in this verse. It is like the necessity of excommunications. They must occur, *when* persons depart from the faith in certain respects. But that does not mean that we all should not strive continually for the full visible unity of all those who love Jesus, or that the Church continues in both those who are excommunicating and those excommunicated. (e.g. 1 Cor 5:2; 1 Timothy 1:20)

he failed to show me how legitimate development differs from corruption

How do you think genuine development differs from corruption or addition, or do you think there is no genuine development?

More importantly related to development of doctrine, what is the value of a definition that is never definitive?

That question contains a question-begging assumption, namely, that if doctrine can develop, then it is never definitive. That assumption entails that only when all that is implicit in a doctrine has been made explicit, is it definitive. But how do you know that any of the doctrines that you yourself think are definitive have met that criterion, i.e. that all that is implicit in them has been made explicit?

Do you believe someone living at the time of "Unam Sanctam" would agree with its understanding now?

That's quite similar to asking whether someone living at the time of the writing of Isaiah 53 would agree with its understanding now. If they knew what we know about Jesus, then presumably *yes*, they would agree with its understanding now. In other words, the question *presumes* that there is no development. Now, the difference between the two cases is that the incarnation is an act of special revelation, while Lumen Gentium is not based on additional special revelation received after Unam Sanctum. Development per se is not based on additional special revelation. And yet development is based on additional understanding of that revelation. So, greater understanding in the area of ecclesiology within the Church's deposit of faith has helped us better understand the meaning of the statements in Unam Sanctum. If you don't have a principled distinction between development and corruption, then I don't see how you could say that Lumen Gentium is a corruption and not a development. I don't think "would someone living then have agreed with its present understanding" is a good test to distinguish development from corruption. We cannot be so jealous of those who in the future will have a better understanding than we presently have, so as to insist that if we would disagree (in some respect) with their understanding of a doctrine, then either they must have corrupted the doctrine or the doctrine in its present state is neither definitive nor authoritative. That seems to me to be something like the chronological snobbery Lewis and Chesterton rightly reject.

Okay, let's say the teachings of popes like Liberius, Zosimus, Vigilius, Julius I view on communion, Honorius I, Eugenius IV, the Sistine Vulgate? Now I'm aware of all the counterarguments to these cases, but they boil down to, as I mentioned earlier, jumping through all the qualifier hoops to protect infalliblity.

Saying of arguments that they are "jumping through ... hoops" is not a refutation of those arguments.

But you're not even talking about infallible cases, just non-infallible authoritative teaching in general, so you've made the case much harder and now you have to show all these cases were not even authoritative at all;

I did not claim that these cases are not authoritative, so I don't see why I would have to show that they are not authoritative. You seem to think that if a Catholic teaching is not infallible, and if the teaching is in fact erroneous, then it is not authoritative. But I don't hold that position. I said the following: "If I believed [a Catholic teaching] to be authoritative, I would believe it to be true, even if I did not see for myself that it was true." There I am talking about cases in which I don't know (on independent grounds) whether the [non-infallible] teaching is true or false. But, if I believed a non-infallible teaching to be false [but not heretical], then I would still believe it to be authoritative, in virtue of its status as Catholic teaching.

It just seems there's no way to salvage that an "authoritative" teaching at one time cannot turn out to be deemed heretical or simply erroneous or misleading later on given history but maybe I'm wrong.

Well, I'm neither making nor trying to "salvage" such a claim.

Once again, I ask how do you determine it is heresy if the Pope or Church is teaching it at some time?

If it has already been infallibly declared to be heresy (e.g. Arianism), then we can know that it is heresy.

. Once you're committed to your church as the one and only true church, you'll put up with anything because you'll believe you must submit or you will be showing your unfaithfulness to God

That is true in one sense, false in another. It is true in this sense, that I will not leave the Church that Christ founded. To whom else shall I go? She has the words of eternal life. But, what you say is in another sense false. I will not believe to be true or orthodox what the Church has infallibly taught to be heresy.

as you said, you have faith that the Church will not teach heresy

From the point of view of Catholic faith, the teachings that meet the criteria laid out in Vatican I for infallibility are not, and will never be, heretical. The problem your position has, I suspect, is that the word 'heresy' reduces to 'contrary to my own interpretation of scripture'. In other words, without an authoritative magisterium, you eliminate the possibility of heresy.

As you know, Jesus warns us against the dangers of man-made tradition, and judges that tradition by the standard of scripture, but if human tradition comes to be identified with a divine institution, it is then impervious to the correction of Scripture, and we’re right back to the situation that the Lord cautioned against.

Catholics agree.

How would you invalidate a Copt's or EO's or Mormon's claims using your RC methodology? It seems impossible.

The Copts rejected (in some respect disputed by the Copts to this day) the fourth Ecumenical Council. The EO's rejected the Eighth Ecumenical Council. Mormonism is in a whole different ball park. (The Catholic Church denies that Mormon baptisms are valid.) If you want to see my response to Mormonism, click here.


we no longer have inspired people walking around.

Authority and inspiration are not the same thing, I hope you agree. Otherwise, only those Apostles who were inspired had authority. Likewise, the fact that inspiration has ceased does not mean that sacramental magisterial authority has ceased. One doesn't have to be inspired to have such authority.

how do you identify the true church?

We identify the true Church by going back to Jesus. We know that Jesus founded a Church. Now the key is to keep your finger on that thing that Jesus founded, and move forward through history, century by century, until you reach the present day. Don't go quickly. Read the writings of the fathers of the first century, then the second century, and then third century, and then the fourth century, and then the fifth century. Now, whenever there is a schism, you have to determine which is the split off (at least in some respect), and which is the continuation of the Church that Christ founded. How did the fathers determine which is the continuation of the Church Christ founded, and which is the schism from that Church? Notice the roles of the Ecumenical Councils. Notice also the role of the Pope in the authority of the Ecumenical Councils. (I'm not trying to be patronizing in this paragraph -- I'm simply laying out how I think the true Church is to be found. I'd be interested in how you agree/disagree with that general methodology, and where in history our 'fingers' part ways, so to speak, and at that very point where our fingers part ways, why your finger goes away from mine.)

How is an authoritative church sufficient while an authoritative Bible is insufficient?

I'm not sure I understand your question, because I don't know the 'with-respect-to-whatness' you have in mind when you use the term 'sufficiency' here.

many of your objections to sola scriptura would equally apply to the OT community,

Which objections do you have in mind?

so why is doctrinal diversity an argument for the necessity of a Magisterium under the New Covenant?

If you are talking about matters regarding which there has been no authoritative teaching given, then you should know that the Catholic Church allows diversity of beliefs on such matters, as we discussed earlier with regard to Molinism. But so-called "doctrinal diversity" on matters concerning which authoritative teaching has been given is just another word for relativism or pluralism. Arians could appeal to "doctrinal diversity" to justify including themselves, so could the Pneumatomachi, the Nestorians, the Docetists, the Sabellians, the Gnostics, etc. Then there would be no such thing as orthodoxy, and no such thing as heresy. There is "one faith" and "one baptism". (Ephesians 4:5) If any doctrine whatsoever is permitted in the Church, then we believe nothing at all, and there is no "one faith". But without an authoritative magisterium, nothing prevents such "doctrinal diversity" within the Church. Therefore, there must be an authoritative magisterium.

One might think it would be reasonable for God to establish such an entity, but that doesn't make it so when you see what He has actually done in the past.

I'm not binding God to the way He did things in the Old Covenant. I'm drawing from the way the early Church was set up, as understood through Scripture and the early fathers.

I would also venture that your citation of Jn 17:21, if taken in context, points more towards an ethnic unity rather than some institutional one, as the Gentiles and succeeding generations are to be engrafted into the convenant community.

What do you mean by "an ethnic unity"? (A Rodney King "Can't we all just get along?") What is your evidence that Christ's prayers for unity in John 17 are for ethnic unity?

Have you considered that this utopian ideal of institutional unity simply might NOT be the divine will and rather the diversity is part of God's redemptive plan (like how Israel still fell away after God sent prophets - did He fail? No, it was part of His plan)

A "have you considered ..." question is neither evidence nor argumentation for any position. What evidence from the fathers do you have for the notion that institutional unity (i.e. a body unified by hierarchical leadership) is not what Christ intended? All the fathers believed in hierarchical unity. The bishop himself was the chief shepherd in every diocese, and the presbyters and deacons were under him. The very notion of multiple denominations within a diocese was absolutely unheard of, until about three hundred years ago.

History was messy with God, even for his people, according to His plan, and it could very well still be messy now, according to His plan.

"Could be" is speculation. To go against all the fathers on the basis of a "could be" is quite presumptuous, in my opinion.

But I acknowledge the Incarnation could have changed all this - it's just not supremely evident (many of Christ's promises are to the Apostolate and aren't necessarily extended to some institutional structure).

That assertion, i.e. that Christ's promises to the Apostles are not extended to those who receive sacramental magisterial authority from the Apostles, is question-begging. The early fathers testify to precisely the opposite, namely that the bishops are the heirs of the Apostles, through apostolic succession. They have the power to bind and loose (St. Matthew 18:18), the power to forgive and retain sins (St. John 20:23), and teach in Christ's name and with His authority (St. Luke 10:16). This authority of the bishops is clearly evident, for example, in the epistles of St. Ignatius of Bishop of Antioch.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan