There is a lot of enthusiasm around at the moment about the ‘Faith Movement’. This is hardly surprising as the Priests who are affiliated with it genuinely seek to conform their teaching to the teachings of the Church and to administer the Sacraments in accordance with the Church’s law. Such obedience is notoriously less common then it should be. I have been to quite a few events and conferences of the ‘Faith Movement’ I have examined some of the writings of its founder and questioned senior members of the organisation about their key ideas. Good friends of mine are involved in this movement and I am sure they are acting in good faith. Nevertheless, it seems very clear that the movement’s central ideas are incompatible with Catholic teaching. They seek to promote a ‘new synthesis’ of the teachings of the Church and ‘reason’. By ‘reason’ is meant the experimental sciences and more precisely the theory of evolution. This is unacceptable. It is contrary to the teaching of the Church to seek to adapt the interpretation of its teachings to the progress of science. The point at issue is not the truth or falsity of one or other theory of evolution but the very idea of using the hypotheses of the experimental sciences as a rule of interpretation for the understanding and expression of the teachings of the Church.

 

The experimental sciences progress through the formulation of explanatory models which are tested against experience and refined or discarded in the light of experiment. This process is open-ended of its very nature. No final conclusion can be reached. It can never be said that one of these models is definitive and will never be altered or discarded. ‘Science’ in this sense does not proceed from self-evident premises through certain inferences to permanently valid conclusions. It is intrinsically unstable and, though perfectly legitimate within its own sphere, cannot be used as the handmaid of theology. The ‘new synthesis’ which the ‘Faith Movement’ promotes is consequently illegitimate in its very conception, quite apart from the particular conclusions it employs in the pursuit of its misconceived end. This is made very clear by Vatican I which has already ruled out what the ‘Faith Movement’ is attempting.

 

“If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of science, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.”

 

Furthermore, and lest there be any doubt concerning the material fact, it is clear that the ‘Faith Movement’ does indeed assign to the dogmas propounded by the Church a sense which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands. Again and again the Church has privileged the teachings and the ‘Christian Philosophy’ of St Thomas Aquinas. In his 1914 Encyclical Doctoris Angelici Pius X made it very clear that,

 

“The capital theses in the philosophy of St. Thomas are not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church.”

 

In order to make the matter even clearer Pius X ordered in the Decree Postquam Sanctissumus on 27th July 1914 the publication of Twenty Four Theses laying out the ‘the principles and more important thoughts’ of St Thomas. These Twenty Four Theses were then enforced by the Code of Canon Law in 1917. This provision and its centrality was reasserted by Pius XII in his 1950 Encyclical Humani Generis §16-18 in a passage cited by Vatican II’s Decree Optatam Totius §15 when it prescribes the Perennial Philosophy for the training of Priests. This passage from Vatican II is reproduced verbatim in the present Code of Canon Law. These Twenty Four Theses provide a minimum definition of what the Church means by the Perennial Philosophy without which “students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed”. They are a bulwark against the attempt on the basis of the advancement of science to assign to the dogmas propounded by the Church a sense different from that which the Church has understood and understands them. It is clear from any acquaintance with the ‘new synthesis’ of the ‘Faith Movement’ that it is incompatible with the Twenty Four Theses of Pius X. I have shown them to senior members of the ‘Faith Movement’ who have been unable to deny this.

 

The God in Whom we believe is the Creator of Heaven and Earth of all things visible and invisible. He has taken upon Himself Human nature in the unity of the Divine Person of the Word. It is necessary for the proclamation of the Gospel that the Church should be able to arrive at a stable definition and understanding of such terms as Person, Nature, Substance, Soul, Form, Species etc. Without this capacity the Church could give no stable meaning to such solemnly defined teachings as the Hypostatic Union, the Trinity, Transubstantiation and the Unicity of the Intellective Soul. Thus the existence of a Perennial Philosophy is a hypothetical necessity for the existence of Divine Revelation and of the Sacred Magisterium. The Twenty Four Theses define the indispensable minimum core of this Perennial Philosophy without which only the verbal form of the Church’s doctrine remains with the content removed. Stat crux dum volvitur orbis…

 

“St Thomas’s teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language, an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error.” – Innocent VI

 

“All teachers of philosophy and sacred theology should be warned that if they deviate so much as a step, in metaphysics especially, from Aquinas, they expose themselves to grave risk” – St Pius X

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