Christianity


The time has come to forget about equivocation and reticence. The time has come to profess the truth of the Catholic Faith without fear or compromise just as our enemies profess their errors without fear or compromise. “You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.” The Crusades were right and good. The Inquisition was right and good. ISIS and SCOTUS are the direct consequence of denying these truths. We must tell the truth. Islam is the irreconcilable enemy of our civilisation. Sodomy should be a criminal offence. 

Man knows by reason alone that God could create him for an end surpassing that merely proportionate to his nature and so cannot rest in the end proportionate to his nature unless God reveals to him either that this is indeed his end or that a higher has been vouchsafed to him. This need stems from human nature itself and so we know that all other things being equal God in His justice would not withhold this knowledge from any particular man. This revelation must be mediate or immediate. We know it is not immediate. Any mediator would have to be infallible. God is the author of nature and grace. He does not suppress nature in the gift of grace. The natural end is subsumed within the supernatural end but not destroyed. Because we have rejected grace there exists a tension between the two which precludes the identity of the social authority which mediates revelation and the means of grace with that which facilitates the attainment of the supernatural end. Yet the supernatural end is our true end simply speaking not the natural. Thus, judicial supremacy is a need of human nature but it presupposes universality and a supernatural origin. Human nature needs the Papacy not SCOTUS (or the International Criminal Court or the ECHR). The establishment of temporal naturalistic judicial supremacy implies the elision of grace and nature and so a claim to divine honours by the state. It also destroys the purpose of the judicial/legislative distinction.

Islam claims that the end God has appointed is purely natural. Thus it holds that all are born Muslims, demands the use of coercive proselytisation and rejects the distinction between Church and state. This is all internally consistent but it is wholly incompatible with the ideals of Western Civilisation which are born of the revelation of man’s supernatural end. It is also fatally undermined by the fact that man’s unquenchable thirst is for a supernatural end. Separated from the means of grace man’s thirst for an infinite good drives him insane. He is destroyed by the despairing rage that comes from seeking to extract infinite satisfaction from finite objects.

The ‘Enlightenment’ preserves the institutions born of revelation and grace but seeks to secularise them. This is impossible without attributing divinity to the state. The gratuity of of man’s supernatural end is embodied in the sacrament of marriage. The idolatrous liberal state must pervert and destroy this institution if it is to maintain its claims. Resistance to this attack on marriage arouses the same despairing rage in the subjects of the ‘Enlightenment’ as spurs forth the armies of Islam to the external destruction of the West.

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The SDLP and Sinn Fein no longer hold Christian views on moral issues. Sinn Fein have tabled a motion for the third time calling for legalisation of same sex civil partnerships, which had to be vetoed by the Democratic Unionist Party. The SDLP are not much better, except are perhaps slightly less pro-abortion than Sinn Fein.

Catholics in northern Ireland should now consider quietly voting for their local unionist candidate, who can probably be considered a safer pair of hands on such issues.

One could be suffused with anxiety looking at the various goings on at the minute (Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, Congregation of Bishops etc.).

Yet, the birth of Christ is approaching, so rejoice!

Dei Verbum 8 says:-

The tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a  growth in insight (perceptio) into the realities and words that are being passed on.

This is fine in itself but can be used to support errors. Frank Duff, talking about the ‘True Devotion to our Lady’ makes what is in effect a useful commentary:-

We are tempted to think that because we see a doctrine in fuller detail than the early Christians, we see it better. I do not think that we would be justified in so thinking as a general proposition. The seeing of a doctrine in greater detail may not be a better seeing of it. For instance, does the modern Catholic who views Jesus in the light of all the protective and explanatory definitions of the Church see Him any better than the early Christians saw Him?

The growth in insight seems to be a growth extensive, i.e. we are furnished with a greater number of propositions about say, Christ or the sacraments, which we see to be true. There is no guarantee of a growth intensive, that is into the depth with which the average believer penetrates the mystery in question. In fact, some words of St Thomas suggest that the opposite is rather the case:-

The final consummation of grace was through Christ, and so His time is called ‘the fullness of time’. Amd so those who were closer to Christ, whether before like John the Baptist or after like the apostles, knew the mysteries of grace more fully. Likewise with the state of a man, we see that perfection is in youth, and that a man has the better state, the closer he is to youth, whether before or after (2a 2ae 1, 7 ad 4).

The growth that Dei Verbum speaks of appears thus as a divine compensation for the lessening of insight of which St Thomas speaks.

I am still pondering Aelianus’s response to my last post on ‘formal and material heresy’, which was that if Charles doesn’t think there is a reliable way of knowing what God has revealed, even he must be a heretic. I suggested that Charles might not be a heretic, since he believed that the creeds and the bible were such a reliable guide. In fact, this doesn’t seem adequate, given St Thomas’s characterisation of faith, as a disposition to inhere to the first truth as manifested in the scriptures according to the infallible teaching of the Church. If one denies there is an infallible church, then one does not have faith. That certainly seems to follow. The same applies if one formally doubts that there is such a church (as opposed to simply feeling inclined to doubt it).

But what if one thinks that there must be such an infallible, living Church, but does not know what or where it is: can one have faith in these circumstances? Yes, providing one knows some revealed truths. This is the normal situation of those who are brought up in other Christian denominations and who become aware, as Newman puts it,  of the impossibility of having faith in the word of their church.

Such a person has the habit of faith, if he has been validly baptised and has not sinned against the light. Whilst he still imagined, for example  as a child, that the teachers within his church enjoyed a divine mandate, and that his church was an infallible guide to divine truth, then presumably he received actual graces that enabled him to make acts of supernatural faith when they taught him Catholic truths {see the post ‘Was St Thomas a Feeneyite? (part II)} When he becomes aware that they have no such mandate, then he does not by that fact lose the habit of faith.

But the question is, does he go on to say that there is no such infallible guide on earth? If so, then he does lose the faith, even if he continues to profess, for example, the divinity of Christ. If he does not go on to say this, but rather says to himself, ‘God must have given us some way of knowing’, then he retains the habit of faith.

Can he still exercise it? Yes, if he believes that the Church of Christ was acting infallibly at some point in the past, for example at the Council of Nicaea or Chalcedon, or when she canonised the gospel of St John. For in that case he can still ‘cling to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule’, even though he is uncertain where that teaching is now.

I think that Charles’ state of mind in the extract quoted in the last post, and no doubt Newman’s own state of mind at a certain period, was that he knew in his heart that his own church was not an infallible guide, that he felt sure that there must be some such guide, and that he couldn’t yet bring himself to suppose that it was the Roman Church.

All this raises the question: how many non-Catholics suppose that there own church is an infallible guide? And of those who don’t, how many suppose that any such guide exists?

I’ve discussed before the question of the criteria by which to judge whether a person is truly a heretic or simply in error about revealed truths. I quoted three criteria, any one of which, according to an ‘approved author’, was by itself a sign of an error being simply an error, not a heresy.

None of the three criteria mentioned seems entirely satisfactory. The first – would the person be ready to accept the Catholic Church’s ruling if he knew it? – certainly applies to the Catholic who is simply in error, but it doesn’t apply to those in other denominations. If they had this disposition, they wouldn’t be in the other denominations (unless some other motive like human respect intervened).

The second – ‘if he knows nothing about the Catholic faith and has never wondered about it’ – is a sufficient proof that the person’s failure to join the Catholic Church is not culpable per se, but it hardly establishes that he has the virtue of faith. He may know nothing about the Catholic faith and yet still culpably reject certain revealed truths taught him by his non-Catholic preacher, and which he finds distasteful, thereby becoming a heretic in God’s sight.

The third suggested criterion – ‘if, wondering about the Catholic faith, he has sought the truth as far as he is able’ – seems like a good one, but it is difficult to apply. How does one judge of someone else, unless one knows him extremely well, whether he has sought the truth as far as he is able?

Yet it seems useful to make some kind of judgement in this matter when dealing with non-Catholics who profess a faith in Christ: not a definitive judgement, since that belongs to God alone, but at least something that can guide one for practical purposes: to form at least a suspicio, if not an opinio

The problem is that there are two considerations that seem to pull in opposite directions. On the one hand, we are bade think as well of other people as we can. St Thomas tells us that, even though most people are bad, we should still attribute good intentions to other people in particular cases ‘unless manifest signs of their malice appear’; we will be wrong most of the time, he says, but the mind suffers no harm in being wrong about such contingent matters!  This principle suggests that we should think of separated brethren as merely erring.

On the other hand, it is to the honour of God and of Christ that the Church should not be difficult to recognise; that it should be, as our Lord has foretold, a city set on a hill. This principle suggests that we should think of separated brethren as culpable.

How can we resolve this antinomy? Perhaps by judging, according to the second principle, that culpable error is more likely in general; while in particular cases refraining for as long as possible from making any judgement, and making a favourable judgement if some judgement is necessary and no ‘manifest signs of their malice’ appear (for example, when a priest agrees to anoint an unconscious non-Catholic).

Yet there is perhaps one other criterion that could be applied effectively. Does the person desire that there should be on earth an infallible guide to the truth that Christ taught to the apostles? The virtue of faith is an inclination to believe all this truth. So whoever has the virtue would surely welcome the idea that there was an infallible guide to what this truth is, as this will make it much easier for him to realise his inclination. He may regretfully think that there is in fact no such guide; but if he desires that there should be, that is a good sign. On the other hand, if he is clear that he doesn’t want there to be any such guide, that he thinks such a thing would be contrary to his own dignity, then we seem to have the ‘manifest signs of malice’ which on St Thomas’s principle would allow the judgement that someone is a heretic.

An example of what I mean by a desire that an infallible authority should exist even while not believing that one does is found in Newman’s 1848 novel, Loss and Gain. In this passage two friends, Charles and Sheffield, both Anglican ordinands, are lamenting the conversion of a third ordinand to the Roman Church. Sheffield speaks first:-

“The idea of his swallowing, of his own free will, the heap of rubbish which every Catholic has to believe! in cold blood tying a collar round his neck, and politely putting the chain into the hands of a priest! … And then the Confessional! ‘Tis marvellous!” and he began to break the coals with the poker. “It’s very well,” he continued, “if a man is born a Catholic; I don’t suppose they really believe what they are obliged to profess; but how an Englishman, a gentleman, a man here at Oxford, with all his advantages, can so eat dirt, scraping and picking up all the dead lies of the dark ages—it’s a miracle!”

“Well, if there is anything that recommends Romanism to me,” said Charles, “it is what you so much dislike: I’d give twopence, if some one, whom I could trust, would say to me, ‘This is true; this is not true’. We should be saved this eternal wrangling. Wouldn’t you be glad if St. Paul could come to life? I’ve often said to myself, ‘Oh, that I could ask St. Paul this or that!'”

“But the Catholic Church isn’t St. Paul quite, I guess,” said Sheffield.

“Certainly not; but supposing you did think it had the inspiration of an Apostle, as the Roman Catholics do, what a comfort it would be to know, beyond all doubt, what to believe about God, and how to worship and please Him! I mean, you said, ‘I can’t believe this or that’; now you ought to have said, ‘I can’t believe the Pope has power to decide this or that’. If he had, you ought to believe it, whatever it is, and not to say, ‘I can’t believe’.”

Sheffield looked hard at him: “We shall have you a papist some of these fine days,” said he.

“Nonsense,” answered Charles; “you shouldn’t say such things, even in jest.”

“I don’t jest; I am in earnest: you are plainly on the road.”

Sheffield, I think we are meant to judge, is a formal heretic; Charles merely a material one.

The phrase ‘partial’ or ‘imperfect communion’ has come into vogue in official Catholic discourse since Vatican II to refer to the relation which baptised non-Catholics have to the Church. It was put into Unitatis Redintegratio without being defined, as if it were an unproblematic phrase, being put forward there as the reason why the Catholic Church accepts such people as brothers (UR 3). The modern Catechism quotes this same passage of Vatican II, again without defining the phrase.

Obviously there is a sense in which baptised non-Catholics are closer to us than, say, Jews and Muslims. So St Augustine remarked that Catholics use the word fratres, brothers, of the Donatists, and not of the pagans. The problem is in the word ‘communion’. It suggests that the baptised non-Catholic as such has a share, albeit a lesser one, in the good things of the Church, in particular in the life of grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now this can only be true when the non-Catholic in question is in good faith; if he is not, but is a formal heretic, he is to that extent in a worse position than the Jew or Muslim. It is probably a good idea in our dealings with a baptised non-Catholic to assume good faith, as an application of the principle that we should always interpret people’s behaviour in the best way possible. But are we to assume not just that some given baptised non-Catholic but that all such people are in good faith? How would that fit with the honour due to God, who has not hidden His church under a bushel? Yet it seems that some such assumption would have to be made if we are to make a blanket statement such as ‘Protestants are in partial communion with the Catholic Church’.

I suggest, then, that not the doctrine of Unitatis Redintegratio, but its vocabulary is unsatisfactory. Rather than ‘partial communion’ it might be better to say, ‘a baptismal relationship’.

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