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Discernment and Conscience

In his Angelus Address today, Pope Francis, Son of Ignatius, spoke of this Sunday's Gospel. He said that Jesus invites, he does not impose – in effect leaving it to the conscience of his hearers to accept and to follow – or to refuse. However, the Pope goes on:

So we also must learn to listen more to our conscience. Be careful, however: this does not mean we ought to follow our ego, do whatever interests us, whatever suits us, whatever pleases us. That is not conscience. Conscience is the interior space in which we can listen to and hear the truth, the good, the voice of God. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful.

And, because, as a teacher, Francis knows the importance of example, he continues:

Pope Benedict XVI has given us a great example in this sense. When the Lord had made it clear, in prayer, what was the step he had to take, he followed, with a great sense of discernment and courage, his conscience, that is, the will of God that spoke to his heart – and this example of our father does much good to all of us, as an example to follow.

The rest of the reflection is here.

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I find it interesting that Pope Francis mentions B16 in comments about conscience.  It was Ratzinger, after all, who told the bishops in Dallas in 1991 that only the pope --- in the final analysis --- really has a conscience truly free of moral error (see his "Conscience and Truth" at http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/ratzcons.htm).  Only the pope can elucidate the true Christian memory.  Although Ratzinger said that a person must follow his or her conscience, the future pope also asserted that in so doing, one is essentially damned for doing so!  In other words, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.  Sidney Callahan discussed the cardinal's address in her "What Is a Good Conscience?" (COMMONWEAL, October 8, 1993). 

I wonder if Pope Francis shares his predecessor's views about conscience presented to U.S. bishops in 1991.

Dear Joseph,

you certainly spend lazy Sunday afternoons doing some "light" reading. Thanks for linking to Ratzinger's address -- it's quite rich. However, I don't think it supports your own interpretation. I rather think he is basically criticizing an erroneous understanding of "conscience" – as did Newman, as does Pope Francis in the paragraph I quote above.

Here is one formulation of Ratzinger's view from his address to the bishops: "We can now say: it will not do to identify man's conscience with the self-consciousness of the I, with it subjective certainty about itself and its moral behavior. One the one hand, this consciousness may be a mere reflection of the social surroundings and the opinions in vogue. On the other hand, it might also derive from a lack of self-criticism, a deficiency in listening to the depth of one's own soul. This diagnosis is confirmed by what has come to light since the fall of Marxist systems in eastern Europe. The noblest and keenest minds of the liberated peoples speak of an enormous spiritual devastation which appeared in the years of the intellectual deformation. They speak of a blunting of the moral sense which is more significant loss and danger than the economic damage which was done."

One of Francis' concerns (and why the Ignatian tradition is so keen on "discernment") is our inveterate tendency to self-deception: "careerism" as "service!"

 

What exactly is he talking about, when he says pope Benedict has given us a great example of following one's conscience? Is he alluding to his resignation? It seems to me that he must be.

 

Claire,

that is my understanding: he is referrring to Benedict's resignation. The last sentence of the paragraph I quote above is, in italian: " E questo esempio del nostro Padre fa tanto bene a tutti noi, come un esempio da seguire."

It struck me in re-reading: will it be an example Francis intends to follow?

 

I also wondered about that.

If Pope Francis has already decided to step into retirement following B16's lead, has that decision arisen from the voice of God in Francis' own inner place, or from the voice of God bounced off, so to speak, Benedict's inner space? This would be a critical question, ISTM, because if we have to beware of ego speaking (amen!), don't we also have to beware of tradition?

The conscience question is really tough, and I don't think Pope Francis solved it today. It gets hopeless with Joan of Arc, heretic and saint anyway you parse it.

I've had intense discussions on this subject with a friend who wrestled with St. Ignatius on discernment for a long time and came away -- a Third Order Carmelite. We may have yielded too much to the "if it feels right" school of discernment, but there is, ISMT again, a more spiritual result in following our hearts than in, for example, choosing what we find most disgusting. How does this analysis track with the numerous saints who took orders in hopes of being martyred in the Far East or in Northern Africa and ended up being called -- by conscience? by superiors? by the intransigeance of events? -- tending a desk in Rome?

I have no answers.

 

One more quote from that address by Franis:

  • Jesus wants neither selfish Christians, who follow their egos and do not speak with God, nor weak Christians, without will: “remote-controlled” Christians, incapable of creativity, who seek ever to connect with the will of another, and are not free. Jesus wants us free, and this freedom – where is it found? It is to be found in the inner dialogue with God in conscience. If a Christian does not know how to talk with God, does not know how to listen to God, in his own conscience, then he is not free – he is not free. 

Tom B. --

Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1430.  The Church didn't get around to canonizing her intil 1960.  Don't expect any resolution of the problem of conscience any time soon, if ever.  Just watch as more and more people leave the Church for having their questions essentially ignored.

Ann, thre canonization was in 1920, but your point is taken.

I like what Francis has said about conscience.  It does sound very Ignatian.  Interesting, though, that he chose Cardinal Pell, who has a seriously differnet definition of conscience, to be on his curia advisoty team.

http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1245&context...

Hier stehe ich, und kann nicht anders, said a famous churchman of the first half of the sixteenth century. Was it ego, or consience speaking? And how can one tell? (I believe there are those who claim Luther never actually said these words, but the point stands.)

Anyway, a brief article in the Tablet reports that both Catholics and Lutherans have decided to celebrate, or commemorate, or whatever word you choose, the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses in a way that reflects our common Christian heritage. Good for them both, and I hope it's true. We'll know in four years. 

The Vatican Radio headline is "Lutherans snd Catholics: From Conflict to Communion"

 

(Vatican Radio) From Conflict to Communion: that’s how Lutherans and Catholics are describing their ecumenical journey of the past 50 years, as they look ahead together to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

 

From Conflict to Communion is the name of a joint document from the Lutheran-Roman Catholic International Commission on Unity which was presented at a press conference on Monday at the Lutheran World Federation headquarters in Geneva. The lengthy text looks at the joint responsibility for the division of the Western Church in the 16th century, addressing the challenges of healing those memories and working together for reconciliation and common witness to the world.

 

Topics explored in the document include basic themes of Martin Luther’s theology with a view to Lutheran–Catholic dialogue, as well as focusing on five ecumenical imperatives for the relationship between both Churches as they commemorate 2017 together....

 

from our Catholic side, our own conviction is 'Ecclesia semper reformanda' - that the life of the Church has to be reformed all the time, in every age, so we have this common intention of reform on both sides....what we could do in this document is to indicate the main themes of the theology of Martin Luther in light of our own ecumenical dialogue, showing that many ideas of Martin Luther have been issues for the whole Church and important elements of renovation of the Church

 

 

Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/06/17/lutherans_and_catholics:_from...

of the Vatican Radio website 

 

Another pope was heard from today, though at the distance of forty-three years.

The second reading from today's Office of Readings is a homily of Paul VI. In part:

"All things, all history converges in Christ. A man of sorrow and hope, he knows and loves us. As our friend he stays by us throughout our lives; at the end of time he will come to be our judge; but we also know that he will be the complete fulfillment of our lives and our great happiness for all eternity.

I can never cease to speak of Christ for he is our truth and our light: 'he is the way, the truth and the life'. He is our bread and living water who allays our hunger and satisfies our thirst. He is our shepherd, our leader, our ideal, our comforter and our brother.

He is like us but more perfectly human, simple, poor, humble, and yet, while burdened with work, he is more patient. He spoke on our behalf; he worked miracles; and he founded a new kingdom: in it the poor are happy; peace is the foundation of a life in common; where the pure of heart and those who mourn are uplifted and comforted; the hungry find justice; sinners are forgiven; and all discover that they are brothers and sisters." (The Liturgy of the Hours, Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

How "Benedictine" (the pope). How "Franciscan" (the same). And very close to the homily I heard this evening at Holy Trinity Parish, Georgetown, given by a Jesuit ordained two weeks ago. The focus on Christ and his invitation, never withdrawn, to follow him.

 

Professor Imbelli, we discussed this same Ratzinger address a few years ago here at dotCom, but I don't recall title of thread.  Rest assured, I did not re-read the cardinal's address yesterday; nothing was going to keep me indoors during our sunny interlude in Louisville :-)

Seriously, I've read the 1991 address at least a couple of times in the past, and I came up each time with the same basic conclusion as Sidney Callahan.  Surely, given her background in theology (and psychology), we cannot be off track in our perceptions of what Ratzinger told the bishops.

As a layman, I think his argument was, as you've written, quite "rich", perhaps too much so (as I see it) for application in ordinary life --- at least for most Catholics including myself.  I'm willing to concede that conscience formation will never be perfect for us humans, but I'm not ready to bow to papal authority in this area when my conscience and experience tell me a pope has it wrong.  At this time in my life, I'll settle for knowing that God loves us all, regardless, and that, in the final analysis, it is God who will take the initiative to save us (Luke 15 comes to mind).

 

" conscience formation will never be perfect for us humans, but I'm not ready to bow to papal authority in this area when my conscience and experience tell me a pope has it wrong."

 

Thank you Joseph. I am glad to know that I am not the only average lay person who has been deeply troubled by what comes across as an abuse of the teaching on conscience, based on another teaching that seems to be totally without foundation - papal infallibility. It has been somewhat frightening to see how Ratzinger, John Paul II and Benedict have manipulated these teachings to essentially declare that disagreement with official teachings is prima facie evidence of a malformed conscience. It is disturbing that a pope may actually believe that he alone understands the mind of God and that he cannot be wrong.  

Anne, I've no problem with papal infallibility --- properly understood.  Unfortunately, self-described "orthodox" Catholics do not understand (or prefer to ignore the criteria for the application of) this doctrine: Ain't for nothin' we hear complaints of "creeping infallibility".  Certainly, JPII and B16 did nothing to address this problem; indeed, JPII seemed to promote it (his *ordinary* teaching on women's ordination comes to mind).  We need to see papal infallibility in conjunction with the ancient practice of *reception* and canon 749.3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law: "No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident".  When the proverbial "push comes to shove", I'm not certain the doctrine on papal infallibility serves any really useful purpose if the Church of Rome wants to achieve Christian unity, much less preserve peace within the Roman fold.

Anne, I've no problem with papal infallibility --- properly understood.  Unfortunately, self-described "orthodox" Catholics do not understand (or prefer to ignore the criteria for the application of) this doctrine: Ain't for nothin' we hear complaints of "creeping infallibility".  Certainly, JPII and B16 did nothing to address this problem; indeed, JPII seemed to promote it (his *ordinary* teaching on women's ordination comes to mind).  We need to see papal infallibility in conjunction with the ancient practice of *reception* and canon 749.3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law: "No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident".  When the proverbial "push comes to shove", I'm not certain the doctrine on papal infallibility serves any really useful purpose if the Church of Rome wants to achieve Christian unity, much less preserve peace within the Roman fold.

Anne, I've no problem with papal infallibility --- properly understood.  Unfortunately, self-described "orthodox" Catholics do not understand (or prefer to ignore the criteria for the application of) this doctrine: Ain't for nothin' we hear complaints of "creeping infallibility".  Certainly, JPII and B16 did nothing to address this problem; indeed, JPII seemed to promote it (his *ordinary* teaching on women's ordination comes to mind).  We need to see papal infallibility in conjunction with the ancient practice of *reception* and canon 749.3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law: "No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident".  When the proverbial "push comes to shove", I'm not certain the doctrine on papal infallibility serves any really useful purpose if the Church of Rome wants to achieve Christian unity, much less preserve peace within the Roman fold.

Oops, thanks to the flukes of technology.  Sorry.

Joseph,

Like Pope Francis, you seem to have a penchant for making three points. In your case they seem somewhat similar :-)

I may be mistaken but I don't recall Ratzinger in this address speaking of papal infallibility. His purpose is to widen the appeal to conscience by setting it into relationship with authority and truth, and not separated from them. The truth at stake is the truth of the Gospel which is the measure of our discernment.

Here is a key assertion to which his argument is leading:

"The true sense of this teaching authority of the Pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The Pope does not impose from without. Rather, he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it. For this reason the toast to conscience indeed must precede the toast to the Pope because without conscience there would not be a papacy. All power that the papacy has is power of conscience. It is service to the double memory upon which the faith is based and which again and again must be purified, expanded and defended against the destruction of memory which is threatened by a subjectivity forgetful of its own foundation as well as by the pressures of social and cultural conformity."

 

  I I liked this part of  the Pope's Angelus Address: "Jesus wants neither selfish Christians, who follow their egos and do not speak with God, nor weak Christians, without will: 'remote-controlled' Christians, incapable of creativity, who seek ever to connect with the will of another, and are not free. Jesus wants us free, and this freedom--where is it found? It is to be found in the inner dialogue with God in conscience. If a Christian does not know how to talk with God, does not know how to listen to God, in his own conscience, then he is not free--he is not free."  Of course, in his piece on conscience linked to above by Joseph J., Cardinal Ratzinger had insisted on the vital role of the Pope as the " advocate of the Christian memory that " must be purified, expanded and defended" to secure the individual Christian from the dangers of subjectivity and the "pressures of social and cultural conformity." A somewhat different approach, for sure. Now the question is, what can we expect from these two Popes with such different styles and sentiments on Friday when Lumen Fidei appears?

 

 

In the Ratzinger Dallas paper he says:

It is never wrong to follow the convictions one has arrived at—in fact, one must do so. But it can very well be wrong to have come to such askew convictions in the first place, by having stifled the protest of the anamnesis of being. The guilt lies then in a different place, much deeper—not in the present act, not in the present judgment of conscience but in the neglect of my being which made me deaf to the internal promptings of truth. 

Which confirms that your conscience is supreme and you will not sin if you follow it - but then points out that you may still sin in not having formed your conscience properly

 

Which Cardinal Pell says you should avoid by relying on authority:

"if we suspect- as surely we all sometimes must - that our conscience is under-formed or mal- formed in some area, then we should follow a reliable authority until such time as we can correct our consciences. And for Catholics, the most reliable authority is the Church."

 

Pell quote: http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1245&context...

 

I prefer Francis, who says says to talk with God:

It is to be found in the inner dialogue with God in conscience. If a Christian does not know how to talk with God, does not know how to listen to God, in his own conscience, then he is not free – he is not free. 

John,

you prefer Francis "who says talk with God." Is that all Francis says?

what of the place of "authority:" whether Scripture or Sacraments or Magisterium?

would he say they have no role in forming our conscience and our prayer life in our "talking with God?"

would he deny our responsibility to form our conscience rightly?

are there no criteria for discerning who are "selfish Christian" or "remote-controlled Christians?" or as he said in an earlier homily: "satellite Christians."

there may be less fundamental separating Ratzinger, Pell, and Francis on this matter than the specifics of context and occasion make inevitable.

recall the number of times Francis, quoting Ignatius, has referred to "our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church." That does not deny the inviolability of conscience, but positions it in all its awesome seriousness and responsibility -- which was Newman's point to begin with.

Robert.

I also like the other part of that address, that you quoted in your original post:

So we also must learn to listen more to our conscience. Be careful, however: this does not mean we ought to follow our ego, do whatever interests us, whatever suits us, whatever pleases us. That is not conscience. Conscience is the interior space in which we can listen to and hear the truth, the good, the voice of God. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful.

Joseph, I guess we do differ on infallibiity, since you have no problem with it and it is one I have rejected since first learning of it in about the 3rd of parochial school!. Your point on reception is excellent, and should be kept in mind by those who do believe in "infallibilility" in the church.  I don't accept that infallibility is possible for the church - the best they can do is say "this is how we understand it - this is what we think this means."  To me, the claim of infallibility for the church (whether papal or magisteriel or from a Council or Tradition or whatever, whether "received" or not) seems at least borderline sinful - rooted, perhaps, in the capital sin of pride. Thus while I will pay attention to what the various "authorities" have to say, I will not "conform" my conscience to something that seems wrong to me after study, prayer, reflection. And I also most definitely do consider seriously my own subjective experiences of life as a woman, a wife, a mother -  no matter what the ecclesial authorities say.  I think some church teachings related to sexuality and gender are so wrong that they result in genuine harm and must at some time "develop".  In the meantime, to assent to these teachings in my conscience would be equally wrong as I do not wish to be a passive participant in upholding teachings that my well-formed conscience believes cause harm.

What I don't understand about the Vatican I actions on the infallibility dogma is this.  If a proposition is going to be declared as  infallibly held, then a consensus of the bishops must vote to affirm it  -- the teaching on infalibility itself requires a consensus. So if a consensus of the bishops (including the pope) does not affirm that X is Y, then X is Y cannot be an infallible teaching.  

Here's the Vatican I problem:  the vote at Vatican I on the infallibilty proposition did NOT express a consensus.  Something like one quarter (or was it one thir?) of the bishps left town before the vote so they wouldn't have to vote on the proposition!  Because the vote lacked the participation of a substantial number of bishops,  it follows that the proposition has never been actually accepted by a consensus, and, therefore, it is not an infallibly promulgated doctrine. 

In other words, the vote was inconsistent with what the "dogma" itself expressed.  So how can a self-contradiction be a dogma?

Ann Olivier,

as you know, since Vatican I, there has been a specific exercise of papal infallibility in the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady. It has been received by the Church.

Vatican II in "Lumen gentium," #25 reiterated the teaching of Vatican I.

But, as Joseph J. has thrice repeated, "infallibility" must be properly understood: it is in the first instance given by Christ to his Church. It is the faith of the Church which the Pope declares. Newman, who had thought the definition of 1870 inopportune, was relieved that its parameters were so narrowly circumscribed, and willingly adhered to it. But, already, twenty five years before, when he wrote his "Essay on the Development of Dogma" Newman was convinced that "If Christianity is both social and dogmatic, and intended for all ages, it must humanly speaking have an infallible expounder."

 

since Vatican I, there has been a specific exercise of papal infallibility in the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady. - See more at: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/discernment-and-conscience#commen...

True, but Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out in the CDF Doctrinal Commentary on Ad Tuendam Fidem that there are many other teachings considered to be infallible. 

9. The Magisterium of the Church, however, teaches a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed (first paragraph) or to be held definitively (second paragraph) with an act which is either defining or non-defining. In the case of a defining act, a truth is solemnly defined by an "ex cathedra" pronouncement by the Roman Pontiff or by the action of an ecumenical council. In the case of a non-defining act, a doctrine is taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Bishops dispersed throughout the world who are in communion with the Successor of Peter. Such a doctrine can be confirmed or reaffirmed by the Roman Pontiff, even without recourse to a solemn definition, by declaring explicitly that it belongs to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium as a truth that is divinely revealed (first paragraph) or as a truth of Catholic doctrine (second paragraph). Consequently, when there has not been a judgment on a doctrine in the solemn form of a definition, but this doctrine, belonging to the inheritance of the depositum fidei, is taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which necessarily includes the Pope, such a doctrine is to be understood as having been set forth infallibly.

 

The CDF Doctrinal Note gives a number of examples:

11. Examples. Without any intention of completeness or exhaustiveness, some examples of doctrines relative to the three paragraphs described above can be recalled.

To the truths of the first paragraph belong the articles of faith of the Creed, the various Christological dogmas21 and Marian dogmas;22 the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace;23 the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist24 and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration;25 the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ;26 the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff;27 the doctrine on the existence of original sin;28 the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death;29 the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts;30 the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.31

With respect to the truths of the second paragraph, with reference to those connected with revelation by a logical necessity, one can consider, for example, the development in the understanding of the doctrine connected with the definition of papal infallibility, prior to the dogmatic definition of the First Vatican Council. The primacy of the Successor of Peter was always believed as a revealed fact, although until Vatican I the discussion remained open as to whether the conceptual elaboration of what is understood by the terms 'jurisdiction' and 'infallibility' was to be considered an intrinsic part of revelation or only a logical consequence. On the other hand, although its character as a divinely revealed truth was defined in the First Vatican Council, the doctrine on the infallibility and primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff was already recognized as definitive in the period before the council. History clearly shows, therefore, that what was accepted into the consciousness of the Church was considered a true doctrine from the beginning, and was subsequently held to be definitive; however, only in the final stage - the definition of Vatican I - was it also accepted as a divinely revealed truth.

A similar process can be observed in the more recent teaching regarding the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men. The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively,32 since, founded on the written Word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.33 As the prior example illustrates, this does not foreclose the possibility that, in the future, the consciousness of the Church might progress to the point where this teaching could be defined as a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed.

Curiously, in mentioning Evangelium Vitae, it comments only on euthanasia, not contraception:

 

The doctrine on the illicitness of euthanasia, taught in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, can also be recalled. Confirming that euthanasia is "a grave violation of the law of God," the Pope declares that "this doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium".34 It could seem that there is only a logical element in the doctrine on euthanasia, since Scripture does not seem to be aware of the concept. In this case, however, the interrelationship between the orders of faith and reason becomes apparent: Scripture, in fact, clearly excludes every form of the kind of self-determination of human existence that is presupposed in the theory and practice of euthanasia.

Other examples of moral doctrines which are taught as definitive by the universal and ordinary Magisterium of the Church are: the teaching on the illicitness of prostitution35and of fornication.36

With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations ...37

Anne, your comments remind me of (Callahan's?) observation:  To be *informed* by church teaching is not necessarily to be *conformed* to church teaching.  If a pope is contemplating making an infallible pronouncement, he might be wise to consult the world's bishops on the matter before proceeding further.  I'm reminded on this point that with respect to JPII's "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis", there was/is no evidence the pope did so.  Indeed, one or two bishops have been prematurely retired by Rome because they dared ask the question after JPII's pronouncement.  I have to wonder, JPII's handpicked episcopate notwithstanding, if the world's bishops are in lockstep agreement with the late pope about the church supposedly not having authority to ordain women to the presbyterate/episcopate.  On a related note, it's my understanding that while Vatican I's "Pastor Aeternus" defined the conditions for the proper exercise of papal infallibility, the conciliar document itself was *ordinary*, not *extraordinary*, teaching!

Is the Assumption the only exercise of papal infalliblity? If it is the only time it's been used, doesn't it seem odd to pick that, and not something more important?

Irene, at the time (1950) the Assumption was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII, it was perceived, by the official explainers, as a major pillar in the Church's judgment (if that's the word I want here) against the first half of the 20th Century. It was a Marian docrtrine, yes, but the proclamation at that moment was seen -- by the proclamation fans -- as a major political statement from a Church that is, of course, above politics. In short: In the mind of the pope the Assumption was "more important" than a lof of more obvious candidates for importance.

If one immerses himself or herself in the "mind of the church" as comtemporaneously expressed by the magisterium, one can live outside of time, so to speak, on issues like the importance of the Assumption. (The Feast of Christ the King is, by the way, similar in political and doctrinal significance and NOT supposed to call up images of King Farouk in exile in the surf of Cannes or of George III, which are the images it calls up for me.) That's why it is hard for many of us laymen in this secular world to take advantage of the discernment offered by the magisterium.

Is the Assumption the only exercise of papal infalliblity?

Irene, as Fr. Imbelli pointed out, that is the only exercise of papal infallibility since Vatican I by the process established at that Council.

However, since then, other issues have been put forth infallibly by a different process in which the Pope notes that a belief has been traditionally held by the Church and is already part of the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church (and thus infallible). As an example, the declaration that women cannot be ordained is of that sort. 

See my post above for more detail on this broader view of papal infallibility.

Pope Francis is specific about what conscience is not: following our ego, doing whatever interests us, suits us, pleases us. As to what the sources of a good conscience are, I've found Avery Dulles' remarks, to that 1991 meeting of bishops in Dallas to whom Ratzinger also spoke, helpful. "The magisterium is one, but only one informant of conscience . . . other fonts of moral knowledge include prayerful reflection on the Gospel, the use of reason, the sensus fidelium, and the insights of theologians . . . There is no perfect identity between conscience and the magisterium of the Church."

If the popes are infallible on matters of faith and morals, then presumably they have spoken infallibly on innumerable occasions.  

The pope is indispensible to all three of the formal ecclesial exercises of infallibility: when he formally defines a truth of the faith ex cathedra (cf Pius XII's declaration of the Assumption of Mary), or when the bishops in an ecumenical council do so in communion with him, or when he formally and explicitly confirms what has been infallibly taught by the universal and ordinary magisterium.

I have seen it claimed that the Pius IX's teaching regarding the Immaculate Conception is another example of an ex cathedra pronouncement (Wikipedia's article on the Immaculate Conception states that it is), but I don't know whether theologians agree.

 

"as you know, since Vatican I, there has been a specific exercise of papal infallibility in the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady. It has been received by the Church.

"Vatican II in "Lumen gentium," #25 reiterated the teaching of Vatican I."

Fr. Imbelli --

But even though it was received in the 19th century and forward, was it received since the first century?  And how would you determine in the 19th century just how widespread the belief was or wasn't?

But LG is just repeating Vatican I, and if the teaching is the same teaching, then it is contradictory too.

I've given up on any absolute interpretation of the infallibility of the popes and bishops.  Yes, there is infallible teaching in Scriptures and tradition, but it is infallible by reason of the Holy Spirit's absolute knowledge, not the bishops'.  The bishops' job is to try to find the Holy Spirit's own meanings, and the Holy Spirit will help to guide them, but we know from past history that they can be wrong at times.

Does the doctrine of infallibility, of whatever kind it may be, take any account of ordinary human perverseness? Is it possible that the Holy Spirit could provide perfect guidance in matters of faith and morals and still be misunderstood and rebuffed by the pride or muddleheadedness or mixed motives of men, even men who are bishops and popes? I would not ask but for the recent evidence we have that high ecclesiastics can sometimes go utterly wrong in an ethical choice that any ordinary layperson might get right. God provides abundant grace, but I have never heard that he forces it on anyone.

B16 hasn't always felt that way for in "Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II in 1967 he wrote:

"Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one's own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.  This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism."

my emphasis.

Mr. Cronin,

I don't think the essentials of his position have changed. Of course, as I've said before, a given context influences what is stressed or highlighted, but he states in the 1991 talk to the American bishops:

"On this level, the level of judgment (conscientia in the narrower sense), it can be said that even the erroneous conscience binds. This statement is completely intelligible from the rational tradition of scholasticism. No one may act against his convictions, as Saint Paul had already said (Rom 14:23). But the fact that the conviction a person has come to certainly binds in the moment of acting, does not signify a canonization of subjectivity."

And again: "It is of course undisputed that one must follow a certain conscience or at least not act against it."

Do these differ from the quotes you gave?

 

Jim Pauwels wrote: I have seen it claimed that the Pius IX's teaching regarding the Immaculate Conception is another example of an ex cathedra pronouncement (Wikipedia's article on the Immaculate Conception states that it is), but I don't know whether theologians agree. 

 

Pius IX's Ineffabilis Deus is a kind of case study of how infallible truths were established by the Pope even before Vatican I. He started by asking all the bishops of the world what people in thir diocese believed about this:

 

Although we knew the mind of the bishops from the petitions which we had received from them, namely, that the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin be finally defined, nevertheless, on February 2, 1849,[27] we sent an Encyclical Letter from Gaeta to all our venerable brethren, the bishops of the Catholic world, that they should offer prayers to God and then tell us in writing what the piety an devotion of their faithful was in regard to the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. We likewise inquired what the bishops themselves thought about defining this doctrine and what their wishes were in regard to making known with all possible solemnity our supreme judgment....

 

The responses were favorable, so he held a consistory

 

Consequently, following the examples of our predecessors, and desiring to proceed in the traditional manner, we announced and held a consistory, in which we addressed our brethren, the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. It was the greatest spiritual joy for us when we heard them ask us to promulgate the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God....

 

Therefore, he issued this definition and warning:

 

  •  by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."
  •  
  • Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should [d]are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.
  •  
  • http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius09/p9ineff.htm

John Hayes, thanks for that comment.  It's worth noting that Pius XII also consulted bishops around the world before promulgating his definition of the dogma of the Assumption.   Both of those dogmatic teachings have, by and large, been well-received by the Catholic faithful.  Perhaps popes don't need to consult - but I'd think they are well-advised to do so.

 

Is there anyone here besides me whose blood runs cold at reading this (and similar teachings and declarations of the church)?  I have read some of Pius IX statements (and not just the Syllabus of Errors) before and was often horrified.  I had missed this one.

"Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should [d]are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart". - 

How did such breathtaking arrogance become Catholic doctrine?

Perhaps this teaching that has caused so much disunity in the christian church is not only rooted in the sin of pride, but also in the sins of greed gluttony - in the abuse of power and authority that arise from pride in those who are so lacking in humility that they believe that the pope - and other fallible human beings like bishops and even the "simple faithful" as a group - are "infallible", a trait possessed by God alone.  Tragic that in some eras of human history, the "penalties established by law" included death. Many brave Christians followed their consciences to death, much as Jesus did. Their faith that they defended in conscience to their death was not in the Roman Catholic church but in Christ and the gospels.

Ann O – thanks for this (it helps coming from a scholar instead of someone like me – not an expert in either theology or philosophy but sometimes the scholars seem to miss what street sense teaches )  “I've given up on any absolute interpretation of the infallibility of the popes and bishops.  Yes, there is infallible teaching in Scriptures and tradition, but it is infallible by reason of the Holy Spirit's absolute knowledge, not the bishops'.  The bishops' job is to try to find the Holy Spirit's own meanings, and the Holy Spirit will help to guide them, but we know from past history that they can be wrong at times.

Thanks also to John Prior for this – “Does the doctrine of infallibility, of whatever kind it may be, take any account of ordinary human perverseness? Is it possible that the Holy Spirit could provide perfect guidance in matters of faith and morals and still be misunderstood and rebuffed by the pride or muddleheadedness or mixed motives of men, even men who are bishops and popes

 

The history of the church seems to provide ample support for both Ann’s and John’s views.

Sigh. (why is there no edit function? I often don't see the errors until something is published no matter how many times I read the original).  I meant "greed and gluttony".

Anne, i think Benedict had the right idea about Pio Nono's rejectionist statements:

In the 19th century under Pius IX, the clash between the Church's faith and a radical liberalism and the natural sciences, which also claimed to embrace with their knowledge the whole of reality to its limit, stubbornly proposing to make the "hypothesis of God" superfluous, had elicited from the Church a bitter and radical condemnation of this spirit of the modern age.

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/december/do...

Rather than saying that Pius IX's statements were wrong, he says that they were "contingent" - i.e. they were reactions to issues of that time and we now live in a different time in which the issues are also different and require a different response from the Church. 

I think the main danger with "infallible" statements is that they are also "irreformable." Benedict's solution only works if the older statements weren't "infallible" to begin with.  Fortunately, there aren't many papal documents on which there is a consensus of theologians as to their infallibility. 

 

Here's a list of infallible papal documents made in 1985 by Klaus Schatz.  Others might differ, but it's encouraging that it's short.

 

"Tome to Flavian", Pope Leo I, 449, on the two natures in Christ, received by the Council of Chalcedon;

Letter of Pope Agatho, 680, on the two wills of Christ, received by the Third Council of Constantinople;

Benedictus Deus, Pope Benedict XII, 1336, on the beatific vision of the just after death rather than only just prior to final judgment

Cum occasione, Pope Innocent X, 1653, condemning five propositions of Jansen as heretical;

Auctorem fidei, Pope Pius VI, 1794, condemning seven Jansenist propositions of the Synod of Pistoia as heretical;

Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX, 1854, defining the Immaculate Conception;

Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII, 1950, defining the Assumption of Mary.

 

The CDF 

Leo XIII declared Anglican orders "absolutely null and utterly void" in 1896, a papal act regarded (so far as I know) as an instance of infallible teaching.  However, more recent scholarship strongly indicates that if Rome were to apply Leo's criteria today to its own ministerial orders, they, too, would have to be considered "absolutely null and utterly void".  Leo simply did not have available information that might have prompted hesitation on his part about issuing a definitive statement --- or any statement on the subject.  Talk about poor Leo being hoisted by his own petard! 

 

Anne C.,

I suspect that cold is the normal temperature of my blood, but yes, it dips still lower when I read the words of Pius IX, laced as they are with the desire to threaten and punish. And for what? To establish as a sine qua non of the faith something that had always been a harmless pious belief, as if Catholics did not already have enough remarkably difficult things to believe. Of course, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption as well are very safe doctrines to define infallibly, since no counterevidence is ever likely to emerge to prove them false, and the doctrine of infallibility with them. And unlike teachings on sexuality, for example, they have little practical effect on people's lives, and so can be accepted tranquilly.

One way of understanding and accepting the Immaculate Conception of Mary, though sure to draw even severer fulminations from Pius IX et al,, would be to deny the transmissibility of Adam's sin and to declare that all human beings are conceived immaculate, since the human soul, which is the putative repository of reason and free will and therefore the only locus of sin, is infused directly by God and does not descend from Adam. But I forbear. These folks are touchy enough already.

Mr. Prior,

Your observations brought to mind a remark of Flannery O'Connor in one of her letters. She wrote: "I am always astonished at the emphasis the church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified. I have always thought that purity was the most mysterious of the virtues, but it occurs to me that it would never have entered the human consciusness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ."

Had she read your comment, I suspect she would have added: "and in Mary."

(I also suspect she was not a great fan of Pio Nono – povero uomo.)

John P, 

Thank you for your comments and ideas.

Pius IX's extreme step of declaring papal infallibility ( the "infallibility" of "the church" is no better a concept) because of the changes set in motion by the French revolution, the englightenment etc is that of a reactionary (characterized by reaction, esp against radical political or social change - freedictionary.com). Ratzinger's reaction to the events of 1968 were much the same, even if lesser in degree (and most likely among the reasons he added many conditions to his initial Vatican II era understanding of the limits of papal and ecclesial authority in reference to primacy of conscience). Your comment about the immaculate conception of Mary makes quite a lot of sense. But the church could not handle the implications even apart from having painted itself into a corner by proclaiming itself and this teaching "infallible",  since it would seem then that we are all "immaculately conceived".  Many (most?) christians have never heard of "original sin". The more I learned about the development of this teaching and Augustine's reasoning, and incorporation of his anti-female and anti-sex (at least by then, he was anti-sex) prejudices into this teaching, the more I came to see it as an erroneous and often harmful teaching, at least as defined by the Roman Catholic church. The man was a genius, but still a product of his time and culture, and no matter how genius any individual is, he or she is not always "right".

The Marian dogmas may have been "safe" choices for an "ex cathedra" declaration of infallibility  in the sense that they were unlikely to cause rebellion in the pews, but that does not make them Truth. The church demands that Catholics "assent" to infallibly defined dogma.  The Marian dogmas can never be proven to be false, but   they cannot be 'proven" to be true either, and there is not even a sentence of scriptural support for these "dogmas" that I am aware of. I have looked up every reference to Mary the mother of Jesus in the NT and am amazed at how little scrlptural support there is for so much of Marian teaching. I understand the logic and the reasoning the theologians used to develop the teachings, but they never should have been declared "infallible" teaching, as they seem that the could be little more than interesting intellectual exercises than "infallible" statements of "Truth".  Few Catholics I know have ever thought much at all about the implications of the Marian dogmas.  They accept what they are taught generally, without any serious thought or reflection. Over the years I have become increasingly disturbed at how the church manipulates Marian theology in ways that have the potential to harm women, and which have harmed women, at least indirectly.

New Age practitioners sometimes claim to be able to "channel" ancestors or ancient leaders or ancient gods.  Christians scoff at them. Yet the head of the largest and most powerful christian church in the world claims to be able to "channel" God. Not only is that as unbelievable as those claiming to channel Zeus, it seems almost a violation of the commandment not to "set up false gods before me."  It could understandably be seen as human beings claiming for themselves that which belongs only to God - thus setting themselves up as false god(s).

 

Josepf Jaglowicz wrote: Leo XIII declared Anglican orders "absolutely null and utterly void" in 1896, a papal act regarded (so far as I know) as an instance of infallible teaching. 

 

The second article of canon 750 was added in 1998 by JPII in Ad Tuendam Fidem. 

Can. 750 §1. A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.

 

§2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

It was added to support the second paragraph  of the new "Profession of Faith" required of certain people in teaching or leadership roles in the Church

I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

 

I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

The CDF gave the declaration on Anglican orders as an example of he kinds of things included in the second paragraph of the Profession:

 

Regarding the difference between the first and second paragraphs, the CDF said:

8. With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings. The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God (doctrines de fide credenda); in the case of the truths of the second paragraph, the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).

 

http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfadtu.htm

the CDF Doctrinal Commentary says, specifically, that the items of the first paragraph are "irrefomable" but doesn't repeat that in its discussion of the items of he second paragraph, possibly leaving that question open. 

 

Fr. Imbelli,

Before Ms. O'Connor, even before the Church, Homer seems to have known the importance of the body. I am sure you recall these lines at the beginning of the Iliad.

The wrath of Achilles...sent forth to Hades many stout souls of heroes, and themselves made prey for dogs and birds.

That is certainly not a pagan foreshadowing of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. But the poet does seem to value the whole human person, full of blood and vigor, over against its incomplete and pallid continuation in a disembodied soul. I think many people might agree that an afterlife without a body, however great the intellectual and mystical delights, would be a mutilation.

 

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