Friday, May 04, 2007

We've Been un-Corked

A sad bit of news from Phillip Blosser's blog today. Bill Cork has had enough and has returned to the faith of his youth, Seventh Day Adventism.

It's interesting to see Mr. Cork's explanation of his reversion because it happens to fall right into a subject I had to address in my last paper for Norms of Catholic Doctrine. It might be a shock to some readers, but not all doctrinal statements by the Church are equal, and not all are infallible. There are different levels of teaching, each requiring a different level of assent. One of the problems with claiming that all magisterial teaching is infallible is that some doctrine is reformable. This is something I did not know until recently, but it's borne out by statements in post-Vatican II credos, constitutions, and curial documents. I looked back at the profession of faith, Iniumctum Nobis, promulgated by Pius IV. It only addresses matters that have been declared and defined. John Paul II's 1989 profession specifically mentions teachings that are not definitive (that is, not proclaimed as necessary to be held firmly, hence, not infallible.) Donum Veritatis goes into more detail in section 23, and the various levels of assent are also addressed in the Code of Canon Law in canons 749 through 754.

Note, though, that just because a teaching is reformable does not give us the right to disregard it. Such teachings must still be accepted with "religious submission of will and intellect," which Donum Veritatis describes as follows:

This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.

But keep in mind that ordinary prudential teaching on matters of discipline are also covered by magisterial authority. They require external conformity. These include liturgical practices, priestly celibacy, the subject of religious liberty, to which Mr. Cork refers. That particular issue requires the lowest degree of conformance—external conformity.

The problem is that in most of the apologetics circles I've followed, this is not how our faith is presented. I've seen numerous times where the distinction between
reformable and irreformable teaching has been made between doctrine and discipline. Matters of discipline are usually not presented as matters of whether we use the historical-critical method to interpet scripture or whether religious liberty is compatible with our faith, but as matters of how we participate in liturgy and whether priests can be married. While the latter fall into this category, so do the former.

Here's what canon 752 has to say about ordinary teaching on faith and morals:

Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

So the distinction is not discipline versus doctrine but definitive versus nondefinitive. Perhaps the discipline/doctrine distinction made it easier to discuss, but it did not couch the concepts in terms that the Church uses in its own documents, and that is bound to cause some confusion, and in some cases a serious crisis of faith when matters not clearly disciplinary change.

Avery Cardinal Dulles mentions this problem in his article "Authority and Conscience":

With respect to noninfallible teaching, therefore, there are two possible errors. One would be to treat it as if it were infallible. Such an excessive emphasis could overtax the individual's capacity to assent and could lead to a real crisis of faith in the event of a later change of doctrine. The opposite error would be to treat noninfallible magisterial teaching as though it were simply a matter of theological opinion. This would be an error for the reasons already explained. The hierarchy is not just a group of theorists, but a body of pastors who are sacramentally ordained and commissioned as teachers of the faith.

So we cannot engage in what Cardinal Ratzinger referred to in Donum Veritatis as "theological positivism," which ignores anything not presented as infallible. Nor should we elevate every practice as if it were dogma. Both extremes are hazardous to one's spiritual health.

Please pray For Bill Cork. He mentioned that we're supposed to convert our hearts daily and that a conversion is a 180-degree turn. While I hope our prayers don't cause him to spin, I do hope he takes his own words on daily conversion to heart.
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