Tuesday, June 30, 2020

My Evolution on Sola Scriptura

I've been thinking lately about the evolution of my thinking with regard to Sola Scriptura from my earliest life as a Christian to my Catholic conversion.

The Earliest Days

In my earliest consciously Christian days (age 13 to when I went to college, 1991-1996), I was not aware of Sola Scriptura.  I had been raised in an Evangelical Christian context, and so, for practical purposes, when I started thinking as a Christian, I mostly practiced Sola Scriptura, but I had simply inherited that without being aware of it or having chosen it consciously over other alternatives.  I considered the Bible to be the Word of God and authoritative.  When I started reading C. S. Lewis, I got a greater sense of Christianity as having this long history from ancient times through the Middle Ages and into modern times.  I knew very little about this history in terms of details, but I was aware of some major parts of it--for example, that there had been great Church councils in the early days of the Church, like Nicaea and Chalcedon.  Lewis taught me to value the idea of a great Christian Tradition with classic doctrines like the Trinity and the Incarnation of Christ, which had been spelled out by early Church councils, but the question of how this Tradition related to Scripture never (so far as I can now recall) entered my mind in those days.

My sense of Christianity in those days was rooted in C. S. Lewis's "mere Christianity".  I was aware there were denominational divisions, but I didn't take them at all seriously.  I didn't believe they were over anything important, and I thought of them pretty much as a nuisance that unnecessarily caused division in the one Body of Christ.  I identified with none of them.  Although, in practice, I was broadly Protestant, since I did not accept any infallible Tradition associated with a particular group like Catholicism or Orthodoxy, I did not think of myself as Protestant, and I strongly objected when anyone tried to describe me as a Protestant.  My view of the Church was a vast, worldwide body of people who believe in and follow Christ and hold to the core "essentials" of the Christian worldview--the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc.  I had no clear sense of the formal visibility of the Church or the importance of a Church hierarchy, elders one had to submit to, etc.  I was very active in the Evangelical churches we were a part of during this time, but I never joined in formal membership, nor did it ever occur to me that this was something worth doing.  (I was never even baptized formally until my 11th grade year.)

So, during this time, for the most part I practiced Sola Scriptura, but was not consciously aware of holding a distinct position on the topic, and so I had no real argument for that position.

The Reformed Period

When I went to college in 1996, I encountered Calvinism and the Reformed tradition.  I became a five-point Calvinist (meaning I adopted certain beliefs about God's sovereignty and salvation by grace that tended to be labeled as "Calvinistic"), and this led me to identify more and more with the Reformed tradition, because I came to feel that these "doctrines of grace" were crucially important in defining true, orthodox Christianity, and it appeared to me that it was the Reformed tradition that held to these doctrines consistently.  My association with the Reformed tradition taught me several things.  It increased my awareness of the formal visibility of the Church.  I learned about formal Church membership, and having pastors/elders one must submit to, and how being a Christian involves being formally a part of a visible Church structure.  I learned the importance of having a systematic theology beyond simply a very small list of "essential doctrines".  I learned to associate with a definite group with a definite set of beliefs, a distinct identity, and a common doctrinal heritage.  My association with the Reformed tradition increased over the years.  We became members of the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) in 2000, and in 2005 I became a ruling elder in our OPC church and formally embraced the full doctrinal standards of the OPC.  It was during this time, I believe, that I first became aware of my own position on Scripture and Tradition as the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  I became more consciously aware that Sola Scriptura is a position that Protestants hold but that Catholics and Orthodox don't, and that I identified with the Protestant position and not the Catholic or Orthodox position.

Since I had become aware of my own position on Sola Scriptura, and that others argued against it, I began during this time also to articulate reasons and arguments to support it.  When I wrote my book, Why Christianity is True, in 2010, for the first time I wrote out a brief argument for Sola Scriptura.  I still had no substantial awareness of much of Church history or the importance of Church history.  Even though I had become more aware of the formal, visible, organizational aspects of the Church, and the history of the Reformed tradition, I still thought of the Church as something that was defined not historically but doctrinally.  That is, unlike Catholics and Orthodox, who define the visible Church in terms of historical continuity from the apostles, I still thought of the Church as an institution that forms around a correct articulation of the central doctrines of the Christian worldview.  So, for example, it didn't matter how the OPC came into existence; all that mattered was that it held to the doctrines I considered essential to Christianity.  And every other denomination that held to those essentials was likewise a true church.  Its history was unimportant to its identity or authority.  I knew that Catholics and Orthodox thought differently about this, that they held to a concept that linked their authority to their historical continuity with the apostles, and I also knew they rejected Sola Scriptura and believed in an infallible Church and an infallible Tradition in addition to an infallible Scripture, but I didn't take their position on these things seriously because I didn't see any reason to believe them to be true.  I didn't know a great deal about the doctrinal positions of the Church Fathers, but I had seen some arguments that they held to Sola Scriptura, which seemed convincing enough at that time.  Protestant apologists like William Webster could produce quotes from various Fathers that sounded pretty clearly like they were teaching Sola Scriptura, so I thought that at least some of them did, and that Sola Scriptura had a pedigree in the early Church.

My argument for Sola Scriptura at that time went basically like this:  Christianity is a divine revelation.  Since that is so, there must be a locus for that revelation.  That is, there must be a place where that revelation is found.  How are we going to know what that place is?  I saw that I had no choice but to look back to the early history of the Church and see what the early Christian Tradition decided on that point.  Since Christianity is a divine revelation, and since a revelation needs a locus, God must have made it possible for us to find this locus.  Therefore, I could be confident that whatever the early history of the Church points to as the most likely location of this locus must be the right way to go, that God must have guided Church history so that the providential course of that history in the development of the Christian Tradition gave us the right answer on that point, for otherwise we could never know the right answer.  I was aware that all the mainstream Christian groups that came out of the early orthodox Church--Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism--agreed that the Scripture was at least one of the loci of the Christian revelation.  Therefore, I reasoned, the Scripture must in fact be a locus of that revelation (for if it is not, nothing is, for nothing has a better case arguing for it).  I knew that after this agreement, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox disagree on whether there is another locus of revelation besides Scripture.  Protestants say Scripture is our only infallible rule, Catholics and Orthodox say there is also an infallible Tradition and that both Scripture and Tradition are interpreted by an infallible Church.  My argument was that we should go with the Protestant position, because this is the default position.  There must be a locus of revelation.  If there must be a locus, Scripture is the surest candidate.  All the groups growing out of early, orthodox Christianity agree that Scripture is a locus of revelation.  Therefore, we must take Scripture as our locus of revelation.  But now that we have Scripture, our need for a locus of revelation is satisfied.  We need nothing more.  My only reason for looking to the historic Church was because there was no other way available to answer the locus question.  I defined the Church doctrinally and not in terms of a historical succession, and I wasn't aware of any reason to give any preference to Catholicism or Orthodoxy above Protestantism because of some greater historical pedigree (because, after all, the Fathers, or at least some of them, believed in Sola Scriptura anyway), and so I saw no reason to trust Church Tradition simply because it was Church Tradition.  I trusted the historic Church Tradition only insofar as it was necessary to solve a logical problem--Where is to be found the locus of divine revelation?--and I saw no need to trust it beyond that.  So once I ascertained that Scripture is where divine revelation is to be found, I didn't look to historical Tradition to give me any further information.  (Well, to be fully accurate, I did trust the Tradition for the canon of Scripture as well, but I saw this as part of the original question about the locus of revelation.  After all, if we are to look to Scripture as our divine revelation, we have to know what books are in it, and I saw that the only way to answer that was to look to the historical Tradition of the Church.  But once I had solved that problem, I believed I had no more logical need to trust Tradition because there was no more need for it, and so I dropped it as a source of doctrinal knowledge for anything further.)

To reiterate, in short, my argument for Sola Scriptura went like this:  1. Christianity is a divine revelation.  2. A divine revelation must have a locus.  3. The only way to know what that locus is is to trust that God guided the historical transmission of the Christian faith so that that historic faith ended up affirming the right answer to the locus question.  4. The historical Tradition of the Christian faith clearly affirmed Scripture as the locus of revelation.  5. Some churches coming out of that Tradition (Catholics and Orthodox) affirmed additional loci, in the Church and in Tradition, but other churches (Protestants) affirmed Scripture alone.  The early Church, at least to some degree, held to Sola Scriptura, or at least there was no clear and universal repudiation of it.  The Catholic and Orthodox positions evolved later.  Therefore, we could only be sure of Scripture, the other alleged loci being suspect.  Since Scripture gives us a locus of revelation, it satisfies that logical requirement of the Christian faith, and so there is no reason to trust implicitly the traditions of the Catholic or Orthodox churches when they claim to give us additional loci.  6. Therefore, we can conclude that Scripture alone is our locus of revelation, our infallible source of information about what God has revealed.

The Catholic Transition

In 2011-2012, for several reasons, I began to become more aware of Church history.  The Reformed tradition had helped me recognize the importance of the formal, organizational visibility of the Christian Church and the importance of the authority of the Church's hierarchy in the elders of the Church.  Early in 2012, those ideas developed in my mind to the point that I started to think of the identity of the Church not just in doctrinal terms but in historical terms as well.  I realized that the Bible calls for a unified Church, and that when churches are formally separate from each other in competing denominations, there is a kind of mutual rejection of each other's authority that goes along with that.  I knew that the elders of the Church are to function collegially.  The elders of particular churches are part of a larger body of elders governing the entire Church, and they are required to mutually submit to each other's authority in larger Church councils.  This is how the Church functions in Presbyterianism, and I was convinced this was biblical.  So if we have two denominations, like the OPC and the PCA, that are not in formal communion with each other and whose elders don't mutually submit to each other in common Church councils, this implies that the OPC and the PCA are refusing to fully recognize each other's de jure legitimacy and authority as formal parts of the visible, organizational Church.  This led me to the realization that, in choosing a denomination, one must do more than simply figure out which denominations hold to the doctrinal essentials of the faith.  One must also look at the history of the denominations and determine how they came into existence.  The OPC, for example, split from the PCUSA in 1936.  Was that split justified or not?  My answer to this question determines which side of the split I ought to follow.  And, today, the PCA and the OPC are not in full communion.  Who is on the right side in this continuing division?  I have an obligation to join with the right side.  So this line of reasoning led me to start looking at Church identity in a more historical way.

During this same time, a couple from our OPC church became Catholic, and they began to send us Catholic literature.  Among that literature was St. Francis de Sales's great work, The Catholic Controversy, as well as Patrick Madrid's collection of Catholic conversion testimonies, Surprised by Truth.  I read all of this with great interest, since I was now thinking more about the history of the Church.  My wife and I also began to read the Church fathers systematically, and I began to spend more time dialoguing and arguing with both Catholics and Orthodox.  So my understanding of what the early Church actually believed was increasing greatly during this time period.

Over time, this investigation led me to realize that the Catholic and Orthodox traditions have a much stronger historical claim than I had previously been aware of.  I became more and more aware of the fact that the early Church fathers did not believe in Sola Scriptura, but that they in fact looked to Tradition and the Church as infallibly-guided as well.  They saw Scripture, Tradition, and Church authority as three legs in a three-legged stool.  You need all three to know and understand God's revelation.  All three have been divinely-guided and protected from error.  I became more aware that it was the Protestants who had broken off from an earlier tradition, and so the burden of proof was on the Protestants to provide justification for veering off of the earlier Tradition of the Church.  I now had a reason to trust the Church's historic Tradition beyond merely its usefulness in answering my logical question about the locus of revelation.  The historic Church called me to receive the faith as it had been handed down before the Reformation.  It called me to the authority of the bishops who had succeeded the apostles, and to the unity of the historic Church.  It challenged me that if I was going to remain Protestant, I could not take Sola Scriptura as a default any longer.  The historical testimony of the Church and the reliability of her Tradition put forth a claim too strong to be simply turned on to solve a particular logical problem and then turned off again because I felt I had found my answer.  It wasn't, as I had previously thought, that the default is with Sola Scriptura and the other Catholic/Orthodox ideas had to bring proof to me as to why I should add them on to Scripture, but, rather, the historically aware question was could I justify the Protestant Reformation's decision to remove Scripture from its earlier, historical context as one of the three legs of the three-legged stool of Scripture-Tradition-Church and set it up to function on its own.  Could I justify the removal of an infallible Tradition and an infallible Church from the infallible Scripture?  Because of my lack of historical awareness, I had not seen the basis and the strength of the Catholic/Orthodox position, and so I had treated those traditions as if they were trying to add on to something I already had, when in reality it was I, as a Protestant, who had taken Scripture away from them and had to justify that.  When once I realized the default was the reverse of what I had thought it was, I saw that I could not positively prove Sola Scriptura.  Without its default status, it could not support itself.  Therefore, I finally concluded, I needed to abandon Sola Scriptura and return to the historic faith of the Catholic/Orthodox Church and its three-legged stool.  (I realized, also, that the Eastern Orthodox and other non-Catholic Eastern churches couldn't justify their separation from Rome, and that the See of Rome is a necessary component of the authority of the historic Church, which led me to the Catholic Church in particular, but that's a story for another time.

For more, see herehere, and here.

Published on the feast of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Church History Companion Unit 8: Vatican II to the Present Day

To return to the Introduction and Table of Contents, click here.

This unit goes from about 1960 to the present day (2020).

This unit corresponds with pp. 128-162 in our textbook.

Vatican II

In 1958, John XXIII was elected Pope.  It is said that a lot of people expected him to be a "caretaker" Pope--that is, a Pope who just keeps things going but doesn't initiate anything significantly new.  This turned out definitely not to be the case.  Only two months into his pontificate, John XXIII called for a new ecumenical council.  The council--The Second Vatican Council--was opened at the Vatican on October 11, 1962, and continued to meet until December of 1965.  John XXIII died in June of 1963 and was succeeded by Pope Paul VI, who reigned until 1978, and who continued to oversee the council until its closing in 1965.

In our previous unit, we talked about the positive and the negative roles of the Church in her dialogue with the ideas and practices current in the world.  She has a responsibility to guard the truths of divine revelation, to affirm them, and to refute errors that contradict them.  But she also has a responsibility to learn from the dialogue and to grow in her own understanding of the depths of divine revelation.  The "modern" period, with the Protestant Reformation, the growth of Agnostic ideas, secular governments, the ending of Christendom, etc., put her on the defensive, especially in the nineteenth century.  But this has been a time, also, of growth and development, and the Church has tried to come to terms with new ideas, ways, and practices, and to discern how to apply the riches of the divine deposit of revelation fruitfully in this new context.  Vatican II was a high point in this process.  Whereas Vatican I had been a very defensive council, defining and asserting the historic truths of the faith in the face of modern errors, Vatican II had a very different tone, emphasizing positive dialogue with modern culture.  This different tone was evident from the very beginning, as we can see from a selection from John XXIII's speech by which he opened the council:

At the outset of the Second Vatican Council, it is evident, as always, that the truth of the Lord will remain forever. We see, in fact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She consider that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations. Not, certainly, that there is a lack of fallacious teaching, opinions, and dangerous concepts to be guarded against an dissipated. But these are so obviously in contrast with the right norm of honesty, and have produced such lethal fruits that by now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn them, particularly those ways of life which despise God and His law or place excessive confidence in technical progress and a well-being based exclusively on the comforts of life. They are ever more deeply convinced of the paramount dignity of the human person and of his perfection as well as of the duties which that implies. Even more important, experience has taught men that violence inflicted on others, the might of arms, and political domination, are of no help at all in finding a happy solution to the grave problems which afflict them. 
That being so, the Catholic Church, raising the torch of religious truth by means of this Ecumenical Council, desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness toward the brethren who are separated from her. To mankind, oppressed by so many difficulties, the Church says, as Peter said to the poor who begged alms from him: "I have neither gold nor silver, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk" (Acts 3:6). In other words, the Church does not offer to the men of today riches that pass, nor does she promise them merely earthly happiness. But she distributes to them the goods of divine grace which, raising men to the dignity of sons of God, are the most efficacious safeguards and aids toward a more human life. She opens the fountain of her life-giving doctrine which allows men, enlightened by the light of Christ, to understand well what they really are, what their lofty dignity and their purpose are, and, finally, through her children, she spreads everywhere the fullness of Christian charity, than which nothing is more effective in eradicating the seeds of discord, nothing more efficacious in promoting concord, just peace, and the brotherly unity of all.

The Second Vatican Council dealt with many issues.  It addressed the question of religious liberty and liberty of conscience.  It addressed the salvation of non-Catholics and the relationship between the Catholic Church and other churches and religions.  It addressed questions of social justice, questions of liturgy and the sacraments, and many other issues.  Many characteristics of the Church that have become familiar to modern Catholics (especially Latin Catholics) trace themselves back to Vatican II or to policies and practices that developed in the years following Vatican II, including the use of vernacular languages in the Mass, having the priest face the people during the consecration of the elements, a wider variety of forms of church music, allowance of the laity to receive the chalice, and many other things.

At Vatican II, the Church reasserted her classic teaching, but she also rearticulated it in light of modern language and culture so that it could better address the realities, ideas, values, and feelings of modern life.

Vatican II issued several key documents.  Lumen Gentium focused on the doctrine of the Church and the Church's relationship to the people of the world.  Gaudium et spes dealt with many aspects of life in the modern world, discussing things like human dignity, social justice, the role of the Church in the world, international peace, etc.  Sacrosanctum concilium dealt with the liturgy.  Dei Verbum discussed divine revelation and its preservation, interpretation, and transmission.  Unitatis redintegratio discussed ecumenism and the relationship of the Catholic Church to other churches.  Nostra aetate discussed the relationship between the Church and the Catholic faith and other religions.  Dignitatis humanae dealt with religious freedom and liberty of conscience.

https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/16-documents-of-the-second-vatican-council-1509 - List of documents produced by the Second Vatican Council.

https://scalar.usc.edu/works/god-man-and-the-universe-week-two/gaudet-mater-ecclesia - Pope St. John XXIII's Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, the opening speech of the Second Vatican Council.

Religious Freedom and Liberty of Conscience

To illustrate the doctrinal development of the Church, we can look at two issues we mentioned back in Unit 6--liberty of conscience and the salvation of non-Catholics--and see how the conversation continued in the Church after the nineteenth century and through Vatican II.  With regard to religious freedom, the Vatican II document Dignitatis humanae carried further the nuances that had been coming more to the fore over the previous century regarding the role of toleration of non-Catholic religion in civil societies.  We recall that Pope Leo XIII and others had re-emphasized the duty of civil societies to acknowledge and reverence God and to follow the true religion and support the true Church, and they had condemned the growing secular ideal of a (supposedly) "neutral" state which was in fact based on a practical Agnosticism or Atheism.  However, these same Popes had also recognized that the civil magistrate has a number of concerns to balance in the protection of the common good.  False religion may be a great evil, but it may be that in modern societies the attempt to suppress it would cause greater harm.  In such a case, the protection of the greater good calls for a degree of toleration.  The Vatican II council Fathers professed an intention "to develop the doctrine of recent popes on the inviolable rights of the human person and the constitutional order of society" (DH #1).

We also recall that the Church, throughout her history, has recognized the value of conscience and the voluntary nature of faith.  The early Church Fathers often appealed to these principles in their arguments against Roman persecution of Christians.  Even in the Middle Ages, at the height of Christendom, when Western society was saturated with Christianity and political power was at the service of the Church's beliefs, values, and ideals, these principles were recognized and taken seriously.  Hence, the Church opposed the forceful conversion of non-believers--even Jews or other non-believers living within Christian lands--and protected certain fundamental rights that they had--such as the right to raise their own children in their own faith.  We recall the vigorous arguments of the Spanish Dominicans against the conquest and subjugation of the inhabitants of the "New World" in the Americas on the grounds that the Church--and Spain--had no jurisdiction over them, that they must embrace the faith voluntarily, etc.

The council Fathers at Vatican II, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, carried on the development of the Church's understanding of all of these principles and their application in the modern day.  First, they recognized the growing concern for liberty of conscience in the world at large and declared that this concern was a well-grounded one, in accordance with objective truth and morality.  Next, they reiterated their belief that the Catholic faith is the one true faith and the Catholic Church is the one true Church, and that, "[o]n their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it."  They noted that, if people are going to be able to fulfill their duty to seek and to embrace truth, their consciences must be allowed room to do this without being micromanaged by the civil authority.  "The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power."  From this arises a right that every member of society has to a sufficient degree of religious freedom--that is, to immunity from interference from civil government in matters of conscience--to allow them to pursue and embrace the truth.

2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. 
The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right. 
It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.  (DH #2, footnote removed)

The council Fathers were very clear to distinguish the sort of "religious freedom" they were advocating from the Agnosticism-grounded ideal of "religious freedom" that would root that freedom in the idea that everyone has a moral right to believe whatever they want and no duty to believe in any particular religion.  This might make sense if no one can really know objectively what the true religion is anyway, but it makes no sense on the foundation of the Catholic worldview, which asserts the knowability and the importance of religious truth.  On the contrary, a true idea of "religious freedom" is grounded in the fact that because seeking and finding religious truth is so important, the civil authority has an objective moral obligation to allow people to exercise their reason and consciences in pursuit of truth and in following what they believe to be true.

Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.  (DH #1)

Human individuals, as well as human societies, have a moral duty to embrace the true religion and the one Church of Christ.  So there is no idea here of the kind of secularism where a society seeks "religious neutrality"--really, practical Agnosticism--as an ideal.  The Church has reiterated this subsequently to Vatican II as well.  The current Catechism of the Catholic Church, in section #2108, puts it this way:

The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities.  (Footnote removed.)

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #463, puts it this way:

Authority should always be exercised as a service, respecting fundamental human rights, a just hierarchy of values, laws, distributive justice, and the principle of subsidiarity. All those who exercise authority should seek the interests of the community before their own interest and allow their decisions to be inspired by the truth about God, about man and about the world.

Civil authority must not interfere with conscience any more than is necessary, because when people are acting in accordance with their "conscience", what that means is that they are acting in accordance with what they believe to be true and right.  Civil authority cannot make someone think something is true or good by force; all it can do is try to use external means to motivate or threaten them into believing what they think is false or doing what they think is wrong.  But human beings always have a duty to follow their consciences--which is just to say we always have a duty to believe what we think is true and to do what we think is right.  Of course, we also have a moral duty to form our consciences--that is, to educate them and train them to get reality right so that their judgments will be in accordance with objective truth (see the Catechism's balanced discussion of conscience here)--but the fact remains that we always have a duty to follow what we really believe.  If the state should coerce someone into going against his conscience, it will have coerced him into sinning--for even when we are doing something objectively right, if we believe it to be wrong, it is sin to us.  (See St. Paul's discussion of this principle in Romans 14:13-23.)  Therefore, civil authority has a grave moral duty to grant freedom to people to live according to their consciences.

However, this freedom is not absolute.  Civil authority must balance many concerns, and that often involves deciding which principles or concerns take precedence in particular situations.  Hence, the council Fathers constantly reiterated the idea that everyone has a right to religious freedom, but only "within due limits" or "provided that just public order be observed."  It is a harm to coerce someone to violate his conscience.  It is also a harm to allow someone to follow his conscience when doing so injures himself or others.  To take an obvious example, if I think it my conscientious duty to blow up a market place in a suicide bombing, pretty much all societies on earth will try to stop me.  if I plead conscience in the matter, I will be told that the concern for public safety in this case outweighs the concern to protect my ability to act according to my conscience.  So liberty of conscience is not an absolute.  It is one value among others that must be protected in a balanced way.  We saw this point made in our previous unit by Pope Leo XIII in his discussion of religious toleration.

But how do we know how to balance these competing concerns?  Here is where we are reminded of how important it is that civil authorities "allow their decisions to be inspired by the truth about God, about man and about the world."  What is the standard by which right and wrong--for individuals or for societies--is to be determined?  Is it the feelings or desires of human beings?  Or is it something more--the objective moral law of God?  Of course, the Catholic faith says it is the latter.  Just as individuals can only successfully live a morally balanced life if they are grounded in the objective truths of God, so the same is true of human societies.  So, ironic as it may seem to an Agnostic, "secular" mindset, it is only when the State embraces and follows the true religion that it is made capable of truly and effectively respecting social justice, including the right of individuals to religious freedom.

The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a "public order" conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner. The "due limits" which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with "legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order."  (Catechism #2109, footnotes removed.)

https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/ci-riesce-8948 - Ci Riesce, an address by Pope Pius XII given in 1953 to the National Convention of Italian Catholic Jurists.  In it, among other things, Pius XII reiterates previous papal teaching on the balance between opposing false teaching and tolerating false teaching in accordance with what is best for the common good in particular situations, and he specifically mentions the role of respect for conscience in this balance, thus foreshadowing the discussion at Vatican II.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651207_dignitatis-humanae_en.html - Dignitatis Humanae.

http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2015/10/gods-law-civil-law-and-liberty-of.html - An article I wrote up attempting to describe the overall doctrine of the Church with regard to civil authority, the law of God, and liberty of conscience.

https://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2017/08/two-versions-of-secularism.html - In this article, I look at two very different ideas of "secularism"--one of which Catholic faith can endorse and the other of which it cannot.

Salvation of Non-Catholics

We saw in the previous unit how the Church, facing the disintegration of Christendom and the growth of pluralism in Western societies, began to emphasize more the fact that while salvation only comes through Christ and his Church, individuals can be connected to Christ and his Church in unusual and imperfect ways even when they are not explicitly members of the visible Catholic community.  So it is not necessarily the case that all people who die outside of the visible Catholic Church are damned.  The Church continued in the twentieth century to explore this fact, and the council Fathers of Vatican II made it a clear and explicit part of their teaching, articulating the same balance the Church had always had but going further in terms of recognition of how the mercy of God can impact even those who seem far removed from the Catholic community.

Lumen Gentium begins by recognizing the necessity of the Church for salvation:

This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. (#14, footnote removed)

If I know that God wants me to enter the Catholic Church, and that she is necessary for salvation, and I understand sufficiently what this means, rejection of the Church is spiritually fatal, for I am intentionally rejecting the only means of my own salvation.  But if I don't fully know or understand this, I am not therefore of necessity cut off from communion with the Church if, by grace, I have at least an implicit intention to follow where God is leading.  As Popes Pius IX and X had previously articulated, through my intention grace is connecting me to that which I do not yet fully and explicitly know.

There are many baptized Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church--Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, etc.  Even though these are not in full communion with the Church, their baptism puts them into at least an imperfect communion with the Church.  And, if they are truly following Christ in their hearts, they are receivers of God's grace.

3. Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly condemned. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church - whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church - do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.
Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ. . . . 
Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life - that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is "the all-embracing means of salvation," that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God's gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.  (Unitatis redintegratio, #3, footnotes removed)

What about non-Christians?  Jews, Muslims, pagans, even Atheists and Agnostics?

16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature", the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.  (Lumen Gentium, #16, footnotes removed)

http://shamelesspopery.com/salvation-outside-of-the-church/ - Helpful article on the Church's view of the salvation of non-Catholics and the Church's necessity for salvation.  (I linked to this after the discussion in Unit 6 as well.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feeneyism#:~:text=Feeneyism%20is%20the%20doctrinal%20position,there%20is%20no%20salvation%22). - Discussion of a view called Feeneyism which was condemned by the Holy Office in 1949 for denying that people who are united to the Church through implicit desire, though in innocent ignorance, can be saved.

Hyper-Traditionalist Backlash and Liberal Over-Exuberance

Ecumenical councils have a way of irritating some people.  As we've seen, a number of the most significant splits in Church history occurred as backlash to an ecumenical council.  Vatican II was no different.  In this case, the concern came from those who felt that the modern Church, and especially Vatican II, had contradicted previous Church teachings and had capitulated to erroneous modern ideas.  Whereas the Church previously had affirmed that only Catholics could be saved, allegedly, now she was teaching that others could be saved as well.  Whereas before the Church had taught that civil authority ought to embrace the true religion and suppress false religion, now, it was said, she was teaching that the State ought to grant everyone liberty to practice false religion.  There was concern also over Vatican II and post-Vatican-II liturgical changes.  It was believed that allowing Masses in the vernacular languages, allowing priests to face the people when before they had faced away from the people, allowing communion to be received in the hand, allowing a wider array of liturgical music, etc., had violated the beauty and reverence of the Mass and had allowed irreverence and disorder to take over.

These charges were bolstered by the fact that, on the other side of the political aisle, there were plenty of more liberal-leaning Catholics who wanted to take up what they considered to be the "spirit of Vatican II", going beyond what Vatican II actually said, and embrace all the fads of modernity and abandon many traditional teachings and practices.  Vatican II and post-conciliar decisions and documents had indeed brought a lot of changes, and there was a lot of disorder in the decades following the council.  There were real examples of serious liturgical abuse.  Extremists on both sides tried to pull the Church in their own directions.

One of the most important of the "Hyper-Traditionalist" movements was the Society of St. Pius X.  Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the society in 1970.  Lefebvre and the society began to criticize and attack some of the doctrines of the Second Vatican Council, alleging their incompatibility with earlier Catholic teaching.  This, not surprisingly, got them in trouble with Rome, and a conflict ensued.  The Church attempted to suppress Lefebvre and his society, but they continued to defy the Church and perform various functions without authorization, insisting that they were acting for the good of the Church.  Eventually, in 1988, Lefebvre got himself excommunicated for ordaining bishops in explicit defiance of papal prohibition, along with the bishops he ordained.  (Eventually, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI removed the excommunications as an act of mercy, though the society remained out of full communion with the Church and continues in that condition to this day.)

Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) attempted to justify themselves in part by declaring that the teachings of Vatican II were not binding because the council had not issued any dogmatic decrees but was more pastoral in nature.  This was a specious argument, however, since Vatican II, as an ecumenical council of the Church, was an exercise of the authentic Magisterium of the Catholic Church to which all Catholics are required to submit.  Pope Paul VI, several times, explicitly affirmed the binding authority of the council and explicitly rejected the idea that because the council took a more "pastoral" tone it therefore did not require the assent of the faithful.

But one thing must be noted here, namely, that the teaching authority of the Church, even though not wishing to issue extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements, has made thoroughly known its authoritative teaching on a number of questions which today weigh upon man's conscience and activity, descending, so to speak, into a dialogue with him, but ever preserving its own authority and force; it has spoken with the accommodating friendly voice of pastoral charity; its desire has been to be heard and understood by everyone; it has not merely concentrated on intellectual understanding but has also sought to express itself in simple, up-to-date, conversational style, derived from actual experience and a cordial approach which make it more vital, attractive and persuasive; it has spoken to modern man as he is.  (Address of Pope Paul VI During the Last General Meeting of the Second Vatican Council, December, 1965) 
We decided moreover that all that has been established synodally is to be religiously observed by all the faithful, for the glory of God and the dignity of the Church and for the tranquillity and peace of all men. We have approved and established these things, decreeing that the present letters are and remain stable and valid, and are to have legal effectiveness, so that they be disseminated and obtain full and complete effect, and so that they may be fully convalidated by those whom they concern or may concern now and in the future; and so that, as it be judged and described, all efforts contrary to these things by whomever or whatever authority, knowingly or in ignorance be invalid and worthless from now on.  (Pope Paul VI, In Spiritu Sancto, for the closing of the council) 
There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions engaging the infallibility of the ecclesiastical Magisterium. The answer is known by whoever remembers the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964: given the Council’s pastoral character, it avoided pronouncing, in an extraordinary manner, dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility.  But it has invested its teachings with the authority of the supreme ordinary magisterium, which ordinary magisterium is so obviously authentic that it must be accepted with docility and sincerity by all the faithful, according to the mind of the Council as expressed in the nature and aims of the individual documents.  (Pope Paul VI, General Hearing, Wednesday, January 12, 1966, following the translation found here by Dr. Jeff Mirus)

In other words, while the council refrained from issuing formal, definitive, dogmatic definitions, it still taught with the full authority of the Catholic Church and its teachings are therefore authentic and reliable and binding on the faithful according to the council's intentions.

Pope Paul VI called out Lefebvre and those who followed him for their refusal to submit to the Magisterium of the Church, putting their own ideas forward instead as if they had greater magisterial authority than the Pope and the bishops and an ecumenical council.

On the one hand, here are those who, under the pretext of a greater fidelity to the Church and to the Magisterium, systematically reject the teachings of the Council itself, its application and the reforms that derive from it, its gradual application by the Apostolic See and of the Episcopal Conferences, under our authority, willed by Christ. Discredit is cast on the authority of the Church in the name of a Tradition, of which respect is only materially and verbally attested; the faithful move away from the bonds of obedience to the See of Peter as to their legitimate Bishops; today's authority is rejected in the name of yesterday's. And the fact is all the more serious, since the opposition we speak of is not only encouraged by some priests, but led by a Bishop, however always venerated by Us, Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre. 
It is so painful to notice it: but how can we fail to see in this attitude - whatever the intentions of these people may be - put ourselves out of obedience and communion with the Successor of Peter and therefore of the Church? 
Since this, unfortunately, is the logical consequence, that is when it is argued that it is preferable to disobey on the pretext of keeping one's faith intact, of working in one's own way to preserve the Catholic Church, while denying it an effective obedience. And it is said openly! We dare to say that the Second Vatican Council is not binding; that faith would also be in danger because of the post-conciliar reforms and guidelines, which one has the duty to disobey in order to preserve certain traditions. What traditions? It is this group, and not the Pope, not the Episcopal College, not the Ecumenical Council, that establishes which, among the innumerable traditions, must be considered as a norm of faith! As you see, our venerable Brothers, this attitude arises as a judge of that divine will,Luc . 22, 32; Me . 21, 15 ff.), Which established him as guarantor and custodian of the deposit of Faith.  (Pope Paul VI, Secret Consistory of the Holy Father Paul VI for the Appointment of Twenty Cardinals, May 24, 1976, translated from Italian by the translator in Google Chrome)

On the other hand, those on the liberal side who wanted to use Vatican II as a pretext for advancing their own ideas in opposition to the Magisterium were also criticized by the Church.  For example, shortly after his election as Pope, Benedict XVI, in December of 2005, commented on those who would interpret Vatican II by means of what he called a "hermeneutic of rupture or discontinuity" rather than a "hermeneutic of reform."  In a "hermeneutic of rupture," Vatican II is seen as rejecting all the previous traditions and teachings of the Church in order to create a new, modern, liberal constitution.  In a "hermeneutic of reform," on the other hand, Vatican II is seen as in continuity with what the Church has always been and always taught, moving forward with doctrinal development in consistency with the past.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts. 
These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague. 
In a word:  it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim. . . . 
The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965
Here I shall cite only John XXIII's well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion". And he continues:  "Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us...". It is necessary that "adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness..." be presented in "faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...", retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715). . . . 
The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity. 
The Church, both before and after the Council, was and is the same Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, journeying on through time; she continues "her pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God", proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 8). (Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia Offering Them His Christmas Greetings, December 22, 2005)

Look at in classhttps://fsspx.org/en/1974-declaration-of-archbishop-lefebvre - The 1974 Declaration of Archbishop Lefebvre, in which he stated clearly his intention to resist the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in the name of his own ideas about Tradition.

http://archives.sspx.org/SSPX_FAQs/q6_vatican_ii.htm - Document from the SSPX outlining alleged contradictions between the teaching of Vatican II and previous Church teaching.

https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/pope-paul-vi-on-vatican-ii/ - Helpful article on the authority of Vatican II and the submission owed to it.

https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=9793 - Another helpful article on this subject.

The Reliability of the Ordinary Magisterium

I mentioned in the previous unit how Vatican I had defined very carefully and narrowly the infallibility of ex cathedra papal statements--that is, formal statements issued by the Pope intending to define a doctrine of the faith in a definitive manner--and how the narrowness of this definition gave occasion for some people to claim that Catholics are only required to submit to ex cathedra papal definitions.  Other papal teaching, in this view, is held to be fallible and thus potentially rejectable as false.  This loophole has been appealed to both by hyper-traditionalists as well as by more extreme liberals who wish to reject some of the official teachings of the Church.  (We just saw in the previous section this loophole used by the SSPX to escape the binding force of the teachings of Vatican II.)  Vatican I gave no sanction to this idea, but its language provided a way for people to try to use it to their advantage.  After Vatican I, the Church addressed this situation and clearly and explicitly closed this loophole.  We see this, for example, in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, as it discusses the teaching authority of the Church:

25. Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. 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. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.  (Lumen Gentium, #25, footnotes removed)

Pope St. John Paul II, in a General Audience in 1993, pointed out that all papal teaching is protected from error by the Holy Spirit and has authority from Christ and is therefore to be submitted to by Catholics.

2. This supreme authority of the papal magisterium, which traditionally is usually defined apostolic, also in its ordinary exercise, derives from the institutional fact by which the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Peter in the mission to teach, confirm his brothers and ensure the conformity of the preaching of the Church with the deposit of the faith of the Apostles and with the doctrine of Christ. But it also derives from the conviction, matured in the Christian tradition, that the Bishop of Rome is the heir of Peter also in the charisms of special assistance that Jesus assured him when he said: «I have prayed for you» (Lc.22, 32). This means a continuous help of the Holy Spirit in the whole exercise of the doctrinal mission, aimed at making understood the revealed truth and its consequences in human life.  
For this reason, the Second Vatican Council affirms that the whole teaching of the Pope deserves to be heard and accepted, even when it is not ex cathedra, but presented in the ordinary exercise of the magisterium with clear intention to enunciate, remember or reaffirm the doctrine of faith. It is a consequence of the institutional fact and of the spiritual inheritance given by the complete dimensions of Peter's succession.  (Pope John Paul II, General Audience, Wednesday, March 17, 1993, #2, found here on the Vatican website, translated from Spanish, with slight tweaking, by the automatic translation system on Google Chrome)  
However, it is evident that the Roman Pontiff has not been granted infallibility as a private person, but rather that he is the pastor and teacher of all Christians. Moreover, he does not exercise it as having authority in himself or in himself, but "by his supreme apostolic authority" and "by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in the person of St. Peter." Finally, he does not possess it as if he could dispose of it or count on it in any circumstance, but only when he speaks ex cathedra, and only in a doctrinal field limited to the truths of faith and morals, and to those that are intimately related to them. . . .  
Along with this infallibility of the ex cathedra definitions, there exists the charism of assistance of the Holy Spirit, granted to Peter and his successors so that they do not commit errors in matters of faith and morals, and, on the contrary, enlighten the Christian people well. This charism is not limited to exceptional cases, but embraces in varying degrees the whole exercise of the Magisterium. (Pope John Paul II, General Audience, Wednesday, March 24, 1993, #1, 4, found here on the Vatican website, translated from Spanish, with slight tweaking inspired by the translation at http://totus2us.com/vocation/jpii-catechesis-on-the-church/the-holy-spirit-assists-the-roman-pontiff/, by the automatic translation system on Google Chrome)

During the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued several documents reiterating the submission owed to all magisterial teaching, including a commentary delineating specifically the various kinds of teachings the Magisterium might give and the kinds of submission owed to them.

Discuss the categories discussed in this document in class. - http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_1998_professio-fidei_en.html - The last document in this link is a commentary from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the various forms of magisterial teaching and the submission required of them.

http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2018/12/the-infallibility-of-ordinary.html - An article of mine on the Church's teaching regarding the unfailing reliability of all magisterial teaching.

Pope St. Paul VI

As I mentioned, Pope Paul VI reigned as Pope from 1963 to 1978.  As with all the Popes, much could be said.  I will point out a few highlights.

Pope Paul VI worked hard on ecumenism, visiting and meeting with Protestant, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox leaders to work towards unity.  In 1965, he and Athenagoras, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, issued jointly a declaration rescinding the excommunications of 1054, the ones we discussed back in Unit 4 which started off the Great Schism between the Catholic Church and the Eastern churches.  This didn't end the schism, as it did not resolve all the issues that still keep the churches apart, but it was a hugely important step in that direction.

In 1968, Paul VI published his encyclical Humanae vitae.  In it, he discussed love, marriage, sexuality, childbearing, and other issues.  Famously, he also re-affirmed the Church's historic teaching regarding artificial contraception, a view which is diametrically opposed to general trends in modern culture.  Here again we are reminded of the fact that the Church is not merely a human institution, but has been given the guidance of the Holy Spirit to enable her to proclaim the truth given to her by God.  Sometimes that truth is in conformity with the prevailing views of the surrounding culture.  But sometimes it is not.  Truth often has nuances that human minds have trouble wrapping themselves around.  Human beings tend to go to extremes, and the Church is a corrective to that.  We recall that in the early days of the Church, when the Church was protesting vigorously against various heresies, some in the Church wanted to re-baptize those who had been baptized by heretics, thinking that if heresy is bad and if heretics have cut themselves off from the Church, surely they cannot possess a valid baptism.  But Pope St. Stephen rejected this tidy view, and affirmed that although heresy is evil, yet heretical baptisms can be valid.  Some, among them even saints, had trouble with this, and refused to submit.  Likewise, in an age when the Church was trying hard to listen to and understand modern culture and to connect with the good ideas and impulses in it, yet still she stood up and resisted modern culture when it went wrong.  More liberal-leaning Catholics loved the new, more culture-embracing attitude the Church had been adopting recently, and they were greatly hoping to see the Church even more conform to modern trends by abandoning her "outdated, archaic" notions regarding sexuality and contraception.  when Paul VI, instead, re-affirmed this historic teaching, many liberal Catholics were greatly frustrated and refused to consent, and there was a widespread movement of dissent that went on for some time.  Some still dissent today.  But the Church goes on anyway, testifying to the truth of God through the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.



Go through this and share some highlights in class - http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html - The text of Humanae vitae.

https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c3a7.htm - Teaching from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on marriage.

https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm - Teaching from the Catechism on sexuality (including contraception).

Familiarize yourself with the basics of Church teaching on these things and summarize for us.

Read in class - http://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651207_common-declaration.html - Text of the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of His Holiness Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, in which the two leaders rescind the excommunications of 1054.

Pope Venerable John Paul I

Pope John Paul I began his reign as Pope on August 26, 1978, but he died only 33 days later, on September 28.  He was known for his warm and kind personality which endeared many people to him.  He has been declared "Venerable" by the Church and is on a path towards canonization.


Pope St. John Paul II

Pope John Paul II began his pontificate on October 16, 1978, and he was Pope until April 2, 2005.  Pope John Paul II was a very well-respected and influential Pope.  He was born and grew up in Poland.  He had an interest in philosophy and also in the arts.  He was involved in sports and theater as a youth.  As Pope, he traveled widely and met with many people of all religious and political backgrounds, following the legacy of Pope Paul VI.  He was especially influential in his native Poland, where he is credited with being an inspiration to the Polish resistance to Communism and thereby aiding in the fall of Communism within the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.  He began the tradition of the World Youth Days, which have been immensely popular with young people.  He issued numerous encyclicals and other documents in which he expressed his teaching, dealing with many issues, including euthanasia, abortion, faith and reason, marriage and divorce, women's ordination, social justice, the death penalty, the role of women, family life, ecumenism, etc.  John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger, who was the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during most of John Paul II's pontificate, worked together on many projects and were very influential in shaping the direction of doctrinal development in the Catholic Church during this time.  Their work helped the Church to regain some of her foothold after some of the confusions that had followed the Second Vatican Council as the Church tried to figure out how to relate to the world in faithfulness to the vision Vatican II had promoted.

In 1981, John Paul II was shot in an assassination attempt, but he survived.  He later went and talked with the man who shot him and declared that he forgave him.

He issues several apologies to various people and groups for things Catholics had done wrong through the centuries, including Catholics' involvement in the slave trade, persecutions of Protestants, the treatment of Galileo, not doing enough during the Holocaust, etc.

He overhauled and updated canon law, promulgating a new Code of Canon Law in 1983 (and one for the Eastern churches in 1990).

He gave a series of lectures between 1979 and 1984 discussing various aspects of human sexuality.  This teaching has come to be referred to as the Theology of the Body and has been very influential in Catholic thought and teaching.

In 1999, He issued a letter to artists, which is a beautiful affirmation of the crucial importance of the arts and an exhortation and an encouragement to artists to use their talents for the good of the world and the glory of God.

He suffered from Parkinson's disease in the later years of his life.






The Catechism of the Catholic Church

One of the greatest contributions of John Paul II was the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  After Vatican II, many people felt a need that a new, official catechism should be written that could authoritatively articulate the substance of the faith, updated for the modern age.  The last catechism for the universal Church had been the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which had been published in 1566.  Obviously, much had changed in the world since then, and a contemporary articulation of the faith was needed.

In 1986, Pope John Paul II appointed a committee to oversee the production of the text of the new catechism, headed up by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and there was widespread input from the bishops of all the world.  So the end result was a collaborative effort of the universal episcopate.

In his apostolic constitution ordering the publication of the completed catechism, in 1992, Pope John Paul II described his idea of what a catechism should be:

A catechism should faithfully and systematically present the teaching of Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition of the Church and the authentic Magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of the Fathers and the Church's saints, to allow for a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith of the People of God. It should take into account the doctrinal statements which down the centuries the Holy Spirit has intimated to his Church. It should also help illumine with the light of faith the new situations and problems which had not yet emerged in the past.

The catechism will thus contain the new and the old (cf. Mt 13:52), because the faith is always the same yet the source of ever new light.  (Fidei Depositum, found on the Vatican website)

The Pope went on to discuss the authoritativeness of the text and how it should be used:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith. May it serve the renewal to which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly calls the Church of God, the Body of Christ, on her pilgrimage to the undiminished light of the kingdom!

The approval and publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church represents a service which the Successor of Peter wishes to offer to the Holy Catholic Church, and to all the particular Churches in peace and communion with the Apostolic See: the service, that is, of supporting and confirming the faith of all the Lord Jesus' disciples (cf. Lk 22:32), as well as of strengthening the bonds of unity in the same apostolic faith.

Therefore, I ask the Church's Pastors and the Christian faithful to receive this catechism in a spirit of communion and to use it assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel life. This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms. It is also offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation (cf. Jn 8:32). It is meant to support ecumenical efforts that are moved by the holy desire for the unity of all Christians, showing carefully the content and wondrous harmony of the Catholic faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, lastly, is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pt 3:15) and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes.


https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM - The Catechism of the Catholic Church online.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601376499/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1 - Hard copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he was succeeded by his long-time associate and co-worker, Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI.  Benedict had already been very influential as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and he continued to lead the Church according to precedents that had been set before by John Paul II.

In February of 2013, Benedict shocked the world by announcing that he would resign the papacy.  He was the first Pope to resign the papacy (rather than leaving it by death) since Gregory XII in 1415, during the Great Western Schism.  He gave his reasons for resigning in his Declaration (found on the Vatican website):

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

After his resignation, Benedict adopted the designation of "Pope Emeritus" and moved to the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in Vatican City, where he still resides.


Pope Francis

Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope on March 13, 2013, after the resignation of Benedict XVI, and took the name Pope Francis (after St. Francis of Assisi).  He is the 266th Pope in the line of St. Peter.  He is the first Jesuit Pope.

Pope Francis's pontificate, thus far, has been marked by a tone emphasizing mercy towards those oppressed, marginalized, and suffering, as well as by concern for social justice and protection of the earth, our common home.  His pastoral approach tends to be much less formal than that of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.  He has been an instigator of reform, both in the broader world and in the Church.  Just as John Paul II and Benedict XVI had been especially lauded by more "conservative"-leaning Catholics, Pope Francis has been lauded by those leaning to the more "liberal" side--even though John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all been champions of Catholic orthodoxy as well as of dialogue with modern culture and of social justice.  Just as John Paul II and Benedict XVI sometimes baffled conservatives by their positive attitudes towards people of other religions and their concern for issues of social justice, so Francis sometimes baffles liberals by his continuing to uphold traditional Church teachings on homosexuality, women's ordination, etc.

Pope Francis has instigated reforms that have been of great benefit to many, but have caused confusion among others.  In 2015, Pope Francis issued the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), which was focused on love in family life and pastoral support of families.  Though the vast majority of it reiterated--in beautiful ways--classic Catholic teaching on family life, there was a small footnote which raised the question of whether, in some cases, the sacraments might be made available to people who are divorced and remarried.  Later on, Pope Francis made it clear that he intended to allow priests the right to make pastoral decisions in their care of souls that could include the decision, in specific cases, to allow a divorced and remarried person to receive communion.  In Catholic theology, sacramental marriage is indissoluble by anything except death.  In cases of true necessity, a person may be allowed to separate from a spouse for good reasons (for example, to escape abuse), but the marriage remains unbroken.  There can therefore be no remarriage, for remarriage in such a case would involve adultery (since the previous marriage is unbroken).  Objectively speaking, therefore, a person in such a remarriage has a moral obligation to leave the relationship.  But, in some cases, the situation may be very complex.  Imagine, for example, a person who was previously validly married in a sacramental marriage but who later fell away from the faith.  He subsequently remarried, and has now come back to the faith.  But he has been remarried for a long time, and he and his new wife have had children together and have formed a stable family.  Should he simply leave his current family?  What about the possible harm to his spouse, his children, etc.?  Pope John Paul II had allowed people in situations like this to continue living with their current spouse, but without engaging in sexual relations.  But sexuality can be a serious issue in relationships.  What if a refusal to engage in sexual relations might have an effect of harming the relationship and endangering the family?  What Pope Francis said in Amoris Laetitia and afterwards is that, in cases like this, a priest may decide, based on his personal knowledge of and counseling of an individual, that the individual, while out of objective conformity with the laws of marriage, is sincerely attempting to do the right thing, but is having difficulties in conscience knowing how to proceed.  In such a case, a priest might allow such a person to receive communion, since he exhibits signs of being in a state of grace in his desire to follow Christ and to avoid sin as best as he can.  In the meantime, the priest could continue to guide such a person towards a clearer understanding of his duty in his particular case and how it might be best carried out.

Pope Francis has received a lot of backlash from people on the more conservative side of the Church for taking this position.  It is argued that he has jettisoned or at least watered down traditional Catholic teaching on marriage, turned a blind eye to adultery, etc.  But Pope Francis himself sees what he is doing as applying needed pastoral nuance to the application of the revelation of God in this area--not jettisoning the Church's traditional teaching but rather trying to apply it in a pastorally responsible way in the current age.

Another example of a reform made by Pope Francis is his teaching on the death penalty.  Prior to the summer of 2018, the Church did not entirely rule out the death penalty as possibly being, in some cases, necessary for the defense of the common good.  In the summer of 2018, however, Pope Francis made the determination that, in light of circumstances in the modern day, the principles of Catholic teaching lead to the conclusion that use of the death penalty is inadmissible and that all societies ought therefore to work for its abolition.  He amended the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect this development.  Again, there has been a great deal of backlash among some conservative-leaning Catholics, who charge Pope Francis with abandoning the traditional teaching of the Church which allowed for the death penalty.  And again, Pope Francis's response is that there has not been a rejection of previous Church teaching but rather a new look at how best to apply the perennial principles of Church teaching to the modern day.  There is thus change within continuity.  There is change, because the world changes, and because we grow in our understanding of how best to apply divine revelation to our lives, but there is continuity, because we are always applying the faith once delivered to the saints.

Many other things that Pope Francis has done have provoked concern and opposition from some conservative-minded Catholics, including his tendency to make off-the-cuff remarks in airplane interviews that don't always include the nuances some conservatives would wish that he would make, his recent calling of a synod to deal with problems with society and the Church in the region of the Amazon Rain Forest, and many other things.

Overall, Pope Francis's contributions are marked by a commitment to the historic Catholic faith and a desire to apply the principles of that faith in such a way as to truly address the ethos, the realities, the virtues, and the blind spots, of the modern day, and especially to lead the Church in living out the faith in love of neighbor, particularly those who are "on the margins"--the poor, oppressed, migrants, refugees, etc.


http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/biography/documents/papa-francesco-biografia-bergoglio.html - Brief biographical sketch.

https://w2.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en.pdf - Amoris Laetitia.

https://www.chicagocatholic.com/vatican/-/article/2016/08/01/the-joy-of-love-and-the-consternation-of-theologians - Helpful article on the controversy over Amoris Laetitia.

http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2018/08/02/180802a.html - Pope Francis's revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty.

http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2018/08/02/0556/01210.html#letteraing - A letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith giving further explanation of the meaning and context of the revision of the Catechism on the death penalty.

https://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-death-penalty-in-catholic-teaching.html - An article of my own on Catholic teaching on the death penalty and the history of this teaching.

http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html - Encyclical of Pope Francis "on the care of our common home."

https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/02/12/200212c.html - Pope Francis's apostolic exhortation on the Amazon Rain Forest region.

http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en.html - Writings of Pope Francis (on the left side of the page).

Some saints of this period:  Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, ├ôscar Romero.

Mother Teresa movie?

Going Forward

We live in interesting times.  Our world is changing rapidly and dramatically.  It is hard to imagine what the world will look like at the end of the 21st century.  The philosophical and cultural shifts that have been going on since the time of the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment continue to advance, and the culture becomes less and less Christian, particularly in the Western world (while Christianity is growing in other parts of the world, such as in Africa).  Agnosticism continues to grow in the Western world, along with a new, post-Christian sense of religiosity.  For a Church that remembers the days of Christendom, which did not disappear all at once but has been receding slowly for centuries, the post-Christian course of our culture is greatly disconcerting.  But it is also a field of great opportunity.  As our culture has more opportunity to distance itself from Christianity and to try other worldviews, the Church has the opportunity to present the gospel to her neighbors in a fresh way, and to contrast the Christian worldview with the bankruptcy of other ways.

In many ways, ethics in modern Western culture are deteriorating.  We've seen a constant course of shifts away from orthodox Christian views in areas like marriage, family, and sexuality.  But, again, this situation, while disconcerting, presents opportunities, as it allows the world to be reminded of what Christianity has done for Western civilization and what will tend to happen when the beliefs underlying those values are removed.  Christians fascinated the ancient Roman world partly by their commitment to a consistent ethic that honored God and demanded value and respect for human beings--even the marginalized and unwanted.  As our culture sees more and more first hand the dangers of a lack of compassion and empathy in our political and social discourse, the disunity of a society that has no unifying objective beliefs and values to turn to as its foundation, the difficulty of balancing competing ethical values without a clear, agreed-upon worldview that can play the umpire for such disputes, deep and honest questions will be asked more and more.  As we see that Agnosticism, Atheism, religious indifferentism, I-define-my-own-values-and-identity-ism, and amorphous and substanceless free-for-all paganism cannot ground the need we feel to sacrifice for the good of others, to care for the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, and others in need, to make the sacrifices necessary to protect the earth and its environment, etc., there is an opportunity for people to be presented afresh with a worldview that can make sense out of all of this and deliver a consistent ideal towards which we can move forward.

In many ways, the realities of modern life have caused much moral growth in our culture.  We've seen increasing concern for justice and care to be given to all people, especially the poor and oppressed.  We've seen a greater awareness that all humans form one people, and we must live in harmony and unity.  We've seen increasing concern for the environment.  These concerns dovetail with the Church's vision and mission, and we can work as allies in these areas.  On the other hand, in other areas, such as sexuality, the Church increasingly finds herself having to stand up and testify to things the world around us does not want to hear.  But this has always been the task of the Church--to dialogue with the world, to learn from that dialogue how better to understand, articulate, and live out faithfully the divine revelation she has been given, and to challenge the world on the basis of that same revelation when the world is following a course of error, sin, and imbalance.

The Church continues to struggle with her own mix of humanity and divinity, as she always has.  She often trips herself up in the pursuit of her own mission.  The world is at a good place--with its broken families, high divorce rates, unwanted children, abortions, sexual promiscuity and all the harm that that causes, gender confusion, etc.--to be presented afresh with a true vision of the human person, the nature of the family and marriage, sexuality, etc.  And yet we find the Church embroiled in controversy over cases of sexual abuse among her own clergy, which is not only reprehensible in itself, but also clouds her presentation of the Christian worldview to the culture around her (due both to the reality of her problems and the exaggerations and stereotypes that these problems give birth to).  But, again, there is nothing new here.  The Church and the gospel have emerged from far worse scandals in her history, and she has learned much from her struggles to overcome her own sins and be more faithful to her own message.

Who knows what the future will bring.  As Master Yoda would say, "Impossible to see the future is."  But what we do know is that, whatever comes, the Church will continue to go on, guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, preaching the gospel and communicating Christ and his divine life and grace to the world, struggling with her own humanity, until the Author of history brings his great story to its final conclusion.