Sunday, June 8, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - Cafeteria Catholicism is No Catholicism

Can one be a faithful Catholic while disbelieving even one thing proposed for belief by the Church? If he deliberately does so, knowing what the Church teaches, and knowing that what he believes is contrary to it, and willfully refusing to repent, the answer is no.
Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith.

The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will (ST II-II Q5 A3).
The man who refuses to believe even one article has effectively demonstrated that he does not hold the Church's teaching on faith and morals to be infallible. But if he has denied this infallibility, then he has no better reason for what he believes other than his own will - what he chooses to believe or not, on his own authority. In this way he has ceased to be Catholic.

We are not free to pick and choose that which we will believe from what the Church teaches. The Catholic Faith is not a smorgasbord. We are obliged to believe everything that the Church proposes for belief. It is truth. To deny this truth on any point is to say that the Church lies. But that is impossible, for her Head is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The Church cannot err precisely because she is totus Christus (CCC 795) with him - Head and Body. It's not that she is infallible in and of herself - hardly! Rather, it is because she is united with her Head. To say that the Church could err would be the same thing as to say that Christ himself can err.


Interlocutor said...

Hi RdP,

"The Catholic Faith is not a smorgasbord"
Well, on some points I'm sure you'd allow that the Church permits a variety of opinion on certain things.

"The Church cannot err"
Do you believe this applies to all teaching, or just infallible teaching? If it applies to all teaching, including non-infallible teaching, then perhaps you would say "The Church cannot err to such an extent that what it proposes for belief is hurtful to the soul"? If you believe it only applies to infallible teachings, then we run into the problem of determining which teachings are actually infallible and which aren't which can quickly become a murky area.

Related to that, I'll repost a segment of my latest response from the sola fide thread (would still be interested in hearing your reply in that thread unless you've lost interest or something):

RCs are to submit mind/will even to non-infallible, non-definitive teachings (Donum Veritatis, art. 23; Lumen Gentium, art. 25; Canon 752, other documents as well no doubt) that could be revised and "in error" - my thinking was that an RC would think in these cases that yes, the church might have been incorrect or altered course, but not in such a way such that what was prescribed previously was actually hurtful to the soul or salvation. What do you think?

A further thought - is dissent from your priest/bishop(s)/pope ever justified? If so, how do you distinguish when it would be virtuous to submit your conscience/will to something you disagree with, versus whether it would be sinful to engage in such disobedience?

Reginald de Piperno said...

Well, on some points I'm sure you'd allow that the Church permits a variety of opinion on certain things.

Of course, but such things are not a part of the Catholic Faith per se.

Do you believe this applies to all teaching, or just infallible teaching?

It applies to the Church's teaching on faith and morals. Wouldn't it be a contradiction to say that the Church cannot err on things where it is not infallible? :-)

unless you've lost interest or something

I wouldn't necessarily say that, but I have been rather busy (which is why I am unfortunately posting less often); since the conversation in question did not (so far as I could tell) seem to be progressing a whole lot (I felt I was either repeating myself or about to start doing so), I opted to let it go.

As to the question - the CCC says: "When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed,' and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions 'must be adhered to with the obedience of faith'" (CCC 891).

And it says: "Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a 'definitive manner,' they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful 'are to adhere to it with religious assent' which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it" (CCC 892).

Lumen Gentium 25 describes the difference. I'm not sure that I can do a better job of explicating it than that. As far as I can tell the distinction falls between that which is a matter of faith and morals and what is not, or is not clearly so.

I'll grant that this is not terribly clear - even to myself :-) Frankly I don't feel a particular burden to be able to perfectly distinguish the two, but this page seems to me to offer a useful discussion of what "religious assent" is (scroll down to the section titled "Religious Assent of Mind and Heart"). Perhaps it may be reckoned similarly to the relationship between a father and child: the child has no business contradicting his father, up to the point where Dad contradicts the Faith or commands the child to sin. It's not a perfect analogy - as a child becomes an adult, he has less responsibility to believe what his father says, for example - but it's probably close enough for government work and this blog :-)

Dissent from a priest or bishop is justified if he teaches something contrary to the Catholic Faith. I can't think of an immediate contemporary example, but an orthodox believer would be obliged to dissent from an Arian priest or bishop, for example. We may dissent from the Pope when he speaks as a private individual as well, if what he says in that capacity is contrary to the Faith (Pope Benedict explicitly declared this liberty, for example, in the introductory material to his book Jesus of Nazareth).

Sorry, I just don't have time for more now.