Monday, October 12, 2009

Coincidence and Anathemas

Someone is planning a series on the Council of Trent. It might be amusing to suppose this is more than a coincidence, but given the spotty nature of my own posts on the subject I'm reluctant to accept credit or blame for the idea. Nevertheless, as opportunity and interest presents itself I'll probably offer some sort of review here.

For example, TF claims that he is under the anathema of Trent. But unless he is or was formally Catholic, this is flatly impossible. I do not understand the seeming fondness of some Protestants for wanting to be condemned by the Catholic Church. Perhaps it is some sort of projection issue: these folks despise the Catholic Faith, and so maybe they think that naturally Catholics or the Church ought to despise them in turn. Their protests notwithstanding, it's just not so, as I've said before. This fact does not mean that Protestant error is no longer reckoned to be erroneous. On the contrary: Trent has in no way been rescinded (of course). It simply means that most Protestants today are incapable of being the subject of any Catholic anathema whatever, because they do not meet a fundamental condition: they have never been Catholic. If he wishes to say that his beliefs have been condemned by the Catholic Church, then he would get no argument from me (to the extent that his views are in fact false and actually under formal condemnation).

In the same post (linked above) where he erroneously claims to be anathematized, TF also says (with regard to Canon 33 on Justification):

Perhaps it is only me, but it seems to me that the folks at Trent realized that what they were doing was dishonoring to God and to the glory of the merits of Christ. Canon 33 is the sort of canon that does not help to define dogma but is instead a sort of "shut up and don't criticize us." It is totally superfluous to the other canons. After all, one could not very well both accept Trent's teaching and simultaneously claim that the glory of God or the merits of Jesus Christ are derogated from by them.

[As an aside, TF is accumulating a history for supposing that general councils act in bad faith. It's one thing to disagree; it's another thing entirely to presume that those with whom one disagrees must be acting in bad faith. But I digress].

TF is not alone in presuming bad faith on the part of others; it's a trivial way to dismiss those who disagree with you. For my part, I think, given the historical context, that Trent's concern in this canon was legitimate. Calvin's standard for pronouncing judgment on the Councils was that "there must be nothing derogatory to Christ;" he suggested (that's putting it mildly) that the Catholic doctrine of "derogates from the dignity of justification." That's just two examples from a quick bit of googling; the point, of course, is that it seems to me the Fathers of Trent in canon 33 are rather obviously addressing charges made against Catholic teaching by the Protestants. But it is an error to say such things: the true doctrine of Justification in no way detracts from God's glory. The very idea is absurd. Hence it's fitting to condemn such a false idea.


Paul Hoffer said...

Hi RdP, here is a comment I left on Mr. Fan's blog. It will be interesting to see if and how he will respond to it.

"Hello Gentlemen:

There are several serious misperceptions being perpetrated here.

Let us start with the fact that since 1983, the Catholic Canon Law no longer provides for the imposition of the penalty of anathema which was reserved for only the most severe excommunicable matters. After 1983, the Catholic Church has not anathematized anyone.

Second, the penalty of anathema was imposed by an appropriate canon law tribunal. To my knowledge, the penalty of anathema was never automatically incurred. It had to be imposed. Thus, even if you had committed an ecclesiastical offense for which you could have been subjected to the penalty of anathema, you would actually have had to have appear before a tribunal and after a hearing, the penalty would have had to have been imposed as a penalty and carried out. Unlike certain kinds of excommunications, anathemas were not automatic.

Given the particular mannerisms and words you both use in your writings and comments, I highly doubt that either of you were actually alive in 1983 or if you were, you were very young children. Since such tribunals were extremely rare and neither of you have spoken of being before one and since the penalty is not one such a tribunal can impose now, you gentlemen need not fear being declared anathema by the Catholic Church, only by Our Lord and whatever ecclesiastical authority in whatever Protestant denomination you have agreed to subject yourselves to.

Turning the clock back to before 1983, RdP would be correct Mr. Fan about the fact that as a non-Catholic you could not have been anathematized. Without going through all of the rigamarole, only sacramentally confirmed Catholics who were formally initiated into the Catholic Church could have been subject to being anathematized by a canon law tribunal. You make no mention of receiving the sacrament of confirmation Mr. Fan, thus I make the logical assumption that you were not ever "Catholic" in the sense that is understood by canon law. Of course, since most of the Reformers were in fact confirmed members of the Catholic Church, they were subject to discipline by the Church including being anathematized for committing material heresy.

Now one more little tidbit, anathema in the sense that it is used in the canons of Trent, refers to the formal recognition that a particular doctrine has been infallibly defined-no more no less. Anathema in the sense being used in the canons is a different sense than the way it is used in an ecclesiastical disciplinary matter.

Words do have multiple definitions. Given your ignorance of the difference is perhaps suggestive that you would not have likely faced that penalty before 1983 for being heretical because the Church would consider you to be heretical due to ignorance as opposed to willful material heresy.

Please do not take this comment as an explanation of the various meanings of anathema. I do not have the time today to give a complete exposition on the matter. I merely offer this to explain why RdP is correct and you are wrong.

God bless!"

I wonder if he and his co-religionists will anathematize us.

God bless!

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Paul,

Thanks for your kind words, and thanks for confirming what I've said in the post. I appreciate it.

Excellent comments, by the way. :-)