ORGAN OF THE ROMAN THEOLOGICAL FORUM
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|Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.||Not to be republished without permission.|
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Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA
|No. 43||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||September-November 1992|
by Brian W. Harrison
Now, something pertains to the faith in two ways: in one way, directly and principally, as, for example, the articles of faith; the other, indirectly and secondarily, such as those things from which the corruption of some article of faith follows (ea ex quibus sequitur corruptio alicuius articuli).3Some noted theologians, immediately after Vatican I, claimed that the newly-defined dogma guaranteed infallibility for the Pope only in regard to what St. Thomas called those things "directly and principally pertaining to the faith" - that is revealed truth itself. Bishop Fessler of Sankt Polten, Austria, for instance, who had been the General Secretary of the Council and was regarded as one of the best scholars and canon lawyers amongst the German-speaking bishops of that time, wrote a tract which was translated into English in 1875 as The True and False Infallibility of the Popes. In this work, Fessler replied to an Old Catholic (schismatic) tract purporting to refute the conciliar definition by a reductio ad absurdum argument: the anti-Catholic author, Schulte, interpreted the Vatican I dogma so broadly as to make it ascribe infallibility to practically any papal pronouncement having to do with doctrine - an obviously indefensible position in view of the acknowledged errors of some Popes on certain occasions in the course of history.4 Fessler, then, was writing in an apologetic, polemical context in which he needed to emphasize not the full extent, but rather, the limitations, of papal infallibility; and his reply was commended by Pope Pius IX, on the recommendation of Roman theologians who translated it into Italian for him, in a warm letter of thanks and approval".5 In his tract, Fessler asserts - not only as his own view but also as the view of Catholic theologians" - that for a papal utterance to be ex cathedra, it must expressly "declare this particular doctrine on faith and morals to be an integral part of the truth necessary to salvation revealed by God".6
The Pope is infallible solely and exclusively when, as supreme doctor of the Church, he pronounces in a matter of faith or morals a definition which has to be accepted and held as obligatory by all the faithful. Again: It is the revelation given by God, the deposit of faith, which is the domain perfectly traced out and exactly circumscribed, within which the infallible decisions of the Pope are able to extend themselves and in regard to which the faith of Catholics can be bound to fresh obligations.7Dom Cuthbert Butler notes that Pius IX "wrote to the Swiss bishops that nothing could be more opportune or more worthy of praise, or cause the truth to stand out more clearly, than their pastoral."8 Nevertheless, it must be remembered that this papal accolade for the Swiss prelates, and that for Bishop Fessler, were given in a private capacity by Pio Nono, and with respect to entire documents, which included many points in addition to the one singled out by us here. They cannot therefore be taken as in any sense a definitive or authentic (in the sense of 'official') interpretation of the dogma, in regard to the precise point under discussion in this paper. It should be kept in mind also that Pius IX had, prior to the Council, given his approval to the first draft on papal infallibility, which clearly did not restrict papal infallibility to the "integral parts of revelation" and which was subsequently criticized by the more liberal Council Fathers precisely because it contained no such restriction.9 In contrast to these restrictive interpretations of the Vatican I definition, other eminent theologians took a broader view of the object of papal infallibility. Butler refers to an authoritative study by Lucien Choupin, S.J., "a recognized authority on the subject", entitled Valeur des Décisions doctrinales et disciplinaires du Saint-Siège, first published in 1907.10 Choupin, according to Butler, was the chief authority for the highly respected Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique in its article "Infaillibilité du Pape", written by Fr. E. Dublanchy in 1923. In this article, Dublanchy says:
An ex cathedra definition is an explicit and final doctrinal judgment given by the Pope, relating to faith or morals, in such sort that the faithful may be certain that the doctrine is judged by the Pope to belong to revelation, or to have with revelation a connection that is certain; and expressed in such a way that the obligation is made clear to all of giving full interior assent to the doctrine defined, or to the rejection of propositions condemned as directly or indirectly counter to Catholic faith.11Another outstanding theologian and a leading figure promoting the definition of papal infallibility at Vatican I was Cardinal Henry Edward Manning of Westminster. Immediately after the Council, in October 1870, Manning issued a 200-page pastoral letter, entitled The Vatican Council and its Definitions, in which he also interpreted the definition much more broadly, so as to include within the guarantee of infallibility not only revealed truth, but also "dogmatic facts, censures less than heresy, canonizations of saints, approbations of religious orders".12 Butler, in referring to Manning's position, takes him to task for thus extending the scope of infallibility:
all this is roundly asserted; even though Bishop Gasser, an official spokesman of the deputation de fide, had laid down positively that the theological questions at issue were not touched by the definition, but were left in the state of theological opinion in which they were before the Council - and still are.13Butler, then, is taking the side of Fessler and the Swiss bishops. But he also quotes Dublanchy with approval, even though, as we have seen, this theologian explicitly extends the scope of the 1870 definition to include those doctrinal truths necessary for guarding revealed truth, as well as revealed truth itself. This gives us some indication of the confusion and the contradictions which have embroiled the issue of papal infallibility right from 1870 onwards, in regard to the object of this privilege given to the Successor of Peter. How can the confusion be resolved?
No more can be defined [according to Bilio] concerning the infallibility of the Pope than has been defined concerning the infallibility of the Church; but of the Church this only is of faith, that she is infallible in dogmatic definitions strictly taken; therefore the question arises whether in the proposed formula [i.e., the first draft] the infallibility of the Pope be not too widely extended. The Cardinal did not deny, nay he maintained as certain, that the Pope is infallible also in dogmatic facts, in the canonization of saints, and in other things of like moment, just as the Church is infallible as such. He added that he greatly desired that at this Vatican Council it should be defined that the Church is infallible not only in dogmatic definitions, but also in dogmatic facts, in the canonization of saints, and the approbation of religious Orders. But as now there was question of defining the infallibility of the Pope before the infallibility of the Church had been dealt with, the formula said more than ought to be said.26In other words, the intention of the second draft was neither to affirm nor deny the Pope's infallibility in the secondary matters. But the objection of Senestréy and Manning was that such a formula would create a misleading impression: if the Council limited itself to defining only the Pope's infallibility in matters of revealed truth, to be held as de fide, then "it would be commonly taken that only such definitions de Fide are infallible".27 In the light of subsequent experience, this objection can be seen as prophetic. Even though, as we shall see, this second and more 'liberal' draft was subsequently rejected precisely because of these conservative Fathers' misgivings, noted theologians after the Council continued to say that the definition of 1870 guarantees infallibility only for de fide definitions. We can imagine how much more confusion would have ensued if the more restrictive formula had been made dogma!
The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, exercising the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians, he defines with his supreme apostolic authority a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church (doctrinam de fide vel moribus ab universa Ecclesia tenendam definit), through the divine assistance promised him in St. Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining doctrine concerning faith and morals: and therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves and not from the consent of the Church.31The text itself, illuminated further by the history of its earlier drafts, thus leaves it established beyond dispute that this dogma does not specify only points of revealed truth, to be accepted by divine faith on pain of heresy, as the object of papal infallibility.
According to Catholic doctrine, the infallibility of the Church's magisterium extends not only to the deposit of faith but also to those matters without which that deposit cannot be rightly preserved and expounded.37The Council did not define this point of doctrine (or any other point, for that matter) as a new dogma of faith. Nevertheless, since the teaching had already long been proposed as at least theologically certain (and possibly even revealed) throughout the universal Church, its inclusion in a Dogmatic Constitution of an Ecumenical Council simply underlines the fact that it is infallible by virtue of the Ordinary Magisterium. In short, Vatican II did in a real sense complete the work of Vatican I: it clarified that the infallibility of the Church in regard to the secondary truths is itself one of the secondary truths necessary for guarding and expounding the deposit of faith. As such, Catholics are bound to accept it with "ecclesiastical faith" (not "divine faith") as certainly and irreformably true. That is, we accept it not as having been revealed by God himself, but by virtue of our faith in the Church's power to guard and expound revelation accurately and reliably, because of the divine assistance He has promised her.
All Catholic theologians completely agree that the Church, in her authentic proposal and definition of truths of this sort, is infallible, such that to deny this infallibility would be a very grave error. A diversity of opinion turns only on the degree of certitude, i.e., on whether the infallibility in proposing these truths - and therefore in proscribing errors through censures inferior to the note of heresy - should be considered a dogma of faith, so that to deny this infallibility to the Church would be heretical, or whether it is a truth not revealed in itself but one deduced from revealed dogma and as such is only theologically certain.We must note carefully what Gasser is not saying here. He is not saying that the proposed dogmatic formula intends to leave undecided the question of whether or not the Pope is infallible in defining the secondary truths as well as formally revealed truths. The question which is "to be left in the state in which it presently is" is only whether or not this secondary infallibility is de fide or "merely" theologically certain. In either case there is certainty and the obligation on all Catholics to hold firmly that the Pope is infallible in defining the secondary doctrines necessary for guarding and expounding the deposit of faith.
Now, since what must be said about the infallibility of the Pope in defining truths is completely the same as what must be said about the infallibility of the Church defining, there arises the same question about the extension of pontifical infallibility to those truths not revealed in themselves but which pertain to the guarding of the deposit of faith. The question arises, I say, as to whether papal infallibility in defining these truths is not only theologically certain but is a dogma of the faith, exactly the same question as has arisen about the infallibility of the Church. Now, since it has seemed to members of the Deputation, by unanimous agreement, that this question should not be defined, at least not now, but should be left in the state in which it presently is, it necessarily follows, according to the opinion of the same Deputation, that the decree of faith about the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff should be seen in such a way that there is defined, as far as the object of infallibility in definitions of the Roman Pontiff is concerned, that there must be believed exactly the same thing as is believed in respect to the object of infallibility in definitions of the Church.39
that the very same thing must be confessed about the object of infallibility when the Pope is defining as must be confessed about the object of infallibility when the Church is defining. These two parts always have to be taken together if the true meaning of our definition is to be grasped.45The whole purpose of this change from the more liberal second draft - that is, the deletion of references to de fide beliefs, and the definition of papal infallibility directly and exclusively in terms of the Church's infallibility - was to make the defined dogma scrupulously impartial and 'open-ended' regarding the point which Gasser said was for the time being to remain undecided. That is, his meaning is that, if it should subsequently be defined to be a part of revealed truth (to be held de fide) that the Church is infallible in defining the secondary truths, then it will come to follow from the (already promulgated) dogma of papal infallibility that the Pope's power of defining the secondary truths is also de fide. If, on the other hand, the Church's infallibility in these matters is not in future made a dogma of faith, then it will still remain theologically certain; and in that case it will follow from the dogma of papal infallibility that the Pope's infallibility in defining the secondary truths is also known with theological certitude. Here are Gasser's own words (with emphasis added):
(I)n respect to those things about which it is theologically certain - but not as yet certain de fide - that the Church is infallible, these things are also not defined by this decree of the sacred Council as having to be believed de fide in respect to papal infallibility. With the theological certitude which is had that these other objects, apart from dogmas of the faith, fall within the extension of the infallibility which the Church enjoys in her definitions, so, with that same theological certitude, must it be held, now and in future, [i.e. from the moment this schema on papal infallibility becomes dogma] that the infallibility of definitions issued by the Roman Pontiff extends to these same objects.46Two other passages from Gasser's relatio make it still more indisputable that the formula was officially understood to include the secondary truths under the guarantee of papal infallibility, and not only de fide definitions of revealed truth.
But, most eminent and reverend fathers, this proposal simply cannot be accepted because we are not dealing with something new here. Already thousands and thousands of dogmatic judgments have gone forth from the Apostolic See; where is the law which prescribed the form to be observed in such judgments?47(The context makes it clear that, by the expression "dogmatic judgment", Gasser here means any infallible definition having to do with dogma, not only with dogmas in the strict sense, because he notes in the same paragraph that the Council is proposing to define that "the dogmatic judgments of the Roman Pontiff are infallible"; and as we have seen, a central point of the whole relatio is that the new formula being presented to the Fathers does not limit papal infallibility to dogmas in the strict sense, i.e., points of revealed truth.) In other words, Gasser was able to assert in passing - that is, as something which did not need arguing and would be taken for granted by his audience - that there had already been "thousands and thousands" of infallible definitions issued by former Popes! Even allowing for the fact that he doubtless did not intend to be taken quite literally here, and meant only to make the point that "a great many" such definitions were ex cathedra, it is obvious that he cannot have had in mind only solemn definitions of revealed truth, such as Pius IX's definition of the Immaculate Conception a few years previously. There have in fact been only a few such definitions. So Gasser obviously meant to include the many papal definitions of secondary truths, including censures less than heresy, as genuine ex cathedra, infallible definitions. In line with this, the noted dogmatic theologian J.M. Hervé, in his standard work, specifies all eighty of Pope St. Pius V's censures against the errors of Du Bay (DS 1901-1980) as infallible definitions, as well as all the errors condemned by Pius IX in the 1864 encyclical Quanta Cura.48 The conventional modern view that ex cathedra definitions are "extremely rare"49 is thus at variance with the Vatican I relator's view of the matter, and is evidently based on the falsely restrictive presupposition which Gasser and the entire deputation de fide went to such pains to exclude.
It is obvious from the many exceptions that this word is an obstacle for many of the reverend fathers; hence, in their exceptions, they have completely eliminated this word or have substituted another word, viz., 'decree', or something similar, in its place, or have said, simultaneously, 'defines and decrees,' etc. Now I shall explain in a very few words how this word 'defines' is to be understood according to the Deputation de fide. Indeed, the Deputation de fide is not of the mind that this word should be understood in a juridical sense (Lat. in sensu forensi) so that it only signifies putting an end to controversy which has arisen in respect to heresy and doctrine which is properly speaking de fide. Rather, the word 'defines' signifies that the Pope directly and conclusively pronounces his sentence about a doctrine which concerns matters of faith or morals and does so in such a way that each one of the faithful can be certain of the mind of the Apostolic See, of the mind of the Roman Pontiff; in such a way, indeed, that he or she knows for certain that such and such a doctrine is held to be heretical, proximate to heresy, certain or erroneous, etc., by the Roman Pontiff. Such, therefore, is the meaning of the word defines.51Gasser's words are so clear here that further comment on my part would be superfluous.
Major: Whatever is true regarding the object of the Church's infallibility in doctrinal definitions is also true regarding the object of papal infallibility: (de fide, as a result of the 1870 dogma of papal infallibility).Obviously the conclusion can only be as strong as its weakest premise, so the conclusion cannot be de fide. It follows that the precise censure to be attached to denial of the conclusion - that is, denial that the Pope is infallible when defining doctrinal truths necessary for religiously guarding and faithfully expounding the deposit of faith - is not heresy but error. (This is the qualification given by theologians to opinions which contradict truth which is certain, though not revealed.)
Minor: The Church is infallible in defining the secondary doctrinal truths: (theologically certain, by virtue of its constant teaching by Popes and Bishops throughout the world as definitely to be held, and by virtue of the fact that they have sometimes defined such truths under pain of anathema when gathered in Ecumenical Councils. - Cf. Lumen Gentium 25).
Concl: Therefore, the Pope is infallible in defining the secondary doctrinal truths: (theologically certain, as the logical conclusion of the two preceding premises, and now also taught explicitly by the magisterium since Vatican Council II).
Now what was understood by "matters of morals"? It was a very wide understanding indeed. "Matters of morals" included not only what was directly revealed by God, but also the natural law, and the specific, concrete decisions which the Church had to make on moral matters for which an answer was not found in revelation. That the matters of morals were interpreted thus broadly can be seen by looking at two of the major theologians present at the Council itself. The Jesuit John Baptist Franzelin (1816-1886) he1d that the natural law was included under "matters of morals" (cf. his Tractatus De Divina Traditione et Scriptura, 4th ed., Rome, 1896, p. 112, "tum leges practicae (et in his etiam lex naturalis scripta in cordibus hominum ratione utentium ....")... Another Jesuit, Joseph Kleutgen (1811-1883), a philosopher and theologian, went to Vatican I as the theologian for Konrad Martin of Paderborn, and was the official presenter to the Deputation de fide of the draft chapter of the proposed dogmatic constitution on the Church. In his remarks at the time, Kleutgen set forth the position that holds that "matters of morals" include particular and specific moral decisions for which "an answer cannot be found in revelation itself" (cf. Mansi, 53, 327, #4 ...)56O'Connor also gives a more detailed quotation of Kleutgen's address to the deputation de fide. The reader should keep in mind that, although this was not an official or authoritative intervention in itself, it is supremely relevant by virtue of the fact that Gasser obviously had theologians like Kleutgen in mind when he told the assembled Fathers that "matters of faith and morals" in the definition is to be understood in the normal ("very well known") sense which is familiar to "every theologian".
As far as the extension of infallibility and the "matters of morals" was concerned, Kleutgen said: "What we have said generally about the doctrine of faith, must be especially considered in the discipline of morals. The condition of human life is so various and multiform that innumerable questions arise about morals for which we find no answer in revelation itself. And nevertheless, the Church in her judgment has defined many of these questions, affixing to these evil opinions the censures about which we have spoken....For, if the Church in proscribing opinions is able to err, what follows except that it would be able to happen that all the faithful would be compelled by the Church, under severe edict and the proposed penalty of excommunication, to embrace errors which corrupt faith and morals?" (Mansi, 53, 327).57Kleutgen's argument reaches the heart of the whole question of infallibility. The reason it was possible to define ecclesia1 and papal infallibility as revealed truth nearly nineteen centuries after revelation itself ceased is, of course, that this was not really a new doctrine. Centuries before the word "infallible" appeared in the Catholic theological vocabulary in the Middle Ages, the reality expressed by that word had been implicitly taught and claimed every time the Church condemned certain doctrines absolutely and obliged the faithful absolutely to accept others. Anyone who (rightly or wrongly) insists that someone else accept his view of something absolutely and irrevocably, on his authority, is implicitly claiming that there is no possibility of his being in error, i.e., that he is infallible in regard to that matter. The unspoken major premise of Kleutgen's argument above is that Christ promised the Church his unfailing presence and assistance by the Holy Spirit until the end of time, that the gates of hell would never prevail against her, so that she would be able to lead humanity to salvation by teaching all nations "all things that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20 etc.). However these promises would fail if the Church could ever came to bind all her children to embrace errors which corrupt them, leading them away from sanctity and salvation. But since the Church has in fact bound her children definitively in many non-revealed moral matters, and since Christ's promises cannot fail, it follows logically that she must be infallible in such matters. In a word, the extent of the Church's infallibility can be determined by seeing what she has in practice bound her children to accept as certainly and irrevocably true.
Many Protestants have been fearful of papal arbitrariness, of an imposition of a temporally-conditioned belief upon all, of a limiting of the open-endedness of God's truth, and of an attribution to the pope (or to the Church) of an infallibility which belongs to God alone. Each of these fears, it seems to me, has had some basis in the popular manner of presenting infallibility. I acknowledge that the existence of such fears was one of the key factors that led me to rethink the whole question from a Roman Catholic viewpoint.59But this "popular manner of presenting" the dogma, which Chirico has felt led to "rethink", is simply the universally-accepted, natural and self-evident meaning of the dogma itself - unquestioned by all Catholic theologians for a century before Chirico did his "rethinking". The whole idea of a binding and definitive judgment - a definition which is "to be held" (tenendam) by the whole Church - obviously involves the possibility that some such definitions will "impose" on some Catholics a belief which hitherto went against their own private judgment. The Protestant "fears" referred to by Chirico are nothing other than that old fundamental Protestant principle of private judgment, by which the last word in deciding the true meaning of Christ's revelation always stays with the individual believer, never with any higher Church authority. This principle is utterly destructive of all Catholicism. If someone asks, "But what if some Pope in future gets up and declares in a solemn, formal, binding way some wild idea that has nothing to do with revealed truth?", then the correct response is definitely not to say that in that case the rest of us could know that it was not truly an ex cathedra statement, and so would not be obliged by the Vatican I dogma to accept it. The correct response is to assure the "fearful" questioner that such a thing could never possibly happen, and indeed, that to understand and accept the Vatican I dogma aright means to believe with divine faith that "by the divine assistance promised to the Pope in blessed Peter, no successor of Peter will ever be permitted by God to plunge the Church into such a calamity. Let the last word in this section be given to a far better theologian than Chirico, J.M. Hervé:
It is also up to the Church to decide how far her infallibility extends: otherwise there could never be any certainty as to whether, in defining something, she had transgressed the limits of her magisterium. In that case infallibilty would be placed in grave peril, and the whole of religion would turn out to be placed in doubt. From this it follows that, if the Church declares that something pertains to her magisterium, or proposes it as requiring the assent of faith (credendum), such a decree is to be held as infallible.60
The conclusions at which the Commission arrived could not be considered by Us as manifesting the force of a certain and definitive judgment (vim iudicii certi ac definiti prae se ferrent), dispensing Us from the duty of examining personally such a grave and momentous question (quaeque Nos officio liberarent, tam gravis momenti quaestionem per Nosmetipsos consideratione expendendi).75Already the implication is completely clear: the Commission could not produce a statement with "the force of a certain and definitive judgment", but the Pope can and will give such a judgment after having "personally examined" the matter. The Holy Father then formally announces his intention (still in article 6) to hand down the long-awaited judgment in this present document. His solemn words are usually diluted or weakened in vernacular translations. The following is an accurate rendition of this key passage:
Wherefore, having carefully pondered the documentation placed before Us, having most diligently examined the matter in mind and spirit, and after having raised ceaseless prayers to God, We now resolve, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, to give Our reply to these grave questions.76Article 6 thus makes manifest the Pontiff's intention to give, in this document, a "definitive" teaching on birth control - one handed down with no less than divine authority. It is worth remembering that the "mandate" from Christ referred to here is specifically his teaching authority, not merely the governing authority by which the Pope can make disciplinary decisions. Pope Paul has just asserted in article 4, "It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, that Jesus Christ, when communicating to Peter and to the apostles His divine authority, constituted them as guardians and authentic interpreters of all the moral law."77
In conformity with these landmarks in the human and Christian vision of marriage, we must once again declare (iterum debemus edicere) that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun is to be absolutely rejected (omnino respuendam) as a legitimate means of limiting the number of offspring - especially direct abortion, even for therapeutic purposes.It is worth noting that the language used here is very strong. The key verb, edicere, is used only for important and binding official decisions. The most authoritative Latin-English dictionary (Lewis and Short) shows that practically all usages of the word in classical Latin were for judgments and ordinances of the Senate and other public authorities. The entry says: "of magistrates: declare, publish, make known a decree or ordinance, etc., hence to establish, decree, ordain by proclamation. Respuere is also a very forceful word for "reject", its literal and original meaning bearing overtones of contempt: "to spit out" or "spit back". The Pope clearly meant to use the word as a synonym for damnare ("condemn"), since after the first use of respuere for abortion, he says that sterilization (which would here include contraceptive pills to the extent that they produce "temporary" sterilization) is "equally to be condemned". Damnare is about the strongest verb of disapproval which exists in Latin. Finally, the word omnino ("absolutely", "totally", "entirely"), which is used in the first paragraph of the definition, is certainly intended to apply equally to the verbs of condemnation in the second and third paragraphs, as is shown by their respective first words, Pariter and item. Pariter means "likewise", "equally", "in the same manner" and in this context - a list of several related affirmations - so does item. Lewis and Short give as the first meaning of item: "implying comparison - just so, in like manner, after the same manner, likewise, also (cf. ita, pariter, eodem modo)".
Equally to be condemned (Pariter ... damnandum est), as the Church's Magisterium has repeatedly taught, is direct sterilization, whether of men or of women, either permanent or temporary.
Similarly to be rejected (Item ... respuendum est) is any act which, in the anticipation or accomplishment of conjugal intercourse, or in the development of its natural results, intends - whether as an end to be attained or as a means to be used - to impede procreation.81