“An error which is not resisted is approved; a truth which is not defended is suppressed.”
— Leo XIII, Inimica Vis (1892)
Given the devil-may-care claims afoot these days about the non-overlapping nature of dogma and discipline (or “doctrinal” creed vs. “pastoral” praxis)–as if the latter were not the very index of the former–, I cannot pass up noting this irony: Vatican II was “merely pastoral” yet is to be accepted as an expression of the Ordinary Magisterium. Clearly, then, pastoral decisions can and do impinge on the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church. For if, in virtue of its status as an expression of the Ordinary Magisterium, every “pastoral” jot and tittle of Vatican II is an infallible article of faith, upon which the Church’s indefectibility hangs, then the same can be said of the (hypothetically double-ungood) decisions reached by the Synod in October as an expression of the Ordinary Magisterium. Alternatively, if any disciplinary changes wrought by that preeminently pastoral Second Council were out of alignment with the doctrinal Tradition, they would have to be jettisoned or corrected in order to preserve the coherence of the indefectibility of the Church. Precisely because the Second Vatican Council was confined to pastoral adjustments, its variegated authority only makes sense when appraised in light of the Faith. Again, though, if the retort is that all of the Council’s pastoral/disciplinary changes are to be accepted as de fide, then we must be prepared to accept the eventuality that the Kommissar Kasper Kompromise (i.e. that the Church should openly permit repentant but unreconstructed bigamists to the Eucharist) will require the same credibility from the faithful.
“It would be bad.”
Unfortunately, as soon as we admit that the admittance of committed bigamists to the Altar does indeed fall under the scope of binding morals, we must also admit that the very idea is repugnant to the Faith, and is certainly not to be coddled as a merciful and merely theological option, however “pastorally” it is packaged. In other words, if we grab the prudent horn of the dilemma by granting that pastoral policy does not pertain to the depositum fidei, and therefore can be vigorously challenged in light of the same depositum fidei, then the crucial question is how we are to respond when a horribly misguided pastoral consensus does not enjoy the chrism of infallibility. Protesting a pastoral change of the kind being proposed not only does not render one a schismatic: it may ensure that one is a saint.
Hence I have great, great sympathy for the anguish which some are experiencing, and the crisis which they (and perhaps even a curmudgeonly die-hard like myself) would face if it came to pass that an effectively (i.e. Ordinarily) infallible concession were made “openly and publicly” to grant communion to bigamists. I understand that it is taking time for the reality to sink in across the Cathosphere, but what is being proposed before our very eyes–by leading prelates, no less–is nothing less than what felled the Anglican, and subsequently every Protestant, communion on the issue of contraception at the 1930 Lambeth Conference. Resolution 15 of that conference was ratified precisely because it formally adhered to official orthodoxy, but the pastoral, disciplinary compromise which it introduced of itself gave away the game to heterodoxy. This is the reason why the Catholic Church recognized the pastoral defection inaugurated at Lambeth 1930 as a (further) doctrinal heresy. It was a disciplinary canary in the well bespeaking a doctrinal catastrophe beneath the surface.
Indeed, the Trojan horse of “merely pastoral” compromise is and always has been a key means by which heresy infects the faithful (cf. John 12:4-8). You can almost hear the echo now: “We should allow some believers to say ‘homoiousios’ and others to say ‘homoousios’, based on prevailing cultural needs, pastoral oversight, and a well-formed conscience.” That sort of argy-bargy may fly in some communions, but not in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (cf. especially the final paragraph). Insofar as the Lord has assumed every level of being in the Incarnation, and thus seeks to deify every mode of existence, there is no ontological cleft between the truth and the discipline shrouding it–no true divide between “what we believe” and “how we worship.” In one sense, intercommunion is merely an ecclesiastical discipline. In another sense, however, intercommunion (and encouraging others to sin against it) strikes at the very nature of the Church and, thus, of the Godhead and of Creation.
With the stakes clearly in mind, then, allow me to cite at length Pope Clement XIII’s In Dominico Agro (1761):
In the Lord’s field, for the tending of which Divine Providence placed Us as overseer, there is nothing which demands as much vigilant care and unremitting labor in its cultivation than guarding the good seed of Catholic teaching which the Apostles received from Jesus Christ and handed on to Us. If in laziness this is neglected, the enemy of the human race will sow weeds while the workers sleep. … However, St. Paul … told Timothy to preserve the sacred trust because dangerous times were coming when evil and deceitful men would exist in the Church of God. The insidious tempters would use their work to try to infect unwary minds with errors which are hostile to evangelical truth. …
Meanwhile the matter is such that diabolical error, when it has artfully colored its lies, easily clothes itself in the likeness of truth while very brief additions or changes corrupt the meaning of expressions; and confession, which usually works salvation, sometimes, with a slight change, inches toward death.
The faithful — especially those who are simple or uncultivated — should be kept away from dangerous and narrow paths upon which they can hardly set foot without faltering. The sheep should not be led to pasture through trackless places. Nor should peculiar ideas — even those of Catholic scholars — be proposed to them. Rather, only those ideas should be communicated which are definitely marked as Catholic truth by their universality, ambiguity, and harmony [ma deve essere loro insegnata la parte certissima della verità cattolica, la totalità della dottrina, la tradizionale, quella sulla quale c’è consenso]. … [T]he teachers of the people should establish boundaries around them so that no word strays beyond that which is necessary or useful for salvation. The faithful should obey the apostolic advice not to know more than is necessary, but to know in moderation.
The popes clearly understood this. They devoted all their efforts not only to cut short with the sword of anathema the poisonous buds of growing error, but also to cut away certain developing ideas which either could prevent the Christian people unnecessarily from bearing a greater fruit of faith or could harm the minds of the faithful by their proximity to error.
So, while it’s easy game to vaunt our own faith and taunt lesser fellow Catholics who are distressed by the “proximity to error” of the potential pastoral changes in question, charity behooves us to admit that their worry is not groundless. It is one thing to counsel them not to despair–“I am with you always”–, but it is quite something else to pretend that the stakes, as proposed by Kasper & Co., do not pose a grave threat to the coherence of the Catholic Faith. We can and should have every confidence that the disaster shall not befall the Church, but we have no basis for pretending that nothing would be lost if it were to come to pass.
Let there be cornhobbling.
“I cannot sufficiently wonder at the madness of certain men, at the impiety of their blinded understanding, at their lust of error, such that, not content with the rule of faith delivered once for all, and received from the times of old, they are every day seeking one novelty after another, and are constantly longing to add, change, take away, in religion, as though the doctrine, “Let what has once for all been revealed suffice,” were not a heavenly but an earthly rule—a rule which could not be complied with except by continual emendation, nay, rather by continual fault-finding.”
— St. Vincent Lerins, Commonitory §51