Saturday, February 17, 2007

Magisterial authority

These words written at the beginning of World War I by Pope Benedict XV (no not the one we have now) still illustrate the tensions the exist between individual freedom and the teaching authority of the Church:

24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

Conservative Catholics today use the term "cafeteria Catholics." By this they mean the Catholics who accept some aspects of Catholic teaching but do not accept others. This quote strongly suggests that we cannot pick and choose but rather must accept or reject the whole of the Catholic faith.

Many people today would, of course, reject such a statement. We have Catholics who are well educated in their faith and who as adults should be free to make their own minds up about their beliefs. The problem is this dissent from the teaching authority of the Church has become too easy to do. We can only disagree with the Church after much prayer and studying. At the same time it is important to remember that the Church in the 20th century, especially leading up to Vatican II, changed precisely because some theologians took the risk of pointing to problems in the Church. So, I guess the point is, I do not quite agree with the point made by the Pope above. Our first reaction to Church teaching should be to understand the reasonableness of the teaching in question and to agree with it. However, we need to recognize the possibility that persons of good faith could in some circumstances disagree with Church authority.

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