Thursday, May 29, 2008

Catechism Catholicism

In recent months, there has been much discussion in the Catholic-oriented media about the possibility of a solemn papal declaration for the so-called"fifth Marian dogma"

Now I generally oppose this effort, not because the dogma is not true, but because it reinforces what I perceive to be a wholly negative trend in the modern Church, namely, the perceived dependence of Catholic dogma on papal authority. Included below is a portion of an email I sent to some friends discussing this issue. As I argue below, I think this trend in ecclesiology reinforces the more destructive trends occurring in the life of the modern Church.


Generally speaking, I "oppose" the declaration, not in the sense that I think it is untrue, but rather because I can't make real theological sense out of it, nor can I see how it would be a good idea, ecclesially speaking.

a) My current theological understanding is that the "mediatrix" and "co-redemptrix" titles derive from the common nature which the Blessed Virgin shares with Christ, and through which we were redeemed, receive grace, etc. I think this is the Thomist formulation, and I haven't seen any other strong arguments for the titles that aren't essentially lists of (necessarily imprecise) quotations from the liturgy, papal documents, etc.

Now the problem here is that if this is the theological basis for the mediatrix/redemptrix, then it would seem to be simply a consequence of an already-defined dogma, namely the theotokos. As such, it is hard for me to see the necessity of an additional dogmatic declaration.

Since canon law currently requires us to invoke Ratzinger in these types of discussions, I will additionally note that I believe this was part of Ratzinger's earlier views on the topic, namely that the doctrines, while true, are theologically vague and subject to confusing interpretation.

b) my second concern is a more practical one - I'm concerned that a papal declaration would simply reinforce the "pope = Catholic CEO" model of ecclesiology that seems to exist in the minds of modern Catholics...that is to say, can't we all just believe something without the pope having to officially say that it is true? The mediatrix and coredemptrix titles exist in the liturgy, they exist in tradition.....can't we just believe them, as part of the ordinary magisterium? Is there really a Marian crisis within the Church that requires solemn proclamation? Wouldn't a proclamation simply re-inforce one of the more negative trends in the modern Church, namely the phenomena of "Catechism Catholicism"...i.e. the attitude that "I believe doctrine X because the pope and the Catechism say so," as in opposition to sacred tradition and liturgy?

I think in some ways, too, that this phenomena of "Catechism Catholicism" is part of the ongoing story of the Church's struggle to fully understand the implications of Vatican I. Regarding Vatican I, it seems clear that a strong papal primacy is part of the dogmatic patrimony of the Church...but there is a strong argument to be made that the pronouncement came at a time when Catholic culture worldwide was in the initial stages of its collapse, due to the rise of secularism/modernism, etc......the strong formulation of papal primacy allowed the average Catholic, whose grasp of liturgy and tradition was becoming more tenuous, to begin formulating the Faith in more strictly hierarchical/monarchical terms. This led to the ecclesial mess we have today, where the average orthodox Catholic formulates their ecclesiology, not primarily with reference to Scripture, liturgy, tradition, but to "canon X of CCC", or "papal document y." This is the "pope=CEO of the Church" model of ecclesiology, and one sees it in both liberal and conservative factions...conservatives, when they say things like "I wish the pope would just fire Cdl Mahony," and in liberals when they say, "I wish the pope would hurry up and ordain women,gays,dogs, etc"

In some ways, even the cultural mess that followed Vatican II can be seen as part of the outgrowth of the development of "Catechism Catholicism." I think many of the Vatican II promulgations can be seen as an attempt to undo the mess caused by the misappropriation of Vat I teaching. Hence all the emphasis on the collegiality of bishops, and the function of the laity, and the returning of the liturgy to the people and their cultures, etc......all of which is well and good, except that the laity and bishops were in full-blown cultural collapse at the time. I don't think I need to elaborate on the many unfortunate results that came from the conjunction of V2 teaching with modern Western culture of the late 20th century...

To illustrate more clearly what I am referring to here, check out this blog post and its long chain of comments. It highlights quite nicely what I am trying to get across - namely, that misuse of the Petrine privilege can have the unintended effect of weakening the Church's authority. In the post, a conservative Catholic argues with a fairly standard paint-by-numbers liberal theologian over the subject of Church teaching.

The interesting thing is that the crux of the liberal theologian's argument for rejection of many critical Church teachings, such as Humanae Vitae (HV), is that they were not infallibly proclaimed, and thus subject to "development," by which he means "negation. And in a strict technical sense, he's correct - HV was not infallibly proclaimed.

It's an interesting exchange, because it shows how the misuse of dogmatic authority can contribute to all sorts of unforeseen problems. I think it would have been unfathomable to theologians 200+ years ago to make the argument that "well, it's not infallible, so we can believe what we want." Thus, one dogma (infallibility) is played off of another (contraception), because there is a mindset, rampant in both conservative and liberal circles, that the only important dogmas are ones defined from the extraordinary magisterium. The movement for the fifth Marian dogma only reinforces this unfortunate trend, in my opinion, since it seems to reinforce, this time from a "conservative" standpoint, the idea that that "it only really matters if the Pope says its true!"


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