The Rational Catholic Church
|Is the intellectual rigor|
of St. Thomas Aquinas
a relic that should be
quietly retired in our age?
The Church may (and does) contain "mysteries." These transcend the limits of rational thought, however, they do not defeat it. One may only go so far with the mystery of the Holy Trinity, but it is far enough to bring one's intellect into an appreciation of it, if not a comprehension of it.
The Church has always invited Faithful to enter into the riches of her teaching with their baptized intellects. The "check your brain at the door" sign was not often seen on Church churches.
Another long article. The Bear seems to see things with clarity now. Those who think only of Pope Francis have picked out one plank in the tornado. As the West changes, so change the institutions of the West, and the Church has not been immune. And, to paraphrase Steely Dan, "I cried when I wrote this piece - shoot me if I do not cease."
Are We in the Post-Rational Church?
The Bear hopes no one has beat him to that phrase, "Post-Rational Church." It could catch on, don't you think? It has a quasi-scholarly ring to it, doesn't it? Those are words one can easily imagine as the title of some influential book: "Being Catholic in the Post-Rational Church."
Let the Bear state up front that his use of the term is ambivalent. It is supposed to be accurate and descriptive, not polemical. And, as you shall see, the Bear is not certain it can be avoided without the Church remaining ossified in the past. At least, he can see how men of good will might reach that conclusion.
What would be the characteristics of the Post-Rational Church? First of all, it would thrive in a Western culture that no longer put put very much importance on thinking. It would appeal to people who reduced complex issues to agitprop fit for Facebook, and defined themselves with a handful of simple and well-known labels.
|Shameful agitprop by Bear, who identifies himself as|
"Bear." "Apex Predator." "Lepanto Catholic."
The Post-Rational Church would explain nothing, or at least nothing clearly. The direct and short encyclicals of the past would be replaced by ghost-written novel-length tomes no would would want to read.
Changes would be imposed without comment, on the basis of naked authority, possibly with a fig leaf from some modern writing. Perhaps Teilhard de Chardin or Valentin Tomberg (Meditations on the Tarot was big in Catholic circles at one time - Bear has read it more than once and it is a fascinating presentation of the French stream of Western Occultism. Oh, and heretical, if one is into rational categories like that.)
Who knows what strange flowers may bloom as the creepers of Post-Rationalism overgrow the Church?
|The Curious Case of the Catholic Church's Love Affair with Occultist|
Back in the Rational Church: Mirari Vos in 1832
See. for example Mirari Vos, written by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832. It is easy to read the whole thing in a sitting, since it is quite brief and clear as a bell. (Feel free to skip the quotes, if you are already convinced popes taught the opposite of what the Church now teaches.) Note this from Paragraph 7 about changing doctrines:
Indeed you will accomplish this perfectly if, as the duty of your office demands, you attend to yourselves and to doctrine and meditate on these words: “the universal Church is affected by any and every novelty” and the admonition of Pope Agatho: “nothing of the things appointed ought to be diminished; nothing changed; nothing added; but they must be preserved both as regards expression and meaning.” Therefore may the unity which is built upon the See of Peter as on a sure foundation stand firm. May it be for all a wall and a security, a safe port, and a treasury of countless blessings.
There is also this, about marriage, in Paragraph 12:
Now the honorable marriage of Christians, which Paul calls “a great sacrament in Christ and the Church,” demands our shared concern lest anything contrary to its sanctity and indissolubility is proposed... However, troublesome efforts against this sacrament still continue to be made. The people therefore must be zealously taught that a marriage rightly entered upon cannot be dissolved; for those joined in matrimony God has ordained a perpetual companionship for life and a knot of necessity which cannot be loosed except by death. Recalling that matrimony is a sacrament and therefore subject to the Church, let them consider and observe the laws of the Church concerning it. Let them take care lest for any reason they permit that which is an obstruction to the teachings of the canons and the decrees of the councils.
Finally, in Paragraph 13 indifferentism is harshly condemed; it is the old word for today's much-beloved ecumenism. (It just doesn't seem proper to use the word "ecumenism" without decorating it with flowers. It brings out the schoolgirl in the old Bear. Not in Pope Gregory, though.)
|Bear's mandatory bouquet|
Now We consider another abundant source of the evils with which the Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained. Surely, in so clear a matter, you will drive this deadly error far from the people committed to your care. With the admonition of the apostle that “there is one God, one faith, one baptism” may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that “those who are not with Christ are against Him,” and that they disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore “without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate.” Let them hear Jerome who, while the Church was torn into three parts by schism, tells us that whenever someone tried to persuade him to join his group he always exclaimed: “He who is for the See of Peter is for me.” A schismatic flatters himself falsely if he asserts that he, too, has been washed in the waters of regeneration. Indeed Augustine would reply to such a man: “The branch has the same form when it has been cut off from the vine; but of what profit for it is the form, if it does not live from the root?”
Note the continual appeal to previous authority, and the continuity Pope Gregory assumes. Note also
that his is a papal encyclical that specifically condemns novelty, any changes to the teaching of the Church on marriage, and "indifferentism." Now, was he a pope? Was he protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching error? Is what he says part of an identifiable continuous legacy of truth possessed by the Catholic Church?
|Pope Francis and Bishop Jackelen in common worship|
to celebrate Reformation in Lund, Sweden.
And, the most important question for us, does the Church today teach the very same? If it has changed, has it offered a rational explanation, good, bad, or indifferent?
People who ask questions like this are troublemakers. Only troublemakers would dredge up some 150-year-old encyclical to try to embarrass Pope Francis. Evidence and intellect have no place in the Post-Rational Church. The only answer fit for grumblers is silence.
The Methods of the Post-Rational Church
A Post-Rational Church could hardly abrogate the teachings of the past, for they are, after all, just as divinely-protected as the latest novelties. It could, however, allow disfavored relics to fall into disuetude. They would not be invoked or mentioned. If anyone brought them up, clerics would scratch their chins and look blank, then launch into the new view on that topic in the spirit of, "We have always been at war with Eastasia."
Eventually, such disfavored relics would become embarrassments. Their mention would produce smirks and eye-rolls. And yet, they would exist just as infallibly as any other dogma.
There is a wonderful quote by Chesterton about belonging to a Church 2000 years behind the times and gloriously unconcerned, versus belonging to a Church that is always puffing up ten minutes late, but the Bear could not easily find the quote with his slipshod research, so you'll just have to trust the Bear. There is something ridiculous about the image, and even filtered through a Bear's faulty memory, it retains its Chestertonian truth and power. (Probably from Everlasting Man, or Heretics.)
The Post-Rational Church would be easily captured by the zeitgeist and cultural fads, and would lend its credibility to the popular politically-left scientific theories of the day. It would be attracted to Leftism in a Post-Rational age because of the superficial resemblances between stated Leftist goals and the Gospel. That, and O'Sullivan's law: any institution that is not deliberately of the Right, will eventually become Leftist. For what it is worth, the Bear believes the institutional Church has turned to the Left, and will not change direction. He offers only one comment on that, because human politics are boring to Bears.
Questions of religion are growing more irrelevant among Westerners every year. The Church may try to maintain ties and relevance by increasing its interest in popularly worldly controversies.
But Bear does wonder why the Post-Rational Church should be more concerned about our temporary climate than the extremes of climate some souls are likely to experience when they die. "Saints preserve us!" the Post-Rational Church might cry, lest it be caught on the wrong side of any popular issue.
And if malcontents point to apparent conflicts, they would be met with the maddening certainty of phrases like, "One must never criticize the Pope; one must believe the Pope. The Church says so. If Vatican II documents are too hard for you to make sense of, you must trust the Church in her interpretation. There is no conflict. To question, is to put yourself outside of the charmed circle of the Church."
These are the sort of answers to sincere questions that surprise the Bear coming from the Church. The bland insistence on blind obedience just sounds odd coming from the mouth of the Church who declared St. Thomas Aquinas its Doctor. The Church would, once upon a time, have said, "I am so glad you are interested in this. Come, let us walk together, and I will happily answer your questions. You may not understand all of them right now, because reality can be frustrating at times, but you will profit from the time, I promise."
Since You Asked, Vatican II - One More Look
And yet, here we have long, gaseous compromise documents (see e.g. The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber and the documents themselves) that simply defy certain understanding. ("Subsistit in," anybody?) Yes, Lumen Gentium is one of them. So, do people go to Heaven through the Catholic Church, or does everybody get a free ride, and not even in a Christian way? And, if the rule has changed, now, since the old Tridentine days, why the "stinger" at the end, that some people might be deceived and go to Hell after all?
What the Hell does that mean? One may or may not be saved outside of belonging to the identifiable Church as constituted in society, but who's to say it's not bigger and more mysterious than it appears to be? So, sure, anybody can be saved, even atheists, but, then again, some might be deceived and go to Hell. ("Reasonable hope nobody will, though, just sayin'" pipes up Bishop Barron.)
That is the problem with compromise documents. They send inconsistent messages from which one may tendentiously draw this quote or that to support one's position. As a practical guide, however, after all the folderol, a soul remains in ignorance about his chances of salvation. The only people who seem Hellbound for certain are lapsed Catholics!
The gushing language of indifferentism, or the deadly Tridentine viper, after all. There was a reason the Council of Trent repeated brief anathema after anathema, and didn't send gooey love letters marked SWAK to the world. It may not be pretty, but at least an anathema is pretty clear. "Do X, and you are cursed, and going to Hell. Next!"
This is not to say anyone might not confidently make an explanation of Lumen Gentium. Or that another might just as confidently make a different explanation. The Bear does have some experience arguing fine points of complex legal reasoning, after all.
The Post-Rational Church in Action: The New Jew View
As the 50th anniversary of Vatican II document Nostrae Aetatae drew nigh, the Vatican panicked. They hadn't done anything new for Jews in five decades! So, they put together a photo-op with a very official-looking document and (pretending to speak as the Church) somebody said that Jews are good to go to Heaven by means of a special way that doesn't involve Jesus. Or, if it does, is in some mysterious way such as He might as well not be needed.
You can read about the New Jew View, just in time for the fiftieth anniversary. This was hailed as a significant accomplishment, as if, as non-magisterial, it resolved anything concerning Jews. The ADL praised it by saying, "Church admits it needs Jews, Jews do not need Church." And all concerned slapped each other on their backs, and felt warm, and were relieved that the fiftieth anniversary of Nostrae Aetatae was met with the historic admission that Jews do not need Jesus after all. Not editorials starting: "It has been 50 years since the Catholic Church promised to turn its back on a long and bloody history of antisemitism and recognize Judaism as a legitimate religion, but..."
It worked so well that it is a model for all sorts of "outreach" and ecumenical and interfaith works. Don't kill the buzz of the The Luther Festival. (Still time to catch the October wind-up!)
Bear gets confused by things like this. If the New Jew View is not the teaching of the Church, why make a big whoop-de-doo about something, then later say, "Um, no, while we wanted it to look as official as possible, it's really a load of bush-wah. Come on, Bear, you of all Bears pretend not to recognize public relations when you see it?"
One must also question the very concept of "magisterium" in a Post-Rational Church. Does it really play a role once the nitpicking intellect is banished? Who cares what you call it? It was a great day, and everybody can now think about Catholic-Jewish relations more positively, and twenty years from now, it will be quoted in an encyclical anyway.
Yes, Bear recognizes PR. He is just surprised when the Church uses it to mislead people. He supposes, though, he is over-thinking the whole matter in the Post-Rational Church. A warm "feeling" has been generated. "Ancient injuries" have been acknowledged. Not everything has to be "rational," Bear. Not everything has to be written down in ink in some Big Book of Truth. Just roll with it, Bear. It's the way we do things now.
A Post-Rational Pope?
Note that Bear has never said Pope is not Pope or Church is not Church. He has not denied Vatican II, which managed to do some very clear and helpful things when it did not let itself become embroiled in politics. The Bear thinks of the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours as a welcome change. And, whether you want to call it "the media council," as poor, confused, old Pope Benedict did (as a peritus, perhaps he felt he bore some responsibility) or "the spirit of Vatican II," it is a plain fact that the sledgehammers were put to the altar rails before the ink dried, and everything changed, practically overnight, as many still living can remember.
So many changes shrugged off now, as "excesses of the spirit of Vatican II," as if that somehow explained something. But it is all the explanation you're likely to get from the Post-Vatican-II-Post-Rational-Church.
Pope Francis is a wonderful example of the Post-Rational Church.
While the science is controversial, and the politics decidedly Leftist, the Pope seems pretty firmly convinced on Global Warming, and wants Catholics to be, too. Is this an example of the Ordinary Magisterium at work in the Post-Rational Church? If not, why not? Does that question not even arise, and we are to pay attention in any case because Francis, the Pope, said it? The Bear thinks the difference between magisterial and non-magisterial was pretty important in the Rational Church, but can see why it doesn't matter in the Post-Rational Church.
Turn the foot-washing ceremony on Holy Thursday into a series of "messages" without explanation? Of course!
Pope Francis speaks much, and uses every means the modern world makes available to him. We come away with an impression, and a buzzword or two. Periphery. Arms dealers. Polyhedron. You know them all.
And yet, has he ever connected the dots on an issue so important to his ordinary magisterium as "arms dealing?" The answer is, "no." But in a Post-Rational Church, the intellect must starve so faith can feast and we must agree without the need for understanding. Yes, arms dealing is bad. It does hurt people. Bear is against it. Whatever it means. Small arms smuggled to fuel African civil wars? The latest U.S. aircraft carrier? Those bastards who build the British nuclear sub that sank the General Belgrano during the war over the Malvinas (Falkland Islands to the rest of the world)? Bear is not sure.
On more substantive matters of the faith, the dubia is forgotten somewhere, day 335 since its submission, a relic of the Rational Church that once welcomed and gladly provided answers. Bear must laugh. They don't understand why the dubia has no more relevance to the Post-Rational Church than this ephemeris. "You ask for a clarification of Amorous Laetitia? I'm not quite sure I understand, but how quaint."
Where are the Voices Who Respect the Truth and the Laity?
Where, then is the voice saying, "Shh, lambs, this may look confusing, but allow me to explain it and I'm sure your hearts will be at ease once you understand what Pope Francis said and how it is being accomplished in different parts of the world."
Or, where is the voice saying, "The Church used to teach a lot of things according to the circumstances of her day. Circumstances change. Problems change. Our understanding of human nature improves. Pope Francis is merely leading his sheep to new pastures because that is where they will best thrive as sheep of today."
Instead, the Pope is merely one voice, and the voices of Rome roar through the media like the sound of mighty waters. The only speakers who are checked are those who try to drag the Rational Church back onto the stage.
The Bear predicts if only clear and logical explanations would be provided for changes, troublemakers like the Bear would clap their hands, and Catholic blogdom would practically vanish. Blogs are no more than the last stand of reason in a Post-Rational Church. This ephemeris, and all those like it, are the past, stuck in the Rational Church of Pope Gregory. They will not survive their writers. A new West demands a New Church.
A Post-Rational Church for a Post-Rational Age?
What the Bear is saying is, that, maybe rationalism has had its day. Trying to apply it to any Western institution, not just the Church, may be vanity and chasing after the wind. What does rationalism have to do with the photo-op? Nothing at all.
The Pope is the Pope, the Church is the Church. The Bear humbly suggests those institutions may have changed to remain relevant in our time. Are not most of us long past explanations? Aren't we challenged by a different approach to so many things? Shocked, even? Yet there is a reason the Bear did not take the vaudeville stage to lecture people on economics. He pedaled a bicycle and people would throw salmon to him. The Bear submits the 21st Century public is better suited to throw salmon at Bears on bicycles than worry their pretty little heads about what's in or out of some "magisterium."
Oh, and cats on Facebook.
Everybody can enjoy a Bear on a bicycle. And so, our Pope acts with bold gestures and almost magical incantations of evocative phrases - "arms dealers" - charged with evil or pathos: "Loneliness of the elderly." One does not explain these things, or need to. One explains nothing. One challenges.
Now, honestly, does the Church of Pope Gregory have any relevance to today? And, even if it did, would anybody listen to Pope Gregory's absolutes on marriage, on salvation, on ecumenism? Haven't those barques sailed long since? Answer truthfully.