Saturday, December 03, 2011

Beckwith misstates Catholic theology

Francis Beckwith says:
December 2, 2011 at 9:11 am

There’s an interesting question percolating beneath this controversy: what if Mike Licona cannot change his mind because he remains unconvinced by his critics’ arguments? Our beliefs are not formed like we form arguments, the latter of which are deliberate with a certain end in mind. People, of course, do change their beliefs, but they rarely if ever change them because of one or two arguments. Why? Because beliefs come in clusters, and those clusters are part of a complex mosaic of interlocking and mutually dependent other beliefs.
So, when Geisler et al demand that Licona recant, they are literally asking him to publicly violate his own conscience (if in fact they have not provided him sufficient reason to abandon his belief). The only way that Geisler et al can trump Licona’s conscience is if they have authority; that is, unless Geisler et al constitute am ecclesial magisterium that Mike is obligated to obey, their call for recantation is unwarranted.

Beckwith is suggesting that if a man can't change his mind because he's unconvinced, the Magisterium has the authority trump his doubt or disbelief. But this runs contrary to Catholic theology, according to which the Magisterium lacks the authority of bind a man's conscience in violation of his conscience.

It is one of the major tenets of Catholic doctrine that man's response to God in faith must be free: no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will.(8) This doctrine is contained in the word of God and it was constantly proclaimed by the Fathers of the Church.(7) The act of faith is of its very nature a free act. Man, redeemed by Christ the Savior and through Christ Jesus called to be God's adopted son,(9) cannot give his adherence to God revealing Himself unless, under the drawing of the Father,(10) he offers to God the reasonable and free submission of faith. It is therefore completely in accord with the nature of faith that in matters religious every manner of coercion on the part of men should be excluded. In consequence, the principle of religious freedom makes no small contribution to the creation of an environment in which men can without hindrance be invited to the Christian faith, embrace it of their own free will, and profess it effectively in their whole manner of life.


  1. For one who accepts the authority of the magisterium as divine, its judgments are themselves determinative with respect to conscience (one's best judgment as to what is true and good). If a believer is unswayed by empirical evidences and deductive arguments for a certain position, a judgment by the magisterium in its favor does not override but rather informs his conscience (cf. Donum Veritatis, 36-38).

  2. So how do you square that with §10 of Dignitatis Humanae?

  3. Where do you see a contradiction? Dignitatis Humanae opposes coercing people to violate their consciences. That isn't what happens when a Catholic has to change his mind because of a judgment of the magisterium. If he believes in the divine authority of the magisterium, then the judgment itself changes his conscience, because he believes it.

  4. The Catholic hasn't changed his mind. The magisterium doesn't make something unconvincing convincing. It looks the same way it did before. No new evidence has been introduced.

    Rather, the Catholic is simply ignoring his conscience. The magisterium obliges him to believe something despite the fact that he finds the evidence or the argument unconvincing.

    And the way Beckwith framed the issue, that's a violation of conscience.