Thursday, October 16, 2014

Trial balloon

To understand the current discussion, the key point to emphasize is the indissolubility of a valid Christian marriage. The Catechism states: 
Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom. (CCC 1640) 
The Church has no power to change this teaching, because it is the teaching of Christ. (Matthew 19:11-12) This is something the non-Catholic media often misunderstand. The Church’s dogma on marriage is not a “policy” that can be changed, any more than the Nicene Creed is a “policy.” In this regard, the Church’s Magisterium is a servant of the truth, not its master. The Catechism says, “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.” (CCC 86) 
Because marriage is indissoluble, a validly married Catholic who obtains a civil divorce from a judge and then contracts another civil marriage is objectively in the state of ongoing adultery. Jesus said, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12) Again, following the teaching of Christ and the words of Sacred Scripture, the Church has no choice but to withhold communion from those deemed to be in grave sin. (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 11:27-29; Matthew 18:17)
i)This nicely illustrates the circular logic of the Catholic convert/apologist. Who determines what is dogma in the first place if not the Magisterium? Hence, Anders can't very well go behind the back of the Magisterium by direct appeal to Scripture. That's the Catholic dilemma: if you have independent access to the authoritative teaching of Scripture, that moots the Magisterium. 
ii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Pope Francis did want to change dogma. How would a savvy pontiff go about that? Would he simply abrogate the Catechism? To begin with, how can one pope pull rank on another pope? It's like one 5-star-general pulling rank on another 5-star general. If a pope invoked his authority to trump what previous popes officially taught, that would call his own authority into question. Popes need to seem to agree with each other. 
So a savvy pontiff would float a trial balloon. You avoid the appearance of reversing dogma. Instead of a full-frontal assault, you back into the change. An incremental change.
I'm not claiming for a fact that Francis is trying to change "dogma." I'm just saying it's naive to suppose that if a pope were so inclined, he'd go about it in a brazen fashion. Rome values the appearance of continuity.
iii) Catholic apologists like to lecture Protestants on how we just don't understand. Unless certain magic words are used, like "ex cathedra," "de fide," or "by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma," it doesn't stick. 
Yes, we understand that face-saving distinction. It doesn't matter what the Magisterium says or does as long as that is technically distinguished from "dogma." Dogma could be locked away in a secret vault. The pope forgot the combination. The pope could preach heresy, but as long as dogma is contained in that safe, the infallibility of the church is untarnished by whatever is said or done outside the secret vault.   
iv) There are, however, problems with that technical distinction. To begin with, it illustrates another Catholic dilemma. When Catholic apologists are making a case for Rome, they make great claims about how the Magisterium furnishes the ethical and doctrinal certainty which sola Scriptura can never provide. 
When, however, Catholic apologists are defending Rome against the charge of ethical and doctrinal inconsistencies in its teaching, they suddenly issue disclaimers about the uncertainty of Catholic teaching unless it meets an elusive technical definition. To make certainty unfalsifiable, they must make certainty unverifiable. 
v) In addition, the "progressive" wing doesn't need an outright win. Take Vatican II. That represents a compromise between the modernists and the traditionalists. But for the modernists, a compromise is a win. The only policy change they require is permission. Relaxation of the status quo ante. 
There are two ways a policy can change:

a) We used to oppose X, but now we support X. 

b) We no longer oppose X.

Progressives don't need (i). (ii) is enough. They now have the freedom to teach and practice what they believe. All they need is a wedge. A concession. 

You don't need to change "dogma." A policy change will give you all the advantages of a dogmatic change without the logical or historical disadvantages.  

vi) This synod wasn't a case where the pope appointed an ad hoc committee to study an issue, then report back to him. Francis was front and center. You can't blame it on the subordinates. He's the fall guy. 

vii) Why, moreover, would Francis convene this extraordinary synod unless he intended to change the status quo? All by itself, convening this very public synod fosters an enormous expectation that there will be some sort of policy change. If that was not his intention, then he's incompetent. 

I suppose a Catholic apologist could always say the Holy Spirit prompted the cardinals to elect an incompetent pontiff. (Wouldn't be the first time.) 

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