In the old days here, occasionally, we’d get a comment that I’d pull out for its own post. Most traditionalist-leaning Catholics have given up on this site. But every so often someone new stumbles in and finds something objectionable.
On one of the Vatican II commentaries, a guest muses about error in modern church documents:
By error I mean that it it’s not compatible with the catholicism that came before it.
Regular readers and friends know I don’t place much stock in the whole rupture thing. Even for lifelong Catholics, people progress through life stages incompatible with what came before. Young adults no longer have parents making choices on church involvement. Married persons do not practice celibacy or serial dating. People in religious life honor vows that have changed their lives in various ways. Some believers progress in the mystical life in significant ways. Sinners, even if they falter, aspire to leave behind serious sin that has dogged them.
I would charge that rupture, not continuity, is the hallmark of a faithful believer. At the very least, moments of rupture invite serious discernment. When the world’s bishops go into council, one must presume discernment is part of the deliberation.
Speaking to a part of Gaudium et Spes, our friend Joe writes:
I actually don’t think that the intent in the first sentence was to be blasphemous, but it is written so sloppily that it can easily be taken as blasphemy by someone who takes a “textual” reading at face value without trying to discern meaning between the lines.
A few things here. The official “writing” of this document was done in Latin. Precision is a hallmark of scholarly Latin. Translations are most often careful. For the most part, they are authoritative and trustworthy.
The problem here is when the modern mindset of investigation is applied without discrimination to church documents. We expect skepticism when it comes to science. A researcher might bring a bias. A paleontologist, for example, might be intrigued by the image of a dinosaur with feathers. She might probe fossils, seeking impressions of plumage in sedimentary rock, looking deeply where others dismiss.
But when it comes to matters of theology, relationships, and faith, this oft-cited section from the Catechism:
To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. and if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved. (#2478)
We can no longer visit or write to a council bishop and ask directly: what do you mean? Church documents no longer belong to the ones who composed them.
Our friend zeroes in on a non-theological pronouncement:
The Church in its councils should not be ambiguous. This writing would earn a D in any university class. Take the first sentence… “According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike”… really? Did they survey believers and non-believers? What does almost unanimous mean? 80% agree, 90%, 99%? Do 99% of people hold the opinion that all of nature was created for man (if that’s what the sentence is taken to mean)?
I don’t know that this premise is a problem. Maybe it’s a cultural notion whose time comes and goes, like head coverings for women. For Christians, there is the notion from Genesis 1:28, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.* Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.”
One side question:
And why are we concerned with non-believers anyways in a Church council?
Because non-believers are our mission.
It’s good to have discussions like this, regardless of how tedious they seem to one side, another, or those who observe. More thoughts or comments?