Friday 2 May 2014
When is Dissent not Dissent? Dissent & The Catechism
Joseph Shaw has pointed out the often-repeated musings of Basil Loftus on the Lord’s Resurrection (see here), and Fr Henry has pointed out the musings of the Catholic Life magazine (see here). The problem we seem to have is how to understand the development of doctrine (some resist it, some go beyond it), and how faithful we are to the teaching of the Catechism and Tradition.
We can, I hope, agree that the articulation and understanding of doctrine develops. For example, the Church always held the Eucharist to be the Real Presence of Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, though it took centuries to frame it in the philosophical concepts of ‘accident’ and ‘substance’ and defined the term Transubstantiation. Since we recognise that articulation of doctrine can develop -though such development must be entirely compatible with what has gone before if it is to be genuine development and not a distortion or diminishment of Doctrinal truths- I want to consider dissent from doctrine, which can occur while claiming to be merely developing doctrine.
Dissent is a serious issue; anyone who stubbornly and publicly proclaims an opinion that is at variance with the Church’s official teaching has moved from Truth to subjective opinion and relativism. And since only the Truth sets us free from bondage to self and to the devil, the father of lies, dissent is serious in its effects upon the soul.
I think we have a lot of people in the Church who hold opinions at variance with Catholic Doctrine. They hold them not because they reject the Faith, but because they had it presented to them in ways that are simply wrong. I was taken aback recently when a young altar server told me that teachers in one of our primary schools said Our Lord committed a sin when He cleared the temple. The teachers will not mean to teach erroneous Christology (which impacts upon Soteriology) but if the child is correct in what he heard, they have indeed taught serious error. Again, I was told by a parishioner that the Holy Trinity is like a man wearing three hats: a man can be a father, a husband and a son all at the same time (this is a form of Modalism). I have been told that Our Lord is present in bread and wine which is the heresy of consubstantiation (a view they got from the hymn ‘My God loves me’ which says ‘He comes to me in sharing bread and wine’). I have been told that the Pope can be overruled by the Bishops in a General Council, which is the heresy of Conciliarism (a more strident form of Gallicanism). I have had a brother priest tell me he is only a priest when he does priestly things like say Mass or Baptise, but not a priest when he is out shopping. I have heard a priest say God does not follow people into the bedroom so contraception is fine if the couple think it is fine. I have heard a parishioner say that if a consecrated Host falls to the ground or is taken away for unholy purposes that the Real Presence ceases because God protects Himself. A Deacon weeks from his ordination as a priest told a study group with whom we studied that we needed nothing but prayer and the bible to know the Truth. These statements only scrape the surface of the errors one hears.
The problem of poor doctrine is everywhere, and we never know from whose lips (including one’s own) an error may fall. That is why I often tell the folk to check everything they hear from pulpits or read in periodicals with the official teaching in the Catechism. After all, even priests (of both presbyteral and Episcopal rank) can fall into error in matters of faith without realising it, simply because they have been formed on theories and ideas that sprang into force after Vatican II when all things seemed up for grabs; theories that were never properly corrected because the teaching of that Council was not tied down to any real extent until we got the Catechism 30 years later.
But poor doctrine is not dissent; dissent includes wilful rejection of defined doctrine. When a person’s error has been considered by Rome as a possible development of doctrine but rejected as such, and the person refuses to change abandon their opinion and continues to proclaim it, that person falls into formal dissent. In my experience such dissent is more often found among those who have little or no time for liturgical norms; the authority of the Church obviously having less than sound impact upon their minds and upon their ministry (where ‘pastoral care’ is often a simile for ignoring doctrine or ecclesiastical law).
While we have to say that error is widespread in the Church I think we have to be careful in labelling someone a ‘dissenter’; they are usually folk blinded by 50 years of loose teaching. Only when they stubbornly hold and continue to proclaim their error publicly after it has been formally rejected can we call them a dissenter. Sadly, there are those who stubbornly hold to erroneous teaching and continue to proclaim it in the Catholic press, in periodicals and in pulpits. This tells us there is a desperate need in our parishes and our seminaries for a sound formation in the teaching of the Catechism and a call to obedience in teaching and worship.
We have great treasure in the Catechism; we should not waste this precious resource but refer to it in all our teaching and preaching. There is nothing wrong in following the biblical principle of correcting those in serious error; it is clearer and safer than simply demonstrating the validity of our teaching: “Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you in the name of his Appearing and his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience -but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching. The time is sure to come when, far from being content with sound teaching, people will be avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes, and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths (2.Tim.4v1-4). Are we living through a time when sound teaching is displaced by the latest novelty or the musings of our favourite theologian? Many would probably say yes.