More toils of ecumenism

Tom Pink’s post of September 8, The toils of ecumenism – a new doctrine or an old policy?, is now getting some attention from British Catholics in the blogosphere since Damian Thompston, editor of The Catholic Herald and columnist for The Daily Telegraph, discussed it favorably in a post at his own Torygraph blog this morning. Reactions so far have come from C of E priest Fr. Jeffrey Steel at De Cure Animarum and from The Muniment Room. I have a hunch there will be more. The combox at Thompson’s post has been growing ever longer and more interesting.

Tom will be posting again soon, but I’m not sure it will be more on this topic or something on free will, his academic specialty. Whichever it is, I can hardly wait!

More Scattered Thoughts On Obedience

God does not ask of us virtue, moralism, blind obedience but a cry of assurance and of love from the depth of our hell–Paul Evdokimov

It is very easy to simply let the Magisterium tell you what to believe. I have a couple of friends who keep insisting that Rome should take care of many things, such as liturgical abuses or implementing her decree on the Old Latin Mass. Recently someone asked me why the Church does not define such and such a doctrine. For example, the question of in vitro and frozen embryos are very important and it would be great to hear from Rome about these issues. Someone recently asked me why the Magisterium has not defined anything about ensoulment. I wonder, however, whether there are tendencies to substitute reasoning with the Magisterium. The response I gave to the person who asked me about ensoulment was, “Who cares?” The Magisterium is not a substitute for critical thinking. It is not a substitute for the heart.

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Development of Doctrine III

John of Fides Quaerens Intellectum has replied to my post Development of Doctrine II, primarily with a 1,700-word comment thatis longer than the post itself.  As supporting material, he has posted two entries at his own blog: one consisting chiefly of quotations from the late Prof. JND Kelly and Fr. John Behr on St. Irenaeus; the other consisting chiefly of quotations from Klaus Schatz, SJ’s Papal Primacy: From its Origins to the Present. Given that each exchange in our discussion—one which stretches back to old comboxes at Sacramentum Vitaeis longer than its predecessors, I find myself wondering with some amusement how many faculty and students will stick around for the seminar. At least the seminars in real academic departments have scheduled beginnings and ends! But even if the education ends up being John’s and mine alone, I think the discussion well worth pursuing. Speaking for myself, I come off every online discussion of DD better equipped to carry on the next one—and there always seems to be a next one, even when that’s not the plan. Who knows whom I might thereby reach? It might even be somebody here. And so I proceed with my latest reply as a productive exercise in what contemporary Catholic theologians term “fundamental theology.”

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Development of doctrine II

[As I had hoped, my post “Development of doctrine: it’s that time again” elicited some very interesting discussion. The purpose of this sequel is to reply to the last comment that John of Fides Quarens Intellectum addressed to me. That’s the comment that got my mental juices flowing well. As I wrote my reply to John and prepared to post it as a comment, I realized that it had become much too long for a combox. So here goes.]

[Update: On September 24, I made a few editorial revisions in light of reactions from readers. There will be no further revisions.]


OK, I’ve read the material at the links you’ve provided. Thank you.

I would formulate the key assumption made by Owen Chadwick (in criticism of Newman) and by Henri de Lubac’s opponents thus: If some form of rational necessitation isn’t identifiable as operative in the context of discovery for a given doctrinal development D, then D’s context of justification cannot supply reason enough to accept D as de fide. My response is that the antecedent clause of that claim does not necessitate the consequent. In other words: from the fact, if it is a fact, that the context of discovery fails to show that D was somehow rationally necessitated by premises drawn from commonly accepted data, it does not follow that the context of justification must now fail to afford reason enough to accept D as de fide. Therefore, the assumption in question is false.

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Are universes clickable?

Over at the conservative blog What’s Wrong with the World (‘W4’ for short), Lydia McGrew critiques what she calls The Fallacy of the Clickable Universe. Here’s how she starts:

When philosophers talk about the Problem of Evil (aka “the POE”), they sometimes cast the question like this: “Why did God create a universe in which Adam chose to sin rather than a different universe in which Adam did not choose to sin? Was there no possible universe God could have created in which Adam did not choose to sin?” Then they go on to discuss these questions.

I think this is a confusing way for philosophers to cast the issue.

The reason that I think it is confusing is that it implies that God, in an act of creation, makes an entire world-history, an entire possible world with all that happens in it. I call this the Fallacy of the Clickable Universe. The picture it always gives me is of a pretty Microsoft Desktop arrangement, with a tasteful blue background, and all the possible worlds laid out on it as little icons. God has a mouse. He decides which one to create by clicking on it, and when he does so, that whole universe, history and all, is then fated to come into existence.

But that’s not right.

Such a topic ties in rather nicely with that of Apolonio’s post God and Infinite Choices; but the W4 combox discussion, unlike that of Apolonio’s post, centers on the issue of God’s knowledge of future contingents. And that, it seems to me, is how it should be.

For the question Apolonio addressed in his post, namely whether God can be accounted less then perfectly good if he doesn’t actualize the best world he can, cannot be usefully raised unless we first settle the question what it means (or ought to mean) to say that God actualizes a possible world. And answers to the question whether and/or how God knows what free beings will do surely affect, even if they don’t t settle by themselves, the question what it means (or ought to mean) to say that God actualizes a possible world.

There are other questions here too, such as that of whether ‘universe’ and ‘actual world’ have the same referent. But let’s try to tackle one question at a time.

Primary, secondary… but who’s really counting?

Kind of a random post, this. Sort of a methodological reflection on the intellectual life.

On his blog, Fr. Hogg (of whom I learned via Dr. Carson’s post on “essence and energies”), mentioned that he, as a 51-year-old, is interested only in reading primary sources, since he has no desire to waste his remaining time on secondary reading.

It got me thinking: Just what is the line, or difference, between a primary and secondary literature?

At what point does a secondary material, like say Hegel’s or Husserl’s systematic replies to Kant, become primary in the field? I should say that Étienne Gilson’s work (esp. Methodical Realism, Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge, Being and Some Philosophers, and The Unity of Philosophical Experience) exemplifies this dynamic in a magisterial way. By his own confession, s a historian of philosophy above all, Gilson was merely discussing in retrospect the primary writings of his predecessors. Yet, in doing so, his works have themselves become primary sources, in a way, for anyone serious about the history of philosophy and, I would venture, philosophy itself.

For that matter, how can primary sources themselves not be construed as a secondary material, since every author, presumably, is responding to someone earlier? After all, much of Aristotle’s works are “secondary” readings of Plato as a primary source, and, moreover, Plato himself is just a secondary “Nacherzählung” of the primum principium par excellence, Socrates in the flesh. Yet, unquestionably, these authors are primary sources.

I am, therefore, simply casting my bread upon the waters of this blog in the hopes of hearing a more rigorous delineation of the primary-secondary divider in academia. This is not merely a passing fancy, since I believe the question ties into to profound metaphysical issues as old and as central as the problem of Theseus’ ship (i.e., when do the planks of secondary scholarship get replaced with the planks of such insight and originality that they become a primary resource), the concreteness of Hegelian dialectic (primäre These, sekundäre Antithese, entgültige Synthese), Tradition and Canon, among others.

Obedience and Development

Last night my friends and I were discussing about how obedience is never mechanical. It is not simply being told what to do and doing what we are told. Sometimes we want to be told what to do because we are having a hard time understanding what we should do, what we should believe. But notice how moralistic and systematic that is. Life cannot be reduced to a system or laws. In the end, such a view of life will suffocate you. I find that this tendency to reduce life into a system is manifested in many ways. For example, a person thinks he is called to the priesthood. He enters the seminary, does what he is told, and then thinks he can pursue his self-appointed mission. Many times we just want to get things “right.” In this case, it may very well be that he did his chores in the seminary, went to confession, etc. but is still immature. Again, it is because life is not about getting this right. Even if we know which things are “right,” what beliefs are true, we can still fall short. My friend said, “Suppose life B is good. Then you did it. So what?”

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