Our new address is
It would be greatly appreciated if you could update your bookmarks and links and kindly inform your readers (the content of this old blog has been moved as well).
Sunday, May 15, 2005

Fr. Michael Orsi on "Different Levels of Catholic Teaching"

In an earlier post I had referenced the article "Different Levels of Catholic Teaching", by Michael P. Orsi (Homiletic & Pastoral Review December 2003). The new website for the periodical had made it available at the time of the original posting, then removed it (explanation was that articles were in "temporary rotation"); it now appears to be available again, I presume with the recognition that having appeared online it is now the focus of several discussions (by Fr. Kimel's Pontifications as well).

[Update May 17, 2005 - Oops! They removed it again. Here's the cached copy via Google -- CB].

Responding to his critics in First Things, George Weigel had observed that the Pope and the Holy See "speak in a number of different registers: magisterial, doctrinal and theological, pastoral and prophetic. To conflate those several papal voices into equivalent acts of papal magisterium with equal binding authority on the consciences of Catholics is to make an elementary mistake in ecclesiology." Fr. Orsi turns to "A Doctrinal Commentary on Ad Tuendam Fidem" (1998) for further clarification, identifying the following levels and categories of Catholic teaching:

  • Divinely Revealed Truth: This occurs in Sacred Tradition, Scripture, statements by the Pope when he speaks "ex cathedra," teaching of the College of Bishops gathered in Council, or dogmas infallibly proposed for belief by the ordinary and universal magisterium. This includes beliefs found in the creeds such as the one produced by the Council of Nicea (325) which we proclaim at Mass, teaching on the sacraments (Pope John Paul II's recent encyclical Ecclesia De Eucharistia [2003] is a prime example), or doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, which are specifically defined as infallible. Infallible statements can be recognized by the language used by the Pope, e.g., "I declare, I define, I proclaim." These teachings require assent of mind and heart. One who doubts these articles falls into heresy.

  • Non-Fallible Church Teaching: These follow from divinely revealed truths. These are taught by the ordinary magisterium. Because they have always been held by the Church there is no need for a solemn form of definition but, from time to time as the need may arise, the Pope may confirm or reaffirm a proposition. For example, in Humanae Vitae (1968), Paul VI reaffirmed the ban on artificial contraception, in Evangelium Vitae (1995), the Pope reaffirmed the injunction on abortion and euthanasia, and in Inter Insignores (1998), the Pope restated the constant teaching of the Church that priestly ordination is open only to males.

  • Teaching on Faith and Morals: These are all presented as true or at least as sure even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal magisterium. These teachings require assent of will and intellect. They call for a deeper understanding of revelation and for conformity to teaching the truths of the faith, and guard against heresy. The degree of adherence or binding force is differentiated according to the mind and will manifested by the magisterium which may be discerned by the nature of the document, the frequency of the teaching, the wording of the pronouncement, and its historical context. Examples would include the Papal Social Encyclicals, which promote basic principles but may address specific problems that are limited by time and circumstances, Apostolic Letters such as Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1991), which encourages the safeguarding of the faith in Catholic institutions of higher learning, and Rosarium Virginis Mariae (2002), which reminds Catholics of the importance of the rosary as part of our prayer life. In this latest letter, the Pope suggests the addition of five new mysteries, which he entitled "The Mysteries of Light." While these documents do not define or pronounce truths, they do safeguard and advise Catholic practices that promote and lead to a deeper understanding of the faith and encourage practices to reinforce the truths enunciated in the first two categories.

    (Regarding the third category, Fr. Orsi adds the following qualification:)

    It must be noted, however, that eternal salvation does not depend on one's adherence to the modified form of capitalism that the Pope suggests in Centesimus Annus (1991) [n. 35], or one's approval of the mandatum requirement (license to teach as a Catholic theologian) for teachers of theology in Catholic higher education in the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Similarly, no one is required to embrace "The Mysteries of Light" as an integral part of the recitation of the rosary as recommended by Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

  • On the question of whether Catholic disagreement with the Pope on matters of capital punishment and war constituted dissent (in the same manner as, say, Senator Kerry's assertion that he could be a "pro-choice Catholic" and remain in communion with the Church), or whether they were considered, quoting Cardinal Ratzinger, areas of "legitimate diversity of opinion", here is Fr. Orsi's explanation:

    Having said this, it must be noted that there may be different levels of teaching found in the same document. For example, there is no doubt about the non-fallible prohibitions against abortion [nn. 58-63] and euthanasia [nn. 64-67] found in Evangelium Vitae. In these paragraphs, reference to the constant Catholic teaching on these issues is well documented, and the strong words used by the Pope leave no doubt as to the binding force of the prohibitions. His advice, however, in the same document that capital punishment "be used rarely if ever used" [n. 56] is a prudential teaching which deserves careful consideration. This is not binding since the long tradition of the Church on this issue allows the state the right to execute criminals for its protection and to exact retribution. While one would incur excommunication for procuring or promoting abortion, this would not be the case if one favored the death penalty. Another example of the Pope's prudential but nonbinding teaching is when he spoke through his press secretary, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, regarding America's war against Iraq. He stated that "[w]ar is always a defeat for mankind" and that "[i]t is to be deplored that the path of negotiations, according to International Law, for a peaceful solution of the Iraqi drama has been interrupted." In counseling peace and deploring war, the Pope speaks as the prophetic Vicar of Christ, but he in no way condemns a specific war as unjust since he knows that it is in the provenance of the civil realm to decide if a war meets the criteria listed in the Just War Theory (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2309). Therefore, a Catholic may either support or reject a war as just. The Pope's words as chief pastor of the flock deserve respectful hearing and should be considered seriously in one's personal deliberations on these issues.

    Fr. Orsi concludes:

    What we have seen, then, is that the weight of a document depends on many factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic factors include the type of document, the promulgator of the document, the language used in each proposition contained in the document, and the tradition behind the teaching or discipline.

    * * *

    My last post had provoked a flurry of comments and (somewhat heated) discussion with respect to Cardinal Ratzinger's statement "Worthiness to Recieve Commmunion: General Principles":

    "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

    To which Jerry, displaying his affection for quotation marks, offered the following:

    What constitutes the intrinsic logic of "legitimacy" insofar as it is associated with a "diversity of opinion?" Why is some opinion "legitimate" and some opinion not "legitimate?" What constitutes the nature of legitimacy? Clearly, one would think there are distinctions to be made here.

    Why is Fr. Reese, SJ's opinion "not legitimate?" Why is Novak's opinion on Iraq considered by some to be "legitimate?" What constitutes "legitimacy?"

    Was Fr. Reese, SJ's decision to publish opposing views in America a "moral judgment" on the "legitimacy" of "dialogue" between diverse opinions or a "moral judgment" about the "legitimacy" of the diverse opinions themselves? Is dialogue "legitimate?" What is "legitimate dialogue?"

    Back to the question of a "legitimate diversity of opinion." Outside the context of doctrine, how would you distinguish between a "legitimate diversity of opinion" -- about moral matters, let's say -- and moral pluralism? Is one reducible to the other? If not reducible, which I suspect is the case, on the basis of what would they be distinguished.

    Good questions, and here I would expect -- humbly request, rather -- my readers to jump in on this as well (as they are likely more educated and qualified than I). As far as Fr. Reese and America is concerned, the CDF's concern was that the very action of publishing pro/con positions editorials on issues on which the Church has already spoken lends the impression to readers that "the jury is still out." Mark Brumley @ InsightScoop comments:

    By publishing, say, a pro-homosexual-marriage piece and a pro-Catholic-view-of-marriage piece side-by-side, AMERICA gives the impression that this is a subject up for legitimate debate within Catholicism and that AMERICA is the place to go to participate in that debate. Likewise, by publishing "moderate" proaborts side-by-side with people who embrace Catholic teaching on the right to life, AMERICA grabs the rhetorical middle ground and assumes the guise of defining what is acceptable discussion within Catholicism. By publishing "name" Catholic commentators who are orthodox, AMERICA can draw attention to itself as it says, "See, we give both sides their chance"--as if on many of the issues under discussion there are two legitimate sides within the Catholic Church, when in fact there aren't.

    The last approach has the added benefit to AMERICA of putting the orthodox folks in a bind. They can forego contributing to AMERICA because of its dissenting stance and miss the opportunity to have articulate people defend orthodoxy. Or they can contribute and get their message out but risk adding to AMERICA's perception of legitimacy or balance.

    But Catholics shouldn't be forced by a Catholic publication into the position of having to choose either to participate in a debate that can mislead people into thinking the subject matter at hand is legitimately a matter of debate among Catholics or to say nothing, thereby missing the opportunity to defend the truth.

    Fr Orsi's article is helpful in discerning those areas where "legitimate diversity of opinion" is possible between Catholics, and why moral debate is permitted on some issues, but not others. However, to say that "diversity of opinion" is permitted shouldn't be reduced to an "anything goes" approach. Moral debate should occur with due attention to the teachings of the Holy Father and the bishops, referencing the breadth of Catholic tradition.

    I think that one reason why contemporary perspectives on capital punishment and armed warfare are met with resistance by some Catholic scholars is that they appear to be at variance with Catholic tradition over its 2,000 year history -- for example, the erroneous interpretation that capital punishment itself is a violation of the right to life, equatable to abortion and euthanasia (see Avery Dulle's "Capitalism & Catholic Punishment" First Things 112 April 2001). Or, the claim by Archbishop Martino in March 2003 that "there is no such thing as a just war"; and the elevation of John Paul II's expression "War never again!" -- what should, of course, be the desire by every Catholic -- into a formal proclamation concerning the legitimacy of the use of force itself (see "No Just War Possible?", by George Weigel. The Catholic Difference April 2003), thus contributing to the criticism that some in the Vatican had adopted what amounts to a "functional pacifism" contrary to traditional Church teaching on war.


    From the new blog Against The Grain

    About This Blog

    Against The Grain is the personal blog of Christopher Blosser - web designer and all around maintenance guy for the original Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club (Now Pope Benedict XVI).

    Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club
    Pope John Paul II
    Benedict In America
    Catholic Church and Liberal Tradition
    Henri de Lubac
    Hans Urs von Balthasar
    Cardinal Avery Dulles

    Catholic Just War Tradition
    Catholic Friends of Israel
    Pope Pius XII
    Fr. John Courtney Murray
    Walker Percy




    Blogroll Me!

    [Powered by Blogger]

    Locations of visitors to this page

    Ignatius Press - Catholic Books

    << # St. Blog's Parish ? >>