I have been following you for many years, your answers have been occasions for enrichment and enlightenment for me, for which I am very grateful to you. I am a young theology student almost at the end of my studies. Recent events left me with doubt about specific topics of Magisterium of the Church.
1) As stated in Dei verbum n. 10, it is the responsibility of the Magisterium of the Church to interpret the written (Scripture) or transmitted (Tradition) Word of God. Therefore, it is possible to affirm that the Magisterium is an official interpretation of a specific content, which aims to explain it and communicate it in the clearest and most faithful way. The word “Magisterium” itself recalls the office of the master, who has the task of promoting the way a certain content is received not only in its substance, but also in its formulation.
Here is my question: Considering all that I said, is there a risk that the Magisterium will lose its value because of a bad linguistic formulation? If the Magisterium is the tool that aims to clarify and express faithfully a certain content in need of clarification, is there a risk that, due to its possible linguistic obscurity, a further interpretation of the Magisterium itself will be necessary? In my opinion, we would end up in a vicious circle in which the interpretation of the interpretation itself would be generated. Not to mention the interpretative relativism that would be generated! If this is true, the Magisterium would be invalidated, since the given teachement causes further divisions instead of clarifying, not in its content (which is certainly right) but in its confused and, perhaps, compromised formulation.
Here is an example: Let us imagine that I am a school teacher with perfect knowledge of the discipline that I teach my students; however, I am experiencing a strong difficulty in communicating my knowledge because of my poor teaching and linguistic skills.. Well…certainly I cannot be considered a good teacher! The role of a teacher is not only to communicate a certain content, but also to transmit it to his student in the most intelligible way, making sure that it will not be misled due to a poor communication. In that case, I cannot always blame the student if he does not understand what I am trying to teach him! I should try to clarify and simplify my lecture, so that my message can be transmitted.
I think that you understand what I mean, especially considering the recent ecclesiastic events, which left me with these difficult dilemmas.
2) On the question of a “heretical pope”, many things have been said recently. Without entering into details whether this position is acceptable from a doctrinal point of view, I would like to dwell on another aspect of this topic: even affirming that the theological hypothesis of a “heretical pope” is incorrect, the fact that a number of distinguished scholars have placed this question in the public debate makes me assume that something is going wrong in the Catholic Church. Let us admit that some of the opinions were already biased, should we consider every opinion biased?
Disquisitions on the “heretical pope” and on the deposition of the pope are everyday more impacting, leading to a reputation damage for the Catholic Church. What is the proposed solution from the legitimate authorities? It seems to me that the divergence of opinions within the Church could lead to a real schism in the long run, if is not already a reality. Returning to the master’s example above: clearness is the only solution!
3) The Second Vatican Council opted for a discursive rather than for a sententious register. If a tree is known by its fruits, even by recognizing that all the contents of the Church’s doctrine are true, it is evident that the choice of a colloquial linguistic style has generated problems in the interpretation of the messages. This linguistic difficulty has already been noticed by God’s servant Tomas Tyn, a Dominican father whom I appreciate. Don’t you think that a global clarification of this whole post-conciliar period should be necessary? Documents could be formulated to put an end to this issue, which is becoming increasingly dangerous.
I do not want to look like a prophet of doom, but this is what I sense in the environment where I live. It seems to me that preliminary steps in this direction have been taken with the formulation of Code of Canon Law in 1983, and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; nevertheless, I believe that stronger and more systematic actions should be implemented. By now, we look like a babel, and many souls will be lost because of this uncertainty. This is a matter of great concern for me; we will give an account to God for causing trouble to the poor souls, who are losing the right path! If not condemning erroneous doctrines, we should at least begin to state clearly the positive doctrine of the Church.
I hope I did not provoke you too much. I like to go to the core of the problems, and I cannot deny that the current pontificate is causing me a lot of pain. I see in the Pope the successor of Peter, and the one for whom I would be ready to shed my blood. I have in mindr the loyalty of the Swiss Guards during the Sack of Rome, in 1527. However, some of the things that the Pope says seem to me statements from a politician rather than teachement from the successor of St. Peter.
Renewing, however things go, my loyalty to the Catholic Church, I ask you a blessing for my journey with my theological studies. I thank you in advance for your answer, and I promise I will remember you in my prayers.
Answer from the priest
1. First of all, I am happy for the theological studies you have undertaken, which you are now completing.
Likewise, I am very happy for what seems to be your goal: the salus animarum, the eternal salvation of souls.
The same way that a ray of sunshine carries the light and the warmth of the sun, we who come from God and return to Him should have no other reason than bringing God into men’s hearts. So, keep it up.
2. With regard to what you wrote to me, although many people from both sides are creating concerns, if we remain faithful to Christ we should not be worried.
I said: “although many people from both sides are creating concerns”. Who are these many?
On one side there are those who, in spite of what the Magisterium documents say (which is, that the doctrine remains unchanged) instead assert that a turning point in interpretation of the doctrine occurred, and that the doctrine can no longer be understood as it was before.
3. Well, in truth, the Magisterium itself declared how the doctrine of the Church should be interpreted.
I will limit myself to report two statements of the Magisterium.
The first one is from the First Vatican Council. It can be found in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius: “The doctrine of the faith, which was revealed by God, was not given to the human intelligence as a philosophical system to be perfectionated. Like a divine deposit, it was entrusted to the Church, the bride of Christ, to be faithfully and infallibly safeguarded and proclaimed. As a consequence, the meaning of the sacred dogmas that must always be preserved is the one that the holy mother church has determined once and for all, and one must never depart from it under any pretext, or in the name of a deeper intelligence. Therefore, let intelligence, science, wisdom, grow widely and intensely according to the rhythms proper to each generation and each time, but only and exclusively, for one man as for the whole church, in their order, in the same belief, in the same sense, and in the same thought (eodem sensu eademque sententia)!” (DS 3020).
This statement is followed by the following one: “If someone adfirms that, with the progress of science, it is possible to a attribute a different meaning to the ones that the Church has recognized, and still recognizes, to its dogmas, anathema should be declared” (DS 3043). In other words, that person should be excommunicated.
4. The second affirmation of the Magisterium is contained in a precious note of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor: “ The development of the church’s moral doctrine is similar to that of the doctrine of the faith”.
The words pronounced by Pope John XXIII during the opening of the Second Vatican Council (11 October 1962) can also apply to the moral doctrine: “it is necessary that the christian doctrine in its entirety, which is certain and immutable, is elaborated and transmitted in a way that meets the needs of our time. In fact, one thing is the deposit of the faith itself, that is, the truths contained in our venerable doctrine, and another thing is the form in which these truths are enunciated, always keeping the same meaning and the same importance” (VS, note 100).
5. In these two quotes, the hermeneutic —or interpretation— principle is proposed: the documents of the Magisterium —both of a dogmatic or a moral character— must be interpreted according to the hermeneutic of continuity and deepening, and not that of discontinuity , of breaking, or of turning point with respect to the Magisterium of all time.
The progress of the Church’s moral doctrine takes place under the action of the Holy Spirit, who gradually leads to the knowledge of the whole truth without contradicting or denying the previous Magisterium. It is a homogeneous progress, not a dialectical one.
6. At the opposite side from those who claim a turning point, that is, a rupture and discontinuity explicitly denied by the Magisterium, can be found those who would be ready to declare the Pope heretical because, according to them, he is the first one to give an example of discontinuity.
In this regard, some necessary distinctions should be made regarding the value of the words that exit from the Pope’s mouth. Not all of them are Magisterium.
Furthermore, it should be kept in mind the tenor of the new documents, which today more and more frequently look like suggestions sometimes expressed in a timid, almost confidential way, like indications of pastoral practice that want to consider the actual and complex situation in which many people live.
7. The Magisterium itself invites us to consider on the one hand the immutability of principles and doctrine, and on the other the application of these principles to actual cases.
As an example, here is what we can read in Amoris Laetitia: “Therefore, while the doctrine must be clearly expressed, judgments that do not take into account the complexity of the different situations must be avoided, and it is necessary to be careful to the way people live and suffer because of their condition” (AL 79).
8. Furthermore, we can be certain that the Lord is faithful to his promises, and that he will never abandon his flock by allowing doctrines to be taught that do not follow the logic of the Gospel.
9. In the midst of the clamor of both sides, we must almost close our ears and always fix our eyes on Jesus, who is asking us to follow him, meantime we try to realize our sanctification.
It is necessary that we commit ourselves to a greater silence towards the social media, so that we don’t lose ourselves in useless and harmful discussions. The more we urge ourselves to listen to what they say, the more we run the risk to neglect the Master, who is with us, and in us.
10. We have Jesus Christ, we have the devotion to Mary, we have the Divine Revelation, we have the Magisterium of the Church, including the documents of the Second Vatican Council, we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and also the Code of Canon Law, as you mentioned.
Rather than further statements, I think that we all need one thing, and that is to put into practice what we read at the beginning of Chapter 12 of the Epistleof St. Paul to the Hebrews: “Laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who, having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. For think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds” (Heb 12, 1-3).
11. In my opinion, this is the most pressing problem for all of us.
Therefore, be you not wearied, as the author of the epistle to the Hebrew says.
Keep your gaze fixed on Jesus , work at your sanctification, run with perseverance towards the goal without being pulled back on one side or another.
Live in such a way that everything you do cooperates for your good, and you will always feel free and rich inside.
I thank you for what you wrote to me, I gladly remind you to the Lord, and I especially bless you for your theological studies and for your future in the vineyard of the Holy Church.