Tuesday, 30 March 2010

On Authority III

What about Conscience?

An objection that may be heard very early is that one should obey one’s conscience even if there appears to be a clash between conscience and authority. Indeed, one reads in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that:

1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgement of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.

It might appear that “conscience is king”. However, one must enquire into what conscience actually is before one leaps to such a conclusion. Again, from the catechism:

1790 continued. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgements about acts to be performed or already committed.

1778 Conscience is a judgement of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgement of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:

So, conscience can be in error; conscience can be in ignorance. The key observation is that conscience is a judgement of the practical reason ordered to the assessment of the morality of particular concrete actions, not a speculative faculty of the intellect ordered to the assessment of the moral status of classes of action. Conscience needs to be taught the general principles by which it may judge the morality of particular concrete actions. If the inputs to conscience are wrong, the outputs will be too. As the saying goes: “Garbage in; garbage out”.

So, for example, it is not for the conscience to determine that the proposition “the direct killing of an innocent person” is right or wrong; the intellect receives this teaching from the natural law and from revelation (and consistently taught by the magisterium of the Church). The conscience is then responsible for determining the moral status of a particular act based upon whether the particular act involves the direct killing of an innocent party.

A conscience that is wrongly formed is a disaster for an individual; one with a malformed conscience on grave matter may fall prey to the situation of being obliged to sin under pain of sin. This is why the correct formation of conscience is so vital to the moral life.

The conscience needs to be formed throughout one’s life. As the Catechism puts it:

1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.

1784 The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.

1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord's Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.

Parents, teachers, friends and many more participate in the formation of conscience. The most reliable teacher is the magisterium of the Church; the authoritative guide to the content of the deposit of faith and to prudential judgements concerning morality. If one finds oneself in a situation where conscience disagrees with a teaching of the Church, the obligation is to learn from the Church rather than to accuse the Church of error.

For a detailed exposition of conscience, the old manuals on moral theology can be very helpful. For example: take a look at Question 4 of Volume I of “Moral Theology” by McHugh & Callan. Nearly eighty pages are devoted to an in depth treatment of conscience. See also Veritatis splendor 62-64.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Thought for the Election

We've got an election coming up in this country pretty soon. Given the corruption, moral depravity and woeful incompetence of the current government, this quote rather tickled my fancy!

If a people gradually becomes depraved, if it sells its votes, if it hands over the government to wicked and criminal men, then that power of conferring honours is rightly taken from such a people and restored to those few who are good”

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality 1.8 (quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, ST IaIIae 97.1, himself quoting St. Augustine De lib. arbit 1.6)

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Thought for the Day

As an illustration of the neo-scholastic method that I mentioned in yesterday's post, here's something from the horse's mouth, so to speak:

This treatise on the redemptive Incarnation, like that on God, shows that Thomism is not a mere sum of haphazard theses, but a mental attitude of research, a method of expounding truth in the order of nature and of grace, a unified grasping, a living synthesis, of the natural order of truth in its essential subordination to the supernatural order of truth.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality 36.3

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Modernism and All That

Fr. Aidan Nichols has a new book out: “Criticising the Critics” from Family Publications.

It’s a collection of short essays, “a series of apologias” aimed at those critics of the Church who offer their criticisms “owing to a failure to grasp certain aspects of Catholic truth”. It’s an excellent little collection which I recommend thoroughly. In this bloglette I simply want to reflect on a comment made at the end of the first essay: ”For modernists”.

“I will leave readers with a paradox. On my definitions, Neo-Scholastic theology is itself to a degree guilty of negative Neo-Modernism [Which Nichols characterizes as “forms of thought in the Church that ignore Pius X’s therapy for Modernism and in this way reproduce Modernism’s lacunae.”] I say that on the ground of its poor record in including within its own corpus texts from the Fathers, references to the Liturgies, to iconography and to other instruments of tradition. In that sense, the movements of patristic and liturgical ressourcement which fed into the so-called Nouvelle Theologie of the 1940s and 50s belong properly to Pius X’s anti-Modernist reaction. Yet traditionalists remain suspicious of those movements as generating a theological culture that prepared the way for [various new forms of] Modernism. Something has gone seriously wrong there with their judgement. But then something went wrong with the development of Catholic thought itself. It is the task of Catholics now to put it right.”

After having read Fr. Aidan's’ book “Reason with Piety” about Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, I’m now having a fine time at the moment reading Garrigou-Lagrange’s “Reality” (and “God: His Existence & Nature” is lined up on the to-read pile), so I’m getting some first-hand exposure to the Neo-Scholastic method. From this exposure, I take Fr. Aidan to mean that the Neo-Scholastic method concentrated too much on building upon the interpretative “tradition” handed down to them and not enough time looking back to the primary sources for alternatives. There would appear to be some substance in this criticism; the Neo-Scholastics do seem to have been system-builders; piling their new bricks on those laid by their predecessors, perhaps not checking every so often that the foundations were as straight as they should be.

However, one of the most noticeable things about studying the history of Catholic doctrine is the almost complete lack (in English) of modern studies of the time of Trent to the beginning of the 20th century. One of the great achievements of the ressourcement is to have made available critical texts, translations and studies of the great Patristic writers; we really are spoiled for choice now! The high medieval period has always been well covered. But look for textbooks about the big names, or translations of their work, or of the important theological arguments in the Tridentine and post-Tridentine period and there is almost nothing! Without thinking too hard about it: no major studies on Cajetan, Suarez or Liguori; no translations of the Caletan’s summa commentary, or of Liguori’s theologia moralis. What about the de auxiliis controversy or Jansenism?

Similarly, Fr. Aidan’s “Reason with Piety” appears to be the first book length study of the theology of such a major figure as Garrigou-Lagrange himself (Richard Petticord’s "Sacred Monster of Thomism is more biographical).

Fr. Aidan says that: “But then something went wrong with the development of Catholic thought itself.” Perhaps we have here part of the reason: the ressourcement made available many ancient sources, but theologians in their enthusiasm for this new material forgot to take account of the tradition that was already under their noses. Fr. Aidan goes on to say: “It is the task of Catholics now to put it right.” Perhaps a fruitful approach would be to re-discover the work of the Neo-Scholastics and to attempt a new synthesis of patristic, medieval and post-Tridentine theology. Just from the small amount of Neo-Scholastic reading I’ve done, I get the distinct impression that to ignore their voice would be a profound mistake.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Thought for the Day

In the work of evangelization, there exists no room for compromise on what the grace of Christ can accomplish in anyone, no matter what his or her state or condition may be.

Romanus Cessario, The Moral Virtues and Theological Ethics, p. 66

Monday, 22 March 2010

Thought for the Day

One little drop of Christ’s blood, by His union with the Word, would have sufficed to redeem the whole human race. It is to men an infinite treasure by reason of Christ’s merits.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality 34.5 (after Clement VI, Unigenitus).

Sunday, 21 March 2010

A little bit of heaven...

Catholic Church music in the UK is, in general, in a woeful state. One of the most incredible and depressing realizations I had when I was approaching the Church was that most of the treasure of Christian music was a closed book to our age. What seems to have replaced it is a sad mixture of the banal and sentimental, with a complete lack of appreciation of the theological role that music has to play in the liturgy.

Fortunately, we can recapture some of our heritage from the excellent recordings that are available. One of my favourite groups is the Ensemble Organum, led by Marcel Peres.

They specialize in (sometimes speculative) reconstructions of ancient performing practices. Whether or not they are historically accurate, the fruits of their work are always interesting and sometimes sublime.

Here’s an example from the Gradual of Eleanor of Brittany, the kyrie Orbis factor.

Here’s another example from one of my very favourite CDs, Domine audivi auditum tuum from the Office for Good Friday, in the Old Roman Chant.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

More New Books

While wandering around the web, I came across these two titles on the website of Sapientia Press that should be of interest to any card carrying Thomist!

Lawrence Feingold, "Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters"

Serge-Thomas Bonino (ed.), Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought

I presume that the Feingold book is a reprint or new edition of his Angelicum thesis. This has been much talked about and very hard to obtain, so this edition is much to be welcomed. Bonino's book promises to be a useful collection of essays on the same topic.

On Authority II

Quite famously, canon law makes what may seem like considerable (and might some people even say: mediaeval, archaic?) demands concerning the interior assent to authority.

Can. 750 §1. A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.

§2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

In enquiring into the nature of these demands upon assent, one should also take a look at the motu proprio of John-Paul II ad tuendam fidem which cast these canons into their current form. Certainly one must also read carefully the doctrinal commentary on ad tuendam fidem produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In this latter, levels within the hierarchy of truths are identified (corresponding to the three paragraphs of the canons above) and the sanctions appropriate to denial of these truths are laid out. So, unsurprisingly perhaps, a denial of a revealed dogma of the faith falls under the sanction of heresy. A denial of a teaching associated with the second paragraph would result in the denier removing themselves from communion with the Church. So, for example, one obstinately claiming abortion to be licit would be a heretic; one obstinately claiming the possibility of women’s ordination would put themselves outside the communion of the Church.

Such claims on the assent required to the teaching of the Church may very well seem strange to modern sensibilities; surely a docile response to authority alone is being demanded? Why does the Church make such demands? On what authority does it claim such authority?

The beginnings of an answer to such questions might be best expressed by the teaching of the second Vatican council; the Church’s authority in making these demands lies with the will of Christ:

“For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself”. Dignitatis humanae 14.

In these posts on “Authority”, I intend to attempt answers to such questions as these. To do so, I will meander far and wide; please join me on the journey. Perhaps you might offer smoother roads than I can find or identify higher hurdles that I should cross.

Friday, 19 March 2010

A New Book on Gregorian Chant

David Hiley's "Western Plainchant" has long been seen as an authoritive resource. I've just noticed that he has a new textbook at a more introductory level called "Gregorian Chant". It should be good; I'll find out in a few days...

Thought for the Day

The human poverty of secular liberalism can already be inferred from the results of contemporary secularization. In modern England, moral discourse is in danger of becoming a parody of infantile egoism.

Fr. Aidan Nichols, Criticising the Critics, p. 142.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Thought for the Day

For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

John 3:20-21

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

On the Refusal of Communion

Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters is always an interesting read. Here he has gathered together resources for the elucidation and interpretation of the canonical principles laid down in canon 915, concerning the refusal of Holy Communion:

"Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion."

Thought for the Day

Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man's true good and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness.

Veritatis splendor, 72

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

On Authority I

One occasionally hears the criticism that mediaeval writers held most of their ideas on the basis of authority; the authority of scripture or the authority of great Christian figures of the past, for example. This is often contrasted with thinkers from the so-called Enlightenment onward who, we are told, considered authority of no weight and held their ideas and beliefs on the basis of evidence.

Although this idea is quite consistent with the modern “grand narrative” of progress from ignorance and superstition to enlightened knowledge, I find it quite puzzling. I’ve worked as a mathematician, as a scientist or as an engineer (or, cough, as a manager of same) for most of my adult life. For my leisure interest, philosophy and theology have taken me back through the years, especially to the middle ages. What I find, through my exposure to science and philosophy through the ages, sets off in me a dissonance with this modern narrative.

For when we look at the works of the scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages we find the most astonishing intellectual honesty and a rigorous and lengthy probing of ideas and counter-ideas quite at odds with this grand narrative. In the method of disputatio we find a thesis proposed, then a set of objections to this thesis and a counter argument to the objections. The scholastic master then proposes his assessment of the thesis and finally he answers the objections to his position one by one in great detail. Now, amongst these components of the disputatio, one does find arguments from authority; it’s not infrequent that the counter argument to the objections is taken from scripture or a Church Father such as Augustine. However, this quotation of authority never stands on its own as the deciding factor of an argument. The theological master always argues from rational principles, interpreting authorities, synthesising concord from prima facie inconsistencies between authorities, and sometime even correcting those authorities. St. Thomas, for example, often quotes St Augustine; sometimes he corrects him in a way so gentle and subtle you hardly notice he’s done it. The angelic doctor also corrects and develops his philosophical authorities; sometimes Thomas is claimed to be a slave to Aristotle; nothing could be further from the truth. The duty of the scholastic master is to develop his ideas in the face of the most rigorous criticism possible and to answer all the objections put to him.

In modern life we do, of course, accept authority (in the sense I use here) every day of our lives. Children accept the authority of science teachers as they learn; expert scientists accept the authority of leaders in fields outside their own. Trust is key to any society or to any intellectual pursuit.

But within a single discipline in modern science, authority surely does not have the same role to play? Perhaps it should not in the best of all possible worlds, but in grubby reality it does. Let me give two examples at two extremes.

One might expect pure mathematics to be completely free of arguments from authority, and in one sense it is; the truth of a proposition is only accepted if the proposition is amenable to proof. But not uncommonly proofs are not checked rigorously; peer review is fallible for any number of reasons. Propositions may in fact become accepted by the mathematical community on the authority of the author. Certainly they are amenable in principle to rigorous checking, but in fact they need not be. Another aspect concerns the significance of a particular area of mathematics: if you want funding to pursue study in your area, you will need to persuade a funding body to give you the money. Funding bodies rely on senior figures, that is, authorities in the field to pass judgment on, inter alia, the worth of the field.

My other example concerns the medical sciences. Often the truth of a hypothesis in this field is very difficult to demonstrate rigorously. Randomized experiment may be difficult or even impossible and the complexity of causal pathways may mean that effects measured in observational studies are confounded by other uncontrollable or un-measurable effects. It is not uncommon for hypotheses to be constructed out of very flimsy evidence and these hypotheses, although very attractive and consistent with theory and expectation, may defy demonstration or demolition for many years. In the interim, such hypotheses often gain the status of assumed fact and health and policy decisions are made based upon them; careers are built on weak studies that fail to demolish the hypothesis; those who put forward the hypothesis become authorities in the field; funding for further study depends on those authorities. Sadly, humanity being what it is in its fallen state, it is not unknown for such hypotheses only to pass away with their creators, the authorities that uphold them.

The ideas of authority and of trust go hand in hand and we could not flourish, as individuals or as a society, without them. However, the contrast between the mediaeval and the modern is hardly as stark as some might wish to claim. Indeed, having been immersed in both, I would claim that we should sometimes give the mediaeval thinkers credit for being less beholden to authority than we are and more demanding in their rigour.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Extraordinary Form in York

We in York are truly blessed by the instantiation of the generosity of the Holy Father's provision in summorum pontificum; the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is celebrated every Sunday at 6:30pm at English Martyr's Church.

Yesterday, for Laetare Sunday, Fr. Stephen Maughan celebrated a missa cantata with the Rudgate Singers providing some wonderful music (including mass setting by Lotti).

As my nine year old son said to me afterwards: "I liked that!"

Thanks to everyone who must have worked so hard to bring this to fruition.

Thought for the Day

"Abandoning Aristotelianism, as the founders of modern philosophy did, was the single greatest mistake ever made in the entire history of Western thought."

Edward Feser, "The Last Superstition", p. 51.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Thought for the Day

Ordinarily, Christians consider conscience a far more important factor in the moral life than the virtue of prudence. As a result, we experience today a considerable amount of intellectual cacophony when theologians advance certain views which concern the “rights” of an individual’s conscience. At the same time, we also witness the reaction which occurs when the Holy Father and the bishops rightly insist that the ordinary Magisterium of the Church suffices for that religious submission of heat and mind required of the Christian faithful in moral matters…The virtue of prudence, on the other hand, supposes compatibility between freedom and authority.

Romanus Cessario, "The Moral Virtues and Theological Ethics", Introduction.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Books on Aquinas

Over at the other place, I've given some suggestions for books on Aquinas and on some of the philosophical background that it's useful to have when reading Aquinas. You can find these suggestions here, here and here.

Another good place to look is Edward Feser's blog. In particular, he has a series for anyone wanting to build a Scholastic's bookshelf. You can find these posts here, here and here.

Thought for the Day

"Many a theologian, on reaching the next world, will realize that here below he failed to appreciate the grace which God bestowed on His Church when he gave her the Doctor Communis"

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality 55.3

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Thoughts on finishing the summa contra gentiles


I started reading this astonishing work fifteen months ago and finished yesterday. Maybe I'll have a bit of time to get this blog started. Mind you, I'd probably better do some work over at the other place...

A Prayer to Start this Blog

Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.