ACADEMIC DISSENT: AN ORIGINAL ECCLESIOLOGY
Joseph Costanzo S.J.
A Review Article

Two volumes [ ] which spell out a well-publicized position on dissent bear extensive critical evaluation. The first volume, purports to repeat substantially the theological rationale which Charles Curran and his associates submitted to the Inquiry Board at the Catholic University in justification of their public dissent to <Humanae vitae>. The companion volume, <The Responsibility of Dissent, The Church and Academic Freedom>, is a development of the written testimony presented to the Inquiry Board by counsel on behalf of the "subject professors" in vindication "of the propriety and responsibility of their actions in the light of accepted academic norms." The first volume contains its own history of the case.

Within thirty hours of the encyclical's promulgation a neuresthenic telephonic harvesting of signatures was activated with zealous vigor by Charles Curran and twenty associates of the Department of Theology of The Catholic University of America for subscription to their Statement of July 30, 1968 in opposition to the doctrinal prescriptions of <Humanae vitae>. Some of the subscribers did admit that they had not yet read the text of the encyclical or, if they had, that it was hardly with benefit of those scholarly and meditative reflections that a broader expansion of time would have encouraged. Time has the numbing effect of dimming the memory of the asperities of this contestation of a solemn and definitive papal teaching but the spiritual wounds inflicted upon the faithful may be long in mending. The raw aching fact is that scandal was given. These dissidents did interpose their pastoral counsel between the Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church and the faithful in a grave matter of morality touching intimately the conscience of spouses. None of the numerous statements of Pope Paul subsequent to the promulgation of <Humanae vitae> in any way had subtracted from the full original force of its doctrinal content, nor—more nearly to the nerve center of the sensitivities of academic freedom, its prerogatives and immunities in theological disciplines, as they are related to the grave responsibilities of Catholic theologians and priests to teach, preach, publish, and counsel in accordance with the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church—has there been any expression of disapproval from the Vatican on the correctness of Cardinal O'Boyle's stand on <Humanae vitae>, both in his capacity as Chancellor of the University and as Ordinary of his priests.

My own religious and intellectual response to these two volumes is such that to dispense with them by the customary brief review would be less than fair to readers of the review. There is need for an article-length review in order that frequent referrals to the text may disclose the evidence for the critical appraisal.

The title, preface, and first chapter, <The Historical Context>, chronicle the events leading to the theological contestation of <Humanae vitae> by the author and the "subject professors" with a faultless choice of words and expressions. The title is <Dissent IN and FOR the Church>, (italics in the original). The Preface spells out the refreshing liberalization and independence of priests and layman "of ecclesiastical direction" and "from the institutional Church" and notes that "Pope Paul VI has spoken frequently in a <fearful, and even reactionary>, manner about the contemporary tumult of the Church" (italics supplied). The defense of dissent is undertaken "with the hope that the Roman Catholic Church will thus be able to carry more faithfully its God-given mission in history." And the volume is dedicated "especially to those unjustly accused of disloyalty without benefit of due process." <Their Statement> did not constitute a "rebellion or revolution"—but rather was inspired by a conscientious responsibility to do just what they did in the very manner they did it.

Summarily, my own appraisal of the <Statement> is that it is a supercilious pastiche of highly questionable postulates, such as the crude charge that the Roman Pontiff does not correctly understand orthodox catholic ecclesiology, the referrals to past reversals of authoritative papal pronouncements on matters about which even onetime militant Protestant scholarship has long since become too embarrassed to regurgitate, the position that <Humanae vitae> is at variance with affirmations of Vatican II and demonstrates no advance upon <Casti Connubii>, etc.

The <Statement>—and the exposition of all that is implied therein in succeeding chapters—constitutes a bold and novel ecclesiology which, we respectfully submit, none of the Pontiffs, Councils, and Fathers of the Church have ever known, and surely one that might have drawn unusual interest had it been proposed to the Fathers of Vatican II as the <Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.>

Chapter Two, <Preliminary Consideration concerning the Nature of Theology and the Role of Theologians>, and Chapter Three, <Preliminary Consideration concerning the Nature and Function of the Magisterium>, represent the schema of the constitution of the Church which the authors are confident that the ever "ongoing" divine revelation will ratify and make incontestably clear to the community of believers in unearthing the original and authentic divine intent of Our Divine Lord from the historical incrustations of usurpations of ecclesiastical power and from uncritical deference and obedience to an "aggrandized teaching authority residing in councils and Church officers."

In the face of this trend toward establishing an exclusive teaching prerogative in the hierarchy, recent historical studies have exercised a modifying influence by pointing out the presence of error by way of theological dissent. Dissent thus appears traditionally as one possible, responsible option in the theological task, and in its own way, is an intrinsic element in the total magisterial function of the Church. The entire Church, as truly magistral, can never be contained simply and exclusively in what has become known as the hierarchical magisterium (pp. 86-87).

The credibility of <Dissent IN and FOR the Church> then rests on the necessity of bringing the "theologians," dissenters as well as non-dissenters, within the magisterial authority of the Church as, supposedly, established by Christ, Our Lord. This is done by the employment of a concatenation of terms excised from Vatican II and at variance with their original meaning in text and context. The argument proceeds as follows: The People of God—all, without exception, are called upon to the <aedificatio Corporis Christi> which St. Paul proclaims (Col. 2:7; Eph. 4:16). Now surely within this all comprehensive sweep "theologians" are associated in a special way by a "co-responsibility," a notion that is in accordance with and is further re-enforced by the full implications of "collegiality of bishops." Now, when we turn to the principal document of Vatican II, <Lumen Gentium>, the <Dogmatic Constitution on the Church>, the very first chapter is an unambiguous reaffirmation of the doctrine of the <Mystical Body of Christ> with eighty-four scriptural references to attest to this, and of the supplementary notes five are <nominatim> to Pius XII's <Mystici Corporis> and <Humani Generis> and others to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, Conciliar documents, and papal encyclicals in support of it. Let the reader compare Chapter One of <Lumen Gentium> on the <Mystical Body of Christ> with the only two scant considerations of it by Curran:

Pius XII, in <Mystici Corporis> (1943) and again with more emphasis in <Humani Generis> (1950), insisted that the mystical body of Jesus on earth was simply identical with the Roman Catholic Church. In <Humani Generis>, the Pope insisted that his teaching on the matter was to settle the discussion among theologians. Vatican II has produced a different teaching (p. 80).

Has It?

In the twentieth century, the distinct and "official" recovery of a broader-based ecclesiology under one biblical image was brought about by the encyclical <Mystici Corporis> of Pius XII ( 1943 ). This encyclical marked an important stage in the development of ecclesiology—the end of one era (taking up the findings and themes of over a century of minority theological works) and the beginnings of another era. Ecclesial life-style, however, was not significantly changed by the issuance of <Mystici Corporis>. However, almost immediately, it was recognized that the doctrine and limits of the 1943 encyclical and the use of solely the "mystical body" image were inadequate to articulate properly an authentic churchly self-awareness, both domestically in terms of the internal componency and life-dynamics of the Church, and especially in respect to other Christian communities outside the Roman communion (p. 95).

Is this a valid reflection of Chapter One of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church on the <Mystical Body of Christ>?

Chapter Two, <On the People of God>, follows upon without abrogating, the preceding and first chapter on the <Mystical Body of Christ.> It affirms the universal salvific will of God, the redemptive merits of Christ's passion, death, and Resurrection, the removal of ethnic, racial, national, and geographic barriers among the People of God, etc. Within this all comprehensive catholicity all the people are the people of God, and they are diversely related to the <Mystical Body of Christ,> his Church on earth. The Catholic faithful are "fully incorporated"; the catechumens are incorporated into the Church by intention; the baptized non-Catholic Christians are "linked" with the Catholic Church to the degree that they "share" by baptism and other sacraments, the acceptance of Scripture, and participation in prayer in the life of God. All these are "prompted" by Christ's grace to that unity by "faith in its entirety" and "union of communion with the successor of Peter" for which "Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about." (15) If there is a fuller and more radiant bloom to the doctrinal formulation of the People of God, its roots are deeply embedded in medieval theologizing.

Chapter Three of <Lumen Gentium—On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular on the Episcopate>—with its firm reaffirmation of the Petrine commission, its unique and exclusive prerogatives, its independent, plenary, and unconditioned magisterial authority, and the formal explicitation of the doctrine of the collegiality of the bishops (and of the bishops alone, not a collegiality of any other ministry) as a constitutive part of ecclesial magisterium in its union with, agreement with, and by consent of the Vicar of Christ, stands out with the full radiance of divine revelation against the congregationalist ecclesiology of Curran; it stands out fully authoritarian and unabashedly hierarchical. All this in one of the only two dogmatic constitutions of Vatican II.

But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is simultaneously conceived in terms of its head, the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and without any lessening of his power of primacy over all, pastors as well as the general faithful. For in virtue of his office, that is, as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme, and universal power over the Church. And he can always exercise this power freely. The order of bishops is the successor to the college of the apostles in teaching authority and pastoral rule; or, rather, in the episcopal order the apostolic body continues without a break. Together with its head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without its head, the episcopal order is the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church. But this power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For Our Lord made Simon Peter alone the rock and key-bearer of the Church (cf. Mt. 16:18-19), and appointed him shepherd of the whole flock (cf. Jn. 21:15 ff.) (<Lumen Gentium>), n. 22.

As Oscar Cullman, the renowned Protestant theologian observer at the Council remarked, the formulation of the doctrine of the collegiality of the bishops left the full and plenary powers of the Roman Pontiff undiminished and unconditioned as before, and, if I may add, completely removed any lingering doubt to the contrary on the intent and meaning of the Vatican I definition. Square all this with the shabby historicism on p. 56 and following.

The insistence of the authors of <Dissent> that theologians are intrinsic to the ecclesial magisterium is the most rootless of all their protestations. There is no warrant for it in the mandate of Christ, neither explicitly, implicitly, or by any manner of prolonged inferential ratiocination. There is no evidence of such a role for theologians in the writings of the Fathers of the Church nor in any of the official documents of the Church, papal and conciliar. And for all the dissidents' facile rhetorical references to Vatican II, the Council Fathers never graced them with a distinct classification or separate consideration as they did with the Roman Pontiff, the bishops, the religious, laity, and priests. Indeed, the word itself "theologians" appears <only once> among the 103,014 words of the sixteen official texts promulgated by the Ecumenical Council. Considering the centrality of the dissidents' concept of the role of theologians as "an intrinsic element in the total magisterial function of the Church" (p. 87) to their ecclesiology, it seems that they have been slighted by a Council celebrated for its formulation of the collegiality of bishops by those very bishops who were accompanied by <periti.>

Undaunted, the dissidents manage to overcome this formidable accumulation of traditional ecclesiological barriers by several ploys. First, the absolutes and certitudes of Christian doctrine are brought within the changing concept of valid knowledge and subjected to the historical and cultural limitations to which most human science is heir.

The object of science has changed from the Aristotelian-Scholastic ideal ("certain knowledge of things through their causes")—and the resultant concern for university, necessity and certainty—to the contemporary scientific ideal (complete explanation of all data in terms of their intelligible relationships)—and the resultant concern for development, probability and matter-of- factness (p. 32).

In the light of an appreciation of historical growth and development, the theologian realizes he will never attain the older ideal of absolute certitude (p. 3 2).

(What a field day Gilbert K. Chesterton would have had with these new ecclesiologists and a pity we have been denied so much amusement.) What shall we say of the absolutes of "whatever I have taught you" that Christ Our Lord commanded his Apostles to teach to every man everywhere to the end of time unconditionally for eternal salvation? At this juncture of theologizing, there must be a denial to any empowerment on earth to definitive teaching—including the last Council.

With all reverence, theologians recognize that the documents of Vatican II were "dated" on the first day after solemn promulgation.

The <spirit> of Vatican II might be ignored in favor of the letter of officially promulgated formulations. Reference in the future to the letter of the pronouncements of Vatican II as the final norm for evaluating theological data would effectively bring Roman Catholic ecclesiological <progress to a halt>. This is not because Vatican II formulations are unsuitable; rather, it is because they are intrinsically limited to what the Council Fathers intended them to be—formulations which express, for the most part, the maximum capacity of that time but which do not preclude future, ongoing developments beyond the categories of Vatican II itself (pp. 100, 101) (italics supplied).

And if this be true of Vatican II, then it is no less true of all the ecumenical councils since Nicaea. Whether they realize it or not, the dissidents have extinguished the blaze of their fiery zeal to gray ashes. For, if Vatican II is "dated" on the first day after their solemn promulgation in an "ongoing" process of religious knowledge and understanding, then there really never is any dissent. How could one distinguish an orthodox from a heterodox (Catholic) theologian?

A negative book review is generally not likely to encourage its readers to peruse the volume, much less to advertise its sales. I for one earnestly urge all who were interested or troubled by the Statement of the principal and the "subject professors" and by succeeding events which brought into their train among other considerations the question of the prerogatives and immunities of academic freedom to read <Dissent IN and FOR the Church> studiously together with a copy of the Documents of Vatican II. We have noted how far apart are Dissent's referrals to the <Mystical Body of Christ>, the People of God, the papacy, the collegiality of bishops, and the hierarchical Church, as well as the role the dissident "theologians" claim to be rightfully their own within the magisterium of the Church from the doctrinal teaching of the Fathers of the Council as solemnly set down in <Lumen Gentium>. The reader of <Dissent> ought also to observe whether its referrals to the Council's teaching on religious freedom is based on a correct understanding and application of the authentic meaning of the <Declaration On Religious Freedom> (<Dignitatis Humanae>). One such provocative reference reads as follows:

Vatican II, with its declarations on collegiality and religious liberty, has made every contemporary theologian particularly familiar with doctrinal development and with the implications of that process for his interpretative endeavors (p. 35) (see also p. 100).

Now, surely, it is not to the discredit of the Fathers of the Council nor is it a slight upon the Council's <Declaration On Religious Freedom> that neither their deliberations nor the document's content in any way were concerned even remotely with "doctrinal development and the implications of that process for (every contemporary) theologian's interpretative endeavors."

Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore, it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ (<Dignitatis Humanae>, 1).

The reader of <Dissent> ought earnestly to search the Council's document to note whether the "subject Professors" and their principal have based their ecclesiological theologizing on the teaching of the Council Fathers and further, in broader context, whether, in fact, the main thesis of The Responsibility of Dissent: the Church and Academic Freedom, the companion volume, has been virtuously exercised. Of course, the reader must also bear in mind that they have written:

With all reverence, theologians recognize that the documents of Vatican II were "dated" on the first day after solemn promulgation (p. 100).

With such an escape hatch, it would be rather difficult to hold anyone of them to account.

The authors of <Dissent> exert much effort on distinguishing between infallible and non-infallible teachings of the magisterium. Their discussion, however, is inadequate and the emphasis misplaced. To begin with, the note of infallibility is attached to the solemn definitions of the Vicar of Christ, to the solemn definitions of an ecumenical council, not, however, without approbation and ratification of the Roman Pontiff, and to what has been traditionally recognized by the theologians themselves: <infallibilis ex ordinario magisterio>. Of this last, <Dissent> is completely silent despite the fact that Vatican II first speaks of this infallibility before expounding that of the Roman Pontiff, followed by the infallible pronouncements of a council acting together with the successor of Peter. <Dissent> does fix upon non-infallible teachings of the Church which are authentic but—as they will argue—not binding even if and when the Teaching Authority of the Church says that it is binding in conscience, as it did in <Humanae vitae>. This is as necessary to the argumentation of <Dissent> as the necessity of inserting the "theologians" within the magisterium. Summarily, this necessitous course of logic proceeds as follows: Infallibility absolutely precludes the possibility of error. Anything less than an infallible teaching does not foreclose absolutely such a possibility of error. And herein is grounded ultimately the possibility of dissent (p. 40) and the recourse to probabilism whereby an alternate course of conduct becomes justifiably permissible. A number of clarifications are here in order. An authentic non-infallible teaching of the magisterium is invested with certitude, that is, with moral, practical certitude. Such a certitude precludes and, in fact, is unrelated to any consideration of a contrary probable opinion. It is not the absolute possibility of error that an authentic non-infallible teaching of the Church speculatively does not foreclose that establishes the justifying grounds for recourse to the principle of probabilism. Nor is such recourse dependent upon the acknowledgement of a "doubtful law does not bind," a popular axiom which presumes what it denies. Probabilism does not rely on the absolute possibility of error but rather, given the absence of certitude (which an authentic non-infallible teaching of the Church does provide), it is an exercise of the virtue of prudence to choose between two solidly probable opinions. No such claim on the absence of certitude on the Church's absolute ban against artificial contraceptives may be made as existing within the Magisterium, whatever doubts some private theologians may have entertained within their own persuasion after 1963. (At this point we may appreciate more fully why it was necessary for the "subject professors" and their principal to bring the dissidents into the authority of the Church.)

Of the universality of commitment prior to the Council John T. Noonan wrote:

No Catholic theologian has ever taught, "Contraception is a good act." The teaching on contraception is clear and apparently fixed forever. (<Contraception. A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists> [ 1966], p. 6.)

No Catholic writer before 1963 had asserted that the general prohibition of contraception was wrong (p. 512).

And on <Casti Connubii>: whose validity and binding force the Statement called into question, Professor Noonan wrote:

How great was its authority? By the ordinary tests used by the theologians to determine whether a doctrine is infallibly proclaimed, it may be argued that the specific condemnation of contraceptive interruption of the procreative act is infallibly set out. The encyclical is addressed to the universal Church. The Pope speaks in fulfillment of his apostolic office. He speaks for the Church. He speaks on moral doctrine that he says "has been transmitted from the beginning." He "promulgates" the teaching. If the Pope did mean to use the full authority to speak <ex cathedra> on morals, which Vatican I recognized as his, what further language could he have used? (<ibid>. )

In 1962, the year the Council opened, Cardinal Suenens declared:

What was condemned as intrinsically immoral yesterday will not become moral tomorrow. No one should entertain any confused doubt or false hope on the point. The Church has not decided that these (contraceptive) practices are immoral; she has merely confirmed what the moral law already said about them. (<Love and Control,> Eng. tr. Robinson. Burns Oates [ 1962], p. 103.)

And at the Vatican Council Cardinal Suenens chose to conclude his speech of November 7, 1964 on the Schema on the Missions pointedly to reject and dispel the misconstruction he claimed the press had placed upon his speech on marriage of the 29th of October with these unambiguous affirmations:

Allow me to take this opportunity and this method of replying very briefly to some reactions in public opinion which interpreted my speech on matrimonial ethics as if I had said that the doctrine and discipline of the Church in this matter had changed. So far as doctrine is concerned, my words made it quite clear that I was asking only for research in this whole area, not with a view to changing anything in the Church's doctrine which has been already authentically and definitively proclaimed, but only with a view to elaborating a synthesis of all the principles which are relevant in this domain. So far as discipline is concerned, it is clear that the conclusions of the Commission to which I have referred have to be submitted to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff and adjudged by his supreme authority. I said this explicitly. It is obvious that any decisions regarding the functioning of the Commission rest exclusively with that same authority. I say these things now in order to remove all misunderstanding in public opinion.

There is nothing in the Encyclical itself nor in any of the numerous declarations about it since its promulgation by Pope Paul that dimly suggests any legitimate doubt about the absolute obligatory force of the doctrine which is propounded "by virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ."

I have noted earlier that the stress which the authors of <Dissent> place upon the distinction between infallible and authentic non-infallible teaching is misplaced as far as the controverted issue is concerned. What matters is the deliberate, formal, calculated, purposeful intent of the Vicar of Christ teaching, as he undoubtedly did in <Humanae vitae>, as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church on a grave matter of faith and morals, a doctrine that is binding in conscience upon the spouses and the grave obligation of acceptance in teaching, preaching, and counselling "especially in the case of those who teach moral theology" (H. V. n. 28) and of the pastoral duty of the episcopate on this matter "as one of your most urgent responsibilities" (H. V. n. 29).

Two days after the promulgation of <Humanae vitae> His Holiness said:

We had no doubt about Our duty to give Our decision in the terms expressed in the present encyclical .... We hoped that scholars especially would be able to discover in the document the genuine thread that connects it with the Christian concept of life and which permits Us to make our own the words of St. Paul: "But we have the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16) (General Audience at Castel Gandolfo, July 31, 1968).

The pretext of a presumed doubt during the interlude of "study and reflection" was largely the confection of private theologians who actively engaged in teaching contrary to the repeated admonitions of Pope Paul not to ignore the traditional norms on marital relations which his predecessors, Pius XI and Pius XII, had authoritatively reaffirmed. Let there be no misunderstanding on the precise issue before us. If there was any doubt about the absolute ban on contraceptives in any private theologian, there was none in the Magisterium.

What, then, of a sincere doubt in a theologian? No one can be so presumptuous as to preclude such a subjective state of mind in a private theologian of piety, erudition, and good intentions. But such a supposition, we respectfully insist, is in the light of the historical testimonials unrelated to a <lex dubia> or the principle of probabilism. We simply posit it as a sincere and genuine intellectual difficulty in one who, while not denying the Teaching Authority of the Church to bind in conscience by an authentic non-infallible doctrine, would want to be more rationally satisfied intellectually. We hope to have supposed the case of a doubting or even contesting private theologian with the best of human credentials. (Ultimately, it is the problem of the relationship of faith and reason, a matter to which we will dedicate our energies in a subsequent study.)

In regard to personal external conduct, that is, preaching, teaching, publication, and counselling in the confessional, the obligation, to communicate the moral doctrine of the Church is no less absolute than in matters of dogma even if they are of the authentic non-infallible description. This would preclude the presentation of alternate positions in good conscience on an a pair-basis with the teaching of the papal and ecclesial Magisterium by some recourse to the principle of probabilism. Further, the obligation not to contest the Church's teaching in public, for example, via the communications media, is unconditional. This does not forbid private theologians to discourse together and raise all sorts of questions about the doctrine propounded if it is done discreetly, in places and in a manner and with such fellow discussants as not to give scandal. There is no incompatibility between the absolute obligation to teach in accordance with Church doctrine and, at the same time, to try to resolve sincere intellectual difficulties by collective discourse. Reconsiderations, restudies, repeated intellectual probings are of ancient vintage in the Church. One need only recall the wild revelry in medieval <quaestiones, controversiae, disputationes, ego autem contra, sic et non> wherein every theological and philosophical verity was challenged in order to plumb the full dimensions of a question and to conclude to a richer knowledge of a truth that had already been professed. <The Statement> of the "subject professors" and their principal, the telephonic solicitation of signatures, the speed of their response to <Humanae vitae>, the subsequent contestation shown in a variety of ways in order to organize and galvanize additional public opposition to the Encyclical, in effect, to interpose their pastoral counsel between the Supreme Pastor, of the Universal Church and the Faithful, hardly comport with the exigencies of scholarly discourse.

Even within the internal sanctuary of his own mind there is a per se obligation for the private theologian to assent especially where the obligation of acceptance is stated so unambiguously as in <Humanae vitae>. The obligation of acceptance as related to personal conduct remains absolute. The obligation to personal internal intellectual agreement with the doctrine propounded may become conditional in exceptional instances of an eminent theologian truly noted for his erudition and devotion to the Church. This extraordinary hypothesis will hardly cover the generality of priests and nuns who teach theology. All of us are accountable to God and not, as it is popularly said, to personal conscience, and, for Catholics at least, the Church's role in the formation of conscience is not diffused by private magisteria of theologians, prestigious and non-prestigious. It is not left to the conscience of the Catholic to subordinate the authentic and authoritative interpretation of the divine moral order to its own superior determination of the morality of an act. Conscience may speak with many tongues and not all of them are always reliable, nor are all the persuasions of conscience above the strongest urges of human passion, burdensome inconveniences, and rationally appealing self-interest.

The argument of the right to dissent, based on the possibility of error that an authentic non-infallible teaching by definition does not absolutely preclude, is finally given anchorage in the ominous "possibility of a pope becoming a heretic or a schismatic. Popes, canonists, and theologians have acknowledged the possibility of papal heresy or schism, and some nine centuries of theological and canonical discussion have included consideration of what the Church at large could do in such a case (pp. 4647).

Well, that ought to do it, if nothing else will!

<Dissent> abounds with casual teases, employment of words, expressions, and brief allusions, all calculated like psychedelic lights to induce a new consciousness of the Church. To "community of believers," "collegiality," and "religious liberty" harnessed to "co-responsibility of theologians," now add, "historically and culturally conditioned views of authority and truth," "the very notion of teaching is ambiguous," 'post Vatican II self-awareness," "post Vatican II mentality," "entire Church as magistral," "sensus fidelium," "Charisms," the need for a "theology of compromise," etc. All of these are mentioned or stated in such a manner as to diffuse <The Hierarchical Structure of the Church, With Special Reference to the Episcopate>, c. 3, of <Lumen Gentium> and to suggest a latitudinarian magisterium (there is more than one way to insert the "theologians" into the magisterium. If they cannot make it on their own, then, surely, through an all inclusive congregationalist ecclesiology). Consider for example, <Dissent's> treatment of <sensus fidelium> (p. 56) with what Vatican II says of it:

The body of the faithful as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy one, cannot err in matters of belief. Thanks to a supernatural sense of the faith which characterizes the People as a whole, it manifests this unerring quality when, "from the bishops down to the last member of the laity," (cf. St. Augustine, De praed. sanct.) it shows universal agreement in matters of faith and morals (<Lumen Gentium>, n. 12).

The stress on complete unanimity of all the laity with the entire episcopacy is not so apparent in Dissent. The Council statement is tautological. Everyone is without error or everyone is in error. But God will not fail his Church in such unanimity. <Dissent> accustoms its readers by the sheer force of frequency to the employment of terms and expressions of the Council documents with a meaning at variance with their original source and context. The purpose is unmistakably clear. By appealing to a "post Vatican II mentality" and the inevitability of an "ongoing" process of doctrinal "development" the right of theological dissent becomes more than an exercise of academic freedom; it is a necessary beneficent catalyst in doctrinal "development" the right of theological dissent becomes more than an exercise of academic freedom; it is a necessary beneficent catalyst in doctrinal adjustment and reformulation. In a word, there are no absolutes in creed and morality. The "subject professors" and their principal have wandered blithely into the wastelands of relativism simply by their insistence that orthodoxy be saved from itself. And all this is by the providence of a pneumatic imperial demiurge that moves the community of believers by graces and special charisms through a variety of ministries to the "theology of compromise." The Montanists never exercised the Holy Spirit with such relentless vigor.

But surely it is bad grace when the authors of <Dissent> quote Pope Paul VI on conciliar decrees as a witness to their novel ecclesiology. Onp. 101 we read:

As Paul VI reminds us: The conciliar decrees are not so much a destination as a point of departure toward new goals. The renewing power and spirit of the council must continue to penetrate to the very depths of the church's life. The seeds of life planted by the council in the soil of the church must grow and achieve full maturity.

One is hard put not to wonder whether a deliberate, calculated deception is here intended or some intellectual incapacitation accounts for this unwarranted juxtaposition of the "dynamic interpretation" of <Lumen Gentium> which the authors espouse with the transitional developments through change initiated by decrees. Constitution is the general term for statements concerning the Church itself. Of the sixteen official texts promulgated by the Ecumenical Council four of them are constitutions, dogmatic, pastoral, and liturgical, each expressive of theological propositions. Three of the documents are Declarations (On Christian Education, Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, and On Religious Freedom). Declarations are "policy statements" or statements of particular principles on relations with those who do not belong to the Church. (Note that the declaration is on Christian, not just Catholic, education.) Decrees are documents of practical significance. They are affirmations of the Council on modern problems and their solutions. They are essentially opportune, prudential directives to cope with contemporary problems in their wide diversity and to effectuate appropriate adjustments and progressive changes in accordance with the soteriological continuing mission of the Church. Thus, when the authors of <Dissent> quote Pope Paul VI on the intent of conciliar decrees—"not so much a destination as a point of departure towards new goals"—in approbation of their "dynamic interpretation" of the <Dogmatic Constitution on the Church> in accordance with their own novel ecclesiological prepossessions, they are being less than reverent with His Holiness and with the Fathers of the Council. The authors of <Dissent> dust off some allegedly historical instances of papal doctrinal failings and reversibility of which Protestant scholars have long since been too embarrassed to have cited against the validity of papal authority. There are the cases of Popes Liberius, Vigilius, and Honorius, and, of course, the popular referrals to Galileo and usury, and the more recent "reversals" of Quanta Cura and <Mirari Vos> by the Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Freedom. An occasion other than a lengthy book review should consider these allegedly doctrinal failings and reversals; thus it is understandable that we direct our limited comments to the following issues:

(1) The Galileo case illustrates what hazards are risked when the Roman Pontiff acquiesces in the findings and recommendations of an ecclesiastical commission. This aspect of the Galileo case and its relevance to Pope Paul's exercise of papal authority independent of the majority report of the papal commission has strangely been given the silent treatment by critics of <Humanae vitae>. Further, the <Galileo> case becomes less intolerable, if not more understandable, when projected against the condemnation of Kepler by the Protestant theological faculty of Tubingen in 1596 for affirming the identical scientific truth for which thirty-seven years later Galileo was condemned. The unanimous decision of the Protestant divines was that Kepler's book, <Prodromus Dissertationum Cosmographicarum>, was heretical because it contradicted the Old Testament's story about Joshua's command to stay the sun in its cyclical course around the earth. Kepler's scientific thesis, his explanation and defense before the Academic senate of Tubingen, is substantially identical to that of Galileo before the Roman commission. It may not cast light upon the problem, but perhaps it may engender a sympathy for the times and their shortcomings to observe that Luther, Melancthon, and the generality of Protestant university professors and preachers strongly opposed the Copernican theory as contrary to the teaching of the Bible while, by contrast, the Copernican system was favorably considered and received by many of the Roman ecclesiastics even in high office. Further, what is generally overlooked is that the condemnation of Galileo was by virtue of a scriptural interpretation then prevalent among theologians who could not tolerate Galileo's challenge of their scriptural exegesis.

It seems to me that when the authors of <Dissent> fault the papal teaching authority in the Galileo case and pass over their favorite theme on the "co-responsibility of theologians" whose scriptural exegesis provided the major premise for Galileo's condemnation by the Roman commissions, they are looking to theological self-interest rather narrowly.

(2) On usury we may consider some second thoughts and reflections by two scholars of the science of economy.

I was brought up to believe that the attitude of the Medieval Church to the rate of interest was inherently absurd, and that the subtle discussions aimed at distinguishing the return on money-loans from the return to active investment were merely Jesuitical attempts to find a practical escape from a foolish theory. But I now see these discussions as an honest intellectual effort to keep separate what the classical theory has inextricably confused together, namely, the rate of interest and the marginal efficiency of capital. For it now seems clear that the disquisitions of the school-men were directed towards the elucidation of a formula which should allow the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital to be high, whilst using rule and custom and moral law to keep down the rate of interest. (Lord Keynes, <The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money> [1946], p. 351.)

The very simple formula in which ecclesiastical authority expressed its attitude to the question of profit-making is this: Interest on pure money loan in any form is forbidden, profit on capital in any form is permitted, whether it flows from commercial business or from an industrial undertaking... or from insurance against transport risks, or from share- holding in an enterprise or however else.

This is at bottom by no means so astonishing when we consider more closely the men whom we are used to call Scholastics. We have been accustomed to do them a great injustice in regarding them as unpractical, abstruse-minded book-worms, treating of unreal topics, through endless repetitions and with intolerable prolixity.... If one attentively pursues the writings of the Scholastics, especially the wonderful work of the very great Thomas Aquinas, the monumental quality of which was equaled only by the creations of Dante and Michaelangelo, one gains the impression that the work of education which they had at heart was something different from our education in middle-class respectability; that it was the education of their contemporaries to be upright, intelligent, courageous and energetic men. (Werner Sombert, <The Bourgeois> [ 1920], p. 314.)

(3) Dissent sees a reversal of doctrine of "freedom of conscience" as stated in <Quanta Cura> of Pius IX and <Mirari Vos> of Gregory XVI by the <Declaration On Religious Freedom> of Vatican II. The simple fact is <Dignitatis Humanae> of Vatican II never discourses about "freedom of conscience." The expression itself does not even appear once in the entire document. The Declaration treats with immunity from coercion in civil society on matters of belief and worship; not a word or even an oblique reference to "freedom of conscience." Further, there is nothing in any of the documents of Vatican II that diminishes the condemnations of the egalitarian value of all beliefs and nonbeliefs which is the essence of the indifferentism proscribed by Pius IX and Gregory XVI. On the contrary, the <Declaration On Religious Freedom> identifies the Catholic Church as the one true religion which all men are bound in conscience to acknowledge but freely, with responsible freedom and with immunity from coercion in civil society.

(4) There are endless occasions for critical comment; referrals to "auctores approbati" without saying approved by whom, "charisms" without noting the ancient Pauline doctrine on the sufficiency of grace for every vocation, and the gift of extraordinary charisms such as abounded in the early Church and the persecuted Church of martyrs but with no mention of Council's repetition of St. Paul's admonition that only Church authorities may judge competently about the extraordinary graces.

(5) Even an article-length book review has its limits, and so we conclude with this last animadversion on Dissent. On p. 162, there is initiated a discussion of the <Failure to Admit Plurality of Natural Law Theories> (in H. V.). I must confess that after repeated study I still fail to appreciate the thrust of the authors' complaint. In the history of moral philosophy there have been a wide variety of natural law theories whose diversities extend from similarities to contraries and even to contradictories. There is the cosmological necessitarianism of the Stoics' naturalist monism and its variations by Cicero, Gaius, Ulpian, and Seneca. There is the Aristotelian natural law severed from its Platonic metaphysical moorings. The early Christian formulations of the natural moral law by Lactantius and St. Ambrose are followed by the natural law theories of medieval civilists, canonists, and theologians. Within the Protestant ethic, the range has extended from outright rejection to a modified acceptance of the scholastic basic doctrine to substantially identical concurrence with (Catholic) natural moral law teaching (especially among the Anglicans, as Bishop Gore, Dr. Kirk, and Dr. Mortimer). Be it noted and reflected upon that all the Christian Churches held unanimously to the absolute ban on contraceptives until the first breach by the 1930 Lambeth Conference. The preceding Lambeth Conferences of 1908 and 1920 explicitly condemned contraception by appealing to the natural law. There is, too, the moral situationalism or contextualism which has gained wide acceptance among non-Catholics and even among some Catholics, and lately, love morality (Fletcher). Among some contemporary Catholics, there is evidence for revised versions of traditional natural moral law (Grisez, Bockle, Fuchs, and by such who are inspired by the evolutionary cosmology of Teilhard de Chardin, Monden), and lastly, the personalists. The generality of Catholic revisionists are, with some heterodox exceptions, really emphasizing one or other element of the traditional natural moral law which they are convinced would redress the balance of total perspective of the human act that they fear has not been maintained.

There are, too, theories of natural law of human conduct of realists (not excluding Marx) quite contrary or even contradictory to the above enumerated variations, that is, empiricist, mechanist, behaviorist, etc.

All referrals to the natural moral law in <Humanae vitae> are, as in every Church document, not to a theory of natural law that is explicitly and exclusively identified with a particular system of philosophical speculation in the history of moral philosophy but pointedly to the existential natural law that is an integral constituent of evangelical morality, the <lex Christi>, by which man, through the redemptive merits of Christ and by the grace of God, may attain eternal life situated as he is from the moment of his being in the de facto supernatural status. That is why every mention of it is always in conjunction with the supernatural. It is the natural law (unlike that of the philosophers) which is within the scope of the commission of Christ to Peter and his successors to teach, interpret, and transmit to the faithful to the end of time without error. This may explain why in none of the Church official and authoritative documents, papal and conciliar, do we ever find a systematic corpus of natural law doctrine formulated, much less the development of argumentation as to its existence, the demonstration of its general and particular principles, and the rationale vindicating the application of the principle to a particular moral act. Put into perspective, <Humanae vitae> propounds a doctrinal teaching which is of the natural moral law but whose certain discernment and unambiguous formulation derive principally from the abiding assistance of the Holy Spirit that has sustained the constant and universal teaching of the Church on the moral principles on marriage as they are existentially integral to the evangelical morality, the <lex Christi,> and subsequently on the unique charism of the papal magisterium which has applied those moral principles to specific acts of conjugal relations. It is as Vicar of Christ,—"by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ" as successor to Peter and not as a venerated and world-renowned moralist, that Pope Paul VI teaches in <Humanae vitae> (would it have mattered if he had?).

The companion volume, <The Responsibility of Dissent: The Church and Academic Freedom>, might not inappropriately be titled The Primacy, Not of Peter, but of AAUP in the teaching of Catholic faith and morals by Catholics at a Department of Catholic Theology in an American Pontifical University. Involved is a very serious issue, the question of academic freedom. Historical studies of academic freedom in universities in Europe and America do not disclose a firmly settled and definite doctrine. Many affirmative admissions are made but they are in the nature of general libertarian aspirations and immunities for the pursuit of truth and correspondingly severe negative declarations against suppression and constraints placed upon freedom of expression. Academic freedom is a very complex and complicated problematic. To begin with, is it a univocal or analogous notion when applied to diverse institutions of higher learning, state-owned, privately owned, church affiliated colleges and universities? Secondly, is the exercise of academic freedom and the conditions attendant upon it the same for all disciplines—natural sciences, social sciences, aesthetics, history, law, philosophy, theology, etc.? Thirdly, do challenges to or experimentation of received or established propositions of the various sciences relate equally to applied science and the speculative and under the same or different conditions? But not every question will receive the same answer nor every answer resolve every question. In suggesting a new title for the second volume I was not being facetious. The question of teaching religious orthodoxy is, in my judgment, a unique consideration and deserves a different approach and different standards of academic freedom than may apply to other studies. As for myself, I have no hesitance in stating that the norm of orthodoxy in matters of Catholic faith and morals is the solemn definitive teachings of the papal magisterium whether <ex cathedra> or not and of the Councils approved and ratified by the Roman Pontiff.

As for the "subject professors" and their principal at the Catholic University, what really matters is what they did in the name of academic freedom and in invoking their rights of conscience. As a contemporary witness of the events via the various communications media I found them scandalous. They did do grave spiritual harm. They interposed their spiritual counsels between the faithful and the Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church and offered the faithful an a pari (they went beyond that, actually) alternative moral evaluatory judgment. And little to their credit they exercised themselves vigorously in galvanizing an opposition to the teaching authority of Pope Paul in <Humanae vitae>. I found the incandescent indefectibility and radiant rectitude of <everything> that the dissidents said and did as detailed and "documented" in the companion volume a frightening example of edification.

John Henry Newman wrote while still a Protestant in 1829:

It is said that a man may go on sipping first white (wine) and then port, til he loses all perception which is which: and it is very great good fortune in this day if we manage to escape a parallel misery in theology. ("The Anglo-American Church, October 1839" in <Essays Critical and Historical>, vol. 1, p. 372.)

When after much spiritual searching and by the grace of God, John Henry Newman came to recognize what was the difference and how it is discerned, he chose to Consent Within and For the Church.


Reprinted from The Thomist, XXXIV, 4, October, 1970.

(<Dissent IN and FOR the Church: Theologians and Humanae vitae>, by Charles E. Curran, Robert E. Hunt, Terence R. Connelly; <The Responsibility of Dissent: The Church and Academic Freedom>, by John F. Hunt and Terence R. Connelly with Charles E. Curran, Robert E. Hunt, Robert K. Webb. Search Book paperbacks. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1969.)


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