Saturday, December 10, 2005

Critique of Michael J. Pahls' article on "Development By Rectification"

By Dave Armstrong (12-10-05)

Well folks, I was temporarily enticed out of my respite from my blog by an article on doctrinal development, which I can't resist, because it is my favorite theological topic.


The Rev. Michael J. Pahls is a pastor in the Reformed Church of America, and will soon attain a Ph.D. in historical theology. See his blog. I'm responding to a few things with which I (and, I think, orthodox Catholicism) disagree, in his interesting and informative article, Development By Rectification: John Henry Newman’s Conception of the Schola Theologorum. I have no desire to nitpick about everything in the article. I freely assume that much of it is accurate and that Rev. Pahls has done his homework (since he is far more educated than I am in matters of history, and I always have a high degree of respect for that).

Nor am I familiar with every particular that he is writing about, vis-a-vis Newman. But I believe there are a few inaccurate (probably inadvertant) statements, based on my own understanding, derived from extensive study of Cardinal Newman and his thinking. These come mostly near the end, as Rev. Pahls draws his conclusions (words in green below) about the schola theologorum, in the subsection entitled, "NEWMAN’S SCHOLA THEOLOGORUM AND THE FATE OF PASTOR AETERNUS."Newman’s precise convictions on the doctrine of infallibility left to the side, . . .

He fully accepted (indeed, was pleased with) the decree on papal infallibility, defined at Vatican I (lest Rev. Pahls would try to deny this, as many Protestants erroneously attempt to do).

his beliefs regarding the clarifying and rectifying role of the Schola theologorum would prove prophetic nearly a century later.

My problem here is with the term "rectifying," which means "to correct an error." I would argue that this is too strong a term, and that Newman himself would not apply this notion to his own conception of legitimate doctrinal development. Clarification is another matter entirely, because that means "to make understandable" or "to further explain" what was already there. The difference is highly important for the Catholic, and in logic generally-speaking.

In Catholic dogmatic terms, it is the difference between Ecumenical Councils being possibly dead wrong and in error in ex cathedra pronouncements such as Pastor Aeternus (concerning papal infallibility), and the same pronouncement being correct in and of itself, but capable of further explication, elaboration, and interpretation; indeed non-contradictory expansion of concept and purview. Orthodox Catholics and Cardinal Newman take the latter view. Rev. Pahls seems to take the former, and wrongly applies it to Newman (if I understand his fairly subtle, nuanced argument correctly - it's quite possibly that I have not done so).

In logic or in terms of the proper definition of words, the difference might be analogously explained as follows:

1) Heliocentrism rectified the erroneous notion of geocentrism.

[i.e., the former correctly described the relative motions of the sun and the earth,
and rectified the outright falsehood of the latter]

2) The observation of the elliptical orbit of the planets of the solar system around the sun clarified the exact nature of the planets' orbit around the sun (previously thought to be circular).

[in this instance, the former clarified the exact geometric path or pattern of planetary orbit; the formerly belief was mostly or nearly correct, but needed the additional explanation that this provided]
It's not an absolutely exact analogy, but it's close enough, and I think that it serves the purpose of my argument. Geocentrism turned out to be dead-wrong, whereas a circular vs. elliptical orbit is not so much "dead wrong vs. right" as it is "mostly correct" vs. "absolutely or meticulously correct." More on this later with regard to the relationship of Vatican II to the 95 years' earlier Vatican I . . . Earlier, Rev. Pahls had written:

Finally, I will conclude with some reflections on how Newman’s Anglican style of “development-by-rectification” has endured in the reception Pastor Aeternus by Vatican II.

I disagree with this as well. This is not what the Catholic Newman believed (whether he did or not as an Anglican - which, I suppose, would require another discussion entirely). His development did not "rectify" what came earlier. He would classify such a thing as a corruption, not a development. That certainly holds true for his thought in his famous Essay on Development, which he wrote while still an Anglican, after all (though just before his conversion).

The citations of Newman in the article themselves bear witness that my reading is the correct one. Nothing in them suggests the significant move from clarification to rectification:
[Newman; cited in the article:] None but the Schola Theologorum is competent to determine the force of Papal and Synodal utterances, and the exact interpretation of them is a work of time.
. . . "force" and "exact interpretation" - not "correction" or "rectification." That is reading into Newman's thought - with all due respect to Rev. Pahls - something which is not there. Rev. Pahls provides another example supposedly indicating this "rectification":

Elsewhere, Newman seems to see the Schola theologorum as exercising a ministry of subsequent clarification and even rectification of papal and conciliar decrees. In his 20 October, 1869 letter to Mrs. Magdalene Helbert, he invokes the Augustinian maxim, “Securus judicat orbis terrarum” – interpreted by Newman as “The Christian commonwealth judges without misgiving” – and speaks of the Schola as serving the cause of the consent of the faithful. It does this, however, not by simple promulgation of the given decree, but by clarifying its proper interpretation in dialogue with the faithful who assent to and accept it.

Again, "clarifying" is not "rectification." A clear distinction must be drawn. As far as I can tell, Newman doesn't cross the line that Rev. Pahls claims that he crossed. And he gives another supposed "proof" of his contention:

. . . the general thrust of his opinion of the Schola’s ministry as one functioning as an instrument of clarification and rectification in subsequent dialogue with sensus fidelum would seem to have been little modified by late 1871. In a letter dated 10 December of that year, Newman speaks of the Schola theologorum as functioning according to a kind of judicial order as a court of appeal: “All these are questions for the theological school – and the theologians will, as time goes on, settle the force and wording of the dogma, just as the courts of law solve the meaning and bearing of Acts of Parliament.” This is the considered opinion which Newman made public 1877.

I don't see how this normal, run-of-the-mill, intrinsically necessary work of interpretation and application amounts to "rectification". Perhaps Rev. Pahls is not using the word according to its ostensible dictionary definition.

When the Second Vatican Council took up the definitions of Pastor Aeternus, the political landscape had changed greatly in the Church. Where once the ultramontane party held the majority, they were now solidly in the minority. With that change came an interesting development by way of a clarified and rectified reception of Papal Infallibility.

Apart from the further unfortunate use of the description "rectified", there seems to be some misconception and confusion about Ultramontanism. That strain of thought did indeed seem to be in a numerical majority at Vatican I (if we are talking about counting heads of bishops). At any rate, it was a powerful influence. The actual dogmatic decree on papal infallibility, however, was not Ultramontane at all. It was actually a defeat of Ultramontanism, and Newman himself stated as much. Despite this fact, the nature of the decree is often wrongly conflated to represent a manifestation of that which it actually opposed. Newman biographer Ian Ker describes the true relationship of Ultramontanism, the First Vatican Council, and Newman's thought (emphasis added):

. . . in a letter of March 1870, . . . he pointed out that however infallible the Pope might turn out to be, his pronouncements would still require interpretation. The same was true of a Council's definitions, which - just as 'lawyers explain acts of Parliament' - had to be explained by theologians. Obvious as the fact might be, the conclusion to be drawn from it had serious consequences for the fantasies of extreme Ultramontanism. 'Hence, I have never been able to see myself that the ultimate decision rests with any but the general Catholic intelligence' . . . (Later, in the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, he was careful to emphasize that he simply meant that the whole Church ratified a definition as 'authentic', not that the 'subsequent reception' actually entered into the 'necessary conditions' of a dogmatic decision.) In the same private letter he also noted that abstract definitions could not 'determine particular fact': the doctrine, for example, that there was no salvation outside the Church did not apply to people in 'invincible ignorance' . . .

He continued to insist after the definition that 'the voice of the Schola Theologorum, of the whole Church diffusive' would 'in time make itself heard', and that 'Catholic instincts and ideas' would eventually 'assimilate and harmonize' it into the wider context of Catholic belief . . .

In defining doctrines, Popes and Councils enjoyed an 'active infallibility', but more was involved in the infallibility of the Church than that, since a 'passive infallibility' belonged to the whole Catholic people, who had to determine the force and meaning of these doctrinal definitions . . .

(Ker, John Henry Newman: A Biography, Oxford University Press, 1988, 681-682, citing Difficulties of Anglicans, II, 372; further references: The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman [LD], edited by Charles Stephen Dessain [London: 1961-1972], XXV, 71, 284, 447; XXVII, 338)

In his diary, Newman wrote in 1870, after the definition was passed (which he had opposed, as an "inopportunist") that all Catholic theologians had always held:

. . . that what the Pope said ex cathedra, was true when the Bishops had received it - what has been passed, is to the effect that what he determines ex cathedra is true independently of the reception by the Bishops - but nothing has been passed as to what is meant by 'ex cathedra' - and this falls back to the Bishops and the Church to determine quite as much as before. Really therefore nothing has been passed of consequence. Again, the degree is linked to 'faith and morals' - whereas what the Ultra party wished to pass was political principles.

(LD, XXV, 219, in Ker, ibid., 658; emphasis added)

Biographer Ian Ker continues:

Closer study of the definition showed that the Council had only taught the moderate view of infallibility which Ryder, for example, had maintained against Ward . . .

There was no doubting the Ultramontane party was deeply disappointed that the definition could not be used, in particular, to enforce rigorously the Syllabus of Errors . . .

As usual, too, Newman refused to ignore what was true and acceptable in a development which he deplored for other reasons. Disgust with Ultramontame excesses should not be allowed to obscure the original, valid, Ultramontanism of, for example, Montalembert, who had opposed Gallicanism as allowing the state to interfere with the spiritual independence of the Church. The freedom of the local Church from political domination depended on Rome's central authority.

. . . He was sure that it was divine intervention which had prevented the extreme Ultramontanes, including the Pope, from getting through a much stronger definition. It was a pity that Dollinger and others persisted in exaggerating what actually had been defined . . .

The Ultramontanes had not achieved all that they wanted at the Council.

[Newman thought] It was simply playing into the hands of the extremists to exaggerate the terms of the definition, which in fact had been a 'defeat' for the Ultramontanes.
(Ker, ibid., 658-660, 662, 665; for the last statement, see LD, XXV, 438)
This hardly represents a scenario whereby Pastor Aeternus is somehow "Ultramontane" whereas similar proclamations of Vatican II are not, and are supposedly instances of (you guessed it) "rectification" of earlier dogmatic statements. The "rectification" here - I respectfully submit - belongs to erroneous classifications on the part of Rev. Pahls, regarding both Newman and Vatican I. In fact, Vatican II is perfectly harmonious and not contrary to Vatican I in this regard (or any other). It merely clarifies what came earlier, as we should fully expect, and as Newman himself would both expect and predict. It wouldn't have surprised him in the least. Nor should it surprise anyone else who knows the history of doctrine in this regard. This is how it works. This is how the Mind of the Church operates. Ian Ker describes how Newman would have likely viewed the developments of Vatican II:

Newman practically prophesied Vatican II:

In the event, however, of 'a false interpretation' of the infallibility definition, then 'another Leo will be given us for the occasion'. The reference is to Pope St. Leo's Council of Chalcedon, which, 'without of course touching the definition' of the preceding Council of Ephesus, 'trimmed the balance of doctrine by completing it'. The warning is an exact prophecy of the theology of 'creeping infallibility' that came in the wake of the First Vatican Council, and of the Second Vatican Council, which Pope John XXIII convoked nearly a hundred years later.

(Ker, ibid., 683-684, citing Difficulties of Anglicans, II, 307)

Ker points out how Newman's orthodox Catholic position disagreed with the excesses of the Old Catholic "left" (who wanted to deny papal infallibility) and the Ultramontanist "right" (who wanted it to be far broader than was decided by the Council):

As regards the relation between history and theology, Newman is unequivocal in his criticism of Dollinger and his followers . . . 'I think them utterly wrong in what they have done and are doing; and, moreover, I agree as little in their view of history as in their acts.' It is not a matter of questioning the accuracy of their historical knowledge, but 'their use of the facts they report' and 'that special stand-point from which they view the relations existing between the records of History and the communications of Popes and Councils'. Newman sums up the essence of the problem: 'They seem to me to expect from History more than History can furnish.' The opposite was true of the Ultramontanes, who simply found history an embarrassing inconvenience.

. . . Newman's carefully nuanced judgement mocks both the intransigence of Pio Nono and the inconsistency of a politician like Gladstone.

(Ker, ibid., 684-685, citing Difficulties of Anglicans, II, 309, 311-312)

Pastor Aeternus had dealt exclusively with primacy and with infallibility as its corollary. Lumen Gentium, reconceived the Papacy as being bound to the faithful, not functioning apart from it.

These two notions themselves do not contradict each other at all. They simply have different emphases and focuses. The main problem with this statement, however, lies -again - in the unnecessary and incorrect extremity of the terminology. Vatican II did no such thing that could be described as "reconceiv[ing] the Papacy." Absolutely not! Nor is the pope bound to the people in the sense that Rev. Pahls seems to imply. Newman wouldn't believe for a moment that the faithful could overrule a pope's or council's dogmatic definition. There is nothing remotely like a Luther resolutely opposing whatever tradition he pleases, and appealing to the Bible and reason in so doing. This would not be possible in his conception of how Catholic authority works. And that could assuredly be extensively documented but I have neither the time nor energy to do so presently.

But it is not true that the Vatican I document on the papacy "dealt exclusively with primacy and with infallibility as its corollary," while Vatican II mentioned the role of the laity and bishops and priests, and so forth (as if this were something radically new). They had different emphases, of course, but "exclusively" is too exaggerated of a description. This is merely one of the frequent distressing Protestant false dichotomies, when discussing the Catholic Church. For Pastor Aeternus also states:

. . . We condemn and reprobate the opinions of those who hold that the communication between the supreme Head and the pastors and their flocks can
lawfully be impeded . . . (Chapter III)

. . . the Roman Pontiffs, according to the exigencies of times and circumstances, sometimes assembling ecumenical councils, or asking for the mind of the Church scattered throughout the world, sometimes by particular synods, sometimes using other helps which divine Providence supplied, defined as to be held those things which with the help of God they had recognized as conformable with the sacred Scriptures and Apostolic traditions. For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles.
Therefore, the notion of collegiality and interaction between popes and lessers in the Church was already present, and was nothing new. It had been there all along. But obviously, in a decree, the purpose of which is to define the exact nature of the infallibility of the pope, the infallibility of the pope will be the main focus! That much is clear, but Rev. Pahl's description of the supposed "exclusive" supposedly "Ultramontane" nature of Pastor Aeternus in 1870 is incorrect. Vatican II simply developed what came before. It didn't "reconceive" anything. The actual practices of the popes themselves prove this. Pope Pius IX, an Ultramontanist himself, nevertheless relied upon extensive surveys of the bishops and priests and religious of the world before defining the Immaculate Conception of Mary as dogma in 1854, 16 years before Vatican I.

That is hardly "functioning apart" from the faithful. The same thing occurred after the definition, in 1950, when Pope Pius XII did the same thing prior to declaring as irreformable dogma, Mary's Assumption. So the popes and the Church have understood this. It happened before 1870, and it happened before 1965, when Vatican II ended. But at no time was the pope "bound to the faithful," if by that is meant the ability of the faithful to overturn infallible papal decrees.

When it finally came to speaking of the doctrine of infallibility itself, this connection was made more explicit by a creative appeal to the work of Bishop Vincenz Gasser (d. 1879), principal author of Pastor Aeternus. Working with Gasser, the theologians of Vatican II rectified the ultramontane imbalance of the prior definition by making clear how papal infallibility relates to the faith of the whole Church and to the close, collegial cooperation between pope and bishops in the process of definition.

This is where Rev. Pahls' argument becomes quite inexplicable and incoherent. Having stated that Pastor Aeternus "dealt exclusively with primacy and with infallibility" whereas Vatican II "reconceived the Papacy," he now states that the principal author of the former provided the impetus for the Vatican II divines to rectify the falsely-alleged "ultramontane imbalance" of the previous definition. What sense does this make? It makes far more sense to assume that if Bishop Gasser was the primary author of the 1870 document, and provided the clarification for Vatican II to more greatly emphasize collegiality, that he would also have left indications of same in his document. And indeed he did, as I have shown in the two citations from it, above, where the pope is described as "asking for the mind of the Church" (not merely unilaterally declaring it apart from others in the Church, as the false stereotype would have it).

Most importantly Lumen Gentium makes explicit that the assent of the Church (sensus fidelum) can never be wanting in an authentic definition.

It's true that it makes it more "explicit," as we would fully expect it to do, being a further development, with the additional insights gained over a nearly hundred-year span of time. But the notions were already present in Vatican I. The development proceeded exactly as Cardinal Newman would have envisioned it. But the historical continuity and utter consistency of Vatican I and Vatican II is plainly evident in Lumen Gentium itself. For example, in an explicit discussion of collegiality (Chapter III, section 22), complete with many ancient references, the Council casually reasserts papal primacy, headship, and infallibility. There is no possibility of the sensus fidelium, or even united bishops (as in heretical conciliarism) overturning a truly infallible papal decree:

The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff . . . For the Roman Pontiff . . . has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered . . . Together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him, they have supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.
Far from watering down papal primacy, Vatican II asserts it with far more force than even Vatican I did, over and over, in many different ways. No one can have any doubt as to relative power of bishops and the pope. The pope can act unilaterally and in an irreformable fashion (after consulting with bishops). The bishops cannot do so without the pope. Therefore, the pope's authority is supreme and final in the Church. Nothing has changed. This is Vatican I teaching. And it is ancient practice, merely developed through the centuries. Papal supremacy and infallibility is nothing new; neither is collegiality and the sensus fidelium and Mind of the Church. But the latter elements received a fresh "hearing" and explication at Vatican II, which is an absolutely delightful turn of events, in my opinion, and which creates more common ground with other Christians. On that, Rev. Pahls and myself would, I think, largely (if not totally) agree.

Should we accept the validity of this judgement, it could only be in the mitigated sense that Vatican II represents a departure from the Catholic Newman’s idea of development.

Not at all, as shown. Quite the contrary.

At the far side of this consideration of the Oxford Movement as a Schola theologorum, we may, perhaps, see the theological work of clarification and rectification, so powerfully present at Vatican II, as the very embodiment of the developmental principles innovated by the Anglican Newman.

I profoundly disagree again. No "rectification" occurred at Vatican II, unless it is regarded as strictly referring to emphasis (insofar as one emphasis chosen over another may be regarded as a "correction" - it seems to me much more a matter of prudence and timing rather than doctrine). Doctrine was not rectified, but emphases were, and that is a common occurrence throughout Church history; not exclusive to Vatican II at all. Secondly, the mature developmental principles of Newman were those of his Essay on Development, written as an Anglican, but almost entirely consistent with his later Catholic beliefs. Nothing in either Vatican I or Vatican II contradicts those principles. Therefore, one might discuss Newman's ideas as those of his Anglican period; yet in this instance they do not differ from his catholic period (at least if we are talking about his classic 1845 expression of his theory of doctrinal development).

I welcome further discussion, and apologize beforehand if I have misrepresented anything in Rev. Pahls' argument.

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