Sunday, February 08, 2009

Propositions and Notions


Cartoon from the Catholic Cartoon Blog
One of the things that used to worry me was the definition of what a "Catholic" is. In the past, it was at least in theory, someone who was able to assent to the various catechisms. They might not have been fully understood and indeed in some parts of the world there might have been a great deal of superstition mixed in with their acceptance, but their acceptance signified assent to the Catholic faith.
The post Concilliar period, until the publication of that epic Ratzingarian work The Catechism of the Catholic Church, despised catechisms and the proposition approach to belief. We preferred the notional concept, the problem with it is that it is so fluffy. It is not anchored in anything substantial.
A propositional belief in the Real Presence means you believe in the details of what the Church puts forward in the doctrine of Transubstantiation, for example. A notional belief in the Real Presence easily degenerates into "this bread is "special"". It is the difference between the Love that Christ preached, with the connotations of the commandments and the Cross an the notion of love seen through a hippy's bong.

16 comments:

Kate said...

You have put your finger on it there Fr.! Small wonder that so many of our younger Catholics as well as older ones disappear off the radar when the catechesis they have been offered lacks substance.

PeterHWright said...

The great thing about a propositional truth is that you give your assent to it, or you don't; you believe it, or you don't.

This is impossible with a notional truth.

Notional belief really has no place in Catholic thought, certainly not with regard to the doctrines of the Church.

Red Maria said...

A few years ago I was at one of those Catholic Media Office annual Masses, which was being celebrated by +Kieran -I'm sure it was him. His homily was all about the old approach to Catholicism as being one of giving assent to various doctrines, how this raised the problem of dissent and then something or other about the new approach. It was all carefully thought through stuff and he seemed like a very decent man trying his best to reconcile Catholicism with contemporary liberal sensiblities but I thought then and think now that he'd got it wrong. And one of the major areas where his theorising slipped up was that it assumed a level of knowledge about Roman Catholicism among young people which in many, if not most cases, just isn't there. He was confusing dissent with ignorance but they're just not the same thing.

Most ordinary, for want of a better word, Catholics between the ages of 14 and 45 have a very shaky idea of the basic tenets of Christianity, never mind the finer points of Roman Catholicism. I've lost count of the number of them who'll parrot nonsense like, "Just cos the Pope says x, doesn't mean I have to agree with him". But it's not their fault; they've had hardly any exposure to Roman Catholic teaching. They are to all intents and purposes unchurched.

This was precisely the problem Bishop O'Donohue put his finger on with such unerring accuracy.
But we can go even further than that. Another problem with such staggering ignorance of Catholicism among Catholics is that it gives malicious pseudo Catholic "liberal" groups the space to ply their rotten trade.

There are a number of these groups in the US and a few knocking around in Western Europe; they've got next to no members in the UK or Ireland but can claim some support in Germany and Austria. They've been trying to use entry tactics in the Church for a number of decades now, with absolutely no success but they can still fool the naive.

A while back, Father Tim Finegan posted on one of these petitions for a married priesthood doing the rounds. I think the appropriately named WAC was behind it, though this wasn't made clear on the petition (typical, eh).
Even worse, in the EU parliament, the blatantly anti-Catholic "Catholics for Choice" group is busily organising away. Their point woman in Brussels, Elfriede Harth, regularly gives speeches and holds conferences on how good Catholics can support abortion and all that sort of stuff. The point is that her mendacious rubbish looks plausible to those who are ignorant about Catholicism.

If Catholics don't know what Catholicism is, what it teaches and why, there is a very real danger that they can get suckered by this stuff.

Incidentally, I commend Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz in the US who excommunicated some of these phoney Catholic groups. His decisive actions should have been copied by the other US bishops and indeed bishops everywhere else.

Priests like Father Ray do what they can but really it needs the hierarchy to grasp the nettle of this problem. Actually, more than that; it needs Rome to do so.
Bishop O'Donohue's Fit for Mission was praised by the Vatican. We now know that it recognises the scale of the problem. That's the first step. But problem now identified, something must be done about it.
In previous ages, great teaching orders emerged to counter the spread of heresy, notably the Dominicans and the Jesuits.
The challenge of nominal Catholicism is, I submit, no less pressing than that of Catharism or Protestantism. It should be countered and soon with no less vigour. Young Catholics are entitled to be taught the truth of Christ.

ffn said...

sorry the last thing the Church needs today is those bastards from the sPPX .those who have a liking for the tridentine Mass were given ample opportunity to return to the Faith of our Fathers by JP" and Ben XV1.Take it or leave it, I hope most of those who subscribe to Williamsons views leave it.

Sharon said...

The Ratzinger Report, published in 1988, outlines exactly the rot in the Church. Why was nothing done? Why was nominal Catholicism allowed to get such a hold in America, Australia etc Why did Rome not put shepherds in place who would defend the flock instead of holding the gate open for the wolves who would lead the 'little ones' astray in Catholic in name only schools?

Richard said...

ffn said "those who have a liking for the tridentine Mass were given ample opportunity to return to the Faith of our Fathers by JPII and Ben XVI"

Oh yes?

In my diocese there is still not a tridentine Mass every Sunday.

My nearest one - once a month only - is 70 miles away (2 hours drive on our country roads). I generally put up with the Novus Ordo, and wait for visits to London to attend a TLM. But there is a SSPX chapel not far away, and I have been occasionally, and I understand why people go.

Even now it is simply not true, outside a few large cities and a few fortunate places, that there is real provision (never mind "amply opportunity") for those attached to the Old Mass.

Delia said...

Totally agree. Propositional truth, grasped by faith, illuminates the mind and leads one deeper into the mystery of God. Notional belief just leaves one in a fog!

Francis said...

Fr. Z.,

I have a (completely personal and idiosynchratic) theory that the the Catholic Church has has a de facto schism since 1960. One part of my theory is that, while many of the heretics have exited the Church via lapsation, others have stayed on board and tried to seize control. As a result, many parts of the Church have had a doctrinal coup d'etat, as groups of liberal protestant sympathizers have seized control of bishops conferences at the national level and dioceses, seminaries and parishes at the local level. These are the "magic circles" that operate everywhere and at every level in the Church below the person of the Holy Father.

If you think of the difference between paternalistic, one-nation conservatism and how that was changed by Margaret Thatcher and a small group of followers, or the difference between working class Old Labour and how that was changed by Tony Blair and a small group of followers in suits, this is paralleled by what has happened in many parts of the Church: seizure of control by highly motivated activists who want to change the whole ideology of the institution.

A huge part of the agenda of the liberal-protestantizers (let's give the heretics/schismatics a name) has been been to transform the teaching of the Catholic faith -- in seminaries, in schools and in sacramental preparation courses. It's not so much that younger Catholics are ignorant of their faith; it's more a case of them being taught a version of it that has turned every absolute into a relative and every certainty into an ambiguity. The key principle is "He or she who controls the textbooks, controls the Church."

But the internet has created a new glasnost, where resistance to the heresy and the resultant informal schism can be articulated, concerted and directed. In the modern age, it's one of the Holy Spirit's new weapons.

Hestor said...

sorry the last thing the Church needs today is those bastards from the sPPX

The Pope does not need secular enemies like B'Nai Brith when he has Catholics who makes comments like the one above...

Red Maria said...

Are you sure about that, Hestor?

As someone whose own family members were murdered by Nazis I frankly sympathise with ffn's sentiments.

You know this isn't just about Williamson's revolting views. People seem to have forgotten that SSPX helped the Vichy collaborator and war criminal, Paul Touvier, evade justice for years by allowing him to hide in the SSPX priory in Nice. It described this revolting act of collaboration with criminality as an "act of charity to a homeless man". Nauseating. Does anyone imagine they would ever feel so charitable to homeless Moroccan refugees? Of course not.

Instead of lecturing ffn, Hestor, why don't you demonstrate some empathy for people like me, who have good reason to feel outraged by SSPX?

Tell us how you would feel about SSPX if you were a relative of one of his victims or the descendant of anyone murdered by the nazis.

Michael1 said...

Just a thought on Catholic Doctrine. I wish very much that people would drop references to 'The Doctrine of Transubstantiation'. There is no such 'Doctrine', and the notion obscures the true belief of the Church, which is an absolute acceptance of the Real Presence. 'Transubstantiation' was Aquinas' (and others') attempt to understand the doctrine, insisting that while the accidents of bread and wine remained the same, the 'substance' was transformed.

This was an attempt to understand perhaps the deepest of all sacramental mysteries, based on the Aristotelian science - with its distinction between substance and accidents - which Aquinas accepted as true. There are good philosophical reasons for rejecting the distinction between substance and accidents as based on a linguistic error. Few scientists today accept Aristotelian science, and it would be foolish indeed (as Pope John Paul II was well aware) for the Church to commit itself to any one theory of science. One can be a very good Catholic without according canonical status to Aristotle's 'Physics', I think.

Fr Ray Blake said...

As a cocky first year sreminarian Michael I followed your tack, now I use the term "doctrine of Transubstantiation" not because I am an Aristotelian but becausen it sums up clearly what Trent taught as a doctrine, meaning the superficial signs remain but the substance changes: that is the senses say, "bread", but in reality says, "Christ". Not all the Fathers of Trent were Aristotelians.
Even terms like Transfinalisation, even if God is the finaliser, are too imprecise, too notional.

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

Me and my idiosynchrasies. I was going to apologize publicly for accidentally calling you “Fr. Z”, but then I thought, maybe you should take it as a compliment! I’m sure it amused you.

All I can say is, however discredited Freudian psychology may be, Freudian slips are alive and well.

I remember when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991, the British military chief, General de la Billiere, gave a press conference where he said that the anti-Iraqi coalition forces intended to liberate Kuwait “with minimum loss of wife..err..life.”

Henry said...

I thought being Catholic was about assent, obedience to the Holy See and a willingness to pay the price because there always is one.

In my travels I find that liturgy closely reflects attitudes and theologies. Outside my immediate home patch, the picture isn't good, but there are a few beacons. It is often the case that it is necessary to travel long distances to get even a vernacular Novus Ordo mass celebrated in a half-way decent manner without egregious and dated 1970s hymns and the celebrant making things up as he goes along or giving a running commentary.

All too often whilst out and about I find myself coming away feeling angry after mass which is exactly the opposite of how things should be. I wonder if that is one reason why mass attendances have been dwindling over the past thirty years - people deciding it is better for their spiritual lives if they just stay away altogether.

The clergy who have inflicted this are going to have a lot to answer for.

Anyhow, I am away for a while and going to another place where the liturgy is done properly.

Henry said...

Hestor, your swastika armband is showing.

Red Maria said...

What Henry said.