Friday, September 20, 2013

Ruminations on "Traditionalism" (Especially Ongoing Conciliatory Efforts Between "Traditionalists" and Other Orthodox Catholics)

This comes from a vigorous Facebook discussion on a page other than my own.

* * * * *

Younger folks (at least of a certain, "serious" sort) are always quick to reject nonsense; so they are rejecting liberalism and liturgical mediocrity. All perfectly predictable. It's always been that way ("can't teach an old dog new tricks"). But Catholics shouldn't be divided by mere age; it's absurd.

Sure, the younger ones should be in the forefront of progress, but rest assured, they'll make the same stupid mistakes that everyone else makes, being human beings. They just don't know it yet, because that's the nature of youthful idealism (and in many ways, thank God for it).
Generations are not a barometer for anything. People are people, and if the youngsters don't make the same dumb mistakes their parents made, then they'll assuredly find others just as bad to take their place.

Also, as long as the internal problems that "traditionalists" have (and all groups have difficulties and negative tendencies to be overcome) are (in my opinion) rationalized away as merely a "generational" problem, nothing will be improved. It has to be squarely faced as stuff that tends to be generated within "traditionalism," for whatever reason. It's a sin problem, not an age problem. The latter "hypothesis" is far too simplistic.

* * *

I think the labeling discussion is very good and is bearing significant fruit. I've removed "trad" from my newly coined term for the radicals: radical Catholic reactionaries (RadCathRs for short). Folks were calling for that. I responded and did it, and I think it's a net gain.

Mark Shea seems to have started using "reactionaries" now: basically the same nomenclature as mine: I just wanted to make sure "Catholic" was in there and "radical" retained. So both he and "Torquemada", who were in on the early usage of "radtrad" (Sandra Miesel being the one who coined it), have now suggested that others drop "radtrad" and they have started using different words.

The trend line is clear. Now "traditionalists" are calling for a cessation of "neo-Catholic" and other inane and inapplicable terms for non-trads and some ("Bonaventure") are even saying that "traditionalist" shouldn't be used any longer. I'm very encouraged by it.

I don't see the self-label "traditionalist" going away anytime soon, but that type of thinking evidences a self-reflection and awareness of labels and what they do, that I've been writing about for 15 years, so I'm ecstatic to see that, too.

David Palm, friend and "traditionalist" observed:

I'm all for the current rapprochement between traditionalists and.....what shall we say?....fill-in-the-blank.... Truly I am. But I continue to think that the debate and, to a lesser extent, certain labels are necessary because there remain distinctly different approaches to the Faith. We're not talking about "liberals", who have abandoned the Faith, so let's set that on one side. By all means sign me up for treating others with respect, hanging out, praying and drinking beer together. I do wish there was a forum in which we could discuss these things more seriously. 

* * *
The apologist (as I've explained before in the discussions about these labels) is concerned with identifying errors and preventing others from falling into them. That's our method and motivation as well. That requires (quite clearly) labels because you can't spend a whole paragraph defining some belief system every time it's mentioned. That's why we have labels in the first place: to shorten discourses by about 50% or more.

So when some folks say, "just don't use a label," I say that it's quite impossible (when doing apologetics). It's not necessary when addressing someone first person, but it is when writing about belief-systems and distinguishing them from others, in an effort to educate readers who are often confused about the different camps.

And it all started (sorry! -- but it's undeniable) when you guys insisted on calling yourselves "traditionalists." That set up a scenario with different camps (or "tribes" or "tribalism" -- as some are fond of saying). Once that is in place, then there has to be a name for those of us who don't use the label or worship at the TLM. Most of those labels have been quite insulting (and equally silly and ridiculous); now we're finally getting to a place where many of us on both sides are trying to get past that, which is very refreshing to see.

I remember when (about 6-7 years ago) a "traditionalist" said he would stop calling me a "neo-Catholic" after I explained the traditional nature of my parish and my own worship practices. I was touched by that, and it changed the entire tone of the several friendly dialogues we later engaged in (many of them now paraphrased in my 2012 book, Mass Movements). That's how I reacted to not being called by a false label, so I can understand the sensitivity among "traditionalists" too: as we all have that in common: we want to be called what we wish to be called and not some label that we don't feel applies to us at all.

But (getting back to my main point) as an apologist, I looked out and saw you guys calling yourselves "traditionalists"; and at the same time there was a far more radical group that called themselves the same name but was plainly quite different. Thus, they had to have a different name. For me now, it is "radical Catholic reactionary." "Reactionary" has an edge, but they're gonna have to live with it. It's a lot less objectionable than what these people say about Holy Mother Church and many of her obedient children. And it's literally accurate, as far as I'm concerned.

* * *
I tend to think it is mostly the emotions of being the "outsider" and treated as second-class citizens, that "traditionalists" have felt, that cause such things as the strong negative reactions to the two Catholic Answers Live shows on RadCathRs. Thus, they saw the term "radtrad" and they thought, "that means they're saying all traditionalists are radical wackos," when in fact we have made it very clear that we meant "a tiny number of fringe trads are wacko."

Now my own change of mind is to classify the wackos as not "traditionalists" at all (rather than a fringe wing). I hope it is not just an abstract distinction, or one only on paper, and that it is real, because many times there is a lot of overlap in many different ways (seen in links, Facebook friends, "likes,"etc.). But sometimes language can help frame a desired reality.

* * *
I'm not trying to "reach out" to radical Catholic reactionaries. I'm reaching out to those who are tempted to follow their errors. The radicals won't listen to me; they will only talk to "traditionalists," who half-sympathize with who knows how much of their viewpoint . . .

Again, that is the particular goal of the apologist. We're concerned with error and preventing others from falling into it, and defense of Catholic truth. The concern of many "traditionalists" (especially younger ones) is, on the other hand, community-building over beer after Mass, and PR and movement-building and proper conceptualizing and worldview pondering for "traditionalists," which is fantastic.

I don't condemn those worthy endeavors, yet some "traditionalists" seem to have a need to run down (or at any rate, minimize) apologetics (an attitude I've seen time and again).
We seem to be a very popular whipping boy. I have a theory as to why that is, or most likely partially why it is, but I'm not gonna get into it here!

We all need to live and let live. Allow the apologists to do their thing without running them down, when there is no need to: it's apples and oranges. I have no corresponding need to run down the endeavors noted above. And that's because I follow St. Paul's spirit in what he was saying in 1 Corinthians 12: different parts of the body: we should reinforce each other and rejoice in different gifts and roles, not puff our own role up at every turn.

* * *

It's high time we all get along better, with our society going down the toilet all around us. The worse it gets, the more we'll have in common, including with our Orthodox and Protestant brethren. I used to love how the pro-life rescue movement was so ecumenical. I was still Protestant when I was part of that, and I thought it was great that we were all out there working together.

I think legitimate ecumenism is applicable to divisions within the Church as well as our differences with non-Catholics. I'm happy to vigorously apply Vatican II, in order to get along better with my traditionalist friends. :-) :-)

I'm particularly excited about the increasing constructiveness and mutual respect of trad / non-trad discussion. This will bode well for the Church.

* * * * *

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dialogue on the Partial Analogy Between Contraception and Murder, and the Contralife Will (vs. Dr. Edwin Tait)

Dr. Edwin Tait (Wesleyan / Anglican) earned a Master of Arts in religion and a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity from Duke University. We have engaged in many friendly dialogues, that are posted on my blog. His words will be in blue. He made a counter-reply to my initial paper on his blog. I will cite it in its entirety (as is my usual custom in dialogue) and reply below.

* * * * *

1) One can murder a person after he or she is conceived.
 2) One can deliberately prevent any chance of a person being conceived, through contraceptive means and/or mentality.

Both things are contra-life or anti-life. Obviously, the second isn't technically murder, but it accomplishes the same goal: it is against the person that may be conceived if intercourse were not divorced from its deepest, procreative purpose:

A) Contraception is a deliberate act of preventing the conception of Person X who would have been conceived had the persons been open to new life.

B ) Therefore, the goal or intention is to obliterate the (earthly) existence of Person X.

C) That is also the goal of a murder: to obliterate the (earthly) existence of Person X.

D) Therefore, in the deepest sense, contraception and murder are alike, and evil.

E) Contraception, however, takes it a step further and disallows even the beginning of Person X who might have been / would have been conceived, but for contraception.

F) Thus, it not only obliterates the earthly existence of Person X, but any existence whatsoever of the Person, in terms of having an eternal soul.

G) In that sense, contraception is even more anti-life than murder is.

H) Therefore, in a qualified, specific sense, contraception can almost be said to be as heinous and wicked as (and philosophically equal to) murder.

This argument doesn't work, because you can't commit a crime against a nonexistent entity.

Technically, I didn't claim that it was a "crime," and denied that it was murder ("Obviously, the second isn't technically murder"). I write that contraception "disallows even the beginning of Person X" and  that it would "obliterate the (earthly) existence of Person X." In my conclusion I also said the analogy was "in a qualified, specific sense".

A hypothetical person who would have been conceived under some counterfactual circumstances or other is a nonsensical construct.

Not from God's perspective, as I will explain shortly.

I can prevent a particular sperm from making contact with a particular egg. But hypothetical people aren't people.

Never said they were. The argument doesn't depend on that. It's about people that might be, or would have been.

I have no moral duties toward them whatsoever. Murder is wrong because it involves malice toward an existing person.

My analogy was merely a partial one. I wasn't arguing that contraception is murder (I plainly stated the contrary). My argument is a critique of the "contralife" viewpoint. Again, I stated that contraception "
disallows even the beginning of Person X . . ." That's not murder, because that requires an existing person (I agree). But it is "contralife," and that was my analogy and central point.

Step F makes the logical problems in the argument even more evident. You can't "obliterate" the existence of that which does not exist.

Well, "obliteration" in terms of preventing the beginning of a person that might have been, but for our contralife will and actions that result from that. The first sentence of F was mainly looking back (analogically) to murder, which obliterates a person's earthly existence. So I was saying that contraception goes beyond that insofar as it denies a person who might have been, even a soul, or spiritual existence. It goes beyond the body to the soul.

It does make sense to talk of potential persons, based on God's omniscience, and middle knowledge, as part of that omniscience. God knows what might have been, in all possible situations: things that would have happened, given different variables, as results of actual events.

This is not mere speculation. For those who accept the inspiration of Scripture, it's demonstrated: 

Matthew 11:21 (RSV) "Woe to you, Chora'zin! woe to you, Beth-sa'ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."

Note that God has certain knowledge of what the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon would have done, had conditions been different (if they had seen the works of Jesus and heard His message). God knew that. Yet it was not an actual event; only a potential or conditional one.
Here's another:
1 Corinthians 2:7-8 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. [8] None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

And a third:

Jeremiah 23:21-22 "I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. [22] But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings."

Now, with this in  mind, let's look at what happens in contraception, and its relation to potential or possible persons who never do actually exist: 

1) A couple engages in lovemaking, using contraception (for the sake of argument and simplicity, let's assume it is 100% effective in preventing conception).

2) Had they not done so, there would have been some chance (depending on fertility and the right conditions) for a person to be conceived. We shall call such potential persons X, Y, and Z.

3) X, Y, and Z might have actually existed, had they not been prevented from coming into existence by a contralife will, that wishes to separate the deepest purpose of sexuality (procreation) from sexual acts.

4) God in His perfect will may very well have intended that a person be brought into existence by a particular sexual act. But the contracepting couple have made that perfect will of God impossible by contraception. They want to separate the act from its deepest and most beautiful meaning.

Another way of putting it, is:
1) X, Y, and Z are those persons who would have actually come  into existence had contraception been absent during lovemaking (so many times, by so many people). Because of contraception, they do not exist.

2) Therefore, X, Y, and Z have been prevented from having an existence at all -- even in terms of having a soul -- by contraception. And this is contralife.

3) God actually knows who these persons would have been; what their lives would have been like. And He would have had a plan and a vocation for each of them.  We know He knows this because of His middle knowledge (scientia media), as shown in Matthew 11:21 and two other passages.

4) Moreover, we know it from a passage like Jeremiah 1:5: 

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

5) God knew this about an actual person, Jeremiah. But He would also know it about potential persons, on the same basis that He knew what the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon would have done, under different conditions.

Furthermore, as someone pointed out when Dave originally posted this argument on his Facebook page, the argument proves too much, because a married couple who choose to go for a walk instead of having sex are also committing "murder" by this logic.

And I answered it effectively then, and will again now. That's irrelevant, because abstinence from sex is not contralife. No contralife will or act occurs by simply abstaining, nor by, e.g., sex during infertile periods or after menopause or in the case of a person being infertile through no deliberate intention of their own. None of that is contralife. Nor is mere spacing of children, provided that natural law is upheld, and the couple abstains during fertile periods.

The contralife will lies in not being open to a possible conception: to new life, as a result of the sexual act. It's contralife and evil to deliberately prevent any life from being conceived, while simultaneously enjoying the pleasure of sexuality. This is what is perverse and against natural law.  

And it is easily shown to be so by analogy. Suppose we have a person who eats only for pleasure and not for nutrition at all. He wants to eat Butterfinger bars and donuts all day long, and for dessert it's lemon meringue pie and cotton candy. You get the point. Now what do we instinctively think of such a person? We think he is a nut; that he is unbalanced; acting like a spoiled and very immature child. And why is that? Because we know that food is not just for pleasure; it is primarily for nutrition.

The same could be said (in a little different way) about the folks in the old Roman vomitoria. For them, food was for pleasure, only to be regurgitated up after devoured and enjoyed. Likewise, anorexia and bulimia are seen as abnormal and psychologically disordered.

God gave us taste buds, too, but the two things must be kept in balance. So we think a person is weird if they care only about the taste of food and not at all about its nutritional value.

And we think the same of the extreme "health food nut": who seems to separate all pleasure from food, and eats bark and grubs and other such goodies, because they have a high protein or fiber content. We think that person is as odd as the junk food junkie.

Yet in secular society and among Christians who have bought secularism and bought into the sexual revolution to some extent, sexuality that separates procreation from the pleasure of sexuality is not viewed as abnormal or disordered at all. That's just, well, personal freedom and the "right" to engage in unlimited pleasurable activity.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why sexuality is viewed that way, while eating food is not?

If preventing the existence of "Person X" is akin to murder, then whether one does so by abstaining from sex or by engaging in non-procreative sex is irrelevant to the nature of the crime against Person X. You can't import other (much more solid) objections against contraception into this argument, if the argument is to stand on its own two feet. Certainly if non-procreative sex is wrong on other grounds and preventing a person’s existence is wrong, then committing both sins together would be worse than committing only one of them. But if preventing a person’s existence is a crime against them, then it’s a crime no matter how innocent the thing-you’re-doing-instead-of-procreating would otherwise have been.

You continue not to grasp the crucial distinction here, that distinguishes abstinence , known infertile sexuality (apart from contraception), and NFP from contraception. The book, The Teaching of "Humanae Vitae": A Defense, by John C. Ford. S.J., Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, John Finnis, William E. May (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), that played a central role in convincing me of the wrongness of contraception; thus initially leading me to the Catholic Church, explains these distinctions: 

'Contraception' signifies only the prevention of conception, but the contraceptive act seeks to impede the beginning of the life of a possible person. The distinction is only conceptual, but we think it is important, for the explicit reference to new life calls attention to the fact that contraception is a contralife act. (pp. 35-36)

While contraception is wrong for several reasons, it is wrong primarily and essentially because it is contralife. (p. 39)
Contraception aims to impede both the initiation of life and the being of the individual whose life would be initiated if not impeded . . . They imagine that a new person will come to be if that is not prevented, they want that possible person not to be, and they effectively will that he or she never be. That will is a contralife will. Therefore, each and every contraceptive act is necessarily contralife. (pp. 42-43)
An essential condition of the immorality of deliberate homicide is that it involves a contralife will . . . deliberate homicide is immoral primarily because the contralife will that it involves cannot be a loving heart . . . Our thesis is that the contralife will that contraception involves also is morally evil, although we do not claim that it usually is as evil as a homicidal will. (pp. 45-47)

Objection: Contraception does not attack a real person; it only prevents a merely possible person from coming to be . . . Answer: . . . All human acts affect only the future. Homicide does not destroy the victim's entire life; the past and present are beyond harm. Homicide only prevents the victim from having a future. The homicidal will, like the contraceptive will, is only against life that would be, not against life that is . . . homicide is wrong not only because it involves an injustice but also because it carries out a nonrationally grounded, contralife will - a will that the one killed not be. That is why deliberate suicide is wrong. (pp. 61-62)

There is a real and very important difference between not wanting to have a baby, which is common to both [1. contraception] and [2. the noncontraceptive use of NFP], and not wanting the baby one might have, which is true of (1) but not of (2). (p. 89)

I can see two ways in which the argument might have some merit, logically:

1. If one could “mess with time” either through time-travel or foreknowledge. So, for instance, if you go back in time to prevent someone who does exist from being conceived, then you are motivated by malice against a specific person whom you know in your present. Of course, we don’t know if this is even possible. Perhaps prophecy could be seen as another example of “messing with time.” So when Merlin in That Hideous Strength tells Jane that she has failed to conceive a child who would have delivered Logres, that makes a certain amount of sense (though it may involve Molinist “middle knowledge,” which is a philosophically controversial concept), because Merlin is capable of prophecy. Even then, though, it makes no sense to say that she did so deliberately, since she did it before she heard the prophecy. Once she heard the prophecy, she could have intentions toward “the child prophesied.” I’m still not sure that it would make sense to say that she committed a crime against said child, though. Her crime, on Merlin’s premises, was rather against Logres. 

C. S. Lewis opposed contraception. And he made an argument similar to my own above:
As regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.
(The Abolition of Man [1943], 68-69) 
Middle knowledge itself is not (or shouldn't be) controversial for anyone who accepts the inspiration of the Bible, for it asserts it outright at least three times. But of course, today process theology and open theism are quite the fashion, so folks start disbelieving the traditional orthodox doctrine of the omniscience of God, including His being outside of time and quite capable of middle knowledge. That would be the main theological objection, on one hand (theological liberalism); the other one being Calvinism in another way, having to do with how "free" man is to act. For more on Molinism (which is a larger category than middle knowledge), see the article on the topic at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2. More solidly, the “preformationist” theory to which Calvin and many other premoderns adhered allows you to talk about crimes against future people. If the "seed" is an incipient person or "potential person" then it makes sense to speak of preventing it from fulfilling its potential. Whether that's actually a crime against the future person is  a difficult philosophical issue, I think, but a case could be made that it is. And that's what I take Calvin to be arguing. 

My argument is not Calvin's own, but rather, a different one that used Calvin's statement a s a springboard for further reflection.

Dave responded to my initial objections to the use he was making of the Calvin passage by saying that I was "failing to see the forest for the trees." On the contrary, I'm pointing out that the trees in this particular forest won't make the kind of lumber Dave needs. 

I retain the same charge, and have now explained why in much greater depth.

Without preformationism (or time travel) the “quasi-murder” argument fails utterly, because there’s no one to commit a crime against.

It's not that simple. I look forward to your replies to my latest arguments. C. S. Lewis could see the validity of the contralife argument: opposition to potential future people, and he was no philosophical slouch, nor Catholic. Likewise, G. K. Chesterton wrote:
It has been left to the last Christians, or rather to the first Christians fully committed to blaspheming and denying Christianity, to invent a new kind of worship of Sex, which is not even a worship of Life. It has been left to the very latest Modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility. The new priests abolish the fatherhood and keep the feast-to themselves. (The Well and the Shallows [1935], “Sex and Property”)
And Malcolm Muggeridge chimed in on the topic, too, in his inimitable fashion:

It was the Catholic Church's firm stand against contraception and abortion which finally made me decide to become a Catholic . . . As the Romans treated eating as an end in itself, making themselves sick in a vomitorium so as to enable them to return to the table and stuff themselves with more delicacies, so people now end up in a sort of sexual vomitorium. The Church's stand is absolutely correct. It is to its eternal honour that it opposed contraception, even if the opposition failed. I think, historically, people will say it was a very gallant effort to prevent a moral disaster.(Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988, 140-141)


Dialogue on Vatican II: Its Relative Worth, Interpretation, and Application (with Patti Sheffield vs. David Palm)

 Vatican II

This is taken from a Facebook discussion on my page; later continued on another page. David Palm is a self-described "reluctant traditionalist" and a longtime friend of mine. His words will be in blue. Patti Sheffield's words will be in green.

* * * * *

It's when he [Michael Voris] attacks the Novus Ordo or implies that Vatican II is a bad thing, that I have a problem.

I don't see how it would be contrary to the Catholic faith for an individual to conclude that, say, the introduction of the new Mass or Vatican II itself may have caused more harm than good. Is it really an article of faith that, "Vatican II was a good thing"? But perhaps that's not what you're saying.

Yes, I think it is the Catholic faith to accept that ecumenical councils are good things and that such councils are guided by the Holy Spirit in an extraordinary fashion.

As for the OF Mass, Pope Benedict XVI has made it clear that it is normative and on an equal level with the EF. Thus, that is the magisterium speaking.

"Traditionalists" continue to pick and choose and place their own judgment too high in the scheme of things. That's most obvious in how they approach BXVI himself. When he says something they like, then he's great (and that includes pre-papal utterances). When they disagree with what he says, he gets ditched along with other magisterial authorities (JPII, VCII). So it goes back to the individual, which is the same method (considered in and of itself) as Protestant private judgment.

Aside from solemn definitions of infallible dogma, where we would all agree that this is true, do you have any magisterial support to extend this view to any and every action of an ecumenical council?

I wasn't arguing about every particular, but a general espousal. Since the discussion has been general up to that point, I see no good reason to now enter into particulars and "legal" elements. I was merely contending:
1) Ecumenical councils are good things.

2) Vatican II is an ecumenical council.

3) Therefore, Vatican II is a good thing.

You want to argue that Catholics can believe it caused more harm than good. At that point I have to say that this is not traditional Catholic belief: to take such a jaundiced view of an ecumenical council. But it sounds an awful lot like the way Luther argued.

In any event, here is the paper where I delved the most deeply into the authority of ecumenical councils (mostly citing others).

I would disagree that Vatican II caused any harm. I would actually say that it was never found tried and wanting because it was not really tried---it was highjacked and its authority misused by modernists to run roughshod over the Church for a space of about forty years. To put it bluntly, to blame the council for what was done in its name would be like blaming a woman for being raped.

Sorry for the harsh and indelicate image, but an ecumenical council is generally followed by at least four to five decades of storms and upheavals. To suddenly notice this with Vatican II and blame it is to ignore the storms that followed Vatican I, Trent, and Nicea, to name a few. VCII is right on schedule, and is finally being implemented as it was meant to be---in line with Sacred Tradition and not opposed to or superseding it.

The tensions that developed after the Council (Vatican II) are not surprising to those who know the whole history of the Church. It is a historical fact that whenever there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as in a general council of the Church, there is always an extra show of force by the anti-Spirit or the demonic. Even at the beginning, immediately after Pentecost and the descent of the Spirit upon the apostles, there began a persecution and the murder of Stephen. If a general council did not provoke the spirit of turbulence, one might almost doubt the operation of the third Person of the Trinity over the assembly.

--- Ven. Archbishop Fulton Sheen

We both know that the guidance by the Holy Spirit in an "extraordinary fashion" (your phrase) only pertains when an ecumenical council is defining dogma, just as this is true for the extraordinary exercise of the papal office. We also know, as we tell our Protestant friends all the time, that this is a negative protection, not guaranteeing that the right thing will be said but only that error will not be taught. But none of this pertains to Vatican II, which defined nothing. I think it is well within the bounds of orthodoxy to say that a council such as, say, Constantinople II, while not teaching error, was extremely confusing, greatly exacerbated the very problem that it was seeking to address, and therefore would have been best not convoked at all. I guess I would just suggest that unless you can cite actual magisterial support for an unqualified view that "ecumenical councils are [always] good things", it would be better not to publicly challenge a fellow Catholic for holding a different one.

First of all, again you are speaking "legally" or "canonically" (as is the strong tendency of "traditionalists"), but I wasn't. I wasn't using "extraordinary" in the technical sense that you refer to; only in the ordinary sense (pun intended).

But very well; since you want to take this view, please give us quotations from saints and Doctors and (universally acknowledged) great theologians, or popes, to the effect that an ecumenical council can do more harm than good. Thanks! If you can find those, I'll grant the point. I've never seen such a thing, myself, but of course, theology is such a vast endeavor that I could easily have missed it.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote:
Of course what the General Council speaks is the word of God – but still we may well feel indignant at the intrigue, trickery, and imperiousness which is the human side of its history – and it seems a dereliction of duty not to do one’s part to meet them. (Letter to Canon William Walker, 10 November 1867)

Of course there is a sense of the word "inspiration" in which it is common to all members of the Church, and therefore especially to its Bishops, and still more directly to those rulers, when solemnly called together in Council, after much prayer throughout Christendom, and in a frame of mind especially serious and earnest by reason of the work they have in hand. The Paraclete certainly is ever with them, and more effectively in a Council, as being "in Spiritu Sancto congregata;" but I speak of the special and promised aid necessary for their fidelity to Apostolic teaching; and, in order to secure this fidelity, no inward gift of infallibility is needed, such as the Apostles had, no direct suggestion of divine truth, but simply an external guardianship, keeping them off from error (as a man's good Angel, without at all enabling him to walk, might, on a night journey, keep him from pitfalls in his way), a guardianship, saving them, as far as their ultimate decisions are concerned, from the effects of their inherent infirmities, from any chance of extravagance, of confusion of thought, of collision with former decisions or with Scripture, which in seasons of excitement might reasonably be feared. (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, ch. 9, 1875) 

Nice try Dave, but you know that's not how it works. You're the one insisting that something is so contrary to the faith that you're going to take a fellow Catholic publicly to task for it. So it's your burden to show magisterial support (which you didn't, in the sources you cited.)

Yes, I do insist that this view that an ecumenical council does more harm than good is contrary to Catholicism historically understood, and I believe this to be self-evident. I don't believe I could find a magisterial statement that states, "ecumenical council X [i.e., in its actual teachings] did more harm than good" (what you seem to claim for Vatican II) because I don't think it ever crossed anyone's mind, except for folks like Luther and Calvin, who had already denounced the sublime authority of ecumenical councils.

Thus, it remains your burden to find such a thing if you want to adhere to it; or else it is only so much hooey, with no precedent in legitimate sacred tradition. You would claim it has that (being a "traditionalist") so by all means, produce it for us. I deny that I could find a statement condemning it, because it's understood that ecumenical councils have sublime authority, are guided by the Holy Spirit, and thus are, at the very least, more good than bad.

I compiled a paper about the authority of ecumenical councils.


The Second General Council of Constantinople (553) : Profession of Faith

We profess that we hold and preach the faith which from the beginning was given to the apostles by our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, and was proclaimed by them to the whole world. The holy Fathers professed, explained and handed on this faith to the holy Church, particularly those Fathers who took part in the four holy Councils which we follow and accept entirely for everything . . .

The Council of Lateran (649): Canon 17

Whosoever does not confess, in accordance with the holy Fathers, by word and from heart, really and in truth, to the last word, all that has been handed down and proclaimed to the holy, catholic and apostolic Church by the holy Fathers and by the five venerable General Councils, condemnatus sit. (Denzinger 517)

Profession of Faith of Pius IV (Bull Iniunctum Nobis: 1564)

I unhesitatingly accept and profess also all other things transmitted, defined and declared by the sacred canons and the ecumenical Councils, especially by the most Holy Council of Trent . . . (Denzinger 1869)

I would argue that we have freedom to differ on matters not explicitly addressed by the Magisterium.
This is obvious, but the initial claim (i.e., your position staked out against mine to the contrary) was that an ecumenical council can cause more harm than good. I'm only holding you to that view. You may wish to concede that you have no reason whatsoever (in tradition or otherwise) to believe this. In the meantime, trying to shift the burden of proof to me doesn't provide any traditional substantiation of your own opinion.

I have never heard any pope claim that Vatican II could be disregarded as somehow being a "mistake" or "more bad than good for the Church". The quote by Pope Paul VI that is circulated about how the council avoided making any infallible dogmatic pronunciations came from one of his general audiences. It has no doctrinal or binding weight because it is not a magisterial statement, unlike his statement that closed each of the documents he ratified:
Each and every one of the things set forth in this [insert name of document] has won the consent of the fathers. We too, by the Apostolic Authority conferred on us by Christ, join with the venerable Fathers in approving, decreeing, and establishing these things in the Holy Spirit, and we direct that what has thus been enacted in Synod be published to God’s glory…I, Paul, Bishop of the Catholic Church.

And his statement at the closing of the council:

We decide moreover that all that has been established synodally is to be religiously observed by all the faithful, for the glory of God and the dignity of the Church… we have approved and established these things, decreeing that the present letters are and remain stable and valid, and are to have legal effectiveness, so that they be disseminated and obtain full and complete effect... [December 8, 1965]

[Here] is an article by someone [Dr. Jeff Mirus] whose opinion of Vatican II is that it was a very good council, guided by the Holy Spirit, and that it must be followed just like any other ecumenical council of the Catholic Church.

As for Vatican II supposedly defining nothing, that is false. Vatican II further developed the definition of infallibility, reaffirming papal infallibility while expanding on it, and defining the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium. This is an overlooked and ignored teaching, but it is in there.

This is an article [by Dr. Michael Liccione] that expounds well on the
infallibility of the ordinary magisterium as defined by Vatican II.

* * *

Should there be a terminological difference between Catholics who, for example, believe that Tradition is to be interpreted in light of Vatican II, versus those who believe that Vatican II is to be interpreted in light of Tradition? That difference of approach, simply stated in one sentence, ends up in wide divergences of opinion on various issues. At times this can actually amount to a divergence of doctrine, as seen for example in the dust up many years ago in Catholic World Report concerning biblical inerrancy between Fr. Fessio and Cardinal Pell on the one hand and Fr. Brian Harrison and to a much lesser extent me on the other.

Primarily the latter ("Vatican II is to be interpreted in light of Tradition"), I think all would agree. But it is also true that Vatican II is the most highly developed theology of the Church (and recent encyclicals develop it even further). Unless one rejects development of doctrine and the ongoing Mind of the Church, I don't see how that could be denied. Once development is accepted, there is a strong sense in which doctrine is "better" and more honed and understood as time goes on; therefore, Vatican II has a certain "edge" (in this one limited sense) compared to councils before it.

That itself is not something that comes from Vatican II, but it's development of doctrine, that has been around (explicitly) since St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Cardinal Newman 170 years ago.

Yes, but it is also true that there are parts of the V2 documents that are interpreted even by the [otherwise] faithful in ways that are contrary to the prior teaching of the Magisterium. It would seem to be unique in the history of the Church that even 50 years later the faithful are still discussing how certain passages can even be harmonized with the Church's Tradition, let alone what these statements might contribute to a development of doctrine. Constantinople II seems to have caused similar confusion, but I'm not sure there's another example on this scale. Hence, in part, ongoing traditionalist concerns with Vatican II.

I agree that there are many places where its relevance has become limited due to the pastoral nature of the documents. I agree that there are places where it presents a given issue in a particularly good way and I gladly use those for learning and in discussion. And there are places where it is difficult to see how to harmonize the text with the prior Tradition--there I select the best proposed harmonization and insist that the mind of the Church is a "hermeneutic of continuity", even if certain Catholic faithful have unfortunately taken views that are contrary to the prior Magisterium. 

Since the most contested/criticized documents had a pastoral aim, they should not be treated as unmalleable. The Church has changed its mode of presenting the Gospel over the centuries to help reach more people.

One example: The use of the term "freedom" in Dignitatis Humanae is often criticized as a problem, since popes had vehemently rejected the concept of "liberty" prior to Vatican II. The two terms are not precisely identical, and what DH was discussing was not what was being condemned, which was the exaltation of human reason to seek anything at all, even error, over the duty for humanity to seek the truth found only in God. This type of "liberty" is illusory, and rightly termed as "insane". DH was treating on the matter of being free to convert without coercion, and the rights of the Church to be free to preach the Gospel anywhere at anytime.

However, even if the two words are treated as precisely equal, that is not the first time that the Church apparently reversed prior Magisterial teaching. The term homoousios, rejected by the early Church for its use by the heretical sect of the Sabellians, was "baptized" by its use in the first Council at Nicea to define the Divinity of the Son of God. This is clearly a precedent for the shift in the Church's use of the term "freedom" from that which is unacceptable in a secular use to that which is acceptable and harmonious with Tradition in the council's use.

So, difficult in spots, useful in spots, but increasingly irrelevant due to its pastoral nature. Is that acceptable to non-traditionalists?

That is not acceptable to the recent popes who spent significant times in office since VCII closed. It is not acceptable because it is not how ecumenical councils get treated in the Tradition of the Church. It is also not acceptable because we have not until recently seen an orthodox application and teaching from those documents, which were abused by modernists to try to refashion the Church into their merely human ideas of what she should be. We are to grant Vatican II as the Church understands it the status it deserves, neither exalting it above the preceding councils as penultimate and somehow supplanting them, nor denigrating it as superfluous, or worse, a mistake, but accepting it in its rightful place as a continuation of Tradition, not a rupture from it.

No, because of what I wrote about development. That is the thing that can't be gotten over in this analysis. You can't say it is a corruption, which would be the only way to overcome these factors of development and the Mind of the Church. That can't be said, granting orthodox Catholic ecclesiology, because Vatican II was clearly an ecumenical council (BXVI in The Ratzinger Report said that VCII had to be accepted on the same grounds that Trent was).

So if we take away the "out" of it being a corruption rather than a legitimate development, then I don't see how we can't conclude that it is the highest development, being the latest, as all councils develop what came prior to them.

If some folks find things hard to understand; what else is new? That's how it has always been, too. Dollinger was a brilliant man, but couldn't get his mind around papal infallibility. He was convinced that this contradicted prior Catholic history. But it didn't. And the even more brilliant mind of Newman explained how it did not. Now we have brilliant men like Fr. Brian Harrison who explain how the council is harmonious with the history of doctrine and teaching.

The most vexed issues with regard to Vatican II are not dogmatic ones. Religious freedom and ecumenism are not dogmas; they are ways of relating to non-Catholics. Those can develop and even change to an extent, since (as far as I know) they aren't dogmas. The Church used to exercise capital punishment in cases of heresy. Now it doesn't. Is that an improvement? I think it is, because it is going back to the early Church. I don't want to kill the heretic, but rather, try to reason with him and persuade him to become a Catholic. It's not an absolute (capital punishment is not intrinsically evil), but there is room for debate on how to approach the heretic.

Likewise, with ecumenism and religious freedom . . .

Patti and Dave say no. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I don't think that this discussion boils down to a stark contrast between an inevitably beneficial "doctrinal development" on the one hand and flat out "corruption" on the other. Kevin [Tierney] asks a great question in his piece "Closing the Door (Finally) on Vatican II": "Okay, now for everyone else, can you tell me how the Second Lateran and First Council of Lyons revolutionized Church life? Is there anything we remember concretely from the Fifth Lateran Council?"

Ecumenical councils are authoritative and binding, to be sure, but there's no guarantee that they will, a) achieve that which they set out to achieve and b) remain highly relevant throughout the history of the Church. But I think that's precisely what we're being asked to hold with regard to Vatican II. And to be clear, I'm somewhat agnostic on the matter. I just don't think it's appropriate to be held to a particular view that isn't itself magisterial. I think there's a greater degree of freedom here than Dave and Patti are allowing.

It's very helpful too to note, as Dave points out, that matters such as ecumenism and religious freedom, which he says are "the most vexed" today, aren't dogmas at all but are "ways of relating to non-Catholics." I would argue that "ways of relating" aren't properly evaluated as true and false. You can't attach an anathema to a "way of relating". Rather, they're more or less helpful and useful. And this utility can and does change under various historical circumstances. And precisely for that reason, there's no intrinsic reason to suppose that the "ways" that are being applied now are the absolute best for now and for all time. I don't think it's a given that the "best" for another day might not be an approach already taken in the past, as Dave argues regarding capital punishment and heretics. But then traditionalists can hardly be censured for holding that, in certain of these non-dogmatic practices and approaches, the current practice may not be the best.

"there is room for debate...." Amen brother :-)