The Son of Man in the Gospels

The discussion of the Son of Man in Daniel and in the Book of Enoch sheds light on how Christ uses this title in the Gospels. In Daniel it might not be entirely clear whether the phrase refers to a people as a whole or to an individual. But in the Book of Enoch, it is clear that it refers to an individual who is the Messiah, and who has the role of coming to judge and to reward the good and punish the wicked.

In many places in the Gospels Christ speaks of the “Son of Man” in precisely this way. Thus for example in Matthew 13 he explains the parable of the weeds:

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

It is probably a mistake to understand “Son of Man” here as simply a roundabout way for Christ to refer to himself. Rather, the Son of Man, namely the one described in Daniel and Enoch, is the one appointed to carry out the judgement, and the parable of the weeds is about this judgement.

There are many other places in the Gospels which speak of the Son of Man in the same way, as for example at the end of Matthew 16, when Christ says, “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” The listeners will understand this to refer to the coming of the one appointed for judgement; they may or may not infer that Christ is speaking of himself.

Something related to this can be seen earlier in chapter 16:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Mark and Luke have “say that I am” in place of “say that the Son of Man is.” Presuming that they speak of the same episode, as it appears, Jesus could not have literally used both of these phrases. Either he said “Son of Man”, and the other Evangelists, recognizing that Christ is the Son of Man, choose the shorter phrase, or he said “I”, and Matthew replaces this with “Son of Man.”

I cannot prove this, and nothing in particular rests on it, but I would suggest that Matthew’s text is probably historically accurate here. While Mark 6 does suggest that some people identified Jesus in such a way, “The Son of Man, namely the one coming to judge, is Elijah,” seems a more plausible opinion for people to hold than “Jesus of Nazareth is Elijah.”

Christ seems to speak of the “Son of Man” in general in the third person, but also apparently with the implication that he himself is the Son of Man, and this practice is likely responsible for the fact that the Evangelists in this case take the two to be equivalent.

One problem of course is that in the text at the end of Matthew 16, Jesus seems to say something false about the time of the judgement. Something similar seems implied by Matthew 10:23, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

The Book of Enoch

The Book of Enoch, while not accepted in general as canonical, is accepted as such by Ethiopian Jews, as well as by some Orthodox churches. And whether considered as inspired or not, it was likely respected by the early Christians, as the book of Jude quotes from it, saying,

It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

This is a quotation from the end of the first chapter of the book of Enoch.

Chapter 46 describes a vision of Enoch:

46:1   At that place, I saw the One to whom belongs the time before time. And his head was white like wool, and there was with him another individual, whose face was like that of a human being. His countenance was full of splendor like that of one among the kodesh malakim.

46:2   And I asked the one -from among the malakim -who was going with me, and who had revealed to me all the secrets regarding the One who was born of human beings, “Who is this, and from whence is he who is going as the prototype of the Before -Time?”

46:3   And he answered me and said to me, “This is the Son of Man, to whom belongs righteousness, and with whom righteousness dwells. And He will open all the hidden storerooms; for YAHWEH of Hosts has chosen Him, and He is destined to be victorious before YAHWEH of Hosts in eternal uprightness.”

46:4   “This Son of Man whom you have seen is the One who would remove the kings and the mighty ones from their comfortable seats and the strong ones from their thrones. He shall loosen the reins of the strong and crush the teeth of the sinners.”

46:5   “He shall depose the kings from their thrones and kingdoms. For they do not extol and magnify HIM, and neither do they obey HIM, the source of their kingship.”

46:6   “The faces of the strong will be slapped and be filled with shame and gloom. Their dwelling places and their beds will be worms. They shall have no hope to rise from their beds, for they do not extol the NAME of YAHWEH of Hosts.”

46:7   “And they have become the judges of the stars of heaven; they raise their hands to reach YAHWEH the Most High while walking upon the earth and dwelling in her. They manifest all their deeds in oppression; all their deeds are oppression. Their power depends upon their wealth. And their devotion is to the gods which they have fashioned with their own hands. But they deny the NAME of YAHWEH of Hosts.”

46:8   “Yet they like to congregate in HIS houses and with the faithful ones who cling to YAHWEH of Hosts.

The Son of Man is the one “to whom belongs righteousness, and with whom righteousness dwells,” and the following verses indicate the he is the one who was chosen by God to execute justice.

The reason why the kings are deposed is that “they do not extol and magnify him, neither do they obey him, the source of their kingship.” The translator in this case seems to interpret this to refer to God, and thus capitalizes “him,” but the most obvious understanding of the pronoun would be that it refers to the Son of Man. Nonetheless, the fact that he is the source of their kingship might suggest that he is also God in fact, and this is also suggested by the fact that the text goes on to say, “They shall have no hope to rise from their beds, for they do not extol the name of Yahweh of hosts.” This at least suggests that not praising the Son of Man is the same as not praising God.

Chapter 47 describes why a judgment is necessary in the first place:

47:1   “In those days, the prayers of the righteous ascended into heaven, and the blood of the righteous from the earth before YAHWEH of Hosts.”

47:2   “There shall be days when all the kodesh ones who dwell in the heavens above shall dwell together. And with one voice, they shall supplicate and pray -magnifying, praising, and blessing the NAME of YAHWEH of Hosts -on behalf of the blood of the righteous ones which has been shed. Their prayers shall not stop from exhaustion before YAHWEH of Hosts -neither will they relax forever -until judgment is executed for them.”

47:3   In those days, I saw Him -the Antecedent of Time, while He was sitting upon the throne of his splendor, and the books of the living ones were open before Him. And all His power in heaven above and His escorts stood before Him.

47:4   The hearts of the kodesh ones are filled with joy, because the number of the righteous has been offered, the prayers of the righteous ones have been heard, and the blood of the righteous has been admitted before YAHWEH of Hosts.

Thus judgment is needed to correct the injustice done to the just by the wicked. Chapter 48 seems to describe the Son of Man as preexisting and as having a predestined role of carrying out the needed judgment:

48:1   Furthermore, in that place I saw the fountain of righteousness, which does not become depleted and is surrounded completely by numerous fountains of wisdom.

48:2   All the thirsty ones drink of the water and become filled with wisdom. Then their dwelling places become with the kodesh, righteous, and elect ones.

48:3   At that hour, that Son of Man was given a name, in the presence of YAHWEH of Hosts, the Before Time; even before the creation of the sun and the moon, before the creation of the stars, He was given a name in the presence of YAHWEH of Hosts.

48:4   He will become a staff for the righteous ones in order that they may lean on Him and not fall. He is the Light of the gentiles and He will become the hope of those who are sick in their hearts.

48:5   All those who dwell upon the earth shall fall and worship before Him; they shall magnify, bless, and sing the NAME of YAHWEH of Hosts.

48:6   For this purpose He became the Chosen One; He was concealed in the presence of YAHWEH of Hosts prior to the creation of the world, and for eternity.

48:7   And He has revealed the wisdom of YAHWEH of Hosts to the righteous and the kodesh ones, for He has preserved the portion of the righteous because they have hated and despised this world of oppression together with all its ways of life and its habits in the NAME of YAHWEH of Hosts; and because they will be saved in His Name and it is His good pleasure that they have life.

48:8   In those days, the kings of the earth and the mighty landowners shall be humiliated on account of the deeds of their hands. Therefore, on the day of their misery and weariness, they will not be able to save themselves.

48:9   I shall deliver them into the hands of MY elect ones like grass in the fire and like lead in the water, so they shall burn before the face of the kodesh ones and sink before their sight, and no place will be found for them.

48:10   On the day of their weariness, there shall be an obstacle on the earth and they shall fall on their faces; and they shall not rise up again, nor anyone be found who will take them with his hands and raise them up. For they have denied YAHWEH of Hosts and HIS Messiah. Blessed be the NAME of YAHWEH of Hosts!

While one might think that being concealed in the presence of God before the creation of the world might imply only the divine predestination, it would not be unreasonable to read this as implying an eternal preexistence of the Son of Man, even if not in the condition of a man. And it seems that “they will be saved in His Name,” and “it is His good pleasure that they have life,” also refer to the Son of Man. In fact, overall it seems that considered in itself, God would have the role of saving and giving life, and judging the wicked, but in practice God chooses to give these roles to the Son of Man.

Finally, at the end of the text, the Son of Man is identified as the Messiah.

 

Son of Man

Daniel 7 gives an account of a vision:

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it. Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, “Arise, devour many bodies!” After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.

As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
    and an Ancient of Days took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
    and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
    and its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
    and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
    and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
    and the books were opened.

I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a son of man,
    coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
    that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
    that shall never be destroyed.

As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”

Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped what was left with its feet; and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and concerning the other horn, which came up and to make room for which three of them fell out—the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that seemed greater than the others. As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, until the Ancient of Days came; then judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.

This is what he said: “As for the fourth beast,

there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth
    that shall be different from all the other kingdoms;
it shall devour the whole earth,
    and trample it down, and break it to pieces.
As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
    and another shall arise after them.
This one shall be different from the former ones,
    and shall put down three kings.
He shall speak words against the Most High,
    shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,
    and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;
and they shall be given into his power
    for a time, two times, and half a time.
Then the court shall sit in judgment,
    and his dominion shall be taken away,
    to be consumed and totally destroyed.
The kingship and dominion
    and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
    shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
    and all dominions shall serve and obey them.”

Here the account ends. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly terrified me, and my face turned pale; but I kept the matter in my mind.

The New Revised Standard Version uses “Ancient One” in place of “Ancient of Days”, and “one like a human being” in place of “one like a son of man”, while acknowledging in the footnotes that these are deliberate changes to the text, not translations. I have reverted these changes here.

It is sometimes said that the “one like a son of man” in Daniel’s vision is the Jewish people as a whole, since the explanation of the vision refers only to “holy ones of the Most High,” or “people of the holy ones of the Most High,” rather than to an individual. But in reality this is not entirely clear. The interpretation says that the four beasts are four kings, but then the fourth is interpreted as a kingdom out of which ten kings, represented by the ten horns, will arise. So the interpretation seems to pass rather freely between kings and kingdoms. In this sense, it is possible that the one like a son of man can represent either the people of the Most High, or their king, much like the beasts seem to represent both kings and kingdoms.

 

Religious Freedom

Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Libertas, says:

19. To make this more evident, the growth of liberty ascribed to our age must be considered apart in its various details. And, first, let us examine that liberty in individuals which is so opposed to the virtue of religion, namely, the liberty of worship, as it is called. This is based on the principle that every man is free to profess as he may choose any religion or none.

20. But, assuredly, of all the duties which man has to fulfill, that, without doubt, is the chiefest and holiest which commands him to worship God with devotion and piety. This follows of necessity from the truth that we are ever in the power of God, are ever guided by His will and providence, and, having come forth from Him, must return to Him. Add to which, no true virtue can exist without religion, for moral virtue is concerned with those things which lead to God as man’s supreme and ultimate good; and therefore religion, which (as St. Thomas says) “performs those actions which are directly and immediately ordained for the divine honor”,(7) rules and tempers all virtues. And if it be asked which of the many conflicting religions it is necessary to adopt, reason and the natural law unhesitatingly tell us to practice that one which God enjoins, and which men can easily recognize by certain exterior notes, whereby Divine Providence has willed that it should be distinguished, because, in a matter of such moment, the most terrible loss would be the consequence of error. Wherefore, when a liberty such as We have described is offered to man, the power is given him to pervert or abandon with impunity the most sacred of duties, and to exchange the unchangeable good for evil; which, as We have said, is no liberty, but its degradation, and the abject submission of the soul to sin.

21. This kind of liberty, if considered in relation to the State, clearly implies that there is no reason why the State should offer any homage to God, or should desire any public recognition of Him; that no one form of worship is to be preferred to another, but that all stand on an equal footing, no account being taken of the religion of the people, even if they profess the Catholic faith. But, to justify this, it must needs be taken as true that the State has no duties toward God, or that such duties, if they exist, can be abandoned with impunity, both of which assertions are manifestly false. For it cannot be doubted but that, by the will of God, men are united in civil society; whether its component parts be considered; or its form, which implies authority; or the object of its existence; or the abundance of the vast services which it renders to man. God it is who has made man for society, and has placed him in the company of others like himself, so that what was wanting to his nature, and beyond his attainment if left to his own resources, he might obtain by association with others. Wherefore, civil society must acknowledge God as its Founder and Parent, and must obey and reverence His power and authority. Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless; or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness-namely, to treat the various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges. Since, then, the profession of one religion is necessary in the State, that religion must be professed which alone is true, and which can be recognized without difficulty, especially in Catholic States, because the marks of truth are, as it were, engravers upon it. This religion, therefore, the rulers of the State must preserve and protect, if they would provide – as they should do – with prudence and usefulness for the good of the community. For public authority exists for the welfare of those whom it governs; and, although its proximate end is to lead men to the prosperity found in this life, yet, in so doing, it ought not to diminish, but rather to increase, man’s capability of attaining to the supreme good in which his everlasting happiness consists: which never can be attained if religion be disregarded.

Among other things, the Pope seems to be claiming, “There is one true religion, namely the Catholic religion, and it is easily recognized as such.” It is difficult to see a way in which this statement might be both true and fit well in this context. If the claim implies that the majority of honest, reasonable people would agree that Catholicism is true, then it seems to slander the human race, given the fact that only about one seventh of humanity accepts this, and surely the majority of these people were raised Catholic rather than being converts. If it means that “it should be easy to see that Catholicism is true, but in practice it is not, because of various impediments,” then it does not seem to fit well in this context, because the Pope seems to be making practical statements about how individuals and states should behave, so if it is not easy in practice, it is not easy in the way that is relevant here. In any case it is not necessary to consider this in detail at this time.

Later in the encyclical he discusses the idea of tolerance:

33. Yet, with the discernment of a true mother, the Church weighs the great burden of human weakness, and well knows the course down which the minds and actions of men are in this our age being borne. For this reason, while not conceding any right to anything save what is true and honest, she does not forbid public authority to tolerate what is at variance with truth and justice, for the sake of avoiding some greater evil, or of obtaining or preserving some greater good. God Himself in His providence, though infinitely good and powerful, permits evil to exist in the world, partly that greater good may not be impeded, and partly that greater evil may not ensue. In the government of States it is not forbidden to imitate the Ruler of the world; and, as the authority of man is powerless to prevent every evil, it has (as St. Augustine says) to overlook and leave unpunished many things which are punished, and rightly, by Divine Providence.(10) But if, in such circumstances, for the sake of the common good (and this is the only legitimate reason), human law may or even should tolerate evil, it may not and should not approve or desire evil for its own sake; for evil of itself, being a privation of good, is opposed to the common welfare which every legislator is bound to desire and defend to the best of his ability. In this, human law must endeavor to imitate God, who, as St. Thomas teaches, in allowing evil to exist in the world, “neither wills evil to be done, nor wills it not to be done, but wills only to permit it to be done; and this is good.”(11) This saying of the Angelic Doctor contains briefly the whole doctrine of the permission of evil.

34. But, to judge aright, we must acknowledge that, the more a State is driven to tolerate evil, the further is it from perfection; and that the tolerance of evil which is dictated by political prudence should be strictly confined to the limits which its justifying cause, the public welfare, requires. Wherefore, if such tolerance would be injurious to the public welfare, and entail greater evils on the State, it would not be lawful; for in such case the motive of good is wanting. And although in the extraordinary condition of these times the Church usually acquiesces in certain modern liberties, not because she prefers them in themselves, but because she judges it expedient to permit them, she would in happier times exercise her own liberty; and, by persuasion, exhortation, and entreaty would endeavor, as she is bound, to fulfill the duty assigned to her by God of providing for the eternal salvation of mankind. One thing, however, remains always true – that the liberty which is claimed for all to do all things is not, as We have often said, of itself desirable, inasmuch as it is contrary to reason that error and truth should have equal rights.

35. And as to tolerance, it is surprising how far removed from the equity and prudence of the Church are those who profess what is called liberalism. For, in allowing that boundless license of which We have spoken, they exceed all limits, and end at last by making no apparent distinction between truth and error, honesty and dishonesty. And because the Church, the pillar and ground of truth, and the unerring teacher of morals, is forced utterly to reprobate and condemn tolerance of such an abandoned and criminal character, they calumniate her as being wanting in patience and gentleness, and thus fail to see that, in so doing, they impute to her as a fault what is in reality a matter for commendation. But, in spite of all this show of tolerance, it very often happens that, while they profess themselves ready to lavish liberty on all in the greatest profusion, they are utterly intolerant toward the Catholic Church, by refusing to allow her the liberty of being herself free.

All of this looks very different from the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom:

2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.(2) This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

3. Further light is shed on the subject if one considers that the highest norm of human life is the divine law-eternal, objective and universal-whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.

Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.

Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.

On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind.(3) The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.

There is a further consideration. The religious acts whereby men, in private and in public and out of a sense of personal conviction, direct their lives to God transcend by their very nature the order of terrestrial and temporal affairs. Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare. However, it would clearly transgress the limits set to its power, were it to presume to command or inhibit acts that are religious.

4. The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community. Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself.

Provided the just demands of public order are observed, religious communities rightfully claim freedom in order that they may govern themselves according to their own norms, honor the Supreme Being in public worship, assist their members in the practice of the religious life, strengthen them by instruction, and promote institutions in which they may join together for the purpose of ordering their own lives in accordance with their religious principles.

Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered, either by legal measures or by administrative action on the part of government, in the selection, training, appointment, and transferral of their own ministers, in communicating with religious authorities and communities abroad, in erecting buildings for religious purposes, and in the acquisition and use of suitable funds or properties.

Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word. However, in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonorable or unworthy, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one’s right and a violation of the right of others.

In addition, it comes within the meaning of religious freedom that religious communities should not be prohibited from freely undertaking to show the special value of their doctrine in what concerns the organization of society and the inspiration of the whole of human activity. Finally, the social nature of man and the very nature of religion afford the foundation of the right of men freely to hold meetings and to establish educational, cultural, charitable and social organizations, under the impulse of their own religious sense.

At the very least, there is a vast difference of attitude in the statements, and at the most, they might seem to be saying completely opposite things. Leo XIII says that “the tolerance of evil which is dictated by political prudence should be strictly confined to the limits which its justifying cause, the public welfare, requires,” while Dignitatis Humanae says that “all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” Since both statements contain qualifications, they might be consistent in practice. However, the first seems to say, “We might have to allow someone to make this false statement, but it would be better if we could prevent it,” while the second seems to say, “We might have to prevent someone from making this false statement, but it would be better if we could allow it.” Understood in this way, the statements would not be consistent.

Thomas Storck discusses the apparent inconsistency:

“Since the Catholic Church has changed her authoritative teaching on more than one point of faith and morals, there is absolutely no reason why she cannot be expected to change it on others. And, this being the case, to silence dissenting theologians is very possibly to prevent the discovery and propagation of new truths, truths which the Church herself will eventually come to accept.” We are all likely familiar with arguments of this sort, arguments made in varying ways by theologians who refuse to accept all the teachings of the Church’s magisterium. When pressed for specifics, moreover, the two points on which they generally allege the Church has changed her doctrine are the licitness of usury and the question of religious liberty. And if the magisterium really has changed on these issues, then it is hard not to concede to them their point. For if the teaching of the ordinary magisterium on usury or religious liberty has changed over the centuries because of changing social conditions, then why not teaching on contraception or divorce? Therefore, it seems to me of the greatest importance for orthodox Catholics to be able to demonstrate that the Church has never changed any point of its magisterial teachings nor can she.

There is a kind of moral reasoning here: We cannot admit that the Church has changed its teaching on religious liberty, since that would provide an argument that the Church might change its teaching on contraception or other matters, and it would be bad to admit that.

Regardless of the prudence of this manner of reasoning, this is a bad way of trying to get at the truth of the matter.

Working out his solution to the apparent conflict, he says:

The apparent conflict here concerns public worship and proselytizing activities, since the papal teaching quoted earlier never contemplated suppressing private religious actions. But how far is the conflict real?

In <Dignitatis Humanae> itself there are two limitations of the right to religious freedom. First, this freedom is restricted “within due limits” and by “the just requirements of public order.” Second, the assertion of man’s right to religious liberty seems to be considerably qualified by a further statement in the declaration. This statement appears in the paragraph immediately preceding the section quoted, and runs thus:

So while the religious freedom which men demand in fulfilling their obligation to worship God has to do with freedom from coercion in civil society, it leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.

What do these reservations mean?

In regard to “the just requirements of public order,” at first glance this phrase might seem to mean things such as keeping civil peace, obeying health regulations, respecting morality and the like. But even Professor Wolfe implicitly acknowledges that it could include suppression of polygamy, although polygamy is a practice by no means necessarily contrary to civil peace.14 This also despite the fact that polygamy is or has been permitted by several major religions, and its prohibition would be a limiting of religious freedom. In other words, “the just requirements of public order” apparently mean more than merely keeping order in society, and extend to repressing socially harmful practices.

But I think one can go further than this. I suggest the following: That “the just requirements of public order” vary considerably between a Catholic state and a religiously neutral state. If a neutral state can prohibit polygamy, even though it is a restriction on religious freedom, then a Catholic state can likewise restrict the public activity of non-Catholic groups. “The just requirements of public order” can be understood only in the context of a people’s traditions and modes of living, and in a Catholic society would necessarily include that social unity based upon a recognition of the Catholic Church as the religion of society, and the consequent exclusion of all other religions from public life. Western secular democracies, committed to freedom of religion for all sects, find no contradiction in proscribing polygamy, although some religions permit it, because its practice is contrary to the traditions and mores of these nations. A Catholic country can certainly similarly maintain its own manner of life.

What about the repeated declarations in <Dignitatis Humanae> about religious freedom as a personal human right? The Council proclaims, I think, an abstract human right, but a right that is not necessarily fully applicable in any given circumstance or place. Because of the “dignity of the human person” man does indeed have a right to religious liberty, in fact, by giving us a free will God has necessarily given us a kind of religious liberty, including the liberty to err. But this does not mean that this liberty may be exercised without reference to anything else. There are many rights that are contingent upon circumstances. Man, for example, has a right to marry. But what of those who are impotent or who cannot find anyone to marry? The right is a right in the abstract and not necessarily in any given concrete situation. Furthermore, even in a Catholic confessional state there is a certain religious liberty, that is, a liberty to privately exercise one’s non-Catholic faith, to meet corporately but privately with one’s co-religionists. This is a real liberty, occasioned by the “dignity of the human person,” but also restricted within “the just requirements of public order.”

But what of the second limitation on religious freedom found within <Dignitatis Humanae> itself?

Usually the supposed contradiction in Church teaching on religious liberty is seen as a conflict between earlier papal teaching and <Dignitatis Humanae>. But if the text of <Dignitatis Humanae> is taken seriously this is not so. <Dignitatis Humanae> states, as I quoted above, that it “leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of . . . societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.” The moral duty of societies toward the true faith and Church, however, is precisely those propositions found in the traditional papal teaching supposedly at variance with <Dignitatis Humanae>. In other words, if an interpretation of the declaration is insisted upon that conflicts with Gregory XVI, Pius IX, <et al,> then <Dignitatis Humanae> conflicts with itself, for, as I just quoted, the earlier teaching, far from being changed, is explicitly left intact. If we keep this in mind when reviewing the declaration, we will see that the common interpretation, although at first glance seemingly obvious, must be based on a misunderstanding. Probably <Dignitatis Humanae> was intended to be irenic, and perhaps some of its framers wanted to change the teaching, but as Fr. Most points out, “we must confine ourselves to what the writer succeeded <in setting down on paper explicitly.>”15 No one will deny that <Dignitatis Humanae> says what it says in a curious way, but I think I have shown that one need not read it in such a way that it conflicts with former teaching.

I have tried to give full weight to the plain meaning of all the texts I have discussed, within the constraints imposed by logic and revealed truth. <Dignitatis Humanae> turns out to be a much more complicated document that usually supposed, but, when carefully examined, not in disagreement with what seems to be the previous teaching of the ordinary magisterium on the question of religious liberty.

In one way, this is mostly reasonable. One can understand the implications of the various statements to be mostly or even entirely consistent. The problem would be that this does not necessarily mean that the doctrine justifying these practices is the same, as I said regarding the statements on toleration and on immunity from coercion.

Storck however is probably putting undue weight on the statement that Dignitatis Humanae “leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching.” Simply asserting that I am not contradicting myself, does not necessarily meant that I am not contradicting myself in fact. On the other hand, it is reasonable to read the teachings of the Church with as much truth and consistency as possible, just as one should in conversation with others.

However, Storck is going too far in the claim that it is necessary “to demonstrate that the Church has never changed any point of its magisterial teachings nor can she.” Fr. Brian Harrison and Orestes Brownson both claimed that if the Church changes any teaching, then Catholicism is necessarily false. Storck does not go this far, but he says that we must avoid admitting a change because we cannot admit that any teaching might be changed in the future. But there is a similar problem: both claims require something like a list of unchangeable teachings, and as we suggested a few days ago, no such list exists.

Yesterday we saw the teaching of Pope Leo X that it is moral to burn heretics. And since he calls the whole list of condemned propositions “against Catholic truth,” and says that “according to these errors, or any one or several of them, it clearly follows that the Church which is guided by the Holy Spirit is in error and has always erred,” one could easily understand him to be saying that his teaching is a definitive statement of the kind Harrison and Brownson are concerned with, such that changing that teaching would imply that Catholicism is false.

Of course, it is not necessary to read it in that way, but it is not impossible. In any case, his opinion is clear, and is an area where the Church has in fact changed her opinion. Nor is it reasonable to say that the Church believes that it is now wrong to burn heretics, but that it was not wrong in the past. The current belief is a universal one: thus for example Pope Francis commented a few days ago, “There were terrible times between us. Just think of the persecutions, among we who have the same baptism. Think of all the people who were burned alive.”

As we said earlier, there is necessarily a vague line between a substantial change in doctrine, and a development of doctrine. And while it would never be reasonable to call a contradiction as such a development, it might well be that the development of one doctrine might require contradicting an opinion on another matter. In this sense, a Catholic interpretation of this history would be that the Church has developed its understanding of humanity and freedom, and this development required changing its opinion on various details such as whether or not it is moral to burn heretics.

And indeed, as Storck says, and as I suggested a few days ago, this does mean that one should admit that other doctrines might change in various respects, and that the exact extent of this possibility is unknown.

Burning Heretics

In the Bull Exsurge Domine Pope Leo X condemned the positions of Martin Luther and others:

For we can scarcely express, from distress and grief of mind, what has reached our ears for some time by the report of reliable men and general rumor; alas, we have even seen with our eyes and read the many diverse errors. Some of these have already been condemned by councils and the constitutions of our predecessors, and expressly contain even the heresy of the Greeks and Bohemians. Other errors are either heretical, false, scandalous, or offensive to pious ears, as seductive of simple minds, originating with false exponents of the faith who in their proud curiosity yearn for the world’s glory, and contrary to the Apostle’s teaching, wish to be wiser than they should be. Their talkativeness, unsupported by the authority of the Scriptures, as Jerome says, would not win credence unless they appeared to support their perverse doctrine even with divine testimonies however badly interpreted. From their sight fear of God has now passed.

After the list of condemned positions, he says:

No one of sound mind is ignorant how destructive, pernicious, scandalous, and seductive to pious and simple minds these various errors are, how opposed they are to all charity and reverence for the holy Roman Church who is the mother of all the faithful and teacher of the faith; how destructive they are of the vigor of ecclesiastical discipline, namely obedience. This virtue is the font and origin of all virtues and without it anyone is readily convicted of being unfaithful.

Therefore we, in this above enumeration, important as it is, wish to proceed with great care as is proper, and to cut off the advance of this plague and cancerous disease so it will not spread any further in the Lord’s field as harmful thornbushes. We have therefore held a careful inquiry, scrutiny, discussion, strict examination, and mature deliberation with each of the brothers, the eminent cardinals of the holy Roman Church, as well as the priors and ministers general of the religious orders, besides many other professors and masters skilled in sacred theology and in civil and canon law. We have found that these errors or theses are not Catholic, as mentioned above, and are not to be taught, as such; but rather are against the doctrine and tradition of the Catholic Church, and against the true interpretation of the sacred Scriptures received from the Church. Now Augustine maintained that her authority had to be accepted so completely that he stated he would not have believed the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church had vouched for it. For, according to these errors, or any one or several of them, it clearly follows that the Church which is guided by the Holy Spirit is in error and has always erred. This is against what Christ at his ascension promised to his disciples (as is read in the holy Gospel of Matthew): “I will be with you to the consummation of the world”; it is against the determinations of the holy Fathers, or the express ordinances and canons of the councils and the supreme pontiffs. Failure to comply with these canons, according to the testimony of Cyprian, will be the fuel and cause of all heresy and schism.

With the advice and consent of these our venerable brothers, with mature deliberation on each and every one of the above theses, and by the authority of almighty God, the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, we condemn, reprobate, and reject completely each of these theses or errors as either heretical, scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds, and against Catholic truth.

The list of condemned positions contains this: “33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.”

Several things should be noted about this. In one way, the Catholic understanding is that the will of God is always fulfilled, and in this sense one would say that if a heretic was burned in fact, then it must have been the will of God. But the proposition is not about the will of God in this sense. The proposition in question is basically that it is wrong to burn heretics, and Leo X intended to condemn this proposition.

Second, the condemnation does not say which labels apply to which propositions, and some of the labels do not absolutely imply that a statement is false. A statement could be scandalous, offensive to pious ears, and seductive of simple minds, but still be true. In such a case the prohibition would be for the sake of practical motives, much as we suggested was mostly the case of the early opinions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

The Pope also says, “For, according to these errors, or any one or several of them, it clearly follows that the Church which is guided by the Holy Spirit is in error and has always erred.” If one takes this statement strictly, together with what follows, he would be asserting that it is completely necessary to hold the opposite of each of the condemned statements, or else to abandon the Church. However, there is some tension here with the previous fact about the labels; if he meant this strictly, then he could have condemned them all as heretical or as implying heresy, but he did not. In this sense, it is probably not necessary to interpret this statement as committing the Church absolutely to the statement that it is moral to burn heretics. Nonetheless, the condemnation strongly suggests that Pope Leo X both believed this and wanted others to believe it.

Newman and Modernism

In 1907 Pope Pius X published his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis condemning modernism. The encyclical begins:

The office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock has especially this duty assigned to it by Christ, namely, to guard with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called. There has never been a time when this watchfulness of the supreme pastor was not necessary to the Catholic body; for, owing to the efforts of the enemy of the human race, there have never been lacking “men speaking perverse things” (Acts xx. 30), “vain talkers and seducers” (Tit. i. 10), “erring and driving into error” (2 Tim. iii. 13). Still it must be confessed that the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ’s kingdom itself. Wherefore We may no longer be silent, lest We should seem to fail in Our most sacred duty, and lest the kindness that, in the hope of wiser counsels, We have hitherto shown them, should be attributed to forgetfulness of Our office.

2. That We make no delay in this matter is rendered necessary especially by the fact that the partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church’s open enemies; they lie hid, a thing to be deeply deplored and feared, in her very bosom and heart, and are the more mischievous, the less conspicuously they appear. We allude, Venerable Brethren, to many who belong to the Catholic laity, nay, and this is far more lamentable, to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who, feigning a love for the Church, lacking the firm protection of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church; and, forming more boldly into line of attack, assail all that is most sacred in the work of Christ, not sparing even the person of the Divine Redeemer, whom, with sacrilegious daring, they reduce to a simple, mere man.

3. Though they express astonishment themselves, no one can justly be surprised that We number such men among the enemies of the Church, if, leaving out of consideration the internal disposition of soul, of which God alone is the judge, he is acquainted with their tenets, their manner of speech, their conduct. Nor indeed will he err in accounting them the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church. For as We have said, they put their designs for her ruin into operation not from without but from within; hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain, the more intimate is their knowledge of her. Moreover they lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fires. And having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth from which they hold their hand, none that they do not strive to corrupt. Further, none is more skilful, none more astute than they, in the employment of a thousand noxious arts; for they double the parts of rationalist and Catholic, and this so craftily that they easily lead the unwary into error; and since audacity is their chief characteristic, there is no conclusion of any kind from which they shrink or which they do not thrust forward with pertinacity and assurance. To this must be added the fact, which indeed is well calculated to deceive souls, that they lead a life of the greatest activity, of assiduous and ardent application to every branch of learning, and that they possess, as a rule, a reputation for the strictest morality. Finally, and this almost destroys all hope of cure, their very doctrines have given such a bent to their minds, that they disdain all authority and brook no restraint; and relying upon a false conscience, they attempt to ascribe to a love of truth that which is in reality the result of pride and obstinacy.

Once indeed We had hopes of recalling them to a better sense, and to this end we first of all showed them kindness as Our children, then we treated them with severity, and at last We have had recourse, though with great reluctance, to public reproof. But you know, Venerable Brethren, how fruitless has been Our action. They bowed their head for a moment, but it was soon uplifted more arrogantly than ever. If it were a matter which concerned them alone, We might perhaps have overlooked it: but the security of the Catholic name is at stake. Wherefore, as to maintain it longer would be a crime, We must now break silence, in order to expose before the whole Church in their true colours those men who have assumed this bad disguise.

4. But since the Modernists (as they are commonly and rightly called) employ a very clever artifice, namely, to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement into one whole, scattered and disjointed one from another, so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while they are in reality firm and steadfast, it will be of advantage, Venerable Brethren, to bring their teachings together here into one group, and to point out the connexion between them, and thus to pass to an examination of the sources of the errors, and to prescribe remedies for averting the evil.

In the last paragraph here, Pius X accuses the modernists of a “clever artifice”, namely presenting their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement, “so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while they are in reality firm and steadfast.” In other words, according to him, they have a clear and developed system for themselves, which they do not present to other people. He lays out this system himself in the encyclical.

Such a clever artifice is not impossible in principle. Although I will not defend this at the moment, it seems to me that Hans Urs von Balthasar has just such a system, complete and developed in his own mind, but presented to others without order and systematic arrangement. And it may be that the system described in Pascendi could be fairly attributed to some Catholics at the time, at least in many or most respects. But the problem is that since those who hold the system admittedly do not clearly claim to hold it, there is no easy way to distinguish such people from Catholics who are actually in doubt and uncertainty, and who do not hold such a system.

The result of this is that the remedies proposed by Pius X are detailed, but very widespread in scope:

48. All these prescriptions and those of Our Predecessor are to be borne in mind whenever there is question of choosing directors and professors for seminaries and Catholic Universities. Anybody who in any way is found to be imbued with Modernism is to be excluded without compunction from these offices, and those who already occupy them are to be withdrawn. The same policy is to be adopted towards those who favour Modernism either by extolling the Modernists or excusing their culpable conduct, by criticising scholasticism, the Holy Father, or by refusing obedience to ecclesiastical authority in any of its depositaries; and towards those who show a love of novelty in history, archaeology, biblical exegesis, and finally towards those who neglect the sacred sciences or appear to prefer to them the profane. In all this question of studies, Venerable Brethren, you cannot be too watchful or too constant, but most of all in the choice of professors, for as a rule the students are modelled after the pattern of their masters. Strong in the consciousness of your duty, act always prudently but vigorously.

49. Equal diligence and severity are to be used in examining and selecting candidates for Holy Orders. Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty! God hates the proud and the obstinate. For the future the doctorate of theology and canon law must never be conferred on anybody who has not made the regular course of scholastic philosophy; if conferred it shall be held as null and void. The rules laid down in 1896 by the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars for the clerics, both secular and regular, of Italy concerning the frequenting of the Universities, We now decree to be extended to all nations. Clerics and priests inscribed in a Catholic Institute or University must not in the future follow in civil Universities those courses for which there are chairs in the Catholic Institutes to which they belong. If this has been permitted anywhere in the past, We ordain that it be not allowed for the future. Let the Bishops who form the Governing Board of such Catholic Institutes or Universities watch with all care that these Our commands be constantly observed.

50. It is also the duty of the bishops to prevent writings infected with Modernism or favourable to it from being read when they have been published, and to hinder their publication when they have not. No book or paper or periodical of this kind must ever be permitted to seminarists or university students. The injury to them would be equal to that caused by immoral reading – nay, it would be greater for such writings poison Christian life at its very fount. The same decision is to be taken concerning the writings of some Catholics, who, though not badly disposed themselves but ill-instructed in theological studies and imbued with modern philosophy, strive to make this harmonize with the faith, and, as they say, to turn it to the account of the faith. The name and reputation of these authors cause them to be read without suspicion, and they are, therefore, all the more dangerous in preparing the way for Modernism.

51. To give you some more general directions, Venerable Brethren, in a matter of such moment, We bid you do everything in your power to drive out of your dioceses, even by solemn interdict, any pernicious books that may be in circulation there. The Holy See neglects no means to put down writings of this kind, but the number of them has now grown to such an extent that it is impossible to censure them all. Hence it happens that the medicine sometimes arrives too late, for the disease has taken root during the delay. We will, therefore, that the Bishops, putting aside all fear and the prudence of the flesh, despising the outcries of the wicked, gently by all means but constantly, do each his own share of this work, remembering the injunctions of Leo XIII. in the Apostolic Constitution Officiorum: Let the Ordinaries, acting in this also as Delegates of the Apostolic See, exert themselves to prescribe and to put out of reach of the faithful injurious books or other writings printed or circulated in their dioceses. In this passage the Bishops, it is true, receive a right, but they have also a duty imposed on them. Let no Bishop think that he fulfils this duty by denouncing to us one or two books, while a great many others of the same kind are being published and circulated. Nor are you to be deterred by the fact that a book has obtained the Imprimatur elsewhere, both because this may be merely simulated, and because it may have been granted through carelessness or easiness or excessive confidence in the author as may sometimes happen in religious Orders. Besides, just as the same food does not agree equally with everybody, it may happen that a book harmless in one may, on account of the different circumstances, be hurtful in another. Should a Bishop, therefore, after having taken the advice of prudent persons, deem it right to condemn any of such books in his diocese, We not only give him ample faculty to do so but We impose it upon him as a duty to do so. Of course, it is Our wish that in such action proper regard be used, and sometimes it will suffice to restrict the prohibition to the clergy; but even in such cases it will be obligatory on Catholic booksellers not to put on sale books condemned by the Bishop. And while We are on this subject of booksellers, We wish the Bishops to see to it that they do not, through desire for gain, put on sale unsound books. It is certain that in the catalogues of some of them the books of the Modernists are not unfrequently announced with no small praise. If they refuse obedience let the Bishops have no hesitation in depriving them of the title of Catholic booksellers; so too, and with more reason, if they have the title of Episcopal booksellers, and if they have that of Pontifical, let them be denounced to the Apostolic See. Finally, We remind all of the XXVI. article of the abovementioned Constitution Officiorum: All those who have obtained an apostolic faculty to read and keep forbidden books, are not thereby authorised to read books and periodicals forbidden by the local Ordinaries, unless the apostolic faculty expressly concedes permission to read and keep books condemned by anybody.

52. But it is not enough to hinder the reading and the sale of bad books – it is also necessary to prevent them from being printed. Hence let the Bishops use the utmost severity in granting permission to print. Under the rules of the Constitution Officiorum, many publications require the authorisation of the Ordinary, and in some dioceses it has been made the custom to have a suitable number of official censors for the examination of writings. We have the highest praise for this institution, and We not only exhort, but We order that it be extended to all dioceses. In all episcopal Curias, therefore, let censors be appointed for the revision of works intended for publication, and let the censors be chosen from both ranks of the clergy – secular and regular – men of age, knowledge and prudence who will know how to follow the golden mean in their judgments. It shall be their office to examine everything which requires permission for publication according to Articles XLI. and XLII. of the above-mentioned Constitution. The Censor shall give his verdict in writing. If it be favourable, the Bishop will give the permission for publication by the wordImprimatur, which must always be preceded by the Nihil obstat and the name of the Censor. In the Curia of Rome official censors shall be appointed just as elsewhere, and the appointment of them shall appertain to the Master of the Sacred Palaces, after they have been proposed to the Cardinal Vicar and accepted by the Sovereign Pontiff. It will also be the office of the Master of the Sacred Palaces to select the censor for each writing. Permission for publication will be granted by him as well as by the Cardinal Vicar or his Vicegerent, and this permission, as above prescribed, must always be preceded by the Nihil obstat and the name of the Censor. Only on very rare and exceptional occasions, and on the prudent decision of the bishop, shall it be possible to omit mention of the Censor. The name of the Censor shall never be made known to the authors until he shall have given a favourable decision, so that he may not have to suffer annoyance either while he is engaged in the examination of a writing or in case he should deny his approval. Censors shall never be chosen from the religious orders until the opinion of the Provincial, or in Rome of the General, has been privately obtained, and the Provincial or the General must give a conscientious account of the character, knowledge and orthodoxy of the candidate. We admonish religious superiors of their solemn duty never to allow anything to be published by any of their subjects without permission from themselves and from the Ordinary. Finally We affirm and declare that the title of Censor has no value and can never be adduced to give credit to the private opinions of the person who holds it.

53. Having said this much in general, We now ordain in particular a more careful observance of Article XLII. of the above-mentioned Constitution Officiorum. It is forbidden to secular priests, without the previous consent of the Ordinary, to undertake the direction of papers or periodicals. This permission shall be withdrawn from any priest who makes a wrong use of it after having been admonished. With regard to priests who are correspondents or collaborators of periodicals, as it happens not unfrequently that they write matter infected with Modernism for their papers or periodicals, let the Bishops see to it that this is not permitted to happen, and, should they fail in this duty, let the Bishops make due provision with authority delegated by the Supreme Pontiff. Let there be, as far as this is possible, a special Censor for newspapers and periodicals written by Catholics. It shall be his office to read in due time each number after it has been published, and if he find anything dangerous in it let him order that it be corrected. The Bishop shall have the same right even when the Censor has seen nothing objectionable in a publication.

54. We have already mentioned congresses and public gatherings as among the means used by the Modernists to propagate and defend their opinions. In the future Bishops shall not permit Congresses of priests except on very rare occasions. When they do permit them it shall only be on condition that matters appertaining to the Bishops or the Apostolic See be not treated in them, and that no motions or postulates be allowed that would imply a usurpation of sacred authority, and that no mention be made in them of Modernism, presbyterianism, or laicism. At Congresses of this kind, which can only be held after permission in writing has been obtained in due time and for each case, it shall not be lawful for priests of other dioceses to take part without the written permission of their Ordinary. Further no priest must lose sight of the solemn recommendation of Leo XIII.: Let priests hold as sacred the authority of their pastors, let them take it for certain that the sacerdotal ministry, if not exercised under the guidance of the Bishops, can never be either holy, or very fruitful or respectable (Lett. Encyc. Nobilissima Gallorum, 10 Feb., 1884).

55. But of what avail, Venerable Brethren, will be all Our commands and prescriptions if they be not dutifully and firmly carried out? And, in order that this may be done, it has seemed expedient to Us to extend to all dioceses the regulations laid down with great wisdom many years ago by the Bishops of Umbria for theirs.

“In order,” they say, “to extirpate the errors already propagated and to prevent their further diffusion, and to remove those teachers of impiety through whom the pernicious effects of such dif fusion are being perpetuated, this sacred Assembly, following the example of St. Charles Borromeo, has decided to establish in each of the dioceses a Council consisting of approved members of both branches of the clergy, which shall be charged the task of noting the existence of errors and the devices by which new ones are introduced and propagated, and to inform the Bishop of the whole so that he may take counsel with them as to the best means for nipping the evil in the bud and preventing it spreading for the ruin of souls or, worse still, gaining strength and growth” (Acts of the Congress of the Bishops of Umbria, Nov. 1849, tit 2, art. 6). We decree, therefore, that in every diocese a council of this kind, which We are pleased to name “the Council of Vigilance,” be instituted without delay. The priests called to form part in it shall be chosen somewhat after the manner above prescribed for the Censors, and they shall meet every two months on an appointed day under the presidency of the Bishop. They shall be bound to secrecy as to their deliberations and decisions, and their function shall be as follows: They shall watch most carefully for every trace and sign of Modernism both in publications and in teaching, and, to preserve from it the clergy and the young, they shall take all prudent, prompt and efficacious measures. Let them combat novelties of words remembering the admonitions of Leo XIII. (Instruct. S.C. NN. EE. EE., 27 Jan., 1902): It is impossible to approve in Catholic publications of a style inspired by unsound novelty which seems to deride the piety of the faithful and dwells on the introduction of a new order of Christian life, on new directions of the Church, on new aspirations of the modern soul, on a new vocation of the clergy, on a new Christian civilisation. Language of this kind is not to be tolerated either in books or from chairs of learning. The Councils must not neglect the books treating of the pious traditions of different places or of sacred relics. Let them not permit such questions to be discussed in periodicals destined to stimulate piety, neither with expressions savouring of mockery or contempt, nor by dogmatic pronouncements, especially when, as is often the case, what is stated as a certainty either does not pass the limits of probability or is merely based on prejudiced opinion. Concerning sacred relics, let this be the rule: When Bishops, who alone are judges in such matters, know for certain the a relic is not genuine, let them remove it at once from the veneration of the faithful; if the authentications of a relic happen to have been lost through civil disturbances, or in any other way, let it not be exposed for public veneration until the Bishop has verified it. The argument of prescription or well-founded presumption is to have weight only when devotion to a relic is commendable by reason of its antiquity, according to the sense of the Decree issued in 1896 by the Congregation of Indulgences and Sacred Relics: Ancient relics are to retain the veneration they have always enjoyed except when in individual instances there are clear arguments that they are false or suppositions. In passing judgment on pious traditions be it always borne in mind that in this matter the Church uses the greatest prudence, and that she does not allow traditions of this kind to be narrated in books except with the utmost caution and with the insertion of the declaration imposed by Urban VIII, and even then she does not guarantee the truth of the fact narrated; she simply does but forbid belief in things for which human arguments are not wanting. On this matter the Sacred Congregation of Rites, thirty years ago, decreed as follows:These apparitions and revelations have neither been approved nor condemned by the Holy See, which has simply allowed that they be believed on purely human faith, on the tradition which they relate, corroborated by testimonies and documents worthy of credence (Decree, May 2, 1877). Anybody who follows this rule has no cause for fear. For the devotion based on any apparition, in as far as it regards the fact itself, that is to say in as far as it is relative, always implies the hypothesis of the truth of the fact; while in as far as it is absolute, it must always be based on the truth, seeing that its object is the persons of the saints who are honoured. The same is true of relics. Finally, We entrust to the Councils of Vigilance the duty of overlooking assiduously and diligently social institutions as well as writings on social questions so that they may harbour no trace of Modernism, but obey the prescriptions of the Roman Pontiffs.

56. Lest what We have laid down thus far should fall into oblivion, We will and ordain that the Bishops of all dioceses, a year after the publication of these letters and every three years thenceforward, furnish the Holy See with a diligent and sworn report on all the prescriptions contained in them, and on the doctrines that find currency among the clergy, and especially in the seminaries and other Catholic institutions, and We impose the like obligation on the Generals of Religious Orders with regard to those under them.

57. This, Venerable Brethren, is what we have thought it our duty to write to you for the salvation of all who believe. The adversaries of the Church will doubtless abuse what we have said to refurbish the old calumny by which we are traduced as the enemy of science and of the progress of humanity. In order to oppose a new answer to such accusations, which the history of the Christian religion refutes by never failing arguments, it is Our intention to establish and develop by every means in our power a special Institute in which, through the co-operation of those Catholics who are most eminent for their learning, the progress of science and other realms of knowledge may be promoted under the guidance and teaching of Catholic truth. God grant that we may happily realise our design with the ready assistance of all those who bear a sincere love for the Church of Christ. But of this we will speak on another occasion.

58. Meanwhile, Venerable Brethren, fully confident in your zeal and work, we beseech for you with our whole heart and soul the abundance of heavenly light, so that in the midst of this great perturbation of men’s minds from the insidious invasions of error from every side, you may see clearly what you ought to do and may perform the task with all your strength and courage. May Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, be with you by His power; and may the Immaculate Virgin, the destroyer of all heresies, be with you by her prayers and aid. And We, as a pledge of Our affection and of divine assistance in adversity, grant most affectionately and with all Our heart to you, your clergy and people the Apostolic Benediction.

It is easy to see that much of this has the effect of penalizing an attitude or various attitudes, regardless of whether a person’s actual beliefs are in conformity with Catholic doctrine or not. This would be the effect of talking about people “imbued with Modernism,” people who “favour Modernism,” “criticizing scholasticism,” “show a love of novelty,” “a style inspired by unsound novelty,” and the like. None of these things are about particular opinions of any kind, but about attitudes, and ones where it may well be unclear whether or not someone has them.

The problem with all of this, of course, is that you cannot resolve people’s doubt and uncertainty by making laws against it. This method simply does not work. And a great deal of Pius X’s concern is in fact about such doubt and uncertainty, and not about particular opinions contrary to Catholic doctrine.

Some of the modernists asserted that Pascendi condemned Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine. Pius X explicitly denied this:

Venerable Brother, greetings and Our Apostolic blessing. We hereby inform you that your essay, in which you show that the writings of Cardinal Newman, far from being in disagreement with Our Encyclical Letter Pascendi, are very much in harmony with it, has been emphatically approved by Us: for you could not have better served both the truth and the dignity of man. It is clear that those people whose errors We have condemned in that Document had decided among themselves to produce something of their own invention with which to seek the commendation of a distinguished person. And so they everywhere assert with confidence that they have taken these things from the very source and summit of authority, and that therefore We cannot censure their teachings, but rather that We had even previously gone so far as to condemn what such a great author had taught. Incredible though it may appear, although it is not always realised, there are to be found those who are so puffed up with pride that it is enough to overwhelm the mind, and who are convinced that they are Catholics and pass themselves off as such, while in matters concerning the inner discipline of religion they prefer the authority of their own private teaching to the pre-eminent authority of the Magisterium of the Apostolic See. Not only do you fully demonstrate their obstinacy but you also show clearly their deceitfulness. For, if in the things he had written before his profession of the Catholic faith one can justly detect something which may have a kind of similarity with certain Modernist formulas, you are correct in saying that this is not relevant to his later works. Moreover, as far as that matter is concerned, his way of thinking has been expressed in very different ways, both in the spoken word and in his published writings, and the author himself, on his admission into the Catholic Church, forwarded all his writings to the authority of the same Church so that any corrections might be made, if judged appropriate. Regarding the large number of books of great importance and influence which he wrote as a Catholic, it is hardly necessary to exonerate them from any connection with this present heresy. And indeed, in the domain of England, it is common knowledge that Henry Newman pleaded the cause of the Catholic faith in his prolific literary output so effectively that his work was both highly beneficial to its citizens and greatly appreciated by Our Predecessors: and so he is held worthy of office whom Leo XIII, undoubtedly a shrewd judge of men and affairs, appointed Cardinal; indeed he was very highly regarded by him at every stage of his career, and deservedly so. Truly, there is something about such a large quantity of work and his long hours of labour lasting far into the night that seems foreign to the usual way of theologians: nothing can be found to bring any suspicion about his faith. You correctly state that it is entirely to be expected that where no new signs of heresy were apparent he has perhaps used an off-guard manner of speaking to some people in certain places, but that what the Modernists do is to falsely and deceitfully take those words out of the whole context of what he meant to say and twist them to suit their own meaning. We therefore congratulate you for having, through your knowledge of all his writings, brilliantly vindicated the memory of this eminently upright and wise man from injustice: and also for having, to the best of your ability, brought your influence to bear among your fellow-countrymen, but particularly among the English people, so that those who were accustomed to abusing his name and deceiving the ignorant should henceforth cease doing so. Would that they should follow Newman the author faithfully by studying his books without, to be sure, being addicted to their own prejudices, and let them not with wicked cunning conjure anything up from them or declare that their own opinions are confirmed in them; but instead let them understand his pure and whole principles, his lessons and inspiration which they contain. They will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith. To you, therefore, Venerable Brother, and to your clergy and people, We give Our heartfelt thanks for having taken the trouble to help Us in Our reduced circumstances by sending your communal gift of financial aid: and in order to gain for you all, but first and foremost for yourself, the gifts of God’s goodness, and as a testimony of Our benevolence, We affectionately bestow Our Apostolic blessing.

Pius X is certainly right that Newman’s theory of development is quite different from the modernist system which he condemns in Pascendi. Nonetheless, there is a real relationship between the two, and much more is there one between Newman’s theory and people’s uncertainty and doubt.

The difference, of course, is that the evolution of doctrine which is condemned in Pascendi is the first theory Newman mentions, which tends to imply the absence of a real revelation, and which Ross Douthat says is a view that “sounds like heresy by any reasonable definition of the term.” In this sense, Newman’s theory of development is quite different. However, there is a relationship, because Newman admits the possibility of changes in doctrine, without positively establishing any absolute limits on the possibility.

By doing this, Newman’s theory in itself tends to be a cause of “doubt and uncertainty,” even when it is taken in a Catholic sense. The Catholic interpretation would imply that the substance of a doctrine must remain unchanged. But since all claims are vague, and changes of opinion happen in a vague and slow way, the line between a development of doctrine and a substantial change in doctrine will necessarily be a vague line, just like the line between a man who is bald and a man who is not. This will necessarily cause doubt about whether various changes would constitute a substantial change of doctrine or not, and therefore about whether or not certain opinions, currently rejected by the Church or by most of it, might turn out to be true.

Newman and Darwin

In an ebook Another Look at John Henry Cardinal Newman, Richard Sartino discusses Newman’s view of Darwin:

Darwin’s theory did not shock Newman; he told a correspondent he was willing “to go the whole hog with Darwin.”

It is important to understand Newman’s frame of mind concerning the false theories of evolution in order to understand his notions of development. Darwin’s book, Origin of Species, appeared in 1859, a time when educated men and society in general scoffed at the idea of human evolution, leaving such notions to the few mad scientific theorists, but Newman’s empirical mind and distrust of rational philosophy disposed him to accept whole-heartedly the notions of evolution. He had been contemplating the evolution, not of man, but of religion, long before the appearance of Darwin’s book; his first sermon on the development of Christianity was preached in 1843 while he was still an Anglican and within two years the Development of Christian Doctrine was published, with Newman entering the Church at the same time.

He goes on to compare Newman’s theory with the theory of evolution:

Newman was a pioneer of this new doctrine which shocked both Anglicans and Catholics alike. Theologians until then had never considered his ideas of development, although many before him justly contemplated the mystical and supernatural increase of the treasures of the Church. The difference between Newman and earlier theologians in this matter is that Newman considered only the material aspect of the Church’s growth, not going beyond the temporal history of Her life on earth. Earlier theologians, on the other hand, had considered the formal aspect of the Church, a viewpoint which is vital to the believer who is obliged to view things with a supernatural eye.

Newman saw the Church in the light of history, whereas Catholics see history in the light of the Church. Immersed in an academia of the staunchest historicists whose scepticism imbued the thinkers of that time, Newman followed their lead and often kept up a correspondence with the worst of them, as Dollinger and Acton. Their position confined the Church to Her history, and Her history to their sceptical and critical minds. For these men the work of the Catholic mind is not to meditate upon and adore Christ in the eternal truths of the Church but to subject these truths to historical analysis. What is important for them is not the Incarnation but the development of the idea of the Incarnation. All this, of course, is nothing but that age-old pride whereby the mind of man becomes the measure of religion.

With this in mind we can understand why Newman accepted so easily the errors of Darwin, for there was nothing incompatible between the evolution of man and the evolution of religion and doctrine. On the contrary, both complement one another to form a harmonious view of the whole of creation. In fact, just as all errors begin in the highest part of the soul before they exercise their universal influence on the subordinate faculties and sciences, thus does the evolution of eternal doctrine precede the less radical errors about the evolution of man and social institutions. It is understandable, and appropriate, therefore that Newman’s novel thesis should have preceded Origin of Species by sixteen years. As long as the mind of man is firmly rooted in the immutable and eternal truths of the Faith the occasion will never arise to fall into any kind of evolutionary errors.

Several authors bear testimony of Newman’s evolutionary ideas. A certain Mark Pattison who knew Newman said he saw the whole development of human reason from Aristotle to Hegel as a closed book, and in Studies in Modernism Alfred Fawkes also believes that the essay on Development “is a striking anticipation of the Evolution philosophy; the application of this to theology marked a turning-point in religious thought.”

And another author, Percy Gardner in Modernism in the English Church, asserts that “it shows the greatness of Newman, that before Darwin had set forth his theory of evolution, a foretaste of it appears in Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine.” So serious were Newman’s aberrations that one of the greatest living Roman theologians at that time, Fr. Franzelin, S.J., wrote an entire treatise, De Divina Scriptura et Traditione, in order to combat what he considered Newman’s departure from the Faith.

He then discusses Newman’s theory directly:

The full force and implication of Newman’s thinking are found in his doctrine known as Development of Christian Doctrine. Characteristic of his personal qualities and life, this specific teaching of Newman contains his ambiguity and ambivalence, in toto, so much so that it allures the most opposed camps of thinkers. Its appeal is universal; to liberals and orthodox, to Protestants and Catholics, to believers as well as infidels. Men of every persuasion find their opinions voiced in this doctrine, for it is as pliable and flexible as Newman’s supposedly transcendent and personal logic.

The essence of Newman’s position consists in reconciling two contradictory propositions: first, that Christianity is unchanging, and second, that Christianity is changing. Apparent contradictions can always be reconciled by a legitimate rational distinction, but Newman does not attempt to do this. His Doctrine of Development does not assert that Christianity is unchanging in one respect, and changing in another, and then delineate the consequent differences and properties from the various distinctions. On the contrary, Newman’s position admits simultaneously and in the same respect that Christianity is changing and unchanging. To accomplish such a formidable task is not really very difficult, at least for a mind enamoured with concrete living experience.

Of course, Newman says no such thing. Rather, he asserts that there have been various changes in Christianity throughout history and it is a question of explaining them. He says, as we quoted earlier:

Here then I concede to the opponents of historical Christianity, that there are to be found, during the 1800 years through which it has lasted, certain apparent inconsistencies and alterations in its doctrine and its worship, such as irresistibly attract the attention of all who inquire into it. They are not sufficient to interfere with the general character and course of the religion, but they raise the question how they came about, and what they mean, and have in consequence supplied matter for several hypotheses.

Of these one is to the effect that Christianity has ever changed from the first and ever accommodates itself to the circumstances of times and seasons; but it is difficult to understand how such a view is compatible with the special idea of revealed truth, and in fact its advocates more or less abandon, or tend to abandon the supernatural claims of Christianity; so it need not detain us here.

A second and more plausible hypothesis is that of the Anglican divines…

It is worthwhile considering the hypothesis that Newman passes over here, that “Christianity has ever changed from the first and ever accommodates itself to the circumstances of times and seasons.” Why is it difficult to understand how such a view is compatible with the special idea of revealed truth? Basically, the position in question is that everything in Christianity is changeable. Christians currently believe that Christ is God, but a thousand years from now, they may all believe that Christ was a mere man. The difficulty is, of course, that both of these cannot be true, so that if the belief of Christians varies from time to time in this way, then the beliefs of Christians cannot be believed to come from divine revelation.

In fact, this position would not be entirely inconsistent with the idea of a particular revelation, but such a revelation would be more like the kind that the Catholic Church considers to be a private revelation. In other words, one would say that the true beliefs, when they are present, are ones that came from a revelation, but that God does nothing to prevent people from abandoning these beliefs and adopting other ones. In this case, of course, the problem would be that there does not seem to be a good way to distinguish between beliefs that are actually revealed, and others which are not. It would be for this reason that people holding this position would “abandon, or tend to abandon the supernatural claims of Christianity.” Consequently, since Newman is not here attempting to argue for the truth of Christianity, he does not care to give this particular theory any lengthy treatment.

We should notice the order of evidence here: changeableness without any limit would be good evidence for an absence of revelation, and for a similar reason, complete absence of changeableness would be good evidence for the presence of a revelation. Newman acknowledges the presence of some changeableness, and he does this without demonstrating the existence of any limit on this changeableness, but only assuming it.

It seems to me that we can see here the reason for Sartino’s rejection of Newman’s theory. Newman certainly does not hold that Christianity is both changeable and unchangeable in the same respect. He simply admits that it is changeable to some extent, and wishes to explain this. But for Sartino, this is a problem in itself, because it opens the door to the possibility that there is no real divine revelation. If Christianity is changeable to some degree, and we have not yet shown that there is any limit on this, then the first rejected hypothesis might turn out to be true, and Christianity might not be supernatural.

The problem with Sartino’s thinking is the same one I pointed out earlier. If Christianity is changeable in some ways, that may leave the door open to the possibility that Christianity is false, and may make this more likely relative to the situation where Christianity is actually unchangeable in every way. But you cannot change these facts by asserting that Christianity is actually unchangeable, because asserting something does not make it so. Both the evidence and the facts will remain just as they are, regardless of what you say about them. In this way, it makes sense that Sartino rejects both Newman’s theory of development and Darwin’s theory of evolution. He is using the same strategy in each case, one which seems to him to make his religion more certain to be true, but which actually has no effect whatsoever.

In reality, Darwin was not responsible for the theory of evolution. The facts were responsible, and as I noted here, if Darwin had not come up with his theory, others would have. In a similar way, the Catholic Church accepted Newman’s theory of development because it was necessary in order to account for the facts of history, and some such theory would have been developed and accepted even if Newman had never existed. You can ignore history just as you can ignore the rocks, but ignoring things does not change them. Newman noted, in fact, that certain real facts tended to open the door to the possibility that his religion was in error, saying, “Not only has the relative situation of controversies and theologies altered, but infidelity itself is in a different,—I am obliged to say in a more hopeful position,—as regards Christianity.”

Ross Douthat, commenting on the recent controversy over the possibility of communion for the divorced and remarried, says:

When this point is raised, reformers pivot to the idea that, well, maybe the proposed changes really are effectively doctrinal, but not every doctrinal issue is equally important, and anyway Catholic doctrine can develop over time.

But the development of doctrine is supposed to deepen church teaching, not reverse or contradict it. This distinction allows for many gray areas, admittedly. But effacing Jesus’ own words on the not-exactly-minor topics of marriage and sexuality certainly looks more like a major reversal than an organic, doctrinally-deepening shift.

At which point we come to the third argument, which makes an appearance in your letter: You don’t understand, you’re not a theologian. As indeed I am not. But neither is Catholicism supposed to be an esoteric religion, its teachings accessible only to academic adepts. And the impression left by this moving target, I’m afraid, is that some reformers are downplaying their real position in the hopes of bringing conservatives gradually along.

What is that real position? That almost anything Catholic can change when the times require it, and “developing” doctrine just means keeping up with capital-H History, no matter how much of the New Testament is left behind.
As I noted earlier, the columnist’s task is to be provocative. So I must tell you, openly and not subtly, that this view sounds like heresy by any reasonable definition of the term.

Now it may be that today’s heretics are prophets, the church will indeed be revolutionized, and my objections will be ground under with the rest of conservative Catholicism. But if that happens, it will take hard grinding, not just soft words and academic rank-pulling. It will require a bitter civil war.

And so, my dear professors: Welcome to the battlefield.

What Douthat calls the “real position” of the reformers, of course, is exactly the first hypothesis which Newman dismisses. It seems to me that there can be no reasonable doubt that this is in fact the position of many, although they might wish to conceal it, in order to better bring about the ends that they seek. Whether or not they therefore abandon the idea of special revelation is unclear, but it would seem the most reasonable position for someone who believes that there is no limit to the changeableness of the Church.

Neither Newman in the text cited, nor Douthat here, say that they can disprove the first hypothesis, but that they do not accept it, because of the implication that there is no real revelation. But they both recognize that they live in the real world, where there is evidence against what you believe, and where you might actually be wrong. Richard Sartino, on the other hand, seems to live in an imaginary world.

A Letter of Newman to Fr. Coleridge

In 1870 the First Vatican Council defined the infallibility of the Pope under certain circumstances. In a letter dated February 5, 1871, Newman says:

My dear Fr. Coleridge,

I began to read Fr. Harper’s papers, but they were (to my ignorance of theology and philosophy) so obscure, and (to my own knowledge of my real meaning) so hopelessly misrepresentations of the book, that I soon gave it over. As to my answering, I think I never answered any critique on any writing of mine, in my life. My Essay on Development was assailed by Dr. Brownson on one side, and Mr. Archer Butler on the other, at great length. Brownson, I believe, thought me a Pantheist–and sent me his work to Rome, by some American Bishop. Mr. Butler has been lauded by his people as having smashed me. Now at the end of twenty years, I am told from Rome that I am guilty of the late Definition by my work on Development, so orthodox has it been found in principle, and on the other side Bampton Lectures have been preached, I believe, allowing that principle, the Guardian acknowledges the principle as necessary, and the Scotch Editors of Dorner’s great work on our Lord’s Person, cautioning of course the world against me, admit that development of doctrine is a historical fact. I shall not live another 20 years, but, as I waited patiently as regards my former work for ‘Time to be the Father of Truth’, so now I leave the judgment between Fr. Harper and me to the sure future.

In the case of the definition of 1854, even if Catholics had once doubted the doctrine, by the time of the definition it was certainly the general belief throughout the Catholic world, and even at the time of St. Thomas it was a common belief among Catholics. But in the case of papal infallibility, there was significantly more disagreement, at least about the details of the idea, even in the nineteenth century. Thus, when Newman says, “I am told from Rome that I am guilty of the late Definition,” the implication is that someone told him that without his theory of the development of doctrine, the council would not have agreed to make the definition.

Ineffabilis Deus

In 1854 Pope Pius IX defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception:

Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

This doctrine was believed and celebrated in the Church long before this definition, and it would be seriously misleading to suppose that the definition represented any meaningful change in the general beliefs of Catholics. However, not all Catholics always held it, and St. Thomas in fact did not accept it:

I answer that, The sanctification of the Blessed Virgin cannot be understood as having taken place before animation, for two reasons. First, because the sanctification of which we are speaking, is nothing but the cleansing from original sin: for sanctification is a “perfect cleansing,” as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. xii). Now sin cannot be taken away except by grace, the subject of which is the rational creature alone. Therefore before the infusion of the rational soul, the Blessed Virgin was not sanctified.

Secondly, because, since the rational creature alone can be the subject of sin; before the infusion of the rational soul, the offspring conceived is not liable to sin. And thus, in whatever manner the Blessed Virgin would have been sanctified before animation, she could never have incurred the stain of original sin: and thus she would not have needed redemption and salvation which is by Christ, of whom it is written (Matthew 1:21): “He shall save His people from their sins.” But this is unfitting, through implying that Christ is not the “Saviour of all men,” as He is called (1 Timothy 4:10). It remains, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation.

Responding to the objection that in some places the feast of Mary’s Conception was already being celebrated, he says:

Although the Church of Rome does not celebrate the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, yet it tolerates the custom of certain churches that do keep that feast, wherefore this is not to be entirely reprobated. Nevertheless the celebration of this feast does not give us to understand that she was holy in her conception. But since it is not known when she was sanctified, the feast of her Sanctification, rather than the feast of her Conception, is kept on the day of her conception.

This is an unfair description of the feast, as those who wished to celebrate Mary’s conception in fact believed that she was sanctified in the first moment, even though St. Thomas denies it. And in this sense it is clear that there was in fact significant historical continuity. However, the suggestion, implied by the words of Brownson, even though elsewhere he admits it to be untrue, that all Catholics of good will have always believed all the doctrines accepted by the Church of the nineteenth century, simply cannot be maintained.

Brownson Apologizes to Newman

In Brownson’s Quarterly Review (October 1864), Orestes Brownson makes a sort of apology to Newman for his previous criticism of Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine. Brownson writes:

Faith, objectively considered, is infallible, and the Church is infallible, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, in teaching and defining it. But the faith is to us practically as if it were not, save in so far as it is actively received and appropriated by our own minds. This, we presume, is what Dr. Newman meant when he said: Christianity came into the world a naked idea, which the mind develops or realizes by its own action. Now in realizing, in actively receiving and appropriating the Christian dogma, or the faith, our minds are not infallible. We never conceive it adequately, or take in explicitly all that is in it; and we may, and often do, under various aspects, even misconceive it. Here is, if we understand it, the basis of Dr. Newman’s Essay, and if so, our objections to it were irrelevant, and though well founded, as against the doctrine we deduced from it, they are not as against that which the author held, and intended to set forth, and perhaps did set forth to the minds of all who admired his book. We have long suspected that we did him injustice, though we have not changed our own views of the soundness of the theology we opposed to him, or thought we were opposing to him. The fact is, his book was profounder than we supposed, and was designed to solve theological difficulties which we had not then encountered in our own intellectual life and experience. This acknowledgement, spontaneously made, we hope will be accepted by the illustrious convert and his friends, as some slight atonement for any injustice we may have done him or them, since whatever injustice we may have done was done unwittingly and unintentionally.

On the fact of the inadequacy of our conceptions, and our liability even to wrong conceptions, Dr. Newman bases his doctrine of development on the one hand, and of the necessity, on the other, of a living and ever-present infallible authority in the Church, to preserve the original revelation in its integrity, and to define and condemn the errors which from time to time may arise in the process of development. We do not agree that the definitions of the Church give us new articles or even new dogmas of faith; they are negative rather than positive, and tell us what the faith is not rather than what it is, or what cannot be held without denying or injuring the faith. In other respects, we fully accept what was probably Dr. Newman’s doctrine. There is always in the Church an infallible authority to main the Symbol in its integrity, and to condemn all errors that tend to deny or impair it. But this authority, while it maintains the Symbol, cannot give me understanding, or render my conception of the dogma or even of the definition itself adequate or infallible. The human mind never in its efforts at appropriation or realization, whether in the individual consciousness or in society and civilization, takes in at once the whole Christian idea, and its realizations are always inadequate, and sometimes not unmingled with fatal errors. The Christian work in society and in the individual soul is to struggle to render the human conceptions of the Christian idea less and less inadequate, and to eliminate more and more the errors that mingle with them, so as to advance nearer and nearer to the perfect day, or to a full and complete realization in the understanding, in individual and social life, of the whole Christian idea, or, the perfect formation of Christ within us, and our perfect union with God, possible in its fullness only in the beatific vision, the consummation alike of Creation and Redemption.

Now, unless you can render the human mind as infallible as the Divine mind, there will always be more or less of imperfection and error in our understanding and appropriation of the Christian idea, or the faith as objectively revealed and proposed. Hence theology is not a divine and infallible science; and while the faith in itself is complete and invariable, theology, or its scientific realization, is always incomplete and variable. It may grow from age to age, and the theology which is too high and too broad for one age may be too narrow and too low for another. Hence, any attempt to bind the human mind, though, or reason back to the theology of any past age is hostile to the interests alike of religion and civilization. To require us to receive as authority not to be questioned or examined, not the faith, but the theology or philosophy of the medieval doctors, or even the great theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is to suppose that the work of realization is completed, and human reason in this life has no farther work, which were intellectual death or mental stagnation; or, which amounts to the same thing, that no farther realization is practicable or permissible in Christian truth.

As can be seen, his apology is somewhat half-hearted. As I have said elsewhere, people do not like to admit that they have changed their mind, considering this to be embarrassing and humiliating. Brownson follows this pattern here. While he cannot avoid admitting that he was wrong about Newman, he claims that he has not changed his own theological opinions in any real way, saying that “we have not changed our own views of the soundness of the theology we opposed to him, or thought we were opposing to him.”

Nonetheless, in reality Brownson has changed his mind substantially, even if he may not have entirely accepted Newman’s theory. In this text, Brownson is basically admitting that the doctrine of sola me is false. Perhaps the Church is objectively infallible, but even if this is so, it does not mean that any individual is subjectively infallible in any of his opinions, even those about the teaching of the Church and the meaning of those teachings. But compare this with Brownson’s previous statement, “Christianity, if received at all, must be received, not as a theory, but as a revealed fact; and when we have established it as a revealed fact, no theory is needed or admissible, for we must then believe the fact precisely as it proposes itself.” This pretty clearly implies certainty about exactly what is proposed and in what way, and Brownson is now admitting that this is impossible. Likewise, Brownson had said that if opinions and theories are involved, “What foundation is there or can there be for faith!” Now he is admitting that these things can be and are involved in Christianity, and indeed must be, but he is not concluding that there can be no foundation for faith.

On one point Brownson has not changed his mind: Revelation consists of something like a list of statements which in themselves are fully complete and meaningful, and this list never increases or decreases. It is only people’s grasp of what is contained in this list that can change.

Of course, despite Brownson’s original objections to theories, this is a theory in itself, and it would need to be spelled out in detail in order to understand it. Where and when does this list exist, and in what sense?

We can clarify Brownson’s original idea by examining some of the discussion that followed his original criticism of Newman. The book Orestes A. Brownson’s Middle Life: From 1845 To 1855 contains a letter from William Ward to Brownson, written in 1847. Ward writes:

The idea you seem to have formed is that he [Newman] has devised a theory in a wanton sort of way, as a sort of intellectual exercise, instead of submitting himself humbly to the teachings of the Catholic Church as he found it. I cannot but think that a statement of some of the facts of the case will induce you, in some degree at least, to modify this opinion.

Now my reason for mentioning all this is to show that at that time he had been led by his natural and legitimate course of studies to feel very strongly the pressure of one particular objection against the modern Catholic system of doctrine. That these studies were very extensive no one can doubt who reads his works. I believe I am correct in saying that before he became a Catholic he had read through all the works of all the Greek and all the Latin Fathers at least three times, and that particular objection was that it was historically evident that certain doctrines considered by the present “Roman” church as Catholic were not so considered by the Early Church. This objection was stated most clearly and prominently in the work I have mentioned, and also in great numbers of other works. Any one may see them who will look at the “Tracts for the Times” or the various numbers of the “British Critic” from the time Mr. Newman undertook its editorship down to the year 1841.

Now here it is very important to observe that although many Catholics paid the greatest attention to these writings and various reviews of them appeared in Catholic journals, no real attempt whatsoever was made to meet this objection. The passages from Cardinal Fisher, etc., were not disavowed nor accused of spuriousness nor yet were they plainly adopted and proclaimed to be Catholic in this view. I, for one, felt this and keenly at the time; even so late as 1841, when I paid two days’ visit to Oscott, I could not get Dr. Wiseman to give me any definite answer at all on the subject one way or the other. He would neither say that Newman represented antiquity unfairly, nor that he represented it fairly. He said a great deal, and very well, in attack of Anglicanism, but I could get no light at all on this essential and prominent difficulty which one felt to be in the way of Catholicism.

But before the year 1841 a further change had taken place in Newman’s mind, as he has since informed a great friend of mine, an old Irish Catholic. This change was directly caused by Dr. Wiseman’s article which appeared, I think, in the year 1840, paralleling the Anglicans with the Donatists. From the time he read that article, he felt there was one most decided “screw loose” in Anglican theology; he felt, and strongly, that the Anglicans were in a position which the ancient church would have regarded as schismatic; from the time this view was presented to him the more he thought over the acts and words of the Fathers, the more they seemed to corroborate that view. This, however, only placed him in a most cruel state of difficulty; for it did not tend one step to remove his old objections to the “Roman” Church, though it infused new objections to the “Anglican.” No one can doubt that, from that time at least, he was most anxious to find some clew to extricate himself from the labyrinth, yet no Catholic was at hand to offer him any clew, and I cannot but feel it an extreme injustice and cruelty that Catholics who were silent when he was searching in their direction for some way of escape, should afterwards, when he has found a way for himself and actually brought himself to the Catholic Church by help of it, be loud in their objections to the legitimacy of that way. If this be not the right way, why did they not, years ago, find for him some other?

This observation, my dear sir, cannot be supposed to reflect upon yourself, because you were not, I believe, at that time a Catholic. But I do think that all who find fault with his theory, should ask themselves this plain question, “except for this theory, how could he possibly have become a Catholic?”

Here, then, I confess, I do think that Newman has some right to complain of your treatment of him. Here we have a person of ability and though, who has devoted himself to the study of the Fathers, and who is most anxious to find in them all possible agreement with the present Catholic Church, and yet cannot, for the life of him, read them any other way than as being either discrepant or ignorant, on various matters which are now ruled to be points of Catholic Faith. If on the one hand it is historically clear that the Catholic Church of the nineteenth century is the lineal heir of the Catholic Church of the fourth century, it is equally clear historically (so he thinks) that the doctrine of the first named church is in many particulars an addition upon the doctrine of the last named.

Brownson responded to Ward in September 1847:

You are mistaken in supposing that I proceed on the idea that Mr. Newman “has devised his thory in a wanton sort of way, as a sort of intellectual exercise.” Such an idea never entered my head. From my first reading of the Essay on Development, I have taken substantially the very view of his case which you unfold and confirm in your letter; and if I had not, I should hardly have hazarded my strictures. I have never questioned his sincerity, or that of his friends; I have never for a moment doubted that they really believe the historical assumptions, which seem to them to demand this theory, are well founded; and if well founded, I have not been unable to understand that they must naturally feel that some such theory as they put forth is absolutely necessary for their explanation. I have not arraigned their motives, and I have supposed myself to be treating them, especially Mr. Newman, with great personal respect and even tenderness. I have certainly intended so to treat Mr. Newman; for I have looked upon him as having devised his theory, not as a Catholic, but as an Anglican, and have not doubted that he would abandon it in proportion as he became acquainted with Catholic faith and Catholic life.

I certainly did think, and do still, that he and his friends made a serious mistake in their theory, and even in supposing any theory at all to be necessary. Their inability to accept the church without their theory has, I own, seemed to me to detract somewhat from the simplicity of their faith; and their demand that she should accept their theory, as the condition of their accepting her, I have not been able to reconcile with that entire self-surrender, which I have been taught she requires of all who would be owned as her children. They seem to me to have surrendered only on condition, – to have in their theory stipulated that they should be permitted to retain their side-arms and to march out with the honors. Or, in other words, you seem to me not to have believed the church simply, but only inasmuch as you have believed your theory, and therefore you do not seem to me to have surrendered unconditionally. If I am right in this, you have been unjust to God, unjust to the faithful, unjust to yourselves, and may find it not amiss to ask if after all your conversion does not, unhappily, remain inchoate.

You began by taking a certain view of the primitive teaching of the church; between that view and her present teaching you have found a difference, a “discordance,” as you express it. What then more natural, you may ask, than that we should be unable to submit to the church without some expedient for explaining that discordance, and showing that after all it makes nothing against her claims as the church of God? What more natural, or more justifiable even, than that having found such an expedient, we should insist on it, and urge it upon the attention of our former friends, and of the Doctors of the church, previously ignorant of it, or afraid to adopt it? So, I doubt not, reason the friends of the Theory to themselves, and you may ask me, what I find in this to censure.

I will tell you, my brother. It is that you being with the assumption that your view of the primitive teaching of the church is unquestionably the true view, that in forming it you cannot possibly have erred. But that view is only the common Anglican view; you have adopted it, not as Catholics, but as Anglicans. Anglicans for these three hundred years have been urging it against us, and for three hundred years our own divines have, with one voice, denied it. Now, my brother, how is it that it has never occurred to you that the Catholic understanding of the Fathers may be deserving of as much confidence as the Anglican; that it is possible, after all, that you may be wrong in your view of the primitive teaching of the church, and that, therefore, it is possible that there is, in fact, no such discordance as you pretend? What I complain of is your assumption of the infallibility of your private judgement in determining the primitive teaching of the church, and that since there is a discordance between her present teaching and your view of her primitive teaching, collected from your private interpretation of the Fathers, there must needs be such discordance in fact, really existing, and to be accounted for.

Where, my brother, did you or your friends get that view of ante-Nicene doctrine? From the church, from her authoritative teaching today? You will not pretend it. Whence then? Evidently from your private interpretation of the Fathers. Having thus obtained it, you made it the criterion of ante-Nicene doctrine. Allow me to ask, by what right? Whence, as a Catholic, are you bound to take the doctrine of the church, not in one age only, but in every age? Unquestionably, from the church herself who is always and everywhere the infallible authority by which to determine what she always and everywhere teaches, as well as by which to determine that what she teaches is the word of God. As a Catholic you cannot distinguish between what she teaches in one age and what she teaches in another. For you the church can have no ages. She is one and Catholic in time as well as in space, and, like eternity, she has duration, but no succession. You must go to her, as she is today, to learn what she taught before the Council of Nice, no less than to know what she teaches now. If you assert the alleged discordance, it must be on her authority; you cannot say that she has varied from age to age in her doctrine, taught in one age what she did not in another, in one age doctrines repugnant to those she has taught in others, unless she tells you so. If she tells you so, that is enough; she then confesses her own fallibility, abdicates her throne as the church of God, and you need no theory, for none can save her. If she denies it, teaches the reverse, you cannot assert the discordance, without ceasing to be Catholics. Here, my brother, is my objection to your method, which, as I understand it, is essentially uncatholic.

According to Ward, Newman’s study of the Fathers led him to conclude that there were discrepancies between what the Fathers believed in the early Church and what the Catholic Church, in the nineteenth century, believed to be revealed by God. Brownson’s response here is that the Church teaches that there is no such discrepancy, and therefore that Newman should either reject the Church, or conclude that his opinions about the Fathers were mistaken.

There is a fatal flaw in this reasoning. Brownson says that Newman is exercising private judgment about the opinions of the Fathers; but Brownson himself is equally exercising private judgment about the current teaching of the Church, in saying that it teaches that there is no such discrepancy. And the Church did not in fact teach this, even at the time; as Ward pointed out, Catholics such as Wiseman did not respond to Newman by saying that he was wrong about the beliefs of the Fathers, but by avoiding the discussion.

In any case, Brownson’s claim here is that the Church has definite teachings about what it has believed throughout history, and that those teachings imply that the early Fathers explicitly believed everything which the Church of the nineteenth century held to be definitive. So his implication that there is a specific complete list of Catholic doctrines is quite specific: such a list has to exist in the mind of each of the Fathers, and probably within the mind of most Catholics throughout history.

The problem with this thesis, of course, is that it is obviously false, and it is clear from his apology that by 1864 he no longer believed this theory, although still asserting that he believes in the existence of such a list in principle. But it is no longer clear where that list is located.