Friday, August 25, 2017

Has the Church Ever Taught Error Regarding Faith and Morals?

A few days ago, I posted my essay on how dissenting Catholics face a mighty large dilemma in discounting certain teachings of the Church in matters of faith and/or morals. Apparently, the combox to that article was fairly lively. I think the one sentence that ruffled feathers most was my main thesis, and I would imagine it perturbed people because in order to accept such a notion, one must look deep inside oneself, especially if they do indeed actively dissent from any Church teaching that we are to definitively hold. That thesis was this:
"If the Church is wrong about any of its teachings, even just one, this is tantamount to admitting that Jesus is a false god, because He allowed the Church He founded to teach error."
One person in particular balked at such a suggestion. His words will be in red, mine in blue, and various other posters' comments in other colors. My main interlocutor, after quoting my words above, had this to say:

Tom: I don't think anyone believes this, even "traditional" Catholics. I don't even think the last few Popes believed this either. The Church has issued some teachings in the past that everyone admits now were error. It doesn't mean Jesus was a false god.

Is Tom's assertion true? Let's see.
Jesus the Teacher- Jan Luyken
Nicholas: Well if "anyone" does not believe this, it'd because they are in denial. Jesus is the Head of the Church, His mystical Body. There is no separating the Church from Jesus Christ. If the Church teaches that something pertaining to faith and morals is true, then to reject that teaching is to reject Jesus. This rejection necessarily holds that the Church, with Jesus as Head (who is supposedly all-knowing and all-good) has taught erroneously. Jesus, who is supposedly the all perfect God, can no longer be called Lord, but instead either a liar or a lunatic.

I would honestly like to know which Church teachings that were proclaimed in the past have been labeled as erroneous. And who exactly is "everyone"? A distinction needs to be made, and I apologize if that distinction wasn't clear in my essay. The Church cannot err in matters of faith or morals. Abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent, for example, is not a matter of faith or morals. However, teachings on contraception, or the Assumption, or defrauding a man of his just wages are matters of faith and morals which we must accept in good faith as true.

Can you name me two or three teachings that have been revealed to be erroneous, and why they are now considered erroneous?

Tom:Two examples:

1) Jews (or anyone who isn't baptized in the Church) can't get to heaven. Overruled by Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spies (1965).

2) The fetus is not "human" until quickening (variously estimated at between 8 and 20 weeks post-coitus). Overruled, obviously.

Some orders of excommunication are now no longer enforced, even though they have never been formally withdrawn. For example, you're excommunicated if you take the word of a Jew over that of a Christian.

Also in a number of encyclicals the Church was plainly wrong. See Casti Connubii (1930) which condemned giving women equal legal rights with men; Mirari Vos (1832) which condemned freedom of religion; and Quanta Cura (1864), which condemned democracy.

Nicholas: Thank you for providing your examples, Tom. Before I continue, I believe you have me at a disadvantage. You know that I am a Catholic Christian. Were you also baptized Catholic? If so, do you still consider yourself to be practicing your Catholic faith today?

Anyways, lets take a look at what you've provided. In reading your post, I think we have a classic case of a misunderstanding. Check out [another commenter's] post below. You are misunderstanding at what times the Church speaks infallibly. As I will show below, the Church never spoke of any of the things you posted as infallible teaching which must be definitively held by all Catholic Christians. As [that commenter] said below,
"There are different levels of teaching. Each requires a different level of assent. There is revealed dogma, there is infallibly defined doctrine, there is non-infallible doctrine, and there are prudential judgments. Catholics are required to both believe and follow dogma and infallibly defined doctrine."
The prohibition against contraception falls into this "required" category. Your other examples do not... except your example #1. Here, you have greatly misunderstood what the doctrine of "no salvation outside the Church" actually means. There is NO contradiction or "overruling" between LG or GS and the declaration of this dogma of salvation made at the 12th Ecumenical Council (the Fourth Lateran Council) or Pope Boniface VIII's papal bull.
Fourth Lateran Council- Cesare Nebia 

I respectfully suggest that you do some more research into what the Church actually teaches on this subject (as well as your other points), so that you may come to understand what the development of doctrine is. A development is not a contradiction. The Church never taught all Jews and other unbaptized people were denied entry into Heaven. Never. The Church has always remembered Jesus' words from the Gospel: "they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin." (John 15:21-22)

This was reiterated by the Church Fathers, that those who never had the chance to reject Jesus and His Church, the invincibly ignorant, may possibly be saved. LG admits as much. Have you read the final sentences in LG 16?:
"But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, 'Preach the Gospel to every creature', the Church fosters the missions with care and attention."
Key word is that "often" men are deceived. Many outright reject Christ unfortunately, but some (including Jews and Protestants) may be saved due to invincible ignorance. The Church has always taught this. For more info on the historical context of the declaration "No salvation outside the Church" from Pope Boniface VIII's bull I suggest the following essay, The Unam Sanctum Problem Resolved:
"This is a non sequitur in logic, it does not follow at all that 'all non-Catholics are damned' for a number of reasons. The objection also displays a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching and takes the Papal Bull out of context from history and theology. 
"...the last sentence of Unam Sanctam about subjection to the Pope should be understood in an absolute sense of Catholics and interpreted in conjunction with the opening that membership in the Church is also a necessary condition of salvation. Further, I have contended it is impossible to retroject back into the Bull and misapply it by declaring all non-Catholics 'damned' without a careful consideration of the whole of Catholic theology on salvation and the Mystical Body of Christ."
Also look up Tim Staple's essay on "No salvation outside the Church" on Catholic Answers.

Moving on to your second example, you seem to have forgotten that this was never defined dogma, was never taught as doctrine, as was never even a teaching in the first place. This was an opinion that originates from St. Thomas Aquinas, and yes, even saints as great as he are fallible. St. Thomas wasn't even a bishop, and had no authority to pass his opinion off as that of the Magisterium of the Church. Furthermore, St. Thomas still held that it was gravely sinful to abort a child before "quickening". Read this article for a more thorough rebuttal to your point. Again, the Church never contradicted itself. This is an area of science. Science tells us about the physical world (the beginning of life for instance) and develops and becomes more clear over time. As Cardinal Baronius once said "The bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." This applies here also. The Church teaches us (from the Bible and Tradition) how to live on Earth, not how things on Earth dealing with the natural sciences work. St. Thomas was working with the scientific knowledge of his time and the Church never definitively taught this opinion at any time.
St. Thomas Aquinas- Unknown

As for your other points, seeing as you misunderstood the teaching on "no salvation outside the Church" and did not recognize that St. Thomas Aquinas was opining and not even teaching with authority as he wasn't even a bishop... I'm reticent to trust your claim on excommunication for believing a Jew over a Christian. You've probably misunderstood this too. Do you have a source for your claim? In any case, let's assume someone at sometime was excommunicated for this "offense". It does not in any way follow that the Church ever taught that Catholics must believe this in good faith. The Council of Trent corrected many abuses that resulted from a prelate who was too trigger happy about excommunication. Remember, indulgences were also abused by some within the Church, but the Church never taught that simony was correct, did it? Of course not. The same is true in this case you present. The Church has never taught that one should not accept the word of a Jew under pain of excommunication. Read [the other commenter's] post again if need be.

As for the papal documents you quoted, you have to realize that not all papal statements, even those in papal documents, are binding on Catholics as revealed dogma or infallibly defined doctrines. As Fr. Salaverri once wrote: "While he [the Pope] always has full and supreme doctrinal authority, the pope does not always exercise it at its highest level that is at the level of infallibility. As the theologians say, he is like a giant who does not always use his full strength. What follows is this:
"...It is necessary to know "what degree of assent is due to the decrees of the sovereign pontiff when he is teaching at a level which is not that of infallibility, i.e., when he is not exercising the supreme degree of his doctrinal authority".

This was not done so in the three examples of papal documents you cited. These "teachings" are not analogous in any way to the firm and infallible teaching handed down by the Church on such things as the prohibition of contraception and rape.

As for your specific example regarding Pope Pius XI, we can see that he made a great deal of good points on the subject. While perhaps antiquated, they are not necessarily erroneous. To quote the pope himself:
"This equality of rights which is so much exaggerated and distorted, must indeed be recognized in those rights which belong to the dignity of the human soul and which are proper to the marriage contract and inseparably bound up with wedlock. In such things undoubtedly both parties enjoy the same rights and are bound by the same obligations." (CC 76)
As for Gregory XVI, you're taking his words out of their historical context. Religious liberty means something different today than it did in the 1830's, and what he is condemning is religious indifferentism. Did Pope Gregory XVI say something wrong when he quoted St. Augustine in MV?: " But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error." I don't think so. The Church still teaches today that true freedom is found in Christ (the Truth shall set you free).

True freedom does not come from unlimited options, as our secular culture seems to believe today. Same goes for what Bl. Pius IX said in QC regarding "democracy". There are no contradictions with Church teaching today in these three papal documents, and if you really think there is a contradiction and that these past statements are "erroneous", perhaps you should keep these words in mind by St. Augustine. Although he was referring to Scripture, his words apply to these older documents (including Pope Boniface's bull Unam Sanctum) which were issued in past centuries. I encourage you to do more research on these particular aspects of Catholicism, especially on which teachings are infallible and are to be definitively held, since it your attempt to present instances where the Church has contradicted itself has been found lacking:
Bl. Pope Pius IX

"If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, 'The author of this book is mistaken'; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood."

Tom: Much to chew on here and thanks for your reply which it must have taken a while to write.

(Excommunication of those who take the word of a Jew over that of a Christian is Canon 26 of the Third Lateran Council).

Harry: "The Catholic Doctrine of Discovery" ....lead to the genocide of millions of Native Americans....want more?

Nicholas: You really need to get some better bait, Adam. But I'll bite anyways...

What is this "doctrine of discovery"? Which pope or ecumenical council provided us with a "doctrine of discovery" from the deposit of faith? Was there a specific papal document that taught this doctrine? How does the "doctrine of Discovery" pertain to faith and morals?

While I think [a certain] comment above was a little off because he wasn't taking into account the differences in levels of assent that were provided below, I do think he made a very good point you should consider:
"We [individual Catholics, like all individuals] make many mistakes along the way, though our mistakes are more an indictment of ourselves and our practice rather than an indictment of a master or our Lord."
Just because the conquistadors, temporal rulers, and yes even the ordained clergy made big mistakes and sinned grievously against the Native Americans... it doesn't follow that the Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ has taught any erroneous doctrine. Anything evil that representatives of the Church or individual lay Catholics did was indeed done by members of said Church. However, those evil actions reflect the free will that each person has to reject Christ and the doctrines and teachings of the Church revealed to his vicars through the Holy Spirit, and in no way do such actions reflect on the holiness of the Church or on Her Magisterium which interprets what has been handed down to it.

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