A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Basile Valuet On Hermeneutic Of Reform

Sandro Magister brings us another important contribution by Benedictine theologian Basile Valuet to the ongoing debate concerning the nature and interpretation of the "hermeneutic of reform" proposed by Pope Benedict XVI.  As we have seen previously, the philosopher Martin Rhonheimer considers that Vatican II had "corrected" previous teaching relative to the nature and function of the state in relation to the Church and its duties towards religious truth.  Furthermore, Rhonheimer considers the logic behind the "due limits" taught by DH to correspond to a conception of a civil order that has a secular character in the sense of being "neutral" towards the diverisity of religious traditions.  This is precisely where Rhonheimer identifies the "discontinuity" introduced by vatican II -- even if not at the level of a dogmatic rupture.  According to Rhonheimer, the previous Magisterium seemed to demand the "confessional" Church-state model (where the state acts as a department or "secular arm" of the Church) whereas Vatican II seemed to propose the secular model of the state where the spiritual and temporal powers are each considered mutually autonomous.


Basile Valuet rejects this conclusion and indicates that Vatican II leaves open the possibility for a variety of governmental forms -- including a confessional state.  The Benedictine theologian also stresses that the errors of liberalism, condemned in the 19th century, remain condemned today and are perfectly compatible with DH and the "hermeneutic of reform" proposed by Pope Benedict XVI:   

"According to Benedict XVI, Pius IX was taking aim at the "radical liberalism" of the 19th century, but not at other forms of the organization of society, rising from a further evolution of liberalism. The discontinuity between Vatican II and Pius IX stems from the fact that RF is not the "freedom of conscience" condemned in the 19th century: it did not have either the same foundation, or the same object, or the same limitations, or the same goal. So it will always remain true that the liberalism condemned by Pius IX was condemnable (R. does not see this), but it will not always remain true that the theories or the states of law that we have before us are the ones that Pius IX condemned (R. grasps this perfectly)."

The principles of RF are universal whereas the application can vary accrording to the circumstances of time and place.  In other words, there is no universal or "one size fits all" juridical formula to implement RF in every possible circumstance or social context.  The development or "novelty" introduced by Vatican II was to formulate the principles governing RF in a more general way -- taking into account changing circumstances and the wide diversity of legitimate social and governmental forms in the modern era:

"If a change of situation cannot change the natural law, it can nevertheless make a principle of the natural law (let's call it P1: it is not contrary to the natural law that the state should repress religious error), valid in a previous situation of ius gentium (in which RF is not yet recognized in reciprocal form), no longer apply in the same way in a new situation of ius gentium (in which RF is mutually recognized), and make another principle be applied now (P2: the modern state does not have penal competency, not even delegated, in religious matters).  In this way, if one wishes to have a truth that is valid in every situation, one is obligated to formulate a principle P3, more general, which combines P1 and P2, and which DH has made an effort to formulate: it is contrary to the natural law that the state - in any age - should repress religious error, unless, in the circumstances considered, it disturbs the just, objective public order."    

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Minor Dispute On Discontinuity

The "hermeneutic of reform" proposed by Pope Benedict XVI presupposes a certain degree of real discontinuity.  But what exactly is the nature and extent of the discontinuity introduced by Vatican II?  This is an aspect of the question that Sandro Magister has uncovered recently in a minor dispute between Massimo Introvigne and Martin Rhonheimer.  Specifically, is the discontinuity merely a result of a "new" application of immutable principles in light of changed circumstances?  This seems to be the interpretation given by Massimo Introvigne.  Martin Rhonheimer, on the other hand, takes the discontinuity to another level.  In addition to the discontinuity arising from a new application of immutable principles, there is the basic recognition that Vatican II in fact "corrected certain historical decisions" with respect to the "relationship between the Church and the modern state".  Martin Rhonheimer then draws the conclusion that Vatican II has made a correction "with respect to past conceptions of the state" in itself.  In any case, both writers agree that the discontinuity does not reach the level of a dogmatic rupture.   

It seems to me that there is another way to understand this.  There is also the distinct possibility of prudential errors in connection with specific historical decisions.  To "give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern state" does not necessarily entail a redefinition of the nature of the state or political society in itself.  It merely sets out a new "relationship" in light of changed circumstances (application).  At the same time, this does not exclude the possibility of prudential errors with respect to the historical decisions themselves.  For example, it does not serve the common good to cling to a status quo "out of season" or when circumstances dictate a needed reform.  In this sense, it is possible to "correct certain historical decisions" from changed circumstances, prudential errors or some combination of these.  Finally, I think it is important to recall that the 19th century Popes indeed defended a certain (confessional) conception of the state.  On the other hand, it is not clear that this was proposed as an absolute.  In other words, the circumstances must be ripe (including a religiously united body politic) for the legitimacy of such a confessional model.  Therefore, to defend the existence of a confessional state in principle is not the same as demanding it at all times and in every place.  Bishop Dupanloup of Orleans (1865) explains how to properly understand the Syllabus of Pope Pius IX on this question:

Would this same Catholic tradition teach, that if, in the course of ages there had been, or that there are yet, certain regions of the world where the law of the Church has become the civil law, in consequence of the unity of faith, and the agreement of the will among the citizens, where the State has constituted the Bishop protector of the holy canons – does it say that there the Church and the State have acted without right? For this is the meaning of the 77th proposition...But circumstances having changed, and the public law also, do we learn from this that Catholics would fail in their duty to God and the Church by accepting sincerely, and in all simplicity of thought, the constitution of their country, and the civil freedom of worship which it authorizes?  Or, if we speak of liberty, when we are weak, is it only to refuse it to others when we shall be strong? (Cf. Dupanloup).                 

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Religous Freedom: Principles and Application

In his recent address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Holy Father affirmed the "anthropological foundation" to religious freedom that was "renewed" with Vatican II.  Rooted in the natural law this right is universal and immutable.  At the same time, however, the Pope recognized that "every state has a sovereign right to promulgate its own legislation and will express different attitudes to religion in law."  What this means is that immutable principles may vary in application depending upon the circumstances or social context (Cf. CCC 2109).  Mary Ann Glendon, President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, put it another way by indicating that there can be no "one size fits all" model or juridical formulation for religious freedom: 

"Given the wide diversity of human societies, there cannot be one model of religious freedom that suits all countries.  Nor can one country's approach to religious liberty serve as a model for another if by "model" one means something that can simply be copied and transplanted. Each nation’s system is the product of its own distinctive history and circumstances...To accept that there are no universal models is not to deny that religious freedom is a universal right.  Rather, it is to recognize that there must be room for a degree of pluralism in modes of bringing religious freedom and other fundamental human rights to life under diverse cultural circumstances...That was the approach taken by the Second Vatican Council which affirmed in Dignitatis Humanae that there could be several valid ways to implement that right."

This corresponds to the fact that the exercise of a natural right is never considererd ulimited and unqualified.  Under various circumstances the exercise of a right can be justly moderated by law (in view of the common good) without doing violence to the fundamental right of the human person.  The practical implication is that the "due limits" to religious freedom will vary as determined by prudence according to the particular circumstances and social context (CCC 2109).

Fr. Giovanni Cavalcoli On Rupture Theology

Sandro Magister once again presents us with a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on the question of continuity vs. rupture with respect to Vatican II.  The latest contribution is by Fr. Giovanni Cavolcoli O.P. and it addresses two critical distinctions that I have previously explored here and here.  Let's take a brief look at these.

The first point deals with the distinction between analogy and univocality.  If one applies a univocal conception to theological and pastoral questions then every kind of development or reform will appear as a substantial rupture.  On the other hand, the classical conception of analogy is proper to all vital phenomena - including the knowledge of metaphysical and spiritual realities (Cf. Thomistic theses IV, XX).  This distinction highlights the contrast between Aristotle and Descartes.

The second point deals with the distinction between matters of Faith (per se) and practical-pastoral dispositions.  Often times both elements are comingled and it is necessary to properly distinguish one from the other.  With respect to matters of Faith, and in consequence of the promise of Our Lord,  "we can suppose a priori that the Council cannot teach us something that is false or contrary to what the Church taught before."  Therefore, in the field of dogma, there is never a question of rupture but only (organic) development in continuity.  With respect to practical-pastoral directives, there can and ought to be discontinuity periodically as a consequence of legitimate reform.  It is important to note the possibility of error in this field (practical prudential order).  While changed circumstances may dictate reform it could also happen that reform is undertaken to correct mistaken practical-prudential decisions of the past.