Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An interlude with C.S. Lewis.


"The real reason I cannot be in communion with you [Catholics] is not a disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say."


  1. Yes, this is correct. St Thomas explains (somewhere) that the Catholic faith entails accepting what the church teaches _because_ it teaches it, and not because, say, we happen to like it or agree with it on some other grounds (like our own reasonings). This was a shock for me when I first learned about it, for it implies exactly what Lewis says: that you must agree in advance. It follows, however, from believing that the church is from God and guided by the Holy Spirit. That is the first principle. And once you accept this, whatever the church teaches authoritatively (whether now or in the future) must be accepted since God can neither deceive nor be deceived.

    It requires a certain boundless trust and commitment. Or maybe we should just say Faith?

    With a little digging, you can probably find the passage where Aquinas discusses this. Probably in the Summa or in the Quodlibetal questions.

    Lewis is wrong of course in using this fact as a reason NOT to be Catholic, since it is perfectly logical. On the other hand, most Catholics today don't accept it either. For they don't accept what the church teaches now, let alone in the future. In this sense, they don't have the faith at all, for they reject its first principle, just as Lewis did.

  2. IIRC, Lewis went on to point out that other bodies with as far as he could see equally good claims to represent the Church (eg., Eastern Orthodoxy) differed from Roman doctrine, and they couldn't -all- be right. I think he made that point in the introduction to "Mere Christianity".

  3. I think the problem today, and the one you may be having Dale, is discerning the true teaching of the Church amidst the landslide of false practice and non-magisterial material generated by Popes, Bishops, and Priests in these evil days. The 'Church Militant,' which is the true Church for those who live, is only made of people in a state of grace and unity. That may be quite a different group than you see on TV.

  4. It's a problem. The bigger problem is that Catholicism in practice, if not on paper, seems to be reducing itself to a form of "papal positivism."

    All cues are to be taken from the See and all interpretations made in light of whoever happens to be pontiff. It's hardly limited to the current Pope, either--let me be clear on that.

    Ironically, for all the inkwells spilled on behalf of collegiality to the contrary, the Papacy has grown in significance since the Second Vatican Council. Also ironic is the popular admonition to read the officeholder in light of his predecessor--that is a symptom of the problem, not its cure.

    And, yes, the same applies to the actions of the local ordinary. The bishop is supposed to be the custodian of the Faith, not its locus.

  5. My initial response is a reductio:

    "The real reason I cannot be [a Christian] is not a disagreement with this or that [Christian] doctrine, but that to accept your [faith] means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your [Lord] hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say."

    I think Lewis is very wide of the mark on this, since there is a genuine distinction between the depositum fidei AS GIVEN (objective, fixed, finite) and the same AS RECEIVED (explained, applied, developed). If he could, as it were, preemptively accept the integrity of Christ as Lord in any circumstances, he should have been able, in principle, to accept the integrity (wholeness, holiness, catholicity) of the Church which Christ established. Even the "given body of doctrine" which he defends was given BY someone. He's talking here like a Fundie as if the Bible fell from Heaven. Nope. The glory of the Bible and the Liturgy and the Creed as we lucky schlubs enjoy it is but the effulgence of the resurrections which the Church undergoes everyday in the crucifying crucible of historical ampliation. The Church still bears the scars of Her growth (e.g. "homoousios", "filioque", etc.), as Christ still bears the wounds of His kenosis, and therefore to speak of some given body of doctrine as if it were a Platonic sphere is to commit ecclesiological Nestorianism, or something similar. Read Chesterton's section in The Everlasting Man on "The Five Deaths of the Faith". Sadly, Lewis could never follow his master, GKC, on that fully coherent front.

    I think very much of the ultramontanism is a form of papal obesity, but that does not mean that the Catholic principle is dead, simply morbid in practice. Before he went the Fully Monty, as it were, Bornacatholic/ IAmNotSpartacus/ Larry noted, optimistically, that this papacy would cure a much needed portion of Catholics from papolatry. I agree that the Petrine See is indefectible, but to argue that this means the occupants thereof are preserved from any and all criticisms or defects is as stupid as it is prevalent. There really have been "bad popes" and if we don't embrace that fact, we're as ignoble, from a Catholic perspective, as dogmatic Young Earthers. If the Church can apologize and "repent" for "the Galileo affair" and "the child abuse scandal," then the hierarchy can and should apologize for "bad popes." Humility begins at the top, just as a fish rots from the head. I really, really urge you not to miss the forest for the trees on this. As you know, I deeply, and just as painfully, agree that the Cult of the Magisterium is a deadly disgrace, but it does not compromise the Faith. Christianity can suffer from a cancer of the three main Catholic organs: an inflated traditionalism (Orthodoxy/Donatism), an inflated biblicism (Protestantism/Socianism), or an inflated pastoralism (Pentecostalism/Montanism). As I realized long ago, Francis is trying to out-Evangelicalize the Evangelicals, and this is all of a piece with the regant fever in the Body: the Cult of the Magisterium. God, please, PLEASE deliver us from The Experts.

  6. James Carroll has a Boston Globe piece up:


    I know what you said about Catholic commentary but this is Jimmy Carroll who's about as Roman Catholic as Kenneth Copeland.

    Come on, Dale. You know you want to. :-)

  7. I think Lewis is correct. And, now that so much of "Catholic Culture" has been replaced by a Cult of Papal Positivism, it's an even more problematic proposition than it was when Lewis was writing.

    My consolation is to remember that the Faith is not a rational proposition.

    It's not about Creed or even Code. It's about Cult. The Cult of the Divine Bridegroom who comes to Divinize us so that we can be joined to Him forever.

    Creed and Code follow from Cult.

    We've had it exactly backwards, particularly in the West, for the last 400-600 years.

    This is, I think, one of the things that Resourcement was attempting to address.

  8. F. Walker speaks to the trouble, I think: how DO we discern what is true and necessary from what is novelty or distortion, or merely one's private consideration?

  9. I think Lewis hits the mark here.

    It's logically equivalent to "what is the Catholic Church?" If her claims to be, not only founded by Christ, but under the continuing protection of the Holy Spirit are true, then one can trust that whatever comes in the future is sound.

    As the Spartans replied to Philip of Macedon, IF.


  10. I see that Lewis is being in two ways here: cynically, as I read him, and inadvertently prophetic, as others are reading him. So let me clarify that when I say that he is off the mark, I refer to his implication that the Church can do or say "whatever it wants" with the depositum fidei. On the other hand, he is correct, despite himself, as others have noted, that embracing the authority of the Church is an absolute surrender, which includes future developments. A lemma in Lewis's complaint is that the Church can "produce" new doctrine on already definitive beliefs, but this is false. As far as unsettled disputes go (e.g. De Auxiliis, the nature of Limbo, etc.), however, the Body of Christ alone is competent to transmit the truth, in its triune witness of Liturgy, Scripture, and Apostolic Adjudication. This is why I don't see any reason, much less ability, to try to rank the organs of revelation as if one or two of them proceeded from the other. Precisely as organs of the Body of Christ, Liturgy, Scripture, and Authority proceed from Christ Himself qua Priest (cult), Prophet (creed), and King (judge). Ironically enough, for a high Anglican like Lewis, it was precisely the Anglican "tripod" of Tradition, Scripture, and Reason which brought that communion to its knees. Meanwhile, the Church's trifold witness stands or falls as a unity. Reason is merely the faculty we have for accepting that fact.

  11. Meanwhile, I like to imagine Tolkien replying in kind:

    "The real reason I cannot be in communion with you [Anglicans] is not a disagreement with this or that [Christian] doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter [jettisons]. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to [his future denial thereof]."

    I just don't see how Lewis could promote unflinching obedience to the person of Christ yet reject a similar obedience to those appointed by Christ. (I suspect this quotations was given after Lambeth 1930, but did Lewis apostasize?) He nearly lost his faith due to unforeseen suffering in his life, yet what preserved him was an absolutist commitment to the fundamental goodness of God. We are called to a similar trust in the credibility of the Church as the angel of the same all-good God. Of course, to bifurcate the Church from the Lord is just Protestantism, and Lewis, all over again.

  12. The Magisterium is not completely at liberty to reverse or set aside the Deposit of Faith. Development of doctrine involves organic fleshing out and interpretation of doctrine on faith and morals, not reversals. On the other hand, I would agree with CS Lewis to the extent that the Magisterium can go overboard and issue too much in the way of documents and such all the time. While I think a Magisterium is essential to apply the deposit of faith to new or controverted situations, in some ways, I think the Orthodox are lucky that they have had no way to issue any new Magisterial teachings and simply carry on with the unvarnished teachings of the first several Councils.

  13. I think he was a little off. What it really means is agreeing to what has been revealed, and agreeing that the RCC is the authority to reveal it. I don't see how that is any more risky of a propopsition than agreeing to what X sect now believes, and agreeing to what it may or may not believe in the future, or simply following your own whims from day-to-day. At least you have Scripture attesting to Peter's keys. What did King Henry have?

  14. Certainly on a more fallible level, we agree that the SCOTUS is the authority to interpret the Constitution, and citizens and residents don't consider it particularly crazy to adhere to that authoritative scheme, even though the SCOTUS has, on many occasions, contradicted itself. Yet, as a condition of citizenship/residence/membership of the community, we accept that authority. 1900 years of teaching and he didn't disagree, but somehow is worried about what the RCC might say in the future?

    For that matter, it would make more sense to dump Christianity altogether because if the RCC does not have the divine promise to remain in all truth, no portion of Christianity does.

  15. This is an old thread. The developments of two Synods on the Family with their scandalous machinations, and subsequent letter (BOOK!)Amor Libidinis purportedly bringing their collective wisdom to the Church, gives CS Lewis's objection new relevance. C Matt's observations on SCOTUS are also relevant to the question. Events of the last two years have reinforced the impression that old certainties and arrangements are currently hijacked for the introduction of a new agenda which was neither implied when we promised allegiance, nor assented to by the people who are expected to obey.
    From St Paul onwards, the Church has consistently taught only one Gospel, and no new doctrine is possible after the end of Revelation with the death of the last Apostle. All development of doctrine has to preserve the same sense and meaning as the teaching from which it develops. See the postings of Fr John Hunwicke on this question here:
    and over the following four or more days.


Be reasonably civil. Ire alloyed with reason is fine. But slagging the host gets you the banhammer.

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