Infallibility Explored

Infallibility Explored

- the Cardinal responds

by CARDINAL JOSEPH RATZINGER
published in Céide May/June 1999, vol 2 no 5, pp. 28-29. Moy Valley Resources, Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland; here republished with permission of the editor.

In the Jan-Feb edition of Céide, Ladislas Orsy S.J.. Professor of Law at Georgetown University, Washington, responded to the comments of the Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the status of the Apostolic Letter Ad Tuendam Fidem and its Roman commentary. An American theologian commenting on the debate between Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Professor Ladislas 0rsy wrote:

“You may not realise that the whole event is a historical breakthrough. To my best knowledge it is the first time that a dialogue - between the highest representative of the Roman ecclesiastical administration and a concerned intellectually well-equipped theologian speaking for the people at large - has taken place in a public exchange of views. This is a beautiful example of faith seeking understanding in common.”

The following is Cardina1 Ratzinger’s reponse to Professor Orsy. Professor Orsy’s reply follows on page 30.

It is a matter for rejoicing that the article written by L. Orsy commenting on the Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam fidem has an objective tone and is without polemics. Regrettably it contains certain misinfonnation that must be corrected.

1. Father Orsy assures us that the new canons were not needed because the category of definitively proposed teaching “as it appears now in official documents had not developed yet”. He supports the affirmation concerning the complete novelty of this category with the thesis that “definitive teaching” in a new sense must not be confused with the so called ‘secondary object’ of infallibility; the latter being “a category that was developed at the first Vatican Council and became fully integrated into the understanding of the Tradition”. How the author could have come to this thesis is inexplicable. Clearly, with the second level of knowledge precisely this category is intended. The truths of this level must be definitively held even though they are not to be received with theological faith in the proper sense. The conclusions rest on a groundless division between the two types of knowledge and, therefore, it cannot stand.

There is a small lack of precision which is hardly worth mentioning. The author speaks of new canons; in reality only a second paragraph has been added to canon 750, and in canon 1371 a reference to this second paragraph has been inserted. Since the issue is doctrinal, it transcends ritual differences, corresponding additions, therefore, have been inserted into the Code of the oriental Churches.

2. I do not find it objective that Fr.Orsy constructs an opposition {contradiction}between Ad tuendam fidem and Vatican II. {He writes that} the Council intended no threats and penalties because the Fathers of the Council “trusted that truth will attract by its own beauty and strength” whereas the first reforms of the present Code of Canon Law does precisely that: it contains threats and penalties. Now, it is obvious that the Council Fathers in their deliberations had in mind the validity of the legal order as it was formulated by the then applicable Code of Canon Law which naturally contained a section on penal law. Moreover, they too wanted the reform of canon law that was decreed by Pope John XXIII and they knew that it will have to include penal law. Even if mitigated and modernized, they realized, it would still be penal law. In fact, a large number of the bishops of the world wish today for the “sharpening” of the penal law; this is a consequence of the cases of priests guilty of paedophilia. The protection of the rights of the accused priests has become so strong that the bishops feel powerless in cases when for the sake of the faithful they should have the power to intervene. For the rest, Fr. Orsy is surely aware that Paul used the praxis of excommunication and thus he applied ecclesiastical penal law; also, for example, as Mt 18:15-17 shows, the synoptic tradition knew of penalties to enfore eccleciastical discipline It would be beautiful if such groundless assertion of oppositions - which creates annoyance - could be avoided in the future.

3. Let it be noted further that Fr.Orsy is not quite right when he represents the possibility of the reforms of the Codes of Canon Law as a novelty. Since the church is a living organism, this was foreseen from the beginning. Already, in the case of the Code of 1917, a commission was nominated to provide for the authentic interpretation of the laws; it had also the task of inserting into the Code the necessary changes and expansions enacted later. Similarly, we have today the Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts; it is not authorized to introduce changes in the Code since it does not have any legislative authority, but - as it is obvious - one of its tasks is to suggest new legislation as needed and to be of counsel in the process of its preparation. It is evident, therefore, that from the very beginning further development of the law was anticipated.

Momentous is the following affirmation of the author: “In truth, to add clauses to the ancient Creed, to add clauses referring to what is not a matter of faith, and then call the whole structure a ‘Profession of Faith’ is a novelty. There is no precedent for it in Christian history”. Unfortunately, when he calls this a novelty, Fr. Orsy is proceeding somewhat carelessly - as it seems. Had he searched his historical memory, he would have surely discovered that ever since the Reformation Protestant pastors were ordained on the basis of the profession of faith of the early church and of the Reformation. Similarly, on the Catholic side, to the profession of faith of the early church the profession of faith of the Council of Trent was added, which under Pius X was further augmented by the oath against modernism. To argue on the basis of a canon of Chalcedon that such texts {of disparate authority }must not be united {under the heading of “Profession of Faith” }is to reason as some Fathers of the fifth century did: they claimed that the Councils of Constantinople and Chalcedon were incompatible with the conclusive character of the Council of Nicea.

Back to the present: In the year of 1987, in the spirit of Vatican II, the Tridentine Profession of Faith and the oath against modernism were replaced by a brief and summary profession. It articulated the significance of the doctrine of the sacraments, of the sacrifice of the Mass, and of the primacy of the pope and proclaimed in general terms adhesion to the church’s teachings, in the manner demanded by {the authority of}a given doctrine. No-one then criticized the replacement of the two long and, from certain points of view, problematic texts by a concise new formula of a few lines. On the contrary, this was seen as a happy decision; it was perceived as a positive fruit of the Council. Yet, the objection could have been raised against the formula of 1987 that it did not distinguish sufficiently clearly among the degrees of assent and it did not follow a clear criterion in the selection of the teachings which were not explicitly articulated {developed }in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan profession of faith. On the basis of such considerations a new version was composed which now clearly distinguishes {first}theological faith in its proper sense, {second}ecclesiastical faith corresponding to the “secondary objects of the revelation” and {third }"religious reverence", obsequium religiosum, toward the non-infallible teaching office. This new three-fold extension {completion}went into force on January 9,1989, that is about ten years ago. Already, there has been a ten years’ period to discuss the distinctions among the levels {of teaching and assent}; why it did not happen in Germany, I cannot say. In any case, the purpose of the formula was not to present as faith what is not faith; it was precisely to distinguish the specific levels of assent.

5. I rejoice that there is at least one point in Fr. Orsy’s expositions that I can confirm extensively namely what concerns the “explanatory Commentary”. As a matter of fact, its whole text was composed by the Congregation, also, at the successive stages of its preparation, it was submitted to the assembly of the Cardinals, and at the end it was approved by them. It obtained also the approval of the Holy Father. Such approvals not withstanding, all agreed that the text should not be given a binding force; rather, it should be offered as a help for understanding. It was not, therefore, published as a proper document of the Congregation itself. To show, however, that {the Commentary }is not the private work of the Prefect and the Secretary of the Congregation but an authorized aid for the understanding of the texts, a specific {extraordinary}manner for its publication was chosen. This {initiative}could be criticized and in this case Fr. Orsy could have said rightly that this manner {of publication}was entirely new. But why not, indeed? At any rate, Fr. Orsy’s conclusion is correct, namely, the listing of some doctrinal propositions as examples does not grant them any more weight than what they had before. The intention was only to list examples {propositions) whose rank {degree of binding authority}has been determined either by the documents of the magisterium or by the consensus of the auctores probati. So far, no-one need feel an authoritarian imposition or restriction by these texts.

I regret that a contribution that actually should have promoted the objective character of the debate contains some rather grave errors. I hope that these clarifications can lead to a better understanding of the rather rashly criticized document published in the summer of 1998.

Read Prof. Orsy’s reply.


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