Treatise Against Sedevacantism II: Bad Hermeneutics

The problem with Sedevacantism is it undermines every Catholic apologetic versus Protestantism or Orthodoxy. When it comes to considering the questions of Orthodoxy and Protestantism, a Catholic points out that the Catholic Church is the most truly “universal” form of Christianity, and the most truly evangelical. Protestant sects continually divide over every dispute. They have no sense of authority other than the “book.” They are very provincial. Orthodoxy is equally provincial, but doesn’t win converts. Only the Catholic Church has the full sense of what Christianity should be. If the sedevacantists are right, she doesn’t.

Most importantly, if the Seat is vacant, then where is our standard of authority? As Catholics, we are to see the primary authority not in any book but in the living authority of the occupant of the Chair of St. Peter. Sedevacantists are textual fundamentalists: they look at the pre-Vatican II texts, and the Vatican II texts, and they balk at any apparent contradiction. Rather than considering historical context. For example, Pius XII was condemning very specific things that were going on in specific countries at the time of his writing. Pius XII in many of the RadTrads’ favorite passages was writing to specific audiences about contexts that were specific to his day. It’s like today when a Pope writes about something going on in some dictatorship, and liberal Catholics take the teaching and assume it applies to what’s going on in the US.

Pius XII was very clear in defining what he was condemning: a certain notion of liberty or “freedom of conscience” which separates the individual from both society and the Church. He was specifically condemning radical libertarianism and the French model of “liberty.”

Meanwhile, certain passages from Paul VI get taken out of context, particularly the following from Paul VI (Address During the Last General Meeting of the Second Vatican Council, 7 December 1965):

Secular humanism, revealing itself in its horrible anti-clerical reality has, in a certain sense, defied the council. The religion of the God who became man has met the religion (for such it is) of man who makes himself God. And what happened? Was there a clash, a battle, a condemnation? There could have been, but there was none. The old story of the Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the council. A feeling of boundless sympathy has permeated the whole of it. The attention of our council has been absorbed by the discovery of human needs (and these needs grow in proportion to the greatness which the son of the earth claims for himself). But we call upon those who term themselves modern humanists, and who have renounced the transcendent value of the highest realities, to give the council credit at least for one quality and to recognize our own new type of humanism: we, too, in fact, we more than any others, honor mankind.

RadTrads are fond of quoting the above passage by starting with “The religion of the God who became man” but leaving out the part where Paul VI calls secular humanism “horrid” and “anti-clerical.” He says secular humanism has “defied the Council,” yet the sedevacantists try to use this very passage, inexplicably, to accuse Paul VI of secular humanism!!!tw

A similar conflict occurred in the late Renaissance.  In the Renaissance, two forms of “humanism” emerged: one embodied by Erasmus, and the other by St. Thomas More.  More was criticized by many in the Church merely for being a “humanist”, even though his humanism was not in conflict with Catholic teaching.

A few centuries earlier, St. Thomas Aquinas was criticized for trying to reconcile Aristotle to the fath.

Why is it evil for a Pope to suggest a different approach to dealing with the world, an approach of sympathy?  I cannot understand what there is to object to in this passage, unless one is admitting to a view of judgementalism and hatred?

In my Carmelite group, which has some pretty brilliant people, including two highly trained theologians, it always strikes me that I’m the only one trained in literature, and while I often regret that I never got a theology degree, it amazes me now how much my literature degree has helped me better understand theology.

Text is always open to interpretation, reinterpretation and misinterpretation.  Text is never absolute.  As Catholics, we know we must look at the Bible through the guidance of the Church.  We know that the Biblical authors were writing in historical contexts that we must understand to fully understand what they’re saying.  We know that the Biblical authors were addressing specific audiences about specific issues, and we must consider those audiences and issues.

Did Jesus have “brothers” or “brethren”?  Or did Jesus speak a language, Aramaic, which had one word for both?  When Paul says things about fasting or eating meat, was he talking about Catholic disciplinary practices or was he talking about things the Gnostics were doing?  We understand, as Catholics, that we must read the Bible with the Church’s guidances, yet somehow radical traditionalists think they can read the Church’s documents without the Church’s guidance and take them out of context.

If the Church tells me how to read a document, I’m going to listen to the Church’s guidance on how to read that document. My job as a Catholic is to believe in order to understand.  I trust my own reason only so far, and I do not presume the arrogance to think that I’m smarter than, say, Cardinal Burke or Cardinal Dulles or Cardinal Arinze or certainly Pope John Paul or Pope Benedict.

One response to “Treatise Against Sedevacantism II: Bad Hermeneutics

  1. It’s funny how when Pope Pius XII condemns liberalism (libertarianism), many RadTrads follow Ayn Rand and the Austrian economics- even though that’s the very definition of libertarianism taken to an extreme. And they accuse Pope Paul VI of being a Secular Humanist- quoting a speech where he indeed calls secular humanism false!

    But I think you hit the nail on the head with this question:
    “Why is it evil for a Pope to suggest a different approach to dealing with the world, an approach of sympathy? I cannot understand what there is to object to in this passage, unless one is admitting to a view of judgementalism and hatred?”

    I think that’s what most RadTrads do when they see contradiction with the previous Church in _Nostra Aetate_ and _Lumen Gentium_; they object to the concept of a Jew, an Islamic, or a Protestant being part of the “invincible ignorance” of the “invisible church” precisely because they ARE admitting to a view of judgementalism and hatred, in which they pray for the conversion of such individuals out of a hatred for what they think such individuals believe.

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