This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Syllabus of Errors by Pius X on Modernism

I have been in a running debate on the condemnation of Modernism by Pius X with another discussant on National Catholic Reporter who uses the word modernist for anyone who believes in a progressive viewpoint, including economically. It prompted me to do a response to Pius’s Syllabus. The numbered paragraphs are the Pope’s, or rather by his Cardinals in the Holy Office. Bad staff work. My comments are underneath and in bold
1. The ecclesiastical law which prescribes that books concerning the Divine Scriptures are subject to previous examination does not apply to critical scholars and students of scientific exegesis of the Old and New Testament.
The scriptural scholars won this round. No more pre-approval since VII
2. The Church's interpretation of the Sacred Books is by no means to be rejected; nevertheless, it is subject to the more accurate judgment and correction of the exegetes.
Everyone is now empowered to interpret scripture, from scholars to the faithful.
3. From the ecclesiastical judgments and censures passed against free and more scientific exegesis, one can conclude that the Faith the Church proposes contradicts history and that Catholic teaching cannot really be reconciled with the true origins of the Christian religion.
The faith is part of history, as is dogma, and studying that is no sin. I heartily recommend Diarmund McCullogh’s Christianity, the First 3000 Years. Yes, he is an Anglican Priest, but he gets the facts right.
4. Even by dogmatic definitions the Church's magisterium cannot determine the genuine sense of the Sacred Scriptures.
It can give it a shot, but its supposed monopoly on such sense is not absolute.
5. Since the deposit of Faith contains only revealed truths, the Church has no right to pass judgment on the assertions of the human sciences.
The Church can certainly interject its views on natural law morality, but it has no advantage over others in the discussion. Anyone can use reason to uncover truth. It certainly cannot ignore scientific fact, such as what we know about gastrulation and how it makes dating life at conception impossible.
6. The "Church learning" and the "Church teaching" collaborate in such a way in defining truths that it only remains for the "Church teaching" to sanction the opinions of the "Church learning."
Whomever he was quoting captured the insularity of Catholic teaching at that time.
7. In proscribing errors, the Church cannot demand any internal assent from the faithful by which the judgments she issues are to be embraced.
It depends. On Dogma regarding the Trinity and the Creed, the elected bishops in Council at Charledon and Nicea set these matters in stone on behalf of the faithful. It would be hard to overturn this, because it is our agreement rather than our knowledge that makes these things true for us.
8. They are free from all blame who treat lightly the condemnations passed by the Sacred Congregation of the Index or by the Roman Congregations.
The Index was gone in Vatican II and the CDF rarely acts. Many times when the CDF acts, it is seen as arbitrary and actually helps book sales. Proposing new ways of seeing things is not sinful, just organizationally inconvenient except when it violates the Credal Dogma we agreed to at Chalcedom and Nicea, and even then such musings should not necessarily bar someone from Eucharist. Modern thought can handle dissent as long as it is expressed that way.
9. They display excessive simplicity or ignorance who believe that God is really the author of the Sacred Scriptures.
Any serious scriptural scholarship proves its human, though inspired, hand and cultural context.
10. The inspiration of the books of the Old Testament consists in this: The Israelite writers handed down religious doctrines under a peculiar aspect which was either little or not at all known to the Gentiles.
The scriptures were not codified in the Old Testament until the Exile. Their use of myth matched most other cultures, as did its doctrinal separatism (making things good or bad to distinguish local values).
11. Divine inspiration does not extend to all of Sacred Scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from every error.
All scripture is inspired but not dictated. They reflect the truth as understood, although we know that Exodus did not happen the way it said and the Torah condemnations of homosexuality are wrong. The point of the prophetic books was moral, not historical and Revelation was a condemnation of Pauline Christianty by a Jerusalem Church refugee who was sure God would restore the latter. It did not happen. Indeed, Paul was wrong on immediate return and this twisted his sexual teachings.
12. If he wishes to apply himself usefully to Biblical studies, the exegete must first put aside all preconceived opinions about the supernatural origin of Sacred Scripture and interpret it the same as any other merely human document.
Scriptural scholars honor the sacred natural of the teachings but also honor its historical and cultural context. Not doing so is idolatry.
13. The Evangelists themselves, as well as the Christians of the second and third generation, artificially arranged the evangelical parables. In such a way they explained the scanty fruit of the preaching of Christ among the Jews.
The Evangelists used Q to source the parables and teachings. Jesus himself knew how many of his own people would igore him. He wept over it.
14. In many narrations the Evangelists recorded, not so much things that are true, as things which, even though false, they judged to be more profitable for their readers.
Pius missed the point that the Gospels were written for different audiences. They also wrote about current issues, like the sacking of Jerusalem and the corruption of youth, not doctrinally (such things did not exist), but sexually.
15. Until the time the canon was defined and constituted, the Gospels were increased by additions and corrections. Therefore there remained in them only a faint and uncertain trace of the doctrine of Christ.
Quomron has settled this one. More interesting is the exclusion and condemnation of the Gnostics and the possiblity of gnosticism in the scriptures that survived. That there was such controversy is beyond dispute.
16. The narrations of John are not properly history, but a mystical contemplation of the Gospel. The discourses contained in his Gospel are theological meditations, lacking historical truth concerning the mystery of salvation.
One can reasonably conclude that about John, including some passages that bornder on Gnosticism. Others believe that John had a better inside story due to his kinship with the Lord. All Gospels and Scriptures are salvation history rather than a factual account in the human sense. They are for belief, not certainty.
17. The fourth Gospel exaggerated miracles not only in order that the extraordinary might stand out but also in order that it might become more suitable for showing forth the work and glory of the Word lncarnate.
Some, like Jefferson, reject miracles. Most others do not. Miracles were worked by faith, not power.
18. John claims for himself the quality of witness concerning Christ. In reality, however, he is only a distinguished witness of the Christian life, or of the life of Christ in the Church at the close of the first century.
Whether John the Apostle penned the book or whether one of his followers did so based on his teaching (as Mark used the teachings of Peter), is not important.
19. Heterodox exegetes have expressed the true sense of the Scriptures more faithfully than Catholic exegetes.
A knowledge of history and culture can certainly provide a richer and more acurate picture than many in the Church provide. This is a misuse of Heterodox, which refers to credal orthodoxy, not a monopoly on all religious truth.
20. Revelation could be nothing else than the consciousness man acquired of his revelation to God.
Inspiration is a vital part of the writing of scripture. God does speak to us, as he spoke to scriptural writers, through a leaded glass.
21. Revelation, constituting the object of the Catholic faith, was not completed with the Apostles.
Pius should read the Fourth Gospel. Jesus promised the Paraclete because there was more to reveal. There still is.
22. The dogmas the Church holds out as revealed are not truths which have fallen from heaven. They are an interpretation of religious facts which the human mind has acquired by laborious effort.
Credal dogma was based on agreement about inspired (or revealed) reason about the Trinity after lots of argument. Inspiration can enter the human mind, particularly those who are confirmed (unless Pius is saying that knowledge is no longer a gift of the Holy Spirit). The Pope has no monopoly on this, although the current Pope uses his Confirmation well.
23. Opposition may, and actually does, exist between the facts narrated in Sacred Scripture and the Church's dogmas which rest on them. Thus the critic may reject as false facts the Church holds as most certain.
We are most certain about what we don’t know but have agreed to because argument would be futile. As far as rejecting teaching, if it is based in error, particularly on birth control, homosexuality and women’s ordination,we are commanded to speak up by conscience.
24. The exegete who constructs premises from which it follows that dogmas are historically false or doubtful is not to be reproved as long as he does not directly deny the dogmas themselves .
Copernicus was correct. So was Darwin. Wrong was Augustine’s interpretation of the creation story as fact rather than as allegory on blame as well as his misogynistic views on sexuality. Pius is wrong on what Dogma is. Whether women are ordained is about practice, not Dogma. The teachings on Onanism were about family obligation, not the sacerdotal nature of sperm, which anyone with a microscope and a willing donor can confirm.
25. The assent of faith ultimately rests on a mass of probabilities .
Correct and wrong. True faith comes from God, often through trial. Belief in the belief in God depends on the luck of the draw in chosing your parents or mate.
26. The dogmas of the Faith are to be held only according to their practical sense; that is to say, as preceptive norms of conduct and not as norms of believing.
Pius incorrectly understands Dogma, as most Trads do. Dogma is credal and orthodox. Teachings on morals are based on natural law (where the Pope’s authority cannot trump reason and evidence) and must indeed be practical in teaching how to live a life of love and peace. Natural law which demands belief because it flunks the tests of reason and human happiness is in violation of the Lord’s teaching that his yoke is easy and his burden light. It resembles what was laid upon the people by the priests and scribes.
27. The divinity of Jesus Christ is not proved from the Gospels. It is a dogma which the Christian conscience has derived from the notion of the Messias.
The historic fact is that our understanding of Jesus as the Son of God was not settled until Chalcedon. While the belief was there, there was a lot to fight about.
28. While He was exercising His ministry, Jesus did not speak with the object of teaching He was the Messias, nor did His miracles tend to prove it.
The Father spoke of it at Jesus Baptism and Transfiguration. He made others say it, although his teaching on the road to Emmaus showed he both knew it and how he did (through the Scriptures).
29. It is permissible to grant that the Christ of history is far inferior to the Christ Who is the object of faith.
If you¬ confine to non-Christian sources, only Josephus records his presence and some have called this doubtful. Christ in his life was a humble day laborer who became the Rabbi of Caphernum (with a house and a wife). He was unremarkable until his ministry and he came humbly, not triumphantly, save for Palm Sunday, which is designed as a provocation.
30 In all the evangelical texts the name "Son of God'' is equivalent only to that of "Messias." It does not in the least way signify that Christ is the true and natural Son of God.
Until Chalcedon, there was lots of debate on what Son of God meant. Remember as well that these Councils were under New Rome and that old Rome was not even present.
31. The doctrine concerning Christ taught by Paul, John, and the Councils of Nicea, Ephesus and Chalcedon is not that which Jesus taught but that which the Christian conscience conceived concerning Jesus.
Paul was preparing the world for the imminent return. John’s writings were 60 years after the fact, probably by a disciple. They are clear on Christ’s divinity but not on what that meant. The Councils fully secured Orthodox agreement on these issues in Christianity, but after centuries of writing.
32. It is impossible to reconcile the natural sense of the Gospel texts with the sense taught by our theologians concerning the conscience and the infallible knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The Gospels are not autobiographical about Christ’s thoughts, although Matthew’s nativity text about Mary keeping all these things in her heart and John relating Jesus’ teachings of how the scriptures related to him on the road to Emmaus give us an indication of his self-knowledge. Paul tells us that he emptied himself and took the form of a slave. Did he have all human and divine knowledge available to him in his life? No. If an alien spacecraft landed in Nazareth, he could not have repaired it because the engineer died in the crash. I doubt Rome could except the implications of any of this, though Francis might.
33 Everyone who is not led by preconceived opinions can readily see that either Jesus professed an error concerning the immediate Messianic coming or the greater part of His doctrine as contained in the Gospels is destitute of authenticity.
The doctrine of immediate return was Paul’s error. Jesus said the time was known only to the father. All or nothing thinking is an excuse to not believe. Some modernists may say it, although it is usually the atheists, but the idea that we must throw the baby out with the bathwater is intellectual immaturity and the fear of such reasoning is a sad feature of Magisterial teaching, especially about sex and women.
34. The critics can ascribe to Christ a knowledge without limits only on a hypothesis which cannot be historically conceived and which is repugnant to the moral sense. That hypothesis is that Christ as man possessed the knowledge of God and yet was unwilling to communicate the knowledge of a great many things to His disciples and posterity.
What Christ knew and believed about himself is an enduring puzzle. See my response to 32.
35. Christ did not always possess the consciousness of His Messianic dignity.
Christ knew of his destiny (he would not call it dignity and he would condemn the dignity of the Vatican) by the scriptures. See response to 32.
36. The Resurrection of the Savior is not properly a fact of the historical order. It is a fact of merely the supernatural order (neither demonstrated nor demonstrable) which the Christian conscience gradually derived from other facts.
This is true but stated disagreeably. The fact of the resurrection was not a public miracle. Christ did not reveal himself to the masses. It is known by apostolic witness and only after the witnesses were all dead did the Overseers (Pastors, later Bishops) take over the apostolic duties. Mary Magdalene is the first apostle, largely because as his wife she was at the tomb to further anoint the body.
37. In the beginning, faith in the Resurrection of Christ was not so much in the fact itself of the Resurrection as in the immortal life of Christ with God.
That sounds more like a gnostic belief than a Modernist one. Still, Pius gets this one right.
38. The doctrine of the expiatory death of Christ is Pauline and not evangelical.
Paul wrote and died before the first Gospel was written. The Gospel shows that approach is wrong. Read together, the last words of Jesus in all the Gospels show that the Crucifixion was a vision quest where Christ was driven to despair by essentially telling his mother (the source of his knowledge of his divine sonship) that he was dead and not triumphant and telling his beloved disciple (either John his nephew or his brother in law Lazarus) to care for his mother (not baptize all nations). This led him to cry out to God. Having done so, he called for and drank the fruit of the vine, which indicates that we are saved not by his death but by his sharing of our despair at apartness from God.
39. The opinions concerning the origin of the Sacraments which the Fathers of Trent held and which certainly influenced their dogmatic canons are very different from those which now rightly exist among historians who examine Christianity .
Any Catholic High School student knows how the sacraments have evolved and how they started. If only confession were in the model of James, which it still may be, or Eucharist were still on the model of the last supper (which father’s lead, not priests). Baptism and Orders evolved as well. We should go back to the people electing Overseers at the Parish level and let them elect bishops and Patriarchs.
40. The Sacraments have their origin in the fact that the Apostles and their successors, swayed and moved by circumstances and events, interpreted some idea and intention of Christ.
This is literally true because bishops and popes are the successors of the apostles, meaning that they must witness to the Resurrection. All else is detail, although Sacramental celebration should take stock of events (like the evolution of democracy for Ordination and the ordination of women).
41. The Sacraments are intended merely to recall to man's mind the ever-beneficent presence of the Creator.
Agree with Pius on this. Instead, they are to bring the actual presence of God to the mind of man.
42. The Christian community imposed the necessity of Baptism, adopted it as a necessary rite, and added to it the obligation of the Christian profession.
Agree partially with Pius. The original communities spoke for Christ because he commanded it.
43. The practice of administering Baptism to infants was a disciplinary evolution, which became one of the causes why the Sacrament was divided into two, namely, Baptism and Penance.
History says that Modernists are right. Also in the division of Baptism and Confirmation.
44. There is nothing to prove that the rite of the Sacrament of Confirmation was employed by the Apostles. The formal distinction of the two Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation does not pertain to the history of primitive Christianity.
This is essentially what they teach in Confirmation class. Modernists won this one.
45. Not everything which Paul narrates concerning the institution of the Eucharist (I Cor. 11:23-25) is to be taken historically.
Agree on the description of the meal, although on receiving worthily Garry Wills gets it right.
46. In the primitive Church the concept of the Christian sinner reconciled by the authority of the Church did not exist. Only very slowly did the Church accustom herself to this concept. As a matter of fact, even after Penance was recognized as an institution of the Church, it was not called a Sacrament since it would be held as a disgraceful Sacrament.
Penance evolved from confessing to another or to a community (in case of apostasy) to the scrupulous litany of sin adopted by use of the Irish Sin Books.
47. The words of the Lord, "Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained'' (John 20:22-23), in no way refer to the Sacrament of Penance, in spite of what it pleased the Fathers of Trent to say.
It is valid to infer this power to all the faithful, as this was how James dictated it be used. Trent blissfully ignores how the Church evolved.
48. In his Epistle (Ch. 5:14-15) James did not intend to promulgate a Sacrament of Christ but only commend a pious custom. If in this custom he happens to distinguish a means of grace, it is not in that rigorous manner in which it was taken by the theologians who laid down the notion and number of the Sacraments.
Agreed with Pius. James first demonstrates confession of sin. His demostration and history show it has evolved from a largely do it yourself Church.
49. When the Christian supper gradually assumed the nature of a liturgical action those who customarily presided over the supper acquired the sacerdotal character.
It is the role of the clergy that evolved. The meal was always about communion with Christ and each other.
50. The elders who fulfilled the office of watching over the gatherings of the faithful were instituted by the Apostles as priests or bishops to provide for the necessary ordering of the increasing communities and not properly for the perpetuation of the Apostolic mission and power.
The modernists did not go far enough. The office of apostle was different than being a member of the 12 and it was Paul that worked with the Churches of Rome and Asia Minor. He may have only helped the people elect their elders and overseers and essentially functioned, with Barnabas and others as an Archbishop or Patriarch without the egomania.
51. It is impossible that Matrimony could have become a Sacrament of the new law until later in the Church since it was necessary that a full theological explication of the doctrine of grace and the Sacraments should first take place before Matrimony should be held as a Sacrament.
The grace of Matrimony came before doctrine, before Church, before civilization itself. Indeed, it existed before Adam and Eve were born in Turkey, centuries after Homo Sapiens left Africa and mated with Neanderthals. Any time two humans commit to each other the Sacrament lives, whether churched or unchurched, gay or straight. Of course, this is more than Pius understood although most parish priests, especially the gay ones, would now agree.
52. It was far from the mind of Christ to found a Church as a society which would continue on earth for a long course of centuries. On the contrary, in the mind of Christ the kingdom of heaven together with the end of the world was about to come immediately.
Christ did not know when he would return, as he said. He did not know about centuries although he got the part about the likelihood of that Church becoming corruptly vain glorious right, turning the washing of the feet into an empty ritual. Paul and the Twelve were the ones focusing on imminent return.
53. The organic constitution of the Church is not immutable. Like human society, Christian society is subject to a perpetual evolution.
Modernists got this so right it hurts. If you beleive in the prophesies of St. Malachy, you have to agree as well. My hope is for the contraction of the Roman Patriarchy to western Italy (Venice has its own Patriarch) and the election of national or linguistic patriarchies on the model of the Orthodox, with women priests in the America or Celitic (or for a biblical connection, Galatian) as well as male and female deacon administrators running the parishes, holding office by election.
54. Dogmas, Sacraments and hierarchy, both their notion and reality, are only interpretations and evolutions of the Christian intelligence which have increased and perfected by an external series of additions the little germ latent in the Gospel.
Modernists are right again. The Pauline letters were comfort to Pauline churches, which were mostly parishes that grew with the Pastor keeping authority over multiple assemblies rather than encouraging the election of equal Pastors. See above for why we have Orthodox dogma and differentiated natural law based morality. That Sacraments evolve are so obvious to make me doubt the sanity and intelligence of the anti-modernists, or at least the competence of their teachers.
55. Simon Peter never even suspected that Christ entrusted the primacy in the Church to him.
James, the brother of Jesus, seems to have been Patriarch of Jerusalem when it was the only game in town. He was not one of the twelve but that did not stop him from taking over either before or after Peter went to Antioch. Regardless, the See of Peter was linked to the seat of empire. The Petrine See is therefore more likely identified with Constantinople (Bartholomew) then Rome (Francis), and Benedict and Francis have essentially healed the schism and dealt Bartholomew into the game, though without recognizing his historic primacy.
56. The Roman Church became the head of all the churches, not through the ordinance of Divine Providence, but merely through political conditions.
Correct. It self anointed when Constantinople wasn’t looking.
57. The Church has shown that she is hostile to the progress of the natural and theological sciences.
Until it examines the moral implications of gastrulation and evolution, the Modernists are right. The whole Galaleo thing was a bad stunt.
58. Truth is no more immutable than man himself, since it evolved with him, in him, and through him.
Pius is right and misunderstands. Truth is objective, both superaturally and physically. The understanding of truth and man’s understanding of himself and existence in culture is constantly evolving.
59. Christ did not teach a determined body of doctrine applicable to all times and all men, but rather inaugurated a religious movement adapted or to be adapted to different times and places.
Yes and no for Pius. He gave us the Spirit because we knew little, we meaning the Apostles. He taught the Kingdom of God, which if understood by the Vatican as it was meant to would shake them to the core (though JPI and Francis understand).
60. Christian Doctrine was originally Judaic. Through successive evolutions it became first Pauline, then Joannine, finally Hellenic and universal.
This error seems to be a pretty good summary of history.
61. It may be said without paradox that there is no chapter of Scripture, from the first of Genesis to the last of the Apocalypse, which contains a doctrine absolutely identical with that which the Church teaches on the same matter. For the same reason, therefore, no chapter of Scripture has the same sense for the critic and the theologian.
Sadly, not true. The Church proof texts like a bunch of Protestants on sex and divorce and the role of women, even without understanding the context or even the text.
62. The chief articles of the Apostles' Creed did not have the same sense for the Christians of the first ages as they have for the Christians of our time.
The Apostles Creed is a story of legend and true belief but an apocryphal story. It had lack that was fixed in Chalchedon, et al.
63. The Church shows that she is incapable of effectively maintaining evangelical ethics since she obstinately clings to immutable doctrines which cannot be reconciled with modern progress.
Advocates of women and priests would agree with the modernists, as would the victims of clergy sexual abuse. The Index was a travesty and is gone and the CDF cannot keep up with modern scriptural scholarship or the Internet. I would begin to trust it if it condemned the craven Republican politics of the pro-life movement.
64. Scientific progress demands that the concepts of Christian doctrine concerning God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word, and Redemption be re-adjusted.
Redemption must be adjusted, which leads to an evolved understanding of God and the Person of the Incarnate Word. These are not about science, but scripture and human nature. Creation is about science and until the Church changes its tune on Original Sin to take out disobedience as a historic fact and emphasize human nature as blameworthy because it blames others, then it will have a problem with reality.
65. Modern Catholicism can be reconciled with true science only if it is transformed into a non-dogmatic Christianity; that is to say, into a broad and liberal Protestantism.
Funny. Fundamentalist Evangelicals can be worse than the Curia in their mental stubbornness. Being more like Anglicans or Disciples of Christ would be a step forward (though not the anti-gay Africans).