Monday, 12 April 2010

Humani Generis - a quick reflection

As I am attempting to live out a traditional Catholic life (part-time at least), I thought that it would be beneficial to plow through some pre-Vatican 2 papal encylicals. Is there a disconnect between what is being taught now and what has always and everywhere been taught previously? It seems so.

Catholicism is not where 'good' people come together in order to debate to come to a knowledge of the truth. In secular thought, 'truth' or whatever they wish to call their version of it, is attained by men reaching upwards. By man's efforts alone, truth can be known. Nothing is more alien to Catholicism.
The Word of God, the Logos, came down to earth, united a human nature to His pre-existing Divine Person by the power of the Holy Spirit and became man in the womb of the Blessed Mother. This descent (katabasis) and self-empyting (kenosis) enables us to come to a knowledge of the Father, since no one on earth knows the Father 'except the Son and to whom the Son chooses to reveal him'. Since man's rational nature is given from above, our faculty of reasoning is not worthless in coming to the truth. In fact, the First Vatican Council said that 'God...can be the natural power of human reason' (On Revelation). Yet, human nature alone can not know all things of the divine order. Men may blantantly ignore truths that they come to, either through reasoning or through hearing the preaching of the Gospel. Pope Pius XII explains, 'Now the human intellect, in gaining knowledge of such truths is hampering both by the activity of the senses and the imagination, and by evil passions arising from original sin. Hence men easily persuade themselves in such matters that what they do not wish to believe is false or at least doubtful.' (2).
So that men do not languish and grope hopefully about in the darkness, brandishing excuses for their behaviour, God Himself reveals Himself and to safeguard the knowledge of the Truth being distorted, founds a Church with an infallible teaching authority.
What therefore is the role of theology? Are not theologians unduly restricted by the doctrines and dogmas of the Faith? What is there left to achieve when the teaching authority (the Magisterium) exists? How can they work when they are confronting with 'a hidrance to progress and an obstacle in the way of science?' (18).
The theologians are meant to support the doctrines and dogmas of the Faith by examining the sources of them in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, and by presenting them in a coherent manner in order to increase our knowledge. He states 'the most noble office of theology is to show how a doctrine defined by the Church is contained in the sources of revelation...' (21).
As an aside, doctrines are like signposts. It is not merely enough to know the location of them or what is contained in them, but in order to arrive at our destination, we must trust them and go beyond them (which is to enter into the divine life of the Blessed Trinity).
There is a subjective side to the objective truth as these, although revealed by God (and therefore safeguarded by His divine authority), must be clothed in human language which will always be very inprecise. However, Pope Pius XII explains rightly that the traditional scholastic terminology is not to be scoffed at, for the sake of picking up the latest novelty and appearing relevant to the current wave of popular thought. In fact, when scholastic terminology or thought is rejected, the Church herself may be rejected as she has many times approved such systems of thought, especially that of Saint Thomas Aquinas. 'The method of Aquinas is singularly preeminent both of teaching students and bringing truth to light' (9). The thought of Saint Thomas is a fierce opponent of modernism as his teaching is clear, precise and is faithfully obedient to Holy Mother Church yet presents a doctrine that is not restrained but one which begs to be explored further with the aim of union with Christ, the whole purpose of the Christian life.
At that time, 'Nouvelle Theologie' was an opponent of Catholic truth. The proponents discarded Thomism, in order to appeal to a 'progressive' culture. However, their 'novelties' are 'like the flowers of the field in existence today and die tomorrow' (17). The constant desire to please the world, leads to a confusion of the faithful, and our bishops are urged to oppose such trends. Communism seemed to many people a great threat or a great hope, yet it is gone, it is not here. Yet unlike Christ, being gone does not means it is alive.
An important theme of this document in my quick reading of it, was how we should receive the Truth handed on to us. In modern times, an attempt has been made to relativise truth, either with the aim of not 'offending and isolating others' or in order to conceal our evil deeds. We have tried to make God in our own image, rather than recognising that He is our Origin and End, and that we are called to 'be holy as our Heavenly Father is holy'. This involves 'self-surrender and self abnegation' (2). Doctrine is to be gratefully received and embraced with love for our Creator and Redeemer, it is not to be tossed aside when such facts confront the prevaling opinion of the time.


  1. Sadly the discontinuity of which you speak often seems so. It's impossible to detect in the teachings of the magisterium - for there would be a horribly crisis if there were a hermeneutic of rupture there, for it would make Our Lord a liar... but anyway, it is palpable in the lives of 'ordinary Catholics'.

    Yet, part of me wonders, has this not been the same throughout the ages? The liturgical "innovations" of Vatican II remind me of the QuignoƱez Breviary, and the Gallican heresies when it came to the Mass. Some of the arguments people have these days are very like the heresies the North African Fathers had to deal with in particular. So, some of it does appear "not new" (if that makes any sense).

    I love that picture of Pius XII by the way, but most of all when he stands as though crucified, looking toward Heaven.

  2. I have heard so much about this 'rupture', yet I have not been able to investigate it fully myself. It does seem so, as you said, in the lives of the man in the pew however.

    I experienced a terrible RCIA programme when I came into the Church, everything was entirely subjective. There was no 'Christ founded this Church, it is the true religion of God'. But 'this Church is the best one for me, however other churches are good enough for other people'.

  3. Oh, bleurgh! Poor you!
    I was very fortunate to find a Priest (who was also Vocations Director, because that question was biting me even then - I'll tell you about it somethime) who happened to have been a convert himself. You see, I was going to a 'High' Anglican Church, and he gave me private instruction for about six months (which consisted often in coffee, and ingenious trick questions from him), and then I was received at the Easter Vigil. No yucky RCIA for me!

    The whole "other Churches are good enough" thing drives me nuts. Maybe it's part of this rupture, eh? Because the Church simply doesn't believe that. She declares that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, and that - with exception of the peculiar relationship and respect we pay the Orthodox - merely a shadow of that is elsewhere.

    It's enough to make you go and found a hermitage, isn't it!?

  4. By the way, if you want to 'see' the rupture (oh the mind boggles), look at people's approaches to Canon Law and Liturgy. It's very, very telling.

    The Holy Father opined that what we believe now is the same as what they believe then. That is true for some, but not true for all. In spotting the differences you will find the rupture, and it ain't pleasant!

  5. The other 'churches' (with the exception of the schismatic Eastern 'Orthodox') are not really 'Churches' in the true sense, as the Holy Father has repeated to the fury of many. They are merely 'faith communities'.

    Much still has to be done, there is great dissent in the Church and the bishops seem oblivious to the mess we are in. Yet we must remember the promise of our Lord to remain with us always, even to the close of the age, and that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against His Bride. I'm sure Father Emerson has an enlightening rant on it :P
    When I was undergoing the RCIA 'instruction' (liberal indoctrination maybe?), I was the most orthodox, and could tell them things they didnt know. Which was quite worrying lol

  6. Enlightening rant indeed! (I rather enjoy his homilies)

  7. Yeh, they are straight to the point and doesnt mess about with 'pink and fluffy' cliches.

    He spoke to me when we went to West Calder for Mass about his time in the SSPX and with Archbishop Lefebvre, was really interesting listening to someone who was involved rather than reading the same old things off the internet about Econe, 1988 etc...

  8. I know! I really enjoy it when he talks about those days.