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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Popes Say The Darndest Things

While researching regarding Duns Scotus we came across two documents of Benedict XVI that contain some remarkable opinions--opinions that cut to the heart of his papacy.

The first document is the text of a General Audience given on July 7, 2010. The General Audience was devoted to John Duns Scotus.

After going over the major events of Scotus' life B16 notes that:

Because of the fame of his holiness, his cult soon became widespread in the Franciscan Order and Venerable Pope John Paul II, wishing to confirm it, solemnly beatified him on 20 March 1993, describing him as the "minstrel of the Incarnate Word and defender of Mary's Immaculate Conception" (Solemn Vespers, St Peter's Basilica; L'Osservatore Romano [ore] English edition, n.3, 24 March 1993, p. 1). These words sum up the important contribution that Duns Scotus made to the history of theology.

He then goes on to make a rather startling point regarding the promulgation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception:
In this regard I would like to highlight a fact that I consider relevant. Concerning the teaching on the Immaculate Conception, important theologians like Duns Scotus enriched what the People of God already spontaneously believed about the Blessed Virgin and expressed in acts of devotion, in the arts and in Christian life in general with the specific contribution of their thought. Thus faith both in the Immaculate Conception and in the bodily Assumption of the Virgin was already present in the People of God, while theology had not yet found the key to interpreting it in the totality of the doctrine of the faith. The People of God therefore precede theologians and this is all thanks to that supernatural sensus fidei, namely, that capacity infused by the Holy Spirit that qualifies us to embrace the reality of the faith with humility of heart and mind. In this sense, the People of God is the "teacher that goes first" and must then be more deeply examined and intellectually accepted by theology. May theologians always be ready to listen to this source of faith and retain the humility and simplicity of children! I mentioned this a few months ago saying:  "There have been great scholars, great experts, great theologians, teachers of faith who have taught us many things. They have gone into the details of Sacred Scripture... but have been unable to see the mystery itself, its central nucleus.... The essential has remained hidden!... On the other hand, in our time there have also been "little ones" who have understood this mystery. Let us think of St Bernadette Soubirous; of St Thérèse of Lisieux, with her new interpretation of the Bible that is "non-scientific' but goes to the heart of Sacred Scripture" (Homily, Mass for the Members of the International Theological Commission, Pauline Chapel, Vatican City, 1 December 2009).
It's unclear just how seriously B16 intends this nonsense to be taken.  Does he really think that Church dogma is to be driven by what "the people of God" "spontaneously" believe?  Does he have in mind a mechanism for determining what the "people of God" spontaneously believe at any given time in history--public opinion polling for example?  Does the sensus fidei extend to both faith an moral teaching?  If the sensus fidei is that contraception is OK, is B16 ready to go along with this spontaneous belief of the people of God?  What if the sensus fidei reverses itself?  Let's be blunt: this is nothing but romantic twaddle, idealizing the "simple" "spontaneous" common people over against smarty pants "great scholars, great experts, great theologians"--but it's dangerous romantic twaddle.

That B16 doesn't actually take this cheap talk terribly seriously, however, is suggested in his Apostolic Letter given just one year previously to a different audience, dated October, 28, 2008: TO OUR VENERABLE BROTHER CARDINAL JOACHIM MEISNER OF HOLY ROMAN CHURCH ARCHBISHOP OF COLOGNE AND TO ALL THOSE IN ANY PART OF THE WORLD WHO ARE PARTICIPATING IN THE INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC CONGRESS ON THE OCCASION OF THE SEVENTH CENTENARY OF THE DEATH OF BLESSED JOHN DUNS SCOTUS.  In this letter B16 takes a different tack.

After first noting that "our Doctor often gives a special emphasis to the supreme authority of the Successor of Peter," B16 adds regarding "the Blessed" that
After having proven with various arguments taken from theological reason, the very fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from original sin, he was absolutely ready also to reject this conviction should it not be in harmony with the authority of the Church, saying: "We can with probability attribute to Mary all that has the greatest perfection, provided it is not opposed to the authority of the Church or the Scriptures"
So now what of the sensus fidei?  What has become of "the People of God [that] precede[s] theologians," "the People of God [that] is the 'teacher that goes first' and must then be more deeply examined and intellectually accepted by theology?"  Should not Duns Scotus have expressed a determination to stick to his guns--the sensus fidei--until "the authority of the Church" was in harmony with the sensus fidei?  Or is it that the belief of "the people of God" is only "spontaneous" when it's in harmony with "the authority of the Church?"

Let's be blunt.  There is nothing superior about "simplicity" per se, nor about "spontaneity"--words that B16 seems to use as synonyms for "good" or "noble" or "valuable."  Nor is there anything to be despised in learning or in cultivation of the God given powers of the mind--per se.  Playing off one group against the other--the "simple" "people of God" against the learned--is cheap and demeaning to the office of the Papacy.  It's also dishonest--or so we hope and pray.  What is of value is truth--as in "I am ... the truth ..."  The Church today faces a crisis of faith that is rooted in an intellectual and spiritual crisis.  B16 was quite correct in his programmatic 2006 reflections on faith and reason at the University of Regensburg.  Faith and reason are inseparable, and it is the recovery of reason--correctly understood--that is the Church's great task in this modern or post-modern age. Appeals to a romanticism of the simple people, to a faith that is more like folk piety, appeals to authority unbalanced by reference to reason--these serve no good purpose for the Church that B16 serves.

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