Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Out of Tune with the Roman Magisterium?

Mr. Shea has posted a still further response on the topic of Mary's birth pangs or lack thereof and the woman of Revelation 12 (link to Shea's post). Mr. Shea seems to think our arguments "flat-footed" and compares discussing this with us to discussing music appreciation with a deaf man. This flatfloot, however, is less interested in arresting Mr. Shea for playing such bad music, but for doing so without the proper license.

Mr. Shea characterizes his previous arguments with respect to Mary's birth pangs and Rome's teaching or not on that subject as follows: "the whole point is that Rome acknowledges this opinion, but does not commit us to it." Here, however, the flatfoot in one thinks to investigate. Does Rome merely acknowledge the opinion or actually teach it? Are we tone deaf, or is Mr. Shea out of tune with his magisterium?

The Catechism of Trent, most recently (that I could find) promulgated by the encyclical In Dominico Agro, on June 14, 1761, by pope Clement XIII included the following paragraph:
The Virgin Mother we may also compare to Eve, making the second Eve, that is, Mary, correspond to the first, as we have already shown that the second Adam, that is, Christ, corresponds to the first Adam. By believing the serpent, Eve brought malediction and death on mankind, and Mary, by believing the Angel, became the instrument of The divine goodness in bringing life and benediction to the human race. From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ, and through Him are regenerated children of grace. To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.
Notice how Clement XIII's catechism not only makes the connection that Mr. Shea previously attempted to criticize ("By the logic of this argument, it would also be possible to indict Jesus as a sinner since he suffered, toiled, sweated, and died, just like Adam (cf. Gen. 3:17-19)."), namely that because the sufferings were part of the curse, therefore, Mary didn't suffer them. So, the tones of Mr. Shea's song seem to be a bit off, if we're permitted to use the official teachings of his church as our tuning fork for what constitutes Roman Catholicism - after all, they are the licensed magisterium, but I don't think he can claim that same privilege.

In fact, and germane to our discussion, this paragraph it is not just from any old catechism, but from an official catechism. You will recall earlier that Mr. Shea built his argument that Rome doesn't teach the view on the grounds that: "But as the carefully worded language of the Catechism (quoted in the combox) makes clear, the Church doesn't go to the mat on this question." By Mr. Shea's apparent reasoning, Clement XIII's Rome did "go to the mat" on this question, whether or not the ambiguous wording of the more recent 1980's catechism does. Yet Mr. Shea seems insistent on relying on the silence of the current catechism on this particular issue.

Even in his latest post, Mr. Shea writes:
Note what is not demanded here. There is no clause saying "The faithful must, on pain of excommunication, believe and profess that Mary suffered no birth pangs." So it's rather a stretch to say "Rome teaches" this. In fact, Rome acknowledges it as a very common opinion and it is certainly something many great Catholics have held.
This kind of comment simply shows how out of touch Mr. Shea is with the life, discipline, and history of his own church. As Clement XIII explained regarding the Catechism of Trent:
The popes clearly understood this. They devoted all their efforts not only to cut short with the sword of anathema the poisonous buds of growing error, but also to cut away certain developing ideas which either could prevent the Christian people unnecessarily from bearing a greater fruit of faith or could harm the minds of the faithful by their proximity to error. So the Council of Trent condemned those heresies which tried at that time to dim the light of the Church and which led Catholic truth into a clearer light as if the cloud of errors had been dispersed. As our predecessors understood that that holy meeting of the universal Church was so prudent in judgment and so moderate that it abstained from condemning ideas which authorities among Church scholars supported, they wanted another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error.
So, the purpose of the Tridentine catechism was to be "another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error." In fact, according to Clement XIII, the catechism was drawn up in a minimalist way: "they proposed that only what is necessary and very useful for salvation be clearly and plainly explained in the Roman Catechism and communicated to the faithful."

Is the miraculous/painless birth something to which denial has been penalized with an anathema? I'm not aware of any such promulgation. Does that mean Rome has not explicitly taught that view and even grouped it as being a matter that is "necessary and very useful for salvation"? But Mr. Shea thinks that he's free to accept it or not accept it: cafeteria-style Roman Catholicism at its most polemic (How polemic is his cafeteria position? he compares the view of Mary's birth of Jesus being painless to geocentrism and the idea that Jews are accursed).

Mr. Shea claims: "In similar ways, the Catholic Church has had all sorts of schools of opinion on all manner of subjects, while the Magisterium has refrained, sometimes for centuries, from plumping in favor or one or the other." I don't know about you, but to me putting something in a catechism and saying in an official papal encyclical that the catechism only has matters that are "necessary and very useful to salvation" sounds like "the Magisterium" taking sides on the matter. As Clement XIII points out, after all, the Roman Catechism (as it was then called) was actually the product of Pius V (pope from January, 17, 1504 – May 1, 1572).

Moreover, as I pointed out in my previous post, Mr. Shea has yet to show us someone who holds to "in partu" virginity of Mary and yet asserts that Mary had birth pangs. This is not like the Thomist / Molinist controversy in which the popes simply avoided taking sides and eventually permitted both views to be maintained. Despite Mr. Shea's lack of assistance, I've looked diligently for another side to this supposed controversy. The closest one finds is Ludwig Ott:
2. Virginity During the Birth of Jesus: Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity. (De fide on the ground of the general promulgation of doctrine.)

The dogma merely asserts the fact of the continuance of Mary's physical virginity without determining more closely how this is to be physiologically explained. In general the Fathers and the Schoolmen conceived it as non-injury to the hymen, and accordingly taught that Mary gave birth in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently also without pains (cf. S. th. III 28, 2).

However, according to modern natural scientific knowledge, the purely physical side of virginity consists in the non-fulfilment of the sex act ("sex-act virginity") and in the non-contact of the female egg by the male seed ("seed-act virginity") (A. Mitterer). Thus, injury to the hymen in birth does not destroy virginity, while, on the other hand, its rupture seems to belong to complete natural motherhood. It follows from this that from the concept of virginity alone the miraculous character of the process of birth cannot be inferred, if it cannot be, and must not be derived from other facts of Revelation. Holy Writ attests Mary's active rôle in the act of birth (Mt. 1, 25; Luke 2, 7: "She brought forth") which does not seem to indicate a miraculous process.

But the Fathers, with few exceptions, vouch for the miraculous character of the birth. However, the question is whether in so doing they attest a truth of Revelation or whether they wrongly interpret a truth of Revelation, that is, Mary's virginity, from an inadequate natural scientific point of view. It seems hardly possible to demonstrate that the dignity of the Son of God or the dignity of the Mother of God demands a miraculous birth.
Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 205

Ott himself doesn't come out and advocate a lack of physical integrity in Mary, but he does criticize the physical integrity in partu position on the basis of (of all things) Scripture. He ends up expressing uncertainty over whether the Fathers were "attest[ing] a truth of Revelation" or "wrongly interpret[ing] a truth of Revelation" based on "an inadequate natural scientific point of view." That kind of agnosticism over the issue is far to the "other side" as I was able to locate from any kind of authority in Roman Catholic theology. Of course, the body of Roman Catholic literature is enormous, and I may have overlooked something.

Mr. Shea eventually ends up consenting as well, if somewhat grudgingly. He states: "None of that is to say that it is wrong to think Mary suffered no birth pangs. I think the patristic logic is sense," although he goes on to insist that since there is no anathema "that's a matter of liberty, not of 'Rome teaches'."

Finally, Mr. Shea gets to what he views as the argument. He wants to interpret the birth pangs of the Revelation 12 woman as not being literal birth pangs but some kind of psychological pains such as those experienced by Mary when Jesus was crucified.

While that might seem like an escape, it undermines the identification of Mary with the Revelation 12 woman. After all, the main reason to identify Mary with the Revelation 12 woman is the fact that the woman there gives birth to a man child. In other words, one has to interpret that giving birth literally in order to connect Mary to the Revelation 12 woman. Then to turn around and make the travails non-literal seems arbitrary at best. Finally, to make them the psychological pain Mary experienced when Jesus was crucified ignores the temporal sequence found in Revelation 12, and further demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the association between Mary and the woman of Revelation 12.

Mr. Shea might think that having to defend his position is "like arguing about music appreciation with a deaf man" and call our arguments "flat-footed," but that flat platform apparently leads to sure-footed stability of consistent explanation and a knack for detective work in tracking down what Rome actually teaches. Likewise, while we may be deaf to the sirens of Rome (though it seems to be Mr. Shea who is not quite in tune with Rome's orchestra), we lack the inner ear problems that result in the wobbly (and eventually toppling) arguments trying to link Mary and the Revelation 12 woman.



Anonymous said...

Why don't you look up the word "plump" in a dictionary? From answers.com..


1. To drop abruptly or heavily: plumped into the easy chair.
2. To give full support or praise: plumped for the candidate throughout the state.

Turretinfan said...

Well, look at that! The estimable answers.com has a germane definition. We'll edit the aside out of the article to avoid any further distraction on this issue.