Saturday, January 25, 2014

Profile of a Theological Liberal



One areas where traditional minded Catholics and other Catholics get caught up is in the question of what it means to be a "liberal." During the conclave of 2013, some Weigelian "evangelical" Catholics were rejoicing at the mention of conservative Cardinal Timothy Dolan as a papabile; traditionalists, on the other hand, were worried that such a liberal prelate as Dolan was being seriously considered. Cardinal Schönborn is extolled as an example of a solidly orthodox prelate by some, whilst others find frightful compromises with liberalism in the Cardinal's behavior. Hans urs Von Balthasar is praised by John Paul II and Benedict XVI as an exemplar of Catholic scholarship; others, such as myself, see him as one of the foremost liberals of the modern Church. Similar discussions have occurred regarding Fr. Barron.

Clearly, different people have different definitions of what it means to be a "liberal" Catholic.

This confusion, I think, is due to the fact that Catholics have appropriated secular-political definitions of what it means to be "liberal" or "conservative", essentially equating indicators of political liberalism with theological liberalism. In the political realm, for example, a liberal is likely to be in favor of same sex marriage, abortion, and at least an indifferentist on religious matters, if not an outright agnostic or atheist. These are what are adopted as the indicators of liberalism. Thus, when it comes to a Catholic prelate or theologian, it is the presence or lack of these indicators that determine whether that individual is "liberal" or not. Understood this way, Cardinal Timothy Dolan cannot be liberal because he is fiercely Pro-Life; Cardinal Schönborn is not liberal because he writes beautiful things about the need for society to turn to God; Cardinal Bergoglio could not be a liberal because he had defended traditional marriage in strong language during his time in Argentina. It is not my purpose to suggest that the aforementioned prelates are liberals, only point out that the indicators for who is and is not a 'liberal' are usually social-moral questions lifted from the political spectrum.

But is this what it means to be 'liberal' in the traditional, Catholic sense? When Bl. Pius IX or Leo XIII or St. Pius X wrote scathingly against "liberalism", what were they condemning? Were they condemning homosexual marriage, or abortion, or agnosticism?

Those moral issues certainly are part of liberalism, but anyone who has really studied the thought of the pre-Conciliar popes on this question knows that these moral issues are fundamentally not what the popes of the 19th century were worried about. Fr. Salvany, in his classic work Liberalism is a Sin, devotes an entire book to demolishing the errors of liberalism and never mentioned abortion or homosexuality. This is because for Salvany, as well as Bl. Pius IX and the other pre-Conciliar popes, liberalism is primarily a troubling theological trend within Catholicism, not a position on hot-button moral issues. It has to do with holding certain theological opinions, most of which are not relatable to any corresponding positions on the political spectrum, because they are problems internal to Catholic theological thought. This is why Fr. Salvany can write a whole book against liberalism and not mention these moral indicators; he simply does not see them as the essence of liberalism.

Once we understand this, we will begin to see why there is a divergence here; why where one sees a conservative prelate, another sees a liberal or modernist. If you are still thinking inside the liberal-conservative political paradigm, you may be surprised to see what the Church's definition of a liberal-progressive actually is. It is certainly not the same thing as a political liberal in the American sense. If not, then what is the profile of a theological liberal, according to the Church's tradition? It is hard to nail down every point, but here a few indicators of liberalism we have culled from some of the more famous documents of the pre-Conciliar Church:

A liberal believes that every man is free to embrace and publicly profess whatever religion he deems true, and that good hope may be entertained for the salvation of these people outside the Church. (Syllabus, 15-17)
A liberal believes that it is no longer expedient for Catholicism to be the formal religion of the State; liberals thus profess an American style separation of Church and State and deny that religious liberty will lead to indifferentism (ibid., 77-78).
A liberal dismisses the injunction of Pope Agatho, affirmed by Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos, that neither the content of the faith nor its expression ought to be changed. (Mirari Vos, 7)
A liberal believes that so long as members of non-Christian religions follow certain moral standards, salvation can be obtained. (ibid., 13). A liberal asserts the "liberty of conscience" (ibid., 14).
A liberal believes in an absolute right to freedom of speech, especially the freedom to publish and spread falsehoods in print and online. Note, even if the content of this speech is disagreed with, the liberal still asserts that there is a right for it to be promulgated. This belief in unfettered freedom of publishing is a tenet of liberalism (ibid., 15).
Liberals assert that the Church cannot pass judgment on the content and methodology of human science. (Lamentabile Sane, 5).
A liberal believes that the Gospel of John was not composed by the beloved Apostle, but by a "Johannine community" (ibid., 18).
A liberal believes that Christianity must be adapted to fit the needs of different times and places (ibid., 59).
A liberal believes that the Church's traditional understanding of creation of the world be reevaluated in light of modern scientific knowledge (ibid., 64). 
A liberal believes the fundamentally center of all religion is the religious experience, the heeding of the religious sense of man (Pascendi, 6, 10).
A liberal cannot distinguish between the natural and the supernatural; he is ever naturalizing what is supernatural, whilst simultaneously affirming a supernatural or soteriological importance to things that are merely natural (ibid., 7; see also Humani generis, 26). Mere natural virtue is treated as meritorious as supernatural virtue, and the whole uniqueness of supernatural faith is implicitly denied since natural faith is considered equally salvific (i.e., the "faith" of the non-Christian being treated as meritorious).
Liberals believe that dogma should evolve with the changing sensibilities of man (ibid., 13).
Liberals believe that non-Christians, such as Muslims and pagans, can have authentic, and valuable religious experiences that must be affirmed (ibid., 14).
A liberal believes that the Sacred Scriptures are primarily understood as the record of the "experience" of God's pilgrim people on their journey of faith. Sacred history is a narrative of various experiential encounters with God - a chronicle of experiences (ibid., 21-22).
A liberal believes it is wrong for the Church to meddle in any political affairs; for the Church to trace out and prescribe for the citizen any line of action, on any pretext whatsoever, is to be guilty of an abuse of authority (ibid., 24).
The liberal believes that everything in the Church ought to be updated - to change and evolve with the times. Liturgy, discipline, Church structure all ought to be modified to fit the spiritual needs of an ever changing society (ibid., 26).
A liberal believes that the Bible may contain historical or scientific errors, butsince the subject of these books is not science or history, but only religion and morals, it is not a 'real' error, since the fundamental nature of the Bible is to teach about faith, not history (ibid., 36).
A liberal prefers modern philosophical systems to Scholastic philosophy (ibid., 38).
A liberal believes that the entire structure of the Church ought to be reformed in order to reflect the more democratic sensibilities of the modern world (ibid.) - how about replacing the papal coronation with an inaugural Mass?
A liberal believes that authority in the Church is much too concentrated should be decentralized (ibid.).
Liberals believe that, while the Church Fathers are worthy of veneration, their absence of critical textual erudition and knowledge of ancient history make their interpretations of Scripture suspect (ibid., 42).
A liberal believes that Catholics ought to ignore the differences that divide us from Protestants, Muslims, and other people of faith, and focusing on what unites us, join forces to combat secularism and atheism (Humani generis, 11).
A liberal believes that the needs of the times justify altering terminology long established in the Church and freeing our theology from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers (ibid., 14).
A liberal denies that the Church of Jesus Christ and the Holy Roman Catholic Church are one and the same, but prefers to waffle and equivocate on this point (ibid., 27).
Liberals believe that it is a foregone conclusion, already scientifically proven, that the human body was the result of evolution (ibid., 36).
A liberal denies that it falls to the teaching authority of the Church to decide whether evolution can be held as a viable position for a Catholic (ibid.).
Liberals deny the existence of a literal Adam and Eve (ibid., 37).
Liberals believe that instead of two first parents, we had multiple first parents (ibid.).
A liberal denies that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are historical in nature (ibid., 38).
A liberal priest, bishop or theologian falsely believes that he can still maintain a clear conscience without insisting that his pupils and those under his authority religiously accept the teaching authority of the Church, including the condemnation of all of the above propositions (ibid., 42).

As you can see, one need not profess same-sex marriage, abortion, favoring national health insurance or any of the current hot-button indicators of political liberalism have anything to do with theological liberalism. Forget whether a prelate is Pro-Life or not; does he believe separation of Church and State is ideal? If so, then he is a liberal.

Is he clamoring for decentralization of the Church, more power for the national bishops' conferences, or an internationalization of the Roman Curia? Liberal.

Does he speak about Genesis in terms of "the Bible doesn't teach scientific truth because it is not primarily a scientific book"? Liberal.

Does he believe in absolute freedom of speech and freedom of the press? Liberal.

Is he praising the religious experiences of non-Christian cultures, affirming that they have some sort of value in God's eyes and suggesting that all people are somehow communing with God through their own religious traditions? Liberal.

Does he state that the Church needs to figure out how to spread its message with new vocabulary to suit the temperament of modern man? Liberal.

Does he believe in a loose alliance of all moral, religious people against secularism? Liberal.

Does he confuse natural with supernatural virtue, praising the natural virtues of pagans of anyone else as if these are supernaturally pleasing to God? Liberal.

Does he deny, on national television, that there were a historic Adam and Eve and then look like a fool when asked to explain original sin (which Pius XII specifically said would be problematic when the historical Adam and Eve are denied)? If so, then he is a liberal.

Once you understand what the profile of a theological liberal looks like, you begin to realize there are many more around than you first thought.

20 comments:

ellen said...

Well said. I have very serious cancer and could die at any moment. Blessed be God and thanks and praises to Him that I am allowed to know this. It means that I am very focussed on what is necessary for my salvation. I pray for the grace of final perseverance. This is a time of great trial and the Holy Catholic Church is going through a great trial but we must remain faithfull no matter what. We must trust that Jesus will be with His Church always and in the final analysis He will not allow Peter to fail even were Peter to deny Him again and run away from the Crucifixion.

Jack Tollers said...

A liberal thinks that everyone has a right to say and write whatever he likes on any subject under the sun.

Except traditionalists like Boniface... and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, and Gnochi, and Palamaro, and so no.

Just another mad Catholic said...

A few Issues Boniface

1) You seem to forget that whilst these papal encyclicals contain infallible truths they are not themselves infallible

2) Could not forming an alliance of religious people against secularism be a way (a) to strengthen our position through strength of numbers and (b) be an opportunity to convert people with whom we might not otherwise have an opportunity to witness to? I think of Gov. Huckabee's assertion that "we're all Catholics now" in supporting the fight against the HHS mandate, with the continuing promotion of Orthodox men to the Episcopacy in the US not a few evangelicals are seeing us as reliable allies against the culture of death ,this is a great opportunity to show our separated brethren (many of whom are actually more moral than many Catholics) that whilst they do posse some theological truth they do subscribe to much error as well.

2) Does the prohibition against changing the expression of the Faith mean that one must quote the catechism verbatim when seeking to convert others? Or are we allowed to explain the Faith in language that a simple peasant can understand?

3) Whilst I would love the state to be the Sword and Shield of the Church as much as the next guy, what structure do you propose to achieve this in a country such as America which has never had a monarchy? Indeed although many European Countries still have constitutional monarchs, I doubt that you'll find one willing to go back to the inherently unjust feudal system now that they've had a century plus of elected, accountable government and individual property / political rights.

4) Must the Fourth Estate be muzzled to the point where they are simply another version of Pravda or TASS News? Again good luck with convincing Americans or even Europeans (where we've traditionally been more accepting of government interference in the press when it comes to national security) that the press become merely the Church's mouthpiece.

BONIFACE said...

Mad Catholic-

1) Very true. I make no claim on the infallibility of these documents; I only point out that these are tenets associated with liberal Catholicism, according to the Magisterium.

2) I don't think it means we need to cite things verbatim, but I think it means that we should not seek to introduce novel terminology into the Faith, as if the traditional verbiage was insufficient. Paul VI in the post-Conciliar era said the same thing; see the encyclical Mysterium Fidei.

3) I'm not proposing any structure. Only noting what the Church says. Also, note that a state with an established Church is not the same thing as a state with feudalism. Feudalism and established Catholicism were often found together, but they are two fundamentally different things and need not be yoked. Italy is a classic example; they always had a state Church, but never really had feudalism, save in the extreme south.

4)You are going to extremes here. While the press certainly need not be a mouthpiece for the Church, that does not mean it needs absolute leeway to say and publish anything whatsoever.

Again, I am not proposing any solutions of how to realign modern society on these principles; I am only noting that the Church Magisterium has stated that the above mentioned positions are signs of liberal-progressivism.

Just another mad Catholic said...

Thank you for your clarifications

I admit that I posed extreme examples in points three and four simply to illustrate that there is no going back to the Altar and throne arrangement that you documented in "Sacred Kingship".



Evansville Catholics said...

According to Apostolicae Sedis Moderationi, "Those who either publicly or privately teach or defend propositions" enumerated above merit excommunication latae sententiae. Which, if not excused by the ignorance of the law, would excommunicate all the clergy in my diocese and much of the US.

Bo said...

Just another mad Catholic:

"[...] to illustrate that there is no going back to the Altar and throne"

You didn't do that at all, though. You just, as you yourself say, took it to the extreme. That illustrates nothing but the potentiality of extremism, which is existant always and everywhere.

Woody said...

@Jack Tollers, I just read your introduction to Padre Castellani again and it seems to acquire ever more urgent relevance as the days pass. Will you be translating your catechism for difficult times into English for us? And also the Catena Argentea? And of course more Castellani?

All the best.

c matt said...

I don't think the problem with the Fourth Estate is a government muzzle, but rather a self-muzzling. It is true that many times the MSM presents falsehoods, but the bigger problem is the liberal bias in reporting - that is, what they report may be somewhat accurate in certain brute facts, but other facts are omitted or slanted to give it the preferred viewpoint.

c matt said...

In essence, then, the Church definition of "liberal" is "Modernist."

BONIFACE said...

Pretty much...liberalism is the fruit of the modernist movement. Modernism was a way to introduce liberalism into the Church...the end goal was liberalism, modernism was the means they used.

JM said...

Quite damning post. Essentially all modern popes and clerics are liberals then, and the Church unofficially endorsed Liberalism quite a while ago. And who cares what the official line is, if all the officials no longer believe it, right?

ATDP said...

But Genesis is not a science book. It was not written to relate scientific or historical (in the literal sense) facts.

BONIFACE said...

You see, this is where things get confusing. The fact that Genesis is not "meant" to teach history does not mean the history related in Genesis is not true. Humani Generis 38 teaches that the first 11 chapters of Genesis do reflect real history, and even the CCC says that Gen. 1-3 is a record of real events. Things get all confused when people start talking about Genesis not being 'meant' as history. Sure, it might not be 'meant' as history, just like the Epistle of Galatians isn't meant as history. But that does not mean that the historical events related in Galatians are false - such as the story of Paul rebuking Peter; similarly, the fact that Genesis does not teach history does not mean it is not historical. The Church has said as much.

ATDP said...

"A liberal believes that it is no longer expedient for Catholicism to be the formal religion of the State; liberals thus profess an American style separation of Church and State and deny that religious liberty will lead to indifferentism."

Isn't it preferable for Catholics to actually come to own their faith rather than for them to simply inherit it culturally?

BONIFACE said...

It is preferable for a Catholic to do both.

See the citations above. This is what the popes have taught. This isn't me making up my own opinions. If you want to argue about it, that's fine, but make your argument against the documents, not against me simply posting what they say.

ATDP said...

Yes, I agree that Genesis is historical. But to what extent? Is it the rendering of events as we would expect according to modern historical study standards?

Was Man's first sin in the concrete sense really taking an apple from a tree after being told not to? And was his name really "Adam"? Or perhaps does Genesis speak to the "real events" of history in a way that the first sin of man was disobedience of God, which is not only religiously true but historically true as well, understood rightly?

ATDP said...

A question, if I may: I was reading through LAMENTABILI SANE and I noticed that there is such a difference even in the language used there from the way the Church speaks today.

Why do you think that is? Why has the Church put aside references to sacred authority and stopped speaking so clearly, such as in calling out "progressing dogmas" as "corrupting" them?

I don't understand how "one" Church - and I do believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church - could be so seemingly divided in just a bit over 100 years. How?!

BONIFACE said...

I agree with your assessment of Genesis. The Church says we cannot deny the historical nature of the events narrated; it does not mandate that we accept every detail literally.

Genesis = History + Allegory is acceptable, but Genesis = Pure Myth is unacceptable. We have to maintain that at its core it is narrating historical events.

Regarding your second question on the change in tone...it is because the Church itself has decided to change the manner in which it approaches things. That is the center of the whole quandary of why I started this blog - to examine this very question. Those whom I agree with more tend to say that the Church has, to some degree, adopted the trappings of the modernism it once condemned, which is at the heart of all the problems.

ATDP said...

Thank you for replying. I appreciate the insight and your blog very much.