Friday, May 31, 2013

Retraction and Final Thoughts on Labels

A while back I published an article on the fittingness of utilizing labels in denoting certain trends within Catholicism; this was not the first time I have written on this subject, and my taking up of the question was in response to the statements of some that the term "traditional Catholic" is redundant because to be Catholic is to stand within the great stream of Tradition. Aside from the obvious problem that the vast majority (85% at least) of Catholics do, in fact, not stand in the tradition of the Church, some have pointed out that the utilization of labels is improper because it is divisive. I argued that this was the case, but that this division was sometimes necessary in times when there is great confusion over what it means to be Catholic, and cited in example the tumultuous periods after the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon as well as prior to Vatican I.

However, it has come to my attention that Pope Benedict XV had actually weighed in on this specific question in 1914, at which time he asked Catholics not to make use of modifiers. The pontiff stated:

"It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." (Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24)

That being the case, I would like to retract my former posts on the appropriateness of labels; how can I call appropriate what such an august pontiff has said is not? I believe no other pontiff has spoken officially on this since then, so I assume he has the last word. However, I do have a few thoughts here:

The rise in the use of labels is a manifestation of the disorder in the Church. As I demonstrated in my previous posts, it is only in times of great disorder that these labels come to be used - and they are generally not used except when they serve a useful purpose in making a distinction.

Because of their proliferation now, and even a century ago, the Pope wished their usage to be curbed to maintain unity, which I can understand. However, in this day with its attendant problems, this is really addressing only a symptom. Rather than worry about the potential divisiveness caused by labels, we should be asking how we can rectify the condition within the Church so that the faithful will not feel the need to have recourse to labels. We cannot cure poverty by outlawing begging, and we cannot bring unity to the Church by outlawing the use of modifying labels. I concur with the Benedict XV and submit my judgment to his words, though I do think this is only a skin-deep remedy.


Steve Dalton said...

While I understand PBXV desire to stop divisiveness caused by labels, I fail to see how that will work out in the real world. If one can not put a name on something, how can you understand it? Granted, we should not be saying, I'm of Paul etc., but the reality is splits, divisions, factions, and heresies happen among us, and the only why to deal with them is not to put down labeling, but to deal with the problem that has caused it in the first place. PBXDV meant well, but his solution was nonsense. After all, St.PPX labeled people, didn't he, calling many of them Modernists?

Tantumblogo said...

Fair enough. From now on, I'll never use modified-Catholic terms like progressive Catholic, liberal Catholic, etc., again. I'll just call them all heretics.

Or apostates.

Boniface said...

No, you guys are misunderstanding...he is not referring to the use of labels for persons who are heretics or outside the Church - otherwise, how could Pius X spoke of "Modernists"? He is referring to the use of labels for different groups or movements who are within the Church or in the good graces of the Church.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Brother Boniface. First of all, I love typing that greeting because it sounds so euphonic that it could be lyrics from a song; and, in addition, it has a little alliteration; and, it has a numerical progression in syllables that is pleasing to the Trinitarian mind.

That aside, the more one thinks of it, the more it makes sense to identify one;s own self as a Christian Catholic for that perfectly describes who we are; we are Christians who follow Jesus in the Church He established.

Beefy Levinson said...

Andrew Cuomo is within the Church and in the good graces of the Church, as the Archdiocese of New York took great pains to emphasize. Hans Kung is a Catholic and a priest in good standing. As a juridical matter these men are not heretics or apostates. I personally do not see how we can avoid the use of labels given the present state of the Church; not using labels would seem to lead to even greater confusion. How do we distinguish between Cardinal Roger Mahony and Cardinal Raymond Burke?

Boniface said...


That is exactly the problem we run into!

The comments make much more sense when Benedict XV wrote, when there was uniformity of Catholic worship and discipline throughout the Church. In such a period of uniformity, labels are indeed unnecessary and detract from the Church's catholicity.

But in the current state of things, we do need to be able to draw some meaningful distinction between someone like Mahoney and someone like Burke. A label like 'traditionalist Catholic' or 'charismatic Catholic' denotes an objective determination; a distinction is being drawn that really exists. If we cannot apply these modifiers, we are unable to speak about objective differences along the Catholic spectrum.

In this case, all that remains is subjective determinations. So, instead of a 'traditionalist Catholic', I become 'a Catholic who prefers traditional worship and discipline.' But once this happens, there is no meaningful difference between anybody within the great mish-mash that is the Latin rite. I might prefer the traditional Faith, Mahoney might prefer a more progressive understanding of it, but both determinations become subjective and therefore not worth arguing about (de gustibus non est disputandum).

But if this were the case, it would undermine the whole point of the traditionalist movement, which is not to bellow really loudly about how we prefer tradition - or "feel attached" to it, as John Paul II put it in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta - but rather is about how something is objectively wrong with the path the modern Church has taken in departing from Tradition. Traditionalism is not about preferences, feelings, tastes, but is about the objective question of how the Church ought to look and act in this world. Once we deprive ourselves of the ability to make objective determinations of this sort, we are left with bare preference, which is hardly worth fighting over.

Beefy Levinson said...


That was my feeling as well. 100 years ago the Church was much more clear in its teachings and firm in its discipline. There have always been bad Catholics but back then they were easily identifiable as bad Catholics. The hierarchy called them out on it and they readily conceded that they were bad Catholics - or at least they didn't publicly present themselves as Catholics who were in good standing.

Today though, priests and bishops are generally loathe to call anyone out as a bad Catholic, even people like Cuomo, Pelosi, and Biden. There are many Catholics in good canonical standing who would furiously resent having their orthodoxy impeached, even as they spend their lives sneering at orthodoxy and working to undermine it from within. I don't know what we, as lay Catholics, can do about it other than prayer, fasting, and writing excellent blogs like this one.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Messrs Levinson and Boniface. Rarely has the Church been in good shape morally in its communicants. The fact that Judas was chosen by Jesus an an Apostle is a cautionary note to all Christian Catholics (I have always seen in that choice a subtle message from Our Lord and Saviour).

I just returned from Milano where the Cathedral (Saint Mary Nascent) was constructed so as to accommodate the 40,000 souls then alive and if you think even the majority of them were faithful or orthodox you are wrong.

That Cathedral has been the venue for Masses offered by men as diverse as C ardinal Borremeo and Cardinal Montini - c'est la vie.

Ecclesiastical history is suffused with the public sins of her Prelates and Priests and the first evidence we have of The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy is when Pope Siricius ( 385 A.D.) was writing his decretals demanding his priests stop shacking-up and/or getting married.

There is nothing new under the sun and even the scandal of queer clergy is nothing new given what Saint Peter Damian (sp?) wrote.

You noted Raymond Archbishop Burke but he is "not all that" as the girls in the hood would say. I'll post a link to something about him that I discovered while doing some research on another matter.

As for orthodoxy and stability in the Mass, Trent was constrained to condemn the simony, loud noises, disruptions, superstitions etc etc at Mass that was so widespread at the time.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Boniface said...

My dear brother I am Not Spartacus (doesn't have the same flow to it, LOL)-

We all agree in general with you - Church is always need of reform, there never was a golden age, always bad Catholics, etc. - but I think your thinking here has fallen prey to a little bait and switch.

You are essentially putting forward the perennial examples of MORAL lapses on the part of Catholics as evidence why DOCTRINAL lapses today are really nothing new. The examples you cite are not relevant to what is going on today. Yes, there are always immoral, lax, lazy Catholics, but that is not the same as what we have today (not only, rather). For example, while we have always had lazy, bad Catholics, when have we ever had:

*Popes kissing the Koran?
*Popes presiding over gatherings of pagans and encouraging them to pray to their false gods for worldly favors?
*Members of the hierarchy teaching that Jews have their own covenant and don't need Jesus?
*Theologians teaching Hell is empty and being rewarded for it with a cardinal's hat?
*Devotees of the traditional Mass marginalized while dissenting and progressive bishops are elevated and praised?
*The editor of a universal Catechism speaking favorably about homosexual unions?
*Popes and Vatican committees teaching that the Orthodox do not need to return to the Catholic Church?
*The Popes and the Church entirely abandon the use of theological censures as a way of controlling dissent?
*Heretics, progressives and even New Agers remaining in de jure good standing with the Church despite the public nature of their heresies?
*Ecclesiastics too limp-wristed and weak to point out and condemn said heresies?
*And much, much more...

These are not primarily moral failings due to weakness but intellectual deviations that require an act of the will. This is not the same situation that you have described in earlier ages.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Brother Boniface. Doctrinal disputes, heresies, and schisms have been alarmingly present throughout ecclesiastical history (they were the reasons so many ecumenical and local councils were called to respond to them) but, still, I tend to agree with you with the proviso that those alive in ages past were blessed to have been free from the almost instant world-wide knowledge of heresy and schism and apostasy whereas we are aware of far too much to the extent that it can become depressing and dispiriting.

This Christian Catholic has been blessed to be able to assist at the Real Mass every fortnight and so I am prolly mo'better (as Lincoln used to say) defended against the onslaught of negative news than those who know the same facts but are not able to assist at the Real Mass.

As for Dear Brother Boniface, is a greeting quite pleasing to the ear whereas Dear I am not Spartacus sounds like words from a Vanilla Ice rap song.

Tancred said...

Yeah, Scholasticism is so 1911.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Brother Boniface. Today must be a day of joy for you seeing as how it is the Feast Day of the great Saint whom you chose to honor with your S/N.

Jose Denis said...

LOL! Sad, but true.