Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, October 17, 2014

On Infallibility, He Errs

Kyle Cupp is stirring up a little Friday controversy with a post in which he has discovered The Loophole in papal infallibility. His basic argument is that the charism of infallibility comes into play when the pope intends to teach authoritatively on faith and morals -- but that this leaves open the possibility of "pretend infallibility" in which the pope teaches in a manner that appears to be authoritative teaching, but when he's intentionally teaching something he knows is untrue. Since there's no intention to teach authoritatively, he isn't protected from error. But, since we can never know for sure whether the pope is intending to teach authoritatively or is pranking the Church by only pretending to when he knows he isn't, we are left having to trust the Church authorities rather than knowing for sure that they are teaching truth.

To enjoy the charism of infallibility, the pope (or bishops in union with him) must intend to teach the faith authentically. Infallibility isn’t a magic power they can call upon when they want to teach; rather, it comes with the teaching. For example, if the pope intends to teach, by virtue of his office and to all the faithful, a doctrine of faith or morals to be definitively held, then he is protected from error by the Holy Spirit. So what’s the problem?

As presently formulated, the idea of infallibility assumes that the appearance of the intent to teach authentically means the intent is really there, but the formulation doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility of deception on the part of church leaders. The intent to teach, which is an interior disposition, can be made known by outward signs, but it could conceivably be faked by those outward signs. The means of expression a pope would use to indicate authentic teaching could be put to ill use: he could abuse his power, pretending to teach the truth when in fact he is not.
Kyle presents two possible solutions to this (the second of which is partially derived from my push-back to his earlier speculations on the matter) but I think his problems come in earlier in that he doesn't actually understand the doctrine of infallibility in the first place. Key to Kyle's argument is that the exercise of infallibility relies upon the pope's intention (or that of the bishops or a council in union with him) to teach the faith authentically. Essentially, he's seeing the doctrine as promising that the Church will not accidentally err when attempting to teach truly -- a sort of big fact checker in the sky. But what happens if the Church is acting in bad faith and doesn't even consult the fact checker?

The thing is, this is not how the doctrine is actually formulated. The doctrine of infallibility is not formulated in terms of intention. Here's the text from the original formulated in Vatican I:
[W]e teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.
The catechism fleshes this out a bit more, but the teaching itself is identical:
890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms:

891 "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council.418 When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed,"419 and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith."420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.421

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent"422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

What's absent here is any mention of intention. The doctrine is somewhat more audacious than that. Rather than promising a sort of divine fact checker which will prevent the pope from erring when he intends to teach truth, the doctrine more simply says that when the pope speaks solemnly on a matter of faith and morals, he will be protected from teaching error. It doesn't matter whether his intention is to teach truth or not.

There is precedent for this in several of the sacraments. Perhaps part of the background for Kyle's thinking in regards to intention relates to the sacrament of marriage, in which it is held that if the couple do not intend to enter into marriage as teh Church defines it, then they do not actual confer a valid marriage on themselves. In other words, if a couple has no intention of remaining faithful until death and being open to children, no marriage takes place, even if they stand in church before a priest and say all the right words.

However, while in marriage the couple's intention is part of the matter and form which must be present for the sacrament, there are other sacraments that do not rely on intention. For example, the consecration of the Eucharist does not rely on the priest's intention. If a priest says the words of consecration over bread and wine, but that priest has actually lost his faith in God and does not believe that anything will happen as a result of his action, even if he's just going through the motions out of a cynical desire to keep his job, the Eucharist is still confected and becomes the body and blood of Christ. Similarly, in baptism, as long as water is poured on the person being baptized and the proper words are spoke, the graces of baptism are received. If Richard Dawkins would be prevailed upon to pour water and speak the words of baptism over a dying person who wanted baptism, the sacrament would still be conferred. Other sacraments do, however, require proper intent. In addition to marriage, one must actually repent of one's sins and have an intention of resisting sin in the future in order to receive absolution in confession. If you go to confession and provide a good appearance of repentance, but in fact explicitly intend to go right out and commit the same grave sin again, you aren't actually absolved. The priest will have no way of knowing that the graces were not given, but you as the recipient are a part of the sacramental act and if you don't intend to repent you aren't absolved of guilt.

If someone asked me why some sacraments do not require proper intent, I would say that it is essential to God's purpose in creating the Church that the faithful be able to know that certain sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, holy orders, last rites) "work" if they appear to work, regardless of the intent of the person carrying out the action. In other cases (confession, marriage) it's essential for the graces to work that the person receiving/performing the sacrament have proper intent.

Papal infallibility is not, obviously, a sacrament. However, it is one of the means by which God fulfills his promise to his people that his saving word and sacraments will be available to us. So in addition to the fact that the actual doctrinal definitions of infallibility simply talk about the pope teaching ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals -- not whether he intends to teach truthfully -- I think it makes a lot of sense for papal infallibility to work this way. While Kyle's formulation might be of some comfort to the pope himself (If I mean to teach truthfully, God will inspire me not to err) it wouldn't actually be much help to the faithful, in that those who don't like a Church teaching could simply assume there was bad faith involved on the part of the hierarchy, and thus absolve themselves of any duty to listen to and obey the Church. There are people who's purposes that would satisfy, but I don't think that God is one of them.

28 comments:

Paul C. said...

Excellent!

bearing said...

I think you're slightly off on baptism, though I may remember incorrectly.

My understanding is this: The baptizer need not be baptized himself, and indeed he need not understand the sacrament of baptism. But I believe he has to intend to baptize -- that is, he must be intending something along the lines of, "Whatever it is that the Christians do when they perform this act -- that's what I'm trying to do."

He has to intend to do what the Church does when She baptizes.

Kyle Cupp said...

Good response, Brendan! For the record, I have seen the doctrine of infallibility explained as implying intent (sent you some EWTN links on Twitter--they're infallible, right?), and while the formula doesn't use the word intent or intention, I'm really not sure how a pope could solemnly speak on faith and morals without intent. Intent is part of what gives the sounds and symbols he uses meaning, reference, and purpose. Nor, I think, could he speak solemnly, about faith or morals or anything for that matter, without intending so.

Jenny said...

I think bearing is right about the intentions of the baptizer. He doesn't have to believe it or understand it, but has to have the intention of doing what the Church intends. Now whether or not merely performing the act and saying words presents enough of an intention, I can't say.

bearing said...

But if you had a specifically different intention, I think it wouldn't count. So if you were acting as a priest in a play and your character "validly baptized" another character, the actor playing the newly baptized wouldn't have been baptized by you.

It's precisely because *anyone* can baptize, even people who know next to nothing about it, that intention has to be part of it, in my opinion. In the case of a priest confecting the sacrament -- when he became a priest, presumably at that time he was aware that saying the words of consecration would (for him) confect the Eucharist whether he intends to or not. He's on notice, so to speak. If he does it in some way he's not supposed to, that's on him.

But we don't really want the power of baptism to be in the hands of any ordinary schmuck who might do it as a prank or as a performance.

bearing said...

I disagree with Kyle -- whether the pope speaks (writes) on faith and morals, or speaks (writes) solemnly, is something that can be evaluated entirely from the outside context and has nothing to do with how the pope feels about what he is doing.

Kyle Cupp said...

It doesn't have to do with feeling, but it does have to do with the mind and will. Here's Lumen Gentium:

"This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking."

Paul C. said...

"His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking."

But all of those things are based on external evidence, and don't require any access to what a speaker is (hypothetically and supposedly) really thinking internally.

Since we use external evidence to decide if someone is teaching, an intention to teach (in a hidden way) what is false is still an intention to teach. The Pope is protected whenever, by virtue of his office, he intends to teach. Not merely when he intends to teach truly.

Kyle Cupp said...

But if the pope's intention is to deceive, then he's not intending to teach on a matter of faith or morals. Teaching is not what is on his mind and intended by his will. Deception is.

bearing said...

Kyle, what you've quoted *supports* Brendan's and my contention.

If the pope's "mind and will... may be known" from the documents, from repetition, and from manner of speaking, that rather seems to say that we are to take the statements therein exactly at face value.

Jenny said...

"But we don't really want the power of baptism to be in the hands of any ordinary schmuck who might do it as a prank or as a performance."

Oh sure, but I'm just not sure how far the intention to baptize has to go before it is considered a true intention.

"But if the pope's intention is to deceive, then he's not intending to teach on a matter of faith or morals. Teaching is not what is on his mind and intended by his will. Deception is."

But of course he is intending to teach. You can will to deceive at the same time you can will to teach. What would be the point of the deception if not to teach the deception?

I could will to deceive a child into thinking that 2+2=5, but I would also have to will to teach the deception. The will to teach is always involved.

bearing said...

Furthermore... he doesn't have to "intend to teach on a matter of faith and morals" to teach on a matter of faith and morals.

I suspect we're dealing with semantic niggling at this point, but the verb "to teach" does not presume that the matter taught is true. One may teach truth or teach lies; teaching is a context. Whatever his intent, if a teacher speaks a lie in a classroom in front of students as part of his job, that teacher *teaches* the lie. He's not all of a sudden *not teaching* or *not a teacher.*

You can't get away from the doctrine of papal infallibility by suggesting that sometimes the pope is lying, not teaching, on matters of faith and morals, and we can't tell the difference. If that's true, why have a Magisterium at all? How on earth could it be meaningful for Christ to have established a Church, and insisted we could trust it, if there was a loophole in it that big?

bearing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle Cupp said...

"If the pope's "mind and will... may be known" from the documents, from repetition, and from manner of speaking, that rather seems to say that we are to take the statements therein exactly at face value."

That's the expectation, yes. I noted that in my OP. However, while it's true that the mind and will can be known through outward signs, they can also be hidden or deceptively presented by outward signs. That's the issue that I don't think the doctrine of infallibility adequately addresses, at least as presently formulated.

Kyle Cupp said...

"I suspect we're dealing with semantic niggling at this point, but the verb "to teach" does not presume that the matter taught is true. One may teach truth or teach lies; teaching is a context. Whatever his intent, if a teacher speaks a lie in a classroom in front of students as part of his job, that teacher *teaches* the lie. He's not all of a sudden *not teaching* or *not a teacher.*"

Actually, for the pope, it does. We presume that when the pope teaches, what he teaches is true.

As for the classroom teacher, yes, you could say that the teacher teaches the lie, but then he or she is not teaching the subject matter. If a pope were to lie in the form of teaching, he wouldn't be teaching on faith or morals, so infallibility wouldn't apply.

Kyle Cupp said...

"But of course he is intending to teach. You can will to deceive at the same time you can will to teach. What would be the point of the deception if not to teach the deception?

I could will to deceive a child into thinking that 2+2=5, but I would also have to will to teach the deception. The will to teach is always involved."

Except the pope doesn't teach just because he speaks. He has to be speaking solemnly about faith and morals, for one. And if he's "teaching" a lie, then he's not teaching on faith or morals, in which case he isn't infallible.

Jenny said...

It is possible to teach a lie about faith and morals.

Lying does not negate the action of teaching.

Kyle Cupp said...

"It is possible to teach a lie about faith and morals.

Lying does not negate the action of teaching."

It does in this context. If I'm a high school Catholic theology teacher and I teach that the the Resurrection never happened, I've taught a lie, but I have not taught the Catholic faith. I haven't defined a doctrine or proposed a teaching that leads to a better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. Moreover, the Magisterium doesn't teach about Catholicism, it teaches Catholicism. It defines and proposes and demands adherence to its teaching with religious assent.

bearing said...

You are moving the goalposts. The doctrine is that the Pope cannot proclaim error when teaching on matters of faith and morals, i.e., "teaching about faith and morals."

You are trying to get around that by saying that the pope can proclaim error if he is not "teaching faith and morals," for example, if he is lying. However, the doctrine is not that the pope is infallible when "teaching faith and morals," but rather it is that he is infallible when teaching ON MATTERS of faith and morals.

You say that teaching about Catholicism is not the same thing as teaching Catholicism, and that might be true; but it's not relevant to the question of whether "teaching on matters of faith and morals" is the same as "teaching faith and morals;" and furthermore, the doctrine is not so specific.

I suppose you mean to say, "Well, lying about faith and morals is not the same as teaching about faith and morals; the Pope is only protected from error when teaching about faith and morals; ergo, the pope may proclaim error when lying about faith and morals."

I'm afraid God can see through such a silly ruse, to borrow a line from Monty Python. If the wording were as ambiguous as to admit this as a possible reading, we would still be compelled to reject possible interpretations that lead to absurdity, and your proposed interpretation does lead there.

For Christ gave us the Magisterium and the Vicar of Christ exactly so that we would know where Truth can be found: "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." But your proposal renders it impossible to know where to find it, and we are left in Pilate's place asking "What is truth?"

Kyle Cupp said...

If the pope is lying, then he's not teaching on matters of faith and morals. In this context, faith and morals refer to truth; they're not generic subject matters. The teaching done by the pope as pope is not the same act as the teaching done by a theologian, even if they're both teaching on matters of faith and morals. We're dealing with two difference senses of teaching here, and therefore two different senses of "matters of faith and morals."

This doesn't lead to absurdity because you can, even without certainty, have a basis for reasonable trust. For example, I gather you believe that Christ gave us the Magisterium in part because you trust that the biblical authors documented the words and deeds of Christ truthfully. You didn't witness the life of Christ personally, so you have to trust the human beings who did and those who built on what they wrote.

Kyle Cupp said...

Looked at another way, whenever pope authentically teaches, he teaches the truth; therefore, there is no situation or circumstance in which he teaches something false. Accepting this doesn't rule out the possibility that the pope could lie when speaking about faith and morals. It would only mean that such a lie wouldn't be the truth and therefore wouldn't be teaching.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

"If the pope is lying, then he's not teaching on matters of faith and morals. "

Of course he is. If the pope were to say that homosexual relations are moral, that's a matter of Morals. If the pope were to say that Jesus was not the second Person of the Trinity, that would be a teaching on Faith. Those are both false teachings on faith and morals but the kind of teachings they are are teachings about faith and morals.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

When you have to come up with an actual hypothetical example, you see that the idea of lying making the teaching somehow not concern faith or morals is absurd. Faith and morals are areas of inquiry, they are categories. You can have false teachings on faith and morals-- those are what we call heresies. What the doctrine of infallibility promises is that heresy cannot come out of the pope's mouth or from his pen when he is speaking on any matter that pertains to the category of faith or the category of morality. Your semantic tricks don't even make any sense because you can't actually provide an example of what a lie about a matter of faith that isn't really a matter of faith would look like.

Kyle Cupp said...

The pope's teaching doesn't just concern faith or morals, as if they're simply categories of inquiry. The pope teaches infallibly by defining or proclaiming doctrine. It's a different kind of teaching than saying whatever on the subjects of faith and morals. So if a pope were to deny the existence of God, of course he'd talking about a matter of faith, but he wouldn't be teaching in the sense of defining or proclaiming a doctrine that faithful have to believe.

Kate said...

You're using words, but I can't make any sense out of them. The words "teach" and "matters of faith and morals" don't take on new and indescribable meanings when used to describe the extent to which papal infallibility applies. The continue to mean "teach" (present something for others to learn) and "matters of faith and morals" (categories of topics which concern what we ought to believe and how we ought to live).

You're acting as though infallibility and proclaiming doctrine are used by the church to define what is meant by the word "teach" when applied to papal infallibility...but that would be circular, since we're only talking about "teaching" because that word is used by the church to explain and define what is meant by "infallibility" and "proclaiming doctrine."

bearing said...

"The pope teaches infallibly by defining or proclaiming doctrine."

But hypothetically the pope teaches fallibly if he defines a false doctrine?

How is this not circular thinking?

The whole point of infallibility is so that we can know what is true. You are positing a system in which we can not know whether the pope is defining doctrine or not, and therefore we cannot know what Catholic doctrine actually is.

Brandon said...

I'm a bit puzzled as to how the intent view would work with the three explicit examples Vatican I gives of the kinds of act by which a Pope exercises infallible teaching authority:

(1) summoning an ecumenical council to define a doctrine
(2) consulting with churches throughout the world to define a doctrine
(3) confirming the conclusions of a special synod as defined doctrine

The Council was very clear that these are not exhaustive, but they are obviously the most eminent and fundamental expressions of papal teaching authority, so if the intent view is accurate it would have to be naturally applicable to these things. But I don't see how the intent view clarifies anything about any of these three. How would the pope fake-summon an ecumenical council? In what way would a pope, having consulted the churches of the world and summarized the consultation, then say, 'Had you fooled! This is not the faith of the Church!'?

The problem is quite general. The infallibility of the Pope is not something that depends on the Pope's will. The infallibility of the Pope is the infallibility of the Church itself (Vatican I is very clear about this), when expressed by the Pope in his official acts as successor of Peter. And thus it is always necessarily exercised with the Church, although it does not require any further consent of the Church for its authority. But the intent-based account seems to leave no sense in which papal infallibility is a particular form of the infallibility of the Church itself.

Darwin said...

I was on the road all yesterday afternoon and evening, so just two general replies:

On baptism, agrees there is an element of intention here, as the catechism states, but I think it's clearly an exterior intent (intention to conduct a baptism) rather than an interior intention (intention to confer a sacrament). So, for instance, you can't have a priest baptism the child of someone he doesn't like and thinking "secretly, I don't intend to confer baptism, so they'll never know it but their child isn't baptized!"

On infallibility, first of it's important to be clear on how limited it is. The pope does not exercise infallibility with every word that comes out of his mouth. He could give a sermon, an interview, write a book, etc. and express heresy. However, when he speaks with his teaching office defining doctrine for the whole church, he is prevented from teaching error. All the formulations of this, even those that use words like "will" and "intent" seem clearly to be speaking of externals. He can discern whether infallibility applies from the context and nature of the statement. So, if the pope says, "my intent here is to speak personally as a theologian" then infallibility does not apply. However, if he says that he is defining the doctrine which the Church has always held, there is not some loophole in which if he intends to lie rather than to teach truth, infallibility does not apply. So, for instance, if Paul VI was actually someone who hated the Church and wanted to destroy it, and he became convinced that artificial contraception was totally moral but determined to write Humanae Vitae saying the opposite in order to destroy the Church's credibility, this does not mean that the Church's teaching authority does not apply because the pope was lying. The protection of infallibility applies whether the pope secretly intends to teach error or not.