Subsistit in

Yet another clarification of the traditional teaching, this time from Jesuit Father Karl Josef Becker. Clarifications are only required for those who keep forgetting that dogmatic truths don't change over time.

I'm often puzzled by the readiness with which certain folks seem to accept the possibility that truths of this nature could change over time. An ecclesiological teaching such as this is of the highest significance, so even though it can clearly develop over time, it would be absurd to claim that its substance could change over time (by "change" we must understand something fairly strong: let p be the teaching prior to Vatican II and q the teaching after; to say that the teaching has "changed" in the sense that I am rejecting would be to say that p and q cannot be true at the same time).

I take it that these folks would not want to claim that, say, the teaching that God is Three in One can change over time. If anyone were to assert the unitarian thesis, clearly that person would be rejected as a heretic right off the bat: we would not be looking for ways of incorporating this "new understanding" of God's nature into the Church's Magisterium. Or if someone were to say that Jesus was not the Second Person of the Trinity, again, that thesis would be rejected as heretical.

But for some reason, some folks find it easier to say that this teaching, on the nature of the Church, not only can change, but has changed, and they say so without the least fear of being thought heretical. What's the difference? It seems to me that the difference is largely political. If you re-interpret the teaching on the nature of the Church in the way these folks want to, the importance of the Church's Magisterium is drastically lessened, and that appears to be more "inclusive" in the politically correct way that is so popular among those most deeply affected by the pluralism of our culture. To re-interpret the meaning of the Trinitarian formula or Jesus' identity would not have the effect of bringing more folks to the fold--indeed, it would probably drive people away in droves.

If truth is open to change (or interpretation) in the sense that these folks want, then there is no compelling reason to believe anything the Church teaches. That would be bad: it would mean that there's no particular reason to be religious at all, certainly no reason to be a Catholic, or a Christian of any stripe. Relativized truth has no place in a religion grounded in the person of a man who said "I am the Truth and the Life."


Tom said…
What's the difference?

One of my rules of thumb is, "Beware of what makes life easier for you." I'm inclined to act as though what makes life easier for me is thereby good, an inclination that wants testing.

The broader the Church's understanding of the Church, the easier it is for me: I don't need to pester or worry about my family or neighbors or co-workers; I can deflect a lot of the criticisms of the Church with a relieved, "Oh, we don't believe that any more"; I don't have to remember to pray for pagan babies or for God to send more missionaries.

But what's in unitarianism for me, if I'm not positively hostile toward my faith? To the extent I'm not already a functional unitarian, how would it make my life easier if the Church said, "Jesus wasn't really God"? I can get pretty close to that as it is, from the writings of modern Catholic theologians who follow the "Jesus of History vs. Christ of Faith" fad.

If the Sign of the Cross took fifteen minutes, five for each Person, then unitarianism might have more appeal to Catholics.
Kevin Jones said…
Just wondering: Is "has its substance" a plausible translation of "subsistare" or substitute for "subsists"?
Scott Carson said…
I think it depends on what you mean by "has its substance in". The word subsistere just means "to abide in"; it need not logically entail any particular substantial ontology such as, say, Thomistic essentialism--though it is certainly compatible with that.

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