Not Just an Empty Suit

January 8, 2007 § 24 Comments

A doctrine of the Faith is a special kind of truth about the Faith: it is a truth of the Faith which, when understood correctly, it is immoral to reject. When one rejects a doctrine we call it heresy.

But a doctrine is not merely a single sentence expressing a truth of the faith.

We say that the Deposit of the Faith (that is, the body of doctrine which is one aspect of the Faith) is finite. But it seems to me that there is a misunderstanding (perhaps a mutual one) in the air about what that means, and specifically what it implies with respect to sentences written about doctrine. In objecting to my criticism of positivist understandings of development of doctrine, a number of my interlocutors seem to be presuming that there are only a finite number of actual or potential sentences – formal expressions of doctrine – which compel assent: that is, sentences which it would be immoral to reject once understood properly. This is not the case. The Deposit of the Faith may be a finite deposit in the sense that it does not encompass every true thing whatsoever, but it is not finite in the sense that it generates only a finite number of sentences which, when properly understood, it would be immoral to reject.

A simple example may be helpful. It is a doctrine of the Faith that Mary is perpetually virgin. Clearly to assert “Mary is not perpetually virgin” is therefore a heresy. If a heresy is merely the rejection of a particular sentence rather than a rejection of a particular doctrinal truth, though, then it is not a heresy (though it may still be incorrect) to say that Jesus had biological full siblings as a result of intercourse between Mary and Joseph.

A heresy is not just the rejection of a particular formula. A heresy is the rejection of a particular truth.

Given any single doctrine or body of doctrine, there are an infinite number of true sentences which can be written about that doctrine which have the property that, properly understood, it is heresy to reject the particular sentence in question as false.

Unless (as always) I am mistakes somewhere, critics of my appeal to incompleteness to show the falsity of positivist understandings of development of doctrine have to assume, in order for the criticism to be valid, not just that the body of doctrine is finite in terms of the truths it represents; but that it is finite in terms of the number of true sentences which compel assent that it represents. And it is false that the Deposit of the Faith is finite in terms of the number of true sentences which compel assent that it represents.

Tagged:

§ 24 Responses to Not Just an Empty Suit

  • Tom says:

    Can you explain just <>why<> I have to assume that the body of doctrine is finite in terms of the number of true sentences which compel assent that it represents in order for me to be correct that your appeal to incompleteness is invalid?Put another way, can you explain just why pointing out that there are (in principle) an infinite number of ways of saying Mary is ever-virgin is an interesting thing to do?

  • zippy says:

    Maybe this kind of answer will work: what is fundamentally at issue is whether it is or is not (at least material) heresy to deny (1) something that is entailed by a de fide doctrine and/or (2) something that must be true in order for a de fide doctrine to be true.

  • Tom says:

    My answer is no. If a statement is true, that doesn’t make it <>de fide<>. And if a statement P is true if and only if a statement Q is true, that doesn’t make P <>de fide<> if Q is <>de fide<>.

  • zippy says:

    <>If a statement is true, that doesn’t make it de fide.<>Right. We’ve always agreed about this, though you seem to think that disagreement is entailed by something I’ve said. That in itself is interesting, because it means that at least we agree that there are various ways in which disagreement can be entailed.<>And if a statement P is true if and only if a statement Q is true, that doesn’t make P de fide if Q is de fide.<>It is great to be finally getting somewhere on this. I disagree. If to deny P is to deny Q, and Q is de fide, then to deny P is (at least materially) heresy.It is (material) heresy to (materially) deny a de fide doctrine, so it is important to understand what it means to materially deny a de fide doctrine: that is, to understand what intellectual acts logically entail the material denial of a de fide doctrine.There are (at least) three kinds of true statements associated with any de fide doctrine: (D) the statement of the doctrine itself; (P) statements of any truth which is a <>necessary<> premise of a de fide doctrine; and (C) any truth which <>necessarily<> follows from a de fide doctrine. (Notice that “any truth whatsoever” isn’t one of the categories of truths in question).In my undertanding of heresy, to deny the truth of any statement in any of these categories is heresy, because denying any of them is to at least materially deny the truth of the de fide doctrine itself. So for example if the (only) de fide doctrine in question was “Mary is the mother of God”, to assert that Mary was really a man is (materially) heresy, even though it isn’t a direct denial of the actual statement of doctrine itself: that is, it is a denial of a true statement of class P not class D, but it is still heresy.So our longstanding disagreement on this subject does – at least as I currently see it – hinge upon our understanding of what it means for a doctrine to be de fide and for denying that doctrine to be heresy. In my understanding it is in fact a two-valued logic, and works the way any two-valued logic necessarily works.But our disagreement has nothing to do with the notion that I equate de fide doctrines to all truths whatsoever. I don’t.

  • Tom says:

    <>If to deny P is to deny Q, and Q is de fide, then to deny P is (at least materially) heresy.<>How do you know whether “to deny P is to deny Q”? My position is that if such knowledge isn’t trivial, then it isn’t heretical to deny P while accepting Q.“Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same,” as the CCC quotes the CIC. It’s empirically verifiable that a person can believe one thing while denying or doubting something that belief entails. The denial or doubt of the latter doesn’t imply lack of belief of the former.

  • zippy says:

    <>My position is that if such knowledge isn’t trivial, then it isn’t heretical to deny P while accepting Q.<>My position is that if denying P is tantamount to denying de fide doctrine Q, then denying P is at least materially heresy, period. Whether it is formally – in the moral theology sense of formally, that is – so or not depends (as always) on the denying agent’s awareness of the fact that denying P in fact entails denying Q. But I am as always concerned with whether <>when properly understood<> denying P is <>actually<> heresy, not whether <>when understood irrationally<> denying P is not <>perceived as<> heresy.At least we understand each other now, I think, well enough to dispense with the “put that Godel thing down before you hurt yourself” business :^]. No?

  • Tom says:

    <>My position is that if denying P is tantamount to denying de fide doctrine Q, then denying P is at least materially heresy, period.<>It comes down to what you mean by “is tantamount to.”If you mean something like “obviously amounts to,” then I agree.If you mean something like “rationally entails,” then I disagree.Heresy is a matter of obstinate denial or doubt. You can’t obstinately deny or doubt unknowingly. You don’t have to know or care that the Church says you must believe it, but you do have to know that you don’t believe it.(Actually, that’s probably true about belief and opinion in general: you can’t believe or opine something without being aware at some level that you believe or opine it.)You know those old lists of condemnations where propositions are said to be heretical, ill-sounding, rash, and so forth? There’s a great set in < HREF="http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15128a.htm" REL="nofollow">Unigenitus<>, the 1713 papal bull condemning Quesnel’s doctrines, which includes “suspected and savouring of heresy” and “bordering on heresy” as Bad Things distinct from “heretical.” I take this sort of thing as evidence that the Church recognizes different degrees of implication between <>de fide<> propositions and other statements.And my impression is that such bulls are regarded as Church teaching that clarifies (in what would seem to be an ad hoc manner) the degree of implication in specific examples, suggesting there’s no simple, objective heuristic different people can apply and expect to arrive at the same conclusion given other specific examples.

  • Anonymous says:

    Tom:Trying to restrict heresy to its canon-law definition is quite useful for legal purposes, but far less so for theological ones. Zippy’s point seems obvious to me: if I hold a belief P that is logically incompatible with a <>de fide<> doctrine Q, then my belief that P is <>materially<> heretical <>whether or not<> I am aware that P is logically incompatible with Q. I become a heretic in the canonically relevant sense, i.e. a formal heretic, only if I <>am<> aware that P is incompatible with Q and yet still believe that P.Of course, in many cases it often debatable whether P really is logically incompatible with Q, as with the condemned propositions you cite. But it is one of the tasks of theology to clarify such things, is it not?Best,Mike

  • Tom says:

    If you don’t like the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s definition, how about the old Catholic Encyclopedia’s:“Pertinacious adhesion to a doctrine contradictory to a point of faith clearly defined by the Church is heresy pure and simple, heresy in the first degree. But if the doctrine in question has not been expressly ‘defined’ or is not clearly proposed as an article of faith in the ordinary, authorized teaching of the Church, an opinion opposed to it is styled <>sententia haeresi proxima<>, that is, an opinion approaching heresy. Next, a doctrinal proposition, without directly contradicting a received dogma, may yet involve logical consequences at variance with revealed truth. Such a proposition is not heretical, it is a <>propositio theologice erronea<>, that is, erroneous in theology. Further, the opposition to an article of faith may not be strictly demonstrable, but only reach a certain degree of probability. In that case the doctrine is termed <>sententia de haeresi suspecta, haeresim sapiens<>; that is, an opinion suspected, or savouring, of heresy.”

  • Anonymous says:

    Tom:You’re missing my point. I do not “dislike” the legally relevant definitions of heresy that you cite. They are correct about <>formal<> heresy, and they are useful for their purpose. I object only to your apparent unwillingness to admit the validity of the distinction between formal and material heresy.Thus, a proposition that is logically incompatible with revealed truth, without formally negating it, is not formally heretical, because one who holds it might not be aware of its incompatibility with revealed truth, and in such a case woujld only be “in error.” But it is materially heretical, inasmuch as to affirm it while being aware of its logical status would be both logically and morally equivalent to formal heresy.Best,Mike

  • Tom says:

    I suppose I am proposing that there’s more to material heresy than logical incompatibility. Put another way, I am questioning the applicability of the idea of a purely objecitve heresy to discussions on the Deposit of Faith and development of doctrine.I say there’s more to material heresy than logical incompatibility because humans are capable of belief in logical incompatibilities. You may say, “But if you believe P, then you <>can’t<> believe Q, and Q is <>de fide<>.” But if I do in fact believe both P and Q, logic be damned, then (says I) until and unless the Magisterium says something about P or its relation to Q, what truth am I rejecting that the Church teaches must be accepted?Now, I don’t think this works for just <>any<> P and Q with an implication or two between them. I think some implications are so immediate that to understand P and Q is to understand that Q=>P. (Where P is an English translation of a Latin sentence Q, for example. How immediate it needs to be is the “what does ‘is tantamount to’ mean?” question.)But the Magisterium is not a formal system. Speaking of objective heresy, of propositions that contradict dogmatic formulas even though no one alive knows it, is an academic exercise the value of which I don’t see.

  • zippy says:

    <>But the Magisterium is not a formal system.<>That has been my point pretty much all along. But as Mike says, you seem to be denying that there is any such thing as material heresy. I am taking my lead from John Paul II who said:<>It is never acceptable to confuse a “subjective” error about moral good with the “objective” truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience.<>Presumably denying a de fide doctrine is following the judgement of an erroneous conscience, even when doesn’t know that that is what one is doing.At least that is and has been my point all along. Presumably you understand that point now, even if you don’t like the fact that I use the term “material heresy” to describe it.

  • zippy says:

    And just to be as clear as possible, what I mean by “material heresy” is “denying the truth of a de fide doctrine”. (Independent of whether one is <>aware<> of the fact that one is denying the truth of a de fide doctrine).

  • Tom says:

    Zippy:I mean the same thing by “material heresy.”But a thing can’t be a “truth rationally proposed to man” if the Church hasn’t actually proposed it, much less if no one alive has worked out whether it is rationally linked to what has been so proposed.

  • zippy says:

    <>But a thing can’t be a “truth rationally proposed to man” if the Church hasn’t actually proposed it,…<>Well, yes. But the sorts of things I am talking about the Church has actually proposed, by definition. I really can’t make any sense of your objection, other than that you don’t like me using the term “material heresy” to describe every assertion which in fact denies the truth of a de fide doctrine, irrespective of whether the person asserting it is aware of the fact that it denies a de fide doctrine. (Or that you find it academically uninteresting, or whatever).I remind you that the oddity in the discussion doesn’t come from my refutation of positivist arguments on their own terms, but from the positivist arguments themselves. There is certainly a sense in which positivist arguments are uninteresting: the same sense in which every error is ultimately uninteresting.

  • c matt says:

    <>If a heresy is merely the rejection of a particular sentence rather than a rejection of a particular doctrinal truth, though, then it is not a heresy (though it may still be incorrect) to say that Jesus had <>no<> biological full siblings as a result of intercourse between Mary and Joseph.<>Did you mean to put that “no” in there?

  • Tom says:

    Zippy:If you can tell me what you meant by “is tantamount to,” I can tell you whether I agree with you.If you can’t, I can’t.Something I have or haven’t written seems to have led you and Mike to think I’m hung up over whether a material heretic knows a doctrine is de fide. I’m not. What I’m hung up on is whether a material heretic knows what he believes.

  • zippy says:

    c matt: Typo fixed, thank you.Tom: when I say that denying A is tantamount to denying B I mean that B cannot be true if A is not true.

  • Tom says:

    Zippy:In that case, I understand you to be saying this: It’s heresy to deny Q. To assert ~Q is to deny Q. If Q=>P, then ~P=>~Q, so to deny P is to assert ~P is to assert ~Q is to deny Q. Therefore, to deny P is heresy.The problem with this is the middle bit, “to assert ~P is to assert ~Q.” This does not follow from the fact that ~P=>~Q, because human belief need not follow logic.If I say, “I deny P and assert Q,” and you say, “You can’t do that!” I can say, “I just did.” If you say, “You can’t do that <>rationally<>!” I can say, “Who said anything about rationality? I was telling you what I believe.”If it’s heresy to deny Q, then denying P while asserting Q is not heresy. (For that matter, denying P while saying nothing at all about Q might not be heresy in certain circumstances, either.)

  • zippy says:

    <>…because human belief need not follow logic.<>Yes, people can be irrational, illogical, etc. So what? And if you are incorporating “law of non-contradiction: who cares?” into the premeses of your argument I don’t know why you bothered to write down a bunch of logic.Someone who denies the truth of a de fide doctrine because he is being irrational is still denying the truth of a de fide doctrine.

  • Tom says:

    Yes, and someone who does <><>NOT<><> deny the truth of a de fide doctrine because he is being irrational is still not denying the truth of a de fide doctrine.Do you really not see that heresy is a matter of belief, and belief is not a matter of formal logic?

  • zippy says:

    You seem to have lost track of what I have claimed. The claim was made that every de fide doctrine has a deductive proof without underdetermination from some set of primordial apostolic premeses. I said that this claim was not just wrong but irrational. You seem to agree that it is irrational but that some appeal to the subjective nature of erroneous belief mitigates the fact that the original claim is irrational. Or something. As I said, I can’t really make any sense of your objection.

  • TS says:

    FYI, concerning development of doctrine, came across this today:http://www.catholiclearning.com/knuckle-101.html

  • […] course there is real content to the Deposit of the Faith, and over the millennia this content has clarified and developed. Individual Popes and Councils have certainly made contributions here and there; though at least […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Not Just an Empty Suit at Zippy Catholic.

meta

%d bloggers like this: