On the Church Adapting to the World

January 2, 2009 § 18 Comments

I was recently in a discussion – more as observer than participant – where the typical canard “the Church supported slavery” was raised. Maybe I am getting old – well, there is little doubt about that – but the more I see that kind of thing the more self evidently ridiculous it looks. Inevitably the commenter is trying to make the point that the Church needs to adapt to the world, and therefore approve of homosexual sex and divorce and contraception and such.

I suppose there is a kind of consistency in saying “The Church once went along, as a historical matter of non-doctrinal practice in the world, with some despicable things. Therefore the Church should now go along with the despicable things I want it to go along with”. But it just doesn’t strike me as very bright. I mean, I agree that sodomy and divorce and contraception and such are moral abominations on the same order as chattel slavery. I just don’t see how that translates into an argument in favor of supporting them.


§ 18 Responses to On the Church Adapting to the World

  • Bob says:

    It could be the commenter assumes that homosexual sex is a moral good, and so the parallel would go Church supported slavery, but now opposes slavery, therefore the Church now repressing homosexual sex should stop doing so. The next question would be to explore why homosexual sex would be seen as a moral good rather than moral evil.Your take on the argument seems to be that the commenter acknowledges the moral evil of these acts and therefore should tolerate them as it tolerated the evil of slavery. There is some justification for this, since St. Thomas suggested tolerance for prostitution for the sake of civil order.The evils listed however, homosexual sex, divorce and contraception seem very antithetical to the procreative aspect of sex, and therefore hits at the heart of civil order. I would say that civilization cannot tolerate these disorders, but I know I would be several orthodox Catholics who would disagree about making the entire list above forbidden in civil law.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I think Zippy is deliberately being ironic.

  • William Luse says:

    <>I just don’t see how that translates into an argument in favor of supporting them.<>It doesn’t. But neither was sound argument the means by which their support for these things was secured.

  • Marion (Mael Muire) says:

    Zippy, I’m no biblical scholar, but my understanding is that the sort of slavery practiced among the Jewish people of Jesus’ time was different from the institution we think of when we speak of slavery as practiced in the U.S. in relatively modern times.The people of Jesus’ and Paul’s culture would have sold themselves into a form of slavery akin to what we would call <>indentured servitude<>. There would be a definite time limit set to the period of service, and the “master” would not be allowed to maim or kill the slave on a whim. The slave’s familial bond would have been regarded by the owner. It would have been considered a shameful thing for a Jew to mistreat another Jew who happened to be his slave (indentured servant). This was the sort of master / slave relationship St. Paul spoke about with tacit approval in his letters.Whereas our slaves here in the U.S. prior to 1865 were treated as chattel property, like horse or cattle, to be disposed of at the owner’s whim, considered to have barely human status, and few rights at all. There were certainly lay people and perhaps misguided pastors in the Catholic church who owned slaves and who supported our “Peculiar Institution” at the time, but the Universal Church certainly did neither.

  • Rodak says:

    It would seem to me that the fundamental question is how and why the Church previously, or currently, tolerates any category of act or modus operandi that was specifically identified by Jesus Christ as evil, or as presenting an impassable obstacle to salvation. There seem to be many of these behaviors which are integral to the lives of individuals who think themselves to be exemplary Christians, without having that self-conception radically questioned by the Church.In other words, I think that Zippy is looking at the issue from only one side.

  • Armchair Lawyer says:

    Rodak: you mean like being a businessman who charges enough to make a profit? Or being in charge of a health insurance company which refuses to make reimbursements on health care costs that are outside of its contractual obligations? Or being in favor or limited government?

  • Marion (Mael Muire) says:

    Rodak speaks of <>” . . . individuals who think themselves to be exemplary Christians, without having that self-conception radically questioned by the Church.”<>Actually, if anyone commented to any of the Catholic priests I know, “by the way, Father, I hope you realize that I consider myself to be an exemplary Christian,” the priest in response would reply to this effect, “my child, none of us except the very saints can lay claim to being ‘an exemplary Christian’, yet the greatest of the saints held themselves to be the most abject sinners. What you have said of yourself, therefore, betrays a lack of knowledge of your true state before the Almighty.”For my part, I consider myself not an exemplary Christian, but exemplary <>of<> the Christian who has no hope whatsoever apart from her hope in the mercy and forebearance of the good God.

  • Rodak says:

    Armchair Lawyer–You choose interesting words to put in my mouth, counselor. Perhaps revealing.But, no, not exactly. What I am talking about might be characterized, externally, as resorting to violence and, internally,as over-indulgence of appetite.Marion–Do what you “must”, and pray for mercy?

  • Marion (Mael Muire) says:

    Rodak wrote, paraphrasing (I think) my earlier comments: <>“Do what you ‘must’, and pray for mercy?<>“I don’t know what you mean, Rodak. I gather you are suggesting that I have proposed something on the order of, “do the absolute minimum, and pray for mercy.”But, Rodak, to do the mere minimum like that and then expect to receive mercy, would be to make a mockery of God and our relationship to Him.And God will not be mocked.I’m surprised at you, Rodak. Is what you believe that all Christians who don’t believe as you do are but deluded God-mockers? Wow. Just wow. ~~~~

  • William Luse says:

    Rodak. He’s ba-a-ack. Don’t waste your breath, Marion.

  • Rodak says:

    Marion–First, please understand that I was looking for, or describing, a general precept, not making a comment specifically about you. I know you better than that after all these years. You may, however, be defending a mediocre spiritual orientation that you, personally, have transcended.Second, I wasn’t talking about “doing the minimum.” I was talking about categorizing behaviors prosribed in the Gospels as “necessary” to success in the world, and simply psychologically plastering over the words written on the wall.William Luse: I love you, too.

  • A Holy and Happy Feast of the Epiphany!The three kings have left their land, their world, and have undertaken a long trip…motivated by their thirst of truth and salvation, they have walked with perseverance with a destination…and they achieve it, because God meets us with us if we look for Him sincerely. And the three wise men didn’t come alone, they have brought with them, their culture, their identity, their history, and they have given all to the Savior. Their Encounter with the Messiah, didn’t mean and has not indicated the end of their search: they have continued walking “by another route”, as St. Matthew says, that is they continue looking for the truth in a different wayJesus loves you.Luisa Veyan S.Lima-Peruhttp://levantateysalacaminar.podomatic.com

  • Rachel Gray says:

    Maybe the person’s argument was more, “The Church was obviously wrong on slavery and therefore she might be wrong now on the pelvic issues; she shouldn’t pretend to be infallible.” In other words the Church’s failure to live up to her own doctrine is taken as evidence that the doctrine is wrong.Of course that argument’s just as silly as the other one…

  • Rodak says:

    My take, again, is that the original argument (which is not a good one) is that, since the church hasn’t been right on every issue, the church can be ignored on any given issue now.My argument (which I believe restates the original one correctly) is simply that the church should actively enforce conformity to <>every<> precept stated in the Gospels and not practice “cafeteria conformity” in order to acccommodate the world’s demands.

  • Rodak says:

    Novelist Anne Rice in her spiritual memoir <>Called Out of Darkness,<> which concerns her return to the Church after decades of atheism, makes some observations—as a Catholic—which may illustrates my point. On the brink of returning to the Church, she notes: “Understand, we were living contentedly in New Orleans among secular and Catholic friends and family. There was no pressure from anyone to do anything about this issue, this matter of faith. There was no zealot at the door or at the coffee table pounding away about how I should come home to my church. Far from it. To repeat, I was surrounded by tolerant Catholics, and Catholics who were no longer shunning those who didn’t conform.“And I’d noticed other things about these Catholics. Minor things, I should say, but they are worth noting. These Catholics did not always stay married for life; they got annulments; and they remarried with the approval of their church. And these Catholics were not having thirteen children like my great-grandmother…nor were they having nine children like my grandmother…nor were they even having six or seven children. They were Catholics through and through but they had smaller families, and that indicated to me that there had been changes within the Catholic Church of which I wasn’t aware.”As Rice says, these are small things. But they witness to an accommodation of the world, or conformity to its demands. There are other small, and some bigger, things about which one could speak. As I said above, the things, big and small, that I have in mind can be categorized under the headings “Resort to Violence” and “Indulgence of Appetite.”

  • Unfortunately, Catholic support for slavery was once <>official Catholic doctrine<>.In 1866 the Holy Office (now called the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in an instruction signed by Pope Pius IX declared:<>Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery, and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given”.<>The hard fact is that doctrine does develop and it’s developed to declare slavery intrinsically evil.God Bless

  • Rachel Gray says:

    Chris, could you give us a quote or reference of the Church declaring slavery intrinsically evil? It’s often been declared evil in particular circumstances, such as in the inhumane slave trade of the United States, but when have all forms of slavery been declared immoral? I don’t think the kind of slavery practiced in the OT and regulated in Israel’s law, for example, was ever declared intrinsically evil.Also, saying something is “not contrary to natural or divine law” is not the same as supporting it.

  • Rachel,John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor para 80, quoting Vatican II.<>80. Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object”.(131) The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: “Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, <>slavery<>, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator”<>That’s a blanket condemnation of all forms of slavery as intrinsically evil (never justified under any circumstances whatsoever).God Bless

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