A Clear and Present Danger
May 7, 2009 § 12 Comments
There is I think very legitimate concern on the part of some traditional orthodox Catholics about a kind of presentism which treats what the Magisterium says right now as a discontinuous trump card, severing Catholicism from its roots and remaking it as some progressive fantasy. On the other hand, we do know that doctrine develops. The myth of Progress may be bunk, but the Deposit of the Faith does in fact work itself out through salvation history over time. The fact that the Church may have non-infallibly approved of certain wicked practices in the past doesn’t amount to an infallible proclamation that those practices cannot be intrinsically immoral, for example. The doctrine of infallibility itself implies that some things – the non-infallible ones – are reformable, through new clarifying articulation which narrows the lens through which the past can be interpreted or even through explicit repudiation.
So I’m as cautious as the next guy about adopting a hermeneutic of discontinuity. But there are certain cases where the Church herself explicitly asserts a kind of presentism: where She repudiates past practices quite explicitly, or asserts Herself that a particular Magisterial articulation of doctrine is the first of its kind on a particular subject.
Opposing that explicit presentism on particular specific questions, on the basis of resistance to a false Progressive presentism which hopes for doctrinal developments which will not happen, seems to me to be problemmatic.
I know offhand of two instances that seem to me to meet the criteria for an “explicit presentism” coming directly from the Magisterium.
2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors. – The Catechism of the Catholic Church
And this one:
115. This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this teaching, and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial. – Veritatis Splendour