A Tale of Two Documents, or, Fallacy Extirpanda
May 11, 2009 § 113 Comments
Suppose we are given two Church documents.
One document was promulgated by the Supreme Pontiff with these words:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.
The Pope expressly tells us, to prepare us quite directly for what I have referred to as “explicit presentism” in the Catechism, that
This catechism will thus contain both the new and the old (cf. Mt 13:52), because the faith is always the same yet the source of ever new light.
The other document we are considering was a regulatory document addressed by the Pope many centuries earlier
… to his beloved sons, the heads of state or rulers, ministers and citizens established in the states and districts of Lombardy, Riviera di Romagnola, and Marchia Tervisina … .
That it was a juridical regulatory document, telling secular authorities in a particular region to conform the secular law to certain regulations because of contingent circumstances, and not a statement of doctrine, is not merely my personal inference – though such an inference is pretty clear from reading it. But in addition, that is how the document refers to itself:
Desiring, then, that the sons of the church, and fervent adherents of the orthodox faith, rise up and make their stand against the artificers of this kind of evildoing, we hereby bring forth to be followed by you as by the loyal defenders of the faith, with exact care, these regulations, contained serially in the following document, for the rooting-up of the plague of heresy.
Now, the money quote from this document which has been somewhat obliquely referred to very widely – typically with inaccurate paraphrasing and without providing anything more than a brief and partial cite with no link to the full document – goes as follows:
The head of state or ruler must force all the heretics whom he has in custody, provided he does so without killing them or breaking their arms or legs, as actual robbers and murderers of souls and thieves of the sacraments of God and Christian faith, to confess their errors and accuse other heretics whom they know, and specify their motives, and those whom they have seduced, and those who have lodged them and defended them, as thieves and robbers of material goods are made to accuse their accomplices and confess the crimes they have committed.
That’s it. No mention of particular techniques. Just a requirement that the secular law in those particular provinces treat heretics on par with criminals like thieves and murderers, with the further limitation “without killing them or breaking their arms or legs”.
Interestingly, that first document – the one which was promulgated directly by the Supreme Pontiff, formally exercising his Apostolic Authority, as a sure norm for teaching the Faith – addresses the second (earlier) document’s regulatory requirement, and its lack of doctrinal effect, quite directly:
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.
Clearly our doctrinal document is quite explicitly repudiating any doctrinal content someone might falsely infer from the earlier juridical document.
So the next time someone mentions the Bull Ad Extirpanda in an argument about the treatment of prisoners, you can tell them to tie that to their stake and smoke it.
(HT to commenter Richard Comerford for the link to the translation of Ad Extirpanda. I am assuming that the translation is at least reasonably accurate, without some egregious error which would affect the thesis here. Latin-savvy readers may want to verify the translation against the Latin text, also given at the link, and perhaps available elsewhere.)