June 15, 2017 § 37 Comments
Denzinger, for those who don’t know, is a compendium of Catholic doctrines which is used to teach seminarians. What is notable about it is that it isn’t a catechism or commentary: it is a collection of actual authoritative magisterial statements on a wide range of moral and theological subjects, originally commissioned by Pope Pius IX. The content of Denzinger is actual epistemically authoritative pronouncements of the teaching Magisterium collected over the millennia, as opposed to some person’s explanation of “what the Church teaches”.
One of the things that struck me when I bought my first copy of Denzinger was how small it is, as a collection of the explicit authoritative communal beliefs of a millennia old institution with a global footprint: as the collected actual resolutions drawn from two thousand years of disputation and controversy. No one can hold the dimunitive single volume in his hands, and then witness the glory of medieval cathedrals and universities, without concluding that the production of true propositions on paper is not the primary activity of the Church.
Another unmistakable impression was that when you read someone’s commentary represented as “what the Church teaches,” what is most remarkable is how much of that commentary represents the imported and unexamined metaphysical baggage of the author.
But you don’t have to trust my impressions. You can form your own by carrying a copy of Denzinger into St. Mary Major in Rome or one of a thousand other churches and cathedrals.
The other amazing thing to note about Denzinger is that more than half the book is from the modern era.
Now, suddenly, I have an impulse to buy a small book, and tear out more than half.
An older, online version is available. Note that it is magisterial that baptism by beer is not valid:
It seems that sacramental theology can indeed be humorous. I’d imagine that that was an interesting magisterial statement to write. Never thought he’d have to write that one.
In the Usury FAQ photo you can see my Ignatius and Loreto copies on the far left.
I spy an Ott. I still need to get one, but first I need a house to put it in.
I don’t yet have Denzinger but I own Ludwig von Ott’s book and have perused it. I’m assuming the subject matter of Denzinger is broader than Ott’s book?
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IIRC Ott is more opinionated and catechetical, and less broad in covered subject matter. Denzinger is just the “raw data” of actual Magisterial pronouncements.
But I haven’t opened Ott in years so that might not be a fair assessment.
Somewhat related, I find myself musing about the moral thinking of many of my peers…
“The sort of folks who cannot unequivocally condemn the massacre of the innocent, homogamy, usury, exploitative economics and a host of modern ills should be trusted in their authoritative declarations that racialism of any sort of is intrinsic wickedness of the sort that cries out to heaven for judgment.”
I may end up becoming Catholic by default as the doctrine at least seems to be more rooted in reality than some interpretation first discovered by a high school dropout from Topeka in 1900.
Baptized in beer? Too funny.
I appreciate the greater point here, how the whole of faith is not a handbook, we do not have an instruction manual as if we are simply putting together a piece of furniture from IKEA. The essence,the spirit,the flavor of faith, is so much greater than that and it permeates everything, from art to music to how we live our lives.
As I understand it, the fact that the person has a will to be properly baptized and the proper form of baptism is not possible in their circumstance would mitigate the lack of baptism if they died before finding water.
The glory of God. All for the glory of God.
“As I understand it, the fact that the person has a will to be properly baptized and the proper form of baptism is not possible in their circumstance would mitigate the lack of baptism if they died before finding water.”
Yes, but that’s evidence of the precise sort of flawed thinking that plagues us all in the modern world. We rely on rules rather than authority and relationship. Our brains leap right too, “God cannot be trusted with our baptism. God is so mean He would condemn to hell all the little babies baptized in beer? I hereby revoke God’s authority! In fact, now I refuse to believe in him at all.”
Not saying you’re like that at all Mike, just that atheism,non belief, even liberalism, always head down that same path. When we place our faith in the personhood and authority of Jesus Christ rather than a book of rules, we soon become aware of how silly our worries are, how small our faith is. He laid down His very life for us, and we’re searching the literature for some guarantee that he won’t condemn beer baptized babies? Why? It’s a vote of no confidence,it’s a trust issue, it’s a problem with accepting authority.
The doctrine of the Catholic Church is rooted, by Tradition and delegation, to the Ultimate Reality: the One Who is. Come grab an oar, the Barque could always use more oarsmen.
“We rely on rules rather than authority and relationship.”
Well, there are rules, and then there are rules 🙂 I try to frame rule following in the context of: “If you love me keep my commandments.” Sometimes being in a relationship with the Authority just is to keep commandments, to follow His rules. If baptism is what the Catholic Church teaches it is, then guarding against its abuse – following the rules – is an act of love. A lot of the “weird” rules of the Church are there because someone came along and tried to see what they could get away with.
The sacraments (and the Church herself) are a great gift; the rulings by the Church on when the sacraments are valid is binding on us – but not on God. So we can say that those baptized in beer are not baptized; but that doesn’t limit God’s grace; perhaps he is merciful in situations we don’t know.
But the possibility is not something that can be used to decide our course of action.
Indeed. If He asks for no brown M&M’s, it isn’t our place to push back against the requirement.
Positive law is what happens when the drunk and disorderly are brought before the Earl and the Earl must discriminate and restrict freedom by making an authoritative choice.
Indeed this is strictly prohibited. There is a categorical difference between a good faith attempt to obey which fails, versus deliberate disobedience accompanied by a presumption that the sovereign will be merciful.
Everyone has been instructed in what to do in order to respond to and receive God’s mercy: enter into the sacramental life of the Church, on God’s terms as mediated through Peter and his successors, not on your own terms. Deliberately choosing not to do so while presuming that God will be merciful anyway is a very, very dangerous game. And deliberately leading others to believe that this dangerous game is just fine to play is damnable.
“Indeed. If He asks for no brown M&M’s, it isn’t our place to push back against the requirement”
This resonated with me in a way that was surprising.
I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist and one reason I have one foot out the door and the other on a banana peel is that there are so many “brown M&M” requiremnts. At one point or other Ellen White inveighs against checkers, bicycles, labor unions, and salad dressing. All those seemingly trivial rules led me to think “has God truly said?”
A good leader has to be careful because rightly or wrongly, too many “trivial” rules undermine a followers faith in the leader. But followers have to remember that authority doesn’t vanish because you think they’re nitpicking. This stuff is hard, and as a father and husband it can be downright terrifying.
Yeah as a cradle Catholic the notion that we have oodles of trivial rules has always struck me as very out of touch with the reality. I’m under Pope Francis’ authority but he has never actually required anything at all of me personally; at least not that I’ve noticed.
We actually have very few rules, and a small body of Magisterial doctrine you can actually hold in one hand. Most of it is rather momentous if occasionally humorous, and keeps us united to our coreligionists (e.g. fasts, feast days, etc). A few (a different few, depending on the person) of those doctrines/rules will inevitably become the inflection point of any given person’s life. In the end we all have to choose where our loyalties really lie.
One of the major differences between Ott and the Denzinger is the arrangement: Denzinger is a timeline, starting with the earliest declarations of the Church (being the Creeds) and moving up to the 20th C. Ott arranges his work systematically, starting with the Unity of God, through the sacraments, and ending in the Last Things.
Any work of human hands is open to “baggage handling”. In the Denzinger, it happens by what is and isn’t included. For instance, I have the 13th Edition from the 1954 and it was revised by Karl Rahner. Yes, that Karl Rahner. Several documents were dropped from the earlier editions and others not formerly included appear. To think how that effects the finished product, consider if in 10 to 20 years the voted-down paragraphs of the Franciscan Synod 15 calling for the incorporation of unrepentant, active homosexuals into “the life of the Church” will be included in the Denzinger, as they were in the final Synod report.
I don’t find Ott less broad or opinionated. In fact, I find the presentation more helpful than the Denzinger. First, the Denzinger is referenced all over Ott’s work, as is Aquinas and Holy Writ. Second, if you don’t know Church history, the Denzinger is a bit confusing. You get snippets of a Church document with no background at all – no idea what is being discussed and what brought it on – and no idea how closely the article being discussed is supposed to be held. What helps is the date of the document referenced is given, so you can look up what was going on at the time, and you can rest assured that before the middle 20th C., a Church document was almost always in response to correct a heresy or severe moral issue.
With Ott, you get a statement of the error and who made under what conditions; the correct teaching with references (Denzinger, Holy Writ, ECF, and the Scholastics – usually Aquinas), and how closely the teaching should be held.
I prefer Ott over the Denzinger mostly because of the way it arranged, but I think it’s best to have both as the greatly complement each other.
A while back Zippy, you had a post about the silliness of people who to separate thought from action as if they were two different things and not bound up together.
The last few items you’ve posted on doctrine sound as if you are trying to separate the doctrinal – what the Church teaches (or how it thinks) – from the pastoral – how the Church acts.
To me, the doctrine and pastoral – I think they call it “praxis” – are just as bound together as thought and action, and it sounds just as ludicrous as those who would separate act and intent for the reasons you wrote in your post. Tell why I’m wrong. Because if the Vatican II Churchmen are correct… well then, the Catholic faith isn’t what I thought it was, and I can go do something else with a clear conscience.
Agreed. Ott on the other hand has that same feature (Usury never appears in its index for example) and in addition proposes a whole methodology, hermeneutic, etc besides. Ott isn’t a curated collection of actual Magisterial documents: it is an opinionated text by a particular author containing a great deal of that author’s words, drawing on Magisterial statements for support. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is an entirely different kind of thing from Denzinger.
It is good to supplement Denzinger with Magisterial statements found elsewhere. Some of the ones I cite here and there don’t appear in Denzinger. But there is a fundamental difference between a curated collection of raw data and an opinionated systematic presentation by an author supplemented by citation of raw data. Denzinger is the former, Ott (and my usury FAQ for that matter) are the latter.
What matters is what is true.
Progressives make the characteristic “mistake” of treating doctrine as decorative theology with no practical implications. I use the term “mistake” in charity, since in many cases it certainly appears to be just a mealy-mouthed and cowardly way to reject doctrine.
Those who react against this tend to make the opposite mistake, treating doctrine and praxis as if they were logically connected machinery. We do this because we are all moderns, even those of us with pretensions to traditionalism.
The truth though doesn’t need us to defend it. We need to unchain the truth within ourselves, for our own sake. The truth is more than capable of ravaging its external enemies on its own, on its own timetable.
The analogy isn’t unreasonable but there are also important differences. Intention and behavior are directly connected within the human person in a way that they are not in a community of persons.
If you’ve ever run a small organization or even headed up a family this should be clear. Shepherding others to form the kinds of intentions and choose the behaviors you want them to choose isn’t at all like choosing whether or not to mow the lawn right now yourself. It still must be grounded in the truth, but more in the manner that farming must be grounded in the truth (as Christ Himself affirms in the Gospels in His parables), than in the manner of the direct connection between intention and behavior in individual human acts.
Thus the current post, and the previous one.
 As I mentioned in another comment, I think that doctrine refers to a particular body of truths not to something more general like “how the Church thinks”. Rejection of doctrine is heresy, and there is a great deal more to “how the Church thinks” than “not heresy”.
Progressives make the characteristic mistake of treating doctrine as decorative theology with no practical implications.
That is why I mentioned seasons in relation to farming in the previous post. It is not that the knowledge of seasons allows to be a good farmer, but that you have to adapt your farmer “praxis” to seasons in order to be successful. In a similar way if you do not adapt praxis to doctrine, or truth as you call it or reality as I prefer, you will not be successful in your pastoral work.
The fruit of praxis not anchored in doctrine will not be salvation of souls, but apostasy.
When the Church tells us that we are “the body of Christ” and that “Christ is our head”, is that just ornate fancy talk? If not, than I have to think intention and behavior in individuals and in the Body are far more similar than they are different. Certainly not at the Kiwanis down the street, but then they’re not divinely established.
Regarding doctrine, yes, it’s easy to lose the plot; “and though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge and have not Charity, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2), but I’m having a tough time assenting to the difference you’re establishing between truth and doctrine. Isn’t doctrine simply a particular truth?
Tell me what’s wrong with this line of thought and how doctrine and truth are not intertwined: Charity is not an emotion, but a duty; a carrying out of thought and action because God said so, not because it benefits me or gives me good feelz. The doctrines of the Church guides us on those things we should think and act on because they are given to us from God, and in doing so we show our love for Him, even if we struggle, fall, or perform them very imperfectly. It is the movement of the will toward God in trying to live out his doctrines – which, by the way, includes the doctrines on the sacraments.
Yes, I’ve said several times now that doctrine is a collection of particular truths. This is distinguishable from praxis in much the same way that a collection of particular truths relevant to farming are distinguishable from the activity of farming — as Christ’s own parables in Matthew 13 attest.
Somewhat funny, but “praxis” is also the name for a Marxist humanist movement from the 1960’s. They set out to affirm and defend the authentic truth of Marxism.
In faith I often say Truth is a person, per John 14:6. That is because the rules, doctrine, even scripture are flat, two dimensional things, easily misunderstood and misinterpreted. Without the personhood of Christ, also known as The Word, we cannot understand the rules, let alone obey them. It is not that doctrine is not truth,it is that in order to follow doctrine we have to know the One who actually calls Himself Truth. You see this very clearly when atheists start hurling scripture at you, scripture that is often out of context and distorted.
Islam is a religion of rules,and they are also the ones who invented elaborate pipes and fancy cigarette holders because the rules say, “no tobacco can touch your lips.” So you just keep the tobacco itself six inches away from your lips and now you’re following “doctrine.”
Zip: as a cradle Catholic the notion that we have oodles of trivial rules has always struck me as very out of touch with the reality.
Amen. I’m happy somebody is finally saying this. The RCC I belong to has so few requirements and rules it’s basically falling apart “on the ground”. Zero praxis. To the point of negligence. Oh, to find an inquisitor! I would be weepy: snif, somebody cares!
Most of it is rather momentous if occasionally humorous, and keeps us united to our coreligionists (e.g. fasts, feast days, etc).
Hah. If my family had so few rules and so little unity we would implode within the week. This is pretty much what has happened in the Church where I live.
I’ve been a Catholic for 36 years and the Pope has yet to call me up and tell me what to do.
Sometimes it feels like that’d be the easier way, certainly.
[…] contract, not the nature of the property lent/borrowed – can be easily confirmed by checking Magisterial sources, such as Vix Pervenit (cited above) and others (see here and here, for […]
Upon seeing the post’s title, I expected it to be a condemnation of the sola Denzinger principle with a plenty of hilariously labelled hyperlinks (as they always are) pointing to your articles on positivism.
And it was, in a way, inasmuch as it, by means of a down-to-earth comparison, directed our attention to the fact that the Church is not in the business of micromanaging its subjects by producing texts that are wholly comprehensive with fully determined meaning.
It seems that not only the receivers of the Church’s teaching but also the Church’s teachers themselves, who are charged with the task of defining the teaching, bring their own metaphysical preconceptions into play. These preconceptions then may turn out to be necessary to make sense of the defined doctrine, in spite of their not being an explicit part of the defined doctrine.
Are we bound to believe such metaphysical preconceptions so that we may understand the doctrine in the same sense as the Church does?
It would seem that we are so bound. For otherwise it would be possible for one to ad hoc redefine the individual terms of a defined proposition and completely change its intended meaning. It would become feasible to use arguments like “money does not mean what it used to mean” or “marriage is not what it used to be” or “human nature is not always the same so the dogmas do not apply anymore”, all of which you had resolutely rejected. We should strive to understand the dogmas as the Church wants us to understand them. Else we would let us be bound merely by the letter which is tantamount to the error of positivism.
But in that case, would it be correct to say, for instance, that the doctrine of transubstantiation, being based on the Aristotelean substance/accident theory (and its underlying theories, such as the one of act and potency), requires us to believe this theory, at least to the extent it figures in the doctrine?
I think you’re right – the Church has implied many things without stating them doctrinally; and I think Thomistic Philosophy is one of those things.
Similarly, the Church has not forbidden evolutionary theories (see Catholicism and Evolution for a mini-Denzinger-like rundown on what the Magesterium has said) but it’s pretty clear for those with eyes to see which way the wind’s blowing.
Any discussion like this always suffers from what I think of as the infallibility paradox: given proposition X, each of us must make a good faith judgment about the meaning of X; and our own judgments are subject to all sorts of errors no matter how infallible the proposition X may be in itself.
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