September 29, 2017 § 47 Comments
These radical traditionalist Vatican II haters are always stirring up trouble. Why can’t they just all shut up and get on the Big Pope Francis Mercy Train?
Here are a few words from one of those ridiculous radtrads who think that endorsing Communion for divorced and remarried people sows confusion about the indissolubility of marriage. What a buffoon! Who does this guy think he is, the Pope or something?
However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
September 26, 2017 § 174 Comments
… the real question is whether every [sexually active] irregular marriage or cohabiting relationship [objectively] constitutes unrepented adultery or fornication. The Pope thinks not, and I agree with him. […]
The same goes for the idea that some irregular sexual relationships are the best people can do in their current circumstances. Sometimes the answer is yes, …
Wrong: the answer is an unequivocal yes to the first, and an unequivocal no to the second. (I don’t know what the Pope thinks).
It is never morally acceptable to choose intrinsically immoral behaviors. The “best someone can do in their current circumstances” never constitutes choosing an intrinsically immoral behavior, whatever “ticking time bomb” consequences they may perceive to be at stake. Compassion for difficult circumstances never translates into a determination that choosing objectively immoral behavior is “the best we can do”, that is, good.
Furthermore, what must be done in any given situation depends on the circumstances, not all of which can be foreseen; on the other hand there are kinds of behaviour which can never, in any situation, be a proper response — a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person. Finally, it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.
The Church has always taught that one may never choose kinds of behaviour prohibited by the moral commandments expressed in negative form in the Old and New Testaments.
It is never morally acceptable to torture prisoners. It is never morally acceptable to fornicate, commit adultery, or engage in contracepted intercourse. It is never morally acceptable to kill the innocent. It is never morally acceptable to contract for profits on a mutuum loan.
If someone thinks that choosing an intrinsically immoral behaviour – killing some innocent people, for example, even when he is convinced that many more will die from other causes if he chooses not to – is “the best he can do”, he needs to think again. Choosing an evil behaviour is never under any circumstances “the best you can do.”
This is ultimately the same old consequentialist utilitarian nonsense that modernity has been shoveling for centuries, changing up the labels to beg the question on behalf of the Current Year sins the speaker wishes to reframe as virtuous.
A preview of future consequentialism, same as past consequentialism:
From a theoretical viewpoint, development [of a theory of licit sex outside of marriage] was retarded by the concept of normally married conjugal relations, which led to a belief that ever to admit sex outside of wedlock would be to destroy the fornication prohibition itself. …
In the end, as everyone knows, licit sex outside of marriage came to be considered the norm, and fornication the exception …
If that one doesn’t resonate, try this one on for size:
From a theoretical viewpoint, development [of a theory of killing innocents on purpose] was retarded by the concept that killing innocent people is normally murder, which led to a belief that ever to admit choosing to kill innocent people would be to destroy the murder prohibition itself. …
In the end, as everyone knows, licit ‘collateral damage’ from bombing came to be considered the norm, and murder the exception …
Examples can be multiplied by iterating over particular vicious acts someone is attempting to frame as a virtuous act in certain circumstances.
Now it is uncontroversially true that some sins are more objectively grave than others, and that personal culpability varies based on circumstances, pressures, etc. It is also uncontroversially true that some objectively evil choices represent an improvement over other objectively evil choices. A serial killer who has gone from murdering one person a week to murdering only one person a year can be said to be on an objective path of improvement, in a sense. In this same sense it is true that there may be improvements taking place in the life of any unrepentant mortal sinner.
But it doesn’t follow that killing just a few more people is “the best he can do.” The best he can do is repent and make a commitment, with the help of God’s grace and human authorities, to stop choosing immoral behaviors and to do the right thing.
Note: In this post I am addressing the specific cited contentions, not the so-called ‘filial correction’, which I have not read.
September 25, 2017 § 20 Comments
[Conscience] can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that [objectively adulterous behavior] is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. – Amoris Laetitia
The standard narrative of Catholic moral progressivism is that Church moral doctrine doesn’t change; it just becomes completely irrelevant. God is asking you to do the opposite of what God’s law tells you that you should do.
Since this has been going on for generations, from times well before the dreaded Vatican II, conservatives and traditionalists frequently defend this approach as a fine established tradition while simultaneously screeching incessantly in protest against its Current Year manifestations.
Contraceptive intercourse without a just title is morally wrong, but the world has changed and nowadays most people most of the time have a just title to mutilated sexual behaviors. Objective adultery without a just title is morally wrong, but the world has changed and nowadays the largest groups of adulterers most of the time have a just title to adultery. Killing innocent people without a just title is morally wrong, but the world has changed and nowadays the largest scale killers almost always have a just title to murder. And profiting from mutuum lending without a just title is morally wrong, but the world has changed and nowadays most mutuum lenders have a just title to usury.
God wants you to choose evil behaviors, you see, because if loving God requires you to keep His commandments then most people won’t actually love Him very much. Allowing people to hate God and His onerous commandments would be terribly non-inclusive and unmerciful, not to mention grossly impractical; so of course what God really wants is for everyone to remain in a safe and comfy state of salvific ignorance.
John Noonan explains how this works in his book The Scholastic Analysis of Usury:
From a theoretical viewpoint, development [of a theory of earning profits from mutuum loans] was retarded by the concept of the normally gratuitous loan, which led to a belief that ever to admit interest as due from the beginning of a loan would be to destroy the usury prohibition itself. … Loans, it will be recalled were considered licit only if made from charity; compensation on them, even if justified, was thought vitiated if it were sought chiefly for its own sake. …
In the end, as everyone knows, interest on loans came to be considered the norm, and usury the exception …
The Scholastic Analysis of Usury by John T. Noonan, Jr, published 1957, page 100
Note the typical useful ambiguity in the employment of the English term “loan“.
I’m not a regular user of Reddit, but I have an account and occasionally read Reddit threads when I see them linking back to here. On a recent Reddit thread a commenter there paraphrased a ruling made during the 1822-1836 period of “pastoral accommodation” of usury, which we’ve discussed here before. It sounded vaguely familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I asked for the citation. I was given a Latin (a language I don’t personally know) text with no citation; upon further inquiry I was given a reference to a book entirely in Latin.
Neither of these was immediately helpful to me, so I went back to my own sources.
Here is what Noonan writes:
A perplexed vicar-general asked,
“Whether a confessor sins, who sends away in good faith a penitent, who demands from a loan the gain allowed by the civil law, apart from any extrinsic title of lucrum cessans or damnum emergens or extraordinary danger?”
The Penitentiary, the Roman tribunal for issues of the internal forum, replied in the classic formula that “Non esse inquietandum”, provided he is ready to obey a decision of the Holy See.
A troubled theologian, Denavit, now sought information on precisely the same subject. he declared:
“The undersigned writer, thinking it licit by no contract to withdraw from the doctrine of Benedict XIV, denies sacramental absolution to priests who contend that the law of the prince is sufficient title for taking something beyond the sum lent apart from lucrum cessans or damnum emergens.”
In answer to his question if his conduct was, then, too severe toward these priests, the Holy Office again replied “Non esse inquietandos”.
Noonan, page 379
So in summary, some priests were absolving unrepentant interest-takers who were – the penitents were – relying on the fact that doing so was legal under the positive law. The question posed was not whether the interest-taking lender was committing sin. The question was whether the confessor-priests were committing sin in absolving those penitents, and whether Denavit was being too hard on those confessor-priests in refusing them absolution when they were, themselves, in confession. I hope that isn’t too confusing.
The response was that yes, he was being too hard on those confessor-priests and should not disturb them unless and until such time as the Holy See rules on the particular matter.
As we’ve discussed before, it would be irrational to conclude that this has any effect whatsoever on the meaning of the objective moral norm against usury. But you don’t have to take my word for that or follow the obvious reasoning; because the Grand Penitentiary himself, Cardinal Gregorio, said as much explicitly when explaining this whole series of rulings to the Bishop of Viviers:
“The Sacred Penitentiary wished to define nothing at all about the question, debated by theologians, of the title derived from the law of the prince; but only to provide a norm which confessors might safely follow in regard to penitents who take a moderate profit determined by the law of the prince, with good faith and ready to accept the commands of the Holy See.”
Noonan, page 380
If these pastoral questions about confession and the internal forum (the jurisdiction of the Sacred Penitentiary) have any bearing whatsoever on the objective content of usury doctrine, we can likewise conclude that the Church approved of just titles to contraception in 1997 when it instructed confessors that they could, in certain circumstances, absolve penitents who unrepentantly choose contracepted sexual intercourse without the confessor-priests sinning themselves in so doing.
Noonan explains (absent any disapproval on Noonan’s part) the way progressive ‘pastoral accommodation‘ works when he discusses Pope Sixtus V’s decisive, arguably infallible proclamation of the categorical illicitness of any profit from recourse contracts:
This solemn condemnation, enforced by such severe penalties, and apparently directed at the increasing popularity of the triple contract, might seem to the superficial observer a decisive blow. … In fact, however, it remained without effect upon the great debate. Two theories to explain it were generally put forward. One was that the bull was purely positive legislation, not a declaration of divine or natural law; … Purely positive legislation lapses … when it is not received by the subjects of the law; … Since the bull had been received nowhere, it had, insofar as it was positive law, no force whatsoever.
The second theory … was that it merely prohibited contracts of partnership which were “naturally usurious.”, where no compensation was paid for the insurance of the capital. Since only such “naturally usurious” contracts were condemned, and since the triple contract was not “naturally usurious,” it was argued that the bull left the latter untouched.
Noonan, page 221
Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio might seem, to the superficial observer, a decisive blow. But if you are a defender of the usury status quo – including the status quo of the 1600’s – then that thing hoisting you is your own petard.
September 18, 2017 § 64 Comments
It was characteristic of Michael [Novak] to frame the highest good as liberation from constraint. As he says at one point, “God did not make creation coercive, but designed it as an arena of liberty.”
The free market gives us a glimpse of the ideal society, one that features order without authority and purposeful freedom without the need for agreement about the common good beyond a procedural rule of law.
Democratic capitalism does a better job sustaining an open, pluralistic society than political liberalism, because capitalism, unlike political deliberation, guarantees freedom more jealously (and effectively).
Yet we’ve seen setback after setback, and the corporate tsunami that recently swept through Indiana after it passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act made clear the link between global capitalism and progressive clear-cutting of traditional religious culture and morality.
Needless to say, Michael Novak did not foresee these outcomes when he wrote The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism any more than I did when I thrilled to his insights more than three decades ago.
…he described the anthropology of capitalism in a one-sided way. Its fearsome dynamism speaks to part of our soul, but it neglects and even works against the part that cherishes permanence.
This one-sidedness needs to be corrected, for our challenges are quite different from the legacy of postwar consolidation that Michael responded to with such élan. We do not live in a closed, regulated, regimented world. Political correctness is a serious problem, and it has an authoritarian tendency. But it is not born of loyalty to permanent things. As an outgrowth of liberalism itself, this rigid ideology comes under the sign of choice. It is an obligatory, enforced participation in a fluid, liquefied moral world. We are told that we are not required to think or live in any particular way—except that we can’t think or live in ways that constrain, compromise, or even throw doubt on anyone else’s free decision to think or live differently. Taken to its logical extreme—everything is permitted as long as it permits everything—this becomes a paradoxical totalitarian toleration that is all the more dangerous because it deludes those who promote it into thinking that when they drive all dissent from the public square, they are “including.”
My summary of the article:
Don’t blame us for the poison we’ve been pumping into society for decades. We had good hearts and meant well, we just accidentally neglected to keep our nice tame liberalism on a leash. No reasonable person could have foreseen a “how were we supposed to know?” stage to inevitably follow our “what could it hurt?” enthusiasms. Who would have thought that pouring acid over the moral social fabric for centuries would make it dissolve? Who could have predicted that treating human authority and hierarchy as if it were what is wrong with the world would lead to its dissolution and reconstitution as an inhuman monstrosity?
So the thing we should all do now is correct the ‘one sidedness’ of what we’ve been doing for decades. We need to work together to promote a nice tame liberalism in common sense balance with moral constraints and the common good. We need more water for the shriveled up plants in our common garden, to bring balance to the acid we plan to continue pouring on them. And that is totally, totally different from what conservatives have been doing since the founding of America. This time it will work, really. We have to adjust to the times, to find a renewed way for political freedom to flourish.
Oh, and that crank Zippy’s understanding of liberalism is a big strawman.
 Translation: our intramural team in the red shirts is so much better than the other team playing the exact same game by the exact same rules in pursuit of the exact same goals, because they wear blue shirts.
September 16, 2017 § 104 Comments
Your right to swing your fist stops when your fist comes anywhere near someone else’s face.
Your right to speak your mind stops when your unwelcome or unhealthy sound waves impinge upon someone else’s ears.
Your right to promote your favorite heresy stops as soon as your heresy corrupts the thoughts of another person’s child. (Everyone is someone’s child).
Your right to commit sodomy stops as soon as any other human being is forced to know about it.
In summary, your rights operate only to the extent that your choices have no effect whatsoever on others or on the common good. Deep inside the closet, your choices are between you and God.
Of course if anyone loves you then even that isn’t, strictly speaking, your business alone. Your right to destroy yourself ceases the moment it breaks someone’s heart.
And there is no closet.
September 13, 2017 § 57 Comments
In America, everyone has the right to free chemistry. Chemical acts express ideas, and the expression of ideas is protected under the first amendment.
Free chemistry obviously doesn’t mean absolutely free chemistry. Absolutely free chemistry is clearly a straw man, positing no middle ground between manifestly insane absolute rights and nice tame rights within due limits. Everyone who is committed to free chemistry agrees that there should be some limits on chemistry. We just don’t want to live under an inquisitional chemistry-restricting tyranny.
Free chemistry means that permissible chemistry should be permitted, while impermissible chemistry should be suppressed and punished. It means we should take a live and let live approach to regulating chemistry.
So free chemistry, at least as understood by reasonable liberals, is restricted chemistry: chemistry circumscribed within limits. The terms “free” and “restricted” are interchangeable. For reasonable non-ideological liberals, free means the same thing as restricted.
There have been critical times when the right to free chemistry has prevented tyranny and protected the innocent. Bad regimes, which have restricted chemistry and even imprisoned or killed people for their chemical acts, have produced incalculable horror due to those restrictions.
So every reasonable person should acknowledge the public goods produced and protected by the right to free chemistry.
September 5, 2017 § 131 Comments
Someone inclined to take the position seriously would likely frame it as Harris and Klebold “having no choice”.
This was the only option available to them, as just two powerless high school kids against the implacable foe of constant institutionally tolerated bullying. This was the only way to decisively accomplish their good intention of getting people to take bullying seriously. There had been lots of anti-bullying awareness-raising to no effect. There are many suicides because of bullying, so in the long run their actions saved more lives than were lost.
They didn’t intend the “deaths” of innocents and other bad “effects” — understood as premoral or merely physical occurrences in the manner JPII describes in Veritatis Splendour (his seminal condemnation of this pattern of thought). There was no other way for them to achieve the good they hoped to accomplish. They did not want anyone innocent to die as something for its own sake. Their anti-bullying message could have gotten through even if, by a miracle, everyone had survived. And who is really “innocent,” anyway?
This is where proportionalist moral theology leads. Proportionalism can be understood as applying the principle of double effect while ignoring the fact that certain objective behaviors are always intrinsically immoral to choose apart from the intention for which the choice is made.
 “There thus appears to be established within human acting a clear disjunction between two levels of morality: on the one hand the order of good and evil, which is dependent on the will, and on the other hand specific kinds of behaviour, which are judged to be morally right or wrong only on the basis of a technical calculation of the proportion between the “premoral” or “physical” goods and evils which actually result from the action. This is pushed to the point where a concrete kind of behaviour, even one freely chosen, comes to be considered as a merely physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human act. The conclusion to which this eventually leads is that the properly moral assessment of the person is reserved to his fundamental option, prescinding in whole or in part from his choice of particular actions, of concrete kinds of behaviour.” — Veritatis Splendour
 At least as it is popularly understood.