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  • Writer's pictureDom Dalmasso

Catholicism in light of Fiducia Supplicans part 3


In part two of my three-part series on Fiducia Supplicans I spoke of the Marian dimension of the Church and of the Petrine structure of the Church (her apostolic anchor) in light of the Western schism and the Protestant reformation. My purpose in doing so was to illustrate how the very nature of the Church, her inner tensions, and her relationship to the world, are directly relevant to the current turmoil over this document from the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (among other things). In this final post I would like to look, on the one hand, at the role of the episcopacy and of the Pope, specifically within our current secular landscape, and, on the other hand, at Christian faith itself. I will end with thoughts on the reception/implementation of Fiducia Supplicans.

 

As the apostolic anchor, the episcopal college sub et cum Petro is designed to make sacramental communion possible for the Church while also, through the ministry of the word and the succession of the officium, maintaining the identity of the one subject-Church by guarding Tradition against the tugs and pulls of the world; a world which, as we have seen, is both inside and outside her bosom. This safeguard is a complex interplay between God’s freedom and man’s freedom, an interplay which unfolds in history. Thus, this apostolic anchor, the office, is faced with a responsibility which takes on a cruciform shape, where bishops are stretched from one side to the other and become the opprobrium of the masses. Whether the office-holder bears this cross with Christ-like love or recoils from it, he finds himself in the crosshairs of criticism. Ratzinger lays it out quite well:

The shepherds of the Church not only find themselves exposed today to the accusation that they still hold fast to the methods of the Inquisition and try to strangle the Spirit by the repressive power of their office; they are, at the same time, attacked by the voice of the faithful, who accuse them more and more loudly of being mute and cowardly watchdogs that stand idly by under the pressure of liberal publicity while the faith is being sold piecemeal for the dish of pottage of being recognized as “modern.”[1]

 

This precarious position, which calls for courage—a courage that is impossible without God’s grace—yields the fruits and/or disappointments we are all familiar with in episcopal leadership (may Our Lord strengthen them). It goes without saying that, as Ratzinger puts it, “a Christianity that believes it has no other function than to be completely in tune with the spirit of the times has nothing to say and no meaning to offer.”[2] And so, the episcopal college with and under the pope are faced with the twofold task of maintaining ecclesial communion and not compromising the faith.

 

Because Fiducia Supplicans is about secular anthropology, and Germany’s fascination with it, it is directly concerned with this relationship between the Church and the World, with the paganism within and without the Church (and also with reaching out to those within the grips of self-confusion). Additionally—rightly or wrongly—the document has very recently been the occasion for tension between certain areas of the episcopacy and the papacy! The document has become another convening locus for the airing of grievances, for passionate defenses, and for outcries of protest. But many of us read about this on our fancy iPhones feeling helpless and confused. Before offering my own thoughts on the reception/implementation of the document, I think it is important to point out that such tensions and turmoil can be the opportunity for expanding our vision of the faith, and, thereby, reawakening our experience of its depth and content.

 

In the age of social media, it seems to me, too many Catholics have developed what I like to call a pseudo-Kantian ecclesiology: an ecclesiology which constructs its own understanding of the Church based on the reception of news-fed information. Information which is systematized by us from the ground up into a simplistic ideological construct which we associate with the Church. A construct which inevitably suffocates under the pressure of reality, leading to easy solutions such as Sedevacantism or schisms of various kinds (sometimes due to tragic reasons which I don’t want to trivialize). We cannot begin with the gutter system if we haven’t properly attended to the nature and structure of the house’s foundations; foundations which are laid down by God (the rock, the keys, the binding and loosing, Peter and the College).

 

All this being said, a decision must first be made toward the more essential and foundational aspects of Christianity: How do I make sense of the person Jesus of Nazareth. Are his claims true, yay or nay? Here we can situate Jesus within the consort of other important men at the origins of other traditions. Men such as Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Moses, Mohamed, etc. Next: ok, I believe that Jesus is unique because he makes a unique association between Truth and himself, an association which is the historical foundation of much of the world’s current structures—political, legal, philosophical, and cultural. Finally: the very structure of Christian faith is the acceptance of an initially extrinsic word we have not thought up but received (faith comes through hearing first and foremost, it is not arrived at by a philosophical consensus). Saint Thomas speaks of thinking with faith, not of thinking to faith. “Thinking to faith” might lead one to the door, but walking through the door is not a result of our thought, but of our hearing of God’s address (which in a mysterious way precedes even our philosophizing). This is what we mean by “grace.”

 

The deeper and larger problem of our day is that Christian faith has gone from an actuality in which we find ourselves to a possibility the individual choses—which means that the very foundation of Christian faith (in its essence) is removed from the “house” by secular liberalism. This is the product of the historical disassociation of “religion” from the public sphere—a move which creates the very category of religion as defined by modernity. One might trace this back to St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo: Entertaining hypotheticals is fine, but making everything to be considered first hypothetical and then actual once the hypothesis is judged worthy can in fact lead to an actualization of pure potentiality. This ends up inverting actuality and potency making truth revolve around the individual in principle instead of the individual around the truth. This ends up neutralizing God, truth, and therefore Christianity as such, even when we claim to believe in them. Atheism is the child of this metaphysical shift in history. And the void is filled by a neo-paganism on full display before our eyes. David Schindler speaks about this in his book The Politics of the Real in a way which is very insightful.

 

To draw this out further: if I told an Anglican: “your propositions are false mine are correct, here’s why,” and he followed my arguments and came to agree with them and became Catholic… I would argue that (in a certain sense) this person merely went from one form of Protestantism to another (i.e., a Catholic form of Protestantism). Catholicism is not reduceable to a set of propositions the individual agrees with, or to another “denomination.” It is a historical form, it is western culture. Yet it has been untethered from its historical sitz im leben and relegated to being merely a set of propositions that the individual chooses to adhere to. So to convert an Anglican I wouldn’t be so concerned with propositions at first (in fact, I’ve found myself trying to convert Catholics to Catholicism), I would first be concerned with what they think religion is! A historical form is not something the individual choses to believe in ab initio. His individuality emerges from the bedrock of an incarnate faith, and his maturation consists in finding his place within the sitz im leben he is now aware of. Of course, one can rebel against one’s world—there is no precluding of this possibility afforded to free will. Another way to formulate this is that Tradition is not a set of propositions found in the writings of people in the past (although it surely includes these); Tradition is not propositions which we consider just in themselves in a dualistic Platonic way. The propositions point to a lived form that is actual, that we awake in and assimilate, live, and make our own as we find our place within it. Once one sees that we’ve possibilized religion (deactualized it), then we can see how the choice is between reality and a strange metaphysical limbo which can be described as unreality.

 

If someone were to say that this is the arrogance of saying “I have the truth and I know better!” Then the common reply follows: the position that all truth is merely hypothetically true is an absolutist claim which wields a kind of totalitarian control over reality. And this will end up destroying man because now he can simply make his own truth: and we have seen in the last century that this is a recipe for horrors. This is the “dictatorship of relativism” Ratzinger spoke of. But also, it must be added that the truth is love, and therefore we can impose it on no one; rather, it imposes itself on everyone of its own accord, in a non-coercive way.


Ultimately, it comes down to a choice: reality or unreality, truth or nihilism, faith or unbelief? This brings us back to the nature of the Church, specifically with a focus on its Marian dimension. In Pope Benedict’s last letter (to Father Pivonka) he wrote the following:

If ecclesiology had hitherto been treated essentially in institutional terms, the wider spiritual dimensions of the concept of the Church was now joyfully perceived. Romano Guardini described this development with the words: “A process of immense importance has begun. The Church is awakening in souls.” Thus, “Body of Christ” became the supporting concept of the Church, which consequently, in 1943, found its expression in the encyclical “Mystici Corporis.”[3]

 

In the same letter Benedict goes on to say that,

The dissertation of H. Scholz on ‘Glaube und Unglaube in der Weltgeschichte’ (Belief and Unbelief in World History) […] had shown that the two Civitates [of Augustine] did not mean any corporate bodies, but rather the representation of the two basic forces of belief and unbelief in history.[4]

And this leads me to the third and final excerpt from this important last letter of Benedict, where the apostolic anchor comes into view:

The drama of 410 (the capture and sack of Rome by the Visigoths) profoundly shook the world of that time, and also Augustine’s thinking. Of course, the Civitas Dei is not simply identical with the institution of the Church. […] But the complete spiritualization of the concept of the Church, for its part, misses the realism of faith and its institutions in the world. Thus, in Vatican II the question of the Church in the world finally became the real central problem.[5]

And so how does all of the above inform the reception of Fiducia Supplicans and the manner of its implementation? Although qualified and clarified by its author, the term “couple” is said—again rightly or wrongly, I really don’t care to argue about this at this point—to be equivocal in itself. The issue comes down to the de facto outrage and how it can be remedied (some seem to suggest we should just excommunicate anyone claiming there is ambiguity). Simply saying that people must obey is not known to be an effective modus operandi (more could be said here in regard to the distinction between power and authority). In fact, much of this pontificate, it seems to me, is plagued not by a Pope I happen to not like but by a gestapo of lay Catholics (who are not even theologians) who have appointed themselves as the watchdogs of the media. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes someone needs to say something. But when you get attacked for being a suspected dissenter simply because you are taking the time to obey the Church in a way which is informed and authentic, it's easy to become disillusioned.

 

In light of this, two options present themselves: changing the word “couple” to the word “individual,” or prescribing a specific form for the blessing (which asks God for the help to separate) without changing the word “couple.” Before I say which one I think is best, I want to draw an analogy between the inspiration of scripture and the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Magisterium. Dr. Matthew Ramage, in a footnote in one of his books, speaks of Ratzinger’s theology of inerrancy. This particular footnote can shed light (analogously) on the intended meaning of any particular magisterial document. He writes:

Benedict departs from the traditional custom of describing scripture having two (divine and human) authors and instead speaks of there being three “interlocking subjects“ of scripture. […] The scope of immunity from error is coterminous with the scope of intentional affirmation. The major disagreement turns on the identity of the bearer of that intention. In keeping with his emphasis upon the people of God as scripture’s collective intending subject, Ratzinger affirms that knowledge of what constitutes the core of scripture is ultimately discernible only by the living community of faith in communion with the magisterium.[6]

 

And so a reception and implementation of Fiducia Supplicans which bases itself off of an acceptance of the world and it’s gender ideology is complicit in the very neutralization spoken of above and amounts to a practical apostacy. But a refusal to work within the hermeneutic of the Church’s intentionality—which is the playing field of God and man’s freedom—and that decries the document as inescapably and unredeemably heretical does violence to the apostolic anchor without which faith cannot survive, which likewise leads to the neutralization spoken of above (to be fair, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this latter interpretation would definitively untether the Church from herself, thereby destroying her, but it would wound her apostolic witness). This is why I find Bishop Munilla’s response to be the only way forward:[7] The document is, of course, not heretical, as Dr. Larry Chapp has also pointed out* (after all we are speaking of its prescription and not of its doctrinal iterations), and the word “couple” should continue to be used. All that would be needed to help appease the turmoil—whoever is responsible for it—would be the prescription of the specific words used in the administration of this “blessing of mercy,” as Archbishop Villegas describes it.[8] And finally, that these blessings of mercy be administered in private with Mark 8:23 in mind, as Bishop Varden wrote about so well.[9]

 

This is a path the Church can take in the future in order to appease the outrage with the medicine of mercy. Of course, there are surely many other paths she can take, and we will have to see. Meanwhile we continue to wait, confidently resting in the Lord’s bosom, encountering him in word and sacrament, and in personal prayer.

 

To conclude with the words of Ratzinger:

One can also see, in fact, that the decline of the Church and of Christianity that we have lived through in the last thirty or forty years is partially to blame for the spiritual breakdowns, the disorientation, the demoralization that we are witnessing. In that respect, I would say that if the ship didn’t already exist, it would be necessary to invent it. It corresponds to such deep human needs, it is so deeply anchored in what man is and needs and is meant to be, that there is also a guarantee in man that the ship won’t simply sink, because man will never, as I believe, lose his essential powers.[10]

 

If I am wrong about something I accept any charitable correction. If you are a member of the gestapo, please leave me alone. Merry Christmas!




__________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 324.

[2] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 57.

[3] Benedictus XVI, Papa emeritus, Letter to Father Dave Pivonka (Vatican City: October 7, 2022), 2-3.

[4] Benedictus XVI, Papa emeritus, Letter to Father Dave Pivonka (Vatican City: October 7, 2022), 2-3.

[5] Benedictus XVI, Papa emeritus, Letter to Father Dave Pivonka (Vatican City: October 7, 2022), 3-4.

[6] Matthew Ramage, From the Dust of the Earth: Benedict XVI, the Bible, and the theory of Evolution (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of Americas Press, 2022), 115.

[8] Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, Blessings of Mercy: Episcopal Guidance for the Implementation of Fiducia Supplicans (https://cbcpnews.net/cbcpnews/full-text-archbishop-villegas-issues-guidance-on-vatican-declaration-fiducia-supplicans/).

[10] Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 17.



Dom Dalmasso is a 2023 graduate from Holy Apostles College and Seminary with a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and philosophy. He was a Benedictine monk from early 2011 to late 2012 at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma and was an active-duty United States Marine from August 2014 to August 2018. He runs the YouTube Show / Podcast The Logos Project, and is the editor-in-chief of The Ecclesia Blog. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Dogmatic Theology at Holy Apostles.

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