Thursday, September 25, 2008

To fisk or not to fisk?

Since my attempts to register for participation in the Catholica Australia forum appear to have been rebuffed, I am going to start offering critiques of that website’s nonsense here at my own blog from time to time.

As I read the drivel coming from the likes of Tom McMahon and Kerry Gonzales, it is clear that the only way to do them justice would be with a ‘Fr. Z’-style fisking, since the heresies seem to pile up line by line. (Kerry Gonzales’ situation seems particularly sad, since it seems like a straightforward case of loss of faith:

Ultimately, however it was the "creed" that was my undoing. There came a time when I could no longer say the words. I could not, in good faith, profess things that I had probably never believed.
One is reminded of the words of St. Paul in Romans 10: 10—"For, with the heart, we believe unto justice: but, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.") But since I prefer not to use that style, I am going mostly to confine myself to the writings of Mr. Coyne himself, since he is considerably more subtle and poses a better challenge for rebuttal. Here is the first installment:


In his commentary Exploring Creed, Mr. Coyne appears to offer an unusual perspective on theological minimalism. We know that theologians speculate about the minimal truths that a person must acquire in order to be saved (given that the person enjoys the use of reason). The very barest minimum, some say, would be belief in God and in a reward or penalty in the next life. Nonetheless, Christians must strive to grow in knowledge of God’s Revelation. And furthermore, we know that, whatever a person’s level of spiritual knowledge, he or she must assent to whatever he or she knows the Church to have proposed definitively as belonging to the Deposit of Faith. Hence Mr. Schütz said, quite rightly, that the answer to the question of ‘what must we believe?’ is ‘all of it’.

But here is Mr. Coyne’s view of the matter:

I was using the term [‘minimum’] more in the sense that self-evidently there are "out there" myriad self-understandings of what different people have in their minds when they describe themselves as "Catholics".
No doubt there are many ‘self-understandings’ (whatever that means), but not all will be right. Given that there is, as it were, a chain connecting ideas, thought and language it is possible to evaluate these understandings as to their conformity with the Articles of Faith.

He then asks these questions:

is there some minimum set of beliefs that unifies us, or defines us as Catholics in a fairly precise way? And I was wondering if at the institutional level there is any "official thinking" on a question like this?
Well, the answer to the second one is plainly ‘yes’—presumably that’s why the Creeds were promulgated! Remember that the word ‘symbol’ (another word for ‘creed’) signifies not only a collection of articles but also a mark by which one can tell a believer from a non-believer. Next he goes on to denigrate conservatism in matters of faith. The problem is that, by his own admission, he takes a very political view of the term ‘conservative’, when in fact it is a perfectly reasonable way to identify the manner in which the Church conserves and hands on the Deposit of Faith in contrast to a spirit of constant innovation. He says that

The conservative side of our nature just loves categorising our neighbours into "them" and "us". Creeds are an important part of the process of doing this. But, is this what Jesus — or our Creator-God — are really on about?
But the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church, not of mankind as a race. If there is no distinction between believers and non-believers, then that brings us back to the question of what, if anything, it even means to believe.

In the next part, though, is where Mr. Coyne appears most obviously to flirt with error:

I really do wonder if it is not the symbolism of the Baptimal [sic] Sacrament that is the real "defining" event, or portal, that delineates our "membership" of "the Body of Christ"
One might have thought that it was the real sacramental grace imparted that incorporates one into the Body of Christ rather than the outward sign, which signifies the grace communicated. But Mr. Coyne appears to be prepared to entertain other possibilities.

He then argues that

What we are asked to do in "becoming a Catholic" or in "claiming our membership of 'the Body of Christ'" is make some sort of commitment to "follow Christ"
I suppose that that’s true enough, as far as it goes, but it certainly runs the risk of straying into an un-Catholic voluntarism that downplays the intellectual assent that characterises the virtue of Faith. (Which is ironic, given that Mr. Coyne is a partisan of the ‘primacy of conscience’ heresy, with ‘conscience’ being, of course, a judgement of reason. Or at least I hope that’s what he means by conscience.)

And he just can’t seem to restrain himself from throwing in one of his signature puerile insults:

This is not some game of "riding around like a Knight in shining armour trying to constantly 'prove' our membership" to the world around us.
Finally, he makes clear the extent of his confusion:

My membership of the Church derives not from a "Creed". It derives from a commitment of attempting to find "the Way (of thinking and acting)" modelled for us by Jesus Christ.
What a muddled ecclesiology this man is peddling.

Reginaldvs Cantvar

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