I was delighted to see that Catholica Australia’s ever-rumbling bowels, the Forum, are (if you’ll permit me to mix metaphors) abuzz with discussion about my recent blog post Unreconstructed Modernism at Catholica: Fr. Dresser and Dr. Elmer on (or rather, against) Original Sin and the Redemption. Unfortunately I cannot respond to the comments there at the Forum but I am happy to do so here at my own blog.
It was the aCatholic “TonySee”—who, interestingly, thinks that the “notion of 'intrinsic' evil, independent of context, gets to the nub of what [he] see[s] as the church's biggest problem since the publication of HV” (source, and see also here in order to shed further light on his thinking on matters of morals)—was the fellow who was kind enough to post a link to this humble blog, and I thank him for it.
Now to address some of the confusion which I found among the comments there. A couple of the readers indicated that they were unfamiliar with the historical background to Modernism:
I never did see what the "heresy of Modernism" actually entailed, since most of its features, especially the subvariant "Americanism", seemed to be existing only in the Roman Curial imagination. It certainly wasn't related to any overwhelming trends or developments in ny country's history that I could recognize.
[kaythegardener, USA, Tuesday, November 17, 2009, 19:42]
I have no longer access to research "Modernism" but my recollection is that it was not modernism that was condemned by PiusX, but what he thought it might develop into.
I came across the same thing in Veritatis splendor
in which JPII condemned the "errors" of the theory of Fundamental Option. The late Josef Fuchs retorted that the views in the encyclical were not supported by any reputable moral theolgian in the world.
This modern Cardinal Pole may be doing a lot of similar "reading between the lines".
[PatrickW , Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 15:54]
Turning to another commenter now:
For those who can't be bothered doing the research, there are now two (2) Cardinals Pole. The new young claimant is a local lad - geographically challenged, as he claims both the Wollongong diocese and Sydney as his home.
However, he seems to be unaware of Cardinal Pole the Elder's near run-in with the Italian Inquisition, due to his palling around with the Spirituali, in Rome, Viterbo and probably elsewhere. The Spirituali wanted (among other things) to reverse the separation between Catholics and Proddies - in fact to reverse the Reformation. Pole thought that would be a great move (and who can disagree with him), as it would require a restructuring of the entire Catholic Church. He missed being elected Pope by one miserable vote, otherwise we would probably be singing from the same hymn-sheet as the Presbyterians et al.
Either by good luck or God's blessing, he avoided the Inquisition's tender ministrations, and returned to England. There is a book available from Amazon called "Heresy and Obedience in Tridentine Italy. Cardinal Pole and the Counter-Reformation".
I think we must count Reginald Cardinal Pole (the genuine) among the Spirituali, and wanna-be Cardinal Pole, among the Intransigenti.
[gemstones , Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 13:14]
And “gemstones” says that “we must count Reginald Cardinal Pole (the genuine) among the Spirituali, and wanna-be Cardinal Pole, among the Intransigenti”; intransigent means uncompromising, and since, as my blog’s tagline makes clear, I intend that quality to be a hallmark of my blog, if I am to be ‘counted among the Intransigenti’, then so be it!
We turn now to the comments of Dr. Ian Elmer: Firstly, this one:
Is This Guy a Catholic? (Main Forum)
by Ian Elmer, 'Brisbane, Australia', Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 10:45 (8 days ago) @ TonySee
Hmmm! So basically the dear old Cardinal has a problem with anything other than a literal reading of the scriptures and Church doctrine. Adam and Eve sinned; God had to sacrifice his son to pay the debt! Oh, and I noticed the reference to the falsity of Darwinianism. I suspect that the adoption of the name of a medieval prelate is appropriate; this blogger seems to have missed the boat to the modern world.
I find it interesting that he seems to have a problem with idea of a “symbolic” appreciation of our traditions. But isn’t the concept of “symbol” inherent to the entire sacramental character of Catholic theology? Is not the Church the “sign” or “sacrament” that points to the presence of God in the world? Are not our sacraments “visible signs of invisible grace”? Is this guy even a Catholic? He seems to completely misunderstand Catholic theology, not to mention fundamental human communication.
Concrete signs and symbols are necessary if we are to indicate and/or express hidden realities or complex ideas. The Scripture are not historical or scientific textbooks and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are far more than mere historical events. Both point to realities beyond normal sense-experience. They express realities that underpin all existence, but are not available to the senses per se - they depend on faith.
P.S. (Added later) I just noticed this additional comment from the dear od Cardinal:
[quotation, taken from me]Sadly, Dr. Elmer's theology is entirely consonant with the theology of the New Mass.[/quotation]
So, does that mean that I am not a "modernist" after all, but just a good old post-Vatican II Catholic theologian? And does it also mean that Cardinal Pole sees the Church Fathers at Vatican II as "Modernists"? I guess we are all in good company People, since this site is dismissed as thoroughly "Modernist". Well done! Take a bow!
'Ian J. Elmer
He then writes with apparent amusement “Adam and Eve sinned; God had to sacrifice his son to pay the debt!” So as if his opinions weren’t clear enough already, we see Dr. Elmer clearly writing off the sacrificial and satisfactory aspects of the Passion of Our Lord, leaving us with a purely symbolic Redemption—which is to say, no Redemption at all, so we are left with the Passion as nothing but a sort of example or lesson.
Dr. Elmer writes that he “suspect[s] that the adoption of the name of a medieval prelate is appropriate; this blogger seems to have missed the boat to the modern world.” This sheds further light on Dr. Elmer’s understanding of the famous Spirit of Vatican II, which he recognises (rightly, and he’s not the only one) as a spirit of conformity to the anti-Catholic tenets of Revolution and Enlightenment, a miasma in which Dr. Elmer is deeply, and apparently uncritically, immersed.
Dr. Elmer’s comment takes a bizarre turn in his second paragraph: He writes that he
find[s] it interesting that [I seem] to have a problem with idea of a “symbolic” appreciation of our traditions. But isn’t the concept of “symbol” inherent to the entire sacramental character of Catholic theology?
Predictably enough for one of his ilk, Dr. Elmer goes on to wheel out those two reliable clichés of the Modernist-as-exegete: “[1.] The Scripture are not historical or scientific textbooks and [2.] the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are far more than mere historical events.” Regarding 1., I did not say that the Bible was a science textbook, but I certainly maintain that it relates true history in both the Old and New Testaments, whereas Dr. Elmer even questions the historicity of important parts of the New Testament (source) (and of course we are already aware of what scant regard he has for the Old Testament). As for cliché/straw man 2.: The mysteries of Our Lord’s life are certainly “more than mere historical events”—that’s more than, not less than! And Dr. Elmer clearly thinks that the sin of Adam was less than a true historical event (for Dr. Elmer it was, of course, no real historical event at all), so I’m not even sure why he’s bringing this up, though it does serve to distract the reader from the matters at hand, which are the historicity of Original Sin and the Redemption.
What Dr. Elmer writes next is rather suspect: “Both [Scripture and some major events in the life of Christ] point to realities beyond normal sense-experience. They express realities that underpin all existence, but are not available to the senses per se - they depend on faith.” Are we to infer from this that Dr. Elmer thinks that St. Thomas did not truly touch and feel—that is, have “sense-experience” of—the risen Body of Christ?
Finally, Dr. Elmer asks, regarding where I say that “[s]adly, Dr. Elmer's theology is entirely consonant with the theology of the New Mass”, “does that mean that [he is] not a "modernist" after all, but just a good old post-Vatican II Catholic theologian?” No, it means that both he and the New Mass are dangers to the Faith. As to which is the greater danger: As to scale, I would say the New Mass, since it is heard by a far greater audience than Dr. Elmer could ever hope for, but as to the severity of their respective dangers considered without respect to audience size, I would say Dr. Elmer, since his ravings are explicitly heretical, whereas the New Mass contains nothing which is heretical of itself.
Now what Dr. Elmer says is interesting, but all the more interesting is what he does not say. One might have expected that if my charges of Modernism against him are baseless, then he would have made some effort to refute them, just as any faithful Catholic would want to exonerate himself from false charges against his or her Faith. (Unless, of course, those charges were so preposterous as not to be worth addressing: So for instance, when Dr. Elmer asks, regarding me, “Is This Guy a Catholic?”, all I want to do is laugh and point out that I’m not the one who thinks that the Church is just “a human institution established by the followers of Jesus as a place of communion and companionship” (source—it doesn’t come much more non-Catholic than denying the Dominical establishment of the Church. And my charges against Dr. Elmer can hardly be dismissed as preposterous when they are supported by the text, as I showed). Yet Dr. Elmer makes no attempt to refute my charges (which would be quite difficult, given that his Modernism is conveniently encapsulated in a single sentence of his: —“[t]he concept of original sin evolved out of our shared experience …”, he wrote); there is little more from him here than facetious posturing. All one can do then is apply the legal maxim of 'silence implies consent', and rest one’s case.
Let us conclude by considering Dr. Elmer’s last comment in this thread:
Vatican II Essential to Catholicismby Ian Elmer, 'Brisbane, Australia',Beginning with his last sentence, one must ask: How can a Council which, of itself, did not teach a single proposition definitively be regarded as being “as foundational as Nicea or Constantinople”? Going back a sentence, Dr. Elmer writes that the “acceptance of Vatican II is essential”. But Vatican II can be regarded as “essential” neither in the sense of at least implicit adherence to its documents being absolutely necessary for right Faith, nor in the sense that Vatican II belongs to the essence of the Church, as though without Vatican II the Church would be corrupted. So I ask of Dr. Elmer: Given that “[he] wish[es] we could quietly step away from the doctrine of [Papal] infallibility” (source), yet the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was the object of an irreformable definition of an Ecumenical Council, why is it so wrong to wish that we could “quietly step away” from Vatican II, which only produced a collection of pastoral essays?
Thursday, November 19, 2009, 12:45 (8 days ago) @ PatrickW
Actually, Patrick, my problem was even more fundamental. Clearly, this latter-day Cardinal Pole rejects Vatican II and the reforms, especially liturgical, that flowed from it. It must be remembered that despite Benedict's overtures to the separated SSPX any of these wishing to return to the fold must accept Vatican II. The acceptance of Vatican II is essential. In many ways, Vatican II is as foundational as Nicea or Constantinople.
'Ian J. Elmer