Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mr. Baker on the validity of the Second Vatican Council as an Ecumenical Council

In his latest post at his website, the New South Wales solicitor and amateur Thomist Mr. Michael Baker has repeated his argument that the Second Vatican Council was not a valid Ecumenical Council. (I had intended to refute that argument when he advanced it earlier but I never got around to it.) Mr. Baker asks

how, if Vatican II was an ecumenical council, could [its teachings] conflict with ["hitherto established or infallible Catholic"] teaching?
[italics in the original, my square-bracketed interpolations]

The answer is the same one as the answer to the question of 'how, if Pope N. was a true Pope, could his teachings conflict with hitherto established or infallible Catholic teaching?' And that answer is: Because those teachings (of a Pope or Ecumenical Council) were not teachings of the Extraordinary Magisterium, whose distinguishing characteristics ('distinguishing', that is, from teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium) are definitiveness and imperativeness. The teachings of the Second Vatican Council were not definitive, so they were not necessarily inerrant. It is strange that Mr. Baker fails to grasp this, especially given that he mentions in that very post the characteristics of ex-Cathedra-level, i.e. Extraordinary-Magisterium-level, teachings.

Mr. Baker sets out his argument for the invalidity of the Second Vatican Council as follows:

The gratia gratis datae of infallibility is given to the college of bishops only for adequate reason. An ecumenical (or general) council is called by a pope to address some issue whose determination is essential to the welfare of the Church and the faithful. The welfare of Church and faithful is its end; its finality. Now the form (essence) of anything follows its finality.

In his Opening Speech to the Council Fathers, John XXIII acknowledged that there was no issue of doctrine or discipline to be determined, but that he had convoked the Council to make the Church relevant to the world, a reason conveniently summarised in a word he had coined in an earlier speech—aggiornamento. The Council was “to bring the Church up to date”. But the Church had no such need: the Church is outside time. Since, therefore, there was nothing essential to the welfare of the Church and the faithful to justify its convoking, Vatican II was not an ecumenical council.

[italics in the original]

That is, as Mr. Baker writes, his a priori argument against the validity of the Second Vatican Council. But from what I can tell, he orginally reached his conclusion a posteriori, and indeed he tells us what his a posteriori argument against the validity of Vatican II is:

Since the Church does not contradict herself, it is therefore impossible that the teaching of the Council’s bishops in Dignitatis Humanae was uttered by the Church.
[italics in the original]

The argument fails because the "Since ..." part is incomplete: It should say 'Since the Church does not contradict herself in exercising her Extraordinary Magisterium or her Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, ...' to which the 'it is therefore ...' part does not then follow. Thus is the a posteriori argument refuted.

Now to return to the a priori argument: Mr. Baker's argument there is basically that since the Second Vatican Council did not, so he argues, have the final cause, the end, of an Ecumenical Council, it therefore cannot have been an Ecumenical Council. His argument fails because Mr. Baker neglects the distinction between finis operis (end-of-work) and finis operantis (end-of-agent). A thing's end-of-agent need not be the same as its end-of-work in order for it truly to be the thing in question. To use an example which Mr. Baker has used: A table's end-of-work is to provide a stable surface on which to work or dine or whatever. It might have been that the carpenter's motive, his end-of-agent, in making the table was something completely different, but so long as it has the matter--the wood and nails and so on--and form--the 'tableness'--of a table, it is still a table, and capable of being put to a table's proper use. (Another example would be marriage. We know that matrimony's (primary) end is procreation and child-rearing. But if this were not the motive of the husband and wife, or even if the husband and wife had motives exclusive of this end, would it be a valid marriage? So long as the matter and form were there, there would still be a valid marriage.) Likewise for the Second Vatican Council: It had the matter--the world's Catholic bishops gathered together--and form--gathered together under the Pope--of an Ecumenical Council, so it cannot but have had the final cause of a Council, regardless of whatever novel motives the Pope might have had in convoking it, and regardless of whether or not it performed Acts of the Extraordinary Magisterium. (Though I'm not even sure that Bl. John XXIII.'s stated motive--explaining the Faith in a manner tailored to the needs of his time--was entirely novel, given that Reginald Pole gave something like that as one of the reasons for the Council of Trent.) Hence the only successful way to prove the invalidity of the Second Vatican Council by the lack of one or more of the four Aristotelian causes would be to reason like the Sedevacantists do and argue that Bl. John XXIII. or Paul VI. or both were false Popes, hence Vatican II lacked the formal cause and the efficient cause necessary to be a Council (and the material cause too, since a "Catholic bishop" is, by definition, a validly-consecrated bishop in communion with a true Pope). But there is no need to do so, since whatever difficulties there are in the documents of Vatican II, those documents are not (and don't pretend to be) Acts of the Extraordinary Magisterium. The Second Vatican Council was a true Ecumenical Council, albeit one which taught problematically, just as there have been true Popes who taught problematically--but never, in the cases of Councils or Popes, in their respective definitive pronouncements.

Perhaps now Mr. Baker can move on from his futile denials of the validity of the Second Vatican Council and, having come to see the problems with Dignitatis humanæ, turn his attention to the problems with the Novus Ordo Missæ.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and, the feast of St. Nicomedes, Martyr, A.D. 2010


Cardinal Pole said...

Notice: There will be no edition of Notes today (since I don't want to spend any more time blogging today than I've spent writing this post). I will probably cover the following items in tomorrow's edition:

Anonymous said...

Amateur Thomist?

I doubt that anyone taught by Dr Woodbury merits such a description. Meanwhile, many professional Thomists have fallen into error of various sorts - including Archbishop Lefebvre, who, despite his many good points, could not seem to recognise the Jansenistic provenance of his application of principles to facts - i.e., one shower a week being sufficient for his seminarians - an unfortunate state of affairs not arising from his French ethnicity, but rather from his Jansenistic heritage. That the Lefebvres had Jansenistic tendencies was confirmed by a (traditionalist) friend who happens to be related to the L's ...

+ Wolsey

Cardinal Pole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cardinal Pole said...

[That deleted comment was mine (deleted because of a spelling mistake), the corrected version of which is posted here:]

"Amateur Thomist?"

Yes. Mr. Baker is not a professional Thomist.

"[You] doubt that anyone taught by Dr Woodbury merits such a description."

It seems not even to have occured to Mr. Baker to invoke the elementary distinction between end-of-work and end-of-agent. I think that 'amateur Thomist' is a fair description of him.

"i.e., one shower a week being sufficient for his seminarians"

Presumably zero showers a week was sufficient for all seminarians from the time Cardinal Pole inaugurated the seminary to, what, the late nineteenth century? early twentieth century? (And presumably with baths maybe once a month, maybe a bit less frequently, maybe a bit more frequently, I don't know.) So what's wrong with a command for seminarians to have only one shower a week? And if that's the worst you can come up with then I think that Msgr. Lefebvre wasn't doing too badly.

Moreover, I know that it's de rigeur in the Conciliar Church to throw around statements about Traditionalists being guilty of things like having a 'Jansenistic provenance of their application of principles to facts', but that is really not the kind of thing one should say lightly, and ought to be backed up with something more substantial than the kind of hearsay ("That the Lefebvres had Jansenistic tendencies was confirmed by a (traditionalist) friend who happens to be related to the L's") which seems to be the best you can offer.

"That the Lefebvres had Jansenistic tendencies was confirmed by a (traditionalist) friend who happens to be related to the L's ..."

Even supposing that this hearsay were true, what of it? And what, precisely, does it mean? If you mean a 'tendency' towards the condemned errors of Cornelius (sp?) Jansen then that's the sort of thing which you should back up with citations from Msgr. Lefebvre's writings and recorded conferences. If you just mean rigorist tendencies, then, again, what of it? Some people have rigorist tendencies, some people have laxist tendencies, some have managed to find the golden mean. And others have other sinful tendencies. So what? Of itself it tells us nothing; it would be sinful if one cultivated the sinful tendencies or did not make the due efforts to rid oneself of them, but the mere possession of a certain tendency is no (actual) sin.

And finally (and most importantly, given the content of my original post), what do the (real or imagined) errors of professional Thomists have to do with the errors of the amateur Thomist in question?!

Cardinal Pole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cardinal Pole said...

[That deleted comment was mine too; somehow I double-posted the comment before it.]

Anonymous said...

It's quite simple Pole - the implication of the word "amateur" was that he was not very good. Mistakes are just as easily made by professional Thomists as amateur ones.

And the Archbishop's "rigourism" (I prefer to call it what it really was, a cultural leftover from theological Jansensim) was highly dangerous. It's precisely the sort of thing that set the church up for the current disaster.

+ Wolsey

Cardinal Pole said...

"the implication of the word "amateur" was that he was not very good"

Non sequitur, and as a matter of fact, in my first draft of that post, beside "amateur Thomist" I wrote in brackets something like (I don't remember the exact words) 'N.B. I don't say "amateur Thomist" perjoratively', but I ended up deleting that parenthesis. By 'amateur' I meant to signify that Mr. Baker does it 'for the love', hence, amatuer, of it, that Mr. Baker is not a professional Thomist.

"Mistakes are just as easily made by professional Thomists as amateur ones."

What the?! I would have thought that anyone would agree that any amatuer will make mistakes more easily than his professional counterpart.

And needless to say, I continue to disagree with you about Msgr. Lefebvre.