Thursday, April 19, 2012

Heresy in the Academy - What do we do?

A friend sent me a notice re. a conference that the University of St. Paul is having on the interpretation of Vatican II. This is the web page devoted to it. I'm not mentioning it because I think it will be a great conference, I am mentioning it because I think we need to discuss the difference between pursuit of knowledge and pursuit of theological truth.

Am I going to the conference?


Why not?

What Happened at Vatican IIBecause it strikes me as one of those instances - and there are a million of them in quasi-academic events where the point is not so much to learn and to have your attitude formed. These are two very different things, and I have to say that I have reservations about the latter parading as the former. I don't care what the subject is so much. I am interested in a million different things. I am even interested enough to spend some time researching, discussing, thinking about it. Vatican II is of interest to me. I recently began to read O'Malley's book. I just started it. It looks pretty good so far. I have even read significant portions of the standard multi-volume history of the Council by Alberigo and Komonchak - it is masterful, albeit far from unbiased. Yes, I have read all the docs of V II. But I am not nearly as interested in V II as I am in, say, any of the Ancient Church Councils. I am more interested in V II, however, than I am in baseball, political theory, Karl Rahner, and pottery. I am about as interested in V II as I am Mark Twain, less than I am in Dostoevsky.

So I have you situated.

I would, thus, go to a conference on Mark Twain, if it was in Ottawa and I had the free time to do so. So, why not this one? Again, the conference is slated - it seems to me - not to reveal the documents, but to reveal a certain ahistorical interpretation: not telling me what they say but what they should say. I would not go to a conference about what Twain should have written.

A year or so ago Iran hosted a conference on the Holocaust. Would I go to a conference on the holocaust were it in Ottawa? Absolutely. That would be extremely interesting. But I would not go to it to hear that it is being used to further the Zionist agenda - again, that is not about facts but about exporting an attitude. I want to think about data, not be lectured at about how to think about data.

Would I go to a conference on Jansenism, Arianism, Pelagianism, etc.? You betcha!

'Nough said.

So, let's trace it back.

I am not saying that I would only go to conferences about things with which I already agree. I am neither a Jansenist, Arian nor Pelagian. Nor in the case of the present conference would I avoid a conference where all the speakers were not orthodox according to my strictest definition. In fact, I would enjoy the conference more if there were actually competing interpretations presented. But this conference is stacked to produce the results it desires. There is not one hard-hitting 'conservative' speaker invited. That's why I won't go. what about Cardinal Turks? I just think that his ideas re. world authority and world financial organizations are just not helpful. It's right up the alley of these heavy-legislating liberals (i.e. socialists). But he means well.

Would I ever go to a conference where Gregory Baum was a speaker? Maybe. It depends. Was he talking about Twain, then sure! Theology? Doubt it. Why? Because he's not going to increase my knowledge of the Church, just my knowledge about his opinions, which I don't care to know more about, at least not more than I would, say, prefer to spend that time watching some cartoons with my kids instead.

Okay, so let's get away from my opinions for a second and look at the doctrine of the Faith. Does a dissenter like Baum have any right to teach anywhere? Yes. Any right to teach in any capacity in a Catholic school? Not as a faculty member in theology. In math? Sure, why not, as long as he keeps it to math. If he fails to, then no. To give a talk at a conference? It depends on the topic. Math? Yes. Theology? Perhaps as 'Exhibit A,' but in any context where his position is being supported by the church-associated college. I would welcome Justin Trudeau or Elizabeth May, if the context was clear that he of she was not teaching a Church-accepted position, like in a debate-type situation.

Church associated institutions have a duty to teach the Faith. Yes, we can debate over the fate and meaning of the Vatican II teaching on the laity, just as long as we do so with a certain degree of competence. If I were to go to a conference on Buddhism and claim that it began as a result of the Prophet Isaiah travelling to India and teaching Siddhartha, then that's stupid. Just because I'm an educated man does not give me the right to say whatever I want, wherever I want. Baum is an educated man, but he has an idea of the Church that the Church has expressly condemned. So, unless he's talking about Twain, I don't see how this can work.

Now, I could teach about Jansenism, transcendentalism, Marxism, etc. at a Catholic school as long as I am not representing it as something it is not: the Faith. I cannot go around saying that the Canadian Government is against abortion, because it is not. That would be false. I could go around saying it should be against abortion, and if I do it with well-reasoned and well-researched arguments, then that might just merit listening to. If I do not, then as true as my position might be, that would be a snore-fest.

How are we to interpret academic freedom in the Church? Read JP II's Fides et Ratio, or a million things B XVI has written - especially:

The Nature and Mission of Theology: Essays to Orient Theology in Today's Debates   [NATURE & MISSION OF THEO] [Paperback]

There is tension between faith and reason. It is not irresolvable tension, but it is often seemingly paradoxical. But theology is a 'science,' that is, a discipline governed by its own methodology. And, no theologian can dispute that there is a heavy and decisive weight exercised by the Magisterium within it. Thus, we cannot re-open the Council of Nicaea's definition of the two natures of Christ. Nor can we re-interpret, for instance, V II as eradicating the difference between clergy and laity, i.e., the sacrament of orders. Anyone who does operates outside of the science. Theology is not so different from other disciplines as one might think. We cannot go back to the four essences of Ancient World. The Periodic Table of the Elements is fair better, and in a real sense more 'real'. There is fact and fiction even in theology. I think what you are going to get at St. Paul's is a lot of wishful thinking and very little scholarly exegesis.


  1. Did you see what John Pacheco over at Socon or Bust had to say about this? It really is something that St. Paul's managed to get so many dissenters together all in one place. :S