It was said of Churchill that his courage was such that he would have charged a manned battery of guns with just a rifle and bayonet; it might, it was added, be the wrong battery in the wrong place, but he would have attacked it all the same; his political career, with its strange mixture of triumph, disaster and ultimate triumph, illustrates the point well. It was loyal of him to defend Edward VIII, and romantic to imagine there could be a ‘King’s party’ to defend him; but it was also political madness and reinforced the prevelant view that if Churchill had any judgment, it was mostly bad. This is by way of prelude to a final comment, for now, on the disturbances in the Catholic social media over the Synod.
Those Catholic theologians who tried to pull rank on Ross Douthat, have been met by him with a forthright response and, equally predictably, some of them have played the gender card and accused him of going after the one female theologian on the list; given her views, one can see why they preferred to play the man and not the ball. The claim by Massimo Faggioli that Douthat erred in saying development cannot contradict past Church teaching that ‘the true criterion is the Gospel’ is shockingly imprecise from a trained theologian, and makes one glad Douthat did not plead his own pride of caste and advise Faggioli to stick to what he know best. The Blessed John Henry Newman provided seven tests for authentic development, all of which require a teaching to be tested against what the Church has always taught. There are, of course, many, indeed legions, who would say that it is the Gospel which matters and it can contradict the Church; we call those Protestants usually. But perhaps Twitter is not Faggioli’s medium and we have misinterpreted; I hope so.
Douthat is correct, the conservative – that is the traditionalist – side has all the Catholic arguments on its side. I shall not rehearse his arguments, which are given full rein in the piece to which I linked earlier. But all of that said, I repeat what I wrote yesterday – which is that those on that side of the argument must be careful.
There is, in some quarters, a readiness to take any rumour on the Internet as proof that their own fears are right, and then try to frighten others. Thus, Rorate Caeli has decided on the basis of a report of a telephone call that the Pope is going to realise its worst fears; it is usually better to wait to see what is going to happen before trying to stir up discontent. But even if it is right, there is no change in doctrine, just in discipline, and the latter is always subject to change. If one wanted to get really Rigorist here, one might point out Jesus said nothing about annulments, so even having them breaks with what he clearly said; that’s the problem here, there is always someone would is more Donatist than you are. At a time when only the rich and powerful got annulments, the present process worked well enough; in many places now the thing is more in demand, it doesn’t. Proposing to make life less difficult for those faithful who take the difficult decision to seek an annulment (and I have not heard anyone who has sought one say it isn’t difficult, and as one who has, believe me, it is) is not changing doctrine, it is helping the sheep; isn’t that what shepherds are for? I think some people need to calm down and stop looking for heresy where there is none.
We all err, we all stray, we are all sinners. On this issue of the Synod it is clear that any attempt to rig it to get a Kaperite answer (if that is what went on) has not only failed, it has backfired. The Pope cannot now proceed by stealth, he has tried the strength of those who held his position (if it is his position) and the angel with whom he was wrestling has won – as He will always.