Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bp. Sklba and Fr. Reese Join Hands. Trouble Afoot!

It doesn't take too long for The Usual Suspects to emerge. This time, they tag-team a recent statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which concerned the Catholic Church's self-definition.

Milwaukee's auxiliary, Bp. Sklba, leads off with an innocuous-sounding statement describing what he will say to the ELCA Convention in Chicago. (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the 'far-left' Lutheran wing, not to be confused with the Missouri Synod or the Wisconsin Synod.)

He starts off:

"I certainly have to address the issues we struggle with. I don't want it to be bland. I don't want it to be just fluff. I want it to be a contribution. It has to at least recognize the (Vatican's) recent statement. I have to allude to that, to offer some assurance that this is not any rejection of dialogue partners or a lessening of commitment."

Of course the statement did not '' nor 'lessen commitment.' Those are straw-men. All the statement did is affirm what the Catholic Church teaches about itself and the logical consequences of those teachings.

Sklba said the document was aimed at Catholic theologians and their interpretations of Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals. It was drafted by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by the pope, but he did not craft every word, Sklba said.

The 'he did not craft every word' clause is added to insinuate that the document lacks the 'finality' of a Papal proclamation; Sklba's wording is designed to intone the "It's Not Infallible!!" tune in the background. Cute. But irrelevant; he also (adroitly) acknowledged that the document was "approved by the Pope" which is all that's needed.

Enter Fr. Reese (SJ). It is rumored that Fr. Reese was removed from his position as editor of the Jesuits' America magazine because the magazine was having trouble presenting orthodox doctrine consistently and thoroughly. Fr. Reese begins with a True Fact:

"This wasn't a grenade aimed at Protestants," said Father Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center. Benedict favors ecumenical dialogue but worries that it "is making Catholics think that as long as we all love Jesus and do good, it doesn't matter what church we belong to.

In Reese's view, ambiguous terms added in drafting Second Vatican Council documents to achieve near unanimous approval are being given specific interpretations by Vatican conservatives.

Well, maybe. Fr. Reese is correct that "specific interpretations" are being made, but these "specific interpretations" re-state exactly what the Church has said for 2,000 years or so. Fr. Reese would have us believe that the Second Vatican Council "changed stuff"--which is the motto of the "1960's Man." Unfortunately for Fr. Reese, the Council did not change one single teaching of the Church (although it did use different words and approaches to reaffirm Church teachings.) Fr. Reese also artfully inserts the BugBearTerm "Vatican conservatives." This reduces theology to partisan politics and implies that, were a "conservative" to state that "The sky is blue" that the truth of that statement hinges on political analysis.

Now the fun really begins.

A biblical scholar and theologian, Sklba focused on a word that has caused debate among theologians - what Vatican II meant by saying "the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church" instead of already "is" that church. The document says the Catholic Church is the one true church, and Sklba agrees. But he interprets "subsists" as meaning the Catholic Church is not yet the church that Christ intended, that it has flaws and needs continuing reform.

"There's something in that 'subsists' which recognizes that we clearly have not fully complied with the mind of Christ," Sklba said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (search on 'subsists') presents the thing this way:

"The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, . . . subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. (870)

And further:

In her [the Catholic Church] subsists the fullness of Christ's body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him "the fullness of the means of salvation" which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. (830)

From the use of the term in those teachings we can infer the meaning of the term "subsists," also given in Lewis & Short as: to stay, continue, remain or to stay, tarry, abide, remain.

But we can also read the document over which Bp. Sklba wrings his hands for a definition:

"Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church and instituted it as a 'visible and spiritual community' that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. ... ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church. ... the word 'subsists' can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone ..."

(It does help to understand Latin when defining the term. It IS, after all, derived from Latin. Think 'underlying' or 'underpinning' or 'substrate' to get a better sense of the meaning of the term.)

Why was the expression "subsists in" adopted instead of the simple word "is"?

Response: This "does not change the doctrine on the Church," but only elucidates "the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and of truth.'"

This is not hard to figure out. While there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and truth' which exist, only the Catholic Church has ALL of them, and has HAD all of them from the day of Pentecost. While ELCA Lutherans have some of them (as do Methodists, Baptists, etc.,), none of those sects have Apostolic Succession, nor do they have ALL the elements which the Church does. And by the way, the document states just that.

But the Bishop utilizes the height of spin when he tries using the words of Cdl. Ratzinger against the words of the Congregation for Doctrine:

Sklba also points to earlier statements by Ratzinger.

When the National Evangelical Lutheran/Catholic Dialogue ended its 10th round of talks in Milwaukee in 2004, its report said that Catholic judgment on the authenticity of Lutheran ministry need not be all or nothing.

The report quotes a 1993 letter from Ratzinger: "I count among the most important results of the ecumenical dialogues the insight that the issue of the Eucharist cannot be narrowed to the problem of validity. Even a theology oriented to the concept of succession . . . need not in any way deny the salvation granting presence of the Lord in the Lutheran Lord's Supper."

Of course, the entire letter (and context) is not quoted. But the first thing that I recalled when reading the last phrase in the quote was the text "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am." That's one way to look at Cdl. Ratzinger's statement, and it fits precisely into the general thoughts of the CDW document. Here's why:

The Lutherans do not believe that their minister effects Transubstantiation--that is, they do not believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are literally and truly present under the appearance of bread and wine after their minister offers the gifts to God; on the other hand, the Catholics DO believe that the priest, acting in the Person of Christ, effects Transubstantiation at the Consecration of the Mass. (See "full sacramental life" in Catechism #830 above.)

What's key here is not "the presence" of the Lord. He told us that He would be 'present' along with two or three (or more) others gathered in his name. And the Lord can grant salvation despite 'non-succession' theological disputes. That's not in question.

What's key is Transubstantiation, which Bp. Sklba kinda-sorta elided from the discussion.

Further, Bp. Sklba

interprets "subsists" as meaning the Catholic Church is not yet the church that Christ intended, that it has flaws and needs continuing reform.

Umnnnnhhh....let's be precise, here, Your Excellency. The Church is also indefectible. Fr. Hardon's dictionary tells us the meaning of the term "indefectible" which also says a good deal about this "subsists" thing:

"Imperishable duration of the Church and her immutability until the end of time. The First Vatican Council declared that the Church possesses 'an unconquered stability' and that, 'built on a rock, she will continue to stand until the end of time.' (Denzinger 3013, 3056.) The Church's indefectibility, therefore, means that she now is and will always remain the institution of salvation, founded by Christ. This affirms that the Church is essentially unchangeable in her teaching, her constitution, and her liturgy...."

So the 'flaws' are not in the Church's teaching (doctrine and dogma.) They may exist in some other areas which are non-dogmatic or non-doctrinal. They may be flaws of 'accident,' but not of 'substance.'

What does Sklba mean by Catholic reform?

"Clarification, deepening," he said. "It's the same element of development of doctrine referred to in the Second Vatican Council's decree on divine revelation, where then-Father Ratzinger 40 years ago underscored the fact that doctrine developed and continues to develop and deepen understanding of revelation through the prayer and study of Christians, through the religious experience of Christians, and, only finally he pointed out, through the formal teaching ministry of the church.

"So, he was fascinated by the recognition of the development of doctrine, which has been part of Catholic tradition. It might take us yet in another direction.

The old 'switcheroo' here. Bp. Sklba implies that 'clarification' and 'deepening' will 'take us another direction' and so, after all, nothing's permanent. Of course he did not SAY that--it would cost him his job to state that the Church would "un-truth" a truth. So he sorta-kinda implies it...

After all, "What is truth?"

Don't buy that line!! Clarification means that truth can be better-apprehended with another approach to the truth, or through different expression of that truth. It does NOT mean that "truth changes."

See, truth subsists.

Terry has more here.


Chironomo said...

I recall that in Novemebr of 2006, when the Bishops voted on criteria for music in the liturgy, the first criteria was that texts "should not make statements about the faith that are untrue." Apparently this criteria doesn't apply to Bishops....

GOR said...

Bp. Sklba's anxious hand-wringing and linguistic gymnastics are exactly what has been wrong with so many Catholics - lay and clerical - involved in the Ecumenical Movement these past 40 years. Which is why, no doubt, the CDF and Pope Benedict wanted this statement proclaimed now.

Ecumenism was never meant to be a watering-down of - much less changing (which would be impossible...) - the Catholic Faith to make it more palatable to other Christian denominations.

Enough of the pious platitudes and mincing of words! We do our separated brethren no good service by not affirming what we know, by faith, to be true. There is only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We should not be smug or 'triumphalist' about it, but we must be clear and uncompromising. Something, sadly, Bp. Sklba still has to learn.