The recent dismissal of Professor Josef Seifert, an outstanding Catholic scholar, can be seen as a particularly acute symptom of at least three distinct, but interdependent, maladies that have been afflicting the Church for many decades now, but which are becoming critical under the unprecedented pontificate of Pope Francis.
First, at the level of Dr. Seifert’s own sphere of professional expertise, philosophy, we are seeing a crisis of natural, rationally knowable truth. When a philosopher is removed from office for pointing out that premises inexorably produce logical conclusions, the very foundations of all philosophy are being undermined – and in this case by the Church’s own leaders. Unlike Luther, who railed against human reason as being “the Devil’s whore” ever since the Fall, the Catholic Church has always understood that the credibility of Catholic doctrine rests on its harmony with sound philosophy. Therefore, when leading prelates brush aside the importance of logic, revealed truth is also undermined.
This in fact is the second malady now afflicting us. If the Church were to formally contradict what it had always taught emphatically about moral principles and specific norms regarding marriage and sacramental life, it would not be an infallible Church. It would be reduced to a protestantized community wherein the individual’s private judgment ultimately reigns supreme: a community in which the ‘depositum fidei‘ is increasingly relativized by what the present Pontiff likes to call the ‘depositum vitae‘. But a so-called “deposit of life” is by nature indefinable and indeterminate. Appealing to it thus leaves everyone free to subjectively apply, adapt, or reinterpret the moral law according to the way each person evaluates his or her “real life circumstances.”
In the essay that provoked the wrath of his superiors, Professor Seifert pointed out that if God could sometimes “ask” a person in a particular “life situation” to continue violating a norm of sexual ethics which the Church has always taught allows for no exceptions, that novel principle would flow over catastrophically to influence other areas of conduct.
Perhaps even more ominous is the passage of Amoris Laetitia which says that in some circumstances a person might incur “further sin” (supposedly against the children springing from an adulterous union) by compliance with the norm against sexual intimacy outside of a valid marriage. But to say that in some circumstances one could be guilty of sin, and thus offend God, precisely by OBEYING a Commandment of the divinely revealed Decalogue, would not only be ruinous to all Christian morality; it would also verge on blasphemy by seeming to impugn the veracity of God himself.
The above-mentioned philosophical and theological maladies have to do with the Church’s doctrinal, magisterial function – her role as ‘Ecclesia docens‘. The third malady of which Dr. Seifert’s dismissal is symptomatic is located in the Church’s pastoral, administrative and disciplinary function: the ‘Ecclesia gubernans‘. But it follows inevitably from the two previous afflictions. If logical coherence, the law of self-contradiction, and doctrinal consistency are now no longer to be absolute standards for Catholic thought and practice, but are to be continually adapted to a supposed “deposit of life” by which one “reinterprets” the deposit of faith according to ever-changing circumstances, then order and unity in the Church will have to be maintained by the simple exercise of power, authority, jurisdiction.
So the spectre of a new era of ecclesial voluntarism looms before us, in which the primacy of the Intellect – always recognized by the ‘philosophia perennis‘ championed by St. Thomas Aquinas – may give way to the primacy of Will. The fact that Professor Seifert’s ecclesiastical superior in Spain felt no need to offer any reasoned rebuttal of his criticism of Amoris Laetitia is ominous. The mere fact that he had openly charged the Supreme Pontiff with error was deemed sufficient cause for his removal from office. That was traditionally a reasonable procedure when the Supreme Pontiff’s teaching was always backed up by a massive and solid wall of agreement on the part of all his predecessors. But Dr. Seifert was pointing out that Pope Francis was DEPARTING from the teaching of his predecessors! “No matter”, was the implied response: “The present pope says what he says, and that settles it!” This is to convert legitimate papal authority into Papal Positivism: the sheer Will of the present pontiff defeats all his predecessors and defeats all contrary arguments. Indeed, it makes any contrary argument simply irrelevant.
May heaven preserve us from this threatening Triumph of the Will over both faith and reason!
The Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D., a priest of the Society of the Oblates of Wisdom, is a retired Associate Professor of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, P.R. In 1997 he gained his doctorate in Systematic Theology, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Athenæum of the Holy Cross in Rome.
Since 2007 Fr. Harrison has been scholar-in-residence at the Oblates of Wisdom Study Center in St. Louis, Missouri, is well-known as a speaker and writer. He is the author of three books and over 130 articles in Catholic books, magazines and journals in the U.S.A., Australia, Britain, France, Spain and Puerto Rico.
To have the dictatorship of relativism Benedict XVI warned of, one must have a Dictator. It appears we have one.
Benedict knew such wolves were legion. Did he think it was inevitable that this “dictatorship of relativism” would gain power? I can’t shake the feeling he had a supernatural vision that he would operationalize the light being shone on these cockroaches and the whole rotten movement being destroyed.
If the Church has been wrong in the past regarding moral principles and the norms covering marriage and sacramental life, then the Church is not whom she claims to be. This, in turn, raises the question of “what else is the Church wrong about?” And if the Church is wrong about moral principles and who knows what else, what’s the point of it all? Why believe anything the Church teaches?
Remove one strut and the whole structure comes crashing down.
Exactly what Luther said.
This exactly what I have been saying in other places. You cannot claim infinite and eternal truths and then change those truths…it ceases to be true!
Just being reported in the Australian press:
I’m sure One Peter5 will follow this. Stay prayerful
And what day is today? September 23, 2017
And what is happening in the heavens today? The Sign of Revelations 12
What is happening today?
This is the sign, Eric. The Remnant does a great job of explaining. Today is the day.
Ohhhh, I see I see…i will def read more of this
I’d just like to say that it is one of Pope Francis’s many errors to call Divine Law “norms”. Norms are not even necessarily rules but accepted practices a beliefs that are USUALLY agreeable (open to being relatavized). Divine Law, the commandments, intrinsic evils are not Norms! They are absolute truth!
Keep a watchful eye for their intentional imprecise words.
Thank you, Father Harrison, for your logically argued article.
And my complements to the graphic designer. Clever.
The Triumph of the Will over both faith and reason indicates a false conception of God by those who wield it. This is an action that “Allah” would approve, not one that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would countenance.
True. Let’s hope it’s instructive by all means possible.
Thank you, Father Harrison. You have been a voice crying in the wilderness, one of the faithful priests who continues to speak up courageously.
We salute you and I trust God will reward you greatly.
To quote Pope Pious X:
“It is an error to believe that Christ did not teach a determined body of doctrine applicable to all times and to all men, but rather that He inaugurated a religious movement adapted, or to be adapted, to different times and different places.”.
Seriously, if these aren’t the end times it may be difficult to keep the faith: the culture is collapsing, God’s plan for man through marriage and procreation is being profaned beyond belief and the Church is being torn apart by seemingly faithless prelates.
A good example of the triumph of ever-changing will (and its attendant destruction) is the Constitution in the United States. Originalism versus the “living breathing” relativism of modern times. Relativism allowed for the creation of a “separation of church and state” — which is not found in the Constitution but created by courts of “the times.” Now our children aren’t allowed to pray before school functions. Ditto with “privacy” and the relative theories about penumbras “found” within the Constitution — next thing you know, the Constitution supports abortion but makes zero mention of it. There was never any original intent for abortion. It would not have been accepted at the time but modern will dictated the result. We ignored the document and commonly accepted wisdom in favor of political concern. What destruction this has wrought! I fear the Church is chasing this same error for the sake of more parishioners. In the process, we threaten the faith of all laity and the destruction of souls. The Pope has a very difficult task reconciling modern theories against eternal truths. It would be wise to err on the side of the Gospel.
If that example isn’t sufficient, given Pope Francis’ sympathies for socialism, perhaps he will consider the fate of the church of England and their cool / hip, modern relativity. Their numbers are down across the board and they have been on the “mercy for all, no matter what” train for decades.
Brian, my mother, who is 97 and for years has told me “The church should change”, has been away from the Sacraments for too long a period of time. Her civilly married ‘spouse’ who was 84, was dying of cancer. I spoke with her and asked her whether he had ever been baptized. She said “Oh no darling I don’t think it is necessary, he was a very good man.” Because of her age and state I tried to be gentle and follow scripture…”A bruised reed He will not crush.”I asked her “Then why did Christ even bother coming into the world to die and suffer?” No answer came. So I called a priest whose parish she used to go to, thinking that if he visited that perhaps through prayer and grace and facing death, Lawrence might ask for baptism and that his presence and comfort for my aging mother might draw her back to the Sacramental life.
Then I heard the horrendous news that Lawrence wanted to die. At first I thought, he was speaking as many dying people speak in their depression and pain. I was comforted by the fact that he was in palliative care, thinking that this meant that he would be made comfortable with pain meds until God came to take him. But I was wrong. In Canada the law was passed over a year ago ,opening the doors to Euthanasia and Lawrence was the latest victim to walk through them. My mother, being 97, was about ready for hospice herself as she became so distraught and overworked looking after him for months. We advocated for him to go to the palliative care unit to give her respite where he could get the proper care.
Then, one day, my mother said that they were giving him a bit of med each day because he wants to die. Which was quickly followed up by a call from a sister “Friday Sept 1 is the day.” I called the parish priest, who from the outset was very reticent to speak with me. He said ” Lawrence has made his decision. He is lucid and we have to respect his decision.” I was so floored. I can’t even remember everything I said, but I tried to impart the church’s teachings. I was so devastated that my mother would comply to his wishes. But worse, after speaking with my mother a couple of days after this she said” Oh no darling the priest was all for it.” She reiterated that twice. I was more upset about this priest betraying Christ and giving false counsel than anything. I have drafted a letter to send to him and to the bishop. It sent me into a tailspin for the past month trying to come to terms with the evil of it.I went to Adoration and took Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence with me. Here is a man who has truly suffered in silence like the Master.
If this is the new face of “palliative care” we are now to mistrust our dr. and our nurses and see them as the enemy rather than the comforters of the Hippocratic Oath. Holland has come to our shores. Then last night, I received a hate filled email from a sister telling me that my mother was sobbing because I had called the priest not once but TWICE and that I was a relf righteous judgemental and sanctimonious hypocrite amongst other bully tactics and relativistic jargon. I spoke with a holy friend who reminded me that I was blessed to suffer for the Lord. I know that this isn’t about the filial correction but it is about priests who fail us. I have a draft letter ready to send to this priest and to his bishop. Tonight, providentially, I was looking through encyclicals and opened up The Gospel of Life’ by St. John Paul and I am adding his forceful words to the letter. How many people in our nations are going through the same sad crisis of faith. Lawrence never understood the value of ‘redemptive suffering’ and it makes it so much easier to just want to ‘off yourself.’ As Catholics, we have a Master to follow, who suffered for us and we can unite ourselves and our crosses with Him and the whole heavenly cohort for assistance every step of the way through this valley of tears. I am asking for prayers for Lawrence, my mother, this priest and myself and all those touched by this crisis of the culture of death
. When going to bed last night, in my night prayers the psalm said ‘ the just man never wavers.’ May we never waver from the Truth. While speaking it, it feels like hard slogging but if we go to the heat of the day on that Friday and the salty sweat flowing down into Christ’s open wounds and eyes, with no ability to wipe the sweat away because His hands were nailed to a cross, it fills me with shame that I could not tolerate a few vengeful words thrown in my direction.
Powerful, and devastating. May your suffering for these people have some redemptive power that Our Lord applies to them.
I’m sorry you had to endure this. It has crushed me for more than a year when I decided to “remove aggressive treatment” for my Father and placed him on comfort measures. He died within 24 hours. The doctors and nurses advocated for this. They push it along and avoid “moral considerations” about consequences. They dictate what is just and humane (they are, after all enlightened physicians). You are right to question them and call to light those in the Church that fail you. Perhaps God will allow your priest to learn the meaning of redemptive suffering, may he never have to suffer it himself.
Thank you for your kindness. The church does not expect a patient to suffer the burden of extraordinary measures. I am not sure what the aggressive treatment was that your dear father was having, but that he died 24 hours later it does sound as though it was the right thing. Thanks be to the living God that he came so soon for him. How I wish that is what happened in my case. We live in an age of satanic rebellion where WE are God. WE will make the decisions. It will come back to haunt many souls. The elderly need advocates around them just as the unborn do. Praise God and choose LIFE.
And for yours.
I sorry that you are going through this trial. Since your mother rejected the teachings of the Church she should not have a Catholic funeral.
For anyone who may not have noticed, “Triumph of the Will” is the name of a 1935 German documentary by Leni Riefenstahl about the great Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg and the start of the Führer’s regime.
That is chilling. I wonder if the author knew that information when he decided upon this title. Is this a harbinger for the New World Order and the One World Church?
He capitalized the phrase in the article.
I thought you did not like t o bring up politics in Catholic discussion. By the way Biden and the Democrats did steal the election.
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” -Aleister Crowley
Coincidence? I think not
What is needed is to come at this sideways, with a dubia addressing headlong the question of usury. I’d be willing to consult (for free) on the project if there were a bishop or Cardinal sponsor. I’d probably also help financially.
Thank you Fr. Harrison, we the faithful need the truth to shine through these dark days.
The laity must speak out!
This is an essay so well done that it needs inscribed in gold on plates of silver, framed in burnished bronze.