My post dissent and discussion led to an interesting discussion.
I just have a couple of things to toss into the mix. Both just matters of definition, really.
The first is what is the Church. In the usage in my quote from Fr Longenecker, I take him to be talking about the body of believers, living and dead, who are in communion with the See of Peter. A lot of people think and talk as if the Church is the current Pope and his Bishops: the Magisterium. But the Church is no more the same thing as the Magisterium than it is the same thing as Tradition or Scripture – the other two legs of the three supports of the faith.
So our fidelity is to the teachings of the Church through time. It isn’t always easy to tell exactly what those teachings are. Some have been clearly and absolutely defined by the Magisterium with reference to Scripture and Tradition. Others have been clearly and absolutely defined by one or more individuals who claim to know what they’re talking about.
It seems to me a matter of integrity to look at whether a teaching is indeed from the Church (rather than an individual), whether it is for all time or for a particular circumstance, what it means, what it requires in the way of obedience and assent, and the reasoning behind it.
(UPDATE: following text tweaked slightly after discussion with Mr Badger to clarify that I’m talking about core beliefs.)
Then there are several reasonable positions a person can take on core teachings:
- Understand the teaching and the reasoning behind it, and agree with it.
- Understand the teaching but not the reasoning behind it, and agree to accept it.
- Understand the teaching and the reasoning behind it, but disagree with it.
I don’t think it is reasonable to reach a conclusion about a teaching without first understanding it. I also don’t think it is reasonable to reject a teaching that you don’t understand the reasoning behind.
Obviously, positions 1 and 2 are not a problem for someone wishing to remain a Catholic. Position 3 may be a problem if the teaching is integral to the faith. The faith has a whole lot of beliefs, ranging from ‘deposit of faith’ integral beliefs (for example, all the elements of the Nicene Creed) through speculations that are accepted for a while then dropped (for example, the Limbo of Children), to personal revelation approved as having nothing in them that is contrary to the faith (for example, the Divine Mercy visions).
In the end, all we have is our personal integrity to guide us. If you think the Church is teaching something that is just plain wrong, and the point is one that is integral to the faith, then maybe it is time to leave the Church.
Which brings me to my second point: what do we mean by obedience and fidelity?
My favourite obedience and fidelity story relates to St Francis of Assisi. Apparently he went to Rome to ask the Pope to approve his Rule for a mendicate order of religious brothers. And the Pope said no, and sent him away. So St Francis obeyed, and left. The next day, he went again to ask the Pope to approve his Rule. And the Pope said no, and sent him away. So St Francis obeyed, and left. The next day, he went again. And the next day. And the next day. Always obedient. But ruthlessly determined to obey not just the Pope, but also God – who had spoken to him from the Cross at San Damiano, saying “Rebuild my Church.”
You could multiply those stories through a thousand saints. The saints don’t see obedience as a matter of accepting something that needs to be changed. They see obedience as something they do while working for a change.
The other lesson from that story is that St Francis didn’t rest on his own ideas of what the truth was. He was prepared to listen to others; but above all, he listened to God.