January 16, 2011

False Ideas of Catholic Teaching

I'm reading the Confessions for the third or fourth time to get warmed up for the directed reading course I'm doing in St. Augustine and St. Hilary this semester. I notice new things and am grateful for the book in new ways. This morning I arrived at a new favorite quote: in the midst of his proximate struggle to accept the Catholic faith, Augustine writes:

non docet catholica fides, quod putabamus et vani accusabamus.

"The Catholic faith does not teach that which we supposed or that which we vainly accused it [of teaching.]"

As it was true then, so it is now. False ideas about Catholic doctrine are a great hindrance to evangelization. One even sometimes hears such errors from otherwise educated people, or sees them in otherwise responsible newspapers.

Some of the most common: that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are physically changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, that Mary is to be worshiped, that the Pope is infallible in a general way, that divorce is a sin, etc.

Because of such misrepresentations of Catholic doctrine, we all need to speak and preach our teaching clearly and coherently if we hope to demonstrate well the beauty of its reasonableness.


Anonymous said...

Father Charles,
Could you please post about why the idea that divorce is a sin is a false idea about Catholic doctrine? After I read this in your post, I tried to Google a search of the topic but couldn't come up with a reliable Catholic website addressing it.
Thank you so much.

Brother Charles said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for the question. This isn't an easy topic, and there is a lot of bad information out there. May the Lord give you peace if there is any particular struggle that leads you to seek some clarity.

In the simplest terms, divorce is not a sin because there is no such thing. Catholic Christianity accepts the Lord's teaching that marriage--entered into with full and free consent--does not admit of dissolution.

So, if a Catholic marries someone according to canonical form (i.e. 'in church') and then becomes divorced according to civil government, he or she is still married as far as the Church is concerned. It is not a sin, because as far as the Church is concerned, nothing has changed.

Therefore, divorce is not a sin because there is no divorce. If, though, a civilly divorced person attempts marriage with somebody else, the problem of adultery therefore arises, which is a sin.

Does that help?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Brother Charles. That helps a lot.

Anonymous said...

A little off subject, but related literally to Catholic Teaching, do you have any comment on the Archdiocese of Boston: either the controversy of the salaries, etc., of the staff; the new Catholic Schools admission policy; or even C. Sean's extended absences? I have a friend who is a seminarian there - all he'll say is "now you can see why I want to come home ASAP"
Thank you, HisFriend

Brother Charles said...

Though I live in the archdiocese of Boston, and have faculties here, and though I know Cardinal Sean as a brother Capuchin (and my ordaining bishop), my assignment here is to full-time study and I have little sense of these things, and certainly too little to make judgments about them.

Greg said...

Have been reading Augustine as well over the past week.

His discussion of spiritual versus material and the confusions that arise is particularly powerful.

We are in constant need of reminders in this regard to prevent us from falling into iconic religion as opposed to revelatory or mystical faith.

RJ said...

Father, may I draw your attention to Paul VI's encyclical Mysterium Fidei, where he writes:
"once the substance or nature of the bread and wine has been changed into the body and blood of Christ, nothing remains of the bread and the wine except for the species—beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in His physical "reality," corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place."

To be present "in his physical reality" is surely to be present physically.

Could you explain what you mean by "physically" in your post?

Brother Charles said...

Hi RJ! Thanks for the challenge; you came into zChat recently just as I was leaving. Next time.

Of course we believe, as Trent teaches, that Our Lord is truly, really, and substantially present under the appearance of the sacred species, by the conversion that the Church has called transubstantiation.

But this does not mean, as a caricature is sometimes made, that the manner in which we receive the sacred Flesh and Blood of Christ is the same sort of thing as if I were to take a bite out of the arm of the devout person next to me in the pew.

The Eucharistic species continues the rather mysterious presence of the Risen Lord himself--he was really and substantially present; he ate and drank, could be touched, etc., but was also not bound by time and space; he appeared and disappeared from sight, passed through walls, appeared in locked rooms, etc. Paul VI alludes to this in the end of the sentence you cite, in which he adds the caveat that this reality is not a presence in the manner of something being in a place. Therefore we are talking about a "physicality" that is not bound by space, meaning that it is a "physicality" very different from what is usually meant by the term, for which place and dimension are ordinarily necessary predications.

Thanks for getting me warmed up this morning!

RJ said...

Thanks for that, Father. Clearly, Christ is not broken when the host is broken; I take it He would not be burnt if the host were caught in a fire - only the accidental form is changed, as I think St Thomas would have said. (Place and dimensions would also be accidents according to St Thomas). If that is what is meant by "not physically present" then ok. I must confess I remain uncomfortable with the denial of physicality, as this could be a source of misunderstanding, especially when it has been affirmed in a correct sense by the magisterium. As you say, in your post on apologetics, however, underlying assumptions can make it difficult to convey what is really meant.

Brother Charles said...

All I mean to say is that what a random person on the street would mean by a physical presence is explicitly, in doctrine, not what we are talking about. The magisterial use of the term, in another language even, is something quite different.

I'll reflect on whether the post is irresponsible, and if I decide that it I'll write another to retract or change, so thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

I'm just beginning a re-read (for maybe the sixth or seventh reading) of Confessions, in anticipation of a two week intensive course on it beginning at the end of the month by one of our friars who lives in Cascia.

The idea you pointed out here also reminds me of his feelings about Scripture, and I think there is an underlying reality that he keeps getting back to, which is not only that we are often misinformed, but also that our sin and attachment to it often distorts our presentation of either the teachings of the Church or the writings of Scripture because if we well understood them, we wouldn't as easily reject them, and at our core there is something in our fallenness that wants to reject these true teachings.

I think one of the most fascinating things about Confessions is its profound psychological insights, and is one of the first books ever written to offer such an analysis.

RJ said...

Thanks for clarifying, Father, and thanks for your blog, which I find encouraging.

st bosco said...

Hi, you explain away the false things said about the catholic church, but how about the fasle things the catholic church teaches? For example Mary assumed to heaven. Or Mary haing a throne in heaven. Or Mary even hearing prayers. None of it is scriptural but is taught like it is. Thank you