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Gary Novak wrote:

Hi, guys —

A contradiction which needs explaining is the Pope's statement in Veritatis Splendor (VS) that for anyone but Church authorities to acquire moral knowledge is to "eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (VS 35)." Implicitly, Church authorities must eat the forbidden fruit for everyone else.

Of course, the statement is couched in all sorts of vagaries which could be interpreted any number of ways. But the context attempts to explain why Church authorities (the hierarchy) determine morality instead of anyone else (Priests, laymen, or Protestants). It is not rational to assume some humans are not corrupted by eating the forbidden fruit.

On top of that, the document of Vatican II on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) says that
non-Catholics can do God's work and get saved. They aren't getting their moral knowledge from the Catholic hierarchy when they are not Catholics.

Thanks,

Gary Novak

  { Can you explain the contradiction in Veritatis Splendor and the Church document on Ecumenism? }

Eric replied:

Hi Gary,

I haven't read the whole of Veritatis Splendor in a while, though I did read paragraph 35 and some of the following paragraphs.  I cannot find the section you are referring to that says or implies that for anyone but Church authorities to acquire moral knowledge is to "eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

  • Can you elaborate a bit on this?

I think I would argue that it is the responsibility of every Christian to "acquire moral knowledge"
in the sense that we must inform ourselves about what God tells us is right and wrong. I do not recall anything in the teaching of VS or anything else that would indicate that only Church authorities can acquire moral knowledge and indeed this would make no sense (depending on what you mean by "acquire moral knowledge".)

You also say:
But the context attempts to explain why Church authorities (hierarchy) determine morality instead of anyone else (Priests, laymen, or Protestants).

I think a careful distinction needs to be made. The text says that God determines morality, not man, not even the hierarchy.

"With this imagery, Revelation teaches that 'the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone'" (VS 35).

That knowledge is communicated to all believers via the Holy Spirit, mediated by the Church. What I think the Pope is occupied with in VS is opposing those who think that man can determine what is right and wrong independently of any reference to God.

From your question:
On top of that, the document of Vatican II on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) says non-Catholics can do God's work and get saved. They aren't getting their moral knowledge from the Catholic hierarchy when they are not Catholics.

Well it's important here to make a distinction between "the Catholic hierarchy" and "the Catholic Church." The Catholic Church is made up all the Christian faithful, lay, priests, and hierarchy, on earth and in heaven and in Purgatory. As a whole, it is divine and perfect. The hierarchy is the leaders here on earth and is made up of imperfect and falling human beings. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and is not confined to the hierarchy or the visible organization of the Church, or even the sum of its members (since the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church).

Now, pertaining to Protestants, we would argue that they are in fact getting their moral knowledge from the Catholic Church, because those things which they embrace in Christianity they got, in some form, from the Catholic Church.  It is things they inherited from us before the Reformation or things they learned from the Bible, which we would consider to be a book of the Catholic Church (inasmuch as we wrote it — meaning the original leaders of the Church wrote it — and put it together).

Moral knowledge, originating in God via the Holy Spirit, is mediated by the Catholic Church, not by the Catholic hierarchy. The hierarchy is merely the custodian of the moral knowledge, knowledge which, we believe, was received once for all from Christ through the Apostles so it can come in a lot more non-obvious ways than if it merely came from the hierarchy. If you read paragraph #3 of Unitatis Redintegratio, you see that whatever truth the Protestants possess belongs by right to the Catholic Church, so in a sense, it all comes from the Catholic Church. This is true even if they never come into personal contact with a Catholic.

In any case, I am really curious to understand why you think that VS gives the role to the hierarchy that you say that it does. I'd like to hear what you have to say and see if we can reconcile these apparent contradictions you see.

Thanks for writing and I eagerly look forward to your reply.

Eric Ewanco

Gary replied:

Hello, Eric —

Concerning Veritatis Splendor and "eating the forbidden fruit," there are numerous points to be made, but I'll just make one point at this time for the sake of simplifying the task.

I  understood you to say:

The Pope's purpose was to distinguish between "determine" and study.
God determines morality, while humans study it.

Consider this quote (VS 35),

"With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat ``of every tree of the garden.'' But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the ``tree of the knowledge of good and evil,''...

  • Why then was Galileo persecuted for saying the earth goes around the sun?

He was eating from the scientific tree instead of the morality tree. Of course, the Church apologized for its mistake in persecuting Galileo, but guess what, there are a lot of trees in religion beyond the morality tree. There is:

  • the grace tree
  • the faith tree
  • the atonement tree
  • the salvation tree.

  • Is man free to "determine" (read corrupt) what grace, faith, atonement and salvation are?

Gary Novak

Eric replied:

Gary said:

  • Why then was Galileo persecuted for saying the earth goes around the sun?

He was eating from the scientific tree instead of the morality tree. Of course, the Church apologized for its mistake in persecuting Galileo, but guess what, there are a lot of trees in religion beyond the morality tree. There is:

  • the grace tree
  • the faith tree
  • the atonement tree
  • the salvation tree.

  • Is man free to "determine" (read corrupt) what grace, faith, atonement and salvation are?

I think obviously the answer is no, but I'm unsure what point you're driving at.

You are correct that man can make errors, either in determining what is true, or in interpreting what God has revealed to be true. On our own, we cannot know, infallibly or without error, that truth which God has revealed. For example, while we have the Bible, the Bible is subject to the interpretation of the fallible reader, and so many people read the Bible (which is the perfect, inerrant Word of God) but draw the wrong conclusions because in their fallenness they are inadvertently corrupting the message. But God told us that He would reveal all truth to us
(John 16:13) and teach us all things (John 14:26). So there has to be a way for us to infallibly know the truth. God established the Church as the "pillar and foundation of the truth"
(1 Timothy 3:15) so that we *could* infallibly know the truth. God gave us the Church to interpret the Scriptures, so that we may have a sure interpretation of them, since "His letters contain some things which are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16) We must have someone gifted by God to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Otherwise, His promise to reveal all truth to us would be meaningless, would it not?

Actually with respect to Galileo, the reason he was nailed, besides the fact that he was being a real jerk, was because the Church believed he was contradicting Scripture, and they were defending its integrity. It had less to do with him contradicting some opinion of the Church than it did him attacking the inerrancy of Scripture.

I'm not sure if I addressed the issues on your mind or not. Forgive me if I haven't, and feel free to further clarify your points.

Yours in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

Rob replied:

Galileo said that since the Earth revolved around the Sun, the Bible was therefore incorrect.
This is what the Pope would not (and could not) allow. Galileo was suggesting that referring to the "four corners of the Earth" was incorrect in the Bible.

Although the Earth does not have corners, the Pope then and now would argue that such a statement does not invalidate the Bible since belief in a flat planet at the center of the universe is not a matter of faith and morals.

Since Scripture is concerned with faith and morals, there is no real discrepancy.

The Church did not persecute the man for his claims of the Sun being the center (also later proved sort of wrong); in fact, many of the clergy believed that the Earth revolved around the Sun at that time.

Rob Coutinho

Eric replied:

Rob commented:
Galileo said that since the Earth revolved around the Sun, the Bible was therefore incorrect. This is what the Pope would not (and could not) allow.

Agreed. Rob identifies the key issue and why the Pope opposed Galileo.

Rob commented:
Although the Earth does not have corners, the Pope then and now would argue that such a statement does not invalidate the Bible since belief in a flat planet at the center of the universe is not a matter of faith and morals. Since Scripture is concerned with faith and morals, there is no real discrepancy.

I suppose the Pope might take that tack, but I think it's more likely that he'd say that Scripture was using a literary device and did not intend to assert that the Earth actually had four physical corners. (The Jews considered their temple to be a microcosm of the universe and often referred to parts of the universe using Temple terminology, and so the geometry refers to the geometry of the temple, not the actual geometry of the earth.) Just as we say that the sun rises without meaning that in a physics sense, so the Jews used figures of speech that aren't intended to convey scientific truths.

In general I tend to prefer the explanation that Scripture is true in terms of what it intends to assert is true ("Therefore since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit", Dei Verbum 11), rather than the explanation that it is only true in matters of faith and morals.  I say this because I think it's a more accurate representation of the Catholic position, and because you run into some difficulties with the latter argument (personally I see lots of slippery slopes.) For example, there are historical details in the Gospels that one might argue are not matters of faith and morals, but nevertheless we'd want to defend as true.

If we can explain something in terms of Scripture not intending to assert what the contradiction is, I think it's better to use that tack than to argue that OK, Scripture is wrong, but this is not a matter of faith or morals so it doesn't really matter.

Eric Ewanco

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