Dealing with apparent contradictions in Church teaching
(08-16-2012, 09:07 PM)JayneK Wrote: As Catholics, our starting assumption is that Church teaching is not in error.  This is our default position.  We have a duty, if we are capable of it, to reconcile apparent contradictions in Church teaching rather than claim that a teaching is in error. These are common explanations to consider:

Quotes out of context.
The meaning of one or more passages has been misrepresented by taking it out of context to create a false illusion of contradiction.

Lack of significant difference.
A difference is not necessarily a contradiction. For example,  compare the statements "Heresy and schism are closely related sins." and "Schism and heresy are closely related sins."  The difference in word order does not mean that these statements contradict each other or that one is in error.

Shift in emphasis.
Different truths may be emphasized, depending on the audience or circumstances.  St. Augustine, writing against the errors Pelagians, makes different points than when he is writing against Donatists.  These differences are not contradictions. 

Contingent vs. timeless truths.
Some Church teaching is contingent on specific situations and should not be understood as a timeless truth.  There is nothing wrong with contingent teachings being different from each other when they are dealing with different situations.

Legitimate development of doctrine.
Sometimes new terminology or conceptual frameworks are introduced which assist the Church in her mission of teaching the truth.  These changes may produce differences which might be perceived by some as contradictions, but they are not.

Some people seem to think that any difference constitutes a contradiction.  I hope the above points show that this is not true.  A difference between two Church teachings is not necessarily a contradiction between them.  However, at times one needs a fairly strong background in theology and/or history to understand why two teachings are different.  People who do not have this background should go to the default position - Church teaching is not in error.  They should assume their lack of knowledge is the reason for their perception of a contradiction.

It is theoretically possible for a non-infallible Church teaching to be in error.  But very few people know enough to eliminate all the other possible explanations for a difference between two Church teachings and be left with the conclusion that one of them is in error. 

Thank you for these exlanations, Jayne.  If I may make a few points:

1.  A doctrine is denied by either contradictory ("Jesus is God" vs. "Jesus is not God") or contrary ("Jesus is God" vs. Jesus is only a man") statements.  Regarding taking comments out of context, it should be noted that innovators have long employed the method of espousing error alongside orthodox doctrine, in order to have it pass by without much notice (see Pope Pius VI, Auctorem Fidei and Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, 18.).

2. I'd be very interested in being shown some examples of contingent truths.  I pray that the Church's doctrine regarding Church/State relations is not counted among them, for the denial of such was called "a species of... modernism" (Pope Pius XI, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, 60f).

3. I certainly agree that there is a legitimate development of doctrine.  On the other hand, with regard to a shift in emphasis, several Pontiffs have stated the need for Catholics to not pass over the more difficult doctrines so that we might instead focus on what we have in common with non-Catholics.  I'm sure the Church has discussed the difficult doctrines in private -- and has declared the outcomes of some of these meetings -- but the manner in which some prelates have acted truly obscures the importance of several fundamental Catholic dogmas (e.g., the Church alone is the divinely revealed religion, and her necessity for salvation).  Going back to the issue of the development of doctrine, I would say that certain doctrines have, far from being made more explicit, been made more obscure over these last 50 years.  The neglect of scholastic terminology has borne some very bad fruits (e.g., the Church understood as "communion," instead of an emphasis on "membership" in the Church, with its precise requisites).

Messages In This Thread
Re: Dealing with apparent contradictions in Church teaching - by SouthpawLink - 08-17-2012, 12:02 PM

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)