Thursday, October 06, 2005

Part 1: "I have no obligation to obey that which you have no right to command."

For weeks, I've had a couple of draft posts I've been fiddling with on the subject of obedience. One is a stand-alone; the other is an extension of the posts I've started about what being a "conservative" Catholic means, if it means anything. I have not been able to devote the time, nor have I stumbled across the right words, to come up with a coherent post (and all three of the regular readers of this blog can here say "That hasn't stopped you from posting over the last two months, now, has it?").

I've been quite busy today, so I didn't have a chance to check out CWNews and Seattle Catholic until this evening. A post by Diogenes in his blog there (also linked in Seattle Catholic), on the disciplining of seminarians for inappropriate kneeling, caught my eye, but even more than the post itself was the comments. Off the record allows only 500 characters per comments, and it's interesting because it's an estuary, of sorts, where the old-salt-traddies intermingle with the freshwater "conservatives," or what Ferrara and Woods derisively call the "neo-Catholics."

The comments--perhaps because of their enforced brevity--to this post of his (as they have in others) aren't original or terribly insightful, but they do neatly capsulize the two strains of thought re obedience. The title of my post (taken from Peco's comment at 12:12pm Oct 6) is representative of one attitude: "I have no obligation to obey that which you have no right to command." The other is from somebody using the moniker "gairdawg": "You don't use the time of receiving Holy Communion in order to make a statement. Obedience is more important than whether you stand or kneel."

Of course the question is, "obedience to what? obedience to whom?" The Gaidawg School, we'll call it, answers the question too simply: "the man who has the crozier (or just the collar--if he wears one) at the moment." The Gaidawg School, as you can see if you read the other posts along that line of thinking, makes obedience a purely interpersonal matter--tied to the here-and-now, focused on only that (perhaps smallest) part of the Church we used to call "the Church Militant." You obey the man because he's "da man," more than because he's part of the Magisterium. Here's a good comment from the Gaidawg School, from Novus Est at 2:16 pm Oct 6: "If a religious superior orders me not to kneel during the Mass, or at Communion, I must and will obey him. " Thus the status of the religious superior, and not the conformity of the religious superior's command to the objective discipline or tradition of the Church, much less, natural law, is the beginning and the end of obedience for adherents of the Gaidawg School. To them, Tradition is Obedience and Obedience is Tradition. I've seen that sort of statement presented as rhetorical absolute. In the old days, when I was studying rhetoric, I could have told you what the technical name for this false device was. (I touched on it in a paper on the konoi topoi in grad school. I think it's in Aristotle's (or was it Cicero's?) On Sophistical Refutation, but that was a long time ago and I'm must more stupid now than I was then).

And then, on the other hand, we have the title comment for this post. Obedience, for some, is obedience to the objective and organic discipline of the Churchc. Some folks draw a distinction between the religious superior and the Magisterium which he represents. Thus, if the superior tells such a person to do something, and that something is consistent with the practice and tradition of the Church, such a person does it. But the Peco Doctrine adherent is told to do something novel by a religious superior, like stand during the Canon or after he's received communion, or watch a liturgical dance at the offertory, orthe superior prevents him from exercising an option he has as a Catholic or has always had, such as like taking communion on the tongue or kneel as he receives the Blessed Sacrament, he can thumb his nose at the superior. To the Peco Doctrinaire, obedience is not interpersonal at all. He follows the bishop or even the parish priest or the liturgist, only to the extent the particular functionary appears to himself be following Holy Mother Church.

It's easy to see that the latter of the two doctrines or schools is, in the abstract, closer to the truth and more in keeping with the teaching of the Church. But each poses practical difficulty.

Let's take the first. The Gaidawg Schooler would tend to follow whomever might be thrust in the pulpit or the cathedra into impiety, dissent or heresy. The mediterranian Gaidawg Schooler of the early centuries would have followed his bishop into Arianism or Pelagianism; the sixteenth century Wittenburg Gaidawg Schooler would have followed his bishop into Lutheranism; the London Gaidawg Schooler of the same century would have suddenly found himself to be an Anglican. What would one call the Gaidawg Schooler living in the diocese of Linz, Austria, or Brisbane, Australia today?

But the adherent to the latter doctrine, while less susceptible to pied pipers (or pied mitres), has a hurdle to overcome as well. If he's in a situation where (praise God, I'm not at the moment), his immediate religious superiors have deviated materially from the immemorial practice of the Church or even the more recent rules and practices set down by their own superiors, then who does he obey? He can't trust the superiors, and he must be cautious about following his own conscience, because (as the anti-popes and the sincere protestants stand to witness) one's conscience is never perfectly formed. One has to follow the Church, somehow, without he benefit of a sound representative of it. That has to be the answer.

But how does one do that? Let's not say one can't! I remember Fr. Jim McCloskey, the Opus Dei priest to the Washington power brokers, being quoted in a secular press article during one of the elections. After the article emphasized his utter and complete loyalty to the Holy Father and the church hierarchy, it quoted him as saying that he would not, for a moment, follow them in accepting a reversal of the teaching on contraception. Hopefully, anyone with that "mature faith" that the spirit-of-Vatican-Too crowd invokes would come up with the same answer as Fr. McCloskey on doctrinal matters--faith and morals. Why, then, doesn't the same reasoning apply to matters of prudence, discipline, and practice?

I'll take that up and continue my question (but still without answers) in the next post.

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