13 April 2011

Thesis Thoughts

Nearly half way through the second semester of the Licentiate course of studies here, I've finally settled on a thesis topic: papal infallibility. It comes down to this: I have a sneaking suspicion that it might be in play, so to speak, more often than frequently assumed or asserted. An academic study of a decade or so ago seems to have discovered no more than 7 ex cathedra statements in the entire history of the Church. I haven't begun any tallies myself yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were quite a few more than that even this past century. To me it seems an important question, especially since people are always lobbying to change various doctrines. We'll see where it goes.

Update: I've created a 'Licentiate Thesis' page with a slightly more developed outline of the topic as I'm thinking of it so far. It will be permanently linked on the sidebar, but you can also click here to see it. Thanks for the comments so far, and I would be interested to hear any of your opinions on it.


Christina said...

For what it's worth, I approve; both of papal infallibility and your using it as your topic.

big daddy said...

I would be surprised that there are as many as 7. As we've seen with the recent disputes over male-only orders, Americans - and Westerners generally - seem unable to distinguish between positive law and definitive teaching; they (we?) think that a thing isn't so, or doesn't need to be treated as so, unless the locus of ultimate authority declares it to be so. In this as in so much else, better catechesis is desperately needed to appreciate how teaching authority actually works in the Catholic Church and what it's for.

John said...

I'm not sure I entirely followed your train of thought there. Would you be of the opinion that the statement of John Paul II in Ordinatio sacerdotalis regarding the male-only priesthood was not protected by the papal infallibility? I anyway would incline toward saying that it is.

big daddy said...

Well, he does use the word "define", doesn't he? He places it in the context of his role as one who "confirms the brethren", though, unlike, say Pius XII who "by [his] own authority pronounce, declare and define" the dogma of the Assumption.

Naturally, there arose immmediate contention about whether Pope John Paul's letter was an exercise of papal infallibility, with the implication on the part of those who think it NOT such an exercise that therefore the male-only orders is still not de fide.

I would say that Pope John Paul II declared as he did so that it would be understood that the practice of male-only orders is de fide, is an infallible teaching of the Church, but not on the basis of having declared it to be so under his own charism of infallibility.

Until the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption were formally defined under the Pope's infallible charism, one could be a faithful son of the Church and reasonably differ with other faithful sons of the Church on those issues. As you know, throughout history, some very knowledgeable and public Catholics did differ, particularly with regard to the Immaculate Conception. Male orders is not like that; it has been taught and practiced in both East and West since the founding of Christianity and there has never been a time, really, when a Christian could actively dispute it in good faith. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was worded as it was, I would say, to make this clear.

John Zmirak, I know, gets chuckles out of the prospect of a papal declaration of the dogma of the Incarnation, say, just to hear how our Eastern brethren suddenly begin to dispute it. Of course, the pope will never do that, because it would imply, as indicated above, that such a teaching wasn't until then known to be an infallible teaching of the Church all along.