Sunday, August 17, 2008

Humani Generis

If you don't know what that is, start reading here. It's a great encyclical from Pius XII that celebrated its 58th anniversary this past Tuesday. The subtitle is "Concerning Some False Opinions Threatening to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine." The reason you probably didn't see anybody else blogging about it or discussing it is because these errors have become mainstream Catholic thinking in many ways. A lot of folks need to sit down with HG, give it a good read, then take a long look in the mirror.

The Pope starts out by praising human reason but reminding us that we are fallen creatures who have limits.

For though, absolutely speaking, human reason by its own natural force and light can arrive at a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, Who by His providence watches over and governs the world, and also the natural law, which the Creator has written in our hearts, still there are not a few obstacles to prevent reason from making efficient and fruitful use of its natural ability. The truths that have to do with God and the relations between God and men, completely surpass the sensible order and demand self-surrender and self-abnegation in order to be put into practice and to influence practical life. Now the human intellect, in gaining the knowledge of such truths is hampered both by the activity of the senses and the imagination, and by evil passions arising from original sin. Hence men easily persuade themselves in such matters that what they do not wish to believe is false or at least doubtful.

That last line pretty much sums up the dissent from Humanae Vitae.

From the perspective of the times, though, let's take a look at some of the bigger theological errors that Pius XII was pointing out.

In theology some want to reduce to a minimum the meaning of dogmas; and to free dogma itself from terminology long established in the Church and from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers, to bring about a return in the explanation of Catholic doctrine to the way of speaking used in Holy Scripture and by the Fathers of the Church. They cherish the hope that when dogma is stripped of the elements which they hold to be extrinsic to divine revelation, it will compare advantageously with the dogmatic opinions of those who are separated from the unity of the Church and that in this way they will gradually arrive at a mutual assimilation of Catholic dogma with the tenets of the dissidents.

Translation- If we can twist Scripture and patristics enough, we can be Protestant/Orthodox. This is analogous to Hans Kung reading Karl Barth and deciding that the Fathers of Trent were all really Lutherans.

One of my faves here:

Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me"; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

Note to dissenting theologians with an axe to grind against the Pope. You know that thing His Holiness said that you didn't like? It doesn't matter if it was ex cathedra or not! Shut up and move on to something else instead of jeopardizing your soul and the souls of others!

Moving along- The Bible:

For some go so far as to pervert the sense of the Vatican Council's definition that God is the author of Holy Scripture, and they put forward again the opinion, already often condemned, which asserts that immunity from error extends only to those parts of the Bible that treat of God or of moral and religious matters.

That's right, folks. It's all inerrant.

Others destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision.

This is a very minor point for some people, yet it is probably one of the most rampant errors out there today. The consequences of this statement are that people are naturally inclined to heaven, rather than achieving salvation through the effects of a grace that is given to them above and beyond their own merits and nature. This thinking is basically why we have folks convinced that everyone is going to heaven. Which brings us to:

Some reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation.

Errors that seem small or just a matter of nuance/semantics like the bit above on the supernatural order can lead to some pretty monumental screw-ups downstream. This is one of them.

The whole encyclical is quite prophetic and makes for very good reading, especially if you are trying to understand exactly how some of our modern heresies took root.

On a side note, it contains what is probably the only real Magisterial teaching on Catholicism and evolution:

For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faithful. Some however rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

Basically, there was an Adam. There was an Eve. There was a Fall. That's about it.

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