22 October 2015

"Discernment" and "Wondering"


Elizabeth Scalia has now reframed her recent post espousing agnosticism and calls it an act of public "discernment" or "wondering".  She offers no retraction, clarification or apology—instead she defends her rejection of existing doctrine as a mode of speech. (She claims she is no Kasperite, but then, so would any Kasperite.)

She asks:
If we do not wonder in public, how will the church know us, and teach us? How will it be moved to consider itself and see where its teaching has perhaps become complacent, or is falling short? If no one is permitted a public-wondering, how do we learn to talk to each other, generously, respectfully, in a spirit of Christian charity, and toward the strengthening of the whole community?

Some thoughts on this: Catholic Doctrine on the subject of Eucharistic discipline is not the property of the Church, nor can this doctrine be complacent or "fall short".  This teaching is the teaching of Christ, based on a reality, which Christians are obliged to accept, as an integral part of the divine virtue of faith.  This is not a matter for deliberation or pondering, but of obedience to the revealed word of God.

Publicly flaunting one's doubts, whether or not one wants to call them "acts of discernment" or "wondering", is scandalous to one's brothers and sisters in Christ, and the evil of this scandal is magnified according to one's position and visibility.  Ms. Scalia is extremely visible, and people respect her word and think of her as a witness to the Catholic Faith.  By airing her doubts, which are themselves objectively sinful, because they detract from the rule of faith which she is bound by divine law to profess, Scalia is directing hundreds, perhaps thousands of her readers to turn aside from the path of truth into the murky realm of "wondering" which she has chosen to explore.

And let there be no doubt: what is at stake here is not simply the precision of a few people's ideas about God or abstract morality, but the eternal destiny of souls. The Council Fathers at Trent found Scalia's error to be so deadly that they promulgated this canon excommunicating anyone who teaches it:
...And for fear lest so great a sacrament may be received unworthily, and so unto death and condemnation, this holy Synod ordains and declares, that sacramental confession, when a confessor may be had, is of necessity to be made beforehand, by those whose conscience is burthened with mortal sin, however contrite they may think themselves. But if any one shall presume to teach, preach, or obstinately to assert, or even in public disputation to defend the contrary, he shall be thereupon excommunicated.
Ms. Scalia refers to Philip Neri and Frances de Sales in her article.  Both men, because they had zeal for the truth and for the salvation of souls, would fiercely condemn her actions as being irresponsible and contrary to the good of the Church.  The task of the theologian, as has been stressed many times, is not to "wonder" or "discern" whether the articles of faith are true, but to accept and teach them, and to present to others the riches that flow from them, in a spirit of humility and obedience to the truth.

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Regarding "discernment": How often that word appears lately!  What does it even mean?  "Deliberation", I think, is the closest thing it has to an actual meaning.  But in practice the use of "discernment" tends to swathe whatever one is doing in a fuzzy mysticism, rendering the standards of reason and prudence inapplicable, because something inscrutable and "spiritual" is going on. This is generally nonsense.  Beware the language of "discerning".