Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Duties of the Lay Catholic on Matters of Doctrine

The Catholic Encyclopedia relates the duties of lay Catholics as concerns matters of doctrine:

As to doctrine

The body of the faithful is strictly speaking the Ecclesia docta (the Church taught), in contrast with the Ecclesia docens (the teaching Church), which consists of the pope and the bishops. When there is question, therefore, of the official teaching of religious doctrine, the laity is neither competent nor authorized to speak in the name of God and the Church (cap. xii et sq., lib. V, tit. vii, "de haereticis"). Consequently they are not allowed to preach in church, or to undertake to defend the Catholic doctrine in public discussions with heretics. But in their private capacity, they may most lawfully defend and teach their religion by word and writing, while submitting themselves to the control and guidance of ecclesiastical authority. Moreover, they may be appointed to give doctrinal instruction more or less officially, or may even become the defenders of Catholic truth. Thus they give excellent help to the clergy in teaching catechism, the lay masters in our schools give religious instruction, and some laymen have received a missio canonica, or due ecclesiastical authorization, to teach the religious sciences in universities and seminaries; the important point in this, as in other matters, is for them to be submissive to the legitimate teaching authority.


I am unaware of any lay Catholic apologetics ministry that faithfully practices its craft according to these requirements.

25 comments:

James Swan said...

But in their private capacity, they may most lawfully defend and teach their religion by word and writing, while submitting themselves to the control and guidance of ecclesiastical authority.

So...how often does this happen? Are each of their blog entries approved by an ecclesiastical authority?

Probably not.

James Swan said...

Consequently they are not allowed to preach in church, or to undertake to defend the Catholic doctrine in public discussions with heretics.

heretics.

Here's a question for the experts out there:

I know many, if not most Romanist lay-apologists do not consider Protestants to be heretics.

Is their some sort defined list of heretics that can be produced, or is it up to each individual Romanist to decide? Is their an official list of heretics?

Andrew Preslar said...

Matthew,

Thanks again for taking up this point. It is refreshing to find Protestants who want to encourage Catholics to be faithful to the Magisterium.

I am not sure that the article you cite takes precedence over Apostolicam Actuositatem, which explicitly recommended an expanded role for the laity, including the task of defending the faith in the modern world. In addition to the material I cited earlier, John B. helpfully supplied the following, from the same document:

[BOQ] Indeed, the lay apostolate admits of different types of relationships with the hierarchy in accordance with the various forms and objects of this apostolate. For in the Church there are many apostolic undertakings which are established by the free choice of the laity and regulated by their prudent judgment. The mission of the Church can be better accomplished in certain circumstances by undertakings of this kind, and therefore they are frequently praised or recommended by the hierarchy. No project, however, may claim the name "Catholic" unless it has obtained the consent of the lawful Church authority. [EOQ]

From this, it is clear that the Council Fathers approved of private (i.e., not officially "Catholic") undertakings instigated by the free choice and regulated by the prudent judgment of the Catholic laity. This description precisely fits several unofficial apologetic ministries.

The hierarchy can give its stamp of approval to a lay apostolate, but nothing in AA, that I can recall, indicates that a lay apostolate becomes permissible only with such a mandate. It is of course important to notice the difference between official and unofficial ministries, and it is just as important that the latter not represent themselves as the former.

For me, the most immediately relevant thing to consider, by way of applying the instructions in AA, are unofficial, Internet-based apologetics ministries. So far as I can tell, the thing to do is to discover what the pope and the bishops have said (if anything) about the medium of the Internet as a means for lay Catholics to share the faith.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Andrew Preslar said:

I am not sure that the article you cite takes precedence over Apostolicam Actuositatem, which explicitly recommended an expanded role for the laity, including the task of defending the faith in the modern world. In addition to the material I cited earlier, John B. helpfully supplied the following, from the same document:

Andrew,

There are two issues on the table. The first is whether such online apologetics blogs and ministries are valid or appropriate under Catholic standards of faith and practice as expressed by the Magisterium. The second is why, even if they are valid, Protestants should concern themselves with their unauthoritative and private ruminations on these matters. (I say this merely to clearly and obviously delineate the matter for anyone who might be following along; i.e., I do not indeed it as an affront to your ability to follow the conversation.)

Regarding the first, perhaps it is sufficient to ask how you can say, on the one hand, that various apologetic blogs and websites are valid lay ministries under the terms set by the Magisterium and imply, on the other hand, that there might not be anything (yet) said on Internet lay-apologetics by the Magisterium. If the Magisterium has not commented on the explicit use of this new medium, what is to say that such ministries are valid? Is this merely a private, unauthoritative inference from official, Magisterial documents?

To the second, and related to the first, I wonder why, to put a deliberately sharp edge on the point, anyone should care what lay Catholics have to say in their unofficial capacity in defense of the Church of Rome. This life is terribly short, and there is a sense of urgency as to how we spend the limited hours we have left on this planet. With familial, vocational and religious obligations, what practical purpose is there in spending time mulling over any defense of the faith that, since it is unsanctioned, has little to no guarantee of accurately reflecting Catholic belief and practice? You've said that we would be better off spending more time studying the Magisterium's documents, but the question is really why we should, on Catholic terms, spend any time at all on non-official defenses of the faith.

From this, it is clear that the Council Fathers approved of private (i.e., not officially "Catholic") undertakings instigated by the free choice and regulated by the prudent judgment of the Catholic laity. This description precisely fits several unofficial apologetic ministries.

You use the term precisely, but it is not obvious how the document provides any sort of precise parameters that would necessarily include a group of lay Catholics creating a website and defending Catholic doctrine from it.

For me, the most immediately relevant thing to consider, by way of applying the instructions in AA, are unofficial, Internet-based apologetics ministries. So far as I can tell, the thing to do is to discover what the pope and the bishops have said (if anything) about the medium of the Internet as a means for lay Catholics to share the faith.

I do not know about the Internet specifically, but some documents identify concepts such as "mass media" or "modern communications media" (e.g. Donum Veritatis). Presumably such terms include the Internet if it existed at the time of composition.

TheDen said...

Matthew,

You're quoting something from 1917. While still valid, it's been defined further.

First off, in "public discussions", the Church is referring to matters publicly sanctioned by the Church. Of which, the internet is not a part of.

Blogs and the internet are covered (indirectly) in Lumen Gentium, from Vatican II. If you want to understand the laity's role in the Church, that's the document to address.

It talks specifically in paragraph 33 that the laity has "the noble duty to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch in every land."

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

Also, we are not technically "teaching." We are "witnessing." We are sharing our experiences and that which has been given to us by the Magisterium. The teaching comes from the Apostles and is protected by the Magisterium.

Andrew Preslar said...

Hey Matthew,

I found this from the Vatican:

The Church and Internet

Of particular interest are the following bits:

[BOQ]The proliferation of web sites calling themselves Catholic creates a problem of a different sort. As we have said, church-related groups should be creatively present on the Internet; and well-motivated, well-informed individuals and unofficial groups acting on their own initiative are entitled to be there as well. But it is confusing, to say the least, not to distinguish eccentric doctrinal interpretations, idiosyncratic devotional practices, and ideological advocacy bearing a ‘Catholic' label from the authentic positions of the Church. We suggest an approach to this issue below.[EOQ]

Here is the proposed approach to this issue:

[BOQ]A special aspect of the Internet, as we have seen, concerns the sometimes confusing proliferation of unofficial web sites labeled ‘Catholic'. A system of voluntary certification at the local and national levels under the supervision of representatives of the Magisterium might be helpful in regard to material of a specifically doctrinal or catechetical nature. The idea is not to impose censorship but to offer Internet users a reliable guide to what expresses the authentic position of the Church.[EOQ]

Here, we have the Ponitifical Council for Social Communications affirming that "well-motivated, well-informed individuals and unofficial groups acting on their own initiative are entitled to be there [on the Internet, discussing Catholicism] as well."

This speaks to the permissibility of projects such as CTC. But it is well to heed the Council's cautions, which reflect your own to some degree. Some sort of official mandate is described as possibly helpful for sites that contain doctrinal material. No doubt. This brings us back to the question of why anyone should care what unofficial projects undertaken by lay Catholics should be heeded at all.

Some such projects should not be heeded. But this is not because they are run by lay persons, but because they are run by ill-informed and / or improperly motivated lay persons. But, as the citations above indicate, not all lay persons are like that.

There are any number of reasons, some of them perhaps good, for Protestants to read a website such as CTC, as some obviously do. But to speculate about what those might be could seem self-serving.

In general though, if a reasonably well-informed and well-intentioned person addresses himself to a matter of mutual concern, it is in my own interest to pay heed to such a person, if I can. Obviously, we have to prioritize. But in my experience, Internet conversations, even or especially those involving different points of view, are not a waste of time, even when the interlocutors are neither (ecclesiastically recognized) theologians nor bishops, provided that both parties are reasonably well-informed and well-intentioned.

I call to witness this conversation, by means of which I have been challenged to better understand (with the help of Google) the Church's present perspective on the Internet, and lay ministry in general.

By the way, you are right about my imprecise use of "precisely." The PCSC document provides the precision of reference necessarily lacking in AA (no websites in 1965).

All in all, if you have access to a bishop or priest, or an approved Catholic theologian, or an Internet theologian / apologist with an official mandate, then I would prioritize those conversations. For rest, I would judge according to whether or not they are reasonably and charitably engaging issues that I find particularly worth discussing.

TheDen said...

James,

"So...how often does this happen? Are each of their blog entries approved by an ecclesiastical authority?"

I think Catholic.com does this by having their web pages read by a bishop and getting "Nihil Obstat" and "Imprimatur." It does happen. If you don't see it then what you may see on a Catholic Apologetics blog may not conform to Church teaching.

James Swan said...

I think Catholic.com does this by having their web pages read by a bishop and getting "Nihil Obstat" and "Imprimatur."

That is consistent. Perhaps they could help some of the Roman blogs I read to actually submit to the authority they defend.

TheDen said...

James,

"Perhaps they could help some of the Roman blogs I read to actually submit to the authority they defend."

That's something I will agree with you on. At least reading the Catechism would be good.

Andrew Preslar said...

Hey Matthew,

I found this from the Vatican:

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/pccs/documents/rc_pc_pccs_doc_20020228_church-internet_en.html

Of particular interest are the following bits:

[BOQ]The proliferation of web sites calling themselves Catholic creates a problem of a different sort. As we have said, church-related groups should be creatively present on the Internet; and well-motivated, well-informed individuals and unofficial groups acting on their own initiative are entitled to be there as well. But it is confusing, to say the least, not to distinguish eccentric doctrinal interpretations, idiosyncratic devotional practices, and ideological advocacy bearing a ‘Catholic' label from the authentic positions of the Church. We suggest an approach to this issue below.[EOQ]

Here is the proposed approach to this issue:

[BOQ]A special aspect of the Internet, as we have seen, concerns the sometimes confusing proliferation of unofficial web sites labeled ‘Catholic'. A system of voluntary certification at the local and national levels under the supervision of representatives of the Magisterium might be helpful in regard to material of a specifically doctrinal or catechetical nature. The idea is not to impose censorship but to offer Internet users a reliable guide to what expresses the authentic position of the Church.[EOQ]

Here, we have the Ponitifical Council for Social Communications affirming that "well-motivated, well-informed individuals and unofficial groups acting on their own initiative are entitled to be there [on the Internet, discussing Catholicism] as well."

(Part One of another RLC; Part Two, below)

Andrew Preslar said...

But it is well to heed the Council's cautions, which reflect your own, though possibly not to the same degree. Some sort of official mandate is described as possibly helpful for sites that contain doctrinal material. No doubt. This brings us back to the question of why unofficial projects undertaken by lay Catholics should be heeded at all.

Some such projects should not be heeded. But this is not because they are run by lay persons, but because they are run by ill-informed and / or improperly motivated lay persons. But, as the citations above indicate, not all lay persons are like that.

There are any number of reasons, some of them perhaps good, for Protestants to read a website such as CTC. Obviously, some Protestants do read the site, and engage in the conversation, presumably because they want to, and for reasons that they take to be good.

In general, if a reasonably well-informed and well-intentioned person addresses himself to a matter of mutual concern, it is in my own interest to pay heed to such a person, if I can. Obviously, we have to prioritize. But in my experience, Internet conversations, even or especially those involving different points of view, are not a waste of time, even when the interlocutors are neither (ecclesiastically recognized) theologians nor bishops, provided that both parties are reasonably well-informed and well-intentioned.

I call to witness this conversation, by means of which I have been challenged to better understand (with the help of Google) the Church's present perspective on the Internet, and lay ministry in general.

By the way, you are right about my imprecise use of "precisely." The PCSC document provides the precision of reference necessarily lacking in AA (no websites in 1965).

All in all, if you have access to a bishop or priest, or an approved Catholic theologian, or an Internet theologian / apologist with an official mandate, then I would prioritize those conversations. For rest, I would judge according to whether or not they are reasonably and charitably engaging issues that I find particularly worth discussing.

Andrew Preslar said...

Hey Matthew,

I found this from the Vatican:

The Church and Internet

(I keep having problems posting this comment, maybe because of the link. So you will just have to look up the document, which is available online.)

Of particular interest are the following bits:

[BOQ]The proliferation of web sites calling themselves Catholic creates a problem of a different sort. As we have said, church-related groups should be creatively present on the Internet; and well-motivated, well-informed individuals and unofficial groups acting on their own initiative are entitled to be there as well. But it is confusing, to say the least, not to distinguish eccentric doctrinal interpretations, idiosyncratic devotional practices, and ideological advocacy bearing a ‘Catholic' label from the authentic positions of the Church. We suggest an approach to this issue below.[EOQ]

Here is the proposed approach to this issue:

[BOQ]A special aspect of the Internet, as we have seen, concerns the sometimes confusing proliferation of unofficial web sites labeled ‘Catholic'. A system of voluntary certification at the local and national levels under the supervision of representatives of the Magisterium might be helpful in regard to material of a specifically doctrinal or catechetical nature. The idea is not to impose censorship but to offer Internet users a reliable guide to what expresses the authentic position of the Church.[EOQ]

Here, we have the Ponitifical Council for Social Communications affirming that "well-motivated, well-informed individuals and unofficial groups acting on their own initiative are entitled to be there [on the Internet, discussing Catholicism] as well."

(Part One of another RLC; it looks like Part Two was posted above)

TheDen said...

It's almost as if the Pope reads your blog:

http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=35278

Apparently, he's calling for priests to start blogging. So it won't just be the laity's job.

steve said...

TheDen said...

"You're quoting something from 1917. While still valid, it's been defined further."

Why does The One True Church® have to keep revising and updating its policies? Why is Mother Church so short-sighted? Isn't this exactly what we'd expect from an organization that lacks divine guidance? That can only formulate policies in reaction to unforeseen developments, by trial-and-error?

The One True Church® resembles a weather forecaster who has a flawless record at retrodicting yesterday's weather, but is very hit-and-miss when it comes to predicting tomorrow's weather.

Andrew Preslar said...

Hey guys,

Sorry about the duplicate comments. Matthew kindly contacted me to say that the one beginning "I found this from the Vatican..." was caught in the spam filter, but that they were trying to restore it. By that time, as you can all tell, I had tried various ways of posting the comment myself--thus the mess. Sorry again, and thanks to Beggar's All for bearing with.

Reformed Veritas said...

Uh, maybe I'm a dummy, but I think the post by Ken regarding Islam and taqiyyah is to the point.
IOW the Protestant reformers considered Muhammed and the pope to be the respective eastern and western horns of the AntiChrist visited upon a disobedient Christendom.
Works for me.
Bob S.

John Bugay said...

Hi Bob S., always good to see you :-)

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Andrew,

Thanks for drawing attention to the article from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. I think it demonstrates the possibility of valid lay ministries on the Internet. The difficult evaluation, it seems, is what constitutes "well-motivated" and "well-informed."

As for my part, I will be waiting for the arrival of the (proposed, yet potential) voluntary certification system.

I appreciate your time and responses here.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"The Duties of the Lay Catholic on Matters of Doctrine"

Here's an interesting article that discusses the relative importance of Catholic Culture vis-a-vis Catholic Apologetics:

The Apologetic Substitute.

TheDen said...

Steve,

"Why does The One True Church® have to keep revising and updating its policies? Why is Mother Church so short-sighted? Isn't this exactly what we'd expect from an organization that lacks divine guidance? "

The Church has not changed. The world has. The Church is recognizing that the world is becoming smaller and that the role of the laity is increasingly more important to change the world.

The message is still the same. I cannot go on CNN tomorrow and speak for the Church just as you cannot go on there and speak for whichever denomination you are in a public function.

The Church since Vatican II has recognized that the role of the laity is increasingly more important. CCC 900 tells us that we have the "right and duty...to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth."

Saying that, a Catholic must be properly catechized if they're going to spread the divine message.

steve said...

TheDen said...

"The Church has not changed. The world has."

That's demonstrably false. However, even if we grant that for the sake of argument, why is your divinely guided church behind the curve so often? Shouldn't we expect a divinely guided church to anticipate developments rather than having to play catch-up so often?

TheDen said...

Steve,

"why is your divinely guided church behind the curve so often? Shouldn't we expect a divinely guided church to anticipate developments rather than having to play catch-up so often? "

That's a good question. Is there a benefit for the Church to move more quickly? Are they really behind the curve? I agree that they could have moved more quickly in the scandal. But in regards to reviewing teaching, is there a benefit?

De Maria said...

Ken, you said:
>I am unaware of any lay Catholic apologetics ministry that faithfully practices its craft according to these requirements.<

I wonder, who appointed you judge? For that matter, are you privy to the details of every Catholic apologetics ministry's dealings with their diocese?

Turretinfan said...

I wonder why you're so defensive about this, De Maria?

Matthew D. Schultz said...

De Maria said:

I wonder, who appointed you judge?

No one. I appealed to the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Are you the same De Maria who posts at CARM? If so, that would explain the quality of your response here.

For that matter, are you privy to the details of every Catholic apologetics ministry's dealings with their diocese?

I don't need to know the details of "every" relationship between lay ministry and diocese. I wouldn't even need to know the details of every "lay" ministry, which is what I was discussing in this post (not "every" Catholic apologetics outlet).

But perhaps you can help my knowledge deficit: does your diocese read and approve of your apologetic practice?