The Personalist Project

I'm noticing a basic misunderstanding about "hermeneutics of continuity" out there among conservative Catholics. Many apparently take the expression to mean that we are supposed to examine everything the Pope teaches and reject aspects of it that differ from what other popes have taught.

So, for example, when Pope John Paul writes in Mulieris Dignitatem that "subjection" in marriage is to be understood as "not one-sided but mutual" (MD 24), we can reject it as inconsistent with what Pius XI wrote in Casti Connubii about the primacy of the husband (CC 26).

But this a mistake, and one that inevitably leads otherwise good Catholics to adopt a bad disposition toward the Pope—one where they set themselves up as judges over him and his teaching ministry. 

What "hermeneutics of continuity" really means for faithful Catholics (as I understand it) is at least twofold:

1) That we are to receive papal teaching with a presumption of continuity, i.e., a basic disposition of trust in the charism of his office.

2) That where different interpretations of his teaching are possible, we are to choose the one that best accords with what has always been taught. So, for example, if a given passage in Amoris Laetitia can be read in two ways, one that is essentially continuous with the Tradition and another that breaks with it, we are responsible to assume that the former is the true interpretation. Even more, if a given teachings seems to us to break with Tradition, we are to look for an interpretation that accords with it.

We are also to keep in mind that the mysteries of our Faith are inexhaustible and beyond human comprehension. The Pope's office is guided and protected by the Holy Spirit because it is too much for merely human powers, no matter how theologically sophisticated and erudite. Further, while the fundamental teachings on faith and morals do not change, the Church's understanding of their practical exigencies in each day and age does develop and change. And sometimes continuity on the deepest, most essential level involves discontinuities on a more superficial level. (A little boy's growing into a man involves a change from smooth cheeks to bearded cheeks without any rupture in his basic identity as an individual. If hormones are introduced to try to change the boy into a girl and keep the cheeks smooth, we have a rupture.)

So, the faithful Catholic mind is stimulated, not perturbed by apparent inconsistencies in papal teaching. They cause her to search eagerly—in an attitude of faith and and hope and love—for the deep continuity, which, as Pope Francis likes to point out, not infrequently comes as a surprise.

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Comments (8)

Sam Roeble

#1, Dec 16, 2016 1:02pm

I would argue that this is more of a question of Development than the given hermeneutics of continuity.  St. John Newman is a key resource for things like the apparent contrast between JPII and Pius XI or Leo XIII's view of marriage: clearly there is a development at work.  Development, of course, is in opposition to Error.  So, I'm arguing that the framework for the confusion is more-so between Error vs. Development than Rupture vs Continuity... 

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Dec 16, 2016 1:08pm

My point is about hermeneutics of continuity. When the Pope teaches, Catholics are responsible to interpret his teaching according to that hermeneutic.

Do you mean to disagree with that point? And if so, could you spell your argument out a little more?

Sam Roeble

#3, Dec 16, 2016 2:03pm

Hi Katie,   

I think to suggest Rupture in this case is an overstatement.  After all, Benedict XVI was applying that formula of Continuity vs. Rupture to VCII and not to an individual document.  Same with those crying "schism" as a kind of dramatic effect, it's nonsense.  Rather, the very detailed and minute question is whether Chapter 8 (footnote) of AL is a Development or an Error.  Can footnotes be Magisterial? 

Canon Lawyer Ed Peters says better than I could here.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Dec 16, 2016 2:09pm

Sam, I don't know who you're disputing with, if you are disputing. In this post, I'm speaking about hermeneutics of continuity and what it means for us.

I brought it up because, as I said, I've notice a lot of Catholics misunderstanding what the term means.

If you want to take issue with what I wrote, go right ahead. But pease note that I have never said nor remotely suggested that anything in AL represents a rupture with the Tradition.

Sam Roeble

#5, Dec 16, 2016 2:38pm

Sorry, I misunderstood and was overwhelmed by your verbiage.  Here's the heart of the matter from your post:

So, for example, if a given passage in Amoris Laetitia can be read in two ways, one that is essentially continuous with the Tradition and another that breaks with it, we are responsible to assume that the former is the true interpretation. Even more, if a given teachings seems to us to break with Tradition, we are to look for an interpretation that accords with it.

I would use Newman's verbiage of looking for Development rather than BXVI's "hermeneutics of continuity".  Potato, Pot-aw-toe I suppose.

THanks,

Sam Roeble

#6, Dec 16, 2016 3:24pm

Last note: I think "hermeneutics of suspicion" is more fitting to shy away from.  No one needs to be suspicious because the Holy Spirit deserves our trust and understanding.  In other words, I think suspicions of "rupture" and "error" fall under what JPII warned against in "hermeneutics of suspicion"

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Dec 16, 2016 7:34pm

 

Sam Roeble wrote:

I would use Newman's verbiage of looking for Development rather than BXVI's "hermeneutics of continuity".  Potato, Pot-aw-toe I suppose.

 Well, I can't agree there. If I'm trying to clarify the meaning of "hermeneutics of continuity", I need to use that term, not another.

Nor are they the same thing by different names. "Development of doctrine," in Newman's sense, refers to the teachings themselves—the way they grow and change over time, even while staying essentially the same.

"Hermeneutics" refers to our interpretation of the teachings.

WE (the faithful) don't develop papal teaching, but we do receive and interpret it.

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Dec 17, 2016 12:54pm

About hermeneutics of suspicion, I agree (if I understand you rightly) that there are a lot people applying to the Pope, which is sad. What's worse is that they are spreading it among the faithful.

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