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Definition of a theological liberal January 31, 2014

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, catachesis, Ecumenism, episcopate, error, foolishness, General Catholic, sadness, scandals, secularism, Society, the enemy, the return.

Boniface at Unam Sanctam Catholicam has, as usual, a very good post on the distinction between political liberals, in the modern American sense, and those theological liberals who were constantly excoriated by Rome in the period 1780-1950.  Boniface engages in this explanation to try to illustrate why many “conservative” Americans are actually liberals when it comes to Church theology.  That is, someone might be “conservative” for opposing abortion, but they are a liberal because they think the Bible is not inerrant, or that doctrine can be redefined/changed.

I am short on time, as I always am on Fridays, and Boniface’s post is long.  He includes a long list of definitions of errors theological liberals hold, much of which derives from the Syllabus. I won’t include that, but I will include Boniface’s description of theological liberalism and some of those modern errors which define it (for instance, Fr. Robert Barron is, contrary to most people’s understanding, a raging liberal):

Those moral issues certainly are part of liberalism, but anyone who has really studied the thought of the pre-Conciliar popes on this question knows that these moral issues are fundamentally not what the popes of the 19th century were worried about. Fr. Salvany, in his classic work Liberalism is a Sin, devotes an entire book to demolishing the errors of liberalism and never mentioned abortion or homosexuality. This is because for Salvany, as well as Bl. Pius IX and the other pre-Conciliar popes, liberalism is primarily a troubling theological trend within Catholicism, not a position on hot-button moral issues. It has to do with holding certain theological opinions, most of which are not relatable to any corresponding positions on the political spectrum, because they are problems internal to Catholic theological thought. This is why Fr. Salvany can write a whole book against liberalism and not mention these moral indicators; he simply does not see them as the essence of liberalism.

Once we understand this, we will begin to see why there is a divergence here; why where one sees a conservative prelate, another sees a liberal or modernist. If you are still thinking inside the liberal-conservative political paradigm, you may be surprised to see what the Church’s definition of a liberal-progressive actually is. It is certainly not the same thing as a political liberal in the American sense….

Here begins long list of condemnations of liberal thought.  Go over to Boniface’s site and check it out.  More:

As you can see, one need not profess same-sex marriage, abortion, favoring national health insurance or any of the current hot-button indicators of political liberalism have anything to do with theological liberalism. Forget whether a prelate is Pro-Life or not; does he believe separation of Church and State is ideal? If so, then he is a liberal.

Is he clamoring for decentralization of the Church, more power for the national bishops’ conferences, or an internationalization of the Roman Curia? Liberal.

Does he speak about Genesis in terms of “the Bible doesn’t teach scientific truth because it is not primarily a scientific book”? Liberal.

Does he believe in absolute freedom of speech and freedom of the press? Liberal.

Is he praising the religious experiences of non-Christian cultures, affirming that they have some sort of value in God’s eyes and suggesting that all people are somehow communing with God through their own religious traditions? Liberal.  [This one has had particular relevance since the terrible tri-fold scandal of Assisi beginning in 1986]

Does he state that the Church needs to figure out how to spread its message with new vocabulary to suit the temperament of modern man? Liberal[Or does he state that there are “new conditions” that require doctrine to change, or insist on “pastoral approaches” which would have the practical effect of nullifying doctrine?]

Does he believe in a loose alliance of all moral, religious people against secularism? Liberal.

Does he confuse natural with supernatural virtue, praising the natural virtues of pagans of anyone else as if these are supernaturally pleasing to God? Liberal.

Does he deny, on national television, that there were a historic Adam and Eve and then look like a fool when asked to explain original sin (which Pius XII specifically said would be problematic when the historical Adam and Eve are denied)? If so, then he is a liberal.

Once you understand what the profile of a theological liberal looks like, you begin to realize there are many more around than you first thought.

In fact, we are surrounded by them.  Thus, the distinction between “conservative” and “traditional.”



1. Branch - January 31, 2014

Does he speak about Genesis in terms of “the Bible doesn’t teach scientific truth because it is not primarily a scientific book”? Liberal.

Who could possibly hold that Genesis teaches scientific truth? If that is “liberal”, then all “liberalism” cannot be erroneous.

Baseballmom - January 31, 2014

Good point. That sounds more fundamentalist than Catholic.

LaGallina - February 1, 2014

Can you give an example of how Genesis does not teach scientific truth?

Branch - February 2, 2014

Exactly, it is “fundamentalism” is the bad sense of that term.

An example, LaGallina: to suggest, for instance, that the “Days” of creation are literally twenty-four hour periods and so present some sort of scientific or fundamentalist, encyclopedic (literalist) data about the “how” of God’s creative work is absurd since there cannot be twenty-four hour periods prior to the creation of the sun, moon and stars. The creation of the sun, for instance, on a given “day”, where a day is a twenty-four hour period, does not hold for to even have a twenty-four hour period at all we must have a sun to assist in marking out such a period to begin with – like we do now.

This does not mean that Genesis does not contain truth. It absolutely does. But it’s the kind of truth that it was meant to pass along that matters. It contains essentially religious truth, truth about God establishing His covenant with us. Particularly, the account of God’s creation help to form the context of the “why” behind God’s creative work rather than give some scientific explanation which would satisfy our relatively modern curiosity. God’s very creation has an order, and so the “days” of creation reveal part of His purpose, so beautifully ordered. The work of Day 2, for instance, of the sea and the land being separated is introduced in order to provide a context in which to understand the later distinction between the sea life, land animals, birds, etc., a distinction which itself would not be of any sense without the prior distinction from Day 2. It all points to the larger context of God’s purposes, and so addresses the “why” of God’s working.

tantamergo - February 3, 2014

There is a huge counteroffensive coming on a number of these items. Sungenis has a movie coming out about geocentrism.

If Genesis 1-3 can be dismissed as mere allegory, or a clumsy mythology, then much of the Faith falls away. I am not a geocentrist. I tend to accept Gen 1-3 without understanding how they could be literal, but assuming they are. I also accept John 6 and 18-21, without understanding how they could have happened. These things are deeply interrelated.

Your exposure to personalism seems to have you asking an awful lot of questions about things that cut at the very heart of what the Church is. I would be careful.

Have you read Newman’s treatise on the development of doctrine?

Branch - February 3, 2014

I am not aware that the Church holds a fundamentalist understanding of Genesis. Genesis is neither a mere allegory nor a clumsy mythology. That’s a false dilemma. If it is supposed to teach science or literalist history, then it has failed.

tantamergo - February 3, 2014

For over 1500 years, the Church held that it did teach real, literal history. It was never raised to the level of a Dogma, but it was a solid Doctrine. In fact, such was the dominant view until well until the 1800s.

I’m not sure what accepting that Gen 1-3 as real history costs us, even if we don’t understand it, even it if appears much weighs against it. Much greater minds than mine have gone around and around on this for decades. It all comes down to which “dogma” you choose to believe – scientific, or biblical.

Branch - February 4, 2014

I think you’re overstating your point from above: that Genesis as history or science – or not – cuts at the very heart of the Church. Not at all, not if doctrine can develop, which we both know it can. There is nothing in holding to Genesis as a literal, historical, scientific account of God’s creation that diminishes the solidity of the Faith as far as I can see.

Branch - February 4, 2014

Also, as I noted originally, it’s important to consider the intent of the author of the book in question. To look for scientific information in Genesis or a literally true historical account of past events (eating an apple lead to the Fall of Man) is to impose a standard on the writer or writers that I am all but certain was not their original intent.

It is similar to those who try to dismiss a certain Gospel because details in it do not jive exactly with another Gospel’s account. They argue that the Gospels, then, are false because Account X differs in some way from Account Y, as if the Gospel writers were interested in the journalistic standards we maintain today in our fact-checking world. They were simply not writing for that purpose and it has no effect on the truth of what they’ve written – according to their own purposes – to get caught up on the details of that kind.

Branch - February 3, 2014

Also, no I haven’t read that but I want to. I don’t want to detract from the Church at all. Also, I don’t think in particular has anything to do with personalism though I accept your point otherwise.

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