I had a letter in the Irish Times today, defending the timelessness of the Church's teaching, as well as my blogger buddy Fr. Levi.
This is the letter to which I was replying:
Sir, – Revd Fr Patrick Burke (November 8th) displays a breathtaking ignorance of the history and evolution of the doctrines to the Roman Catholic Church. On almost all major issues the position adopted by the Roman Church has been transformed, if not reversed, over the centuries.
In such major issues as the calculation of the date of Easter, the celibacy of priests, the role of Mary, the status of the unborn (which once allowed for abortion) and the unbaptised child, the status of papal pronouncements, and many more, official doctrine has changed radically, often more than once. In many cases, those who chose to maintain their belief in the earlier doctrine were poorly treated, if not excluded from the church community.
As the Roman Catholic Church has changed its opinion on so many fundamental doctrines, I see no reason why there should not be an acceptance of a revised doctrine on marriage, to include same-sex couples. Hopefully, this can be achieved without excommunicating those who hold to the present version of approved beliefs. – Yours, etc,
(Someone, with the title of "Reverend", also wrote from Finland to complain that Fr. Levi was explaning the "Catholic" view of homosexual relationship when he himself is a minister of the Church of Ireland. Of course, members of the Anglican Communion would consider themselves a part of the historical Catholic Church. But I wish all Roman Catholic priests were as steadfast in orthodox Christian teaching as this particular Church of Ireland priest.)
This was my letter:
Sir, – It is Gordon Davies (November 9th), and not Rev Fr Patrick Burke (November 8th), who is breathtakingly wrong about the evolution of Catholic doctrine. His list of supposed changes in Catholic teaching is merely a misrepresentation of the fact that the church – far from being the authoritarian institution it is made out to be – often takes a very long time to make a definitive decision on a matter of controversy, during which time differing views are permitted.
He should know the celibacy requirement for priests is a matter of discipline rather than doctrine. The Vatican could choose to remove this requirement, though I think it would be a mistake to do so. The teaching of the church never allowed for abortion – he is thinking of the controversy around ensoulment, which St Thomas Aquinas believed occurred after conception. (Even the Angelic Doctor was sometimes wrong). This did not affect the fact the church always regarded abortion to be a grave moral evil. The role of Mary as the Mother of God was a matter of lively controversy in the early centuries of the church; the doctrine was only proclaimed definitively at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Other Marian doctrine such as the Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into Heaven were declared later. Although the idea that unbaptised infants could not be saved (that is, could not attain the beatific vision) was commonly held until recently, it was never a declared doctrine. The controversy over Easter is complicated and often obscure, but here again church practice evolved rather than zig-zagged.
Quite simply, when the teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church solemnly declares a belief to be required as a matter of orthodoxy, she never revokes this, no matter how much pressure is put upon her to do so. This, I would argue, is one of the many signs that the church is divine in origin. – Yours, etc,
Clondalkin, Dublin 22.
I was quite pleased that this letter appeared. I've had a few letters in various newspapers, defending Christian and Catholic doctrine, but very often it seems like a tit-for-tat argument where everybody knows what you are going to say before you say it, and there is no hope of anyone changing their mind even one half-inch. But I got an opportunity to say something substantive in this letter and it could be that it will help erode some misconceptions, or stop some misconceptions from being formed.