Saturday, 8 June 2013

On the Use of Labels

There are some Catholics who object to the practice of "labeling" some Catholics as traditionalists and others as progressivists, and so forth. They say that the only label that should be used is the Catholic label, and that to make distinctions among Catholics can only cause confusion. Now, I am willing to grant that there is a legitimate principle behind this argument: Catholics ought indeed to be united. We shouldn't have to distinguish between traditionalists and non-traditionalists. However, I also maintain that even though we shouldn't have to make such a distinction, the fact is that we do have to do so. This is because there really is division with the Church, and it is folly to pretend that there isn't.

The true cause of this division within the Church has been, not the use of labels, but the invention of novel teachings and new theologies, the infiltration of liberal philosophies into the thinking of modern Catholics. There is a division within the Church, and it is only logical to attribute names to it; hence the use of labels. Whereas the confusion is only worsened when these novelties are placed along side traditional theology and dubbed "Catholic" alongside of  it. One cannot in honesty claim that to attribute the same name to two different things is to help eliminate confusion; no, confusion can only be eliminated when two things are considered for what they really are in themselves. Unity cannot be restored unless it be first acknowledged that there is a division. That is why we label some Catholics as traditionalists and others as progressivist or modernist. It is not to cause division and confusion, but to acknowledge that there already is division and confusion, and in so doing, to begin the process of eliminating it.

The question now is this: is it possible for the label "Catholic" to be modified by an additional label without  it becoming something other than Catholic? I think some distinctions are in order, before answering this objection. First, we must distinguish between a label as being applied to persons and as being applied to the beliefs held by that person. Take the label "Catholic," for example. A person may be a Catholic, and yet at the same time his beliefs, in theology or philosophy, may in fact be very un-Catholic. To be a Catholic person, i.e. a member of the Church, it is not necessary that one internally believe everything the Catholic Church teaches; it is only necessary that one outwardly profess to believe what the Church teaches, that one is not manifestly a heretic (what makes on a manifest heretic is a big question, for later). It is possible, and probably quite common (especially today), that such a person may not actually believe what the Church teaches.

With this distinction in mind, when we speak of the divisions among Catholic thinkers, I think we can legitimately use the label Catholic when referring to the persons themselves, insofar as they are members of the Church. However, I do not think we can always speak of their thought, their beliefs - in theology and philosophy and the like - as being truly Catholic; indeed, quite often it is quite alien to Catholic teaching. Thus, when speaking of their beliefs, we make use of labels like "progressivist" or "modernist" or "neo-modernist", when referring to anti-Catholic thought. We also use the label "traditionalist" when referring to truly Catholic thought.

So to reiterate: when we say that a certain person is a traditional Catholic, we use the label "traditional" to refer to his beliefs, whereas the term "Catholic" is here meant to refer to his status as a person who is a member of the Church. The same can be said when we speak of a progressivist Catholic, or the like.

(I should note here that I am using "thought" and "belief" as encompassing a wide variety of factors. For example, there are one's theological beliefs, and the philosophical beliefs connected thereto; but there are also the customs and disciplines which one practices - these are usually the result of a certain system of thought, a certain theology. So in the current debate, it is not only a matter of the theology itself, but also of liturgy and customs and other small-"t" traditions connected to it. Thus, a traditional Catholic not only adheres to traditional theology but to the traditional mass and liturgies, disciplines, customs, spirituality, etc.)

Another question now: is it ever possible to modify the label "Catholic" when it is applied, not to persons, but to thought and belief? In other words, is it possible to have legitimate distinctions within Catholic thought? Here I would have to say that there is indeed a sense in which this is possible. But this is only when the thought and the belief is not strictly of the faith. It would have to be a matter on which there can be disagreement, as long as one's theology always preserves that which is of faith, never abandoning it. But as soon as one's beliefs to a denial of that which is of faith, it can no longer be Catholic. So it is possible that there be a certain division between theologies, so long as these theologies leave completely unaltered the divine truths of faith which are taught by the Church. And indeed, the history of Catholic theology does indeed contain such division, even among the theologies of the scholastics themselves. But despite their disagreement, these different schools of thought nonetheless remained firm in their adherence to the truths of faith, pure and unaltered.

But I do not believe the same can be said of modernist theology, for I think that it is really and truly an attack on the faith itself. Pope Pius X himself said as much. Hence, modernist theology cannot truly be said to be Catholic theology. Whereas traditional theology seeks to adhere strictly to the truths of faith, and is therefore truly Catholic. The use of labels has the function of helping to make this clear. And by making this clear, it also helps make clear the necessity of restoring unity, and how to do it: unity among Catholics can only be restored by embracing the tradition.

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