Some Principles

St. Augustine in his study - Botticelli
These are my own ideas, not necessarily true, but I think them so. I offer them only because in these terribly confusing times they may help a soul to make sense of our predicament. They are none of them very original, but have been gathered here and there from those wiser than myself, and more learned. I call them mine because I alone take responsibility for them.

1. Catholic Doctrine can be held in a simple manner, or with greater knowledge. For example, one may be satisfied with knowing that there are three persons in one God, and seek not to understand more about this dogma. Such faith is perfect, if the submission of intellect, moved by the will, on the authority of God as revealer, is perfect. Or, one may seek to understand this mystery more deeply, either for reasons of piety or so as to aid others to appreciate that the dogma is not at all opposed to reason. In either case the virtue of faith of the subject may well be perfect, and both approaches are solid and piously Catholic. The first is not wrong, and those who criticise the simple faith of a simple and pious Catholic are wrong to do so. The second is not wrong either, and in fact it is a most praiseworthy thing to gain greater knowledge of the faith, and a deeper appreciation of Holy Church's dogmas. However, and this is critically important, one who seeks to inform others of matters of Sacred Doctrine must take all care that he truly knows the Church's mind on the matters he is pretending to teach. If somebody is not morally certain he has an adequate grasp of a subject, he should remain silent rather than risk misleading others.

2. "In things necessary, unity, in things doubtful, liberty, in all things, charity" - St. Augustine. This quotation is often misrepresented. There are no "necessary" doctrines, as opposed to "unnecessary" doctrines. There are only doctrines which are certain, from either the solemn magisterium, or from the ordinary, universal magisterium; and doctrines which are not certain from either of these sources. There are also practical conclusions, which result from the application of principles in themselves certain, to facts. These conclusions are also in many cases uncertain. It is to these distinctions St. Augustine refers. Charity is the love of God, and the love of our neighbour for the sake of God. Hence this is not, as many hold, some sort of exhortation to ignore fundamental differences for the sake of peace. For example, this is what St. Francis de Sales taught: "We must, roughly and frankly, say evil of evil, and blame things that are blameable. No doubt, we must take care, while condemning vice, to spare as much as we can the person in whom it is found. I make exception especially of the declared enemies of God and of His Church, for, as to them, we must discredit them as much as ever we can. It is only charity to call out "Wolf!" when the wolf is among the sheep."

3. There are a great many things not certain at present; things which are important for Catholics to know, and which have practical implications. For example, there is the question of whether Karol Wojtyla is pope. While I hold that it is possible to be morally certain that he is not, I also recognise that this conclusion requires two things which are "preambles" so to speak, and which many find very difficult, through no apparent fault of their own. The first is that much very bad theology (not heresy, as such, but error) has been taught for a long time, even by so-called "traditionalists", and this error needs to be uprooted from people's minds. The second is that the true nature of Holy Church as a perfect, visible society with an unbreakable unity founded on both faith and government needs to be understood by the faithful. Once these two things are achieved, then it is easily seen that Wojtyla is an impostor. But those who do not yet see it are not, for that reason, non-Catholics. If they adhere to his errors, then that is a different matter. Another example is the question of the validity of the Thuc line of Orders. While it is simple Catholic theology that the validity of a sacrament is presumed until the sacrament is proven invalid, there has been so much misinformation spread about that many laymen are in no position to achieve certainty regarding this matter. But instead of recognising this fact, many presume to "excommunicate" others with whom they differ. This is simply wrong, and contrary to St. Augustine's immortal saw, given above. A third example is the issue of the liceity (lawfulness) of various sacred functions being performed without the approval required by canon law (such as setting up chapels, ordaining priests, etc.). These actions are perfectly legitimate in fact, and the justification is the proper application of the principle of "Epikeia". But if some do not agree, or do not understand, then that is no reason for charity to be sacrificed. Certainty can definitely be questioned in these matters, so liberty ought to be granted. In other words, differences of opinion in things such as these cannot be legitimate bases for mutual "excommunication."

4. Laymen don't need to belong to groups. While there is a legitimate place for priestly fraternities, or other similar organisations for the clergy, there is absolutely no excuse in my mind for laymen to become members or "supporters" of such groups. We are Catholics, nothing more, and nothing less. The proof for this is to imagine we are living in the time before this crisis, and ask ourselves, "What group would I join?" The answer is that we might join an approved confraternity or even become tertiaries of a religious order. But would we "join" a priestly fraternity or other group? Furthermore, none of the traditional "groups" currently in existence has formal approval from Holy Church. The approval they have is an implicit approval, by application of Epikeia. Such an application requires great prudence in its use, and this implies in turn a "minimalist" approach. In other words, it seems to me to be going further than is necessary (and without necessity Epikeia cannot be applied) to formally join or "support" these irregular religious societies. This does not mean we ought not support these organisations financially and morally, but it means we should avoid as far as possible identifying ourselves with any such group. Let us be seen as Catholics, and more importantly, let us see ourselves as Catholics, first, last, and always.