20 June 2012

“On consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine”

Blessed John Henry Newman
With gratitude I borrow the following from the blog of Michael La Rue, K.M.:

I am thus reposting a quote from Newman from "On Consulting the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine". If on matters of doctrine, then certainly on their liturgy or the organization of their ordinariate.
It seems, then, as striking an instance as I could take… that the voice of tradition may in certain cases express itself, not by Councils, nor Fathers, nor Bishops, but the "communis fidelium sensus."

I shall set down some authorities for the two points successively, which I have to enforce, viz. that the Nicene dogma was maintained during the greater part of the 4th century,
    1. not by the unswerving firmness of the Holy See, Councils, or Bishops, but
    2. by the "consensus fidelium."

I. On the one hand, then, I say, that there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the "Ecclesia docens." The body of Bishops failed in their confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicaea, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years. There were untrustworthy Councils, unfaithful Bishops; there was weakness, fear of consequences, misguidance, delusion, hallucination, endless, hopeless, extending itself into nearly every corner of the Catholic Church. The comparatively few who remained faithful were discredited and driven into exile; the rest were either deceivers or were deceived.

…each constituent portion of the Church has its proper functions, and no portion can safely be neglected. Though the laity be but the reflection or echo of the clergy in matters of faith, yet there is something in the "pastorum et fidelium conspiratio," which is not in the pastors alone. The history of the definition of the Immaculate Conception shows us this; and it will be one among the blessings which the Holy Mother, who is the subject of it, will gain for us, in repayment of the definition, that by that very definition we are all reminded of the part which the laity have had in the preliminaries of its promulgation. Pope Pius has given us a pattern, in his manner of defining, of the duty of considering the sentiments of the laity upon a point of tradition, in spite of whatever fullness of evidence the Bishops had already thrown upon it.

In most cases when a definition is contemplated, the laity will have a testimony to give; but if ever there be an instance when they ought to be consulted, it is in the case of doctrines which bear directly upon devotional sentiments. Such is the Immaculate Conception, of which the Rambler was speaking in the sentence which has occasioned these remarks. The faithful people have ever a special function in regard to those doctrinal truths which relate to the Objects of worship. Hence it is, that, while the Councils of the fourth century were traitors to our Lord's divinity, the laity vehemently protested against its impugners. Hence it is, that, in a later age, when the learned Benedictines of Germany and France were perplexed in their enunciation of the doctrine of the Real Presence, Paschasius was supported by the faithful in his maintenance of it. The saints, again, are the object of a religious cultus; and therefore it was the faithful, again, who urged on the Holy See, in the time of John XXII., to declare their beatitude in heaven, though so many Fathers spoke variously. And the Blessed Virgin is pre-eminently an object of devotion; and therefore it is, I repeat, that though Bishops had already spoken in favour of her absolute sinlessness, the Pope was not content without knowing the feelings of the faithful.

Father Dalgairns gives us another case in point; and with his words I conclude: "While devotion in the shape of a dogma issues from the high places of the Church, in the shape of devotion ... it starts from below.... Place yourselves, in imagination, in a vast city of the East in the fifth century. Ephesus, the capital of Asia Minor, is all in commotion; for a council is to be held there, and Bishops are flocking in from all parts of the world. There is anxiety painted on every face; so that you may easily see that the question is one of general interest.... Ask the very children in the streets what is the matter; they will tell you that wicked men are coming to make out that their own mother is not the Mother of God.

And so, during a livelong day of June, they crowd around the gates of the old cathedral-church of St. Mary, and watch with anxious faces each Bishop as he goes in. Well might they be anxious; for it is well known that Nestorius has won the court over to his side. It was only the other day that he entered the town, with banners displayed and trumpets sounding, surrounded by the glittering files of the emperor's body-guard, with Count Candidianus, their general and his own partisan, at their head. Besides which, it is known for certain, that at least eighty-four Bishops are ready to vote with him; and who knows how many more? He is himself the patriarch of Constantinople, the rival of Rome, the imperial city of the East; and then John of Antioch is hourly expected with his quota of votes; and he, the patriarch of the see next in influence to that of Nestorius, is, if not a heretic, at least of that wretched party which, in ecclesiastical disputes, ever hovers between the two camps of the devil and of God.

The day wears on, and still nothing issues from the church; it proves, at least, that there is a difference of opinion; and as the shades of evening close around them, the weary watchers grow more anxious still. At length the great gates of the Basilica are thrown open; and oh, what a cry of joy bursts from the assembled crowd, as it is announced to them that Mary has been proclaimed to be, what every one with a Catholic heart knew that she was before, the Mother of God! ... Men, women, and children, the noble and the low-born, the stately matron and the modest maiden, all crowd round the Bishops with acclamations. They will not leave them; they accompany them to their homes with a long procession of lighted torches; they burn incense before them, after the eastern fashion, to do them honour. There was but little sleep in Ephesus that night; for very joy they remained awake; the whole town was one blaze of light, for each window was illuminated."'

My own drift is somewhat different from that which has dictated this glowing description; but the substance of the argument of each of us is one and the same. I think certainly that the Ecclesia docens is more happy when she has such enthusiastic partisans about her as are here represented, than when she cuts off the faithful from the study of her divine doctrines and the sympathy of her divine contemplations, and requires from them a fides implicita in her word, which in the educated classes will terminate in indifference, and in the poorer in superstition.