Peter Kwasniewski

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When a pope politicizes doctrine he betrays teaching of Christ and Church

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

August 17, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – David Warren has written an excellent piece at The Catholic Thing on “Deathgate,” as Fr John Hunwicke names the latest scandal emanating from the halls of the Vatican—namely, Pope Francis’s attempt to change the teaching of divine revelation and the ordinary universal magisterium of the Church on the moral legitimacy and therefore admissibility in principle of capital punishment, whatever the prudential limitations on its use might be in this or that contingent set of circumstances. Warren writes:

The damage that is done, and will be done, by this latest breach of “papal etiquette,” is broader and will be broader than first appears. Beyond the creation of a precedent for altering Church teaching by papal fiat, it confirms the politicization of our doctrine. Henceforth, and for the foreseeable future, the Holy See (even after Bergoglio’s demise) is re-oriented to social and political issues. … [T]he rewrite of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism brings into scandal all the previous social doctrine of the Church. … Now we accept the alteration of the teaching itself, because it is not in accord with “the times.”

What makes the teaching of Jesus Christ rise above all centuries and all cultures, Warren continues, is that we find in His words a timeless wisdom equally applicable to the ever-varying situations of temporal life. Christ did not come to earth to abolish the death penalty; he calmly stated Pilate’s sin in putting an innocent man to death with the genuine power he had been given “from above,” even as Christ willed that He should suffer His Passion between two malefactors who knew they had been put to death for good reason. Although St. Paul converted after recognizing his guilt in persecuting the Mystical Body of Christ, he never failed to teach reverence for civil authority, which does not hold the sword in vain, but uses it to punish evildoers. Fathers and Doctors, Popes and Councils form an unbroken consensus of two millennia in favor of the inherent legitimacy of capital punishment, even when individuals among them were strongly opposed to its use in practice.

Warren then says:

The wisdom of restricting ourselves to Christian inspiration—to what can be apprehended in Scripture and Tradition from our beginnings—was previously understood. Perhaps the greatest (and most monstrous) achievement of modernity was to unhinge this.

Modernity has put asunder what God has joined together: the sources of divine revelation and the actual exercise of Christian teaching in the form of catechesis, mystagogy, homiletics, theology, and liturgy. All forms of teaching should never depart from “what can be apprehended in Scripture and Tradition from our beginnings,” and the single greatest error, the characteristic error of modern times, is to allow ourselves to drift further and further from these givens, until we reach a point where, with towering hubris or daft naivete, we start teaching something different, at cross-purposes, and finally, contradictory. 

In this way a preacher, be he an ordinary priest, a bishop, or even the pope, becomes like a man sawing off the branch on which he is sitting. For a pope to politicize our doctrine, yoking it to modern secular Western liberalism, while deliberately surrounding it with clouds of confusion—“Is it a doctrinal change? Is it only a prudential judgment? Is it a new category? Catholic rabbis, get ready to write your endless commentaries!”—is to betray the luminously supernatural character of Christ’s teachings and the Catholic tradition that emerged organically from them.

David Warren is right: the pope’s re-writing of the Catechism has established a baleful precedent. But so too have Amoris Laetitia, and Evangelii Gaudium, and Vultum Dei, and many other acts of this pontificate. The pope continues to destabilize the doctrinal and sacramental integrity of the Roman Catholic Church. It is high time that the faithful stopped making excuses for him simply because he happens to be pope. It is precisely because he is pope that his heterodoxy is inexcusable. Now, more than ever, Christ’s faithful must know the Catholic religion well, relying on approved traditional sources which concur with one another over the span of many centuries; they must speak clearly and without compromise; and above all, they must pray for the pope and the entire hierarchy, that they may bring the unadulterated message of divine revelation to the modern world.

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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history, and directed the choir and schola. He is now a full-time author, speaker, editor, publisher, and composer.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published seven books, including Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014); Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017); A Reader in Catholic Social Teaching (Cluny, 2017); and Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has been published in Czech, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and will soon appear in Spanish and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over 750 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church. 

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, please visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.