It’s old news to be Modern

by nonewsisnew

There is so much material to work with in the above article that I will limit my comments to the following paragraph:

The idea of the Church as a body with essentially unchanging dogmas, promoted both by Catholic traditionalists and some anti-Catholic bigots, has long been recognized as a fiction. While the Church considers abortion a mortal sin these days, termination of a pregnancy did not receive so much as a mention in the canon law until the late 18th century, around the start of the Industrial Revolution. At about the same time, the Church held for some years that the consumption of caffeine, considered to have demonic properties, was a sin.

The heresy here might be considered new by some, but with an age of over 100 years Modernism seems to me as already grey and grizzled.  At its core, Modernism is a rejection of knowledge.  This is because knowledge is localized into the consciousness of the people.  Universal truths are only so if they are universally accorded to be true.

One consequence of such belief is that as the body of people in the Church change their ideas, the dogmas of the Church also change.  Progress in the sciences means that the Church needs to update her ideas to get with the times.  For a modernist, this means radical changes can take place in Church teaching, as she switches from paradigm to paradigm through the centuries.

This differers from the flowering of belief that the Church holds to be true.  Catholics believe that our faith was given to us to be probed by reason and to have a continual deepening of knowledge.  New illuminations of the old truths let us see deeper into that same truth, they don’t displace the old truth.

The author uses two “proofs” of changing dogma that should be addressed.

The primary “proof” of changing morality is how the Church has dealt with abortion.  The claim is that until the end of the 18th century, abortion wasn’t a big deal.  One might question then why in 314 with the Council of Ancyra the 21st cannon reads, “Concerning women who … destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion … we have ordained that they fulfil ten years [of penance]”.  Or again in 692, at the council of Council in Trullo, the 91st cannon reads, “Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the foetus, are subjected to the penalty of murder.”  If abortion is the best proof of changing doctrines in the Church, then abortion is the best proof that no such change occurs.

Now in contrast to the idea of changing values around abortion is the idea of growth in values.  There was indeed a time that the Church thought that an abortion before quickening wasn’t an abortion.  Rather, this was considered contraception because the child wasn’t known to be alive yet.  As science has shown children before quickening are alive (through brain activity, heart beats, and so forth) the line between what is considered abortion and what is considered contraception has shifted all the way to the point of conception.  However, the point is moot morally, as both contraception and abortion are considered sins.  A practicing Catholic would neither contracept nor abort a pregnancy.  The old truth that one should neither contracept nor abort a pregnancy was illuminated by the light of science but not displaced by it.

Secondly, the issue of caffeine consumption was raised in our topic paragraph.  To begin, in the late 1500’s to early 1600’s when coffee came up from the Middle East no one knew what “caffeine” was.  Caffeine was first isolated in 1819 by Friedlieb Runge. Secondly, while some Catholics distrusted coffee because it was seen as the beverage of Muslims (and therefore some had local prohibitions against coffee, especially where the fear of Muslim conquerors was the strongest), the line from the first Pope to be introduced to coffee (Pope Clement VIII) was that coffee was “so delicious that it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it.”  There was never a council or papal declaration that coffee is immoral, and the Pope even seems to be actively supportive of coffee.  If this is one of the best examples to prove the Church revises her morals with the times, then it is quite safe to say the Church does not revise her morals with the times.  The Church is not Modernist.