Saturday, June 8, 2013

When Theology Gets Out of Hand

The blog "Pistrina Liturgica" has not been on speaking terms with logic and reason for quite some time.
On April 22, 2013, I put up a post entitled "An Underhanded Accusation" in response to Pistrina Liturgica's (hereinafter "PL") contention that ordinations conferred with one hand are dubious. They name call Traditional clerics, in particular, Fr. Anthony Cekada and Bishop Daniel Dolan, the latter whom they refer to as "One Hand Dan" due to his alleged priestly ordination in which Archbishop Lefebvre used only one hand.

 I challenged them to refute point by point Fr. Cekada's article "The Validity of Ordination Conferred with One Hand" which can be found at They took me up on my challenge, putting out a series of posts intended to refute Fr. Cekada. They failed. I will examine each of their counter arguments and show why they have been "weighed and found wanting." Before reading the rest of this post, I suggest that my readers first read my post of April 22, referenced above, to get the background on this controversy.

  1. The Use Of One Hand is Still Unproven
 In my April 22 post, I wrote:
 "Fr. Cekada talks about the "supposed" use of one hand by Archbishop Lefebvre. It is not admitted that this actually happened. Is there a video or pictures of the ordination? Eyewitness testimony by those who were there taken under oath? Why are not the other dozen or so priests referred to as "One Hand"? Moreover, why would the Archbishop, who was trained, ordained and consecrated all well before Vatican II used only one hand and only that one time? Didn't he know it was "dubious"? Wouldn't he conditionally re-ordain those affected if it was brought to his attention, as it asserted (without proof) that Fr. Dolan was well known by this moniker since his ordination? The "fact" of using one hand is certainly not proven, and the burden of proof lies with those claiming a defect as a Sacrament is presumed valid whenever a properly trained priest or bishop sets out to confer it."

 PL has not come forth with any claim of video or photographic evidence. They have not produced an admission by Bishop Dolan. They have have no eyewitness testimony taken under oath. They have only two arguments set forth as alleged "proof."
  • The letter of the SSPV priests of 9/21/90 asking then-Fr. Dolan to refrain from any priestly functions because there is a doubt about one handed ordination. This letter was written AFTER he left the SSPV, an organization which hols as invalid any and all ordinations which descend through the episcopal lineage of Archbishop Thuc. They even deny communion to those who attend the Masses of the CMRI, and others who derive their orders from Thuc. There are several salient points that need to be said about this letter and the SSPV.
           (a) While I have only esteem for the SSPV priests I know,  any personality conflicts among Traditionalist clergy almost always devolves into attacks against each other, which only causes consternation among the Faithful. If the SSPV fairly and logically applied their criticism of Thuc to Bishop Mendez (from whom they derive their orders), it would render Mendez' orders "doubtful" as well. So, if they knew about the "one handed ordination" why did it take them eight (8) years to bring this allegation forth? Could it be back-biting because he left?

        (b) None of the priests who signed claim to have been at the ordination and witnessed it first hand (no pun intended). At least one priest, (now Bp.) Donald Sanborn, retracted his signature.

       (c) What about the other priests ordained alongside Dolan? Were they all ordained with only one hand? How do they know if they weren't there and no one has photographic evidence? Why didn't they track down the other priests at that ceremony and ask them to all get conditional re-ordination?

      (d) At least one SSPV priest I spoke to said he had doubt about the episcopal consecration of Richard Williamson because some of them watched the video and only saw the Archbishop impose one hand! When I asked if they could clearly see whether Bishop Antonio de Castro-Mayer (co-consecrator) imposed only one hand, he quickly changed the topic!

     (e) It seems fairly clear the letter was written with someone who had an ax to grind, and they have no proof of a one handed ordination for Dolan, anymore than they have proof of one handed consecration for Williamson (and at least a video exists for that ceremony!).

    (f) Why would Archbishop Lefebvre (trained well before Vatican II) use only one hand if it was dubious? Wouldn't he stop those priests and re-ordain them conditionally? Dolan was with the SSPX for about seven (7) full years before he left to form the SSPV and in all that time the Archbishop never caught and rectified his alleged gaffe?

  • The next argument from PL for "proof" of a one handed ordination would be funny if not so pathetic: Bishop Dolan should have issued an unequivical, vigorous public denial in 1990 when the allegation was made(See footnote #1 to part one of PL's post on the subject). I see, because someone does not loudly denounce something it must be true?  What if his strenuous denial was a lie? Must all unequivical, public denials be accorded apodictic certainty?
     (a) Several years ago, I was accused of breaking one of the Canons of Legal Ethics. I knew that my calumniator misinterpreted it, and I had not done anything wrong. Rather than get into a "urinating contest" with this despicable person and give more publicity to his accusation (which is what he wanted), I said nothing. It died out, and nothing came of it since I had done nothing wrong. If PL's foundational presupposition for the making of a veridical accusation were valid, I MUST be guilty because I did not unequivocally and vigorously deny it and make my denial public. I hope these folks at PL NEVER sit on a jury.

     (b) Likewise, Bp. Dolan may not have wanted to draw attention to something he believed didn't matter anyway, because even if true it would not affect the validity of his orders.

    (c) Archbishop Lefebvre never issued an unequivocal, vigorous public denial that his ordaining and consecrating bishop was a Freemason. Therefore we have proven Lienart's Masonic membership?

     (d) The SSPV has never responded to Fr. Cekada's contention that the ordinations of Frs. Baumberger and Greenwell were dubious. In speaking with one of these priests, I think Fr. Cekada got it wrong--just like his take on the Schiavo case---but the SSPV chose not to give it anymore publicity. They were prudent, I believe, in so doing. However, in PL-land, the doubt must exist due to lack of unequivocal, public denial. I could go on, but there is no need to belabor the obvious.

2. Reading Sacramentum Ordinis With A "Feeneyite Hermenutic"

     PL has this to say about Pope Pius XII's Apostolic Constitution on Holy Orders Sacarmentum Ordinis: "Sacramentum Ordinis is so clear that it is sui ipsius interpres -- it interprets itself. If any birdbrain were to have a problem with the straight-forward text, the solution would come from internal evidence by means of intra-textual analysis."
 This is exactly how Feeneyites approach Trent's decrees on Baptism, and even the decision of the Holy Office in 1949.

The Council of Trent infallibly decreed:
Canon 2. If anyone says that true and natural water is not necessary for baptism and thus twists into some metaphor the words of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, let him be anathema.

Well it interprets itself, right? So very clear it is sui ipsius interpres which renders the question of Baptism of Desire (BOD) and Baptism of Blood (BOB) res judicata. If true and natural water is absolutely necessary for baptism, then baptism by blood or desire has been clearly ruled out by the Extraordinary Magisterium. Or so the Feeneyites think. Actually, the Church's decrees must be understood in the very same sense with which She understood them when they were promulgated. To say otherwise is the heresy of Modernism. So how do we discover what the Church believed when something was defined? By the teaching of Her approved theologians at the the time who had Magisterial approbation. (I'll have more to say about this in the next section).

  At the time of Trent, the Church was not defining there is no baptism of blood or desire, rather She was combating the error of Luther who taught that milk or beer could substitute for natural water if none was readily available. Water is necesary for the sacrament of baptism, but no one claims BOD or BOB to be sacraments. (See e.g. Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique concerning Luther's heresies, and St. Alphonsus’ Theologia Moralis explicitly affirming both canon 2 and baptism of desire as de fide).

 In 1949, the Holy Office condemned the error of Fr. Feeney. Not so fast! It wasn't signed by Pope Pius XII and Cardinal Ottavianni (!) was a heretic! That's the way we plainly interpret it; and it's not infallible anyway respond the Feeneyites. We now see the same basic errors in PL, namely, the refusal to accept the unanimous consent of the theologians in discovering the proper intention of the Church and using bizarre methods to twist any given document to their liking.

 Which brings me to the next question:

3.Is An Apostolic Constitution to be Interpreted as the U.S. Constitution?

Having discarded the teaching of the theologians as "mere opinion," PL asks "What if you were honestly searching for the truth and not trying to confirm a prejudice? What spite of very limited Latin or not having immediate access to professional, independent translations...what if you had some formal training in construing the meaning of legal prose when in doubt?"........"Then, by George, you'd ask yourself, Can I construe the papal constitution in pari materia or by applying noscitur a sociis or by the rule reddendo singula singulis, or by some other appropriate canon of statutory construction? In other words, is there anything in the constitution's words, its sentence structure, or its expository configuration that might give clueless-me a clue?"

Having discarded the unanimous teaching of the theologians, PL opts for a "plain meaning" rule and thinks that using the legal Canons of Construction can help to decipher the text. The plain meaning only works against them as we will see soon enough. As far as Canons of Construction go, Antonin Scalia has never been my favorite "theologian."  "The usual criticism of canons that for every canon one might bring to bear on a point there is an equal and opposite canon, so that the outcome of the interpretive process depends on the choice between paired opposites---a choice the canons themselves do not illuminate. (You need a canon for choosing between competing canons, and there isn't any.)" (See Richard A. Posner, Statutory Interpretation In the Classroom and in the Courtroom, 50 U. Chi. L. Rev. 800, 806 (1983)). That's not to say the meaning of a text can not be reasonably ascertained, but it's not always as easy as it seems at first glance.

If PL wishes to debate me over the efficacy of using Canons of Construction on legal texts, I'll save that argument for another day. It suffices to show that an Apostolic Constitution must be read as the Church intended, not according to canons of construction that can only serve to bring more confusion, not less, as we have competing interpretations as the logical outcome. We need to find the intent of Holy Mother Church. So, if we discard the teachings of the theologians, does going by the "plain meaning" of a very clear text work? Well, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;.." seems pretty clear. So why do we have scholarly books and articles reaching up to the ceiling debating its meaning and application? Nevertheless, let's no quibble over Latin. I am going to concede to PL they have the correct translation of Sacramentum Ordinis (hereinafter "SO") and apply a "plain meaning." The result?

4. "Plain Meaning" Proves Holding One Handed Ordinations Invalid is Just Plain Wrong

 In paragraph #4 of SO, we read:"Wherefore, after invoking the divine light, We of Our Apostolic Authority and from certain knowledge declare, and as far as may be necessary decree and provide: that the matter, and the only matter, of the Sacred Orders of the Diaconate, the Priesthood, and the Episcopacy is the imposition of hands;.."

 But this is WRONG!! It should read, "The matter, and the only matter, of the Sacred Order of the Diaconate is the imposition of the HAND, and the only matter of the Sacred Orders of the Priesthood and the Episcopacy is the imposition of the HANDS." Pope Pius knew that the diaconate is conferred with only one hand, so why did he put it in the same category as the other two orders which require both hands?

If PL is right, that one handed ordinations are dubious, they must concede that somehow the imposition of one hand is SUBSTANTIALLY DIFFERENT MATTER than two hands. Fr. Cekada brought this point home quite nicely, and PL never addressed it. I must therefore ask PL, "Does that make ordinations to the diaconate with TWO HANDS dubious? If the matter is substantially different, then it must be so, yet I've never heard that argument made by anyone. Why?
According to theologian Henry Davis, "The diaconate is more probably conferred by the imposition of HANDS of the ordaining bishop together with the Preface which is the form..." (See Davis, Henry Moral and Pastoral Theology, Volume IV (1935), pg. 15 Emphasis mine).

 You see from the usage that an imposition of hands may refer to either one hand or two--a point Fr. Cekada also made clear. According to theologian Pohle, "The ordination rite for the diaconate contains only one imposition of HANDS..." and later, "According to all extant rituals the Holy Ghost is communicated when the bishop lays his HANDS upon a candidate to make him a deacon." (See Pohle-Preuss, The Sacraments Volume IV (1924), pg 70, 104 Emphasis mine).

If the plain meaning is right, either Pope Pius XII was in error when he wrote that all three orders have as the matter the imposition of the hands OR as we can see from historical usage by the theologians, "imposition of hands" may refer to one hand or two.  SO goes on to describe the matter of the diaconate as being the one imposition of the hand because that's what was proscribed. As SO further notes, "Finally, what We have above declared and provided is by no means to be understood in the sense that it be permitted even in the slightest detail to neglect or omit the other rites which are prescribed in the Roman Pontifical; on the contrary We order that all the prescriptions laid down in the said Roman Pontifical be religiously observed and performed."

5. Rejection of The Consent of the Theologians to Determine Meaning and Resolve Controversy

 I now reproduce PL's rejection of theologians:
"Among his array of flawed defenses are the canonists' and theologians' opinions he advances in support of one-handed validity.

We'll grant him  (Fr. Cekada--Introibo ad Altare Dei)one thing: the names are big ones -- Cappello, Regatillo, Aeternys, Damen, Nabuco, etc. Their views naturally carry weight and are worth hearing. However, we must keep one thing uppermost in our minds: These are only opinions.
Theological opinions are free views on aspects of doctrines concerning Faith and morals, which are neither clearly attested in Revelation nor decided by the Teaching Authority of the Church. Their value depends upon the reasons adduced in their favour (association with the doctrine of Revelation, the attitude of the Church, etc.)(1)
Frankly, we still can't quite see how after 1947 there could be much free discussion on the question of hands in priestly ordination, inasmuch as Pius declared in paragraph 5 that "the matter is the first imposition of the bishop's hands..." (...materia est Episcopi prima manuum impositio). However, the Blunderer's authors must have had their reasons to promote an opinion that appears to have been settled by a Pope (i.e., hands, not a hand). Maybe it's not related to the faith or perhaps they didn't think the Pope was settling anything there. Who knows, right? At any rate, they offer a mere opinion, no matter how far flung their esteem in the eyes of men. Bear in mind, too, that an opinion is distinct from certainty or ignorance or doubt: It's an "adhesion of the mind to one of two opposite statements with a certain fear lest the other alternative be true."(2)

In other words, there's always the possibility the opinion could be wrong. The canonists themselves knew that hard fact despite their habitual manner of speaking categorically. The history of theology shows that bigger names than theirs have erred in the past. As Ludwig Ott observed, "the majority of the Scholastic Theologians wrongly regarded the traditio instrumentorum as the matter of the sacrament of Order."(3) So, while we should lend an attentive ear to the canonists' opinions, there's no guarantee from them that priestly ordination with one hand is valid. Maybe yes, maybe no. It's mere opinion. But, we earnestly inquire, who wants to risk eternity on a mere opinion, no matter how grand a reputation its proponent enjoyed?"

Nice try PL, but your argument must fail. I hope I'm not the only one who finds it amusing that PL uses the authority of a recognized theologian to call into question the use of the authority of theologians!  PL cites to theologian Ott, but now I must ask, isn't what he says mere opinion as well? So why should I believe him when he could be wrong? It's self-refuting and disingenuous.

Please note:
(a) While the majority of Scholastic Theologians might have been on the wrong side of a question, the debate lead to the position adopted by Pope Pius XII, showing how the Holy Ghost moves through the theologians in helping guide the Church and clarify Her teachings. The debate over the "traditio" was great; not so in the case of using one hand to ordain because in this case all theologians who addess the issue are in agreement it's valid.

(b) The asssertion the theologians "could be wrong" is problematic. Epistemologically, apodictic certainty can be held for (1) my own existence and (2) my immediate sense impressions. I can't deny #1 without existing, so it's self-refuting. I can't deny what I immediately perceive even if I'm dreaming, a brain in a vat, etc, I'm still having those perceptions. Everything else is subject to degrees of probability. The highest degree is moral probability beyond a reasonable doubt (not beyond any doubt). Therefore my belief that I'm typing this post is morally certain and I'd be a fool to doubt it. The unanimous consent of the theologians give us moral certainty, and that's all we need to go forward.

(c) If PL really wants to apply the principle that something "could be wrong" and without absolute certainty you can't act, they must avoid all the sacraments. The priest could have a positive contrary intention and invalidate the sacrament. Even if you ask him if he has the right intention, he could lie to you, so why not adopt the "safer course" and stay away from adoring what might be only bread and not the Eucharist?

(d)  Application to real life. If you thought your arteries were clogged and you went to three distinguished cardiologists all of whom tested you and said in their expert opinion you didn't require surgery, what would you do? Go with the experts, or find some disreputable doctor willing to open you up and check you out as "the safer course"?  The answer should be obvious.

(e) PL cites theologian Lennerz:
The practice of the Roman Congregations in repairing defects of the ordination of priests done before the Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis is, that the ordination be repeated conditionally, if the defects were either in the imposition of hands (in the beginning of the ordination), or in the handing over of the instruments; it is supposed therefore that such defects can render an ordination invalid. [Our emphasis.](4)

Even PL admits that there is no proof that a "defect in the imposition of the hands" refers to one handed ordinations. No one argues that defects in the imposition might occur, but they are not one step closer to proving that one handed ordination is such a defect. They have therefore yet to find a theologian who denounces one handed ordinations as dubious or invalid.

(f) Theologian Regatillo, whose works were used in pre-Vatican II seminaries for the training of the Church's priests are held to the highest scrutiny when granting an Imprimatur declaring them free from all errors in Faith and morals. Regatillo cites in his tome that the Holy Office has declared one handed ordinations valid. Does PL wish to suggest that this work contains a material false statement on such an important subject concerning Faith?

See my conclusion in the next post.

1 comment:

  1. The self-implosion of the Sede Vacante world. Let them have at it.