This morning, on the Stephen Crittenden show, we received further enlightenment about the agenda of the “Conscientious Objectors”. It seems that in thinking their argument with Cardinal Pell was simply over a misunderstanding of meaning of the word “conscience” in Catholic theology, I had underestimated their capacity for obfuscation . It now seems that what they really don’t understand is what the Church (yes, even the post-Vatican II Church) means when she speaks of “The Word of God”.
Cardinal Pell has insisted that above and beyond any doctrine of the “primacy of conscience” must be a doctrine of the “primacy of the Word of God”. I would have thought that this was fairly uncontroversial. Not only in the Catholic tradition, but even—or should I say “especially”?—strong in the Protestant tradition is the conviction that one’s conscience is not simply what one thinks or prefers, but is ultimately bound by the objective Word of God. When Luther declared (if he ever did declare) “Here I stand, I can do no other”, it was because he felt his conscience bound by the Word of God, which had the primary claim upon his conscience and to which he submitted his conscience.
Now what did Luther mean by “Word of God”? Did he mean the Word of God as he found it in his family, in his community, in his soul, in himself? Did the word come to him from through listening to his wife [yes, I know he wasn’t married until 1525, but bear with me here], his mother, the ABC [or whatever its 16th Century equivalent was]?
No? Strange about that, because that’s where Judge Chris Geraghty claims to look for the Word of God. Moreover, he insists that the Church teaches that Word of God is to be found in all these places, in addition to the Church, the liturgy, and the Bible. Moreover, he challenges Cardinal Pell “to deny that the Second Vatican Council said that the word of God is in the community, it’s in the world, in the signs of the times, as well as in the Bible, as well as in the church”.
I think the onus of proof is on Judge Geraghty’s side, rather than Cardinal Pell’s. According to the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum §10:
“Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. …But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ… It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.”
There is, therefore, only one deposit of the Word of God, written in the scriptures and transmitted by sacred tradition, which the bishops (such as Cardinal Pell) have been authorised exclusively to interpret.
Judge Geraghty challenges Cardinal Pell’s definition of the Word of God. I challenge Judge Geraghty to come up with any passage in either the documents of the Second Vatican Council or the Catechism of the Catholic Church that uses the term “Word of God” to refer to anything other than either 1) the Second Person of the Trinity who became Incarnate in Jesus Christ; or 2) the “single deposit” of God’s Word found in Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
I do not deny that the Word of God can be “in the community”, “in the world”, or even “in the words of my wife”, but it is “in” these places in the same sense that the Word of God could be said to be “in” a forest, if perchance Christ should be walking through the forest, or if the Scriptures were to be read and proclaimed in such a place. For the Word of God is not simply “in the Bible” in the sense that the Bible contains the Word of God. Rather it is the Scriptures, in the same sense that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus Christ and does not only contain it. Thus, just as the Church teaches that Christ is present in many places other than the Eucharist, nevertheless, Christ is said to be present in the Eucharist in a way superior to all others. Thus the Second Vatican Council taught that “the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired really are the word of God.” (DV §24, my emphasis). Thus the Scriptures truly are the Word of God in a “supreme” manner.
Against this clear teaching of Vatican II, Judge Geraghty asserts that the idea that “the Bible remains supreme” is simply “fundamentalism”, like that of “the fundamentalist Muslims and the fundamental Christians”. It disturbs me that a man who has proven himself to be a highly respected and competent member of the legal profession can so easily have misinterpreted the clear written words of the Second Vatican Council on such a fundamental issue.
This blog has gone on long enough. But here’s your chance to do a little role play. Pretend that you are Archbishop Levada. It is your job to respond to the letter of complaint from the Australian dissenters. All you have at your disposal by which to judge their complaint is the section on the “moral conscience” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Now write your letter of reply.