Friday, May 18, 2007


Paragraph 50 of Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes of the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, trans. by Fr. John P. Parsons:

50. Novel hermenutic of the Council, continued.
Circiterisms. Use of the conjunction but.
Deepening understanding.

The circiterism is something which occurs frequently in the arguments of the innovators. It consists in referring to an indistinct and confused term as if it were something well established and defined, and then extracting or excluding from it the element one needs to extract or exclude. The term spirit of the council, or indeed the council, is just such an expression. I remember instances in pastoral practice, of priestly innovators violating quite definite rules which had been in no way altered since the council, and replying to the faithful, who were amazed at their arbitrary proceedings, by referring them to the council.

I do not deny that a knowing subject can only direct his attention successively to the various parts of a complex whole, given, on the one hand, that the intentio14 of the intellect is incapable of contemplating all sides of it at once, and on the other, that the exercise of thought is free. I do, however, maintain that this mode of operation, natural to the intellect, must not be confused with that deliberate diversion of attention which the will can impose on the workings of the mind so that, as the Gospel puts it, it fails to see what it sees and to grasp what it knows.15 The first kind of mental operation occurs in genuine research, which of its nature proceeds step by step, but the second does not deserve to be called research, since it imposes on facts a manner of viewing them which originated in one’s subjective inclinations.

It is also common to talk about a message, and a code by which one reads and deciphers the message. The notion of a reading has replaced that of the knowledge of something, thus replacing the binding force of univocal knowledge with a plurality of possible readings. It is alleged that a single message can be read in different keys: if it is heterodox, in an orthodox key. This method, however, forgets that the text has a primitive, inherent, obvious and literal sense of its own, which must be understood before any reading, and that it sometimes does not admit of being read with the key with which the second reading proposes to read it. The counciliar texts, like any others, have, independently of the reading that may be made of them, an obvious and univocal readability, that is, a literal sense which is the basis of any other sense which may be found in them. Hermeneutical perfection consists in reducing the second reading to the first, which gives the true sense of the text. The Church, moreover, has never proceeded in any other way.

The technique adopted by the innovators in the post-conciliar period thus consists in illuminating or obscuring, glossing or reinforcing, individual parts of a text or of a truth. This is merely the abuse of that faculty of abstraction which the mind necessarily exercises when it examines any complex whole. It is a necessary condition of all discursive knowledge arrived at in time, as distinct from angelic intuition.

To this they add another technique, characteristic of those who disseminate error: that of hiding one truth behind another so as to be able to behave as if the hidden truth were not only hidden but simply non-existent. When the Church, for example, is defined as the People of God on a journey, the other side of the truth is hidden, namely that the Church also includes the blessed who have already reached the end of the journey, and that they are the more important part of the Church, since they are the part in which the purpose of the Church and of the universe has been fulfilled. In the next stage, the truth which was still part of the message but which has been put in the background will end up being dropped from the message altogether, through the rejection of the cult of the saints.

The procedure we have described is often effected by using the conjunction but. One has merely to know the full meaning of words in order to recognize the hidden intention of this school of interpreters. For example, to attack the principle of the religious life they write: Le fondement de la vie religieuse n’est pas remis en question, mais son style de réalisation.16 Again, to get round the dogma of the virginity of Our Lady in partu17 they say that doubts are possible non d’ailleurs sur la croyance, elle-même dont nul ne conteste les titres dogmatiques, mais sur son object exacte, dont il ne serait pas assuré qu’il comprenne le miracle de l’enfantement sans lésion corporelle.18 And to attack the enclosure of nuns they write: La cloîture doit être maintenue, mais elle soit être adaptée selon les conditions des temps et des lieux.19

The particle mais20 is equivalent to magis,21 from which it derives, and thus while appearing to maintain one’s position on the virginity of Our Lady, on the religious life and on the enclosure of nuns, one is asserting that what is more important than a principle, are the ways of adapting it to times and places. But what sort of principle is inferior rather than superior to its realizations? Is it not obvious that there are styles which destroy, rather than express, the fundamentals they are meant to embody? At this rate one might just as well say that the fundamentals of gothic style are not in dispute, only the way they are realized; and then proceed to abolish the pointed arch.

This use of but often occurs in the speeches of the council fathers, when they lay down in their principal assertion something which will be destroyed by the but in a secondary assertion, so that the latter becomes what is principally asserted. So too at the Synod of Bishops in 1980, French language group B wrote: The group adheres without reserve to Humanae Vitae, but the dichotomy between the rigidity of law and pastoral flexibility must be overcome. Thus adherence to the encyclical becomes purely verbal, because bending the law to conform with human weakness is more important than the encyclical’s teaching.22 The formula of those who wanted the admission of divorced and remarried people to the Eucharist was more forthright: Il ne s’agit pas de renoncer à l’exigence évangelique, mais de reconnaître la possibilité pour tous d’être réintégrés dans la communion ecclésiale.23

At the same Synod on the Family in 1980, the use of the word deepening24 cropped up among the innovators. While seeking the abandonment of the doctrine taught in Humanae Vitae, they confessed complete adherence to it, but asked that the doctrine be deepened; meaning not that it be strengthened by new arguments, but changed into something else. The process of deepening would apparently consist in searching and searching until one arrived at an opposite conclusion.

Even more important is the fact that circiterisms were sometimes used in the drawing up of the conciliar documents themselves. These inexact formulations were deliberately introduced so that post-conciliar hermeneutics could gloss or reinforce whichever ideas it liked. Nous l’exprimons d’une façon diplomatique, mais après le Concile nous tirerons les conclusions implicites.25 It is a diplomatic style, that is, as the word itself implies, double, in which the text is formulated to accord with its interpretation, thus reversing the natural order of thinking and writing.

14 Concentration or attention.
15 Matthew, 13:13.
16 The foundations of the religious life are not in question, but the style of its realization. Report of the Union des Supérieurs de France, 3 vols. cited in Itinéraires, No. 155, 1971, p.43.
17 While giving birth.
18 Not concerning the belief itself, the dogmatic credentials of which are not contested by anyone, but as to its exact object, which does not necessarily include the miracle of giving birth without rupture of the body. See J.H. Nicolas, La virginité de Marie, Fribourg, Switzerland 1957, p.18, who argues against the unorthodox thesis of A. Mitterer, Dogma und Biologie, Vienna 1952.
19 Enclosure must be maintained, but it must be adapted according to circumstances of time and place. Supérieurs de France, op. cit.
20 French mais; English but; Italian ma.
21 Latin for more.
22 Osservatore Romano, 15 October 1980.
23 It is not a question of abandoning the demands of the Gospel, but of recognizing the possibility that all people can be reintegrated into the ecclesial community. Informations catholiques internationales, No.555, 13 October 1980, p.12.
24 Approfondimento in Italian, with a connotation of exploration and research.
25 We will express it in a diplomatic way, but after the council we will draw out the implicit conclusions. Statement by Fr. Schillebeeckx in the Dutch magazine De Bazuin, No.16, 1965, quoted in French translation in Itinéraires, No.155, 1971, p.40.