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Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Q & A | 0 comments

How Do We Regard the Fathers’ Consensus on Geocentrism?

 

Brian: I am not saying that the consensus of the Fathers is binding only when they are urging their teaching against opponents who deny it. I’m saying that, according to the accepted authentic teaching the Church as set out in any number of orthodox works of dogmatic theology, the consensus of the Fathers is binding only when they make it clear that the point they all agree on is a part of our faith. Now, when we find the Fathers urging such a point in opposition to those who deny it, that is certainly one good indication that they regard it as part of the faith. That’s why I have been treating it as a relevant point. But urging a doctrinal point against opposition is not the only way the Fathers might have shown they regard it as part of our faith. There are in principle any number of expressions and ways of formulating such a judgement that they could and did use in their writings about other issues, in order to make that point.

R. Sungenis: But the relevance and binding authority of the Fathers had already been decided on this particular issue. It was decided when the Holy Spirit led the 17th century magisterium to condemn heliocentrism based on what the Fathers said, a condemnation which was published and enforced all over Europe by the very pope who adjudicated Galileo’s trial, and which was supported by many popes after him and never officially rescinded by the Church. If it wasn’t for the recent claims of popular science supporting heliocentrism, I think we can agree that there would be no ongoing reevaluation of either the Fathers’ consensus or the decisions of the popes surrounding the Galileo affair.

Unfortunately, your present position wishes to turn the consensus of the Fathers into a wax nose that can be adjusted to fit the opinions of popular science. You refer to “orthodox works of modern theology” as giving you the authority to do so, but I don’t know any such “orthodox” authors who have not already decided that heliocentrism has been proven by modern science or who have even studied the issue beyond accepting what popular science says. Unless you can show us an “orthodox work” that has thoroughly studied the scientific issues, then I’m afraid their “orthodoxy” is severely handicapped by a bias that they simply cannot overcome, as is the case with much of the rest of Catholic academia today. Popular science rules, and everyone thing else (i.e., Scripture, patristics, medieval, popes, councils, saints, doctors, catechisms, etc) must accommodate its dictates, no matter how unstable they are.

Moreover, Bellarmine, Paul V and Urban VIII all stated, very clearly, that geocentrism IS a matter of faith, for the simple reason that it directly affects the validity and truthfulness of Scripture itself. (I had already introduced you to the conversations between Urban VIII and Cosimo Medici on this very issue. Urban felt very strongly that the whole edifice of Christianity was at stake over the Galileo issue). I would have hoped that you would be ready to concur with these popes since you yourself are in a valiant fight to preserve the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture from its present foes (some of which are popes and cardinals!). I dare say that we sadly arrived at the present position of the “errancy” of Scripture simply because popular science has convinced modern Catholic theologians that the Church got the Galileo issue wrong.

As it stands, you are now claiming (as of your previous email) that the 17th century prelature DID make a “mistake” (your word) in basing their condemnation of Galileo and heliocentrism on the consensus of the Fathers; and you probably think it was a “mistake” for the 17th century prelature to claim that geocentrism is a matter of faith. I find it amazing how a whole section of papal history, and one of the most important ever to occupy our history, can be whisked away and neutralized so easily. And with what as the proof?

If, as you asserted earlier regarding Pius XII, that is, that even non-infallible decrees from the magisterium are binding, what better claimant to that papal binding are the decrees issued by Paul V and Urban VIII in the Galileo affair and supported by many popes afterward? What better witness to those decrees do we find prior to Paul V than Pius V’s Tridentine catechism (which teaches geocentrism in four separate places, as you yourself discovered)? The papal pedigree is there, as is the patristic pedigree, and the tradition carried on by the medievals. As for Benedict XIV and Gregory XVI, I will answer them below, and they will not be supportive of your position.

Brian: My general point therefore, is that the lengthy lists you provide in GWW showing the consensus of the Fathers in regard to geocentrism and the short period (one literal week) of creation seem to me insufficient to prove the point you want to make.  I am not suggesting for a moment that the quantity of the patristic texts you cite is the problem – as if you need to quote still more. Not at all – the ones you cite are already abundant! Rather, the reason I find them insufficient is that the Fathers, in these quotes, rarely if ever make it clear that they consider these issues – the position of the earth and the length of the creation days – to be doctrines of our faith that all Catholics must adhere to. Rather, as I said in my initial email in this exchange, the vast majority of these quotes, as I read them, reveal the Fathers as simply taking for granted the truth of geocentrism and a normal (24-hour) reading of yom in relation to Creation week.  They are nearly always mentioning those things more or less in passing, in the context of a discourse in which their main interest lies elsewhere. And as I said in that earlier email, when people take certain things for granted in the course of a written or spoken discourse that focuses on other things, it becomes tricky and uncertain trying to guess just how much importance they really attached to those things which in this context they took for granted.

R. Sungenis: First, there are only a few instances in which these things were said “in passing.” Most of the Fathers’ commentary is a direct endorsement and exegesis of what the Fathers were reading in Scripture. It is obvious that Scripture was their authority since hardly a proposition is made without recourse to Scripture. And since Scripture already delineated these truths rather clearly, there was no need for the Fathers to get into a long and extended argumentation.

This was not a matter of deciding whether Christ was homoousios or homoiosious or the many variations in between. The matter was simple: (1) either a day was 24 hours or it was not, and (b) either the sun went around the earth or vice versa. How much polemical discussion does one need with those two simple questions, especially since Scripture had already given a clear answer that everyone accepted, whereas Scripture did not give a clear answer concerning the exact makeup of the dual nature of Christ and thus the polemics on that issue were quite vociferous?

How is it that for almost 19 centuries no one in the Catholic hierarchy questioned the Fathers’ simple reading of “day” and “unmoving earth” until we are bombarded with an onslaught of apostasy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that sought to turn over every vestige of tradition in favor of an errant Scripture and an irrelevant patristic consensus, the very thing that Leo XIII warned against in Providentissimus Deus?

Moreover, as I said earlier, the 17th century magisterium didn’t enter into a discussion about whether the Fathers took their stand “in passing.” The popes and councils were resolute in teaching that regardless of how the Fathers arrived at their consensus, they HAD a consensus, and thus the information they held in consensus was part of the deposit of faith. No Church authority of the 17th century disagreed with that position.

Brian: That’s why I am suggesting Pius X and the PBC in 1909 felt they could allow free discussion of the meaning of yom. They would have been aware there was a consensus of the Fathers that yom meant a short (regular) day; but they weren’t convinced it was the kind of consensus that would rule out further discussion of how long those creation days actually were.

R. Sungenis: Perhaps they did, but that doesn’t make it right. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If you claim that the 17th century magisterium made a “mistake,” surely you must concede that the 1909 PBC could also make a “mistake.” The same thing is true of John Paul II and Galileo. If JP2 ever claimed (which he didn’t, at least not officially) that the popes of the 17th century made a “mistake” in condemning Galileo and heliocentrism, he merely opens himself up to the same charge, that is, that he made a “mistake” in judging his predecessors as making a “mistake.”

So where do we end up short of an infallible decree on either issue? We end up on the side that has the most evidence to support its claims. Along those lines, I don’t see any teaching of evolution in Catholic tradition, or Scripture or the Fathers. For that matter, I don’t see any credible evidence in modern science, since for each positive claim that various scientists make today it is shot down by other scientists who say something negative. Some authority.

To say that the 1909 PBC decided to allow other definitions of YOM because they weren’t sure of what “kind” of consensus the Fathers had is just as speculative as my offer that they did so because they were trying to accommodate St. Augustine, since the PBC mentions neither as its criterion. I think the real truth (if we have now accepted that high Catholic officials can make “mistakes”) is that the PBC was totally intimidated by Lyell and Darwin and simply did not know enough science at the time to stand up to them, thus the equivocation on YOM for the “exegetes.”

As for the idea that the PBC did not see the Fathers’ consensus on YOM as sufficient, let me ask this question: did the 1909 PBC feel the same way about the Fathers’ consensus regarding the historicity of the first three chapters of Genesis? Apparently not, since they answered a series of Questions (I through VI) on that very issue by supporting the traditional belief. Yet the “historicity” of Genesis 1-3 is not something the Fathers taught through the process of protracted debate with the opposition. They just “took it for granted” (I’m using your phrase above) that Genesis 1-3 was historical without any polemics. Curiously, the 1909 PBC had no problems accepting the Fathers’ consensus on Genesis 1-3. It was only when the PBC came to Question 8 regarding the length of YOM that they started to waffle, yet the patristic consensus of YOM was just as strong as the historicity of Genesis 1-3.

Something else was afoot, and I think it was the ploy of using a compromise solution, that is, the PBC would affirm the historicity of Genesis 1-3 but would do so in such a way that allowed for long ages to replace “Days” if in the future they needed to succumb to the dictates of science. Clever, but still a waffle, since they knew that the same Fathers that stood for the historicity of Genesis 1-3 understood the “days” as 24-hours. Modern science scared the PBC enough to make the PBC blink, and blink they did. The result of that tiny snowball rolling down the mountain has been an avalanched of dissent from our traditional bearings towards evolution, to the point today that you’re considered a fool if you believe that YOM is 24 hours. Imagine what we would have inherited if the PBC did not make a compromise with science and was consistent with the testimony of the Fathers! We probably wouldn’t be having this discussion right now.

Brian: Likewise with the patristic consensus on geocentrism: the 18th and 19th-centiry magisterial authorities would presumably have used similar reasoning in order to justifiy their decision to remove the prohibition of heliocentirc works from the Index of Forbidden Books and allow their publication and distribution among Catholics.

R. Sungenis: That reason is nowhere recorded in the deliberations, that is, that the subsequent popes reasoned that the Fathers had not reached a firm consensus and therefore the prohibition could be relaxed. You need to read the history I provide in Galileo Was Wrong, Vol. 2. It is all documented.

First, Benedict XIV (1741-1758), although he allowed heliocentric works, they were to contain the same “corrections” that all previous heliocentric works were required to have from the time of Copernicus’ edition in 1620. Moreover, although Benedict gave an imprimatur to Galileo’s book, he did so on the condition that the book had to contain the condemnation of both Galileo and heliocentrism that was issued in 1633. In other words, one could read the book, but he did so knowing the Church had condemned heliocentrism.

Second, Pius VII, in whose reign Canon Settele obtained an imprimatur, did not sign any document authorizing it. The imprimatur was obtained by the subterfuge of the Commissary General of the Index, Olivieri, who made up a whale of a story in order to obtain the imprimatur for Settele. He said that the only reason the Church had rejected heliocentrism was because Copernicus didn’t have Kepler’s elliptical orbits. That, of course, was a bold faced lie. The Church condemned heliocentrism because heliocentrism said the earth moved, period. Unfortunately, the Church could not check Galileo’s trial proceedings since Napoleon had taken the whole Vatican library on Galileo to France, and kept it there until 1845.

Third, Gregory XVI allowed Copernicus and Galileo to be taken off the 1835 Index but did so by other’s acts of subterfuge. An unproven claim for stellar parallax from 100 years earlier had influenced the papal court to believe that heliocentrism had been proven. In reality, there was no documented case of stellar parallax until Bessel demonstrated it three years later in 1838, but even then, as we know now today from modern science, stellar parallax does not prove heliocentrism. Moreover, the Galileo records were still in France, so the Church had nothing to go by.

The long and short of it is, the papal court was duped by false claims, both inside and outside its environs. The same is occurring today as the PAS is duping Pope Benedict to think that we came from apes.

So, although you claim that the 17th century magisterium made a “mistake” in siding with the Fathers and condemning Galileo, well, the fact is, it was during the reigns of Pius VII and Gregory XVI in which the real “mistakes” were made, and we have the documented and devilish history to prove it.

I see the same compromises in the 1909 PBC with YOM. Perhaps the only saving grace for the PBC was that they allowed free disagreement among “exegetes,” however much that word limits the audience to the upper echelons of society as opposed to the masses.

R. Sungenis: Brian, I know you addressed your comments in this email to Rick, but the fact that you state at the end of this email that this is the last response you will make on this topic because of other commitments, implies that you are not going to answer the email I sent you, and thus I feel compelled to answer what you have written here even if Rick answers you. If you don’t want to respond because of other pressing commitments, I understand, nevertheless, I feel obliged to answer some of the misconceptions you are carrying on this topic, and I do so for the benefit of the copy list that you initiated (and that I have added to) on this exchange. I take this topic very seriously (as you have seen me over the years) so I am anxious to answer all objections as thoroughly as I can. If you wish to address these issues when you have more time, please feel free to do so, and include everyone on this list as well.

Brian, Dear Rick, I’m not sure who the various authors of these paragraphs are – it seems to be you plus somebody else. I don’t think it’s a question of saving the “honor” of the 1909 PBC and St. Pius X. “Honor” is a personalistic category that has little to do with objective questions of theological and doctrinal truth. What I am trying to do, rather, is defend the orthodoxy of St. Pius X’s magisterium. There is always a presumption in favor of magisterial decisions, even non-infallible ones like this, so one should not accuse them of error – and much less of the kind of error that goes against the faith of the Church – unless one is convinced there is overwhelming evidence for this.

R. Sungenis: The problem with this approach, Brian, is that you have already stated the 17th century magisterium’s use of the patristic consensus to condemn of Galileo and heliocentrism was, in your own words, “…simply their big mistake: i.e., that they should have been more concerned about why, and not just whether, there was a patristic consensus in favor of a geocentric reading of Scripture.” So here you fault the popes and cardinals for misconstruing tradition and thus mismanaging Galileo’s trial, yet when it comes to the 1909 PBC you don’t hesitate to give a “presumption in favor of magisterial decisions, even non-infallible ones like this, so one should not accuse them of error – and much less of the kind of error that goes against the faith of the Church.” So how can the 17th century magisterium make a “big mistake” yet the 1909 PBC be given the presumption of being free from error?

Brian: In the present exchange, the argument is being made that the 1909 magisterium, by explicitly allowing free discussion of the meaning of yom, failed in its duty to guard Catholic orthodoxy. That is, we are being told that the PBC should have firmly ruled out the ‘long-period’ option as a possible meaning of yom, because the consensus of the Fathers that yom in Genesis means a regular 24-hour day resolved that question for ever in favor of a 24/6  Creation week- carved it in stone, as it were. (I would have to admit that even St. Augustine, who it seems never really made up his mind about this issue, could in a certain sense be included in the aforesaid consensus, insofar as he never suggested that yom might mean some period of time other than 24 hours – either shorter or longer. So nobody could appeal to him as an early advocate of that “indeterminate period” reading of yom that the 1909 PBC decided to permit. Augustine’s preferred view, based on the prevailing Latin translation of Sirach 18: 1 and Gn. 2: 4-7 [“On the day when {In die quo} God created the heavens and earth . . . “] seems to have been that, historically speaking, the whole Creation took place in a single instant. But that certainly doesn’t mean he thought the word yom in 2: 4 meant “a single instant”. For example, we might say, “On the day the atomic bomb exploded on Hiroshima, 100,000 of its residents were killed.” We would have in mind that the explosion took place in a single instant, but not of course that the word “day” in this sentence means “a single instant”. As regards yom in the preceding chapter, Gn. 1, Augustine didn’t think it meant a time-measurement of any sort whatsoever – short, long or instantaneous. He opined on a priori grounds that the creation of angels would simply have to be mentioned somewhere in Genesis 1, and so identified them with that mysterious “light” mentioned in 1: 2. After all, in contrast to the as yet lifeless earth, angels were ‘enlightened’ beings, endowed with intellectual ‘light’. On that basis, Augustine went on to hypothesize that the “one day” (dies unus) resulting from this “light” [v.5] was a purely figurative expression meaning the whole ensemble of angels.) Getting back to the 1909 PBC: I personally agree that the exegetical arguments for understanding yom as a long indeterminate period are weak and unpersuasive. (Especially weighty, in my view, is the fact that the six weekly 24-hour working days mentioned in the Decalogue [Ex 20: 9] are justified precisely by reference to the six creation days [Ex. 20: 11], so that all the ancient Israelites must surely have understood the latter to be also of 24 hours each. Also very impressive is the total absence of any examples, among the other 350+ biblical expressions wherein yom is qualified by an ordinal number, of that word meaning anything other than a 24-hour day. But as I mentioned before, we have to remember the historical context of this 1909 ruling. The Vatican theologians and St. Pius X felt they had their backs to the wall on this issue, because virtually everyone in the scientific world, in this era long before the dawn of modern creation science, was telling them science had proven the universe to be billions of years old. This was related to the heliocentrism issue too, because at that time, long before the modern revival of geocentrism, these Roman authorities were also being assured by the unanimous consensus of “science” that the Copernican cosmology was proven beyonf all reasonable doubt. From the Pope on down, they had all been browbeaten into believing that the Church really ‘blew it’ in the Galileo case, and so were profoundly apprehensive of the perceived danger of committing another supposed ‘blunder’ of the same sort in regard to the age of the earth. For that, they thought, might destroy the Church’s credibility altogether. So we can see why, given the best information available to them at that time, they had the strongest possible motivation for seeking some little bit of wiggle-room, some loophole in the patristic consensus, to justify a decision to refrain from simply condemning the long-ages view. Well, to be fair to them, I think they did succeed in finding a sufficient justification for that decision. Given that: (a) Origen and Augustine (later endorsed by Aquinas) suggested a purely figurative reading of yom in chapter 1 of Genesis; and (b) the other Fathers who just took it for granted that yom meant a regular 24-hour day did not clearly insist that this interpretation of Genesis was definitely the only acceptable one – the magisterium could legitimately conclude that the patristic consensus about yom wasn’t quite strong enough and clear enough to justify cutting off further scholarly discussion regarding its meaning.  (Of course, these days the terms of the discussion have completely changed – de facto if perhaps not de jure. That is, I don’t think any Catholic theistic evolutionists are still arguing for the ‘day = age’ interpretation of yom. Rather, they are cheerfully admitting that of course it means a literal 24-hour period – just as all those “nights” in The Arabian Nights mean normal, literal periods of darkness in between sunset and sunrise! In other words, today’s Catholic evolutionists, and even anti-Darwinian ID-ers like Benjamin Wiker and Michael Behe, find biblical ‘room’ for their chronology not by appealing to a ‘long-age’ interpretation of yom, but by the still more radical hermeneutic of denying outright the whole historical character of the Creation accounts!  And they are doing this with complete impunity even though that same 1909 PBC document, backed up by Humani Generis, says these accounts are “history in a true sense”. The Popes and the CDF since Vatican II have shown no sign of wanting to enforce this teaching that Gn 1-3 is history, and, sad to say, have sometimes even themselves cast doubt on that teaching in interventions of minor magisterial authority.) Having said all that, I must admit I have not yet read Mr. Jordanes’ arguments to the effect that the Fathers “simply cannot possibly be clearly understood as to what they meant by the word ‘day'”. That sounds a priori somewhat implausible to me, but I would be willing to change my mind if Jordanes manages to make out a good case for his position. I wouldn’t want to pass judgement without first readng what he has to say. It is said below (I am not sure whether by you, Rick, or by someone else) that “If these things are indeed ‘taken for granted’, it seems to me that they can only have been so taken on the basis of a universal consensus as to the true interpretation of Scripture”. The assumption of my critic here seems to be that, according to Catholic doctrine, any kind of universal consensus of the Fathers about the meaning of a given passage of Scripture proves that this is the true interpretation of that passage. I don’t think you’ll find that position backed up by any magisterial statement or by the judgment of approved theologians. Rather, in order to be binding on the rest of us Catholics, the Fathers’ universal consensus has to be of the kind wherein they not only agree that X is the true meaning of passage P, but also emphasize and stress that X is its true meaning, letting us know we will be contradicting some clear existing doctrine of faith or morals, and/or the inerrancy of Scripture, if we try to interpret P otherwise. But when, as is the case in their broad (but not “universal”) consensus that yom is a 24-hour day, the Fathers don’t really make an issue of X, but rather, just take it for granted in passages where they are making an issue of some other doctrinal or exegetical point, we can’t be sure enough of what their position really was about X to justify the conclusion that no other interpretation of P can be permitted to Catholic exegetes. As I’ve said already, when writers take a certain proposition for granted (i.e., they don’t make an issue or a ‘big deal’ of it), that leaves us with a doubt as to how they would have reacted if someone had raised a new challenge to that proposition. Would they have fiercely defended it? Or would they maybe have said, “Well, yeah, maybe you have a point – I hadn’t thought of that.” We just don’t know for sure. So we’re left in doubt about how the Fathers would have reacted if confronted with modern arguments for reading yom in Gn. 1 as an indefinite period of time. My critic below (whoever he is) evidently thinks that the magisterium should resolve that doubt by coming down on the side of strictness, i.e., that the magisterium should presume the Fathers would all have insisted on their existing interpretation if it was challenged, and so forbid modern scholars to depart from that interpretation. But the general practice of the Church has always been that in cases of doubt about doctrinal or exegetical theses, she comes down on the side of lenience rather than strictness, and so lets the discussion among scholars go on – at least until such time new arguments or evidence come to light that resolve the dispute definitively. That’s what St Pius X and the PBC did in 1909. And I think it was a reasonable decision for them to make. This is definitely my last word in this exchange, as I simply have no time for more, due to other pressing study and writing commitments.  God bless, Brian

R. Sungenis: Brian, again, no need to reply if you can’t find the time, but I simply cannot let your objections go unanswered for the benefit of those reading these posts.

Brian: Dear Bob, I don’t think this is exactly a “quick” question! For, reading between the lines, it is basically a challenge to me to justify why I don’t accept the 17th-century decrees against heliocentrism as still binding on Catholics. And that would require a huge amount of time to answer adequately.

R. Sungenis: No, I had no concern whether the decrees are binding. That is another issue entirely. I was merely asking you why you went on record saying that the 17th magisterium made a “big mistake” in using the Fathers as the foundation for their condemnation of Galileo and heliocentrism, and yet you say that the 1909 PBC should be given the presumption of not being in error when it said YOM could be other than 24 hours. In other words, you claim one magisterium was in error but you refuse to say another magisterium was in error.

The way YOU have phrased my question (i.e., whether the 17th decrees are still binding) seeks to put the burden on me, whereas my actual question seeks to have you explain the apparent contradiction in holding that the 17th century made a “big mistake” but the 1909 PBC is to be presumed as free from making a “mistake.”

Brian: After all, in GWW, vol. II, you have almost 170 pages (123-291), the whole of Chapter 14, building a seemngly powerful case that geocentrism remains the Church’s official teaching (E.g, on p. 262 you say that both the condemnation of heliocentrism and that of Galileo personally still “remain in force”.) I find your case theologically unpersuasive, but how could I possibly hope to answer a 170-page argument in one “quick” email? This is the sort of stuff about which a whole new doctoral thesis could – and maybe should – be written! So I will not even try to attempt an adequate answer, but just offer a few brief comments. First, I don’t see how you can say I am “practically gushing with favor” at the 1909 PBC decision about the meaning of yom. My discreetly worded conclusion is simply that the PBC made “a reasonable decision”. Most people wouldn’t call that “gushing”. (I have heard it called a “brilliant” decision, but I would not go that far.)

R. Sungenis: Call what you will, but it seems like theological “gushing” to me. At the least, there is a marked contrast to how you evaluate the two magisteriums. Why didn’t you use “the presumption of truth” language with the 17th century magisterium in their dealings with Galileo? Why are they made to look like inept clerics for upholding their patristic tradition and Trent? Conversely, you are telling everyone here that your interpretation of when use the Fathers trumps the 17th century Catholic magisterium’s. That is a call that is simply not yours to make.

Brian:  Your key question here, regarding my alleged self-contradiction, seems to be the following, “So how can the 17th century popes and cardinals make a ‘big mistake’ yet the 1909 PBC be given the presumption of being free from error, especially when the latter is on a lower rung of authority than the former?”  Well, I have not only “presumed”, but also concluded on the basis of argumentation, that the 1909 decision regarding yom was not unorthodox.

R. Sungenis: Personally, I don’t see how a decision that permits two mutually opposed answers (24 hours and long ages), one of which the PBC knows MUST be wrong, can be considered an “orthodox” answer. What is orthodox is true, what is unorthodox is false. The 1909 PBC decision was neither, for it gave no answer to the question. The PBC’s decision was more an admission of either ignorance or an unwillingness to adhere to the tradition for fear that modern science would overturn that tradition. That  ignorance or unwillingness was now being allowed to be discussed among exegetes. An “orthodox” decision would have been the case if the PBC said, “our tradition holds that the days of Genesis are 24-hours, and we will hold to that barring scientific proof from science that the world was created over long ages.” This would have been the only “orthodox” position because, not only would it adhere to the “orthodox” belief from tradition, it would also be employing the rule of St. Augustine and Leo XIII that unless science could PROVE its assertions, the Church was by no means obligated to change her doctrine or interpretation of Scripture.

Brian:  I am also willing to give the same a priori presumption in favor of any other non-infallible magisterial pronouncement, including the Vatican decree of March 5, 1616 condemning heliocentrism as contrary to Scripture and placing Copernicus et al on the Index of Forbidden Books. So I see nothing inconsistent or self-contradictory in my approach to the different magisterial decisions under discussion.

R. Sungenis: I’m happy to see that you extend the same “presumption from error” to the 1616 decrees, but I find that position hard to reconcile with the fact that you’ve already stated that the 1616 magisterium made a “big mistake” in using the Fathers to make their decrees, unless you are telling us that the magisterium was wrong to use the Fathers but right to condemn heliocentrism.

Brian: However, since that same papally-approved authority (the Congregation for the Index) which under Paul V placed heliocentric works on the Index in 1616 also, under Gregory XVI, removed them from the Index in 1835, I am faced with mutually contradictory decisions by the same Roman dicastery. So obviously, in this case, my general a priori presumption in favor of any and every magisterial decision has to give way to the realization that since both these Vatican decisions can’t be right, one of them must be wrong. (This consideration doesn’t apply to the 1909 PBC decision over yom, whch does not contradict any previous or subsequent magisterial decision.) So, as a theologian, I am simply confronted with the question as to which of the contradictory Vatican decisions over heliocentrism now has the greater claim on the allegiance of Catholics: the earlier one that insists heliocentrism is definitely contrary to Scripture? Or the later one (subsequently backed up implicitly or explicitly by Leo XIII, Benedict XV, and John Paul II) which allows us Catholics freedom to debate whether or not heliocentrism is contrary to Scripture?

R. Sungenis: But the facts are these: neither Leo XIII, Benedict XV or John Paul II made any official rescission of the decrees of 1616 or 1633, and thus those decrees stand as is, unless you can show some canonical protocol wherein decrees and results of canonical trials somehow dissipate with time. (I will address your reference to Gregory XVI’s Index below).  Leo XIII does not mention cosmology at all. Benedict XV is equivocal at best on cosmology in an encyclical that does not address cosmology but only the relevance of Dante. John Paul II, by the admission of his own heliocentric theologians, did not solve the problem, and he certainly didn’t rescind the decrees against Galileo or heliocentrism, to their admitted dismay.

Brian: I haven’t got time to explain fully why I think Gregory XVI’s more lenient decison: (a) was per se the better one from a theological standpoint (involving the question of the consensus of the Fathers, and other issues);

R. Sungenis: Gregory XVI didn’t address the issue about the Fathers. A decision was made in his reign, as every historian who has written about this incident admits, that was based on the claim that science had discovered stellar parallax, the supposed proof for heliocentrism. I think you should recognize that fact as the impetus (stellar parallax) rather than speculate that Gregory or his underlings were in a serious debate about the extent and validity of the Fathers. There is no evidence for that at all. As I said, Gregory didn’t even have the records of the Galileo affair in order to make a decision based on the history, since Napoleon didn’t return the records until 10 years later.

Brian: and (b) from a legal standpoint now has a stronger claim on Catholics’ allegiance than the earlier, stricter one. I will limit myself to just two observations: First, I don’t agree with you that the 1633 trial is, as such, an important factor in resolving the above question. For it was per se a disciplinary decision – an act of the Church’s governing authority – not of her magisterium (teaching authority).

R. Sungenis: That is simply false, patently false. There were two “TEACHING” decrees written by the Sacred Congregation and approved by Pope Urban VIII that came out of the 1633 trial. The first condemned as “formally heretical” that the sun went around the earth. The second condemned as erroneous in faith that the earth moved. This decision was then published all over Europe, to all the papal nuncios and universities. No one was allowed to teach heliocentrism. The first attempt to teach heliocentrism came almost 200 years later with the Settele affair in 1820, but, as we all know too well, the Commissioner of the Index had to lie about the 1616-1633 decrees in order to get Settele an imprimatur.

Brian: As regards magisterial force, the trial verdict has no weight greater than that of the existing 1616 Decrees on which it totally depended.

R. Sungenis: I never said it did. I merely add that, the fact that a trial was added to the decree makes the Church’s case against heliocentrism that much stronger.

Brian: Secondly, I don’t think the 1765 rebuff to Lalande on the part of the head of the Congregation for the Index has anything like the importance you attach to it (p. 238). For one thing, his view that the 1633 verdict against Galileo would have to be revoked before heliocentric books could be removed from the Index seems to have been just his personal view, expressed in conversation to Lalande, not in some sort of official edict.

R. Sungenis: Yes, I guess one is tempted to take the route that it was just his “personal opinion” or “he didn’t know what he was talking about” when it suits one’s predetermined conclusion, without knowing, in fact, whether it really was a personal opinion. Laying aside that kind of speculation, the facts we know are these: LaLande was rebuffed by the Head of the Congregation of the Index, not some pencil pusher at the Vatican. We presume that the Head of the Congregation knows the legal protocol, unless there is evidence that he didn’t, but there is none. Second, what the Head is demanding is what we would expect, that is, in order to get Galileo exonerated, his trial verdict that condemned him would have to be rescinded. That is the normal procedure in jurisprudence. Why would we expect anything less?  Or are you of the opinion that a trial verdict loses its validity after a sufficiently long period of time?

Brian: And more importantly, even supposing this unnamed Vatican official was right in saying he and his Congregation, in the absence of such a formal overturning of the 1633 verdict, would have no authority to remove those books from the Index, that in no way proves that higher authorities  – including the Supreme Pontiff! –  would also be bound to revoke the 1633 verdict before being entitled to allow the publication of heliocentric books. In purely procedural and disciplinary matters like this, the Pope has sovereign authority to do whatever he wants.

R. Sungenis: Sure, if he explicitly says that he is superseding the 1633 trial verdict and declaring, by his papal authority, that its results will no longer affect, ipso facto, the status of heliocentrism. But that’s not what happened. As I said before, Gregory XVI DID NOT EVEN HAVE the Galileo records in order to make a decision on that basis.

Brian: So the very fact that Gregory XVI authorized the removal of all heliocentric books from the Index without bothering to issue any formal revocation of the 1633 trial verdict leaves the 1765 Index guy’s statement as a purely moot point of no further theological significance (if, indeed, it ever had any to begin with).

R. Sungenis: No, we don’t know that it was actually GREGORY who took Galileo and Copernicus off the Index. All we know is that it was done in his reign. Anyone of presumed authority at the Vatican could have done it. The same thing happened in the Settele case. Pius VII didn’t sign any statement giving Settele an imprimatur. It was secured by Olivieri, who lied about what the Church did in 1616 and 1633. So if anything, we see attempts be various people in the Vatican to ignore or obfuscate the 1616-1633 decisions, not deal directly with them.

Brian: Simply by using his supreme authority to remove all heliocentric books from the Index without further ado, Pope Gregory ipso facto overturned both the 1616 decrees and the 1633 trial verdict based on them. Therefore, since 1835, I can’t see that Catholics are in any way bound in obedience to the Church to agree with those 17th-century decisions.

R. Sungenis: Again, we have no official statement from Gregory himself taking off Galileo from the Index. Second, we know that whoever did it, did it based on the claim of stellar parallax, which turned out to be false. Third, neither Gregory nor any of his underlings make reference to the 1616 or 1633 decrees. They showed less respect to the Supreme Pontiffs than the editors of Newton’s Principia who, all the way up to 1833 (two years before Gregory) said: “But we profess obedience to the decrees made by the Supreme Pontiffs against the movement of the earth.”

Fourth, I never said Catholics were “bound” to the decrees, if by that you mean the matter is clear to everyone and thus it is a matter of salvation. I am merely saying that, in light of all the confusion the Church herself has created over this issue, the Church has some unfinished business to attend to, namely, that the 1616 and 1633 decisions have never been officially overturned or even addressed properly. If the Church wants to reverse Galileo’s trial and declare that the 17th century magisterium made a “big mistake,” then, for the love of Pete, DO SO. But that hasn’t been done, and I dare say it will never be done, since the Church knows implicitly that unless it has scientific proof to the contrary, it IS bound to her tradition. Having Galileo’s book taken off the Index in 1835 may give the impression that the issue is solved, but the best that taking a book of the Index can do, that is, after the material in the Index has already declared “formally heretical” by a previous magisterium, is stall the matter in the pipeline before it is properly and definitively addressed and adjudicated. Indexes don’t change canonical trials or magisterial decrees. They only show that there is a major contradiction afoot in Catholic protocol that needs to be fixed.

Brian: My position is that I hold geocentrism as a personal opinion, based on a combination of biblical, theological, scientific, and providential data which cumulatively seem convincing to me. That is, I do not adhere to geocentrism because I think the Church’s magisterium still requires me and all the faithful to do so.  I am sure you will still have much to say about this, but please excuse me from further replies. Your “quick question” has  taken me eight hours to answer (the whole of my stiudy time for Thursday!), and I just can’t afford to spend more time on this issue.

R. Sungenis: I’m glad you hold it as a personal opinion. My hope is that you will help defend it publicly as the best biblical, theological, scientific and providential position. My other hope is that you will see the 1909 PBC decision not so much as an “orthodox” move but as a concession of ignorance that should have been better worded, in line with how the Church has traditionally handled such issues, that is, we hold to our traditional beliefs and definitions, but are always willing to adjust them if science can PROVE its claims, not merely assert them. Then again, maybe the 1909 PBC was, indeed, saying that the Church was holding on to its traditional beliefs that the Day of Genesis 1 was 24 hours but allow “exegetes” to at least discuss the issue in the meantime. I would much rather lean to that position if you want to call the PBC decision “orthodox,” but it can’t be orthodox if you are saying the PBC abandoned the 24-hour interpretation. As I said above, feel free to bow out at this point, but if you do, I will take the last word. God be with you in your studies.

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