“One of my dear departed mentors said that we have wonderful doctrine transmitted at times by flawed documents. Although he was speaking then about his work on the doctrine of the angels as promulgated by the Fourth Lateran Council, I think we can say the same thing about other aspects of Sacred Tradition in our aggressively secularized environment. Too often, what used to be an instinct of grace is now reduced to legalism, whereupon its impoverished laws are not enforced. We have something like this situation with Levitical continence versus apostolic continence for those in Holy Orders. It used to be obvious — now it is outrageous to say — that a man must be of one wife, and that wife is the Church. The Russian Orthodox theologian Aleksey Stepanovich Khomyakov (Алексей Степанович Хомяков, 1804-1860) claimed that the Roman Church was guilty of “extrinsic” imposition of authority whereas the Eastern Churches relied on the “intrinsic” hold of the authority of Sacred Tradition as binding on believers. In other words, it seems that if some mid-level bureaucrat of the Roman Curia today declared that there are no longer three persons in the trinity, but rather four, Latin Catholics would, I fear, adopt en masse the novel doctrine. Here, documents from the Congregation of the Clergy, “Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons,” and from the Congregation for Education, “Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons,” which pivot upon the interdicasterial letter (No. 4092.629) of February 27, 1997, written by the Cardinal Secretary of State, precisely as dicasterial, can have no doctrinal significance. They remind me of the words of my mentor in discussing the texts of Lateran Four. The upshot is that Sacred Tradition can’t and won’t go away any more than the Holy Spirit who formed that Tradition will go away. It will continue to be a very large elephant standing in a very small ecclesiastical living room.”
Rev. Brian Van Hove, S.J.
[* = apostolic continence]