Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What is an “Encyclical”?


We’re not really interested in purely religious matters on this blog (although sometimes our opinion as to what constitutes a “purely religious matter” may differ from others in the Just Third Way Gang), but we are trying to get to various prime movers and leaders with vision to get them behind the Just Third Way . . . one of whom happens to be Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church.

Hello, Dalai!
Not that we’d reject a meeting with the Dalai Lama or any other spiritual leader who would agree to meet with us.  It’s just that Pope Francis has a bigger audience and probably more people, Christian and non-Christian, pay attention to him than to any other single individual on earth.  That’s why our Bucket List has a meeting with Pope Francis to discuss the Just Third Way and the possibility of an encyclical on the three principles of economic justice pretty high up.

That, however, begs the question for a lot of people, even many Catholics, who have only a vague notion of what an encyclical is, and (more important) what it is not.  That’s why when we got a question about whether or not an encyclical on climate change from Pope Francis should be regarded as infallible, we had to stop and think a bit.

Faith AND Reason, not Faith OR Reason
Our first impulse was to say that the questioner would probably do better to ask a priest or one of the “apologists” (which doesn’t mean apologizing, but explaining) who do this sort of thing regularly.  We decided to answer anyway, even though climate change is a bit out of our immediate area of interest, which is economic and social justice.  It does, however, give us a chance to explain, in our opinion, What is an Encyclical?

Infallibility?  We don’t recall which encyclical or other document it is in, but one of the popes carefully explained that, while an encyclical is not itself an infallible declaration, it often contains matters that have been declared infallible, either explicitly or as part of the Magisterium, the body of teachings of the Catholic Church.

Thus, no one can claim that something is infallible just because it is in an encyclical, but has to demonstrate that infallibility otherwise — you can’t just say, “It says so in this encyclical, so there!”  And, if it isn’t already obvious, the infallibility is in the pope’s teaching office . . . not in the pope personally, and especially not in you.

Yes, Virginia, there was a "Vatican I" (and a John Paul I, too)
FYI: the document from the First Vatican Council was retitled from “On Papal Infallibility” to “On the Infallibility of the Teaching Office of the Pope” to avoid this sort of thing.  You can see how well it worked.

Just because you think you know what something says doesn’t mean you’re right, and you can’t say you’re right “because the pope said so.”  No, you think the pope said so.  You still have to prove that’s what it means ’cause you’re not the pope . . . and it’s the pope’s teaching office that’s infallible, not the pope, and certainly not your “learning office,” i.e., comprehension.  Don’t prattle about your faith, show your works, that is, your proofs and your arguments (James 2:14-26).

Now, about that whole climate change shtick.  We’ll get to that tomorrow.

#30#

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