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Heretic-Hunting In Context

But on the back cover of the 2012 hardback edition of Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics [3]:

photo-4 [4]

Hmmm. Talking about heresy and heretics is good, unless the spotlight turns on one’s own favored parties, in which case it is a grave matter requiring remonstration with the formerly approved heretic-discusser’s employer. Why was Ross Douthat considered by Fr. Martin qualified (“thoughtful, articulate … with an impressive command of both history and contemporary social trends”) to write about heresy in 2012, but not in 2015. What changed?

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24 Comments To "Heretic-Hunting In Context"

#1 Comment By Lasorda On October 27, 2015 @ 9:54 pm

A very holy priest told me today that “James Martin is a snake in the grass. Stay far away from him.”

#2 Comment By Stephen Hoffmann On October 27, 2015 @ 10:02 pm

James Martin, SJ:

YOU’RE BUSTED!

#3 Comment By panda On October 27, 2015 @ 10:40 pm

Well, as someone who argued with you relentlessly in the original thread, I can’t but say: touché, good sir.

Still, I’d argue that there is a huge difference between ascribing heresy to the culture, and designating a specific group of people as heretics..

#4 Comment By Isaiah Berg On October 27, 2015 @ 10:42 pm

Rod, I believe you featured this in the past here at TAC, but this conversation between Fr James Martin and Douthat remains one of the best and most relevant Catholic dialogues I’ve ever seen. It’s disappointing to me to see so many names on such a feckless letter. I fear this is less about actual arguments and more about mood affiliation – the desire to be seen as empathizing with, and affiliated with, the adult equivalent of the cool kids.

[5]

#5 Comment By Leroy Huizenga On October 27, 2015 @ 10:54 pm

The thing that’s most baffling about that short note is the accusation that Ross is acting in a “politically partisan” way. He might be conservative as far as things in the Church go, but what he’s been writing lately has zero to do with politics as such, and it’s just not clear at all the writers mean internal church politics.

Every signatory should be ashamed at being party to such a reprehensible move. I suspect the reason they’re so concerned is that Ross (being in the NYT after all) is one of the US commentators who actually gets read in Rome by clergy who matter. Not that they can’t form their own thoughts, or agree with Ross, but if they’re using Ross’ writing as a barometer representative of a major swath of the Church, well…

And so perhaps the writers and signatories felt the need to respond in the Times, to remind certain powers-that-be that there’s another swath out there too.

#6 Comment By Joe M On October 27, 2015 @ 11:22 pm

Martin is just feeling backed into a corner as conservatives call a spade a spade. He is a priest, obv., but not honest here in this situation. His POLITICS go the best of him. he should man up and apologize.

#7 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 27, 2015 @ 11:24 pm

I don’t know how anyone could identify any particular priest as “very holy,” at least during their lifetime and on individual recognition, but, that said, you have caught Martin red-handed.

#8 Comment By Michael Guarino On October 27, 2015 @ 11:54 pm

What changed?

James Martin’s mind.

#9 Comment By Joe C On October 28, 2015 @ 12:13 am

Rod,

I think liberal Catholics generally like Douthat. He’s one of the few syndicated columnists who is a serious Catholic. E.J. Dionne is the only other one that comes to mind. He came to Fordham last year and people liked him:
[6]
The group that brought him is funded directly by Fordham’s administration (read: Jesuits).

I like Douthat a lot, especially for his pro-life writing and his ability to point out serious inconsistencies in the liberal worldview.

But it does seem to me that he’s jumped the shark over this divorced/remarried thing. Schism and papal plotting? If the pope is giving a speech at the synod that lays out what he thinks, how is that plotting? The pope “lost” and he published the text anyway. (Look at what Paul VI did to the birth control commission for a different precedent.) Douthat’s become the catholic version of a birther or 9/11 truther. Maybe that is why these theologians (over)reacted this way.

[NFR: You saw what happened at last year’s Synod; this year, the Pope stacked the deck with the people he named to key Synod posts. That’s plotting. He still lost. — RD]

#10 Comment By dominic1955 On October 28, 2015 @ 12:20 am

One must always be careful in trying to play Gotcha! with a wiley Jesuit.

From what he wrote on Twitter, he could plausibly say that all he means is that heresy is a grave charge, and that’s it. He’s not saying every jot and title of the letter he endorses or that Ross was indeed formally declaring someone a heretic. Just that heresy is a grave charge, full stop.

Thus, the twitter message would not be in any serious contrast to the blurb he wrote about Ross’ book.

I’m telling you, it is like trying to nail Jell-o to the wall…

#11 Comment By BillWAF On October 28, 2015 @ 12:47 am

Douthat does essentially accuse others of heresy. He is extremely intolerant oh other views while often commenting upon subjects about which he knows nothing. It is perfectly fair to point that out. He is also a lout, as anyone who recognizes the phrase a “chunky Reese Witherspoon” knows.

That said, he was not hired as an expert upon Catholic doctrine or Church history. It is perfectly fine for him to keep writing his dishonest garbage. However, he is not an expert upon anything of substance and he should be presented as an expert.

#12 Comment By EngineerScotty On October 28, 2015 @ 2:33 am

Shh!!! Be vewwy vewwy qwiet! I’m hunting HEWETICS.

Bwahahahaahah!

#13 Comment By Anne On October 28, 2015 @ 2:43 am

Heresy, at least as the Church has blessedly honed the concept over the centuries, is a precise concept. People throw around a lot of imprecise criticisms, such as the cliche used here by Fr. Martin — and myself in the recent past — claiming that liberal theologies “water down” Christian beliefs. But to be heresy, any new concept or “spin” on the old has to directly contradict the basic doctrine.
The fact is what some consider “watering down” certain beliefs just happens to be what others consider a reinvigoration.

When he was chief watchdog of Catholic orthodoxy, once-Cardinal Ratzinger judged many theologians to have “watered down” various doctrine. He sometimes considered their ideas so injurious to doctrine he suppressed them in favor of the ideas he preferred. But he couldn’t call them heresy, because as a theologian himself, he knew theology and esp. speculative theology, if it is ever going to progress, has to be allowed to develop create new points of view. Virtually every great theologian,including Aquinas, has been considered to have distorted basic Christian beliefs at one time or another. The Church simply can’t shut down all creativity by seeing heresy in every twist or turn. There’s been too much of that already in Church history. It finally dawned on church authority that heresy had to be diagnosed with extremely strict caution and precision. And nobody happens to understand that better than theologians.

#14 Comment By James C. On October 28, 2015 @ 3:16 am

Martin was squishy and slippery under Pope Benedict. Now that his man is in charge, he has thrown off his mask. That’s what’s changed.

#15 Comment By JonF On October 28, 2015 @ 6:03 am

As has been said of political movements, a healthy church seeks converts, and unhealthy one hunts heretics.

#16 Comment By jacopo On October 28, 2015 @ 7:35 am

The signatories are professors at American universities. It should be know surprise that they see everything as political.

#17 Comment By Anne On October 28, 2015 @ 10:10 am

As an addendum to my earlier comment, the Catholic church has often witnessed many different, competing theologies, i.e., theological systems of thought, during any given era: Thomistic theology, Franciscan theology, Dominican theology, etc. Alas, their practitioners sometimes even accused each other of heresy; they definitely claimed competitors distorted doctrine. “Watering down” has been a common accusation against what’s been called “the new theology” by neo-scholastics for a century or so. Unfortunately, scolastic or neo-scolastic theology had so monopolized (actually become “the only show in town”) for the official magisterium for so long (centuries) that its watch dogs of orthodoxy (the “Holy Office”) tended to consider any threat to that system a threat to the very teaching authority of the Church. Encountering the so-called new theology, some critics, even popes, have on occasion labeled some of its practitioners “modernists” and other critical tags (including a subset of “modernism” called “Americanism”). After World War II, during the 1950s, this intransigence was set aside — temporarily as it turned out — and many new theologians even served as official advisors to the bishops during Vatican II. But during the immediate post-conciliar period, neo-scholasticism asserted itself again during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the name calling resumed. What we may be seeing now is a reassertion of the theological consensus that had briefly developed during the Council itself. Whatever it is, it’s not something new under the Catholic sun. But outspoken lay converts such as Ross Douthat who came into the Church at a time when the Holy Office had unleashed its renewed animus against theologians of the rival theological point of view seem to think it signals “the end of Catholicism.”

All of which is why I understand a group of professional theologians issuing the statement they issued in an attempt to set the record straight for others who may be tempted to think Douthat is the best judge of the state of Catholic theology.

#18 Comment By Anne On October 28, 2015 @ 10:24 am

Addendum to addendum: “the new theology” is actually what its practitioners used to call their work; neo-scholastics have called it that too on ocassion; on others, they dismiss it with broader, critcal strokes, equating it with modernism, Americanism, postmodernism and alas, “the end of Catholicism.”

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 28, 2015 @ 12:01 pm

this year, the Pope stacked the deck with the people he named to key Synod posts. That’s plotting. He still lost.

Then he’s an awfully incompetent plotter. Almost any chump in the stack-and-control business could pull of an 80-90 percent majority if he gets to choose the electorate.

Tic-tac-toe three across!

#20 Comment By Irenist On October 28, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

I’d come across Fr. Martin’s name a few times before all this happened, but never really stitched various references together into having a particular, single person in mind–which is to say, I have no grounds for an opinion of him.

I will only note, as someone who in another of these threads accused Fr. Martin of having stirred the pot, that Douthat just tweeted an admonishment to people who think they’re supporting him (Douthat) that we ought to lay off Fr. Martin already. That’s gracious, and I for one consider myself duly chastised.

#21 Comment By EngineerScotty On October 28, 2015 @ 4:16 pm

He is also a lout, as anyone who recognizes the phrase a “chunky Reese Witherspoon” knows.

In fairness to Ross, many of us dudes were similarly loutish in our younger (and single) years. (The reason Ross gets mocked for “chunky Reese” is that he saw fit to write about his twentysomething sexual escapades in his political polemic Privelege–a book some view as the 21st century equivalent of Buckley’s God and Man at Yale–and that he apparently viewed this particular college co-ed as unsexy once she mentioned, in an obvious pick-up line, that she was using birth control pills… which apparently was a major turn-off for Douthat).

#22 Comment By dominic1955 On October 28, 2015 @ 4:33 pm

Anne,

“As an addendum to my earlier comment, the Catholic church has often witnessed many different, competing theologies, i.e., theological systems of thought, during any given era: Thomistic theology, Franciscan theology, Dominican theology, etc. Alas, their practitioners sometimes even accused each other of heresy; they definitely claimed competitors distorted doctrine.”

Well, that’s what happens when people passionately disagree on something. However, the great thing about those disagreements were that Rome finally just stepped in and said, “Knock it off.” and that was pretty much that.

““Watering down” has been a common accusation against what’s been called “the new theology” by neo-scholastics for a century or so. Unfortunately, scolastic or neo-scolastic theology had so monopolized (actually become “the only show in town”) for the official magisterium for so long (centuries) that its watch dogs of orthodoxy (the “Holy Office”) tended to consider any threat to that system a threat to the very teaching authority of the Church.”

Yes, because honestly, how much more do we need to reinvent the wheel? What has the Nouvelle Theologie brought us?

“Encountering the so-called new theology, some critics, even popes, have on occasion labeled some of its practitioners “modernists” and other critical tags (including a subset of “modernism” called “Americanism”).”

If the shoe fits…

“After World War II, during the 1950s, this intransigence was set aside — temporarily as it turned out — and many new theologians even served as official advisors to the bishops during Vatican II.”

Yeah, because they had done their damage in the seminaries and had become fashionable.

“But during the immediate post-conciliar period, neo-scholasticism asserted itself again during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the name calling resumed.”

Nope, considering both John Paul II and Benedict XVI were more among the conservative wing of the new theology than straight up neo-scholastics. Fr. Garigou-Lagrange thought Karol Wojtyla wrote a lot and said little, I recall.

“What we may be seeing now is a reassertion of the theological consensus that had briefly developed during the Council itself. Whatever it is, it’s not something new under the Catholic sun. But outspoken lay converts such as Ross Douthat who came into the Church at a time when the Holy Office had unleashed its renewed animus against theologians of the rival theological point of view seem to think it signals “the end of Catholicism.”

Its not the end of Catholicism, its more like why won’t this nonsense die already? Jansenism overstayed its non-welcome as well, but eventually it was consigned to history with no adherents to speak of.

“All of which is why I understand a group of professional theologians issuing the statement they issued in an attempt to set the record straight for others who may be tempted to think Douthat is the best judge of the state of Catholic theology.”

Like others have said, if they were so concerned about setting the record straight on who’s the best judge of Catholic theology, they should have published a lot more of these letters but they don’t. Why is that? Probably because they are just miffed that someone happens to say things in public print in a place their passive-aggressive witch hunts have no power of coercion.

#23 Comment By Anna Duarte On October 28, 2015 @ 8:53 pm

I think acusing the populace (especially in the US) of heresy, is much different than accusing the Pope and a good portion of his Bishops of the same.

I don’t see those as equivalent at all. Count me as one of the people that find Ross’ comments about the Synod out of line.

Your argument in this situation can be summed up as follows.

Liberal – “Let’s consider this and that while looking at the scripture.”
Conservative –“You aren’t Catholic, you are a Heretic.”
Liberal- ” Wait a minute a minute, that’s out of line.”
Conservative- “This is hypocrisy, I thought you wanted a conversation.

#24 Comment By dominic1955 On October 29, 2015 @ 10:58 am

Anna Duarte,

“Your argument in this situation can be summed up as follows.

Liberal – “Let’s consider this and that while looking at the scripture.”
Conservative –“You aren’t Catholic, you are a Heretic.”
Liberal- ” Wait a minute a minute, that’s out of line.”
Conservative- “This is hypocrisy, I thought you wanted a conversation.”

That is so over simplified as to be completely useless and you (should at least) know it.

[NFR: I know. I didn’t think it merited a response. — RD]