SIR,—I must reply as briefly as possible to the Rev. John Salter if we are not to end up by writing the CATHOLIC HERALD between us
Mr. Salter asks "How often have the popes spoken infallibly ? " I cannot answer. Neither can the experts, though a common estimate is about 20 times.
In some cases, such as Apossolicae Curae (1896), the intention to define ex Cathedra is not clearly stated so there is room for legitimate doubt (though this does not mean that the decision can be disregarded).
This is not such a disaster as Mr. Salter thinks. In many cases there is no doubt at all, as for example, the definitions of 1854 and 1950.
As for doubtful cases, no article of Catholic belief rests on a doubtful Papal decision. Nor do Catholics have to go through agonies of private interpretation to discover what to believe.
A Catholic is bound to accept the solemn teaching of the Church which is briefly stated in the Catechism and more fully stated in numerous text-books.
He is bound to accept it in the sense in which it is officially explained either by Papal or conciliar decree. Beyond this he need not go and seldom does, because he does not need to be a theologian to save his soul.
What of the many structures which theologians build on the de fide foundations ? It surprises many outside the Church to discover how widely these vary and how much freedom of opinion there is.
A Catholic may choose any opinion which does not conflict with established doctrine, though prudence suggests choosing what is technically called a " probable opinion."
Next, Mr. Salter asks "What constitutes a General Council ?" The Catholic Encyclopaedia gives this definition: "Ecumenical Councils are those to which bishops and others entitled to vote are convoked from the whole world under the presidency of the Pope or his legates and the decrees of which, having received papal confirmation, bind all Christians."
This definition is important. Several of the decrees of both Constance and Basle (Florence) are not recognised as ecumenical because they were refused the papal confirmation.
Noteworthy among these was the decision of Constance to which Mr. Salter refers, namely, that a General Council is superior to a pope. This belief. born, no doubt, of the Great Western Schism, was much canvassed in the fifteenth
century, but, lacking papal sanction, was eventually dropped.
Mr. Salter makes much of the present differences of Catholic theologians, now much in evidence owing to the Council. There is nothing new in this.
Previous Councils have displayed greater doctrinal differences than Vatican II. Deliberation is. a necessary part of all Councils so that out of the clash of opinions, truth may appear under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
But once the decrees of the Council are confirmed by the Pope, all Catholics must accept them. It is then that the unity of the Church is manifested.
Meanwhile, conservatives and liberals go merrily on their way all firmly believing that what the Pope ultimately confirms will be infallihy true. Neither Protestants nor Orthodox resemble the Roman church in this.
On St. Cyprian, I was surprised to learn that the Orthodox Church supports the Donatist heresy. I'm quite sure the Easterns didn't at the time of the Council of Arles (314 A.D.), which condemned it along with St. Cyprian. I doubt if they opposed St. Augustine, who wrote very fully on this point. However, I don't profess to know anything about present-day Orthodox theology.
To return to the Thirty-pine Articles. Many, of course, have tried to give a Catholic interpretation of them. Newman wrote Tract 90 in 1841 with this object and perhaps the best comment on his success is that he joined the Catholic Church in 1845. Yet, as, his Apologia shows, he was at least as far from Rome in 1841 as Mr. Mr. Salter appears now.
On the Mass and Article 31, I deny that what the Reformers objected to were errors in popular theories about the Mass. Fr. Francis Clark, SI, in his book. Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reformation (Darton Longman and Todd, 1960), has dealt extensively with this idea, still popular with some Anglo-Catholics.
He shows that current theories about the Mass were perfectly orthodox, illustrating this with copious quotations from contemporary theologians. It was the whole idea of sacrifice that was rejected by the Reformers.
That this was so in the case of the Anglican reformers cannot be doubted. The Edwardine Ordinal specifically excluded any idea of a sacrificing priesthood and it was mainly op this ground that Leo XIII declared Anglican orders to be invalid.
In judging the meaning of the Ordinal, the Pope referred to "the native character and spirit of the Ordinal" as the determining fact One cannot intend to exclude a sacrificing priesthood without intending to suppress the sacrifice of the Mass as such.
Lookinf at the "native character and spirit ' of the Articles confirms this truth even if we did not have the evidence of the persecution of " massing priests."
In the same "native character and spirit" we must look at the Reformers' attitude to relics and images (they smashed and desecrated virtually everything of this kind) to good works (fasting. penance, pilgrimages, etc., discontinued), reference to the five discarded sacraments as due to the "corrupt following" of the Apostles.
Mr. Salter's comparison of Dean Inge with Talleyrand is unfair. Talleyrand was excommunicated. The Dean continued in office. Admittedly, excommunication can be and was overdone in the late Middle Ages. But it must remain a weapon in the Church.
The Church is the Body of Christ. It is Christ who teaches through this Body. He cannot speak with conflicting voices.
The bishops are not individuals giving us the benefit of their opinions. They are men commissioned by Christ to deliver a message, not their message, but His. St. Paul rebuked St. Peter for bad example not for heresy, but he wrote to the Corinthians, the Galatians. the Ephesians, to Timothy and Titus about the necessity for adhering to "sound doctrine" and to unity.
There is no need to return to Tyburn or Smithfield, but isn't Mr. Salter overdoing Christian charity by "allowing heretics to retain communion with the orthodox until he accepts the orthodoxy of his fellow Christians ? " What if he persists in his errors ? And what of the scandal to those genuinely seeking the truth ?
D. J. Doyle.