The Intervention of Mgr. Dupanloup (Part I)
Bishop Dupanloup identifies some false interpretations of the Encyclical and responds by outlining true principles and rules of interpretation. He begins with an important clarification insofar as a given proposition only affirms the contradictory while not necessarily intending to affirm the contrary position.
Is the rigorous consequences of a condemned proposition well known in the world? Or rather, to show the manner in which they have exaggerated the Pontifical condemnations, are not most of those who have written on the Encyclical absolutely ignorant of it? I shall doubtless astonish them, by recalling to their minds elementary principles, not only in theology, but in logic. For example:
It is an elementary rule of interpretation, that the condemnation of a proposition rejected as false, erroneous, and even heretical, does not necessarily imply the affirmation of its contrary, which often might be another error; but only of its contradictory.
The contradictory proposition is that which simply excludes the condemned proposition. The contrary is that which goes beyond this simple exclusion.
Well, of this common rule they seem to have been entirely ignorant, in the inconceivable interpretation they have given us of the Encyclical and the Syllabus, during the last three weeks past.
There is another rule of interpretation, not less elementary, viz: that it must be seen whether the condemned proposition be universal and absolute; for then it may often happen that such a proposition is censured only because of its universality and its too absolute sense.
Example: “The principle called non-intervention must be proclaimed and observed.” (Prop. 62.)
In condemning this proposition, did the Pope intend to say that intervention should be maintained, right or wrong, without discernment, always?
In his third basic rule of interpretation, Mgr. Dupanloup points out the necessity to consider each and every term with attention to determine the scope and limit of the condemnation.
Another rule of interpretation, and of good sense, requires that all the terms of a condemned proposition should be studied and weighed with attention, to understand upon what the condemnation does or does not touch…Thus:
The Pope condemns this proposition: “The Roman Pontiff can and ought to reconcile and accommodate himself to modern civilization.”
Therefore, they conclude, the Papacy declares itself the irreconcilable enemy of modern civilization.
All that constitutes modern civilization is, according to the journals hostile to the Church, condemned by the Pope. This interpretation is simply an absurdity. The words demanding attention here are, to reconcile and accommodate himself.
In that which our adversaries designate under the name, so vaguely complex, of modern civilization, there is good, indifferent, and also much that is bad. With whatever is good or indifferent in modern civilization, the Pope has no need to reconcile himself. To say so would be an impertinence and an insult, as if one said to an honorable man, “Reconcile yourself with justice.”
With what is wrong, the Pope neither can nor ought to reconcile or accommodate himself. To pretend to such a thing would be an outrage. Here, then, is the sense (which is very simple) of the condemnations directed against the 80th proposition, to which I shall return.
The Absolute and the Relative
Mgr. Dupanloup then makes a critical distinction between the absolute and the relative. The former he called the “thesis” while the latter he termed the “hypothesis”. This basic framework would serve as the basis for ongoing theological discussion and debate on the Church in her relations with modern states. Catholic theologians would develop this model in different directions according to various philosophies. We will have more to say about this later. For now, it is sufficient to note this key distinction and that the relative view (hypothesis) may be considered admissible insofar as it is a legitimate application of immutable principles to concrete circumstances. On the other hand, a relative good should never be raised to the level of the good considered in the absolute sense (thesis).
There are yet other rules. In the interpretation of condemned propositions, it is necessary to remark all the terms, all the slight shades of expression; for the vice of a proposition is often found in a shade, in a word, which alone forms the error. The absolute propositions must be distinguished, as well as the relative propositions; for that which might be admissible in hypothesis will often be false in thesis. There are also equivocal or dangerous propositions, which can be condemned only because of the equivocation itself, and from the bad sense to which they may be applied, although they may also have a good sense.
Context is Key
The last rule of interpretation noted by Mgr. Dupanloup draws our attention to the importance of understanding the proposition in the sense that it was given by the Pope. For example, in the case of the Syllabus, it should be understood according to the sense given in the original Papal Allocution cited and never completely removed from its proper context. It is in this sense that Cardinal Newman considers that “the value of the Syllabus…lies in its references.” To get a better sense of this, Newman cites Prop. 77 of the Syllabus and explains as follows: “When we turn to the Allocution, which is the ground of its being put into the Syllabus, what do we find there? First, that the Pope was speaking, not of States universally, but of one particular State, Spain, definitely Spain; secondly, he was not speaking of the proposition in questions directly, or dogmatically, or separately, but was protesting against the breach in many ways of the Concordat on the part of the Spanish government.” Then, commenting on the true sense of the proposition, Newman states that “the Pope does merely not think it expedient for every state from this time forth to tolerate every sort of religion on its territory, and to disestablish the Church at once…for this is all that he denies. As in the instance of the foregoing section, he does but deny a universal…” (Cf. Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, 1875)
Finally, there are propositions (and the Syllabus includes several) which are condemned only in the sense given by their authors, and not in the absolute sense of the words when separated from the context, etc.
Mgr. Dupanloup then proceeds to enumerate several “principal mistakes” in regards to the sense that many have incorrectly attributed to the Papal act. One such mistake involves the matter of religious freedom.
I ask to be permitted to produce some other examples of propositions, of which the condemnation has been strangely understood, because all the rules of interpretation have been misconceived or forgotten, or rather because the translators have read, with an inconceivable levity, the theological formularies, edited in the brief and learned terms of the schools, somewhat as they are accustomed to read newspapers and romances.
To confine myself to the principal mistakes, there is in the Encyclical a proposition relative to the freedom of worship. This proposition has been interpreted in such a manner that the half of France, at this moment, imagines the Pope has really condemned the constitutions of nearly all the states of Europe, who admit the free exercise of worship; and that, consequently, it will not be permitted henceforth to take the oath for the maintenance of the constitution of our country.
Here is the proposition, whose absolute and excessive character is plain enough: “The highest social perfection and civil progress imperiously exact that human society should be constituted and governed without taking any more account of religion than if it had no existence, or at least without acknowledging any difference between true religion and false.” (Encycl.)
Would any one seriously ask us to subscribe to so exorbitant a doctrine? If the Pope brands it, how call that logic, in the name of which they would conclude that he condemns the political constitution which admits of tolerance and civil liberty to dissenting forms of worship? But I shall return to this point; it is too serious to be left without the full expressions of my thoughts.