Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

serial delusion

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 24, 2008

Remember that Serial Dilution technique you learned in high school chemistry? You mix one part base with nine parts solvent, and then use that solution as the base to which you add nine parts solvent, and so continue as long as you wish. Each step results in a ten-fold reduction in the concentration. You start out with, say, raw battery acid, and after five or six steps you could drink the solution on the rocks with no ill effects.

What brought serial dilution to mind was a number of recent articles in which Catholics are invited to embrace "a diversity of religious perspectives" about teachings that belong to the deposit of faith.

Here's what's going on: doctrinal differences are reductively treated as theological differences, which are in turn reductively treated as methodological differences, which are reductively treated as aesthetic preferences, i.e., matters of taste.

Take the example of two mass-goers. One believes that, through Christ's action in the priest-celebrant, the wheaten host is changed in the Eucharist such that Christ is really present under the appearance of bread. Another mass-goer believes that the Eucharistic ceremony changes not the host but rather the dispositions of the recipient, and that a rice-flour wafer would serve the purpose just as well.

In traditional terms, this disagreement would be called a difference of doctrine, and their contradictory convictions would in and of themselves put the disputants in different Churches (in the 16th and 17th centuries, differences of this scale provided the grounds for wars of religion). Dilutors, however, treat the disagreement in the first instance as a difference not in doctrine but in theology: the former mass-goer has a Thomistic theology employing the concepts of substance, act, &c., the latter a process theology that explores the developing subjectivity of the observer. In the next step, these theological differences are explained as divergent methodologies, the former being "static" and aimed at cognitive clarity, the latter being "dynamic" and oriented toward a plurality of associative responses. These methodologies, finally, are placed beyond the sphere of rational choice -- and therefore beyond criticism and justification -- but are seen to be "pre-discursive" preferences. One man just prefers Bach to Debussy; another just prefers Debussy to Bach. One man just likes peach ice cream more than chocolate; another just likes chocolate ice cream more than peach. One man just happens to believe in the Real Presence; the guy in the next pew just happens to disbelieve it. "So why," the dilutors ask, "do you get flustered and angry about questions of taste? Let's celebrate diversity." Not only has orthodox teaching on the Eucharist been gutted of any force, but the doctrine of doctrine has disappeared.

"There are many gifts," says St. Paul, "but the same Spirit." Paul might be called the apostle of diversity. "Are all prophets?" he asks, " Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?" He wants the Corinthians to stop bickering about the relative importance of their roles and rejoice in the variety of gifts. But the reason for the variety is to preach an invariant body of doctrine. And regarding that body Paul had zero tolerance for diversity, as we read in Galatians 1:9: "As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be anathema." Not, let him share the pulpit with an orthodox Catholic on alternate weekends; let him be excommunicated.

Where disagreement is impossible, agreement is worthless. It's not unlikely that the homily you heard this Sunday was an example of doctrinal dilution. If it was, ask yourself: was it in any sense Good News? Is there anyone, in any circumstances, alive in any epoch, for whom it could be?

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  • Posted by: Bernadette - Oct. 31, 2009 10:51 PM ET USA

    The big trouble with our educational system is the "Dumbing Down" of America. We must be lifted up and how good and fun it is to learn new words, improve our vocabularies. My dear mother and grandmother and I used to play a game by way of letters, listing new words and challenging each other with: "Do you know these words?" Then, we would write back listing several new words with the same question. By all means, let us be challenged to learn these words soon to come in the new translation!

  • Posted by: SentimentalGent - Oct. 29, 2009 9:17 PM ET USA

    Bishop Trautperson should also consider that whenever the Church went through rough and rocky times, it wasn't the bishops who saved the Church, it was the "ordinary" Catholics. Trautentity maybe?

  • Posted by: parochus - Oct. 29, 2009 1:29 PM ET USA

    Can't understand gibbet or inviolate or oblation or ignominy? Well, heck, you'd better not learn them! And don't be teaching your children the "Our Father" with "thy" and "art" and "trespasses"!

  • Posted by: Pete - Oct. 29, 2009 12:21 PM ET USA

    If the "Successors of the Apostles" refuse to preach the Gospel, who will? What a shame that bishops aren't subject to "judicial review" and impeachment! Rome has spoken definitively that the "inclusive language" is OUT. What happened to the vow of OBEDIENCE the priests and bishops took? Does their "leadership" and dissent mean it's all right for us to "bend or bruise" the Ten Commandments and Church law? Truatman is a disgrace and should at least be removed from that committee!

  • Posted by: - Oct. 28, 2009 5:16 PM ET USA

    One last's Trautperindividual!

  • Posted by: a son of Mary - Oct. 28, 2009 10:53 AM ET USA

    Trautperson? You guys are killin' me! I seriously needed a laugh despite the serious nature of this discussion and the many kooks who managed to end up leading us. Just remember, when Henry VIII told all the English clergy to join or else, only ONE bishop stood up for Christ and His Church, the rest rolled.

  • Posted by: Antonius - Oct. 28, 2009 8:49 AM ET USA

    To all those who have taken to calling the prelate of Erie "Trautperson," please be sensitive. We all know, rather, that it should be "Trautperdaughter."

  • Posted by: - Oct. 28, 2009 12:52 AM ET USA

    I think it's about time to stop baby-ing "ordinary" Catholics and start bringing about extraordinary Catholics!

  • Posted by: malber02 - Oct. 27, 2009 11:51 PM ET USA

    This is absolutely ridiculous. We "ordinary Catholics" have heard these words all of our lives. Especially those of us who have English as a Second Language. No wonder our bishops are in such a bad shape to lead this country's church in the right direction. May God help us.

  • Posted by: brinleer4763 - Oct. 27, 2009 10:57 PM ET USA

    As the least educated of my friends once explained to me, "Poor folks ain't dumb". Bishop Trautman can relax. We ordinary folks will figure it out, and in the meantime we will understand that in the liturgy important ideas ought not to be dumbed down.

  • Posted by: michaelwilmes - Oct. 27, 2009 10:52 PM ET USA

    Amen! And Bishop Trautperson is not your "ordinary" "Ordinary".

  • Posted by: Ken_H - Oct. 27, 2009 10:15 PM ET USA

    Dear Bishop Trautman - it is good to learn new words! Thank you... an ordinary adult Catholic, who has trouble comprehending the Bishops sometimes!

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Oct. 27, 2009 10:06 PM ET USA

    I have no problem with "inviolate"...etc, but what about gibbet? Who uses that word? All I can think about is gravy as some clergy member stated.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Oct. 27, 2009 7:38 PM ET USA

    What Bishop Trautman is really upset about is "pro-multis" being returned to the authentic translation "for the many" instead of "for all" in the words of Consecration. It doesn't fit in with the heresy of "universal salvation" that has crept into the Catholic Church.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 27, 2009 6:39 PM ET USA

    There's an aspect that is seldom mentioned: truth. The current translations are untruthful--and this is concerning the most sacred encounter with God--who is Truth itself. It is wonderful that efforts are being made to restore truth to the translations--pray that Trautperson will fail.