40: a new attitude towards error
The Church, so the Pope says, is not to set aside or weaken its opposition to error, but “she prefers today to make use of the medicine of mercy, rather than the arms of severity.” She resists error “by showing the validity of her teaching, rather than by issuing condemnations.” This setting up of the principle of mercy as opposed to severity ignores the fact that in the mind of the Church the condemnation of error is itself a work of mercy, since by pinning down error those laboring under it are corrected and others are preserved from falling into it. Furthermore, mercy and severity cannot exist, properly speaking, in regard to error, because they are moral virtues which have persons as their object, while the intellect recoils from error by the logical act that opposes a false conclusion. Since mercy is sorrow at another’s misfortune accompanied by a desire to help him (Summa, II, II, q.30,a.1), the methods of mercy can only be applied to the person in error, whom one helps by confuting his error and presenting him with the truth; and can never be applied to his error itself, which is a logical entity that cannot experience misfortune. Moreover, the Pope reduces by half the amount of help that can be offered, since he restricts the whole duty of the Church regarding the person in error to the mere presentation of the truth: this is alleged to be enough in itself to undo the error, without directly opposing it. The logical work of confutation is to be omitted to make way for a mere didascalia (direct instruction) on the truth, trusting that it will be sufficient to destroy error and procure assent.
This papal teaching constitutes an important change in the Catholic Church, and is based on a peculiar view of the intellectual state of modern man. The Pope makes the paradoxical assertion that men today are so profoundly affected by false and harmful ideas in moral matters that “at last it seems men of themselves,” that is without refutations and condemnations, “are disposed to condemn them; in particular those ways of behaving which despise God and His law.” One can indeed maintain that a purely theoretical error will cure itself, since it arises from purely logical causes; but it is difficult to understand the proposition that a practical error about life’s activities will cure itself, since that sort of error arises from judgments in which the non-necessary elements of thought are involved. This optimistic interpretation of events, asserting that at last error is about to recognize and correct itself, is difficult enough to accept in theory; but it is also bluntly refuted by facts. Events were still maturing at the time the Pope spoke, but in the following decade they came to full fruition. Men did not change their minds regarding their errors, but became entrenched in them instead, and gave them the force of law. The public and universal acceptance of these errors became obvious with the adoption of divorce and abortion.
I will post Amerio on Capital Punishment next.
It makes no sense that we grant the use of unrestricted lethal force to a citizen with no judicial oversight, and simultaneously claim that the state has no right to the use of restricted lethal force with full judicial oversight.