David Cruz-Uribe quotes Cardinal Mueller in his piece on Two Perspectives on Two Vexing Questions over at Vox Nova. I’m not engaging with his piece here, which is well worth a read; but this quotation leapt out at me:
Not even an ecumenical council can change the doctrine of the Church, because its founder, Jesus Christ, has entrusted the faithful custody of his teachings and his doctrine to the apostles and their successors.
Erm, isn’t an ecumenical council precisely a gathering of the successors of the apostles, to whom Christ entrusted the faithful custody of his teachings? Isn’t it therefore implicit in the concept of an ecumenical council that it can change the doctrine of the church, if and when the council discerns that the doctrine of the church has departed from, or could be made more faithful to, the teachings and doctrine of Christ? Isn’t that, in fact, what ecumenical councils are for?
And that’s not even invoking the power to bind and loose.
I’m increasingly losing patience with the argument that “the Church has no authority to…” do whatever it is, whether it’s to ordain women priests or revise the doctrine of marriage. Yes, the church does have that authority, because Christ gave it to us: that’s part of the remarkable foolish risk that our God takes in entrusting the work of the kingdom to our fallible human hands.
The church has no authority to change truth: but doctrine and truth are not the same thing. Doctrine is an inevitably inadequate attempt to express the truth of the faith: an attempt, moreover, that is invariably and inescapably historically conditioned. Sometimes we get it wrong; and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, sometimes we realize we got it wrong and we change it.
It is a historical fact that church teaching has changed over time. Roman Catholic church doctrine was not dictated to Peter by Jesus. The ahistorical paradigm insisted on by Trent was rejected by Vatican II, when that ecumenical council accepted that historical fact and the human and ecclesiological truth that it revealed.
The church has the authority. It’s time to stop hiding behind this appeal to impotence: if prelates oppose this change or that change, they should man up (and I use the phrase advisedly) and make their case.