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When The Words Are Not Understood

September 28, 2021 Featured Today No Comments


“All the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are on the Index.” A Catholic acquaintance said this to me many years ago when the Catholic Church had an Index of forbidden books. He was clearly rather perplexed, as I was when he made his statement.
I said: “Even his Sherlock Holmes stories?” He replied: “I suppose so.” I didn’t know what to make of his assertion but continued to read Sherlock Holmes, as it was incredible that the Catholic Church would have forbidden the stories.
I found the probable solution many years later when I saw an explanation of the words “All the works” in this context. It was explained that works means books, not articles, short stories, or other short pieces; and all means all those dealing with doctrine or morality.
So if the Congregation of the Index pronounced “all the works” of Conan Doyle to be forbidden I presume this would mean simply his books, not articles, on spiritualism. Sherlock Holmes would be in the clear!
This is an example of how a word may be used in a precise technical sense, which should give clarity, but which will mislead a person not used to the terminology.
Another example is the principle that Church laws should be interpreted strictly. A person not familiar with the terminology might understand this to mean that if a law of the Church can be taken in either of two senses, one imposing a greater burden than the other, we should interpret it in the more rigorous sense.
For instance, milk may be regarded either as a drink or as a food, so how should it be regarded in relation to the Lenten fast? Are we interpreting the law strictly if we understand it to mean that for purposes of the Lenten fast milk should be regarded as a food, as distinct from a drink?
No, just the opposite. The word strictly here means “in the less burdensome sense.” And so with all ecclesiastical laws. The Church is careful to avoid the rigorist stance of the Pharisees, with their harsh interpretation of the laws, an attitude condemned by Christ. So if the words of a law made by the Church can be taken in two senses they should be understood in the sense that imposes the lesser burden.
Another example of a term used in Church documents and by theologians which can be understood in two ways is the expression “Wounded in his natural endowments.” This refers to the wounds inflicted on man by original sin: Our intellect is less clear than it would have been had we not been affected by original sin; our will is weaker than it would have been; our passions are harder to control.
But are these deficiencies a matter of our intellect, our will, and our passions having been intrinsically disordered by original sin? Or are they simply due to the fact that we have been deprived of preternatural gifts which God would have given us had Adam not sinned?
On more than one occasion when I have stated that Catholic theologians disagree on this question, and that we can hold either opinion, well-informed Catholics have quoted the above expression “Wounded in his natural endowments” as contradicting my statement. And that expression is official Catholic Church teaching: the Council of Trent uses it, as do the Profession of Faith of Pope Paul VI and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The confusion here arises from taking the English word natural as exactly equivalent to the Latin. In Latin as in English the word can mean belonging to the nature of the subject in question. But it can also refer to the original state of the subject. That original state is the state that Adam was in before original sin, when he had preternatural gifts which enhanced his natural powers.
The Church leaves this question open, deliberately using an expression which can be taken in either sense. Ludwig Ott, in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 113, outlines both positions and says most Catholic theologians do not think our powers were intrinsically weakened by Adam’s sin.
An example where correct terminology is of crucial importance is the term consubstantial. This is a translation of the Greek word homoousios or “of one nature.” It expresses the revealed truth that God the Son is identical in nature with God the Father.
This truth was fiercely contested by the Arians, who maintained that the Son was less than the Father. He could be called God in a limited sense, but was really the highest of all creatures. Only the Father was God in the strict sense.
Had this heresy prevailed (which God would not have allowed) it would have meant the destruction of Christianity, for the full Divinity of the Son is of the very essence of Christianity.
In the early centuries of the Church, there was great confusion about the meaning of the Trinity, the Divinity and humanity of Christ and the relation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to each other. And in those centuries the Church hammered out clear definitions, of which homoousion was the most fiercely disputed by heretics, but which clarified this revealed truth for all time.
Coming to the present day, vague language is continually used, both in religious discourse and in the secular sphere. And this is one reason for the widespread confusion which is continually getting worse.
For years now it has been impossible to use the word gay in its traditional sense: It has been appropriated by the homosexual lobby. Words are given new meanings for ideological purposes and words deemed objectionable have been banned.
We have the extraordinary situation in many countries today where the use of certain words in their traditional sense can lead to loss of employment or even legal action.
George Orwell, in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, portrayed a society in which language was manipulated to prevent people thinking clearly, or even formulating forbidden ideas. We are headed in that direction now.
A similar situation is portrayed by Aldous Huxley in his futuristic novel Brave New World, where marriage has been abolished, babies are produced in test tubes, and the words mother and father are regarded as obscene.
In recent years the manipulation of language has proceeded with astonishing speed and pushed relentlessly by the media, with corrupt governments aiding the process. We need to be aware of it and resist it, because the manipulation of language is for the purpose of manipulating thought and banishing the truth.

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