Interlocutor kindly commented on my post “The Permissibility (or Not) of Dissent“, asking whether the instruction Donum Veritatis (DV), issued in 1990 by the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith, doesn’t imply the allowability of a certain degree of dissent. I hadn’t read DV, but having now had the chance to do so, here is my answer to that question:
DV first explains the role of theologians in the Church, which is “to pursue in a particular way an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the inspired Scriptures and handed on by the living Tradition of the Church” [para. 6]. This is for the purpose of seeking “the ‘reasons of faith'” and offering those reasons “as a response to those seeking them”, for “men cannot become disciples if the truth found in the word of faith is not presented to them” [para. 7]. In summary, the theologian helps the People of God to “contemplat[e] ever more deeply, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the contents of the faith itself” and to “present the reasonableness of the faith to those who ask for an account of it” [para. 5].
Theologians may use “the elements and conceptual tools of philosophy or other disciplines” from the “surrounding culture”, in order to “illumine one or other aspect of the mysteries of faith”, but when it does so, “revealed doctrine … itself must furnish the criteria for the evaluation of these elements and conceptual tools and not vice versa” [para. 10]. There may be “[f]reedom of research”, but in the context of theology such freedom “means an openness to accepting the truth that emerges at the end of an investigation in which no element has intruded that is foreign to the methodology corresponding to the object under study“. In theology the methodology, as said before, consists in using as the criteria for evaluation “[r]evelation, handed on and interpreted in the Church under the authority of the Magisterium, and received by faith.” To do otherwise is “to cease doing theology” [para. 12].
It then reflects upon the role of the Magisterium in the Church. I will assume that Interlocutor and I know and agree what that role is. If not our differences may become clearer after further correspondence.
It goes on to discuss the collaboration between theologians and the Magisterium: “The theologian, to be faithful to his role of service to the truth, must take into account the proper mission of the Magisterium and collaborate with it” [para. 20]. It must work with the Magisterium, not against it. “[T]he theologian is officially charged with the task of presenting and illustrating the doctrine of the faith in its integrity and with full accuracy” [para. 22].
Interlocutor writes, “the assent to infallible teaching (sacred assent) is different from assent to ordinary teaching”. Maybe so, but is dissent allowed from either?
The way DV puts it is, “When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed.” [para. 23].
“When the Magisterium proposes ‘in a definitive way’ truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held” [para. 23].
Finally, “[w]hen the Magisterium, not intending to act ‘definitively’, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.” [para. 23]
Thus even the lowest form of teaching mentioned by DV requires “religious submission of will and intellect”.
It is only after setting forth these three levels of magisterial teaching, and the appropriate response to each, that DV begins to discuss “questions under discussion”, in paragraph 24, part of which Interlocutor quotes. Frankly I’m not certain what “questions under discussion” refers to, but apparently they are of lower import than the three levels of Magisterial teaching just now set forth, since those were set forth in decreasing order of importance and immediately precede this paragraph. In fact calling them “questions under discussion” seems to indicate that they are not teachings, per se, at all. Thus to the extent that this paragraph implies the allowability of disagreement with the Magisterium, apparently it’s only to the extent that the Magisterium has not made a formal pronouncement on the question at all, which is why it remains a “question under discussion”.
Next, finally, is mentioned for the first time what might be conceived of as some slight degree of dissent on the part of theologians. However it does not refer to “dissent” at all, but only says that the theologian may, “according to the case”, raise questions. But before doing even that, he must “assess accurately the authoritativeness of the interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed” [para. 24].
Further on in paragraph 24, we get an admission that “some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies” — but this refers to “the question of interventions in the prudential order”, in other words questions having to do with practical matters. This is the context of the other section of paragraph 24 which Interlocutor quotes, concerning “some judgments of the Magisterium” which may have contained “true assertions and others which were not sure”. It is of these, i.e. Magisterial documents concerning practical matters, that it is said that some “filtering … occurs with the passage of time”.
DV continues, speaking of possible “tensions” which “may arise between the theologian and the Magisterium”, which, depending upon “the spirit with which they are faced” can become “a stimulus to both the Magisterium and theologians to fulfill their respective roles while practicing dialogue”. [para. 25] But “[e]ven if the doctrine of the faith is not in question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions” [para. 27]. Thus the theologian must proceed with caution in disagreements with the Magisterium, even when they don’t involve doctrines of the faith. How much more so when they do?
It then discusses theologians who “might have serious difficulties … in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching”. But note that it mentions only “difficulties” in accepting — it gives no permission for outright dissent. If someone does have difficulties, he may not base them on the ground that “the validity of the given teaching is not evident”, or that “the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable”, nor even on the grounds of “the subjective conscience of the theologian” [para. 28].
Such a theologian must undertake “an intense and patient reflection” and “if need be, … revise his own opinions and examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him” [para. 29]. If after this his difficulties remain, he “has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented”. He must do this “in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties” [para. 30].
Note DV’s consistent use of the term “difficulties” in this context, as opposed to “dissent”.
Even then, the theologian’s “difficulty” might remain, “because the arguments to the contrary seem more persuasive to him”. In this case, when “[f]aced with a proposition to which he feels he cannot give his intellectual assent”, is the theologian now permitted to dissent from magisterial teaching? On the contrary, he “has the duty to remain open to a deeper examination of the question. For a loyal spirit, animated by love for the Church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail.” [para. 31]
Finally DV gets around to discussing “dissent” per se — identifying it immediately as a bad thing, in the chapter heading titled, “The problem of dissent”. It turns out Paul VI issued an apostolic exhortation of “this problem”, “which must be distinguished from the situation of personal difficulties treated above” [para. 32]. So difficulties in accepting magisterial teaching are not the same as dissent.
Dissent has “diverse forms” and multiple “remote and proximate causes”, such as “[t]he ideology of philosophical liberalism, which permeates the thinking of our age” and “[t]he weight of public opinion when manipulated and its pressure to conform”. In any case, “[w]e are dealing … here with something quite different from the legitimate demand for freedom in the sense of absence of constraint as a necessary condition for the loyal inquiry into truth.” [para. 32] Indeed, “[t]he freedom of the act of faith cannot justify a right to dissent” [para. 36]. And “[f]inally, argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one’s own conscience cannot legitimate dissent.”
So in answer to your question, “Surely development must entail a degree of dissent?”, DVs answer is a clear “no”. Difficulties may arise, but when that happens, theologians “should seek their solution in trustful dialogue with the Pastors, in the spirit of truth and charity which is that of the communion of the Church” [para. 40]. “To succumb to the temptation of dissent, on the other hand, is to allow the ‘leaven of infidelity to the Holy Spirit’ to start to work” [para. 40].
As Newman famously wrote, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” It seems to me that by the same token, it may be said that a thousand theological difficulties do not justify dissent from the authoritative teaching of the Church. According to DV, one must work through difficulties in concert with the Magisterium, without resorting to the rebellion against authority which is necessarily entailed in dissent.