Catholics Debate

News: Commentary
by Church Militant  •  •  December 16, 2022   

Healthy dialogue

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Debate has always been part of the Christian tradition. In fact, one of the earliest examples of Catholic debate occurred at the Council of Jerusalem, which is commonly recognized as the first council in Church history. Despite this reality, many modern theologians tend to shy away from such beneficial dialogue. 


Council of Jerusalem

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Although official Church councils are called and settled by the Magisterium, the debates within those councils concern the whole Church, especially the laity. 

For example, the Council of Jerusalem was called to settle the question of circumcision. Men were teaching, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). In disagreement, "Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them" (Acts 15:2).

To settle this debate, Paul, Barnabas and some others went to Jerusalem, where they were "welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders" (Acts 15:4). After there had been much debate, Peter, led by the Holy Spirit, agreed with Paul and Barnabas that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. Peter, as the chief Apostle, made the final decision, "and all the assembly kept silence" (Acts 15:12).

But not all theological debates demand a conclusive, definitive and authoritative answer. That is, not all disagreements end in an ecumenical council. Naturally, some theological debates remain open since the Church allows a diversity of opinions that do not contradict Catholic faith and morals. 

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The school of voluntarism versus the school of intellectualism offers an excellent example of such diversity. The voluntarists are largely represented by the Franciscans, while the intellectualists are largely represented by the Dominicans.

The debate peaked in the 13th century between two Franciscan friars, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, and a Dominican one, Thomas Aquinas. 

Catholic philosopher Edward Feser summarizes this great and complex Catholic debate: 

A voluntarist conception of persons takes the will to be primary and the intellect to be secondary. That is to say, for voluntarism, at the end of the day what we think reflects what we will. An intellectualist conception of persons takes the intellect to be primary and the will to be secondary. 

Today, Catholics seem to shy away from healthy dialogue. Disagreements and challenges are not seen as iron sharpening iron. Rather, they're seen as prideful and uncharitable.

On this point, St. Thomas Aquinas highlights the good that comes from good-willed men who disagree yet are seeking truth: "We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it."

To learn more about this topic, go Premium and watch this week's Mic'd Up, in which David Gordon interviews his boss Michael Voris.

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