Monday, August 15, 2022

Aquinas on St. Paul’s correction of St. Peter

A pope speaks ex cathedra when he presents some teaching in a formal and definitive manner that is intended infallibly to settle debate about it once and for all.  This is an exercise of what is called the “extraordinary magisterium,” and Catholics are obligated to give such declarations their unreserved assent.  The ordinary magisterium of the Church can also teach infallibly under certain circumstances (which I have discussed elsewhere), and here too such teaching is owed unreserved assent.  Even when the pope or the Church teach about a matter of faith or morals in a manner that is not infallible, Catholics normally owe such teaching what is called “religious assent,” an adherence that is not absolute but nevertheless firm. 

There can nevertheless be very rare exceptions where those learned in some matter of faith or morals who detect difficulties in a magisterial statement are permitted respectfully to raise objections to it and ask the Church for clarification.  This was explicitly acknowledged in the instruction Donum Veritatis issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger under Pope St. John Paul II.  The clearest sort of case where this would be permitted would involve a magisterial statement that appears to conflict with the previous settled teaching of the Church, and Donum Veritatis explicitly distinguishes respectful criticism of the kind in question from “dissent” from the Church’s traditional teaching.

I have in another place discussed this matter in detail, and as I show there, the teaching of Donum Veritatis is by no means a novelty, but has deep roots in the tradition of the Church.  Among the most important precedents is the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas about St. Paul’s correction of St. Peter, and how that episode illustrates how Catholics can in rare cases have the right and even the duty to correct their prelates.  I discussed Aquinas’s teaching in that earlier article, but here I want to examine it in greater detail.

The first thing to note is that Aquinas’s position in no way reflects a weaker conception of papal authority than the one that prevailed in later centuries.  On the contrary, in the Summa Theologiae St. Thomas writes:

[T]he promulgation of a creed belongs to the authority of the one who has the authority to fix, in the form of sentences, the things that belong to the Faith (ea quae sunt fidei), so that they might be held by everyone with an unshakable faith. 

Now this belongs to the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, “to whom,” as Decretals, dist. 17 says, “the greater and more difficult questions in the Church are referred.”  Hence, in Luke 22:32 our Lord said to Peter, whom He set up as Supreme Pontiff, “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith might not fail; and when you have been converted, strengthen your brothers.”

And the reason for this is that the Faith ought to be one for the whole Church – this according to 1 Corinthians 1:10 (“... that you should all profess the same thing, and that there not be schisms among you”).  But this condition could not be preserved unless a question about the Faith that arises from the Faith were determined by someone who presides over the whole Church in such a way that his decision (sententia) is held firmly by the whole Church.

And so the new promulgation of a creed belongs solely to the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, just like all the other things that pertain to the Church as a whole, such as convening a general council and other things of this sort. (Summa Theologiae II-II.1.10, Freddoso translation)

Note that Aquinas here characterizes the Supreme Pontiff or pope as having authority to settle doctrinal disputes in such a way that his decisions must be “held firmly” and indeed with “unshakable faith” by Catholics.  And he describes Peter as Supreme Pontiff.  Yet he also elsewhere goes on to approve of Paul’s correction of Peter, and to see in it an example for later Catholics to follow.  How can both of these things be true?  The answer, obviously, is that Aquinas, like the Church today, recognizes a distinction between ex cathedra papal teaching and papal teaching of a less definitive nature.  And like the Church today, he recognizes that under certain circumstances, the latter can not only be in error but even open to criticism by the faithful. 

What circumstances would those be?  Let’s take a look at what Aquinas says.  The relevant texts are to be found in Summa Theologiae II-II.33.4 and in Aquinas’s Commentary on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, in Chapter 2, Lecture 3.  The commentary discusses in some detail the famous incident when Paul publicly rebuked Peter.  To give some context, here is how the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on St. Peter summarizes what happened:

While Paul was dwelling in Antioch… St. Peter came thither and mingled freely with the non-Jewish Christians of the community, frequenting their houses and sharing their meals.  But when the Christianized Jews arrived in Jerusalem, Peter, fearing lest these rigid observers of the Jewish ceremonial law should be scandalized thereat, and his influence with the Jewish Christians be imperiled, avoided thenceforth eating with the uncircumcised.

His conduct made a great impression on the other Jewish Christians at Antioch, so that even Barnabas, St. Paul's companion, now avoided eating with the Christianized pagans.  As this action was entirely opposed to the principles and practice of Paul, and might lead to confusion among the converted pagans, this Apostle addressed a public reproach to St. Peter, because his conduct seemed to indicate a wish to compel the pagan converts to become Jews and accept circumcision and the Jewish law.

End quote.  Note that though it was Peter’s actions rather than his words that caused the problem, the controversy was nevertheless doctrinal in nature.  For it was “principles” as well as sound practice that Paul sought to uphold in the face of Peter’s bad example, and in particular he wished to prevent others from being led into the doctrinal error of supposing that “pagan converts [were obligated] to become Jews and accept circumcision and the Jewish law.”

This is exactly how Aquinas saw the situation.  In the Galatians commentary, he says that what Peter had done posed “danger to the Gospel teaching,” and that Peter and those who followed his example “walked not uprightly unto the truth of the Gospel, because its truth was being undone” (emphasis added).  Peter failed to do his duty insofar as “the truth must be preached openly and the opposite never condoned through fear of scandalizing others” (emphasis added).  Clearly, then, in Aquinas’s view the problem was not merely that Peter acted badly, but that he seemed to condone doctrinal error and risked leading others to do the same. 

A second point Aquinas makes in the Galatians commentary is that Paul rebuked Peter “openly,” “not in secret… but publicly.”  And he says that “the manner of the rebuke was fitting, i.e. public and plain” because Peter’s “dissimulation posed a danger to all.” 

A third point Aquinas makes here is that this rebuke nevertheless was not a matter of usurping Peter’s authority.  Aquinas says that “the Apostle opposed Peter in the exercise of authority, not in his authority of ruling” (emphasis added).  For Aquinas, it’s not that Peter did not have papal authority, but rather that in this instance his exercise of it amounted to an abuse.  What Paul was doing was reminding Peter to do his duty.  In this way, says Aquinas, Paul “benefitted” Peter and “shows how he helped Peter by correcting him.”

Finally, Aquinas proposes the following as the lesson of this episode:

Therefore from the foregoing we have an example: prelates, indeed, an example of humility, that they not disdain corrections from those who are lower and subject to them; subjects have an example of zeal and freedom, that they fear not to correct their prelates, particularly if their crime is public and verges upon danger to the multitude.

End quote.  Since the pope is a prelate, and the example involved no less than Peter, the first pope, it is obvious that Aquinas intends this lesson to apply to popes and not merely to lesser prelates.

In the Summa, Aquinas makes similar remarks, but also adds some crucial further points.  The passage is worth quoting from at length:

[F]raternal correction is a work of mercy.  Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected...

A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction…

Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect…

It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him...

To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith.  But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully… It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.   Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”

To presume oneself to be simply better than one's prelate, would seem to savor of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault.  We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, “being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger,” as Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above.

End quote.  Here too, Aquinas teaches that prelates can sometimes err in a way that threatens the faith; that when this occurs they can be corrected by their subjects; that this correction can take place publicly; that this is a matter of helping a prelate, and that the prelate should be open to accepting such help; and (since his example is once again Paul’s correction of Peter) that all of this applies even to popes.  But he makes the further important point that it is wrong to object either that subjects who correct prelates thereby exceed their authority, or that such subjects are guilty of a sin of pride.

In response to the first objection, Aquinas says that what subjects lack is the right to carry out a certain kind of correction, namely the kind “which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment.”  In other words, a prelate who abuses his authority in the ways Aquinas has in view does not thereby lose his authority.  His is still a prelate with all the authority that that entails, and the one who corrects him is still subject to him.  Hence the subject cannot punish a prelate for his errors, remove him from office, or the like.  But that does not entail that he cannot simply point out to the prelate that he is in error.  There is no usurpation of authority in that, says Aquinas, but rather an “act of charity” of a “fraternal” nature.  In response to the second objection, Aquinas points out that it is simply not the case that the correction of a prelate must be motivated by the sin of pride.  It can instead be motivated by charity and a desire to help.

But this brings us to a further, and absolutely crucial, point added by the discussion in the Summa.  Since a subject remains a subject, even his justifiable correction of a prelate must not be carried out with “insolence,” “impudence,” or “harshness,” but rather “in a becoming manner,” “charitably” and “with gentleness and respect.”  And as Aquinas says in another place, it is irrelevant whether the prelate who needs correction is an evil man.  For the office he holds belongs to Christ, and that office therefore deserves honor whether or not the man who holds it does.

Applied to the case of a pope, Aquinas’s teaching on the correction of prelates by their subjects can be summed up in the following points:

1. When a pope is not making an ex cathedra definition, it is possible for him to fail to do his duty to uphold orthodox doctrine, even in a manner that seems to condone its opposite.

2. When this occurs, it is permissible for the faithful to correct him, and to do so publicly if his error is public and threatens to mislead many.

3. This is in no way a challenge to the pope’s authority or a manifestation of pride, but on the contrary constitutes charitable assistance to the pope in properly exercising his authority.

4. However, such correction must only ever be carried out in a humble and respectful manner, and never with insolence or harshness.

5. When such respectful criticism is offered, a pope should respond to it with humility.

As I noted in the article referred to above, Aquinas’s position is by no means unique in the tradition.  Similar teaching is to be found in the writings of St. Robert Bellarmine, St. John Henry Newman, and other eminent theologians in Catholic history.  St. Francis de Sales wrote:

Thus, we do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII, or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was… When he errs in his private opinion he must be instructed, advised, convinced; as happened with John XXII…  So everything the Pope says is not canon law or of legal obligation; he must mean to define and to lay down the law for the sheep, and he must keep the due order and form… And again we must not think that in everything and everywhere his judgment is infallible, but then only when he gives judgment on a matter of faith in questions necessary to the whole Church; for in particular cases which depend on human fact he can err, there is no doubt, though it is not for us to control him in these cases save with all reverence, submission, and discretion. (The Catholic Controversy, pp. 225-26)

Naturally, such statements raise further questions and call for qualifications of various kinds.  Donum Veritatis addresses some of them, as do other statements made by Cardinal Ratzinger during John Paul II’s pontificate.  Again, see the article referred to above.  And again, as the teaching of Aquinas and the other saints and theologians cited here shows, Donum Veritatis does not add some novelty to the tradition, but builds on what was already long there.

Related posts:

The Church permits criticism of popes under certain circumstances

Aquinas on bad prelates

Papal fallibility

Denial flows into the Tiber

Popes, heresy, and papal heresy

Two popes and idolatry

The strange case of Pope Vigilius

Pope Victor redux?


  1. "However, such correction must only ever be carried out in a humble and respectful manner, and never with insolence or harshness."

    Note some of the those who have responded thus
    to Francis have fallen from the Faith.

    *Cough!* Skojec/Scamblia *Cough!*

    I distrusted attacks and criticism of Pope Francis in the beginning. Even thought now I am way more open to it I still feel it is better to treat it with suspicion. Even if Francis in his heart of hearts was a devil it is not hard to see much of the hostility directed at him also comes from the Devil.

    Also note Francis, whatever his failings grave or otherwise will not be Pope forever and we must pray to God his successor is not worst to make us pine for the "clear orthodoxy of Francis" by contrast.

  2. This is an exercise of what is called the “extraordinary magisterium,” and Catholics are obligated to give such declarations their unreserved assent... Even when the pope or the Church teach about a matter of faith or morals in a manner that is not infallible, Catholics normally owe such teaching what is called “religious assent,” an adherence that is not absolute but nevertheless firm.

    I wish to elicit a thesis that seems certain, and then raise a question from it. The first point above is that the assent owed is "unreserved". The other kind of assent, for cases of "religious assent", then (seemingly) MUST be reserved. For that is the other option.

    But "reserved" assent, it seems to me, can be characterized as capable of variation. That's because the CAUSE is capable of variation: the reason for the reserve can come from different sources and thus present differences IN the reserve held.

    Most significantly, it seems likely if not certain, there can be differences of DEGREE in the basis for reserve. For example, if a prelate says something that appears blatantly contrary to what the pope teaches, that would be one reason for holding a reservation regarding what the prelate is saying. But if a different prelate says something that seems LESS blatantly, or less definitively, contrary to what the pope teaches, (but still seemingly contrary), that would be a reason for holding a reservation in a lesser way than in the former case.

    The next thesis is that there seems to be an infinite variation in degree in the way a prelate's teaching can present itself as being not conformable to what the pope or Church has taught. There is no room for any bright line demarcations between teachings that are
    absolutely clearly contrary, or
    pretty clearly contrary, or
    somewhat clearly contrary, or
    apparently contrary, or
    maybe contrary, but not clearly, etc.

    The way people use language, and the way heresiarchs misuse language, is constantly full of ambiguities, and we cannot always readily lay out as if with mathematical precision just how opposed a prelate's teaching is to the Church's past teaching. Hence it is impossible to assay "reservations" into any neat categories, when the faithful legitimately have to some teaching by a prelate.

    Hence my question: is it REALLY the case that the category of "religious assent" should be described as one in which the faithful hold "firm" assent to the teaching proposed? I would propose as an alternative that the proper description must take account of the nature of "reserved" assent, and thus calling it "firm" absent recognition of the (various) bases for reservation is, probably, inappropriate.

    I think, also, that this is necessarily implied in the fact that various prelates tried (successfully) to admonish and correct John XXII in his erroneous teaching: had they given FIRM religious assent to his teaching, they would have been unable to also firmly, strongly suggest that he re-evaluate his opinion, which they did.

    The character of religious assent, it seems to me, bears with it the nature and degree of reservation that causes one to reserve one's assent.

    1. is it REALLY the case that the category of "religious assent" should be described as one in which the faithful hold "firm" assent to the teaching proposed?

      Yes. But such ("firm religious") assent is only "normally" owed to the relevant teachings, i.e., not when they are in any way contrary to established Church teaching (or more generally, contrary to the truth).

  3. I would also point out that the conditions raised by Donum Veritatis on the theologian who has found it necessary to reserve his assent to a teaching, are not by their nature SPECIFIC to theologians and nobody else. The document is directed to theologians, but the principles elicited are not principles that perforce apply ONLY to theologians, and (especially) not only to ACCREDITED theologians with degrees from universities that offer such degrees. The principles are, indeed, more general in nature, and apply to ALL those who have learned the faith and have learned specific propositions under that faith, and whose knowledge thus gained might come into tension with any teaching by a prelate whose comments might be infelicitous. It is for this very reason that our dear Dr. Feser, a philosopher and not a theologian, has proper grounds for noting due causes of reservation on such papal statements as on the death penalty.

    As to degreed theologians, I would offer the comment that of the some 240 "catholic" colleges / universities in the US, less than 2 dozen of them (i.e. less than 10%) are correctly subordinate to a "mandatum" regime as demanded by JP II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae (and, I suspect, not a single university that issues post-graduate theology degrees is). It could be argued that EVERY SINGLE theology degree offered by those universities that issue them should be considered suspect or worse, and - if it were necessary to have a justifiable theology degree in order to justifiably hold a reserved assent to some prelate's teaching - none of these theologians would qualify. (In fact, I am not confident that a SINGLE bishop in the US properly administers a mandatum regimen in his diocese for theology teachers, and I have read of several bishops who expressly reject such practice, and others who pay only the most superficial lip-service to the notion. The "less than 2 dozen" comment above comes from the fewer than 10% of Catholic US colleges that themselves care about the mandatum, not to the bishops.

    In any event, I believe that the conditions laid out for theologians in Donum Veritatis are broader in scope than just for theologians, because they stem from the nature of faithful assent (both of the reserved and the unreserved sort), and NOT from the "professional" status of the theologian or his training. It's just that the theologian will have far more opportunity to have clear bases for thinking that any apparent tension between a prelate's teaching and the Church's actual teaching represents REAL tension between them.

  4. The kind of vitriol that one sees directed at the Pope these days is lamentable especially when it emanates from right wing political activists like Matt Walsh and Jeremy Boreing.

    Like I understand that by nature right wing politics is reactionary and that it is called for, but there is also a limit, a line that shouldn't be crossed.

    I remember very recently Walsh and Boreing discussing how "anti-american" the vatican is because they took a very critical position on gun rights. It's like dude, of all the problems in the church, gun rights are not even one of them. I don't think that most natural law theorists would even consider guns a right or at the very least wouldn't consider it as a fundamental right. It's just a cultural fancy.

    I also remember when some gun organizations came out against the Texas abortion (An issue that actually matters) bill because they were scared guns would be taken away. That is just evil.

    Overall lots of these right wing figures (and left wing figures ) tend to evoke Catholicism in the name of their activism which is just wrong. And if the Church at times diverges from their position they take it as permission to go after the Church.

    Like for example even though John Paul II didn't see all issues on the same moral par because some issues are more urgent and pressing, he still viewed them as issues and advocated for their solutions, he has issued statements in favour of equal pay for women, issued statements on climate change, campaigned against the death penalty, advocated for immigrants and refugees (although along the prescribed guidelines of the immigrant having to respect culture), and whatever is your position on immigration policy, it is definitely wrong to refer to them as "aliens" as Michael Knowles does.

    Today the American right would consider JPII to be a left wing activist.
    Most of the issues I mentioned above are top issues for an average republican or trump supporter, abortion falls very low on that list and gay marriage isn't even an issue anymore lol, just ask Ron De Santis for his views (spoiler:- he'll duck it).

    The Church is not a political institution and shouldn't be one in this age (don't even get me started on the integralists, those people are so utopianist you wonder if they live on Earth) , although the Church may legitimately use it's influence on the laity to steer them towards sound public policy and public morality, this is also done keeping in mind the Church's ultimate goal of saving souls and to the extent that it is possible or practical to bring about a change in policy, since in many places of the world there isn't much that can be done to change public policy (due to small numbers, different judicial structures), the Church focuses mainly on the goal of saving souls and effecting public morality in the social sphere rather then the political. If changing the law isn't feasible, atleast one can work towards reducing its effects.

    Overall I think the politicisation of the Church's mission is what leads to the overall lack of paternal respect demonstrated by prominent figures.

    1. @Norm I mean some form of integralism kinda was the status quo for many countries several centuries ago - and if enough people accepted the Gospel such that the culture in general became baptised as well, having this make an influence on law-making and politics seems kinda inevitable.

      But yeah, many integralists I've encountered still seem to think that this is a realistic option in the modern world, or something which COULD feasibly be achieved given enough effort, today, which just seems very very unlikely to me.

    2. Hi at @JoeD, Fair Enough!

      I think that the term "integralist" doesn't really have much to do with laws that concern public morality such as Abortion or Gay Marriage. I don't think that ,when the Church in the old days instituted laws against those actions, they thought they were doing something Churchy (pardon the crude adverb, I am sleepy), they would have regarded it as something which was completely in keeping with basic norms of morality that one might expect of even non Christian authorities.

      The real integralism which I have a beef with is the one which advocates a confessional state and subdues or prevents other religions from practicing or propagating their faith.

      This integralism just seems incompatible with the Church 's mission in the modern world to bring the faith to the gentiles.

      If you don't allow other religions to convert in places where you are in power, how can you expect that they will allow Christians to spread the faith in places where Christians are the minority.

      It's just practically not feasible.

      Not to forget that most of the unevangelized areas like China and India , are places that have already suffered huge atrocities in the name of Christianity which has already a fostered a deep mistrust. Although public morality against premarital sex, gay marriage is still strong in these areas.

      You can say that their Introduction to Christianity wasn't the all time classic that was written by Fr Ratzinger.

    3. Norm, I can go along with most of the tenor of your comment, but:

      and whatever is your position on immigration policy, it is definitely wrong to refer to them as "aliens" as Michael Knowles does.

      Really? What, precisely, is the problem? As far as I am aware, the term "alien" as used in that context means someone who doesn't have legal permission to reside here. It doesn't bear ANY moral connotation at all, it's just a notation of legal status. A person can be LEGAL "alien" by being a legal visitor, for examle, (who resides elsewhere), or by being an illegal alien by trying to be a "resident" but not have the legal permissions to do so. The term applies to both just fine. It's neutral.

      I am fine with ripping apart the legal immigration process, for example, if you want to replace it with something more appropriate, and more just. But whatever that replacement is, you are STILL going to have to have a name for people who are violating that system by breaking the rules it has.

    4. Well said, Norm.

    5. Hi Tony, I replied to federalist down below in the comments.

      Yes I concur that you will definitely have a name for those people. I guess the term illegal foreigner or illegal resident is more apt.

      The term alien as it has been used in the 21st century tends to evoke connotations having to do with extra terrestrials and that seems dehumanising to me.

    6. "I also remember when some gun organizations came out against the Texas abortion (An issue that actually matters) bill because they were scared guns would be taken away. That is just evil."

      The TX law made it possible to bring a civil action for what was (at the time) legal under state criminal law, and purportedly protected by the US Constitution.

      It takes little imagination to see how the theory, "Sure you have a perfect legal right to do X in this state, and under the Constitution, but if you actually do it we will make it possible for everyone else to sue you into oblivion," could be abused endlessly.

      Sure you have the right to say that, but...
      Sure you have a right to go to Church, but...
      Sure you have a right to own a gun, but...
      Sure you have a right to see the warrant, but...
      Sure you have a right to not to testify, but...

      Most of those aren't being discussed yet (I think a few states actually are on guns) but if the legal theory holds for any of them, none are off the table either.

      Short version: not every law with a good goal is a good law.

    7. So is it that Norm thinks the Vatican (and esp. the pope) is *not* anti-American? Huh! That's certainly debatable, I'd say.

      "The Church is not a political institution." Oy! Then I suppose the Church is also not a true society. (That's not even debatable, it's just patently false.)

  5. I converted to Catholicism a year ago after being a Protestant for over 30 years. The Traditionalist Catholics are a mixed bag. One finds clear answers ground in sound thinking, which I needed as a confused Protestant. Yet at the same time, one of the most difficult doctrines to come around to was the papacy, and it definitely did not (and does not) help to have a chorus of otherwise knowledgeable and orthodox Catholics constantly floating the idea that the pope is a heretic, etc etc. This is very confusing for me as a new convert.

    I feel like an immigrant to America, who is just happy to be here and is thrilled how much better it is than where he came from, only to find all the "cradle Americans" wringing their hands as if we lived in a third-world country. Everyone just needs to chill out. Yes it is bad, but you're scaring the children. Won't someone please think of the children!

    1. Anon, Thank you for your comment.

    2. But clearly it is possible for the pope to be a heretic (just not for him to formally and definitively teach heresy 'ex cathedra'). So what is it you are confused about?

  6. How is it DEFINITELY wrong to refer to the citizens of another country residing in this country as "aliens"? Isn't that pretty much the DEFINITION of "alien"?

    1. Hi Federalist

      Replying to you on this blog post would be veering off topic a bit, I did mention it in my post but within the broader context of agreeing or disagreeing with papal judgement, perhaps you may want to repeat your question on the previous CRT post because I have already been reprimanded by Dr Feser once

      To answer your query, words tend to have different contexts depending on the time and place at which they are used.

      Being from another country is one of the definitions of the term "Alien" but the definition that one tends to associate with it the most is the one having to do with being from outer space and thus has a dehumanising quality. One tends to use it in circumstances that are unpleasant for example if you go to a party that you don't enjoy, you might say "I feel like an alien here" to express your displeasure. In other words it is not a nice feeling to be associated with being an alien. Whether this is because of pop culture or change in usage, it is what it is.

      I think illegal immigration is wrong but they are still human, and if some words have dehumanising connotations, it is best not to use it since you have more precise terms like "illegal foreigners".

      It's easy to say illegal aliens in front of an abstract audience but I doubt that many people would be willing to call someone an alien to their face. That in itself may be evidence of wrongness.

      If you want to call hardened criminals who have immigrated illegally, illegal aliens, that's completely fine but there are genuine people fleeing persecution eg people from communist regimes like Cuba who genuinely try to assimilate into the culture and tradition, their are only fault being that they are here illegally even though they love the nation more then some locals.

      Moreover the way in which the aforementioned right wing commentators use it seems like a deliberate attempt to go out of their way to hurt someone's feelings.

      I know facts don't care about feelings, but at the same time you wouldn't walk up to someone's face and tell them that they are ugly, if that might happen to be the case.

    2. Whether one is ugly is largely a matter of opinion and taste. Whether one is a legal resident of a country is a matter of plain fact.

      This is one of those occasions where I find it helpful to recall that old apostate Orwell:

      ‘[T]he controversy over freedom of speech and of the press is at bottom a controversy of the desirability, or otherwise, of telling lies.’

      The controversy over using words like alien, in fact, is a controversy of the desirability, or otherwise, of forbidding people to speak the truth. For to tell the truth requires calling things by their proper names; and if it happened that another word took the place of alien in ordinary usage (which it has not), those who object to that word would immediately object to the new one on the same grounds. It is not the word, but the idea itself that they would banish from discourse. This is the process often known as the ‘euphemism treadmill’.

      I trust neither the motives nor the methods of those who wish to shame others into being silent on issues of importance.

    3. Hi Tom

      It would be better to continue this discussion on the other post.

      I don't wish to shame anyone on talking about important issues.
      I never said that it is wrong to criticize illegal immigration , I in fact think that countries should be very strict about illegal immigration.

      I also think that the truth of illegal immigration can be conveyed using terms like illegal foreigners or illegal residents or illegal inhabitants.
      I don't see how these terms capture the truth in any lesser way.

      I fully support the rights of countries to detect and deport whoever is not suppose to be there.

      I don't think that this issue should be neglected. (Although Pope JPII emphasized that even illegal immigrants have rights and should be treated with respect, this does not mean that they shouldn't be deported, but rather that even in the process of this deportation they shouldn't be abused or treated with a lack of respect.)

      My only suggestion was that it doesn't seem right to use certain terms and especially in the way certain right wingers do it to emphasize the differences rather then the illegality.

      Upon further reflection though, I am willing to grant that it can be used in a technical sense and perhaps my initial comment was a bit stronger then intended, it was within the context of describing the reactionary nature of right wing politics which was within the broader context of diminished papal respect.

      I just feel in the modern day and age, the usage of the term alien
      seems to be more towards an extra terrestrial non human being so it can be avoided by using words that convey the same truth.

      I don't mean to pass judgement on anyone using the term alien in a technical sense so perhaps it isn't "definitely" wrong but maybe prudentially if one uses it with the motive of being rude.

      I guess in my initial comments I should replace "definitely wrong" with a less stronger inference like "impolite" or "distasteful" particularly in the manner that the aforementioned right winger does it. So it's more specific.

      I apologise if my initial statement was unnecessarily generalising.


    4. Norm, the term "alien" has a long, long history that predates the 20th century fiction involving beings from other planets. One should (always) be WARY of attempts to force new legal meanings on terms that have strong customary meanings, or on attempts to contract old terms into narrower new constraints than they had in the past: we play games with language only at considerable risk. (As the communists and Orwell made clear.) That wariness shouldn't imply words can never change, but most such change should be allowed to be organic and grass-roots, not by top-down force.

      The relatively recent use of "alien" as a pejorative term (and more often by right-leaning people) is largely a reaction to the prior progressivist left-leaning insistence on local, state and federal governments explicitly (or implicitly but by active intent) disregarding immigration law (largely successfully), and repudiating even the very meaning of the distinction between legal resident and not legal resident, through means both fair and foul. While that doesn't make it right to use the term "alien" aimed at specific individuals as a pejorative, meant to demean, it would be (arguably) more fruitful to direct most of your ire toward those who unjustly evoke that reaction by foul means that undermine both civil society and reasonable discourse about prudential methods of regulating our society.

    5. Norm, I think that perhaps you have been exposed too much to very recent (and politically driven) usage, and not enough to just the general, wide-ranging usage over broader periods of time, in which the term "alien" was not intended or used as a slur. If it is true (which I doubt) that the term is so heavily and regularly used today ONLY in the pejorative sense that it cannot be used without causing even impartial and unbiased observers to assume I mean it as a slur, then that condition is of VERY, VERY recent mintage; it certainly didn't have that sense 40 years ago, well within my memory.

  7. Hi Tony

    I concur with everything you say!

    I don't in anyway support ideas like "no borders" or trying to eliminate the distinction between legal and illegal etc.

    I fully support the rights of countries to protect its sovereignty.

    And I fully grant that our anger and discontent should be directed towards those who disregard basic prudence on these matters.

    I also agree that we should be careful about the use of words, and simply not ascent to any development of meaning etc.

    I think the use of the word alien kinda evolved because it came more and more to be associated with outer space and extra terrestrials as the years went by through popular, movies TV shows, cartoons (Ben 10).

    But I think it was an error on my part to generalise in that manner. It was a bit emotive I guess.

    When it is used in certain way though, it can seem disingenuous.

    For example

    This tweet by knowles

    He mentions here
    "Illegal Aliens ≠ Immigrants"

    If he were using the term consistently and in a genuine way.. he would have to say,

    Illegal Aliens ≠ Aliens

    But that wasn't how it was used so the clear inference is that the term alien is being used in a pejorative way.

    I guess ultimately my qualm is with particular usages of it, not the usage itself when it used in a traditional way.

  8. Couldn’t avoid Anonymous - some glitch in google or blogger . Anyway this is Todd Voss. Just wanted to comment that St Robert Bellarmine disagrees with St Thomas . This is how he answered the reformers in On the Roman Pontiff Book IV chapter VII:

    Now, on the other hand, when St. Peter compelled the Gentiles to Judaize, this was not an error of preaching but of conduct, as Tertullian suggests in his work de Praescriptionibus adversus haereticos. St. Peter did not ratify by some decree that they must Judaize; rather, he formally taught the contrary in Acts 15. Nevertheless, when he was still in Antioch, he separated himself from the dinner table of the Gentiles lest he would give offense to those recently converted to the faith from the Jews, and by his example compelled them to Judaize in a certain measure, even Barnabas. But we do not deny that Popes can offer the occasion of erring through their own bad example; rather, we deny that they can prescribe the whole Church to follow some error ex cathedra. Moreover, the examples and doctrines of the Pontiffs are not equally pernicious to the Church, seeing that the Lord instructed them, saying: “Do what they say, but do not do what they do.”