Need to Know

The first atomic device detonated on Earth happened July 16, 1945. The code name of the nuclear weapon was Trinity, after John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14, which I happened to have put to memory in college in a poetry class. I reproduce it below for your poetic fancy. 

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you

As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,

Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betroth’d unto your enemy:

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

What this poem has to do with fusing together heavy radioactive metals to create a critical mass of hell on earth to be used with the purpose of ending an ungodly war by mass murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians is beyond me. Perhaps great sin conjures great and pious thoughts, even if only to blaspheme. Anyway, I mention Trinity for a reason touching upon a recent controversy among us Home-Aloners. That controversy may be summed up as follows: Some believe, perhaps most, that it is the duty of the faithful Catholic to learn the ins and outs of our religion, from the top down, and understanding and continued Catholic eduction, or perhaps, post-catechesis, is sought for in papal encyclical letters, canon law, ecumenical councils, theological manuals, etc. I guess what this advanced degree in Catholicism is supposed to be is anything and everything beyond what one would learn in a catechism, because whenever this author mentions the sufficiency of the catechism for the woes plaguing the Church today, he is met with admonitions to the effect that the catechism is good for children, but for adults what is needed is “a greater understanding among better educated Catholics especially regarding the teachings of the Church which Traditionalists deny.” 

So, what on Earth does this have to do with the nuclear device, Trinity? Well, the name of the device was also the code name of the project to develop the device, which project was under a strict classification for governmental data or information known as need to know. A thing was said to have this restriction when, even granting requisite security clearance to review the information, without a need to know, “that is, access to the information must be necessary for one to conduct one’s official duties,” the individual was simply left in the dark. (Wikipedia, Need to Know).

We see the necessity of this kind of security measure in the military. What would have happened—I can hardly bring myself to imagine—if this security measure was not followed and anyone and everyone who had a clearance and a competency to understand the information about the Trinity project were informed? It is perhaps no great leap of the imagination to say that the poor citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have been the only senseless casualties of war. 

But isn’t the Church on Earth a military as well? And perhaps it is no great leap of the imagination to say that there exists this kind of information control in the Church Militant, this need to know basis for reviewing and making use of information which falls outside not only our competency, but also our duty in life. I contend that there does exist a need to know restriction on information in the Church Militant, and this is observed by hierarchical subordination from the Roman Pontiff down to the baptized child not yet of the age of reason. Just as a pre-catechism child six or younger does not know, nor has a duty to know, the rudiments of the faith found in the catechism, so too the catechized adult does not know, and does not have a duty to know canon law or theology. But even a priest, who does know and has a duty to know canon law and theology, insofar as his office demands him to know, does not know everything a bishop knows and has a duty to know and a bishop does not know nor has a duty to know everything the Roman Pontiff knows and has a duty to know. 

What would happen if a mere layman assumed the duty of knowledge of a Roman Pontiff? Answer: insubordination and anarchy and confusion of discipline and doctrine, not necessarily because the individual is malicious but because, as a natural result of having powers of knowledge not proper to the individual’s station in the Church Militant, disorder would result, both in the individual who unduly assumed powers of knowledge but also in the Church Militant societal structure itself. The hierarchical structure of the Church is like the Chain of Command in the military, which exists to order the inferior to the superior in reason. This is conducive to good order and discipline both in what is natural and in what is supernatural. Just as I do not have a right or duty or need to know the launch codes of an attack submarine as a chef in the galley, so too I do not have a right, duty, or need know how bread is miraculously changed into the Living Flesh of Jesus Christ my God and Savior. There are metaphysical explanations of this, of course, which studied theologians learn, but such things are indeed beyond my need to know as a layman in the Church Militant. Nor do I assume powers of knowledge of a theologian to do war with the heretic—like Luther, for instance—who denies certain details of this great miracle of Transubstantiation. It is enough to know that the Church teaches it, and that the heretic denies it, and that my duty is to admonish the heretic on these grounds, not reform him according to my own understanding of the Summa Theologica. It is not my lot in life to defend it on those theological grounds properly studied and understood only by theologians which explain the hows and whys of the dogma, because that knowledge is not proper to my duty, but to a theologians. 

The question then arises, what is my duty, or my need to know as a layman? Thankfully, the BC is not quiet on this point: 

124. Our Catechism treats of religion; that is, of the truths we must believe and of the things we must do to serve God.

So, since the BC provides us with the knowledge of what we are to believe and what we must do to serve God to save our souls, what else are we required to know? Can you, gentle reader, really say that you know your catechism? Can you honestly say that you know what the Church teaches, say, on when the first marriage was instituted? And whether this union conferred grace? I will give you a second to answer in your own mind…

Now, what does the Church teach us regarding this? 

1007. Marriage was first instituted in the Garden of Eden, when God created Adam and Eve and made them husband and wife, but it was not then a Sacrament, for their union did not confer any special grace.

Can you say you knew that teaching? I can say I had no clue, but then I wasn’t properly catechized. Indeed I have never been catechized, which I am trying to amend in my spare time. The point I am trying to make is that there are those who insist on knowing what is not proper to them yet oftentimes fail in knowing what they are duty-bound to know, like what is found in their catechism. They operate under the misunderstanding that the catechism is insufficient to defend the faith, because they think that it is their duty to defend the faith in the same way theologians defend the faith, when it is not. We are bound to profess and defend the faith according to our need to know the faith, which is taught in catechisms, not in theological manuals and canon law. The danger lies in trying to defend the faith like a theologian and canonist and making theology or canon law look ridiculous in the process—or rather making oneself look ridiculous—and not convincing the heretic of anything beyond the fact that your own understanding of theology and canon law is ridiculous. If only a catechism were used to defend the faith and admonish the heretic, they would have no choice but either to submit or to reject what the Church teaches is necessary for their salvation to believe or do. Thus, having no faith—the act by which we believe all that the Church teaches—they are reprobates that no amount of theological or canonical argumentation, even if competently done (which I deny is possible for anyway without training and faculties in theology and canon law), can correct or convert. 

The individual who believes the mistaken notion that a greater understanding and better Catholic eduction are sufficient to convert the faithless heretic seeming lacks the very greater understanding and better Catholic eduction that individual presumes to have. Let us, the rank and file of the Church Militant, be content with what we have a need to know, especially since that is all we need to know to save our souls and help others save theirs.             

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