Teresa Benns Warning

Men Studying Theology in a Medieval University

Teresa Benns of BetrayedCatholics contends that “Ott is not a trustworthy source of theology and should not be used, certainly, in defending truths of faith,” (“Ludwig Ott warning, etc.”). Benns makes this preposterous claim just before citing a book review which essentially states the following facts:

1. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma is a digest 

2. Digests are not adequate to teach theology in-depth because of their concision

3. Ott’s work has “remarkable qualities,” with “obvious scholarship”

4. Denzinger references are used, as well as Sacred Scripture and journals

5. Direct quotations of magisterium are not given 

6. “Because of its brevity,” could mislead seminarians 

7. Work is adequate to pass theological examination for seminarians

8. May be used as a quick reference, though not a complete treatment of subject

The obvious reason why Benns exaggerates this book review into a claim that Ludwig Ott is persona non grata, is that it is either Ott or Benns. You have to make your choice, because where Benns holds x, and Ott y, you must either choose one of the two. It cannot be both. Now I know some of you read Benns’s latest article and thought, “Yea, makes sense to me. Ott is a not reliable. He doesn’t even quote directly from the magisterium! How about that! Nope. Only the Pope!” And Benns would reinforce that notion by the following paragraph: 

“So it seems that those who are trying to shoot down what is written on this site need to substantially step up their game if they want to be considered credible writers. And what is more important, they need to stop telling people that they can rely on the opinions of theologians versus those of the magisterium, which is exactly what King criticizes Ott for doing. Now you see why so much is quoted from the magisterium here, and from Holy Scripture.” 

First off, “step up my game?” What are we, in high school still? I am not credible because I quote from an accepted theologian of the Catholic Church who has written a conspectus of theology the likes of which no one has ever achieved, which even Benn’s own book reviewer states was a formidable task, and was a remarkable work of concision, all because said work is inadequate to study theology?! The most that one should take from the book review is that Ott’s work is not necessarily best suited for upper-level seminary studies in theology. I say upper-level, because even the book reviewer states that Ott’s digest would be able to give the seminarian enough information to pass examinations. 

But, as for “stepping up my game,” perhaps it would behoove my readers to know, and Benn’s readers as well, that, unlike Benns, who has never seen the inside of a university before, least ways ever written an examination paper on any subject, let along theology or philosophy, I happened to have done so, so my street-cred is proved by my credentials, if it comes to arguing about “stepping up one’s game. Robert Robbins credits in higher eduction: 150 (all cum laude); Teresa Stanfill-Benns credits in higher eduction: 0. I point out this because I know exactly what the book reviewer is talking about, insofar as university examinations are concerned in the subject of theology and philosophy. I had near enough credits in theology, most of which were in the honors program, to earn a minor in theology. I shared the university classroom with seminarians with whom I was acquainted and would often talk. We took the same examinations in philosophy, so when the book reviewer states that a digest would not be adequate to teach theology in-depth but adequate to pass an examination, I understand what is being stated, whereas Benn does not, because she’s never been there or done that. 

But I am most interested in this supposed criticism of Benns’s that Ott does not directly quote from the magisterium but relies, among other sources, upon the Denzinger. I say this is interesting because on Benns’s own website, she has a page dedicated to indexing primary sources, and Sources of Catholic Dogma, by Henry Denzinger is listed on the index. Now, apparently the Denzinger is good enough for Benns, but it is just woefully insufficient for Ott. This is the most ridiculous and hypocritical thing I think Benns has written in a while, and it must be seen as such, because the root cause behind it is what I have been trying to get readers of this blog to see: Benns holds herself higher than theologians, because she thinks she is a theologian! 

Nothing in the book review that Benns quoted could possibly leave the reasonable man the idea that Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma is not trustworthy to defend the faith. The book review never says Ott’s work is not trustworthy. He simply says that the work, as a digest, is not adequate to teach seminarians theology at any deep level. That’s it! Now, Benns piggybacks on the notion of inadequacy and blows it into a hot ball of air that it cannot be relied upon, because it does not quote directly from the magisterium, but only—wait for it—the Denzinger, which is exactly what Benns does! What are we to conclude, then, that the Denzinger is not reliable, or perhaps that since Benns and Ott use the Denzinger, and since Ott is supposedly untrustworthy, that Benns is untrustworthy, as well? 

Benns goes on in her article, quoting Msgr. Fenton: 

“The private theologian is obligated and privileged to study these documents, to arrive at an understanding of what the Holy Father actually teaches, and then to aid in the task of bringing this body of truth to the people. The Holy Father, however, not the private theologian, remains the doctrinal authority. The theologian is expected to bring out the content of the Pope’s actual teaching, not to subject that teaching to the type of criticism he would have a right to impose on the writings of another private theologian.”

I really like how Benns thinks this quote from Msgr. Fenton proves anything for her side. What it states is that theologians have the duty to study the writings of the popes, and to expound upon what they teach for books of instruction written for the people! That is precisely what I said in my previous post: the theologians are the teachers of Catholic truth. The popes, as Fenton observes, are the authority, that is, the source of those teachings! Fenton is saying that the authoritative magisterium of the popes is mediated by the theologians for the benefit of understanding for the people. “The theologian is expected to bring out the content of the Pope’s actual teaching…” That is, to expound upon papal teaching in books of instruction, like Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, for instance. 

The quote states something else: “…[theologians ought] not to subject that teaching to the type of criticism he would have a right to impose on the writings of another private theologian.” Benns, who thinks she is a private theologian, imposes her criticisms on established theologians, which she would have right to do, if it were only true that she herself actually was a theologian. But no amount of books in one’s own library makes one a theologian. Studying theology, like countless seminarians did under Dr. Ott, and then passing the theological examinations and being awarded the degrees in theology makes one a theologian.   

I do not claim to be a theologian. I am just an ordinary lay Catholic like you who are reading this—unless you are one of those mysterious and secret Catholic priests who may be in existence though hidden from the world, perhaps behind the Iron Curtain. (Though I doubt this eventuality, since I have yet to receive one single reader of CatholicEclipsed from Russia. Croatia, Latvia, even Ghana, but no Russia.) When an approved theologian in the Catholic Church says that a teaching is a probable opinion, then I humbly accept that exposition, and move on, because I am not out to challenge the integrity or competence of men far above my level of eduction and understanding. But, for those who have a stake in the game, who think their place in this whole story is being challenged, they fight tooth and nail to win back accolades and esteem which should never have been theirs in the first place, because they are trying to be something they are not. 

The fact is, Benns thinks that mediated jurisdiction from God (the papal theory) has been infallibly defined. Benns writes,

“‘Only those …doctrinal teachings of the Church… which emanate from general councils representing the whole episcopate and the papal decisions ex cathedra [are infallible]. The ordinary and usual form of the papal teaching activity is not infallible.’  This contradicts papal teaching.”

Really? What does the BC teach regarding when and what teachings are infallible? 

530. The Church teaches infallibly when it speaks through the Pope and Bishops united in general council, or through the Pope alone when he proclaims to all the faithful a doctrine of faith or morals.

531. That the Pope may speak infallibly, or ex-cathedra:

   1. He must speak on a subject of faith or morals;

   2. He must speak as the Vicar of Christ and to the whole Church;

   3. He must indicate by certain words, such as, we define, we proclaim, etc., that he intends to speak infallibly.

532. The Pope is not infallible in everything he says and does, because the Holy Ghost was not promised to make him infallible in everything, but only in matters of faith and morals for the whole Church. Nevertheless, the Pope’s opinion on any subject deserves our greatest respect on account of his learning, experience and dignity. 

That is what our Catechism teaches, and that is what Ott teaches, as well, and that is what Benns implicitly denies. Infallibility, which guarantees certitude, is invoked under specific conditions. It is simply false to say that Pope Pius XII ever defined or declared that the papal theory was certain. He could have done so, if he wanted, of course. But the fact remains that Pius XII did not “indicate by certain words such as, we define, we proclaim, etc., that he intend[ed] to speak infallibly.” Any bald assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. But Benns insists that to hold such a view that the teachings found in Pius XII’s writings on jurisdiction is so certain, the denial of which teaching is actually a mortal sin! 

“It seems to be a very clear choice to believe the words of Cardinal Ottaviani, confidante of Pope Pius XII, and Ottaviani’s friend, Msgr. Fenton, over anything a theologian such as Ott, who obviously exhibits minimalist tendencies, might claim. Pope Pius XII’s decision is sententia certa (theologically certain) — implicit in Scripture and Tradition, as this teaching truly is — not probabilior. To deny this is censured as a theological error and constitutes a mortal sin against ecclesiastical faith.”

There you have it, folks. Benns, the private laywoman who is not even a college graduate, let alone a doctor of theology in the Catholic Church under an actual reigning Roman Pontiff, got it right, but Ott who was such a theological doctor and rector of a prestigious and ancient Catholic institution of theological research, got it wrong. Cannot we perceive the gross arrogance in the comparison, and the utter rash judgment that Ludwig Ott (and this author) is guilty of mortal sin against ecclesiastical faith, and this coupled with the fact that the Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma received both a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur in 1954, which means precisely that it does not contain anything that would lead people to sin? I may go out on a limb here and say that that may constitute some kind of sin, not against faith of course, but perhaps against charity.  

Benns closes the section of bashing the theologian Ott by an appeal to obedience to the pope, as if Ott (or this author) were not being obedient to the pope simply because he taught in a theological digest (and I repeated it) that a teaching of the pope was, though authoritative and more probable, nevertheless not certain because it wasn’t definitely decided. Benns’s plaintively concludes: 

“So who loves the pope? Sadly, it would seem that very few at all truly love him today, for very few obey him without question.”

How disingenuous and absurd a claim! Because Ott’s reading of Mystici Corporis does not jive with Benn’s reading, then somehow Ott is not trustworthy as a teacher and does not obey nor truly love the Holy Father. It is false filial devotion to the Holy Father to think every utterance of his is an infallible decree. There have ever been finely nuanced theological disputations and distinctions which the theologians of the Church have engaged in for centuries upon centuries, and the Popes have let them work things out accordingly, because that was their business. When matters of faith or morals needed authoritatively defined, the Popes raised their voices above the crowded halls of academia, and silenced the din of theologians with a definitive word and decree. Benns would have us believe that that already happened, and yet, the funny thing is, it seems the only who heard the Holy Father speak so was Benns, for all the real theologians were just carrying on business as usual.   


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