Thursday, August 30, 2012

Truth, Justice, and ... Equivocation?

Yesterday an online acquaintance took a look at the long-standing controversy over the tactics of Live Action, the pro-life group has been described (both positively and pejoratively!) as "Liars for Jesus."

I know good folks on both sides of the Live Action tactical debate, and I admit it's a difficult one. The nice thing about my acquaintance' piece is that (1) it manages to eschew the name-calling that too often arises when Catholics or pro-lifers engage in internecine warfare; and (2) still more importantly, he stakes out a position which astonishing I think I can, cautiously, agree with.

To Seek Out Prudent Truths


  1. Equivocation, eh? Now I am troubled. For indeed, I cannot think of a current English word as descriptive as "equivocation" for the kind of honesty I'm trying to develop; and furthermore it would seem that the equivocations I am endorsing would normally fall into the "indiscoverable" subclass, insofar as I propose to use words in uncommon ways. The best hope that I'm not entirely astray, then, is that we might nonetheless be equivocating in the word "equivocation" --- incidentally, compare.

    Well, we keep working on it, anyways. Something will get done, whether it's what we set-out to do, or something else.

    (I've been a fan of Tom's for some time, as it happens. A model of charitable discourse and careful thought!)

    1. Oh, I don't think you're astray at all. I've always thought equivocation gets an unfair bad rap, especially from folks like Chesterton - who, for all his wisdom, was not infallible In any case, it's easy to see historically why the English would have been very uncomfortable with the word.

    2. As for the "equivocation = lying" problem ... I don't think it's so easy as that. In the Summa, for example (not that St. Thomas is infallible either!) his definitions leave plenty of room open for equivocation, I think (and of course, we all know about my infallibility). And there's the famous story about Athanasius ...

      The basic point is, one cannot simply assert concerning what constitutes lying and various other forms of deception, because it isn't obvious what's moral and what isn't, and there isn't a consensus on the definitions.

    3. Since you bring up the Summa, I wonder what Theresa of Avila would have to say on the matter.

      But I wasn't worried about St. Thomas or Chesterton on those things; rather, I referred to a declaration by one of the Popes Innocent to which I am bound to be obedient. And the best resolution I can think of is that equivocation can be the name of many things (even supposing we had consensus). Speaking strictly, equivocation names ambiguous speech, whatever the reason for it; so punning, unintended misconstruction, and some forms of parable are all equivocations, but none of them sinful.

      Perhaps I'm suggesting we ought to live parabolically?

    4. I do wonder. I don't know.

      Hm. We are bound to be obedient to ex cathedra teachings, and to the ordinary magisterium; and a current bull would seem to fall under the latter, and an encyclical under the former; but an older bull ... ? Because they tend to be more disciplinary than doctrinal, I'm not sure. I can't help seeing that one as something of a contemporary response to the particular situation at the time ... But heaven knows I'm not an expert on the counter-Reformation or cannon law, so I stand waiting to be corrected.

      Setting that aside, indeed, "equivocation" is itself equivocal, and any statement about equivocation can only be elucidated by keeping that fact in mind!