false arguments: pro hominem

I’ve noted with dismay the increasing use of the ‘pro hominem’ (for the man) argument by many Catholics. This argument seeks to support a particular conclusion or idea on faith or morals by heaping complements on the person, such as a theologian or priest, who agrees with that idea. The suggestion is that the conclusion must be correct because the person who asserts it is holy, faithful, wise, etc. This is a false argument.

Thomas Aquinas is a Saint and Doctor of the Church; he is one of the foremost theologians in the history of the Church. Very many true and accurate complements can be said about him. And yet, his foremost theological work, the Summa Theologica, contains substantial theological error on the subject of the Virgin Mary. In particular, he misunderstood her Immaculate Conception. For Aquinas wrote the following erroneous claim:

“If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original sin, this would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of all. Consequently after Christ, who, as the universal Saviour of all, needed not to be saved, the purity of the Blessed Virgin holds the highest place. For Christ did not contract original sin in any way whatever, but was holy in His very Conception, according to Luke 1:35: ‘The Holy which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God.’ But the Blessed Virgin did indeed contract original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before her birth from the womb.”
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4027.htm#article2

Now Aquinas wrote these words many years before the Magisterium taught the correct understanding of the Immaculate Conception, that Mary was preserved from original sin from the first moment of conception. But in this theological opinion, Aquinas erred, despite being a Saint and Doctor of the Church. And there are many other examples of Saints and Doctors of the Church who erred in various theological opinions.

Therefore, the holiness and wisdom and other good qualities of a theologian or priest does not prove that an assertion or conclusion is correct. To support a conclusion on a theological question, one needs to present a theological argument.

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