Originally posted by DoctorScribbles
Lucifershammer, is this Catholic Professor of Theology wrong?
Well, there's Catholic and then there's Catholic.
(Sorry I haven't responded sooner -- I've been out due to illness for a while.)
At the time of writing this article, Rosemary Radford Ruether was a professor at the Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. She completed her BA in Philosophy from Scripps College and her MS in classics and Roman history from Claremont Graduate School. Her PhD (also from Claremont) was in classics and patristics, focusing on St. Gregory of Nazianzus. To my knowledge, she has never studied nor taught at a Catholic institution.
I bring all this up because you seem to make such a big deal of your "Catholic Professor of Theology" tag. In this case, it means little more than 'Catholic Professor of Mathematics'. And, while there is no shortage of heterodox Catholic professors of theology at Catholic institutions, I think it unlikely she will ever receive the mandatum
to teach at one.
Now, on to the arguments. I'll take her second argument first as it's easier to refute:
The list of papal and church institutional errors, declared at the time to be unchangeable, is long.
It's such a pity, then, that the example she chooses (viz., slavery) isn't actually on that "long" list.
First, it's worth pointing out that Ruether is quite disingenuous in her use of the term 'slavery'. Slavery as practised in the pre-Christian Roman Empire was quite different from that practised in mediaeval Christendom which, in turn, was vastly different from racial slavery as practised in modern times (like 18th-19th century USA, for instance). Naturally the term evokes fresher memories of modern racial slavery, but I would've expected someone like Ruether (with a degree in history) to be more specific.
Second, AFAIK, no exercise of papal or conciliar infallibility has ever condoned slavery (especially not the racial kind).
Third, (ivanhoe has posted on this subject several times in the past), the Church has a long history of using the Ordinary Magisterium to condemn slavery (particularly the racial variety, but even the milder mediaeval one).
Fourth, Ruethers is simply dead wrong about Aquinas if she's talking about the kind of slavery seen in 19th century America. A nice quick summary of what Aquinas thought about slavery (servitus
) can be found at http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2006/01/heresy-slavery-natural-law.html . I haven't read enough Augustine to judge her statement about him, but I think she'd be dead wrong there too.
(On a personal note, I know non-Christians with no theological training whatsoever who've come up with better examples than this.)
Her first argument against infallibility runs:
Intellectually [infallibility] flies in the face of human finitude and limitations. This means that no human perception of truth can be stated in a manner that lacks error or inadequacy, thus all human ideas, including theology, must be open to revision.
Trivially, one can refute this argument simply by pointing out that I can quite correctly say "Two plus two equals four". Sure, I might need to translate for those who do not understand English or elaborate to little kids who have no concept of numbers or addition; but that doesn't change the fact that, despite my "human finitude and limitations", I am quite capable of stating my "perception of truth" in a manner that (when understood by my audience) need not be open to revision.
Her view of human limitations stems from her view of humanity:
I believe humans are deeply alienated from their true created potential for goodness and truth and prone to self-deception and oppressive relations with others and themselves... Our hope does not lie in any capacity of humans to be impeccable, truthful or inerrant, but in God's gracious mercy and forgiveness that is ever available to us when we admit our errors with an open heart--the ability to do so itself being a gift of grace.
The teaching on infallibility does not rest on "any capacity of humans to be impeccable, truthful or inerrant". It rests on the capacity of God's grace to be effective in human action. She already accepts the action of grace in a different context in her statement above but provides no reason why it wouldn't be effective in the case of infallibility.
Once again, by introducing impeccability and inerrancy to a discussion on infallibility, Ruether is being quite disingenous. By conflating the three, she is either making a rudimentary mistake or introducing a red herring.
So, to answer your question, your "Catholic Professor of Theology" is simply wrong.
 A much harsher examination of her Christian (let alone Catholic) credentials can be found at http://www.ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/REUTHER.TXT .