Sunday, December 18, 2016

Denial flows into the Tiber


Pope Honorius I occupied the chair of Peter from 625-638.  As the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia notes in its article on Honorius, his chief claim to fame is that “he was condemned as a heretic by the sixth general council” in the year 680.  The heresy in question was Monothelitism, which (as the Encyclopedia notes) was “propagated within the Catholic Church in order to conciliate the Monophysites, in hopes of reunion.”  That is to say, the novel heresy was the byproduct of a misguided attempt to meet halfway, and thereby integrate into the Church, an earlier group of heretics.  The condemnation of Pope Honorius by the council was not the end of the matter.  Honorius was also condemned by his successors Pope St. Agatho and Pope St. Leo II.  Leo declared:

We anathematize the inventors of the new error… and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted.

and also:

Honorius… did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence.

It is uncontroversial that Honorius was (as the second quote indicates) at the very least guilty of failing to reaffirm orthodoxy in the face of the Monothelite heresy, and it is commonly held that, at least materially even if not formally, he was guilty of the heresy himself.  The eminent Catholic theologian Abbot John Chapman, writing in the Dublin Review in 1906, judged:

[U]nquestionably no Catholic has the right to deny that Honorius was a heretic… a heretic in words, if not in intention… It would no doubt be uncharitable to regard the Pope as a “private heretic”; but his letters, treated as definitions of faith, are obviously and beyond doubt heretical, for in a definition it is the words that matter.

This passage is quoted by Dom. Cuthbert Butler in his 1930 book The Vatican Council 1869-1870 (at p. 370), in the context of noting the sorts of considerations that guided the Fathers of Vatican I when they formulated the doctrine of papal infallibility.  Honorius’s error did not conflict with papal infallibility as the Fathers defined it, because his problematic statements vis-à-vis Monothelitism were not proclaimed ex cathedra.  (Abbot Chapman reiterated his judgement in the Catholic Encyclopedia article quoted above, of which he was the author.)

Pope John XXII occupied the chair of Peter from 1316-1334.  Catholic historian James Hitchcock judges in his History of the Catholic Church that John is “the clearest case in the history of the Church of a possibly heretical pope” (p. 215), the heresy in question in this case being the denial of the doctrine that the blessed in heaven immediately enjoy the beatific vision after death.  The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the controversy caused by John XXII as follows:

Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment.  After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons.  In this he met with strong opposition, many theologians, who adhered to the usual opinion that the blessed departed did see God before the Resurrection of the Body and the Last Judgment, even calling his view heretical.  A great commotion was aroused in the University of Paris when the General of the Minorites and a Dominican tried to disseminate there the pope's view…  Before his death [the pope] withdrew his former opinion, and declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed in heaven the Beatific Vision.

As the passage indicates, the pope recanted his error, and did so precisely as a consequence of the vigorous criticism raised against him by theologians of the day.

Pope Liberius occupied the chair of Peter much earlier than either of these popes, from 352-366.  He was pope at the height of the Arian crisis, and under duress temporarily acquiesced to an ambiguous doctrinal formula of dubious orthodoxy, and to the unjust condemnation of St. Athanasius – so that it was Athanasius, and not the pope, who would come to be known to history as the chief upholder of Trinitarian orthodoxy.  As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, St. Jerome accused Liberius of “subscribing to heretical wickedness.”  But as John XXII would centuries later, Liberius repented of his error, and as with John and Honorius, his problematic actions were not incompatible with papal infallibility as it was defined by Vatican I.

Now, as the Catholic Encyclopedia also notes, “historians and critics have been much divided as to the guilt of Liberius.”  But what matters for present purposes is that, as the Encyclopedia goes on to observe, “it should be carefully noted that the question of the fall of Liberius is one that has been and can be freely debated among Catholics.”  For there is nothing in the Catholic understanding of the papacy that rules out the possibility that Liberius was indeed guilty of what he was at the time accused of.

The same thing is true of the cases of Honorius and John XXII.  Occasionally one finds Catholics, zealous to uphold the honor of the papacy, who argue that the failings of these popes have been exaggerated.  But nothing in Catholic teaching about the papacy requires one to accept such arguments.  The question is purely historical, not doctrinal.  For the Church herself has never claimed that a pope cannot fall into heresy when not teaching ex cathedra.  Indeed, Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) held that “only on account of a sin committed against the faith can I be judged by the church” – a statement which presupposes that a pope can indeed sin against the faith, i.e. with respect to matters of doctrine.   (Innocent’s statement is quoted in J. Michael Miller, The Shepherd and the Rock: Origins, Development, and Mission of the Papacy, at p. 292.) 

The Church has for centuries allowed among theologians free discussion of the possibility of a heretical pope.  Cajetan, Suarez, and Bellarmine are among the eminent theologians who have entertained this possibility and debated its ramifications.  (Canon lawyer Ed Peters offers a primer on the matter.)   Once again to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia:

[An] exceptional situation might arise were a pope to become a public heretic, i.e., were he publicly and officially to teach some doctrine clearly opposed to what has been defined as de fide catholicâ… [I]n this case many theologians hold that no formal sentence of deposition would be required, as, by becoming a public heretic, the pope would ipso facto cease to be pope.  This, however, is a hypothetical case which has never actually occurred…

In an earlier post I discussed in some detail the conditions under which a pope speaks infallibly, the many ways a pope may fall into error when his words do not meet those conditions, and many further examples of popes who have fallen into error and done grave damage to the Church.  As I there emphasized, one cannot properly understand the authority of the pope and the doctrine of papal infallibility unless one also understands the limits of papal authority and the ways in which a pope is fallible

I have quoted extensively from the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia for a reason.   There is a certain kind of well-meaning but overzealous and under-informed Catholic whose theological horizon does not extend beyond the debates that have riven the Church since Vatican II.  When you tell him that it is possible for a pope to fall into doctrinal error, his hackles rise and he assumes that you simply must be either a Lefebvrist traditionalist or a dissenting theological liberal.  As the example of the Catholic Encyclopedia shows, nothing could be further from the truth.  The Encyclopedia predated by many decades Vatican II and the progressive and traditionalist movements that arose in reaction to it.  It was an ecclesiastically approved work by mainstream Catholic scholars loyal to the Magisterium, and intended to be a reliable resource for the faithful.  And it quite matter-of-factly allows for the possibility of popes committing doctrinal errors when not speaking ex cathedra.

Nor is the possibility of correction of the pope by his subordinates some post-Vatican II progressive or traditionalist novelty.  As Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val wrote in his 1902 book The Truth of Papal Claims, responding to caricatures of the doctrine of papal infallibility:

Great as our filial duty of reverence is towards what ever [the pope] may say, great as our duty of obedience must be to the guidance of the Chief Shepherd, we do not hold that every word of his is infallible, or that he must always be right.  (p. 19)

After noting that St. Paul “had resisted even Peter” and then recounted this resistance in the Letter to the Galatians, the cardinal says:

[E]ven to-day a Bishop might… expostulate with a Pope, who, in his judgment, might be acting in a way which was liable to mislead those under his own charge, and then write to his critics that he had not hesitated to pass strictures upon the action of the successor of S. Peter… The hypothesis is quite conceivable, and in no way destroys or diminishes the supremacy of the Pope.  And yet an individual Bishop does not occupy the exceptional position of S. Paul, a fellow-Apostle of the Prince of the Apostles.  Even a humble nun, S. Catherine of Siena, expostulated with the reigning Pontiff, in her day, whilst full acknowledging all his great prerogatives.  (p. 74)

From Honorius to Amoris?

As Ed Peters argues, one ought to be very cautious about accusing Pope Francis (or any other pope) of heresy.  But one need not think the pope guilty of heresy to see that there are some striking parallels between the current controversy over Amoris Laetitia and the historical events summarized above.  Pope Honorius and Pope John XXII faced criticism and resistance as a result of statements perceived to be doctrinally problematic -- in Honorius’s case from the bishops of his day (at the sixth general council) and in John XXII’s case from the theologians of his day.  Similarly, Pope Francis faces criticism and resistance as a result of statements perceived to be doctrinally problematic – from the four cardinals, the forty-five theologians, Grisez and Finnis and other “new natural lawyers,” and other bishops, theologians, and Catholic philosophers.  Some claim that Amoris contains heretical statements.  Others do not go that far, but do claim that some of the document’s statements are dangerously ambiguous between heterodox and orthodox readings.  Still others avoid focusing on deficiencies of the document itself and merely ask for clarification and for a condemnation of errors which are being, or might be, propagated in the name of the document.  But all of these critics are agreed that, one way or the other, the pope has generated a doctrinal crisis and needs to resolve it.

A second parallel: The errors of which Pope Liberius and Pope Honorius were accused stemmed from ambiguous doctrinal formulations intended to accommodate those resistant to orthodoxy and thereby to reintegrate them into the Church.  In the case of Liberius, the ambiguous language he temporarily consented to was meant to mollify the Arian heretics, and in the case of Honorius, Monothelitism was meant to mollify those sympathetic to the Monophysite heresy.  The trouble is that these ambiguous formulations essentially gave away the store to the heretics.  Similarly, Pope Francis is accused of trading in ambiguities in the interests of “accompanying and integrating” Catholics who do not accept the Church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage.  And the problem, the critics hold, is that Amoris’s way of accommodating these dissenters makes of that teaching a dead letter, or even implicitly contradicts it.

A third parallel between the cases has to do with the motivations of the parties in question.  With Liberius, Honorius, and John XXII, it can hardly be flatly asserted that any of them intended to teach heresy.  On the contrary, Liberius was clearly acting under duress; Honorius, as the Catholic Encyclopedia suggests, “was not a profound or acute theologian, and… allowed himself to be confused and misled”; and John XXII was willing to listen to his critics and to reconsider his teaching.  Their intentions did not prevent them from facing severe criticism, though, because (as Chapman put it above) “it is the words that matter” where doctrinal statements are concerned. 

Similarly, the critics of Pope Francis mentioned above are not or need not be accusing him of intending to contradict past teaching.  Indeed, doctrine does not seem to be something the pope is especially interested in.  When making statements having theological import, Francis often seems less concerned with how doctrinally precise they are than with how his statements might be pastorally useful, or with how rhetorically striking and thus thought-provoking they might be.  The trouble is that, whatever one’s purposes when speaking or writing, the specific words one chooses always have certain logical implications, whether or not one is aware of or would welcome all of those implications.  Hence, Pope Francis’s critics too have insisted that “it is the words that matter,” whatever the intentions behind them.  And some of the pope’s words seem to be interpreted even by some of his own defenders in ways that simply cannot be squared with traditional Catholic teaching.

For example, as the Catholic Herald has noted, Pope Francis’s friend and advisor Fr. Antonio Spadaro appears to claim in a recent interview that Amoris Laetitia teaches that “it may not be practicable” for some Catholics living in an adulterous union to refrain from sexual intercourse, and that such Catholics may persist in this adulterous sexual relationship if they “[believe] they would fall into a worse error, and harm the children of the new union” if they refrained from sex.  Now, if – I repeat, IF -- this is really what Fr. Spadaro is asserting, then he is essentially attributing to Amoris the following two propositions:

(1) Adulterous sexual acts are in some special circumstances morally permissible.

(2) It is sometimes impossible to obey the divine commandment against engaging in adulterous sexual acts.

But these propositions flatly contradict irreformable Catholic teaching.  Proposition (1) contradicts not only the perennial moral teaching of the Church, but the teaching of scripture itself.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Adultery refers to marital infidelity.  When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations – even transient ones – they commit adultery.  Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire.  The sixth commandment and the New Testament forbid adultery absolutely.  (Paragraph 2380)

Proposition (2) contradicts the decrees of the Council of Trent, which declare:

God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes thee to do what thou canst and to pray for what thou canst not, and aids thee that thou mayest be able.

and

If anyone says that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to observe, let him be anathema.

Now, again, perhaps Fr. Spadaro did not mean to assert or imply the propositions in question.  But that is what his remarks seem to be saying on a natural reading, and it is not obvious what else he could have meant.  Perhaps, even if he did mean to assert or imply these propositions, he is mistaken in attributing them to Amoris.  But he is very close to the pope, so that it would be odd if even he misunderstood what the pope was saying.  Nor has the pope issued any disavowal of Fr. Spadaro’s remarks.

Then there is the fact that the Argentine bishops’ directive for implementing Amoris also appears to be saying that “living in continence” – that is to say, refraining from sexual intercourse -- “may not, in fact, be feasible” for some couples living in an adulterous relationship, and that the couple “would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union” if they did so refrain.  That is to say, the directive seems to be saying the same thing Fr. Spadaro appears to be saying.  And in this case, not only has Pope Francis not rejected the Argentine bishops’ interpretation, he has warmly endorsed it

This does not entail that Pope Francis really is committed to propositions (1) and (2) or to any other proposition that contradicts Church teaching.  After all, in a now famous interview with Fr. Spadaro three years ago, the pope said that while he has “not spoken much about” the Church’s controversial teachings vis-à-vis sexual morality, nevertheless “the teaching of the church… is clear and I am a son of the church.” 

The trouble is that if the pope would reject (1) and (2), then it is simply not clear exactly what Amoris is teaching, especially if the Argentine bishops’ interpretation is correct, as the pope has said it is.  There is cognitive dissonance here that needs to be resolved.  Suppose I say: “All men are mortal, and Socrates is a man.”  Suppose you respond: “Oh, so you think that Socrates is mortal?”  And suppose I indignantly reply: “I never said that!” but also refuse to deny that Socrates is mortal or even to address the question of his mortality one way or the other, and also refuse to explain exactly what I did mean when I said that Socrates is a man and that all men are mortal if I wasn’t intending to imply that Socrates is mortal.  Naturally, you would be very puzzled and want some clarification of what is going on.  And it would only make things worse if I stomped my foot and insisted that what I had said was already perfectly clear, accused you of rigidity and bad faith in pestering me with such questions, etc.  I was the one who caused the problem, because I was the one who initiated the conversation and said something to you that would ordinarily be taken to imply that Socrates is mortal.  Hence the burden is on me to explain what I meant, not on you to try to figure it out for yourself.

Now, the four cardinals, the forty-five theologians, and the other critics of Amoris are essentially simply asking the pope to resolve just this sort of cognitive dissonance.  Notice that in the scenario I just painted, you would not necessarily attribute ill will to me.  You might instead just conclude that I am very confused.  Similarly, a critic of Amoris need not go so far as to accuse the pope of intending to teach heresy.  The critic can instead suppose that, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says of Honorius, the pope is merely “not a profound or acute theologian, and [has] allowed himself to be confused and misled.”

The main difference between the current situation and the earlier cases described above is that the problem with Amoris is in fact not limited merely to one or two problematic propositions like (1) and (2).  The four cardinals, the forty-five theologians, and Grisez and Finnis have asked the pope to condemn whole series of heterodox propositions that might be or have been defended in the name of Amoris – propositions concerning worthiness to receive Holy Communion, the existence of absolute moral norms, the possibility of eternal damnation, and so on.  By contrast, with Liberius, Honorius, and John XXII, what was at issue in each case was essentially only a single problematic proposition.

But who are we to judge?

If all that makes the current situation sound serious, that is because it is.  Yet there seems to be, in certain sectors of the Church, an air of unreality or make believe surrounding the crisis.  With the honorable exception of Rocco Buttiglione, defenders of Amoris have not even attempted to respond to the substance of the four cardinals’ questions.  They have instead resorted to abuse, mockery, and threats – all the while claiming to champion mercy and dialogue.  They assure us that the four cardinals and others who have raised questions about Amoris are comparable to rigid and legalistic Pharisees and acting contrary to the gentle mercy of Christ.  Yet as a matter of historical fact it was the Pharisees who championed a very lax and “merciful” attitude vis-à-vis divorce and remarriage, and Christ who insisted on a doctrine that was so austere and “rigid” that even the apostles wondered if it might be better not to marry. 

Others suspect that there is something wrong, but refuse to express their concerns on the assumption that a Catholic must never say anything that might seem to imply criticism of a pope.  They simply refrain from thinking or talking about the crisis, or they do so only when they can put a positive if tortuous spin on some problematic statement, or they badmouth as disloyal those who raise even politely expressed worries.  “We are at war with Eastasia, and always have been!  We are through the looking glass!  Denial is just a river in Egypt!

Several reasons are often put forward for taking these various attitudes toward the crisis.  All of them are bad.  Let’s consider each one and what is wrong with it:

1. “To ask the pope for a Yes or No answer misses the point.”

Some defenders of Amoris seem to think that the problem with critics of the document is that they are demanding Yes or No answers, when the pope’s whole point is that Yes or No answers are not possible in this case.  The idea seems to be that those asking the pope for clarification of Amoris are like the lawyer who asks a witness “Are you still beating your wife?”, where the witness will look bad either way he responds.

But this is not a serious objection.  There is a Yes or No answer to the lawyer’s question, and if the witness is not and never was beating his wife, then the right answer is “No.”  If the lawyer is fair, he will allow the witness to go on to say “No, but I was never beating her in the first place.”  But whether he allows this or not, it is simply not the case that neither Yes nor No is the correct answer.  After all, the question corresponds to the declarative sentence “You are still beating your wife,” and if the witness is not and never was beating his wife, then that sentence is false (rather than being neither true nor false). 

Similarly, if Amoris is not asserting either proposition (1) or (2) above, then there is no reason not to say so explicitly, even if one thinks that further comment is necessary beyond saying so.  For example, the pope can say “No, of course adulterous sexual acts are never under any circumstances morally permissible, but…,” and then go on to explain exactly what Amoris is asserting if it is not asserting proposition (1). 

Now, it is true that the four cardinals’ dubia are formulated as simple Yes or No questions.  The cardinals are indeed asking for a Yes or a No, without further commentary.  But there is nothing stopping the pope from answering them in a “Yes, but…” or “No, but…” fashion if he prefers.  To suppose that the only options facing the pope are either responding with simple and unqualified Yes or No answers, or not responding at all, is itself to commit a False Dichotomy fallacy. 

2. “Those who support the four cardinals are dissenters from Church teaching.”

In response to the four cardinals’ dubia, Austen Ivereigh proclaims: Roma locuta, causa finita est – “Rome has spoken, the matter is closed.”  Hence those who continue to raise questions are, Ivereigh suggests, “dissenters” from settled teaching, comparable to those critics of Pope John Paul II who “argued for women priests, an end to mandatory celibacy and an opening in areas such as contraception.” 

There are several problems with these claims.  First, the reason there is a controversy in the first place is precisely because Rome has not spoken.  Consider again the scenario I described above, wherein you ask me if I am asserting that “Socrates is mortal” and I refuse either to confirm or deny that I am.  It would be ridiculous for me to accuse you of dissenting from my assertion if you keep asking me to clarify it.  In fact, what you are doing is trying to find out what my assertion is in the first place.  Until you know that, the question about whether you agree with it or dissent from it cannot arise.

Similarly, what the four cardinals and other critics of Amoris are doing is asking the pope to explain exactly what he is saying.  They can hardly be accused of dissenting from what he is saying if they aren’t clear about what it is.

A second problem with Ivereigh’s position is that it is simply not the case that anyone who raises critical questions about some statement that comes from the Magisterium counts as a “dissenter.”  The Church herself tells us so.  The 1990 document Donum Veritatis, issued by then-Cardinal Ratzinger while acting as Prefect of the CDF under Pope John Paul II, states:

The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule.  It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions…

[T]he possibility cannot be excluded that tensions may arise between the theologian and the Magisterium...  If tensions do not spring from hostile and contrary feelings, they can become a dynamic factor, a stimulus to both the Magisterium and theologians to fulfill their respective roles while practicing dialogue

The preceding considerations have a particular application to the case of the theologian who might have serious difficulties, for reasons which appear to him wellfounded, in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching

If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian's part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented.  He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties.  His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments

End quote.  So, the Church herself tells us that respectfully raising questions about the form or content of some magisterial statement, and indeed even the existence of “tensions” between the questioning theologian and the Magisterium, can be a “stimulus” to the Magisterium to provide a “clearer presentation” of her teaching, “greater depth” in understanding, and “real progress.”  Indeed, the critical theologian can even have a “duty” to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems he sees in the teaching.

Now, far from constituting “dissent,” the criticisms raised by the four cardinals, the forty-five theologians, Grisez and Finnis and others, seem in tone and content to be textbook examples of what Donum Veritatis is talking about.  The action of the four cardinals also seems to be a textbook example of the sort of thing Cardinal Merry del Val was talking about when (in the passage quoted above) he wrote that “even to-day a Bishop might… expostulate with a Pope, who, in his judgment, might be acting in a way which was liable to mislead those under his own charge.”

A third problem with Ivereigh’s remarks is that there is an obvious and crucial difference between the four cardinals on the one hand and those “dissenters” who call for women priests, contraception, etc. on the other.  The latter reject the perennial and irreformable teaching of the Church.  The former are trying precisely to uphold the perennial and irreformable teaching of the Church.  But that brings us to a further assumption that some defenders of Amoris seem to be making:

3. “If the pope says it, it can’t be contrary to traditional teaching.”

Some Catholics seem to judge that Amoris simply must be unproblematic precisely because it was issued by a pope.  Hence they dismiss a priori all criticisms of the document, whether or not they have any way of answering those criticisms.  But there are several problems with this attitude.

First, as we have already seen, the Church herself acknowledges that there have in fact been popes guilty of doctrinal errors, and she has never denied that it is possible in theory for a pope to fall even into heresy when not speaking ex cathedra.  And again, Donum Veritatis allows that magisterial documents can under certain circumstances be deficient in form or content.  Hence there is no basis for judging a priori and dogmatically that Amoris simply must be consistent with past teaching or otherwise free of any deficiency.

Second, the Church explicitly teaches that popes are not permitted to teach just any old thing they like, and in particular that they cannot contradict what has been handed on and cannot make up new doctrines out of whole cloth.  The First Vatican Council taught that:

[T]he Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

The Second Vatican Council taught in Dei Verbum that:

[T]he living teaching office of the Church… is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully…

Pope Benedict XVI taught that:

The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law…  He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down…

It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage.

End quote.  Now, there would be no point in making statements like this if it weren’t the case that a pope in theory could (even if he should not) say something at odds with traditional teaching.  If everything a pope said were ipso facto consistent with tradition, then he would never need to consult past teaching, or his advisors, in order to decide what to say.  He could just teach whatever popped into his head and – Voila! – you’d automatically have “traditional” teaching. 

That brings us to a third problem, which is that supposing that a statement can be made consistent with traditional teaching simply by virtue of being uttered by a pope would force Catholic claims about the papacy into a No True Scotsman fallacy.  The claim that popes never contradict past teaching would become utterly unfalsifiable.  Even if a pope explicitly denied the doctrine of the Trinity, Catholics would have to insist, absurdly, that such a denial must “really” be consistent with past Trinitarian teaching given that a pope said it. 

(A similar fallacy is committed when people play fast and loose with Newman’s concept of the “development of doctrine,” as they sometimes do when they want to paper over what is really a rejection of past teaching.  To say that Catholic doctrine can “develop” means that implications of existing doctrine that were previously only implicit can be made explicit.  It does not mean that past teaching might be reversed or contradicted and that this is OK as long as we slap the label “development of doctrine” on it.  That would not be a “development” of doctrine in Newman’s sense at all, but an abandonment of doctrine.) 

4. “But there is a way to read Amoris that really is plausibly consistent with traditional teaching.”

Philosopher Rocco Buttiglione thinks that Amoris can be read in a way consistent with past teaching, and his opinion certainly carries weight.  Perhaps he is correct.  But whether or not he is, it is important to emphasize that it is not good enough for a document to be readable in a way that is consistent with tradition if that requires ignoring what seems to be the plain meaning of the text, or even if the text permits the orthodox reading but also permits some other, heterodox reading. 

In fact it isn’t always all that difficult for a statement to pass that sort of test.  For example, take the statement “God does not exist.”  Surely, you might think, there is no way to read that statement consistent with traditional Christian teaching!  But in fact there is, if you strain hard enough.  You could argue, in Paul Tillich style: “Ah, but what that really means is that God is not merely one existent thing among others, like a stone or a tree.  He does not merely ‘have’ existence the way that other things do, but rather he just IS Being ItselfSo, there is no inconsistency in believing in God while denying that God ‘exists’ in the sense of merely ‘having’ existence the way other things do!

The right answer to that, of course, would be: “That’s all well and good, but it remains extremely misleading to make the point by saying ‘God does not exist.’  For obviously the most natural way to read that statement is as an expression of atheism, rather than as an expression of some sophisticated form of theism.  And that is how the average listener is bound to take it, so that if you don’t want people to think you’re an atheist, you’d better not go around tossing out remarks like ‘God does not exist.’” 

In the same way, in Catholic theology it has always been understood that doctrinal statements can be severely deficient even if there is some way to give them an orthodox reading.  That is why the Magisterium of the Church and Catholic theologians have traditionally recognized a variety of theological censures.  In particular, a statement may not be strictly heretical, but nevertheless might be condemned by the Church on some other grounds – for example, on the grounds that it is “ambiguous,” or “offensive to pious ears,” or “scandalous,” or “dangerous to morals” (to cite some of the categories discussed in the article linked to). 

One reason for this is that statements that are not necessarily strictly heretical but nevertheless ambiguous or in some other way potentially misleading can give aid and comfort to heretical views.  Another reason is that the average person does not have the education or appreciation of nuance that the theologian has.  If a churchman says, for example, that sometimes “it may not be practicable” to avoid adulterous sexual intercourse and that a person might even “fall into a worse error, and harm the children of the new union” if he tries to avoid it, then the average listener is bound to conclude that that churchman is saying that it is sometimes OK to commit adultery, even if this is not what was meant.  The average Catholic might be led into sin by a statement even if the statement could in theory be given an innocent reading by someone sufficiently clever. 

Furthermore, even if an interpretation like Buttiglione’s is plausible, what matters at the end of the day is not what Buttiglione says, but what Pope Francis says.  And Pope Francis at least seems to endorse readings like Fr. Spadaro’s and that of the Argentine bishops – readings which, the critics of Amoris have argued, are not orthodox.  The only way to clarify the situation, then, is for the pope himself to put forward or endorse some orthodox interpretation, whether Buttiglione’s or some other interpretation.

5. “Criticism of the pope should not be made in a public way.”

Some maintain that even if Amoris is defective and even if the pope ought to clarify things in the way the critics are asking, these critics should not be saying so publicly.  They should either try to make their concerns known in some private fashion, or maintain a reverent silence. 

Now, it is certainly true that some of the public criticism of Pope Francis has been uncharitable, rhetorically excessive, and in some cases even vulgar and childish.  This is indefensible.  The pope, whatever his real or imagined faults, is still the pope.  He is the Holy Father and the Vicar of Christ, and must always be treated with the reverence and charity that the dignity of his office entails.  All Catholics are bound earnestly to pray for him, to express their concerns in a respectful and non-polemical way, and to give him the benefit of the doubt.

It is not the case, however, that Catholic teaching forbids all public criticism of a pope.  The bishops who condemned Pope Honorius did so publicly, and the theologians who criticized Pope John XXII did so publicly.  Aquinas holds that although in general the rebuke of a prelate ought to be carried out in private, there is an exception to be made precisely where matters of grave doctrinal error are concerned:

It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.  Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”  (Summa Theologiae II-II.33.4)

The current Code of Canon Law states at Canon 212:

The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

It seems that some Catholics who deny that the pope can ever be criticized publicly base this opinion on a misunderstanding of Donum Veritatis, which, when discussing the legitimacy in some cases of criticizing Magisterial statements, says that “the theologian should avoid turning to the ‘mass media’” or “exert[ing] the pressure of public opinion.”  As theologians with a reputation for faithfulness to the Magisterium have argued, however, it is a mistake to read Donum Veritatis as ruling out all public criticism.  As William May writes:

[T]he Instruction obviously considers it proper for theologians to publish their “questions,” for it speaks of their obligation to take seriously into account objections leveled against their views by other theologians and to revise their positions in the light of such criticism -- and this is normally given only after a theologian has made his questions known by publishing them in professional theological journals.  (An Introduction to Moral Theology, Revised edition, pp. 241-42)

Similarly, Cardinal Avery Dulles writes:

Archbishop Quinn, in my opinion, is correct in pointing out that the “public dissent” repudiated by the instruction has to do with organized opposition and pressure tactics, and that the instruction does not discountenance expression of one’s views in a scholarly manner that might be publicly reported.  (The Craft of Theology, New expanded edition, p. 115)

It is crucial to keep in mind the context in which Donum Veritatis was issued.  Progressive theologians such as Hans Küng and Charles Curran had in the preceding decades been openly and vigorously challenging longstanding and settled doctrines concerning papal infallibility, sexual morality, and so forth.  Progressive theologians had a tendency to pit themselves as a kind of counter-magisterium of experts against what they portrayed as an authoritarian, blinkered, and anachronistic Roman bureaucracy that needed to be dragged into the modern world.  They could count on liberal journalists to further this narrative and to help rally public opinion behind the progressives.  The hope was that the Church might be intimidated into changing its long-standing teachings, just as a government might be intimidated into changing its policies by a sufficiently sizable and angry populace. 

This politicization of theology in the interests of overturning Church teaching is the kind of thing Donum Veritatis was reacting to in its remarks about mass media, public opinion, etc.  What is going on with the four cardinals, the forty-five theologians, Grisez and Finnis, et al. is very different.  They are asking the pope to uphold traditional and settled teaching, not to overturn it, and their mode of discourse is scholarly, dispassionate, and respectful.

Quo vadis, Petre?

It is hard to see how a continued failure to respond to the four cardinals and the other critics could be justified.  Ensuring doctrinal clarity and unity within the Church are two of the chief reasons why the papacy exists in the first place.  And both doctrinal clarity and unity are now in danger.  There is no agreement on the meaning of Amoris.  Some claim that it is a revolutionary breach with tradition, others that it is perfectly in continuity with tradition.  Different bishops in different dioceses are implementing different interpretations of the document, some maintaining previous practice, some departing from it.  Some Catholics regard Amoris’s defenders as dissenters from binding teaching, while others regard the critics of Amoris as dissenters.  Some worry that Francis is, with Amoris, undermining the authority of the Church and the papacy.  Others seem to think that upholding the authority of the papacy requires punishing the critics of Amoris.  Tempers are high, and many fear that schism is imminent. 

There is only one man who can resolve the crisis, and that is Pope Francis.  And resolving these sorts of crises is at the very top of the list defining the job description for any pope.  When such a crisis has arisen precisely as a consequence (however unintended) of a pope’s actions, his obligation to resolve it is surely even graver.

There is also the consideration that, just as Arianism was the main challenge to the Faith at the time of Liberius, and Monothelitism was the main challenge to the Faith at the time of Honorius, so too is the sexual revolution arguably the main challenge to the Faith today.  The modern, liberal, secular Western world regards the Catholic Church as an obstacle to progress in many respects, but there is nothing for which the Church is hated more than her stubborn insistence on the indissolubility of marriage and the intrinsic immorality of contraception, abortion, fornication, homosexual acts, and the like.  Secularists and progressives have for decades dreamed of finding a way finally to break this intransigence and bring the Church to heel on these matters.  Their greatest weapon has been the rhetoric of mercy, forgiveness, and non-judgmentalism.  That is to say, they have used (a distortion of) one part of Christian teaching as a bludgeon with which they might shatter another part.

Rightly or wrongly, they have seen in Pope Francis’s various controversial remarks on matters of sexual morality and marriage, and especially in Amoris, the sort of opening they have long hoped for.  St. Jerome famously remarked, of the time of Liberius, that “the whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian.”  Today it seems the world groans and marvels to find that we are all sexual revolutionaries now

Except that Catholics are not and never can be, any more than they can be Arians.  Pope Liberius was not an Arian, and Pope Francis is not a sexual revolutionary (as is obvious when one considers all the things he has said on the subject of sexual morality, many of which are very traditional).  He is, as he has said, “a son of the church” for whom “the teaching of the church is clear.”  Arianism once seemed invincible, the wave of the future.  Now few people even remember what the fuss was about.  The sexual revolution too will someday be looked back upon as the temporary and freakish aberration that it is.  Its challenge to the Church will fail, just as Roman persecution, Arianism and other heresies, the Muslim conquests, the Protestant revolt, the French Revolution, communism, etc. have all failed to destroy the Church.  The pope could not prevent that happy outcome even if he wanted to.  But he can decide what role he will play in securing it, just as it was up to Liberius to decide what role he would play in the resolution of the Arian crisis. 

It would seem that history has now very clearly set out for the pope exactly what his options are, in the guise of the four cardinals’ dubia.  He can either (a) answer them in a way that overturns traditional teaching, (b) answer them in a way that reaffirms traditional teaching, or (c) continue, until the end of his pontificate, to refrain from answering them. 

The pope is surely not going to opt for (a).  For example, he is not flatly going to declare that adulterous sexual acts are now sometimes morally permissible.  Even if he wanted to teach such a thing – and I do not believe that he does – it would be suicidal for him to do so.  What has to this point in Church history been merely an abstract theoretical scenario debated by theologians would suddenly become a terrifying reality, and the Church would be thrown into perhaps the greatest crisis in her history. 

If the pope opts for (b), the current, more moderate crisis will end.  The progressives will of course be extremely disappointed.  There will be recriminations, whining, and foot-stomping.  But that will peter out, because their position requires ambiguity, and if the pope explicitly reaffirms that adulterous sexual acts are always and absolutely impermissible, that ambiguity will have been taken from them.  Moreover, the progressives have, after all, claimed not to be reversing past teaching, so they can hardly complain if the pope reaffirms it.  They will simply have to put up and shut up. 

It would seem, however, that to opt for (b) might essentially make of Amoris (or at least of chapter 8, its best known and most controversial section) a dead letter.  For if, despite all the talk about “discerning, accompanying, and integrating,” couples living in adulterous relationships are told unambiguously that they still must refrain from all sexual activity on pain of mortal sin (and thus on pain of unworthiness to receive communion), then it will be undeniable that Amoris doesn’t change anything.  What had seemed a revolutionary development and Pope Francis’s signature achievement will turn out to have been much ado about nothing. 

That might make option (c) tempting.  But it is a temptation that must be resisted.  Taking option (c) will only cause the current crisis to deepen and fester.  And, in light of the larger cultural context within which that crisis is occurring, it might reinforce the false impression that the Church can and will accommodate herself to the sexual revolution.  As Pope Felix III declared, in words quoted by Pope Leo XIII: “An error which is not resisted is approved; a truth which is not defended is suppressed.”

To quote a progressive theologian, Harvey Cox: “Not to decide is to decide.”  Though, the longer a decision is delayed, perhaps the question of what Pope Francis will do will become less important.  As Honorius could tell you, sometimes it is what the next pope does that matters most. 

101 comments:

malcolmthecynic said...

I hope Francis does not speak. It's hard for me to imagine that he'll say something to allay our fears. Better ambiguous heresy than clear heresy.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the Pope Emeritus thinks of all of this. It has to weigh heavily upon him as Francis is Pope in part because he resigned. I can't imagine this is an easier burden than being the Pope.

Calin said...

"To quote a progressive theologian, Harvey Cox: 'Not to decide is to decide.'"

To quote a progressive band: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

Anonymous said...

I love this quote:
"The pope could not prevent that happy outcome even if he wanted to."

However, I do disagree with you concerning Pope Francis' aims. He is a revolutionary and wants to destroy, at least in part, the Church's teachings on sexual morality, which he views as overly "rigid". He has clearly stated that the divorced and remarried can receive communion in certain circumstances while committing adultery. Now, his justification for this is a little veiled and hazy, but there is no orthodox or reasonable justification for it. All of his orthodox remarks on sexual morality are just lip service to conservatives in my view, or are not meant to be "absolute".

Regardless of his intentions, he is working towards the destruction of the Church. What I am really worried about though, is the next conclave and the Cardinals he appoints.

I definitely do agree that he will not come out and unequivocally contradict Tradition, Scripture, or infallible Magisterial teaching like Trent.

bombcar said...

I feel that we're going to see (C), and in result the battle lines will be clearly drawn, vis-a-vis the Arian heresy.

Who will be St Athanasius this time?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

To my untrained eye Amoris Laetitia looks like teaching ex-cathedra, but apparently not. I suppose the idea is that everything a Pope teaches ex-cathedra is infallibly true, but when it is that the Pope is teaching ex-cathedra is debatable.

The substance of the matter strikes me as far more serious than the discussion about infallibility. All desire for infallibility and inerrancy strikes me as being a sign of lack of faith, and basically a desire for possessing idols. Only God is perfect which entails that everything else is not. Thus everybody always might be in error.

The substance of the matter here is that Christ suffered the breaking of His body and the shedding of His blood for the salvation of all – that was His gift to all. I find it inadmissible when a neighbor, no matter how weak she is and how sinful, wishes salvation and therefore comes asking for the help of the Eucharist to be denied by the priest. This is a huge sin of lack of charity committed by the priest – can't you see that?

It is one thing to explain to the flock that the Eucharist is not some kind of magic potion, but divine grace made visible, a direct helping hand extended by the Spirit and which powerfully works on a soul that is asking for it – and another thing altogether to deny the Eucharist. I mean who are you to deny it? Do you think the flesh and blood of Christ belongs to you?

David T. said...

"The substance of the matter strikes me as far more serious than the discussion about infallibility. All desire for infallibility and inerrancy strikes me as being a sign of lack of faith, and basically a desire for possessing idols. Only God is perfect which entails that everything else is not. Thus everybody always might be in error. "

Everyone might be in error except when God promises they won't be (because God is perfect), which we Catholics believe Christ promised to His Church under certain circumstance.

"The substance of the matter here is that Christ suffered the breaking of His body and the shedding of His blood for the salvation of all – that was His gift to all. I find it inadmissible when a neighbor, no matter how weak she is and how sinful, wishes salvation and therefore comes asking for the help of the Eucharist to be denied by the priest. This is a huge sin of lack of charity committed by the priest – can't you see that? "

No, I don't see that. And according to your own principles, you might very well be in error about this, since you are not perfect. Which I think you are, because the situation here is of an individual asking for the Eucharist yet refusing to repent of mortal sin prior to that reception. The Church, following St. Paul, has always taught that it is a very serious matter to receive the Eucharist unworthily - that is, in a state of unrepentant mortal sin. Should I believe the constant teaching of the Church for 2,000 years, or you? Who are you to claim to know better than the Church that Christ Himself founded?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

Thank you so much for an excellent article that is helpful and calm in a time of great anxiety. Please, if you can respond:

You write, "Now, if – I repeat, IF -- this is really what Fr. Spadaro is asserting, then he is essentially attributing to Amoris the following two propositions:

(1) Adulterous sexual acts are in some special circumstances morally permissible."

WHAT "IF" HE IS SAYING, ALONG WITH BUTTIGLION (who DOES mean this): "Of course it's not "permissible," but it becomes a venial sin that must be tolerated, for the time being."?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for this post. Just a few quick questions:

(1) Who, in your opinion, is in a position to judge whether a Pope's teachings and/or writings are compatible with: (a) the infallible extraordinary magisterium of the Church; and (b) the infallible ordinary magisterium of the Church?

Laypeople? (But that presumes that laypeople are sufficiently competent to read a papal document and figure out either (i) what its author really meant or (ii) what its "plain meaning" is - which is highly doubtful, in both cases.)

Theologians? (But they're not teachers of the faith. And who counts as a theologian, anyway?)

Bishops? (Yes, but how many, and do they have to meet first, before issuing a judgement?)

An ecumenical council convened without the Pope's approval? (That sounds like an oxymoron to me.)

(2) No disrespect intended, but given that your return to the Catholic Church took place in 2001 [mine was about four years later], it follows that you've only been a well-informed Catholic for 15 years. Pope Francis is 80. Are you really in a position to be judging the orthodoxy of his pronouncements?

(3) As a Catholic, you'd be the first to ridicule the Elizabethan notion of the "plain meaning" of Holy Scripture. What makes you think you're capable of figuring out the "plain meaning" of a papal document?

(4) You mention the four cardinals, 45 theologians and "new" natural lawyers who have taken issue with Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia . Just as a layperson, upon hearing experts disputing the mainstream scientific view of global warming, might argue that it's safer to stick with the consensus, likewise a lay Catholic might appeal to the consensus of bishops and theologians applauding Pope Francis' document, Amoris Laetitia, and conclude that it must be right after all. How would you argue with such a person?

(5) Pastor Hans Fiene, one of the contributors to "Lutheran Satire" (great Website!), has written an interesting article in The Federalist, titled, "8 Steps The Catholic Church Could Take To Approve Gay Marriage Like Tim Kaine Expects" at https://thefederalist.com/2016/09/14/8-steps-catholic-church-take-approve-gay-marriage-like-tim-kaine-expects/ . What are your thoughts? (On the bright side, Fiene thinks that liberalism in the Church has reached its apogee, as the liberals are getting old, and the millennials remaining in the Church are more traditional. I'm not so optimistic: surveys show that young Catholics are much more in favor of gay marriage than older ones. See http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/16/young-u-s-catholics-overwhelmingly-accepting-of-homosexuality/ .)

(6) Tough but brutally honest question: you returned to the Church under Pope St. John Paul II. I returned under Pope Benedict XVI. Do you think you would have returned to the Church had Francis been Pope?

(7) Do you think there is any possibility, however faint, that Pope Francis might be right after all on the issue of whether some Catholic couples who have divorced and remarried are eligible to receive Communion, even though their current relationship is not a celibate one?

For my part, I have very mixed feelings about Pope Francis' pronouncements over the years - some strike me as very charitable, others as confused. Nevertheless, I completely agree with you that Pope Francis needs to address the questions that have been put to him by the four cardinals. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

"(7) Do you think there is any possibility, however faint, that Pope Francis might be right after all on the issue of whether some Catholic couples who have divorced and remarried are eligible to receive Communion, even though their current relationship is not a celibate one?"

St. John Paul II said there was no possibility. To justify such a thing, you would have to be able to judge the subjective dispositions of the couple and say that they were not in a state of mortal sin even though they are committing an objective mortal sin. However, according to St. Pius X and and Vatican II, the Church has no authority or ability to make such a judgment.

Pius X: "We leave out of consideration the internal disposition of soul, of which God alone is the judge." (cf Pascendi 3)

Vatican II said the same thing, I just cannot find the quote right now.

The Church can only judge exteriors. A couple in an adulterous relationship are in an objective state of mortal sin. To give them Communion would very likely be sarcrilagous and do more spiritual harm to the couple (St. Paul and Tradition) if they were in a state of mortal sin. It would most definitely and always be scandalous.

Michael Bradley, Jr. said...

I’ve been puzzling over some of the words spoken by our Holy Father Pope Francis regarding capital punishment and how they relate to the Church’s teaching in previous centuries. I’ll provide them below, but here’s the kicker: the fourth quote, from Pope Francis, seems to be in open and plain contradiction with the other three texts.

In all seriousness, how is this not an example of material heresy, at best? I ask out of love for the Catholic Faith and the Petrine Office, not from a desire to “stir the pot”. Pope Francis said the death penalty “is an offense to the inviolability of life,” etc. The Roman Catechism teaches that the death penalty, justly imposed, “is an act of paramount obedience to [the] Commandment which prohibits murder.” The two teachings are mutually exclusive, unless one qualifies Pope Francis’ statement such that it applies to some specific context. The Pope did not, himself, make any such qualification. I understand that the Church’s teaching develops over the centuries; but development can’t cause `X is A` to be reconcilable with `X is not A`. The principle of non-contradiction always holds, does it not?

The texts…

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.”
– Genesis 9:6 [RSV]

“Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: ‘In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.’ (Ps 101:8)”
– Roman Catechism (Catechism of Trent), Part III, 5, n. 4,

“Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.”
– Pope Pius XII, Address to the First International Congress of Histopathology of the Nervous System (14 Sep 1952)

“[The death penalty] is an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.”
– Pope Francis, Message to the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty (21 June 2016)

Anonymous said...

Vincent Torley,

A contemporary papal document ought to have a plain meaning to the extent that it is written to be generally received at this moment. An educated person ought to be able to interpret the document because he knows the proper meaning of words in current use and because he knows church history and various documents providing proximate and remote context. The interpretation of this document in a plain manner is also possible because the church issuing the document is presently manifest and able to answer questions accordingly as it claims a certain authority both to provide actual answers and to exclude errors from the sphere of possibility.

Also, to argue that it is safe to adhere to a consensus is a recommendation that precedes analysis given to an objector who is himself inadequately analytical. Any importance granted to consensus as consensus goes out the window when a sufficient analysis is given. Consensus only retains basic importance in the matter of witnessing a fact. In interpretive and rational matters, consensus has a superficial importance which can be ultimately bypassed; however, it is also true that no consensus is established without reason. Briefly, the question is resolved when one thoroughly enters into analysis.

Greg said...

@ Dianelos

To my untrained eye Amoris Laetitia looks like teaching ex-cathedra, but apparently not.

I don't know what moves you to spout off about things like this when you know you don't know what you're talking about. What do you think teaching ex cathedra involves? To teach ex cathedra, a pope must explicitly invoke his Petrine teaching authority and solemnly define a teaching to be held by Catholics.

There is nothing like that in AL. In fact, there is nothing like that in the vast majority of apostolic exhortations and papal encyclicals.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for noting that the case of Liberius is open to debate. But, then, you really should not have mentioned it at all. Since you made statements of fact that are not fact -- but rather the opinion of some historians, namely, that Liberius signed some sort of quasi-heretical document. That is definitely not an historical fact. Many historians have reasonably concluded that Liberius did no such thing and never anathemitized Athanasius. One great piece of evidence is that no one can say exactly what Liberius supposedly signed. There are at least three different theories on what he was supposedly to have signed. Liberius is a saint in the Easter Churches and
Pope Pius IX wrote about Liberius in his encyclical QUARTUS SUPRA in 1873 that "previously the Arians falsely accused Liberius, also Our predecessor, to the Emperor Constantine, because Liberius refused to condemn St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, and refused to support their heresy (#16)"

Craig Payne said...

Dear Prof. Feser: That is one wonderful allusion, or pun, or allusion and pun combined, in the OP's title.

Edward Feser said...

Thanks, Craig! And a tip of the hat to Ralph Wiltgen.

Anonymous said...

Let us remind once more those confused about papal infallibility that John Paul II issued ONLY three infallible statements during his 26 year-long pontificate. Two were in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae:

Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

The third was in the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

Attentive reader said...

To note, Fr Spadaro is not stating proposition 2, and thus incurring in the quoted anathema from Trent, because he is not saying that it is impossible for the divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to abstain from sexual relationships. Rather, he is saying that the consequences of such abstinence would be a greater evil than having those sexual relationships. Which is itself a grossly erroneous proposition, but not the proposition anathematized in the quote from Trent.

Attentive reader said...

"Now, if – I repeat, IF -- this is really what Fr. Spadaro is asserting, then he is essentially attributing to Amoris the following two propositions:

(1) Adulterous sexual acts are in some special circumstances morally permissible."

Fr. Spadaro's statement does not necessarily imply proposition 1 either, because the case could also be that of a flexibilization - even an enhancement - of the definition of adultery, which would become defined as sexual relationships outside marriage OR a "Morally Acceptable De-Facto Union as per Cardinal Kasper", a novel entity which could aptly be referred to by its acronym, which readers should be able to figure out.

Mark said...

I appreciate the commentator who says: "To note, Fr Spadaro is not stating proposition 2, and thus incurring in the quoted anathema from Trent, because he is not saying that it is impossible for the divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to abstain from sexual relationships. Rather, he is saying that the consequences of such abstinence would be a greater evil than having those sexual relationships. Which is itself a grossly erroneous proposition, but not the proposition anathematized in the quote from Trent."

I think it may or may not be erroneous, but it certainly isn't a heresy against Trent. The Church has never "ranked" sins relative to each other (besides the basic mortal-venial division) nor has the question of lesser evils ever been given a final definitive magisterial interpretation (especially when we're talking about internal evils not just external).

The teaching on sufficient grace, anyway, should not be interpreted to mean that the law understood as external behavioral descriptions is always possible to keep. That's a claim of fact that doctrine by nature is not able to make; and indeed the teaching on the existence of duress implies otherwise (if it was always morally possible to keep the external law, duress would never lessen or eliminate culpability).

Rather, it means that it's always possible to not sin. And the whole point of a "lesser evils" type argument is that choosing the lesser evil, if that's really your only choice, does not in fact result in sin being subjectively imputed even if it's the sort of absolutely evil thing that would do so outside such a dilemma.

But it would be reading too much into the teaching on sufficient grace from Trent to think it's claiming that such dilemmas (which could be read as a type of internal moral duress) never in fact can occur.

Mark said...

To the commentor who said, "To justify such a thing, you would have to be able to judge the subjective dispositions of the couple and say that they were not in a state of mortal sin even though they are committing an objective mortal sin. However, according to St. Pius X and and Vatican II, the Church has no authority or ability to make such a judgment" I would answer that this very principle you have elucidated proves that Francis's teaching here poses no threat to the Church's *doctrinal* integrity.

Even if what you say is true and a pastor absolutely has no way of reaching any sort of prudential judgment about state of soul (I'd disagree; he can't have certainty, but if he listens to the moral reasoning of the person, he can make at least a probable judgment)...the fact is that the Church does not require pastors to discover all cases of objective grave matter for the sake of withholding communion.

Even if what you say is true, all Francis is doing, then, is changing the canonical/disciplinary approach to something like, "Pastors can treat a couple's continence or not as a question of private behavior, and so leave the determination of subjective state up to them" just like we do with all the private objective sin that is not considered "manifest."

Because "not withholding" is a passive thing. It doesn't imply a positive active judgment that the couple is in fact in a state of grace (just like withholding doesn't imply a positive judgment that they're not, necessarily). It's a mere question of probabilities and pastoral effectiveness at that point. There are plenty of private sinners (even whose sin the pastor DOES believe is actually subjectively culpable) whom we don't actively withhold from, where we leave the judgment at the person's "own risk."

As for scandal, that assumes some sort of publicity to the matter. But Francis emphasizes discretion in Amoris Laetitiae, and anyway it's always been unclear to me why canon law treats the new civil marriage as making the couple's sex life public knowledge (even though sex happens, you know, in private usually) but then acts as if living as brother and sister is an acceptable solution (even though no one has any way of knowing about a state of abstinence either unless the couple broadcast it awkwardly; people are going to jump to the conclusions they're going to jump to either way, and those of us who aren't busy-bodies will mind our own business and not assume anything either way...)

Greg said...

@ Mark

The teaching on sufficient grace, anyway, should not be interpreted to mean that the law understood as external behavioral descriptions is always possible to keep. That's a claim of fact that doctrine by nature is not able to make; and indeed the teaching on the existence of duress implies otherwise (if it was always morally possible to keep the external law, duress would never lessen or eliminate culpability).

Rather, it means that it's always possible to not sin.


I think it means both of these things. God's grace is sufficient to avoid violating any of the negative prohibitions against grave matter. If the presence of duress mitigates but does not eliminate culpability, then engaging in the action is still sinful, just not mortally so. So if it's always possible not to sin, then in such a case, it is possible to meet the outward demands of the law's negative prohibitions.

And if the presence of duress, in a particular case, eliminates culpability for an action, then we are not talking about a human action at all.

Anonymous characterizes Fr. Spadaro's position this way:

Rather, he is saying that the consequences of such abstinence would be a greater evil than having those sexual relationships.

I'm not exactly sure what's being proposed here. Is the suggestion that the consequences--in the sense of states of affairs that obtain as a result of abstinence (say, familial discord), unintended but foreseen--are worse than intentionally committing grave matter? That is just never the case, in Catholic moral theology.

There's perhaps another reading, in which case the consequences are, say, other gravely materially wrong actions that one predicts one would commit, if one were to abstain from adulterous sexual relations. The idea is that, if one doesn't engage in adulterous sexual relations, then one will be tempted to do something else even worse (I don't know what this is supposed to be), so "lesser of two evils" reasoning justifies engaging in adulterous sexual relations. But that approach is likewise seriously problematic.

Am I missing something? Is there a better way of reading Fr. Spadaro here?

Andre van Heerden said...

Thanks Dr. Feser - your erudite and balanced analysis of the state of play in this distressing crisis deserves the widest possible publication.

Philip Barrett said...

Thank you, Dr. Feser, for this analysis.

If Pope Francis answered the dubia as Buttglione did, I think that would neither simply overturn nor simply reaffirm traditional teaching. In a similar vein to Buttglione's writing, Jeff Mirus presents a scenario in which a divorced and civilly-remarried Catholic might avoid mortal sin:

"1. An invalidly married couple has had children together, who are still at home.
2. Either the man or the woman recognizes the sinfulness of the “marriage”, regrets having entered into it, and desires now to do what is right (which in this case would be for the parents to live as brother and sister while still caring for their children as mother and father in the same household).
3. The other party refuses to live as brother and sister.
4. The other party says he (or she) will leave the family if sexual relations are refused.
5. Hence the man or woman in question continues sexual relations, in effect under duress, to ensure that his or her children are not deprived of one parent."

Mirus writes that such a person might lack the full knowledge (since discerning what to do in this situation is not evident, at least to an untrained lay person) or the deliberate consent required for sin to be mortal. Richard Spinello's response to Buttglione points out that ignorance should not last in a situation where a penitent is being accompanied. With regard to deliberate consent, Spinello writes:

"Here the issue is more subtle and complex, and Buttiglione offers examples of how coercive pressures might severely constrain a person’s freedom to act differently ... [S]ubjective culpability is mitigated only when there is real coercion that destroys freedom, and those situations are extremely rare."

I'm not aware of direct support for Spinello's claim that only "real coercion that destroys freedom" can mitigate culpability. The Holy Office under Innocent XI condemned the following proposition in 1679:

"A male servant who knowingly by offering his shoulders assists his master to ascend through windows to ravage a virgin, and many times serves the same by carrying a ladder, by opening a door, or by cooperating in something similar, does not commit a mortal sin, if he does this through fear of considerable damage, for example, lest he be treated wickedly by his master, lest he be looked upon with savage eyes, or, lest he be expelled from the house."

Here coercion does not prevent mortal sin, at least for acts that occur "many times." Perhaps coercion can only mitigate culpability (so that the sin is not mortal) if someone is seeking to escape a temporary situation. In Casti Conubii, while addressing contraception in married couples, Pius XI writes:

"Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin." (59)

Adultery is a more serious sin than contraception, but this might suggest that someone in the situation Mirus described could continue to engage in sexual relations (under protest) for an extended period of time without mortal sin, while seeking to convert the other party or to find ways to minimize the harm to their children that would result from a separation.

None of the preceding is an argument that it would be wise for the Church to admit these people to Communion; there are serious concerns (among others) about weakening the Church's witness to the indissolubility of marriage. Such a change, however, might not overturn essential Church teaching. It might be a legitimate development of doctrine.

Mark said...

@Greg

I think you "perhaps another reading" is closer to the truth. There's a type of "internal duress," not of external circumstances but *within* conscience itself involving competing values, that has not been well explored in the "theoretical" Western Catholic moral tradition, but which any mature moral imagination understands. Francis seems to be talking about this when he discusses questions of human weakness, the "law of gradualism" which is not a gradualism of the law, and the notion of discerning "the most generous response one can give God" in a given moment.

But then these things are not amenable to purely theoretical discussion, and Francis is loathe to engage in hypotheticals.

The best I can do is think of some friends of mine from college. Two guys seeking women to marry. Both, initially, kept choosing mousy women who simply were not personality matches for them in anyway because they placed an emphasis on premarital abstinence. One kept on this path, kept letting relationships be ruined over this sort of moral self-consciousness, nothing could blossom in the frigidity imposed, and eventually he withdrew from relationships more and more as he could see them as nothing more than occasions of sin, and now he has confided he struggles with pornography and masturbation and, paradoxically enough, sex with prostitutes because, in his perverse moral motive-structure, he can sleep with a prostitute, feel guilty, repent, confess, swear it off for a few weeks...and then winds up falling again, "but at least I'm not committing to it as a lifestyle!" The other guy decided that he was just going to not worry about all that too much, found a girl who was a match, they did have premarital sex for a couple years, but now he's married with kids and the whole thing took care of itself and became a non-issue. I mean, that's the secret logic of "better to marry than to burn," isn't it? That the solution to premarital sex is not actually "Stop fornicating" but rather "Get married." (And yet you have churches that refuse to marry cohabiting couples unless they live apart for six months and crap like that, even though by asking to be married they are literally asking for the solution to their moral problem!)

In the Eastern Christian tradition they speak of sin as "missing the mark," and I guess your moral approach is going to depend on whether you understand that the goal is *hitting* the mark rather than something like "avoiding missing it." Who's better off? The guy who missed ten times but then hit the mark? Or the guy who avoided ever missing because he avoided ever taking a shot?

I don't know what moral universe you're living in, but I'm much more confident about the long-term salvation of the guy in a new marriage who is actually practicing the values of intimacy and commitment and self-sacrifice...than the bitter man waiting on the widow's-walk, heart grown cold, practicing a "faithfulness" that really just shields him from any practical obligations, which lives in self-enclosed bitter delusions and lonely ruminations, maybe appealing to the Vatican AGAINST the annulment his ex-wife tried to get...

Tony said...

Rather, it means that it's always possible to not sin. And the whole point of a "lesser evils" type argument is that choosing the lesser evil, if that's really your only choice, does not in fact result in sin being subjectively imputed even if it's the sort of absolutely evil thing that would do so outside such a dilemma.

But it would be reading too much into the teaching on sufficient grace from Trent to think it's claiming that such dilemmas (which could be read as a type of internal moral duress) never in fact can occur.


Mark, you are probably right about not contradicting Trent, but in this quote I think you miss something. The normal purpose to using a "lesser evil" argument is that in the right circumstances you can use "the lesser evil" to justify the morality of doing an act that causes some evil. Such an application here makes no sense, though, because the prerequisite for a "lesser evil" type analysis is that the act under consideration is, according to its own nature, species, or object, either good or neutral. It must not be an act whose object is itself disordered. Since adultery is an act whose object is disordered, it can never be the subject of a valid "lesser evil" type analysis between two acts.

Even if what you say is true, all Francis is doing, then, is changing the canonical/disciplinary approach to something like, "Pastors can treat a couple's continence or not as a question of private behavior, and so leave the determination of subjective state up to them" just like we do with all the private objective sin that is not considered "manifest."

A priest CAN treat the behavior of a young couple who, while dating, "go too far" and sleep together, as something to be dealt with in the private forum. He cannot equally treat a couple who have gotten a state marriage license, went through a public ceremony, and live together under the same roof as behaviors that can be addressed solely in the private forum. The couple's public behavior is visible to many. Including to their own extended families, their neighbors. The creation of scandal is an inherently sticky problem here, not something the priest can treat as not even being an issue.

And, by the way, even if it were a private matter rather than something public, the priest's role is not to merely "leave the determination of subjective state up to them". When they come to him in confession, that is, he has a responsibility to help them by seeing that their consciences are properly formed, and if not, to do so. If they were to refuse to countenance his direction, he would be prudent to withhold absolution. At that point, I think that due to Canon 915 would come in - a priest could licitly refuse them Communion.

Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

Perhaps I don't know the full meaning of "manifest" here, but "made manifest to the priest by their own words" would be sufficient.

Mark said...

@Tony

I think you're confusing "lesser evil" with double effect. Double Effect depends on the object being good or neutral. But lesser evil is about cases where, basically, your choice is one *sin* or another. Not just one external evil or another.

Of course, some people I'm sure will chime in having made whole careers jumping through intellectual hoops claiming that no such cases of contradiction could ever possibly exist somehow in the very structure of the moral law, but that seems naive and presumptuous to me.

At the very least such arguments usually involve the claim that it is possible to "do nothing" as if passively "letting stuff happen" somehow wipes your hands of active responsibility for it. Lots of people would say that's too easy and convenient though...

As for the rest of what you say, Canon 915 is just a canon, remember, it is a particular disciplinary regime that the Pope, as supreme legislator, can alter. He might well decide that in some cases, looking the other way and leaving it up to the conscience of the couple is better for all.

You've shifted from a doctrinal argument to one about what's more prudent pastorally. And that's a totally different question. There can be legitimate disagreement about the best or most prudent pastoral approach, and I would think the Pope was going too far if he said that an argument for the traditional approach as *better* (which basically amounted to a positive excommunication of the civilly remarried, regardless of any consideration of their actual internal state of soul) was not allowed. But what this controversy has centered around is not merely the idea of the Pope allowing or promoting something that might be considered negligent pastoring, but the idea that somehow doctrine is at stake.

But it's not. Remarried couples, even not living continently, can for a variety of reasons (too subjective to define as hypotheticals) theoretically be in a subjective (ie, a real actual) state of grace in conscience, and so there is no *absolute* doctrinal bar to them receiving communion as if there is some special exclusion for them regardless of state of soul. No, anything like that would be super-added canonical proscription. But the only absolute *doctrinal* barrier is actual state of soul.

And as the Pope said, this isn't merely a question of "ignorance of the rule." I see lots of voices in this debate reluctantly admitting that ignorance can reduce or eliminate culpability, but then saying something like, "But ignorance is easily dispelled! The pastor can fix their conscience!" But the Pope doesn't seem to be talking about cases in which the couple is using faulty-but-sincere moral reasoning, or at least he isn't talking *only* about such cases (which are dispelled through education). He seems to be saying that there can actually be difficult situations where, between a rock and a hard place spiritually/morally, even perfectly orthodox and fully informed Catholic casuistic reasoning can, in conscience, lead to awkward conclusions about the best long-term path.

Tim Finlay said...

Shouldn't it be "Quo vadis, Petre"? The vocative of Petrus is Petre. Unless of course, Ed was digressing with an apostrophe to the best wine in Pomerol.

Tony said...

I think you're confusing "lesser evil" with double effect. Double Effect depends on the object being good or neutral. But lesser evil is about cases where, basically, your choice is one *sin* or another. Not just one external evil or another.

I suspect that MANY of the people who are using phrases like "the lesser evil" are trying to import the widely recognized moral approval for double-effect reasoning, into this debate, even though it doesn't belong there. Kudos to you if you are not.

Of course, some people I'm sure will chime in having made whole careers jumping through intellectual hoops claiming that no such cases of contradiction could ever possibly exist somehow in the very structure of the moral law, but that seems naive and presumptuous to me.

It seems equally presumptuous to me that you would discount 1900 years of Church teaching to say that there can be such cases. But whatever, I guess one man's pride is another man's humility.

At the very least such arguments usually involve the claim that it is possible to "do nothing" as if passively "letting stuff happen" somehow wipes your hands of active responsibility for it. Lots of people would say that's too easy and convenient though...

I suppose there are indeed some who try to use that to defend the notion that God never places you in a situation where every possible action is immoral for you to do. But it's completely unnecessary, it can be done in general terms. Such as: "with God all things are possible", including asking God for the grace to do what seems impossible, or to do what would be impossible without his help. To assume that you MUST do something wrong because you cannot rely on, or expect, God's grace to help get you through, is to make the wrong choice.

I can't help wondering how it is that there are people out there who insist that a merciful God could never condemn a person to hell for eternity (or allow themselves to do so), and yet have no problem with a merciful God allowing a person in this life to get into a situation where they have NO CHOICE but to offend God with an evil, immoral act. Where is that universal benevolence, that all-powerful mercy? Why are they limiting God's capacity to produce good?

Greg said...

@ Mark

I think you "perhaps another reading" is closer to the truth.

Well, then I'll rehearse what I see as the problem with it. The slip into viewing actions one might later perform as "consequences" is, of course, characteristic of consequentialism and foreign to the Church's moral theology. Even if one thinks that some or much moral decision-making involves the balancing of material goods and evils against each other, it doesn't involve the balancing of sins against each other. One should never lie, for instance, to prevent one's comrades from being placed in a situation in which one thinks them likely to lie, so as to reduce the total number of lies in the universe. Likewise, one should not lie to prevent oneself from telling a more serious lie later: one should avoid lying now, with the firmest of commitments to uphold God's law in the future too.

I think the presumption that one will later fall into materially grave sin, unless one materially gravely sins now, despairs of God's mercy.

The best I can do is think of some friends of mine from college. Two guys seeking women to marry. Both, initially, kept choosing mousy women who simply were not personality matches for them in anyway because they placed an emphasis on premarital abstinence. One kept on this path, kept letting relationships be ruined over this sort of moral self-consciousness, nothing could blossom in the frigidity imposed, and eventually he withdrew from relationships more and more as he could see them as nothing more than occasions of sin, and now he has confided he struggles with pornography and masturbation and, paradoxically enough, sex with prostitutes because, in his perverse moral motive-structure, he can sleep with a prostitute, feel guilty, repent, confess, swear it off for a few weeks...and then winds up falling again, "but at least I'm not committing to it as a lifestyle!" The other guy decided that he was just going to not worry about all that too much, found a girl who was a match, they did have premarital sex for a couple years, but now he's married with kids and the whole thing took care of itself and became a non-issue.

...

I don't know what moral universe you're living in, but I'm much more confident about the long-term salvation of the guy in a new marriage who is actually practicing the values of intimacy and commitment and self-sacrifice...


Yes, we perhaps live in different moral universes. I see something in Cordelia's remark that the Sebastian Flytes of the world, who frequently find themselves in the position of the prodigal son, are "very near and dear to God," who delights in his sons' efforts despite their weaknesses. They, at least, remain constantly aware of their need for what everyone needs: to cling to God.

On the other hand, if you hazard adultery or premarital sex for a while, but then achieve bourgeois respectability, why repent? All of that was "a non-issue."

Schmitz:

Does the church oppose sin, or only sordidness? When a man abandons his wife, does it matter whether the other woman waits for him in a house or in a hotel room? Is adultery a sin committed only by the impulsive, the cash-strapped, the time-pressed? Or can it also be executed by men with ample capital and orderly habits?

Greg said...

@ Mark

Of course, some people I'm sure will chime in having made whole careers jumping through intellectual hoops claiming that no such cases of contradiction could ever possibly exist somehow in the very structure of the moral law, but that seems naive and presumptuous to me.

At the very least such arguments usually involve the claim that it is possible to "do nothing" as if passively "letting stuff happen" somehow wipes your hands of active responsibility for it. Lots of people would say that's too easy and convenient though...


Well, no parties to the debate claim that "passively 'letting stuff happen' ... wipes your hands of active responsibility for it." One can intend evil through an omission, as in the case where a parent lets his child drown because he recognizes that it is a chance to be rid of him. And one can be responsible for omissions even where the consequent evils are not intended, as in the case where one allows an innocent man to be beaten because he fears the disapprobation that would be involved in intervening.

But that doesn't mean that one is always responsible for the consequences of one's omissions. The friend who blames you for not testifying falsely in court, in order to prevent him from being jailed, is just a wicked friend. You are not morally responsible for his imprisonment. When all of your alternatives are materially grave matter, then omitting isn't sinful.

If "lots of people" think that is "too easy and convenient," then tough for them. People are keen to urge you to dirty your hands, because nice consequences are to be achieved by such means. Anscombe was right when she observed that, for Christians as for the Hebrews, "there are certain things forbidden whatever consequences threaten," and that "the strictness of [an absolute] prohibition has as its point that you are not to be tempted by fear or hope of consequences."

Greg said...

Today in First Things:

The disappearance of the Verlaine-style “bad Catholic” from the contemporary Catholic landscape is not a sign that everyone became holy in the 1970s. It is a serious impoverishment. Those who are forgiven little, love little. Sin is ugly, but it is part of the moral economy that makes grace intelligible. Without it, the narrative of salvation history looks somewhat ridiculous, for what do we need saving from? There can be something beautiful about the life of someone who genuinely struggles with sin instead of making excuses, and beauty is indicative of truth.

Anonymous said...

Better the unvarnished truth. Bright light is the best disinfectant.

Anonymous said...

I share professor features Feser's concern about Pope Francis. But I have this nagging thought: As the late Senator Ted Kennedy could've told anyone, having sex with one's second wife is permissible as long as one receives a proclamation from the appropriate priestly authorities at one's local Diocese proclaiming that the first marriage never existed.

www.inquisition.ca said...

I totally agree with Mr. Andre van Heerden here above: "Thanks Dr. Feser - your erudite and balanced analysis of the state of play in this distressing crisis deserves the widest possible publication."

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Pope Saint Liberius (see Denzinger entry between #57e and #58) signed (or didn't sign) a formula when he was being tortured and St Athanasius in his history of the Arians defended the orthodoxy of Liberius.

http://theradtrad.blogspot.com/2014/03/st-liberius-pope-of-rome.html

Prolly Franciscus will not respond to the dubia and his unresponsiveness is one way God will test us to see if we love Him (St. Vincent of Lerins)

Patti Sheffield said...

Excellent article; thank you so much for the careful and detailed analysis. One small thing:

"Even a humble nun, S. Catherine of Siena, expostulated with the reigning Pontiff, in her day, whilst full acknowledging all his great prerogatives."

St. Catherine of Siena was a lay Dominican, not a religious sister in the order.

May your Christmas be blessed.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ David T.

”Everyone might be in error except when God promises they won't be (because God is perfect), which we Catholics believe Christ promised to His Church under certain circumstance.”

I see. I wonder, is that belief supposed to be infallible too?

”No, I don't see that.”

Perhaps you mean this colloquially, like when we say “I don't see your point”. So did you actually look? Not towards my text, but towards the Spirit?

”the situation here is of an individual asking for the Eucharist yet refusing to repent of mortal sin prior to that reception.”

I understand the Catholic church's teaching is that those who are in a state of mortal sin can't repent without God's help. Am I mistaken? And it seems obvious that those who come asking for the Eucharist are sinners who wish to receive God's spiritual help for repenting. Why else would they be asking for it?

It seems to me that for the priest to say to somebody “first repent and then come for the Eucharist” is like a doctor telling to a patient “first get well and then come for the medicine”.

And, incidentally, it's not like repentance is something one can easily achieve just by wanting it. I understand your suggestion is that the Christian must repent of mortal sin before taking the Eucharist, but mortal sin is especially hard to overcome. Actually here's what the catechism says about this very matter: ”1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation”

Also I repeat the argument that Christ sacrificed Himself for all, and that therefore Christ's gift to all should never be denied to be given by those entrusted to be giving it.

Indeed, consider the account of the Last Supper (and the first communion) in Luke 22:14 ff. There Christ offers His flesh and blood to all twelve, including Judas Iscariot. It is not clear whether Judas took it, but the point is that as Christ offered the Eucharist to all so is the church to offer it to all. Sure, the sacrament itself is there only for those wishing to receive it for what it is, and the church does well to teach people not to think that the Eucharist is some kind of magic potion. And that it is the body and blood of our Savior which should be taken with the respective gravitas (one who asks the Eucharist as if joking should indeed not be given it for she is not really asking for it). But when Christ died on the cross for the salvation of all, for the church to deny to offer what He offered to all seems plainly wrong.

But forget my arguments. There is charity in your soul; what does it tell you? Does the charity in your soul ebb or does it flow when you visualize a priest denying the Eucharist to a sinner who honestly asks for it? Or look by your sense of the divine which for us is the image of Christ; what do you see that Christ wants for His church in this case?

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”The Church, following St. Paul, has always taught that it is a very serious matter to receive the Eucharist unworthily - that is, in a state of unrepentant mortal sin.”

Obviously I hold that the Catholic church's understanding of St. Paul's intention in that epistle is mistaken. (Sadly I have no idea about my own church's position in this matter; kind of vaguely I believe it teaches that people should confess before asking for the Eucharist, but I am not aware of people being ever denied the Eucharist). Also I am not bound by the belief that St. Paul could never be mistaken himself (indeed his disagreement with St. Peter over another grave matter proves that even the disciples could be mistaken and had to struggle for the truth). But in this particular case I find Paul was simply castigating the church of Corinth for having turned the sacrament of communion into rowdy feasts, and unfortunately using over-the-top language to carry his message across. I say it is not true that scaring people moves them to repentance; at best it moves them to hypocrisy.

”Should I believe the constant teaching of the Church for 2,000 years, or you?”

Actually I wish you wouldn't believe me. I have been proven wrong too many times, indeed a few times in this very blog during the few last weeks. And in any case I don't wish to carry any responsibility for what you believe. I am just speaking as I see it, and the only thing I ask of you is to look for yourself. If Christianity is true then the living Spirit is here among us. By all means also look at scripture and at the church's teaching as the general ground of wisdom, but do not deny the Spirit by the pull of whom Christ works in your soul. For scripture and the church are there only to help us receive the Spirit and thereby follow Christ.

I believe there is a sense in which we all shall face our creator in the Day of Judgment. So, suppose I am right and the priest who refuses the Eucharist to a poor soul who honestly asks for it is committing a terrible sin of lack of charity – do you think Christ will agree with the excuse “I was only doing what your church taught for 2,000 years?” If Christ in the gospels tells us that by refusing the hungry who ask for food we are refusing Him, don't you think that by refusing the sinners who ask for salvific food are refusing Him also? And that the sin is this case is much greater, as the worth of food for the soul is greater than food for the body?

”Who are you to claim to know better than the Church that Christ Himself founded?”

I don't know better than the church, of course not. What an idea :-) Indeed only in the few last weeks I learned a lot by reading the catechism. For example about the seven cardinal sins (which incidentally felt like reading the story of my life) and how the one leads to the other (which probably explains why). About how sin damages the soul by removing charity from it (a huge insight here both for understanding how it is to repent, and as a means for empirically testing theological truth). About the three theological virtues (which wouldn't exist if God were not hidden from us in the sense that stones and trees are not). I feel kind of angry with myself for not reading the catechism earlier; it gives both insight and advise. On the other I do believe it is a terrible sin (goes terribly against God's purpose) to deny a neighbor Christ's gift for the salvation of all. Only thinking about this sin makes me shudder. So I say how I see it. Do what you will with it.

Confitebor said...

"St Athanasius in his history of the Arians defended the orthodoxy of Liberius."

True, but St. Athanasius in the same history of the Arians also says Liberius, after initially standing firm in defense of St. Athanasius, was exiled, and then, say Athanasius, Liberius "gave in after two years, and, in fear of the death with which he was threatened, signed" the condemnation of St. Athanasius. Both St. Hilary and St. Jerome attest to the fall of Pope Liberius. It was, however, under duress that he succumbed. True, the Roman liturgy has regarded Liberius as a martyr, and the old Catholic Encyclopedia exerts itself mightily to attempt to nullify the evidence of St. Hilary's letters, but having examined the arguments and evidence, I am convinced the historical record is clear that Liberius did give in after initially upholding orthodoxy. But knowing what he must have gone through, and knowing how weak I am, I suspect I would succumb even faster than he did.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Greg

”To teach ex cathedra, a pope must explicitly invoke his Petrine teaching authority and solemnly define a teaching to be held by Catholics.”

Thanks, I stand corrected. I was under the impression that an official church document about grave matters signed by a Pope was supposed to be infallible. Now I see that the dogma of infallibility has been claimed very rarely indeed, and only during the two last centuries of the history of the Catholic Church. One more reason to question the wisdom of the dogma of papal infallibility. What good is it I wonder. Here's the danger I see: Suppose it is not in fact true that Christ supernaturally keeps a Pope from teaching ex cathedra a false belief. Then a Pope may (and thus probably will) teach ex cathedra a false belief. What then? How is the Catholic church to overcome that human error?

BTW it seems not all Popes felt good about being considered infallible (or even potentially infallible). So for example Pope John XXIII is said to have remarked: "I am only infallible if I speak infallibly but I shall never do that, so I am not infallible.” This one strikes me as wise.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Anonymous

”Thank you for noting that the case of Liberius is open to debate.”

Aren't we supposed not to judge lest we be judged? Isn't God good enough to judge Pope Liberius, and perhaps needs our help?

I think we may judge beliefs, whether claimed by Liberius or by anybody else.

And in moral discourse we may judge in theory particular behaviors and particular circumstances.

But I think Christ asks us clearly enough not to judge our neighbor. Even the judge in the court of law is not judging the accused in the moral sense, but only judging whether there is sufficient evidence that she has broken the law, and if so what the consequence must be.

Anonymous said...

Amoris is not ex cathedra; it is only an apostolic exhortation, not even an encyclical. Cardinal Burke said he thinks it isn't magisterial at all. I'm not sure if he's right about that, but it's definitely not ex cathedra. Those are rare statements

Wallace Boever said...

http://vultuschristi.org/index.php/2016/12/difficult-pastoral-situations-the-marian-solution/

Greg said...

@ Dianelos

One more reason to question the wisdom of the dogma of papal infallibility.

Coming on the tail of an admission that you learned today that Catholics don't hold that every document signed by a pope is infallible, this sentence is outrageous.

Tony said...

Here's the danger I see: Suppose it is not in fact true that Christ supernaturally keeps a Pope from teaching ex cathedra a false belief. Then a Pope may (and thus probably will) teach ex cathedra a false belief. What then? How is the Catholic church to overcome that human error?

Well, not to worry: it's not a problem. It's of the same order as this: what if "2" becomes "3"? Because, if that happens, then 2+2 will no longer =4, we will have 2+2=6. Not really a problem, because the number 2 cannot become the number 3. Nor can a Pope teach ex cathedra a false doctrine, for God himself prevents it. Your "suppose it is not in fact true" is tantamount to asking a Catholic to "suppose it is not in fact true that Jesus is God". The supposition is a non-starter.

Tony said...

I understand the Catholic church's teaching is that those who are in a state of mortal sin can't repent without God's help. Am I mistaken? And it seems obvious that those who come asking for the Eucharist are sinners who wish to receive God's spiritual help for repenting. Why else would they be asking for it?

It seems to me that for the priest to say to somebody “first repent and then come for the Eucharist” is like a doctor telling to a patient “first get well and then come for the medicine”.


Dianelos, perhaps you should actually learn what the Catholic Church has taught about these matters before forming and expressing your opinions so glibly. It's not like those teachings just occurred to someone off the cuff in the year 793 and decided to impose them on the Church universal because they sounded cool.

The Church's teaching is that EVERY good act involves God's participation in the act: all good comes from God. There is no morally good act that is separate from God's causality. Nevertheless, a person in the state of mortal sin can repent imperfectly or perfectly (including perfect contrition). If the former, the act is good in its species but still lacking the core needed for the act to be actually meritorious of reward in heaven and the person will not - from the mere CHOICE TO REPENT - reacquire sanctifying grace. On the other hand, if with perfect contrition, St. Thomas teaches that there WILL be a restoration of the state of grace:



and again:

On the contrary, The affections of the heart are more acceptable to God than external acts. Now man is absolved from both punishment and guilt by means of external actions; and therefore he is also by means of the heart's affections, such as contrition is.

Further, we have an example of this in the thief, to whom it was said (Luke 23:43): "This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise," on account of his one act of repentance.

As to whether the whole debt of punishment is always taken away by contrition, this question has already been considered above (Sent. iv, D, 14, 2, 1,2; III, 86, 4), where the same question was raised with regard to Penance.

I answer that, The intensity of contrition may be regarded in two ways. First, on the part of charity, which causes the displeasure, and in this way it may happen that the act of charity is so intense that the contrition resulting therefrom merits not only the removal of guilt, but also the remission of all punishment. Secondly, on the part of the sensible sorrow, which the will excites in contrition: and since this sorrow is also a kind of punishment, it may be so intense as to suffice for the remission of both guilt and punishment.

Reply to Objection 1. A man cannot be sure that his contrition suffices for the remission of both punishment and guilt: wherefore he is bound to confess and to make satisfaction, especially since his contrition would not be true contrition, unless he had the purpose of confessing united thereto: which purpose must also be carried into effect, on account of the precept given concerning confession. (Q 5 A 2).


In order for a Catholic to have that perfect contrition, he must intend to confess his sins, and since a man cannot judge his own soul perfectly he cannot judge whether he has perfect contrition and cannot determine himself that his sin would be forgiven even without the sacrament of confession.

Each sacrament has its own specific character and grace. The character of Communion is not such as to RESTORE one to sanctifying grace who has lost it through mortal sin, but to increase the life of grace in one who is already in the state of grace. Hence one who has committed a mortal sin cannot beneficially receive the sacrament without being forgiven, and confession is a necessary step for that.

Tony said...

Sorry, missed this quote from Supplement, Q5 A1:

I answer that, Contrition can be considered in two ways, either as part of a sacrament, or as an act of virtue, and in either case it is the cause of the forgiveness of sin, but not in the same way. Because, as part of a sacrament, it operates primarily as an instrument for the forgiveness of sin, as is evident with regard to the other sacraments (cf. Sent. iv, D, 1, 1, 4: III, 62, 1); while, as an act of virtue, it is the quasi-material cause of sin's forgiveness. For a disposition is, as it were, a necessary condition for justification, and a disposition is reduced to a material cause, if it be taken to denote that which disposes matter to receive something. It is otherwise in the case of an agent's disposition to act, because this is reduced to the genus of efficient cause.

Reply to Objection 1. God alone is the principal efficient cause of the forgiveness of sin: but the dispositive cause can be from us also, and likewise the sacramental cause, since the sacramental forms are words uttered by us, having an instrumental power of conferring grace whereby sins are forgiven.

Mark said...

@Tony

But I don't claim that, because I don't believe, in terms of subjective imputation, that your relationship with God is actually going to be ruptured if you choose the lesser evil in such a situation.

See, then, this debate really boils down to whether the teaching on sufficient grace refers to the external or the internal.

The "externalistic" claim is that no one ever, as a concrete practical matter, finds themselves in a situation where all available choices are (considered objectively and absolutely) evil. This to me is a fantastical claim because it involves a claim about concrete fact. It isn't self-evident from the moral law itself that such conflicts between rules, or between values, could never occur. So you're making a claim that God has arranged history, in practice, such that they simply never *do* occur, at least for the elect.

The "internalistic" claim is much less bold, though. The internalistic claim has no problem with the possibility that such conflicts might occur in practice, but solves the problem by saying that, in such a case, there is still always a choice (or rather a way of choosing) that isn't going to actually subjectively rupture ones relationship with God. God doesn't ask the impossible, so if we find ourselves in a double bind, we can feel confident that subjectively there is no such bind. If there are only two bad choices (objectively), we are not renouncing grace by choosing the lesser evil relatively.

Indeed in such a case the actual object of your choice might be construed as the greater good, since evil is merely the privation of good, and it could be construed (with the right mindset) that the actual object of your choice in such a case isn't even the shadow of evil itself, but the "extra" light that is exposed by going with the smaller shadow.

Mark said...

@Greg

"I think the presumption that one will later fall into materially grave sin, unless one materially gravely sins now, despairs of God's mercy."

I don't know if anyone is talking about presumption, just probability. "The most generous response one can give God" right now is a real concept that Francis invokes in Amoris Laetitiae.

"On the other hand, if you hazard adultery or premarital sex for a while, but then achieve bourgeois respectability, why repent?"

If you dismiss a Catholic marriage as just "bourgeois respectability," I don't know what moral system *you* are working in either.

The fact of getting married so as not to burn, anyway, is a form of repentance in itself, in this case, as it is setting right what is wrong. It is hitting the mark after missing it (but having missed in such a way that there was a motion towards eventually hitting it, rather than never taking any shot at all...)

Anonymous said...

Of course Francis will not answer. This strikes me as a game plan right out of the unOrthodox playbook that was implemented after Humanae Vitae: ignore the practice (of artificial birth control) while proclaiming the letter of the moral law. Crisp reasoning, like Mr. Feser's, is not their approach. Their target is aimed at the emotional heart using words like openness and mercy and who am I to judge. This style captures the favorable headlines in the West. It is similar to a political campaign targeting a vastly different audience than the philosophical/theological approach of Burke/Feser.

Greg said...

@ Mark

I don't know if anyone is talking about presumption, just probability.

The distinction is not relevant to the point I was making.

"The most generous response one can give God" right now is a real concept that Francis invokes in Amoris Laetitiae.

So what? If he wants to say outright that the in some cases the most generous response which can be given to God can include grave matter, then he can put that in writing and explain how it is consistent with VS 76. Until then, I'm going to avoid ascribing such a position to the pope, and I'll continue to believe that the most generous response one can give to God is obedience to his law and trust in his grace.

If you dismiss a Catholic marriage as just "bourgeois respectability," I don't know what moral system *you* are working in either.

That is not what I am doing.

...

Greg said...

...

The fact of getting married so as not to burn, anyway, is a form of repentance in itself, in this case, as it is setting right what is wrong.

I didn't really comment on this issue earlier because it didn't strike me as the most egregious point. This is how you brought it up:

The other guy decided that he was just going to not worry about all that too much, found a girl who was a match, they did have premarital sex for a couple years, but now he's married with kids and the whole thing took care of itself and became a non-issue. I mean, that's the secret logic of "better to marry than to burn," isn't it? That the solution to premarital sex is not actually "Stop fornicating" but rather "Get married." (And yet you have churches that refuse to marry cohabiting couples unless they live apart for six months and crap like that, even though by asking to be married they are literally asking for the solution to their moral problem!)

The point of 1 Cor 7:8-9 is evidently not to advance the view that the solution to premarital sex is "Get married" rather than "Stop fornicating". (That would be a rather odd position, especially, for those who think pastoral practice is so anomalous that there are no truly general pastoral principles!)

Paul has, at that point, just gotten through recommending that the unmarried stay unmarried. The celibate state is better. But he doesn't mean to say that marriage is sinful, so he takes care to insist that for some it is better to marry. "But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." It's a passage about vocation; what he considers the alternatives to getting married to be are not "fornicating and not fornicating" but rather "burning with passion or not burning with passion". You can, believe it or not, burn with passion without fornicating, and if you are burning with passion, my hunch is that St. Paul, though he'd recommend that you marry, will also recommend that you stop fornicating until you marry.

And since Paul is not making any general claim about the pastoral approach toward fornicators, his remark doesn't have any necessary implications for the Church's policy of refusing the marry cohabiting couples.

I think it's a wise policy. There may, for instance, be empirical correlations between cohabitation and marital breakdown. To avoid problems like those the Church is facing today, the Church should take reasonable measures to ensure that those entering Catholic marriages will be in it for the long haul.

...

Greg said...

...

Now, I think there is another problem. I don't think getting married so as not to burn is "a form of repentance," because there need not be anything wrong with burning. Temptation is not sinful in itself, so there is not necessarily any wrong to right. But even if one is, say, cohabiting (which I take to include fornication) prior to marriage, it isn't marriage that will right the wrong. Marriage is not a sacrament of forgiveness. To cease fornicating because the person one was fornicating with is now one's wife is not to be cleansed of the sin of fornication. One must confess one's sin with contrition or, at least, attrition and with a firm intention of amendment.

Now, here would be a really clear case of a firm intention not to fornicate: one confesses and stops doing so, in order to marry the woman one loves. It's tougher to see where the firm intention of amendment comes in if one consciously plans--without discouragement from one's pastor--to fornicate right up until marriage, that is, until one automatically stops fornicating anyway.

I'm not saying it must be this way; one could fornicate right up until marriage and then confess sincerely afterward. That is possible. It would just be discouraged by the practice of marrying cohabiters. And that is why the Church's practice is wise.

SK said...

If you put Feser's blog post in a word counter it is close to 8000 words. If we assume 400 words occur in each page, then Feser's post is about 20 pages. How do you get the time to write such a detailed post with your work load and somehow be able to research enough to make the blog post's information good.

Robert John Bennett said...

I posted this comment for a friend on Facebook who shared this essay by Edward Feser:

Interesting? INTERESTING? Marion, to call this essay “interesting” is a splendid example of the British penchant for understatement! An American (like me) would be jumping up and down and shouting that this essay is BRILLIANT! And it IS! It is the most brilliant discussion of Amoris Laetitia and the huge controversy surrounding it that I have ever read! (Yes, one exclamation point after another, but I think they’re more than justified here.)

Truly, I am in awe of the vast amount of thought and research that went into this essay. Edward Feser deserves some kind of an award. This essay should be disseminated far and wide throughout the Church.

Craig Payne said...

Dear SK: As someone who writes (occasionally) and teaches (often), I have also considered your question. Feser's output is somewhat stunning (he probably has his feser set on stun). My conclusion is that this "Feser" is obviously some sort of corporation of writers, and possibly a speakers' bureau as well. The representative "Feser" who shows up at conferences is just there to read papers someone else wrote, and to attend the parties afterwards. I've met him; I know whereof I write.

P.S. You don't know how long I've been waiting to use the "feser set on stun" line.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts:

1) For the past 50 years, with near-total disregard for Humanae Vitae, has not the Church essentially already been allowing discretionary Communion for those in mortal sin.

2) Dr. Feser concludes to "exactly" three responses:
(a) overturn traditional teaching
(b) reaffirm traditional teaching
(c) refrain from answering

But what of

(d) Orthodox practice of oikonomia, which using authority to "bind and to loose," applies leniency, while simultaneously holding to akrivia, i.e., exactness, strict adherence to Orthodoxy?

This seems to me to be what Pope Francis is getting at and was once held by then Father Joseph Ratzinger.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Mmmmm, I don;t think that is exactly what the great Saint said:


http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/28155.htm

in any event, what hasn't changed is intrigue at the highest levels of the Church on the part of epicene men.

Anonymous said...

What is meant by the phrase "private heretic", in Ed's quote from John Chapman? Is it related to the notion of material (as opposed to formal) heresy?

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

1) For the past 50 years, with near-total disregard for Humanae Vitae, has not the Church essentially already been allowing discretionary Communion for those in mortal sin.

The issue is not about Communion for those in mortal sin. It is rather about Communion for those in manifest grave sin.

Tony said...

It isn't self-evident from the moral law itself that such conflicts between rules, or between values, could never occur.

This is not true, according to the Thomistic, and standard, Catholic understanding of the moral law. Under that conception of it, it IS of the very nature of the moral law that a person cannot run into a situation where according to one absolute rule, he MUST DO X, and according to some other absolute rule, he MUST NOT DO X. Can't happen.

This to me is a fantastical claim because it involves a claim about concrete fact.

So glad we could relieve your worries about such a fantastical claim. It cannot happen because it would be an internal inconsistency of natures for such a thing to arise. God doesn't have to "arrange" it, other than simply making beings whose natures are internally consistent. Which is just what it is to create them, to begin with. No special arranging necessary.

such that they simply never *do* occur, at least for the elect.

The real situation is that they CANNOT occur, and that applies to both the elect and the rest.

If there are only two bad choices (objectively), we are not renouncing grace by choosing the lesser evil relatively.

The Church's teaching, such as in JPII's Veritatis Splendor, is that THIS CLAIM about a "lesser evil" only holds for acts other than those that have an intrinsically evil object. For a choice between two acts, both of which have as their object something intrinsically evil (and grave matter), it is simply NOT the case that choosing the lesser of the two will not rupture your relationship with God. In such a situation where you have 2 such choices, you must notice and take some third option. In the case of the re-"married" couple, choosing to live as brother and sister and doing penance and praying for the grace needed is morally acceptable, and is a a different choice compared to ongoing adultery: even if you reasonably forecast that without God's grace you will fail and damage the "marriage" and the kids horribly, you cannot reasonably forecast that EVEN WITH God's grace, without committing the sin of despair. For a man who keeps choosing "mousy" girls to date and being disappointed, choosing to find a different caliber of woman - such as one who doesn't just cling to unpreferred chastity like a life preserver but lives it joyfully as a way of freeing her to deepen her relationship with God and others - would be a third way (whoever imagined the only 2 choices were to go on dating inappropriate "mousy" dates or to cease thinking that chastity had a place in their lives?). THERE IS ALWAYS a way of throwing yourself on God's grace and saying "I will do as You have commanded; though I have no confidence in my own steadfastness, I will rely on You for You are steadfast in mercy." Refusal to try with God's grace to do what He has commanded is cowardice as well as wrong in itself.

Tony said...

sorry, I meant the following:

even if you reasonably forecast that without God's grace you will fail and damage the "marriage" and the kids horribly, you cannot with moral certainty forecast that failure EVEN WITH God's grace, without committing the sin of despair.

Anonymous said...

Well, there is only one solution: depose the pope, or at the least, get the college of cardinals to condemn him. Right, Dr. Feser? 'Cause it's only gonna get "worse" in the years ahead. And better do it quick before he starts appointing more "liberal" cardinals like Cupich.

Mr. Green said...

Dianelos Georgoudis: What then? How is the Catholic church to overcome that human error?

Hm, tough one. Maybe the Church should come to you for advice? After all, the infallibility of Pope Dianelos is so effective that you can spout off even when you admit you don't know what you're talking about, or when people much more qualified and experienced have advanced copious arguments to the contrary!

Mr. Green said...

Tony: It cannot happen because it would be an internal inconsistency of natures for such a thing to arise. God doesn't have to "arrange" it, other than simply making beings whose natures are internally consistent. Which is just what it is to create them, to begin with. No special arranging necessary.

Indeed. I suppose we could call it "arranging" (or even Providence!) in the sense that it is of course not an accident that the world is consistent. And it surely isn't "special" — this is no more surprising than that the laws of physics don't contradict themselves. Since God doesn't create impossible worlds, morality could no more "break down" than gravity could.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony

”The Church's teaching is that EVERY good act involves God's participation in the act: all good comes from God. There is no morally good act that is separate from God's causality.”

Strictly speaking there is no movement whatsoever that is separate from God's causality, so I am not sure what your meaning is. Are you saying that nobody freely chooses to do a good act unless God in some way causes her to choose so?

”Nevertheless, a person in the state of mortal sin can repent imperfectly or perfectly (including perfect contrition).”

In the previous discussion you told me that people in the state of mortal sin are spiritually dead but also that “God can miraculously restore them to spiritual life through sanctifying grace, if they are disposed properly for it.” So even though they are spiritually dead, if they nonetheless manage to become properly disposed then God can miraculously restore them to spiritual life. And then they have to repent imperfectly or perfectly, also with God's help. And all of that must take place *before* the priest may give them the Eucharist. That particular divine help they are not to get, until after.

If that's what you mean I think you believe that the Eucharist is some kind of a prize, exactly what Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia says it is not.

And, incidentally, am I right to understand that you believe that divorced Catholics who remarry and have sexual relations with their spouse are “spiritually dead”? And completely devoid of any charity in their hearts?

Aquinas: ”Now man is absolved from both punishment and guilt by means of external actions”

I find this is false, indeed grossly in error. External actions are for naught unless interior repentance takes place. Perhaps the confusion here stems from this: External actions often work as spiritual exercises (or in some circumstances I understand these are called “acts of contrition”) which do help a person repent. Conversely repentance will always express itself in external actions. But without actual repentance – without the transformation of the soul in the likeness of Christ - nothing whatsoever is solved. I think Christian soteriology is perfectly clear on this point, and it does surprise me that as it seems Catholics are not aware of how much St Aquinas was mistaken in this central matter.

Aquinas again: ”Further, we have an example of this in the thief, to whom it was said (Luke 23:43): "This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise," on account of his one act of repentance.”

The thief, seeing the suffering of Christ, was moved to repentance (we have here an example of the rare event of a practically instant transformation of the soul). By repenting he earned heaven. The thief's act, namely to rebuke the other thief and to ask Christ for atonement was caused by his repentance, it was not the cause of his repentance. Had the thief without repentance and thus hypocritically acted in exactly the same way then Christ would not have assured him about heaven.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

I am very sorry to see that the CC catechism is ambiguous in this absolutely fundamental matter in a Christians life: ”1490 The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future.”

Of course repentance *entails* of all of that. But the catechism fails to say what repentance *is*. Or at least I can't find any clear statement to this effect. How are people to repent if they don't know what repentance is. And what good is there in all the other minutia if one remains ignorant about repentance, which is the very purpose of our life.

Again from the catechism: ”1492 Repentance (also called contrition) must be inspired by motives that arise from faith. If repentance arises from love of charity for God, it is called "perfect" contrition; if it is founded on other motives, it is called "imperfect."

If repentance and contrition are the same thing, why muddle the issue using different words? If they aren't (and I think they aren't - contrition is a means while repentance is the end) then by equating the two concepts people's understanding of repentance will be misguided.

And what other motives for repentance that arise from faith which do not arise from love for God are there I wonder. I hope the idea is not that fear of hell is a valid motive that leads for repentance. Fear of punishment may lead to external actions, may lead to hypocrisy, but does not by itself lead to the interior transformation of repentance. This is the nature of the human soul: Only by loving the good can repentance obtain. If you don't love the good then you'll not repent even if you force yourself to do good acts until you're blue in the face.

Incidentally the church gives much good advise of *how* to repent. I am reminded of an idea I read in “Mere Christianity” (but which I think is an older idea), namely that if you find you don't love your neighbor then act as if you loved her, and by doing this love will issue. The good act is an exercise that will reveal to the soul the beauty of goodness and will thus inspire love for it – but it is still only the love that transforms the soul. Love is a divine good: the more you give it the more plentifully it grows in you. For love is born of the charity in your soul and also increases the charity in your soul. It's like a mother's breast. The more milk the baby sucks the more milk the breast produces.

As for the other texts by Aquinas, they strike me as far too complicated. I think there is an epistemological principle of general validity: If while thinking about a matter you find yourself having to complicate things more and more then you should worry that you have made a bad turn somewhere back.

Windswept House said...

@Dianelos-If you deliberately break your neighbor's window, realize you did wrong and apologize, there still is the broken window. To pay for the window and tell your neighbor you will not do it again would indicate a more sincere repentance. Regarding the divorced and illicitly remarried, they can say they are sorry, but there still is a broken window.

Tommy said...

SK said...
"If you put Feser's blog post in a word counter it is close to 8000 words... How [does Ed] get the time to write such a detailed post with [his] work load and somehow be able to research enough to make the blog post's information good."

A point which Robert emphasized when he said...
"Interesting? INTERESTING? ... this essay is BRILLIANT! ...Truly, I am in awe of the vast amount of thought and research that went into this essay. "

And which was further amplified by Craig when he added...
"Dear SK: As someone who writes (occasionally) and teaches (often), I have also considered your question. Feser's output is somewhat stunning (he probably has his feser set on stun). My conclusion is that this "Feser" is obviously some sort of corporation of writers, and possibly a speakers' bureau as well...."

Now I confess I am still somewhat blinded and disoriented by Craig's egregious pun -- a veritable stun grenade you might say -- but as the ringing in my ears subsides and eyes regain some focus, I'd like to speculate on another reason behind Ed's prodigious output. I suspect it is grounded as much on things he does *not* do, as on those he does.

Perhaps Mason Curry will decide to produce a sequel to his "Daily Routines", and if he does I hope he'll interview Ed for inclusion. Regardless, I'd love to know how many hours on average Ed finds himself allocating to:

1. TV, movies, etc
2. Facebook and other social media?
3. Exercise
4. Sleep

If I had to guess at major contributing factors to his output, prime suspects would be very low values for 1 and 2.

Alphonsus Jr. said...

Jorge Bergoglio makes Liberius, Honorius, and John XXII look like great saints.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

”Not really a problem, because the number 2 cannot become the number 3. Nor can a Pope teach ex cathedra a false doctrine, for God himself prevents it. Your "suppose it is not in fact true" is tantamount to asking a Catholic to "suppose it is not in fact true that Jesus is God".”

The difference is that it is evident that 2 cannot become 3, and easy to empirically prove that 2+2=6 is false. The belief that a Pope teaching ex cathedra cannot be wrong because God supernaturally prevents it - is nothing like that. On the contrary it strikes me (and many others) as arbitrary. And it looks like a sign of lack of faith: Given what on Christianity is an obvious belief, namely that Christ guides His church, why should one add the dogma of Papal infallibility? It seems the motivation was to dispel doubts and produce a state of ease – as much in the hearts of the flock as in the hearts of the Popes. But doubts are good: they make faith possible. And they make thought fruitful.

As for “Jesus is God” I was reminded that there was a time that my young self had decided against that belief - but then I realized the sheer beauty of that central Christian belief, its coherence not to say necessity on theism (it is precisely what the greatest conceivable being would do), and the evidence from early Christian history. Still, I don't think I ever stopped being a Christian. Who is a Christian? Christ in the gospels plainly says that those who follow them are His friends, so I think the charitable definition is that Christian is the person who aspires to follow Christ. I assume Catholic is one who believes in the set of core beliefs the Catholic Church defines are required for being a Catholic. If those definitions are right then it is possible to be a Christian and not a Catholic, or a Catholic and not a Christian.

@ Mr Green,

”Hm, tough one. Maybe the Church should come to you for advice?”

That was meant as a rhetorical question. If the dogma of Papal infallibility is wrong then it will stay there like a thorn in the Church's side until it is pulled out by her. This will be an action of humility and a good example for all.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Windswept House,

”If you deliberately break your neighbor's window, realize you did wrong and apologize, there still is the broken window. To pay for the window and tell your neighbor you will not do it again would indicate a more sincere repentance.”

Right. To wish to make amends both helps and is a natural result of repentance. But sometimes amends are not possible.

”Regarding the divorced and illicitly remarried, they can say they are sorry, but there still is a broken window.”

That's one case where making amends is not possible, for typically one cannot marry again the person one has divorced (often because the previous spouse doesn't want to) – so the window will stay broken. The thief who died at the side of Christ repented, but those he robbed remained robbed. Christ's Kingdom is not of this world. Christ's purpose is the salvation of souls, not the salvation of the world – but it is evident that when people repent one implication will be a better world too.

Incidentally “repentance” in theology means something quite different than in everyday talk. Repentance is not about feeling sorry for something one did, deciding to never do the same again, and when possible making amends with the one one hurt (and when not making work of contrition instead). Repentance is the interior transformation of the soul into the likeness of Christ, a transformation such that leads to a state of being in which temptation is overcome and thus sinning stops. Of course repentance is a continuous process that ends only in atonement with Christ. Often for simplicity's sake we use the concept as something that is or isn't done, about this or about that other vice. And of course it is a complex process that works differently in different human conditions and circumstances - but the sure manifestation of it taking place is that charity in one's soul grows. Charity being the ground-well of selfless love for all.

I hope what I here write sounds as simple as it actually is: To transform one's soul into the likeness of Christ is to become like Christ and thus to love as He did. Namely profusely, selflessly, universally. Or as Paul so beautifully put it: ”Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

So if you find yourself naturally loving like Christ did and like Paul describes – then you'll know you have repented :-)

Jeremy Taylor said...

Danielos,

Aren't you failing to take into account the sacramental nature of the Eucharist? I lean to the Orthodox position on divorce and remarriage, but if the Roman Church is right, then surely it is wrong for someone in this position to take the Eucharist? Sacraments are transformative, yes, they lead us towards God. But they do this neither as symbols only (in the profane sense of that term) or as magic that works on us independent of our will and preparation. We must prepare ourselves for the mysteries, we must purify ourselves. This is the teaching of mystics and the Church's teaching towards communion.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I am sure you will struggle to find a Hesychast, for example, who doesn't think it necessary to purify oneself through atonement and virtue before embarking on the path of St. Symeon and St. Gregory Palamas. They wouldn't suggest one begin the path if the Hesychast before one has mastered basic moral continence. The situation of the Eucharist is not all that different, it seems to me.

Mr. Green said...

Dianelos Georgoudis: Still, I don't think I ever stopped being a Christian. Who is a Christian?

Why, whoever Pope Dianelos says, that's who! Get his seal of approval on your "Christianity", and actually believing in Christ is purely optional.

This will be an action of humility and a good example for all.

I tried to lead up to this in a more unassuming manner in previous comments, but since I did not succeed in playing Socrates, I shall be more blunt: intellectual humility is something grossly lacking from your postings. Perhaps this is merely owing to a poor manner of communication; in which case you need to work on expressing yourself more modestly. But you repeatedly demonstrate that you don't know what you are talking about, or completely miss the point of what someone says, and you don't seem to care — you go right on telling other people what they should do, complaining that their ideas are stupid or monstrous, and so on. It never seems to occur to you that as a matter of intellectual honesty you might have an obligation to make sure you understand a position you criticise rather than treating your gut instincts as infallible.

Observe that you clearly did not understand what the "broken window" stood for in your next post, and in the previous one you got Tony's point entirely twisted around — in fact, I have no idea how you could respond like that if you had actually read anything that he said. Yet in neither of those cases, nor many others, did you bother to ask for clarification. If your interpretation was correct, then Tony was talking nonsense — perhaps inside your head, you consider the possibility of your misunderstanding something to be so unthinkable that there is no need to ask for clarification; or perhaps your perspicuity is so naturally infallible that you could just guess what he was going to say and didn't feel the need actually to read the whole thing. I don't know. But I do know that this is a pattern of behaviour on your part, and not one that is disposed to bearing good fruit. So let me offer some advice (for who doesn't appreciate unsolicited advice!): practice humility; many men have lived who were wiser than you, so listen very carefully to them, and when you disagree or do not like what they say or do not quite understand it, listen to them all the more. Make sure the questions you ask outnumber the conclusions you draw and the dictates you hurry to proclaim. Always ask yourself, "What if I am wrong (because I so often will be)?" Try to interpret your interlocutors as thought there were intelligent people who probably make sense most of the time. It will mean putting aside your own ideas, your own feelings, your own willfulness — but that is just what humility is, and will indeed be a good example for all.

Tony said...

So even though they are spiritually dead, if they nonetheless manage to become properly disposed then God can miraculously restore them to spiritual life. And then they have to repent imperfectly or perfectly, also with God's help. And all of that must take place *before* the priest may give them the Eucharist. That particular divine help they are not to get, until after.

If that's what you mean I think you believe that the Eucharist is some kind of a prize, exactly what Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia says it is not.


I will act like you are not trying to mis-unsderstand, and not trying to confuse what is rather straightforward.

Anyone – and this includes a Pope – who claims the Traditional teaching of the Church on the nature of the Eucharist amounts to treating it as a “prize”, is “throwing stones” at people’s lives. More, they are also throwing stones at the Apostles, the Fathers, the Doctors, and 2000 years of official Catholic statements on what Christ gave us.

The Eucharist is not a sacrament whose character is beneficial to one who is without sanctifying grace. It’s not that the Church withholds it until you jump through a hoop, it is that the sacrament cannot help you, only HARM you, until you have come to be in a state of grace. This is true of it whether the Church proclaims it or not. Hence, receiving the Eucharist before you have been restored from the state of mortal sin to the state of grace is not just AGAINST A RULE, it is against the nature of the sacrament.

In the same way, people do not receive the Eucharist until they have received Baptism: before they have been baptized, they do not have the state of sanctifying grace, and they cannot benefit from the Eucharist.

This feature of sacraments is not something over which the Church has authority. This is the constitution of the sacraments, as instituted by Christ. The Church merely receives what Christ established, she does not design it nor have the power to change it. Pretending – and some in the Church are doing just that – that when the Church points out these truths, makes known WHAT the sacrament is and what its character is, she is “withholding” the sacrament from those who could benefit from it, is an outrageous calumny.

As for the rest of what you said: you may wish to make fun of the fact that the turning from the embrace of sin to (at least attempting to) begin to love God is usually a process, that unfolds in stages, and that It is possible to identify and denote those stages with distinct terms. Making fun of the truth doesn’t make it untrue. The fact that a person who is in the state of mortal sin has begun to turn away from sin doesn’t restore them to the condition of having sanctifying grace, yet. That there is more spiritual work to be done beyond the first moment of turning is part of the human condition of being temporal beings, who think and act in temporal acts that are distinct. Even when St. Paul was knocked off his horse, it took him time to accept Christ, and even after he began to be submissive to Christ, it took time before he was ready for baptism, and he needed that baptism before he could receive other sacraments.

Tony said...

Incidentally “repentance” in theology means something quite different than in everyday talk. Repentance is not about feeling sorry for something one did, deciding to never do the same again, and when possible making amends with the one one hurt (and when not making work of contrition instead). Repentance is the interior transformation of the soul into the likeness of Christ, a transformation such that leads to a state of being in which temptation is overcome and thus sinning stops. Of course repentance is a continuous process that ends only in atonement with Christ. Often for simplicity's sake we use the concept as something that is or isn't done, about this or about that other vice. And of course it is a complex process that works differently in different human conditions and circumstances - but the sure manifestation of it taking place is that charity in one's soul grows. Charity being the ground-well of selfless love for all.

I hope what I here write sounds as simple as it actually is: To transform one's soul into the likeness of Christ is to become like Christ and thus to love as He did. Namely profusely, selflessly, universally. ....

So if you find yourself naturally loving like Christ did and like Paul describes – then you'll know you have repented :-)


And conversely, the corollary is that if you don't yet find yourself loving like Christ did and like Paul describes, THEN YOU DON'T KNOW you have repented. In that sense of repentance.

And, because the nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist is that it actually harms one who is not in the state of grace, under this ideal of repentance, a Christian would have to be much, much farther along in the process of becoming like to Christ in order to choose to receive the Eucharist than what the Catholic Church has said. To be confident that he is in the state of grace which gives charity, he would have to live for some time proving to himself that this really is charity and not some chimera, not some self-delusion, not a fraud. On the other hand, through the sacrament of confession, a person can be restored to the state of sanctifying grace, and be confident of that reality, even when their repentance is still a small, wriggly, tarnished and feeble reality, not yet the great, noble, glowing reality you describe. Even when they are still committing venial sins on a regular basis, and find it nearly impossible to actually WANT to be separated from those venial sins. Even when they are not YET showing that selfless love toward every person, even when they are still sometimes boastful or arrogant.

So who now is withholding the Eucharist as a prize? Not the Catholic Church, not the traditional practice of receiving the sacrament after being restored to grace through confession. The sacrament of confession is the great gift whereby Christ enables us to approach the Eucharist in confidence EVEN THOUGH we are aware of still extensive defects in our love, by giving us the confidence of having been restored to sanctifying grace even before having the extensive proof of it in a long period of selfless acts of charity and with no failures along the way.

It is sheer blather to pretend that because "turning" and "conversion" will be a life-long process, that there cannot be a fundamental discontinuity in that process between the condition of being still in the state of mortal sin, and being in the condition of sanctifying grace. That discontinuity is built in to the nature of the spiritual life, corresponding to the difference between being dead and being alive. There is a reason Christ and the Apostles call being in Him "life" and contrast it with the deadness of not being in Christ. They are pointing to a stark interior discontinuity.

Tony said...

It follows from the reality of that discontinuity, that the characterization of a (more or less smooth, continuous) gradual change from imperfect toward the perfect is an accurate characterization ONLY with respect to the process AFTER a person is in the state of sanctifying grace. Once you assume that state, the rest of the process really is gradual, diffusely apprehended, occurs in piecemeal and unevenly with respect to the habits of the different virtues, etc. Once a person is in the state of grace, he never knows how far along he is yet toward perfection in any distinct way, (and, generally, the farther along he is, the less knowing of "how far" is important to him). He can always observe the effects of the growing perfection in the changes of his behavior, including the ease and delight in which he undertakes difficult things (if he does), but at the same time he can always see room for improvement, areas of remaining defects in his love. But all of that gradualness, what Francis calls "the law of gradualness", is coherent ONLY in terms of a person already in the state of sanctifying grace. There is nothing gradual about the change from being in mortal sin to being in the state of grace. THAT's not subject to the law of gradualness.

Anonymous said...

Someone in the situation you are describing is denying themselves the Eucharist. If she wishes salvation, then she should repent her sins, go to Reconciliation, and then receive the Eucharist. This is what I, or anyone, should do in this situation, if we submit to the Church's teaching rather than our own desires.

Christ didn't say "you're good to go"...he said "repent and sin no more".

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Jeremy Taylor

”Sacraments are transformative, yes, they lead us towards God. But they do this neither as symbols only (in the profane sense of that term) or as magic that works on us independent of our will and preparation. We must prepare ourselves for the mysteries, we must purify ourselves. This is the teaching of mystics and the Church's teaching towards communion.”

A few thoughts. In this thread I was not suggesting that those those who ask for the Eucharist shouldn't prepare themselves. I was objecting to the idea that the church may deny the Eucharist to somebody who honestly asks for it. These are two different issues.

We all agree the Eucharist it's not some kind of magic potion, and that it's not some kind of prize for the meritorious. So what is it?

In Luke, the gospel of salvation, we find Christ having the Last Supper with all the disciples. It was Passover, the great celebration of spiritual freedom in the Jewish tradition. There Christ announces His eminent death, shares wine which He calls His blood and bread which He calls His body, and says this is My new promise of salvation to you, eat and drink to remember Me.

The church recognized in the Last Supper a momentous event to be kept alive in the Christian community, a gift and promise meant for all. (The twelve would be like today's priests, but the church gives the Eucharist to the flock too – actually the gospel does not say that *only* the twelve sat at the table).

I think we shall all agree that the sacrament of communion as practiced by the church is *not* a symbolic or theatrical representation of the Last Supper, but something real, a realization anew of the substance of what happened at the Last Supper. I think that in the sacrament of communion the possibility is offered of experiencing Christ not just in spirit but physically. The same kind of experience that the disciples had. In a sense in the Last Supper Christ initiated a mystery of His continuous physical presence in His church. And since the church is the mystical body of Christ, I think one can hold that the mystery of the sacrament of communion lies at the heart of the church. (So, another thing we all probably agree is how important this matter is.) Actually in the Eucharist the Christian experiences not just the physical presence Christ, but given Christ's words in the Last Supper, namely the breaking of the body and the shedding of the blood, one experiences the physical presence of the Christ crucified – the same experience that moved the thief to repentance. It is that physical experience of the presence of Christ that can help the Christian in her path of repentance. Of course not all who take the Eucharist will experience that to the same degree, and for those who experience it very vaguely or not at all the whole thing may in the end turn out to do more harm than good since they may walk away disappointed. I say it *may*, for I don't see how a soul who comes asking for the help of Christ can possibly walk away hurt in any sense.

If the above understanding about the Eucharist is correct then what does it imply? Well, one thing it implies is that for the Christian to experience what the Eucharist is she must first understand it. She must understand that here she is given the opportunity to physically experience Christ, that in the sacrament we are all transported back to be present at the actual passion of God incarnate. And she should not only understand what the sacrament is supposed to be, but believe it actually is – that Christ's physical presence is not limited to the few lucky in ancient Palestine but that in because of love Christ uses His church to give us all the same possibility. Beliefs affect experience; without this belief I don't see how the sacrament can take place in the soul of the Christian. So this is clearly part of the preparation.

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Dianelos Georgoudis said...

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Should the neighbor who comes asking for that experience also be a good Christian and not say a very grave (and thus unrepentant) sinner? Well the thief hanging on the cross at the size of Christ was a very grave sinner, wasn't he? And in his ministry on Earth we find Christ again and again visit the sinners and those who were considered unworthy – the Romans, the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the adulterous woman, and so on. To all He was kind and gave a helping hand. Indeed in the gospel we find Christ speaking unkindly only to the learned scribes and Pharisees of His time, and to the merchants in His father's house. So Christ was there amid the sinners. Not to mention that at the actual crucifixion only the youngest of the disciples was present, as well as His mother and a few women (and I notice it was women who first knew of Christ's resurrection – perhaps men are by nature more pigheaded). I say as Christ was, so His church must be.

Christ suffered the breaking of His body and the shedding of His blood for the salvation of all, and thus especially for the sinners who are furthest from salvation. The church which is the visible manifestation of Christ in human history should continue Christ's ministry, in spirit and in action. It is Him it is to follow in all matters. So, if I am right, the church's call in general should be to the sinners. Like the not sick need the doctor less and those not lost need the guide less, so those walking on the path of repentance (or even only with knowledge of Christ) need the church less. The reason of the church is the care of the sinners in its midst. It is for them the call to the sacrament of communion should primarily be directed to, because for them it can make the greater difference. What the church should be doing is not denying the Eucharist to the sinners but trying to get the sinners to understand what an exceedingly marvelous thing the Eucharist actually is. And if anything it is more natural for confession to follow the Eucharist

I see that I have arrived at a position which is about the opposite to the church's in a matter that is central in the church's ministry. I am aware how weird my position is and how much I risk making a fool of myself, indeed how probable it is I am making a fool of myself (some in our company are fairly certain I am a fool :-) But what I write makes sense to me and makes Christ more brightly beautiful in my eyes (and thus works both in reason and in faith) so why should I hide it? I was moved by our recent discussions in this blog towards thoughts that have given me spiritual clarity and joy.

What can I say against the view I expressed above? The first Eucharist was given by Christ to His disciples, so it would seem it is meant to be given to those who are close to Christ. But among the disciples there was also Judas Iscariot, who is like the epitome of a sinner. And there was Peter who was quite far from repentance, as was presently to be proven. So it's no like Christ was being picky. Not to mention that the Last Supper was the Passover which in the Jewish tradition is celebrated in family and friends, so it's not like Christ could have invited tax collectors or Romans. We have also Paul's stern admonitions in 1 Corinthians which as I have argued should be understood within the context of an epistle sent to a church in which the sacrament was being celebrated in rowdy feasts. Finally “Eucharist” means “giving thanks” which can be interpreted as befitting those who are already blessed, but also as befitting those to whom Christ offers the gift.

In my case faith in God has moved me to fear less, but perhaps I am just being just brazen or impudent – who knows. I've just found out that recently a “Synod of Bishops” was celebrated having the Eucharist as its theme. The result is a long text which I intend to study in the next holy days.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I don't see how it follows that because the Church should reach out to sinners, that it should give its sacraments to those in manifest grave sin. Why is it only the Eucharist that should be given out in this way. I think even you would acknowledge the absurdity of giving baptism or confession to those who are not prepared for them. Would you think someone manifestly unprepared should be initiated in the Hesychast path? I don't see how your (quite verbose) response really gets to the heart of the matter - what a sacrament is. A sacrament, the Eucharist above all, is transformative to those prepared for it. Why it is wrong to prevent those who are obviously unprepared for it, I'm not sure. Your talk of Christ and sinners only shows that Christ reached out to save sinners. I see no real reason to translate this to the situation of the sacraments (Peter was not perfect - you don't have to be perfect to take the sacraments, they help to perfect you; Judas is a unique situation). If someone makes it plain publically they are not ready to take the sacraments, it is more charitable to prevent them from taking them.

The Eucharist cannot make a difference to those obstinately stuck in grave sin. You are making of the sacrament either a profane simple or some piece of magic.

I think your problem, or one of them, is you mistake modern sentimentalism (cf. Babbitt and P.E. More) for Christian charity, when they are clean different things. There is more to Christian charity than gushing sympathy.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Mr. Green,

”actually believing in Christ is purely optional.”

You say this ironically, but it seems to me that Christ in the gospels insisted much more on the following of His commands than on mere belief (for example in John 15:14 He says ”You are my friends if you do what I command you”.

I have often wondered – who is closer to Christ, the one who follows the commands even without knowing about Him (she might be a Hinduist or an atheist), or the one who doesn't follow the commands notwithstanding of knowing about Him. If the answer is the first one, does it make sense to call Christian the second one and not the first one?

But I am curious. Who do you think is a Christian?

”intellectual humility is something grossly lacking from your postings”

To say how one sees it is the only honest thing to do, don't you agree? Anything else would be hypocritical, or at least cowardly. I think lack of humility is to speak as if one were certain, or, worse, as what one speaks is certain truth. As it happens I do feel quite confident, but as I wrote before I am not even certain about theism. I think nobody is. Therefore I am uncertain of all theological beliefs I hold.

”Perhaps this is merely owing to a poor manner of communication”

Communication is very hard in general, especially in things philosophical or, even more so, in things theological. In our discussions I have been very surprised to see how people misunderstood what I tried to say – but then again perhaps I misunderstood their response :-)

I suppose the reason is that the effect a text has on a person depends on her background set of beliefs (or “noetic structure” as Plantinga might put it), and perhaps even more to a person's actual condition. I think it is quite evident that how people experience life can be quite apart in its defining qualitative aspects. This is no profound thought, consider for example how differently a musician experiences music (let alone a musical score sheet) in comparison to a non musician. So two Catholics of similar experiential background (including education, country, etc) are apt to misunderstand each other less than say a Catholic and a Greek Orthodox living in the other side of the Earth. Still not only disagreements but also misunderstanding can sharpen one's understanding.

”But you repeatedly demonstrate that you don't know what you are talking about”

True; I am here precisely because I am trying to understand better. It is always useful to discuss one's views, since feeling content in one's experience of beauty joy and clarity one may miss something important. Truth is always beautiful, for the Holy Spirit is beautiful. But beautiful thoughts are not always true. And it would seem that our cognitive faculties are such that if one keeps thinking about a patently muddled idea in the end one's mind will kind of mold itself around that idea and one will experience it as being clear. I have found that discussing with people who disagree with me is especially useful for they drive me to check better my own thoughts and motivate me to study the right kind of stuff. As I have said before the best test of truth is to measure its fruit on one's soul: if it moves one to love Christ more and makes it more natural to follow His commands then it comes for the truth; if not it comes from deception. That's perhaps the main reason why I don't believe in hellism.

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Dianelos Georgoudis said...

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In theology matters are especially hard because so many of the best among us are sometimes found to be grossly in error too. I have already mentioned the Aquinas quote ”Now man is absolved from both punishment and guilt by means of external actions” Don't you agree this is completely wrong, and thus wrong about a central matter of soteriology (soteriology being the most critical part of theology)? We know that even huge saints have to struggle and sometimes resort to arguing with each other before seeing the truth – a good example being the disagreement between Paul and Peter. So in theology evidence of the form “X said this” is particularly weak – I feel confident that a Catholic would not be particularly impressed by “Calvin said this”.

”you go right on telling other people what they should do, complaining that their ideas are stupid or monstrous”

I am not telling other people what they should believe and what they should do. I don't wish to have that responsibility. It's a burden enough to be responsible for my own beliefs and actions. On the other hand, clearly, when one speaks about ethics and says “X is evil” one is implying that *if* one is right then people who do X are doing something evil. I see it is especially easy to be misunderstood here. So I did claim that in my judgment for a priest to deny the Eucharist to a member of His flock who honestly asks for Christ's help commits a horrific sin of lack of charity. The Catholic church's official position (with the possible exception of a footnote in Amoris Laetitia) as well as all participants in the current discussion seem to disagree with me. By expressing my view I hope to get feedback that will deepen my understanding one way or the other.

”It never seems to occur to you that as a matter of intellectual honesty you might have an obligation to make sure you understand a position you criticise”

A good way to understand better what the other person is saying is by testing it. I think it is rather inefficient to ask for clarifications without explaining what one sees is wrong. Error is usually (but not always) characterized by internal incoherence and we have the Socratic method of asking questions designed to bring such incoherences to the surface, but I feel uncomfortable doing that – it feels like being too clever by half. When I see an incoherence I'd rather challenge it directly.

”Observe that you clearly did not understand what the "broken window" stood for”

OK, so here's the original quote: ”If you deliberately break your neighbor's window, realize you did wrong and apologize, there still is the broken window. To pay for the window and tell your neighbor you will not do it again would indicate a more sincere repentance.”

It seems obvious to me that what our companion is saying there is that in order to repent one must first make amends. So I responded that this is in general true but also that this is not a necessary requirement since making amends is sometimes not possible. I wonder, how did you understand the “broken window” argument?

The point is that I find that the concept of “repentance” - perhaps the central concept in Christian soteriology – is often used in its everyday sense and not in the correct theological sense. Let me use this example: We know there are husbands who assault their wives and violently hit them. I understand in many cases they afterwards feel sincere remorse, break down and cry, swear they will never do it again, do huge amends like agreeing to something they had long disagreed or giving their wife an expensive gift. So far, in the colloquial sense of the word, they have sincerely repented. But then, a few weeks later, they assault and hit their wife again, perhaps worse than before. Thus they prove that they haven't repented in the theological sense.

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Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

To repent in the theological sense is to undergo a transformation of the soul such that it outgrows the sinning. One may still experience temptation but the soul is such that it will not succumb to it. (Thus theological-repentance entails colloquial-repentance, but is completely different in kind.)

”If your interpretation was correct, then Tony was talking nonsense”

So what? Surely Tony is not infallible? In any case, disagreeing with some idea does not entail that what that person said was nonsense. First because one may be the one in error, and secondly because a lot of errors are not nonsense. If all errors were nonsense than much of philosophy would be reduced to being nonsense, which it isn't. Not to mention much of physics, at least on physical realism.

”practice humility; many men have lived who were wiser than you, so listen very carefully to them, and when you disagree or do not like what they say or do not quite understand it, listen to them all the more.”

I agree with your advice, indeed sometimes I am a quick/superficial reader.

On the other hand I am not a professional philosopher or theologian; I have not formally studied these fields. I don't have the time to study what others here might consider to be reliable background belief (e.g. Thomism). So I exploit discussions to learn faster. Hopefully I am not the only one profiting here. Having said that, a very good way to learn is to first try to solve a problem and then study the respective theory. At school I enjoyed solving math problems and I remember the last problems in each chapter referred to the theory that would be taught in the next chapter. The general idea is that one understands the theory better once one has understood the problems the theory solves.

”Make sure the questions you ask outnumber the conclusions you draw and the dictates you hurry to proclaim.”

Well, I do make a lot of questions, and I try to always respond to questions people ask me. I don't like to be pushy on others when they don't answer, but if you find I haven't answered a question of yours directed to me feel free to insist.

”Try to interpret your interlocutors as thought there were intelligent people who probably make sense most of the time. It will mean putting aside your own ideas, your own feelings, your own willfulness — but that is just what humility is, and will indeed be a good example for all.”

I disagree with this particular piece of advice. It's one thing to try to understand what the other person means, and quite another to assume that the other person must be correct. Putting aside one's own ideas is not good advice for a fledgling theologian. In this context I think we must note that is a difference between the sciences. In the physical sciences it is usually easy to test which theory is the one closer to the truth, so even though there is some resistance to change, in general universal agreement is reached. In theology it is much harder to ascertain the truth, and the amount of ongoing disagreement proves that false beliefs abound. I don't think it is reasonable to hold that one's own church is the one completely or almost completely in the right. And even should one believe say that the Catholic church has gotten almost everything right (or everything ex-cathedra right), there are disagreement within the Church as Feser's latest posts prove. So while it makes sense to say to a fledgling physicist “put aside your own ideas and learn the state of the art before you question anything” the same does not apply to theology.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Jeremy Taylor,

“I don't see how it follows that because the Church should reach out to sinners, that it should give its sacraments to those in manifest grave sin.”

This depends on what the Eucharist *is*. My understanding is that in the Eucharist one is given the possibility to experience the physical presence of Christ. If this understanding is correct then it follows that all who ask for the Eucharist because they honestly desire to physically know Christ should receive it. Especially if they are grave sinners.

”Why is it only the Eucharist that should be given out in this way. I think even you would acknowledge the absurdity of giving baptism or confession to those who are not prepared for them.”

In my church baptism is given to little babies, so it's not like they are prepared. I understand the same goes for the Catholic church. As for confession, I am not sure in what sense one should be prepared. In any case perhaps it's not a good idea to open two more cans of mysteries.

”Would you think someone manifestly unprepared should be initiated in the Hesychast path?”

I hold that there is one way to salvation but many ways to kind of approache that way. Mystical ways are a case in point. As for hesychasm, I am not sure it's a matter of being prepared for such a lonely path, as to be inclined towards it. Perhaps the preparation is done to find out if one is in fact so inclined.

”I don't see how your (quite verbose) response really gets to the heart of the matter - what a sacrament is.”

I am often accused of verbosity, but in this case I thought I was being quite economical given the momentous issue at hand.

”A sacrament, the Eucharist above all, is transformative to those prepared for it.”

This can't be right, since as a matter of fact most of those who take the Eucharist are not transformed by it. According to my understanding the Eucharist can at best make as powerful an impression on one's soul as experiencing the actual physical presence of Christ. I assume most Christians experience something much weaker than that, down to nothing special at all. But if they experience little or nothing then little or nothing is apt to move in their souls.

Let us not forget the very fist Eucharist, given by Christ in person. Peter certainly took it, but was still so spiritually weak and thus so short in repentance, that a few hours later He would deny Christ three times.

According to my understanding the Eucharist is an open door through which we may physically touch Christ. This is a momentous thing, but let's not forget how little impression Christ made to His disciples who walked with Him and experienced Him every day and probably many times talked privately with Him. The human soul is a hard thing to transform into the likeness of Christ, which means that it's hard for us to repent. I say theology should not only be internally coherent, but cohere with the actual human condition also. If anything the latter is more basic.

”Why it is wrong to prevent those who are obviously unprepared for it, I'm not sure.”

I understand the Catholic church takes Paul's admonitions in 1 Corinthians 11:27 literally, and decides that for example the remarried divorcees who would take the Eucharist commit a terrible sin because the are *unworthy* of the Eucharist. Notwithstanding the fact that the original Greek is ambiguous and that given the context the correct translation appears to be *in an unworthy manner”, that is take the Eucharist disrespectfully.

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Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”Your talk of Christ and sinners only shows that Christ reached out to save sinners. I see no real reason to translate this to the situation of the sacraments”

The sacraments are not alien to Christ's actual ministry. On the contrary they are there to continue Christ's ministry.

But I think I failed to make my argument clear: Assume for a moment that my understanding of the Eucharist is correct, and that in the Eucharist the physical presence of Christ is not just reenacted but realized in the experience of the faithful who takes it. Then, given the fact that in His physical ministry Christ reached out to the sinners and was often physically with them (indeed, to the consternation of even some of His disciples, He appeared to search out and to help those who most religious people of His day despised and condemned)– then not by analogy but by direct example it follows that today's church should also reach out and offer the Eucharist (Christ's physical presence) to today's sinners.

Indeed the help Christ gave to the adulterous woman is identical to the case Pope Francis mentions in his Amoris Laetitia. Christ went out of His way to be present and tend a helping hand to that adulterous women, but many Catholics believe that today the Church should deny the presence of Christ to the same adulterous woman.

”Peter was not perfect - you don't have to be perfect to take the sacraments, they help to perfect you”

Above I discussed the case of Peter. One who lives with Christ for years on end, and who promises never to deny Him, and then a few hours later does so thrice – such a person was not just lacking in perfection; rather the state of his soul was in a shockingly bad state. As was Paul's when he persecuted Christians (and apparently organized executions of them, such as of St. Stephen's). The teaching here is that faith in Christ can move mountains.

”Judas is a unique situation”

In some sense the greatest sinner of all. And even so Christ offered him the Eucharist too. Surely it's not like the Church should be more exacting than Christ.

”If someone makes it plain publically they are not ready to take the sacraments, it is more charitable to prevent them from taking them.”

In my understanding when they attend church and solemnly ask for the Eucharist they make it plain that they are ready.

”I think your problem, or one of them, is you mistake modern sentimentalism (cf. Babbitt and P.E. More) for Christian charity, when they are clean different things. There is more to Christian charity than gushing sympathy.”

I don't know these writers. What I know is that the charity of the soul is the ground-well of love, and that love entails feeling sympathy. Don't you agree? Do you perhaps find that it is possible to love our neighbor without feeling sympathy for her?

Jeremy Taylor said...

I'm not sure why you assume that by transform I meant without any effort or inclination on the part of the one taking the Eucharist. The contrary is surely implied in my whole argument. You seem to have taken the most perverse meaning of my words, a practice others have noted. Anyway, I don't see what good your private musings on the Eucharist are.

Here is an introduction to the Orthodox sacramental theology:

http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7106

Your position doesn't make sense. Can we really "encounter Christ, in order to be Christ", through the Eucharist, and yet be obstinately in grave sin? We are not talking about the normal sins of life we all struggle with. We are talking about people who are committing grave sins and not really trying to repent and reforms themselves. How can the Eucharist "transform...the deepest and most fundamental human experiences", except in a magical way, if we do not have to prepare ourselves for it? As I understand it, it was long the practice of the Orthodox Church, and in many places still is, to only take communion once a year, and to prepare oneself for it through confession. It is normal practice in the Orthodox Church to prepare oneself through confession for the sacrament.

What I know is that the charity of the soul is the ground-well of love, and that love entails feeling sympathy. Don't you agree? Do you perhaps find that it is possible to love our neighbor without feeling sympathy for her?

Sympathy is a feeling of pity from the outside (unlike empathy), and one that can occur without consideration of the situation that led to the feeling of sympathy. Sympathy can be a good thing, certainly, but the problem is that sentimentalists take it to be the foundation of all charity, love, and compassion, and they set aside considerations of justice, virtue, and truth. Christ was not a sentimentalist.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Jeremy Taylor,

”Can we really "encounter Christ, in order to be Christ", through the Eucharist, and yet be obstinately in grave sin?”

I think we can. Actually, isn't it exactly the other way around: that encountering Christ can only be of help for overcoming obstinate great sin?

Incidentally, thanks for this. I will study the text you pointed me at, but I am happy to find out that Orthodoxy teaches that in the sacraments “we encounter Christ, in order to be Christ”. For that's exactly what I have been saying about the Eucharist – only adding that in the Eucharist the encountering is physical. In my recent discussions in this blog I have had several times the following experience: Either of finding out things that perfectly fit with my own experience or which kind of plug a gap in my understanding, such as the teaching about the seven cardinal sins or the definition of sinfulness as the state where the soul lacks charity. Or finding out that others much better than me have said things I too was saying, such as St Teresa of Avila's teaching about mental praying, the continuous process of repentance (“law of graduality”) taught by Pope John Paul II and now reaffirmed by Pope Francis, and now the very concise “In the sacraments of the church you encounter Christ, in order to become like Christ”.

Creation is characterized by the multiplicity of paths available in the human condition. One path to knowledge, or one path of learning, a path which I find so extraordinarily efficient that I suspect is really the gist of all paths, is basically to discover what you try to learn. There is actually a lot of background to this idea, starting from Piaget's study about how children learn to Pappert's thoughts in his book “Mindstorms” (a seminal book in my life, highly recommended). And there is a saying in my tradition that goes like “whether you believe or not, do investigate”. I say truth is a live thing that wants to be met. Ultimately truth is known by acquaintance.

So let's go back to the Eucharist being to encounter Christ in order to become like Christ. Why is it that many hold that you must be prepared *before* encountering Christ? I am anxious for an answer here, because the facts appear to contradict this premise from all directions. The thief hanging from the cross was a very evil person not “prepared” to encounter Christ, actually not even wishing or expecting to encounter Christ. Paul was an extremely evil person when he encountered Christ. From the gospels we know that Christ never denied anybody's wish to encounter Him, and pretty much actively threw Himself amidst the sinners. Christ offered the Eucharist even to Judas Iscariot. Finally, Peter after taking the Eucharist denied Christ three times, proving that the Eucharist is a gift which by itself changes nothing – so it's not like the Eucharist is a very powerful medicine that if given to an unprepared soul will gravely hurt it (which seems to be part of what people against the free offering of the Eucharist are suggesting).

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

This then is my argument: that the church should continue Christ's ministry as He ministered it. I think this is a powerful argument, and I wish somebody would engage with it. Not hearing any direct comment beyond kind of “how dare you question the Church's wisdom” makes me think that my companions in this discussion don't know of any retort, but perhaps I am mistaken. Actually, come to think of it, Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia has already agreed with me in footnote 351. But the Eucharist is the central event in the life of the church, and the question we are discussing is central to the Eucharist – so I think the answer merits to be there clear and bright at the center of our theological discourse and not reduced into a footnote. Perhaps Pope Francis knows how inflexible and resistant to growth the Church's mind has become and therefore applies only gentle pressure. If that's what is the case then I can fully empathize with his double burden, but I am not myself bound by such political considerations.

”We are talking about people who are committing grave sins and not really trying to repent and reforms themselves.”

People who go to mass and ask for the Eucharist are trying to repent. Why else would they go to mass and ask for the chance of encountering Christ? Actually being an especially weak and grave sinner will make one feel ashamed to encounter Christ, and this realization may hold back people. So, if anything, the church should first make it plain what the Eucharist is and then *encourage* people to take it, especially if they are weak and grave sinners.

”It is normal practice in the Orthodox Church to prepare oneself through confession for the sacrament.”

I think that's correct. I mean it's not like preparing oneself hurts. Knowing what the Eucharist actually is, it's very natural to wish to be as spiritually clean as one can when one encounters Christ. On the other hand I don't think it is ever the case that a person who reverently asks is denied the Eucharist in the practice of the Orthodox church. I could ask and find out.

”Christ was not a sentimentalist.”

That's my impression too. I agree with all you write about sympathy, but I am not sure how you answer the question of whether it is possible to love our neighbors without feeling sympathy for them.

Tony said...

We are talking about people who are committing grave sins and not really trying to repent and reforms themselves.”

People who go to mass and ask for the Eucharist are trying to repent.

You are talking at cross-purposes to what Jeremy is saying. The kind of people he is talking about are the people who DON'T WANT to give up living as if they were married with their adulterous partner. They want to go on living as if married, but ALSO to receive Communion. At best, then, they "want" to repent only of some of their grave sins, but not other of their grave sins.

Why else would they go to mass and ask for the chance of encountering Christ?

Plenty of people go to Communion because it's "the thing to do" when at Mass, and they don't want to stand out as NOT going to Communion. Others want to go because they have a vague and confused notion of Communion being good for you, but not because they believe that in Communion they receive Jesus Christ Himself (polls show that lots of Catholics don't believe the Eucharist is Jesus). Still others go for other reasons have to do with motivations that are little connected to "encountering Christ".

Actually being an especially weak and grave sinner will make one feel ashamed to encounter Christ, and this realization may hold back people. So, if anything, the church should first make it plain what the Eucharist is and then *encourage* people to take it, especially if they are weak and grave sinners.

The Church HAS made it clear to people what it is, and encouraged to take Communion with benefit by first (if they have committed grave sin) going to confession. Being weak and grave sinners, the sacrament of confession gives them the sanctifying grace first to even have the requisite basic relationship with God, and additional graces to avoid those specific sins which they are subject to most so they can overcome them. Let's not make going to confession out to being some kind of horrendous burden that only a few can undertake and survive: everyone from 7-year olds to mass-murderers do it successfully and come out the other side.

Dianelos, your objection to Church practice is with the docrines of the Church, on what the sacraments actually are. Pope Francis is certainly NOT raising questions about whether the sacrament of the Eucharist can be received with benefit with someone who is clearly in the state of mortal sin, this is a completely settled and irreformable teaching in the Church, and he isn't making waves in this direction at all. At MOST, what he has done in AL, is raise doubts about whether some people who the Church treats as presumptively in the state of mortal sin should still be treated that way presumptively, for the purpose of whether they are considered eligible for receiving the Eucharist. Please stop pretending that THAT question is the right framework in which to raise up questions about the basic doctrine, or that the two separate problems are answerable in the same way.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

” They want to go on living as if married, but ALSO to receive Communion.”

Undoubtedly true, at least in most cases. And the rich tax-collector Zacchaeus who was trying to see Christ had no intention to give up being a tax-collector or give up being rich. And nevertheless he was amply rewarded by Christ.

”At best, then, they "want" to repent only of some of their grave sins, but not other of their grave sins.”

In the theological sense one does not repent “a” sin. Repentance is the (usually gradual but sometimes abrupt) transformation of the soul into the likeness of Christ. From the inside repentance is experienced in that the soul becomes richer with charity, in that therefore love becomes more natural, selfless, and universal, in that the vision of Christ becomes brighter and faith becomes stronger, in that we become free masters of our will, and that therefore temptation becomes easy to overcome and sinning stops, in that spiritual joy becomes untiring. Repentance is the way of Christ, the path of truth and light, the path that leads to heaven - the very purpose and natural end of our nature.

So I say let the church help her flock repent and their sinning will fall away. We are all different people. Perhaps it is easier for a particular neighbor to overcome this vice than the other. Given the extremely wise teaching of the church about the seven cardinal sins (or rather vices), to outgrow any one of them helps one outgrow all of them. The task of the church is to continue Christ's ministry the way He administered it, and in this way to make Christ visible to all - for the Church is the vehicle not the keeper.

”Plenty of people go to Communion because it's "the thing to do"”

Right, and many go to Mass because it's “the thing to do” - but surely it's not like the priest should stay at the door of the church and deny entrance to those he judges unprepared. Not to mention that Christ asks of us to not judge our neighbor. A fact of the human condition is that when we judge our neighbor the charity in our soul ebbs.

”Being weak and grave sinners, the sacrament of confession gives them the sanctifying grace first to even have the requisite basic relationship with God, and additional graces to avoid those specific sins which they are subject to most so they can overcome them.”

I think I understand the logic, but it is certainly much more complicated than how Christ approached the sinners. I am all for discipline and spiritual exercises for those who are ready, but here we are talking among the weakest among us. For them the approach to Christ should be made as easy as possible, since given the state of their soul it is already hard enough for them.

”Pope Francis is certainly NOT raising questions about whether the sacrament of the Eucharist can be received with benefit with someone who is clearly in the state of mortal sin”

I find that speaking of the Eucharist as a “medicine” or “food” can be confusing, for it leads to the thought that like medicine or food for the body so the Eucharist may benefit or may not benefit the soul (some, following their reading of 1 Corinthians, believe the taking the Eucharist will damage an unprepared soul). If we take seriously the idea that in the Eucharist one is given the opportunity to meet Christ, then taking the Eucharist can *never* hurt. As it would never hurt to be given the opportunity of meeting Jesus of Nazareth when He taught in person.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

I have a question about your understanding of “mortal sin”, if I may. Let me start by describing my background belief: I hold that in the human condition there is a state which is like a door that leads to spiritual life, and another state like door that leads to spiritual death. These are points of no return, and thus stepping through them is a step into eternity. The door to life (or to heaven) is such that beyond it no relapse is possible existentially speaking. No matter the temptation, no matter what, passed this point one will never let go of Christ anymore but will come for ever closer to Him. The door to death (or to perdition) is the opposite. After that point one will never turn towards Christ, and will in fact sink ever deeper into spiritual blindness and disorder. Unless by a supernatural act of special providence God brings one back.

So at first sight it seems to me that the state of mortal sin is the state of being beyond what I call the door to perdition. On the other hand those who are past this point of no return to perdition are not really totally lacking in charity. Rather they have gone down a path where the charity in their soul will be ebbing away like water from a sink. And they are not literally spiritually dead, the way a biological organism may be dead (at which point it stops being a biological organism). The better analogy would be one of terminal illness, a state in which no cure is anymore possible within the natural order of things.

Now to my question: I understand the Catholic Church holds that those who have divorced and are having sexual relations with another person (whether they are “remarried” or not) are in a state of mortal sin. But many a neighbor we personally know is a remarried divorcee, and we know that they are fairly good people and not at all “spiritually dead” or “completely lacking in charity”. I mean we know this with as much confidence as we may know anything about a neighbor. How do you explain this contradiction between theological theory and existential fact?

For me the more perplexing question is this first one, but I have three of a more theoretical nature:

2. Doesn't the fact that many in a state of mortal sin freely choose to go to confession prove that they are not really spiritually dead?

3. A necessary condition for being in a state of mortal sin is to have full knowledge. But, typically, remarried divorcees do not believe that what they are doing is a grave sin. But then they don't have full knowledge, thus they are not in a state of mortal sin after all, and therefore they should not be denied the Eucharist. Here I am trying to reason on what the catechism teaches. Do you see an error?

4. It is not clear to me on what grounds he Church has decided which sins are mortal and which are venial. In the catechism I read ”Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother."” Now stealing is a very common sin. Does the Church consider that, say, all unrepentant tax-cheats are in a state of mortal sin? As well as all rich people who obstinately refuse to share their wealth with their starving neighbors. (Which indeed does show a great lack of charity – not to mention this is one case where according to the gospel Christ explicitly says that such people will not go to heaven.) So does the Church consider all these people to be in a state of mortal sin? And if not, why not?

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”this is a completely settled and irreformable teaching in the Church”

Out of curiosity: I understand scripture is considered to be infallible only when interpreted correctly – which leaves open whether any particular interpretation is correct. And certain rare (as well as recent) proclamations by the Pope which meet certain conditions are considered infallible. So I wonder what is the ground for your claim above?

”Please stop pretending that THAT question is the right framework in which to raise up questions about the basic doctrine”

If for the church to deny the Eucharist to some people who honestly ask for it is a matter of basic doctrine then of course I am questioning a basic doctrine. Surely it's not like basic doctrine should not be discussed. And I do in fact doubt the wisdom of this particular one.

I am aware that doubt entails the recognition that one may be in error. But I was thinking that we should nor fear doubt, nor fear being in error, because doubt is a blessing. Doubt is a pillar of creation and thus of the human condition. For without doubt there can be no faith, and faith is more beautiful than certainty.

Tony said...

I find that speaking of the Eucharist as a “medicine” or “food” can be confusing, for it leads to the thought that like medicine or food for the body so the Eucharist may benefit or may not benefit the soul (some, following their reading of 1 Corinthians, believe the taking the Eucharist will damage an unprepared soul). If we take seriously the idea that in the Eucharist one is given the opportunity to meet Christ, then taking the Eucharist can *never* hurt. As it would never hurt to be given the opportunity of meeting Jesus of Nazareth when He taught in person. ...

In the theological sense one does not repent “a” sin....

So at first sight it seems to me that the state of mortal sin is the state of being beyond what I call the door to perdition. On the other hand those who are past this point of no return to perdition are not really totally lacking in charity....

If we take seriously the idea that in the Eucharist one is given the opportunity to meet Christ, ...

If for the church to deny the Eucharist to some people who honestly ask for it ....


Dianelos, you just go round and round and round the same points, over and over, as if nothing had been pointed out before. You just ignore that "opportunity to meet Christ" is an incredibly simplistic expression for the full reality, including its sacramental dimension. You just ignore that the Catholic Church has doctrines which all fit together as a whole, and you cannot pick and choose them piecemeal as if it were a cafeteria. You wish that the Church definition of the state of mortal sin is not valid, based on your preferences. You WANT that these people who present themselves for Communion are "honestly asking" instead of obstinately wanting to remain in the embrace of sin. You have killed this conversation by trying to make us - in the course of defending just one doctrine - explain the whole of the Bible, the Fathers, the Councils, and the other definitive Church teachings, for the whole thing is an interwoven pattern that cannot be wholly understood in isolation...and then when we move on to another facet of that pattern, you revert back to your former theses as if we had said nothing about them. Well, I am done. You can go on repudiating Church teaching because it doesn't fit with your pre-conceived notions, of course. I am getting off the merry-go-round.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your work on this troubling and disconcerting development in the church; your work is always very greatly appreciated and helps me immensely.

Keep up the good work and Happy New Year to you and your family.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

”You just ignore that the Catholic Church has doctrines which all fit together as a whole”

This sounds as if theology were like a mathematical theorem, such that if one finds a small part that is wrong then the whole structure collapses. I don't think this is so:

First because the whole idea to try and have theology conform to the kind of mechanistic “all fit together” nature of the physical sciences is misguided. The personal beauty of creation goes far beyond the limitations of such mechanically interlocking structures. Christ is the truth not metaphorically but literally, and since Christ is not of a mechanical nature but the living personal creator of all, neither is truth. For example philosophers have discovered that moral theory, which concerns our relationship with Christ, resists systematic analysis. In my judgment the most fruitful part of theological knowledge acquired by the Christian tradition concerns practical everyday advice about how each one of us should follow Christ, and we know from personal experience that this is not a path amenable to recipes but that there are many different paths and callings.

Secondly, because the view that theology is an interlocking structure does not agree with the historic disputes and how they were resolved, nor with the current disputes. Theologians always try to strengthen theological understanding, and are not just trying to add bits and pieces to a given interlocked whole – theology does not grow like a crystal does by adding layers but grows like an organism does. Our understanding of God has evolved (for example with the dogma of the Trinity) and the pretense that we are only reinterpreting ancient texts that have been complete and true all along serves no useful purpose. (Giving people the impression of intellectual certainty is not fruitful for it pushes faith to the background.) And I need not mention the ongoing theological differences between the Christian churches. Finally consider theodicy, the greatest theological problem and therefore also the greatest window through which we may see God's character. I think it's fair to say that we are making steady progress in theodicy, and I am confident the definite solution may be at hand. It's hard to see how such a new great insight will not deeply affect theology, and thus also some of the church's dogmas.

In conclusion, isn't it completely natural that theology should evolve through the millennia? All other sciences display dramatic evolutionary growth; why should one expect that theology – the queen of all sciences both in profundity and in usefulness (and in difficulty) – should be an exception, or should be made to be an exception? Since we all agree that Christ guides His church, I'd say it's more worrying when a particular tradition appears not to evolve, for it suggests that it resists that guidance. Doesn't Christ in the gospels somewhere say something like “This much I told you because that's what you can understand now; much more will be told to you by the Spirit”? (I've found it, it's in John 16:12,13)

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

Theology is the description of God as is relevant to our condition and can fit in the human mind – and therefore theology cannot be understood divorced from the human condition. Further as a matter of fact theology has as evolved through history, and even though it is not now and will probably never be complete we know enough to have a clear idea of its general form. I find a better analogy is that theology is like a garden: A garden with beautiful and fruitful plants all around for one to enjoy and to use, with some mighty trees deeply rooted, and with many seedlings that may grow adding to the beauty of the whole, or perhaps not. I mean just consider the richness and variety of the traditions of the monastic orders of the Catholic Church – and how a Catholic called to the monastic life may choose the one that is most attractive to her. Now, unfortunately, we limited theologians are the gardeners, but the biology of the garden of theological belief is Christ Himself; it is He who makes grow what is good and not grow what isn't. And we are given the Spirit to gently pull us towards the right choices since though the Spirit we have a direct vision of God. (Incidentally by “we theologians” I mean here all who speak about God, and therefore all theists, for by visiting that garden we all ultimately affect it to a greater or lesser degree, for good or for ill.)

”for the whole thing is an interwoven pattern that cannot be wholly understood in isolation”

I am not sure what you mean by “wholly understood”. I did not ask for any kind of absolute understanding, but only for an answer – some answer - to the four simple questions I asked in my previous comment. For even though I think theology is not an interlocking structure it must of course be rational and thus free of contradiction, and it seems to me there are some contradictions in the Catholic church's dogma about denying people the Eucharist. When I described my own understanding I was trying to show that there is a view that does not suffer from these contradictions and hoping to get some specific criticism of it. Of course when I speak of the “Catholic church's dogma about the Eucharist” I refer only to my own understanding of it – and I am aware that I may be mistaken (that's why I asked the questions). I will study the long text that resulted from the recent Synod of Bishops about the Eucharist, and if I reach any better understanding worth sharing I will do so.

Meanwhile I would like to very much thank you and the other interlocutors for this discussion, which I feel has been very productive for me. Not least because it has motivated me to take the Eucharist myself :- ) Which I haven't done probably since I was a little boy. I suppose I shouldn't be talking so much about something I haven't even experienced myself, but we Greeks tend to be bigmouths by nature.

Anonymous said...

Of course when I speak of the “Catholic church's dogma about the Eucharist” I refer only to my own understanding of it – and I am aware that I may be mistaken (that's why I asked the questions). I will study the long text that resulted from the recent Synod of Bishops about the Eucharist, and if I reach any better understanding worth sharing I will do so.

If you want to know the Catholic Church's dogma, you would do better to study actual dogmatic and definitive teachings than to study Synod documents that had a lot of trouble getting a 2/3 vote, or an Apostolic Exhortation that isn't intended to be dogmatic or definitive.

Jorge said...

Now, if – I repeat, IF -- this is really what Fr. Spadaro is asserting, then he is essentially attributing to Amoris the following two propositions:

The today Cdl. G.L.Müller held this position in 1995. So it cannot be so wrong as you say. I think this is the reason why Müller recently said that AL does not suppose any "danger" for the faith.

He later changed his opinion (because otherwise at these times you could not become a bishop), but he surely knows that his former opinion was not "heretic" or anything like that. So there is no "danger" in this propositions.

(1) Adulterous sexual acts are in some special circumstances morally permissible.

Wrong proposition. Sexual acts after broken marriages are in some circumstances morally permissible. Of course they are. Natural sex is not intrinsically evil. And not everybody will stay a celibate, this would be impossible (not for you and me, perhaps, but for many others). This is even aknowledged by Jesus himself (Mt 5,32).

(2) It is sometimes impossible to obey the divine commandment against engaging in adulterous sexual acts.

The Church never demands impossible things in order to obtain forgiveness. Nor does Jesus in his saying (he blames only the man who dismissed his wife, not the women who has to remarry in order to survive). Obviously, this women who is "engaging in adulterous sexual acts" is not sinning. Jesus' word in your ear.

The sin to forgive is not the new union, but the broken marriage. The new union is a consequence of sin, so of course it is not perfect and can never be the same quality as a real unique marriage in its full significance, but it is not a sin in itself.
So the Church can allow or tolerate it. This is what Müller pointed out in 1995.

Also Ex-Pope Benedict admits that the second union is intrinsically a good thing, including sex of course. So it cannot be "sin" in itself. This is also the position of the orthodox churches which is by no means "heretic".

But if these sexual acts are morally permissible, they are no longer "adulterous". At least if you define "adultery" as intrinsically sinful. They are just "irregular". Therefore the Pope is very clear in stating that it is not possible to equate "irregular" situations with (grave) sin (AL 301). This is all you have to understand if you want to get the teaching of AL.

So, it is just a question of definition. If adultery is intrinsically sinful, you cannot call divorced and remarried "adulterers" only because they are "engaging in sexual acts". This would be simplifying too much, because adultery implies sin and infidelity these people in many cases are not sinning at all and their behaviour does not imply “infidelity”.

So not every sexual union after a broken marriage is “adulterous” in its moral sense.

Of course you may state that there is a kind of “material” adultery which persists, but I think we should not call it adultery at all. Would be the same as if you call any untrue statement a “lie” or any killing a “murder”. Simplifying too much.