Image courtesy of Edward Pentin.
At the Congress of April 22ro, at the Hotel Columbus, Rome, just one block from Vatican City, six lay scholars gathered in order to “make clarity one year after Amoris Laetitia” (“fare chiarezza a un anno da AL”), the papal apostolic exhortation about love and marriage, with particular reference to its indirectly stated permission for access to sacramental Communion for divorced and civilly remarried couples, as well as for couples living in other irregular situations. The Congress was organized by two Italian Catholic apologetics publications, La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana and Il Timone.
Clarity is especially needed, as it is widely known, because of confusion arising from different interpretations of the text of Amoris Laetitia. A number of lay academics, since the document was issued in April 2016, have published articles and letters and given critical interviews, such as Roberto de Mattei, Christian Brugger, Josef Seifert, Robert Spaemann, John Finnis, Germain Grisez, and the group of the “45 theologians,” among many others. Together with them, only one bishop, Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan, has dared to express open criticism and a strong demand for clarification. Some other prelates, like the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Card. Müller, have preferred indirect resistance, somehow in accordance with the indirectness of the disciplinary and doctrinal changes put forward in the document. While these changes are left indirect in Amoris Laetitia itself, they have since been sustained and made perfectly clear by a series of declarations issued and actions taken by the pope and his closest counselors, like Card. Kasper, Card. Schönborn, Card. Coccopalmerio, Card. Maradiaga, and Fr. Spadaro, among others.
In the light of this grave situation, last September, a group of four cardinals (Burke, Caffarra, Brandmüller, and Meisner) presented the CDF with five dubia, asking essentially whether previous magisterial teaching about marriage and adultery and more in general about the absolute binding force of negative commandments is still in vigor. These dubia went unanswered, so the cardinals made them public, opening them to general debate, and so encouraging a discussion among the laity as well. And the debate has been growing, although only a few bishops and a group of 23 scholars have openly supported these dubia.
Since then, three ways of action have been taken by the world episcopacy. In one camp sit those faithful to traditional teaching who have issued “lines of interpretation” in accordance with Amoris Laetitia and have not been censored by the pope. In the second camp, those who favor the change have made more explicit the permission to sacramental Communion and have openly been approved and thanked by the pope. Finally, in the third camp, the vast majority of bishops have chosen silence, in this way not contradicting traditional teaching and at the same time avoiding a possible clash with the pope. It is not an exaggeration to say that so confused a situation has never been recorded inside the Catholic Church in 2,000 years.
Among the six contributions given on April 22, we focus on four – namely, those who present the main doctrinal points, in relation to the plea of clarity being urgently presented to the pope. In order to have a synthetic view and avoid repetition, I will take Prof. Farrow’s conference as a guideline, because it seems to me that it contains the most complete overview of the doctrinal problems posed by Amoris Laetitia, put into a historical perspective and in relation to previous heresies in the history of Christianity. Then I shall add relevant contributions to particular aspects, taken from the other conferences.
Prof. Douglas Farrow: A Divided God
Douglas Farrow, in fact, went directly to the main doctrinal problems posed by Amoris Laetitia, tracing their remote origin as far as the Marcionite heresy in the second century A.D.
Marcion, an original thinker among the wider stream of Gnostic interpretations of Christianity, directly opposed the God of the Old Testament, just but not good, inferior to the God of the New Testament, the Father of Jesus, good and merciful, but not just. To coherently achieve such an ambitious goal, Marcion had to put “Scripture against Scripture,” and he didn’t refrain from cutting away as “spurious” large parts of the New Testament, because, of course, many passages from the N.T. bear testimony to the identity of the supposed “two Gods.” In a similar vein, many passages of the O.T. had to be arbitrarily set aside in order to make this proposal coherent – namely, all those that speak of God’s goodness and mercy.
Now, as St. Irenaeus correctly noted, this way of thinking introduces a contradiction in the very notion of God, because it sees in opposition two perfections that are really interdependent and that cannot be rationally thought of as separate from each other.
Quoting directly St. Irenaeus:
That they might remove the rebuking and judicial power from the Father, reckoning that as unworthy of God, and thinking that they had found out a God without anger and merely kind or good, they have alleged that one God judges but that another saves. (Adversus Haereses III.25)
By thus dividing God, the Marcionites unwittingly deny “the intelligence and justice of both deities,” putting an end to deity altogether:
For, if the judicial one is not also good enough to bestow favors upon the deserving and to direct reproofs against those requiring them, he will appear neither a just nor a wise judge. On the other hand, the good God, if he is merely good and not one who tests those upon whom he shall send his goodness, will be beyond both goodness and justice; his goodness will seem imperfect, as not saving all who deserve it, if it be not accompanied with judgment.
Prof. Farrow comments:
Today, our neo-Marcionites are more subtle. They do not speak of two gods, but they do speak of the one God, as if he lacked judgment or could be known only by way of his mercy. They say they are serving this one God when they accompany non-judgmentally all who desire their accompaniment. “Judge not, that you be not judged” – here is a Scripture – indeed, a dominical saying – of which they are quite certain. Very good. But they forget to speak to those whom they accompany of the judgment of God, which is a very different matter than the judgment of mere men. They forget to speak to them of the holiness without which no one will see God. They think that to speak thus is intrusive, insensitive, rigid, or at all events unrealistic. Who would willingly listen to such a thing? Who wants to hear of the judgment of God?
So, in reality, this strange and contradictory doctrine is due to “a persistent moral problem, for it is a feature of fallen man that he projects his own disorder into the heavens, imagining strife in God as the real source of his own strife.”
Fallen man, left to his own forces, we may add, doesn’t really want sanctification, but nevertheless, he fears the consequences of his sin, so he turns to a doctrine that says that “justification is possible without sanctification” – that is, mercy without justice. So, Prof. Farrow concludes, connecting Marcion with Luther, “[the Council of] Trent has been undone.”
Prof. Farrow goes on to emphasize that, in order to attack such a central doctrine as the Catholic doctrine of sanctification and justification, the whole Tradition must be put on the bench of the accused:
Now, to divide God, it is necessary to divide his Revelation: not just Scripture from Scripture, but Scripture from Tradition. Tradition itself is regarded with suspicion as that which confines us in error rather than that which maintains us in the truth. So they do it violence. And their violence extends, as Cardinal Sarah (The Catholic World Report, 31 March 2017) recently observed, as far as the Gospel itself. In his remarks to a colloquium on the tenth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, he speaks of “a horrible, outrageous thing that seems like the desire for … a complete break with the Church’s past” – as if “the apostolic Church and the Christian communities in the early centuries of Christianity understood nothing of the Gospel,” as if the Gospel has remained all but unrecognized until our own time, as if it were “only in our era that the plan of salvation brought by Jesus has been understood”!
To better understand the historical connection that links the Lutheran tenet of the destruction of Tradition with the present situation, Prof. Farrow briefly mentions the Modernist doctrine defended by Fr. Ernesto Buonaiuti at the beginning of the twentieth century, “whose handling of Scripture and Tradition is thoroughly Protestant in spirit even where it is Catholic in form. The outright rejection of [Pope St. Pius X’s landmark anti-Modernist encyclical] Pascendi dominici gregis marks a turning point of sorts in Catholicism,” which explains how “we should eventually be presented with a puzzle like Amoris Laetitia.”
Although the Second Vatican Council made a strong mention of Tradition (Prof. Farrow quotes Dei Verbum 7-10), it’s not difficult to see that a Protestant view of Scripture thoroughly penetrated Catholic theology and exegesis. “The function of the Magisterium,” Prof. Farrow explains, “is therefore in doubt. The new voice of authority is that of the conscience.”
Finally, the destruction of Tradition leads to the misconstruction of conscience itself:
Our present problem – and a major component of the current crisis – is that conscience is being misconstrued as a source of moral authority alongside natural and divine law: a source capable of overriding not merely the ius canonicum and sacramental discipline, but dominical teaching and the lex credendi, on which such discipline is based.
In reference to the dubia, Prof. Farrow rightly points out that the heart of the doctrinal problem we face can be synthesized in the fifth dubium:
After asking for clarification, in the first dubium, regarding a single type of situation – sexual relations that, because of Jesus’s own words, have always been regarded as adulterous: are they adulterous or are they not? – the burden of the others comes to rest in the fifth, regarding the role of conscience in relation to Scripture and Tradition:
After Amoris Laetitia (n. 303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor 56, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, which excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?
Finally, Prof. Farrow expounds on the practical consequences of this change:
Where the conscience is excused from reckoning with the intrinsic nature of an act, and set directly to wrestling with the subjective and circumstantial and consequential dimensions of the act, the requisite contrition, penance, and absolution will be quite different. And this will have implications for the external forum also. What was once regarded as adultery, and hence as a disqualification for Communion, will now be regarded as a new form of fidelity, and hence as a qualification – in which case, the Eucharist itself will be made witness to this fidelity that was once an infidelity.
I said earlier that the dubia, having been deemed necessary, are necessarily in need of an answer. But it is not so simple as that. Considered substantively, and not merely procedurally, the dubia are indeed necessary, but the fifth, at least, cannot be answered – or rather, the only possible answer would be to withdraw the offending section of Amoris Laetitia and to correct or clarify the premises, appearing elsewhere, which support that section.
This last remark is especially important: many voices, in the last months, have expressed the desire that the dubia be answered, of course in a way coherent with traditional teaching. But here Prof. Farrow correctly points out that this would not be enough, because, if one regards VS 56 as still valid, based as it is in Scripture and Tradition, then a positive answer to the fifth dubium cannot coherently coexist with Amoris Laetitia’s Chapter 8 and also with the premises to it that appear elsewhere in the document. On reflection, the same reasoning must be applied to the other four dubia as well, for the very reason that they ultimately depend on the fifth. So, really, the presentation of the dubia logically amounts to a petition of withdrawing AL’s Chapter 8 and supporting passages (which should be precisely identified). Until this is done, a lethal contradiction will remain between the present Magisterium and Tradition and continue to be a source of persistent infection and schism within the Church.
Prof. Claudio Pierantoni: Heretical Popes and the Four Levels of Danger
Prof. Pierantoni’s conference also puts the present controversy into a historical perspective, but from a different point of view: he tries to compare the examples of “heretical popes” of the ancient Church – namely, Liberius and Honorius I – with the present case. The case of Honorius is especially interesting for our purpose, because he was formally condemned by the Third Council of Constantinople (A.D. 681), the sixth ecumenical council in Church history, for his affirmation of the doctrine of the “one will” in Christ, whereas the Council solemnly proclaimed the doctrine of the “two wills,” divine and human, which follows logically from the doctrine, previously established in the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), of the “two natures” united in the one Person of Christ. Then Pope Leo II confirmed Honorius’s condemnation by the Council, adding a formal censure to the negligence of Honorius, which permitted the spreading of the heresy. So we can here observe that the condemnation of a pope may be based not only on a formal heresy, but also on practical conduct on a pope’s part that tolerates heresy or, in the present case of Francis, even favors it openly.
Synthesizing the comparison between the ancient popes and the present case, Prof. Pierantoni states:
However, despite their differences, taken in a general way, the two cases of Liberius and Honorius have an important point in common, and that is the fact that both their interventions took place while the process of formulating the respective dogmas was still in progress, the Trinitarian one in the case of Liberius and the Christological one in the case of Honorius. … Now, this point that unites the doctrinal deviation of the two popes of antiquity is undoubtedly their extenuating circumstance, but unfortunately this same thing is the point that contrasts them to the doctrinal deviation that is occurring during the current pontificate, which instead has a strong aggravating factor in [Pope Francis’s] setting himself [not] against doctrines not yet [clear], or in the process of being formulated, but against doctrines that, in addition to being firmly anchored in Tradition, have also already been exhaustively debated in recent decades and clarified in detail by the recent Magisterium. So this is not only a deviation of the Magisterium from Tradition taken in general, but also a direct contradiction of the pronouncements of the very recent Magisterium.
After that, analyzing in more detail the case of Francis, Prof. Pierantoni highlights four levels of doctrinal error contained in Amoris Laetitia, showing how the accumulation of arguments, supposedly in favor of his proposal, leads the pope to put in grave danger fundamental elements of Christian doctrine.
On the first level, the indissolubility of marriage, although verbally stated, is put in doubt practically if someone cohabiting is admitted to Communion.
Since that appears to be highly problematic, on a second level, an emphasis is made in the document about the subjective situation of ignorance or unconsciousness that may exculpate what, objectively speaking, is adultery – but this, Prof. Pierantoni observes, contrasts sharply with the emphasis the document puts on discernment and accompaniment. In fact, what appears to be directly contradictory is how a person in the process of accurate discernment may still be supposed to be “ignorant” or “unconscious.”
Trying (more or less consciously) to escape this contradiction, AL sinks into a third level of doctrinal deformation, supposing that through discernment, one may discover that one’s situation, which objectively contradicts the Commandments, and therefore the Natural Law, may be something that is not only permitted, but actually asked by God in that situation. That, Prof. Pierantoni stresses, is contradictory with the very essence of Natural Law, which is not an extrinsic or merely positive law, but reflects the very nature of the human being:
To serve as a simple comparison for us: the positive law that governs the movement of a car in a certain country is one thing; the instruction booklet written by the vehicle manufacturer is another thing. If I exceed a speed limit for a vital emergency, let us suppose, I can also be morally justified, because the rule, while just in itself, however, is not absolute, because it is not intrinsically linked to the essence of the vehicle. If, on the other hand, I contravene the directive of the manufacturer, who tells me that the car was designed to run on gasoline, no emergency or exception, certainly no discernment, will serve to ensure that the car could run with diesel. To use diesel is therefore a bad thing not because it is “forbidden” by some external law, but because it is intrinsically irrational, because it contradicts the very nature of the vehicle.
Therefore, to suppose that the Natural Law may admit exceptions is a true and proper contradiction. It is a supposition that does not understand its true essence and therefore confuses it with positive law.
This confusion between Natural Law and positive law clearly accounts for AL’s violent (and justly resented) attacks on “legalists.” In fact, in Jesus’s idea, the Pharisees are often wrong because they rigidly stick to “precepts of men” (positive laws), putting aside fundamental divine laws, whereas there certainly is no hint in the Gospel that Jesus criticizes someone for sticking to the Ten Commandments!
And now we get to the fourth level of doctrinal deformation, because Natural Law is of course the very Law that the Author of Nature has given. The Divine Person of Christ, namely the Logos, the Word who was in the beginning (John 1:1), is precisely He through whom all things came to exist (John 1:3). In short, to speak of the Natural Law as if it were a mere positive and fallible law, a humanly conceived general rule that may have exceptions, is to misconstrue the divine nature of the Person of Christ, God’s Word – so it is tantamount to doing away with the very essence of the Gospel and the whole of Revelation, which is of course the direct expression of God’s personal Word and the manifestation of the Father Himself: “the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18).
What … leaps to the attention in the current situation is precisely the underlying doctrinal deformation that, as skillful as it may be in evading directly heterodox formulations, still maneuvers, in a coherent way, to carry forward an attack not only against particular dogmas like the indissolubility of marriage and the objectivity of the moral law, but even against the very concept of right doctrine, and with it, of the very person of Christ as Logos. The first victim of this doctrinal deformation is precisely the pope, who I hazard to conjecture is hardly aware of this, a victim of a generalized epochal alienation from Tradition in large segments of theological teaching. After him, there are innumerable victims who fall into deception. …
In the light of all this, it therefore becomes more necessary than ever, as initially provided for at least by Cardinal Burke, to make a further act of courage, truth, and charity, on the part of the cardinals, but also of the bishops and then of all the qualified laity who would like to adhere to it. In such a serious situation of danger for the faith and of generalized scandal, it is not only licit, but even obligatory for an inferior to fraternally correct his superior, always done in charity. Even the hierarchical or religious obedience must not be used, in this case of general danger, as an excuse to silence the truth.
So Prof. Pierantoni stresses the importance and urgency of fraternal correction, which would neither be “an act of hostility nor a lack of respect nor an act of disobedience.” Much less would it provoke a schism, since “there is no record … that any of the cardinals would want to hold that Francis is not the pope, and even less that someone wants to get himself elected anti-pope. The true schism, which is increasing every day, is rather a de facto one that only a fraternal correction may restrain.”
A fraternal correction would be “nothing other than a declaration of truth: caritas in veritate. The pope, even before being pope, is our brother, and this is therefore a primordial duty of charity toward him. We will be called to account for his destiny, as well as that of all those who rely on his guidance.”
Now, complementing Douglas Farrow’s proposal with my own, I add that a correction, to be really decisive, should ask that AL, Chapter 8 be withdrawn, along with passages that are meant to prepare it.
Prof. Thibaud Collin: Conscience above Christ
Thirdly, we shall take into account Prof. Thibaud Collin, who focused on the problem of conscience and its misconstruction in Amoris Laetitia. Prof. Collin too puts AL into a historical perspective, this time reminding us of the resistance against Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, which restated the Church’s complete opposition to contraception.
Compared to Humanae Vitae, the situation with Amoris Laetitia involves an inversion of roles: Prof. Collin sees a striking similarity between HV’s critics and the present papal document. In fact, both propose to treat the objective requirements of the moral law as an ideal, an “optional choice” that may fit some privileged people in ideal situations but is not binding for all Catholics. He mentions the “pastoral note on HV of French Bishops of November 1968, §16,” which practically left the observance of HV to subjective and situational judgment, with a reference to “conflict of duties,” an argument very similar to the one proposed in AL.
This reception was practically a liquidation. Moral normativity was transformed into a mere suggestion, reserved to the most zealous among the faithful, to those who live in optimal conditions to live it.
In short, Prof. Collin concludes, “it was a pastoral fiasco.”
In practice, out of fear of proposing true change of a sinful situation, many shepherds preferred a kind of indefinite “accompaniment.” “Toward what?” Prof. Collin asks.
A pastoral “bougisme” [movement for the sake of movement] can exist, a kind of ”infinite progress,” of which the finality is hidden, because it is identified with the end of an almost endless path, in any case a distant one, and lost in a mist. But the finality of Christian life is not in the future; it’s in the present: the loving union with God, who offers with generosity the grace for us to consent freely to it. That never goes without the Cross, but Jesus waits there for us.
Complementing Profs. Farrow’s and Pierantoni’s remarks, Prof. Collin rightly points out that what we observe in AL’s proposal is a “shifting from erroneous conscience to an objectivation of error”: “The Law of God is here nothing more than an element that must be weighed among other elements, concrete and particular.” The Divine Law is perceived as “abstract,” and “the concrete possibilities of the faithful are invoked as criteria in order to determine God’s will.” In this way, the author asks, “How can we avoid that divine mercy is turned into worldly tolerance?”
In fact, this perception of Divine Law as “abstract” is much “more Kantian than Christian”; it is “a legalist and worldly conception of [Divine] Law.”
On the contrary, the author stresses:
God’s Law is also eminently personal and concrete, because it is a Law written in every person’s heart. God, for example, tells me: “If you want to adore me and be happy, love your spouse and be faithful to her.”
AL’s “sociologism” and “pedagogism” are “contrary to God’s design, revealed and entrusted to the Church. It’s contrary to the good that everybody can realize with God’s omnipotent grace.” Because “nothing is impossible to God.”
Prof. Collin aptly concludes with words from the Council of Trent:
But no one, however much justified, should consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one should make use of that rash statement forbidden under an anathema by the Fathers, that the commandments of God are impossible to observe for a man who is justified. For God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes you both to do what you can do, and to pray for what you cannot do, and assists you that you may be able” (St. Augustine, De Natura et Gratia 43), “whose commandments are not heavy” (1 John 5:3), “whose yoke is sweet and whose burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). (Council of Trent, Sess. VI, Cum hoc tempore, cap. 11, Denzinger 1536)
Prof. Anna Silvas: No Orthodox Interpretation
Finally, we shall now turn to Prof. Anna Silvas’s contribution, which, in a sharp synthesis, relentlessly unmasks our Church’s tragic situation. She starts with a brief mention of the “spirit of modernity” and the critical situation the Church lived in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II. After that, she says:
Under St. John Paul II, we seemed to have something of a “push-back” for a while, at least in some areas, especially his intense explication of the nuptial mystery of our first creation, in support of Humanae Vitae. This continued under Benedict XVI, with some attempt to address liturgical decay and the moral “filth” of clerical sexual abuse. We had hoped that some remediation at least was in train. Now, in the few short years of Pope Francis’s pontificate, the stale and musty spirit of the seventies has resurged, bringing with it seven other demons. And if we were in any doubt about this before, Amoris Laetitia and its aftermath in the past year make it perfectly clear that this is our crisis. That this alien spirit appears to have finally swallowed up the See of Peter, dragging ever widening cohorts of compliant higher Church leadership into its net, is its most dismaying, and indeed shocking, aspect to many of us, the Catholic lay faithful.
Prof. Silvas goes on to confront the issue of different interpretations, and particularly of the attempt to interpret the text in an orthodox way. This she finds “very strange”:
There is one group, however, whose approach I find very strange: the intentionally orthodox among higher prelates and theologians who treat the turmoil arising from Amoris Laetitia as a matter of “misinterpretations.” They will focus on the text alone, abstracted from any of the known antecedents in the words and acts of Pope Francis himself or its wider historical context. It is as if they interpose a chasm that cannot be crossed between the person of the pope on the one hand, over whose signature this document was published, and the “text” of the document on the other hand. With the Holy Father safely quarantined out of all consideration, they are free to address the problem, which they identify as “misuse” of the text. They then express the pious plea that the Holy Father “correct” these errors.
No doubt the perceived constraints of piety to the successor of Peter account for these contorted maneuvers. I know, I know! We have been facing down that conundrum for a year or longer. But to any sane and thoughtful reader, who, in the words of the 45 Theologians’ Censures, is “not trying to twist the words of the document in any direction, but … take the natural or the immediate impression of the meaning of the words to be correct,” this smacks of a highly wrought artificiality.
Pope Francis’s “intent” in this text is perfectly recoverable from the text itself, reading normally and naturally and without filters.
It clearly appears, we may add, that even isolating the text, without analyzing the general context, is not sufficient to exculpate AL; the intention behind it is very clear. Prof. Silvas’s analysis, and the examples that follow, complement here what we saw in Prof. Pierantoni’s conference about doctrines that are clearly implied, although not directly and formally stated. Just one example among the various she gives:
The first of the cardinals’ five dubia concludes: “Can the expression ‘in certain cases’ found in Note 351 of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio [as husband and wife]?” Without doubt, a papal clarification of the intent in this footnote is of urgent importance to the Church. Nevertheless, what the pope intended is clear from the beginning of this current section, number 301. His topic is “those living in ‘irregular situations.’” All that is said a few lines later about those in situations of objective sin growing in grace and charity and sanctification, maybe with the help of the sacraments … is posted under this heading of “irregular situations.”
So what the dubium asks is not really so dubious; it is unambiguously conveyed by the text of AL, Chapter 8, although not directly formulated.
Prof. Silvas concludes this section as follows:
And there are many other instances like this. As early as the preface, he alerts us that “everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight” and then late in that chapter (308) admits obliquely that his approach may leave room for confusion. Let us believe him: this is his intent, which is not all that difficult to grasp.
Then Prof. Silvas cites a few well known episodes that confirm the pope’s intentions – whereupon she stunningly concludes:
Pope Francis, I am sure, is very well aware of the doctrine of papal infallibility, knows how high are its provisos – and is astute enough never to trigger its mechanism. The unique prestige of the papacy in the Catholic Church, together with the practical affective papalism of many Catholics, however, is a useful asset, and all of these he will exploit to the full. For to Francis, and we have to grasp this, infallibility doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter at all, if he can continue to be the sort of change agent in the Church he wants to be. That this is his spirit we learn in AL 3, where he says: “Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. John 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does.”
But I think “the spirit” to which Francis so soothingly alludes has more to do with Hegel’s Geist than with the Holy Spirit of whom our blessed Lord speaks, the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him (cf. John 14:17). The Hegelian Geist, on the other hand, manifests itself in the midst of contradictions and oppositions, surmounting them in a new synthesis, without eliminating the polarities or reducing one to the other. This is the Gnostic spirit of the cult of modernity.
So Francis will pursue his agenda without papal infallibility, and without fussing about magisterial pronouncements. He tells us so in the third paragraph of AL: “since ‘time is greater than space,’ I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.” We are in a world of dynamic fluidity here, of starting open-ended processes, of sowing seeds of desired change that will triumph over time. Other theorists – you have here, in Italy, Gramsci and his manifesto of cultural Marxism – teach how to achieve revolution by stealth. So within the Church, Francis and his collaborators deal with the matter of doctrine, not by confronting theory head on, because if they did so, they would be defeated, but by an incremental change of praxis, played to the siren song of plausible persuasions, until the praxis is sufficiently built up over time[.]
So, Prof. Silvas concludes, it is unjust to blame supposedly bad interpretations of this text:
I think it an injustice to blame these bishops for “misuse” of AL. No, they have drawn the conclusions patent to any thoughtful, unblinkered reader of this papal document. The blame, however, and the tragedy for the Church, lies in the intent embedded and articulated well enough in Amoris Laetitia itself, and in the naïve papalism on the part of bishops, that has so poor a purchase on the Church’s imperishable obedience of faith, that it cannot perceive when it is under most dangerous attack, even from that most lofty quarter.
In this game of subterfuge and incremental intent, the elaborate talk of painstaking “discernment” and “accompaniment” of difficult moral situations has a definite function – as a temporary blind for the ultimate goal. Have we not seen how the dark arts of the “hard case” work in secular politicking, used to pivot the next tranche of social re-engineering? So now in the politics of the Church. The final result will be precisely in accord with Archbishop Bergoglio’s tacit practice for years in Buenos Aires. Make no mistake: the endgame is a more or less indifferent permission for any who presents for Holy Communion. And so we attain the longed for haven of all-inclusiveness and “mercy”: the terminal trivialization of the Eucharist, of sin and repentance, of the sacrament of Matrimony, of any belief in objective and transcendent truth, the evisceration of language, and of any stance of compunction before the living God, the God of Holiness and Truth. If I may adapt here a saying of St. Thomas Aquinas: “Mercy without truth is the mother of dissolution” (Super Matthaeum, V, l.2). [The original statement is “Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution.”]
In this gloomy situation, Prof. Silvas, too, reminds our cardinals of the promised correction:
Is it still a possibility – the cardinals’ proposed fraternal correction of the pope? We heard of this last November, and it surely lifted our beleaguered spirits. But now it is the end of April, and nothing has come of it. I cannot help but think of that passage from Shakespeare – There is a tide in the affairs of men… – and wonder if the tide has come and gone, and we the lay faithful are left stranded again.
Although striking here a note of skepticism regarding what result could really come out of it, still Prof. Silvas pleads:
Well, I hope so, dear cardinals, I hope so. We, the faithful, beg you: forget about calculating prudent outcomes. Real prudence should tell you when it is the right time for courageous witness, whose other name is martyrdom.
In the final part of her conference, Anna Silvas also struck a contemplative note of hope, talking especially to laity and the ability we have to resist the false spirit even without enjoying institutional power, either in the Church or in the world. She made reference to Rod Dreher’s recent book, The Benedict Option, that indicates the necessity of concentrating in our families or small communities, where silent work, profound prayer, and the practice of virtues in a hidden, apparently insignificant existence (like that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings) can be the most “politically effective” action, just like the silent work and prayer of medieval monks during the fall of the Roman Empire and the chaos that followed.
This final exhortation to a contemplative and hidden action makes even more profound sense if we put it in relation with the previous remark Prof. Silvas made about Card. Newman’s famous “notes” that distinguish true doctrinal development from corruption:
The seventh note is “chronic vigor.” Over time, a corruption shows itself to be exceedingly vigorous – but only at the beginning of the “infection,” since it does not possess the life to sustain itself in the long term. It will run its course and die out. The Life of Grace, however, possesses in itself the Divine Life and will therefore throw off in the course of time all that militates against it. Truth perdures. There will be moments of high drama, but, eventually, it must necessarily prevail.
But certainly, it may be noted, this exhortation to contemplation does not exclude the exhortation to martyrdom. On the contrary, we may correctly say that it prepares martyrdom and makes it possible.
* * *
So, in a final summary and conclusion of these four conferences, we can say the following.
- A deep doctrinal crisis is showing itself in the Catholic Church, of which the access to Communion is only the tip of the iceberg, a sample of a profound doctrinal deformation that reaches to the most fundamental truths about God and Christ.
- This crisis is now infecting the highest ranking people in the Church, including the papacy itself, although a strong resistance is manifested by a minority of the clergy and the laity, showing the sane reaction of a vital body to an infection.
- In this spiritual fight, we must certainly rediscover the coherence and depth of our doctrine, but also deepen our prayer and contemplative dimension, which can nourish our charity and our faith in the ultimate triumph of Truth.
- In light of all this, a clear and definite testimony – martyrdom – is now urgently needed, on the part of all cardinals, bishops, clergy, and laity who are aware of this tragedy – a fraternal correction that speaks frankly to the pope and his counselors, that states the truth beyond all human calculation and false prudence.
- This correction must necessarily include not only the plea for a clarification, but also the plea for an outright withdrawal (or at least a thorough rewording) of AL, Chapter 8 and all passages that prepare the heretical doctrines that are clearly there implied.