Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

A Provoked and Unsettled Catholic Layman’s Earnest Commentary and Moral Tale

A (Fictional) Letter Recently Written by Erasmus of Rotterdam – a Trusted Friend of St. Thomas More – Concerning the Confusion Worse Confounded Surrounding Amoris Laetitia and Its Own Ambiguities

Dr. Markus Büning

Dear College of Cardinals, High Senate of the Roman Church,

Your Eminences,

I allow myself now, after all, to comment on the permeating confusion which a recently proposed magisterial text of the Pontifex Maximus has caused – a text which is known by its somewhat unusual title Amoris Laetitia – and which also seems now to have spread throughout the whole of Christendom. I am thus very much reminded here of an episode in the long history of our Church which took place in the early 16th century and in our beautiful England. I mean here the confusion which the then-King Henry VIII brought to all of Europe because of his base conduct with respect to his own Holy Bond of Matrimony.

You might wonder why I now should have this recollection? Because, in its kernel, it is again about a theme which touches upon the very center and heart of our Faith: it is about the indissolubility of marriage. It is about the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony which – as the Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul, already said – is an image of the love of Christ for His Church. Just as Christ does not abandon His Church, the spouses also shall remain loyal to one another until death. As I recall, Our Lord said, after all: “What God hath joined together, man shalt not put asunder!” Yes, and what did this Henry do? He did not bother about this Law of Christ and kicked marriage with his feet. Against the will of the pope he implemented – with the help of almost the whole British episcopacy – his tactics of adultery. Only one bishop – yes, you hear correctly – only one bishop dared to oppose the king: Saint John Fisher. For this, however, he was to lose his head.

Yes, and then there was also my best friend,  Thomas More – a layman known for his erudition and for his deep Fear of God – who was the former Lord Chancellor of this despot [King Henry] who also stood firm and kept loyalty to the Lord’s Word about Marriage and thus likewise had to give up his own life for it. This brave husband and father of a family could not endure the fact that the king, with the help of the bishops, had attacked the indissolubility of marriage. On the day of his own beheading [6 July 1535], I felt as if my own head was taken off me.

Portrait Of Desiderius Erasmus; ←  → Portrait Of Desiderius Erasmus Hans Holbein the Younger, 1523
Portrait Of Desiderius Erasmus; Hans Holbein the Younger, 1523

You surely will now ask me what all of this has to do with Amoris Laetitia and your current Pope Francis. I say to you the following: just as then, everything is now at stake! Under the guise of a merciful pastoral care without clear limits – and with additional reference to a misguided conscience and to the individual life realities of so-called remarried divorcees – there is now this analogous attempt to unhinge those Laws of the Church that have always been held to be valid. Yes, unhinge! Why? I want to tell you honestly how I see it: in order to pander to and please the world! Yes, it is an obvious capitulation away from any call to live one’s own life in loyalty and reliability. And this infuriates me as a man who has spent his lifetime amidst various academic disputes – especially, since most all of these are conducted with the aid of outrageous tricks. You also now have here, in a footnote, the door left open for the reception of the Sacraments by adulterers! Yes, in a footnote. Did the author really think people would overlook it? As it seems, this is what has actually happened with some. That is why some of you speak, as follows: Amoris Laetitia (AL) did not change anything, after all! Everything remains the same! That means that this famous footnote is not important? Others, however, make it look as if this footnote is the kernel of the message. Yes, they say, the teaching has of course been changed. That is the message that, most recently, has been coming to us out of the beautiful region of Vorarlberg [region in Southwestern Austria; Dr. Büning refers here to Bishop Benno Elbs, M.H.]. Then you hear other voices, as well, coming out of your honorable ecclesiastical circle, namely that everybody has to decide for himself – after an examination of his conscience – whether or not he may now licitly go to Holy Communion. Really? About what kind of sincere conscience are we talking here? A conscience which is oriented toward God’s Laws may not come to such a foolish decision. That is at least how I still learned it in my own studies of theology. And then there are quoted in this papal text some honorable authorities – but they are quoted out of context and only in order to give the text the appearance of Catholicity. I assure you, a St. Thomas Aquinas would put aside such a text [AL] already because of its amateurish style! I would rather not even start thinking about what his own possible assessment of the text’s actual content would be.

And you Cardinals, what are you now doing? Nearly all of you have been silent for months now and you convey to faithful Catholics the impression that this recent kind of change of teaching is, after all, now quite acceptable. Only four – yes only four – courageous men from your circle have dared to present to the pope their justified doubts. But, he does not even consider it to be necessary, let alone honorable, to answer them. Rather, in the last weeks, several vassals were sent out on a newly dubious mission, in order to intimidate these same four cardinals. O my, what corrupted morals in a Church which has purportedly been so eager to open herself up to continual dialogue. To be honest, we had ourselves behaved – at times – better than this five hundred years ago!

I only want to remind you now of the bad example your fellow bishops then gave in England, at the time of St. Thomas More. Do you also wish to enter the Church’s history this way? Do you wish to present yourself as such to Him who has given to men marriage as an indissoluble bond? Please do ask yourself – in your own deep and well-formed conscience – these very questions and pray here then especially for the intercession of three saints who are all martyrs for the Sacrament of Matrimony: St. John the Baptist, St. John Fisher, and St. Thomas More. As was the case then, today too there seem to be laymen, especially, who now step up and have called upon you Prelates – and for some months now – to protect the Sacrament of Marriage. I hope that you examine intensively once more your own sincere consciences in this essential matter.

I myself – as you do surely know – am also a sacramentally ordained clergyman – indeed an Augustinian priest – and thus cannot speak about marriage, as such, at least not from out of my personal intimate experience. But, one thing I may – and should – tell you at the end: I have suffered during my entire lifetime under the sad fact that I was a child born out of wedlock. I have always felt this to be a stain. Therefore, the more so was I pleased to see –especially during my many visits and extended stays at the More home and estate – how delightful this Sacrament of Matrimony is for mankind. At the time, I therefore wrote down the following words on marriage:

Marriage was approved by Christ at Cana; it was accepted as a part of created nature and thus condemned by heretics. It was not instituted by Lycurgus, Moses, or Solon, but by the Creator of the Universe, because God said: ‘It is not good that man be alone,’ and He created Eva – not out of soil, like Adam, but out of his rib, so that nobody would be nearer to him and more intimate than his spouse. After the Deluge, God said to mankind: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ Should one not, thus, honor marriage, perhaps even before all other Sacraments, because it was established first, and through the action of God Himself? The other Sacraments were established on earth [after the Fall], but that one in paradise; the others as means of healing, but this one as a community in happiness [to include children]. The others were given for the fallen nature, this one, however, was given during our unspoiled nature. If we honor later human laws, how much more should we then honor the law of marriage which we have received from Him Who gave us life. The incentive through love – which is so necessary for marriage – comes from created nature, and everything which comes from nature [by virtue of the Creation] is pure and holy. The most pious way of living – in purity and chastity – is marriage. (quoted in: Walter Nigg, Erasmus von Rotterdam. Christliche Humanität, Ostfildern 1983, p. 9 f.)

Please do take care that this most pious way of living and forming children unto eternal life will continue to be protected by the Church today; and please thus exhort the Peter of today to confess clearly and unambiguously Our Lord’s own Words, according to which marriage is indissoluble.

With these brief considerations and with my best wishes for the New Year, I remain in deep devotion,


Erasmus of Rotterdam

Translation Robert and Maike Hickson


Dr. Markus Büning was born 1966 in Ahaus (Westfalen, Germany). He studied Catholic Theology and Philosophy in Münster and München. After graduating in 1990, he studied Law in Konstanz and Münster. He received his doctorate in Law in 2001 from the University of Münster. Among other things, he has worked as Academic Assistant at the Universities of Münster and Konstanz; as an administrative lawyer in several departments; and finally as the representative of the Mayor of Gronau (Westfalen). He has authored a number of books, with a recent focus on theological books concerning the lives of the Saints. In addition, he offers theological guided tours of several museums. Dr. Markus Büning is married and has two children. He lives with his family in Münsterland.

18 thoughts on “A Provoked and Unsettled Catholic Layman’s Earnest Commentary and Moral Tale”

  1. The Lord was given comfort in the Garden of Gethsemane. These articles on onrpeterfive comfort the faithful in our day of trial.

  2. The learned doctor is mistaken, Henry VIII did not divorce Catherine of Aragon, he had the marriage annulled. It is true that the pope refused to annull it, and that Henry VIII resorted to seizing the authority, and annulling his owm marriage. His ground was that Catherine had been married to his brother.

    • The good Doctor is hardly mistaken; for there was not the authority held by the King or his sycophants to pronounce an annulment. After all, they legitimately and earnestly sought that from the proper authority: The Pope who denied the request as he had granted the dispensation for the King to marry Queen Catherine of Aragon (after she attested to never having consummated the first marriage).
      Hence the use of the term divorce: it is a more truthful term.
      Pax Christi

    • I can’t annul my own marriage to my wife. Why can anyone else? They can’t. The Church is the only authority with the competence to declare a marriage null. Null of course meaning it is not a true marriage at all. To decide for yourself and make your own decision… well that is what we call a divorce. It’s also the pinnacle of pride, placing yourself over what God has put together.

      Are you by chance an Anglican?

      • I can’t annul my own marriage to my wife.

        Really? Well with all this dialogue with the Muslims, maybe soon all you need to do is say three times; “My marriage is null” and it will be so.

        With the way things are going, that will not be far fetched.

    • I like the creative way he tried to annul his marriage to Ann Boleyn on the basis that her elder sister had been his mistress before he “married” her.
      Nice try, Henry.

    • St. James said the same thing:

      [10] And whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all.

      [10] Guilty of all;: That is, he becomes a transgressor of the law in such a manner, that the observing of all other points will not avail him to salvation; for he despises the lawgiver, and breaks through the great and general commandment of charity, even by one mortal sin. For all the precepts of the law are to be considered as one total and entire law, and as it were a chain of precepts, where, by breaking one link of this chain, the whole chain is broken, or the integrity of the law consisting of a collection of precepts. A sinner, therefore, by a grievous offence against any one precept, incurs eternal punishment; yet the punishment in hell shall be greater for those who have been greater sinners, as a greater reward shall be for those in heaven who have lived with greater sanctity and perfection.

      [11] For he that said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, said also, Thou shalt not kill. Now if thou do not commit adultery, but shalt kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

      James 2: 10-11 with footnote

      Source: Douay-Rheims Bible Online

  3. Christmastide officially finishes Feb 2 Feast of the Purification. What day will the Cardinals’ letter be made known?

    • I thought according to canon law applicable to this mess that the Pope has 6 months to reply to the Dubita. Cardinal Burke, expert Canon Lawyer that he is, will observe the niceties.
      [3 cheers for Cardinal Burke et al!]

      • I quote Cardinal Burke : ““Now of course we are in the last days, days of strong grace, before the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord,
        and then we have the Octave of the Solemnity and the celebrations at
        the beginning of the New Year – the whole mystery of Our Lord’s Birth
        and His Epiphany – so it would probably take place sometime after that.” My comment : the word “probably” suggests some hesitation. It’s really a question of whether the Letter of Correction will do more harm than good, and the Cardinal may think so if he does not receive more public Hiererarchical support. Who knows !

  4. To me Amoris Laetitia is just the next step from the near automatic annulment program evidently approved by the Church years ago and now made even easier by Pope Francis. In view of this, the outrage over A.L. rings a little hollow. It is Vatican II itself that is the real problem and all the modernist thinking that preceded it, whereby the Catholic Church actuated it’s desire to become Protestant.

    • Very true. But it seems AL was the proverbial last straw. I, for one, am grateful this is happening at all, and happening now. Sure, it would have been wonderful if St. Pius X’s encyclical and efforts really had stamped out modernism, but the truth being fought for and proclaimed now is better than never or later.

  5. I can’t seem to get the image of Pope Francis wandering about the halls of the Vatican, head bowed, sadly singing in a low voice, the song “I started a Joke”, by the Bee Gees. I can just imagine him, falsetto rising, when he comes to the aptly introspective line, “Oh If I’d only seen that the joke was on me……” Pray for the Pope, and the Church so that those embracing apostasy, might start living in Christ, oh, oh yeah.

  6. As St. John Fisher was being taken to his place of execution (he was so weak that he had to be transported in a chair), there was a delay in proceedings whereupon he stood up and leaning his shoulder to the wall, raised his eyes to heaven and opened his copy of the New Testament, saying,”O Lord, this is the last time that ever I shall open this book. Let some comfortable place now chance me whereby I, thy poor servant, may glorify Thee in this my last hour.” And he read: Now this is eternal life – that they may know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (John 17:3-4) He then shut the book and said,”Here is even learning enough for me to my life’s end.”

    How unprecedented is this period of crisis in the life of the Church then, that prayers must be offered that the pope would come to the same realization.

  7. For those who are interested in Henry VIII’s marital tangles, the best study remains *The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII* by Henry Ansgar Kelly. Originally published by Stanford University Press in 1976, it was reprinted by Wipf and Stock in 2004.

    It treats (from a Canon Law standpoint, and also post 1534 “schismatic” English church law) not only Henry’s desiderated annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (both as rejected by Rome, and granted to him by Cranmer), but the subsequent annulments of his marriages to Anne Boleyn (“wife” #2) and Anne of Cleves (‘wife” #4 – and probably genuinely wife #3).

  8. South African Cardinal WIlfrid Napier questions whether the logic of Amoris Laetitia suggests that polygamists should be allowed to receive Communion.

    Reflecting on the papal document on his Twitter account, Cardinal Napier wrote:
    “If Westerners in irregular situations can receive Communion, are we to tell our polygamists & other “misfits” that they too are allowed?”

    This gets the annual Adrian Johnson “surrealism in daily life award.”
    What’s frightening is that today is only the 6th day of the year.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...