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The Trouble with Teaching Authority

April 30, 2014

607px-Second_Vatican_Council_by_Lothar_Wolleh_0011While he thinks it unlikely and probably ruled out by the nature of the church, Ross Douthat worries that Pope Francis could be preparing the way for a major doctrinal shift on marriage and communion in the church, a change, he says, that would threaten outright schism.

If Pope Francis were to change the official teaching of the church on the indissolubility of marriage, or even try to do so, he would undermine the very teaching authority of the church. Conservative Catholics, convinced that this teaching cannot possibly change, would question the legitimacy of the pope’s move and the authority he used to make it. For this reason, Douthat doubts the pope would take any such step; and yet because bishops, Pope Francis included, seem to be debating the matter, the possibility is not inconceivable.

Douthat has, perhaps inadvertently, shined a light on the fundamental instability of ecclesiastical teaching authority. In the Catholic Church, the teaching authority is called the Magisterium. This office claims to have, from God, the authority to teach authentically and, in some cases, definitively and infallibly, on matters of faith and morals:

The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

[...]

The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.

Moreover, the Magisterium expects the faithful to receive with docility its directives and teachings. All of them. It’s not like a professor who encourages students to learn the ideas taught in the classroom while also engaging them critically. Rather, it asks for the submission of the mind and will: learning coupled with obedience. The Magisterium teaches and enforces its teaching through sanction.

This might seem a stable setup, but there’s trouble below the surface. As Douthat’s speculations show, the faithful are not always clear on where this teaching authority is actually exercised. In the minds of the faithful, the appearance of this teaching authority doesn’t necessarily correspond to its substance, either in the past or in the present. The Magisterium contributes to this confusion. Popes and bishops, speaking through official channels, have said all sorts of contradictory things, all the while expecting assent. As a result, no one gives ear to every word of every papal bull and encyclical and council document. Even those who believe themselves to be faithful adherents to the Magisterium wiggle around official statements they dislike by arguing that such statements are not actually magisterial teaching.

Sometimes they’re right. It’s one thing to say that definitive teaching is true and unchangeable; it’s another thing to know exactly which teachings are of this sort. Some are obvious enough: the existence and revelation of God, the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. Others are less so. The Magisterium doesn’t waffle on the meaning of human sexuality or the limits of its own teaching authority, but it’s not absolutely inconceivable that the church could revise its teachings on these and other matters. The conceivability of doctrinal change opens the door to dissent among the faithful, but of course dissent is the last thing the church wants to encourage.

Kyle Cupp is an author and freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

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41 Comments
  1. dismasdolben permalink
    April 30, 2014 2:16 pm

    Has anyone here read John Henry Newman’s book, The Development of Doctrine? When you read it very carefully, you realize that, although an extremely “conservative” theologian when he suscribed to Anglicanism, Newman becomes the opposite of what he actually called himself in his apologetics–that is, so much a “liberal” theologian that he would later be called the “Father of the Council”–meaning the Second Vatican Council. When I had to read the book, in a “Victorian Literature Seminar,” I said to myself, “Wow, what he is describing is the most perfect, self-correcting, neo-Hegelian system ever devised by the mind of man”–that is, one that proceeds according to a historical “dialectic” that is more perfect than any Marxian one.
    And its fundamental premise seems to me to be that NO HUMAN–no pope, no council, no arch-heresiarch like Luther–possesses “absolute truth” other than God, that to claim to possess “absolute truth” is a form of blasphemy that could potentially turn an institution–even one that is semi-divine, like the Catholic Church–into an “idol,” a false god.
    What Newman seems to be teaching, in that extremely dense and erudite text, is that the Church is guaranteed “inerrancy”–but in a space-time continuum, called “history” (which all “conservatives” like him, like Edmund Burke, too, respect immensely), and that that means, in practical terms, that the Church has a guarantee of being led, constantly, throughout history, TOWARD something which exists only in the mind of God, and which is “absolute Truth.” Religious “faith” thereby becomes that thing which Huston Smith, in his works of comparative religion, calls “trust”–trust that “all be well,” that God will keep to the terms of His “covenant” with us (but which we do not get to dictate to HIM. in terms of some legalistic, “confession”–that thing which the Biblical fundamentalists call “faith”)–that God, in other words, is not a Catholic and is not promising us that he will become one, in order to become a part of our “team.”
    For me, this means that the Catholic definition of Christian soteriology puts a higher premium on “works” than on a rationalized or logically formulated “confession of faith”–meaning that the Catholic Church cannot and will not deny the “efficacy” of the soteriology of the other world religions; that the Church CAN and WILL prescribe a “life of the moral imagination” that is both situational and tailored precisely to the SPIRIT of the actual words of Jesus Christ, in the New Testament–meaning that she is, the “papist” fundamentalists to the contrary notwithstanding, fully licensed, through the Petrine commission, to heed scientific discoveries regarding human nature and human physiology, so that the so-called “natural law” be not bound by archaic and scientifically limited perceptions of man’s possibiliities.
    So I believe that Pope Francis is fully licensed by the actual tenets of true, orthodox Catholic theology, to make many, if not ALL of the “changes” that inflexible opponents of reform are dreading, based on what they’ve heard bruited about: namely,married clergy; a sacerdotal role for women; the institutionalization of commitments of “chaste love” for the “same-sex-attracted”; the devolution of institutional power to councils of Catholic bishops; the “regularizing” of divorced couples within the sacramental life of the Church–all of it, without any detriment to the fundamental dogma of the Church.

  2. April 30, 2014 3:50 pm

    It’s not like a professor who encourages students to learn the ideas taught in the classroom while also engaging them critically.
    Actually, I think it’s very close to exactly like this; professors use teaching-based sanctions all the time, no matter how much they encourage critical thought. And one of the repeated activities of the Magisterium through the centuries has been to insist that parties to a dispute not try to close it down arbitrarily. Docility in this context quite literally is just the virtue of being open to being taught (that’s what the word means in a theological context); every teacher expects, or at least hopes for, that, since it’s a precondition of serious, non-superficial teaching.
    This might seem a stable setup, but there’s trouble below the surface. As Douthat’s speculations show, the faithful are not always clear on where this teaching authority is actually exercised.
    The trouble seems to me to be very different — namely, the idea, common to conservatives and liberals alike, that there are only particular cases where the teaching authority is ‘exercised’ and the rest of the time it is not. Since the teaching authority of the Church is simply the teaching authority of the Holy Spirit in the Church, it is being exercised all the time. What varies are (1) the modality in which the teaching happens and (2) the centrality of what is taught. Some things are rigorous definitions, and some for-the-most-part recommendations. Some things are intrinsic to the teaching authority itself, like the Incarnation or the Trinity, and others are merely instrumental to it in varying degrees. But the problem that arises is trying to lawyer around whether such-and-such is really, really taught or not; this is not to treat teaching as teaching but as something else entirely, like an arbitrary code that is itself arbitrarily enforced, and to which the proper response is not study but finding the right loopholes and legal technicalities. The whole situation is as ridiculously absurd as students weighing every statement by a professor entirely to judge its likelihood of being on the final test, rather than actually trying to grow in the subject in light of experience, reason, and authority.

  3. Mark VA permalink
    April 30, 2014 6:29 pm

    The teaching of Christ on the indissolubility of marriage is unequivocal (Luke 16:18):
    “Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband, commmitteth adultery.”
    So is its echo in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    “1644 The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”153 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”154 This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together. “
    It would be mendacious, in my opinion, to try to nuance these clear teachings to somehow allow the “indissoluble” become “dissoluble”, and then to get on with business as if nothing of substance has changed.
    In a curious parallel, the above teachings are reflected in the data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (see tables 3 and 4):
    http://stats.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/article/marriage-and-divorce-patterns-by-gender-race-and-educational-attainment.htm
    Based on these statistics, it seems that the level of education does make a big difference in keeping divorce contained, and this relationship is direct. Thus the punchline seems to be, rather than contemplating changing the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, we should do a better job teaching why it is indissoluble.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      April 30, 2014 10:01 pm

      Mark,

      the problem with citing “clear and unequivocal” scripture is that there are other equally clear passages that the Church has felt empowered to ignore. For example, Jesus’ teaching on swearing oaths. This is not to say that you are wrong; rather, I think you need to make a more nuanced defense of traditional teaching.

      • Mark VA permalink
        May 1, 2014 2:31 pm

        Thank you, Mr. Cruz-Uribe, for your comment. My reply deals exclusively with the indissolubility of marriage, where the scripture is unequivocal – nothing “traditional” about it, I hope we’ll agree.

        I think Mr. Cupp has allowed too many variables in his problem with the Magisterium, and this only invites too many tangents that may lead to nowhere. Thus I’m focusing on one issue at a time.

    • Chris Sullivan permalink
      May 1, 2014 4:28 pm

      Mark,

      “Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband, commmitteth adultery.”

      1. Adultery is not an unforgivable sin.

      2. If we read this strictly literalistically, it would prevent annulments and contradict St Paul’s allowing divorce and remarriage for converts whose pagan spouse would not live peacefully with them. Hence, scripture and tradition argue for a nuanced interpretation of this passage.

      3. Jesus admitted Judas to the last supper despite knowing that Judas had already agreed to betray him. Patristic fathers argued that Jesus even gave Judas Holy Communion. Why can’t we treat the divorced and remarried the same way Our Lord treated Judas ?

      4. The passage does not say that the wife who was put aside sins by remarriage. There is a huge difference between someone who abandons their spouse and the spouse who has been abandoned and feels the necessity to remarry.

      The challenge for the Church to to uphold the sanctity of faithful marriage while showing compassion and inclusion for the divorced and remarried.

      God Bless

  4. Jordan permalink
    April 30, 2014 7:10 pm

    dismasdolben [April 30, 2014 2:16 pm]: So I believe that Pope Francis is fully licensed by the actual tenets of true, orthodox Catholic theology, to make many, if not ALL of the “changes” that inflexible opponents of reform are dreading, [...] all of it, without any detriment to the fundamental dogma of the Church.
    It’s important to develop a definition for “inflexibility”. Ross Douthat has likened Pope Francis’s leniencies to the loss of faith in Marxism-Leninism in the late USSR. I think that’s a rather facile comparison in many respects as Pope Francis is quite faithful. Yes, many in the presbyterate and some in the epicopacy tacitly permit contraception, for example. However, parish level economy is not the same as ordaining women or permitting same-sex committment ceremonies. What Pope Francis said to the inquiring woman who has been married outside the Church is in my view a form of economy not unlike an Orthodox priests’s determination that a second ‘penitential’ wedding can proceed. Pope Francis’s inflexibility is stratified: a bit of human mercy around the edges, but no real changes to the doctrinal and dogmatic core.
    As for traddieland versus Pope Francis: the dedicated trads I know have had a major grudge against P.P. Franciscus ever since he walked out on the loggia. I don’t think that a trad uproar over Pope Francis’s phone pastoral consultations has much to do with the actual content of his pastoral care. Rather, some trads are upset that Pope Francis isn’t sweeping the major sex abuse allegations under the rug and ignoring the mob’s use of the IOR as a no-consequences ATM. For trads, it’s all about the look and trappings. It’s easier to grumble at Pope Francis for his pastoral decisions than discuss the real disjuncts between traditionalism and Pope Francis’s aggressive clean-up.

    • Mark VA permalink
      April 30, 2014 8:48 pm

      Jordan:

      I consider myself a traditional Catholic, and I know many others (that is, in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church). Your remarks about Traditional Catholicism’ s view of our Pope are not exactly on target. I think the word “cockeyed” fits rather nicely.

  5. mradeknal permalink
    May 1, 2014 8:00 am

    As a Catholic who also is concerned for orthodoxy and coherence and avoiding the appearance of “overturning past teaching” and yet who feels, instinctively, that some sort of reform surrounding marriage is necessary, these are my thoughts, which I have been trying to get “out there.”

    I would agree, first of all, that any reform will not touch the three principles the NYT article mentioned: 1) that those who are conscious of mortal sin should not approach communion without confession, 2) that adultery is objectively a mortal sin or grave matter, 3) that sex with a new partner when your spouse from a validly ratified and consummated sacramental marriage is still living…is adultery by definition with no way out of it.

    However, I think that the reform might come more in the area of “pastoral approach.” And yet “pastoral approach” can also mean a development of doctrine (albeit not a reversal of dogmas, such as the above) inasmuch as pastoral approach always “teaches” or has some theoretical foundation.

    I think specifically a few “double standards” need to be addressed:

    First, the distinction between “public” or manifest sinners, and private sinners. This idea causes no end of Phariseeism and hypocrisy in the Church and needs to be phased out of Catholic thought. Unless someone is a vocal heretic or is explicitly publicly excommunicated (no more automatic excommunications either; even Ed Peters supports getting rid of THAT vague and slippery category)…we shouldn’t be presuming anything about their soul.

    Remarried couples aren’t having sex in public! Therefore, they should get the benefit of the doubt that they are, in fact, living “as brother and sister” and should not be actively denied communion (refraining oneself, and active denial or withholding by the priest, being of course two different things in the Church’s pastoral policies). Lots of Catholic couples contracept, etc…the idea that a civilly remarried couple is somehow “manifesting” private acts isn’t applied equally across the board either, as “boyfriends and girlfriends” (though often probably having premarital sex) are given the benefit of the doubt even though their premarital couplehood is manifest (that is, unless, oddly, they move in together/”cohabitate”; another silly distinction from a previous age: I know plenty of couples who live together/share a domicile for economic reasons but are waiting until marriage for sex, and certainly plenty who fornicate who don’t live together! Sharing an apartment isn’t a declaration of sexual activity!)

    This leads into the second double standard which I think is the real “meat” of the current problem and the contradictions many people perceive: the distinction between “living in sin” and plain old sinning (which is certainly no dogma!) Many people have noticed the spiritual/moral contradiction that a man who cheats on his wife, repents, confesses and receives communion time after time is just “struggling” and “a sinner like all of us”…but that if people actually have the realism and maturity to formally separate from the relationship that isn’t working, and institutionalize the new one as something stable and responsible…then they’re “living in sin” and unable not just to receive communion, but even unable to be absolved!

    This is one area where I think there is room in Church teaching for some “development of doctrine” with pastoral effects: in the question of what exactly the “resolve to amend” necessary for a valid confession is. The Eastern Christian view sees sanctification as an ongoing “medicinal” process, not a toggle-switch of sanctifying grace; there is a gradualism to it. At the same time, they see confession as very much a prerequisite for communion in general, so there is no sense of letting people receive in a state of sin.

    Most people with any spiritual sense would say that, for example, a loving cohabiting couple are in a better place spiritually than the guy who goes out and hires prostitutes each weekend, feels guilty, swears it off, tries to abstain, only to “slip up” again and again in the guilt-repentance cycle that simply compartmentalizes rather than trying to move towards integration. And yet under current widespread thought in the Church, he can receive communion each week after he confesses, whereas the loving couple is “living in sin” and don’t even have valid intention to be absolved.

    And yet the Apostolic Penitentiary released a vademecum saying, “Sacramental absolution is not to be denied to those who, repentant after having gravely sinned against conjugal chastity, demonstrate the desire to strive to abstain from sinning again, notwithstanding relapses. In accordance with the approved doctrine and practice followed by the holy Doctors and confessors with regard to habitual penitents, the confessor is to avoid demonstrating lack of trust either in the grace of God or in the dispositions of the penitent by exacting humanly impossible absolute guarantees of an irreproachable future conduct.”

    Perhaps, then, remarried couples need merely to pay lip service to the idea that abstinence and living as brother and sister is the ideal, but then as often as they “slip up” just come to confession and mention it like every other sinner, without needing to provide “humanly impossible absolute guarantees.” I’ve seen too many people in a delusional cycle of “this is the last time!” (confess, commune, sin-again, repeat). Maybe the standard for intent to amend in confession need not be so strict or based on unrealistic (and often bad faith) expectations on the part of habitual sinners. A couple who has sex after remarriage can’t be absolved time after time unless they separate or rearrange their whole lives, but no such burdens are really put on the habitual porn user. This double standard needs to be addressed.

    And there could perhaps also be a greater emphasis on the spiritual life as, often, a series of “lesser of two evil” negotiations (also a very Eastern Christian view).

    Finally, there is also the question of internal versus external forum. The interesting thing about the Church’s teaching on annulments is…they are supposed to merely determine, in the external forum, that a marriage was ALREADY invalid. Which means that when a couple remarries and then seeks an annulment…in hindsight, they weren’t actually committing adultery ALL ALONG. So there are very real questions as to why a couple who, in conscience, believes they have personal moral certitude (in the internal forum) that their first marriage was invalid…should have to “wait” for the annulment in the external forum. It takes three years only to declare “Oh, well, you weren’t married all along, so you really WERE free to remarry this whole time!” Perhaps the Church could pastorally tolerate and give an official “wink” to couples “anticipating” annulments like this. And even if the annulment comes back negative, annulments are not infallible. There is a tension between internal and external forum here, but one that gives individual souls and pastors room to negotiate.

    Perhaps the Church could even enshrine in canon law a sort of “automatic conditional radical sanation” of remarriages after an invalid first marriage (even if annulment has not yet been determined in the external forum). In other words, declare that IF a first marriage was in fact invalid in the eyes of God (whether annulled or not), then a second marriage is automatically sanated even if it lacks canonical form (though this would not be established as a public fact unless a public determination was made). That way a couple anticipating annulment won’t be fornicating in the meantime (only to find out, “Oh, guess what, you really were free to marry all along. Sorry for making you wait”) and won’t have to time the sacramental status of their marriage from a later convalidation.

    As a final point, I think the Church could also restore something like “fraternatio” or “adelphepoeisis” to recognizes partnerships that are not marriage. This would apply to remarried couples after divorce, but the logic would seemingly extend seamlessly to same-sex pairs. The idea would be that even if the Church can’t recognize a relationship AS marriage, ie even if it can’t sanction it as sexually active, it nevertheless can recognize and celebrate the relationship/partnership/friendship itself (apart from the sex question) and therefore not leave these people feeling like they are second-class citizens or “merely tolerated.” The official teaching would be that such relationships are supposed to be celibate “like siblings,” but then there is always confession if people “slip up,” and in the case of remarriages, always the possibility (discussed above) that the first marriage really was invalid and so (if the conditional automatic sanation is in place) is a sacramental marriage even if not recognized as such in the external forum, even if in the external forum it is only recognized as this brother/sister non-marital partnership.

    I’ve spoken with Orthodox folk, and it turns out that their biggest guff over us re: marriage isn’t solvable merely some idea that their divorces could be interpreted as annulments. They actually are most concerned over the idea that we think the first marriage simply didn’t exist. I would therefore also add the following as an ecumenical gesture to the Orthodox: the current Catholic thought is that a marriage between two Christians is always the Sacrament, or else “nothing at all” (except a “putative” marriage). The Orthodox, on the other hand, have a view that seems more holistic which says that sacramental marriage starts as a natural marriage (such as exists between two pagans, etc) in the porch of the church, and then is “sacramentalized” by being brought into the Church.

    Perhaps then there is some room here to investigate the possibility (for the sake of reaching out to the East) that even if a marriage is found to not reach the level of an indissoluble sacrament (ie, an annulment), it might still have been a natural marriage (if there was no natural impediment) rather than “nothing at all” and so a subsequent remarriage would be under the Petrine privilege and have a “penitential” tone, recognizing the first relationship that tragically failed as something more than a mere non-entity.

    Perhaps the system would look like this: actual annulments in the external forum allowing for a second full-on wedding would be rare (for very basic reasons like first spouse still alive, consanguinity/incest, etc). In other cases, it would be more of a private negotiation: remarried couples would only celebrate a “fraternatio” penitential in tone with a caveat something like “IF your first marriage was valid, you’re supposed to live as brother and sister…but of course confession is available. On the otherhand it was invalid, sacramentally at least if not naturally, then the new marriage is automatically radically sanated, but unless there were an external-forum annulment that determination has to remain a private matter of conscience for you.”

    Anyway, those are my thoughts.

  6. mradeknal permalink
    May 1, 2014 8:01 am

    As a Catholic who also is concerned for orthodoxy and coherence and avoiding the appearance of “overturning past teaching” and yet who feels, instinctively, that some sort of reform surrounding marriage is necessary, these are my thoughts, which I have been trying to get “out there.”

    I would agree, first of all, that any reform will not touch the three principles the NYT article mentioned: 1) that those who are conscious of mortal sin should not approach communion without confession, 2) that adultery is objectively a mortal sin or grave matter, 3) that sex with a new partner when your spouse from a validly ratified and consummated sacramental marriage is still living…is adultery by definition with no way out of it.

    However, I think that the reform might come more in the area of “pastoral approach.” And yet “pastoral approach” can also mean a development of doctrine (albeit not a reversal of dogmas, such as the above) inasmuch as pastoral approach always “teaches” or has some theoretical foundation.

    I think specifically a few “double standards” need to be addressed:

    First, the distinction between “public” or manifest sinners, and private sinners. This idea causes no end of Phariseeism and hypocrisy in the Church and needs to be phased out of Catholic thought. Unless someone is a vocal heretic or is explicitly publicly excommunicated (no more automatic excommunications either; even Ed Peters supports getting rid of THAT vague and slippery category)…we shouldn’t be presuming anything about their soul.

    Remarried couples aren’t having sex in public! Therefore, they should get the benefit of the doubt that they are, in fact, living “as brother and sister” and should not be actively denied communion (refraining oneself, and active denial or withholding by the priest, being of course two different things in the Church’s pastoral policies). Lots of Catholic couples contracept, etc…the idea that a civilly remarried couple is somehow “manifesting” private acts isn’t applied equally across the board either, as “boyfriends and girlfriends” (though often probably having premarital sex) are given the benefit of the doubt even though their premarital couplehood is manifest (that is, unless, oddly, they move in together/”cohabitate”; another silly distinction from a previous age: I know plenty of couples who live together/share a domicile for economic reasons but are waiting until marriage for sex, and certainly plenty who fornicate who don’t live together! Sharing an apartment isn’t a declaration of sexual activity!)

    This leads into the second double standard which I think is the real “meat” of the current problem and the contradictions many people perceive: the distinction between “living in sin” and plain old sinning (which is certainly no dogma!) Many people have noticed the spiritual/moral contradiction that a man who cheats on his wife, repents, confesses and receives communion time after time is just “struggling” and “a sinner like all of us”…but that if people actually have the realism and maturity to formally separate from the relationship that isn’t working, and institutionalize the new one as something stable and responsible…then they’re “living in sin” and unable not just to receive communion, but even unable to be absolved!

    This is one area where I think there is room in Church teaching for some “development of doctrine” with pastoral effects: in the question of what exactly the “resolve to amend” necessary for a valid confession is. The Eastern Christian view sees sanctification as an ongoing “medicinal” process, not a toggle-switch of sanctifying grace; there is a gradualism to it. At the same time, they see confession as very much a prerequisite for communion in general, so there is no sense of letting people receive in a state of sin.

    Most people with any spiritual sense would say that, for example, a loving cohabiting couple are in a better place spiritually than the guy who goes out and hires prostitutes each weekend, feels guilty, swears it off, tries to abstain, only to “slip up” again and again in the guilt-repentance cycle that simply compartmentalizes rather than trying to move towards integration. And yet under current widespread thought in the Church, he can receive communion each week after he confesses, whereas the loving couple is “living in sin” and don’t even have valid intention to be absolved.

    And yet the Apostolic Penitentiary released a vademecum saying, “Sacramental absolution is not to be denied to those who, repentant after having gravely sinned against conjugal chastity, demonstrate the desire to strive to abstain from sinning again, notwithstanding relapses. In accordance with the approved doctrine and practice followed by the holy Doctors and confessors with regard to habitual penitents, the confessor is to avoid demonstrating lack of trust either in the grace of God or in the dispositions of the penitent by exacting humanly impossible absolute guarantees of an irreproachable future conduct.”

    Perhaps, then, remarried couples need merely to pay lip service to the idea that abstinence and living as brother and sister is the ideal, but then as often as they “slip up” just come to confession and mention it like every other sinner, without needing to provide “humanly impossible absolute guarantees.” I’ve seen too many people in a delusional cycle of “this is the last time!” (confess, commune, sin-again, repeat). Maybe the standard for intent to amend in confession need not be so strict or based on unrealistic (and often bad faith) expectations on the part of habitual sinners. A couple who has sex after remarriage can’t be absolved time after time unless they separate or rearrange their whole lives, but no such burdens are really put on the habitual porn user. This double standard needs to be addressed.

    And there could perhaps also be a greater emphasis on the spiritual life as, often, a series of “lesser of two evil” negotiations (also a very Eastern Christian view).

    Finally, there is also the question of internal versus external forum. The interesting thing about the Church’s teaching on annulments is…they are supposed to merely determine, in the external forum, that a marriage was ALREADY invalid. Which means that when a couple remarries and then seeks an annulment…in hindsight, they weren’t actually committing adultery ALL ALONG. So there are very real questions as to why a couple who, in conscience, believes they have personal moral certitude (in the internal forum) that their first marriage was invalid…should have to “wait” for the annulment in the external forum. It takes three years only to declare “Oh, well, you weren’t married all along, so you really WERE free to remarry this whole time!” Perhaps the Church could pastorally tolerate and give an official “wink” to couples “anticipating” annulments like this. And even if the annulment comes back negative, annulments are not infallible. There is a tension between internal and external forum here, but one that gives individual souls and pastors room to negotiate.

    Perhaps the Church could even enshrine in canon law a sort of “automatic conditional radical sanation” of remarriages after an invalid first marriage (even if annulment has not yet been determined in the external forum). In other words, declare that IF a first marriage was in fact invalid in the eyes of God (whether annulled or not), then a second marriage is automatically sanated even if it lacks canonical form (though this would not be established as a public fact unless a public determination was made). That way a couple anticipating annulment won’t be fornicating in the meantime (only to find out, “Oh, guess what, you really were free to marry all along. Sorry for making you wait”) and won’t have to time the sacramental status of their marriage from a later convalidation.

    As a final point, I think the Church could also restore something like “fraternatio” or “adelphepoeisis” to recognizes partnerships that are not marriage. This would apply to remarried couples after divorce, but the logic would seemingly extend seamlessly to same-sex pairs. The idea would be that even if the Church can’t recognize a relationship AS marriage, ie even if it can’t sanction it as sexually active, it nevertheless can recognize and celebrate the relationship/partnership/friendship itself (apart from the sex question) and therefore not leave these people feeling like they are second-class citizens or “merely tolerated.” The official teaching would be that such relationships are supposed to be celibate “like siblings,” but then there is always confession if people “slip up,” and in the case of remarriages, always the possibility (discussed above) that the first marriage really was invalid and so (if the conditional automatic sanation is in place) is a sacramental marriage even if not recognized as such in the external forum, even if in the external forum it is only recognized as this brother/sister non-marital partnership.

    I’ve spoken with Orthodox folk, and it turns out that their biggest guff over us re: marriage isn’t solvable merely some idea that their divorces could be interpreted as annulments. They actually are most concerned over the idea that we think the first marriage simply didn’t exist. I would therefore also add the following as an ecumenical gesture to the Orthodox: the current Catholic thought is that a marriage between two Christians is always the Sacrament, or else “nothing at all” (except a “putative” marriage). The Orthodox, on the other hand, have a view that seems more holistic which says that sacramental marriage starts as a natural marriage (such as exists between two pagans, etc) in the porch of the church, and then is “sacramentalized” by being brought into the Church.

    Perhaps then there is some room here to investigate the possibility (for the sake of reaching out to the East) that even if a marriage is found to not reach the level of an indissoluble sacrament (ie, an annulment), it might still have been a natural marriage (if there was no natural impediment) rather than “nothing at all” and so a subsequent remarriage would be under the Petrine privilege and have a “penitential” tone, recognizing the first relationship that tragically failed as something more than a mere non-entity.

    Perhaps the system would look like this: actual annulments in the external forum allowing for a second full-on wedding would be rare (for very basic reasons like first spouse still alive, consanguinity/incest, etc). In other cases, it would be more of a private negotiation: remarried couples would only celebrate a “fraternatio” penitential in tone with a caveat something like “IF your first marriage was valid, you’re supposed to live as brother and sister…but of course confession is available. On the otherhand it was invalid, sacramentally at least if not naturally, then the new marriage is automatically radically sanated, but unless there were an external-forum annulment that determination has to remain a private matter of conscience for you.”

    • Chris Sullivan permalink
      May 1, 2014 4:39 pm

      Pope Benedict raised the interesting point about just how “sacramental” a sacramental marriage actually is in practice between 2 nominal but nonpracticing young Catholics ? The original idea of sacramental marriage presupposed practicing Catholics regularly participating in the Church and receiving the sacraments. But for non-praticising Catholics, their marriage seems to be less sacramental and more akin to natural marriages, which can be dissolved under certain conditions.

      If such a marriage failed, the failure quite possibly contributed to by the spouses lack of practicing faith, and one partner then wanted to remarry and return to active faith, the situation seems rather akin to the Pauline privilege.

      God Bless

  7. Stuart permalink
    May 1, 2014 9:10 am

    Trads are no more true to every teaching than anyone else. For instance, they weasel around opposition to the death penalty. The Church teaches, and I believe, that all life is sacred from conception to natural death. You can’t erase that sacredness by committing a crime, even the worst crime. Hitler, Judas, Bin Laden–they all retained the unerasable Right to Life. Society can separate a criminal from the rest of the population, but only God can take a life. Trads say, against the teaching of the Church, that the Right to Life applies only to the innocent, and they are simply wrong. They are not Pro-Life. But try to tell them that.

    • TradTim permalink
      May 1, 2014 10:09 am

      Except this sort of absolute opposition to the death penalty only appeared in the last 50 years and even JPII’s catechism phrases things in a convoluted way such as to make clear an idea something like “theoretically the state has this right, but we don’t like it and it’s practically almost never justified as a necessity.” But then that’s a prudential judgment involving questions of the causative power of deterrence, psychological retribution, etc

      There’s a good argument to be made that human life is (in the deep unconscious sense) MORE “sacred” psychologically when taking a life is treated as so seriously that your life must in turn be taken. Yes, it seems a contradiction, but really it’s more a paradox: the human psyche is not some sort of sophomoric logic.

      Of course, Christian mercy and charity propose that forgiveness alone can stop the cycle of “sacrificial” violence inherent to the human psyche. But even that took a “final” execution of an (innocent) Victim. And the extraordinary and supernatural nature of Christian love doesn’t cancel out nature or the ordinary rights of justice.

      The Church has never, not even recently, excluded the theoretical right if the State to punish and even kill bodies.

      • dismasdolben permalink
        May 2, 2014 9:28 am

        The death penalty was always anti-Christian, and it doesn’t matter that the “discovery” of its anti-Christian nature is new, and a “development” away from what the Thomist philosophers thought of it. This goes right to the heart of why the Church is given license to “discover,” in a time-space continuum, the full meaning of the Gospels and the logic of a Christocentric theology.

        To be as succinct as possible, I will tell you, as briefly as I can, why the death penalty is sinful and condemned by the logic of Sacred Scripture: it’s because it’s a form of IDOLATRY that promotes violence, because it publicly idolizes man’s violent nature, and has an enormously corruptive influence on the most impressionable members of society, the young. And it absolutely does not provide “closure,” as I once discovered as a child, when I took an eldritch delight in a certain execution.

        I tell you this as someone who ALSO believes in retributive justice. In fact, I believe so much in retributive justice that I would not grant appeals for reduction of sentences for very many crimes, and especially not for murder. However, a death sentence, like no other punishment the state inflicts, is irreversible; it demands of juries that they “play God,” in the same essentially atheistic fashion that an appeals board does: the appeals board cannot know that an individual has been “reformed,” because it cannot pry into the mystery of an individual criminal’s human’s nature, which I, like Dostoevsky, believe requires the dignity of an appropriate punishment for the free choice the criminal made in choosing to commit his crime—rather than the disrespect that an “appeals board” would extend to him, in deciding that they “know” him so well as to feel confident that his mysterious human nature has been “reformed.” So neither can any impanelled jury of “twelve good men and true” presume to know , beyond a shadow of a doubt , that someone is either guilty of the crime he’s been charged with, or whether his nature is incorrigible. We don’t know these things absolutely—only God does, and the state must not be permitted, in a Christian polity, to “play God.”

        A deeply religious person’s objection to my position is, of course, that, if the condemned ever would have genuinely repented during what would have been the remainder of his life, God would, of course, provide him sufficient grace to do so before an execution. I was once silenced by that argument, presented to me years ago, by a Calvinist acquaintance. However, something in my interior conscience was still whispering to me that death penalties are wrong and spiritually corruptive. This was actually a memory—of the trial and execution, when I was very young, of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. I had spent an entire summer with my grandparents in New York City, watching the trial of Eichmann, and, as I am one-fourth Jewish, and some of my living, older relatives were, at the time, I caught their hatred for Eichmann and the other operators of the Shoah. When Eichmann was hanged, I rejoiced and went and got dozens of my toy soldiers, built gallows all that summer’s day, and pretended to hang Adolf Eichmann. At the end of that day, I felt sick and drained—and not at all relieved that someone evil had been dismissed from our world, and not the least bit aware of any catharsis or “closure.” Instead, my hatred was still simmering within me, stronger than ever.

        I don’t want children growing up in a world in which “twelve good men and true” presume to “play God,” and I don’t want them believing that human nature is reducible to a court verdict or to a plea-board’s assessment. Because no punishment is so violent as the death penalty, for it to be enshrined in our laws means than an ostensibly Christian society is formally denying the truth of the Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ—that violence is no solution and that, without “turning the other cheek,” human karma dictates that violence metastasizes in the corporate human body.

        When John Paul II outlawed capital punishment as being something illegitimate for Catholic Christians to participate in or support, he was using the “prophetic” function of his “teaching Magisterium,” and “discovering” something that is more in the spirit of Sacred Scripture and orthodox Catholic theology than what had heretofore prevailed, and it was a legitimate exercise of his “Petrine” office to do so.

        Here’s <a href=http://freebeacon.com/blog/botched-oklahoma-execution-proves-its-time-to-bring-back-the-guillotine/ an example of what would contribute to the corruption of any child’s moral compass regarding violence

        This person is sincere and doesn’t recognize what the violence of a punishment soaked in blood would do the psyches of the impressionable. I would argue that he is also, at least temperamentally, an atheist (but I think that most Americans—especially Protestant Fundamentalists and “Tea-Partiers” are temperamentally atheistic!)

        The French, a more civilized people than the Americans—and definitely a much more Catholic country, culturally—outlawed the guillotine for solid ethical reasons.

    • Jordan permalink
      May 1, 2014 7:29 pm

      TradTim [May 1, 2014 10:09 am]: But even that took a “final” execution of an (innocent) Victim. And the extraordinary and supernatural nature of Christian love doesn’t cancel out nature or the ordinary rights of justice.

      To say that Christ’s execution under the wheel of Rome can be a just mirror of capital punishment in human law is incomprehensibly peverse. The love of the cross, the complete reunion of fallen creation with God in Christ’s salvific act, cannot distinguish between the human soul as archetype and particular souls. Human law, which imperfectly reflects natural law, can say that a crime will ultimately deprive a person of a soulless life, a twitching heart. Human legislation distorts natural law in the interest of human retribution, a bloodlust which cannot see the human soul. pro multis, “the many” of the Mass comprises the unlimited crowd of souls which spread across time, all of whom are washed in the infinite justice of the lamb’s blood. The ability of any person to be forgiven and receive justification is the highest law which Catholics must advocate, as lex talionis has been destroyed by the new creation in Christ.

      • TradTimothy permalink
        May 1, 2014 9:36 pm

        I’m going off Girard here. Humans kill/execute in a sort of snowballing “scapegoat” process. According to him, by being an innocent victim instead of a guilty one, Christ ended the cycle. Ended it for those who believe, of course. But many don’t (or don’t internalize it), and for them punishing murder with death at least some of the time interrupts on a deep subconscious level what could otherwise be an escalating cycle of violence. Just because YOU’RE enlightened doesn’t mean all people are. Things don’t just develop across multiple civilizations without a deep rooting in the human psyche (yes, the fallen human psyche) and the death penalty is one of those things with just such a deep anthropo-logic.

      • Jordan permalink
        May 2, 2014 7:37 pm

        TradTimothy, a Catholic must confess that an anthropological or cultural contingent morality can never triumph. Through Holy Scripture and the magisterium of the Church we are guided forward to an expression of charity and mercy that does not base itself on the base drives of persons. Even a person who refuses to countenance that no person may take the life of another person, or who cannot understand the bankruptcy of moral contingency, is nevertheless culpable to some degree for the desire to kill in retribution. How then can any person call herself a Christian if she cannot concede that a human desire for retribution is corrupted, regardless of its genesis or longevity?

        In his analysis of Oedipus Rex, Rene Girard notes that the suicide of Jocasta and Oedipus’s self-blinding is not the moment of differentation or the “reset” of human violent anarchy through scapegoating. The realization of the futility of violence arrives after Oedipus loses his sight, both physically and metaphorically. He is blinded twice over because he realizes that his murder and incest cannot be absolved by self-mutilation. Is this any different than the families of victims who say that justice has been served by execution? I would suppose they have blinded themselves in ignorance and rage, and must carry this blindness for the rest of their lives.

        The Holy Cross Preface succinctly states,

        Qui salutem humani generis in ligno Crucis constituisti: ut, unde mors oriebatur, inde vita resurgeret: et, qui in ligno vincebat, in ligno quoque vinceretur [...]

        This is a succinct refutation of moral contingency.

        • Tradangel permalink
          May 3, 2014 9:39 am

          The State is not the Church, though.

          This is where your attitude introduces a utopian naïveté.

          Yes, the death penalty would be contrary to the spirit of the community of saints. But the State isn’t that. The State is a brutish barbaric thing in a brutish barbaric world.

          “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above…”

          The Church holds it’s nose at the State IN GENERAL and just sort of “tolerates” it (all government is is institutionalized violence). But that doesn’t mean the Church is actually anarchist. Or it’s radical ideal may be, but it’s also eminently realist and pragmatist when it comes to the “dirty work” that the State has to do in a fallen world.

          It’s easy for you to act all high and mighty from a position where you don’t have to get your hands dirty. But the church’s view of politics is, in the end, pragmatist not idealistic as it is arguably moreso for the individual.

          If we lived in your cloudcuckooland there would be no murder in the first place, so there would be no question of execution anyway. But we’re talking about the realities of a dog-eat-dog world in which the temporal kingdom is not the kingdom of heaven.

          So I think the Christian’s attitude is ambivalence towards the State in general. Not some set of notions that there can ever be a “good state” that is “doing things right.” There are only “less bad” States, but in no absolute sense is the death penalty excluded by the Church.

          I don’t like it, I’d like us to move beyond it, but I’m not sure how realistic that is, and in the messy vicissitudes of the secular world, Catholics are free to support it as a prudential question.

  8. Stuart permalink
    May 1, 2014 12:15 pm

    TradTim, what you’re saying makes sense–for a Protestant. But it simply isn’t Catholic teaching. You really, honestly can’t support the death penalty. Right to Life can’t be erased. The same arguments you use can be used to support euthanasia–by Protestants. “If, because of disease or crime, a human life has lost its inherent worth, then we can take that life.” But that is not what the Church teaches. Only God can take a life. Since we can keep criminals safely away from society, we have no use for the death penalty to protect society.

    Also, Catholics can’t support any of the wars of the last 50 years in that none of them have been declared to have been a just war by the Vatican. You can’t support drone strikes on civilians or politicians who support those strikes. You can’t support carpet bombing. You can’t support economic sanctions which harm civilians. Look it up.

    Also, Catholics are called to support immigration reform as a life issue.

    The Church never taught, until recently, that life began at conception. Aquinas and Augustine didn’t think that, and abortion in the first trimester was never a sin until the last century. Can we see the current teaching prohibiting abortion and the death penalty as development of doctrine?

    If you want to talk yourself out of these things and become a “cafeteria Catholic,” that’s fine–but trads work their way around Church teachings the same way they accuse liberal Catholics. They want to support the death penalty, war, and deportation, so they play around with the clear teaching of the Catechism. There is just as much heresy in the Register as the Reporter.

    Incidentally, a vote to keep medically necessary abortion legal is not a vote promoting abortion. I could be a Hindu who votes to keep eating meat legal while still working to convert people to vegetarianism. I could be a Muslim who votes to keep violin playing legal while working to show people that Allah forbids musical instruments. One can be a Catholic and vote for a world where freely chosen abortions never happen.

    • Tradangel permalink
      May 1, 2014 6:06 pm

      I’m sorry Stuart, but the things you mention are prudential questions not heresy. As long as a Catholic assents to just war theory, he doesn’t need the Vatican’s approval to support a particular war or military tactic as long as he sincerely believes that it meets the criteria. The Church proposes the principles, but the application to concrete cases is up to the individual conscience in prudence, and the pope’s opinion, while respected, doesn’t bind in such matters.

      In this sense, all the alleged conservative “heresy” isn’t any such thing (though I’d agree that neither is a vote for non-criminalization the same as a vote promoting abortion; this too is prudential and the Right should admit it).

      As for abortion in the first trimester not being a sin before this century??? You’ve got your history wrong. There was debate through the Middle Ages about when the rational spirit was infused or ensouled, but abortion at all stages was always a sin, and not just a sin of contraception, but considered a sin against life (even if the “ensouled not at forty days” crowd might say merely “virtual homicide” as opposed to actual).

      As for capital punishment, you’re also wrong. The catechism itself says: “2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty,”

      The question of “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor” is a prudential judgment.

  9. Stuart permalink
    May 2, 2014 2:16 pm

    So, if every teaching we disagree with is simply a “prudential judgment” we don’t have to agree with or act on, how is that different from being an Anglican? What’s the point of the teaching authority if all it can offer is prudential judgment? Or if we, as laymen, get to decide for ourselves what’s a clear teaching and what’s a prudential judgment? That’s like applying the Baptist concepts of “priesthood of all believers” and “soul freedom” to Church teaching.

    It is my “prudential judgment” that outlawing abortion is not an effective way of deterring abortion and that gay marriage is not a threat to sacramental marriage–why are conservatives mad at me if I am simply using the same “prudential judgment” which allows them to support the death penalty and deportation?

    Read Alphonse Ligouri on abortion.

    • Tradangel permalink
      May 2, 2014 7:20 pm

      Because the conservatives are hypocrites.

      Teaching authority is not “all” prudential judgments. The principles are quite dogmatic. The application is not.

      Anyone who calls someone a heretic for actions instead of statements is committing a category error.

      The catechism allows “recourse to the death penalty.” Not only did JPII not change anything, he didn’t even attempt to.

  10. Stuart permalink
    May 2, 2014 9:36 pm

    The death penalty is licit only under very limited circumstances which the Catechism and JPII say are practically nonexistent. If there is a way to protect society from the criminal without killing him, then we cannot support the death penalty in that instance. You can’t use the death penalty under any other circumstances. Since it is unlikely that we cannot find a prison to hold even the worst murderer, there is no just reason to ever apply the death penalty.

    If you justify the death penalty for any other reason than there is no other way to protect society from the criminal, no way to keep him safely locked up, then you are not following clear Catholic teaching.

    Because it is licit to perform an abortion if there is absolutely no other way to save a mother’s life (and, yes it is, look it up), that doesn’t make abortion licit for any other reason. Since it is unlikely that the circumstance will arise that an abortion is the only way to save the life of the mother, there is no realistic reason to have an abortion.

    • Tradangel permalink
      May 3, 2014 8:58 am

      First, the catechism hedges here because it knows it can’t introduce new teaching. So it says something like “authority will limit itself” (an odd phrasing, “will” instead of “must” or even “should”) and then the rather weak motive “because this is more in keeping with” principles rather than “because this is an absolute moral requirement” or “because anything else is condemned.”

      But even granting that your “only if” were an absolute in-principle requirement…the question of what constitutes “effective” defense remains a prudential judgment. The Vatican has voiced its opinion that in the modern world the death penalty is almost never necessary for effective defense of public safety and common good, but that’s such a historically contingent judgment, it can only be prudential, and Catholics are free to say “no, I think it is necessary for the most effective defense still” (perhaps via deterrence, etc). Even the CDF confirmed this leeway under JPII.

      Remember Ratzinger’s memorandum on this:

      ” For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty”

      • Stuart permalink
        May 3, 2014 4:23 pm

        The Catechism hedges?!? That’s an odd statement for a traditionalist.

        The statement you quote is Pope Benedict trying to disagree with Pope John Paul II. Pope Francis could make a similar statement: “For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on contraception, communion after divorce, or support of same-sex civil unions, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.” Because I’m going to hazard a guess that’s the teaching that’s going to come out of this October’s meeting on the family. Not a change in teaching, but a set of “prudential judgments” which will allow greater freedom in pastoral situations.

        • TradAngel permalink
          May 3, 2014 7:07 pm

          “ratzinger trying to disagree with John Paul.”

          Please. Ratzinger then became pope himself. Is there no end to your attempts to try to make the magisterium condemn something it hasn’t condemned??

  11. Julia Smucker permalink*
    May 2, 2014 10:48 pm

    I don’t think the problem is with teaching authority per se, nor that it is a fair portrayal of said authority to say that it expects nothing of the faithful but unengaged, passive acceptance (I like Brandon Watson’s theological definition of docility, in one of the earlier comments above, as “the virtue of being open to being taught”).

    I also don’t think the problem, on the particular question of remarriage and sacramental reception, is with the indissolubility of marriage. The real problem here, to my mind, is that there are two questions conflated into one: 1) whether the Church can or should recognize the dissolution of a valid sacramental marriage covenant, and 2) whether admission to the sacraments would necessarily constitute the validation of a remarriage. Douthat’s columns linked in this post help me to better understand why and how these questions are intertwined into a pretty knotty pastoral and doctrinal problem, and a few commenters here have been making some intriguingly nuanced attempts to untangle it – which actually represents a great counter-example to the stereotype of passivity by respectfully engaging magisterial teaching.

    In any case, I still wonder, could the answer to BOTH of the above questions be no?

    • Chris Sullivan permalink
      May 4, 2014 4:08 pm

      You may be correct, Julia, that the answer to both of your questions may well be “no”.

      Only God knows for sure whether a particular marriage really is valid and sacramental. I expect that the spouses themselves may well know their situation better than external judges, a point Cardinal Ratzinger once raised:

      c. Admittedly, it cannot be excluded that mistakes occur in marriage cases. In some parts of the Church, well-functioning marriage tribunals still do not exist. Occasionally, such cases last an excessive amount of time. Once in a while they conclude with questionable decisions. Here it seems that the application of epikeia in the internal forum is not automatically excluded from the outset. This is implied in the 1994 letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which it was stated that new canonical ways of demonstrating nullity should exclude “as far as possible” every divergence from the truth verifiable in the judicial process (cf. No. 9). Some theologians are of the opinion that the faithful ought to adhere strictly even in the internal forum to juridical decisions which they believe to be false. Others maintain that exceptions are possible here in the internal forum, because the juridical forum does not deal with norms of divine law, but rather with norms of ecclesiastical law. This question, however, demands further study and clarification. Admittedly, the conditions for asserting an exception would need to be clarified very precisely, in order to avoid arbitrariness and to safeguard the public character of marriage, removing it from subjective decisions.

      http://www.osservatoreromano.va/en/news/the-pastoral-approach-to-marriage-must-be-founded-#.UulAWPZ21dg

      God Bless

  12. sicutcervus permalink
    May 8, 2014 2:43 am

    “Douthat has, perhaps inadvertently, shined a light on the fundamental instability of ecclesiastical teaching authority.”

    ## And how !

    Regardless of the theology, dogma, canon law, and what not, doctrine is only as unchangeable and non-negotiable & definitive (as JP2 said on a certain subject) as it is allowed to be. IOW, practices regarded – because of their doctrinal implications – as meriting Papal rebuke when indulged in by Cardinal Gibbons in 1893, and condemned by Pius XI (for whom a cause has been opened) are regarded as saintly when JP2 does them.
    And yet, B16 denounced relativism quite a lot. Maybe it was “the wrong kind of” relativism, or wasn’t officially sanctioned.

    If Pope A says X is bad/forbidden/liable to “incur the wrath of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul”/grounds for excommunication (or, not so long ago, execution); and if Pope B say X is good/right/ecumenical/a new orientation for the Church/a gift of the Spirit/an expression of the New Pentecost/suchlike – that is also more than slightly problematic.

    It’s problematic because, logically, if its OK to be pan-Christian & pan-religious now – why was it wrong in the past ? But as the past practice or doctrine has changed – how was it not immoral and wicked to make such a fuss about the past practice or doctrine, seeing as, after all, it was changeable ? And why should anyone care a damn for what the magisterium says on – say – pelvic issues, when it has unsaid other doctrines ? It may be very sure for the present that being gay is disordered – but what reason is ther toi think that it will not unsay this as well ? And in the meantime, its teaching will have made life pretty good Hell for thousands on all sides of that particular issue. The instability of the Church’s teaching has a human cost – and it seems blissfully unaware of this. There were no apologies in 2007 to all those parents whose unbaptised infants were buried in unconsecrated ground while the Church still thought there was a Limbo – the Church dropped the doctrine, with not a word of recognition of what believing it, on the Church’s say-so, had cost all those parents. The cruelty of this is unbearable. But it seems to be typical of Rome.

    This means that the infallibility of the Church (which was a dogma, but apparently no longer) is falsified into nothingness. It seems that the only way to survive in the CC is to have no convictions at all.

    By trying to dogmatise things, the Church is guilty of presumption. It tries, in effect, to extend its authority over all time to come – but only God is Lord of past and present and future. By trying that, it denies God the freedom to work as He Wills – insofar as it can, that is, since no Church, however arrogant & Lucifer-like, can possibly thwart God in reality. This instability is the result of its hubris. What is so absurd is, that the Church does not need dogma at all. By trying to bind the Church with dogmas, it is trying to replace the God-given bonds of union, such as the Love of God, the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God. J23′s officious arrogance in trying to manufacture his own Pentecost – as if that of the Holy Spirit wasn’t up to scratch ! – clearly has a long pedigree.

    Solution – ditch dogma entirely, and return to Christ instead.

  13. sicutcervus permalink
    May 8, 2014 2:48 am

    Forgot to say – an excellent article. If only it were longer – this is a can of worms or 10 that needs to opened right up, ASAP.

    Again – great article.

  14. sicutcervus permalink
    May 8, 2014 3:17 am

    “Trads are no more true to every teaching than anyone else. For instance, they weasel around opposition to the death penalty.”

    ## So – all that mass of Church Tradition that defended it, called heretics those who opposed it, canonised those who practiced it, regarded as Doctors several of those defended it, was infallibly right in teaching it was OK (something which by even the strictest definition surely comes under “faith and morals”) – is after all not infallible, and is to be ditched in favour of novelties not even a lifetime old.

    Traditionalists do at least not trash centuries of Sacred Tradition for the sake of replacing it by their own novelties. It is not the past that needs justification, but the present that turns round and tell people to ignore the past. Unless the CC has abolished the principle of contradiction, or else thinks that Catholicism is every Pope’s to re-make in his own image and likeness, it is not possible to believe both the past doctrine defending the lawfulness of the DP, and the present doctrine in CCC 2565 that all but denies it.

    Since even JP2 did not go quite so far as to deny the lawfulness of the DP in CCC 2565, presumably he too can be said to have been “weaselly” on the subject. When the CC denies its own Tradition, it cuts its own throat & makes itself meaningless & incoherent.

  15. sicutcervus permalink
    May 8, 2014 3:41 am

    “The death penalty was always anti-Christian, and it doesn’t matter that the “discovery” of its anti-Christian nature is new, and a “development” away from what the Thomist philosophers thought of it.”

    ## Then there is no reason to believe a word of any of the Church’s dogmas. What else will be found to have been “always anti-Christian” ? The Church’s opposition to gay sex, perhaps ? People used to be burned for that. So much for the canonisations of various Inquisitors, like Saint Pedro Arbues & Saint Pius V, and Saint Peter Martyr – they can’t be Saints, because they were employed by or strongly favoured an institution that did something that “was always anti-Christian”. Therefore the Popes who canonised them were advising the Faithful to emulate men who should not be emulated. Therefore, those Popes led the Faithful astray.

    If Sacred Tradition was in such egregious error over the DP, and for so long, and if Saints & Doctors & Popes & theologians & canonists were so ignorant of Christ as to suppose that the DP was not “always anti-Christian” – what reason is there to imagine that today’s teachers of doctrine are any more reliable, and will in not, in time to come, be found to be equally wrong ? And what are we being taught, now, that will then be discovered to be “anti-Christian” ?

    Logically, your position leads to scepticism about eerything the Church teaches, bar nothing. (If you don’t believe that authority is worth anything, fair enough – I have no idea what you believe, so I may be attributing to you ideas you don’t hold. If so, please accept my apologies.)

    • Mark VA permalink
      May 8, 2014 8:11 pm

      Sicutcervus:

      I’m having a difficult time deciding if your four posts qualify as a “harangue”, or just a good old fashioned “rant”.

      In any case, my unsolicited advise to you is, focus your thoughts, and choose just one issue. Talking about a bunch of things all at the same time, sounds like this in my head:

      Now, it would be much better if it sounded like this, instead:

    • dismasdolben permalink
      May 10, 2014 9:03 am

      Sicutverus, have you ever seen the famous quote from Giuseppe de Lampedusa’s great novel The Leopard “We change, in order to remain the same”? If you don’t understand that quote on any level, I should like to suggest to you that you really don’t understand the “Holy Spirit’s” protection of the Catholic and Apostolic Church from “inerrancy.” Fundamentalism, as in Protestant Scriptural literacy, is actually a denial of the Catholic Church’s right to GROW in closeness to the SPIRIT of Sacred Scripture. THAT, rather than some religous version of “strict constructionism,” is what the “infallability” of the Catholic Church actually means. You sound like a Protestant, my friend–and an American Fundamentalist one, at that.

      • May 11, 2014 3:34 am

        That we must change in order to remain the same is precisely why we cannot bow to the Roman Catholic or Protestant or Eastern Orthodox churches if we are to submit to the authority of Christ. His vehicle for us today is the kingdom of God, which is spiritually, not humanly, administered.

        • dismasdolben permalink
          May 11, 2014 12:09 pm

          Mr. Gantt, what you and a whole lot of your Protestant brethren in America will never understand about us Catholics is that we actually BELIEVE in the “miracle of transubstantiation,” and we actually BELIEVE in the “guidance” by a “Holy Spirit” of the corporate “Body of Christ.” Also, contrary to what you seem to think (and what a lot of ultramontane, Right-Wing American Catholics writing here seem to think) there is NOTHING in Catholic theology that demands a wholesale surrender of conscience to any human institution. I strongly sugges that you read John Henry Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, if you believe such a thing.

    • Stuart permalink
      May 10, 2014 8:01 pm

      We know more about homosexuality than we have in any other century. The earlier Church taught as best She could about homosexuality based on the information She had, but now that there is new information, She can reexamine the earlier approaches and see if they are in line with what we have learned lately through natural revelation, i.e., science.

      Alongside the tradition which opposes what it calls sodomy, there has also been a tradition of covenental same-sex relationships, from Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, Daniel and Asphenaz, the Centurion and his pais, Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, Blessed John Henry Newman and John St. Ambrose, We can also look anew at the writings of St. Aelred and St. Hildegard of Bingen, who is a doctor of the Church. We can seek a better understanding of what Isaiah, Jesus, and Luke meant by “eunuch.” We can also learn what the liturgy of adelphopoesis was about and how it might be seen in today’s culture. The Holy Spirit is constantly bringing out both new and old things for us to look at.

      The function of the teaching authority is not to simply and blindly repeat what has been said for centuries, but to discern the truth of the Gospel as it needs to preached today. At least, that’s what I’m getting from Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium. Of course, I’m one of those hopeless liberals who think Pope Francis is a legitimate pope. :)

  16. Jordan permalink
    May 12, 2014 6:35 am

    One point that’s gone untouched in this discussion is the emotional and subjective reception of authority. It is important to keep in mind at all times that certain persons will be more deferential to authority than others. Should I slam the “Fascist!” button right now? No. Still, as has already been written here, different Catholics will view development of doctrine differently.

    dismasdolben [May 11, 2014 12:09 pm] notes,

    Also, contrary to what you seem to think (and what a lot of ultramontane, Right-Wing American Catholics writing here seem to think) there is NOTHING in Catholic theology that demands a wholesale surrender of conscience to any human institution

    Sure, there is no requirement to entirely subjugate the mind and intellect to ultramontanism. The subjugation of the self to what one perceives to be ultramontanism is for some is almost parental in its lowest psychological substratum. It’s as if ultramontanism is a father who, in return for absolute deference, offers a nearly conditional affection. The Church’s volte-face on DP in the postconciliar period is, I believe, more difficult for many not only because of the development of doctrine, but also that the submission to doctrine is now more ambiguous from an authoritarian standpoint. The bright lines no longer demarcate what curries favor and what does not, so the authoritarian mindset tries for the “more ancient” teaching. Perhaps this is why JP2′s public pronouncements and the CCC did not unequivocally condemn state execution, although I sense that after his experiences with Nazism and the Polish People’s Republic he would issue an even stronger denunciation of the practice if not hindered by theological and magisterial history. However, his deference to St. Thomas Aquinas and papal precedent was wise: this recognition (but not validation) of an older traditions has permitted authoritarians to stay within the Church.

  17. lcarriere permalink
    May 13, 2014 2:53 pm

    I say let us have faith. Doubt no longer, but believe in God. Cast your fears of schism & all manner of disaster on the Lord. And trust that the Spirit of the Living God, the Advocate promised by the risen Christ Jesus, is steadfastly guiding his Spouse the Church throughout the centuries. Repent and believe the Good News. :)

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