The flu has hit me, and sitting at a desk for more than 10 or so minutes has been nigh impossible. That has been all the more galling seeing some of the latest developments in Dubiagate. Even prelates for whom I had conserved some respect are managing the amazing feat of supporting the insupportable.
In fact, one wonders if irony is finally dead. Thus, from America magazine,
Archbishop Mark Coleridge thinks some of his fellow prelates are afraid of confronting reality.
Now one might have assumed he was going to state the obvious: that those prelates and curial apparatchiks chiding i quattro cardinali for publishing their five dubia regarding the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia in the wake of their being ignored by Pope Francis are very much out of order, and refusing to face the reality that pragmatic perversion of general pastoral policy cannot supplant the teaching of Christ.
But no, His Grace of Brisbane is chiding those prelates, and by implication i quattro cardinali, for seeking clarity in Church teaching and practice. Yes, irony must be dead.
At times at the synod I heard voices that sounded very clear and certain but only because they never grappled with the real question or never dealt with the real facts… So there’s a false clarity that comes because you don’t address reality, and there’s a false certainty that can come for the same reason… I think what Pope Francis wants is a church that moves toward clarity and certainty on certain issues after we’ve grappled with the issues, not before… In other words, he wants a genuine clarity and a genuine certainty rather than the artificial clarity or certainty that comes when you never grapple with the issues.
A (C)hurch that moves towards clarity. On some issues there is an authentic lack of clarity, such as the population of hell. Is it full or is it empty? The Church has made no definitive statement, and for the obvious reason that it cannot make one. However, with regard to the Lord’s teaching on marriage, there is not much in the gospels that has more clarity.
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:2-12)
This passage from St Mark will reward careful and prayerful meditation. The Pharisees are out to test Jesus, by yet again trying to trap him in the tangled web of the Law of Moses (tangled by them, not Moses). Would Jesus dare to contradict the great lawgiver Moses? Instead Jesus gives the “pastoral reality” behind the teaching of Moses: the people’s hardness of heart. Then he reminds the Pharisees that God’s original law was clear, that by marriage a man and a woman become one flesh, by God’s grace and not merely human will.
St Paul will later explain this union of man and woman as one flesh in marriage as a sacrament of Christ’s eternal union with his Body the Church. Marriage has a cosmic significance. Which is why marriage is not a vocation, despite the modern approach (so disastrous to real vocations); it is the default setting hardwired into humanity, and only a divine vocation legitimately calls us from that default setting.
But back to Jesus. Our Lord has acknowledged the pastoral reality, and responded with a new and dazzling clarity that supersedes the permissiveness with which the Pharisees have self-interestedly corrupted the law of Moses, making of an exception a norm. Later with the disciples, he confirms the full import of his teaching: that to divorce and then to attempt to marry another is to commit adultery, because man cannot separate what God has joined.
Is our Lord being cruel? Unjust? Rigid? Cruel and unjust, no. Rigid, yes. Sometimes rigidity is necessary. Drink-driving, which is to say, driving over the prescribed level of alcohol in the blood-stream, is always wrong. It mortally endangers both the driver and innocent bystanders and road-users. In most countries the law on this is applied rigidly, precisely because of the danger involved. There is no let-off with a warning. For their own ultimate good, the guilty are prosecuted. The penalty may show some leniency but the prosecution is relentless, and rigid.
In attempted remarriage after civil divorce (for there is no Christian divorce) there is effectively both an act of sacrilege against the sacrament of marriage, and an act of lése-majesté against God who has made the married couple into one flesh as a sacramental icon of Christ’s union with his Church, with us. These are serious sins, and the Church would be a negligent mother indeed if she did not warn us against them. Likewise, to receive the Lord’s Eucharistic Body while in a state of unrepented and unmitigated serious sin is a sacrilege, always and without exception, making of the Eucharist poison to the soul. The Church would be a negligent mother indeed not to warn us against it.
So are Christ and his Church without mercy, without pastoral insight into the “reality” of people’s lives? Brave, and foolishly so, is the person who says so. The Church has made clear for some time that living separately, especially in the case of an abusive or unfaithful spouse, is a legitimate pragmatic response to a dire situation. Perhaps even civil divorce, to achieve a purely civil resolution, might be permissible. Attempting remarriage is not. “For better or for worse” the original marriage remains the only possible marriage till the death of one of the spouses. It is a hard truth, but truth nevertheless. It is not God or his Church that introduces the pain here, but fallen humanity.
This is the clear reality that the Church does not need to “move toward” but it has already arrived at it, and arrived at it from the moment Jesus uttered his definitive teaching. Our Lord does not give us an “artificial clarity”, but a divine clarity by which we can guide our living so that we find true life.
All this is without prejudice to the manifold complications and mitigations that might attend an individual’s situation. The Church allows for the fact that sometimes for an individual subjective guilt might not match objective guilt, and this is something a faithful and honest confessor can discern when he has full and deep knowledge of an individual’s situation. But this is not something that can be legislated for, and even then the confessor has limited options.
It is rather dubious to assert, as Archbishop Coleridge and others have done, that Pope Francis is “bringing out into the very public setting of the papacy what any pastor does in his parish or diocese… Some people expect from the pope clarity and certainty on every question and every issue, but a pastor can’t provide that necessarily”.
The fault here is to equate the Bishop of Rome with any other diocesan bishop or pastor of souls. The petrine office is not a normal pastoral one. He has responsibility for the entire Church, not some portion of it, and in particular is tasked with safeguarding the deposit of faith and “confirming the brethren” (cf Lk 22:32) in it. In fact, it is not merely a task of the papacy, it is a duty. Paul accosted Peter to his face when he failed in this duty; why should we believe Peter’s successors are immune from similar failures? This is why we pray for our popes, not just for their physical welfare but that they might live up to their office. It is hardly worth praying if every individual pope is guaranteed infallibility in everything he does. But of course he is not; infallibility is rarely exercised, and only within a carefully prescribed fidelity to established Church teaching.
We need only look to the liturgy, in particular the votive Mass For the Pope. There are three collects available. Each is telling in what it prays for in the pope’s behalf:
“… grant that he, whom you have made Peter’s successor, may be for your people a visible source and foundation of unity in faith and communion.”
“… grant, we pray, that by word and example he may be of service to those over whom he presides so that, together with the flock entrusted to his care, he may come to everlasting life.”
“… grant that, as Vicar of Christ on earth, he may confirm his brethren and that the whole Church may be in communion with him in the bond of unity, love and peace, so that in you, the shepherd of souls, all may know the truth and attain life eternal.”
Since we must pray for these things, it is obviously not certain that each individual pope will always be a “visible source and foundation of unity in faith” (though invisibly, by his office, he must always be), nor that his “word and example” will serve to bring him and his flock “to everlasting life”, nor that he will always “confirm his brethren” so that “all may learn the truth and attain life eternal”.
So Austen Ivereigh reveals a disturbing ignorance of authentic teaching on the Church and the papacy when he accuses the four cardinals, and those who are slowly but surely supporting their search for clarity from the pope, of “dissent”. He uses this is in a political, not a theological sense, and comes up with the astounding definition that it dissent is to “question the legitimacy of a pope’s rule. It is to cast into doubt that the development of the Church under this Successor of St. Peter is a fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit.”
But those who are seeking clarity from the pope are hardly questioning his legitimacy or authority as pope. In reality they are asking him to exercise it, fully and properly. Dissent, in an ecclesial rather than a political view, is to reject or disagree with the teaching of the Church. The four cardinals, and the other pastors and theologians now speaking out in agreement with them, are dissenting from no teaching of the Church but are asking the pope to confirm it.
Is every papal act or document a legitimate development that must be seen as “a fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit” as Mr Ivereigh claims? Fr Hunwicke explains with vigour that historically the Church has always viewed the pope as speaking with the voice not of the Holy Spirit but of St Peter:
Believe me, we do not need some new and horrible dogma that the voice of Bergoglio is the voice of the Holy Spirit. For two millennia, Roman Pontiffs, in harmony with Churches of the East and of the West, have been content with the notion that Ss Peter and Paul are sub Christo the basis of their authority. And the First Vatican Council put this beyond denial when it infallibly defined that the Holy Spirit does not inspire the Pope to teach new doctrine; the claim made by the church’s authentic Magisterium is that He helps the Successors of S Peter to guard the Apostolic Tradition, the Depositum Fidei.
Likewise when Pope Francis claimed that Vatican II was “a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit,” and that there are “stubborn” members who who want to “tame the Holy Spirit”, he goes too far. He seeks to canonise a self-proclaimed pastoral (not doctrinal) council, but the Holy Spirit is not the guarantor of our pastoral strategies. A tree is judged by its fruit, and the fruit of the Council is so mixed as to preclude it as being the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is important not confuse the Council with its implementation. The texts of the Council are consistent with previous Church teaching and tradition; what has been done in the Council’s name has very often not been so.
So let us leave aside claims to possess the voice of the Holy Spirit, and go back to the basic issue in question: that the cardinals and others seek only for the pope to act as pope, to confirm the brethren in the truth, to bring clarity where darkness has been introduced not by the messiness of human life but the misuse of a papal document which was poorly composed. If the pope spent less time obsessing about what the clergy wear (saturnogate!) and more about what the Church must teach then this crisis might not have arisen. Never has a pope had such a worldly focus. He ventures onto safer, and richer, ground when he offers us tantalising glimpses of his ecumenism of blood. Glimpses only, never systematically developed, and there is something there that if developed would be truly petrine.
Perhaps all this serves as a healthy corrective to what has become perhaps an excessive focus on the person of the pope. The popes of the 20th century, and indeed up to Pope Benedict, have been impressive men, capable, devoted and holy. They have conformed themselves to their office. In them we have been spoilt, so much so that any idea of criticising a pope seems almost blasphemous to some. Historically such a succession of fine popes is not the norm. This was never a problem as previously popes were rarely heard and even more rarely seen. They did not seek to be the world’s parish priest but served as the court of final appeal, and the quiet animator and facilitator of the life and growth of the Church.
We now have popes in our eyes and ears in real time as they stride the public stage on a scale never before seen. We no longer kiss their feet in awe of their office but grab and claw at them, take selfies with them, as if they were little better than Justin Bieber. Perhaps this is not healthy. Perhaps Benedict XVI, if he had remained in office but reduced his schedule and public appearances and concentrated on the core business of the papacy and not the extraneous trivia modernity has imposed upon it, might have given us a corrective to this tendency, as St John Paul II began to do in his last days of secluded illness. Perhaps now Pope Francis is offering us an unwitting and unexpected corrective to this trend to hyperpapalism, which has now been embraced by theological and moral liberals when it seems to be of service to their cause.
Like most crises, it will probably get worse before it gets better. The sheep will be sorted from the goats, and the wheat from the tares, in good time. Choose wisely.
Hopefully the inquisition will take my flu into account when reading the above.