The sensus fidei, “Amoris laetitia,” and the state of the Church

At Rorate Caelithere is a translation of a talk Roberto de Mattei gave back in October. It is all about infallibility, indefectibility, and the sensus fidei. It is stupendously good, and you need to read it. A brief selection to whet your appetite:

The ultimate rule of the faith is not the contemporary ‘living’ Magisterium, in what it contains as non-defining, but Tradition, or rather the objective and perennial Magisterium, which constitutes, along with Holy Scripture, one of the two sources of the Word of God. Ordinarily the Magisterium is the proximate rule of faith, inasmuch as it transmits and applies infallible truths contained in the deposit of Revelation, but in the case of a contrast between the novelties proposed by the subjective or “living” Magisterium and Tradition, the primacy can only be given to Tradition, for one simple motive: Tradition, which is the “living” Magisterium in its universality and continuity, is in itself infallible, whereas the so-called “living” Magisterium, meant as the current predication by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, is only so in determinate conditions. Tradition, in fact is always divinely assisted; the Magisterium is so only when it is expressed in an extraordinary way, or when, in ordinary form, it teaches with continuity over time, a truth of faith and morals. The fact that the ordinary Magisterium cannot constantly teach a truth contrary to the faith, does not exclude that this same Magisterium may fall per accidens into error, when the teaching is circumscribed in space and time and is not expressed in an extraordinary manner.

This does not mean in any way that the dogmatic truth must be the result of the sentiment of lay-people and that nothing can be defined without first hearing the opinion of the universal Church, as if the Magisterium was simply a revealer of the faith of the people, quasi-regulated by them in its magisterial function. It means, however, as Padre Garcia Extremeno asserts, that the Magisterium cannot propose anything infallibly to the Church, if it is not contained in Tradition, which is the supreme regula fidei of the Church.

Tradition is maintained and transmitted by the Church, not only through the Magisterium, but through all the faithful, “from the bishops down to the laity”[70], as the famous formula by St. Augustine, cited in Lumen Gentium no. 12 expresses. The doctor from Hippo makes an appeal in particular to “the people of the faith”[71], who do not exercise a Magisterium, but on the basis of their sensus fidei guarantee the continuity of the transmission of a truth. 

(Emphasis supplied.) The whole talk is absolutely essential reading, not least since questions of infallibility (or lack thereof), indefectibility, and the sensus fidei have come up with some regularity in recent years.

In addition to his own cogent and engaging argument, Professor De Mattei does us a great favor by pointing to a 2014 intervention of the International Theological Commission: Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church. It is a lengthy document, but it is very accessibly written and well worth your time. We have some comments of our own upon it, as a matter of fact. The document observes:

Three principal manifestations of the sensus fidei fidelis in the personal life of the believer can be highlighted. The sensus fidei fidelis enables individual believers: 1) to discern whether or not a particular teaching or practice that they actually encounter in the Church is coherent with the true faith by which they live in the communion of the Church (see below, §§61-63); 2) to distinguish in what is preached between the essential and the secondary (§64); and 3) to determine and put into practice the witness to Jesus Christ that they should give in the particular historical and cultural context in which they live (§65).

‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God ; for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1Jn 4:1). The sensus fidei fidelis confers on the believer the capacity to discern whether or not a teaching or practice is coherent with the true faith by which he or she already lives. If individual believers perceive or ‘sense’ that coherence, they spontaneously give their interior adherence to those teachings or engage personally in the practices, whether it is a matter of truths already explicitly taught or of truths not yet explicitly taught.

The sensus fidei fidelis also enables individual believers to perceive any disharmony, incoherence, or contradiction between a teaching or practice and the authentic Christian faith by which they live. They react as a music lover does to false notes in the performance of a piece of music. In such cases, believers interiorly resist the teachings or practices concerned and do not accept them or participate in them. ‘The habitus of faith possesses a capacity whereby, thanks to it, the believer is prevented from giving assent to what is contrary to the faith, just as chastity gives protection with regard to whatever is contrary to chastity.’

Alerted by their sensus fidei, individual believers may deny assent even to the teaching of legitimate pastors if they do not recognise in that teaching the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd. ‘The sheep follow [the Good Shepherd] because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run away from him because they do not know the voice of strangers’ (Jn 10:4-5). For St Thomas, a believer, even without theological competence, can and even must resist, by virtue of the sensus fidei, his or her bishop if the latter preaches heterodoxy. In such a case, the believer does not treat himself or herself as the ultimate criterion of the truth of faith, but rather, faced with materially ‘authorised’ preaching which he or she finds troubling, without being able to explain exactly why, defers assent and appeals interiorly to the superior authority of the universal Church.

(Emphasis, both bold and red, supplied and footnotes omitted). De Mattei discusses this at some length, calling it ultimately “Catholic common sense.” That is, when confronted with an intervention of a “legitimate pastor,” which includes, we would think, anyone from one’s parish priest up to the most exalted prelates in the Church, a believer needn’t check his or her “common sense,” so to speak, at the door. If, to use the ITC’s music analogy, the notes are wrong, that may not be rigidity or stiff-necked resistance, but, instead, the sensus fidei alerting the believer to trouble. And, alarmed by the inconsistency between the teaching and one’s common sense, one “appeals interiorly to the superior authority of the universal Church.”

A little later on, discussing concrete applications of the sensus fidei, the ITC document observes:

There is a genuine equality of dignity among all the faithful, because through their baptism they are all reborn in Christ. Because of this equality they all contribute, each according to his or her own condition and office, to the building up of the Body of Christ.’ Therefore, all the faithful ‘have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church’. ‘They have the right to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reference to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.’ Accordingly, the faithful, and specifically the lay people, should be treated by the Church’s pastors with respect and consideration, and consulted in an appropriate way for the good of the Church.

The word ‘consult’ includes the idea of seeking a judgment or advice as well as inquiring into a matter of fact. On the one hand, in matters of governance and pastoral issues, the pastors of the Church can and should consult the faithful in certain cases in the sense of asking for their advice or their judgment. On the other hand, when the magisterium is defining a doctrine, it is appropriate to consult the faithful in the sense of inquiring into a matter of fact, ‘because the body of the faithful is one of the witnesses to the fact of the tradition of revealed doctrine, and because their consensus through Christendom is the voice of the Infallible Church’.

The practice of consulting the faithful is not new in the life of the Church. In the medieval Church a principle of Roman law was used: Quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus tractari et approbari debet (what affects everyone, should be discussed and approved by all). In the three domains of the life of the Church (faith, sacraments, governance), ‘tradition combined a hierarchical structure with a concrete regime of association and agreement’, and this was considered to be an ‘apostolic practice’ or an ‘apostolic tradition’.

Problems arise when the majority of the faithful remain indifferent to doctrinal or moral decisions taken by the magisterium or when they positively reject them. This lack of reception may indicate a weakness or a lack of faith on the part of the people of God, caused by an insufficiently critical embrace of contemporary culture. But in some cases it may indicate that certain decisions have been taken by those in authority without due consideration of the experience and the sensus fidei of the faithful, or without sufficient consultation of the faithful by the magisterium.

(Emphasis, bold and red, supplied and footnotes omitted) Now, this is interesting. On one hand, one sees that the canonical provision that the faithful have the right to express themselves to their pastors and one another is not a condescension of the hierarchy, which could be revoked and replaced by “pay, pray, and obey” at any minute. No, the right of the faithful to express themselves is founded in the equality of dignity, itself founded in baptism, of all the faithful. Certainly one would not, keeping in mind the Apostle on the various ministries within the Church and the papal documents Quod apostolici muneris and Fin dalla prima nostra, though those documents are from another context, argue that this equality of dignity makes everyone equal in a natural sense. There is still a hierarchy—multiple hierarchies, really. And this must be kept in mind when the faithful manifest their opinions to their pastors and to each other.

Putting that to one side, this is important: the sensus fidei “enables individual believers to perceive any disharmony, incoherence, or contradiction between a teaching or practice and the authentic Christian faith by which they live.” Based upon this perception, which may be more or less inchoate (the individual may not be able to explain precisely why he or she perceives a disharmony, incoherence, or contradiction), the believer has the right, founded in his or her dignity as an adopted son or daughter of God, to express to the magisterium (i.e., the hierarchy) his or her concerns about the teaching. Obviously, this must be done in keeping with the believer’s state in life, but St. Thomas teaches all Catholics how to correct their prelates, if necessary, while remembering not only their station in life but also the demands of charity. This is interesting enough, insofar as it draws a connection between one’s Catholic common sense and the correction, if necessary, of one’s prelate.

But it is what the document goes on to say that is more interesting. On one hand, a teaching that is not received by the faithful, either through indifference or outright rejection, may reflect a failure of faith on the part of the faithful. The most obvious example of this is the teaching against contraception in Humanae vitae. (Though we are sympathetic to the argument that the prohibition was actually proclaimed, perhaps infallibly, by Pius XI in Casti connubii, and merely restated by Paul in response to the clamor of the proponents of contraception in the 1960s.) However, this is not the only possibility. It is possible that the resistance of the faithful represents a failure on the part of the hierarchy to consider the Catholic common sense of the faithful or to consult with the faithful sufficiently. That is, if, exercising their common sense, the faithful don’t accept a teaching, then there is a possibility that the faithful know better than the hierarchy, and this ought to be considered by the hierarchy. In this regard, the sensus fidei can serve as a firewall within the Church.

What does this mean? Does it mean, as some might have it, that the question is to be decided in majoritarian terms? Does it mean that, if a majority of the faithful are okay with a teaching, then the matter is settled, the teaching is consistent with the sensus fidei? By no means. The ITC notes:

It is clear that there can be no simple identification between the sensus fidei and public or majority opinion. These are by no means the same thing.

i) First of all, the sensus fidei is obviously related to faith, and faith is a gift not necessarily possessed by all people, so the sensus fidei can certainly not be likened to public opinion in society at large. Then also, while Christian faith is, of course, the primary factor uniting members of the Church, many different influences combine to shape the views of Christians living in the modern world. As the above discussion of dispositions implicitly shows, the sensus fidei cannot simply be identified, therefore, with public or majority opinion in the Church, either. Faith, not opinion, is the necessary focus of attention. Opinion is often just an expression, frequently changeable and transient, of the mood or desires of a certain group or culture, whereas faith is the echo of the one Gospel which is valid for all places and times.

ii) In the history of the people of God, it has often been not the majority but rather a minority which has truly lived and witnessed to the faith. The Old Testament knew the ‘holy remnant’ of believers, sometimes very few in number, over against the kings and priests and most of the Israelites. Christianity itself started as a small minority, blamed and persecuted by public authorities. In the history of the Church, evangelical movements such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, or later the Jesuits, started as small groups treated with suspicion by various bishops and theologians. In many countries today, Christians are under strong pressure from other religions or secular ideologies to neglect the truth of faith and weaken the boundaries of ecclesial community. It is therefore particularly important to discern and listen to the voices of the ‘little ones who believe’ (Mk 9:42).

It is undoubtedly necessary to distinguish between the sensus fidei and public or majority opinion, hence the need to identify dispositions necessary for participation in the sensus fidei, such as those elaborated above. Nevertheless, it is the whole people of God which, in its inner unity, confesses and lives the true faith. The magisterium and theology must work constantly to renew the presentation of the faith in different situations, confronting if necessary dominant notions of Christian truth with the actual truth of the Gospel, but it must be recalled that the experience of the Church shows that sometimes the truth of the faith has been conserved not by the efforts of theologians or the teaching of the majority of bishops but in the hearts of believers.

(Emphasis, bold and red, supplied.) This is, we think, a strong rebuke to some voices in the Church today, who claim that this or that disputed question has been resolved because this or that group—be it the College of Cardinals or the Synod of Bishops or this or that group of theologians—has made a decision or endorsed a decision. (We will have more on this in a moment.) The sensus fidei, which serves as an important voice in the Church (indeed, one may argue that it may be the response of the faithful to the voice of the Holy Spirit), is not a numerical question. And when the sensus fidei is opposed to this or that decision, taken by this or that pastor or group, even if the group of faithful is not numerically large, it is necessary, the ITC observes, to consider what that means. It could be, as with the case of Humanae vitae, that the faithful have simply embraced worldly concerns. But it could be that the hierarchy has simply gotten out of tune with the pure, apostolic faith and the Catholic common sense of a group of faithful detects the sour notes. This is a question of discernment, obviously, but discernment is not buffaloing the faithful with indignant pronouncements of division and numerical superiority. It is a process of consultation.

Now, one might object and say that this is simply traditionalist rhetoric: “the Tradition of the Church is thus and such and I know thus and such as well as the pope by virtue of my sensus fidei.” In a very real sense, the whole point of the sensus fidei fidelis is that a believer, by virtue of his or her Catholic common sense, who makes efforts to form his or her sensus fidei correctly, may well know thus and such as well as a pope, especially when something sounds off. But the ITC undermines that argument in another way, noting that the Second Vatican Council, which it refers to in dreary “new Pentecost” language, reinvigorated the concept of the sensus fidei, which is indeed an ancient idea. Moreover, the ITC argues that it was none other than Yves Congar who led the Council to inject new life into the doctrine:

 Yves M.-J. Congar (1904-1995) contributed significantly to the development of the doctrine of the sensus fidei fidelis and the sensus fidei fidelium. In Jalons pour une Théologie du Laïcat (orig. 1953), he explored this doctrine in terms of the participation of the laity in the Church’s prophetical function. Congar was acquainted with Newman’s work and adopted the same scheme (i.e. the threefold office of the Church, and the sensus fidelium as an expression of the prophetic office) without, however, tracing it directly to Newman. He described the sensus fidelium as a gift of the Holy Spirit ‘given to the hierarchy and the whole body of the faithful together’, and he distinguished the objective reality of faith (which constitutes the tradition) from the subjective aspect, the grace of faith. Where earlier authors had underlined the distinction between the Ecclesia docens and the Ecclesia discens, Congar was concerned to show their organic unity. ‘The Church loving and believing, that is, the body of the faithful, is infallible in the living possession of the faith, not in a particular act or judgment’, he wrote. The teaching of the hierarchy is at the service of communion. 

In many ways, the Second Vatican Council’s teaching reflects Congar’s contributionChapter one of Lumen Gentium, on ‘The Mystery of the Church’, teaches that the Holy Spirit ‘dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple’. ‘Guiding the Church in the way of all truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and unifying her in communion and in the works of ministry, he bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her; and he adorns her with his fruits (cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22)’. Chapter two then continues to deal with the Church as a whole, as the ‘People of God’, prior to distinctions between lay and ordained. The article (LG 12) which mentions the sensus fideiteaches that, having ‘an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1Jn 2:20, 27)’, the ‘whole body of the faithful … cannot err in matters of belief’. The ‘Spirit of truth’ arouses and sustains a ‘supernatural appreciation of the faith [supernaturali sensu fidei]’, shown when ‘the whole people, … “from the bishops to the last of the faithful” … manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals’. By means of the sensus fidei, ‘the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (magisterium), and obeying it, receives not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God (cf. 1Thess 2:13)’. According to this description, the sensus fidei is an active capacity or sensibility by which they are able to receive and understand the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3)’. Indeed, by means of it, the people not only ‘unfailingly adheres to this faith’, but also ‘penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life’. It is the means by which the people shares in ‘Christ’s prophetic office’.

(Emphasis supplied.) Now, one needn’t get too far into Congar’s argument or the argument in Lumen gentium, to say nothing of the ITC’s argument, to see that we are not adverting to ancient doctrines to serve as a bulwark against Modernist innovations. Such bulwarks should not be needed, though whether that is the case is up to you, dear reader. Our point is merely this: one finds oneself deep in the heart of the thought of the Second Vatican Council and the theologians of the 20th century who shaped that Council’s thought when one talks about the sensus fidei.

Obviously, we’re talking about Amoris laetitia. So is Professor De Mattei. The Santa Marta party has decided to defend that document’s troubling conclusions about communion for bigamists in a couple of ways, most notably these: (1) the Pope has acted with a definite act of the magisterium, which must be obeyed; (2) most of the world’s cardinals and bishops are with the Pope, except for a few malcontents; and (3) a Synod reached these conclusions. (The third is actually false, but we’ll take it as true.) And for all these reasons, the sensus fidei is relevant.The faithful do not have to check their Catholic common sense at the door when receiving teachings from pastors. Now, they owe, as a threshold question, submission to teachings from their pastors, and we would argue that that means that they ought to make every reasonable effort to reconcile a troubling teaching with the tradition of the Church and the previous magisterium. However, that the faithful may retain the use of their Catholic common sense when receiving teachings has consequences for each of the arguments advanced by the Santa Marta party. In short, if the teaching of a pope, joined by any number of cardinals and bishops, based upon a synod’s relatio, doesn’t jive with one’s Catholic common sense, this is a problem.

Of course, this does not mean that snap judgments and prejudices are the order of the day; instead, the faithful have an obligation to form their Catholic common sense carefully and with reference to the authentic life of the Church, including participation in the sacraments, the reading of scripture, and right reason. But, if one has formed one’s common sense carefully and with reference to the authentic life of the Church and one still hears a false note in a teaching, that cannot be ignored or set aside lightly. In extreme cases, the faithful may defer assent and appeal to the authority of the universal Church, making, we suspect, every effort to resolve their difficulties about the teaching. And if there is a group of faithful who share these doubts, they may not be dismissed purely on numerical grounds; the sensus fidei is not a question of numbers (even numbers of prelates), but instead a question of faith. And, given the dignity of the faithful as sons and daughters by adoption of God, a dignity that they share with the most exalted prelates, they have the right to make their doubts and concerns about a teaching known to their pastors and to each other.

Now, we hasten to note, briefly, that the response to Humanae vitae must be kept in mind. Sometimes the faithful will delay assent to a teaching because the faithful are too close to the lures of the world. This is obvious. Yet, there is a difference, manifestly, between ignoring or rejecting out of hand a teaching, and expressing concerns or doubts about a teaching, founded carefully in a well-formed sensus fidei fidelis. To treat one like the other does violence not only to the concept of the sensus fidei but also to the dignity of those Catholics who, in good faith and in communion with Peter, want to talk about a teaching in the light of the tradition of the Church. It may be inconvenient for some of the leaders of the Santa Marta party to explain themselves or take seriously the objections of prelates and faithful alike, but the faith is occasionally inconvenient.

To put it another way, this is hardly the teaching of rigid traditionalists who imagine themselves as Paul addressing Peter in Antioch. It is certainly, as the ITC document demonstrates clearly, an ancient teaching with Patristic origins. But, more relevantly for our purposes, it is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, of Yves Congar, of the International Theological Commission under the Holy Father. Therefore, it may be said that the arguments of the Santa Marta party, seeking to silence Cardinals Burke, Brandmüller, Caffarra, and Meisner, to say nothing of the faithful who have expressed grave concerns about Amoris laetitia, or certain interpretations of Amoris laetitia, cut against the teachings of the Council. So far from representing the sort of dialogue and discernment that is required whenever groups of the faithful, appealing to the universal Church, defer assent to magisterial acts, their response represents an ossified clericalism that, we are told, was rejected at the Council.

Garrigou-Lagrange on coercion of faith

At some point, we will stop reblogging every post from Lumen Scholasticum. However, it will be passing hard to make good on our resolution if Gerardus Maiella keeps posting consistently interesting material. For example, recently, he posted an excerpt from Garrigou-Lagrange’s commentary on the Summa on whether infidels may be compelled to hold the true faith. As Maiella hints, the question of the Church’s coercive authority has been a question of significant dispute among traditionally minded Catholics, since the time of the Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae, which seems, to some extent, to depart from the Church’s prior teaching. We won’t spoil the post by quoting it, instead telling you to read the whole thing there.

Buttiglione responds to the cardinals

We have followed Rocco Buttiglione’s interpretation of Amoris laetitia with interest, finding it, at first, interesting and perhaps persuasive at first, though we have found it less persuasive with each iteration (and make no mistake: he’s one of Santa Marta’s preferred mouthpieces on this subject, no doubt for his closeness with St. John Paul II). In short, Buttiglione argues for continuity between Amoris laetitia and Familiaris consortio by hanging everything on the subjective component of mortal sin; that is, if you approach the question in the traditional framework, you see that Amoris laetitia simply approaches the question of free consent on the part of the penitent. Is that so? Now, Buttiglione has responded to the dubia proposed by Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner. We won’t waste your time going point by point through the dubia and responses, though we encourage you to do so when you have an idle hour. Instead, we will focus on the first dubium and its responsum.

The cardinals ask:

It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?

Buttiglione responds:

The first a question the eminent cardinals ask, is whether it is in some cases acceptable for absolution to be granted to people who despite being tied down by a previous marriage, live more uxorio, engaging in sexual intercourse. It seems to me, that the response should be affirmative given what is written in the “Amoris Laetitia” and what is stated in the general principles of moral theology. A clear distinction needs to be made between the act, which constitutes a grave sin, and the agent, who may find themselves bound by circumstances that mitigate their responsibility for the act or in some cases may even eliminate it completely. Consider, for example, the case of a woman who is completely financially and mentally dependant on someone and is forced to have sexual intercourse against her will. Sadly, such cases are not just theory but a bitter reality, witnessed more often than one would imagine. What is lacking here are the subjective conditions for sin (full knowledge and deliberate consent). The act is still evil but it does not belong (not entirely anyway) to the person. In criminal law terms, we are not in the realm of the theory of crime (whether an act is good or bad) but of the theory of liability and subjective extenuating circumstances.

This does not mean unmarried people can legitimately engage in sexual activity. Such activity is illegitimate. People can (in some cases) fall into non mortal but venial sin if full knowledge and deliberate consent are lacking. But, one could argue, is it not necessary for a person to  have the intention of never sinning again in order to receive absolution? It certainly is necessary. The penitent must want to end their irregular situation and commit to acts that will allow them to actually do so in practice. However, this person may not be able to achieve this detachment and regain self-ownership immediately. Here, the “situation of sin” concept illustrated by John Paul II, is important. One cannot plausibly promise never to commit a certain sin if they live in a situation in which they are exposed to the irresistible temptation of committing it. In order to hold fast to one’s intent, one needs to be committed to coming out of a situation of sin.

(Emphasis supplied.)

While superficially persuasive, upon closer examination Buttiglione’s argument collapses into incoherence. Buttiglione deftly sidesteps the dubium by shifting his ground from someone living in a second relationship more uxorio to a woman held captive in an abusive relationship. But such an extreme case does not seem to be what the cardinals had in mind. They seem to have had in mind the case of a “conventional” second marriage. Indeed, in Amoris laetitia, the case of a “conventional” second marriage is what is on the Holy Father’s mind, otherwise why devote so much time to the good of the children of such a bigamous union? In other words, Buttiglione wants to treat a pathological case as though it is the situation anticipated by the Holy Father and the cardinals. To what end? The answer is obvious: everyone can agree about the extreme case, and Buttiglione wants to pretend that the extreme case is a normal case. Thus, the consensus about the extreme case becomes the consensus. He is silent upon the more relevant question, which is the point Amoris laetitia raises, of whether merely having children in a bigamous union is sufficient to diminish one’s free consent to the point where adultery is merely venially sinful or not sinful at all. He is silent, one suspects, because that is a much harder question to answer if you want to say “yes.”

But that’s not all.

Buttiglione appears to concede that a firm purpose of amendment is necessary. He even appears to concede that that means terminating the bigamous relationship. (This may be more than Amoris laetitia even concedes.) But when you drill down on his actual argument, it’s not at all clear what he means. Penitents have to be committed to coming out of the situation of sin they have put themselves in, but they will need some time to do so. It is plain that he views the adulterous union as the situation of sin—that is, when you’re living with someone, you’re tempted irresistibly to copulate (which must be rather alarming news to the millions of students and roommates who live together without being tempted to do so)—and it is plain that the penitent needs to get out of the situation. But the argument falls apart on its own terms. Merely sharing quarters with one’s partner in bigamy is irresistibly tempting. Therefore, the penitent has to be committed to leaving a situation he cannot leave. No, don’t laugh: it’s what he says. The situation is irresistibly tempting and the penitent should be given time to gain control over himself. How can he gain control over himself if the situation is irresistibly tempting? Surely, when he should be gaining control over himself, he’ll be doing, uh, other things not consistent with that resolution. That’s concupiscence for you.

The stronger argument, which we feared we would see more of after the Argentine bishops’ protocol is this: the firm purpose of amendment is not vitiated by the fear that one will commit the same sin again. Remember what St. John Paul wrote to Cardinal Baum:

If we wished to rely only on our own strength, or primarily on our own strength, the decision to sin no more, with a presumed self-sufficiency, almost a Christian Stoicism or revived Pelagianism, we would offend against that truth about man with which we began, as though we were to tell the Lord, more or less consciously, that we did not need him. It should also be remembered that the existence of sincere repentance is one thing, the judgement of the intellect concerning the future is another: it is indeed possible that, despite the sincere intention of sinning no more, past experience and the awareness of human weakness makes one afraid of falling again; but this does not compromise the authenticity of the intention, when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin.

(Emphasis supplied.) The Argentine bishops’ argument would swallow up the need for any firm purpose of amendment, of course, but that’s the argument. And it is superficially more convincing that some of the other arguments we have seen. Like this one. Indeed, it seems to us that Buttiglione’s contention that the penitent may need some time to get out of a situation he cannot escape is even more unsatisfactory in the light of the stronger argument.

Read the whole thing, though. It’s illuminating, if nothing else.

Pentin, Cupich, and the dubia

Edward Pentin has a must-read article at the National Catholic Register about an exchange he had with Blase Cardinal Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, following Cupich’s formal elevation to the cardinalate. At a press conference at the North American College, Cupich, responding to a question from Pentin about the four cardinals’ dubia regarding Amoris laetitia, suggested that the controversial propositions had been passed by 2/3rds of the synod fathers at two synods. Not so fast, Pentin replies:

But defenders of the Dubia argue that Cardinal Cupich’s comment that the controversial propositions in question were “voted on by two-thirds of the bishops” is especially problematic.

It is often forgotten, they point out, that despite the strenuous efforts by the Synod secretariat and others to manipulate and jostle the synod fathers into accepting the most controversial propositions (allegations detailed in my book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?), none of the three most controversial propositions managed to obtain a two-thirds majority during the first, Extraordinary Synod on the Family, in October 2014.  

One of them was a proposition relating to the “Kasper proposal” of admitting the divorced and remarried to holy Communion after a period of penitence. That failed to pass, and only a proposition calling for “careful reflection and respectful accompaniment” of remarried divorcees made it through.

Under such circumstances, they would normally therefore have been rejected.

In spite of this, the Pope controversially broke with custom, which he can do, and authoritatively insisted that all three rejected proposition be kept in the document, thereby enabling them to be carried over into the working document for the Ordinary Synod on the Family the following year.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Read the whole thing there, especially Cardinal Cupich’s response to Pentin’s question.

We note with some interest that Cardinal Cupich hangs his red hat on the magisterial status of Amoris laetitia, suggesting that it has the same magisterial weight as any other post-synodal apostolic exhortation. To question the document would be to undermine all of the exhortations. Including—you guessed it—Familiaris consortio. This is, of course, the progressives’ favorite maneuver. Any document they don’t like—e.g., Familiaris consortio—is subject to renegotiation and discussion. As soon as they get a document they do like, however, it is a dogmatic pronouncement and cannot be questioned without undermining the very foundation of the Church. And when the pope who promulgated it called for reflection and discussion, as the Holy Father did with Amoris laetitia? Well, that’s not relevant. The important thing is that everyone get in line. And that’s precisely what Cardinal Cupich’s comments boil down to. The Pope has decided; deal with it. What accompaniment! What primacy of conscience!

We are reminded, also, of Professor Jessica Murdoch’s wonderful, indeed magisterial, analysis of Amoris laetitia, from a couple of months ago, in which she observed:

Given these difficulties, what is to be made of Cardinal Schönborn’s assertion that Amoris Laetitia is a binding document of magisterial authority? His analysis is unpersuasive, for three principal reasons. First, the document lacks language of formal definition. A clear example of language of formal definition appears in Ordinatio Sacradotalis, wherein Pope John Paul II uses words such as “We teach and declare” to define the Church’s teaching on the priesthood. Contrast this with the language of Amoris Laetitia highlighted by Cardinal Schönborn: “I urgently ask”; “It is no longer possible to say”; and “I have wanted to present to the entire Church.” Second, Amoris Laetitia lacks the theological and juridical precision of binding ecclesial documents, instead relying upon metaphors, imagery, and thick description, rather than clear statements. And third, if, in fact, the document does contradict either natural or divine positive law, then it simply cannot bind the faithful to the obsequium religiosum, that is, the assent of mind and will, specified by Church Lumen Gentium 25.

(Emphasis supplied.) Indeed, to our recollection, much of Amoris laetitia is simply the restatement of the final Relatio, with occasional remarks. It is interesting to consider what, exactly, the role of the supreme pontiff is supposed to be, especially in light of Our Lord’s mandate to St. Peter, if his merely repeating something, regardless of its orthodoxy, makes it quasi-dogmatic. Is the pope magic? But it is worth remembering that  the claims of the supporters of Amoris laetitia are not made in a vacuum. Thus, Cardinal Cupich not only is wrong when he claims that the problematic paragraphs of Amoris laetitia were approved by 2/3rds of the synod fathers at two synods, but he is also out on a spindly limb when he claims baldly that it is a magisterial document and that to question it would be to question all such documents.

The faithful needn’t overlook the fact that Amoris laetitia is an extraordinary document—and the Holy Father knows how to hand down ordinary documents when it pleases him to do so—when they consider these arguments.

 

“Misericordia et Misera” and the SSPX

Yesterday, rumors swirled that the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, marking the close of the Year of Mercy, would touch upon the SSPX. Some reported that the letter would contain the unilateral recognition mentioned by Bishop Fellay, especially in the context of the confused signals coming from Rome about the assent required of the Society to the various documents of the Second Vatican Council. We thought about—and then thought better of—reporting on the rumors last night. Given the regularity with which Archbishop Pozzo and Bishop Fellay address the press on these matters, it seems to us that the best course on SSPX news is to wait to hear from the men who know what the status of negotiations is.

Now that the letter has been released, we see that it contains “only” an extension of the faculty to hear confessions:

For the Jubilee Year I had also granted that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins. For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.

(Footnote omitted.) While this is disappointing in some regard—it would have been a joy to see the Year of Mercy formally concluded with a concrete sign of the unconditional mercy so often mentioned by the Holy Father, such as simply accepting the Society as it is and accompanying it along its journey—at the same time, any concrete sign of progress is something to be cheered.

We anticipate having some further remarks on Misericordia et Misera.

St. Ambrose the Illiberal

At The Josias, Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., an old friend of Semiduplex, presents a letter from St. Ambrose of Milan to the Emperor Valentinian (Ep. XVII, written in 384), with a brief introduction from Pater Waldstein. Here’s the setup:

Epistle XVII, written in the Summer of the year 384 to the young emperor Valentinian, was occasioned by a controversy over the altar of the goddess Victoria in the Curia Julia, the Senate house in Rome. The altar, with its statue of the goddess, had been removed by Constantius II, restored by Julian the Apostate, and removed again by Gratian. Conservative, pagan aristocrats in the Senate asked the young emperor to restore the altar.

(Emphasis supplied.) And here’s why Pater Waldstein thinks the letter is important:

But St. Ambrose protests vigorously against the request. Christian senators, he argued, would be forced by the erection of the altar to take part in pagan worship. But more fundamentally, he lays down a principle that contains the germ of all subsequent Catholic integralism. The Christian emperor is a servant of God, and must promote the true religion.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink in original.) This is what St. Ambrose says (don’t worry, the English is coming right up):

Cum omnes homines, qui subditione Romana sunt, vobis militent imperatoribus, terrarum atque principibus, tum ipsi vos omnipotenti Deo et sacrae fidei militatis. Aliter enim salus tuta esse non poterit, nisi unusquisque Deum verum, hoc est, Deum christianorum, a quo cuncta reguntur, veraciter colat; ipse enim solus verus est Deus, qui intima mente veneretur: Dii enim gentium daemonia, sicut Scriptura dicit (Psal. XCV, 5).

Huic igitur Deo vero quisquis militat, et qui intimo colendum recipit affectu, non dissimulationem, non conniventiam, sed fidei studium et devotionis impendit. Postremo si non ista, consensum saltem aliquem non debet colendis idolis, et profanis ceremoniarum cultibus exhibere. Nemo enim Deum fallit, cui omnia etiam cordis occulta manifesta sunt.

(Emphasis supplied). Now, in English:

As all men who live under the Roman sway engage in military service under you, the Emperors and Princes of the world, so too do you yourselves owe service to Almighty God and our holy faith. For salvation is not sure unless everyone worship in truth the true God, that is the God of the Christians, under Whose sway are all things; for He alone is the true God, Who is to be worshipped from the bottom of the heart; for the gods of the heathen, as Scripture says, are devils.

Now everyone is a soldier of this true God, and he who receives and worships Him in his inmost spirit, does not bring to His service dissimulation, or pretence, but earnest faith and devotion. And if, in fine, he does not attain to this, at least he ought not to give any countenance to the worship of idols and to profane ceremonies. For no one deceives God, to whom all things, even the hidden things of the heart, are manifest.

(Emphasis supplied.) You ought to read the whole thing at The Josias when you get a free minute or two. This is the basic idea of integralism—or, as we prefer to call it for a variety of reasons, illiberal Catholicism—just as Pater Waldstein claims. Everyone, even the state, has duties to God, which include promoting the true religion and ruling in accordance with the common good and right reason. This has immediate consequences for the right ordering of the state, too, as Pater Waldstein states in his “three sentences on integralism,” including the subordination of the state to the Church.

As soon as we saw this, we were immediately reminded of something Leo XIII said in Immortale Dei, which we discussed recently in the context of the American federal Constitution. You will, dear reader, forgive us, we hope, if we repeat ourselves a little bit to make our point. Leo says:

[T]he State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice-not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion -it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will. All who rule, therefore, would hold in honour the holy name of God, and one of their chief duties must be to favour religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws, and neither to organize nor enact any measure that may compromise its safety. This is the bounden duty of rulers to the people over whom they rule. For one and all are we destined by our birth and adoption to enjoy, when this frail and fleeting life is ended, a supreme and final good in heaven, and to the attainment of this every endeavour should be directed. Since, then, upon this depends the full and perfect happiness of mankind, the securing of this end should be of all imaginable interests the most urgent. Hence, civil society, established for the common welfare, should not only safeguard the well-being of the community, but have also at heart the interests of its individual members, in such mode as not in any way to hinder, but in every manner to render as easy as may be, the possession of that highest and unchangeable good for which all should seek. Wherefore, for this purpose, care must especially be taken to preserve unharmed and unimpeded the religion whereof the practice is the link connecting man with God.

(Emphasis supplied.) There are strong resonances, as one might expect, between what St. Ambrose wrote to Valentinian and what Leo XIII teaches here. We see readily that there is no difference between an ordinary man or woman and a man or woman invested with civil power. All men owe service to God and the true faith, as St. Ambrose says, and societies are not exempt from this duty, Leo reminds us. This is, as Pater Waldstein suggests, the basic insight of integralism or illiberal Catholicism.

This is, however, a controversial concept under liberalism, even among Catholics devoted to the liberal order. And it seems to us that St. Ambrose’s comments provide another good opportunity to discuss the principle that it is impossible to be both a good Catholic and a good liberal. As the liberal moment in the West appears to be in as much jeopardy as it has been at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union (if not before then), it is perhaps a good time for Catholics to take this opportunity to reexamine liberalism in the light of the doctrine of the Church, which, as Paul VI has noted, has special competence to pronounce upon natural reason. But we will see in a moment that St. Ambrose’s letter, invested with both great antiquity and great authority, is extremely useful for an illiberal Catholic arguing with his liberal friends.

The basic idea of liberalism is that everyone should be free to pursue their own happiness. There is a proceduralist dimension to liberalism—that is, liberalism insists on allegedly neutral rules for discourse of various kinds—but that is ultimately in service of the idea that everyone ought to be free to achieve his or her idea of happiness. But, with St. Ambrose and Leo’s teaching in mind, we see that this is a betrayal of the state’s duties in two dimensions. First, the liberal state betrays its duty to God and the true faith by failing to profess absolutely all that we know about God, both through natural reason and through revelation, and by pretending, as Leo says, that all religions are essentially the same or that religion is of no interest to the state. Second, the liberal state betrays its duty to its citizens by failing to make it as easy as possible for them to obtain the highest good, God, through virtue and religion.

But, of course, these are, as one might say, features not bugs as far as liberalism is concerned. As we just said, liberalism’s fundamental argument is that everyone should be free to pursue their own happiness, by applying reason in a procedurally neutral space. Each man or woman chooses among options what is most pleasing to him or her through the application of reason. Now, he or she ought to make the right choice, but nothing forces that choice. This is fundamentally corrosive to society, as we have discussed recently. This is a point that liberal Catholics, devoted as they are to the current political order, fail to grapple with when they tout liberalism as some sort of solution. Consider what Leo says in Libertas praestantissimum:

What naturalists or rationalists aim at in philosophy, that the supporters of liberalism, carrying out the principles laid down by naturalism, are attempting in the domain of morality and politics. The fundamental doctrine of rationalism is the supremacy of the human reason, which, refusing due submission to the divine and eternal reason, proclaims its own independence, and constitutes itself the supreme principle and source and judge of truth. Hence, these followers of liberalism deny the existence of any divine authority to which obedience is due, and proclaim that every man is the law to himself; from which arises that ethical system which they style independent morality, and which, under the guise of liberty, exonerates man from any obedience to the commands of God, and substitutes a boundless license. The end of all this it is not difficult to foresee, especially when society is in question. For, when once man is firmly persuaded that he is subject to no one, it follows that the efficient cause of the unity of civil society is not to be sought in any principle external to man, or superior to him, but simply in the free will of individuals; that the authority in the State comes from the people only; and that, just as every man’s individual reason is his only rule of life, so the collective reason of the community should be the supreme guide in the management of all public affairs. Hence the doctrine of the supremacy of the greater number, and that all right and all duty reside in the majority. But, from what has been said, it is clear that all this is in contradiction to reason. To refuse any bond of union between man and civil society, on the one hand, and God the Creator and consequently the supreme Law-giver, on the other, is plainly repugnant to the nature, not only of man, but of all created things; for, of necessity, all effects must in some proper way be connected with their cause; and it belongs to the perfection of every nature to contain itself within that sphere and grade which the order of nature has assigned to it, namely, that the lower should be subject and obedient to the higher.

Moreover, besides this, a doctrine of such character is most hurtful both to individuals and to the State. For, once ascribe to human reason the only authority to decide what is true and what is good, and the real distinction between good and evil is destroyed; honor and dishonor differ not in their nature, but in the opinion and judgment of each one; pleasure is the measure of what is lawful; and, given a code of morality which can have little or no power to restrain or quiet the unruly propensities of man, a way is naturally opened to universal corruption. With reference also to public affairs: authority is severed from the true and natural principle whence it derives all its efficacy for the common good; and the law determining what it is right to do and avoid doing is at the mercy of a majority. Now, this is simply a road leading straight to tyranny. The empire of God over man and civil society once repudiated, it follows that religion, as a public institution, can have no claim to exist, and that everything that belongs to religion will be treated with complete indifference. Furthermore, with ambitious designs on sovereignty, tumult and sedition will be common amongst the people; and when duty and conscience cease to appeal to them, there will be nothing to hold them back but force, which of itself alone is powerless to keep their covetousness in check. Of this we have almost daily evidence in the conflict with socialists and members of other seditious societies, who labor unceasingly to bring about revolution. It is for those, then, who are capable of forming a just estimate of things to decide whether such doctrines promote that true liberty which alone is worthy of man, or rather, pervert and destroy it.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is, of course, traditional for liberal Catholics to inject a little Modernism or Americanism into this discourse, and attempt to avoid Leo’s teachings in Immortale Dei and Libertas by claiming that Leo was writing for a specific time and place or, worse, was merely offering prudential, non-dogmatic reflections on questions of the age. In other words, as society has progressed, Leo’s arguments are less applicable. Liberalism isn’t so corrosive to society. In fact, they say, liberalism is the best—the only—way to order a just society.

This is where Pater Waldstein and The Josias have done us a great service by presenting the letter of St. Ambrose. One can see that the argument of liberal Catholics is squarely contrary to the tradition of the Church. Indeed, we can see that the germ of the idea is present in the Patristic era. With that in mind, it is much harder to say that Leo’s critique of liberalism was limited to a specific time or place. Indeed, it is fairly easy to say that it represents perennial Catholic teaching, and an ambitious integralist might say that it forms part of the deposit of faith. At any rate, it presents the illiberal Catholic with a wonderful rhetorical trap. “Oh, well, Leo was just writing for an age of looming anarchy and revolution. In these times, of course, liberalism is perfectly tolerable,” one’s liberal Catholic interlocutor might say. “Perhaps, but if that’s so, why did St. Ambrose say essentially the same thing in AD 384? Isn’t that rather ‘always, everywhere, and by everyone’?”

Try it, and watch the subject change as if by magic!

No pre-consistory meeting: a final word on the dubia?

Edward Pentin reports that the Holy Father has decided not to have a pre-consistory meeting of the College of Cardinals before the ordinary public consistory for the creation of new cardinals. Pentin says that Marco Tosatti is suggesting (in Italian) that this may have to do with the dubia submitted by Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner regarding chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. Pentin:

Vaticanist Marco Tosatti of La Stampa believes that the submission of five questions or “doubts” about Amoris Laetitia that four cardinals sent to the Pope in September and which he has declined to answer, may be a motivating factor behind Francis’ decision this year.

Tosatti asserts that the dubia, although not made public when the Pope decided against holding such a meeting, were going to be “resubmitted” during the pre-consistory gathering, “not only by the signatories of the request for clarification, but also perhaps by other cardinals, eager for a decisive word from the Pope.” It’s a situation, he added, the Pope probably “preferred to avoid.”

But Tosatti noted that the Vatican has not given an official reason for the decision. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke has also not responded to a Register enquiry about the real motives behind the decision not to hold the meeting.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) It would be very interesting indeed if the Holy Father, no doubt recalling all too well the floor revolt during the 2014 Extraordinary Synod, decided not to have a pre-consistory meeting in hopes of avoiding having to face the four cardinals’ dubia squarely or of revealing a broader base of support than a handful of cardinals invariably described as “retired” or “traditionalist” or whatever else the Villa Malta publicity machine describes them as.

At any rate, we won’t be holding our breath for a public answer from the Holy Father.