Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., well known to regular readers of Semiduplex, has a fascinating post today iterating some of his conclusions about the assent the faithful owe to Amoris laetitia (and, indeed, any document at greater or lesser variance with the tradition of the Church). He comes to this point:
Regrettably, the Holy Father himself has endorsed the Argentine document in a letter. This letter of the Holy Father’s example is a perfect example of a case I envisioned in the reflections on submission to magisterial teaching with which I introduced my letter to Cardinal Schönborn. The case has to do with that category of magisterial teachings with the least authoritative weight. In the Professio Fidei we promise religious submission of will and intellect to to “the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.” But this submission is not absolutely unconditional and certain, as it is with regard to definitive teachings. Teachings that are not intended to be proclaimed by “a definitive act,” do not fall under the definition of infallibility, and there is therefore a possibility that they might be in error. Usually one submits to them, since one ought to trust the legitimate authority to teach reliably. But if the teachings are in conflict with more authoritative statements of the same or a higher authority then one has to start making distinctions. In some cases one can give a reverential reading, interpreting the problematic statement in the best possible light, but if there is no reasonable means of “saving of the appearances” then one must give preference to the more authoritative teaching. Pope Francis’s letter to the Argentine bishops seems to me a clear case where the appearances cannot be saved.
(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Pater Waldstein makes the important point, furthermore, that this does not implicate more generally the Pope’s teaching authority, nor does it justify rejecting the Pope’s teachings root and branch. We still owe religious submission and will to the Pope’s teachings. We are, of course, aware of a contrary argument on this point, including, perhaps, the ongoing series posts by “Thomas Cordatus” at the splendid Laodicea blog. We may have something to say about those when the series wraps up. But for now, we will say simply that Pater Waldstein’s view seems to us to be correct and prudent. (And well supported by historical precedent.)
In another post today, Pater Waldstein was kind enough to link to our note on the Pope’s letter to the Argentine bishops. He made this observation:
Semiduplex is solid as always, though I think he is a bit too harsh on St. John Paul II’s letter to Cardinal Baum on how one can intend not to fall into a certain sin again while expecting that one will. This is certainly often the case with habitual sins (eg. gluttony and drunkenness). Of course, one ought to avoid the near occasion of sin, but the supposition here is that there are very serious reasons for not extricating oneself from the occasion. This does, of course, show that those reasons must be very strong indeed, if they are to justify staying in a situation so dangerous to one’s immortal soul.
(Emphasis supplied.) We appreciate Pater Waldstein’s praise, but we feel that we ought to respond to his very mild criticism. There is something about the very mild criticism of a monk that makes one absolutely frantic to clear things up.
Our point, perhaps infelicitously expressed, is not that there is any fundamental problem in John Paul’s letter to Cardinal Baum. Or at least not a problem that we’re interested in. Instead the problem is that Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops distort John Paul’s teaching in a crucial way. John Paul highlights a tension that all of us—all of us who struggle with habitual sins, at any rate—know well: the firm intention of amendment is in tension with the knowledge that we will probably screw up and sin again. John Paul resolves this tension in a humane way. Recall that this is what he says:
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.) In other words, one resolves the tension by willing to do what one can do avoid the sin in the future. (“I know I may screw up, but I’m going to try not to, with God’s help.”) Our point was that John Paul’s point, as expressed, is eminently sensible and in keeping with the traditional moral theology of the Church; however, the view of Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops takes John Paul’s view and strikes out the final clause (“when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin”). To put it another way, it lowers the requirement of the final clause to the point that it is not possible to do anything to avoid sinning. Either way, the proponents of Amoris laetitia want to get that final clause out of the way. We’ll see in a minute why we think this is so. But first, let us consider first Footnote 364 of Amoris laetitia:
Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution” (Letter to Cardinal William W. Baum on the occasion of the Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary [22 March 1996], 5: Insegnamenti XIX/1 , 589).
(Emphasis supplied.) Indeed, that’s what John Paul said; but something’s missing. What? It’s the final clause! And now the Argentine bishops’ protocol (or at least the leaked version). First, in Spanish:
Cuando las circunstancias concretas de una pareja lo hagan factible, especialmente cuando ambos sean cristianos con un camino de fe, se puede proponer el empeño de vivir en continencia. Amoris laetitia no ignora las dificultades de esta opción (cf. nota 329) y deja abierta la posibilidad de acceder al sacramento de la Reconciliación cuando se falle en ese propósito (cf. nota 364, según la enseñanza de san Juan Pablo II al Cardenal W. Baum, del 22/03/1996).
And now in LifeSiteNews’s translation:
When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a journey of faith, it is possible to propose that they make the effort of living in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties of this option (cf. note 329) and leaves open the possibility of receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation when one fails in this intention (cf. note 364, according to the teaching of Saint John Paul II to Cardinal W. Baum, of 22/03/1996).
(Emphasis supplied.) If Amoris laetitia removed the last clause of John Paul’s teaching, the Argentine bishops compress it into unrecognizable dimensions. But again the final clause is missing. But such compression is, frankly, in the logic of Amoris laetitia‘s argument. The tension between the firm intention of amendment and the fear of failure in the future is resolved by the will to do what you can to avoid failing. Remove the requirement of the will to stop sinning, as Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops do, and you’re left in a situation where the fear of failure can overwhelm the purpose of amendment. The only other way to resolve the tension is to diminish to the point of irrelevance one of the two forces at work. And this, we think, precisely what is done. “You’re going to fail, so don’t worry too much about the firm purpose of amendment.” Now, in another post, we talked about how pessimistic and infantilizing this view is, and this is certainly the case; however, we have yet to see how this isn’t the view of Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops.
This, then, is the fundamental problem with Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops’ use of the letter to Cardinal Baum. It guts the meaning of the teaching by leaving out a crucial clause. (This is, coincidentally, the progressives’ favorite thing to do to poor St. John Paul; cf. the tendentious partial quotation of Familiaris consortio so much in the news.) And by gutting the meaning of John Paul’s teaching which resolves the tension between the firm purpose of amendment and the possibility of future failure in a humane way through the will to stop sinning (with God’s help, which he promises all of us), it leaves the door open to resolve the fundamental tension between by diminishing the purpose of amendment to the point where it is no longer in tension with the possibility of future failure.