Burke, Brandmüller, and St. Thomas

Vatican Insider has an interview with Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, the eminent Church historian and one of the cardinals behind the dubia regarding Amoris laetitia. One important point emerges from the interview:

In an interview with Vatican Insider, another of the three signatories of the “dubia”, German cardinal Walter Brandmüller, was keen to point out that a potential “fraternal correction” of a point made by the Pope must take place “in camera caritatis”, in other words not in public by means of published acts or written documents . Readers will recall that the five “dubia” regarding the “Amoris Laetitia” were made public just a few days before the final consistory, less than two months after they had been presented.

(Emphasis supplied.) We are, of course, reminded of St. Thomas, who addressed the question of fraternal correction, including correction of one’s prelate, at some length. It seems to us that the cardinals—if what Cardinal Brandmüller says is accurate—are proceeding Thomistically. Which makes sense to us, given how much emphasis, perhaps incorrectly, has been placed by the defenders of Amoris laetitia on “true Thomism,” now the neo-Scholastic manualism of their extreme youth. The cardinals behind the dubia, we think, come much closer to a Thomistic approach to their situation.

As we say, St. Thomas provides a very sound guide to fraternal correction, which is, he teaches us, an act of charity, ST IIa IIae q.33 a.1 co.,

 Consequently the correction of a wrongdoer is twofold, one which applies a remedy to the sin considered as an evil of the sinner himself. This is fraternal correction properly so called, which is directed to the amendment of the sinner. Now to do away with anyone’s evil is the same as to procure his good: and to procure a person’s good is an act of charity, whereby we wish and do our friend well. Consequently fraternal correction also is an act of charity, because thereby we drive out our brother’s evil, viz. sin, the removal of which pertains to charity rather than the removal of an external loss, or of a bodily injury, in so much as the contrary good of virtue is more akin to charity than the good of the body or of external things. Therefore fraternal correction is an act of charity rather than the healing of a bodily infirmity, or the relieving of an external bodily need. There is another correction which applies a remedy to the sin of the wrongdoer, considered as hurtful to others, and especially to the common good. This correction is an act of justice, whose concern it is to safeguard the rectitude of justice between one man and another.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is a point that is ultimately overlooked in the dubia controversy, not least since plenty of people on both sides have a political view of the question. It is not a vicious act to correct the error of one’s brother or even one’s prelate. It is, indeed, an act of love. It is ultimately a cheap, gaudy “mercy” that smiles benignantly on the mistakes of one’s prelate and a bitter selfishness that puts one’s head down and says “that’s above my pay grade.” One does not want to see one’s superior—a superior to whom one may be bound with supernatural bonds of charity—do a bad job any more than one wants to see one’s parents do a bad job. (Especially in matters of the highest importance that have eternal consequences.) Now, as fraternal correction is ultimately a matter of virtue, one can deviate from the mean and make one’s fraternal correction less virtuous. But done appropriately, the bottom line is that fraternal correction is an act of deep charity.

Now, it seems that public correction of one’s prelate is one of those circumstances that deviates from the mean of virtue. This appears to us to be Cardinal Brandmüller’s point when he talks about the correction taking place in camera caritatis. The respect one owes to one’s prelate prevents one from correcting him publicly. This is a noble, humble approach. It is, however, not quite Thomistic. Responding to an objection, St. Thomas said, ST IIa IIae q.33 a.4 ad 2,

To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their prelate: “Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry [*Vulg.: ‘Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.’ Cf. 2 Tim. 4:5].” It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Gal. 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, while one generally ought to correct his prelate privately, when the faith is endangered, “a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.” (Emphasis supplied.) Defense of the faith is an exception to the rule.

This is a point that ought to be emphasized, especially to the critics of the cardinals: the cardinals would be justified, if they, in good conscience, believe that fraternal correction of the Holy Father is merited in making that act of correction in public. It is beyond doubt that the questions raised by Amoris laetitia present “imminent danger of scandal concerning faith.” Indeed, the past year demonstrates clearly the reality of scandal concerning faith for many Catholics, despite the scoffing of some of the Holy Father’s self-appointed defenders. This is, St. Thomas teaches us, an exception to the rule that one corrects one’s prelate in private. However, the cardinals behind the dubia, if Cardinal Brandmüller’s statements have been accurately reported, wish to proceed privately, in camera caritatis, if such a fraternal correction is ultimately necessary. The cardinals, therefore, are proceeding with greater caution and sensitivity than strictly necessary.

Good luck hearing that from the media aligned with Santa Marta and Villa Malta, though.