Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Church in Crisis: Diaspora Germany

The following article, published on December 29, 2014 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the largest and most reputable newspapers in Germany, is causing something of a stir in the German Catholic community. The author, one Markus Günther, pulls no punches in his stark portrayal of the current situation of the Church in Germany - one which is found in many places in the western world. Though the article is somewhat long, I highly recommend it - so much so, that I gladly took the time to translate it from the original German. I present it below, in its entirely and without comment. -RC


Church in Crisis: Diaspora Germany

Markus Günther

Dresden, Germany (1945)
On the night of December 13, almost exactly 50 years ago to the day, a student named Franz wandered through the streets of Münster. He could not sleep. He was too upset by the homily he had heard in the cathedral earlier that evening, delivered by a young priest and professor only a few years older than himself, which interpreted Advent and Christmas in an entirely different, even revolutionary way: the old doctrine, according to which human history falls into a time of darkness and a time of salvation - namely, into the time before and the time after  the birth of Christ - is one which no one today can take seriously, said the young theologian. Who, after the World Wars, after Auschwitz and Hiroshima, could still speak of the 'Time of Grace' which began 2000 years ago in Bethlehem? No, the dividing line between the darkness and the light, between captivity and salvation, does not divide history, but rather our own soul. Advent is not an event which takes place in the calendar, but rather in our hearts - or it founders there fruitlessly. That's strong stuff, and one can easily understand why the young student had trouble finding sleep after this homily, and instead wanted to be alone to think it all through.

Today, both the student and the priest of this memorable evening in Münster are old men: Franz Kamphaus, who suffered that sleepless night, and Joseph Ratzinger, the 37-year-old academic rising star who was shaking up students of theology. It is remarkable how the lives of these two men crossed paths for the first time. In retrospect, these two names - Ratzinger and Kamphaus - stand for two paths in Germany which, though they need not be labelled as 'right' and 'left,' were nonetheless quite divergent. Both attempted to preach Christianity under a different set of circumstances and to somehow translate it safely into the modern world - and they fought bitterly over the true and false compromises being made in the relationship between Christ and the World. And now, at the end of life and despite the distances separating them, the two men remain connected through a shared result of failure: Christianity in Germany is ideologically bankrupt.

Neither the humble, charming manner of Kamphaus nor the clever theology of Ratzinger, who helped to govern Germany from Rome, could change that fact. Not even a German Pope - who then, less than 20 years after the war, would have even considered such a thing possible? - could reanimate Christendom in Germany. Other than a bit of national pride and a few pleasant snapshots, nothing remains of the German pontificate. Kamphaus and Ratzinger, Modernists and Traditionalists, eager reformers and stolid conservatives: all stand before a common shambles in Germany.

Of course, one could deny it all. One could say that Germany is still a Christian country, because nearly two thirds of all Germans belong to one of the two major churches; because German children, even those on public schools, are instructed in religion; because there are crosses hanging in our courts and classrooms; because the Church does valuable work in kindergartens and hospitals. Even in the Preamble of the Constitution, there is still a reference to God, and the Chancellor called upon the aid of God while she swore her oath. And Germany is not a Christian country?

Yes, the historic backdrop is still there, and it is surprisingly well conserved. In many respects, however, the Church in Germany today is comparable to the German Democratic Republic [GDR; Communist East Germany (1949-1990)] in its later days: it looks stable, but it stands on the verge of collapse. And, like in the last days of the GDR, many officials are fooling themselves. Pastors and bishops, as well as many active parishioners, see blooming landscapes where there is nothing but desert. Love, as they say, is blind. And where existential threats are concerned, a calculated optimism often clouds a sober view of reality.

Shiny new facades and robust structures assist the work of self-deception: there are ca. 45,000 churches in the country and most of them - structurally speaking - are sound. This year, the Catholic Church and the Evangelical church in Germany has taken in more money than ever before. German church music is the best in the world. There are still 44,000 Catholic weddings and 225,000 Evangelical confirmations every year. What crisis? All that's missing is the argument that the churches are the second largest employer in Germany, offering more than a million people secure jobs - and the Church has finally arrived at a level of legitimization equaled only by the local garbage dump.

Only a Church which is a community of faith, and not merely an employer or a pillar of the social system, can be taken seriously. And precisely that - the common faith - has largely vanished into thin air. That only a third of all German believe in the Resurrection of Christ should be a cause for concern in the Church, especially given that, according to the files, two thirds are Christian. But it's much worse: even among the faithful, core elements of the Christian message are widely rejected. 60 percent do not believe in a life after death. At the same time, one in four Germans believes that black cats bring bad luck. More people between Flensburg [in the extreme north] and Oberammergau [in the extreme south] believe in UFO's than in the Last Judgement. Welcome to Diaspora Germany.

Just how little confessional affiliation still has to do with faith was revealed by a survey conducted by the Allensbach Institute for the Catholic Church. The results were so devastating, however, that they were never published. To the question, 'Why are you Catholic?' 68 percent gave the answer: "Because it allows one to celebrate the important events of life in the church, such as weddings and baptisms." The refreshing honesty of the second most common answer is no less admirable: "It's just what you do; it's a family tradition." Its is obvious that these cannot be considered religious, but merely cultural, social reasons. Most pastors on location can confirm the findings: the Church works best when it promises a fabulous celebration. A wedding in white, often in a strange but imposing church, is still very much in vogue, as are pictures of children in white for their First Communion or young adults in dark suits for Confirmation. One in three of those receiving Confirmation, however, doesn't even believe in God. The comparison with the GDR rears its head again: even after socialism had gone bankrupt, Youth Consecration [a secular coming of age ceremony practiced by all 14-year-olds in the GDR] remained in high demand. It even survived the demise of the GDR and, while emptied of its overtly socialist content, is still celebrated. Many worship services, too, are today such exclusively cultural events (e.g.: weekly meeting place, annual folklore, family reunion) that even after a conclusive proof for the non-existence of God they could continue to be celebrated.

The autumn of Christendom in Germany has begun. The Church Tax will either be eliminated as a result of political pressure or ultimately run dry by 2030; the last socialized and actively Christian generation will soon be exiting the workforce, and dead within three decades. Then the facade of the Church, too, will crumble. Behind it, a minority will become visible - a minority not much larger than the community of Jehova's Witnesses.

At the same time, a veritable renaissance of religion is proclaimed by the media every few years - preferably at Christmas time. Journalists and sociologists convince themselves that they have discovered a trend: a harking back to Christian roots, a new generation's search for meaning, a 'Benedict' - and, most recently, a 'Francis'- Effect. Truth be told, there is no data to support such a trend. The numbers are moving steadily in one direction: down. In 2013 alone, Mass attendance in the Catholic Church dropped by 10 percent.

There is no harking back to religion. Interestingly, however, the number of atheists has hardly budged. One might, after all, be tempted to think that the drop-off in Church attendance would correlate with a significant uptick in atheism. There is no such correlation. Even those who are at ends with traditional religions are not satisfied with the explanation that there was once nothing which exploded in a Big Bang, bringing the universe into existence; that mankind - and each and every person - was brought about through evolutionary chance; that the world consists of nothing other than what we can see, measure and understand; that everything ends with death. The question of whence and whither, the question of God is part and parcel of man. In decisive moments - such as those touched by illness and death, by the inscrutable in one's own life, by guilt and failure, hope and mourning, and, not least of all, by the experience of love - the question of God poses itself to the human consciousness. Karl Rahner once said: "Even if, one day, every religion were to disappear and even the word 'God' were to be completely eradicated, then someone would simply invent the word anew to describe the nameless mystery of our existence."

For the vast majority of people, whether in or outside the Church, the question of God remains a life-long issue with which they never really come to terms. The vicissitudes of life are also reflected in the biography of faith. Resolute atheism is the exception; a vague, often diffuse faith is the norm today. One could also say: they still exist in large numbers - the seekers and doubters who are asking about God and who are looking for answers - but the churches are reaching them less and less.

But why are the seekers no longer finding guidance? Why are the supply and demand no longer jibing? The most popular answer to this question is: because the Church is no longer relevant to the times. She must conform more closely to the realities of the lives of modern people. Initially, that sounds plausible, but under closer scrutiny reveals itself to be idiocy. For the Evangelical church in Germany has done nearly everything which is being demanded from the Catholic Church in order to become more relevant to the times: women priests, the elimination of celibacy, liberality in moral theology, the complete acceptance of homosexuals and the divorced. If these were the real reasons for the malaise of Christendom, the Protestants should be far better off than the Catholics. But that simply isn't the case. A second error in thinking is introduced by the popular buzzword "relevant to the times" [German: zeitgemäß, which can mean "modern," "suitable," or even "appropriate," and often carries all of these shades when applied to the Church]: Wherever the Church does not base herself upon timeless, incontrovertible truth, she reveals herself to be purely man-made. Political programs should be "relevant to the times," entertainment programming, too; but a religion must take command of absolute truths - or it is no religion at all.

On the contrary, both churches in Germany - not always officially, but de facto, in practical life - have already long ago abandoned central doctrines of the faith. In the attempt to avoid offending people and make access to the faith as easy as possible, a good deal has been laundered as if with fabric softener: Jesus, Son of God, has been reduced to Jesus, an exemplary man, like Buddha and Gandhi. The Resurrection of Christ has been reduced to a legend which is not to be taken literally, but rather in the sense of "who has love in his heart never dies." The lowest common denominator of the preaching often consists of nothing more than feel-good prose which should be acceptable to as many people as possible and for precisely that reason comes off as arbitrary. Peace on earth, more justice for all, being less egotistical - every group of halfway decent people can agree on that. Besides, an appeal from UNESCO or Greenpeace doesn't sound much different. Why should God be any different?

When the churches are all full - at Christmas, that is - everything is quite festive, but the spark of faith rarely catches fire. Many visitors wonder - both at the church and themselves. What were they actually looking for? And why didn't they find it? Of sacred acts there is very little to notice. And if the spiritual nomad finds himself at a more tradition-oriented liturgy, the result is no better, for the stranger is all the more strange here, and turns away all the more baffled. Liturgy assumes a good deal of knowledge; otherwise, one sees nothing more than ballyhoo and mumbo-jumbo.

Perhaps the person of today, with all his enlightened cleverness, occasionally stands in his own way. Faith requires a pinch of naivete, the readiness to give up control and open oneself to the Incomprehensible. Groping and hoping. No wonder that many find this increasingly difficult in a world which is set upon industrially reorganizing the last untouched domains of being: sexuality, love, birth, death. Total control, complete autocracy over one's own life is in trend. A more inhospitable breeding ground for faith is barely conceivable.

And yet, the churches themselves have done their fair share to destroy piety and the naivete of faith - or better: the immediacy of religious imagery. The storm against traditional forms was born in many minds. Perhaps this is the most calamitous development of modern theology: the desire to loose the content from its images, to abstract the faith and thereby to trust that modern man can accomplish more with a concept than with an image. A delusion. A faith without images is an ideology, and an ideology is judged in the mind of the individual and by the spirit of the times. An image remains an image: it challenges, fascinates, irritates, is accepted or rejected - but it proclaims itself. He who destroys images leaves nothing of the content. He who no longer wants to conceive of God as a Person, but rather as an abstract Being, as an Energy or Force, such a one will also thereby lose his faith. Every human relationship - and faith is precisely that - requires as its counterpart a living person.

(Original: German)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Change We Can Believe In?

In an exceptional moment of clarity, Pope John Paul II once observed:
We see spread abroad ideas contrary to the truth which God has revealed and which the Church has always taught.  Real heresies have appeared in dogma and moral theology, stirring doubt, confusion, rebellion.  Even the liturgy has been harmed. Christians have been plunged into an intellectual and moral illuminism, a sociological Christianity, without clear dogma or objective morality.
If his words were accurate when they were first delivered, on February 6, 1981, they are doubly accurate today. Faithful Catholics around the world are still reeling from the effects of the 2014 Synod - an event during which Princes of the Church were openly discussing and debating topics which, a few short decades ago, were so far beneath the dignity of any self-respecting Catholic as to be taboo. 

No more.

How did we get here? How, in the brief span of a hundred years, did we go from the profoundly Catholic extra Ecclesia nulla salus (outside of the Church there is no salvation) to the profoundly Protestant Ecclesia semper reformanda est (the Church is always to be reformed)? Join me, if you will, on a brief historical excursus in pursuit of insight into this most pressing of questions, i.e. that regarding the instrumentalization of the Holy Spirit to sanction sweeping and persistent change in the Catholic Church.

In the late 19th century, a new strain of evangelical Protestantism - later referred to as the "Holiness Movement" - was emerging in the western world, one which placed great emphasis on a reputedly profound personal experience it referred to as "sanctification" or the "second work of grace," believed to be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon individuals akin to what the Holy Apostles experienced at Pentecost two millennia ago. It was from this Movement that the modern religious phenomenon known as "Pentecostalism," which promised its adherents a fuller revelation and a more direct manifestation of the Holy Spirit, was born. As Stanley Frodsham (1882-1969), a leading figure of early Pentecostalism, put it:
The Pentecostal Baptism of the Holy Spirit brings a deeper and clearer revelation of our Lord and Savior.
Almost as if to condemn these very words, His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, in his 1897 encyclical on the Holy Spirit, wrote:
This being so, no further and fuller manifestation and revelation of the Divine Spirit may be imagined or expected; for that which now takes place in the Church is the most perfect possible, and will last until that day when the Church herself, having passed through her militant career, shall be taken up into the joy of the Saints triumphing in Heaven. (Divinum illud munus, §6)
The explosive potential of this new conception of the Holy Spirit was as obvious to Pope Leo XIII as it was to the Protestants who originally proposed the idea, for it meant that anyone could claim the title of Apostle and all the authority that title deserves - namely, the power to decide the true meaning of Christ's words, to discern the authentic application of His commandments, and to define the structure and governance of His Church. In essence, it was a means whereby one could "reset" the Church and all she teaches, taking her, as it were, back to Apostolic times, effectively wiping out her history. And it could all be done with the seeming sanction of Our Blessed Lord, who Himself had promised to send us the Holy Spirit, who would "teach us all truth" (John 16:13). For anyone who wanted to subvert well-established Church teaching - and they were legion at the turn of the last century - the doctrine of Pentecostalism was a most fortuitous blessing. 

Thus, despite the unambiguous rejection by Pope Leo XIII, the idea of a "new outpouring of divine grace," even a "new Pentecost," had gained considerable traction in certain Catholic circles by the early 20th century. It became a veritable buzzword in Rome and beyond when Pope John XXIII, in preparation for the Second Vatican Council, made the following prayer to Almighty God:
Renew Your wonders in this, our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of Blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Savior, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.
The rest, as they say, is history. A mere half-century after that historic prayer, the notion of a "new Pentecost" has become so ingrained in post-Conciliar thinking that, for many, it is part and parcel of Catholicism, and the future of the Church is unthinkable without it. In the words of the former President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity - and the current President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization - Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko:
One thing, however, is certain: the face of the Church of the third millennium depends on our capacity to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church of our time. [...] It depends, therefore, on our capacity to be amazed by the charismatic gifts that the Holy Spirit is lavishing on the Church today with extraordinary generosity.
It is not a coincidence, gentle reader, that the most "progressive" among the clergy are those who are the most vigorous in their support for Catholic Pentacostalism - or, Charismatic Catholicism, as it is called these days. Some are quite vocal in their support. Others are a bit more subtle. 

As for the subtle type, we might take Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany for example. When explaining what he means when he says, "I believe in the Apostolic Church," he revealed the following:
"Apostolic" means that we believe those who first undertook the journey, those who traveled the path from the Easter experience: the Apostles. And we believe that the bishops are the successors of the Apostles. This is, of course, a pretty bold claim. Why is this claim made? To make clear that we are connected to the origins, that we do not make the Church anew, that we do not start at zero, pick up a sheet of paper and say, "Now we shall invent the Church of our dreams." Rather, we enter the long journey of the People of God at the Gospel, at the point of origin. The Apostles represent this loyalty to the origins.
Note well that, for the Cardinal, to believe that the Church is "apostolic" means to believe that we are connected "to the origins," conveniently skipping over the last 2,000 years of apostolic lineage. I imagine we are supposed to feel something like relief when Cardinal Marx explains that he does not want to start tabula rasa, as though this is sufficient proof of his fidelity to the Church. On the contrary, gentle reader, this represents a programmatic change. Gone are the days of genuine apostlic succession, of carefully guarding the hard-won fruits of so many generations of labor in the vineyard; this is to be a church in which we are forever starting, not from the absolute, but from the apostolic zero, pushing 'reset' with every generation, connecting with the "point of origin" so as to better meet the "challenges of the age" under the "sign of the times." There is no cause for relief here; on the contrary, we should be positively outraged, not only at his intentional overlooking of two millennia of authentic doctrinal development, but more properly so at his thinly veiled suggestion that, upon his being raised to the episcopate, he has received his mandate directly from the hand of Christ, and not from the hands of his many saintly predecessors in the Faith. But in doing so, I suspect we would very likely demonstrate that we are not sufficiently inspired by the Holy Spirit. As Cardinal Marx recently commented on the orthodox blow-back he and Cardinal Kasper experienced at the 2014 Synod
When, in a process of reform, one places people and positions in the categories of "victor" and "vanquished," such a one prevents us from being infected and surprised by the Holy Spirit. 
Where have we heard of this "Holy Spirit, God of Surprises" before? Ah, yes. And that brings us to the more obvious type of supporter.

In his opening address to the Synod Fathers, Pope Francis remarked:
God's dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. We can thwart God's dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity.
Are you taking notes, gentle reader? If so, please do underline that the Holy Spirit enables us to be "generous," "free" and "creative." He does not help in the defense of orthodoxy, He does not lead to a genuine appreciation and guarding of Tradition, and He most certainly does not inspire anyone to admonish sinners and correct errors. That only creates division - and we all know where that comes from.

In what has to be one of the most revealing of his homilies to date, Pope Francis recently laid out in surprising clarity his vision of the Church: she is a barren woman, and unless she opens herself to the "Holy Spirit, God of Surprises," she will remain barren:
The Church is a mother and becomes a mother only when she opens herself to the newness of God, to the power of the Spirit. [...] The Church is barren when she believes she can do it all, that she can take over the consciences of the people, going the way of the Pharisees, of the Sadducees, on the path of hypocrisy. [...] She must allow herself to be startled by the Holy Spirit.
The entire homily is very much worth reading and pondering. If you're pressed for time, however, add the following to your list of notes: Holy Spirit = expect startling newness, you barren, gossipy hag.

The logical conclusion of this line of thinking was succinctly summarized by Fr. Peter Knott, S.J., in his book The Keys to the Council (2012):
If one conceives of the Catholic Church exclusively as a reality instituted by Christ two thousand years ago, substantive change will generally be viewed as a departure from the will of Christ. However, if one conceives of the Church as not only instituted by Christ in the past but also perpetually constituted by the Holy Spirit in each present moment, then change and reform might be viewed, not as a departure from the will of Christ, but as a fidelity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Authentic reform and renewal will always be a response to the promptings of the Spirit in ever-changing historical and cultural contexts. [...] For example, calls for Church reform frequently seek more structures that would allow Church leaders to consult the faithful on a variety of matters from pastoral policy to Church doctrine. Now, many object that such a proposal for reform mistakenly presumes that the Church is a democracy. Indeed, were this call for reform motivated by nothing more than an effort to transform the Church into a liberal democracy, it could well be illegitimate. But, in fact, this reform proposal is oriented toward greater fidelity to the Church's identity as a temple of the Holy Spirit. In pursuing such reform, the Church would become a community of discernment, a community in which its leaders would be dedicated to seeking out the voice of the Spirit.
As Fr. Knott makes clear, this new pneumatology would allow any prelates intent on changing Church teaching to subvert virtually any practice - and, by extension, nearly any doctrine - at will, provided he can make it appear to be at the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The average Catholic, being relatively ignorant of magisterial teaching on the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, is reluctant to offer resistance in the face of novelties being proposed in His Name. And if such a novelty has the blessing of a reigning pope: who is he to judge? Little does he know that the dogmatic constitution which promulgated papal infallibility explicitly states that the Pope does not have the power to declare a new doctrine, even - and specifically - if it should appear to come at the behest of the Holy Spirit:
For the Holy Spirit was promised to the Successors of Peter not so that they might, by His revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by His assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the Apostles. (Constitutio Dogmatica Prima de Ecclesia Christi (Pastor Aeternus), Cap. IV, §6)
The prescience of Blessed Pope Pius IX is downright spooky at times. But, really, why should anyone pay any attention to such an ancient document? 1870? My goodness, that thing is over a hundred years old! It can't possibly be part of the "new Pentecost."

Brace yourself, gentle reader, for an unrelenting stream of homilies and speeches leading up to the 2015 Synod on how we all need to 'become attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit,' how He is 'calling us' to 'new and unexpected destinations' well beyond the 'confines' of 'doctrinal security,' punctuated by the occasional snide remark - offered in all humility, mind you - on those 'sour-faced whited sepulchers' who would keep the Church 'in the past' by remaining obstinately 'fixed on,' nay, 'obsessed with' the commandments of Christ. Brace yourself, and mediate on the words of Our Blessed Lord:
If you love me, keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever: the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, nor knoweth Him. But you shall know Him, because He shall abide with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more. But you see Me, because I live, and you shall live. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them: he it is that loveth Me. And he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love Him, and will manifest Myself to Him. (John 14:15-21)

Lutheranism Propagated

Fourth in a Series on the Protestant Reformation

Fr. Charles Coppens, S.J.

Martin Luther, ca. 1545
We have seen how Luther, under the pretense of attacking some abuses existing in his day, had gradually been emboldened by his success in arousing popular passions, and had proceeded so far as to proclaim an entirely new scheme of salvation, which, as he admitted, had never before been the doctrine of the Church. He claimed that he had been taught his Gospel directly by Heaven, and that he had been commissioned to preach to the people that his was the only means of salvation. How did he succeed in gaining millions of men to abandon their ancestral Catholic faith, and accept him as the reformer of the old religion? This we are now briefly to explain.

First, we must remember that he did not begin by preaching openly a novel creed. He claimed at first only to be the spokesman of many Catholics, clergy and laity, princes and people, who complained of some scandalous extortions of money for pretended holy purposes, which were said to enrich Rome and the Pope at the expense of Germany. This complaint stirred up passions the more violently because the preceding Pope, Julius II, had rescued Italy from German domination. The Germans nourished a grudge against the Popes.

Luther complained also of abuses which happened to be connected with the preaching of an indulgence; and he but gradually made bold to attack the doctrine itself. Many causes were conspiring at the time in Germany to alienate its people more and more entirely from the See of Rome.

There was first the Humanist movement. This had arisen from the influx of Grecian teachers of literature, who had come West in large numbers, especially when Constantinople was captured by the Muslims in 1454. The enthusiasm created by them for the study of the ancient classics had infatuated the educated generally with admiration for pagan ideals, and substituted the love of elegant language for the former appreciation of Christian truth. It had fostered a worldly spirit, even among the clergy, and had made the simplicity of former ages contemptible. Pride of intellect is most unfavorable to the spirit of faith and submission to Divine authority. It craves for independence of the judgment.

A large portion of the Humanists welcomed Luther as their champion in the cause of intellectual freedom. They wrote to him to express their approbation and to promise support for his attacks on Rome. Janssen says of them: "In their struggle against scholastic learning and ecclesiastical authority, the latter [the Humanists] welcomes this audacious reformer, and entered the lists for him." Quoting a reliable contemporary of Luther, the same author adds:
With their lips and their pens, the Humanists fought unweariedly for Luther, and disposed the hearts of the laity towards his cause. They attacked the prelates and theologians with all manner of abusive and derisive language, accused them of covetousness, pride, envy, ignorance, and coarseness, and said that they only persecuted the innocent Luther because he was more learned than themselves, and because he had sufficient candor to speak out the truth in opposition to the deceit and falsehood of hypocrites. As these Humanists, besides being shrewd and gifted men, could also use both spoken and written language with eloquence and skill, it was an easy matter for them to excite pity and regard for Luther among the laity, and to make out that, for the sake of truth and justice, he was persecuted by a set of envious, grasping, unlearned clergy, who, living themselves in idleness and debauchery, endeavored to get money out of the poor silly people by wokring on their superstitions (V. III. p. 101).
Unfortunately Erasmus, the greatest scholar of the day, though he never became a Protestant, wrote most enthusiastically in commendation of Luther till he found out the further purposes of the heresiarch. He and his fellow Humanists were like the Higher Critics of today, many of whom are Rationalists rather than Christians; some of them even questioned the immortality of the soul. It was such men who hailed Luther as the liberator of the human mind from the slavery of religious authority.

No period in history could have been more favorable to the rapid spread of novel views among the learned classes, and in the awakening minds of the common people, than was the first half of the sixteenth century. The recent invention of printing had created an extraordinary ferment of thought, and Luther eagerly seized upon the press to address the whole German nation. His style was powerful and most popular, unsparing in denunciation of wrong and of restraint on liberty of speech and thought. Janssen says:
The sale of Lutheran books was enormous, and side-by-side with them appeared thousands of leaflets, satires and pasquils, which struck at all existing institutions of Church and State. In no other period of German history did revolutionary journalism acquire such importance and such wide circulation as at that time. Crowds of adherents flocked round Luther, not from any preference for his religious opinions, but, as Melanchton explains, because they looked upon him as the restorer of liberty, under which name each one understood the removal of whatever stood in his own way, and the attainment of the particular form of happiness he individually wished for. Many of his supporters were actuated by no other motive than the love of destroying. By speech and by pen they labored for the destruction of social order, and undermined through all classes of society all respect for the inward restraints of religion and conscience, and the outward control of the law. (Ib. p. 104)
The party of Luther was immensely increased by the easy morality implied in his doctrine. If faith alone can save us, then there is no more need of confession, of fasting and penance to obtain pardon of sin, no need of sorrow and reform of life. No more good works were demanded, for all our acts, even the best, were only new sins. No more accountability for our actions, for we are not free in our choice; if God mounts the soul, Luther said, he rides it to Heaven; but if the devil bestrides it, he rides it to hell. Yet there is no fear of hell for anyone, if only he believes firmly that Christ has paid the full ransom for his individual sins, they are all covered by the cloak of His merits, and at death that man goes straight to Heaven. All this followed logically from his premises, and much of it is taught explicitly in his work On the Slave Will.

Another seduction was the free scope given to the human intellect, for each one was to read the Bible and judge for himself. It was like a general intoxication of passion and independence. And all this was declared to be, not only a safe way, but the only safe way to eternal happiness.

All that remained to be done in order to complete the total separation from Rome was the favor and cooperation of the temporal princes. To secure this, Luther offered them the seizure of all the churches and monasteries of their respective lands, with the gold and silver ornaments, and precious stones and rich vestments that the piety of many ages had bestowed upon the worship of God. Wheresoever Lutheranism was accepted by the rulers, all those treasures were eagerly seized by them to enrich them and their friends. And once possessed of the Church lands and other property of the kind, the princely robbers found it to be their interest to foster and maintain the new religion, lest they might have to restore their ill-gotten goods.

In a couple of years, the demoralization was complete. On March 28, 1523, Luther issued an appeal to the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, urging him with all the religious of that Order, to set aside their sacred vows, contract sacrilegious marriages, and divide the monastic lands and treasures among themselves. He added:
I have no doubt that many bishops also, and many abbots, and other ecclesiastical dignitaries would marry if they were not afraid of being the first.
Most of the Knights yielded to the temptation, and many priests, monks and nuns followed their bad example. Luther himself married a nun, Catherine Bora, both breaking their solemn vows, which they had taken at the sacred altars.

A torrent of impiety was poured forth over the land; the change made in his followers is well exemplified by what he admits had taken place in his own person. For he wrote that, while a Catholic, he had passed his life in austerities, in watchings, in fasts and praying, in poverty, chastity and obedience; but after his change of religion he declared that, as it did not depend upon him not to be a man, so neither did it depend upon him to without a woman, and that he could no longer forego the indulgence of the vilest natural propensities. Meanwhile he was ill at ease in his inmost heart. He wrote frequently to various friends. To one he says:
Many people think, because in the intervals I am cheerful in my outward bearing, that I live on a bed of roses, but God knows what my real life is.
He was incessantly at war with his own conscience, and, according to his own confession, he sought relief in those fits of despair which often frightened his friends, in incessant drinking, in card-playing and conviviality, or else in outbursts of vindictive fury against the Church, its teachings and institutions, especially against the Pope.

For the last fifteen years of his life, he usually passed the evenings at the Black Eagle tavern of Wittenberg, where he conversed over the ale jug with his boon companions, Melanchton, Armsdorf, Aurifaber, Justus, Jonas, Lange, Link, Staupiz and others. Two of these published select morsels of this Table Talk, Tischrede, which their vile tastes admired; but the book reveals in Luther a heart so coarse, so corrupt, so lustful, spiteful, proud, resentful, etc., as to revolt and horrify the reader. Happily the English language has so far refused to reproduce those profanities, except in brief extracts and expurgated editions. His language against the Supreme Pontiff is like the ravings of a maniac or the curses of an energumen. How much further he would have dragged down the standard of public morals if he had lived longer, we do not know, but certain it is that, in 1539, the year before his death, he allowed Philip, the Landgrave of Hesse, to marry a second wife while the first wife remained married with him. Here is an extract from the lengthy document he sent to Philip on that occasion:
As to what your highness says, that it is not possible to you to abstain from this impure life, we wish you were in a better state before God. [...] But, after all, if your highness is fully resolved to marry a second wife, we judge it ought to be done secretly. [...] Yout highness has, therefore, in this writing, the approbation of us all, in case of necessity, concerning what you desire.
The lengthy document is printed in full in an appendix to the History of the Reformation by Bishop Spalding. It is signed by Martin Luther, Melanchton, Bucer and five other leaders of the new religion.

Here are facts enough about the origin of Lutheranism to show that is author was not a man of God, and his work was not the work of God. Present members of the Lutheran religion are not guilty of their founder's sins, because they have been born three hundred years after his death. The majority of them do not even know these facts nor even the early tenets of their sect. But once they know better, they must return to the one Church of Christ if they wish for salvation; and it is not harshness but charity to tell them so.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday after Christmas

Fr. Leonard Goffine


For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night came was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty Word, O Lord, down from heaven, from Thy royal throne (Wis. 18:14-15). The Lord hath reigned, He is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded Himself (Ps. 92:1). 

Prayer of the Church

Almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions according to Thy good pleasure; that in the name of Thy beloved Son we may deserve to abound in good works.

Epistle (Gal. 4:1-7)

Brethren, as long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all: but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the father: so we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law: that he might redeem them who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father. Therefore now he is not a servant, but a son; and if a son, an heir also through God.


St. Paul desired to instruct the Galatians, many of whom still clung to the Mosaic law, that this was no longer necessary, because Christ had freed them from its hard bondage, which contained merely the rudiments, so to speak, of the one only saving faith, and had made them children and heirs of God, for which they should rejoice.

Ours is a far greater happiness than that which the Jews received, because we, through our ancestors, were converted by apostolic messengers of the faith from heathenism to the true, saving Catholic faith, and by this holy religion were changed from vassals of Satan into children and heirs of God. What a great advantage is this! Must it not be dearer to us than all the kingdoms of the world? Let us thank the Lord for it, and be careful not to lose this prerogative of being a child of God, an heir to heaven, let us not by sin give ourselves anew, as voluntary slaves to Satan.

Gospel (Lk. 2:33-40)

At that time, Joseph and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning Him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother: Behold, this Child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted: and thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. And she was a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. Now she at the same hour coming in, confessed to the Lord; and spoke of Him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel. And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the Child grew and waxed strong, full of wisdom: and the grace of God was in Him.
Q. Why did Mary and Joseph wonder at the things which were spoken of the Child Jesus?

A. They wondered, not because that which was said of the Child Jesus by Simeon was new to them, for they already knew why He was sent from God, but because of the marvellous ways in which God revealed the mysteries of the new-born Savior to Simeon, the shepherds, and to other pious people.

Q. How is Christ set for the fall of many?

A. Christ is set for the fall, that is, for the eternal damnation, of all those who either reject His doctrine, or live not according to its teachings. They themselves, not Christ, are the cause of their damnation on account of their perversity and hard-heartedness. "If I had not come and spoken to them," says Christ, "they would not have sin: but now they have no excuse for their sin" (Jn. 15:22).

Q. For whom is Christ the resurrection?

A. For those who believe in Him, and live in accordance with the teachings of His doctrine. These, if they persevere will at the Last Day rise to eternal life.

Q. Why is Christ a sign that shall be contradicted?

A. Because, by His birth from a virgin, by His life and death, and especially by His heavenly doctrine, which is entirely opposed to the carnal spirit of this world, Christ became an object of mockery and blasphemy. Even now, according to the saying of St. Bernard, Christ is a sign of contradiction for many Christians who contradict His humility by their pride, His poverty by their avarice, His fasting by their gluttony, His purity by their impurity, His zeal by their indolence, etc., thus denying by their actions that which they confess with their lips, proving thereby that they are Christians but in name, of whom it is written: "Thou hast the name of being alive, but thou art dead" (Apoc. 3:1).

Q. What is meant by these words: "Thy own soul a sword shall pierce"?

A. It means that the greatest grief should cut like a sword through the inmost parts of the soul, which came to pass, when Mary heard the calumnies and blasphemies of the Jews against her Son, and when she saw Him die on the cross between two thieves. Meditating on this grief of the most loving mother Mary, St. Bonaventure exclaims: "Never was there grief so great, for never was there a Son so loved!"

Q. What else do we learn from this gospel?

A. The widows should learn from Anna, who spent nearly all her life in the temple, to serve God by prayer and fasting; for a widow who prays not, but lives in pleasures, is dead, while she is living (1 Tim. 5:6). Parents should learn from it to be careful that their children not only increase in knowledge, but that they by a pious life advance in grace before God and man.


O Jesus, Thou new-born Savior, do Thou move our hearts to the fulfillment of Thy precepts that Thou mayst be set for our fall; for it would be much better for us, not to have known the ways of righteousness, than having known them, to have departed from them.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Radical Quotes of 2014

As those among you who follow me on Google+ know, I really enjoy good Catholic quotes. I recently received a query as to why I do not also post them here on the blog. There is no reason, really, other than that I did not want to fill up the blog with posts consisting of little more than a picture. Besides, the quotes seemed something ideally suited to a social network such as Google+, which thrives on brief observations. Now that the secular year is drawing to a close, however, I am persuaded to post the quotes of 2014 here so that those of you who know only the blog might also enjoy reading them, and possibly sharing them with others. Thus, I present - again - the Radical Quotes of 2014, in no particular order, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

On the Meaning of Christ's Coming

A few hours ago, Pope Francis delivered his Urbi et Orbi message to a large crowd of faithful gathered at St. Peter's in Rome. During the speech, he repeatedly called upon Christ, Our Lord, as Savior of the World, to save the nations from the evils of poverty, famine, persecution, suffering and war. Christ, said Pope Francis, is "the Salvation for every person and for all peoples."

While I wish to distract neither from the horrible plight of so many suffering around the world today nor from the genuineness of the Holy Father's sentiments, I find myself wondering: Did Christ come to save us from these things? Did He come to save us from poverty, famine, persecution and suffering? Did He come in the glory of His power to establish a kingdom in which there is no want, no calumny, no corruption? Is this the reason for His appearance two millennia ago? Is this the meaning of His Advent?

Jesus Christ is, indeed, the Salvation of the World. But we must ask: salvation from what?

Undoubtedly, Christ performed great miracles which fed the hungry, cured the sick and raised the dead. He forcefully rebuked those who would follow Him to leave off from calumny and all manner of vice, to forgive one's enemies and love one another with a divine love. But when those whom He miraculously fed sought Him out to make Him king, He rebuked them, saying:
Amen, amen I say to you: You seek Me, not because you have seen miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of Man will give you. For Him hath God, the Father, sealed. (John 6:26-27)
For the people of Israel expected the Advent of the Messiah to be the dawn of an age of prosperity and plenty, of abundant riches and fat harvests, of the return of the rule of God's Law over the land. Had not the Prophets of God described it so? Indeed, they had. Where, then, was the fulfillment of the expectation? Where was the prosperity, where the riches, where the justice? The masses huddled about and pressed upon Christ, wretched in their poverty and scarred from years of punishment at the hands of their persecutors, and He spoke to them thus:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. (Matthew 5:3-12)
Christ did not come to save us from earthly evils, but from the spiritual evil which has made for itself a home in the heart of man: sin. Without fixing one eye on the supreme majesty of God and the other on the utter depravity of sin, we cannot begin to understand the real meaning of the Advent of Our Blessed Lord. And our age is one which has lost sight of both. Should it, then, come as a surprise to find that the wonder of Christmas - that God should deign to condescend to sinful man in order to comfort and instruct him, and ultimately to redeem him with His own Body and Blood - has been reduced to empty platitudes and appeals for relief from that which would make us saints?
Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:31-33)
I pray, gentle reader, that you may find a moment to recall both God's majesty and the depravity of your own sin before receiving the Body and Blood of Our Blessed Lord this day, so that you may feel true joy at such a gratuitous gift.

Adoration of the Child
Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656)

Merry Christmas!

The Human Side of Christ

Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J.

There is one aspect of the Gospel story that must strike any careful student. The fundamental fact of our faith is that Jesus Christ our Lord is very God, yet the special object of the Gospels seems rather to be to emphasize the fact that He is very Man. He has gone out of His way, if we may put it so, to make us feel and know that He is one with ourselves. He preferred always to call Himself the "Son of Man," and, as the writers of the Gospels chose the material for their work, He inspired them to choose just such details as emphasized His feeble, human side. By doing so He knew, if again with reverence we may say it, that He was risking very much. He knew that men would use it against Him; He knew that generation after generation would take up this undeniable evidence, and cast it in the teeth of His defenders; He knew that it would be for the fall as well as for the resurrection of many in Israel. Yet He preferred that the risk should be run; He preferred that insult after insult should be offered Him then in the flesh, and afterwards in the Spirit, rather than that men should say that He in any way fell short of His title - the "meek and humble of heart." One prophecy of Him, at least, should not be frustrated - that "He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows." It was from His heart that He cried, "Blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in Me," yet, when His fellow-townsmen wondered and said: "How came this man by this wisdom and miracles? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His Mother called Mary, and His brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Whence therefore hath He these things?" And they were scandalized because of Him - when, I say, all this happened, He made no effort to undeceive them. The evidence they brought was too valuable for the end He had in view. Yes, even though He was compelled broken-heartedly to cry out on its account, "All you shall be scandalized in Me this night," He was willing and preferred that so it should be.

What, then, was the end He had in view? It is not very far to seek. While He lived among men, it is true, it would be easy enough to recognize His manhood; but how would it be when He was gone? His memory would be handed down from one to another; the wonderful things that He had done would be recorded. From time to time, it might be, the tales that were told of Him would be over-coloured - at all events, the distance of years and the barrier of death would separate men from any true experience of Him. How much easier would it then be to believe that He was indeed very God, but that He was man only in appearance! God had appeared on the earth before. He had walked with Adam in the Garden, yet had not been man; He had appeared to Moses in the bush, yet had still been God, and not a fire; He had thundered from Mount Sinai, yet it had been no more than a manifestation; He had filled the Ark and the Temple with His presence, yet there had been no thought of any assumption of a new nature. Might it not, then, be the same on the occasion of this last manifestation? Might God-made-man be no more than God appearing as man, as He had appeared in other ways before?

He knew that this doubt might be; indeed, He knew that it would be. Since He passed from the earth, the difficulty of mankind has been to keep its balance. Either it becomes too learned in the signs of His human nature, and so fails to see that He is God, or it is overwhelmed with the proofs of His divinity, and hence doubts - in practice, at least - the evident fact that He is man. And the second, it would seem, was the danger the most dreaded. Against it He would make the most careful preparation. If men denied His Godhead, they were not of His own, and He would leave them to the mercy of the Father; but if men denied or doubted His manhood, then He knew that they were His own, who had been unable to understand. And these, above all, it was essential that He should help. He must not let them doubt His relationship with themselves; He must not let them think He was removed from them, that He belonged wholly to another sphere, another order of creation; He did not know, and understand, and feel whatever they endured; that they were called upon to carry a burden which was not also His own. At whatever risk, this must not be permitted. Neither the greatness of His teaching, nor the wonder of His miracles, nor the confession of devils, of men, of Angels, and of the Father Himself, should so exalt Him as to make His children think that He was not one of their own household.

So in all the weakness of infancy He submitted to be born at Bethlehem. He could not have emptied Himself more. From the beginning He lay at the mercy of men, at the mercy of His parents, at the mercy of Herod, helpless in the shriveled hands of Simeon and Anna, and never raised a finger as a sign of His power. At Nazareth He grew into manhood no more quickly than others, with no more striking signs to show it, so that, at the end, men who knew Him could wonder how He came by His knowledge. When His time for action came, He submitted, like any common sinner, to the baptism of penance. This, He told John, was but a fulfillment of justice. So far did He identify Himself with guilty man - "made sin," as St. Paul later uncompromisingly put it - He is led into the desert to prepare; He fasts as the price of future victory; He is tempted by a devil. How much lower can He go? Now and throughout the years after He shows human weakness, human needs. He is hungry in the desert, at the well of Jacob; but a few weeks later, He is thirsty and worn out; more than once, as the months of His short life roll on, He is in need of nourishment and rest.

Indeed, so integral a part do eating and drinking play in the life of men, that He would leave no doubt upon this head. He eats with His friends, and He eats with His enemies; He eats with Pharisees, and He eats with publicans and sinners. His first formal appearance before the world is at a marriage banquet. Some of His most momentous lessons are delivered across the table; some of His most wonderful acts of condescension are performed in the midst of eating. He shows His friendship by dining with those He loves; He rewards His converts by sitting down at their table. For it He even submits to be taunted: "Behold a man that is a glutton and a drinker of wine, a friend of publicans and sinners" (Luke 7:34). He is entertained by Simon the Pharisee, by Levi the Publican, by Simon Peter the Apostle, by Lazarus raised from the dead. It is at table that He institutes the Blessed Sacrament; and even after His Resurrection He eats to convince His disciples that He is not a spirit, and by others is recognized "in the breaking of bread."

But if His body was so very human, needing food and drink, needing rest and sleep, what shall we say of His quivering human soul? "Who is weak, and I am not weak?" says St. Paul. "Who is scandalized, and I am not on fire?" In another place, he says: "Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ"; and elsewhere: "He was made in all things like to man, sin alone excepted." Put the three together, and we have the truth; and our Lord has taken care that this, too, shall be stamped upon the Gospel story. When a young man comes to Him, led by a generous ideal, the Heart of Christ bubbles with affection: "Jesus, looking on him, loved him." When He meets a poor widow wailing for the loss of her only son, He is "moved with pity," and cannot contain Himself. When people do not thank Him, He is hurt; when they do, He overflows with gratitude. He has a tender place for children, and no less tender a place for wistful, half-despairing sinners - for Zachseus, and Levi, and Magdalen, and Peter. He is roused when His friends are abused, enthusiastic when they are praised, compassionate when they are suffering or in want, when they are being tried, indulgent as a mother. And, to crown all, He breaks into tears - cries because a dear friend is dead, cries again at the thought that His own Jerusalem had failed Him.

Then there is the story of the Passion - a story of human weakness without a parallel. The Evangelists strain to find words that will adequately describe Him as He enters upon it. "He began to be sorrowful, and to be very troubled." "He began to be dumbfounded." "My soul is sorrowful, even to death." These are the phrases with which they bring Him upon the scene. But that is a story by itself. Even without it, of one thing we are certain - that Jesus Christ is very man. "It behoveth Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might become a merciful and faithful high-priest before God, that He might be a propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that wherein He Himself hath suffered and been tempted, He is able to succour them also that are tempted" (Heb. 2:17-18).

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On Proposition No. 52

Cardinal Velasio De Paolis

His Eminence Velasio Cardinal De Paolis
The issue of access to the sacraments, especially to the Eucharist, on the part of the divorced and remarried was the object of reflection at the extraordinary synod of bishops last October. This is referred to in proposition no. 52 of the final Relatio, which says:
The synod fathers also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried access to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Various synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present discipline, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as her teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage. Others proposed a more individualized approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering. Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop. The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that "imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).

1. The Meaning of the Synod Proposition

The text did not receive a sufficient amount of support, meaning two thirds of the votes, the reason why it was not approved by the synod; it is therefore not to be considered a synodal text. But it must be said right away that it is difficult to evaluate the significance of the vote. The text is made up of various parts that are not homogeneous, even conflicting, with motivations that are inadequate or not totally appropriate or, at least, incomplete in lining up with the doctrinal sources. 

In effect, the proposal begins with a reference to current events: there has been reflection on the issue. It then refers to a group of fathers in favor of the current discipline and to others who are in favor of a change in the discipline. The text continues by explaining in what points the discipline should be changed, also pointing out what responsibility should belong to the bishop. It concludes with a caution and an invitation to further consideration, even suggesting some elements for doing so. So it would be difficult to pin down the specific reasons for any vote of rejection or approval of the text.

2. Limitations of the Proposition

The proposition is presented with a limited formulation. It refers to a limited category of persons who are living in a situation of irregular union: the divorced and remarried. This is a matter of a category that deserves, according to the proposition, particular and exceptional attention, motivated by the particular situations worthy of consideration that this category could present, as the text effectively explains immediately afterward. 

It is not difficult to find in these words some significant elements of Cardinal Kasper's proposal. But we have already had occasion to study this proposal and to verify that it is not supported by any valid argument. Moreover, that proposal was already known to the competent authority, which had studied and rejected it, not finding in it elements that could exempt it from evaluation according to the doctrinal principles of the documents of the Church. So the hypothesis advanced in the synodal proposition had already been studied and evaluated in an explicit manner and the conclusion had already been reached that it did not imply exceptional principles but fell within the category of general principles, since from the point of view of moral gravity and in the order of access to the Eucharist the hypothesis advanced in the proposal constitutes in all cases a grave violation of conjugal morality and of the discipline of the Church, which cannot permit access to the Eucharist. This is why the documents of the Church never make a distinction between the different categories of persons living in irregular unions: the various kinds of persons living together irregularly are not distinguished as far as conjugal coexistence and access to the Eucharist are concerned.

Moreover, the conditions by virtue of which special consideration is claimed for the divorced and remarried can be found among all those living in irregular situations. And in some cases, the situation could even be made worse: it could seem like a reward and an invitation to establish new bonds.

We can still make a further consideration. The proposition, in restricting the hypothesis to a specific category, recognizes the doctrinal and normative value of the Church documents that regulate this matter. And, seeing that the proposition calls for exploration, a certain perplexity surrounds the proposal itself. On what could this exploration be based? Not on the doctrinal and normative value of the documents, but on the possible exception contained in the proposition. And from where could the doubt arise if not from the fact that the proposition contains within itself an exception to the two essential conditions for access to the Eucharist, since what is involved is a grave violation of the natural moral law and a personal situation not appropriate for receiving the Eucharist?

In effect, in this category as well the divorced and remarried find present the two conditions that prevent access to the Eucharist, which leads the ecclesiastical authority not to be able to act in any other way, since the ecclesiastical authority cannot dispense with the natural and divine law: respect for the natural law of marriage and the need for sanctifying grace.

The situations described might not permit the separation of the two persons who are living in an irregular union, but they do not necessarily require life in common more uxorio and the permanent situation of sin.

3. Discipline, Doctrine, or Magisterium?

We observe that the wording of the text of the proposition generates ambiguities. It speaks of the "current discipline" and a possible modification of this, but this prompts a few doubts that require examination. In reality, the regulation in effect is not only a "current discipline," as if this were a matter of a merely ecclesiastical norm and not of divine norms ratified by the magisterium, with doctrinal and magisterial motivations that concern the very foundations of Christian life, of conjugal morality, of the meaning of and respect for the Eucharist, and of the validity of the sacrament of penance. We are in the presence of a discipline founded on divine law. It is not emphasized enough that the documents of the Church in this matter do not impose obligations on the part of authority, but rather affirm that the ecclesiastical authority cannot act otherwise, because this "discipline" cannot be modified in its essential elements. The Church cannot act otherwise. It cannot modify the natural law or respect for the nature of the Eucharist, because this is a question of the divine will.

The proposition, to the extent to which it provides for the possibility of admitting the divorced and remarried to Eucharistic communion, in fact constitutes a change of doctrine. And this contrary to the fact that it is said that there is no intention to modify doctrine. Moreover, doctrine by its very nature is not modifiable if it is the object of the authentic magisterium of the Church. Before talking about and dealing with any change in the discipline in force, it is necessary to reflect on the nature of this discipline. In addressing this matter one must, in the first place, reflect on this doctrine and on its level of firmness; there must be careful study of what can be modified and what cannot be modified. The doubt has been insinuated into the proposition itself when it calls for exploration, which must be doctrinal and prior to any decision.

We can also ask ourselves if it is the competency of a synod of bishops to deal with a question like this: the value of the doctrine and discipline effective in the Church, which have been formed over the course of centuries and have been ratified with statements on the part of the supreme magisterium of the Church. Moreover, who is competent to modify the magisterium of other popes? This would constitute a dangerous precedent. Furthermore, the innovations that would be introduced if the text of the proposition were approved would be of unprecedented gravity:

a) the possibility of admitting to Eucharistic communion with the explicit approval of the Church a person in a state of mortal sin, with the danger of sacrilege and profanation of the Eucharist;

b) doing this would bring into question the general principle of the need for the state of sanctifying grace in order to receive Eucharistic communion, especially now that a generalized practice has been introduced or is being introduced into the Church of receiving the Eucharist without previous sacramental confession, even if one is aware of being in grave sin, with all of the deleterious consequences that this practice involves;

c) the admission to Eucharistic communion of a believer who cohabits more uxorio would also mean bringing into question sexual morality, particularly founded on the sixth commandment;

d) this would also lend support to cohabitation or other bonds, weakening the principle of the indissolubility of marriage.

4. The Reasons Adopted for Keeping the Current Discipline

In this regard the proposition affirms the following:
Various synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present discipline, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as her teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage.
The text is not very clear, and in any case it is insufficient because it does not place the accent on the problems involved. This is not only a matter of disciplinary matters to be decided in agreement with the majority, but of an indispensable doctrine and magisterium, which certainly goes beyond the competencies of an extraordinary synod of bishops. In reality, this problem involves doctrinal questions of the greatest importance, to which we have made reference. It must be specified that the reason behind the ban on receiving the Eucharist is, simply, the condition in which the divorced person cohabiting with another person finds himself: a condition of grave objective sin. The fact that this condition has been caused by divorce or by a new civil bond has no bearing on the moral condition that excludes the Eucharist: finding oneself in a permanent state of violation of the moral norms of the Church.

5. Examination

The proposition upholds the following:
The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that "imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).
The text affirms the need for exploration from just one point of view, rather weakly. In fact, it cites the catechism of the Catholic Church, with which it is not possible not to agree. The problem lies in understanding to what extent this paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church applies to the difficulties discussed here. The first source of morality is the objective one. And it is with objective morality that we are dealing here.

(Source: Sando Magister's Chiesa)