I’m sure my invitation to the extraordinary synod is in the mail

October 22, 2013 § 36 Comments

Seems like the Archbishop Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (for my Protestant friends, that used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisitionhas been reading my blog:

Today’s mentality is largely opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage, with regard to its indissolubility and its openness to children.  Because many Christians are influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they were previously, because there is a lack of desire for marriage in accordance with Catholic teaching, and there is too little socialization within an environment of faith.

(Emphasis mine).

§ 36 Responses to I’m sure my invitation to the extraordinary synod is in the mail

  • Bonald says:

    While most of the Archbishop’s statements are good, I find a couple of his statements worrying.

    First, there seems to be an admission that the indissolubility of marriage is a matter of sacramental theology rather than natural law. That is a dangerous claim. Do we really believe that, without the Incarnation, divorce would have been okay?

    Second, making annulments easier because the culture doesn’t recognize marriage’s indissolubility itself contributes to a culture that doesn’t respect indissolubility. What’s to keep the Church courts from making indissolubility a complete dead letter by simply telling anybody who wants a divorce that they didn’t *really* understand what they were getting into?

    Here’s another solution to consider: what if the Church, in her great mercy, were to just declare that *all* unrepentant adulterers may receive the Eucharist if their consciences tell them it’s okay? Whatever resolution we end up with, it wouldn’t be fair to treat some adulterers differently than others. After all, a man who keeps a mistress is sinning less grievously than a man who divorces and remarries, because the man with a mistress is still fulfilling the duties to his wife that don’t relate to fidelity. Imagine replacing “divorced and remarried” with “unrepentant adulterer” in any document. For example, something like “Unrepentant adulterers are to be encouraged to participate fully in the life of the Church, save only for receiving communion…” sounds very strange, does it not? I suppose it’s true, but one would think it should also mention warning the hell-bound soul of his peril.

  • Zippy says:

    Bonald:
    First, there seems to be an admission that the indissolubility of marriage is a matter of sacramental theology rather than natural law. That is a dangerous claim. Do we really believe that, without the Incarnation, divorce would have been okay?

    Under certain rare circumstances natural marriages between the unbaptised are dissoluble. I was surprised to learn this myself, though I’ve known it for some time now. I’m on my phone and short on time, but there are multiple references in Denzinger going way back.

    Sacramental marriages between Christians are a different sort of thing from natural/pagan marriages — and it is impossible for a baptized Christian to enter into a non-sacramental marriage.

    I agree that all sorts of pastoral disasters are possible from here. I’ve explained elsewhere why I believe “internal forum” annulments shouldn’t be granted at all to anyone married in the Church, certainly not in present conditions; and I stand by that.

  • Zippy says:

    Also I should point out that once baptized always baptized: a baptized person cannot enter into a merely “natural” marriage. No apostasy, heresy, schism, etc can change this. Any attempt at merely natural marriage by a baptized person is just a pretense, and does not have the dignity of even a pagan marriage.

    So anyway, it is a matter of sacramental theology.

  • Zippy says:

    Bonald:
    Imagine replacing “divorced and remarried” with “unrepentant adulterer” in any document. For example, something like “Unrepentant adulterers are to be encouraged to participate fully in the life of the Church, save only for receiving communion…” sounds very strange, does it not?

    Thanks for this btw. I’m going to borrow this and use it as a mental disinfectant.

  • Gian says:

    What precisely is an “invalid marriage”?
    Are the people that are in an invalid marriage but do not know it, are they fornicators?

  • Mike T says:

    After all, a man who keeps a mistress is sinning less grievously than a man who divorces and remarries, because the man with a mistress is still fulfilling the duties to his wife that don’t relate to fidelity.

    The way a lot of Christians see it today, the man who kicks his wife to the curb to marry his mistress is “being honest and forthright” rather than a bastard who fully broke a vow instead of partially breaking it. They cannot seem to grasp that the vow has many facets to it, fidelity being one of them. Afterall, what good does it do your spouse if you are faithful to them, but treat them like garbage, are never open to sex and make them more apt to take up alcoholism, drug use and base jumping with used parachutes by the time they’re 50 than want to die of old age with you?

  • Scott W. says:

    Here’s another solution to consider: what if the Church, in her great mercy, were to just declare that *all* unrepentant adulterers may receive the Eucharist if their consciences tell them it’s okay?

    Then of course once this camel’s nose is in the tent, what’s to stop, “Well, what about Sally who still volunteers at the abortion clinic? Or Bob and Mike in a same sex marriage?” and so on.

  • Zippy says:

    Gian:
    Are the people that are in an invalid marriage but do not know it, are they fornicators?

    Objectively, yes.

  • I think we’re missing some subtle but important differences between certain divorced and remarried couples and all unrepentent adulterers, full stop. I’m not quite sure how to articulate it, but Cardinal Ratzinger in the 70’s wrote what I consider to be a superb paper on the subject (though in the interest of academic honesty its worth notting that he changed his views by the time he became Pope. Still, the paper exists). http://www.pathsoflove.com/texts/ratzinger-indissolubility-marriage/

    There are some really interesting quotes in there. Here’s the money quote near the end (read the article, though – he tries to use tradition to justify the point).

    2. The Church is the Church of the New Covenant, but it lives in a world in which the “hardness of heart” (Mat 19:8) of the Old Covenant remains unchanged. It cannot stop preaching the faith of the New Covenant, but it must often enough begin its concrete life a bit below the threshold of the scriptural word. Thus it can in clear emergency situations allow limited exceptions in order to avoid worse things. Criteria of such action must be: an act “against what is written,” is limited in that it may not call into question the fundamental form, the form from which the Church lives. It is therefore bound to the character of exemption and of help in urgent need – as the transitional missionary situation was, but also the real emergency situation of the Church union.

    Thereby arises, however, the practical question, whether we can name such an emergency situation in the present-day church and describe an exception that satisfies these criteria. I would like to try, with all necessary caution, to formulate a concrete proposal that seems to me to lie within this scope. Where a first marriage broke up a long time ago and in a mutually irreparable way, and where, conversely, a marriage consequently entered into has proven itself over a longer period as a moral reality and has been filled with the spirit of the faith, especially in the education of the children (so that the destruction of this second marriage would destroy a moral greatness and cause moral harm), the possibility should be granted, in a non-judicial way, based on the testimony of the pastor and church members, for the admission to Communion of those in live in such a second marriage.

    Really, really interesting stuff.

  • To be clear on Cardinal Ratzinger’s views, years later when asked about the letter, he said this:

    http://www.pathsoflove.com/blog/2011/03/ratzinger-and-magisterium-on-communion-of-remarried/

    …the principle that marriage is indissoluble and that someone who has left the valid marriage of his life, the sacrament, and entered into another marriage cannot communicate, does in fact as such hold definitively.

  • Zippy says:

    Interesting, malcomethecynic.

    I agree with the early Ratzinger (writing as private theologian) here:

    …the possibility should be granted, in a non-judicial way, based on the testimony of the pastor and church members, for the admission to Communion of those in live in such a second marriage.

    … inasmuch as the faux-married couple have a duty not to destroy the lives of their children. They have a duty to live chastely (which in their case means perfect continence) as a family with their children, at least until those children are of age; presuming that reconciliation with their real spouse(s) is impossible. (If it is possible, it becomes the primary duty).

    Modern people always protest that perfect continence is impossible. That is a bunch of hedonistic crap. It may be difficult, but it certainly isn’t impossible; it arises not infrequently from circumstances outside of one’s control, let alone as a result of one’s own actions for which one should take responsibility.

    If the couple is living in perfect continence there is no ‘internal’ reason for them to be barred from receiving Communion. There is still the problem of scandal; but that problem is not insurmountable and depends a great deal on the details of the situation.

  • Modern people always protest that perfect continence is impossible. That is a bunch of hedonistic crap. It may be difficult, but it certainly isn’t impossible; it arises not infrequently from circumstances outside of one’s control, let alone as a result of one’s own actions for which one should take responsibility.

    I’ve always taken your position to be the “official” party line of the Church. But surely you must admit that a couple who get married and had children is undergoing a very difficult, though admittedly not impossible, challenge when they eventually realize, through the development of their conscience, that having sex with each other may in fact be intrinsically immoral. These are people who entered into the specific relationship they did specifically to have sex with each other. To stop suddenly and say “no more” I would indeed imagine to be tremendously difficult, yes. And there’s always talk about avoiding near occasions of sin and the like.

    The question the good cardinal seemed to be asking is whether or not it’s a reasonable or fair thing to ask that a couple who got together specifically for sex, have been “married” for years, and have children with each other can suddenly be expected to totally forgo sex. And keep in mind, I’m not necessarily saying that they necessarily SHOULD be allowed to have sex. I’m not sure; like I said, Ratzinger eventually changed his views (he wrote another paper in the 90’s where he basically said as much). But I DO think it’s very unfair to say, “You know, we can just switch divorced and remarried with ‘unrepentant adulterers’, and NOW it sounds stupid!”, because I think we’re very obviously dealing with a much more complex situation than when a cad cheats on his wife, or vice versa, and doesn’t feel bad about it. the whole situation is demonstrably different.

    Cardinal Ratzinger quotes St. Basil a lot in the letter, which makes sense; the Orthodox Church has “Ecclesiastical divorce”, which is, as I understand it, basically an admission that, “No, this second marriage is NOT sacramental, and you sinned greatly by ending the first marriage, BUT as a matter of prudence and mercy we will essentially grant you a dispensation to enter into a version of married life, though not what can really, technically be considered marriage with another woman, depending on circumstances”. That it’s sometimes abused, which I’m sure it is, is not a good argument against it, or else we might as well eliminate annulments entirely.

  • Zippy says:

    malcomethecynic:
    But I DO think it’s very unfair to say, “You know, we can just switch divorced and remarried with ‘unrepentant adulterers’, and NOW it sounds stupid!”, because I think we’re very obviously dealing with a much more complex situation than when a cad cheats on his wife, or vice versa, and doesn’t feel bad about it. the whole situation is demonstrably different.

    Yes, I’ll buy that: I think doing the switch is a useful mental disinfectant, but it is also important to recognize that the pastoral situations can be in fact quite different.

  • Zippy says:

    I don’t agree with this though:
    “No, this second marriage is NOT sacramental, and you sinned greatly by ending the first marriage, BUT as a matter of prudence and mercy we will essentially grant you a dispensation to enter into a version of married life, though not what can really, technically be considered marriage with another woman, depending on circumstances”.

    The EO are just flat out wrong on this, because their moral theology is wrong from spending a thousand years at sea. It isn’t possible for the Church to grant a dispensation to do something intrinsically immoral. Perhaps ironically, the EO are usurping an authority that they don’t, literally cannot, have, over marriage.

  • Mike T says:

    else we might as well eliminate annulments entirely.

    In general, that would be an improvement since letting someone out of a marriage because they didn’t know or fully intend to live as a Christian spouse is, well, kind of bullshit. Yes, I’m well aware of the fact that there are other actually valid reasons such as coercion or child marriages in some countries, but invalidty due to ignorance or dishonesty is not biblical. Heck, it wouldn’t even stand up in a secular court for a typical contract.

  • Mike T says:

    OK, so doing it in bad faith might work in a secular court, but still. It’s just too easy to claim after the fact that you “weren’t really a Christian” to get out of it that way.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    That’s one reason why I think “internal forum” annulments should almost never be granted. Another is that it encourages people to lie to escape their problems.

    Annulments based on objective evidence (consanguinity, previous marriage, defect of form) are another matter.

    But internal forum annulments have become a tool of the tyranny of the subjective.

  • Mike T says:

    Seems much like the arguments about what constitutes invincible ignorance. I think a few people at W4 tried to argue that it includes bad experiences with Christianity and other psychological impediments like being raised hostile to Christianity. Man, I bet heaven is just full of Pharisees and Sadducees because their ignorance was sum kinda invincible…

  • Mike T says:

    (If one holds to that range of what constitutes invincible ignorance)

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    I share some of your cynicism; but it is probably true that being raised Mohammedan or liberal presents as much of an ignorance-barrier for some people as geography and time does for others.

  • Mike T says:

    I would counter that by pointing out that Jesus said to the Pharisees who heard the gospel “whoever rejects my words stands condemned already before my Father.” The Pharisees could have claimed being raised in such a strict sect of Judaism was a barrier to them, but Jesus made it clear that He didn’t care. That a Roman centurion was able to embrace a Jewish messianic figure in a way that Christ called true faith is a shame to most of the Jews who encountered His ministry.

  • My two cents: I never understood why Christians were concerned with the extent of invincible ignorance and how many people go to Hell. We have clear instructions from our Lord on what we have to do and we know Hell is a possibility for all people, and some people are at higher risk than others for a variety of reasons. Why do we need to know the exact limits of invincible ignorance? What’s the point? It doesn’t change Jesus’s instructions to us in any way.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    The Pharisees could have claimed being raised in such a strict sect of Judaism was a barrier to them, but Jesus made it clear that He didn’t care.

    Right, and I don’t claim to know where invincible ignorance ends and vincible ignorance begins. I’m virtually certain that the Church disclaims knowing this as well — while we do have canonized saints, we do not have any lists of “confirmed to be in Hell”.

    And malcolmthecynic is right that from a practical, what-do-we-do standpoint it doesn’t really matter. Everyone should join the true Church and participate in Her sacraments; although vocations differ helping them get there – of their own free will – is very high on the list of priorities; and following His instructions out of love for Him is the highest imperative.

    I think where folks get bogged down is in the sense of urgency tied to evangelism, which generally reflects their view of vincible and invincible ignorance. But even that is wrongheaded, because every soul ending up in Hell is one too many.

  • Mike T says:

    My two cents: I never understood why Christians were concerned with the extent of invincible ignorance and how many people go to Hell.

    There is a point where invincible ignorance undermines and a point where it even eradicates the need for faith in Jesus Christ as a means of salvation. If a liberal can reject the gospel all their life and end up in Heaven, then their salvation was not accomplished by faith. In fact, their salvation is in spite of the fact that they rejected the gospel which would make Jesus a liar when He said that whoever rejected His words stands condemned already before the Father.

    The problem I have with liberal and Muslim in Zippy’s example is that they are not the same as an Amazon tribe that has never heard the gospel or someone in Japan where the gospel is something they’d likely never encounter except by a fluke (Japan has a national church, but it’s small). The liberal rejects the gospel because it conflicts with his worldview. The Muslim rejects it for a variety of reasons, a major one of which is not being willing to die for His sake because death to apostates is common in Islam. That is a very human fear and one which we can all sympathize with, but it doesn’t change the fact that they rejected the gospel.

    Think of it like this. If Richard Dawkins, an avowed enemy of the gospel, can get to Heaven by living a virtuous life then he did so despite claiming to be an enemy of Jesus Christ. There is no precedent in scripture or tradition I can think of for that.

  • Mike T says:

    That said, I think invincible ignorance is often applied as a category error. Ignorance by definition means you don’t know. Someone who knows the claims of the gospel by definition can never claim ignorance of them before the judgment seat.

  • I don’t know who is or isn’t in Heaven. That is thankfully beyond my pay grade. What I’m saying is, who cares? Hell is a real possibility that we’re all risking, and Jesus gave us very clear instructions. We shouldn’t be looking for excuses to avoid them anyway.

  • Mike T says:

    You’re looking at it wrong. It’s not a matter of who is in Hell, but what is the requirement to get into Heaven. If salvation is by faith and not works, then unless one has a reason to not know this, one must have faith in order to be saved. To the extent that invincible ignorance means only those reason where a person can gain no access to the gospel message to consider it and then accept it or reject it, the concept is in line with salvation by faith. However, if someone can consider the gospel, reject it and end up in Heaven, that is problematic because it simultaneously makes a liar out of Jesus (“whoever rejects my words stands condemned already before my Father”) and it means that one can be an avowed enemy of Jesus Christ and get into heaven by a means other than saving faith.

    One major problem with many Catholics is that they believe that performing the works of mercy and going to confession means they’re going to heaven. My understanding from talking to more informed Catholics is that the Catholic Church and mainstream Protestants agree that for those informed of the gospel it is placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ that is the core of salvation. To the extent that one relies on good works, one is placing faith in themselves and not Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice to make them acceptable before God.

    Now I happen to be far less severe than most Protestants on that point, but the point stands. If you believe the foundation of your salvation is performing the works of mercy and not the atoning sacrifice, you will probably find to your horror that you will end up in Hell.

  • You’re looking at it wrong. It’s not a matter of who is in Hell, but what is the requirement to get into Heaven.

    But even this isn’t relevant. If Hell is a real possibility and we’ve gotten instructions from Jesus on how to act and what to believe, then it should be enough for all of us to follow his instructions. “Large” Heaven, “small” Heaven, it’s all irrelevant if Hell is a possibility. From the purely utilitarian perspective, Hell is infinite torture, and thus if there’s the slightest chance anybody can go we should do absolutely everything we can to avoid that. Looking at it from a more optimistic view of human nature, love of Christ should be motivating us to convert people and follow His commandments.

  • Mike T says:

    It’s actually quite relevant because it determines the mechanism by which people actually get into Heaven and thus avoid Hell. So from a utilitarian and optimistic view, you should be quite concerned about precisely what is involved in getting there. As I have repeatedly pointed out and you seem to not want to address, if someone can hear the gospel, reject it and end up in Heaven anyway then Jesus Christ is a liar because He said that rejecting the gospel condemns you to Hell.

    As I said, the question is not whether someone who has never heard the gospel can get into heaven despite a lack of faith due to credible ignorance. The question is can someone openly reject the gospel for any reason and get into Heaven. Scripture is unequivocal: no. Any preaching of invincible ignorance that covers people who are not factually ignorant of the gospel or have some mental disorder that prevents them from understanding it is in fact heresy of the worst sort. The absolute worst sort because you are telling people like the vehemently anti-Christian liberal that he or she can enter Heaven while being an avowed enemy of the gospel.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    I think you are right inasmuch as ordinary human beings our enthusiasms about doing the right thing will be different based on just where we fall on the universalist-exclusivist continuum. But malcolmthecynic is right that this really shouldn’t make any difference, because doing the right thing is obligatory no matter what the populations of heaven and hell happen to be.

    In a certain sense you appear to be arguing from a viewpoint we might call imperfect contrition, whereas malcolmthecynic is arguing from a viewpoint we might call perfect contrition: if we love Christ and follow His commandments we will do so urgently no matter what the statistical distribution of final destinations of souls.

  • As I have repeatedly pointed out and you seem to not want to address, if someone can hear the gospel, reject it and end up in Heaven anyway then Jesus Christ is a liar because He said that rejecting the gospel condemns you to Hell.

    I’m not sure what you’re accusing me of here, which is why I haven’t responded. What do you think my position actually is? I think Zippy did a fair job summarizing things, actually.

  • Mike T says:

    I’m really not making this into an issue about population statistics for either destination, but rather the logical implications of extending invincible ignorance to things which cannot be credibly called an actual species of ignorance. Those who would extend it to people who have no basis to claim ignorance of the gospel and its claims are implicitly not only calling the Lord a liar, but they are also claiming there exists a faithless, gospel-rejecting path based on virtuous living to Heaven. This path does not in fact exist. There may be a faithless, virtuous living based path for those who have never heard the gospel. Even as a Protestant, I am open to this possibility because logically one cannot reject an offer of which one has no knowledge.

    Obviously you should do right for the sake of doing right, but that is bordering on non sequitor to the argument of who can claim ignorance and not burn in Hell. When I see statements like where headlines are reporting the Pope allegedly saying even avowed atheists can get to Heaven and people take that to mean they can reject the gospel and still get into Heaven then I take that as extremely problematic. In no small part because it makes whatever good they do on Earth for nothing as we’ve lead them to a terrible end.

  • I’m not and never was making an argument on who can claim ignorance and avoid Hell. I’m not even really saying that we should do right for the sake of doing right (true as that is). I’m saying Hell IS a possibility for all of us, and if there’s even the slightest chance anybody could go there we should follow our Lord’s instructions and try to prevent it.

    Bottom line: If somebody rejects the Gospel, we should try and convert them, period.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    There is though a legitimate difference between knowing that Bob claims that X and knowing that X is true. To what extent one can claim ignorance of X when he knows that someone claims that X is true is at least a reasonable discussion to have. You probably know all sorts of claims of Catholicism but as a Protestant you remain ignorant of their truth (hah!)

    Fortunately for me, judging hearts is God’s business not mine. Actions, ideas, and words I do have to judge. The state of souls I not only don’t have to judge: I am forbidden from judging them and in any event have no capacity to judge them.

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