What Really Is At Stake?
The Letter of Four Cardinals to Pope Francis Concerning Amoris Laetitia
On November 14, 2016, four Cardinals (Walter Branmuller, Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffara, and Joachim Meisner) released a letter which they sent to Pope Francis on September 19, along with five “Dubia” (“doubts” or “questions”) in reference to the teaching of the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and requesting that these dubia be answered and clarified by the Pope himself.
The letter went unanswered, and thus these Cardinals decided to publish both the letter and Dubia, along with a Foreword, and also an Explanatory Note which further elaborated on the five dubia, to the general public. This composite of documents they titled Seeking Clarity. A Plea to Untie the Knots in “Amoris Laetitia”.
The four Cardinals introduce their analysis and explanation of the five dubia with the following words:
“Let’s get to what is concretely at stake”.
It is my contention that, while the dubia and the analysis presented by the four Cardinals are indeed perceptive and true as far as they go, they do not at all reach to the true depths of “what is concretely at stake”.
Let us first look at these five dubia:
The first dubium deals directly with the issue of those married persons who have obtained a civil divorce and are now living in sin with a second partner. It asks “whether, following the affirmations of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ (nn. 300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the Sacrament of Penance and thus to admit to Holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person ‘more uxorio’ (in a marital way) without fulfilling the condition provided for by ‘Familiaris Consortio’, n. 84 and subsequently reaffirmed by ‘Reconciliatio et Paenitentia’ n. 34 and ‘Sacramentum Caritatis’ n. 29. Can the expression ‘in certain cases’ found in note 351 (n. 305) of the exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’ be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live ‘more uxorio’?
Dubia two, three, four, and five, on the other hand “are about fundamental issues regarding the moral life”
The second asks whether, after the teaching of Amoris Laetitia, there are still “absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?”
The third asks whether, after Amoris Laetitia, it is still true “that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery, finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin?”
The fourth asks whether, after Amoris Laetitia, the Church still needs to regard as valid the teaching “according to which ‘circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice”?
And the fifth dubium asks whether, after Amoris Laetitia, the Church’s teaching still “excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?”
All of these questions are being asked, of course, simply because Amoris Laetitia does indeed appear to contradict the perennial teachings of the Church (and of Holy Scripture) in regard to these issues. As the Explanatory Note of the four Cardinals puts it (very mildly, I think), “the interpretation of the document also implies different, contrasting approaches to the Christian way of life”.
But it is much more than a “way of life” that is at stake here. It is, rather, the entire structure of our understanding of Christian Revelation – of Who God is, and of who man is – which is being denied by Amoris Laetitia. And if this be true, then the entire brunt of the Cardinals’ letter to the Pope, which consists of requests for clarification in regard to these dubia, noble and courageous as it certainly is, is an exercise in futility. The fact is that, in the minds and hearts of such men as Jorge Bergoglio and Joseph Ratzinger, the entire philosophical and theological structure of the faith has necessarily undergone a radical alteration which necessitates this contrasting approach to the Christian way of life. In other words, there can be no clarification because Pope Francis fully believes he must do what he is doing. From his perspective, the dubia of these four Cardinals is equivalent to the death cries of theological dinosaurs destined for evolutionary extinction. They therefore must be ignored.
We are therefore inexorably led to the following conclusion. Unless this radically different philosophy and theology is publicly confronted and combated at its source, and unless Pope Francis, Benedict XVI and other members of the hierarchy are spiritually and intellectually liberated from its stranglehold, any attempt to uphold traditional moral values is tied to a posture or agenda which will necessarily face failure.
I have written many detailed and documented articles concerning the philosophical-theological agenda which is at the source of this present crisis. Immediately below, I offer a simpler approach, which will hopefully provide easier access to the concepts involved.
God created man in His own image with a very specific substantial nature. The form, or essence, of this nature is the human soul. From the beginning, God added to this human nature the supernatural gift of Charity (Sanctifying Grace), which is very simply defined by Holy Scripture and the Church as the supernatural grace of Friendship with God.
When man sinned against God, and violated this Friendship with God in the depth of his being, he lost the supernatural gift of Charity. Although he also certainly lost the preternatural gifts (such as the gift of immortality and the absence of concupiscence) which had accompanied Charity, he did not lose his basic human nature, or the form of his individual being – which is a particular soul created in the image of God. Man, therefore, still retained that same substantial nature to which supernatural Charity could once again be super-added (the term used by St. Thomas). The life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord merited for all men the possible restoration of Charity to their souls. This restoration is made a reality through baptism, and may again be restored (if lost by subsequent sin) through the confession of sins.
For all of the above to be perceived as being true, it is absolutely necessary that one philosophical truth be indeed accepted by the human heart and mind: there must be such a thing as a substantive human nature, common to all men of all times, and for which all men since the beginning of time are responsible before God. In other words, human nature has not substantially changed at all. Adam possessed the same human nature as does the child conceived in his mother’s womb at this very moment. Cultures – and all sorts of other things in man’s environment which accidentally affect his emotional, intellectual, and spiritual makeup – have changed, but human nature and its obligations before God has not changed.
It is all this that is denied in the philosophy and theology of such men as Jorge Bergoglio and Joseph Ratzinger. Having succumbed to reductive atomic and quantum science, the concept of substantial being (in the words of Joseph Ratzinger) “has become inaccessible to modern man”. According to this new, “scientific” philosophy, the nature of man can only be seen in term of evolving relationships. In the recurring phrase of Pope Francis,”time is greater than space” – in other words, man’s becoming is greater than his being. It is only logical, therefore, that spiritual evolution trumps fixed dogma and doctrine, and that everything must be subjected to a false mercy simply because there is no way to judge a human nature which is defined solely in terms of an evolutionary progression towards some future omega point.
All of this takes us back to the Catholic concept of Charity. In traditional catholic theology, the possession of Charity (Sanctifying Grace) defines a state of the human soul which is necessary in order for a person to be in friendship with God. If the human soul is now to be defined solely in terms of evolving relationships, there can be no such state. There can be no such thing as a fixed human nature created in a state of original justice. There can be no Fall from such a nature, and consequently there can be no restoration to such a state of Charity and Friendship with God. Salvation can only be viewed as an evolutionary progression towards fulfillment in some future Omega Point. The Catholic concepts of Charity and Sanctifying Grace, in other words, are destroyed.
What has been missed in almost all of the critiques of Amoris Laetitia is that it is indeed constituted as a direct attack on the concept of Charity and Sanctifying Grace. I have explored this in my four-part series on Amoris Laetitia, but it is necessary to repeat it here.
The relevant passage is found in paragraph 296:
“The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart… For true charity is always un-merited, unconditional and gratuitous.”
From the context of Amoris Laetitia, it is clear that Pope Francis is here speaking of the state of a person’s soul which qualifies him or her to receive Holy Communion. As I pointed out in my articles, the supernatural gift of Charity is indeed a totally gratuitous gift of God, as is the gift by which a soul can merit such a gift. But it remains, as being absolutely central to the Catholic doctrine of Justification, that such a person must indeed freely merit this gift of charity through both faith and works. The Council of Trent defines the act of Justification in the following words:
“For, although no one can be just but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those that are justified and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in Whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.”
Charity, as applied to the human soul, is in other words a state of being in which the soul is restored to friendship with God, and it is this state which is absolutely necessary for the reception of Holy Communion.
Further, the Council of Trent, in the following two passages, defines what is necessary for a person to both possess and retain this gift of Charity:
“But no one, how much soever justified ought to think himself exempt from the observance of the commandments, no one ought to make use of that rash saying, one prohibited by the Fathers under an anathema, that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified. For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou art able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able; whose commandments are not heavy, whose yoke is sweet, and whose burden light. For whoso are the sons of God love Christ; but they who love Him keep His commandments, as Himself testifies; which, assuredly, with the divine help, they can do.” (Chapter XI)
“In opposition also to the subtle wits of certain men who, by pleasing speeches and good works, seduce the hearts of the innocent, it is to be maintained that the received grace of justification is lost not only by infidelity [loss of faith], whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost; thus defending the doctrine of the divine law, which excludes from the kingdom of God not only the unbelieving, but the faithful also (who are) fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liars with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners, and all others who commit deadly sins; from which, with the help of divine grace, they can refrain, and on account of which they are separated from the grace of Christ.” (Chapter XV).
The possession of Charity, while being a totally gratuitous gift of God, is therefore also the most freely merited thing in a person’s life. This, of course, is why St. Paul writes:
“Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord….But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”
In other words, Pope Francis statement that “true charity is always unmerited, unconditional…” is a heresy which falsifies not only the entire Catholic understanding of Justification, but all the doctrines (as enumerated above) which are integral to this central dogma of our faith. It simply destroys the entirety of Catholic Faith.
This grievous heresy, as I have said, is rooted in a denial –thought to be made necessary by the findings of modern reductive science – of the substantial nature of the human soul. As Joseph Ratzinger wrote in his book, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life:
“The challenge to traditional theology today lies in the negation of an autonomous, ‘substantial’ soul with a built-in immortality in favor of that positive view which regards God’s decision and activity as the real foundation of a continuing human existence.” (p.150).
What this entails is that the soul, instead of being defined in terms of substantiality, is now to be defined entirely in terms of ongoing, evolutionary relationship:
“‘The soul’ is our term for that in us which offers a foothold for this relation [with the eternal]. Soul is nothing other than man’s capacity for relatedness with truth, with love eternal.” (p.259).
This statement – that “Soul is nothing other than man’s capacity for relatedness with truth, with etermal love” – can be seen as the definitive statement of that new theology (and anthropology) which is destroying the Church. It redefines man and his soul entirely in terms of evolutionary becoming. And, of course, Pope Francis’ recurring statement that “time is greater than space” is simply another way of expressing this very same heresy.
The irony, of course, is that in negating the substantial nature of the soul, and redefining it in terms of evolutionary relationship, both Benedict and Francis have entirely falsified man’s relationship to God. Such is the subtlety of satanically inspired philosophy and theology.
There can therefore be no “clarification” of the errors of Amoris Laetitia,and no true defense of marriage, of the Holy Eucharist, or of the entire Catholic Faith, unless open warfare be now declared against reductive modern science and its profoundly destructive effect upon human thought and belief in regard to every area of man’s existence. Only thus can human souls be freed once again to believe rightly in God. The souls of Benedict and Francis depend just as much upon this liberating war as does the soul of a young person first encountering evolutionary theory or the eviscerating effect of atomic reductionism.
As a primer for engaging in this war, I recommend my article Science: Original and Final Sin, to be found here:
Victory over reductive science can only be achieved through a complete return to Thomistic Theology and Metaphysics. In pursuit of this goal, I offer the following article: The Restoration of the Supernatural, In Accord With the Teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. It is found here:
– James Larson