Amoris Laetitia


Contrary to the vigour of the Gospel, contrary to the law of the Lord and God, by the temerity of some, communion is relaxed to heedless persons  – a vain and false peace, dangerous to those who grant it, and likely to avail nothing to those who receive it. They do not seek for the patience necessary to health nor the true medicine derived from atonement. Penitence is driven forth from their breasts, and the memory of their very grave and extreme sin is taken away. The wounds of the dying are covered over, and the deadly blow that is planted in the deep and secret entrails is concealed by a dissimulated suffering. Returning from the altars of the devil, they draw near to the holy place of the Lord, with hands filthy and reeking with smell, still almost breathing of the plague-bearing idol-meats; and even with jaws still exhaling their crime, and reeking with the fatal contact, they intrude on the body of the Lord, although the sacredScripture stands in their way, and cries, saying, Every one that is clean shall eat of the flesh; and whatever soul eats of the flesh of the saving sacrifice, which is the Lord’s, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from his people. Also, the apostle testifies, and says, You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; you cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils. He threatens, moreover, the stubborn and froward, and denounces them, saying, Whosoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

All these warnings being scorned and contemned – before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord. They think that that is peace which some with deceiving words are blazoning forth: that is not peace, but war and he is not joined to the Church who is separated from the Gospel. Why do they call an injury a kindness? Why do they call impiety by the name of piety? Why do they hinder those who ought to weep continually and to entreat their Lord, from the sorrowing of repentance, and pretend to receive them to communion?

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This is quite exciting. A mid-4th commentary on the gospels, mentioned by St Jerome, and others has been re-discovered and published. It is by Fortunatianus, bishop of Aquileia, and is the oldest known Latin commentary on the gospels. St Jerome seems a bit ambiguous about him. In his book On Illustrious Men, he says that Fortunatianus pressurized Pope Liberius in exile to sign the Arianizing creed. But elsewhere he refers to the commentary as a pearl, and also says that he made use of it in writing his own. Anyway, you can read it on-line in English here. The translator’s introduction, and the explanation of how it came to be rediscovered, are available here.

I had a look to see what he might have to say about the great matter of the day. This is what I found:

[Matthew 24:45–51] Who is the faithful and sensible slave whom the master has set over his household? This is understood as a bishop or presbyter giving nourishment to the multitude, for they pass on the commandments. Nourishment at the right time: at what time but this one, which is from the Passion of the Saviour? Nourishment is not only teaching, but is also the sharing of the sacrament. Therefore the one who has faithfully overseen this distribution will receive a reward and be set above all good things in the heavenly kingdom.

But he will eat or drink with the drunkards: what is this but to commune with unworthy people? Drunkards are those who are full of unrighteousness. But in the Church, what is eating other than communion? His lord will come on a day which he does not know: plainly on the day of judgment, or on the day on which he makes him retreat from the world. He will divide him, meaning that he separates the soul from the body. But dividing means to take the soul away from the body, as Daniel said in the story of the two presbyters. He places his share with the hypocrites, meaning that on the day of judgment he will be sent into Gehenna with his companions, where there is continual flame and everlasting punishment. In this torment, it says that there is the gnashing of teeth and weeping of eyes.

Reading a sermon of Ronald Knox’s the other day, I was struck by one phrase. He speaks of ‘the joy of conflict, without which there is little savour to living, except for the few who live very close to God’. Tomorrow is the great day of her whom the liturgy compares to a castrorum acies ordinata, an army set in array. In these strange and critical days for the Church, perhaps we should ask Mary for a holy joy of battle.

Image result for unjust steward picture

 

The parable of the Unjust Steward is a googly which the Church bowls each eighth Sunday after Pentecost at unwary preachers. Many of them are stumped. Naturally one can find some worthy treatments of it in the Catena Aurea and in the Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide; but the profoundest interpretation I know appears in neither place, coming rather from St Gaudentius of Brescia. As it may be that you don’t know who St Gaudentius was, I will tell you: he was a friend of St Ambrose and a defender of St John Chrysostom and he ruled the see of Brescia in Italy for some 25 years.

A friend of his, called Herminius, or Serminius, or possibly Germinius (it must have been a cold day in the scriptorium when the monk copied out the letter) wrote to St Gaudentius to ask what, exactly, this passage from the holy Gospel means. And the saint, after talking at length as one might expect of the dangers of wealth and the virtues of alms-giving, begins to give a mystical interpretation. The rich man, he says, is almighty God – dives in misericordia. The  unjust steward is the devil, who has been allowed by God to have a certain power in the cosmos, as a steward on an estate. The devil is allowed to test the saints, says St Thomas Aquinas, so that he may not be entirely useless.

But the devil, of course, abuses his power. St Gaudentius says that “the devil wasted the substance of his Lord when he sought the ruin of mankind”. He persecuted the human race beyond all measure, bringing upon it all the cruelties and terrors of paganism. And so God resolved to cast the devil out of His Estate and into the abyss, and made this known when He came among us. Whereupon “this most wicked one, reckoning the death of man as his profit, is consumed with anxiety because the Lord is about to take away the power that he has over others.”

He is not strong enough to dig, and is ashamed to beg, and so turns from violence to craft:

Since he will not work what is good, and is ashamed to ask for mercy as a penitent, he thinks within himself how he may still have power over the debtors of his Lord (that is, over those involved in the debt of sin), not alone by open persecution, but also, under the guise of benevolence, by deceiving them with smooth words, so that seduced by his false kindness they may more readily receive him into their houses, to be judged with him forever.

The devil begins to write off men’s debts:

He falsely promises that he can relax the debts of his fellow servants, which are in his Lord’s power, by vainly assuring indulgence to those who sin either in faith or in deed. For he convinces them that their crimes will not be imputed to them, although even those who commit them know them to be grave offences: for they acknowledge the amount of their debt.

He does this both with the wheat and with the oil:

The wheat is faith in Christ, the principle of man’s life. For He is the living bread who came down from heaven. The oil is good works, which the foolish virgins lacked, and hence when the lamp-light of their souls went out, they abode in darkness. . . . Even so does the devil trick the race of men with false promises, that they may not know what debt of faith and works they owe.

And if the oil is brought down from a hundred, the number of perfection, to fifty, and the wheat is brought down only from a hundred to eighty, perhaps this is because “a smaller number are withdrawn by the devil’s cunning from the true faith, than are withdrawn from right deeds, as our Saviour Himself declares, saying: ‘Why do you call me, Lord, Lord; and do not the things which I say?'”

Ever since Amoris laetitia was published in April last year, I have been wondering what, if anything, it means. Not what it intends: that, unfortunately, was clear from the beginning. But rather, what mental propositions, if any, are expressed by sequences of words such as the following:

No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!”; “A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding its inherent values, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin”;Conscience can recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal” [etc.].

There seem to be four possibilities:

 

(1) These words have no meaning. An Argentinian priest said to me even before the publication of Amoris, that Pope Bergoglio does not see words as units of meaning which serve to express thoughts, but as tools to achieve ends. So one might hold that passages such as those quoted express no mental propositions, but are simpl tools used to achieve communion for the invalidly married, as another man might use a hammer to drive in a nail.

This is attractive, but I wonder if it is humanly possible not to intend to express some mental proposition when uttering well-formed sentences. Nonsense poetry is a sophisticated genre, which is no doubt why it didn’t emerge until the mid-19th century in England, which take it all in all was the richest period of English letters. Presumably the same is true of nonsense prose.

(2) These words are deliberately ambiguous, i.e. they are intended to express more than one mental proposition existing in the mind of the pope, at least one of which would be orthodox; and he intends that the reader be free to choose among them (though only as a means to the ultimate goal of communion for the remarried).

The trouble with this is that we normally say that an author is entitled to say what his words mean, if they lack clarity. Now the pope, by his subsequent statements, e.g. recommending the archbishop of Vienna as a guide to understanding Amoris, has indicated that he wants the words of the document to be interpreted as allowing communion for the remarried. So it seems that we would have to say this is the meaning of these words in the document, and hence that the text, though cloudy, is not ambiguous in the sense defined above.

(3) These words have only a heretical meaning. They express mental propositions in the mind of Pope Bergoglio which are contrary to revealed truths. This is easy to defend. But it is an unfortunate thing to have to say of what seems to be at least indirectly a magisterial document addressed to the whole Church (even though the pope has not declared these passages to be binding on the faith of Catholics).

(4) These words have 2 meanings because they express thoughts in two different minds. Literally speaking, the only mind in question is the mind of the pope. But it is a principle of the interpretation, and therefore of the meaning of magisterial documents, that they are to be read in the light of clearer and more authoritative documents, where possible. In that sense, we can speak of their expressing ‘the mind of the Church’. Now, as mentioned in (2), the pope has unfortunately shown that he interprets, and therefore presumably meant, these statements in way that is not orthodox. But it may still be possible that any of these statements, taken in the abstract, can be read, with a good deal of bending and stretching, in a way that is orthodox.

In other words, we could say that these statements in Amoris have two literal meanings: a Bergoglian meaning and a magisterial meaning. This is not quite the same as the hypothesis of deliberate ambiguity, since the pope has made sufficiently clear what he had in mind, in various non-magisterial ways. But precisely because he expressed himself in AL in such a cloudy way, we are entitled to interpret AL in a Catholic way. Yet that should not prevent us from resisting the heresies which, unfortunately, the pope has used it to vehicle.

I was musing yesterday on the fact that a time, times and half a time, more or less, had passed since the election of the present pope, and wondering whether this might be the basis for a blog-post, when I received an e-mail not dissimilar in theme, but more precise and more heartening:

Lightning again struck St. Peter’s Basilica today, October 7th, in a massive storm around 9:20 a.m., on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary:
The first time in recent history that lightning struck there, as you’ll remember, was February 11, 2013, which was another Feast of Our Lady, and the very day Pope Benedict announced his imminent abdication.
Today is the 1335th day following the first lightning strike. That is a prophetic biblical number. It symbolizes relief or victory after a period of patience and perseverance: “Blessed is the man who has patience and perseveres unto one thousand, three hundred and thirty-five days” (Daniel 12: 12). Could this strike from the heavens at the Vatican Basilica on this Feast-Day be a symbolic indication that the great weapon of the Holy Rosary will be Our Lady’s ‘sword’ to combat and vanquish the subtle doctrinal evil and confusion that has increasingly afflicted the Church from the very top down, following Benedict’s fateful decision to relinquish his God-given office?
As at Lepanto, 445 years ago today, this number 1335 could also symbolize another victory eventually to be won by Our Lady of the Rosary over the new Islamic threat to Europe – the tattered remains of Christendom! – presented by the unassimilable Muslim masses now invading that continent as “refugees”. For the great year of Our Lady of the Rosary, 1917, when she appeared under that title at Fatima (a name with strong Muslim resonance), was the 1335th year on the Muslim calendar, which begins with 622 A.D., the year of the Hegira, the ‘Flight of the Prophet’ to Medina. (The traditional Muslim lunar calendar has only 354 days.) So the coins of the Ottoman Empire of 1917 bear the date “1335”. That was also the year in which the Muslims lost control of the Holy City of Jerusalem for the first time since the Crusades. The conquering Christian British forces under General Edmund Allenby marched into the Old City through the ancient Jaffa Gate on December 11, 1917.

 

I dreamt last night that I had gone to see Cardinal Keith O’Brien, to urge him to speak out about Amoris Laetitia. He gently suggested that he might not be the right person to do this, given his own situation. However, he pointed out that Cardinal Sodano was in the house, and so I might have a word with him. As I left him, he murmured ‘Sodano is god’, though that might have been Paul VI, who turned up briefly around this point. Before I could speak to His Eminence, however (His second Eminence, that is), Bishop Schneider was there confronting him. Sodano berated the good Athanasius for his conduct, whereupon Bishop Schneider replied undaunted: ‘Popes have been deposed by the ghosts of Popes before now! Read your history books.’ I confess to having had some misgivings about His Excellency’s ecclesiology here, though I admired his spirit. He went away, either deposed himself or else suspended a divinis. At this point I found myself next to Fr Aidan Nichols, toward whose head Sodano was stretching out his hand. What fresh outrage is this, I wondered. But no: acting as a consummate politician, His Eminence was following up the stick with a carrot. He placed a cardinal’s biretta on Fr Nichols’s head. I whispered to His new Eminence: ‘Your cat will be so proud.’ At this I laughed so much that I woke myself up.

[Disclaimer: Any resemblance to real persons or events is entirely coincidental]

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