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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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.

If we enter deeply into a spiritual epoch like the Oxford Movement, we find ourselves in the presence of men whose spirits still live and have power to move us. For the men who count in the end are not the successful men who rode on the crest of the wave of change, like Napoleon, but those who are indifferent to success or failure, who despise quick results and preserve their spiritual integrity at all costs. It is they who are the real judges of the world (‘The Spirit of the Oxford Movement’, chapter 1).

No man who has the truth to tell and the power to tell it can long remain hiding it from fear or even from despair without ignominy. To release the truth against whatever odds, even if so doing can longer help the Commonwealth, is a necessity for the soul (‘The Free Press’, XX).

‘These are the times that – what is it Jeeves?’

‘”Try men’s souls”, sir.’

‘They certainly do. In spades.”

There is a potentially serious division among faithful Catholics about how to respond to “The Joy of – ” . I can certainly understand the argument of those, such as Joseph Shaw and Fr Ray Blake, who warn us not to make too much of it, lest we play into the hands of the opposition. By creating the perception that the pope is undermining doctrine, they say, you will strengthen those who wish to undermine doctrine; better to point out, rather, that AL makes no change to canon law, and does not say in plain words, ‘those in invalid marriages can receive Holy Communion if their pastors think it helpful’.

But my question to people who think like this is: “Independently of what we say about the matter, is the pope undermining doctrine or is he not?” If we think that he is, there needs to be an adequate response. Now the New Testament gives us an example of a pope undermining doctrine, and of the adequate response that was made to it.

When St Peter began at Antioch ‘not to walk correctly according to the truth of the Gospel’ (Gal. 2: 14), St Paul did not content himself with preaching the truth that was being undermined. He did not limit himself to saying in sermons or letters that Gentiles could be true Christians without being circumcised. Rather, he ‘withstood’ or ‘resisted’ Peter directly, asking him in public how he could act as he was doing. He realised that a simple statement of doctrine was not enough in those circumstances to keep that doctrine safe.

Pope Francis, unfortunately, is also undermining a truth of the gospel, namely the indissolubility of marriage, by encouraging debate about a matter that has never been uncertain, by praising the most notorious advocate of the heretical opinion, by issuing a document clearly designed not to teach the true opinion, and by giving free rein to those who use this document to uphold the heretical opinion. A striking example of this last thing is the editorial of Fr Spadaro SJ in La Civilta Cattolica, ‘the pope’s magazine’. Fr Spadaro writes: “The exhortation incorporates from the synodal document the path of discernment of individual cases without putting limits on integration, as appeared in the past.” Sandro Magister notes in the article I have linked to that Fr Spadaro is a closer adviser and confidant of the pope, and adds:

The presentation that Spadaro made of it in “La Civiltà Cattolica” was given to Francis to read before it was sent to press. One more reason to take this exegesis of the document as authorized by him, and therefore revealing of his real intentions.

For these reasons, I do not think it will be enough in the present crisis, for bishops simply to repeat the orthodox teaching. That does not particularly bother the other side: ‘pastoral pluralism’, after all, is enough for these people, and they are ready to wait for the rigid bishops to reach retirement age and then to be replaced by more accommodating and joyful ones.

Doubtless, if there were a unanimity or quasi-unanimity of bishops clearly teaching the traditional position, then it would not be necessary to make a protest about AL; but in the absence of that unanimity, a unanimity which already seems impossible, the undermining of marriage will go on, and AL’s part in that will need to be publicly confronted.

So I believe that in the present emergency it will soon be necessary for some bishop, or better, many bishops, to withstand the pope publicly, clearly, respectfully, courageously.