A Thomistic Defense of Amoris Laetitia?

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A friend of mine shared this video lecture of Dominican theologian Fr. Wojciech Giertych who attempts to show the foundation of Thomistic moral theology which undergirds the moral theology espoused in Amoris Laetitia. My immediate take away is that this is one whole hour of pseudo-intellectualizing in order to cheapen up the grace of God. I don’t have very much else to say about it. Feel free to watch in the link posted below.

But after some reflection, I have some other comments to make. I realize that the interior logic of Amoris Laetitia is, as Pope Francis would doubtless say, in perfect harmony with the spirit of the 2nd-Vatican Council. What spirit is that? In my opinion, it is the excessive and unhealthy speculation of what can exist when we separate the subjective from the objective and, as if with a “merciful” microscope, stretch out the vast possibilities of goodness irrespective of the objective irregularity (or evil) that truly exists. Some examples can easily pointed to. First, ceasing to suppose that schismatics and heretics (or their children’s children) are culpable for their schism or heresy (I don’t necessarily intend to align with systematized canonical meaning), Vatican 2 has presumed to consider the sacraments and “elements of sanctification” as truly effective in the Protestant and Oriental communities. Whereas the Patristic authors may have spoke to the validity of sacraments outside the visible unity of the true Church, they most certainly did not think they were effective to confer grace, because schism was deemed a sin, in itself, worthy of blocking grace. With somewhat good reason, the 2nd Vatican Council asked why would we presume the culpability of schism for persons who are raised and brought up in Protestant communities? Therefore, if no culpable block to baptism exists, we can presume their baptism was effective to unite them with the salvifc bond in Jesus Christ, and thus beneficiaries of grace and the remisson of sins. Again, an exercise of examining the subjective apart from what is objectively going on. Similarly, the Conciliar document concerning the Orientals, Orientalium ecclesiarium, speaks to a relaxed policy of allowing them to receive communion from Catholic priests on account that there is no public scandal to the unity of the Church. I can’t help but see another instance of respecting the subjective with a disregard to what is objective (all, perhaps, with some good reason).

But can it reach an unhealthy absurdity?

I believe so. And I have a perfect example of this from an otherwise excellent author, Dom Fr. Christopher Basil Butler (one of the theologians at Vatican 2) who shows how far one can go when we speculate on the differing implications which might be carried when we separate the subjective from the objective. He writes in his otherwise good book “Church and Unity”:

I therefore hold, with the Second Vatican Council, that Augustine’s position should be ‘developed’ to take account of the distinction between objective and subjective moral evil. The development preserves everything that is essential to Augustine’s ecclesiology. And it makes that ecclesiology credible in an age like our own when we are acutely aware that people can be at odds about matters of supreme importance (e.g. the existence of God) and yet be perfectly in good faith” (Pg. 6)

Did you catch that? Vatican 2 is the shadow within which the moral speculation of Amoris Laetitia exists. Here Butler understands that by the Councils opening of speculative considerations for individuals when their subjective is considered aside their objectivity, we can have co-existing an individual who is “at odds about matters of supreme importance”, e.g. the existence of God, and yet still be graduating in the life of grace.

We have herein a logic which paints the picture of an atheist who is walking in the grace of the Holy Spirit, and consequently heaven-bound.

How do you like that?

Now to Pope Francis.

If theologians were already envisioning the cogent possibility of atheists who are walking in sanctifying grace, and thus worthy of eternal life, how could it be that we are shocked that a 21st century Pope has put into practice the envisioning of persons living in an objective state of sexual immorality, but who are nevertheless, due to complex conditioning, living in the state of grace? I’m afraid the logic of Amoris Laetitia is rooted in something far prior to Pope Francis.

But now even Thomistic theologians such as Fr. Wojciech Giertych have bought into the the defense of this thought process with very coherent intellectual reasoning. Now, I don’t agree with him, as I think even saying 5 leprechauns plus 5 leprechauns equals 10 leprechauns is intellectually reasonable, however much fictitious and a product of pure imagination, and still non-existent. That’s not to say that there is no possibility of a person living in objective sexual immorality without the sufficient culpability for mortal sin, but what AL envisions are people who both “know” of the Law of God, are “instructed” by the Church to cease acting in that fashion, but who “refuse” to change their situation for the glory of God.

Now to Humanae Vitae.

Can the prediction be anymore clear? If we’ve already assessed Protestants walking in grace (due to complex conditioning), Atheists walking in grace (due to the same), and outwardly impenitent immoral persons walking in grace (due to the same), then what do we expect will be suggested for those who utilize accurate forms of birth control ? Can’t they be afforded some of this merciful consideration?

I hope not, but I fear this is where it is going, if it is not already there.

In conclusion, I’d like to quote from the anti-Nazi German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here is a man who authored a book much needed in the hands of the Vatican entitled “The Cost of Discipleship”. Bonhoeffer describes what I described as the “cheapening of grace” above in explicit and unmistakable terms, and golly it strikes at the heart of our dilemma today:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Cardinal Cupich – “Rights of Conscience”?

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Going through Newman’s letter to the Duke of Norfolk reminded me of that deplorable address given by Cardinal Cupich this past Febuary 9th at the Von Hügel Institute in St. Edmund College, Cambridge. There, the Cardinal quoted from this very letter to the Duke where Newman says, “Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ” in a way to espouse that Christians may “affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal”. Did you read that? “Affirm the necessity”? And when he says “living at some distance”, no doubt is meant not conforming to God’s law. One is reminded of the 8th book of St. Augustine’s confessions wherein he makes the famous line – “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet!” That is, no doubt, the practical equivalence. Oh yes, I know what he said afterwards: “….affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal, while nevertheless calling a person ‘to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized’ (AL 303)”. Regardless of his citing from Amoris, this is inadequate since two things are being affirmed – (1) the situational “necessity” of contravening God’s law (for a time, at least), and (2) the eventually hoped for ability to graduate oneself to keep God’s law. That certainly would have been news to our Lord who said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’, and not keep My commandments” (Luke 6:46), or even more so to St. John the Apostle who wrote with an additional note, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3). Golly, I can’t think of two verses which anathema the “New Paradigm” more than this.

Back to Newman; as I read further into his letter to the Duke, I came across some more detail which most certainly offsets the pseudo-intellectualized mania of Cupich. Speaking against the contemporary fight for the “rights of conscience” , Newman writes:
“There too the idea, the presence of a Moral Governor is far away from the use of it, frequent and emphatic as that use of it is. When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of a Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writings, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman’s prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one’s leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will….” (Section 5 – Conscience)

Severus of Antioch (459-538) – Early High Mariology

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Severus (459-538), Bishop of Antioch, has some phenomenal statements in regard to the uniqueness of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although he is only venerated by the Coptic/Egyptian Church, the Jacobite Syriac church, and the Armenian Church, his Mariological teaching adds the unique quality of showing forth how ecumenical this way of teaching on Mary truly was even outside from the Chalcedonian-Orthodox and Latin/Papal West , both of which are usually considered the majority bodies taking up the narrative of Christianity in the first ten centuries. In other words, we need not refer to the Eastern Orthodox nor Roman Catholic sources to find an abundance of high-Mariology, and thus the root of this teaching must precede the severance of these Eastern churches, and thus shows the certainty of its antiquity.

Severus, born in Sozopolis, studied the Christian faith in Alexandria, Egypt, and was therefore exposed to a variety of sources in such a great cultural center. He was also a monastic and a founder of a monastery near Gaza, Palestine. In 512, he was consecrated Patriarch of Antioch.

In this first citation, we see the close proximity which Severus puts the Lord Christ in relation to the Virgin as Mother of God :

When a man looks at you, O Mother of God and Virgin, and at the divine mystery that came about in you by a miracle, he closes himself in silence because of the unspeakbleness of it and, fully of wonder, is moved to offer praises because of the greatness of the One who loved us in such a great way” (Ottoeco, Hymn 120; PO 6, 159-60)

Here, the Virgin Mary is compared to the Burning Bush where God filled it with fire, only this time the Mother of God, by virtue of giving human nature to the 2nd member of the holy Trinity, is the God-bearer. The language here will surely illustrate something profoundly distinctive of Patristic Marian thought.

“When I turn my gaze to the Virgin Mother of God and try to sketch a simple thought about her, I immediately seem to hear a voice coming from God and crying loudly in my ears, ‘Do not come near. Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground’. Truly we must free our minds from every mortal and carnal imagining, as if Peribleptos_Ochridremoving sandals from our feet, when our minds attempt to raise themselves to the contemplation of divine things. But what sort of thing could we contemplate that is more divine or greater than the Mother of God? Drawing near to her is like drawing near to holy ground and reaching heaven” (Homily 67; PO 8, 349-50)

Meditation and contemplation of the Virgin causes us to live out our lives in holiness.

“She is the leaven of our new creation, the root of the true vine whose branches we have become, by virtue of the germination proper to baptism. She is the point of arrival of the reconciliation of God with men, on which occasion the angels sang: ‘Glory to God in the Highest heaven; peace on earth and good will toward men’. For this reason the recollection of the Virgin wakes up our souls, making them consider how, by his intervention, we have been called from such a great irreconcilable enmity, from a situation of war, so to speak, to such a great peace, to divine familiarity, to a marvelous association” (Homily 67; PO 8, 364-65)

Praying to the Virgin to request intercession is there also.

“We implore her who is the Birthgiver of God and pray her to intercede for us, she who is honored by all the Saints” (Ottoeco, Hymn 118; PO 6, 157)

More than the other Saints, she is able to life up prayers for us, and we glory to have obtained her as the ornament of our race” (Homily 14, 18; PO 38, 413)

“She is honored by all saints: by the Patriarchs, because it was She who received the glorious blessing they promised; by the Prophets, who of old had foretold him many times in divers ways; by the Apostles, who preached [him]; by the Martyrs, who found in him a teacher amid their struggles, the presenter of their crowns, and the reason for their sufferings. We too praise him; he, for the sake of the salvation and life of our race, wrought and brought everything to completion in wisdom” (Ottoeco, Hymn 118; PO 6, 157-58)

Lastly, considering her unique and sinless holiness as a member of the fallen human race, Severus writes:

She formed part of the human race and was of the same essence as we, although she was pure from all taint and immaculate” (St. Severus, Hom., cathedralis, 67, PO, 8, 350)

All English translations taken from Dr. Luigi Gamebero’s “Mary and the Church Fathers”.

5th-century Greek Historian on Appearances of the Virgin Mary

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5th-century Greek historian, Sozomen (A.D. 445), has given us a description of a glorious feat in the Eastern city of Constantinople. What struck me as I read this is how this 5th-century man, a historian no less, and thus deeply interested in the “historia” of Christianity, can remark that appearances of the Virgin Mary for the purpose of releasing divine power was a matter that she was “wont” to do. It was a customary report for he to do this. Here, he is recording of events in the prior century (4th), as well. I suspect that a modern day Protestant would not only feel “not at home” in 4th/5th century Eastern Christianity, but would positively repudiate what was a commonly accepted reality. And I don’t mean to offend by that, unless it would help.

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St. Athanasius on the Divinity of the Virgin Mary

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“O Noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures hall I compare you, O Virgin? You are great than them all. O Ark of the New Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides. Should I compare you to the fertile earth and its fruits? You surpass them, for it is written: ‘The earth is my footstool’ (Is 66:1). But you carry within you the feet, the head, and the entire body of the perfect God. If I say that heaven is exalted, yet it does not equal you, for it is written: ‘Heaven is My throne’ (Is 66), while you are God’s place of repose. If I say that the angels and archangels are great — but you are greater than them all, for the angels and archangels serve with trembling the One who dwells in your womb, and they dare not speak in his presence, while you speak to him freely. If we say that the cherubim are great, you are greater than they, for the cherubim carry the throne of God, while you hold God in your hands. If we say that the seraphim are great, you are greater than them all, for the seraphim cover their faces with their wings, unable to look upon the perfect glory, while you not only gaze upon his face but caress it and offer your breasts to his holy mouth…As for Eve, she is the mother of the dead, ‘for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’. Eve took fruit from the tree and made her husband eat of it along with her. And so they ate of that tree of which God had told them: ‘The day you eat of it, you shall die’ (Gen 2:17). Eve took fruit from it, at some of it, and gave some to her husband that he might eat with her. He ate of it, and he died. In you, instead, O wise Virgin, dwells the Son of God: he, that is, who is the three of life. Truly he has given us his body, and we have eaten of it. That is how life came to all, and all have come to life by the mercy of God, your beloved Son. That is why your spirit is full of joy in God your Savior”

( St. Athanasius of Alexandria- Homily of the Papyrus of Turin, ed. T. Lefort, in Le Museon 71 (1958): 216-17)