A Thomistic Defense of Amoris Laetitia?

Le_triomphe_de_Saint-Thomas_d'Aquin

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.”

8 thoughts on “A Thomistic Defense of Amoris Laetitia?

  1. Re Amoris Laetitia, after reading the case study at https://musingsfromaperiphery.blogspot.com/2017/10/the-sarah-case.html , would you still say that the logic of Amoris Laetitia is incorrect?

    If yes, in addition to pointing out what exactly is unsound (from a doctrinal perspective) in the ‘less rigorous’ approach to sacramental discipline as developed in the above link, please also point out – after reviewing https://musingsfromaperiphery.blogspot.com/2017/11/sarah-is-not-eligible-for-sacramental.html – as to what is the obex that hinders absolution.

    You may also find pertinent a different reply to the dubia as given at https://musingsfromaperiphery.blogspot.com/2017/10/a-response-to-dubia-of-four-cardinals.html

    Re Humanae Vitae and ‘what do we expect will be suggested for those who utilize accurate forms of birth control?’ – if the intention in using contraception is not to negate fertility and prevent conception but to prevent the spouse being affected by a genital ulcer disease, (do a control+f for chancroid at https://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/latex.html ), would that still be called gravely immoral?

    • It is never good to do an evil so that good may come about. It may reduce one’s culpability, but not to the point of being sure one is in a state of grace, nor to receive communion.

  2. Eric, there is a Catholic Instagram account I follow (@catholiccapital) who has announced his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, planning on giving reasons for it but has already mentioned it is mostly on the Filioque.

    He claims Pope John VIII signed an eastern council which condemned the Filioque, and thus the Church has condemned the Filioque and the only explanation Catholic apologists have given him is that it’s “built up doctrine”.

    Could you address this?

  3. Yes, briefly for now. The Council of Cple 879-80 did condemn any attempt to make word additions to the Creed. However, in no place of the Councils texts is the filioque condemned whatsoever. I am sure your friend did not bank his reasons solely on this, otherwise he made a huge leap without a ledge for him on the other side. You can consult any historian on this matter, whether Orthodox, Protestant, or Catholic. Aristedeis Papadakis’ “Crisis of Byzantium” is one Orthodox source you can check. I will cite from it later.

    On the matter of word additions – For the West, this is a disciplinary measure which locked the Creed from any word additions, even of true doctrine. So the Council forbade, implicitly, for instance, any addition on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    The Catholic West believed that the same authority which locks the Creed can unlock the Creed. Thus, Papal power, as well as Conciliar Power, can be used to add valid additions by amending the rule.

    • The 879 council, approved by the pope & attended by his legates, condemned any additions to the creed by anyone whosoever & it gives a lengthy explanation why, which basically rejects doctrinal development & affirms the authority of councils. This council was called to re-established communion between Constantinople & Rome (which it did), but later during the investiture controversy it was rejected by Rome in favor of the condemned council of 869, some say because Rome needed a canon from 869 in its struggle against the Holy Roman Emperor. But the 879 council, approved by the then pope, had already condemned the 869 council. This means that the Great Schism actually happened in 869. I consider this council the smoking gun that disproves the Roman understanding of papal supremacy.

      After citing the original Creed, without the filioque the council fathers (including pope John VIII) agreed that:
      “Thus we think, in this confession of faith we were we baptized, through this one the word of truth proved that every heresy is broken to pieces & canceled out. We enroll as brothers & fathers & coheirs of the heavenly city those who think thus. If anyone, however, dares to rewrite & call the Rule of Faith some other exposition besides that of the sacred Symbol which has been spread abroad from above by our blessed & holy Fathers even as far as ourselves, & to snatch the authority of the confession of those divine men & impose on it his own invented phrases and put this forth as a common lesson to the faithful or to those who return from some kind of heresy, and display the audacity to falsify completely the antiquity of this sacred & venerable Horos (Rule) with illegitimate words, or additions, or subtractions, such a person should, according to the vote of the holy & Ecumenical Synods, which has been already acclaimed before us, be subjected to complete defrocking if he happens to be one of the clergymen, or be sent away with an anathema if he happens to be one of the lay people.”

      According to the Pope at the time; a clergyman who includes the filioque in the creed should be defrocked.

  4. Thank you for the reponse,with that base assumption of Papal Authority the Catholic tradition isn’t contradicted by the council decrees, though my guess is he also rejects papal supremacy.

    • The Latin West didn’t believe Popes had the authority to add or subtract to a creed or canon of an accepted Ecumenical Council. He could refuse to confirm it, but he couldn’t change something which had been approved by his predecessor. See the canons of the Council of Constantinople of 879, especially the one condemning the addition of the Filioque (see my post above) & rejection of the robber-synod of 869.

      We have 2 competing ecclesiologies; is the Church or Pope infallible? Remember that the pseudo-Isidorian decretals are forgeries; they were extremely influential & cited by the greatest of Latin theologians & jurists like St Thomas Aquinas.

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