And what a critique it is, surely a must read, from Chiesa, authored by “Anna M. Silvas, one of the world’s most renowned scholars of the Fathers of the Church, especially Eastern. She belongs to the Greek Catholic Church of Romania, and lives in Armindale, Australia, in New South Wales.”
In this talk I would like to outline some of the more pressing concerns I have with “Amoris Laetitia”. These reflections are organised into three sections. Part one will outline general concerns; part two will focus on the now infamous chapter eight; and part three will suggest some of the implications of “Amoris Laetitia” for priests and catholicism.
I am aware that “Amoris Laetitia”, as an apostolic exhortation, does not come under any rubric of infallibility. Still it is a document of the papal ordinary magisterium, and thus it makes the idea of critiquing it, especially doctrinally, mighty difficult. It seems to me unprecedented situation. I wish there were a great saint, like St Paul, or St Athanasius or St Bernard or St Catherine of Siena who could have the courage and the spiritual credentials, i.e. prophecy of the truest kind, to speak the truth to the successor of Peter and recall him to a better frame of mind. At this hour, hierarchical authority in the Church seems to have entered a strange paralysis. Perhaps this is the hour for prophets – but true prophets. Where are the saints, of “nooi” (intellects) long purified by contact with the living God in prayer and ascesis, gifted with the anointed word, capable of such a task? Where are these people?
Graven upon tablets of stone by the finger of the living God (Ex 31:18, 32:1 5), the ten “words” proclaimed to mankind for all ages: “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14), and: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” (Ex 20:17).
Our Lord himself declared: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her (Mk 10:11).
And the apostle Paul repeated the language: “She will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive” ( Rom 7:3 ).
Like a deafening absence, the term “adultery” is entirely absent from the lexicon of “Amoris Laetitia”. Instead we have something called “‘irregular’ unions”, or “irregular situations”, with the “irregular” in double quotation marks as if to distance the author even from this usage.
“If you love me”, says our Lord, keep my commandments (Jn 14:15), and the Gospel and Letters of John repeats this admonition of our Lord in various ways. It means, not that our conduct is justified by our subjective feelings, but rather, our subjective disposition is verified in our conduct, i.e., in the obediential act. Alas, as we look into AL, we find that “commandments” too are entirely absent from its lexicon, as is also obedience. Instead we have something called “ideals”, appearing repeatedly throughout the document.
Other key words I miss too from the language of this document: the fear of the Lord. You know, that awe of the sovereign reality of God that is the beginning of wisdom, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in confirmation. But indeed this holy fear has long vanished from a vast sweep of modern catholic discourse. It is a semitic idiom for “eulabeia” and “eusebia” in Greek, or in Latin, “pietas” and “religio”, the core of a Godward disposition, the very spirit of religion.
Another register of language is also missing in “Amoris Laetitia” is that of eternal salvation. There are no immortal souls in need of eternal salvation to be found in this document! True, w e do have “eternal life” and “eternity” nominated in nn. 166 and 168 as the seemingly inevitable “fulfillment” of a child’s destiny, but with no hint that any of the imperatives of grace and struggle, in short, of eternal salvation, are involved in getting t here.
It is as if one’s faith-filled intellectual culture is formed to certain echoes of words that one listens for, and their absence is dinning in my ears. Let us look then into what we have in the document itself.
Why the sheer wordiness of it, all 260 pages of it, more than three times the length of “Familiaris Consortio”? This is surely a great pastoral discourtesy. Yet Pope Francis wants “each part” to be “read patiently and carefully” (n. 7). Well, some of us have had to do so. And so much of it is of a tedious, light-weight character. In general I find Pope Francis’ discourse, not only here, but everywhere else, flat and one dimensional. “Shallow” might capture it, and “facile” too: no sense of depth upon depth lying beneath words holy and true, inviting us to launch into the deep.
One of the least pleasant features of “Amoris Laetitia” are Pope Francis’ many impatient “throw -away” comments, cheap-shots that so lower the tone of the discourse. One is often left puzzling as to the ground of these comments. For example, in the infamous footnote 351, he lectures priests that “the confessional must not be a torture chamber.” A torture chamber?
In another example, in n. 36, he says: “We often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation”.
Anyone slightly acquainted with the development of doctrine on marriage, knows that the unitive good has received a great deal of renewed focus since at least “Gaudium et Spes” 49, with a back history of some decades.
To me, these impulsive, unfounded caricatures are unworthy of what should be the dignity and seriousness of an apostolic exhortation.
In nn. 121, 122, we have a perfect example of the erratic quality of Pope Francis’s discourse. At first describing marriage as “a precious sign” and as “the icon of God’s love for us”, within a few lines this imaging of Christ and his Church becomes a “tremendous burden” to have to impose on spouses. He used the phrase earlier in n. 37. But who has ever expected sudden perfection of the married, who has not conceived of marriage as a lifelong project of growth in the living out of the sacrament?
Pope Francis’ language of emotion and passion (nn. 125, 242, 143, 145) owes nothing to the Fathers of the Church or the expositors of the spiritual life in the great Tradition, but rather to the mentality of the popular media. His simple conflation of eros and sexual desire in n. 151 succumbs to the secularist view of it, and ignores Pope Benedict’s “Deus Caritas Est”, steeped in a thoughtful exposition of the mystery of eros and agape and the Cross.
One balks at the ambiguous language of n. 243 and n. 246, implying that somehow it is the Church’s fault, or something the Church has to be anxiously apologetic about it when her members enter upon an objectively adulterous union, and thereby exclude themselves from Holy Communion. This is a governing idea that pervades the entire document.
Several times through this document I have paused and wondered: “I haven’t heard of Christ for pages”. All too often we are subjected to long tracts of homespun avuncular advice that could be given by any secular journalist without the faith, the sort of thing to be found in the pages of Reader’s Digest, or one of those Lifestyle inserts in weekend newspapers.
It is true, some doctrines of the Church are robustly upheld, e.g. against same-sex unions (n. 52) and polygamy (n. 53), gender ideology (n. 56) and abortion (n. 84); there are affirmations of the indissolubility of marriage (n. 63), and its procreative end, and an upholding of “Humanae Vitae” (nn. 68, 83 ), the sovereign rights of parents in the education of their children (n. 84), the right of every child to a mother and a father (nn. 172, 175), the importance of fathers (nn. 176, 177). You can even occasionally find a poetic thought, such as ‘the gaze’ of contemplative love between spouses (nn. 127-8), or the maturing of good wine as an image of the maturing of spouses (n. 135 ).
But all this laudable doctrine is undermined, I submit, by the overall rhetoric of the exhortation, and by that of Pope Francis’ entire papacy. These affirmations of catholic doctrine are welcome, but, it needs to be asked, do they have any more weight than that of the passing and erratic enthusiasm of the current incumbent of St Peter’s Chair? I am serious here. My instinct is that the next position threatening to crumble, will be the issue of same-sex “marriage”. If it is possible to construct a justification of states of objective adultery, on the basis of recognizing “the constructive elements in those situations not yet corresponding to the Church’s teaching on marriage” (n. 292), “when such unions attain a particular stability, legally recognized, are characterized by deep affection and responsibility for their offspring” (n. 293) etc., how long can you defer applying exactly the same line or reasoning to same-sex partnerships? And yes, children may be involved, as we know very well from the gay agenda. Already, the former editor of the catholic Catechism, [Cardinal Christoph Schönborn], to whose hermeneutic of AL as a “development of doctrine”, Pope Francis has referred us, appears to be “evolving” on the potential for “good” same-sex “unions”.