Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Disceptatio post relationem



So much has already been written about that Relatio post disceptationem that appeared yesterday.

Here's a very brief sample: start with Fr. Robert Barron's wisdom here.
If you want evidence of this, simply look at the accounts of the deliberations of the major councils of the Church, beginning with the so-called Council of Jerusalem in the first century right through to the Second Vatican Council of the twentieth century. In every such gathering, argument was front and center, and consensus evolved only after lengthy and often acrimonious debate among the interested parties. Read John Henry Newman’s colorful history of the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, and you’ll find stories of riots in the streets and the mutually pulling of beards among the disputants. Or pick up Yves Congar’s very entertaining diary of his years at Vatican II, and you’ll learn of his own withering critiques of the interventions of prominent Cardinals and rival theologians. Or peruse John O’Malley’s history of the Council of Trent, and you’ll see that early draft statements on the key doctrines of original sin and justification were presented, debated, and dismissed—long before final versions were approved. 
Read Fr. Longenecker's hard-hitting, almost temerarious piece in Crisis today.
This is teamwork Holy Father. I can only do the job you want me to do if you do the job you have been called to do. With the greatest respect and love, please don’t feel that it is your job to tinker with the timeless truths. If my job is to be the compassionate pastor for those in the pew and beyond, then your job is to be the primary definer and defender of the faith. I can’t do my job if you don’t do yours.
Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble FSP shares her experience of return to the church. And absolutely take the effort to read through Msgr. Pope's very clear post on gradualism.

My thoughts are about the principle of gradualism that the Relatio talks about, introducing it first in #12, and then in #17 it writes:
In considering the principle of gradualness in the divine salvific plan, one asks what possibilities are given to married couples who experience the failure of their marriage, or rather how it is possible to offer them Christ’s help through the ministry of the Church. In this respect, a significant hermeneutic key comes from the teaching of Vatican Council II, which, while it affirms that “although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure ... these elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic unity” (Lumen Gentium, 8).
This is a bold analogy. I think it is flawed. I am thinking through this a little and hope to have some thoughts on that soon. It is helpful, however, to get a good primer on the principle of gradualism or gradualness. Jimmy Akin has done yeoman's work (as always), in this piece.
1) What is the law of gradualness?
It is a principle used in Catholic moral and pastoral theology, according to which people should be encouraged to grow closer to God and his plan for our lives in a step-by-step manner rather than expecting to jump from an initial conversion to perfection in a single step.
The best insight on the utility and effectiveness of the principle of gradualism came from Sherry Weddell (author of Forming Intentional Disciples), on her Facebook page (quoted with her permission):
The traditional Italian solution was to articulate the ideal as Church teaching and, in practice, to tolerate all kinds of sins in a de facto "gradualism" because people will be people although there was often not much local incentive for individuals to attempt to reach the ideal. You confessed on your deathbed. The American approach - keep the laws to a minimum, state them loud and clear and expect everyone to abide by them or there will be consequences - is a very different approach. 
Gradualism works where there is a pretty strong consensus that the "ideal" is true and important and we are just helping people get there at their own pace. Gradualism as a spiritual path works well *within* an over-arching culture of conviction. In a climate where the ideal is regarded as outdated nonsense and where the law, cultural institutions, and the working assumptions of most ordinary people presume that things contrary to the ideal are just fine or even good, "gradualism" collapses outside a powerful direct encounter with God. 
Gradualism, as the Church understands it, *always* presumes a powerful incentive for change of some kind. In practice, Catholics are used to that incentive being cultural, familial, or legal. Or, in case of deep conversion, spiritual. But I think that's the fear. When the law articulates the ideal clearly, it pulls us to reconsider our ways. If the law ceases to do so and the culture pressure against the ideal is nearly total and even family support is mostly missing in action, only the most exceptional, spiritually motivated people will be motivated to attempt change. And they will probably have to pay a very high price to do so. 
This is a very keen insight. It squares with my own experience, in my own conversion and moral growth, and in my pastoral experience. The first context ("a pretty strong consensus that the 'ideal' is true and important") is what I see every day in the parish with my Hispanic parishioners, with respect to cohabitation and sacramental marriage. [I recently blogged about one convalidation ceremony where no one received Holy Communion]. While so many cohabitate ("in unión libre"), and get civilly remarried years before approaching the Church for the Sacrament of Marriage, no one argues that the Church is wrong, that her teaching is outdated. Those who are cohabiting, do not present themselves for Holy Communion. The parish response generally is to provide some evangelical experience for a deeper (perhaps even initial) conversion to the Lord (the Charismatic Renewal, Christ Renews His Parish retreats), followed by doctrinal catechesis in RCIA, and pre-marital counseling, leading to a celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage.

In this context, to suggest that those who are cohabiting are just fine, or they should all be admitted to Holy Communion, because that would somehow be merciful, would be ludicrous. It would certainly be no incentive to anyone to actually seek moral reform. As part of the process, so many couples make promises of temporary continence, so as to prepare to celebrate Confession and then Marriage. Gradualism is not opposed to the Cross. Christian maturity is impossible without the Cross.

The second context is the wider American culture, which is hostile to the Church's teaching on family and the human sexuality, and thinks it to be evil, harmful, and oppressive, whether we're talking about contraception, easy divorce, homosexual activity and unions, reproductive technologies or abortion.

In this case the language of the Relatio leads quite directly to this:


What is the message here? That the Human Rights Campaign wants to gradually approach the ideal of Christ's law, and will now encourage their staff and activists to seek this path? No, it is the exact opposite -- that it is the Catholic Church which has now made a gradual step towards the idea they propose, that homosexual activity is harmless, even good.

Unfortunately, there is clear evidence that this kind of language simply emboldens those who are hostile to the truths proclaimed by the Catholic Church, whether they be without or within her fold. It does not make the Gospel appealing to the world. It conforms the Church to the world. This approach had been tried in the years and decades after the Second Vatican Council. I can't say it has borne any good fruit. The results of this kind of approach of diluting the Gospel have decimated the mainline Protestant communities in the West. Under the previous two pontificates, there had made a concerted effort to clarify doctrinal confusion and proclaim the fulness of the Gospel boldly.

All that said, it should be borne in mind that this document is simply not that important. It says nothing about the position or teaching of the Catholic Church. It is the basis for discussion for the Bishops going forward. There are concerns about the way it was formulated. And here, Cardinal Napier of Durban talks about the key issue -- the way the Vatican operates with complete obliviousness to the reality of the Internet and media driven narratives, and the damage this causes. That it was released, and the interventions of the individual Synod Fathers themselves weren't (unlike in previous Synods) seems bizarre, and invites conspiracy theories. The Holy Father wanted free debate -- very laudable. He got it. If the message of that debate is to be shared, it should be shared transparently as well.

The thing is, what the Holy Father so clearly wants, and embodies -- the proclamation of the saving mercy and truth of life in Jesus Christ -- is impossible, unless the teaching of Christ is not treated with the respect it deserves.  After fifty years of a de facto, widespread, antinomianism, we can, and need to, do better. Religion is not purely a matter of sentiment, of mere affirmation. It is about a radical surrender to the Other who comes to me with a love that I dared not imagine, a love that calls forth my whole person in response. 

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