Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Is the indissolubility of marriage a *dogmatic* teaching?

The Church has always taught that marriage, validly entered (i.e., with true and free consent of both spouses) and consummated, is indissoluble - that is, bluntly, "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt 19:6, Mk 10:9).  This is true both of natural marriage (i.e., between unbaptized persons), and of sacramental marriage (i.e., between baptized persons).  A quick glance at, say, the index of Denzinger's or the footnotes of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will show how often this teaching has been repeated.

But, one might ask, is this perennial teaching doctrinal (could be divinely revealed, or is at least consistent with apostolic teaching and practice, yet possibly subject to revision), or dogmatic (divinely revealed in Scripture and Tradition, defined as clearly as possible/necessary with full authority, and not subject to revision as far as the definition goes)?

Doctrine and dogma are not opposed to each other, in the sense that the first is optional and the second not.  Both are to be received as fully as humanly possible, for living and believing with "the mind of Christ," and for not living "according to this age" (Rom 12:2, etc).  There's no difference of truth between them, but there is a difference of clarity and of finality.  Dogmatic teaching is the highest level of exercising the teaching authority of the Church (Magisterium); doctrinal teaching is the ordinary level of the same.

To asnwer the question posed, consider a small sample of points:

  • The quote in the first paragraph, above, shows without ambiguity that the indissolubility of marriage is taught by Christ Himself, directly. 

  • The 24th session of the Council of Trent (Nov, 1563) dealt with marriage, and its decrees and canons were accepted and promulgated by Pope Pius IV.  It certainly appears to be a formal, solemn, and intended-to-be-dogmatic definition of marriage, including its indissolubility.

  • Pope Pius XI, in the encyclical Casti Connubi (1930), refers to that definition of Trent as a "solemn definition," and repeats the unchanging teaching of indissolubility with great clarity.

  • The Second Vatican Council, in its sacred consititution Gaudium et Spes, repeats the same (e.g. #48, albeit without the same verbal markers of dogmatic intent; it does, however, cite Casti Connubi, which seems to imply dogmatic intent, given that document's clarity).

  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats the same again (e.g. #1639, 1640, etc), without ambiguity.  It cites the same biblical passage above, and GS #48.

Moreover, all these sources consistently present a clear and compelling theological reason why marriage ought to be indissoluble; namely, that God, in establishing the natural of marriage, does so on the pattern of the divine covenant.  This is a thoroughly Scriptural and Traditional claim (e.g., Jer 31:31, Dan 2:44, Eph 5, etc.).  Since God's covenant is indissoluble, marriage must also be.  To claim that marriage is soluble is to claim that the divine covenant is also soluble, that God could change His mind about the promises of salvation; or in other words, that Christ died, but not for our sins (!).  If marriage has any spiritual reality at all, it must, then, necessarily be indissoluble.

Given all this sort of evidence, it seems to me very difficult to claim that the indissolubility of marriage is merely a doctrinal, but not a dogmatic, teaching. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Thoughts on "rigidity" and orthodoxy

Twice in as many months (e.g., here and here), Pope Francis has inveighed against "rigid" believers.  He uses very negative language against this perceived phenomenon: “They appear good because they follow the Law; but behind, there is something that does not make them good. Either they're bad, hypocrites, or they are sick. They suffer!” Such people are "enslaved," they "lead a double life." They exhibit the opposite of the beatitudes: "Rigidity is not a gift of God. Meekness is; goodness is; benevolence is; forgiveness is. But rigidity isn’t!"  He attaches the same label and language to those who know, love, and respect the traditional liturgy: "Pope Francis told Father Spadaro he wonders why some young people, who were not raised with the old Latin Mass, nevertheless prefer it. 'And I ask myself: Why so much rigidity? Dig, dig, this rigidity always hides something, insecurity or even something else. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.'"

Certainly, the temptation to this sort of "pharisaical" attitude exists in the Church.  It is something always to be guarded against.  Because of our sacramental forms and theology, it is easy at times to get caught up in the details of the liturgy, and miss the forest (interior and spiritual realities) for the trees (exterior and physical forms, words, symbols).  Likewise with the nuances of our moral theology.  One can, in this sense, fall into "rigidity."  And it is true that rigidity is not loving, and that rigidity resists Christ and grace.

But there is another sort of "rigidity" not often adverted to, although it appears to be far more common, currently.  It consists in putting one's own will before God's, insisting that one is right while Tradition, the Church, the Bible, and God Himself must be wrong.  St. James says, "Submit yourself to God... If you judge the law, you are not subject to the law." (Jms 4:7, 11).  Those who are rigid in this sense judge the law of faith, and do not submit to God in their hearts.

The path of faith always involves conversion.  After our initial conversion (which might be as an infant or child in Baptism), we continue to experience "ongoing conversion," as we strive over our whole life to conform our hearts and minds, our loves and desires, to those of Christ.  To be united with Christ in this conformity, "putting on the mind of Christ" (Rom 2:12, etc), is precisely what it means to live as a Christian.

The heart experiencing conversion must be humble.  It must recognize and accept (even when there is struggle actually to do - concupiscence is a real thing) that what the believer desires, of himself, is likely not what God desires for him, and therefore that one must learn to desire instead what God desires.  This softness and pliability of the heart in respect to God's Law, Revelation, commandments and precepts, personal vocation, moral law, and Tradition is properly understood as a sign of strong faith.  As the Rule of St. Benedict says in its very first words, "Listen carefully, my son, to the Master's instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart...  The labor of obedience will bring you back to Him from whom you have drifted by the sloth of disobedience."  This is the opposite of rigidity.  (See e.g. the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, Lk 18:9-14.)

Rigidity, then, is not only clinging to the exterior forms of religion, which Pope Francis (rightly) decriesThe willful rejection of Tradition is equally a form of rigidity (see e.g. Dei Verbum #7-8, etc).  It is a hardness of heart with respect to God's calling the believer.  It is spiritual pride, asserting in effect that this generation (or even this individual!) knows better what is good for souls than all prior generations, than all prior saints, doctors, mystics of the Church.  I don't think it's too strong to say that there's more than a touch of idolatry, of self-worship, in this attitude.  (It remains true that much of the rejection and loss of Tradition and faith in the last century is not willful, but from ignorance and weakness.) 

Thus, one might correctly say: The idea that external or physical forms (e.g., the construction of a church, the placement of the Tabernacle, the beauty of vestments and statues, etc) don't matter to internal or spiritual realities (faith, union with God, repentance and conversion) is false (e.g. Sacrosanctum Concilium #8, 112-3, 122-5, etc).  To cling to this idea in the face of Tradition and correction is to be rigid. 

Idem: The idea that Christ did not and does not will the seven Sacraments for the Church, as the primary means of salvific grace for believers, is false (e.g. SC #5-8, Lumen Gentium #7, 11, etc).  To cling stubbornly to the opposite idea, that we can meddle with the Sacraments or deny their efficacy, in the face of Tradition and correction, is to be rigid.

Idem: The ideas of moral relativism and religious indifferentism are false (e.g. Dominus Iesus, Fides et Ratio, etc). To insist, in the face of Tradition and correction, that they are true, is to be rigid.

And so forth....  In short, modernism is rigid, but Tradition properly received and loved ("the living faith of the dead," as one great Church historian noted) is life with Christ.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Lessons of the Early Church

I am the Catholic I am, in large part because of the martyrs of the early Church.  Their faith shamed my lack of faith, and understanding why they felt it was worth sacrificing the world for the sake of Heaven gave me the impetus to return to the Church as the only way to salvation.  Now, the Church needs their witness again, as the world around us seems primed to descend into a new paganism.

Martyrdom of St. Polycarp - "Away with the atheists!"
The Christian refusal to cooperate with pagan Roman society was rooted in three connected things: (1) The Roman Empire was inherently idolatrous.  Civic participation required participation in pagan ritual worship.  Oaths of office required the same, to be a soldier, a teacher, etc., not just for politicians.  (2) The reality of (unjust) persecution.  Romans persecuted Christians mostly because they saw Christian faith as "atheism" and "innovation," two things that threatened the stability and success of the Empire as a whole.  But as Tertullian famously pointed out in his Apologeticum, forcing Christians to worship other gods by violence made that worship ineffective for the good of the Empire.  (3) Idolatry and unjust persecution represented abuses of power by the Empire.  All worldly authority comes ultimately from God, as Paul argued.  Its uses must therefore conform at least to natural law standards of justice.  That the Empire abused its power in these (and other) ways justified Christian non-participation.

This line of argument, which permeated Christian thought for two centuries, has been buried under other understandings of the Church's relationship to a world seemingly cooperative rather than repressive.  The successful evangelization of the West and the creation of Christendom meant that we didn't need to think much about things that support a Christianity of non-participation.  But we have this treasure somewhere in the attic, not entirely lost or forgotten.  If we confront the increasingly hostile world only with the lessons of cooperative Christendom, we will probably lose.  We need the lessons of conflict as well, distilled from that earlier Christian experience of martyrdom.

Here are three of those critical lessons.

1. The world can never provide an avenue of salvation.  This should be obvious to Christ's disciples.  Only God can forgive sins; only God can save souls; our ultimate homeland is not earth, but Heaven.  But in contrast, it's a key plank of modernism, more or less obvious in all three of its branches (liberal democracy, Communism, and fascism), that the State aspires to become all-in-all, the "savior," in a sense.  In fascism, it does so directly.  In Communism, it does so as the mediating institution of the people's revolutionary will.  In liberal democracy, it does so more subtly, as the mediating institution between conflicts of rights and powers; but over time, its mediation inevitably expands and coems to dominate everything else. In all three, "scientism" promises imminent salvation from all the suffering and evils of the world.

Reductio ad absurdum of acceptance of modernism.
Any uncritical acceptance of modernism, then, implicitly accepts the (false) claim that the State exercises the highest and most decisive form of authority.  This claim tends to be not merely political, but also moral (i.e., abusing God-given authority!).  It rejects, more or less explicitly, a traditional, Bible-informed moral vision.  Acceptance of modernism therefore also means accepting the relegation of religion to the private sphere only.  The moral verities and priorities of the culture (which are, in terms of Christian Revelation, not true) come to be enforced as true, and any serious objection to them is firmly punished, at least socially (loss of status, respect, jobs, friends, etc), possibly legally (fines, jail, the police showing up in the middle of the night to investigate your family, etc), and even (sometimes) fatally. 

A different acceptance of modernism - no less absurd.
If we accept, even implicitly, that the world offers salvation within itself, we cannot be Christians.  We must stand firmly and intentionally in the core Christian claim of salvation through Christ alone.  Short of martyrdom, we do this especially in our (public) worship. Worship focused on God (as in traditional modes) demonstrates our conviction, and teaches spiritual salvation.  Worship focused on ourselves (as in "theater in the round" church design, or hymns all about us or making us speak in God's first person voice, etc.) opens the door to implicit acceptance of the lie of the world saves itself. 

2. Forms of idolatry must be clearly rebuked.  The Church of the martyrs taught clearly and consistently to all its members that cooperation with idolatry leads to loss of saving relationship with Christ.  It wasn't just pagan rituals that were identified, it was a whole host of public or civic activities or positions that were inherently idolatrous - teachers and soldiers, attending theater or civic games, etc etc.  This process of identifying and rebuking forms of participation in idolatry was very successful.

Pope St. John Paul II, for one example, did an excellent job throughout his pontificate (and even before) of doing the equivalent for us today.  We don't tend to think in terms of "idolatry" today, but the moral equivalent corrupting the Church and society is "secularism" (and similar labels).  A creeping domination of "secular" ideas in all spheres of life is intent on displacing any Biblical or natural-law-based cultural patrimony in the West.  This is especially apparent at the moment in issues of sexuality and family, or education policy, for example.  Pope St. John Paul II showed us how to parse the good and the bad in all such conflicts, and having identified the elements or ideas inconsistent with truth and therefore unacceptable to Christians, he rebuked ideas without condemning people. 

March for Life 2013 - excellent example of rebuking without condemning

The more we conform ourselves to the mores of the world, the more this creeping secularism insinuates itself into our faith.  Pope St. John Paul II told us constantly, "Be not afraid!"  Short of martyrdom, we can be clear and consistent in our rejection of modern forms of idolatry by fearlessly knowing the truth (virtue of faith), living the truth (virtue of hope), and speaking the truth (virtue of love) - always with charity and mercy.  It is, in fact, the visibility of the true charity and mercy of Christ in our lives that can attract those mired in worldly idolatry.

3. Faith in Christ is the greatest treasure.  If we look to the world for our salvation (even unconsciously), and fall into secular (idolatrous) modes of thinking, we will inevitably undervalue our faith.  This doesn't necessarily mean we will lose our faith entirely, but we won't have much motive for living it out consistently.  We will be "secular Christians," who, even when we go every Sunday to worship God, live the rest of the week as if Christ doesn't matter to us.  We will be "formed by the culture" rather than "formed by the Church."  We will have fallen into the trap of privatizing our faith - which is precisely what the totalizing, secular world demands of us.

Pope Benedict XVI Adoring our Lord Jesus Christ
Pope Benedict XVI understood this dynamic deeply.  So much of his pontificate was aimed at enflaming our faith anew, at helping us realize just what an inestimable treasure faith in Christ actually is.  Nobody is attracted to a faith that seems not to matter even to its regular practitioners!  Only those who are on fire for God have the chance to spread the fire to others.  Only those who, by how they live in every sphere of life, clearly value above other things the love of God can proclaim the value of that love. 

If it's true, finally, that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," then our evangelizing efforts can only bear fruit if we first die to self, and to the world, and live only in Christ.