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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nothing new under the sun.

Or "Everything old gets re-purposed."

These changes [the Church's retreat before liberal divorce laws in Italy, Spain and Portugal] come as less of a surprise if one remembers the statements that some council fathers made at Vatican II favoring divorce. They were eastern bishops who had been influenced by the matrimonial discipline of the Orthodox Church. That Church allows divorce in various circumstances, including the case of treason against the state on the part of one spouse.

During the CXXXIX session of the council, Charles Cardinal Journet ably illustrated how this indulgent practice of the Orthodox Church is the historical result of its political dependence on the Byzantine and Tzarist empires. His speech was a reply to the suggestion by Mgr Elias Zoghby, patriarchal-vicar of the Melkites in Egypt, that the bond between an unjustly-abandoned spouse and the guilty party be dissolved. When this suggestion stirred up an enormous row in the council and the press, Mgr Zoghby felt bound to state in a further speech to the council that in making his suggestion he in no way intended to derogate from the principle of the indissolubility of marriage. The reply is obvious: it is not enough to maintain something verbally while claiming that it can coexist intact with something that destroys it.

The most developed attack on indissolubility was made by the Patriarch of the Melkites, Maximos IV, who took up Zoghby's proposals more forcefully and who collected his conciliar and extra-conciliar pronouncements in the form of a book. Of course the abandonment of Catholic doctrine is not admitted for what it is; it is advanced as a disciplinary rather than a doctrinal change, in the form of a pastoral solution. At the outset, the book states the doctrine of indissolubility, solemnly defined by the Council of Trent as an article of faith that shuts the door on any discussion. The, with the sophistical tactics typical of the innovators, it goes on to say "There are in the Catholic Church cases of truly revolting injustice which condemn human beings whose vocation is to live in the common state of marriage...and who are prevented from doing so without any fault of their own and without being able, humanly speaking, to bear this abnormal condition all their lives."

The Church's constant tradition and, at a theoretical level, the whole of Catholic dogma are opposed to the Patriarch's position. We will not elaborate upon the contradictory method that the innovators use when they proceed in one direction by verbally granting the principle of indissolubility, and then turn about and proceed to assert that marriages can be dissolved, as if contradictory assertions could exist. The Patriarch's statements go beyond the boundary that divides free theological speculation from dogmas of the faith, and thus indirectly attack the principles that sustain religion. In effect he implicitly rejects the distinction between suffering and injustice when he asserts that the innocent spouse suffers unjustly at the hands of the Church. The whole operation of divine providence, and the Catholic doctrine of suffering, are involved here.

Injustice is evident on the part of the spouse who breaks communion, but the Patriarch asserts there is an injustice on the part of the Church, when in order to be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel as well as the natural law, it declines to arrogate to itself the right to remove that suffering. The Church punishes the guilty party by depriving him or her of the Eucharist, for example, and by other withdrawal of rights, but it never grants a eudaemonological good precedence over moral good or over the law. The notion of the Just One suffering is at the heart of the Christian religion, a religion which does not promise freedom from suffering in this world, but in the life to come, and which regards suffering from an essentially supernatural point of view that integrates our present and future existence. 

The Patriarch's position is naturalistic. According to our faith, God does not arrange the course of events so that the just have good things in this world, but so that they may at the last have every good from the One who is Himself All Good....The Patriarch, on the other hand, sees suffering as an injustice rather than as an experience in virtue, a participation in Christ, a purification and expiation of one's own sins and those of others; and what is more he shifts the blame for this injustice from the guilty part to the guiltless Church. 

--Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century at pp. 402-404 and n. 5 (Sarto House Publishers, 1996) (emphasis in original text).


  1. Man, excellent source siting this week, Dale.

  2. Yes. There are many valuable and pertinent observations in Iota Unum.

  3. Thanks for the excerpt. Clear, sane writing. I think I'll finally take the plunge and buy the book.