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Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Law of Contradiction

The usually-solid Dr. Jeffrey Mirus wrote something of a shocker last week, asserting that the Kasper proposal was a mere matter of sacramental discipline surrounding the Eucharist and did not implicate doctrine.

It was the essence of the Kasper Proposal to request a consideration of precisely this possibility. In other words, the Kasper Proposal was not intrinsically unorthodox. Proponents of that proposal are not (for that reason) heretics, and could have positive reasons for examining the issue. If Pope Francis wanted the proposal seriously considered, this does not call his personal orthodoxy into question.

But clearly other factors affect sacramental discipline as well, such as the possibility of scandal, which is closely tied to the public nature of certain sins—not least sins against marriage, which is by its very nature a public institution subject to the jurisdiction of the Church. Moreover, the Church, in her pastoral wisdom, ought to employ sacramental disciplines which tend to support rather than undermine the truths of the Faith, even though pastoral results cannot be perfectly predicted or measured. On this point, the Church’s persistent refusal in earlier periods to justify a change in this particular discipline, while it may not be conclusive in new circumstances, is immensely cautionary.

Thus, while it was not theoretically impossible for the Kasper Proposal to be implemented in some form, it was ultimately rejected at the Synod because the assembled bishops could not see how anything like it could be used without seriously undermining Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. In other words, the bishops as a body concluded that the proposed cure would worsen the disease.

Emphasis in original.

He followed it up with a thoughtful scenario explaining why he thought it wouldn't be heretical. I like his writing, and appreciate his carefulness and charity. However, the follow-up fails remedy the problems with his initial argument.

The problem with this is twofold. First, the Kasper proposal isn't dead--a majority of bishops were willing to discuss it, and all rejected paragraphs were included in the issued Synodal document for continued "discussion purposes." If anything, its proponents sound reassured. The well-heeled (if parishioner-impaired) church in Germany and its influential sympathizers will be sure to keep the pressure up over the next year.

The second is more substantive--namely, it will not do to simply describe something as "disciplinary" as though that disposes of the matter. All sacraments are subject to the strictures of and disciplinary functions of canon law.  Moreover, at least some sacramental discipline is doctrinal in scope. 

For example, canon law restrict holy orders to baptized males. Can it be said to be merely "disciplinary" to require candidates for orders to be baptized? Can this be dispensed with as a "disciplinary" gatekeeper function because of new circumstances? After all, baptism of desire has had considerable development over the years. Could actual sacramental baptism be unnecessary, then?

I cannot see any way this could be so. Baptism is central to the Christian life, so much so that rare indeed is the Christian offshoot that does not mandate it. The Church has always required that candidates for orders be given water baptism. Christ's explicit commandment would seem to lack loopholes in that regard.

To argue otherwise is to negate the notion of the ordained as, inter alia, an alter Christus, one baptized as Christ was baptized. Such a change would also reverberate, in a profoundly negative way, across the Church's understanding of the Eucharist, and what it means to be united as the Body of Christ. Thus, any removal the baptismal requirement would fundamentally alter the understanding of Holy Orders, and calling it a mere discipline would not change this.

Likewise, Christ commanded that there be no remarriage after a divorce, going so far as to call it adultery. Thus, the Church has followed the Master's direction and held that marriage is indissoluble, prohibiting remarriage after a civil divorce.

And yet, we have a proposal, described as "disciplinary" or "pastoral," which would permit those who have remarried after a civil divorce to receive the Eucharist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to be given the Body and Blood of Christ which seals our unity with Him and signifies our willingness to accept what He taught and to try to conform our lives to Him.

In other words, you would have Christ's doctrinal teaching on marriage existing right alongside its negation, both in full communion, judged to be equal in the eyes of the Church.

The Church would be contradicting herself. Full stop. This is old-school Aristotelian/Thomistic logic at work. The bottom line is that it is doctrinal, no matter how carefully packaged it might be in the soothing language of  "discipline" or "pastoral solution," and it would be recognized as such. I am not suggesting that Dr. Mirus is playing games here--he is sincerely wrestling with a hard case. But for me, it's hard to see how explicitly contradicting Christ could be seen in any other way. It is dubious to restrict it to a matter of "discipline," and to do so opens the gates, as Cardinal George correctly notes:

Pastoral practice, of course, must also reflect doctrinal conviction. It is not “merciful” to tell people lies, as if the church had authority to give anyone permission to ignore God’s law. If the parties to a sacramental marriage are both alive, then what Christ did in uniting them cannot be undone, unless a bishop thinks he is Lord of the universe. The difficulty of giving communion to parties in a non-sacramental marriage doesn’t stem from their having sinned by entering into a non-sacramental union. Like any sin, that can be forgiven. 

The difficulty comes from avoiding the consequences of living in such a union. It is foolish to believe that a publicly approved although “restricted” exception to the “discipline” around the sacrament will remain “restricted” very long. When speaking of acting “pastorally,” a bishop has to ask what is good for the entire church, not just what might be helpful to an individual couple. How the entire pastoral conversation around marriage will change with a change of “discipline” is a question that must be answered before making any other decision.


  1. Cardinal George, in talking about what would be good for the entire Church as opposed to an individual couple, has left out one other Party - namely Our Lord Jesus Christ - it is His Body and Blood that would be profaned. And as for the couple - it would be bad for them as well as they would be receiving this Body and Blood while 'objectively' in a state of mortal sin. This is almost never stated.

  2. The path of Christianity in the West has increasingly become the willingness to say "No." No to having a donut every morning, no to playing three hours of video games every night. You have to be willing, truly willing, to put Christ first.

    And a Church that doesn't teach to say no to the little pleasures would of course not know how to say no at all.