Rorate Caeli

On Marriage as in everything else, no sugarcoating - Robert Spaemann: "When Jesus spoke, people were shocked and ran away."

The renowned and arguably the most famous living Catholic philosopher in Germany, Professor Robert Spaemann, gave an interview to Julia Wächter for the Diocese of Regensburg, Germany, on matters related to the upcoming Synod of Bishops. The main excerpts are translated below:

Question: Marriage cannot any more be taken for granted in certain circles today. The Church's idea of marriage is questioned more and more. How should one now act? Would you say that the Church abandons her ideal of marriage if she more and more adapts to present trends?

Spaemann: Yes. The tendency is strong to adapt to all trends, so that the people do not run away. But one always has to look into the Gospels. The masses ran after Jesus, but then he spoke about giving His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. He did not try to make it look attractively pleasant, and the people were shocked and ran away. Jesus asked the apostles: "Do you also want to run away?" But St. Peter answered: "No, Lord, even though we did not understand you, either, but you have words of eternal life, and where else should we go?" That should be the reaction of the people.

Also in the question of divorce it should not be about following the great masses and strong tendencies, but to give witness about the fact that there are other and much more beautiful ways of life. One also should not only start with it at marriage-preparation courses, but rather much earlier. Already in school one has to be taught what the Christian manner of living is. Then also such a prohibition of divorce, as it has been very clearly and unambiguously taught by Christ, would become attractive.

Question: Can these trends be traced back to the dominant image of God? The merciful God stands often above everything else. Anything threatening is excluded, especially with respect to the teaching of children. 

Spaemann: A third of the teaching of Jesus consists of threats which one now wants to eliminate altogether. Nothing is to be feared. God takes us as we are. This is specious smooth talk. Rather one has to say: No, Jesus does not take you as you are. In his homily he demands: Return, you are on the wrong path! Of course, Jesus accepts the sinner and when the repentant son comes back home, the father gives a feast. But, why does he make a feast? Because he has come back home. The father did not go out to the pig troughs.

Question: Mercy has been demanded also in the debate about the “remarried” divorcees and their admittance to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. There is a broad conception that the indissolubility of marriage and the concept of mercy are two competing principles. How can it be shown that these two principles are not contrary to one another?

Spaemann: Mercy consists in helping someone who suffers in his concrete situation and in helping him to attain to eternal life. Christianity is not a “wellness” religion. If a doctor tells me for example: “You should not smoke any cigarettes any more, otherwise you will die in a half a year” – and when I then say: “O, dear doctor, please be merciful” – that is false mercy. The doctor can only help if the patient follows his advice. The Church is in the place of the doctor. When a cohabitation in a second bond is allowed, when one justifies it with the argument that there has grown a new bond, the question arises, how many times does one have to sleep intimately with someone, until it is not any more a sin, but, rather, a deed that is pleasing to God. Each act of adultery is a grave sin. That is the traditional teaching of the Church. [...]

[Source, in German. A Rorate translation by reader MD.]