Rorate Caeli

Spaemann: “Even in the Church there is a limit to what is bearable”

Robert Spaemann
Sandro Magister's Settimo Cielo Blog
June 17, 2016

The critical observations I made about the Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris laetitia” in my interview with Catholic News Agency caused some strong reactions, in part  enthusiastic agreement, in part – a refusal.
The refusal regards, first of all, the sentence referring to note 351 which represents a “rupture in the traditional Magisterium of the Catholic Church”. What I wanted to say was that some of the Holy Father’s affirmations are in clear contradiction to the words of Jesus, those of the Apostles and the traditional doctrine of the Church.
In actual fact, one speaks of a rupture only when a pope  evoking in an unequivocal and explicit way his apostolic power - hence not incidentally in a footnote – teaches something that is in contradiction with cited magisterial tradition.
In this case it did not happen, also for the fact that Pope Francis is not very fond of unequivocal clarity. A short time ago when he declared that Christianity has no “ultimatums” it evidently doesn’t disturb him at all that Christ says: “But let your speech be yea, yea, no, no: and that which is over and above comes from the evil one.” (Matt. 5, 37). Paul’s letters are full of “ultimatums”  And, ultimately, “He that is not with me, is against me!”(Matt. 12, 30).

Pope Francis, though, only wants “to make some proposals”. It is not forbidden [then] to contradict proposals. Further, in my view, one must energetically contradict wherein “Amoris laetitia” holds, that even Jesus had “proposed a demanding ideal”. No, Jesus commanded “as one having authority, and not as the Scribes and the Pharisees” (Matt. 7, 29). Jesus Himself, for example, when speaking to the rich young man, refers to the close union of  sequence in observing the ten commandments (Luke 18, 18-23). Jesus does not preach an ideal, but founds a new reality, the Kingdom of God on earth.  Jesus does not propose, but invites and commands: “I give you a new commandment”.  This new reality and this commandment are in strict relationship with the nature of the human person and knowable through reason.
If what the Holy Father claims does not fit very well with what I read in Scripture and what comes to me from the Gospels, this is still not sufficient reason to speak of a “rupture” and not even reason to make the Pope an object of polemics and irony, as unfortunately Alexander Kissler has done [1]. When St. Paul found himself in front of the Sanhedrin to defend himself and the high priest ordered him to be struck on the mouth, Paul reacted with these words: “God shall strike thee, thou whitened wall!” When those present told him that this was the high priest, Paul said: “I knew not brethren, that he is the high priest. For it is written: ‘Thou shalt not speak evil of the prince of thy people’.” When Kissler was writing about the Pope he should have moderated his tone, even if his content to a large extent is justified.  As a result of its sarcastic polemical tone, his intervention had a limited and inefficacious effect.
The Pope has been complaining that his numerous exhortations on the alarming situation of the family end up not being understood, by fixing attention instead [stirred up by the media] on a footnote about the question of receiving Communion. Yet, the public pre-synod debate was all about that, since it is indeed on that point that a yes or a no must be given.
The debate will continue just as controversially, given that the Pope has refused to cite his predecessors’ very clear declarations on this subject and given that his response is so manifestly ambiguous that each can interpret it, (and do interpret it) in favour of their own opinion. “For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle? (1Cor. 14, 8).
If, in the meantime, the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is seen openly accusing the Pope’s closest advisor and ghost-writer of heresy, it means that the situation has indeed gone too far.  Even in the Catholic Church there is a limit to what is bearable.
Pope Francis likes comparing those who are critical of his politics with those “who are seated on the throne of Moses”.  Yet even in this case the blow turns upon those who strike it. It was precisely the Scribes that defended divorce and transmitted the rules about it.  Jesus’  Disciples, on the other hand, bewildered by the Master’s strict prohibition on divorce [said]: “It is not expedient to marry then...” (Matt. 19,10).  Just like the people who went away when the Lord stated that He would become their food: “This saying is hard and who can hear it? (John, 6, 60).
The Lord “had compassion on the people” but He was not a populist. “Will you also go away? (John 6, 67). This question directed at the Apostles was His only reaction to the reality that those listening to Him were leaving.
[1] Alexander Kissler, German intellectual, essayist, is chief editor of the main political-cultural periodical in Germany.
Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana