On April 22, 2017 at the Hotel Columbus in Rome, a block from Saint Peter’s Square, six internationally renowned lay scholars spoke at a landmark conference: "Seeking Clarity: One year after Amoris Laetitia," calling on Pope Francis to answer the dubia of the four cardinals over the passages in Amoris Laetitia that purport to justify acts of adultery, against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue, and to allow the reception of Holy Communion by those living in permanent and public adultery more uxorio.
Additionally, the following is an English translation of the full intervention of Professor Claudio Pierantoni, for the benefit of Rorate's readers:
Professor of Medieval Philosophy
University of Chile (Chile)
In this intervention, we will briefly examine the history of two popes of antiquity, Liberius and Honorius, who, for different reasons, were accused of deviating from the Tradition of the Church, during the long Trinitarian and Christological controversy, which consumed the Church from the fourth to the seventh century.
In the light of the reactions of the ecclesial body to these doctrinal deviations, we will then examine the current debate that has developed around the proposals of Pope Francis in the Apostolic Exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" and the five "dubia" raised by the Four Cardinals.
We will begin with the case of Honorius I, although chronologically later, since it is technically clearer. In fact, he was the only pope to have been formally condemned for heresy. We are in the early decades of the seventh century, in the context of the controversy over the two wills of Christ. The Council of Chalcedon, in 451, had affirmed that in the one Person of Christ are united two complete natures, divine and human; this solution, however, had left discontented an important part of the Eastern Churches, who were affirming that, at least after the union, one nature ended up subsisting in Christ (Monophysitism). In order to meet the unitive needs of Monophysite faction, Sergius, the patriarch of Constantinople, had therefore proposed a formula which, while accepting the doctrine of the two natures, counterbalanced it with the affirmation of the one operational energy of Christ (Monoenergism). Keep in mind that the empire's political situation was, at that time, very delicate. The emperor Heraclius, having ascended the throne in 610, had to confront the massive attack of the Persians, who had invaded large areas of the Eastern Roman Empire, coming to desecrate the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and going even so far as to threaten Constantinople. The emperor, however, managed to reorganize the Roman forces and lead an epic rescue, which took on the traits of a true and proper crusade, until finally defeating the Persians in 628. It was natural that, after the war, Heraclitus felt the need for a religious unification of the Empire and then sought a formula of conciliation with the Monophysites, who represented the majority of the population in the newly recaptured provinces. His supporter in this policy was precisely Patriarch Sergius. This person, then, he made himself the promoter of the doctrine that whereas, on the one hand, he admitted the two natures in Christ, on the other hand, he preached His one operating energy. For this doctrine, Sergius also sought the support of the bishop of Rome Honorius, who, however (considering perhaps the Greek term enérgheia unclear or too abstract) preferred to state that in Christ there is only one will (una voluntas). Pope Honorius expounded this doctrine in a letter of 634 (Scripta fraternitatis) in response to the Patriarch of Constantinople (1), and this letter was precisely the cause of his later condemnation along with Sergius. In 638, with both patriarchs dead, the Emperor Heraclius promulgated a solemn document of religious union, the "Exposition" (Ékthesis), in which he precisely sanctioned the formula of una voluntas. But in the decades that followed, after another hard struggle, this formula was definitively declared heretical. In fact, the doctrine of one will in Christ, or Monothelitism, came to contrast with the logical consequences of the dogma of the two natures, divine and human, a doctrine solidly based on biblical revelation, admirably exposited by Pope Leo the Great and solemnly sanctioned by the Council of Chalcedon. In harmony, precisely with the Chalcedonian doctrine, finally, in 681, the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council), condemned Patriach Sergius and with him Pope Honorius. Here is the text:
“After having investigated the dogmatic letters written by Sergius, the former patriarch of the God-protected and imperial city, to Cyrus, who was at the time the bishop of Phasis, and to Honorius, then pope of elder Rome, and in like manner also the letter written in reply by that one, that is, Honorius, to the same Sergius, and after having discovered that these are entirely alien to the apostolic teachings and to the decisions of the holy councils and to all the eminent holy Fathers but instead follow the false teachings of the heretics, these we entirely reject and loathe as soul-destroying.” (2).
Following the anathema against Sergius and the other bishops, then the Council concludes:
“We have seen fit to banish from the holy Church of God and to anathematize also Honorius the former pope of the elder Rome, because we have discovered the letters written by him to Sergius that he followed in everything the opinion of that one and confirmed his impious dogma." (3).
The Council was then ratified by the reigning Pope, Leo II, who having also reiterated the anathema against his predecessor, with the following words:
“We, in like manner, anathematize the inventors of the new error: namely, Theodore, Bishop of Pharan, Cyrus of Alexandria, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter, betrayers rather than leaders of the Church of Constantinople, and also Honorius, who did not purify this Apostolic Church by the doctrine of the apostolic tradition, but rather attempted to subvert the immaculate faith by profane treason”
Pope Leo II also mentions this condemnation in two letters: one to the Spanish bishops, stating concerning Honorius:
"Along with Honorius, who did not immediately extinguish the flame of heretical teaching, as would befit the apostolic authority, but supported it by his negligence."
The other letter is addressed to the Visigoth king of Spain, Ervigius, where it is said that:
"Along with these, Honorius of Rome, who allowed the immaculate rule of the apostolic tradition that he had received from his predecessors to be stained".
Now, from the declarations of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, is obtained a very precise concept of the unity and coherence that must exist between: (1) the Tradition received from the Apostles, (2) the definitions of Councils, which reiterate particular points of the Tradition to clarify them in a solemn manner, and finally (3) the testimony of the Fathers who, through the centuries, although without enjoying infallibility, taken individually, however, confirm, with their consensus, the continuity of a particular teaching. It thus remains clearly stated, and then explicitly reaffirmed by the same Pope Leo II, that this body of tradition, formed by the Apostles, Councils, and Fathers, provides the measuring stick whereby Pope Honorius’ dogmatic statement is evaluated, who, therefore, although the deceased, is condemned in no uncertain terms by the Constantinopolitan assembly. Then, the same Pope Leo II ratifies the Council and confirms the anathema against his predecessor, who strayed from the rule of the Apostolic tradition; not only, but he also emphasizes the grave responsibility of Honorius for the negligence with which he favored the spread of the Monothelite heresy. It is particularly remarkable that the same Roman See, which for more than two centuries (at least since the time of Damasus) explicitly insisted on its superiority and prerogative in having the final word, above all in matters of doctrine, here he decisively highlights the fundamental principle that the Pope is subject to the rule of the Apostolic Tradition, which he has received from his predecessors. It is, as the Apostle says, a consignment (Traditio) or a deposit, which must first of all be faithfully preserved, to be in turn handed down and taught the brothers. Honorius is therefore condemned for having permitted the "immaculate rule of the apostolic tradition to be stained." Therefore, at the center of Pope Leo’s condemnation of his predecessor figures not his adherence to the wrong formula, which is at the center of the condemnation of Honorius on the part of the Council, but also, and I would say above all, the negligence of "permitting the rule of the apostolic tradition to be stained." In fact, taken in itself, the Honorian formula of "una voluntas" could also be defended, if it is not intended as referring to natural faculty of willing, which must necessarily follow the respective nature, but as referring to the concrete decision taken by the one Person of Christ, in which evidently the wills, despite being two, human and divine, however converge into a single action, because Jesus could never disobey the divine will. It is also probable that how Honorius precisely intended it, albeit perhaps with a certain mental reservation, conscious, how could he not be, that the formula even so left the field open to the Monothelite interpretation. What is decisive in assessing the heretical classification of Honorius is therefore precisely his negligence in not impeding, or even encouraging, the free diffusion of the Monothelite heresy.
Liberius, "natione Romanus", was elected pope on May 17, 352, in one of the most delicate moments of the Arian controversy. His predecessor, Julius I, had tenaciously defended the faith established by the Council of Nicaea in 325, which declared the Son consubstantial with the Father. Julius had had, in this, the decisive support of the Emperor of the West, Constantine. But with Constantine dead, Pope Julius found himself, along with all the bishops of the West, at the mercy of the pressures of his brother Constantius, Emperor of the East, who instead supported the majority position of the Eastern episcopate, contrary to Nicaea. According to the Eastern bishops, in fact, the formula of Nicaea left no room for the personal difference between the Father and the Son. Left the only emperor, Constantius was anxious to restore the unity of the Church, precisely according to the Eastern perspective, contrary to Nicaea. To this end, he called a council at Arles in 353, in Gaul, which passed over in silence the faith of Nicea and, in addition, condemned Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, the only Eastern bishop who tenaciously defended the formula of “consubstantial.” Even the legates of the Pope, present at the Council, signed the condemnation of Athanasius. But Liberius disavowed their work, and asked Constantius to convene a new council, which would confirm the faith of Nicaea. It was the Council of Milan in the 355. But here again the bishops loyal to the Pope failed in their attempt to sign the Nicene Creed, and the condemnation of Athanasius was repeated again. The three bishops who refused to sign were deposed and exiled in the East. At this point, the storm was gathering now around Pope Liberius’ head: in fact, the Pope had not directly participated in the Council, but the emperor was also well determined to extort his signature. To this end he sent an emissary with a large sum of money to offer to the Pope, but he refused it decisively; then the minister deposited it at St. Peter's tomb as an offering for the Church: but Liberius had the money thrown out from the church, as a sacrilegious offering. At this point, the Emperor passed directly to the streets in fact: had Liberius kidnapped at night, to avoid the resistance of the people, and had him transferred to Milan, the residence of Emperor of the West at that time. After a dramatic meeting, in which Liberius did not yield to the pressures of Constantius, the Pope was deposed and sent into exile in Thrace. We are at the beginning of 356. Meanwhile, in those years, the doctrinal situation was further complicated: in particular, the anti-Nicene front split itself into three parties: (1) those closest to Nicaea were those who considered the Son, though not equal, at least "similar to the Father in substance" (homoiusiani); (2) those farthest from Nicea, those who denied any similarity of the Son to the Father (anhómoioi); (3) a middle path then claimed the party of Homoion (homoioi), which affirmed a general similarity of the Son to the Father. This last party was the one closest to the wishes of the emperor, because of its generality, which, apparently promised to satisfy everyone in a possible union, but a rather superficial one. This uncertain doctrinal situation, combined with the cold and the pain of exile in Thrace, unfortunately, began to bend the Pope's resistance, who, after about a year, ended up yielding. Liberius’ concession is attested to by four letters handed down by St. Hilary (5). It is also attested to by St. Athanasius (6) and St. Jerome (7). We know from these documents that Liberius signed a formula of faith published in a Council of Sirmium: we do not know if it was the first formula of Sirmium, dating back to 351, which allowed the faith of Nicaea to fall apart, but at least trying to affirm the closeness of Son to the Father, or the second formula of Sirmium, of 357, which instead decisively affirmed the dissimilarity of the Son from the Father, and additionally forbade the use of “consubstantial” (homousios) and also of “similar according to substance” (homoiusios). But regardless, it is clear that Liberius, thus repudiated the faith of Nicaea and went so far as to excommunicate Athanasius, who was its most important defender. Liberius’ dramatic about-face made a great impression and was severely stigmatized, especially by St. Hilary. By now docile to the emperor, Liberius after some time received permission to return to Rome, where he was reinstated as bishop. Here he was benevolently received by the people, but, now weakened and wounded in his prestige and in his role of leading the episcopate, he had neither the strength nor the will to oppose the ultimate realization of Constantius’ plans, who, in the next double Council of Rimini and Seleucia (359) finally obtained the triumph of the generic formula of "the Son similar to the Father" by holding the bishops hostage until they had signed; this formula was later confirmed in a further council at Constantinople the following year (360): this formula, with its generality, gave a card of citizenship to the moderate Arian factions, and, excluding the use of the term ousía (substance), proscribed both the omoiusiani as omousiani, that is, the Orthodox faithful in Nicaea. In the months that followed, all the Arian prelates, as adept in dialectic as in political dealings, who had made careers thanks to the favor of Constantius, consolidated their power in the principal episcopal sees. This is the moment when, according to the famous phrase of St. Jerome, "the world groaned to find itself Arian." The success of the ecclesiastical policy tenaciously pursued by Constantius seemed definitive and the situation appeared stable, for an indeterminate time, in favor of the Arians: to human eyes, the formula of faith defined at Nicaea 35 years before, seemed now completely outdated. Of the more than a thousand bishops who accounted for Christianity, only three remained unshakeable to resist in exile (Athanasius of Alexandria, Hillary of Poitiers and Lucifer of Cagliari), apparently now cut off from the course of events.
However, just when all seemed peaceful, the military situation on the Persian front suddenly deteriorated, which forced Constantius to take up arms and go to the East. For more in Gaul, soon after, the army proclaimed the Caesar Julian as emperor. So, suddenly, the Empire was threatened by external enemies and at the same time was on the verge of a civil war. This, however, was providentially avoided, thanks to the sudden death of Constantius by a fever, November 361: the emperor was just 44 years old.
Having just ascended the imperial throne, Julian, later called the Apostate, declared war on the Christian faith and the return of the Roman state to traditional paganism. This allowed the exiled bishops to return home, and wiped out with a clean slate, one can say, all the ecclesiastical policy of Constantius. At this point since the nightmare of the threats of Constantinus had ceased, Pope Liberius sent out an encyclical that considered the formula approved at Rimini and Constantinople invalid, and demanded that the bishops of Italy accept the Nicene Creed. In 366, at a synod held in Rome shortly before his death, he even had the joy of obtaining the signature of the Nicene creed from a delegation of the Eastern bishops. Upon his death, he was revered as a confessor of the faith, but soon his cult was interrupted, certainly for the memory of his concession, and his name does not appear in the Roman liturgical memory.
Unlike Honorius, Liberius received no formal condemnation, certainly due to the fact that, on the one hand, his defection was due not to a sudden willingness, but to a strong physical pressure and, on the other hand, when the pressure stopped, the Pope had the chance to be able to solemnly reaffirm the orthodox faith of Nicaea. For this reason, even though his moral fault of the concession was objectively grave, the doctrinal consequences were not so grave because, beyond the statements extorted out of him, the Pope's mind had remained orthodox; and on the other hand, a little later the doctrinal situation was untangled, paradoxically, precisely by Julian’s apostasy.
However, despite their differences, taken in a general way, the two cases of Liberius and Honorius have an important point in common, and that is the fact that both their respective interventions took place while the process of formulating the respective dogmas was still in progress, the Trinitarian one in the case of Liberius and the Christological one in the case of Honorius. In fact, although at Nicaea the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son had been established dogmatically, a formula was still lacking to define the Trinity of persons with a technical term; so too, while at Chalcedon the dual nature of Christ was affirmed, the specification was still lacking that would come only two centuries later with the formal affirmation of the two wills. Now, this point that unites the doctrinal deviation of the two popes of antiquity is undoubtedly their extenuating circumstances; but unfortunately this same thing is the point that contrasts them to the doctrinal deviation that is occurring during the current pontificate, which instead has a strong aggravating factor in his setting himself against doctrines not yet unclear, or in the process of being formulated, but against doctrines that, in addition to be firmly anchored in tradition, have also already been exhaustively debated in recent decades and clarified in detail by the recent Magisterium. So this is not only a deviation of the Magisterium from Tradition taken in general, but also a direct contradiction of the pronouncements of the very recent Magisterium.
Taking into consideration, therefore, the present case of Pope Francis, the panorama gets considerably more complicated. Here, naturally, I hardly need to recall the historical events, which are very recent and well known to the informed public about the reports that bombard us daily. So I will confine myself to strictly indispensable points, trying to give an overview of this most serious crisis, which now looms as the most serious among those ever faced by the Church.
The conflict starts from a seemingly confined point, which the insufficiently attentive observer tends to perceive to be a more pastoral and disciplinary interest than a strictly dogmatic one; that is, the possibility to grant sacramental communion, at least in certain special cases, to people who cohabitate with a person other than their legitimate spouse. It is therefore surprising for many that a deviation from doctrine on this seemingly confined point, is constituting a such a deadly Trojan horse, capable of triggering, from inside the very edifice of the Church, a strategic dynamiting of all its defenses and of its own very foundations.
I start by stating my conviction that that this attack, on a spiritual level, far surpasses the intentions and subjective consciousness of the supporters of the so-called progressive line, or more precisely, the modernist one; our struggle, it is good to keep in mind, is not against persons, "against flesh and blood, but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness" (Eph 6:12). But even on a historical level, there is an obligation to report and not to obscure the fact that this is supported and encouraged by a series of concrete persons among whom, unfortunately, the person of the Pope stands out.
Our aim will be, therefore, to show how, from the particular point of communion for the divorced and remarried, the discourse is being extended to the entire edifice of Catholic doctrine by inevitable logical consequence. Naturally, the doctrinal deviation in question was already present in previous decades and with it, therefore, even the underground schism that this signifies. But yet, when one goes from an abuse at the practical level to its justification at the doctrinal level through a text of the pontifical magisterium and through positive statements and actions of the same pontiff to support it, the situation changes radically. Also because the effort to theoretically justify this position comes necessarily to touch other points of doctrine. And it happens that the more a theologian, who denies a point of Tradition, struggles to find arguments to support his thesis, the more he ends up sinking in the quicksand of contradiction and absurdity. This is because the Deposit of faith, preserved by the Tradition, is not a system of merely human, fallible, thought, where an incoherent or erroneous element could be introduced, which could then be corrected without harm, even to the benefit of the truth. In the deposit of faith, however, each element is connected to all the others with infallible consequentiality. Hence that, by struggling to defend the first error by appealing to other elements, one ends up twisting and distorting them all.
We see, in four points, the progress of this destruction.
If marriage is indissoluble, but yet in some cases communion can be given to the divorced and remarried, it seems evident that this indissolubility is no longer considered absolute, but only a general rule that can admit exceptions. Now this, as Cardinal Caffarra has explained well, contradicts the nature of the sacrament of marriage, which is not a simple promise, as solemn as it may be, made before God, but an action of grace that works at the properly ontological level. The action that makes the two become one flesh has, in fact, a definite character and it cannot be erased. In addition this action of grace, founded on the very order of creation and directed towards people’s well-being, as the sacrament assumes the function of signifying the indissoluble union between Christ the Bridegroom and His Church. If the sacrament of the Eucharist makes present in our midst the sacrifice of Christ, by which the Redeemer is inseparably united to the mystical body of His bride the Church, for its part the sacrament of marriage is not only a symbol, but also concretely realizes a visible and real representation of this mystery: it is at the same time, sign and reality.
Therefore, when it is said that marriage is indissoluble, what is stated is not simply a general rule, but what is said is that ontologically marriage cannot be dissolved, because in it is contained the sign and the reality of the indissoluble marriage between God and his People; and this this mystical marriage, it will be useful to remember it, is precisely the end of the whole divine plan of Creation and Redemption.
We can observe that the author of Amoris Laetitia, albeit in a manner not entirely clear, is aware that His proposal is vulnerable in this aspect. In fact, numerous attempts to put the tradition of indissolubility into doubt have also recently been refuted both on the biblical and patristic levels and on the dogmatic one (8). Therefore, the author has instead chosen to insist instead, in his argumentation, on the subjective side of moral action. The subject, he says, may not be able to be in mortal sin because, for various reasons, he is not fully aware that his situation constitutes adultery. Now this, which in general terms can certainly happen, in the use that our text makes of it instead involves an evident contradiction. In fact, here all the discourse is centered on the need for discernment of individual situations and on accompaniment to offer people. In fact, it is clear that precisely the discernment and accompaniment of individual situations directly contrast with the supposition that the subject remains, for an indefinite time, unaware of his situation. And the author, far from perceiving this contradiction, pushes it to the further absurdity of affirming that a profound discernment can lead the subject to have the certainty that his situation, objectively contrary to the divine law, is precisely what God wants from him. That is, the subjective element of ignorance, which can certainly diminish responsibility in many cases, here paradoxically is transformed into an element of knowledge, on the basis of which the subject can come to establish with certainty that God wants him to behave objectively contrary to His own law, that law which emanates from His eternal and infallible Wisdom.
Recourse to the previous argument, in its turn, betrays a dangerous confusion that in addition to the doctrine of the sacraments goes so far as to undermine the very notion of the Divine Law. On this point, we must above all point out that here a merely positive divine disposition is not at stake, as can be the laws governing incidental aspects of the cult, which, as such, are adapted to different historical circumstances: for example, the dietary laws of the Jews, laws on blood sacrifices, or the same circumcision. At stake here, however, is the law of God understood as the source of the natural law, reflected in the Ten Commandments. This is given to man because it is suited to governing his fundamental behaviors, not limited to particular historical circumstances, but founded on his very nature, whose author is precisely God. To serve as a simple comparison for us: the positive law that governs the movement of a car in a certain country is one thing; the instruction booklet written by the vehicle manufacturer is another thing. If I exceed a speed limit for a vital emergency, let us suppose, I can also be morally justified, because the rule, while just in itself, however, is not absolute, because it is not intrinsically linked to the essence of the vehicle. If I contravene the directive of the manufacturer, who tells me that the car was designed to run on gasoline, no emergency or exception, certainly no discernment will serve to ensure that the car could run with diesel. To use diesel is not therefore a bad thing because it is "forbidden" by some external law, but it is intrinsically irrational, because it contradicts the very nature of the vehicle. Therefore, to suppose that the natural law may admit exceptions is a true and proper contradiction, it is a supposition that does not understand its true essence and therefore confuses it with positive law. The presence of this grave confusion is confirmed by the repeated attack, present in Amoris Laetitia against the petty legalists, the presumed “Pharisees” who are hypocrites and hard of heart. This attack, in fact, betrays a complete misunderstanding of the position of Jesus toward the Law, because His criticism of pharisaic behavior is based precisely on a clear distinction between positive law (the “precepts of men”) to which the Pharisees are so attached, and the fundamental Commandments, which are instead the first requirement, indispensable, that he himself asks of the aspiring disciple. On the basis of this equivocation one understands the real reason why, after having so greatly insulted the Pharisees, the pope ends up, de facto, aligning himself with their own position in favor of divorce, against that of Jesus.
But, even more deeply, it is important to observe that this confusion profoundly distorts the very essence of the Gospel and its necessary grounding in the person of Christ.
Christ, in fact, according to the Gospel, is not simply a good man who came into the world to preach a message of peace and justice. He is, first of all, the Logos, the Word who was in the beginning and who, in the fullness of time, becomes incarnate. It is significant that the insistence of Pope John Paul II on the objectivity of the moral law, affirmed in VS (1993), is then completed with its necessary foundation in rational truth, which, in turn, is referred to as the presupposition of faith (FR, 1998). And it is also very significant that then also his successor, Benedict XVI, right from his homily “Pro eligendo romano pontifice,” made precisely the Logos the linchpin of his teaching, showing clearly that the origin of the modern attack on the faith is carried out precisely on philosophical presuppositions, therefore, precisely on the doctrine of the Logos, a doctrine not by coincidence fought to the death with the subjectivism of modern theories of knowledge.
It is clear, that the ethical subjectivism can only find space within a subjectivist or immanentist epistemology. If the object of the human mind, in fact, is not based in the final analysis on the transcendent Truth that illuminates it, which is the same Truth by which things come into existence, then the mind cannot truly know things, and its concepts are empty formalities which cannot reflect reality.
Now, in the realm of this subjectivist philosophy one of the postulates most dear to Pope Francis is justified, according to which “Realties are more important than ideas.” A maxim like this, in fact, makes sense only in a vision in which there cannot exist true ideas that not only faithfully reflect reality but can even judge and direct it. If instead we accept, with the Christian tradition, that the Word of God is the eternal Wisdom which, on one hand, creates the world and, on the other hand, illuminates the human mind, then we must accept that in this eternal wisdom there is precisely an Idea, a Model, which is superior to historical reality, an Idea that governs reality, created in its intimate structure and gives it the law in its deepest sense; and that this Wisdom, if it is such, is also able to effectively communicate that knowledge to the intelligent creature who has formed similar to himself, because it can know him and love him. The Gospel, then, taken as a whole, presupposes this metaphysical and epistemological structure, where the Truth is in the first place the conforming of things to the intellect, and the Intellect is in the first place the divine one: indeed, the divine Word.
So it is on the same divine Word that is based the importance, in the Christian message, of the "right doctrine" since doctrine, expressed in concepts, far from being a mere formality emanated by the human intellect, is instead precisely a reflection of the Word both in its philosophical aspect, as a theory of knowledge and rational theology, and in its historical aspect, as the Tradition that comes to us from the coming of Christ on earth. That is why, in the heretical tendency that Amoris Laetitia demonstrates, above all if read in light of many other statements of the Pope and of his closest collaborators, the attack on reason and the natural law is accompanied by the attack carried out on the historical tradition of Jesus. Since in his divine nature, Christ is the Truth, rather the Truth indeed, he became man in Christ. Therefore, the attack carried out on the Truth destroys at the same time the historical truth of Christ, which is also the principle truth of all history; with that, therefore, it so much destroys the ontological truth as far as the truth and historical visibility of the Church, of its Tradition and of its Sacraments, which constitute the purpose and the effect of the coming of Christ.
Hence, the error of this attitude consists not only and not so much in denying one or even more specific points of Catholic doctrine, but precisely in discrediting the very nature of “doctrine” itself and its necessary link with the reason. In fact, if "realities are more important than ideas," to lose relevance is not only a doctrine, but doctrine itself. In the beginning is not the Logos, but the Praxis. "Im Anfang war die Tat," "In the beginning was the Action," as Dr. Faust said, retranslating the Gospel. In this atmosphere it can be understood how it is possible that the editor of “La Civiltà Cattolica” could state that it is pastoral practice that must guide doctrine, and not vice-versa, and that in theology “two plus two can equal five.” It explains why a Lutheran lady can receive communion together with her Catholic husband: the practice, in fact, the action, is that of the Lord’s Supper, which they have in common, while where they differ is only “the interpretations, the explanations,” mere concepts after all. But it also explains how, according to the superior general of the Society of Jesus, the incarnate Word is not capable of coming into contact with his creatures through the means that he himself chose, the apostolic Tradition: in fact, it would be necessary to know what Jesus truly said, but we cannot, he says, “since at the time there was no tape recorder.” The general is not in the least touched by the reflection that, if the Eternal Wisdom had thought that a tape recorder was the most suitable means to make us know His words, I would have certainly chosen it. And, with the conceit of homo tecnologicus, he comes to tell us that a machine, an inanimate being, would be a more efficacious means than the living tradition of human beings, which passes through the heart and faith of the Apostles and their successors, who were personally chosen by Him for this very purpose.
Even more deeply, in this atmosphere, it is finally explained why the pope cannot answer “yes” or “no” to the dubia. If, in fact “realities are more important than ideas,” then man does not even need to think with the principle of non-contradiction, he has no need of principles that say “this yes and this no” and must not even obey a transcendent natural law, which is not identified with reality itself. In short, man does not need a doctrine, because the historical reality suffices for itself. It is the “Weltgeist,” the Spirit of the World.
To conclude, from the comparison of the current situation with that of previous "heretical popes", emerges a similarity, but also a clear difference. The similarity is given by the fact that in all three cases, at the end, what is being sought is a compromise formula, a political solution that can collect the greater number of consensus votes, but without deepening its truth content and its consistency with Tradition. History shows that these attempts are doomed to failure, because the subsequent development of reflection inevitably makes the contradictions come to the surface which were tried to be concealed.
The essential difference which we note between the ancient and the modern situation is instead the following. Without taking anything away, neither the severity of the ancient Trinitarian and Christological controversies, nor the drama of the events that involved Liberius and Honorius, nor their responsibilities, however, in comparison with the current situation, their doctrinal deviations appear limited to particular points, albeit very important ones, and were derived in large part, much less from the heretical minds of the Pontiffs, than from the political pressures and from a theological terminology still on the path of formulation.
What instead leaps to the attention in the current situation is precisely the underlying doctrinal deformation that, as skillful as it may be in evading directly heterodox formulations, still maneuvers in a coherent way to carry forward an attack not only against particular dogmas like the indissolubility of marriage and the objectivity of the moral law, but even against the very concept of right doctrine, and with it, of the very person of Christ as Logos. The first victim of this doctrinal deformation is precisely the pope, who I hazard to conjecture is hardly aware of this, a victim of a generalized epochal alienation from Tradition, in large segments of theological teaching; after him, there are innumerable victims who fall into deception.
In this situation, the "dubia", these five questions submitted by the Four Cardinals, were certainly a fundamental turning point, a powerful light of truth that has been cast on this chaos, and for this we must thank them deeply. Though they are few and apparently isolated, their questions are still courageous statements of truth. In fact, they are not the only ones who speak, but the same Logos, "from whose mouth comes a sharp sword." (Rev. 19:15). Now, these five questions have put the Pope in a stalemate. If he were to answer them by denying the Tradition and the Magisterium of his predecessors, he would pass to being formally heretical, so he cannot do it. If instead he were to answer them in harmony with the previous Magisterium, he would contradict a great part of the doctrinally relevant actions taken during his pontificate, so it would be a very difficult choice. He, therefore, chose silence because, humanly speaking, the situation can appear to have no way out. But in the meantime, the confusion and the de facto schism extend throughout the Church.
In the light of all this, it therefore becomes more necessary than ever, as initially provided for at least by Cardinal Burke, to make a further act of courage, truth, and charity, on the part of the Cardinals, but also of the Bishops and then of all the qualified laity who would like to adhere to it. In such a serious situation of danger for the faith and of generalized scandal, it is not only licit, but even obligatory for an inferior to fraternally correcting his superior, always done in charity; even the hierarchical or religious obedience can be used, in this case of general danger, as an excuse to silence the truth.
In short, a fraternal correction frankly addressed to Peter is necessary, for his good and that of the whole Church.
Some, with regard to this fraternal correction put forth to the Pope, have expressed the fear that it could lead to a formal schism. But on reflection, this fear proves to be entirely unfounded. In fact, all the conditions are lacking for formal schism. There is no record, to begin with, that any of the Cardinals would want to hold that Francis is not the Pope, and even less, that someone wants to get himself elected anti-pope. The true schism, which is increasing every day, is rather a de facto one, that only a correction may restrain.
A fraternal correction, in the end, is neither an act of hostility, nor a lack of respect, nor an act of disobedience. It is nothing other than a declaration of truth: caritas in veritate. The pope, even before being pope, is our brother, and this is therefore a primordial duty of charity towards him. We will be called to account for his destiny, as well as that of all those who rely on his guidance. The wicked man, God says through the prophet Ezekiel, "will die for his sin," but if you, watchman, do not warn him, "I will require an account from you of his death" (Ezek. 33.8).
Christian Brothers: Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, professors, friends all. Christ came into the world "to bear witness to the Truth" (Jn 18:37). We just have to follow him, bearing witness to the truth; not tomorrow, but today, "while the day lasts" (Jn 11:9). The time is now, "he lowered the sails" (1 Cor 7:29).
Rome. April 22, 2017
(1) Denzinger 487.
(2) 13th Session (Denzinger 550).
(3) Denzinger 552.
(4) Letter Regi Regum to the Emperor Constantine IV (Denzinger 563).
(5) In Collectanea Antiariana Parisina.
(6) In Collectanea Antiariana Parisina.
(7) De viris illustribus 97.
(8) Cf. R. Dodaro, ed., Remaining in the Truth of Christ, 2014.