Rorate Caeli

‘The Mother and the Virgin and the Bride’ - A Review of "A Symphony of Truth", a new book by Father Serafino Lanzetta

The theological essays united in The Symphony of Truth by Father Serafino M. Lanzetta  are like various musical instruments interpreting together a unique musical score.   One melodic phrase which contributes to the harmony of this symphony recalls to my mind a poem by G. K. Chesterton, entitled An Agreement, in which he opposes the life-giving love of “our human trinity, The Mother and the Virgin and the Bride” to the death-dealing hatred of ‘unmotherly Medea’, the Greek sorceress who murdered her own offspring.   Similarly, Fr Lanzetta wields his theological scholarship to defend the vivifying truths of the Catholic faith against the deathly blows of false teachings, particularly those aimed at attacking the fecundity and the indissolubility of the marital bond.   

The Symphony of Truth, as Fr. Thomas Crean has stated, “will be valuable especially to theologians and pastors seeking to understand the philosophical, theological and historical roots of the current situation within the Church”.  Likewise is it beneficial reading for lay faithful like myself, whose sensus fidei is being buffeted by blustery winds on the tempest-tossed barque of Peter.  Indeed, Fr. Lanzetta pedagogically and charitably makes his scholarship a suitable remedy for all, after the manner of Saint Paul: “I became all things to all men, that I might save all” (1 Cor. 9:22).  Anyone seeking to grasp the errors besetting the Church will find soothing medicine for the soul, so as to hold fast to the perennial truths of the faith.   

In what sense can ‘The Mother and the Virgin and the Bride’ be seen as a leitmotif unifying essays on such varied subjects as the theological problems posed by Amoris Laetitia, the nominalism behind Martin Luther’s revolutionary vision, which tempts many Churchmen today, and the doctrinal opposition to Humanae Vitae, which engendered our present moral crisis? While delving into the roots of these and other problems, the reader is guided along by the coherence of the one faith, composed of distinct but analogical mysteries, and Our Lady is perceptible as “a golden thread, tying all theological themes together and tracing their origin back to a single Truth” (p. ix)   

The Virginal Bride of Christ

“Mary, on Calvary and throughout the life of Christ, is the New Eve, who gives birth to us and prepares the maternal ministry of the Church… This gold thread that unites Mary, Christ, and Church becomes ever more visible when St. Isidore establishes a spousal parallel between Our Lady, who represents the Church, and Christ, who espouses his Bride.  He says: ‘Mary represents the Church, which, being wedded to Christ, conceived us as a virgin by the Holy Spirit and as a virgin bore us.’” (p. 15) The sacrament of matrimony produces, in the union of man and wife in one flesh, this bond of indissoluble spousal love between Christ and Our Lady, between Christ and the Church.  Already “in the Incarnation, the joining of man and woman is perfectly fulfilled: Jesus and Mary are one flesh, una caro.  They are mystically espoused in the sense that they accomplish our salvation together.  Because of that, the sacrament of matrimony must reproduce this effect of the mystical and salvific love of Christ for his Mother and vice versa – their indissoluble and sacrificial love.” (p. 17)  The spouses receive the grace necessary to keep this vow of self-giving love, which is why “besides breaking a natural bond of unity, divorce contradicts this eternal covenantal love and communion” (p. 6).   

“Why is indissoluble marriage feared?” (p. 7)

We may wonder why the indissoluble character of marriage has become so incomprehensible to our contemporaries, including – alas − Pope Francis, as can be seen in this oft-cited passage of Amoris Laetitia: “’there is no need to lay upon two limited persons the tremendous burden of having to reproduce perfectly the union existing between Christ and his Church… (AL 122)” (p. 6)  For we know, contrarily, that “grace is never a ‘tremendous burden’… The vivifying doctrine of the Church on marriage and divorce is like fresh bread to nourish our souls, never a heavy burden to weigh down men and women” (p. 6) “The sacrament of marriage, in mysterium, already reproduces in human flesh the perfect supernatural union between Christ and the Church, to which the spouses are called to configure themselves.  Man and woman are not two solitary beings.  Grace creates a mysterious reciprocal bond.” (p. 29) 

Noteworthy is the fact that Pope Francis starts with the world, then moves on to God, whereas the magisterium traditionally does the contrary, imitating God who made Himself known by descending from heaven to earth through the Incarnation. Ultimately, Amoris Laetitia “rejects the philosophical proposition that being is followed by becoming. The journey comes first and then the grace, entirely relative to the time into which it crosses.  This is why Pope Francis claims that: ‘[i]t is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being.’ (AL 304)” (p. 30) However, “if one wants to act outside the praxis because it is too rigid, then he must submit to the subjective justification of the objective moral disorder.” (p. 35) It would seem as if man is so mired in the muddy waters of his passions that the sacramental grace is insufficient to allow spouses to remain faithful to their vow. “[T]he perfection of married life as obedience to God’s commandment to live holily is dismissed as an unreachable ideal for life and is thus deferred to eternal life.” (p. 40)  

Nominalism yesterday and today: “speaking without being” ,“sounds without substance”

Delving more deeply into the root of this problem, we gradually come to see that this aversion to indissolubility, comes from a deep-seated skepticism regarding our capacity to know God. “The rejection of reason as an ally of faith had its practical consequence in the rejection of marriage as a perpetual bond between man and woman” (p. 7)  Luther spurned reason as an indispensable aid to belief in God, expressed in his claim of ‘faith alone’ which led to the rejection of marriage as an indissoluble bond: “Faith alone is like a solitary man who casts doubt on the principle of one flesh as one perpetual bond…” (p. 10)  

Luther suffered from an inner torment, causing him to fall into despair, believing himself to be the object of divine wrath despite his piety.  The principle which he formulated as a remedy to this tourment has seduced swaths of prelates today.  He claims to have “’learned that the righteousness of God is his mercy, and that he makes us righteous through it, a remedy was offered to me in my affliction’” (p. 55) This new understanding of the rapport between justice and mercy serves as the cornerstone of his novel theological edifice.  In this way “mercy finally could be offered to him as justice through faith” (p. 55) Justice dissolves into mercy, thereby losing its identity.  Luther makes of his subjective search for a merciful God the cornerstone of his theology, in which the subject henceforth takes precedence over the object, leading to a precedence of personal conscience over the truth.  

Underpinning Luther’s revolutionary theology, paving the way for our divorce-plagued society, is nominalism, once again rearing its ugly head and corrupting the faith.  According to this “way of speaking without being”, doctrines of faith are mere “sounds without substance” as “no one can be sure whether there is any real bond between these doctrinal expressions and truth” (p. 45-46)  In the name of mercy, love is abandoned and divorce is permitted.  Mercy has become an empty word.  “God, faith, supernatural life, grace, and mercy, are only words, suddenly deprived of their essence… “Nominalism abandons the truth, delaying the answer about the meaning of life to infinity” (p. 47), thereby frustrating the innate desire of man to know the truth about love.  

The fatal consequences of rejecting Humanae Vitae: “a sterile love”, “a dead love”

The rupture of the alliance between reason and faith, having caused the rejection of marriage as a perpetual bond, also led to a rejection of its procreative end.  However, as the nature of marital love is indissoluble, so too is it fertile:  “Marriage makes a couple one in love with the aim of begetting new life.  Hence, the matrimonial union is intended for procreation, and procreation perfects the union in a circular relationship of truth and love: the truth of the union finds its completion in love, which begets new life, and the fertility of love is in turn built on the indissoluble unity of the couple” (p. 104)  The rejection of this truth, in turn, is the source of the unprecedented moral crisis Holy Mother Church is facing, with the widespread clerical sexual scandals.  Therefore, the roots of this moral crisis are doctrinal.  “The first cause is rooted in the opposition within the Church to the encyclical Humanae Vitae.  By objecting to the indissoluble covenant between the unitive and procreative principles of marriage, they paved the way for tolerating any form of union, justifying them in the name of love.” (p. 115), whereas marital love is by its nature fertile, or it is not truly love.  The protest against Humanae Vitae initially led by cardinals and bishops in order to subvert Christian morality, naturally leads to the justification of homosexuality. “The cover-up culture, which today seems so pervasive among episcopacies and the clergy, arises from this.” (p. 117)  More profoundly, the cause is “the cover-up of the doctrine of sin… Mercy is transformed into a theological surrogate to cover (up) sin, ignore it, and take it under the mantle of forgiveness.” (p. 118)  

“There must be no doubt about the vastness of this crisis and the need to take action to root out the present evil.  However, any action will be far from effective if we do not first return to the truth of love and realize that a contraceptive mentality has only created a severe demographic winter and a culture of death.  Contraception is a sterile love…a dead love.” (p. 120) This fundamental divide between a sterile and a fertile love is echoed in the above-mentioned poem by Chesterton, in which the poet addresses the liberals in favor of birth control, opposing their ‘unmotherly Medea’ to Our Blessed Mother: 

Where you have laid it, let the sword divide:

And your unmotherly Medea be

Here sundered from our human trinity,

The Mother and the Virgin and the Bride. […]

That Christ from this creative purity

Came forth your sterile appetites to scorn.

Lo: in her house Life without Lust was born,

So in your house Lust without Life shall die.

This sword of division is Christ, whom we are either for or against, and his Truth, as readers of Fr Lanzetta’s essays will clearly see, sunders our modern unmotherly falsehoods from the truth of marital love.

The Mother Coredemptrix of Calvary

As Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, and as the Mother is always with her Son, so we end as we began, with Mary: “Her divine maternity and her perpetual virginity are a sublime figure of the Church as virgin and mother.” (p. 129)  “Our Lady, as the Woman-Mother, suffered with Christ on Calvary to bring God’s children to supernatural life by uniting herself to the sacrifice of Christ and offering it uniquely as mother and ‘spouse’ of Christ.  She is ‘spouse’ of her Son only because she is intimately united with him, literally one flesh with him, in saving all mankind.” (p. 130) “In Christ through Mary, our Mother Church is saved and salvific.” (p. 136)  Through her Immaculate Heart, the whistling winds of false doctrines will abate and the symphony of Truth be heard once more.

(by Karen Darentiere)