Rorate Caeli

“Casuistry or prudence?”—Article by Archbishop Aguer

Argentina’s political and social problems are multiplying and causing concern and anguish; they would provide an argument for a long exposition. However, I prefer to deal with an ecclesiastical issue, which I consider must be clarified in no uncertain terms.

In a note published by InfoCatólica, I contrasted the very clear teaching of the New Testament (specifically, the Pauline Letters) about the sure foundation on which the faith is built, with the officially sustained tendencies that discard that foundation as if it were a fearful regression, in the face of developments that have led to the adoption of new paradigms. The main area of discussion is Moral Theology. The formula of the homogeneous evolution of doctrine and ecclesial institutions was expounded as early as the fifth century by the Gallo-Roman monk and Father of the Church St. Vincent of Lérins.  He describes the truly Catholic mode of development by saying that it takes place in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu, eademque sententia. The expression should not betray the meaning, the judgment already reached. Vincent, in his Commonitorium, affirms that novelties of language are proper to heretics, not to Catholics: they break fidelity to orthodoxy, hiding under a new mode of expression (nove) changes of concept, adulterations that violate the doctrine of the faith (nova).

In the field of Moral Theology, some authors have fallen into a denial, or at least a passing over, of the natural law, and of the prescriptions of the Hebrew Torah that were taken up and expanded by Jesus, as they are clearly expressed in the Gospel; moreover, the metaphysical value of the concept of nature is no longer accepted by them. This has happened in currents endorsed by a supposed “spirit of the Council,” which has spread to the serious detriment of formation in Catholic seminaries and universities. In my writings I frequently allude to the so-called “spirit of the Council,” an artifice that pretends to be the authentic interpretation of Vatican II, and has sheltered all the theological and pastoral deformations that have arisen in the postconciliar period, which tend to “dust off” old errors. Romano Amerio says very rightly in his book on the variations of the Catholic Church in the 20th century, entitled Iota Unum: “The appeal to the spirit of the Council is an equivocal argument and almost a pretext to lodge in the Council the proper spirit of innovation.”

John Paul II and Benedict XVI repeatedly expounded the lines of Christian ethics and Catholic theology on human life according to God’s plan; the same inspiration is found in the Third Part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This work represents a very broad tradition that has its source in the Fathers of the Church and in St. Thomas Aquinas.

The misunderstanding that currently spreads, with the weight of authority, consists in disqualifying as “rigorist casuistry” an opposition to the approaches of ecclesiastical progressivism in Moral Theology; especially in that which refers to the sexual behavior of divorced or separated persons, who have entered a “second union.” The discussion centered at the time on the text of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia and specifically on the famous note about the possible admission to the sacraments of those who, according to the traditional doctrine of the Church, do not meet the objectively required conditions. The requests for clarification (the dubia presented by Cardinals Cafarra, Burke, Brandmüller, and Meisner) were not taken into account and received no response.

The casuistry can be, in reality, rigorist or laxist; the problem is not in the adjective, but in the name itself, which designates a current developed above all by authors hailing from the Society of Jesus. The famous note of Amoris Laetitia can be considered a typical case of laxist casuistry, quite the opposite of a Thomistically inspired treatment of the theme.

The Summa Theologica of the Angelic Doctor offers in the First Section of the Second Part (Prima Secundae) an original and exact conception of Moral Theology, centered on the vital wisdom of prudence, which is the opposite of any kind of casuistry. The developments of the Secunda Secundae, on the sins related to sexual life, constitute a balanced application of those principles and have become part of a catechetical exposition abundantly diffused in ordinary preaching and teaching. Every Catholic knew what to expect in these matters. The casuistry that appeared later on—of rigorist inspiration in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, and then rather laxist at present—is the opposite of the morals of Thomas Aquinas. In my opinion, and respectfully said, Amoris Laetitia cannot be said to be a document that clearly reflects Thomistic thought.

As I have written before, the frequent attack on the serene assurance of faith and the worldview inspired by it is to be deplored. Traditional positions have an indisputable pastoral value: why abandon them in order to adhere to the proposals of a universally de-Christianized culture, contrary to what is expressed in the letters of St. Paul? The Apostle saw with concern how pagan culture had invaded Christian communities and was spoiling the conduct of the “new man” redeemed by Christ. Today, similarly, a casuistry contrary to tradition seeks to impose “new paradigms” that respond to the postulates of the New World Order, in which there is no place for Christian morality, according to the exact Thomistic formulations. The reappearance of a recycled and authoritarian casuistry constitutes a danger of disinformation about the Truth, with the consequent deformation of Christian life.

I have the impression that young believers who have not been exposed to casuistry are the first to notice the danger and to beware of it. This fact, which I note with satisfaction (although it must be recognized that we are dealing with a minority) allows us to look to the future with hope. The Church cannot remain trapped—because it is indeed a trap of the Father of Lies (cf. Jn 8:44)—in the conflict I have described above. Thanks to those who do not accept the appealing slogans wrongly disseminated with the weight of authority, we can hope that the Church will react and luminously commit herself to the salvation of this misguided world. The phenomenon I am recording is taking place in various ecclesial spheres.

In three articles entitled “War and Peace” I have summarized some of the critical reactions to the Supreme Pontiff’s motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, which Dr. Peter Kwasnievski gathered in his book From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’s War. The papal intervention was aimed at abolishing the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, restored by Benedict XVI in 2007 through his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Benedict XVI did a great service to the Church, lacerated by the secularization of the liturgy. This tragedy constitutes a slippage from the Ordo Missae of Paul VI, inspired by immanentist humanism, a movement that spread in the post-conciliar period.

This is the right place to recall that more than a hundred personalities from all over the world declared in 1971 with a Memorandum that the Church would incur a very grave responsibility before the history of the human spirit if she did not at least allow the Traditional Mass to subsist on equal terms. Among the signatories were Jorge Luis Borges, Marcel Brión, Agatha Christie, Augusto Del Noce, Henri de Montherlant, Graham Green, Julien Green, Yehudi Menuhim, Maruis Schneider, Malcom Mudderidge, Robert Graves, Bernard Wall.

It has been predominantly young people who have decided to worship God by attending the “Mass of Ages,” without taking into account the ukase of the current Successor of Peter. They have done so without a spirit of sedition, guided not only by the Benedictine permission but also by the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II. The gesture of the faithful who prefer to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated according to the Missal published in 1962 by John XXIII is a sign that the authority constituted by the Lord in his Church is not an absolutist power, but is at the service of the people of God in continuity with the great ecclesial Tradition, and not against it. Those faithful—I insist: young people especially—quietly demand that tradition not be contradicted beneath a casuistic disguise. They appeal to the tribunal of God. I recall that Muslims often say “God is great.” He is, indeed, the One and Triune God.

+ Hector Aguer
Emeritus Archbishop of La Plata
May 31, 2022