Thursday, November 05, 2015

Blogger Critique of Ross Douthat's "The Plot to Change Catholicism"

Ross Douthat has published the opinion that Pope Francis wants to change the doctrine of the Church, that marriage is annullable, and that a second marriage can be undertaken without detriment to receiving the Eucharist. He writes this under the rubric of “The Plot to Change Catholicism.”  On his own admission, his profession as a pundit is to create controversy.[1] I am of the opinion that Pope Francis wants to change Catholicism, not the faith, but rather the way it is lived, or not lived. The question of Communion for the divorced-remarried has raised the question of the realism of marriage consent and therefore the question of its validity and the faith that makes it so. The question is not about annulments, but about the nature of marriage and the meaning of faith.  
    This is not liberalism, but the re-sourcement of marriage as we have it from John Paul II’s Theology of the Body which he built on Christ’s apodictic: “they are no longer two but one flesh…. For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (M t. 19, 3; Mk. 10,2). What we are witnessing is quite adequately expressed in Douthout’s title “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” It is not a plot to change marriage or the doctrine but to change the praxis of how the Church enters into it and lives it. The murmurs that come from the loggia of the Synod say “Pastoral Synod.” But mark you, the pastoral is always doctrinal. It’s true that one cannot begin to know without sensing something to know it and then, knowing it, to act on it or about it. But when it comes to the higher reality of persons and God – or in our case here, the marriage bond - one cannot know   without living the life of the other persons or God. The ancient epistemological refrain is: Like is known by like. If you don’t enter into it and experience it ab intus, you don’t “Know” it.
Case in point , the only ones who know whether they are married are the spouses who are the ministers themselves, because only they know if they have given themselves at the moment of the exchange of vows, or not. The external fulfillment of the sacramental rubrics are moot if the intentionality of gift to death has not taken place.  As Pope Francis remarked on the plane from  Philadelphia to Rome: Another problem: the affective maturity for a marriage. Another problem: faith. ‘Do I believe that this is forever? Yes, yes, yes. I believe.’ ‘But do you believe it? The preparation for a wedding: I think so often that to become a priest there ‘s a preparation for 8 years, and then, it’s not definite, the Church can take the clerical state away from you. But, for something lifelong, they do four courses!  Four times… Something isn’t right. It’s something the Synod has to deal with: how to do preparation for marriage. It’s one of the most difficult things.” [2]
                Douthat does his job well. His thesis is that the pope is hell-bent on changing the doctrine about state of grace for communion by permitting any divorced-remarried Catholic to go to Communion. That would undermine the fundamental reality of the real Presence and the need for the state of grace for reception.  Douthat argues that Francis has been consistently tending in this direction and “clearly looking for a mechanism that would let him exercise his powers [as pope] without undercutting his authority.” That mechanism is the Synod of 2014 and 2015 that would “project an image of ecclesiastical consensus. So a strong synodal statement endorsing communion for the remarried as a merely ‘pastoral’ change, not a doctrinal alteration, would make Franicis’ task far easier.”  Importantly, Douthat adds, “the pastoral argument is basically just rubbish.”
                This is a serious mistake in magisterial hermeneutics because there is no knowledge of Jesus Christ as “Son of the living God” that is not based on the pastoral experience of self-gift and self-transcendence. In fact, it is a major misunderstanding of faith since the act of faith is precisely the pastoral act of obedience of going out of self to receive the Word of God into self and experience Him in self, and so be able to say: “You are the Christ, the Son…” (Mt. 16, 16). The reality is that one comes to know Christ, and therefore, the Father, first pastorally, and then, by reflection, doctrinally.[3] That is, we only know God by becoming God. One must become Christ to know Christ, and, therefore, to know the Father (“I and the Father are one” J. 10, 30).
                And so the point is not doctrine that is at stake. It is th e sacramentality of marriage and the validity of the bond between the spouses. The question is not doctrine but the giftedness of persons, the spouses who are th e ministers of the sacrament. They must not break the bond when the bond is th ere. But if the bond is not there…? And the bond is not there if they have not given their very selves. The giving of the selves in matrimony is identical with the act of faith. Faith is not reducible to doctrine and external performances.
   In the light of that, Francis has put pressure on the missionary care of divorced-remarried in the field hospital of the Church. He wants to feed them in Penance and the Eucharist. What has happened is that it has forced us to discover that we have been working with the narrow empirical vision of modern  culture, the Church is unwittingly working only on the surface.  We are working with the vision of the elder son and judging the prodigal with the template of mechanical reason. And we take sides: conservative-liberal. We end up at an impasse, and we call names. We lack mercy.
                So Douthat unwittingly is right: “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” It is not that the pope is changing doctrine. He is changing us.

[1] A columnist has two tasks: To explain and to provoke. The first requires giving readers a sense of the stakes in a given controversy, and why it might deserve a moment of their fragmenting attention span. The second requires taking a clear position on that controversy, the better to induce the feelings (solidarity, stimulation, blinding rage) that persuade people to read, return, and re-subscribe.Bishop Robert Barron says, fair enough.
[2] Inside the Vatican  October 2015, 47
[3] See J. Ratzinger, “Milestones” Ignatius (1999 108; “God’s Word,’ Ignatius 2005, 52; “Behold the Pierced One” Ignat ius (2008) 25-27.


Matthew Bloomer said...

Fr Bob, What do you mean it is not a matter of doctrine? Is not the giftedness of persons that you mention a matter of doctrine? Doctrine is all that the Church teaches. I find this explanation of Douhat confusing.

Rev. Robert A. Connor said...

Dear Matt,
The way I read Ratzinger on revelation and therefore the intellectual content of faith is "Milestones..." p. 108, where he explains that Scripture is not revelation, and therefore, concepts (and doctrine) is not revelation. The Person of Christ is revelation. And we know t he Person of Christ experientially in prayer whereby we go out of ourselves. JPII distinguishes philosophically between concepts and consciousness. Concepts on the scholastic reading of the 16th c. on are abstractions (sensible images, agent intellects, abstraction, etc.). Consciousness is what accompanies experience of the self in the act of self-transcendence. The deepest and clearest of this is Ratzinger's Thesis 3 [Behold the Pierced One"] of Knowing Christ by prayer which is the self-transcendent act of doing what Christ does and therefore becoming who Christ is. Like is known by like. Therefore, we can know that Christ is "the Son of the living God" only by becoming Him ontologically (and therefore experientially), and therefore knowing Him consciously - and then by "intentional" reflection on that being able to form the concepts: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt. 16, 16). This consciousness comes from Christ Himself as "Revelation." "Milestones..." 108-109 explains that "the receiving subject is always also a partof the concept of 'revelation.' Where there is no one to perveive 'revelation,' no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no "veil" has been removed. By definition, revelation req uires a someone who apprehends it."
Short version: "You cannot put revelation in your pocket like a book you carry around with you. It is a living reality that requires a living person as the locus of its presence" (Again, Ratzinger, "God's Word" Ignatius p. 52).
The topic is large and it really is phenomenology of the Wojtyla stuff in "The Acting Person." But it's at the root of the problem of the brouhaha of conservatives and liberals who are stuck in the ideology of conceptualization.

If this doesn't make sense, ignore me, and you will get ahead. Fr. Bob