“Doctrine cannot be preserved without allowing it to develop”

“Doctrine cannot be preserved without allowing it to develop”

By Andre Tornielli/ lastampa.it

In Francis’ words at the conference for the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of Catechism, the key to read the current debate on Amoris laetitia.

The theme that Pope Francis wanted to focus his attention on when he spoke at the meeting promoted by the Department for the New Evangelization was that of the death penalty and the need of a “more adequate and coherent treatment ” in the Catechism. Given its relevance, it was only natural that this topic attracted the attention of the media. But the intervention of the Pontiff served also to reaffirm that doctrine and Tradition can really be preserved and handed down only by “allowing it to develop”. Considerations based on the Church’s fathers and councils, which help to frame the debate also on other topics of which the “ fidelity to doctrine” is called into question.

Francis started by quoting Saint John XXIII, who opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11,1962 with the historic sentence, “It is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world, which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate”. “Our duty - continued Pope Roncalli - is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries.”

Pope Bergoglio has therefore explained that “to guard” and “to pursue” are “ in the very nature of the Church, so that the truth present in Jesus’ preaching of the Gospel may grow in fullness until the end of time”. Saint John Paul II himself, in presenting the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, said that “it must take into account the doctrinal statements which down the centuries the Holy Spirit has made known to his Church. It should also help illumine with the light of faith the new situations and problems which had not yet emerged in the past”.

Today’s challenges are not those of a century ago and not even those of thirty years ago. For this reason, there are Councils and Synods, and for this reason two assemblies of bishops have been held to discuss marriage and family, in social contexts that change at a very fast pace.

It is not enough - Francis explains - to find a new language in which to articulate our perennial faith; it is also urgent, in the light of the new challenges and prospects facing humanity, that the Church be able to express the “new things” of Christ’s Gospel, that, albeit present in the word of God, have not yet come to light. This is the treasury of “things old and new” of which Jesus spoke when he invited his disciples to teach the newness that he had brought, without forsaking the old”.

Bergoglio, after recalling a text of the Roman Catechism, highlighted by the new Catechism stating that “ The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible” - returns to speak of Tradition as “a living reality”.

“Only a partial vision - Francis explains - regards the “deposit of faith” as something static. The word of God cannot be moth-balled like some old blanket in an attempt to keep insects at bay! No. The word of God is a dynamic and living reality that develops and grows because it is aimed at a fulfilment that none can halt “. Then Pope reaffirms “the happy formulation” of Saint Vincent of Lérins, “annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate” namely a dogma of the Christian religion that should be, “consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age”. A formulation, Francis states, that “is a distinguishing mark of revealed truth as it is handed down by the Church, and in no way represents a change in doctrine.”

Therefore, “Doctrine cannot be preserved without allowing it to develop, nor can it be tied to an interpretation that is rigid and immutable without demeaning the working of the Holy Spirit. “God, who in many and various ways spoke of old to our fathers “(Heb 1:1), “uninterruptedly converses with the bride of his beloved Son” (Dei Verbum, 8). We are called to make this voice our own by “reverently hearing the word of God” (ibid., 1), so that our life as a Church may progress with the same enthusiasm as in the beginning, towards those new horizons to which the Lord wishes to guide us.”

As for those significant changes that indicate how doctrine should “look to the present, to the new conditions”, as Pope Roncalli said, one can remember the great leap represented by John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio. In that post-synodal exhortation, Wojtyla made clear the existence of attenuating circumstances, “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid”.

And he affirmed, breaking with a centuries-old tradition, that divorcees in second union, who for various reasons cannot return to their now broken marriages, could access the sacraments if they committed themselves to living as brother and sister, that is, refraining from sexual intercourse. This decision was an important innovation at that time. The divorced who remarried and were willing to live as brothers and sisters (circumstance that obviously has to do with their intimacy and is not written in their identity documents or badges), could not only be welcomed into the Christian community, but could also participate in the Eucharist.

A few years later, in his letter to Cardinal Penitentiary Major William Wakefield Baum (22 March 1996), Pope Wojtyla stated, “ It should also be remembered that the existence of sincere repentance is one thing, the judgement of the intellect concerning the future is another: it is indeed possible that, despite the sincere intention of sinning no more, past experience and the awareness of human weakness makes one afraid of falling again; but this does not compromise the authenticity of the intention, when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin”. And the following year, in Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Truijllo’s vademecum for confessors concerning some aspects of the morality of conjugal life, we read that “Frequent relapse into sins of contraception does not in itself constitute a motive for denying absolution; absolution cannot be imparted, however, in the absence of sufficient repentance or of the resolution not to fall again into sin”.

A more accurate and serene reflection on the history of the Church and on theology would help to understand, for example, that the teaching of Amoris laetitia is traditional, where it says that in the evaluation of guilt there may be mitigating factors. In chapter 8 of the exhortation, result of two Synods, the Pope, in the wake of this tradition, opened to the possibility - without falling into casuistry and without permissiveness or indiscriminate “green lights” - that in some cases divorced persons in second union (who cannot live as sister brother but are aware of their condition and have begun a journey) may also have access to the sacraments, after a period of discernment accompanied by a priest. After all it already happened in the past in some cases.

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 14:13
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