Amoris Laetitia, Paragraph 3: Inculturation or a
There is one incontrovertible fact about the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) and that is that it has caused immense controversy. The most discussed issue is whether those who have divorced and remarried but who have not had their previous marriage annulled can receive communion despite continuing sexual relations in their second 'marriage'. St John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio para 84 made it quite clear that they could not.
There are those such as Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Muller, head of the Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith, who say that AL can be read from an orthodox viewpoint and thus can be interpreted as orthodox. On the other hand there are those such as Cardinals Baldisseri, Schonborn and Kasper who have made it plain that in certain circumstances such divorced and remarried can receive communion. The issue goes to the indissolubility of sacramental marriage and that is why it is so important in view of Christ's explicit teaching that marriage was indissoluble and that sexual relations outside that marriage are adultery. Whatever else that might be said about AL, good or bad, this is the most explosive issue.
Perhaps less certain is the position of Pope Francis on this issue. However it is fair to say that at every juncture the Pope appears to have facilitated the views of the three Cardinals which I refer to as the Kasper agenda. This has been documented by Edward Pentin at length in his book “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?” (note the question mark!) and although that was published 16th August 2015 I.e. before the second session of the Synod on the Family in October 2015, nothing that has happened since suggests that this facilitation of the Kasper Agenda has ceased. However one wonders whether there is not something deeper in all this.
The Apostolic Exhortation starts, in the first paragraph, with a quotation from the Relatio Synodi of the first session in 2014 of the Synod on the family: “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people”. Some in the Western world might doubt the validity of that statement in view of current mores and indeed Pope Francis in his aeroplane conference returning from Lesbos on 16th April 2016 said something rather different: “Do you not realize that the youth don’t want to marry?”
In para 3 Pope Francis says “time is greater than space” and he has said this elsewhere. The meaning of which is not obvious to me. However it is the premise from which the rest of this important paragraph is intended to follow:
3. Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated,if it is to be respected and applied”.
So we have a premise the meaning of which escaped me and I suspect would escape the understanding of most readers. However this premise is supposed to entail that the Magisterium is not needed to decide on all doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues. So if there is a doctrinal issue we should not expect the magisterium to tell us what the correct doctrine is and this can therefore be interpreted differently from country to country. But surely if we do not know what the correct doctrine is how can we interpret it? If the doctrine is fluid then the interpretations are going to be all over the place. Different interpretations of doctrine means that the doctrine does actually change. Any suggestion that this exhortation is merely about pastoral matters and in no way affects doctrine goes out of the window.
The suggestion is that only later will we know the entire truth about these matters of doctrine, teaching etc and St John is quoted. “This will always the case”. The idea seems to be that in the meantime the different interpretations are equally valid until the Spirit puts us right at some time in the future. However St John was talking about the imminent arrival of the spirit at Pentecost: “It will be for him, the truth-giving Spirit, when he comes, to guide you into all truth”. So this is a process that has been going on for two thousand years in addition to what Christ told us when he was on earth. Are we to put a question mark over what the Church has taught in that period and in particular what Christ said?
Pope Francis puts all this under the idea of inculturation and there is a footnote referring to four texts:
- His own address at the conclusion of the Synod in 2015:
The relevant passage in that address would appear to be as follows:
And – apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion. Cultures are in fact quite diverse, and every general principle – as I said, dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s magisterium – every general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied. The 1985 Synod, which celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, spoke of inculturation as “the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures”. Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.
In para 3 of AL he specifically mentions doctrinal issues. However in this address he first of all excludes 'dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium' implying that up to now there have been no differences over doctrinal issues from country to country but only on other matters. But then in the second sentence he appears to be suggesting that “every general principle – as I said, dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s magisterium – every general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied. That is to say the interpretation and therefore the doctrine is going to be inculturated differently in future from country to country.
It is then a question of what is meant by inculturation. Is inculturation the adapting or using the local culture better to illustrate universal teaching or is it a question of adapting that teaching to fit local culture? Pope Francis seems to be tending towards the latter definition.
I have always seen inculturation as the sort of thing one sees in Portugal: religious artefacts brought back from their days of empire and mission – from China, Japan, Goa, Africa and Brazil such as crucifixes where Christ has oriental, african etc features etc. In the museum at Viseu there is a painting of the visit of the three kings painted in 1506 where one of them is clearly a Brazilian Indian. However Pope Francis seems to be suggesting a much wider ambit for inculturation.
- Pontifical Biblical Commission, Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia. Atti della sessione plenaria 1979 della Pontificia Commissione Biblica, Turin, 1981
From its title this document dealt with Faith and Culture in the light of the Bible. I have not had access to this document so I cannot comment as to what it might say or not say in support of Pope Francis's thesis.
- Gaudium et Spes
The reference is to para 44 which is delightfully vague and ambiguous but does not use the word 'inculturation'. Unfortunately it is susceptible to being quoted out of context such as the sentence about the role of the Church: “Her purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate.” But we are not told what is appropriate! Later, in the same paragraph, we are told that things must be judged in the light of the divine word:
“With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage.”
It is surely disingenuous to say that this lends support to Pope Francis's thesis.
4. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio
The reference is to paragraph 52 which inter alia says:
“The process of the Church's insertion into peoples' cultures is a lengthy one. It is not a matter of purely external adaptation, for inculturation "means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures." The process is thus a profound and all-embracing one, which involves the Christian message and also the Church's reflection and practice. But at the same time it is a difficult process, for it must in no way compromise the distinctiveness and integrity of the Christian faith.”
Ouch! Well that makes it very plain as to what St John Paul II meant by inculturation. It must not compromise … the Christian faith. Is this a case where Pope Francis is in direct contradiction with St John Paul II?
- Evangelii Gaudium
The references are to paragraphs 69 and 117. However there is nothing in either paragraph that is not in harmony with what St John Paul II wrote and indeed there are footnotes referring to him.
Now where does all this get us? First of all let us get one thing straight. If a doctrine is interpreted differently in country A from country B then you cannot say that the doctrine is the same in both countries. For example the crime of murder in the UK is very carefully defined in the UK by statute and precedent. In other countries there may well be a crime of murder but the intepretation may be quite different even in common law countries. Thus what might be regarded as not murder but merely manslaughter in the UK might well be regarded as murder in the USA where apparently they have degrees of murder that the UK does not have. It is therefore nonsense to say that the law of murder in the UK is the same as in the USA but just interpreted differently.
Pope Francis is proposing that doctrine can be interpreted differently in different cultures in certain cases but he does not tell us what those certain cases are. It is left in the air as in Gaudium et Spes. The suggestion is that what Christ says is adultery is not necessarily adultery in certain cultures i.e. the doctrine is not going to be the same in different cultures. This is not just a development of doctrine but fundamentally it is saying that what Christ said was adultery is not adultery. Is that not what Pope Francis is suggesting can be the case?
The next question is why this third paragraph appears as the third paragraph. One might think that an exhortation on the family might first start explaining what a family is or should be, then examine what has gone wrong and then suggest proposals as to how matter could be put right and at that point it could be suggested that things be dealt with differently in difference cultures. Yet here we have this suggestion up front as if the Pope is saying this is a most important point that whatever he may say in the rest of these 325 paragraphs it can all be interpreted differently in different cultures. This is precisely what has happened.
Cardinal Kasper first of all told us that the doctrine and Canon Law have not changed but everything has changed. A contradiction which makes one scratch one's head as to his mental processes. On 22nd April he followed this up with an article in Aachener Zeitung saying:
“The door is open. … There is also some freedom for the individual bishops and bishops’ conferences. … Not all Catholics think the way we Germans think.” And he concludes: “Here [in Germany,]something can be permissible which is forbidden in Africa. Therefore, the pope gives freedom for different situations and future developments.”
More recently we have had the extraordinary interview with Archbishop Bruno Forte on 3rd May:
Archbishop Forte has in fact revealed a “behind the scenes” [moment] from the Synod: “If we speak explicitly about communion for the divorced and remarried,” said Archbishop Forte, reporting a joke of Pope Francis, “you do not know what a terrible mess we will make. So we won’t speak plainly, do it in a way that the premises are there, then I will draw out the conclusions.”
“Typical of a Jesuit,” Abp Forte joked
So all this is just a matter for jokes. Perhaps Forte is a liar and no such conversation took place but if it did just what are we supposed to think?But let us go back to the premise “time is greater than space” because there is a very interesting article about this by Fr. Giovanni Scalese to which Sandro Magister has referred us entitled “The four postulates of Pope Francis” of which our premise is the first postulate. Fr Scalese (writing from Afghanistan) suggests that Pope Francis regards the premise as a fundamental first principle incapable of proof but self-evident. Pope Francis explains it in “Evangelii Gaudium” at para 223:
“This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time. One of the faults which we occasionally observe in sociopolitical activity is that spaces and power are preferred to time and processes. Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.”
I suppose one could summarise this as emphasising the importance of letting time reveal the full truth. Father Scalese thinks that Pope Francis thought this up himself but he detects “ some threads of idealistic philosophy, like historicism, the primacy of becoming over being, the origin of being from action”. His subsequent unfinished doctorate in Germany probably brought him into contact with some of the Hegelian ideas of Cardinal Kasper and others such as history is God. The other three postulates which Father Scalese says underlie Pope Francis's teaching are:
- unity prevails over conflict
- realities are more important than ideas
- the whole is greater than the part.
- realities are more important than ideas
- the whole is greater than the part.
Fr Scalese concludes:
May that not happen today which happened to Marx, who, while he taxed with ideology the thinkers who had preceded him, did not realize that he was elaborating one of the most ruinous ideologies of history.”
Is therefore Pope Francis proposing an ideology of his own invention much influenced by German idealism? An ideology that only pays lip service to Christianity? It is tempting to think so amongst all the muddle, waffle and prolixity of his writing. Positioning this paragraph at number 3 of 325 makes sense if we are to see this new ideology as intentionally permeating the whole of Amoris Laetitia and thus raising very serious questions beyond the question of communion for the divorced and remarried.
Lastly another bit of inculturation from Viseu. St Kasper gives communion to a divorced and remarried man. “Just ignore the little devil”.