So the Bull of Indiction for the Year of Mercy is, at this very moment ... 5.30ish, as I potter off to say a Vigil Mass for a brother priest ... about to be published on the steps of S Peter's!! Exciting!!! Except that you already know what it must contain: the reiterated assertions of the Hebrew Bible, and especially of the inspired Psalmist, that Mercy and Truth go together, like (as we Anglo-Saxons put it) a Horse and Carriage and, er, Love and Marriage. See Psalms (LXX numbering) 24:10; 56:3; 60:7; 84:10; 85:15; 88:14; 97:3. Eleos kai Aletheia in the Greek. For your convenience, I reprint an earlier Post of mine about Mercy and Truth, which includes a fine passage from S AUGUSTINE, a currently fashionable Patristic writer. How can any of you doubt that Pope Francis will cite this very passage too?
Wednesday April 1 2015: Today comes the news that Cardinal Mueller, Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has made very emphatically the point hammered home by S AUGUSTINE in the passage I quote at length at the end of my piece. His Eminence said: "We must remember also in the Holy Year that we cannot speak of mercy without truth". He also, memorably, said: "The mercy of God accepts us as we are, but it does not leave us as we are". Cardinal Mueller, admirably, like S Augustine, does not write or speak anonymously!
Monday March 30 2015: I repeated parts of a piece of mine from last December. Its context was the issuing, by the CBCEW, of a document giving no clear statement of authorship. Worse, it appeared to me to be designed to advance strategically the theological opinion of Walter Kasper (contrary to the Magisterium as expressed by Benedict XVI), that the Local Church (which appears to some theologians to mean the Episcopal Conference) has an ontological priority over the Universal Church. Readers will recall the practical conclusion to which Kasper's argument was designed to point: that the bright and sparkling Local Church can make its own decisions about certain Matrimonial matters without having to wait for the sclerotic Universal Church to catch up.
It seemed to me that when a document emerges from the bureaucracy of an episcopal conference with an at least prima facie appearance of calling into question what has hitherto been clear Magisterial teaching, there should be the very clearest indication of who bears responsibility for it.
The abiding topicality of Kasper's errors has recently been highlighted by its vigorously crude reassertion in statements from Cardinal Marx, and - on the opposite side - by the superb interview given by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the fine Letter from Cardinal Cordes; a most useful intervention by Cardinal Koch, and the courageous Letter of the English Priests. The, frankly, sinister revelation (itself an act of courage) that some of those English priests were subjected to "pressure and intimidation" not to sign the Letter suggests that the anonymous person responsible for last December's deplorable CBCEW document has, in the memorable words of Gerry Adams, "not gone away".
December 2014, I wrote: The anonymous document suggested that we should derive from the Donatist controversy a way to "reach out to people in their very diverse situations". The Donatists died out a long time ago; they were opponents of S Augustine of Hippo. Yet, apparently, S Augustine, in his dealing with the Donatists, "offers us a way of looking at the Church from his age which is still relevant today". Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am in favour of learning from the past and that I deplore any inadequacy of Formation which leaves clergy without enough Latin to be able actually to read for themselves all these interesting, and, apparently, now immensely important documents relating to S Augustine's long battle with the Donatists. The question, however, which does have to be asked, is: what is the motive here for dragging in the Donatists and, for that matter, S Augustine? There does appears to be a subtext. Could it possibly be to imply that those who stand by the currently well-established disciplines of the Church are behaving like the Donatist heretics whom Augustine condemned?
As far as I can make out, the message which the anonymous author wishes to derive from the case of S Augustinus versus Donatum, is that sinners should not be excluded from the Church; the Church should not attempt to be the Pure Few. S Augustine, we are told, favoured "patience and tolerance"; not the exclusion of sinners from the Church. I certainly buy that. 100%. Not least because I am a sinner. But ... neither, as far as I am aware, does anybody in our present debates make any such proposal. It is true that a question arises (in fact, is raised by S Paul I Cor 11:27) about the reception of Holy Communion by those who, without repentance and a purpose of amendment, live in sin, whether that sin be adultery or fornication or homosexual genital relationships or embezzlement or pride or theft or mendacity or murder or spite or people-trafficking or torture or arbitrary imprisonment or slavery or sexual and economic exploitation ... I think I must have been spending too much of my time reading Gaudium et Spes and Veritatis Splendor ... or whatever other common sins you care to name. But that is not the question which S Augustine is addressing. He condemns, it is very true, the error of "making rash or premature conclusions" about who will, on the Day of Judgement, be saved ... and I do most certainly agree that "we are not in a position in this life to pass judgement on others".
But there is a gap in logic between that, and the conclusion that "such key words of S Augustine can help us move the debate beyond particularly difficult issues* and set these same issues* in a wider context." I wonder what you think those 'particularly difficult issues*' are which, in view of the anonymous writer, will benefit from the 'wider context' of S Augustine and the Donatists a millennium and a half ago? Could they ... just possibly ... I make a wild guess ... be the 'issue*' of the admission to Holy Communion of those living in the objectively disordered and unrepented states of Moikheia, adultery ('remarried divorcees') or Malakia, homosexuality genitally expressed ('Gay Marriage')? If not this, then whatever else can possibly be in the anonymous mind? In a word, how can the rather obvious fact that we do not know who will end up saved, have anything to do with the question of whether or not the Church should adjust her teaching or her rules?
Consider these words, also from the same anonymous document: "Can charity allow us to live with difference, without diminishing what is essential in our Catholic faith?** ... Liberty in what is doubtful, unity in what is essential, and charity in everything". This reminds me disturbingly of Walter Kasper's claim that "the disagreements at issue fall into the category of those where the Church has historically recognised legitimate differences of opinion" - and he was writing about the admission to Communion of 'remarried divorcees', a policy which he had tried to implement in Rottenburg-Stuttgart when he was its diocesan bishop. (Who put the stoppers on him? Joseph Ratzinger. Eis polla ete despota!)
I will, indeed, let S AUGUSTINE, Hammer of the Donatist Heresy, have the last word. We will take him up, in translation, as he quotes the Lord's words to the Woman Caught in Adultery.
" ' Neither will I condemn you'. What is this, Lord? Do you therefore favour sins? Not so, evidently. Mark what follows: 'Go, henceforth sin no more'. Therefore the Lord did also condemn, but condemned sins, not man. For if he were a patron [fautor] of sin, he would say 'Neither will I condemn you; go, live as you will: be secure in my deliverance; how much soever you will sin, I will deliver you from all punishment even of hell, and from the torturers of the infernal world'. He said not this. Let them take heed, then, who love his gentleness in the Lord, and let them fear his truth [veritatem]. For 'The Lord is sweet and right [rectus]'. You love him in that he is sweet; fear him in that he is right. As the meek, he said 'I held my peace'; but as the just [iustus], he said 'Shall I always be silent?' 'The Lord is MERCIFUL and pitiful'. So he is, certainly. Add yet further: 'Long-suffering'; add, even further still: 'And very pitiful'. But fear what comes last: 'And TRUE [verax]'. For those whom he now puts up with [sustinet] as sinners, he will judge as despisers. 'Or do you despise the riches of his long-suffering and gentleness, not knowing that the forbearance of God leads you to repentance? But you, after your hardness and impenitent heart, treasure up for yourself wrath against the Day of Wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgement of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds' [Romans 2:4-6]. The Lord is gentle, the Lord is long-suffering, the Lord is pitiful; but the Lord is also just, the Lord is also TRUE. He bestows on you space for correction; but you love the delay of Judgement more than the amendment of your ways".
* Notice this very modern use of the word issue here instead of the older term 'problem'. 'Problem' would admit, give away, the fact that there is a problem. By calling a thing an 'issue', it is turned into something much more neutral ... something to discuss.
** Another very useful rhetorical dodge here, not to be missed by the connoisseur: the anonymous writer desires to promote a certain agenda, but he or she sets his or her desired innovation in the form of a question, so that, if it becomes politic, he or she can hide behind the the formula "I didn't argue in favour of X; I just asked the question". (This is often combined with another similar common modern rhetorical trick: the implication "I just want to make a contribution to debate". But the implication, smuggled in here like the illegal immigrant underneath the chassis of the lorry, is the idea that the subject concerned is truly open to debate. Those who are inclined to doubt this are thus cast in the role of nasty rigid inflexible legalistic people who 'refuse to listen'. Which is to be unmodern.)