Discerning the Bergoglio mission to revivify Catholic tradition
The author is a theologian priest of the archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, and an ecclesiastical assistant at the University of Canberra
by Paul Anthony McGavin
"All reasoning takes place within the context of some traditional mode of thought, transcending through criticisms and invention the limitations of what had hitherto been reasoned in that tradition….
"What strengthens and sustains and what weakens and destroys traditions? The answer in key part is: the exercise or the lack of exercise of the relevant virtues...
"An adequate sense of tradition manifests itself in a grasp of those possibilities which the past has made available to the present. Living traditions, just because they continue a not-yet-completed narrative, confront a future whose…character derives from the past ("After Virtue", 222).
During this Extraordinary Synod of the Catholic Church I have been reading "After Virtue" by Alasdaire MacIntyre. The above quote was read the day that I also read the remarks in the lead-up to the Synod by George Cardinal Pell as reported 20 September 2014 in The Tablet: “The task is now to reassure good practising Catholics that doctrinal changes are not possible.” What we confront in positions as represented by Cardinal Pell is confusion between fundamentals and the way in which fundamentals have been interpreted and upheld in the practices of Latin tradition. Recognising this distinction allows us to see that revivifying Catholic tradition involves allowing critical examination of received modes of thought and received ways of knowing what we know, epistemologies. Properly understood and honestly pursued, this dialogue and cultural engagement is not toward changing fundamentals. It is toward carrying forward the tradition. Failure to make this recognition is the mistake of those defending a fixed-tradition.
It is not fundamentals that are disputed
Such mistakes in modes of thought are seen in the manner in which the crucial biblical texts on marriage are quoted. We are all familiar with the teleology that is encased in Genesis 1:27 that is central to Christ’s restatement of the divine purpose: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’ ” (Mark 10:6). We are all familiar with Christ’s strenuous “hardness of heart” word in his reading of Mosaic law (Mark 10:5, Deuteronomy 24:1), and his declaration that those who “divorce [a spouse] and marry another commit adultery” (Mark 10:11). And we have frequently been reminded by those holding received modes of thought and epistemologies that proposals for the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Sacramental Communion is contrary to fundamentals. Actually, however, it is contrary to fixity in modes of thought and ways of knowing, rather than contrary to the fundamentals. It is a mistake to see the ontological and teleological nature of Sacramental Marriage as being disputed. This mistake covers several aspects under the rubric of “modes of thought”. Some account of this mistake is given in what follows.
The gospel texts capture ecclesial memory of the words of Christ. Key voices in the Synod take the texts as requiring no interpretation, or at least no further interpretation from what they have been given up to this point in the tradition of the Church, or, more strictly, in the tradition of the Latin Church. From this perspective, texts are not received in context, and the reception of texts does not occur in context. What Raymond Cardinal Burke said in his 13 October 2014 Il Foglio interview during the Synod is representative of this positon. He says that the words of Christ are not “up for discussion” and “it would have been better to take matters [of Sacramental Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics] off the table because they are not open to discussion.”
This manner of reception treats the texts as self-evident declarations of positive divine law: Thou shalt… or Thou shalt not… Yet even deontic texts require interpretation, as is seen in the "Thou shalt not kill" (cf., Exodus 20:13) being read as "Thou shalt do no murder" – with attendant jurisprudence categories of murder, manslaughter, and death by accident. The literary and grammatical form in Matthew 5:31-32 is deontic and represents Our Lord as a Second Moses:
"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce' [Deuteronomy 24:1]. But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife…makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery [parallel Mt 19:3-9 and Lk 16:18].
A more nuanced reading
A common rendering of Mark 10:9, “What therefore God has joined together let not man put asunder” does not quite convey the imperative mood of the Greek original, and in this aspect should be read in a deontic manner as positive divine law ("deon" = obligation or duty + "logia" = deontological or deontic ethics). However, the longer pericope in which this is framed is better read in natural law terms. The pericope looks back to texts that frame the entire Old Testament and New Testament narrative: “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1). Our Lord presents a narrative account, “But from the beginning, ‘God made them male and female’ ” (Mark 10:6, Genesis 1:27) that conveys the purpose or end (telos) of the activity of God. This narrative presents truths that may be affirmed by careful reasoning along with evidence-based observation – by a natural law approach that in philosophical terms is both valid and sound. This is seen in the indicative – rather than imperative – grammar that characterises the pericope.
Particularly in Mark, the texts convey to us the memory of Christ enunciating truths that we may observe: “For your hardness of heart Moses wrote this commandment [allowing divorce]” (Mark 10:5). The memories of Christ’s teaching are conveyed in ecclesial memory and reflect ecclesial and/or Roman-law contexts, as seen in the extension voiced as, “And a wife who divorces her husband and marries another commits adultery” (Mark 10:12).
The juridical Old Testament text cited by Christ’s interlocutors, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away” (Deuteronomy 24:1, Mark 10:4), captures a cultural context that is perhaps akin to historic and contemporary approaches to marriage such as may still be found in Islam. But such cultural and historical contexts are discordant with the ecclesial memory, “But [it was not so] from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’ “ (Mark 10:6, Genesis 1:27).
From the beginning the Church has upheld a scriptural teleological view of marriage. The particular rigour of this upholding in the Latin tradition has seen the refusal of the beginnings of ecclesial matrimonial jurisprudence allowing divorce for “uncleanness” (porneia) seen in Matthew 5:32. The more fundamental adherence across East and West traditions has been and remains that one spouse may not dispose of the other spouse. To do so would be contrary to God’s design in the order of creation and contrary to the dominical words, “What, therefore, God has joined, let no man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).
Curious mix in traditional readings
What those who want to “take off the table” discussion of admission to Sacramental Communion of divorced and remarried Catholics do not seem to comprehend that these fundamentals are not being challenged. Writing from an Australian context, even in contemporary civil law these fundamentals are not challenged. The question in civil law is not, “Do you wish to dispense with your spouse?” The question is, “Has there been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage?” The civil judicial declaration of divorce is a formal enactment of something that phenomenologically has already happened – in practical terms the matrimonial state is no longer present. In Latin jurisprudence, this civil juridical declaration is a precondition for initiation of an annulment process.
As I shall endeavour to show, the Latin annulment process is a curious mix of reasonings. So, for example, a diriment impediment to validity of a marriage may be found where a woman presents evidence that the man she married is homosexual and that he was homosexual at the time of the marriage and adequate external forum evidence is provided. That is, where the annulment process brings to light evidence from the time of marriage that is incongruent with what is articulated in the rite, the ontological change that occurs in sacramental marriage is deemed not to have occurred – and a declaration of nullity may follow with a “free to marry” consequence. Where, however, a woman presents evidence that the man she married is homosexual in the sense of having subsequently shifted in his sexual identity, this is not grounds for a declaration of nullity. In brief, what occurs metaphysically with Holy Matrimony requires contemporaneous congruency with evidence-based phenomena. But once the Sacrament is celebrated, the deemed metaphysical state of husband and wife has no necessary congruency with evidence-based phenomena. A woman may say, “This is not the man I married”, but that does not make sense in the received metaphysics, because in the invoked ontology this is “the man I married”, and that man remains husband even where no evidence-based phenomena is present that is congruent with that matrimonial status. Thus on this reckoning, any marriage subsequent to a civil divorce is deemed irregular and involves adultery. And the gospel dominical texts are invoked as foundational to the traditional reckoning of a state of mortal sin. In brief, a Latin tradition reckoning of marriage is essentially noetic (abstract, of the mind) – a rather strange situation for a religion that essentially is incarnational.
Looking at the typical scenario of the divorced and remarried
Some Catholics accept this reckoning, and, indeed, may stake their religion on it. For such persons – as for the Council of Trent – it is an article of faith and is read as irreformable dominical teaching. In a sense, I agree. A scenario where a man had “dumped his wife” and then taken-up with another woman – whether as a common-law wife or by civil marriage – he would be an adulterer who should not approach Eucharistic Communion. But that is not the typical scenario of the Catholic parishioners who have undergone civil divorce and civil marriage and who desire Sacramental Communion.
When dealing with people seeking to return to the practice of their faith or with people wishing to be received into the Church, we generally do not encounter with people who refuse a Catholic understanding of marriage and want compliance with a fashionable serial monogamy. Certainly, motives may be mixed such as where seeking readmission or admission to Eucharist Communion may be because their children are receiving the Sacraments. As in Galilee, many did not recognise the prefiguring of the Sacrament and came “because they ate the bread” (John 6:26). Some come with tragic circumstances that they want repaired and with sin they want forgiven according to the authority that Christ gave his Church.
Typically, such people do not dispute that they intended a Sacramental Marriage and intended what the Church intends in that celebration. Were it otherwise, they would present a package “civil divorce + annulment process + declaration of freedom to marry + marriage [sacramental marriage]”. Such people do not dispute the tradition that the Church received from Christ on Holy Matrimony. What they most often recount is tragedy, and typically a slow process through which there emerges a recognition that the marriage has failed and is irretrievable. The recognitions may involve attributing blame – to the other party, to oneself, or to circumstances such as, “We just were unsuited to one another.” Recognitions such as the last would probably be incomprehensible in the social context in which Christ spoke and in which the gospel texts were formed.
Differing social contexts of marriage
In biblical times, marriages more reflected family arrangements than the initiatives of the groom and the bride – as is still the case in many cultures today. The different social contexts of arranged marriages may make them more enduring than marriage as now encountered in Western cultures. In Australia, pre-marital cohabitation is common, civil marriages are more common than religious marriages, and marriage failure and divorce are common. And this common experience is extensive among Catholics.
In cases where returning Catholics seek Sacramental Communion, the mentality in respect of which Jesus spoke, “Write a certificate of divorce, and put her away” (Deuteronomy 24:1, Mark 10:4), is not present. Overwhelmingly, we are not presented with people who exercised a purpose of terminating a marriage (“putting her away”). In terms of the pastoral situations encountered with returning Catholics and non-Catholics seeking to be received into the Church, we overwhelmingly encounter people who in grief and in penitence reckoned with marriages that had died while the spouses were still alive. Often the initiation of civil divorce does not culminate an intention to destruct a marriage, nor represent a proactive “putting asunder of what God has joined” (Mark 10:9). More typically, the civil divorce is a formalising of what has already happened – that the marriage has died. Although I know cases of persons who have lived by the formalistic teaching of the Latin tradition, and who even wear it as a badge of religious probity and orthodoxy, this noetic and ontological manner of thinking is not accessible to most mentalities. Ordinary Catholics do not comprehend this formalistic mentality, and mostly do not have the personal resources to live by it. Thus, more typically, they depart or depart again from the practice of their religion or are unable to be received into Full Communion, and thenceforth attend only Baptisms and Funerals in Catholic churches. And typically, they will be confused and alienated by the anomalies that they perceive in the Church’s practice.
Alienating anomalies in Latin tradition practice
The anomalies that arise in these situations can be many and varied. One example is where non-practicing Catholics engage in a civil marriage that ends in divorce and then engage a second civil marriage, and later return to the practice of their religion, as often occurs where their children approach First Holy Communion and/or Confirmation. Existing matrimonial jurisprudence for Catholics who married outside the Church allows a finding of “free to marry” after the divorce, and would allow a retroactive validation of the subsequent civil marriage, followed by Penance and admission to Sacramental Communion.
This would not be possible in a second and parallel example where Catholics engage in a church marriage that ends in divorce and then engage a second civil marriage, and later return to the practice of their religion when their children approach First Holy Communion and/or Confirmation. Existing matrimonial jurisprudence for Catholics married according to the rites of the Church are unlikely to succeed in an annulment process and thus not be “free to marry” after divorce, and thus retroactive validation of the subsequent civil marriage not be possible, and absolution in the Sacrament of Penance is likely to be refused and access to Sacramental Communion barred.
The range of distinctions that are involved in the existing matrimonial jurisprudence and penitential practice are simply too abstruse to be accessible to or accepted by most parishioners. It will simply seem anomalous that one situation is resolvable in a noetic juridical mindset and another is not. The present formalistic situation of the Church is sustainable only for those who operate in a certain abstract and casuistic mindset, but is unsustainable for most people who approach the Church.
Unsustainable for reasons of “mode of thought”
This unsustainability does not arise from a faithful upholding of the fundamentals of the faith tradition of the Church. I do not question the sustainability of the fundamentals of the faith and our responsibility in fidelity to uphold the fundamentals of the faith of the Church. To return to the quote heading this article, the formalist situation as briefly described is unsustainable for reasons of “mode of thought” that gives rise to tortuous noetic reasonings and administrations. Those who want to maintain an unchanging reading of tradition may authoritatively cite the decrees of the Council of Trent with the same supposed inerrancy that they cite, “He who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her” (Mark 10:11). This manner of reasoning and manner of citation allow only one “mode of thought”; admits no cultural reading of “modes of thought”; and admits only one epistemology, only one “manner of knowing”. Tradition as upheld by such persons is fixed tradition, not “living tradition”. It is this fixed mentality that inhibits the revivification of tradition. In terms of the lead quote for this article, this arises from a “lack of exercise of the relevant virtues”.
I have had some encounters with the lead players in the fixed-tradition position, and they are men who in many respects are virtuous and sincere in the positions that they take, with strong convictions of upholding the deposit of the Faith against the incursions of contemporary relativism. Their fears of contemporary worldly secularity contaminating the Faith are understandable. What they do not recognise is that there are just criticisms of what has been reasoned in tradition and just criticisms of the limitations of what has been reasoned in tradition.
The Church’s truth as narrative truth
I argue for upholding the fundamentals of tradition, not for change in fundamentals. But I distinguish fundamentals from “modes of thought” or “manner of thinking”. This is not code language for introducing postmodernist manners of thinking. Quite the contrary, the Church deals with truth. This truth is a narrative truth: “God so loved the world that he sent his only son…” (John 3:16). In the sense given in the lead quote of this article, these are key words that signal a “not-yet-completed narrative”. The Church remains, so to speak, the “hand of God” in the enacting of sacred history. That writing and enacting of sacred history makes present God’s historical action in the world – in the circumstances captured by the dominical words and actions recounted in the gospels; in the history of the Church: and in our present cultural circumstances, present diverse cultural circumstances. This writing, this action may seem haphazard and seem like “God-writes-straight-in-crooked-lines”. Reading this “writing” involves noticing how differing modes of thought and differing and varied cultural circumstances are nevertheless ordered by fidelity to fundamentals.
In different eras and in different cultures there may be different syntaxes and different mentalities. These differing manners of expression, differing manners of understanding, and differing manners of enacting are authentic to the extent that they are objectively ordered. This is the objectivity of God’s order in creation (“natural law”) and the objectivity of God’s action in history (“The Word became flesh…”, John 1:14). I have not separately named “positive [divine] law”, because this is better understood as declaring what is present in “natural law”, rather than as arbitrary imposition upon the order of creation. Sustaining lives ordered by this objectivity involves the “exercise of the relevant virtues”. I want now to make some contribution to adumbrating what “the relevant virtues” might be in our present context.
Exercising the relevant virtues in our context
In a sense, reaching for a right understanding of the relevant virtues has been at the heart of conflict in the Church from the beginning. The gospels portray the sustained conflict between Our Lord and his adversaries (typed as scribes/Pharisees/lawyers) who presented an essentially reductive deontic understanding of religion. The religion of Christ’s adversaries was composed of various component obligations (deontic components). Maintaining religious practice in this paradigm required meticulous deontic observance, with specious recourse to casuistry where this proved impracticable or inconvenient. This manner of religious observance was constantly challenged by Our Lord. The gospel records show how these challenges involved sustained reference to a high sense of fundamental precepts such as “It was not so from the beginning…” (Mark 10:6). In contrast to the Pharisees, Christ sustains a non-reductive perspective such as seen in the compressed discourse on the “First Commandment” (Mark 12:28-34, Deuteronomy 6:4).
Noticing this, it is hardly surprising that the gospels so extensively recount challenges from “scribes/Pharisees/lawyers” concerning the words, religious practices, and observances of Christ. This conflict continued in the early Church in a lesser degree, but in-principle in the same manner. It is this conflict that particularly finds voice in the Pauline challenge to a deontic Christianity: “He who would keep the law must keep the whole law; break any part of it, and the whole law is broken” (cf., Galatians 5:3, James 2:10); “You who have been freed from the law, would you return to the law?” (cf., Galatians 3:3-5, 4:1-7). No one can represent the Pauline literature and the Pauline tradition as not upholding fundamental precepts, although these precepts tend to be cast in a “natural law” manner, rather than as deontic ethics (“And a sin that not even the gentiles do…, 1 Corinthians 5:1). A pneumatic appreciation of virtue ethics is more characteristic of the Pauline tradition, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… (Galatians 5:22). The great hymn to love of First Corinthians 13 amplifies the virtues of the disciple of Christ.
Continuing conflict between deontic and virtue religion
Conflict between a deontic ethic and a virtue ethic – such as instanced between Paul and Peter in Galatians 2:11 – has been present throughout the history of the Church. It is a conflict that in one degree or another will probably always be present, because the natural human tendency is toward religion as supporting a deontic ethic. Deontic religion can be very complex in the fineness of its rule-specification, yet in important respects it is simpler than virtue religion. Deontic religion allows one and others more readily to define who is upright and who is not, who is in good standing and who is not. It is more convenient in its sharp drawing of demarcation lines. Moreover, most people are sensors (they perceive and judge according to defined data), and most people prefer determinative worldviews (they prefer closure, judgement). There is a natural tendency to deontic religion that can be understood in terms that social scientists can verify from perspectives such as politics, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, and personality psychology.
It would horrify those Catholics who uphold a religion that is characterised by a deontic ethic to be told that their religion is “worldly”. But, a religion that is more strongly characterised by a virtue ethic in fact is far harder to track from perspectives such as politics, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, and personality psychology – it is less naturalistic, less “worldly”.
Hearing the refrain of the Holy Father
It might surprise readers who tend toward a fixed-tradition position to hear me say that personally I am not attracted to the present Holy Father. I think he needs to step out of his Latin American emotivism. I think he needs to step out of his Jesuit authoritarianism. There are things in his first sole-authored major writing as Pope, "Evangelii gaudium," that I think are unsustainable. Yet, as I wrote in my critical appreciation of that Apostolic Exhortation, Jorge Bergoglio in important respects brings an acute and essential methodology to the problems of the Church in our era. This methodological perspective is the backdrop to characteristic remarks such as he made to the Bishops of Korea:
"Then too, there is a [another] temptation: that of the apparent security to be found in hiding behind easy answers, ready formulas, rules and regulations. Jesus clashed with people who would hide behind laws, regulations and easy answers... He called them hypocrites."
This methodological perspective is the backdrop to the following words drawn from his Closing Address to the Extraordinary Synod:
"There is a temptation to hostile inflexibility where there is an enclosing of oneself within the written word, a not allowing oneself to be surprised by God…to enclose oneself within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and those who today are called 'traditionalists'…" [a temptation to enclose themselves in this manner].
[And in the same address saying] "…Without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of Marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48)."
Allowing for differing personalities, differing cultures that bring differing readings of tradition
Pope Francis spoke in a context where certain simplistic readings such as of Mark 10:11 or Canon 7 of the Council of Trent or "Familiaris consortio" were presented by some as a “last word”. This fixed-tradition mindset lacks recognition that all reasoning takes place “within a context”. Making this recognition does not mean that all reasoning is simply “contextual” or “situational”. The fixed-tradition mindset lacks recognition that particular reasonings involve “modes of thought”, and that differing personalities and differing cultures have differing modes of thought. Making this recognition does not mean that all reasoning is culturally relative and relativistic.
The fixed-tradition mindset lacks recognition that personality profoundly influences preferred “modes of thinking”, and that certain personalities prefer one manner of thinking while other personalities prefer different manners of thinking. To give an example, the manners of thinking of those who eagerly absorbed the writings of Saint John Paul II are typically different from the manners of thinking of those who eagerly absorbed the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. I prefer Ratzinger to Wojtyla, but I can converse across these different manners of thinking. I prefer Ratzinger to Bergoglio, but I can converse across these different manners of thinking, and recognise a greater congruity between Bergoglio and Ratzinger than between Bergoglio and Wojtyla. Those who are annoyed at Bergoglio do not see the continuity between Francis I and Benedict XVI, and prefer a Wojtyla manner of thinking and acting. At this juncture in the “not-yet-completed-narrative”, God has given us Bergoglio as Pope. What I am urging is that we listen carefully to what he is saying and engage pro-actively in dialogue as a means – again in the words of the lead quote – of “grasping those possibilities which the past has made available to the present”.
Pope Bergoglio and the not-yet-completed-narrative
This may be uncomfortable for fixed-tradition mentalities. But the fact remains that the Church enacts a “a not-yet-completed-narrative” and sustaining that narrative tradition calls for a vigorous exercise of “the relevant virtues”. Authentically to engage this not-yet-completed-narrative involves a critical approach to the manners of thinking that the Pope in his Closing Synod Address names as “do-gooders” and “progressives and liberals”. It also involves critical approach to the manners of thinking that he names as “traditionalists” (or who name themselves as “traditionalists”). It is not a via media of compromise that is commended. It is a dialogue in truth that is needed, and a dialogue that comprehends how differing syntaxes in thought, differing cultures in thought, differing contexts in thought may be made and can be made integral to the tradition that derives from the past – the “unchanging gospel”, cf., Galatians 1:8, 1 Corinthians 3:11.
It is in this obedience that the Church makes available the apostolic tradition to the present and takes forward that living tradition into the future: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age”, says The Lord (Matthew 28:20). This is what in his best instincts Jorge Bergoglio seeks. This in our best instincts is what we must seek. This is the mission of the Church: “To bring all things under Christ…” (1 Corinthians 15:28). In a small way, this is the “mission” of the present article and of the present author.
Communion for the Remarried. Francis Has a Yes "In Pectore"
The pope has given the go-ahead for discussion. He doesn't say whether he is on the side of those in favor or those against, but he appears to be much closer to the former than to the latter. An Australian theologian explains why
by Sandro Magister
ROME, September 8, 2014 – The latest to call for a radical change in the Church's practice and doctrine on marriage is the Belgian bishop of Antwerp, Johan Jozef Bonny.
He did so in early September with a thirty-page memorandum in multiple languages, which he also sent to Pope Francis.
Because the presumed support of Jorge Mario Bergoglio is inevitably part of the arguments of the cardinals, bishops, and theologians who are calling for the change, which would mean granting Eucharistic communion to the divorced and remarried: a key argument of the synod of bishops on the family set to have its first session in Rome this October.
Pope Francis has never said explicitly what his position is in the dispute - to which he intentionally gave free rein - between the proponents and opponents of the change.
When, for example, he defended in strong words the encyclical of Paul VI "Humanae Vitae," he disappointed the innovators, who see that very encyclical as an emblem of the disastrous detachment of the magisterium of the Church from the spirit of the times and the practice of the faithful themselves.
But on the contrary there are are increasingly numerous testimonies on how Bergoglio, as an archbishop, encouraged his priests to give communion to the cohabiting and remarried. He himself, as pope, spoke by telephone last April with a civilly divorced and remarried woman of Buenos Aires and advised her to “go receive communion in another parish if her pastor did not give it to her.” This according to the woman's account, which has not been refuted.
In any case, there is evidence for the idea that Pope Francis leans more to the side of the innovators in the appreciation that he has repeatedly expressed for Cardinal Walter Kasper, foremost among supporters of the change, whom he charged with introducing the discussion on the theme of the family at the consistory of cardinals last February.
The charge given to Kasper was itself enough to mark a turning point. In the early 1990's the German cardinal, who at the time was the bishop of Rottenberg, together with bishop of Mainz Karl Lehmann and of Freiburg Oskar Saier was the protagonist of a memorable clash with the then-prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Joseph Ratzinger, precisely on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried. The clash ended with a victory for Ratzinger, who had the full support of John Paul II. And for a couple of decades Kasper didn't say any more on the topic. But since Bergoglio has been pope, the 81-year-old cardinal has gone back to the front lines to present his ideas, this time with the manifest support of the successor of Peter.
Bishop Bonny, before being assigned to the Belgian diocese of Antwerp in 2009, had been a close collaborator of Kasper at the pontifical council for Christian unity, headed by the cardinal. And in the memorandum with which he is now calling for change not only in the practice but also in the doctrine of the Church on marriage, citations of Pope Francis abound. All interpreted in favor of the change.
This brings up the question: up to what point is it plausible to assign Francis to the camp of the innovators, on the question of communion for the remarried? And if this convergence exists, is it just superficial or of substance?
This question is answered by a theologian who has already spoken out on this website to illustrate the innovations of method in the most representative document of pope Bergoglio, "Evangelii Gaudium": Paul-Anthony McGavin of Australia (in the photo), age 70, a priest of the archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn and an ecclesiastical assistant at the University of Canberra.
McGavin leans toward a change and does not conceal his agreement with Kasper's positions. But this is not what he has written about. He instead dedicates his essay to demonstrating the affinity between the proposals of innovation and the “methodology” of Francis, intolerant of any "closed system," whether pastoral or doctrinal.
According to McGavin, Ratzinger also had an equally “open” methodology. And in the initial part of his essay he amply develops this affinity between the two most recent popes. To the point that the reader is induced to think that Francis is preparing to realize what Benedict XVI had also been predisposed to do.
But it is on the reigning pope that expectations are focused. Because in the end, after the two synods, it will be he who decides the path to take, on marriage in general and on communion for the remarried in particular.
A path of pastoral innovation, if not also doctrinal, that - according to McGavin's arguments - Francis already has in mind.
The complete text of the essay by the Australian theologian:
> Reconciling anomalies: a hermeneutic on divorce and remarriage
And the following is an extensive extract from this.
RECONCILING ANOMALIES: A HERMENEUTIC ON DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
by Paul-Anthony McGavin
There have been moves and counter-moves for the upcoming Synod on the Family to look again at the Latin tradition on divorce and remarriage. Both directions of movement have been promoted by Pope Francis.
Cardinal Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was published in "L’Osservatore Romano" of 25 October 2013 refuting the ideas of those who want to permit second marriages while the first spouse is still alive.
Cardinal Kasper was invited by Pope Francis to give an inaugural address to the Consistory of on the Family where he argued that it was not enough to consider the problem only from a sacramental perspective.
Müller’s document presumably invoked the permission of the Pope, and Kasper’s address was reportedly praised by the Pope as “profound and serene” theology.
These seemingly polar positions are not easily reconciled. This article draws upon the methodological approaches of Joseph Ratzinger and of Jorge Bergoglio to suggest a way toward reconciling these anomalies. […] Pope Emeritus Benedict is a scholar of immense breadth and depth in a way that Pope Francis is not. But in their different ways, each demonstrates a reaching for a manner of theological practice that presses the boundaries of thinking that operates in singular philosophical or canonical manners of reasoning.
Their mentalities are not of the closed-system kind. […] Neither the methodology of Ratzinger nor of Bergoglio is simply phenomenological. […] Ratzinger captures a sense of the congruity of philosophy and empirics in his 2004 essays in "Truth and Tolerance" when he argues the essential truth of the Torah by quoting the Apostle Paul:
"When the gentiles who do not have the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law (Roman 2:14-15)".
This is essentially a restatement of natural law. Yet it is not natural law as understood in syllogistic philosophical terms, nor in terms of positive law, but natural law as understood in a congruency between premise (which may be a deontic articulation of law as in the Decalogue) and empirics that witness to the coherence and integrity of a living witness. Such an integral approach is not the “desk bound theology” that Bergoglio decries in "Evangelii gaudium" (n. 133). Pope Francis is not always temperate in his expressions, but viewed methodologically his approach is congruent with a Ratzingerian perspective.
It is this manner of natural law approach to moral theology that is challenged by those who are unsettled by suggestions arising under Jorge Bergoglio for reconsideration of divorce and remarriage.
The more serious challenges are usually directed at Walter Kasper, rather than Pope Francis.
One of the first challenges came from Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, who in an EWTN interview of 20 March 2014 declared: “In my estimation as a canonist, I do not think it is possible… that the Church’s approach [on the matter of divorce and remarriage] can change”, and: “We’re talking about the very words of Christ himself in the Gospel in which he taught the indissolubility of marriage”.
The issues raised in this brief interview excerpt of Cardinal Burke make clear that the question of divorce and remarriage also traverses canon law, dogmatic theology, sacramental theology, and biblical theology. Granted that the issues are complex and range across a wide field, this brief interview points to a certain narrowness in response. Over the years, the canon law of the Church shows some amazing responses to pastoral anomalies. Just to name a few: solemn religious vows to God can be dispensed; those in holy orders can be “laicised” and contract valid marriages; Catholics who contracted invalid marriages can obtain retroactive validation; and those who contracted civil marriages with canonical irregularity can after civil divorce contract another marriage with ecclesial validity. Simply to say, “I do not think it is possible” seems unduly determinative in excluding further development across the range of considerations involved.
Even the reference to the dominical texts: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder”, and: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her” (Mark 10:9, 11), are cited in a deontic manner that seems to involve no hermeneutic. […] The inclusion of “except on the grounds of fornication [porneias]” in the first of the Matthean text on this topic (Matthew 5:31-32) may refer to “indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1, but may also capture something of matrimonial jurisprudence in the early Church. Certainly, the Pauline treatment makes clear that matrimonial jurisprudence was not simply a settled issue in the apostolic era (1 Corinthians 7:10-15). My purpose in these observations is not to diminish the received dominical teaching on the nature of marriage. It is to make clear that receiving this teaching still involves interpretative acts and reasoning, requires a "hermeneutics of continuity". […]
Nor does a noetic sacramental theology or moral theology close the issue, and Pope Francis is unlikely to be daunted by such attempts at closure or – in the expression of Joseph Ratzinger – to accept a view of orthodox theology as “merely repeating magisterial statements of doctrine and traditional formulae”. […] An impressive example of such argumentation is a lengthy article by John Corbett O.P. and seven collaborators as published in the Summer 2014 issue of "Nova et Vetera": “Recent Proposals for the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried”.
I find the scholarship of this article impressive in its reach and exactness. But it seems to me to typify the recall by Ratzinger of his seminary theology: “The crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made". Across the areas of sacramental theology, selected Church history, and magisterial documents, the authors are impressive in mounting arguments that are syllogistically tight, but less sure in terms of soundness. […]
Although it seems a harsh thing to say, it is as though Corbett and his collaborators have never sat in the confessional. […] In the confessional the heartbreaking stories of marriage failure largely do not focus on “uncleanness” of one kind or another. The main issues are things like lack of communication, sustained meanness, deep unkindnesses, on-going diminishment of the person by treating as a commodity or as a supplier of goods and services, and the deathliness of cohabitation that is not a marriage. […] A confessor’s understanding conveyed implicitly or conveyed in few words often leads to tearfulness by the penitents. And tears not so much tears of repentance and grief, as tears of relief that someone has listened with a sympathetic ear, and conveyed a sense of mercy as learned from Jesus.
Those mounting a contra-position to Cardinal Kasper are concerned about “false mercy”, and one should be concerned about mercy that is unjustly practised and falsely conceived. But mercy nevertheless must be at the heart of every action of the Church and the ministers of the Church. A small book of Cardinal Kasper bears the title: "Mercy: the essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian life". I am not here going to mount a critical appreciation of that work. But the fact is that Pope Francis acclaims: “This book has done me much good". […]
We have to seek the good in the proposals put by Kasper, and to respond searchingly and wisely to discover how we may be instruments of authentic mercy. […] My experience across the years leads me to observe that those who continue to practice the faith after civil divorce and civil remarriage are generally not the “serial monogamy” types, but are people who in phenomenological terms have experienced the death of a marriage. The marriage partner may still be alive, but the marriage not. […]
Those who look at the issue only in canonical terms and in terms of technical sacramental theology cannot accept the death of a marriage. Viewed from the contra-position to Kasper, narratives such as I recount from penitents are simply phenomenological statements, and not “reality” statements. From the contra-position, the celebration of the marriage contract effects an ontological change – just as the valid celebration of baptism effects an ontological change in the baptised person, and just as the valid celebration of the sacred mysteries effects an ontological change that is explained as transubstantiation.
This is a real quandary, because the Church has never dealt simply in phenomenological terms. In phenomenological terms, for example, Jesus was “son of Joseph”; and in phenomenological terms Jesus suffered a death that shattered all the hopes of those whom he chose as Apostles. The verities of Christian faith know otherwise. So, too, in phenomenological terms one may encounter enactments of a spouse or of spouses that are starkly in contradiction to what is professed of the matrimonial state. Those in the contra-position hold that the matrimonial state remains in the face of these violations and in the face of phenomenological death.
The very day after writing this section of this paper, I noticed the following in the 17 August 2014 address in Korea of Pope Francis to the Bishops of Asia:
"Then too, there is a [another] temptation: that of the apparent security to be found in hiding behind easy answers, ready formulas, rules and regulations. Jesus clashed with people who would hide behind laws, regulations and easy answers... He called them hypocrites. Faith by nature is not self-absorbed; it 'goes out'. It seeks understanding; it gives rise to testimony; it generates mission. In this sense, faith enables us to be both fearless and unassuming in our witness of hope and love. Saint Peter tells us that we should be ever ready to respond to all who ask the reason for the hope within us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). Our identity as Christians is ultimately seen in our quiet efforts to worship God alone, to love one another, to serve one another, and to show by our example not only what we believe, but also what we hope for, and the One in whom we put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:12)". […]
The fact remains that it is such closed-system perspectives that were challenged in a spearhead way when early in his consistory address Cardinal Kasper said:
"It is not enough to consider the problem only from the point of view and from the perspective of the Church as a sacramental institution. We need a paradigm change and we must… consider the situation also from the perspective of those who are suffering and asking for help".
In effect, Kasper is saying that a received paradigm of sacramental theology cannot be our sole paradigm for addressing complex situations that cannot be dealt with from this perspective. And in his interview published 7 May 2014 in "Commonweal" he said: “We have our own resources for finding a solution”.
It is not my purpose here to “find a solution” – that, among other things, is the challenge of the upcoming Synods of the Church and the Holy Father in communion with the whole Church. But I will say that it is arrogant and specious to speak dismissively of the Orthodox practice of oikonomia, “economy”, that may allow for a second non-sacramental marriage, after the manner of Cardinal Müller: “This practice [of oikonomia] cannot be reconciled with God’s will"; nor after the manner of Corbett and his collaborators. […]
I would also add that it is wrong for the contra-position to imply any correspondence between Anglican practice and Orthodox practice (Corbett). The collapse of Anglican marriage discipline is contemporary and has occurred within my ministerial lifetime. Orthodox matrimonial jurisprudence is long-standing and, although the world area of Orthodoxy is far smaller than that of Latin Catholicism, one does not need to engage in sophisticated demographic studies to observe that matrimony in Orthodoxy has displayed and continues to display a general stability that is being lost in Latin Catholicism. I am not proposing Orthodox practices as a panacea, but it seems to me evident that engaged conversation between Orthodox and Latin perspectives would be very helpful in the present conflictual circumstances.
It is engaged conversation that is needed. What Cardinal Kasper has said is not “the last word”. Our present Holy Father often speaks "ad libitum", and his words are only “last words” under restrictive circumstances. But such as Cardinal Burke and Father Corbett and his associates have endeavoured to give finality to words that are argumentative rather than conversing.
I began this paper in terms of the congruency between the methodologies of Ratzinger and Bergoglio. […] The following quote from "Evangelii gaudium" is an example of the manner of thinking of Pope Francis that is holistic, concrete, and pastoral:
"There… exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply 'are', whereas ideas are 'worked out'. There has to be a continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone… So [another] principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of wisdom" (n. 231).
The previous article from www.chiesa on this issue, with links to the main texts on the dispute:
And the essay in "Nova et Vetera" in which McGavin presents his arguments:
> Recent Proposals for the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried: A Theological Assessment (click)
In addition to John Corbett, the authors are six other Dominican Fathers: Andrew Hofer, Paul J. Keller, Dominic Langevin, Dominic Legge, Thomas Petri, and Thomas Joseph White, plus Professor Kurt Martens.
ROME, April 15, 2014 – From the dicastery heads of the Roman curia called to report at the beginning of this month of April, Pope Francis wanted to hear just one thing, summarized as follows in the official statement: "the reflections and reactions raised in the different dicasteries by the apostolic exhortation 'Evangelii Gaudium' and the perspectives opened for its implementation."
The fact that "Evangelii Gaudium" is essentially the action plan of the pontificate of Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now beyond all doubt.
But it is precisely for this reason that understanding it is so important. And at the same time so difficult. Because the form in which "Evangelii Gaudium" is written is not at all in keeping with the classical canons of the ecclesiastical magisterium, just like the everyday public discourse of Pope Francis.
In the analysis published as an exclusive below, Paul-Anthony McGavin maintains that Francis shuns abstractions, prohibits what he calls "cold syllogisms," and instead loves thinking and action that are "holistic," or all-encompassing. And he shows how precisely this is the novelty of method in "Evangelii Gaudium."
McGavin is a 70-year-old Australian priest of the diocese of Canberra and Goulburn and an ecclesiastical assistant at the University of Canberra. In 2010 he published in "L'Osservatore Romano" an equally extensive and in-depth commentary on the encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" of Benedict XVI.
In Pope Francis - McGavin writes - "we encounter a mind that is grounded in a pastoral empiricism . . . that integrates concrete circumstances within a structured and fundamental understanding of the Gospel."
But McGavin himself acknowledges that this "unfragmented" mentality exposes the pope to substantial risks of misunderstanding. Especially when some of his statements are taken by the media as self-contained aphorisms and turned into comprehensive keys of interpretation for the current pontificate.
Two recent examples are proof of this misunderstanding.
Over the span of 36 hours, between Thursday the 10th and Friday the 11th of April, Pope Francis lashed out - and not for the first time - against the "dictatorship of uniform thought" that suppresses "the freedom of nations, the freedom of the people, freedom of conscience."
He then forcefully defended "the right of children to grow up in a family with a dad and a mom, in relation to the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother, thus preparing affective maturity."
He furthermore expressed the toughest of views on "the horrors of educational manipulation" that "with the pretense of modernity pushes children and young people to walk the dictatorial path of the single form of thought." And he added the testimony of a "great educator" who had told him a few days earlier, referring to concrete projects of education: "At times one cannot tell with these projects if one is sending a child to school or to a reeducation camp."
And finally he reiterated his opposition to the killing of all "unborn life in the mother's womb," citing the summary judgment of Vatican Council II: "Abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes."
The references to events, to laws, to judicial decisions, to opinion campaigns attributable to "gender" ideology, in the news recently in Italy, France, and other countries, were transparent in the words of Pope Francis.
But in the media in general his warnings had practically no impact. As if they were a pure abstraction, with no influence on reality and foreign to any judgment. Because the key to explaining everything - in the media's narration of Pope Francis - is by now the "who am I to judge?" spoken by the pope for the first time during the press conference on the return flight from Rio de Janeiro and a second time in the interview with "La Civiltà Cattolica," in reference to the homosexual who "is of good will and is in search of God."
The second example shows how a distorted and extensive use of the "who am I to judge?" has also made a breach in the Church, and even in some who should have been reliable interpreters of Pope Francis's thinking.
On April 1, at a crowded public conference in Rome, the director of "La Civiltà Cattolica" and the pope's interviewer, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, said:
"If it had not been for Pope Francis it would not have been easy to baptize a baby girl born to a lesbian couple."
The Jesuit was referring to the baptism announced with great fanfare and then administered on April 5 in Argentina, in the cathedral of Córdoba, of the little daughter of a woman united in a civil "marriage" with another woman, both present at the rite as "mothers" and assisted by President Cristina Kirchner as "godmother."
But if this, according to Fr. Spadaro, was the happy news fostered by Pope Francis, it must be said that there is nothing new but rather something very old and traditional in the baptism of a newborn girl, however she may have come into the world. Only a few progressive and anti-Constantinian Catholic currents are against the age-old practice of infant baptism.
The news, for the Church, was instead in all the rest of the highly touted ceremony in Córdoba. Where everything - from the unnatural "family," to the two "mothers," to the "godmother" Kirchner who was an active proponent of the law that allowed the two to be united in "marriage," to the concealed biological father of the newborn girl - spoke of complete submission to that "single form of thought" so staunchly opposed by Pope Francis.
WHAT’S NEW IN "EVANGELII GAUDIUM"?
by Paul-Anthony McGavin
Pope Francis has attracted wide media attention with his one-line remarks and magazine style interviews. The popular press has largely lauded his remarks, hearing what they want to hear, propagating what they want to hear, and not hearing his refrain: “I am a son of the Church.”
"Evangelii gaudium" is the first extended and considered literary statement that encompasses much of what the Holy Father has been saying in oral formats. What I intend to show is that what is new in "Evangelii gaudium" is what I call method, the manner of thinking and reasoning.
Pope Francis does not present himself as a scholar, and his simple conversational one-line remarks are often made with unvarnished language. What becomes evident in "Evangelii gaudium" is that he nevertheless has refined intellectuality. The manner in which he thinks is sophisticated and has a distinct method or methodology that may be seen in "Evangelii gaudium". This method is not new. What is new is the simplicity and clarity of its statement.
The irony, however, is that his method is at once simple and complex.
It is simple because it is straightforward. It is simple because there is constant reference to concrete situations, rather than to abstractions that cover all or various situations.
It is complex because it is situated in a cluster of understandings. The Pope’s oft-quoted single-line remarks in fact situate in a mind that sees a cluster of understandings, and not just single-line perspectives that call upon the mentality that we find in syllogistic logic. Pope Francis is a system thinker.
To say “a system thinker” seems abstruse, when Pope Francis is not an abstruse man. To use a different idiom, Pope Francis tends to think “holistically”. He tends to locate the questions with which he deals in view of a whole understanding of the work of God in Christ (the Gospel, "Evangelium"), and that whole understanding in the varieties of situations that are evoked. That is, in the concrete circumstances where he is considering the reception and living out of what God has done and is doing in the Church. His thought is always situated pastorally, rather than abstractly. Yet, however, he sees and thinks through the issues that engage his focus in a whole-view way that is complex.
Let’s look at an example of this from "Evangelii gaudium":
"There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply “are”, whereas ideas are “worked out”. There has to be a continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone… So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of wisdom" (n. 231).
One could get hung-up on the rather wide-sweeping list of examples that closes this excerpt, a diverse list that includes things that are likely to provoke an “Ouch!” in most readers. Rather, our attention should focus on the distinction between ideas and realities.
The Pope proposes that ideas are constructed or “worked out”, whereas realities simply “are”. In strict terms, his dichotomization may be questioned, because the subject must perceptually focus on “realities”, must engage an epistemology in order to comprehend the “reality” – just as the subject must engage an epistemology in order to give mental form to something that is noetic, to “ideas”. But introducing such strict philosophical and psychological issues would deflect from the central point that the Pope is making.
His focus is that there is a tension between the conceptual world and the practical world, and that this tension calls us to dialogue. This is an example of what I have named as at once simple and complex. People can readily grasp that there is often a disjunction between the world of ideas and the world of realities. It is a simple proposition. But once this perspective is engaged, it leads to complexity. This could be the complexity of conflict, or of pathways toward a resolution. The Pope proposes the latter, he proposes dialogue that typically is complex and culturally situated.
Just think how complex it is to moderate the position of someone who has constructed an asceticism that is non-incarnational (“angelicism”); or to moderate the position of someone who sees the whole moral order as self-defined (the “dictatorships of relativism”); or to moderate the position of someone whose position stands outside historical understandings of God’s providence in the world (an “a-historical version of Christianity”), to mention just three of the Pope’s examples.
The Pope comes down on the side of “realities”, saying that “realities are greater than ideas”. This would seem at odds with his emphasis on tension and on dialogue. But it is not really a departure from the points of tension and dialogue. It is an approach that proceeds from the Gospel as first rooted in “realities”, rather than in “ideas”.
The Gospel first involves the “realities” – the facts – of Our Lord’s incarnation, his earthly life, his passion, his resurrection, and his ascension. That is, the Gospel first involves the facts of God’s action in Christ. "He is Risen!" is not first the proclamation of an idea, but of a fact, an experienced fact (n. 7, quoting "Deus Caritas est," 217). The Gospel is predicated upon witness: "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1). The astonishing power of the Christian idea is that it articulates the realities of historical acts as encountered by witnesses.
It is this “reality” that precedes “ideas” in the Christian scheme of things. For the Christian – and using just three of the Pope’s examples – sin is a reality; salvation in Christ is a reality; injustices are a reality (of course, many mistakenly think injustices as perceptual rather than objective, but I do not speak to that); unkindnesses are a reality (although of course misguided sensibilities may wrongly attribute unkindness). In each of these three examples, one can see dangers in detaching from empirical matter-of-factness the notions of sin, injustice, or unkindness: “It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone…” (n. 231).
These reduced-form remarks of the Pope are situated in a comprehensive perspective, in a holistic perspective that is undergirded by a fundamental experience of and appreciation of the Gospel. It is a perspective that is at once simple and complex. It is a perspective that engages dialogue. It is a perspective that unmasks conceits of one kind or another (whether conceits of an artifice of religiosity or of a humanist relativism). The “rejecting the various means of masking reality” (n. 231) may seem a harsh turn of phrase, and here I would turn to the non-textual image of the body language of Pope Francis (n. 140): he can hardly keep a closed body posture; it constantly is open; the typical gesture is toward a meeting, toward a conversation, dialogue. Again taking up the text portion, it is a dialogue of truthfulness, and truthfulness that encounters matter-of-factness.
One sees in this example that the direction of the Holy Father’s manner of thinking and acting is not what I call single-line. He is not grabbed by single-line propositions (“cold syllogisms”, n. 142). His tendency is to thought and action that is holistic – toward a whole understanding of the Gospel, and to the grounding of that whole understanding in matter-of-fact circumstances that avoid abstractions. He is not drawn to a “desk-bound theology” (n. 133). His instinct is toward a pastoral theology.
The pastoral theology focus of Pope Francis may be illustrated with two other key quotations:
"Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed" (n. 35). "It needs first to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained" (n. 38).
Again in these small quotes we see an implicit holistic grasp of the Gospel; again we see that the significances of aspects of the proclamation or of corollaries of the proclamation are situated in a whole that gives them proportion. What the Pope presents derives from systemic understanding. This is not intellectualist systematizing, but systemic understanding that is grounded in pastoral experience.
The Pope will be misunderstood if his various utterances (particularly those that grab the media as “sound bites”) are taken as one-line dictums, for the Pope’s mind is not a fragmented one. In Pope Francis we encounter a mind that is grounded in a pastoral empiricism, but an empiricism that is in whole-system dialogue with the foundations of Catholic faith that integrates concrete circumstances within a structured and fundamental understanding of the Gospel.
This is not to say that in each and every respect this integration is perfect. An Apostolic Exhortation forms part of magisterial teaching, but it is not unreformable. Pope Francis retains an Argentine passport, and his larger cultural situation is Latin America. And Latin America and Central America are without exception comprised of nations that are marked with poverty and political instability. His own perspective on this (his own “take”) is rather “culturally formed” – it is formed experientially, rather than conceptually. In brief, Pope Francis is not a social scientist, and does not bring a social science understanding of the poverty and political instability of his cultural background. One could hear him say, understanding has to begin “with realities”, not “with ideas”. Yet the “facts” are that about a century ago, Argentine and Australia had similar configurations of economy and society, but now Australia is materially more advanced, and is more equalitarian and with relatively little poverty. I regard the reasons for this divergence between Australia and Argentine (my home and the Pope’s home) as mainly “cultural” – and cultural divergences that reflect rather different conceptualizations (“ideas”) of economy and civil society.
I am not about to launch into an excursus on economy and society. I make these remarks to underscore that everything said in "Evangelii gaudium" is not said with equal robustness. There are points where as both a social scientist and a theologian I have heavily annotated "Evangelii gaudium" in a qualifying ways (particularly nn. 48-50 and 144-147, and 152f). But even within sections so annotated, one still finds restatement of the central thesis of Pope Francis. For example:
"Why complicate something so simple [as in biblical calls to almsgiving]? Conceptual tools [such as economic theories] exist to heighten contact with the realities they seek to explain, not to distance us from them [and to dampen direct action to alleviate poverty]" (n. 194).
One can see in this compressed exclamation, the urgency of the Pope’s call to grounded theorizing that is consistent with the generalizations that I earlier made. But in its textual context one can see a perspective that is not well informed in social science terms (nor perhaps in biblical terms if the perspective in Lukan parables is taken a paradigm).
This suggests that in reading "Evangelii gaudium" we should engage in “conversation”, in dialogue (nn. 31, 133, 137, 142, 165). That is, we should not engage the text as “the last word”, but try to enter the tensions in the text in a conversational manner that moderates positions.
Much in the Exhortation reflects personal positions of the Pope (his “personality”) and his Latin American culture (and a principle of cultural groundedness is crucial to his paradigm: see nn. 115, 123, 132f). His readers will have differing personalities and differing cultural perspectives. The strong contribution of "Evangelii gaudium" is the way it demonstrates a holistic method that has diverse applications for living and communicating the joy of the Gospel. Whether concerning issues of economy and society and social science understanding; or with issues of liturgical inheritance and contemporary expression; or with tangled issues of moral discernment; or with tangled issues of giving a good account in particular situations of the faith of the Church – we need to find both simplicity and complexity that involve tension and that call to sympathetic dialogue.
This is a call to charity, and "charity covers a multitude of sins" (James 5:20). The Exhortation of Pope Francis is, indeed, a call to charity and to joy – joy in the Gospel, "Evangelii gaudium".