These days it seems like we are “all Amoris laetitia all the time”. That’s because the document has stirred great confusion. The confusion has resulted even in contrary interpretation on the part of conferences of bishops, no less, about whether people who are committing objectively grave mortal sins can, without firm purposes of amendment, be admitted to Holy Communion. It is no wonder that confusion rises, since it concerns something taught by Our Lord Himself and which is confirmed in the Deposit of Faith through the centuries to our own day.
As controversy grows, so do pleas for clear explanations.
We have a long history in this our Church. We have been around the block. The experiences of our forebears ought to instruct us, who are coping with confusing circumstances.
Was it Edmund Burke who said that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it? It might have been George Satayana. Could be that we are repeating now, something that we have been through before?
Look at the increasingly valuable Crisis, where Fr. Regis Scanlon, OFM Cap, has a useful study of a time of confusion resulting both from a Pope’s teaching and – this is key – that same Pope’s refusal to clarify what he meant when he was urgently asked to do so.
Here are some samples so you can get the drift of it. My emphases and comments:
What History May Tell Us About Amoris Laetitia
[A] similar situation of great confusion happened 1,500 years ago during the papal reign of Honorius I (625-638).
Honorius was pressured to react to a popular heresy Monothelitism, which held that Jesus Christ possessed only one will naturally. But the Church teaches that Jesus Christ has two inseparable but distinct wills or two distinct operations naturally. However, the Church also teaches there is only one will and one operation in Christ morally. In other words, there is no opposition between the two wills and two operations in Christ.
Although Honorius believed the Church’s true teaching, he wanted to avoid trouble in the Church and offending the Monothelitites, one of whom was the Emperor Heraclius. Similar to today, bishops wanted clarification, but Honorius counseled silence. He advised bishop Sergius saying:
That our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God, by whom all things were made, is Himself one, operating divine and human things, the sacred writings plainly show. Whether, however, on account of the works of the Humanity and Divinity, one or two operations ought to be proclaimed and understood, these things do not belong to us; let us leave them to the grammarians, who are accustomed to display to the young their choice derivations of words…. [Sounds rather familiar in style, no?] We exhort your Fraternity to preach with us, as we do with one mind with you, in orthodox faith and Catholic unity,—avoiding the use of the introduced terms, one or two operations—that there is one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, most true God in two Natures, operating divinely and humanly.
Note that the Pope said, “…these things do not belong to us; let us leave them to the grammarians…” The Pope thought that the truth was plain enough and the Church didn’t need to clarify it further with terms, like two operations and two wills.
About 40 years after Honorius died, however, the Sixth General Church Council condemned the fact that Honorius had remained silent. Pope Leo II, [St. Leo II] the successor to Pope Agatho, accepted this condemnation with some qualification. In his confirmatory epistle sent to Constantine Pogonatus, Leo II stated:
We also anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, bishop of Pharan, Cyrus of Alexandria, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter, ensnarers, rather than guides, of the church of Constantinople; and also Honorius, who did not illumine this Apostolic Church with the doctrine of the Apostolic tradition, but allowed it, while immaculate, to be stained by profane betrayal.
And, in his epistle to the bishops of Spain, Pope Leo II also stated:
Those, however, who contended against the purity of Apostolic doctrine, departing, have indeed been visited with eternal condemnation; that is, Theodore of Pharan, Cyrus of Alexandria, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter, Constantinopolitans; with Honorius who did not extinguish the incipient flame of heretical dogma, as befitted Apostolic authority, but, by neglect, nourished it.
Therefore, Honorius’s decision was condemned—not because he actively preached falsehood or heresy—but because he “neglected” teaching the truth. As Pope Leo II pointed out, even during the silence of Honorius, the apostolic tradition and teaching remained untouched and “immaculate.”
This ancient case helps us to relate to Amoris Laetitia. After all, Pope Francis has remained silent, apparently allowing his bishops to judge the meaning of the document for themselves without his help in the face of calls for clarity amidst confusion and anguish. Actually, while Honorius’s silence affected the doctrine of the faith (theory), Pope Francis’ actions are even more serious since his silence pertains to moral acts (practice) which more directly and rapidly affect the people.
So, why does Pope Francis remain silent?
As of today, we do not know, and this is why we must be careful. While we can advise, plead, and complain to the pope (like St. Catherine Siena) about his actions and lack of action, we cannot officially judge him. Only a pope can judge a pope, which is not the same thing as fellow archbishops and cardinals exercising their authority to correct false statements. Pope Francis and his Amoris Laetitia will certainly be judged by a later pope. Will he receive a better judgment than Honorius? Only God knows. But we do not know everything. There may be reasons unknown to us why Pope Francis is refusing to settle the dispute. And, when all is said and done, he may receive a better and more favorable judgment from future popes than Honorius received.
Scanlon also gives a good explanation of how seriously wrong the Bishops of Malta are in their document about how to implement Amoris laetitia Chapter 8.
We all suffer from the effects of Original Sin. Our intellects and wills are weakened. However, we have the help of both authority (the teaching of the Church, the lessons of the past, etc) and of grace, procured through humble prayers.
Pray. Study and pray.
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