Pope Francis and “doctors of the law”

Here is an interesting contrast.

First, a snip from an off-the-cuff, non-Magisterial remark of Pope Francis during a daily homily.  Note his disparaging words about “doctors of the law”.

Hmmm… it seems to me that there is something missing.  Of course these are only off-the-cuff remarks that have no magisterial weight whatsoever and no preacher can be expected in a short time to hit every possible point.   But it seems to me that he has set up a straw man: who the heck are these “doctors of the law” whom he has been disparaging with some frequency?  I think he means those who argue that people who are divorced and civilly remarried should not be admitted to Holy Communion because they are objectively living in a state that is inconsistent with our understanding of the Eucharist.

Next, let’s review Benedict XVI’s Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, which has teaching about the Eucharist and marriage.

The Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage

29. If the Eucharist expresses the irrevocable nature of God’s love in Christ for his Church, we can then understand why it implies, with regard to the sacrament of Matrimony, that indissolubility to which all true love necessarily aspires. There was good reason for the pastoral attention that the Synod gave to the painful situations experienced by some of the faithful who, having celebrated the sacrament of Matrimony, then divorced and remarried. This represents a complex and troubling pastoral problem, a real scourge for contemporary society, and one which increasingly affects the Catholic community as well. The Church’s pastors, out of love for the truth, are obliged to discern different situations carefully, in order to be able to offer appropriate spiritual guidance to the faithful involved. [NB] The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist. Yet [here we go] the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, [and] listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.

You see?  It doesn’t have to be a choice between “come to Mass and receive Communion anyway” and “don’t come to Mass if you can’t receive Communion”.   Another option, and one that Francis didn’t choose to mention when attacking “doctors of the law”, is as described, above, by his predecessor Benedict in what clearly is a magisterial document.

We have to ask ourselves the questions:

Is it nothing to go to Holy Mass and not receive Communion?

Do we get nothing out of Mass unless we receive Holy Communion?

It seems to me that the near mania to have everyone receive at every possible opportunity has created an unhealthy expectation that, in turn, has fogged our understanding of what the Eucharist is.

People who are not properly disposed to receive Communion (because, for example, they are living in an ongoing adulterous relationship) nevertheless still can participate in the life of the Church in many ways, as Benedict XVI (and that previous Synod) pointed out.

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  1. DisturbedMary says:

    Oh dear. I think I may be a “doctor of the law.” Shall I confess that? Bless me Father for I have sinned. I’m unmerciful. I’m a doctor of the law. Should I firmly resolve to get a doctorate in mercy?

  2. LarryW2LJ says:

    I go to Mass every Sunday, I don’t receive Holy Communion when I feel that I have committed a sin which would prohibit me from doing so. Although I do realize that I am “missing out” because of that, I also realize that I would be putting my soul in even greater peril if I received unworthily.

    Do I feel that going to Mass was useless in that case? No, I was still in God’s presence and attending Mass made me want to go to Confession at the next opportunity all that much more. In addition, I was able to listen to the Word of God, I was able to pray – surely those are not worthless activities.

    Lastly, by going to Mass, I was able to help fulfill my observance of the Third Commandment. Doesn’t THAT count for something, or have we become so blase` about that one, too?

  3. anilwang says:

    Is it nothing to go to Holy Mass and not receive Communion?

    Unfortunately, Vatican II has so elevated the Eucharist, many masses are so banal that this is precisely what many people believe. Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox have an extremely high view of the liturgy since it is the work that brings heaven and earth together. The icons on the walls remind us that at each Divine Liturgy, the angels and saints are present in this holy work. Even if you do not receive the Holy Eucharist, you are still part of this drama of salvation.

    That’s not the way it’s viewed for most Western Catholics today. When faced with the complaint by nominal Catholics that “I’m not being fed”, the response from knowledgeable well meaning Catholics has been without exception “What do you mean you’re not being fed. You receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Unlike Protestants, even if the homily and music are bad the mass is still worth it if you receive the Eucharist”. That’s true, but it minimizes the importance of the mass itself and implies that there’s no value in going if you can’t even receive the Eucharist.

    The Eucharist has also become a mark of Catholic Identity and a mark of fellowship. Not to partake is to essentially declare that one is not Catholic. Again in the East (and early Latin Church), the mark of fellowship is not only the Eucharist. There’s also blessed bread after the Divine Liturgy, which can be received even by Protestants since it is only a sacramental not a sacrament. IMO, if the Latin Church re-adopted this practice (see Vatican II’s ressourcement), the pressure for everyone to get the Eucharist (even if we have to ignore 2000 years of Church Teaching) would be greatly diminished and perhaps we can return to proper reverence for the Eucharist.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    But Pope Francis just said in his Spanish language Vatican Radio interview that it is stupid to just give the divorced “in a second union” Communion, that it doesn’t solve the problem, and that the divorced “in a second union” can’t just take Communion like it’s a prize ribbon. They have to “reintegrate” themselves, and the Church needs to catechize people so they’ll know what the Chuch teaches.

    He did seem to feel that we need to change the rules on who can be godparents to include the divorced and remarried who are repentant, but it also seemed that he wanted to toughen those rules against other scandalous public sinners. (His example was a Mafioso godfather, so I guess he had been watching movies.)

  5. Odin777 says:

    It actually frustrates me at Mass to see 99% of those attending receiving the Eucharist….only because I cannot help but wonder how many have not received Reconciliation in some time ans are living in a state of mortal sin. I myself struggle greatly with many demons (this judgement included) and frequently abstain from communion because of the sacrilege I know I would be performing on receiving. I feel that priests…especially in the parishes I attend never discuss the proper state one must be in to receive the Eucharist….we need more education from the pulpit and less “here’s a fun story.”

  6. iteadthomam says:

    He is essentially saying that the Catholic practice for nearly 2000 years has been destructive and pharisaical.

    The Church does not close it’s doors on these people and say you can only come to mass and that’s it. The church makes the sacrament of confession available to these people.

  7. re your concluding point:
    I think we’re about due for a homily wherein Pope Francis exhorts listeners to go to Mass but not receive communion if they’re not in the state of grace. :P
    After all the “rabbits” incident dovetails nicely with his words to the West to stop having pets and have children instead. Who’d have thunk we’d have a pontiff trying to be “all things to all people” (though I’m not sure that’s what St. Paul had in mind…)

  8. Didacus says:

    Maybe this is too much wishful thinking, but I see a way to read Pope Francis’ words in conformity with what our dear Pope Benedict explained. Firstly, Pope Francis condemns the negative attitude of not receiving in church people who have sinned. We can all agree that the divorced and remarried have a place in church – thus, the doors have to be open for prayer, conversation, brotherhood. Secondly, by condemning this attitude, he talks of the “you may not…” or “if you want to come to church on Sunday, just sit there” situations (which are common), and I do not think that from this it immediately follows Holy Communion. As Fr. Z rightly pointed out by quoting Pope Benedict, there is room for a bigger engagement in church life of sinners who are not to approach Holy Communion. Pope Benedict was quite precise: “the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.” Why can not Pope Francis just be saying that he wants people to put Benedict’s words into practice?

  9. dans0622 says:

    It’s times like this, and statements like these, that make me content with my J.C.L. Nobody will ever think to criticize the “licensed in law.” In seriousness, I doubt the Pope was actually thinking of degreed lawyers but the people in the pew who spend too much time minding other people’s business. But, then again…who knows what he was thinking. To your commentary, Father, this admonition to Catholics living in irregular marital relationships goes back to Familiaris consortio, n. 84. If it is true that many Catholics are unaware of the duties, and rights, of Catholics in irregular relationships, maybe the Pope’s comments could be helpful. He could have referred, in that case, to these words of his predecessor or to the words of St. John Paul II.

  10. barre218 says:

    I agree, Odin. We need more people to understand that we don’t simply “get” Holy Communion, but that it’s the marriage feast of the Lamb. We’re giving ourselves to Jesus, the bridegroom when we receive. Parish priests need to make it so their parishioners more aware of this, so there is, in turn, less sacrilege and harm to souls. “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 9:7 We all have to make ourselves ready to “feast.”

  11. Amerikaner says:

    The pendulum swings.

    Jansenism Kasperism

  12. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:


  13. McCall1981 says:

    Could you please post a link to the interview you mentioned?

  14. Supertradmum says:

    I am thankful the Pope is not saying these things ex cathedra…sigh.

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: clip — It sounds like the greater context was Luke 11:52 — “Woe to you lawyers, for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves have not entered in [to knowledge], and those who were entering in, you have hindered.” So in that case, he’d be arguing for more catechesis for repentant people. And if anybody’s been busy taking away the key of knowledge, it’s been the liberals over the last fifty years….

    Re: really long Vatican Radio interview this week —

    Hooboy, it’s an hour and 25 minutes long, and it goes all over the place. Various Spanish-language publications linked to a transcript and the audio file, but here it is at Entrevisa.

    Here’s some translations of various parts of interest, over at the Catholic Answers Forums. The Pope says a lot of stuff here that seems to represent his mind more clearly. Listening to his tone of voice might help too.

    I haven’t been able to source his unusual patristics quote (which he gave in a slightly different form back in 2013 also), as it seems to come from Giovanni Papini, an Italian writer who died in 1956, and not from one of the Fathers at all. The closest I can get to patristics is a Marcus Aurelius quote that gold and silver are “excrementum terrae,” just like Tyrian purple is shellfish blood, and other valuable things are equally meaningless at base.

  16. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Er, sorry about leaving out the second link. Here are some translations of various parts of interest, over at the Catholic Answers Forums.

    And I do want to know more about this Servant of God Enrique Shaw, since there aren’t many military guys or businessmen with a cause for sainthood, especially coming out of Argentina.

  17. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “…off-the-cuff remarks … have no magisterial weight whatsoever …” I would touch that point more slenderly. First, these aren’t off-the-cuff, [Ummm… yes. They are. Have you seen the videos?] second, their repetition suggests more than passing papal fancies. [People repeat their fancies all the time.] We not up to encyclical here, but addresses made by popes in liturgical settings, knowing they will be sent ’round the world, are NOT nothing. For better or worse. [No, they are not nothing. They are also not magisterial.]

  18. ChrisRawlings says:

    I think you are assuming far too much.

  19. de_cupertino says:

    A number of parishes near me have “communion services” on days a priest isn’t available. (These communion services are scheduled and posted on their website.) It seems people would rather go to their familiar building where they can receive communion than get themselves to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (not hard; we’re in a large metro area).

    When did these communion services come about? Is there an official “rite” for them? They definitely contribute to this mentality people having the right to get “the wafer,” no matter the sin or circumstance.

  20. SanSan says:

    What’s the big deal about receiving Communion? Many who receive now don’t believe that it’s the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ anyway–bringing condemnation upon themselves. Many divorced and remarried do it all the time, along with other unrepentant sinners. Oh I get it, if the Church would just change every doctrine then no one would feel convicted and ashamed.

  21. Priam1184 says:

    As another poster stated above: the Church also offers the Sacrament of Confession. Maybe people should start making THAT point more often.

    I know they won’t do it because we are living such a hypersexualized culture, but there is more to married life, and heck to life in general, than sex. If your marriage is broken and won’t be fixed and you have found someone to be with who will provide a secure life for yourself and your children then strive to live without sex. THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN SEX PEOPLE. Then you can be in full communion with the Church. And if you screw up and give in to temptation (and we are all human) then there is Confession for that.

  22. Grumpy Beggar says:

    I was initially under the same impression as Suburbanbanshee was – that the clip might be applicable to “Woe to you lawyers. . . ”

    But as I started to trace it back a little, that particular theory seemed to hold less and less water; borne out by the fact that it was a slice from Pope Francis’ homily, and taking into consideration we’re all supposed to be on the same page of the Liturgical Calendar. The homily was said to be delivered on the 17 of March 2015 – and that Gospel theme invariably focuses on the paralytic at the pool of Beth-esda (or Bethsaida, or Beth-zatha – [whichever way you prefer to misspell it] ).

    I wrote out the transcripts for the clip so I could have a look at them, and later discovered them also to be written out on the original website – where they also, quite helpfully, provide a transcript of the translation of Pope Francis’ entire homily (which isn’t very much longer)

    While the entire homily still doesn’t identify precisely who or whom those are who purportedly possess/exhibit a “doctors of the law mentality” , the added context does at least give us a hint as to where the Holy Father is going with this and he ties it back into the theme of Jesus and the paralytic.
    Ensuing are:
    1. Transcripts of the clip we saw, which includes both commentator remarks and Pope Francis’ homily excerpts.
    2. Transcripts of the entire homily – courtesy of RomeReports.com with a link


    Commentator :”In his homily at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis spoke again about mercy. He said that often Christians close the Church’s doors to those who are trying to improve themselves.”

    Pope Francis:
    “And how many times in Christian communities today will they find closed doors! ‘But you cannot, no, you cannot. You have sinned and you cannot. If you want to come, come to Mass on Sunday, but that’s it – that’s all you can do.’ So, what the Holy Spirit creates in the hearts of people, those Christians with their ‘doctors of the law’ mentality, destroy.”

    Commentator: “That attitude will ’cause a lot of pain’ said the Pope. He added that ‘the Church always has its doors open.'”

    2. Entire Homily , Courtesy of RomeReports.com

    (Source: Vatican Radio)

    “A man – a woman – who feels sick in the soul, sad, who made many mistakes in life, at a certain time feels that the waters are moving – the Holy Spirit is moving something – or they hear a word or … ‘Ah, I want to go!’ … And they gather up their courage and go. And how many times in Christian communities today will they find closed doors! ‘But you cannot, no, you cannot. You have sinned and you cannot. If you want to come, come to Mass on Sunday, but that’s it – that’s all you can do.’ So, what the Holy Spirit creates in the hearts of people, those Christians with their ‘doctors of the law’ mentality, destroy.”

    “It’s Jesus’ home and Jesus welcomes [all]. But not only does He welcome, He goes out to see people just as He went out to find this man. And if people are hurt, what does Jesus do? Scold them because they are hurt? No, He comes and He carries them on His shoulders. And this is called mercy. And when God rebukes his people – ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice!’ – He’s talking about this.”

    “We call today on the Lord in the Mass for us, for each of us and for the whole Church, a conversion to Jesus, a conversion to Jesus, a conversion to the mercy of Jesus. And so the Law will be fully accomplished, because the Law is to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.”

    Having a little more complete source lends some context and transition. However (only in my limited opinion) when we start talking in the abstract and only make vague reference using expressions such as “You can come to Church, but you can’t receive Holy Communion” – without applying these words to concrete examples, to clarify or illustrate the point, – sure , the Church has its doors open , but the doors equally remain open to misinterpretation. In this media-manipulated world we live in today (that peddles a tainted , twisted truth) . . . some might venture to argue that misinterpretation’s doors are open “even wider

  23. KatieL56 says:

    I’ve been trying NOT to see the Holy Father’s remarks as referring to the divorced and remarried, implying that ‘people’ have been ‘legalistic’, etc.

    I mean, I live near Vermont (the least religious state in the nation) and I live in a diocese that until recently was well known to be ‘progressive’. . . probably MOST of the people who attend Mass here, and there aren’t all that many, ARE in second (or even third) marriages, or cohabitating, and guess what? Nobody’s looking ‘down their nose’, nobody’s ‘keeping them’ from being part of the parish. WHERE are these places that the Holy Father seems to be hearing about where the priests are so ‘rigid’ and ‘dogmatic’ and the people are so ‘tied up in rules?’ It’s been forty YEARS and more in my life where I have lived through just about every possible innovation, wreckovation, inclusive, diversified, ‘welcoming’, multicultural, ‘lost in the 70s’ Mass that one could THINK of. Except for a couple of halcyon years when I was in Virginia, before returning to raise my grandchildren here in Terra Infirma, I have never, NEVER attended a Mass where the priest ‘said the red and did the black’, where there was any mention of the Four Last Things, where we weren’t told to back off on teaching anything ‘hurtful’ to anyone in any possible ‘irregular situation’, where NOBODY ever SINNED and we ‘gathered’ for the ‘meal’ to celebrate wonderful wonderful us. . . Rules? We never had no stinkin’ rules! Rubrics? What dat? Condemnation and traditionalism? Those went out with the 60s!! And from what I’ve read, they weren’t living all that time in Argentina. . .or Italy. . .or the US. . . And since this is so different from my long experience, I just have to wonder WHERE ON EARTH all these legalistic people and their hide-bound rules WERE!!!

  24. TNCath says:

    It sounds to me that this “doctors of the law” quip was a direct reference and slam to Cardinal Burke, the former head “doctor of the law” of the Church. While I am no “doctor of the law,” I can read the Catechism as clearly as the Pope can.

  25. ChristsFaithfulWitness says:

    Hard to see the words of that video with all the advertising. But “doctors of the law” — any of us can be that. Judge not lest ye be judged. But could it be the Holy Father is talking about those good conservative priests who withhold Baptism from the dying because they are too sick to go through RCIA, and they feel trapped in a technicality? Could he be talking about those good hearted priests, finding the poor across the street bring them food and clothing for 20 years, and never ever invite them to Mass, never even discover they are a lapsed Catholic. What about the woman sitting on a bench next to a sick person, and she doesn’t even bother to say hello? Or smile? Because the person is a little disheveled, or not her type. Your neighbor’s spouse dies, and you don’t make a condolence call because you are too busy. Heavens, I went to the nursing home regularly with the Junior Legion of Mary, and we visited all the Catholics. But one of them had a roommate, and we didn’t approach her because she wasn’t on our list. I guess we thought she was Protestant and didn’t want to be bothered. But one day I spoke to her (a black woman), and she said to me, “I know who you are. You come here every Friday night to visit. But you HAVE NEVER VISITED ME.” I learned something at that moment. I was the “doctor of the law.” I was to visit Catholic sick and I did. That woman never thought once, “Thank God those Catholics don’t bother me.” She didn’t know we were Catholic. She just thought we were racist because she was black and the Catholic lady was white. And we only visited her roommate. Christ isn’t Catholic. He founded the Catholic Church, but good men who love God and obey the commandments, but who aren’t Catholic, are acceptable to Him. God is the Father of all mankind. To recognize that takes love. God bless you. Susan Fox http://www.christsfaithfulwitness.com

  26. cajunpower says:

    It’s so interesting to me that appeals to mercy are made in favor of admitting the divorced and remarried to Eucharistic communion, when Christ himself said that Moses only permitted divorce because of the “hardness of your hearts.” So wouldn’t those who clamor for the legitimization of divorce be “hard of heart,” as opposed to those who follow the express teaching of Christ?

    I’m further intrigued by those who claim that the Church’s teaching relative to divorce (based on Christ’s own explicit words) is too hard. The argument further provides that if this teaching is too hard, then God, in his loving mercy, will not hold us to it. But Christ himself allowed some of his followers to desert him when they found his teachings on the Eucharist “too hard,” and then asked his disciples if they too would leave him. So why would the Church change its doctrine (or ignore its doctrine for the sake of pastoral sensitivity) in order that people feel welcome, when Christ himself held fast against public opinion?

    Finally, my interest was piqued by a certain analogy that Michael Sean Winters used in his article of yesterday (discussed on this blog), wherein he cited Christ driving the money changers from the temple as an example of the kind of “revolutionary change” that prefigures the admission of the divorced and remarried to Eucharistic communion. Apparently, Christ violently forcing people who were taking advantage of widows and dealing in graven images from the temple may be cited in support of the argument that adulterers need not amend their lives. Mr. Winters then cited the “proposal of the prodigal’s father” as an additional example of mercy. Yes, the prodigal’s father showed mercy upon the prodigal returning home, but only after the prodigal fell to his knees, proclaimed his sinfulness and pled that his Father would treat him as a mere servant (instead of insisting that his Father grant him full participation in the life of the family and a return to his prior status, regardless of his prior transgressions).

    It’s all fascinating.

  27. anna 6 says:

    Thank you Fr. Z for quoting Sacramentum Caritatis. Having read that beautiful and illuminating document promulgated by Pope Benedict at the time of its presentation, I have been bemused as to why and how we are revisiting the same issue today.

    It is as if many of the synodal bishops and cardinals have never even read it.

  28. Toan says:

    One priest put it this way: “I sometimes say that the Mass is the greatest way to worship God because at the Mass, we offer Jesus to the Father, and we can offer nothing of greater value to God than that.”

    At Mass, we, the laypeople, offer Jesus to the Father by means of the priest. That’s a wonderful thing to do that doesn’t involve receiving communion.

  29. Toan says:

    Also…was the Doctors of the Law comment really a snipe at Card. Burke and those like him (us)? I dunno. I thought it looked more like a snipe at those who look down on sinners rather than being inviting them to real forgiveness. Such people exist, like the priest who angrily blasted Mother Angelica’s mom (do you realize that you excommunicated yourself?) when she confessed her divorce instead of welcoming her, or ensuring that she live according to Church law (she was).

  30. Subdeacon Joseph K. says:

    I’m just a little lost here. Why not repent of your sins and confess so you can receive worthily? Who would want to live in a state of grave sin, knowing that they could die at any minute and then be excluded from the Kingdom forever?

    Repent of your sins and then on Saturday before Mass (or Divine Liturgy in my case), confess your sins to a priest, be absolved and “enter in to the joy of your Lord” on Sunday.

    Why agonize over whether to attend Mass in a state of sin? Repent and confess now. My personal experience of the Lord is that he is merciful and welcoming to those who return to him, even if they stray time after time. He has always welcomed me back.

  31. Deacon Augustine says:

    The pope appears to misunderstand Our Lord’s criticism of the “doctors of the law”. His beef against them was based on their obsessive rigidity with the laws of ritual purity while at the same time undermining, relaxing and trying to get around the Divine law contained in the Decalogue cf. Matt 5.

    In contrast, as we see from the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord was far more rigorous in His insistence on the Commandments and he castigated those who would try to relax them in any way – calling them “the least in the Kingdom of Heaven”, which St Augustine parsed as “the least to the extent that they may not even be there.”

    Because the Holy Father has again been so vague and ambiguous about what he is really saying, we cannot know for sure whether he was referring to those in sinful relationships being admitted to Holy Communion, or whether he was simply saying that they should be more included in the life of the Church. As usual he stirs things up all the while maintaining a plausible deniability.

    The sensible way to deal with ambiguous teaching, rather than to let it disturb one’s spiritual equilibrium, is simply to ignore it. Teachers who cannot teach clearly are not worth listening to. They provide neither meat nor bone for the intellect to eat or spit out, and we end up expending time and energy for no good reason. Instead we should spend more time with the Word of Our Lord, who, unlike the scribes, the pharisees and the doctors of the law, “taught with authority.”

    It is by His Word that we will be judged, not the words of a man who lacks the ability or the will to say what he means.

  32. Nicolas Bellord says:

    I would guess he is speaking from some experience in Argentina where the Church is deeply divided. Perhaps he was thinking of some Jansenistic ‘doctors of the law’ who are pretty unfriendly. It is not an experience that I have witnessed in Europe and is certainly not common. I am afraid it is just another example of his off the cuff loose waffle especially when he goes on to praise the Law at the end of his homily. Let us not worry too much – the Holy Ghost will sort it all out.

  33. The Masked Chicken says:

    The phrase, “doctors of the law,” (in Greek, the word is nomodidaskalos – literally, law teacher) is found in 3 passage of Scripture, depending upon what translation one uses: Luke 5: 17 – 26, Acts 5: 34, and 1 Tim 1: 7. Gamaliel was a doctor of the law, as were the men Jesus taught in the Temple when He was 12. Suburbanbanshee cited Luke 11: 45, but the word used there is nomikos, which means, simply, lawyer. In parallel passages in Mark and Matthew, where doctor of the law is used in Luke, only the word, scribe, appears, but they seem to be two different positions within Judaism, because Luke 5: 17 – 26 mentions them both. Doctor of the law is, mostly, a term favored by St. Luke. Here is Luke 15: 17 – 26:

    “On one of those days, as he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers [doctors, in the KJV] of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.
    And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus;
    but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.
    And when he saw their faith he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”
    And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?”
    When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts?
    Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
    But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” –he said to the man who was paralyzed–“I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.”
    And immediately he rose before them, and took up that on which he lay, and went home, glorifying God.
    And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”

    This seems to be the obvious reference Pope Francis is making. The man couldn’t get into the house to be cured. Of course, that wasn’t the fault of the doctors of the law, but they did question whether or not Jesus had the power to forgive sins.

    I submit that this is not an analogous situation. Not at all. No Catholic law teacher or priest is preventing divorced and remarried people from entering churches. None. What a silly characterization. I’ll bet Pope Francis knows of no such priest. What they are doing is preventing them from receiving communion AND THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING THAT! Even St. Paul would not let them receive communion.

    More than that, the law teachers are not stopping them from going to confession nor are they doubting God’s power to forgive sin, so they are exactly NOT like the doctors of the law in Scripture. Indeed they want them in church doing just that – IF they have a sincere purpose of amendment – otherwise, don’t waste their time.

    In other words, it is the modern doctors of the law who desperately want to show people mercy, but mercy must be accompanied by the truth or it means nothing. No one I know of does not want a person in sin to repent. Thus, Pope Francis’s words make absolutely no sense. I am sorry to have to say that. It is the divorced and remarried who want to go to Church on their own terms WHO ARE NOT SHOWING THE CHURCH THE MERCY OF RESPECT. Pope Francis has it exactly backwards. This is the worst of straw man arguments. It makes one wonder (and I say this in trembling) if Pope Francis really understands the sin of adultery. Noncatechized Catholics don’t care enough to apply for an annulment before they get remarried. Boo-hoo. I’m sorry if I sound cruel, but if Pope Francis spent half the time he spends talking about mercy on setting up sound diocesan catechesis programs, he wouldn’t have to be appealing for mercy for a situation which should hardly exist.

    Sadly, it seems that he will hear no argument to the contrary of what he says. If this has any magisterial import, then it has vacuous value, because the people to whom the rebuke is meant form a null set. Oh, there might be looney Catholics out there who think that divorce = leprosy and those people are worthy of being shunned, but that is a form of mental illness or a very poor understanding of what the Church teaches. Civil divorce is just that – a statement of relationship within a society for functional purposes. It has nothing to do with the Church or the spiritual status of the parties. The sin of presumption underlying remarriage without canonical sanction, however, is a sin and while sinners must be approached and helped for conversion, they must not be lied to, as if their actions were of no consequence, especially to their souls.

    Before Pope Francis gets to go on about mercy, he has to explain when the spiritual works of mercy: admonishing the sinner and instructing the ignorant, suddenly became acts of anti-mercy, because I must have missed the memo.

    Man, this makes me mad. This is the very definition of Bonhoeffer’s cheap and easy grace revisited. In closing, let me quote that passage (sorry for the length of this post). From his book, The Cost of Discipleship:

    “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….

    Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

    Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin….

    Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

    The Chicken

  34. chantgirl says:

    If we’re having trouble convincing Catholics that they can’t have Sex on demand (remarriage, pornography, contraception), Citizenship on demand (breaking a country’s laws and expecting others to pay for your benefits), Parenthood on demand ( creating babies from two or more parents in a lab, or destroying babies already conceived by aborting them), Death on demand (euthanasia), Marriage on demand (homosexual, polygamous), etc., it is no wonder that we’re having trouble convincing them that they can’t have Sacrilege on demand ( receiving Communion in a state of mortal sin). We need a modern St. John the Baptist to call the world to repentance before it will be able to accept Christ.

    Make no mistake; what the left is agitating for is Sacrilege on demand. At first I thought abortion was the sacrament of the left. I am beginning to think the Holy Grail for them is really sacrilege.

  35. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    In another context, at another time, I’m inclined to push my growing concerns about dismissing the (albeit minor) character of papal liturgical preaching vis-à-vis magisterium. But not here, and not now. Best, edp.

  36. ConstantlyConverting says:

    Having grown up in a “divorced and remarrried” family, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say it’s almost impossible to be educating your kids in a Catholic context living in this situation. (I left the Chuch for 15+ years because of this situation)

    How, in a tradition that emphasizes “believing is doing”, how could one possibly pretend to educate Catholic individuals who are scandalized by repeated offenses at the Real Presence?

    Dr Peters published a great resource regarding the new Code of Canon Law and Homeschooling. He notes the repeated preference of parental involvement in catechesis. It is specifically geared towards understanding the rights and responsibilities of parents who homeschool (instead of CCD or parochial education) so I’m drawing MY OWN conclusions here, but if the home is the domestic church, what kind of merciful solution is it to fail to guide fathers and mothers towards reconciliation? What is the point of ecumenism or Vatican II for that matter?? Is there even a need for a visible Church??

  37. The Cobbler says:

    “Sadly, it seems that he will hear no argument to the contrary of what he says. If this has any magisterial import, then it has vacuous value, because the people to whom the rebuke is meant form a null set.”
    Thanks, Chicken, now I can’t stop wondering what Pope Francis thinks of doctors of the laws of mathematics. 8^)

  38. OlderCatholic says:

    I grew up in the Church in the 1950’s. There were maybe two divorced people in the parish. The members of the parish were not saints particularly, but divorce was very rare, for reasons that had very little to do with personal holiness. Many of these reasons were actually economic.

    I got married in 1966, so that makes it 49 years this year. But we are now unusual. Even at Church, let alone outside of it, as many people are divorced (at least) as are not. Something is not working.

    Are we so much more wicked than our parents? (No.) Is divorce a lot of fun, so that people do it by choice? (Hardly!) But now it is that once this happens, no matter how young and stupid you were, you are cast into the outer darkness for the rest of your life if you remarry. (Yes, annulment, for those who can afford it and who quality, but there’s a whole world of scandals in that topic too!)

    Then we are surprised when broken people who are just trying to make their lives and the lives of their children work, leave the Church when confronted with the situation that there is no way out. They can accept a second-class membership, or they can leave. So they leave.

    The Church has become an exclusive club, only for people like me, who have been persistent, yes, but awfully lucky as well. I’m in very good standing at the Club. But I’m uneasy too. Was this really what Jesus was intending?

  39. Justalurkingfool says:

    It is very telling, Older Catholic, that you are uneasy with repentance, restitution, forgiveness and healing.

    IF I understand your implication, I am anti-Jesus for having remained faithful to my wife throughout her continuing 25 years of unrepentant adultery and having expected, foolishly, that the hierarchy would actually intervene, ultimately with formal excommunication in the face of scandal(how is 25 years of adultery in front of seven young children….not scandalous?) and obstinate unrepentant grave sin, in order to try to bring her to a closer understanding and practice of the gospel?

    Perhaps you have not reflected sufficiently to consider how demoralizing it might be to a child of such a circumstance(SEE CONSTANTLY CONVERTING, ABOVE) or the abandoned spouse?

    If a comment such as yours should be “the straw that breaks the Camel’s back”, in their journey toward Salvation, if you truly understood their never ending nightmare, you might reconsider just how negative and abusive your, personal “uneasiness” actually might be, very personally exerienced/received and you might reconsider it.

    I “walk the walk” of which I speak and have faced almost nothing but criticism such as yours for 25 years, often from clergy, including bishops, cardinals AND POPES, who have ignored my pleas for help for ALL THESE 25 YEARS!

    As Cardinal Burke indicates confusion IS spreading among Catholics “in an alarming way.”

    Older Catholic, I fear that YOU are among the confused, if I understand your words properly.

    Do not feel alone, however. In my opinion, most clergy are “confused” and I am, again in my opinion, practicing “extreme charity” in this specific reference as to the ubiquity of this “confusion”.

    The concept of grave scandal, in my opinion, is an approriate description of this “confusion”.


  40. dans0622 says:

    The Pope, again today, spoke about the doctors of the law. It’s odd, since the Gospel passage in question (Jn. 8: 51-59) does not say the listeners were doctors of the law. Instead, they were Jews who believed in the Lord (cf. Jn. 8:31). Eventually, due to the challenging words of the Lord, those believers ended up picking up stones to throw at Him (Jn. 8:59).

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