Francis' sprawling Exhortation a marriage of profound and muddled | Carl E. Olson | Catholic World Report
The much anticipated 255-page long post-synodal reflection is surprisingly dogmatic in places and morally incoherent in others
In recently musing about what Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis' much anticipated post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, might (or might not) contain, I wrote:
I don't think Francis is going to try to change doctrine. Even if he wanted to—and I know there is evidence he has been open to a range of possible changes in some way or another—the Final Report of last October's Synod effectively put all of that to rest. I could be wrong. Perhaps the Apostolic Exhortation really is going to be filled with wide-ranging and revolutionary calls for X, Y, and Z. But, again, I think any hopes of that were effectively ended at the Synod. ... Yes, Francis clearly wants to see changes in pastoral approaches, but he and others have surely seen there are limits to all such approaches.
Having now read the document, I think I was about 95% correct. Francis reaffirms (very strongly, in fact) many of the basic tenets of Catholic teaching about marriage: it is between a man and a woman, it is ordered toward procreation, it is an "icon" of the Triune nature of God, it is indissoluble, it must be open to life. There is a strong denunciation of gender ideology: "It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift" (#56).
The dogmatic underpinnings
The opening chapters, which provide a Scriptural and theological reflection on the nature of marriage and family, is often powerful and poetic in equal measure. Francis draws often upon John Paul II, as when he states that the "couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon - not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Decalogue - capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour" (#11). There is a repeated emphasis on the Trinitarian foundations of reality in general and of marriage in particular, as when the Holy Father states "the couple's fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love" (#11).
This is taken up again as Francis situates marriage within the drama of salvation history: "Marriage and the family have been redeemed by Christ (cf. Eph 5:21-32) and restored in the image of the Holy Trinity, the mystery from which all true love flows. ... The Gospel of the family spans the history of the world, from the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27), to the fulfilment of the mystery of the covenant in Christ at the end of time with the marriage of the Lamb (cf. Rev 19:9)” (#63). Near the end of the document, Francis writes: "Today we can add that the Trinity is present in the temple of marital communion. Just as God dwells in the praises of his people (cf. Ps 22:3), so he dwells deep within the marital love that gives him glory" (#314).
This is not merely theological shop talk; it is foundational truth. It is, it should be emphasized, dogmatic. Because dogma, as the Catechism notes, are not merely laws and rules, but revealed truth about God, man, and the many relationships that exist in the world: "There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith" (par 89).
However, the word "dogma" does not appear in the document, and I see that already some secular sophists are penning misleading headlines such as "On Divorce, Contraception, Pope Calls For More Grace, Less Dogma" (NPR). Of course, such folks don't know what dogma is, nor do they really care. For them it is all about changing the Church and her teachings. Which is why the opening line of the NPR piece states: "In a major document released Friday, Pope Francis addressed divisive elements of Catholic doctrine — including how to treat couples who remarry after a divorce that wasn't annulled by the church, and the church's stance on contraception." Funny that the Church's divisive doctrine on the Trinity and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ are not also mentioned; after all, I have it on good account that many Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Buddhists, Jews, and freethinkers reject those particular doctrines. While Francis, NPR opines, has not issued "any new top-down doctrine .... [he says] that priests should focus on providing pastoral care for Catholic couples, rather than sitting in judgment of them, and that individual conscience should be emphasized, rather than dogmatic rules."
Because, you see, dogma is supposedly about rules, and usually have little or nothing to do with reality. Sad, but predictable. "Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas," quipped Chesterton in Heretics, "Trees have no dogmas." And, as Dorothy Sayers pointed out many decades ago, dogma is the drama. In Creed or Chaos, she wrote:
Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious––others will enter the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honor by watering down till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.
The fact is, objective truth does exist, and there are real limits to what man can do, or can be.