Popes, cardinals and ambiguity

A brief thought on the ongoing, and troubling, impasse over Amoris Laetitia, and the dubia  submitted by i quattro cardinali seeking clarification of controverted formulations in and implications of the papal exhortation.

Sandro Magister today wrote of what he described as “the calculated ambiguity of the text, which has opened the way to a multiplicity of interpretations and applications, some of them decidedly new with respect to the age-old teaching of the Church.” This was part of his introduction to an essay by Claudio Pierantoni which finds a parallel to the current crisis of confusion in the early Church.

However it strikes me that we can find not merely a parallel with but also the origin of the present situation. Magister is almost certainly right in detecting a deliberate ambiguity in Amoris Laetitia (AL). However, it is probably not so very surprising that this is so. AL seems to embody a hermeneutic of ambiguity that can find its roots in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. One does not need to be a scholar to recall the many ways in which ambiguity has been read into conciliar texts, or extracted form them, in order to justify innovations in liturgy, theology and ecclesial life that the majority of the Council fathers would not have countenanced if they had been presented to them at the Council itself.

This conclusion is easily reached even without recourse to the new historiography and hermeneutics which are upsetting the deeply entrenched status quo when it comes to interpreting the Council. One need only read the 1966 classic, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, by the Divine Word missionary, Fr Ralph Wiltgen SVD. Released while the dust of the Council was still settling, and written from a liberal perspective, it is disarmingly frank in its innocent-faced revelations about the machinations of the northern European faction at the Council, including “compromises” in drafting the texts of the conciliar documents. The ambiguity of these documents was clearly planned by their theologian drafters, it not by their episcopal promulgators.

This “calculated ambiguity” in the conciliar documents begat the ambiguity today in AL. This time, however, lessons have been learned and it seems that some are prepared to confront the ambiguity in order to nip its deleterious effects in the bud. No one of sound mind wants to revisit the chaos and trauma of the post-conciliar confusion.

More often than not, magisterial formulations allow room for future doctrinal reflection and elaboration (not change) by stating the barest minimum necessary to counter error and safeguard truth. The Magisterium never tries to say more than is necessary. It has a most un-German terseness and economy of language. Words are carefully chosen, having often been fought over, precisely in order to avoid ambiguity and the chaos that would almost certainly arise from it in the future.

If the Council fathers can be said to have failed, or made a mistake, at all it is certainly in this, if not elsewhere: that they failed to do the work of thrashing out the formulations to the extent they should have. In order to prevent an ever-lengthening Council, and the atrophy that might arise from this, they accepted all too readily the compromise texts placed before them by the periti, in which, as is now often admitted, “time bombs” of ambiguity had been carefully hidden. Desperate to keep up with the swinging sixties, they raced ahead of God.

kasper
Cardinal Kasper is but the heir to Hans Küng
The fathers ate sour grapes and the children’s teeth have been set on edge. Or what they sowed we have been painfully reaping ever since. AL is part of this conciliar harvest. It seems prudent at the very least that some pastors of the Church have learned the bitter but prophetic lesson afforded by Cardinal Ottaviani and are politely but firmly working to ensure that the teeth of the next generation will not also be set on edge, that they will a richer and more abundant harvest to reap than that sown with studied ambiguity, however good its intention. We all know that adage will tells us which road it is that is paved with good intentions. And would that Pope Francis might note the bitter lesson afforded by Pope Paul VI.

alfredoottaviani
Cardinal Ottaviani: a prophet not recognised by his own?
Pax!

Red Wednesday: the Four Cardinals

The Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has designated today as Red Wednesday. Mancunians know this tag for another reason, but it is being coopted and elevated by ACN to signify the day on which we take time for special remembrance who are persecuted for their faith. We are encouraged to donate if we can, or to pray and ideally to attend Mass, and as a sign to the world, to wear something red today.

red-socks
As much red as this monk can reasonably manage today

Given the headlines in the Catholic press and blogosphere the last week or two, it is hard not to think of certain red-clad cardinals. The letter of i quattro cardinali—Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner—seeking papal clarification of five dubia, doubts, that have arisen as a result of the conflicted and confusing reception of the Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation (following last year’s Synod on the Family), Amoris Laetitia (“the Joy of Love”, not “The Joys of Love” as The Week put it, which makes it sound like an instruction on sexual technique. Of course, the choice of amor(-is) does refer to the fact that it is sexual love being discussed, not the more supernatural caritas). Continue reading “Red Wednesday: the Four Cardinals”

The Two-Edged Sword of Collegiality

The Two-Edged Sword of Collegiality

There is a quiet media frenzy afoot about the snap decision of Pope Francis not to meet with his cardinals before this weekend’s consistory in Rome. The decision is being attributed to the letter to the pope of i Quattro Cardinali seeking definitive clarification of several points of confusion arising from the papal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, that resulted from the Synod on the Family, and which he seems steadfastly to be refusing to answer.

Pope Francis’ decision is not in itself earth-shattering. Benedict XVI opted out of such a meeting once, and he would hardly have been the first to do so. It may be for other reasons entirely. After all, he is not meeting only the four cardinals involved, but the whole college of cardinals. It would seem quite an overreaction to snub the 97% of cardinals on account of the 3%. Continue reading “The Two-Edged Sword of Collegiality”

The end is nigh?

As we enter into the last weeks of the liturgical year the readings get more eschatological. The preacher here today was of a mind that we should not ever be prone to thinking that we are in the last days. To be sure, there has been many a Protestant sect that has predicted even the very day of the parousia, with results we can all to easily guess. Yet the end has to come some time, and both our Lord and the apostle assure us that there will be signs of its impending arrival.

What a year it has been. IS/Daesh apocalyptic atrocities, the disaster in the Yemen, a new cold war between Russia and the West, renewed attempts at militant Muslim terrorism in the West (most of which we will not hear about for a long time to come), an even more fanatical North Korea, and the election of Donald Trump. Continue reading “The end is nigh?”

Purgatory Revisited

This morning I was down to celebrate the conventual Mass, and on this day every November we offer Mass for the deceased relatives and benefactors of the English Benedictine Congregation. It got me thinking on purgatory, and I was propelled a little further along by something I read in the latest (and last?) from the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI: Last Testament in his own words, translated by Dr Jacob Phillips (one of those bright young things at St Mary’s University, Twickenham) and hot off the press and into our mailboxes this past week. Continue reading “Purgatory Revisited”

Honouring Luther?

Someone pointed me to today’s post on The Tablet‘s website. Gosh, it’s awful. Continue reading “Honouring Luther?”

A random ramble with Colonel Blimp

A few miles south of Hadrian’s Wall, and at the eastern end of Northumberland, I am making use of a cottage generously offered by benefactors for the purpose of breaking the back of a short dissertation. The best laid plans of mice and monks, of course… it is breaking me.

It is perhaps not totally effective, or even healthy, to attempt to overcome the incessant distractions of pervious months and seek a near complete solitude for 10 days in order to form one’s reading and thinking into a coherent pattern, transcribe it to computer and expect a satisfying result. There have been periods of waxing and of waning in the operations of the intellect, and yesterday proved to be quite frustrating and indeed disheartening. The downside of solitude is that there is no one, apart from God and his heavenly court, to unload onto. And the heavenly ones, of course, do not usually respond immediately or audibly. Continue reading “A random ramble with Colonel Blimp”