The origins of the errors
For them, Christianity is praxis, not justice
Roberto de Mattei
October 1, 2014
The upcoming Synod of Bishops has been preceded by a rumpus in the media which attaches to it a historical significance greater than its ecclesiastical importance as merely a consultative assembly in the Church. Some are complaining about the theological war the Synod promises to be, but the history of all the Episcopal meetings in the Church (such is the etymological significance of the term “synod” and its synonym “council”) has been made up of theological conflicts and bitter debates on errors and divisions that have threatened the Christian community since its beginnings.
Today the subject of communion for the divorced [and remarried] is only the vector of a discussion that focuses on rather complex doctrinal concepts, such as human nature and the natural law. This debate seems to translate, on the anthropological level, the Trinitarian and Christological speculations which shook up the Church from the Council of Nicaea (325) to the Council of Chalcedon (451). At that time, discussions were held to determine the nature of the Most Holy Trinity, Who is one God in Three Persons and to define in Jesus Christ the Person of the Word, Who subsists in two natures, the Divine and the human. The Council of Nicaea’s adoption of the Greek term homoousios, which was translated in Latin to consubstantialis and, after the Council of Chalcedon with the words “of the same nature” of the Divine substance, to affirm the perfect equality of the Word and the Father, marks a never-to be-forgotten date in the history of Christianity and concludes an era of disorientation, confusion and drama of consciences similar to the one we are [currently] immersed in.
In those years the Church was divided between the “right” of St. Athanasius and the “left” of Arius’ followers, (the definition is by the historian of the Councils, Karl Joseph von Hefele). Between the two poles the third “party” of semi-Arians wavered, themselves divided into various factions. The term homoiousios, which means “of similar substance” was set against the Nicean homoousios, which means “of the same substance”. This is not a question of nitpicking. In the seemingly minimal difference between these two words, there lies an abyss: on the one hand, Identity with God, on the other a certain analogy or resemblance which makes of Jesus Christ an ordinary man.
The best historical reconstruction of this period is the one by Cardinal John Henry Newman, The Arians of the Fourth Century (tr.It. Jaca Book, Milano, 1981) an in-depth study which brings to light the culpability of the clergy and the courage of “the common people” in maintaining the orthodoxy of the Faith. Athanasius, as a deacon and champion of orthodoxy, afterwards a bishop, was forced as many as five times to leave his diocese, to walk the way of exile.
In 357, Pope Liberius excommunicated him and two years after the Councils of Rimini and Seleucia, which constituted a sort of great Ecumenical Council, representative of the West and the East, abandoned the Nicene term “consubstantial” and established an equivocal middle way, between St. Athanasius and the Arians. It was at that time St. Jerome coined the expression according to which "The whole world groaned and was amazed to find itself Arian".
Athanasius and the defenders of the orthodox Faith were accused of being stuck obstinately on words and of being quarrelsome and intolerant. These are the same accusations made today against those, inside and outside the Synod Hall, who want to raise a voice of uncompromising firmness in defense of the Church’s doctrine on Christian Marriage, like the five Cardinals (Burke, Brandmuller, Caffarra, De Paolis and Muller), who after having expressed themselves individually, gathered together their statements in defense of the family in a book which by now has become a manifesto: Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, just published by Cantagalli of Siena, Another fundamental text, Divorced “Remarried”, also owes its publication to Cantagalli. The praxis of the primitive Church, by the Jesuit Henri Couzel,
The writers in the “Corriere della Sera” and “La Repubblica” have been rending their garments at the “theological row” now in progress. On September 8, Pope Francis himself, urged newly nominated Bishops “not to waste energy in contrasts and clashes”, forgetting that he had personally assumed the responsibility of the clashes when he entrusted the job of opening the Synod “dances” to Cardinal Walter Kasper. As Sandro Magister noted, it was actually Kasper with his report on February 20, 2014, (made available by “Il Foglio”), who started the hostility that triggered off the doctrinal debate, thus becoming, far from his intentions, the standard-bearer of a party. The oft-times reiterated formula by the German Cardinal is: what has to change is not the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage, but pastoral [praxis] for the divorced and remarried. This has in itself a devastating significance and is the expression of a theological concept tainted at its roots.
So as to understand Kasper’s thought, we need to go back to one of his first works, perhaps the main one, “The Absolute in History in the last Philosophy of Schelling, published in 1965 and translated by Jaca Book in 1986. In fact, Walter Kasper belongs to the school of Tubinga, which, as he writes in this study, “started a renewal in theology and in all of German Catholicism with the encounter of Schelling and Hegel” (p.53). The metaphysics are Schelling’s (1775-1854), “a solitary giant” (p.90), whose Gnostic and pantheistic character the German theologian tries in vain to free himself of. In his last work Philosophie der Offenbarung (The Philosophy of Revelation), in 1854, Schelling opposes historical dogmatic Christianity. “Schelling – Kasper comments – doesn’t envision the relationship between the natural and the supernatural in a static, metaphysical and extratemporal way, but rather in a dynamic and historical one. The essentiality of Christian Revelation is really this, that it is history.” (p.206).
Also for Kasper Christianity, before being doctrine, is history, or “praxis”. In his most famous work, Jesus The Christ, (Queriniana, Brescia 1974), he develops his Christology in a historical key which is derived from The Philosophy of Revelation by the German Idealist. The Trinitarian concept by Schelling is the one of the Sabellian and Modalist heretics, the forerunners of Arianism. The three Divine Persons are reduced to three “modes of subsistence” of a one person-nature (Modalism), while the essence of the Trinity is realised in the manifesting of “Itself” to the world. Christ is not the intermediary between God and man, but the historical realization of the Divinity in the Trinitarian process.
Coherent with the Christology and ecclesiology of Kasper. The Church is, first and foremost, “pneuma” “Sacrament of the Spirit”, a definition for the German Cardinal that “corrects” the juridical one by Pius XII in Mystici Corporis (The Church, Place of the Spirit, Queriniana, Brescia 1980, p. 91). The Holy Spirit’s field of action does not coincide in fact, as Tradition wills, with the one of the Roman Catholic Church, but extends to a vaster ecumenical reality, the “Church of Christ” which the Catholic Church is part of.
According to Kasper, the Decree of Vatican II on Ecumenism presses for recognition that the one Church of Christ is not limited to the Catholic Church, but is shared with separate churches and ecclesial communities (ivi, p.94). The Catholic Church is “where there is no selective Gospel”, but everything is expanded in an all-encompassing manner, in time and space (The Catholic Church – Essence, Reality, Mission, Queriniana, Brescia 2012, p. 289). The mission of the Church is to “ step out of Herself” to regain a dimension that renders her truly universal. Eugenio Scalfari, who is acting like a third Pope,(i.e. after the Pope emeritus and the one reigning), even if ignorant in theology, confers the same idea to Pope Francis, asserting, that for him, the missionary Church is the one that “has to step out of Herself and go into the world” by implementing Christianity in history (“La Repubblica”, September 21, 2014).
These theories are reflected in Kasper’s moral theology, according to which, the experience of the encounter with Christ dissolves the law, or better, the law is a hindrance which man must free himself of to encounter the mercy of Christ. In his pantheistic philosophy, Schelling absorbs evil into God. Kasper absorbs evil into the mystery of the Cross, in which he sees the denial of traditional metaphysics and of the natural law which proceeds from it. “For Schelling the passage of negative philosophy to positive philosophy is at the same time[a]passage from the law to the Gospel” (The Absolute in History, p.178), writes the German Cardinal, who sees in turn the passage from the law to the Gospel in the primacy of pastoral praxis over abstract doctrine.
From this point of view, Cardinal Kasper’s moral doctrine is at least implicitly, Antinomianist. Antinomianism is a term coined by Luther against his opponent of the left, Johann Agricola (1494-1568), but dates back to the antique and medieval heresies indicating the rejection of the Old Testament and its laws, [which were]thought of as mere constriction and restriction, in contrast to the New Testament, i.e. to the new economy of Grace and freedom. More generally Antinomianism means the rejection of the natural moral law which has its root in the rejection of the idea of nature. For the Christian Antinomianists there is no law because there is no universal objective human nature. The consequences are the vanishing of the sense of sin, the denial of absolute morality, and the sexual Revolution inside the Church.
Within this perspective it is understandable how Cardinal Kasper in his recent book, which appeared in German in 2012 and was then translated into Italian for the fellows at Queriniana in 2013, (Mercy. The Fundamental Concept of the Gospel – The Key to life), proposes to break with the traditional equilibrium between justice and mercy, making of the latter, (which goes against tradition), the principal attribute of God. However, as Father Serafino Lanzetta observed in an excellent analysis of his volume, published at www.chiesa [English version published by Rorate Caeli here], “mercy perfects and completes justice but does not annul it; it presupposes it, otherwise it would not in itself have any reason to exist.” The disappearance of justice and the law makes the concept of sin and the mystery of evil incomprehensible, save for the reintegrating of them into a theosophical and Gnostic standpoint.
We find this error again in the Lutheran postulate of “only mercy”. The mediation of reason and of nature being abolished, for Luther the only way to rise to God is in “trusting faith” which has its preamble not in rational metaphysics, from which it must be totally freed, but in a sentiment of profound desperation, which has in turn its typical object in the “mercy” of God, instead of the truths revealed by Him. This principal, as Silvana Seidel Menchi demonstrated in Erasmus in Italy 1520-1580 (Bollati Boringhieri, Turin 1987), is developed in the heretical literature of the 16th Century thanks also to the influence of Erasmus’ treatise, De immense Dei misercordia (1524), which opened up the gates of heaven to “men of good will” (ivi, pp.143-167). In the sects originating from Erasmus and Luther which made up the extreme left of the Protestant Reformation, the 4th century anti-Trinitarian errors reappeared: Arianism, Modalism, Sabellianism, [all] based on the rejection or distortion of the idea of nature.
The only penitential path possible to experience the embrace of Divine Mercy is the rejection of sin in which we are immersed, and in the recognition of a Divine Law to respect and love. This law is rooted in human nature and is engraved in the heart of every man “by the finger of the Creator, Himself” (Rm 2, 14-15). It constitutes the supreme judgment of every action and of human events in their totality, that is, in history.
The term nature is not abstract. Human nature is the essence of man, that is what he is before being a person. Man is a person, a holder of inalienable rights, because he has a soul. And he has a soul given that, unlike any other living being, he has a rational nature. Natural is not what originates from the instincts and desires of man, but what corresponds to the rules of reason, which must in turn, conform itself to an objective order and immutable principles. The natural law is rational and immutable,[thus]because it is immutable inasmuch as it is spiritual, it is the nature of man. All individuals of the same nature act or should act in the same manner, since the natural law is written in the nature not of this or that man, but in human nature regarded in itself, in its permanence and stability.
Cardinal Kasper does not believe in a universal and absolute natural law. In the instrumentum laboris, the official Vatican document which prepares the ground for the Synod in October, this repudiation of the natural law is clearly in evidence, even if presented in a sociological key more than a theological one. “The concept of natural law today turns out to be, in different cultural contexts, highly problematic, if not completely incomprehensible. (n.21) – he says – also since “Today, in not only the West but increasingly every part of the world, scientific research poses a serious challenge to the concept of nature. Evolution, biology and neuroscience, when confronted with the traditional idea of the natural law, conclude that it is not “scientific.” According to Kasper’s program, the spirit of the Gospel whose values need to be communicated “in a comprehensible way to the man of today” contrasts the natural law. Which therefore renders necessary “that more emphasis be placed on the role of the Word of God as a privileged instrument in the conception of married life and the family, and recommend greater reference to the Bible, its language and narratives. In this regard, respondents propose bringing the issue to public discussion and developing the idea of biblical inspiration and the “order in creation,” which could permit a re-reading of the concept of the natural law in a more meaningful manner in today’s world. (…)The recommendation was also made to engage young people directly in these matters.” (n.30).
The inevitable consequences of this new idea of morality which the Synod Fathers will have to discuss, are outlined by Vito Mancuso, in “La Repubblica” of the 18th September. The natural law “is far too heavy a burden to carry”; we need therefore to focus on a deep journey of renewal in the matters of sexual ethics” which should result in the “subsequent necessary openness: yes to contraception; yes to premarital relations; yes to the recognition of homosexual couples.”
In the face of this catastrophic itinerary heading towards immoralism, why be surprised that five Cardinals have published a book in defense of traditional morality and that other cardinals, bishops and theologians have supported them in this position? Against those who are calling for a new doctrinal and pastoral discipline, Cardinal Pell wrote, “an insurmountable barrier” is being raised, based on “the almost complete unanimity on this matter which Catholic history has given the proof of for two thousand years. (Preface, Juan Pérez-Soba, Stephen Kampowski, Oltre la proposta di Kasper,(Beyond Kasper’s Proposal) Cantagalli, Siena 2014, p. 7).
It is to be hoped that it will be a free and open encounter, without the imposition of rules from on high that falsify the stakes. The stakes are not just a simple diversity in opinions, but the clarification of the Church’s mission. It is to be hoped as well, that the faithful prelates of Tradition will not be intimidated and will be able to bear patiently with the mass-media’s violence, and even the unjust and intense ecclesial censuring which they might have to endure.
“The best song is still ours” (p.8) writes Cardinal Pell, and Athanasius is still a model for our times and for all of those who don’t shrink back from the righteous battle in defense of the truth.
[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]