[Hat tip to M.M.]
Wither the Kasparian Church? Playing Fast and Loose with Matthew 19A Critique of Arguments for Permitting Holy Communion to the Divorced and RemarriedBy Monica Migliorino Miller, Ph.D.The final draft report on the Synod on the Family is out. Those who were concerned about the hijacking of the faith in a heterodox direction can breathe at least a small sigh of relief as the new report scraps language in the draft that appeared to approve of or find “value” in the homosexual “orientation” and also because it did not alas seriously take up the issue of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried as this proposal failed to gain the needed two thirds support of the bishops. However, this does not necessarily mean that this hugely troublesome and controversial proposal is going to simply be shelved in some dark closet of the Vatican. We need to be prepared to provide well reasoned arguments against what may be called the Cardinal Kasparian agenda. It’s not too early to put those arguments forward in anticipation of next year’s Ordinary Synod. This article seeks to respond to two of the arguments put forth in favor of admitting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.It has become as clear as it could be that Cardinal Walter Kasper, in league with a majority of German bishops and other European prelates, did all that he could to facilitate this major pastoral change. While Kasper repeatedly stated that there can be no change in Church doctrine on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage—nonetheless there is just no way of getting around the fact that were such a pastoral change ever to be made it would undermine Catholic teaching on marriage and legitimize adulterous unions contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Faith of the Church.The initial synodal draft report or “relatio post disceptationem,” ignited serious controversy due to its vague terminology, ambiguous articulation of Catholic moral doctrine and apparent willingness to accommodate the Gospel of Christ to the spirit of the age with an emphasis on the so-called “law of gradualism,” disregard for sin itself and the need for repentance and conversion of heart. Msgr. Charles Pope in his fine critique of gradualism explains: “Gradualism is a way in which we meet people where they are and seek gradually to draw them more deeply into the true life of a Christian. All of us who have journeyed toward Christ realize that we have not always been where we are today, and that future growth is necessary. Growth usually happens in stages and by degrees, ideally leading us more deeply to Christ.” (“Pondering ‘gradualism’ and the controversial Synod ‘midterm’ report,” Diocese of Washington website)However, no matter where this whole thing is headed, it is important to understand the way in which Cardinal Kasper argues this theological position—a theological position that affects not only the issue of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried but many other Catholic moral teachings, such as co-habitation, the use of artificial birth control and homosexual civil unions to mention just three that were taken up by the relation post disceptationem and still linger in the final Synod report.The report justifies its peculiar reliance on the “law of gradualism” by seriously misinterpreting and misapplying Matthew 19: 3-9 –Christ’s teaching on marriage in His exchange with the Pharisees on the subject.The passage states:Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that at the beginning the creator made them male and female and declared ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command divorce and the promulgation of a divorce decree?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. I now say to you, whoever divorces his wife, (lewd conduct is a separate case), and marries another woman commits adultery and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”Within the context of the “law of gradualism” the draft report comments on this passage in the following manner: “Jesus Himself, referring to the primordial plan for the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between man and woman, while understanding that ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning’ (Mt 19:8). In this way, He shows how divine condescension always accompanies the path of humanity, directing it towards its new beginning, not without passing through the cross.”To use this passage to justify a New Covenant approach to “gradualism” in the living of the Gospel is to totally corrupt the sense of Christ’s teaching. Even if there is a legitimate place for such “pastoral gradualism” this passage does not confirm it. It is true that God, beginning with the Hebrew people gradually disclosed His divine plan for salvation and thus Judaism is a preparation for the fullness of the Covenant. One can say there is a kind of economy of gradualism within salvation history.This is not what is being taught in the Pharisees’ confrontation with Jesus. The Kasper faction tries to exploit the fact that within Judaism, based on the authority of Moses, there was a compromise with the human condition and thus seeks to establish that such gradualism is itself divinely ordained in the plan of redemption and normative for the Christian dispensation. This is certainly the point of the remark “He shows how divine condescension always accompanies the path of humanity.”However, Christ’s dialog with the Pharisees is hardly an endorsement of gradualism. Indeed, if anything, Christ is rejecting the compromise of Moses who, based on the Jews’ “hardness of heart” allowed the practice of divorce. To the consternation of the Pharisees, who hope Christ will contradict the great prophet and thus be discredited; Christ in fact repudiates Moses and locates the doctrine of marriage from before the time of sin, before “hardness of heart” entered the human condition. It is clear that for Christ the new dispensation, the era of grace and redemption will simply have no room for “hardness of heart.” As bible scholar Gerald Lemke points out, when Christ replies to the Pharisees “Your hardness of heart” the word “your” indicates that Christ Himself makes a distinction between the expectations of the Old Law and those of the New— that there can be no such “hardness of heart” among the true followers of Christ.In this passage Christ is critical of Moses’ rejection of the divine plan for marriage, critical of the so-called “divine condescension.” Just as Christ will not tolerate Moses’ allowance for divorce, neither can the synod fathers use this passage to advocate a “divine condescension” that spiritually legitimizes the reception of Holy Communion for couples who are divorced and civilly remarried which is contrary to what we might call Christ’s “Law of the Beginning.” Indeed, Moses was making a concession to the evil conditions of his time—a concession Jesus nullifies by going back to the Beginning. It would appear that the Kasper faction, when it comes to many instances of moral behaviors, is like Moses, making concessions to the evil conditions of our own times.On October 15 Kasper gave an impromptu interview to National Catholic Register reporter Edward Pentin and two other journalists, one British, the other French. He made several references to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark in response to the question: “But people feel the Church’s teaching is going to be undermined by your proposal if it passes, that it is undoing 2000 years of Church teaching. What is your view of this?” Kasper responded:Well nobody is putting into question the indissolubility of marriage. I think it wouldn’t be a help for people, but if you look to this word of Jesus, there are different synoptic gospels in different places, in different contexts. It’s different in the Judeo-Christian context and in the Hellenistic context. Mark and Matthew are different. There was already a problem in the apostolic age. The Word of Jesus is clear, but how to apply it in complex, different situations? It’s a problem to do with the application of these words.One may quite legitimately ask— “Cardinal, what on earth are you talking about?” First of all he states that the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is not being questioned. Then he points to the “words of Jesus” as they are recorded in the synoptic gospels and tries to make an argument that there are differences between Jesus’ words in these texts and that they are applied differently either according to a Judeo-Christian, namely Palestinian culture, versus the Hellenistic or Greco-Roman culture. The “Word of Jesus is clear”—in other words the doctrine is settled about the indissolubility of marriage, but the meaning of the doctrine and its application varies according to time, place and circumstances. Kasper advances the idea that this relativism of doctrinal application is already there from the very start of the Church—even from the “apostolic age.”First of all—there is little to no difference between the Gospels of Mark and Matthew on the subject of divorce and remarriage. All one has to do is compare the texts of Matthew 19: 3-9 with Mark 10: 2-12. Indeed, Mark’s version is even stronger as it leaves out the verse found in Matthew: “lewd conduct is a separate case.” Mark is not interested in clarifying those cases where a man and woman are living together in perhaps a common law type of union (irregular sexual unions) as to whether they may separate and then contract marriage with a different partner. In any case, the difference Kasper proposes between these two gospels does not exist.The relativistic cultural application he images isn’t there either on the subject of whether to honor or violate sacramental marital bonds. Consider for instance Saint Paul’s teaching which precedes in time the finished gospels of Matthew and Mark. Paul, working in that Hellenistic culture, repeats the Christian ban on divorce which he indicates is not his doctrine but a command of the Lord’s: “A wife must not separate from her husband. If she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to him again. Similarly, a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7: 10-11). This is clearly the standard of behavior binding on a Christian couple because in the very next verse Paul takes up the situation of a non-Christian marriage—a marriage between a baptized spouse and one not who is not. Here we do see a very definite pastoral application known as the “Pauline privilege” in which under certain circumstances the Christian party is free to remarry. But this “privilege” is only possible because the original marriage was not a sacrament.Thus for Kasper to invoke differences in the gospels and pastoral applications accommodated to “complex, different situations”, cannot be justified from Scripture or the apostolic practice of the Church.Kasper also attempts to make a case for allowing Communion to the divorced and remarried based on “development of doctrine” and even said that this was something Pope Francis himself desired and even dared to stand on the shoulders of Cardinal John Henry Newman! Pentin asked him:The teaching does not change?The teaching does not change but it can be made more profound, it can be different. There is also a certain growth in the understanding of the Gospel and the doctrine, a development. Our famous Cardinal Newman had spoken on the development of doctrine. This is also not a change but a development on the same line. Of course, the Pope wants it and the world needs it. We live in a globalized world and you cannot govern everything from the Curia. There must be a common faith, a common discipline but a different application.Kasper says the Church cannot change her teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. If this is so what possible development of doctrine can he possibly envision? Christ taught “What I say to you is: everyone who divorces his wife…forces her to commit adultery. The man who marries a divorced woman likewise commits adultery” (Mt. 5: 32). It is impossible for the Church based on the development of doctrine to turn adultery into something it is not, to make sin not sin by calling a legitimate sacramental marital bond non-marital, and thus non-binding on the husband and wife. The one-flesh unity is a metaphysical, ontological reality within the couple and before God over which the Church has no power and thus there can be no “development of doctrine” on this question. To permit divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion is to admit those objectively committing adultery to receive the Body and Blood of Christ which would constitute a spiritual contradiction and be a false mercy to them.The Church can see more profoundly and grow in awareness led by the Spirit into what constitutes a sacramental bond. Significant changes have already occurred regarding the nature of matrimonial consent, changes reflected in the New Code of Canon Law and applied in annulment cases for decades as just one example of where possible legitimate changes can be made for the sake of mercy, compassion and lightening the burden for those in broken marriages. Indeed, we may expect more revisions in this direction from the Ordinary Synod text year.The law of gradualism has its place in the pastoral activity of the Church, but I think we have to be honest. Jesus was not all that gung-ho about it. It is true that Jesus, in a sense, gradually led the sinful woman at the well into full acceptance of his divine, messianic identity (Jn. 4: 1-42) and even capitalized on whatever, as the draft report described, “positive elements” in the “imperfect forms” by which she could be led. But far more often the Gospels present us with the Christ who places great demands on his followers, who expects a full, undivided discipleship for the sake of the Kingdom. Consider the Christ who says: “If your right eye is your trouble, gouge it out and throw it away! Better to lose part of your body than to have it all cast into Gehenna. Or if your right hand is your trouble, cut it off and throw it away! Better to lose part of your body than to have it all cast into Gehenna” (Mt. 5: 29-30), I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”, (Mt. 10:34), “Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God,” (Lk. 9: 62), “Go, sell all you have… then come follow me” (Lk. 18:22), “Lest you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you,” (Jn. 6: 53), “He who does not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me,” (Mt.10:38),and “How narrow is the gate that leads to life…” (Mt. 7: 14) are only a few examples of the urgency, all or nothing demands of the Gospel.The Church will now prepare for the next phase of the Synod—with a full year of debate and discussion ahead of us. However the Church addresses the needs of married couples and the family, and whatever merit the pastoral approach of the “law of gradualism” may possess, the Church must continue to rouse the heart to follow the Lord, help people fear the Lord and learn to love the Lord, provoke repentance and true conversion of heart. Jesus did not give up His life for the Kasparian church of the low gospel—but gave His life so that his people can actually live that Gospel in its fullness, in an out-pouring of grace as members of His Bride and the Kingdom of God.
Saturday, January 31, 2015
In case you missed it, here is Prof. Monica Miller's endeavor "to understand how Kasper's faction argues its position." It is a detailed analysis involving careful Biblical exegesis, well-worth reading: