Since the public presentation of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia on Saturday, February 8, the traditional media has been flooded with negative evaluations. I made a list of some of the pejoratives: ambiguous, undermining, fundamental option, turning point in Catholic doctrine, uncertainty, coup, revolutionary, relativistic, plot to turn the Church upside down, demolish the foundations of two thousand years of Catholicism, constant teaching of the Church destroyed, strange, surreal, disquieting, dreadful, devastating for the Church, a praise to heretic joy, catastrophic. It has even been simply called the “Bergoglian heresy”.
In these evaluations, a number of passages have been quoted from the Exhortation, virtually all of the relevant ones to be found in Chapter 8, which is titled Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness. Unquestionably, these passages and their respective evaluations offer evidence for the strong condemnations of these commentators. Possibly most succinct, and most often employed, is a passage from paragraph 305, and its footnote. The passage reads:
“Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.”
The relevant footnote (#351) reads:
“In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 , 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039)”
All this is indeed an indication of an underlying heresy, but it does not, so to speak, “put the nail to the coffin”. As one commentator put it, it is “careful language”. Or, as Cardinal Schonborn stated in his Intervention at the Presentation of Amoris Laetitia, it is a “linguistic event”.
Possibly the most succinct, devastating, and poignant summary of this position – that Amoris Laetitia represents not explicit, but implicit, heresy – has come, not from a traditional Catholic, but from a man who describes himself as having been a secular Jew who converted to Catholicism, and now has rejected the Faith entirely. Damon Linker, in The Week magazine, writes the following:
“If there were any doubts that Pope Francis is a stealth reformer of the Roman Catholic Church, the apostolic exhortation he released last week (Amoris Laetitia, or the "Joy of Love") should settle the matter.
“A straightforward reformer of the church seeks to change its doctrines. A stealth reformer like Francis, on the other hand, keeps the doctrines intact but invokes such concepts as mercy, conscience, and pastoral discernment to show priests that it's perfectly acceptable to circumvent and disregard those doctrines in specific cases. A doctrine officially unenforced will soon lose its authority as a doctrine. Where once it was a commandment sanctioned by God, now it becomes an "ideal" from which we're expected to fall short. Before long it may be treated as a suggestion. Eventually, repealing it is no longer controversial — or perhaps even necessary.
“Stealth reform ultimately achieves the same reformist goal, but without inspiring the intense opposition that would follow from attempting to change the doctrine outright.”
However, Cardinal Schonborn, Damon Linker, and others who promote such views concerning the Pope’s Exhortation are wrong. It is not just a “linguistic event” or “stealth reform” or revolution, which is able to fly under the radar of a specific charge of heresy. There is a very explicit heresy, it is the foundation of all the other legitimate condemnations of Amoris Laetitia, and it clearly reveals the agenda which germinates and nourishes all the rest of its errors. It is found in paragraphs 296 and 297:
“The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart… For true charity is always un-merited, unconditional and gratuitous.” (296).
“It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial com-munity and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy” (297).
Clearly, the Pope is here speaking of the individual human person, and the state of his soul which determines whether he is justified or condemned. As a Catholic, whatever he says therefore must be judged in the light of the Council of Trent’s infallible teaching concerning justification. Chapter VII of the Council’s Decree on Justification is titled What the Justification of the Impious Is, and What Are the Causes Thereof. It contains this crucial passage:
“For, although no one can be just but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those that are justified and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in Whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.”
For a person to possess justifying charity, therefore, means that he is in an ontological state of being in friendship with God, and ingrafted into Christ. In defining the justifying theological virtue of charity, St. Thomas teaches: “It is written: I will not now call you servants…but My friends. Now this was said by reason of nothing else than charity. Therefore charity is friendship.” (ST, II-II, Q.1, A.1). This is why we rightly speak of the possession of sanctifying grace as “being in the friendship of God”.
To assert, as does Pope Francis, that such charity is unmerited, unconditional, and gratuitous is simply a form of the Lutheran heresy, which views justification, and the perseverance in God’s friendship as totally unmerited by man, and as not requiring the cooperation of man in virtue and the performance of good works. In my article The Dream of Nabuchodonosor, I quoted 21 Canons of the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification which condemn Luther’s position, and detail at every stage of man’s justification – from preparation for conversion to the grace of final perseverance – the absolute necessity of the cooperation of man’s free fill and the performance of good works in the attainment of, and perseverance in, God’s friendship, and the possession of that supernatural charity which we call sanctifying grace. This article can be found here: http://www.waragainstbeing.com/node/62
I will not repeat all of these Canons here, but only offer a section from Chapter XI of the Council’s Decree, and also the paragraph which constitutes the entirety of Chapter XV:
“But no one, how much soever justified ought to think himself exempt from the observance of the commandments, no one ought to make use of that rash saying, one prohibited by the Fathers under an anathema, that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified. For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou art able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able; whose commandments are not heavy, whose yoke is sweet, and whose burden light. For whoso are the sons of God love Christ; but they who love Him keep His commandments, as Himself testifies; which, assuredly, with the divine help, they can do.”
“In opposition also to the subtle wits of certain men who, by pleasing speeches and good works, seduce the hearts of the innocent, it is to be maintained that the received grace of justification is lost not only by infidelity [loss of faith], whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost; thus defending the doctrine of the divine law, which excludes from the kingdom of God not only the unbelieving, but the faithful also (who are) fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liars with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners, and all others who commit deadly sins; from which, with the help of divine grace, they can refrain, and on account of which they are separated from the grace of Christ.”
Therefore, Pope Francis’ statement (including his twisting of the statements of PaulVI) in paragraph #305 that, “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end” does indeed constitute heresy And his statement in footnote 351 that, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, ‘I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy’ (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 , 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’ (ibid., 47: 1039”) is an explicit invitation to Eucharistic sacrilege.
Herein resides the essence of this heresy. It lies specifically in teaching that there is a “gradualness” applicable to the possession of charity and sanctifying grace. It is Catholic dogma that possession of supernatural charity is an ontological state created by sanctifying grace added to the soul, that one cannot possess this charity unless living in this substantial state, and that it is this state of being which is absolutely necessary for receiving the Eucharist and other sacraments. It cannot be possessed by a person living in objective mortal sin, or by any person who is in some process of pastoral effort working towards the attainment of some “ideal".
In addition, all of Francis’ various statements which promote the idea that an individual’s correspondence with immutable Catholic moral doctrine is only an ideal, which may be now unattainable, and which must be subject to the new principle of “gradualism”, constitutes a blasphemy against God’s goodness and grace,“Who aids thee that thou may be able”, as clearly laid out in Chapters XI and XV of Trent’s Decree on Justification as quoted above.
It must also be noted, that it is also an egregious error to claim, as does paragraph 297, that “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial com-munity and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!<” (297). It is not “the logic of the Gospel” that “no one can be condemned forever”. Our Lord emphatically stated, “For many are called, but few are chosen”. Again, as taught by the Council of Trent’s Decree, the “call” (which is termed “prevenient grace”) is indeed unmerited and gratuitous, coming as it does before any decision by the individual, but the being “chosen” (justified, and living in the state of charity), demands our cooperation and works. This is the “call” which Nineveh heard and complied with in the Old Testament. It is the “call”, which the world heard at Fatima, and with which few have cooperated. Thus our present chastisement. Mercy is often not unmerited, unconditional, and gratuitous, and this is especially true of its application to the salvation of the individual soul. To conclude otherwise amounts to the promotion of a “cheap” and false mercy.
Amoris Laetitia has the potential to place every priest in the world on the ropes. This is especially true because the way in which it will be implemented has been de-centralized and, and as it were, democratized. Every priest (and of course every bishop) will be forced to make the decision as to whether he chooses to obey Christ and His Gospel, or whether to embrace this heresy and its consequences (especially sacrilegious Communion and Confession). If he chooses the first alternative he will almost certainly suffer profoundly, even to the point of losing his faculties. If he chooses the latter, he will be complicit in both heresy and sacrilege. There will be an immense pressure placed upon their ministry in the confessional, not only by what will probably be the majority of bishops, but even more overwhelmingly by the “faithful”.
Finally, I think it necessary to mention Cardinal Burke’s rather lengthy response to Amoris Laetitia. This would seem necessary because of the respect he has earned among traditional Catholics in his defense of the moral law in general, and the indissolubility of marriage in particular.
Cardinal Burke is quite critical of those who have offered critical evaluations of the Pope’s Exhortation, and who see it as a “revolution in the Church”, and as “a radical departure from the teaching and practice of the Church, up to now, regarding marriage and the family”. He sees such criticisms as a “wonder and confusion to the faithful”, and as “potentially a source of scandal….”
Cardinal Burke’s solution is a receiving of Amoris Laetitia by interpreting it with “the key of the magisterium”, and that “the task of pastors and other teachers of the faith is to present it within the context of the Church’s teaching and discipline”. It should be added that, to his credit, Cardinal Burke devotes quite a bit of space in an attempt to do precisely that. Despite his efforts, however, it is quite evident that a good number of traditional Catholic websites, which usually pay attention to his every word, have conspicuously ignored his response. One has even called it “weak”.
In consideration of Cardinal Burke’s position, I would offer two points.
First, his position that we can interpret Amoris Laetitia in light of the perennial teaching of the Church, and the implicit conclusion that what is mostly at fault are pastoral policies which might contradict this teaching, is dependent upon there being no real contradiction in Amoris Laetitia with the Church’s doctrine – no heresy. As should be obvious from the above analysis, I believe such a conclusion to be false.
Secondly, Cardinal Schonborn’s unusual, but very perceptive, observation that Amoris Laetitia is a “linguistic event” should cause us to shudder in regard to consideration of any sort of “presentation” of this document, not only to the faithful, but also to priests and bishops. The term “linguistic event” indicates a power within much of its language and passages, which has variously been described as “beautiful”, “inspiring” , “poetic”, and “mystical” which is bound to exercise a profound effect upon even the most wary. This language will act as an apparently beautiful and seductive vortex drawing the faithful down into the embrace of that central heresy which is the foundation of all of the rest of this document’s errors and destructive pastoral approaches. It would seem necessary to conclude, therefore, that Amoris Laetitia should not be received by the Church, and that it should be flatly rejected.
As Cardinal Burke has himself made clear in his response, Amoris Laetitia is not a binding magisterial document, nor are there any binding juridical norms. Despite this, any faithful Catholic should experience “fear and trembling” in proposing the sort of criticisms and conclusions which I have offered above. It is as it must be.
- James Larson