Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Families and marriage: reflections about the Synod

By José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teología Sin Censura blog
October 3, 2014

On the eve of the celebration of the Synod on the Family, if, indeed, the most pressing issues that apparently will be raised in that Synod will be primarily moral, it is possible -- even likely -- that the following reflections might be of some use.


1. A preliminary question which could be of enormous importance, would be for the Church hierarchy to wonder why its teachings are in such different spheres when they face problems related to money and problems related to love between human beings. Too often when the ecclesiastical hierarchy and Catholic theology refer to matters mainly about the rights of property, money, capital, profits and asset accumulation, the theological and magisterial teachings usually remain in the realm of the speculative, the generic and the merely hortatory, whereas when the Hierarchy and Theology raise and seek to solve the problems and situations that affect the loving relationship between people, the magisterial and theological response goes straight to decisions, that is, it isn't limited to doctrinal speculation, or even to exhortation, but promptly grounds itself in choices, which translates into standards, laws that prohibit or impose, even with strict punishment for those who don't conform to an alleged "natural law", which, being presented as constitutive of the same nature created and loved by God, doesn't allow for discussion, let alone any kind of rejection.

This disagreement -- this inconsistency, even -- between the "teaching on money" and the "teaching on love" is something that is, first of all, so patent and, on the other hand, so inexplicable, that the effect of all this on the public is usually scandalizing. And consequently a discredit to the Church, which thus loses credibility and authority to talk about two issues as crucial to the lives of citizens as the beliefs they must assume towards the problems posed by the economy and problems we experience in the family. Because, when facing two huge problems like money and love, we should never forget that these two areas of life -- the economy and the family -- are so closely linked to each other that, as we shall soon see, in practice they are inseparable. By which I mean that either both are solved simultaneously with the same forcefulness and the same language, or the opposite effect happens, which is that, when attempting (unconsciously) to separate two areas of life and society which can not be separated, what you get is a loss of credibility, both in what the Church says (or doesn't say) about money and capital and in what the Church says (or doesn't say) about the defining experience of love between human beings.

The examples and questions -- about the problem I just pointed out -- are mounting and becoming more accentuated day by the day. Why is the Church so demanding when it comes to abortion (I am not pro-abortion), defending the life of the embryo and fetus, and isn't equally engaged and demanding in the endless issues raised by the appalling problem of child trafficking, the use and abuse of children in forced labor, in wars, in the buying and selling of organs, etc, etc? Why does the Church impose "latae sententiae" excommunication on those who get abortions, and doesn't resort to the same punishment for those who force children to go to war as soldiers or to work up to twelve hours a day for poverty wages? Why does the Church (in which there are so many exemplary believers) view gay marriage as such a serious threat to the family, and doesn't see the economic conditions that families have to bear, shattered by unemployment, starvation wages, health and job insecurity, poor conditions for the education of their children, etc, etc, as an equally serious or even a greater threat?

2. On issues concerning the family, the Church should always bear in mind that, at least until the fourth century, Christians followed the same constraints and practices with regard to marriage as the pagans around them (J. DUSS VON-WERDT in Myst. Sal., vol. IV/2, 411). Which means that Christians of the first centuries were unaware that Christian revelation had brought something new and specific to the cultural phenomenon of marriage itself. In any case, it is certain that marriage before a priest as a mandatory requirement, first appeared around the year 845 in the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals and was justified on grounds of civil law not by theological arguments (JG LE BRAS, Histoire des collections canoniques en Occident depuis les Fausses Décrëtales jusqu’à Gratien, Paris, 1931. Cf. J. DUSS-VON-WERDT, op.cit., 414). It's in the late twelfth century, in 1184, that marriage as a sacrament is referred to formally for the first time, at the Council of Verona (DENZINGER-HÜNERMANN, The Magisterium of the Church, No. 761). Moreover, in all this business, it's essential to know that until the 12th and 13th centuries, the time when Christian theology was systematized into an organized body of knowledge, the Church was not only ruled by Roman law but -- as is well known -- custody of the Roman legal tradition fell mainly to the Church. As an institution, the Church's own law in Europe was Roman law. As stated in the Lex Ripuaria of the Franks (61(58) 1), "the Church lives according to Roman law." It is true that the Church was constructing its own law. But it is also true that, as the problems the Church had to face grew in complexity, references to Roman law increased. The Roman material relevant to the Church was recompiled into specific collections, such as the Lex Romana Canonice Compta done in the 9th century. The fact is that, as specialists in these matters have noted, "the Church did not reduce its teachings to the Gospel" (PETER G. STEIN, El Derecho romano en la historia de Europa, Madrid, Siglo XXI, 2001, 57). The whole organizational and legal system of the Church grew not so much on the foundation of the Gospel but of Roman law, lex mundialis as the 619 Council of Seville, led by Saint Isidore, called it (Conc. Hispalense II. Cth. 5. 5. 2. ENNIO CORTESE, Le Grandi linee della Storia Giuridica Medievale, Roma, 2008, 48).

Therefore, if the Church didn't have a problem adapting to the civil and secular laws of the peoples and cultures in which it was growing and to which it got adjusted without putting up any opposition or resistance, why now, when Christianity is an institution of no longer European but global scope, are we rejecting the Church accepting and integrating into its life the customs, traditions and rules of conduct that are most appropriate for each country and time?

3. If to the above we now add the perspective of the most competent sociologists of our time, we will have sufficient evidence to face the problems that come up for families today and the solutions they need, now into the third millennium. First, it should be noted that the traditional family was, above all, an economic unit. The transfer of property was the primary basis of marriage. Moreover, in medieval Europe, marriage was not built on the basis of sexual love, nor was it considered a space where love should flourish. And to all this must be added the inequality between men and women as a constitutive element of the traditional family (cf. ANTHONY GIDDENS, Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives, Madrid, Taurus, 2000, 65-79). Now it is evident that the renewal of the family and marriage must be built on the basis of a fundamental fact, namely: the family is no longer an economic unit, but however, must be built on the basis of sexual love. And above all, it's critical to remember, in any case, that equality of rights between men and women, and the decision-making freedom of both, are the pillars on which marriage and the family can be renewed and reconstructed at this time.

Therefore, the solutions that can be brought to the problems posed to the Synod, namely the issue of divorce, the Church's acceptance of same-sex unions, and contraceptive use, are extremely important questions for hundreds of thousands of people that can be solved without infringing upon the Christian theology of marriage or putting it into question at all. The Church can solve these problems today by modifying current canon law without betraying its faith and tradition at all.

4. From the dogmatic theology perspective, a fundamental question remains to be answered: Isn't the Church's traditional teaching on all the sacraments a doctrine of faith and, therefore, the one on the sacrament of marriage too? Apart from a series of historical facts that are impossible to summarize in this brief study, and if we stick to the conclusion that we can and should support on this capital issue, we can and should state that it is beyond doubt that the concept of what belongs to faith -- and consequently also the concept of heresy -- that was used by the theologians and bishops at Trent, was something very different from what is now meant by these concepts. This is certain, at least with respect to Session VII of the Council of Trent (DENZINGER-HÜNERMANN, nos. 1600-1613). Therefore, we can say with complete certainty that the doctrine on the sacraments which was defined at Trent is not a doctrine of faith in the sense of a set of truths of the divine and Catholic faith. Neither, therefore, is the denial or questioning of the truths set forth in the aforementioned Session VII; such denial does not involve incurring heresy (JOSÉ M. CASTILLO, Símbolos de libertad. Teología de los sacramentos, Salamanca, Sígueme, 1981, 340-341; P. F. FRANSEN, Réflexions sur l’anathème au concile de Trente: ETL 29 (1953) 670; A. LANG, Der Bedeutungswandel der Begriffe “fides” und “haeresis” und die dogmatische Wertung der Konzilsentscheidungen von Viene und Trient: MTZ 4 (1953) 133-146). Consequently, it is clear that the classical formulations of sacramental theology can and should be rethought from a new perspective. And, therefore, these classical formulations can and should be conceived and expressed based on the problems we see and experience today around the sacraments. And with a view to giving the proper solution to such problems.

So, once the "dogmatic corset" that might prevent or hinder the free search for the answer that so many Catholic (or simply Christian) believers need today is loosened, given that the questions being raised at the Synod are both scientifically and theologically “quaestiones disputatae” ("disputed issues"), the most consistent and sure gospel and Christian response will be the response that most humanizes us in kindness, respect, tolerance, and seeking happiness for those who are struggling with doubt, seeking good and love to all and for all.

1 comment:

  1. Extremely helpful and thought - provoking. If the church was so easily able to adapt to civil law in the past, moving away from the Gospels in the process, why on earth does it now find it so difficult to adapt again to civil law - and back towards the Gospels?

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