Dr. John Smythe

Remaining in the Truth of Christ – Excerpts

Edited by Fr. Robert Dodaro, O.S.A.
Ignatius Press, 311 pages

1. The Argument of the Debate

Fr. Robert Dodaro, O.S.A., President of the Patristic Institute, Augustinianum (Rome)

“The essays in this volume represent the responses of five Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church and four other scholars to the book The Gospel of the Family, published earlier this year by Walter Cardinal Kasper. Kasper’s book contains the address he gave during the Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals held on February 20-21, 2014.” (p. 11)

“The authors of this volume jointly contend that the New Testament presents Christ as unambiguously prohibiting divorce and remarriage on the basis of God’s original plan for marriage set out at Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. The ‘merciful’ solution to divorce advocated by Cardinal Kasper is not unknown ‘in the ancient Church, but virtually none of the writers who survive and whom we take to be authoritative defend it; indeed when they mention it, it is rather to condemn it as unscriptural. There is nothing surprising in that situation; abuses may exist occasionally, but their mere existence is no guarantee of their not being abuses, let alone being models to be followed.’ … These are not a series of rules made up by the Church; they constitute divine law, and the Church cannot change them.” (pp. 34-35)

II. Dominical [i.e. Jesus’] Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage: The Biblical Data

Paul Mankowski, S.J., Scholar-in-Residence at the Lumen Christi Institute (Chicago)

“Reacting to Jesus’ pronouncement that remarriage after divorce is adultery, his disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry’ (Mt 19:10). From the first moment of its declaration, the teaching Jesus propounded as the will of God was deeply distressing, even to men of good will. Subsequent centuries have shown no slackening in the energy and ingenuity devoted to weakening or nullifying the force of this teaching, and as long as it is expedient to circumvent the doctrine, there will be attempts to explain away its scriptural anchoring. But the doctrine is given as absolute in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and even Paul goes out of his way to insist that, as a messenger of the teaching and not its author, he is not to blame for its rigor: ‘To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord’ (1 Cor 7:10). There can be no serious doubt that the teaching is dominical [i.e. the Lord’s].” (pp. 62-63)

III. Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church: Some Historical and Cultural Reflections

John M. Rist, Emeritus Professor of Classics and Philosophy at the University of Toronto, and former holder of the Kurt Pritzl, O.P., Chair of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America.

“If we ask how it can be the case that there are those who appeal to the ancient evidence as part of an argument in favor of change, we can only conclude that they (or the sources on which they rely) are guilty of an unfortunate practice all too common elsewhere in academia; the evidence in favor of one view is overwhelmingly superior, but there are a very few cases—and perhaps even these largely of uncertain determination [i.e. difficult to pin down]—that point to the contrary conclusion. It is then claimed that the evidence, if not in favor of change, at least leaves the solution open. Such a procedure can only be condemned as methodologically flawed. (p. 92)

IV. Separation, Divorce, Dissolution of the Bond, and Remarriage: Theological and Practical Approaches of the Orthodox Churches

Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, S.J., Secretary of the Congregation for Oriental Churches

“Christ brought his new, revolutionary message, one that was ‘countercultural’ to the pagan world. His disciples announced his good news, fearlessly presenting near-impossible demands that contradicted the culture of that age. The world today is perhaps similarly marked by the neo-paganism of consumption, comfort, and egoism, full of new cruelties committed by methods ever more modern and ever more dehumanizing. Faith in supernatural principles is now more than ever subject to humiliation.

“All this brings us to consider whether ‘hardness of heart’ [cf. Mt 19:8; Mk 10:5] is a convincing argument to muddle the clearness of the teaching of the gospel on the indissolubility of Christian marriage. But as a response to the many questions and doubts, and to the many temptations to find a ‘short cut’ or to ‘lower the bar’ for the existential leap that one makes in the great ‘contest’ of married life—in all this confusion among so many contrasting and distracting voices, still today resound the words of the Lord: ‘What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder’ (Mk 10:9), and the final consideration of Saint Paul: “This is a great mystery…” (Eph 5:32).” (p. 128)

V. Unity and Indissolubility of Marriage: From the Middle Ages to the Council of Trent

Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, former President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences

“Thus the development of doctrine, sacraments, and the hierarchy of divine law does not come about as the casual product of history, but it is guided and made possible by the Spirit of God. For this reason, this development is irreversible and is open only toward a more complete understanding. Tradition in this sense thus has a normative character. In our case, this means that there is no way out of the teaching of the unity, sacramentality, and intrinsic indissolubility of a marriage between two baptized persons—except the way into error.” (p. 144)

VI. Testimony to the Power of Grace: On the Indissolubility of Marriage and the Debate concerning the Civilly Remarried and the Sacraments

Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

“If remarried divorcés are subjectively convinced in their conscience that a previous marriage was invalid, this must be proven objectively by the competent marriage tribunals. Marriage is not simply about the relationship of two people to God; it is also a reality of the Church, a sacrament, and it is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the Church, into which the individuals are incorporated by faith and baptism.” (p. 162)

VII. Sacramental Ontology and the Indissolubility of Marriage

Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna

“The Church has the mission of leading mankind, of educating people to overcome ‘the divergence between that which one finds on the surface and that which the mystery of love actually is.’ She has the mission of announcing the gospel of marriage. She has the mission of announcing even [i.e. also] the gospel—let me repeat: the gospel—of indissolubility, a true treasure that the Church guards in vessels of clay.” (pp. 179-180)

VIII. The Divorced and Civilly Remarried and the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance

Velasio Cardinal De Paolis, C.S., Emeritus President of the Prefecture of Economic Affairs of the Holy See

“Mercy is often presented in opposition to the law, even divine law. This view is unacceptable. God’s commandment is a manifestation of the love with which He shows us the way to take so as not to go astray on our journey through life. But setting God’s mercy in opposition to his own law in an unacceptable contradiction.” (p. 203)

“On the basis of the remarks above, it seems clear that in regard to the divorced and civilly remarried and their admission to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist, there can be no solution as long as their irregular marital situation remains unchanged. This fact cannot be attributed to the severity and rigor of the law, because we are not dealing with human laws that could be changed or even repealed, but with divine laws that are good for man and mark the path of salvation indicated by God himself.” (p. 209)

IX. The Canonical Nullity of the Marriage Process as the Search for the Truth

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

“Walter Cardinal Kasper, in his presentation to the Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals on February 20, 2014, raised the question of the fittingness of the judicial process. Regarding the declaration of nullity of marriage, he observed:

Because marriage as a sacrament has a public character, the decision about the validity of a marriage cannot simply be left to the subjective judgment of the parties concerned. However, one can ask whether the juridical path, which is in fact not iure divino [by divine law], but has developed in the course of history, can be the only path to the resolution of the problem, or whether other, more pastoral and spiritual procedures are conceivable. Alternatively, one might imagine that the bishop could entrust the task to a priest with spiritual and pastoral experience as a penitentiary or episcopal vicar.

“He went on to make a caricature of the marriage nullity process in the second and third instance, asking the rhetorical question: ‘Therefore, can it really be that decisions are made about the weal and woe of people at a second and a third hearing only on the basis of records, that is, on the basis of paper, but without knowledge of the persons and their situation?’” (pp. 211-212)

After a very well-documented presentation, Cardinal Burke concludes in these terms: “The judicial process for the declaration of nullity of marriage is essential to the discovery of the truth regarding the claim that what appeared to be true marriage consent was, in fact, null. Given the complexity of human nature and its reflection in most cases of marriage nullity, the only way in which to know, with moral certitude, the truth about such a claim is the dialectic that the judicial process provides and that has been carefully articulated and developed in the history of the Church’s discipline.” (p. 239)

“In conclusion, the response to the question about the canonical process for the declaration of nullity of marriage, raised in the Preparatory Document of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, can only be found through full respect for the nature of the claim of nullity of marriage and the nature of the process by which the truth of the claim is decided. It is my hope that the celebration of the coming Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will lead to a new appreciation of the canonical process for the declaration of marriage, and a new commitment to provide the process for the faithful who request it in its integrity, for the sake of their eternal salvation.” (p. 240)

Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, available October, 2014), 311 pp., $24.95.

(DICI no.301 dated September 26, 2014)