Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Doctrine of Marriage 2017: Roman (g)rumblings

The Anglican Communion is not the only communion of churches having difficulty reaching a settled state of tranquility on marriage in 2017. The controversy within the Roman Communion, sparked into deeper grumblings and rumblings with the recent publication of Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia, rolls on, as this Catholic Herald article reports.

It all seems very Anglican, this emerging phenomenon of local bishops determining pastoral practice (i.e. how their pastors should respond to the situations of remarried couples in respect of receiving the eucharist).

I happen to think it is the right thing to do because it allows the mercy of God to follow paths of discernment which acknowledge the complexities of life while being guided by principles. The alternative is to be bound by a one rule fits all approach. In the case of communion the latter approach is seriously at odds with the teaching of Jesus who was tightly prescriptive around marriage and divorce but never said a word about what state of purity a person needs to be in before permitted to share the eucharist. The eucharist, we might recall, at its first celebration included a traitor and a denier, to say nothing of ambitious would be prelates.

A specific point of reflection, however, for Anglicans looking across the Tiber at this ongoing (g)rumble could be this: marriage is doctrinally important!

It is so important that churches - not just funny old Anglicans - are hugely stressed when some aspect or other of marriage is tackled by bishops/commissions/synods with a view to making changes.

One strategy within our Anglican debates which keeps getting wheeled out, is what could be called the minimization strategy. As in "It's not a big deal, why so much fuss?" or "Hey, marriage as doctrine is not central 'cos it isn't mentioned in the creeds."

Try telling that to Cardinal Muller! Or Burke!!

18 comments:

Steve Hayes said...

Here's an Orthodox take on it, which you might find interesting (or not, as the case may be) The theology of Christian marriage | Khanya

Jean said...

I had never before had an insight into the Catholic practice of witholding communion from divorcees. While I can see the relationship in terms of scripture draws parallels between the marriage of two people, and the union between Christ and his bride; I can also see significant differences. Such as the convenant of marriage between people is one made by between two people, not God and his people. Also, I believe a single person can fully enter the unity between Christ and the Church and therefore, saying that unity does not exist outside a 'first' marriage I think raises over theological difficulties. But no doubt this has all been debated before : )

I read recently about the Priest called to witness and preach the gospel to the Nazi war criminals and was interested he refused each communion until he was convinced they had genuinely committed to faith. Amazing stories aside it made sense to base receiving to communion with an association of belief since it so clearly is to 'be done in remembrance' and with acknowledgement of His body and blood being given for us.

Andrei said...

"Such as the convenant of marriage between people is one made by between two people, not God and his people."

Did you read Steve Hayes' contribution above Jean? :)

All of this seems rooted in the legalism of the Western Church, something I have said before here and got jumped on for articulating

The "withholding of communion" from remarried divorcees isn't a "doctrine" of the Latin Church despite the title of this post, it is a custom and discipline that is applied.

For myself the custom is not to communicate often maybe five or six times a year. The tradition in which I was raised suggests preparation before receiving communion perhaps receiving absolution from a priest before doing so whereas Western Christians seem to take communion every Sunday as a matter of habit and ritual

Ultimately though whether or not you receive communion is a matter for your own conscience thus it does not seem strange to me that a remarried divorcee might not receive communion as an act of contrition and penitence - the laying it down as a hard and fast rule though seems overly legalistic

Shawn Herles said...

Ugh. Made the mistake of reading the NYT article.

"Breitbart, the website that is popular with the alt-right, a far-right movement that has attracted white supremacists."

Utter bollocks. Breitbart has never at any time been popular with the alt-right. Having actually done some research on the alt-right, unlike the fake news merchants at the NYT, and read their blogs, I can confidently say that they see Breitbart as useless to their mission and irrelevant at best. The NYT's ongoing smear job on Bannon and Breitbart as representative of the alt-right is disgusting, and either a total failure of basic journalistic research, or deliberate lying. Or both. Either way the US, and the world, will be better off when their collapsing readership finally reaches rock bottom and they go out of business.

An article about Bannon and the Vatican might have been interesting, but I have no way of knowing how much of the NYT is article is true.

Shawn Herles said...

"All of this seems rooted in the legalism of the Western Church, something I have said before here and got jumped on for articulating"

Well, for a start, which "Western church" are you talking about? If it's specifically the RC I might agree, to a point, but the RC is not the only Western church.

And what do you mean by legalism? I take it to mean requiring people to follow rules which are not found in Scripture. By that understanding the Orthodox churches can be pretty legalistic when it comes to their liturgies.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, the real issue here is the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation. The obsession with the Eucharist (which Catholics need take only once a year) is a red herring. Those who are in sexual relationships when they have a living spouse from a prior relationship are likely to be in mortal sin (deliberate sin in a grave matter) and need reconciliation before they die. Otherwise, Catholic doctrine is clear that heaven could be a stop they'll miss. Adultery isn't of course the only mortal sin. Contrition for the "second timers" is difficult though, because the penitent is expected to go and sin no more. The only ways open to reconciliation are leaving the irregular union or to abstain from sexual relations. As for the secondary matter, only those reconciled (we say in a state of grace) can take communion. Consequently if Amoris Laetitia is interpreted (as the Maltese bishops have suggested) ie to allow second timers to take communion because their consciences tell them they can, the question arises why can't the unrepentant tax evader, drunkard or paedophile priest do the same? The Pope has, presumably unwittingly, turned the moral law upside down. This is far more serious than bread and wine for second timers. Allowing conferences of bishops to sort out the mess is not optimal. I hope the dubia writers publically correct matters soon.

Nick

Andrei said...

"As for the secondary matter, only those reconciled (we say in a state of grace) can take communion."

None of us, Nick, are fully in a "State of Grace" while we live

A person may receive the sacrament of confession and repent his past sins but then on his way to Mass come Sunday curse at a driver who cuts him off, momentarily lust after a young woman in the next pew, be irritated by the person behind him singing loudly off key etc

In this fallen world we stumble continuously no matter how hard we try.

And the real issue I might have with this is not the matter of receiving communion but the implication that without the legalistic sophistry of an annulment a person who is divorced and remarried cannot start with a fresh slate which is not only in my view unbiblical but actually places an impediment in the way of the sinner seeking to be reconciled with God and the Church

Anonymous said...

I am no defender of annulments particularly in North America where the majority of "invalid marriages" occur . 1 Cor 11:27 must be relevant to who takes communion, but there are numerous interpretations. My point is that Peter is correct to note that marriage is important, but the major issue is whether we can now wilfully sin if our consciences tell us we can. The 10Cs become irrelevant if the answer is "yes". On one reading of Amoris Laetitia, this conclusion is possible.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Nick
I appreciate your recent comments, especially focusing our attention on reaching an appropriate state ("reconciliation") in which to receive communion.
While we can argue the toss over the state each of us is normally in when we receive communion (Andrei's comment), I imagine each of us would worry just a wee bit if, say, we saw a person joining the line for communion who was brazenly unrepentant of a grievous sin (indeed, if it was our own selves engaged in adultery, embezzlement, racism, etc). Whatever we non-Romans make of Roman theology and practice on confession/penance/reconciliation, could we agree that it does provide a pathway for repentance?
I also want to say that I myself am not trying to find an easy path towards communion where (say) two people walk out on their respective marriages in order to form a new marriage, driven by personal desire for fulfilment and happiness and accelerated by a Western culture of "easy" divorce. Indeed, according to our Lord's teaching, many Protestant/Orthodox interpreters would agree with Roman that there is no path, not even a hard one, towards repentance from such adultery, save for continence (though even then, is there not a continuing hurt for previous spouses by the continuing new marriage)? (Nevertheless, the question could still be raised under what circumstances repentance might be possible, genuine, affirmed by the church without continence as penance).
No, my concern is (1) annulment as a route through the reality of divorce, but I note that Nick has concerns too, along with others here; (2) marriages involving divorced partner or partners where annulment is not an option, yet continence does not seem appropriate either (e.g. a previously unmarried person marrying a divorced person, with the new marriage intent on raising a family and in the faith of Christ ...) Orthodox and Anglican and other churches provide a way forward here which Rome prior to Amoris Latitia seemed either unable to do, or priests simply overlooked the circumstances of their parishioners coming forward for the sacrament. Post Amoris Laetitia there does seem a way forward, though, obviously, it could become a document which waves people into the communion line who have not followed the actual prescription of discernment and pastoral care which the document talks about.

Andrei said...

"My point is that Peter is correct to note that marriage is important, but the major issue is whether we can now wilfully sin if our consciences tell us we can."

The answer is no - we can't but then again we all probably do to a greater or lesser extent

In the real world we are not the same person at forty as we were at twenty and not the same at sixty as we were at forty

It is highly plausible a marriage in someones early years went wrong and they divorced and remarried - such things are common enough in human experience and twenty years later with three kids from the second successful marriage someone might seek reconciliation with the Church - what is done cannot be undone. A murderer who repented his deeds would be welcomed with open arms but a failed marriage though deeply repented cannot be reconciled?

In fact, Nick, what would happen to non Catholic who had a divorce in their distant past, now remarried wanted to be received into the Catholic Church - would this restriction apply to them? - I suspect not since in regions where polygamy is common the Church receives a man and his wives into the Church without demure and permits that state of affairs to continue

Such things are an example of oikonomia

Anonymous said...


You say, I happen to think it is the right thing to do because it allows the mercy of God to follow paths of discernment which acknowledge the complexities of life while being guided by principles.
Is this how it really works in practice in the Anglican Church. Unless every discernment is run by the Bishop for approval, the decision (in our case over whether to remarry - and increasingly where to marry) - devolves on local clergy, As Ulrich Luz says in his great commentary on Matthew "the individual pastor is left alone, and must choose most of the time the way of least resistance, i.e. the blessing of all that has happened. Furthermore the expectations of Bishops are themselves something of a moving target, if they follow "acknowledge the complexities of life".
Rhys

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rhys
Excellent question!
I am happy to make a remark or two in response but I first want to acknowledge that I am not currently a parish priest and thus not facing on a regular basis requests for marriage. Also: I have been a parish priest, however, and I certainly acknowledge - in hindsight - that I have participated in weddings that my now "more developed" understanding sees as a less than adequate decision to do so on my part (at least insofar as I did not ask enough questions about the couple, their past, their commitments, their readiness to take this huge step, etc ... and I am thinking both of preparing couples for marriage who had not been previously married and couples one or both of whom had been previously divorced).
Also, my specific comment above is particularly in the context of understanding or trying to understand what is happening in Roman contexts of ministry which have, as you know, a different history of engagement with marriage preparation.
That said, I offer three observations for our Anglican contexts:
- We could collectively resolve to review our approach to marriage and divorce these past four decades or so (i.e. since greater ease for marrying divorcees became possible for parish priests acting without reference to the bishop). Are we satisfied with that approach in practical terms? (Noting some posting Bosco Peters has done at Liturgy in recent months) do we still think that what we have done is in keeping with the teaching of Christ? Are we both initially and on an ongoing basis well trained as marriage preparers and celebrants? What might we learn from our Roman and Eastern sisters and brothers?
- I do not presume that my colleagues do not work hard at discernment of issues and at the working through of those issues as they encounter couples requesting marriage and, inevitably, respond to each couple as unique. (By the way, I am not implying that you make any other presumption yourself!)
- I do notice that all sorts of new marriages are being conducted in our church, and sometimes they involve clergy themselves remarrying ... and thus I do think the first observation above is timely if not urgent ... but we do have one or two other things re marriage which we are currently pondering!

Anonymous said...

Peter, I have reviewed the canons conveniently available on the Vatican website. It seems to me that where a Catholic tribunal would find no marriage (and some of the grounds are obvious such as lack of consent), there can be no objection to divorce on those grounds (because Rome would see no marriage anyway). It gets tricky where you have an example like Andrei's. I'm not a canon lawyer, so have no knowledge of real life examples, but I presume a person examines their capacity. My scepticism with North American tribunals arises from the fact that annulment applications are reputedly easier to get than say in Poland. If North American tribunals are in fact dissolving valid marriages, then those people are presumably still strictly married and hence Andrei's reference to Sophistry. Now Amoris Laetitia is possibly a more honest way of approaching the issues (as hesitant as I am as a JP2 rather than Franciscophile). But my concern is perfectly summed up by Rhys viz. the path of least resistance. The Maltese bishops are already the weak link. There's a risk that special circumstances will be so common that marriage is undermined. Turning back to Andrei's example, perhaps annulment (as dreadful a process as it is) is better than an abused AL.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Nick, Andrei and Rhys!
I imagine if the four of us were an ecclesial tribunal to which we brought examples well known to us, we would agree on some instances where "annulment" was the right and proper course of action (supposing that were equally available to the respective church contexts in which we operate). There would also be instances where we would agree that the marriage (or "marriage") of X and Y is adultery by another name. But there would be situations which fall between those two categories for which we might (a) agree to disagree on what the situation is or (b) agree that we do not know what to make of it!

Anonymous said...

I agree, Peter. But for the middle ground, I am not convinced (and AL is not an infallible document because the Pope to whom I am loyal knows what words he should have used to state a new infallible doctrine) that mercy helps in individual cases. I have no theological training at all, but mercy to me is like grace. It doesn't lower the bar; it's a breathing space to get your house in order. Remember the jot rule.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Nick
My bear of little brain brain either cannot recall or has never heard of the "jot" rule ...
Mercy does not lower the bar.
My point (and I suspect Francis' point re AL) is that mercy re marriage/Eucharist might enable us to discern whether every (re)marriage is an ongoing act of adultery and/or whether repentance for past wrong re previous marriage is possible in order for a new marriage to be a new start. (All, obviously, within the Roman context of annulment also being an option for some situations).
Again, my and I presume Francis' point, question is whether a once size fits all rule does justice to variations in human situations.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter; I meant Matt 5:18 KJV. Thanks for your response, I'll need to think it through.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Nick,
Ah!! All is clear :)