While rifling through papers again, I come across Karol Wojtyla’s “The Problem of the Theory of Morality” in his Person and Community, Peter Lang (1993) 159:
“I maintain that morality as a value has objective meaning in and through the human being and that there is no way to apprehend this meaning apart from the categories of being and becoming. In other words, moral good is that through which the human being as a human being becomes and is good, and moral evil that through the human being as a human being becomes and is evil. This becoming (fieri) resides in the dynamism of human action (actus humanus); it cannot be properly objectified on the basis of consciousness alone, but only on the basis of the human being as a conscious being. It follows, too, that good or evil as a property of a conscious being is itself also a being and not just a content of consciousness. This does not, however, obscure the fact that it – good or evil – is, at the same time, a content of consciousness that it is given in lived experience as a specific value, namely, moral value. Proceeding from the two different orientations in philosophy, it seems that we can arrive in the theory of morality at a complementary view of this same reality. Moral value points directly to that through which the human being as a human being is good or evil.”
Pay attention to this. The entire revolt against Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia” including the “dubbia” of the four cardinals and the brouhaha around numbers #304 and 305 is not due to a misunderstanding, but the fact that Francis is working within the mind of John Paul II and the Vatican Council. The philosophical rendering of that is the paragraph above from Wojtyla’s “The Problem of the Theory of Morality.” The moral value of good and evil comes from whether the “acting person” is good or evil, and that depends on whether that action is in accord with conscience, which in turn depends on whether conscience is grounded in the ontological tendency of the person as image of the divine Persons. If the person tending by conscience to make the gift of self to God and others and in reality makes the gift, then the person is “good,” [we could more adequately say “improving” – “becomine”], the conscience is “good” – even if in fact the person may be in an objective state of mortal sin and therefore, bad. Case in point would be the Samaritan woman who is in objective sin, yet lives sincerity [self-gift] with Christ and confesses to Him that “I have no husband.” He responds: “Thou has said will, ‘I have no husband’…” (Jn. 4, 17-18) and He reveals Himself to her. She is objectively in sin, but she is in the process of becoming good by giving herself in sincerity to Christ by telling the truth about herself. She is growing in moral goodness while she is in an objective state of mortal sin. Hear Francis in AL #304-305 again: “It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment. ‘Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects… In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not eh same for all, as to matter of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all…. The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail.’ It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care.” And now,
- For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”.349 Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”.350 Because of 348 In another text, referring to the general knowledge of the rule and the particular knowledge of practical discernment, Saint Thomas states that “if only one of the two is present, it is preferable that it be the knowledge of the particular reality, which is closer to the act”: Sententia libri Ethicorum, VI, 6 (ed. Leonina, t. XLVII, 354.) 349 Address for the Conclusion of the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (24 October 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 26-27 October 2015, p. 13. 350 International Theological Commission, In Search of a Universal Ethic: A New Look at Natural Law (2009), 59. 237 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.351 Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties”.352 The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality. 306. In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard. Fraternal charity is the 351 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). 352 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 44: AAS 105 (2013), 1038-1039. 238 first law of Christians (cf. Jn 15:12; Gal 5:14). Let us not forget the reassuring words of Scripture: “Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8); “Atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged” (Dan 4:24); “As water extinguishes a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sins” (Sir 3:30). This is also what Saint Augustine teaches: “Just as, at the threat of a fire, we would run for water to extinguish it… so too, if the flame of sin rises from our chaff and we are troubled, if the chance to perform a work of mercy is offered us, let us rejoice in it, as if it were a fountain offered us to extinguish the blaze”.353 The logic of pastoral mercy 307. In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur: “Young people who are baptized should be encouraged to understand that the sacrament of marriage can enrich their prospects of love and that they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the 353 De Catechizandis Rudibus, I, 14, 22: PL 40, 327; cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 194: AAS 105 (2013), 1101. 239 life of the Church”.354 A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue….
Comment on the above by Paul Thordason:
One thought on “This is wordy, but take the time to read Wojtyla’s first part and then Francis’s 304-305 of the Amoris Laetitia.If you understand this, you understand the meaning of the Second Vatican Council in the life of the Church and the transformation of world culture. Pope Francis is not only not wrong, but he is courageous in trying to move the Church across the threshold of the Third Millennium that was at the heart of John Paul II and Vatican II. I pray for him in this suffering for love”
I think this was a good article and timely. I have much more recent knowledge of Joseph Ratzinger than I have of Karol Wojtyla, and I find much the same thinking there. I personally cannot comprehend Pope Francis in any context except direct continuity with his predecessors. I really don’t get the thinking behind Pope JP II/Pope Benedict VS. Pope Francis..
On the general topic of Points 303 and there about in Amoris Laetitia, I offer the following comments of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger from “Theological Highlights of Vatican II”. Although it is concerning the issue of “just war”, the parallels with Pope Francis’ points in Amoris Laetitia are hard to miss:
Fr. Ratzinger writes: “…the Council moved away from the static definitions of the “just war” theology which presumes to determine once and for all what is and is not morally right. Though such a definition would have the advantage of being concrete in its prohibitions, it would, on the other hand, label as just the mere licit – a very dubious procedure. In view of the new situation, the Council moved away from the static morality of the just war toward a dynamic morality of emergency. It recognized the intricacies of the present situation, in which what ought to be is often impossible. Here the alternative, “all or nothing at all”, for all its seeming rectitude, turns out to be ultimately destructive of all moral effort. Therefore, the attempt must be made to approach as closely as possible what is morally desirable. Thus we can at least assert moral demands, even though we cannot achieve our ultimate moral objectives.”
in his summary assessment he further writes:
“If we meditate on the Council’s statement, we become immediately aware how suited it really is to lead us from what seems to be an almost secular consideration into the very heart of Christianity. The whole of human action is shown to be abysmally deficient when we begin to confess that our moral attitude in this matter, and actually in all other matters as well, is far from what it should be. We recognize that the small righteousness we manage to build up in ourselves is nothing but an emergency morality in the midst of our radical unrighteousness. We are directly and forcefully reminded of St. Paul when we find ourselves force from behind our shell of protective speculation (emphasis mine), forced to admit that our righteousness is nothing but a temporary expedient in the midst of unrighteousness. We find ourselves crying for mercy to him who makes just the unjust. The sincerity of the man who acknowledges reality with no excuses is itself a hidden appeal to the mercy of the mystery which has appeared to the faithful in Jesus Christ. The foremost intention of the Council was to reveal this need for Christ in the depth of the human heart so as to make man able to hear Christ’s call. The Council has attempted to put the ministry of faith at the service of mankind in a new way in this historic hour. It has tried to serve God in serving men, to serve God who in himself chose to become a man.”
This is just one example of many I could add. Once one corrects for rhetorical style, it is very difficult to find any “controversial” statement of Pope Francis that has not been been said before by Pope John Paul II and/or Pope Benedict.
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