Why Many in the Church Have Difficulty with Vatican II and the Popes After John Paul II

The Reluctance  of the Objectified Mind be open to the Reality of the Person: to render reality as object is to lose its ontological reality as subject. “Pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction. I is not the uninvolved who comes to knowledge; rather, interest itself is a requirement for the possibility of coming  to know.” [1]I consider the following to be the deep misgivings of Moynihan concerning the Church offering Pope Francis’ “wishes to ‘open the doors’ to that ‘mercy’ and “forgiveness” that would enable all repentant sinners to return to participate without scandal and without shame in the full life of the Church, in the life of Christ, including receiving Holy Communion.”

          Moynihan’s “concern” is that forgiving as Christ does will undermine the metaphysical underpinnings of the whole Christian life. That is, once you permit the divorced-remarried to Communion, then you universalize divorce, make it acceptable and breakable on whim without prejudice to the reality of the Eucharist as the sacramental presence of God Himself. That is, you have lost “a very broad-based metaphysical war against the concepts of substantial being, personhood, the soul, personal fault, sin, guilt, repentance, and holiness of life — the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic sacramental system… the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic faith.”

   It seems, in a word, that if the Church makes sweeping forgiveness according to the dimensions of Christ Himself, Redeeming Charity will destroy the creating metaphysic undergirding right and wrong. And the Church dissolves.

          In large terms, it seems that you have God the Redeemer (Mercy) undermining God the Creator (Being), and ultimate the whole thing will unravel. Let me rehearse it:

          It seems to me that we are dealing on the one hand with the Creator of all being and reality. Part of that reality – and the most important – is the creation of the human person in the image and likeness of the Person of the Divine Son. All the rest is “thing.” The received Greek metaphysics that is not privileged with the revelation of creation has passed on to us a metaphysic of being as experienced through the external senses. It is a metaphysic of objects, -things – and the human is also rendered as object with the accident of rationality: hence the received “individual substance of a rational nature.” For the Greeks, being and nature were indiscriminate since both are what is objectively (to the senses) “there.”

The notion of “person” took a big turn in Vatican II when the Church broke from the scholastic philosophic and theologic lineage and offered a Christological anthropology where the prototype and meaning of the human person was God Himself in Jesus Christ. Man ceased being a rational “thing” as substance (in self and not in other.

In the Greek-Scholastic realist epistemology, truth is the conformity of thought to reality which is a nature. More specifically, “in knowledge the intellect and the known reality become one; the intellect is wholly-that is, in a perfect manner, the known object” “the soul becomes, so to speak, transformed into the real object.” These are thomistic quotations I take from Joseph Pieper’s “Reality and the Good.”[2] Truth as the conformity of the mind with reality takes on an absolute character because it is created by God and conforms ontologically to His Mind, and we conform to it and achieve absoluteness of thought by the indirect connection to the creating Intelligence. The universality of thought is explained by the abstractive power of the mind seeing into the internal sensible images of created things rendering them universal concepts.

The absoluteness of our moral judgments is grounded on this metaphysic and epistemology. In the scholastic manuals of philosophy and moral theology, the grounding was thus philosophic and rationalist while being backed by quotes from Scripture. In marriage, its indissolubility was ontologically grounded on the procreation and education of children as its primary purpose and solidified by Christ’s words concerning divorce: “It was not this way from the beginning” (Mt. 19, 8).

It seems to me that the present drama is playing out in real life. The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamosov.”

The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor

In His infinite mercy He [Christ]came once more among men in that human shape in which He walked among men for thirty-three years fifteen centuries ago. He came down to the ‘hot pavements’ of the southern town in which on the day before almost a hundred heretics had, ad majorem gloriam Dei, been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville…

 The priest, coming to meet the coffin, looks perplexed, and frowns, but the mother of the dead child throws herself at His feet with a wail. ‘If it is Thou, raise my child!’ she cries, holding out her hands to Him. The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at His feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips once more softly pronounce, ‘Maiden, arise!’ and the maiden arises. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.

“There are cries, sobs, confusion among the people, and at that moment the cardinal himself, the Grand Inquisitor, passes by the cathedral. He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal’s robes, as he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the Roman Church- at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk’s cassock. At a distance behind him come his gloomy assistants and slaves and the ‘holy guard.’ He stops at the sight of the crowd and watches it from a distance. He sees everything; he sees them set the coffin down at His feet, sees the child rise up, and his face darkens. He knits his thick grey brows and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire. He holds out his finger and bids the guards take Him. And such is his power, so completely are the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately makes way for the guards, and in the midst of deathlike silence they lay hands on Him and lead him away. The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on’ The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy, inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.

“‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us?”

There is the rub:the criterion of mercy  is to be  taken from us and removed. The   danger is that Christ return as redeemer and mercy. We have our metphysic and it is grounded in the epistemological reason of the Stoics. It is about substance (“thing-in-itself) and nature and it is “from below.”It is grounded in an abstraction through external senses. Enough with mercy from above.

“ For Thou hast come to hinder us, and Thou knowest that. But dost thou know what will be to-morrow? I know not who Thou art and care not to know whether it is Thou or only a semblance of Him, but to-morrow I shall condemn Thee and burn Thee at the stake as the worst of heretics. And the very people who have to-day kissed Thy feet, to-morrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of Thy fire. Knowest Thou that? Yes, maybe Thou knowest it,’ he added with thoughtful penetration, never for a moment taking his eyes off the Prisoner.”

              And so it seems, Francis is urging the Church to be Christ, and therefore forgive and be merciful as Christ. To me the question is not so much abrogating doctrine, as coming to realize that the Church has already ushered in a new epistemological horizon in which the Person of Christ is the meaning of Being (See R. Barron “The Priority of Christ”), and that meaning is not the intractable “substance” of “thing-in-itself” but gift as relation, and therefore the meaning of person, grace, marriage, sex, sacraments… must be recast in that relational metaphysic. The truth of Christ, sin, heaven, sanctity, etc.  is not mitigated but played out in a new key. And so this issue of divorce, remarriage, Eucharist is forcing the Church to actually understand what actually happened in Vatican II, the universal call to sanctity and matrimony, as well as the whole Christian life.

              Apposite to the point: Forgiveness does not undermine the metaphysic, but builds the new metaphysic of the person. As Ratzinger insists: “The root of man’s joy is the harmony he enjoys with himself. He lives in this affirmation. And only one who can accept himself can also accept the thou, can accept the world. The reason why an individual cannot accept the thou, cannot come to terms with him, is that he does not like his own I and, for that reason, cannot accept a thou.

              “Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one’s I leads to the inability to accept a thou. But how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected: We cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life, she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist. This is the root of the phenomenon known as hospitalism. When the initial harmony of our existence has been rejected, when that psycho-physical oneness ahs been ruptured by which the ‘Yes, it is good that you are alive’ sinks, with life itself, deep into the core of the unconscious – then birth itself is interrupted; existence itself is not completely established…. (T)he charism of revolution has been for a long time not just remonstrance against reparable injustices but protestation against existence itself, which has not experienced its acceptance and hence does not know that it is acceptable. If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: ‘It is good that you exist’ – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love. For it is the way of love to will the other’s existence and, at the same time, to bring that existence forth again. The key to the I lies with the thou; the way to the thou leads through the I.”[3]

The psychiatrist Conrad Baars: 

Persons Related to by Affirmation: “can be said to have received the gift of themselves. They feel worthwhile, significant and lovable. They possess themselves as man or woman. They know who they are. They are certain of their identity. They love themselves unselfishly. They are open to all that is good and find joy in the same. They are able to affirm all of creation, and as affirmers of all beings are capable o f making others happy and joyful, too. They are largely other-directed. They find joy in being and doing for others. The find joy in their love relationship with their Creator. They can share and give of themselves, be a true friend to others, and feel at ease with persons of both sexes. They are capable of finding happiness in marinate of the freely chosen celibate state of life. They are free from psycho-pathological factors which hamper one’s free will and are therefore sully responsible – morally and legally – for their actions.”[4]


[1] The Essential Pope Benedict XVI,” Harper San Francisco 2007. 247.

[2] J.Pieper, “Reality and the Good,” in  Living the Truth, Ignatius (1989)

[3] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology” Ignatius (1987) 79-80.

[4] Ibid 190.

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