On the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops 2014 – Part 7

Art. 41 of the Relatio specifies numerous contemporary problems, such as cultures that think of “stages” of marriage and such as a poverty that makes a wedding seem impossible. That poverty would prevent even the celebration of a marriage is tragic indeed. The Church indeed, instrument of God’s graces, must not exact a fee for her sacraments. Indeed, she may ask for a donation, even a hefty donation. However, in case of poverty, she must dispense grace without any donation. I would be certain that no pastor would object to that principle – God forbid.

The likely cause of tragedy in these cases is the expensive reception to follow the wedding. Every bride wants a glorious reception on her wedding day. The circumstances, however, sometimes prevent anything other than water. In such a case, there are a few things to examine. First, if the proposed groom will not be able to provide for his wife and possible children, why should he marry the proposed bride? After all, the end of marriage is children for God’s kingdom. Circumstances rendering that end practically impossible should at least raise this question for engaged couples. Second, if the proposed groom is able to provide for his possible children, a wedding makes sense. Since a celebration is not the most important item here, but rather the grace of God is, the couple should be married validly but without a celebration.

Art. 42 begins with this problematic statement:

42. All these situations require a constructive response, seeking to transform them into opportunities that can lead to the fullness of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel.

The “fullness of marriage”. An interesting, and highly problematic, statement. What does it imply? It implies that marriage comes in degrees. That one can “participate” more or less in its bounty. Say, the fornicating but long-standing couple such as Augustine and his mistress – these would “participate” in marriage. To a lesser degree, others. (What sexual relationship will be excluded from this happy circle of “participants” in marriage?)

This is an erroneous and totally misleading concept: “Fullness of marriage”. There either is or is not a marriage. Now, one can speak of a married couple “living the married life to the full” and another married couple “not doing so”. One can speak of degrees of lived life of marriage, but not of degrees of marriage. Why? Because marriage is total and exclusive. There are no degrees of totality and exclusivity. What, is the “Thruple” a “participation” in absolute exclusivity? Is the “ten year bond” a “participation” in the totality of “unto death”? Nonsense. So why is the Relatio speaking of a “Fullness” of marriage as the goal of the pastoral action? It should simply state that “Marriage” is this goal. That it does not once again highlights the Relatio’s failure to take seriously the evil of the situation of those in a sexual relationship that are not married.

I would take a moment at this juncture to register a general problem in Magisterial texts in the past 50 years. There has been a nearly total, if not total, silence on falsity and errors. There has been a strong desire to “state the positive”. This desire is understandable, and yet its monolithic employment has consequences at least as disastrous as are rumored the consequences of simply “stating the negative”. To be sure, a balanced approach seems best.

What are the negative consequences of this “only state the positive” approach? Confusion and falsity of opinion – and these are never under any circumstances good things. Why confusion and falsity of opinion? Because some things simply are false, some things simply are evil. To try to point out the “positives” in them is utterly to lose the point. For instance, a man raped a woman. What “positives” are you going to find there? That he had an erection? Good biological “projection”? He was handsome? She beautiful? O – and she conceived! To look at the matter thus is to be a mindless idiot. Nothing short. Just call it evil – which is what it is.

How about the falsehood: Someone claims that the earth is flat for such and such reasons. His rhetoric and logic are amazing. What are we to do? Grovel at his diction? Become dazzled by his syllogisms? No, we should vomit out his main proposition and not worry about the elegance.

Now, when we are talking about a society – say, a non-Catholic church or a sexual couple – we are indeed talking about something more complicated than one act or one proposition. Hence, there is a place to speak about the positives in these matters, at least the potential positives. But there is also a place to speak frankly about whether or not we are dealing with the true Church that Jesus founded, on the one hand, or a true marriage instituted by God the Creator or by Jesus the Redeemer.

We can thus take two approaches. On the one hand, we can look at the overall picture. Indeed, in the end this is the most important. The overall picture is the truest. This community either is or is not the true Church of Jesus Christ. If it is Catholic, it is. If it is not Catholic, it is not. Thus, there is the true religion – that established by Christ and tended exclusively by the Catholic Church – and there are false religions. A religion is either true or false. And there is only one true one: The Catholic religion. All else are false.

On the other hand, we can look at the details and nuance. We can ask, Does this community bear features of the one true Church of Jesus Christ? Her doctrines, her sacraments, her practices, her theology? Here, the answer is a “more or less” depending on the community.

The same is true with marriage. We can ask about details: Does this couple have the elements that should be found in a holy marriage? Are they concerned for each other? Are they striving for the common good? Are they open to children? Are they tender? Will they remain together until death? Here, the answers are “more or less” depending on the couple. Unless we are talking about an unnatural sexual relationship, which has absolutely no relation to true marriage. But we can also ask the most important question: Are they married? Here, the answer is black or white: Yes or no. There is no middle ground.

I think, then, that what we have in the Relatio is part of the monolithic pastoral strategy of the Bishops for the past 50 years. It is the strategy that avoids, at almost all costs, speaking of “true vs. false” and instead speaks of “fullness of truth vs. degrees of truth”. I believe that this strategy is imbalanced and needs to be rectified. I posted on this issue a while ago.

Unless, of course, the phrase “fullness of marriage” should be read, instead, as “that fullness which alone is marriage”. Then the statement would be true. But it would be a considerable stretch to read the document thus.