Dissecting the Instrumentum Laboris for the October 2014 Synod

Bishops participate in a musical number on stage before Pope Francis arrives for mass in an all-night vigil for those attending World Youth Day, in Rio de JaneiroThe Instrumentum Laboris, or working document (in Latin literally, the device of the work) was issued last month, and it foretells essentially more of the same.

The Document is riddled with programs, programs, and more programs! More this and more that! Change! Yet the only things useful for a constructive discussion on how to meet the challenges to the Family in the modern world are not surprisingly absent from the working document.

There is, as in most documents since the Council, a good deal of wishy-washy niceties, but not a lot of real content. We must bear in mind, however, that it is a document compiling the reactions of various Episcopal conferences to the issues raised as problems. It is not designed to lay down a clear teaching or instruction. What it should be doing, if it were to be effective, is to lay out the directions all discussions will go toward in order to attain a more practical solution. Instead, it just puts together what everyone is saying and says yeah, this is what’s going on, and this is what our top-guys say will fix it. That of course is what the Bishops’ conferences have said, which themselves utilized committees of talking heads to look at the problems, who themselves talked to committees of “experts” to explain the problem.

As always, not everything expressed here is bad, but is put together with a lot of things that are, and then looks to make a unity out of it, like good Hegelian dialectic which draws together the synthesis from placing together the Thesis, and the Antithesis, and boom! We have the solution.

Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work in the same way. Let’s have a look at some key passages.

The People of God’s knowledge of conciliar and post-conciliar documents on the Magisterium of the family seems to be rather wanting, though a certain knowledge of them is clearly evident in those working in the field of theology. The documents, however, do not seem to have taken a foothold in the faithful’s mentality. Some responses clearly state that the faithful have no knowledge of these documents, while others mention that they are viewed, especially by lay people with no prior preparation, as rather “exclusive” or “limited to a few” and require some effort to take them up and study them. Oftentimes, people without due preparation find difficulty reading these documents. Nevertheless, the responses see a need to show the essential character of the truth affirmed in these documents.(Instrumentum Laboris [hereafter IS], #11)

One might reckon, the difficulty in reading the documents is they are simply not clear! They introduce with tons of flowery language, they say some poorly worded propositions, often using traditional theological terms to mean something totally different, and leave one bewildered as to what is actually being taught. That is not the only problem here. The real problem is that not everyone can be a Theologian, and not everyone should. Not merely before the Council, but even in the preceding generations of thousands of years, the faithful did not by and large know the bulk of Church teachings, and they could scarcely name an encyclical. Yet, they did not have a crisis in the family as we do today. In past generations people knew what was right and wrong, even if they acted contrary to it, they still knew it was wrong. It didn’t take a pastoral program or a new encyclical for people to know in the 18th century that abortion was wrong, or that contraceptive potions and techniques, such as they were, are contrary to the Church. Why is this a problem when most Catholics are more educated in general than they were in the 18th century? The answer is you had a culture and society that itself embodied Catholic values, even Protestant societies, and had the support needed for families to survive. You do not have that today.

Moreover, there is a difference between religion and theology. Every Catholic needs to have an understanding of religion to get to heaven, but not every Catholic needs to understand theology. Religio is a Latin word, it comes from the same word as legio, as in Roman Legion. It actually means the “yoke”, like the yoke that tied oxen together. Soldiers in the legion were “yoked” by the bond of discipline, legionary laws, far more harsh than the laws of civil society, and the structure of obedience. In Latin, the prefix re- either means again, back, or it strengthens the meaning of the word. In the case of religio, it strengthens the meaning of the word. Thus religio refers to the common bond of teachings, practices and laws that every Catholic is under, high or low, great and small, clerical or Lay. By contrast, Theology, which comes from the Greek Θεός (Theos=God) and λογία (logia=saying), although some dogmatic theologians, notably Tanquery, traces the root to λόγος (logos= word), means more or less the Study of God. It is the study of revealed truths, and the truths which follow from them logically and are connected with them (i.e. the secondary object of infallibility, whereas revealed truths are the primary object). This is a fully developed science, employing a scientific language that is carried out (until recently) with precision. It has a wide breadth of subjects, disciplines, and areas of study. Theology also includes detailed study of the documents of the magisterium, the truths they contain and the consequences that affect other disciplines. Documents of the magisterium in the field of religion, on the other hand, only pertain to those issues which the faithful need to be aware of. Thus, theology informs and confirms religion, as the Church has always held, in as much as the work of theologians becomes the basis for future decisions of the Extraordinary Magisterium and the Ordinary Magisterium. The constructing and informing of their consciences takes place in the overall formation of Christian life, as we shall develop more fully.

Some episcopal conferences argue that the reason for much resistance to the Church’s teaching on moral issues related to the family is a want of an authentic Christian experience, namely, an encounter with Christ on a personal and communal level, for which no doctrinal presentation, no matter how accurate, can substitute. In this regard, some responses point to the insufficiency of pastoral activity which is concerned only with dispensing the sacraments without a truly engaging Christian experience. Moreover, a vast majority of responses highlight the growing conflict between the values on marriage and the family as proposed by the Church and the globally diversified social and cultural situations. The responses are also in agreement on the underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting Church teaching, namely, the pervasive and invasive new technologies; the influence of the mass media; the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead to an excessive, selfish liberalization of morals; the fragility of interpersonal relationships; a culture which rejects making permanent choices, because it is conditioned by uncertainty and transiency, a veritable “liquid society” and one with a “throw away” mentality and one seeking “immediate gratification”; and, finally, values reinforced by the so-called “culture of waste” and a “culture of the moment,” as frequently noted by Pope Francis. (IS #15)

Now, on the one hand, the faults of secular society do contribute to less religiosity, on the other we cannot lay all the fault at secular society. The strange thing here, is that the Vatican for 50 years has praised these same “secular societies” as a source of new riches, as a wonderful fruit of the French Revolution, as a realization of Vatican II, as… need I go on? And now they are complaining of the direction it is going! They can’t have it both ways. They want the modern conception of separation of Church and State, they want the secularized society, then it complains when a secularized society does what it is naturally going to do!

There is another fundamental disconnect here. Look at my emphasis. What are the Sacraments, except a direct personal encounter with Jesus Christ and his grace, preeminently in the Eucharist? What are the sacraments? Certificates? Status symbols? The person who wrote this point seems to think so. What kind of personal encounter can you have with Christ that is more powerful than the frequent exercise of the Sacraments? Is Penance not an encounter with Jesus Christ, where the priest in Christ’s very person and power forgives your sins, provided you have true contrition? Is not receiving his very body and blood an encounter? People need words to encounter them? The sacraments, and living the life of faith, exercising the virtue of faith with true charity, are connected. Moreover, so is the liturgy. Is the Liturgy a place where people have a true encounter with Christ? Or is it a place where people have a silly ceremony with absurd hymns, poor symbols and bad ritual to celebrate themselves? For most Catholics it is clearly the latter, in spite of the number of times that there have been “documents to end all abuses”, the “abuses” continue to exist. The reason of course is that the new liturgy is a man centered liturgy. There is in this whole document almost no mention of liturgy, which is a telling factor. Liturgical reform is nowhere on the radar of the Francis pontificate, let alone for the Bishops. The only reform for them is eliminating the Traditional Mass and restoring the primacy of the 1970’s liturgy, which is dying, and they can’t understand why. Hence the attack on the FI’s.

This “lived experience with Christ” is presented as a sort of dualism, as if this is something that happens independent of a man’s existence in Church and society. Proper doctrinal formation is a means, beautiful liturgy which hastens the senses to God is a means, Catholic society and families are a means, the will of the individual aided by grace and utilizing these means effects it. This document seems to think another army of pastoral lay workers will somehow bring this about!

We’ll close today with the following issue of Natural Law:

In light of what the Church has maintained over the centuries, an examination of the relation of the Gospel of the Family to the experience common to every person can now consider the many problems highlighted in the responses concerning the question of the natural law. In a vast majority of responses and observations, the concept of natural law today turns out to be, in different cultural contexts, highly problematic, if not completely incomprehensible. The expression is understood in a variety of ways, or simply not understood at all. Many bishops’ conferences, in many different places, say that, although the spousal aspect of the relationship between man and woman might be generally accepted as an experiential reality, this idea is not interpreted according to a universally given law. Very few responses and observations demonstrated an adequate, popular understanding of the natural law. (IS #21)

A lot of people have decried this section, and for good reason, nevertheless I think the working document is actually getting at something that is quite true and important, they are just drawing the wrong conclusions. Now, Natural Law in the Catholic Tradition is largely Aristotelian and Thomistic in its conception. In fact, St. Thomas says on this subject:

Sicut supra dictum est, ad legem naturae pertinent ea ad quae homo naturaliter inclinatur; inter quae homini proprium est ut inclinetur ad agendum secundum rationem. Ad rationem autem pertinet ex communibus ad propria procedere, ut patet ex I Physic. Aliter tamen circa hoc se habet ratio speculativa, et aliter ratio practica. Quia enim ratio speculativa praecipue negotiatur circa necessaria, quae impossibile est aliter se habere, absque aliquo defectu invenitur veritas in conclusionibus propriis, sicut et in principiis communibus. Sed ratio practica negotiatur circa contingentia, in quibus sunt operationes humanae, et ideo, etsi in communibus sit aliqua necessitas, quanto magis ad propria descenditur, tanto magis invenitur defectus. Sic igitur in speculativis est eadem veritas apud omnes tam in principiis quam in conclusionibus, licet veritas non apud omnes cognoscatur in conclusionibus, sed solum in principiis, quae dicuntur communes conceptiones. In operativis autem non est eadem veritas vel rectitudo practica apud omnes quantum ad propria, sed solum quantum ad communia, et apud illos apud quos est eadem rectitudo in propriis, non est aequaliter omnibus nota. Sic igitur patet quod, quantum ad communia principia rationis sive speculativae sive practicae, est eadem veritas seu rectitudo apud omnes, et aequaliter nota. (I-II, Q 94 A4, resp.)

As stated above (2,3), those things pertain to the natural law which a man is inclined naturally: and among these what is proper for man that he might be inclined to act according to reason. Now it pertains to reason to proceed from the common to the proper, as stated in Phys. i. The speculative reason, however, is considered one way in this matter, and the practical reason another. For, since the speculative reason is busied chiefly with the necessary things, which cannot be otherwise than they are, its proper conclusions, like the universal principles, contain the truth without fail. The practical reason, on the other hand, is busied with contingent matters, about which human actions are concerned: and consequently, although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects. Accordingly then in speculative matters truth is the same in all men, both as to principles and as to conclusions: although the truth is not known to all as regards the conclusions, but only as regards the principles which are called common notions. But in matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters 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. It is therefore evident that, as regards the general principles whether of speculative or of practical reason, truth or rectitude is the same for all, and is equally known by all.

What this means, is that while the natural law is written on our hearts, or, as St. Thomas says in a different question of the same article, “The rational creature’s participation with the eternal law”, it is the same always and everywhere, but how it is applied and deduced in individual matters will differ according to culture. For example almost all cultures have the sense that pre-marital sex and adultery are wrong, but how that is realized differed for many classical cultures. The principle is still true, but men can act contrary to their reason; additionally the passions move people to act contrary to reason.

Now, all references to the natural law, even by John Paul II, who was not a Thomist, refer to the Aristotelian-Thomistic Tradition in Natural Law. Now, the modern western world, on the other hand, works on a mostly empiricist view of natural law. What this means is that what is natural is not based on utility, or reason, but what we objectively feel about it. So, people go out for wine and cheese tastings. The object, it would appear, is the delight in company and the pleasure gained from drinking good wine and eating good cheese. I could just as well satisfy my belly with bread and water, but I don’t get pleasure. Therefore food is not about nourishment but pleasure. Likewise with sex, it is pleasurable, but children don’t actually result all the time, and can be prevented, therefore sex is about pleasure rather than procreation. Add to this the evolutionary frame work, the idea that we have “evolved” beyond an instinct for self preservation, therefore we have evolved sex to be about the individuals. In such a framework, what could be against nature in same-sex coitus, since it is about pleasure with respect to the individuals?

Obviously such reasoning is fallacious, because food is pleasurable, or sex is pleasurable, it doesn’t follow that its only end is pleasure. Yet this is a problem of first principles with respect to natural law. Modern society is based on the Empiricist viewpoint, modified by evolutionary philosophy, whereas the Catholic explication of teachings with reference to Natural Law are based on the Thomistic. The Instrumentum Laboris correctly identifies at least some element of this, when it says:

The responses and observations also show that the adjective “natural” often is understood by people as meaning “spontaneous” or “what comes naturally.” Today, people tend to place a high value on personal feelings and emotions, aspects which appear “genuine” and “fundamental” and, therefore, to be followed “simply according to one’s nature.” The underlying anthropological concepts, on the one hand, look to an autonomy in human freedom which is not necessarily tied to an objective order in the nature of things, and, on the other hand, every human being’s aspiration to happiness, which is simply understood as the realization of personal desires. Consequently, the natural law is perceived as an outdated legacy. (IS #22)

Therefore the solution would be to engage the modern dialectic as concerns Natural Law, right? Not according to this document. The reason is the modern Vatican has completely surrendered the fight on false ideologies like Evolution, and even at times the very notion of man which is its consequent, and therefore can’t, without contradicting 50 years of mis-steps, attempt to engage that fight. Instead it proposes another surrender, which, as noted in my last post, I first saw on Rorate Caeli:

The language traditionally used in explaining the term “natural law” should be improved so that the values of the Gospel can be communicated to people today in a more intelligible manner. In particular, the vast majority of responses and an even greater part of the observations request that more emphasis be placed on the role of the Word of God as a privileged instrument in the conception of married life and the family, and recommend greater reference to the Bible, its language and narratives. In this regard, respondents propose bringing the issue to public discussion and developing the idea of biblical inspiration and the “order in creation,” which could permit a re-reading of the concept of the natural law in a more meaningful manner in today’s world. (IS #30)

It is one thing to use Divine Revelation (e.g. Scripture) to assist with and illuminate the concept of natural law, however, the problem is that natural law as such is something discernible to reason, that does not need the aid of divine revelation. What this statement says, if one reads between the lines, is to eviscerate the concept and tradition of Natural Law, and reduce everything to Scripture, which the modernists have worked so hard to neuter by rendering it all allegorical, and thus to be interpreted in any way possible. Thus the closing statement of that paragraph. Re-read therefore, means surrender.

We will have more on this document to come in the future.

Fac responsum tuum hic...

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