Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Amoris Laetitia Magisterial? A Guest Post by Ryan Grant

This morning, a Vatican newspaper printed an article declaring that Amoris Laetitia is part of the binding papal Magisterium and must be given religious submission of mind and will by the Catholic faithful.

We present here a guest commentary by Mr. Ryan Grant. Ryan is a long time friend and colleague of mine, whom most of you probably know from his work at Athanasius Contra Mundum and the excellent Mediatrix Press. Ryan, noting that the article coming out of the Vatican today is not from any official Church organ, offers reasons why Catholics concerned by Amoris Laetitia should just keep on doing what they've been doing.

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It is being said that Amoris Laetitia is now officially part of the Magisterium and Catholics must submit their intellect and will to it. This is entirely false. Here I completely prescind from discussing the merits of the document, footnote 351 or any other issue. I am only interested in its doctrinal status.

This morning I read: "Writing in the Vatican newspaper, a Spanish ecclesiology professor said that Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is part of the non-definitive ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff to which the faithful owe religious submission of intellect and will." (source)

FULL STOP. In the first place, an ecclesiology professor does not have the authority to define the status of the document. That can only be done by either the CDF or the Pope himself, unless the document itself makes it clear that Catholics are bound to give an assent to the teaching, which, as far as I can recollect, does not. By its nature, as a post-synodal exhortation, it does not bind Catholics in any way.

Secondly, the distinction made by certain theologians between the ordinary universal Magisterium (Vatican I) and the non-universal, or non-definitive Magisterium, is that it is not binding but should be respected. Amoris Laetitia imposes no decision upon Catholics, and is merely opinative.

Thirdly, this article lead is false because a religious submission of the intellect and will only obliges if it is promulgated as a law or interpretation of a law, whether by a Sacred Congregation or the Pope himself. (St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Theologia Moralis, lib. 1, tr. 2, n. 107; cf. Cardinal Franzelin, De Divina Traditione, Thesis 12, 7th corollary). In the absence of a clear decision by the competent congregation(CDF), or by the Pope himself, this document binds no one to anything.
Don't freak out, return to the normal things you do.

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For a more thorough theological exploration of the authority of non-universal Magisterial statements - and for a differing opinion - we recommend Cathedra Veritatis: On the Extension of Papal Infallibility by John Joy, available in the Cruachan Hill Press store.


John said...

Since Boniface was kind enough to recommend my work on the subject of papal authority, I do want to make clear that I respectfully disagree with the position stated here by Mr. Grant.

According to Lumen gentium 25, the religious submission of will and intellect is due to the authentic teaching of the holy father on matters of faith and morals even when he is not speaking ex cathedra. Now as far as I know, no one has claimed that Amoris laetitia contains an ex cathedra definition, but it is hard for me to see how one can avoid the conclusion that it contains the authentic teaching of the holy father on matters of faith and morals.

That being said, the CDF Instruction Donum veritatis has made it clear that this religious submission of will and intellect does not exclude the possibility of respectfully raising questions about the contents of such non-definitive magisterial teaching.

Konstantin said...

I really hate this topic but I think I should chime in here. You are indeed right, John, that usually religious assent is due to authentic Magisterium (that would include the Pope's sermons). Nonetheless, various theologians, among them Ott, teach that interior assent can be suspended for grave reasons.

Merkelbach teaches in his Summa Theologiae Moralis:

"When the Church does not teach with her infallible authority, the doctrine proposed is not, as such, unreformable; or this reason, if per accidens, in a hypothesis which is however very rare, after a very careful examination of the matter, it appears to someone that there exist very grave reasons contrary to the doctrine thus proposed, it will be licit, without falling into temerity, to suspend internal assent (...)" (Quote taken from True or False Pope, p. 645).

The problem is that mos pre-Vatican II theologians agree that this is "a hypothesis which is however very rare", which I think is why there is not much out there in writing that would help us in the current situation, since the solution back then was to keep quiet (obsequium silentiosum) and wait till the problem is fixed, but as has been pointed out by Boniface in previous posts, to this day various objections to Vatican II have not been answered satisfactorily.

In light of the situation of the Church since Vatican II, I think it would help to reexamine whether the faithful (and also the hierarchy) would really be bound to keep quiet; the new Canon Law seems to permit respectful criticism, but I have to say this is one of the most confusing and troubling issues in our day. Would one be bound to remain silent if a Pope not only in some rare instances seems to teach error, but does so on a regular basis? This would mean that the Church is condemned to suffer her own destruction without any exterior means of defense (humanly speaking, since we know the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her).

Boniface said...


Recalling your book, you cite examples like Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and Humanae Vitae, where the pontiff is clearly intending to make a binding teaching but stops short of using infallible language. I believe Ryan's point is that Amoris Laetitia does not intend to teach anything - it lacks the binding nature of a law. Whether that is the case, I don't know, but I believe that is the point he is making.

John said...

Just a few further remarks to clarify my own position.

What I tried to say was, it seems to me that: (1) religious submission of will and intellect is due to the authentic teaching of the pope on matters of faith and morals, and (2) that Amoris laetitia contains authentic teaching of the pope on matters of faith and morals.

Regarding the first, I agree with Konstantin that this "religious submission" might not always mean actual interior assent, even though that is what is normally expected. My point at present is just that religious submission - whatever that entails - is due to the authentic teaching of the pope in matters of faith and morals.

Regarding the second, I can agree with Ryan that Amoris laetitia lacks the absolutely binding character of law characteristic of the infallible magisterium, but it is hard for me to see how it could be construed otherwise than as authentic teaching in matters of faith and morals. It certainly has to do with matters of faith and morals; and it appears that the pope intended to set forth Catholic doctrine rather than his private opinion. On the other hand, it is true that Amoris laetitia is not yet published in the Acta Apostolica Sedis, which is the official organ of promulgation. So I do admit that the precise standing of AL at this moment is somewhat ambiguous.

Regarding the examples of Ordinatio sacerdotalis and Humanae vitae cited by Boniface above, I do now think that OS contains an infallible declaration of the extraordinary magisterium, whereas in the book I argued that it was an infallible declaration of the ordinary magisterium. Humanae vitae is less clear to me, since Paul VI does not use quite such explicitly definitive language.

Jack said...

Konstantin, you say, "would one be bound to remain silent if a Pope not only in some rare instances seems to teach error, but does so on a regular basis?" Is it worth distinguishing here between the Pope regularly making errors, and the Pope making the same few errors regularly? Can't the post-Conciliar errors be reduced to a few erroneous ideas/propositions? Though I think what characterises post-Conciliar teaching is not so much that it is clearly erroneous, as that it is often very ambiguous, which is potentially something worse than clear errors which can be decisively identified as such and then condemned. Why is post-Conciliar ambiguous? My guess would be the decline in philosophical standards with the infestation of undisciplined continental philosophy/speculation into the Church's schools. I hope someone will be able to shed light on this.

Anonymous said...

Cf. #AmorisLaetitia: Finally the Vatican Enters the Modern World into the Digital Age with a New Genre of Papal Documents -

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should amend the submission thing to say: "religious submission of will and intellect is due to the authentic Catholic teaching of the pope on matters of faith and morals..."

If the pope desires to teach authentically on subjects relating to faith and morals, yet strays from the Catholic line of two thousand years laid down by Christ and His Apostles, then the thing to do is to fight him or ignore him. A nice hat and a quorum of cardinals does not overthrow the Catholic Faith. Nor does it make anything the pope desires "authentic."

The whole problem boils down to this. Give us a CATHOLIC pope, with CATHOLIC teaching, and we'll gratefully submit. Give us an ambiguous pope, with novel teachings, and we'll be confused and complain about it. Give us a pope who is a heretic and an apostate, and we'll tear him out of the Vatican, if God doesn't do it first. We want the first, we seem to get the second, and we'll (hopefully) never see the third.

The Church has always been known for the clarity of Her doctrine. That clarity is still there. It is the folks who are charge with teaching it who have failed. We don't have to swallow what they are offering, if it clashes with what we have already had passed on to us.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Joy, Perhaps you can help us understand what "religious submission of will and intellect" is due to Pope Pius XI 1930 Encyclica, Casti Connubii, where the latter is contradicted by Amoris Laetitia (ie. being in a state of grace even though living in adultery while knowing the teaching of the Church).

John said...

The religious submission of will and intellect is the response due to authoritative but not infallible teaching. This is distinct from the assent of faith due to infallible teaching. The assent of faith is definitive and irrevocable. Religious submission is by contrast provisional and revocable. Infallible teaching excludes the possibility of error. Merely authoritative teaching does not, though perhaps we could say that it excludes the probability of error. Doctrines proposed infallibly are absolutely certain. Doctrines proposed merely authoritatively are only morally certain.

I think that Ott's explanation is helpful. Speaking of authoritative but non-infallible teaching, Ott says: "NORMALLY they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See... The so-called 'silentium obsequiosum', that is, reverent silence, does not GENERALLY suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error." (Caps indicate my emphases.)

So religious submission normally implies actual internal agreement with the teaching in question, but not always. If two magisterial documents contradict one another, it is logically impossible to assent to both. If they can be reconciled, they should be. (The less authoritative should be read in light of the more authoritative, and the more ambiguous in light of the more clear.) If they cannot reasonably be reconciled, and if they are of unequal authority, one must assent to the teaching of the more authoritative. If they are of equal authority, one must assent to the teaching of the one more in accord with Scripture and Tradition.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Joy, You wrote: "If they are of equal authority, one must assent to the teaching of the one more in accord with Scripture and Tradition." This is clear and helpful but raises another question. According to the ad for your book papal encyclicas are part of the Ordinary Magisterium, and "can be considered" infallible.

If papal encyclicas are absolutely infallible one cannot contradict another. If one does, one of the two is not a papal encyclica. Am I missing something?

M. Prodigal said...

The Law of God supercedes the personal opinions of even the pope.