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Antinomianism in high places is still antinomianism

December 4, 2013

We live in pervasively antinomian times, and basic unawareness of law is all around us. Yet ignorance of what law is, of why we have it, and even of how one needs to talk about law in order to make good sense, hampers the cause of clarity and reform.

The recent comments of Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, new Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, regarding possible changes in the canonical discipline of withholding holy Communion from Catholics divorced-and-remarried outside the Church, seem a good example of antinomianism. But, while several recent Roman statements benefit by interpretation secundum leniorem (in particular, not taking every unhappy phrase as a harbinger of doctrinal disaster), I think that Archbishop Baldisseri’s remarks require something more. They require, I suggest, direct response.

“A new approach needs to be taken with respect to the administration of the sacraments to remarried divorcees.”

Simply put, there is no pastorally plausible middle-ground between admitting one to holy Communion and not admitting one to holy Communion. (What is one to suggest? Allowing divorced-and-remarried Catholics to take Communion every other Sunday?) Setting aside some rare fact patterns that even now would countenance divorced-and-remarried Catholics going to Communion (e.g., living in a brother-sister manner), the only “new approach” to prohibiting Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics would be to permit Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Trying to pass off a reversal of discipline by describing it as a “new approach” is a disservice to this important issue.

“The Church needs to apply Church doctrine taking the circumstances of each specific case into account. This approach does not mean making general conclusions and rules for everyone.”

Good grief, “general conclusions and rules” are for everyone because that’s whom “general conclusions and rules” are for! If one wants to suggest the possibility of exceptions to rules, or even whole new rules, fine, suggest them, and let the debate proceed. But do not try to claim that “general conclusions and rules” mean not having “general conclusions and rules”—unless, of course, one’s intention is to abolish “general conclusions and rules”.

“…even in the case of marriage annulments, we deal with each case separately. This is what pastoral care is all about; it is not a set framework.”

What can one say? Every court worthy of the name deals with (the facts of) each case separately, but courts do not make up separate rules for each case. A tribunal is expressly about working within a doctrinal and disciplinary framework set by the Church; to imply that a tribunal apply ‘rules without a framework’ is the essence of antinomianism.

“…the [synodal] intention is to discuss the issue [of Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics] without any taboos, otherwise it would not have been mentioned.”

This is perhaps the most vexing line in the prelate’s remarks, for it implies that Church practice against administering holy Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics might be a “taboo,” that is, a superstitious practice which, once brought into the light of reason, should be abolished with an alacrity that admits we were silly ever to have thought this way at all. I suggest, we do not need to rid ourselves of “taboos” in regard to Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics because there are no “taboos” associated with the prohibition.

What there is, on the other hand, is Christ’s teaching on marriage, the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, and the long-settled practice linking one’s observance of our Lord’s teaching on the former with receiving Him in the latter, that need to be clearly and forthrightly explained, defended, and oberved as, indeed, Abp. Gerhard Müller recently did in a manner approaching brilliant.

In the meantime, antinomianism in high places, no matter how it got there, is still antinomianism. And I trust it’s not taboo to say so.

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