By Sixto García*
“The possibility of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to a full participation in the eucharistic table must face the fact that the current legislation on this matter is, in fact, founded upon a distorted tradition” – Joseph Ratzinger.
“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” - Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” 47
WHO ARE THE BROKEN PEOPLE?
We turn to the eucharistic texts of Paul, the Synoptics and John.
They will unveil for us the deeper – and subversive – nature of Jesus’ eucharistic teaching, as retrieved by the early communities in its foundational documents: the Gospels and the letters of Paul.
The eucharistic texts (the meals celebrated by Jesus with his disciples and the feeding of the multitudes, culminating in the final meal, the “Last Supper), give us a very unflattering portrait of Jesus’ followers: they are arrogant and socially unjust (Paul); they do not understand Jesus’ identity and his mission (Mark); they are people of little faith (Matthew); they include, beyond the early apostolic community, those routinely despised by the high echelons of society (Luke); the fail to identify Jesus as the Son of God, revealing and glorifying the Father – on the Cross! (John) – In general, those whom Jesus has called and “constituted” (“epoiesen” - Mark 3: 14 as his eschatological community, display a shocking level of myopy, self-centeredness, ambition, and self-serving arrogance – of brokenness! – Yet, they are called, without exception, to the table of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s and Luke’s accounts of the Last Supper form what is called the “Antiochene Tradition,’ reflecting the eucharistic wording and forms of the Christian community in the city and area of Antioch, the third largest city of the nascent Roman Empire; they are defined by the words “for you” (“hyper hymon,” absent in the Matthean and Marcan accounts – the latter two define the Palestinian (or Jerusalem) Tradition, as it retrieves the liturgical practices of the eucharistic celebration in Palestine, particularly in Jerusalem.
PAUL’S BROKEN PEOPLE: THE CORINTHIAN COMMUNITY (1 CORINTHIANS 10: 16; 11: 17-26)
Paul writes this letter ca. 53/54 C.E. to a Greek-speaking community,
afflicted by fragmentation, arrogance, temptations to idolatry, and questions about the resurrection of the body. 1 Corinthians gives us the most accomplished theology of the cross (1 Cor 1: 18-28) and the resurrection (1 Cor 15) outside the Gospel narratives . Paul wishes to warn his readers and hearers against idolatry. True worship centers upon the participation on the body and blood of Jesus: “The cup of blessing (“to poterion tes eulogias”) that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break (“ton arton hon klomen”) , is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10: 16)
The rendering “participation” (NAB, RSV – “sharing” in the NRSV) does not do justice to the Greek word “koinonia.” “Koinonia” conveys the strongest sense of “communion” (cf. 2 Corinthians 13: 13): the radical entering into each other’s lives, the deepest unveiling and sharing of our most intimate reality. Translations such as “participation” or “solidarity” mitigate and dilute Paul’s intention. In the drinking of the cup and the breaking of the bread, the community makes Jesus Christ the most radical definition of its existence. There are (somewhat faint) echoes of Paul in Galatians 2: 20: “It is not I who live, it is Christ who lives in me.”
But something unacceptable has happened within the Christian assembly: the wealthy Corinthians, who presumably offered their homes for the celebration of the “agape,” the fraternal convivium either preceding or following the Supper of the Lord), have adopted the habit of sating their hunger and quenching their thirst, to the point of drunkenness, while the poor members go hungry and “ashamed” (1 Cor 11: 20-22)
Paul tells them that this is not the eucharistic assembly intended by Jesus. Then, giving evidence of an early use of the “tradition” (“paradosis,” “paradidomi” – “transmission, handing over”), he proceeds to give us the earliest account of the words of Jesus over the bread and the cup at the Last Supper: “For I received (“parelabon”) from the Lord what I also handed (“paredoka”) to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said: ‘This is my body that is for you.’ Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” – then Paul adds: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
KEY! The clause “for you” (“touto mou estin to soma to hyper hymon” will echo that of Luke’s account: “This is my body which is given for you” (“touto estin to soma mou to hyper hymon didomenoi”) – “for you”! - (We will see later how this shapes Luke’s narrative) but the supper the opulent Corinthians were using as a moment for self-indulgence and social injustice, conveys the very opposite: it is Jesus giving his body “that is for you” (“to soma to hyper hymon”) and the same with the cup. Paul turns his prophetic thunder unto these sinful and failed disciples: eating this bread and drinking this cup as they wallow in social injustice, the fruit of heir contempt, indifference, and exclusion of the poor, can be a source can be the cause of your perdition!
That which is meant to be the brokenness that renews and saves, will call the unjust and indulging Corinthians to judgement! Paul’s words are brutal, “sine glossa”: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup unworthily will have to answer (“enochos estai”) for the body and blood of the Lord.” - “Eating and drinking unworthily” has nothing to do with a catalogue of mortal sins that exclude the sinners from the table of the Lord, nor with the catechetical misunderstanding about receiving communion “in mortal sin” – “sacrilegiously” – rather, the sin of the upper-class Corinthians Christians lies in perverting the sense of the eucharistic meal: it is nothing less than excluding the poor and the hungry – the “unworthy” in the eyes of the opulent Corinthian leadership – from the common table! – And Paul is implacably clear: this is NOT what the last meal of Jesus with his own, to be always celebrated as a proclamation of his self-surrendering death, of his overabundance of love, was meant to be! The eucharistic meal is meant for all, none should be excluded, under any pretext – certainly not poverty and social class!
MARK’S AND MATTHEW’S BROKEN PEOPLE
The gospel of Mark was written ca. late 69-70 (C.E.), most likely to a Christian community in Rome – There still lingered the memories and effects of Nero’s persecution (64-68) – The characteristic feature of this Gospel is the so-called “Messianic Secret” (Wilhem Wrede, 1901): Jesus repeatedly forbids his miracles or his identity to be disclosed – He will be revealed as the Son of God, as the Messiah, only in the Cross. (Mark 15: 39)
We will look at Mark’s “eucharistic meals”: the two narratives of the feeding of the multitudes (Mark 6: 34-44; 8: 1-9), the mis-comprehending disciples’ reaction to them (6: 45-52; 8: 16-21) and the narrative of the Last Supper (14: 22-26).
The two miraculous feedings (to the five thousand: 6: 34-44 – with Semitic overtones, and the four thousand, with Hellenistic accents) were, probably, one original tradition narrative that both Mark and Matthew (Mtt 14: 13-21; 15: 32-39) have redacted in two-fold fashion, for two different audiences; Luke (9: 10-27) and John (6: 1-13) give us only one feeding.
The actions of Jesus in both feedings, in Mark and Matthew, are most definitely anticipations of the Last Supper: the actions are similar: “took” (“labon”, “raised his eyes to heaven” (“anablespsas eis ton ouranon”, “giving thanks” (“eulogesen” – and he hands them to the disciples. Matthew’s version is similar:
Marcan discipleship features a band of misunderstanding disciples, confused, mentally clumsy, in incapable of understanding the identity of Jesus: the disciples have witnessed, and been proactive agents of the two feedings – yet, when Jesus warns them against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, “they concluded among them that it was because they had no bread” – Jesus’ words are implacable: “Why do you concluded that it is because you have no bread? Do you not understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened?” Jesus reminds them of the extraordinary feedings, and concludes: “Do you still not understand?” (“peporomenen echete ten kardian hymon?” – the verb “poroo” – “to be without feelings, obstinate” - almost synonymous with “sklerokardia,” “skleros” – “hardened, sclerotic” (Mark 8: 17)
There are, of course, other Marcan instances (with Matthean parallels) of misunderstanding, clumsy disciples: the three “passion predictions” (Mark 8: 31-33; 9: 30-32; 10: 32-34; par. Matthew 16: 21-23; 17: 22-23; 20: 17-19), and particularly, Peter’s denials: 14: 66-72, par. Matthew 26: 69-75) – The list is long
but the brokenness of the disciples in Mark displays a peculiar character: the main issue is, as we have seen, misunderstanding, a deplorable myopy in perceiving the true identity in Jesus. In Matthew, the disciples grasp Jesus’ identity a (little) better; their problem, however, is lack of faith. The key words that appear, time and over again, is “oligopistoi”- “men of little faith”: whether addressed to Peter (“oligopistos” - Matt 14: 32) or to the entire group (“oligopistoi”) Matt 16: 7) yet Jesus will celebrate the Last Supper and share Himself to these badly foundering, abstruse, often perplexed followers! As mentioned above, Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts of the Supper are similar – the form the “Palestinian (Eucharistic) Tradition,” common to the Jerusalem community and other places: the “words of institution,” as later liturgical formulae came to call them, are parallel: “Take it, this is my body” (“touto estin to soma mou”), and the same with the wine: “This is my body” (touto estin to haima mou”).
The key point here is that Jesus (indeed, this is common to all four Gospels)
announces that one of the twelve will betray him. Yet, he makes no demand for “public penanace” or “confession;” all those present at this last meal – a sort of proleptic eschatological meal – will partake of Jesus’ own self-giving body and blood. There are no exceptions alluded to in the Marcan and Matthean accounts – the Last Supper, the body and blood of the Lord, are meant for all – selfish, myopic, faithless . . . and traitors!
LUKE’S BROKEN PEOPLE
Luke draws a somewhat different picture. Written ca. 80-85, for a (most likely) Hellenistic-Christian community, most of whom were not quite familiar with Jewish forms and traditions, Luke develops a Christology centered on the mercy and compassion of Jesus toward the outcast, the poor, the marginalized – and, mainly, . . . the sinners! – The followers of Jesus seem to receive a more favorable public image from Luke – but not quite.
There are two significant texts proper to Luke, that profiles the arrogance and futility of the disciples: Jesus’ anointing by the sinful woman (Luke 7: 37-50) and Jesus’ encounter with the forlorn disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35).
Jesus is at a meal gathering at the home of Simon, the pharisee. This is not as far removed from Jesus’ circle of discipleship, since Luke will reveal that some Pharisees were his followers. The anonymous woman, known only by its somber reference as a “sinner” (“hamartolos”) – by obvious implication, a prostitute - appears and anoints Jesus with the three defining gestures of hospitality common in the Middle East: kissing (the feet), bathing (with tears) and anointing. Simon and the other guests murmur, grumbling that “if this man were truly a prophet” he would know what kind of a woman this is – the meaning is obvious: if Jesus were truly sent by God, he would have rejected such overtures – he would have dismissed the prostitute altogether. He would not have consented to being touched by her. Jesus retorts, telling Simon that he failed to grant him those rituals of hospitality – Simon excludes the “unworthy sinner,” the prostitute - Jesus includes her in his circle – and the only criterion for inclusion is her love, her sheer, humble love!
A similar issue of inclusion vs. exclusion is found in the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14: 15-24) – the “worthy guests” who receive the initial invitation decline for selfish reasons – The king then orders the “unworthy,” the “poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” to be called to the feast – Lukan scholars (Joseph Fitzmyer, Alan Culpeper) have remarked on the eucharist type of this meal. John Donahue, S.J., comments:
“When Jesus told a parable about eating bread in the Kingdom of God, he shattered his hearer’s expectations of who would be the proper table companions.”
A similar situation obtains with Jesus’ rather unusual encounter with the thieving tax collector, Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-10). Zacchaeus is converted by Jesus’ self-invitations to sup with him – Jesus’ sharing of meal with a notoriously dishonest public official is a moment of inclusiveness: yes, Jesus’ meals (which in Luke have an unimpeachable eucharistic overtone) include all! Jerome Neyrey comments:
“Jesus’ inclusive table fellowship mirrors the inclusive character of
Lucan Church: Gentiles, prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners, as well as
the blind, lame, maimed and the poor are welcome at his table, at his covenant.”
The encounter with the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35) is a compelling story. Jesus joins the gloomy and disheartened wayfarers. Their master has been crucified, a total failure – it is all over! – but Jesus joins them on the way; they fail to recognize them. Luke’s unbridled honesty tells us why: “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” Why? Their arrogant myopy has led them to believe that the crucified Lord “would be the one to redeem Israel” – temporal restoration!
But Jesus will reveal himself to these spiritually sluggish disciples – “foolish” (“anoetoi” – literally, “stupid,” “brainless”) and “slow of heart” (“bradeis te kardia” – literally, “negligent of heart”) – in a eucharistic meal (vs. 30) and in his “burning words.”
The Lucan account of the Last Supper – with its variants from the other Gospels - faithfully reverberates with Paul’s narrative (1 Cor 11: 23-27) - see above): both Paul and Luke tell how Jesus breaks and offers the bread as his body “which will be given for you” (“touto estin to soma mou to hyper hymon didomenon”) – This bread is for you – for all of you: gentiles, publicans, prostitutes, the lame, the blind . . . the “unworthy” in the eyes of those wealthy and opulent, religiously bloated, self-contented societies (cf. the priest and the levite, 10: 31-32, and the “Good Samaritan”).
JOHN’S BROKEN PEOPLE
Francis Moloney has noted that the main theological thrust of the Fourth Gospel pivots around a Christology of the Cross whereby the Son is glorified, and thus glorifies the Father (John 14: 13) – The disciples cannot discern this: as in Mark and Matthew, they display themselves as muddled and foolish. Philip fumbles around trying to “see” the Father – Jesus answers: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (“ho heorakos eme heoraken ton patera” (John 14: 9) – perhaps the most Christologically seminal text of the New Testament (Karl Rahner).
The “words of institution” of the Synoptic narratives (“Take and eat, this is my body, etc.) are absent in John. The author of the Fourth Gospel has the habit of shifting accounts which the Synoptics record within their Passion Narratives, to the public ministry of Jesus: thus, we find the prayer in the garden, retrieved in John 12: 27-28.
Three texts stand at the center of the disciples’ brokenness: the “Washing of the Feet” (John `13: 1-20), today generally accepted (Francis Moloney, Raymond Brown, Rudolf Schnackenburg) as a Baptismal text; the “eucharistic text proper” – the Johannine re-location and reformulation of the of the “words of institution,” John 6: 51-58, and Jesus’ sharing of the eucharistic morsel with Judas Iscariot. (John 13: 21-27)
The ”Washing of the Feet” is very instructive: At the beginning of Chapter 13, the evangelist sets the scene: “Before the Feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” “(eis telos egapesen autous”: John 13: 1) – Key moment!: “eis telos” – “to the end,” does not refer so much to the final moments of Jesus’ life, but to the fullness (“telos” – here almos synonymous with “pleroma”) of an over-abundant, incomprehensible love – Here we have the pivot point of Jesus’ relationship with his own – It overspills with a love that only Love himself can give and comprehend.
But Peter misunderstands its meaning. He struggles with Jesus, first, surprised at Jesus’ gesture, then asking to be washed all over. (vss. 6-8). The “example” (“hypodeigma”) Jesus has given them is not an invitation for simplistic imitation, rather, Jesus beckons them to follow him unto radical service and unsurpassable love.
John 6: 51-58 reprises an old tradition of Jesus’ self-understanding: “I am the living bread . . . whoever eats this bread . . . the bread that I will is my flesh for the life of the world . . . Whoever eats my flesh” (vs. 54) . . . Whoever eats my flesh” (vs. 56) . . . the one who feeds on me (vs. 57) . . . “ whoever eats this bread” . . . As Francis Moloney emphasizes, here John uses the strong sense of “eating” – “trogo,” literally, to chew on food, to masticate, to break down the food (vss. 54, 56, 57, 58 – these texts are used only in this text of John), alternating with the more common “phago” (“esthien” – vss. 51, 52, 53, 58), eating in a generic sense (Just for the sake of exegetical honesty, Raymond Brown argues that both terms are used synonymously - most scholars, however, will accept Moloney’s interpretation).
“Trogon” has been misused as a proof text for the “real presence.” The Johannine Jesus’ intention, however, is not primarily concerned with the eucharistic presence: rather, “breaking”: down the flesh of Jesus, the “bread of life,” establishes communion with the Word of Life (“word as bread” – cf. Isaiah 5510-11) – At a second level of interpretation, doubtless the Johannine community legitimately read the later doctrine of the Real Presence in the text (Xavier Leon-Dufour, S.J.) – The disciples at Capernaun, listening to Jesus, feels convulsed by this shockingly strong language, and many leave – only a still-dumbfounded Peter and the others choose to remain (John 6: 66-69)
The sharing of the eucharistic morsel is such a shocking narrative that many have chosen to argue that the piece of bread Jesus shares with Judas at the Last Supper is not a eucharistic symbol – such an interpretation has been largely discarded today. Prompted by the Beloved Disciple’s query to identify the traitor among them, Jesus tells him that it is the one whom he will hand the morsel (“psomion”) to after dipping it. John tells us that Judas, upon receiving it, “Satan entered him.”
The original Johannine community who read this text must have recoiled in disbelief – How could Jesus share the eucharistic morsel with a disciple whose evil opens the door to Satan? Down the centuries, facile and apologetical explanations have been sought among them: Jesus’ action was not eucharistic, Satan entered Judas because he committed a “sacrilege,” etc. All these rationalizations are but projections unto a late 1st century theology of our contemporary – and mostly false – sacramental sensibilities. The text has as its centerpiece, not catechetical notions of purity and impurity, but Jesus’ awesomely over-flowing love, that includes even Judas – Jesus does not reject Judas, the paradigm of brokenness among the Twelve, but in an act of sheer, insane love, admits him to his table, the table of the “bread of life.”
ON THE QUESTION OF DIVORCE
There are several points to be considered: First, we have what seems to be, at first blush, Jesus’ radically eschatologically prohibition of divorce, superseding the Mosaic Laws’ concessions, granted on account of “the harshness of your hearts:” “skeklerokardian hymon” – literally, “sclerotic – hardened – hearts” (Mark 10: 11-12; Lucas 16: 18; Deuteronomy 24: 1),
but, Second, here we have that “crux interpretum,” a most difficult – and most mis-interpreted – the “Matthean exception,” or “Matthean clause of exception,” as Matthew retrieves them: Matthew 5: 32; 19: 9 – Jesus forbids divorce, in fact, defines as “adulterous” the union between a man and a divorced woman, arguing that any man who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery, however , Mtt 5: 32 offers an exception: dissolution of marriage with its attendant sins of adultery are absolutely forbidden, except in case of – of what??. Matt 5: 32 reads “parektos epi porneia;” 19: 9 reads: “me epi porneia” – same meaning. Divorce and remarriage are forbidden, as a sign of the eschatological times, except in case of “porneia.”
What is the true meaning of porneia”? Obviously, the word “pornography” is derived from it, but that does not even begin to exhaust its diversity of meaning: “adultery,” “fornication,” “unnatural use of marriage,” “anything that makes a marriage unlawful” – and the key point: in case of “porneia” - at any point in time of the marriage! Translations often simplify, if not distort, the meaning of the text: the Nueva Biblia de Jerusalén, Fifth Edition, translates “salvo en caso de union ilícita;” the New American Bible renders it: “except in case of illicit union” – same thing – but their footnotes seem to drive the confusion on the meaning of the text even deeper, rather than clarify – and both the Spanish Jerusalem Bible and the NAB translations seem to impose later Catholic doctrinal concerns upon the translation (a common and sadly disregarded pet peeve of Raymond Brown’s and other scholars) – N.B. The ecumenical New Revised Standard Version does not help much as it translates the “Exception Clause” as “except on grounds of unchastity” – The word “unchastity” can mean any number of morally reprehensible acts – it just adds to the confusion.
Ultimately, the meaning of “porneia” is not the main issue: rather we have, witnessed by a foundational document of the first / second generation apostolic Church, an “accommodation” of Jesus’ teaching on divorce – grounded on the Christian Church’s normative Scriptures.
The witness, practice, and norms of the apostolic Church and its first generation are normative for the Church of all later ages. This goes beyond mere exegesis – it is a basic normative principle of all theology. The Church (and particularly, her legislation) do not exist in a vacuum, floating above history. There is no “theologia perennis.” The Church, dogma, and doctrine, all evolve – but, that evolution, as John Henry Newman cautioned us, must take its starting point in the ever-normative practice of the apostolic Church. Francis Moloney argues it persuasively:
“What is crucial for this study, however, is that within the Sacred Scriptures of Christianity we find an accommodation of Jesus´ absolute prohibition of divorce.”
Craig Keenan adds:
“In practice, the early Christians immediately began to qualify Jesus´ divorce saying with other principles of Jesus, such as not condemning the innocent (Matthew 12: 7) or the principle of mercy (Matthew 23: 23), would have forced them to do so in some circumstances. Paul´s and Matthew’s (clauses of) exceptions (Mt 5: 3; 19: 9; 1 Corinthians 7: 15, 27-28) constitute two-thirds of the extant first-century Christian references to divorce.”
Joseph Fitzmyer offers, rather persuasively, that:
“If Matthew under inspiration could have been moved to add an exceptive phrase to the saying about divorce that he found in an absolute in either his Marcan source or in “Q,” or if Paul likewise under inspiration could introduce into his writing an exception on his own authority, then why cannot the Spirit-guided institutional Church of a later generation make a similar exception in views of problems confronting Christian married life of its day or so-called broken marriages?”
And we conclude this section with the acknowledged master exegete of the Matthean gospel, Ulrich Luz:
“The Catholic divorce law, close as it is to the substance of Matthew’s position, does not do justice to the New Testament at an essential point: it does not reflect Jesus’ spirit of unlimited forgiveness.”
On June 19-23, 2017, I taught a seminar on the Sermon on the Mount to 14 bishops of the Lesser Antilles – Halfway through the seminar, I brought up the topic of admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the eucharistic table. The comments and opinions were, almost unanimously, in favor of readmission. One testimony, in particular, stood out – and it remains with me to this day.
Archbishop Joseph Harris, a Doctor in Canon Law, held that the Church’s law – and moral law, for that matter – is not a straight line that separates virtue from sin, but rather, an ever extending and rising continuum, ever seeking new answers to new or difficult problems. By way of example, he offered his own experience:
As a young priest, he did missionary work in a small, rather impoverished town in a Latin American country. The village stood some miles away from an imposing skyline of modern business buildings and residential opulence – a prosperous city. The Catholic community he ministered to was active, vibrant. The catechesis and evangelization projects were led by a committed and enthusiastic young woman. Harris observed, however, that whenever he celebrated Mass, she did not approach the eucharistic table.
Moved by mixed feelings of curiosity and pastoral concern, he approached her, in a discreet and pastorally minded way. Her reply was: “Father, my husband, the father of my four children, abandoned me. I sought help, I went to the people in the Church there” – and she pointed toward the symbols of wealth and power in plain view: the towering buildings and wealthy residences – and they rejected me, they refused my help. I was called a sinner and an unworthy person. Then I met this man. He took me and my four children with me. He is compassionate, kind, truly loves me and my children. He has cared for them, for their support and their education, as if they were his own. I love him, I found dignity and worth in my life, I am better Christian because of him.”
Harris told her: “Tomorrow, and every day after that, you will come to receive communion.” Harris added: “We have to consider, when it is a matter of making decisions, such as excluding from the eucharistic table certain persons who live in so-called “irregular situations,” the sins of our own communities, who in fact create such situations.” Later, bishop Jason Taylor expanded this perspective: the Church, guided by the Spirit, advances gradually toward these discernments which transcend the law. It brought to mind Karl Rahner’s foundational principle: moral and personal decisions should look toward “the best future of the Church.”
“AMORIS LAETITIA”, 296-306, ON “IRREGULAR SITUATIONS”
Pope Francis offers a defining principle:
“The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self-giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid . . .. . . the discernment of pastors must always take place ‘by adequately distinguishing’ with an approach which ‘carefully discerns situations.’” We know that no ‘easy recipes’ exist” (AL 298)
The pope appeals to Thomas Aquinas (ST Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II q. 94 a. 4) (AL 304): In general principles, there is a need for basic agreement; but the “more we descent to matters of detail, the more frequently – says Thomas – we encounter defects . . . but even in “details” (i.e., specific cases) the truth (rectitude) is not equally known to all” (AL 304)
Ultimately, Francis appeals to the highest law: charity: – for indeed, love / charity ontologizes truth. Where there is no love, there is no truth – and the Christian theological tradition witnesses to that.
THE WITNESS OF THE THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
Charity – whether it be the theological virtue as such: “amor,” “caritas,” or personal, visceral love: “diligere” – ontologizes virtue; that is, living the truth within, not peripheral or parallel to, the deeper ontology of love – Martin Heidegger defines the “being” of concrete “being-there” as “care, compassion, concern over the other” (cf. “Sein und Zeit,” chapter 6, 39: “Die Sorge als Sein des Daseins” ).
Here we have an echo of Ephesians 4: 15: “aletheountes de en agape auxesomen eis auton ta panta, hos estin ten kephalen, Christos” (“Doing the truth in love, we should grow in all things into him who is the head, Christ”) – Some earlier translators have proposed the (syntactically unacceptable) rendering: “truth-ing in love, etc.” The main point is that “agape” – love – precedes, ontologically and existentially, truth.
Thomas Aquinas seems to point in that direction. Profiling the contours of the act of faith, he says:
“Caritas attingit ipsum Deum, ut in ipso sistat” (“Charity reaches – “touches” – God himself, so as to rest in him” - ST II-II q. 23 a. 6
Saint Augustine compels us to quote his rebuttal against the Manichean bishop of Milevis, Faustus, who argued for a separation of truth and love: “Non intraturn in veritatem nisi per caritatem” – (“We do not access truth except through love”) – but it is his perennially challenging and awesomely poetic theology in his “Commentary on the Gospel of John” that utters the final word:
“Give me a loving heart, and it will feel what I say; give me a desiring, hungry heart, a heart pilgrim in this vast loneliness, and yearning for the wellsprings of the eternal homeland, give me such a heart, and it will understand what I say” – “Da amantem et sentit quod dico, da desiderantem, da esurientem, da in ista solitudine peregrinantem et atque sitientem, et fontem aeternae patriae suspirantem, da talem, et scit quid dicam” (“Commentary on the Gospel of John.” 26, 4) . The genial symmetry between “feel what I say” and “understands what I say” argue beyond any legitimate doubt that only those who love can understand the arguments presented in this essay.
The normative witness of the foundational documents of the Christian Church, mainly, the Gospels and the letters of Paul, tell us that the eucharist is a gift for broken people: publicans, prostitutes, thieves, disciples suffused by turpitude, confusion, lack of faith . . . the poor, the disenfranchised, the humiliated – for all – in practical terms, that means us – with no exclusion!
2) The “Exception Clause” of Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9 concerning the allowance of divorce and re-marriage belongs to the normative tradition of the early Church, as conveyed, and expressed in the Scriptures of the Christian community. The present-day legislation of the Catholic community does violence to such a normative tradition.
Therefore, the legislation - for, indeed, that is all it is: legislation, not common doctrine, or dogma – that forbids divorce and remarried Catholics to access the eucharistic table of the Lord, rests upon a distorted tradition, and should be removed.
- Sixto J. García, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology (Christology and Scriptures.) St. Vincent de Paul Regional Theological Seminary.
- Professor García is a resident columnist for El Ignaciano.