The Joy of Love – by Josef Seifert – some couples allowed to receive?

Continuing the translation from Josef Seifert's article in German, released under the Creative Common's License with Attribution CC BY 3.0). Complete translation (still in progress), on a single page: The Joy of Love – Joys, Anguish, and Hope – by Josef Seifert.

2.1.3 Some few (or many) "irregular couples", who live in objectively sinful situations — only after an examination in their personal conscience (with a priest's help or alone)?

According to this third interpretation of AL, that put forth by Rocco Buttiglione and others, the couples meant by AL as those who could receive the sacraments would be: couples who live in adultery or other grave sins, but who, on account of their limited ethical understanding or weakness of will “good adulterers”, or, put more generally, those who are “only objectively, but not subjectively sinners”, who indeed by reason of their subjective state are “sinners in a state of grace”. For such couples the sacraments could be a help on their journey in the spirit of the Gospel. In this case the invitation to receive the sacraments would be limited to certain, perhaps few couples in “irregular situations.”

2.1.3.1 A logical fallacy that we need to avoid

We could see a certain logical fallacy in Amoris Laetitia and in certain of its defenders, such as Rocco Buttiglione and Rodrigo Guerra López, concerning the assumption that many “couples in irregular situations”, who objectively live in grave sin, could for subjective reasons be inculpable. We could formulate the fallacy as follows:

  • 1. To commit a grave sin presupposes the knowledge that what one is doing is a grave sin.
  • 2. Many divorced and remarried persons do not know that they commit a grave sin when they (without the annulment of the first marriage) marry again.
  • 3. Therefore, many divorced and remarried persons do not commit a grave sin in marrying again.
  • 4. (Therefore, they live, if they have not committed another grave sin, in the state of grace and we should admit them to the sacraments.)

The fallacy is based on an equivocation regarding the expression „knowledge“ in the first and the expression „do not know” in the second premise, as well as the fallacy of a tacit (false) presupposition.
The tacit false presupposition is that one cannot be guilty, indeed gravely guilty for one’s lack of knowledge or one’s ignorance and for one’s own moral blindness, and that therefore no one who doesn’t recognize his own sin as such commits a grave sin.

Certainly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says is true:

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice.

But the same number 1859 of the Catechism continues:

Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart [Cf. Mk 3:5-6; Lk 16:19-31] do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.

Among these things are adultery, murder, etc. Therefore we cannot assume an inculpable ignorance of the evil of murder or adultery, because there is no such thing as inculpable ignorance of the moral law that God has “written on the heart”, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nr. 1860) says.

Consequently, the second premise of the syllogism is false, since a man, under normal circumstances (if he is not psychically gravely ill or something similar), in an original intuitive knowledge always knows about the moral evil of adultery, since the natural moral law is “written” (belongs to man’s natural moral reason) on the heart / conscience of man. There is a kind of deep, not always reflectively known, and often repressed knowledge, that is enough to make a man gravely guilty, even if he does not consciously recognize this knowledge.

In reference to the sin of idolatry, which Paul describes as “inexcusable”, it is said in Romans 1:21-23:

“For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.” (Rom 1:21-23).

Now we can recognize the aforementioned equivocation as cause of the error. If one (without guilt) does not know that one commits a sin, one cannot commit a sin. But if, e.g., because one has deadened one’s conscience by many unrepented murders, is blind to moral values and no longer recognizes the evil of one’s actions, this is no inculpable ignorance, that would acquit a man of grave sins.

Dietrich von Hildebrand proved this by profound philosophical analyses, distinguishing four kinds of blindness to moral values, which for various reasons are culpable, sometimes gravely culpable, when, for instance, they follow from repeated unrepented evil deeds, by which the sinner dulls his conscience (blindness of obduracy). Ethical blindness can also occur because someone has a strong affection for what is subjectively satisfying, and at the same time does not want to consciously sin, but has a limited will to act morally uprightly, which easily leads him into the blindness of classification, in which he doesn’t classify his own behavior as an instance of the adultery or murder recognized as per se evil.

Or he is subject to a partial actual value blindness, no longer recognizing as such moral demands that forbid his particular vices, etc.

Paola Premoli De Marchi, in an outstanding book, applied the results of these analyses and the roll of freedom in knowledge in an original manner to a “ethics of consent” and developed it substantially and uniquely.

For the aforesaid reasons can we in no way validly conclude that the many divorced and remarried persons, who are blind to their own sin, are inculpable or live “in the state of grace.”

2.1.3.2 Is this "discrimination" between "evil adulterers and homosexuals" and "inculpable/good adulterers or homosexuals" tenable and practicable?

Is such a differentiation a practicable solution? I believe that the attempt to put it into practice leads to insurmountable impossibilities and difficulties. With regard to the unequivocal cases of adultery and bigamy, who shall distinguish, on a case-by-case basis, the good and inculpable adulterers or homosexuals and the evil adulterers or homosexuals (those in a state of grace and those living in grave sin)? On what basis?

AL says (even if not unequivocally), the distinction between „subjectively good adulterers“ (in the state of grace) and „evil adulterers“ (who live in mortal sin and therefore, according to the code of canon law, may not be admitted to the sacraments, if they persist in their non-marital cohabitation) should take place with the approval of a priest or confessor.

Here is the question: How can that work? Should priests declare some couples who live in adultery guiltless and tell them that in their case the reception of the sacraments does not require conversion or giving up their adulterous relationships, and that they can receive sacramental absolution from their sins and living communion with the Church without repentance and without the resolve to amend their life and to live as brother and sister? And other couples, on the other hand, who were true adulterers, may in no event receive the sacraments without the firm resolve to distance themselves from sinful, adulterous relationships, and to live in complete continence? Is it not manifest the discord and the private and public scandal that would arise, when different adulterous, in concubinage, lesbian or homosexual couples get contrary answers from the same priest? Is it not moreover clear that only a priest who had the gift of seeing souls could undertake this work of distinction? Is it not, further, evident, that many couples in “irregular relationships” would seek a “merciful” priest, who would give them the sacraments, and if he did not give them permission, would report such a confessor or at least make a complaint against him and other “cruel” priests, “who sit on the chair of Moses”? Are not immediately evident the catastrophic pastoral consequences of such a discrimination and disunity among priests that would arise from such a “new order”, which Spaemann fittingly called “chaos as a principle”? So, since evidently priests cannot make such distinctions, shall we leave such judgment to the conscience of each individual couple? But to leave this judgment to each couple and each individual, who shall now be judge over themselves and their state of grace, although they knowingly live in grave sin, is that not a pastoral catastrophe?

2.1.3.3 Is there no risk of sacrilege, if couples in adulterous, bigamous or homosexual relationships receive Holy Communion or sacramental absolution of their sins without the intention to change their life?

If the Holy Father Pope Francis wants to allow civilly remarried couples to receive the sacraments, why is there in AL not a single word of warning about the real danger of committing sacrileges, if adulterous, bigamous or homosexual couples receive Holy Communion? Why, in 260 pages, is the Word of Scripture not mentioned a single time, that “no adulterer shall enter the kingdom of heaven”? Why, in this context, is there not a single word confirming what Paul says, that “he who unworthily eats the Body and drinks the Blood of Christ, eats and drinks judgment unto himself”? Would it not be merciful to recall this truth to “irregular couples”, rather than telling them that they are “living members of the Church”? If a change in the sacramental discipline of the Church allows couples, who objectively live in so grave sin that until recently they were subject to excommunication, to receive the sacraments, then the complete silence regarding the real danger “to eat and to drink judgment unto oneself by the unworthy reception of the Eucharist” is beyond understanding. This very serious, horrible danger is certainly present, if couples who live in adultery or other grave sins such as concubinage or homosexual relationships, receive Holy Communion. And if the words of Sacred Scripture say that there is such a danger for souls, not to mention this with a single syllable or even point-blank to deny it, virtually invites couples, who live in objective contradiction to the Church, to persist in this contradiction. And if they, moreover, are assured that “no one will be condemned forever,” this is, I think, no act of mercy. What else could it be than an act of cruelty? Much crueler than it would be to leave a passenger boarding a ship in ignorance of the face that he will very likely soon die, since the ship has a large leak and could easily sink?

I therefore consider it necessary, for the sake of the holiness of marriage and the Eucharist, and for the sake of the eternal life of the faithful, for the Holy Father himself to remind us all that we should guard ourselves from this danger. Concerning the observation of Pope Francis, that not every divorced and remarried person is subjectively living in grave sin, but could rather, on account of his ignorance, have acted with a clean conscience and so live in the state of grace: I do not deny this. Much less do I deny that for such a person the reception of Holy Communion could be spiritually fruitful.

Nonetheless we should not lose sight of two things: (a) we cannot assume that this is the normal case of a divorced and remarried couple, and (b) it must be clear that neither a normal priest nor an individual person in this circumstance can know this or claim it with the least confidence to its being the truth. Therefore, everyone who objectively is living in grave sin should so live and act, as though he were subjectively living in sin.

2.1.3.4 Appeal to sinners to convert, or confirmation that they are living members of the Church?

It is certainly true and can be a great comfort, for these couples to know that God’s mercy is always present and ready to forgive them and to say to them: „Neither do I condemn you.” But we should not forget the following words of Jesus: “Go, and sin no more.” Besides, if the conversion from sins is absent, then a (evil) civilly remarried divorced person is no longer a “living member of the Church” and is not “on the way of life and the Gospel.” If he does not convert, the Father’s word about the lost son apply to him: “Your brother was dead,” although the way to confession and repentance always remain open to him. And for the one who chooses that way, the word applies: “Your brother lives.”

2.1.3.5 Why risk blasphemy and public scandal rather than teaching divorced and remarried faithful who are subjectively free of mortal sin and live in a state of grace the blessing of spiritual Communion?

Furthermore, to avoid the great evil of a sacrilege and a public scandal, without depriving divorced (and without certification of nullity) remarried persons of sacramental grace, one could teach couples who are perhaps by reason of the purity of their conscience in a state of grace, the possibility of “spiritual Communion.” They could inwardly ask God to grant them “spiritual Communion.” This proposal of Cardinal Kasper regarding spiritual Communion of divorced and remarried gave rise to a controversy. The argument made in this controversy, that everyone who can receive spiritual Communion, can also receive sacramental Communion, suggests the equation of sacramental and spiritual communion.

The controversy, and in particular this suggestion, demand clarification, which Johannes Stöhr, e.g., makes.

Without offering a refined theological explanation, which would be beyond my competence and exceed the limits and the goal of this article, I would just like to make the follow notes. Following Stöhr, we can distinguish:

  • 1. One meaning, which Stöhr calls the principal meaning of spiritual communion, consists in the abiding inner communion with Christ after the worthy reception of sacramental communion – perfection of sacramental communion together with lasting effects in the soul. That means, in turn, frequently repeated acts of devotion. I do not refer here to this meaning, since it is only applicable to couples who are allowed to receive the sacraments.
  • 2. Different from that is the desire of a Christian to receive sacramental communion when this is for compelling external reasons not possible, e.g., on account of sickness, professional duties, belated recollection of the law of fasting, etc. It means, however, not only not the same bodily nearness to Christ as the reception of the sacrament, but is, as a mere desire, not even like the sacrament, as our fourth kind of “spiritual communion” is.
  • 3. Sometimes what is meant is the desire to receive, although there is an objective impediment. In this connection one could have the unchristian notion, that spiritual communion in this case could be a substitute for sacramental communion, it could actually be possible for all. Stöhr is completely justified in criticizing this notion. To Stöhr's distinctions I would add further meanings of “spiritual communion” that seem to me to be the most important in our context.
  • 4. We could understand spiritual communion not as the mere desire for sacramental communion, when the latter is for external reasons not possible, but as a kind of spiritual-mystical communion, which doesn’t mean the real bodily presence of Christ of sacramental Communion, as Stöhr rightfully remarks, but that is much more than a mere desire. We can certainly not exclude that, even when the form and matter of the sacrament, that God effects and bestows a spiritual and quasi-sacramental union with Him, which bestows no less graces than are received by someone who receives communion with a lukewarm heart or out of routine. Indeed, according to the measure of love of the communicant, the opus operantis, more grace and a deeper union with God may be bestowed on such a “man of desire as Daniel” than on someone sacramentally communicating with a lesser yearning and love. And no man can determine the measure or the limits of the union, that God can bestow on one spiritually communicating in this way.

According to the interpretation of AL made by Rocco Buttiglione, the persons meant by Pope Francis are first of all such as objectively live in a state of grave sin, but on account of the imperfection of their knowledge and will still live in a state of grace. And that there are such persons, who only outwardly fall into Stöhr's third category, while inwardly belonging to the second group of persons he names, who, in other words, despite their objective sinful actions do not inwardly live in grave sin, is, with AL (and Thomas Aquinas) indisputable. And it is these persons, and also the fourth group of persons I distinguish – those who by reason of a “marriage of conscience” live in “irregular situations” – that I mean, when I speak of the gift of spiritual communion, to which these persons can have access. A prerequisite, to be sure, is that they do not consciously and willingly commit grave sin, but for subjective reasons, despite their objective sin, are not subjective grave sinners. And such persons, who in my opinion one should still exclude from sacramental real Communion, can, if they truly live in the state of grace, receive the graces of a spiritual-mystical Communion (in the fourth sense) – entirely without the danger of sacrilege, that presupposes the physical-real presence of the Lord.

Otherwise, if divorced and remarried persons are objectively as well as subjectively living in a state of sin, one may not say that they are „living members of the Church“, without renouncing their sins of adultery or homosexual acts. Their sacramental Communion would cause public scandal and would decrease, for them, and for others, reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament. For these reasons, and the reasons given in the next section, we should ask the Holy Father to revoke the admission to the sacraments of couples who objectively live in grave sin.

One thought on “The Joy of Love – by Josef Seifert – some couples allowed to receive?”

  1. I believe Seifert makes a couple of mistakes in this section: (1) according to St. Thomas Aquinas, that marriage is unique and indissoluble, so that it is never possible to take a second spouse while the first is alive, belongs not to the first principles of natural law, but to the secondary principles, which both admit of some exceptions and are not evident to all persons. This position is supported by human experience as expressed in customs and laws throughout human history. At least as regards natural law, it is, indeed, sometimes possible to discern with sufficient confidence that an individual divorced and remarried person is not subjectively gravely guilty of the evil of adultery. That many cases are impossible to discern with confidence, does not, of itself, mean that discernment should not be made in the cases where it can be. (Though see the second point.)

    (2) There are various signs in the text of Amoris Laetitia that Pope Francis is well aware of the difficulty in discerning individual cases, as well as the fact that in some cases, the look at the individual case would involve confidential conversation in the internal forum, which could not be the basis for external action on the part of the priest. Given that he, none the less, proposes that individual cases of persons in irregular situations should be examined and tested, it is not unreasonable to believe that he intends both this third and the second answer mentioned by Seifert. The third answer, "some couples may be admitted", in the sense that this would be the only reasonable conclusion that some individual couple could come to, or a priest in private conversation with them, and the priest should tell them not to receive. But, since he couldn't publicly act upon the contents of this private conversation, "all couples should be admitted", in the sense that if they were to afterwards come up to receive the Eucharist, he should give it to them. And, in that sense, generally not enforce canon 915 in regards to individuals in situations where a significant number of them may be not subjectively guilty.

    This is, incidentally, as I understand it, the position of Cardinal Schönborn.

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