On November 2, 2016, a Chilean university professor, Claudio Pierantoni, published a study in which he shows the parallel between the current controversy surrounding the exhortation Amoris laetitia and the Arian crisis that shook the Church sixteen centuries ago.
Professor Pierantoni: “The Arian Crisis and the current controversy about Amoris laetitia: A parallel”
It came natural to me to start comparing the two controversies. . . . The two moments can be viewed as an analogy, given that in both cases a significant pronouncement by the Magisterium is perceived by many Catholics as in conflict with traditional doctrine, in particular with recent and important Magisterial documents. In both cases one also perceives a deafening silence of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, with exceptions of course.
In terms of content, the two crises are certainly different: in the first crisis, the matter under dispute was purely theological, relating as it did to the foundation of Christian doctrine on a triune God, whereas the second matter is about moral theology and centrally concerned with the matter of marriage.
However, the key common characteristic of both crises is, I believe, the fact that both concern a pillar of the Christian message, the destruction of which would strip that message of its very essence.
Parallel between the two crises in doctrinal documents
In terms of doctrinal documents, the parallel element most deserving of attention is the characteristic of ambiguity in the pro-Arian formulas in the years 357-360.
In effect . . . , although holding power, the pro-Arian minority does not venture to put forward a position too clearly in opposition with the traditional view. It does not expressly state that the Son is inferior to the Father, but employs a generic term, “like to the Father”, which could lend itself to differing degrees of subordinationism. In short, although holding the reins of power, it seeks to conceal itself.
By analogy, the famous Chapter VIII of the current Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia does not openly deny the indissolubility of marriage, but indeed explicitly affirms it. However, it denies in practice the necessary consequences ensuing from matrimonial indissolubility. But it does so through a meandering and convoluted discourse, using wording which covers a range of diverse positions, some more extreme, others more moderate.
For example, it says that “in certain cases” persons in “so-called irregular” unions could be granted “the help of the sacraments.” What these cases are is not stated, so the text is open to at least four interpretations, the more restrictive of which are obviously incompatible with the broader ones.
Today, many bishops and theologians salve their consciences by asserting, both in public and to themselves, that saying that “in certain cases divorced and remarried persons can receive the sacraments” is not of itself erroneous and can be interpreted in a hermeneutic of continuity as in line with the previous Magisterium. By the same token, the fourth-century bishops believed it was not of itself incorrect to say “the Son is like to the Father according to the Scriptures.”
If one does not read the individual assertions in the document in isolation, but in their full context, and the document in turn in its immediate historic context, one readily discovers that the general mens which guides it is, in essence, the notion of divorce, in addition to the now widespread notion of not imposing clear boundaries between a lawful marriage and an irregular union.
Parallel between the two crises in historical development
By analogy, with regard to the current heresy, which, from the name of its principal proponent, we may call “Kasperian”, we have witnessed its slow preparation, beginning in the second half of the XXth century. Once out in the open, it was condemned in documents issued by John Paul II, such as Veritatis Splendor and Familiaris Consortio. However, these documents were rejected more or less openly and radically by a section of the Episcopate and by learned theologians, and orthodox practice has been disregarded in vast and important sections of the Catholic world. This rejection has been extensively tolerated, both in theory and in practice. Hence it has gathered strength to the point where, given the favorable political and political-ecclesiastical circumstances, it has reached a position of power. However, although in power, the heresy is not expressed frankly and directly, but through Synodal activities which are not entirely clear (2014- 2015), resulting in an apostolic document, which is exemplary for its tortuosity. But the very fact that this position has showed up in a Magisterial document is now arousing moral indignation and a much stronger and more dynamic intellectual reaction, calling for those with the necessary intellectual tools to rethink orthodox doctrine, in order to reach a deeper and clearer formulation, and so prepare for a definitive condemnation not only of the errors in the doctrine of matrimony, but also of all the other errors connected with it, that infect the sacramental and moral doctrine of the Church.
This also makes it possible, which is no mean feat, to put to the test, recognize and in many ways unite those who, truly and solidly, adhere to the Deposit of Faith.
This is precisely the stage at which we can say we find ourselves at this moment: it has scarcely begun, and promises to be not without obstacles. We cannot predict its duration, but must have the certainty of faith, that God would not allow this grave crisis, were it not for the superior good of souls. It will certainly be the Holy Spirit who will give us the solution, enlightening this Pope or his successor, maybe even through the convening of a new Ecumenical Council. However, in the interim, each of us is called, in humility and prayer, to give his testimony and contribution. And the Lord will certainly hold each of us to account.
Claudio Pierantoni is a professor of Medieval Philosophy for the University of Chili’s Faculty of Philosophy, former professor of Church History and Patristics for the Faculty of Theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chili, and member of the International Association of Patristic Studies. He signed the theological critique addressed to the cardinals by 45 theologians on June 29, 2016 (full text available on Dici’s website, Aug. 9, 2016)