Free-floating theology

Many regard as unobjectionable the changes in church discipline to allow civilly divorced Catholics who have remarried to regularly receive communion. It seems to them a reasonable accommodation to the unfortunate reality of widespread divorce. But this change disrupts the logic of penitential preparation, which maintains the truth that union with Christ delivers us from our sins. Under the proposal, marriage is not permanent and a remarried person is not committing adultery. Or adultery is not a serious sin. Or Christians have always misunderstood the gospel, and we need not renounce our sins to unite ourselves with Christ. The logic forces us to affirm at least one of these fundamental changes in Christian doctrine. We can’t evade this unpleasant prospect by saying that “we’re all sinners” or that the Church is not the “Church of the pure,” as Pope Francis has on many occasions.

The proposed pastoral approach does not purport to solve theological problems by clarifying which of the three prongs is being decisively altered. It simply muddies things sufficiently to obscure the contradictions. This evasion of explicit change follows a post–Vatican II pattern, which has been one of ad hoc accommodations to contemporary sensibilities, undertaken in the context of the collapse of an older scholastic theology that supported precise analysis and clear conclusions. The theological culture of today’s Catholic Church lacks rigorous philosophical discipline. A great deal of theology now runs on evocative and free-floating concepts. Pope Francis uses “mercy” in this way.

R. R. Reno, “Sacramental Realism,” First Things, August/September 2018.

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