Munich, Germany, Apr 29, 2016 / 09:49 am
Greatly valued as an advisor by Saint John Paul II, a friend of Benedict XVI, and widely held to be the most important German Catholic philosopher of recent decades, Robert Spaemann, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Munich, expressed a distinctly critical interpretation of Amoris laetitia in this interview with Anian Christoph Wimmer, editor of CNA's German-language edition. Please find below the full text of the interview.
Professor Spaemann, you have accompanied the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI with your philosophy. Many believers are now asking, whether and how Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia should be read in continuity with the teachings of the Church and these previous Popes. How do you see this?
For the most part, it is possible, although the direction allows for consequences which cannot be made compatible with the teaching of the Church. Article 305 together with footnote 351 – in which it is stated that believers can be allowed to the sacraments “in an objective situation of sin” “because of mitigating factors” – directly contradicts article 84 of Pope John Paul II’s exhortation Familiaris consortio.
What then is Pope John Paul II’s exhortation about?
John Paul II explains human sexuality as a “real symbol for the giving of the whole person,” and namely, “without every temporal or other limitation.” He thus formulates very clearly in article 84 that remarried divorcés must refrain from sex if they want to go to communion. A change in the practice of the administration of the sacraments would therefore be no “further development of Familiaris consortio,” as Cardinal Kasper said, but rather a breach in her essential anthropological and theological teaching on marriage and human sexuality. The Church has no authority, without prior conversion, to approve disordered sexual relationships through the administration of the sacraments, thereby anticipating God’s mercy - regardless of how these situations are to be judged on a human and moral level. The door here – as with the ordination of women to the priesthood – is closed.
Couldn’t someone object that the anthropological and theological reflections you mentioned are indeed correct – that God’s mercy is not, however, bound to such limits, but it is linked to the concrete situation of the individual person?
God’s mercy concerns the heart of the Christian faith in the Incarnation and Redemption. Of course, God has each individual person in his or her own situation in view. He knows each person better than they know themselves. The Christian life, however, is not a pedagogical event in which marriage is aimed for as an ideal, as Amoris laetitia appears to suggest in many places. The whole realm of relationships, especially sexual relationships, concerns the dignity of the human person, his or her personhood and freedom. It has to do with the body as a “Temple of God” (1 Cor 6:19). Every violation to this realm, even if it were to occur often, is, therefore, also a violation of one’s relationship to God - to which Christians know they are called – a sin against God’s holiness, and always in need purification and conversion.
God’s mercy consists in always allowing this conversion anew. Of course, it is not bound to definite limits, but the Church on her part requires a proclamation of conversion and does not have the authority to overstep established boundaries by administering the sacraments, and to abuse God’s mercy. That would be imprudent. Therefore clergy, who comply with the existing order, judge no-one; rather, they take into consideration and announce these boundaries of God’s holiness – a salvific promulgation. I don’t want to comment any further to insinuate that they would “hide behind the Church’s teachings” and “sit on the chair of Moses” so as to throw “stones … at people’s lives” (AL, 305). It may be noted that the respective verses in the Gospel are alluded to mistakenly. Jesus indeed says that the Pharisees and scribes sit on the chair of Moses, but he expressly emphasizes that the disciples should adhere to what they say. They should not, however, live like them (Matt 23:2).
Pope Francis has stressed that we should not focus on only single sentences of his teachings; rather the whole should be kept in mind.
Concentrating on the stated passages is fully justified in my eyes. It cannot be expected in a papal exhortation that people will rejoice in a pleasant text and ignore decisive sentences, which change the teachings of the Church. There is actually only a clear yes or no decision: to give Communion or not. There is no intermediary between them.