March 17, 2016, Thursday – Why Does Kasper Speak of “1700 Years”?
“This Holy See has always held, the perpetual practice of the Church confirms, and Ecumenical Councils also have declared — especially those in which the East with the West met in the union of faith and charity — that the supreme power of teaching is also included in the Apostolic primacy which the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, Prince of the Apostles, possesses over the whole Church.” –Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 4. Pastor Aeternus is the Vatican Council I Constitution which declared papal infallibility. The Constitution as a whole sets forth the Catholic teaching that the Pope, as the successor of Peter, holds “supreme power of teaching” over the whole Church. The document was promulgated on July 18, 1870, at the 1st Vatican Council, in the Council’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ.” The 1st Vatican Council lasted from 1869 to 1870 A.D. under Pope St. Pius IX (1846-1878), the longest-reigning Pope in the history of the Church. It was the 20th of 21 Ecumenical Councils (the Orthodox accept only the first seven Ecumenical Councils, held before the schism of 1054 A.D.)
“For the Fathers of the Fourth Council of Constantinople, following in the footsteps of their predecessors, gave forth this solemn profession: The first condition of salvation is to keep the rule of the true faith.” —Ibid. The 4th Council of Constantinople (Roman Catholic) was the 8th Catholic Ecumenical Council. It was held in Constantinople from October 5, 869, to February 28, 870. The Council was called by Emperor Basil I the Macedonian and Pope Adrian II. It deposed Photios, a layman who had been appointed as Patriarch of Constantinople, and reinstated his predecessor Ignatius. The Council also reaffirmed the decisions of the Second Council of Nicaea in support of icons and holy images and required the image of Christ to have veneration equal with that of the Gospel book. A later council, the Greek 4th Council of Constantinople, was held after Photios had been reinstated on the order of the emperor. Today, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the Council in 869-870 as “Constantinople IV,” while the Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize the later Council in 879-880 as “Constantinople IV” and revere Photios as a saint. These two Councils represent the divide that was then growing between East and West. The previous seven Ecumenical Councils are recognized as ecumenical and authoritative by both Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians.
“And the Roman Pontiffs, according to the exigencies of times and circumstances, sometimes assembling Ecumenical Councils, or asking for the mind of the Church scattered throughout the world, sometimes by particular Synods, sometimes using other helps which Divine Providence supplied, defined as to be held those things which, with the help of God, they had recognized as conformable with the Sacred Scriptures and Apostolic Traditions. For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth.” —Ibid.
“And indeed, all the venerable Fathers have embraced, and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed, their Apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of holy Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the Divine promise that the Lord our Savior made to the Prince of His disciples: ‘But I have prayed for you, so that your faith may not fail, and so that you, once converted, may confirm your brothers.’ (Lk 22:32).” —Ibid.
“This gift, then, of truth and never-failing faith was conferred by heaven upon Peter and his successors in this Chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all; that the whole flock of Christ, kept away from the poisonous food of error by them, might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine; that the occasion of schism being removed, the whole Church might be kept one, and, resting on its foundation, might stand firm against the gates of Hell.” —Ibid.
“Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God Our Savior, the exaltation of the Catholic Religion, and the salvation of Christian people, the Sacred Council approving, We teach and define that it is a divinely-revealed dogma: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex Cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals: and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.” —Ibid.
“But if anyone — God forbid — should presume to contradict this Our definition; let him be anathema.” —Ibid.
“In a few days, on March 19, a document of about 200 pages will come out in which Pope Francis will express himself definitively on the themes of the family addressed during the recent Synod, and in particular on the participation of the faithful who are divorced and remarried in the active life of the Catholic community.” —Cardinal Walter Kasper, in the northern Italian city of Lucca, on Monday, March 14, at a parish church, commenting on the upcoming papal document on the Bishops’ Synod on the Family
“This will be the first step of a reform that will make the Church turn a page after 1700 years.” —Cardinal Kasper, ibid.
“We must not repeat formulas of the past and barricade ourselves behind the wall of exclusivism and clericalism, the Church must live (in) our times and understand how to interpret them.” —Cardinal Kasper, ibid.
Toward the Pope’s Document on the Synod on the Family
The whole of the Church, and much of the world, is awaiting with a sort of bated breath for the Pope’s document on the two controversial October Bishops’ Synods on the Family held in Rome during October 2014 and October 2015.
The document is finished.
We know — as Cardinal Walter Kasper confirmed publicly in Lucca in northern Italy on Monday, March 14 — that it will be signed in two days, on Saturday, March 19, Feast of St. Joseph.
The Importance of St. Joseph
March 19 was the day of the installation Mass for Pope Francis. (Francis was elected on March 13, but not installed until the 19th.)
So the document will be issued on the 3rd anniversary of the official beginning of this pontificate.
But March 19 is also the Feast of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Mother, Mary, father of Jesus — head of the Holy Family.
So the document will be issued on the feast of Joseph, protector of both Mary and Jesus, the patron saint of all fathers — the model for all fathers and heads of families.
The Battle over Marriage — and over Communion
Arguably, no teaching by Francis during his first three years is of greater significance, of more profound importance, than the teaching he will make official 48 hours from now when he writes his name, in Italian, on the bottom of the document: “Francesco.”
We do not know when we will see the actual content of the document.
Cardinal Kasper (photo below) on Monday suggested that the document would be “released” on Saturday, leading some to think that we will have the text on Saturday.
But the word now is that the document will be signed Saturday, then, after several days for translation into various languages it will be made public in the first days of April.
Kasper also revealed that the document would be about 200 pages long.
If so, it will be three times as long as the prior magisterial document on marriage and the family, the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio of Pope St. John Paul II.
That profound document on marriage was issued on November 22, 1981 — almost exactly three years into John Paul’s pontificate (he was elected on October 16, 1978, and installed on October 22, 1978).
So there will be a lot of text to read through, when Pope Francis’ document is made public…
Fernandez vs. Mueller
Various published reports say that the text was drafted primarily by one of the Pope’s closest and trusted theological advisors, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Buenos Aires in Argentina (photo).
Pope Francis made Fernandez an archbishop soon after he was elected Pope on May 13, 2013.
The text was circulated inside the Vatican, especially to receive the “observations” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its head, the German cardinal who is also the general editor of the multi-year project to edit and publish the collected works of Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller.
It would be Mueller, then, who would be able to indicate the content of the text he received, and the content of the suggestions he made, and whether his suggestions were accepted or ignored.
Significantly, prior to the beginning of the Synod process, Cardinal Mueller (photo below) took a quite traditional line on marriage, divorce, remarriage and the sacrament of communion.
“The total indissolubility of a valid marriage is not a mere doctrine, it is a divine and definitive dogma of the Church,” Müller said in The Hope of the Family, a book-length interview he did with Spanish journalist Carlos Granados, director of the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos in Madrid, conducted in June 2014 (the first Synod was in October 2014).
Indissolubility, he said, “does not depend on human sentiments, whether permanent or transitory. This property of marriage is intended by God himself. The Lord is involved in marriage between man and woman, which is why the bond exists and has its origin in God. This is the difference.” (link)
So one would presume that Mueller poured over the text of the new papal document to remove any ambiguity (if there was any) about this essential teaching.
Heroism and Lack of Heroism
This entire process began in February of 2014, at a consistory of cardinals that met in preparation for the Synod.
There, Cardinal Kasper — like Mueller, from Germany — proposed something that has come to be termed “the Kasper solution” for the problem of divorced and remarried Catholics: that the Church should simply allow these Catholics to receive Communion after “a period of penance” but without changing their lives.
Müller, on the other hand, has held that Catholic married people are called to be heroic in announcing “God, the loving Trinity… the revealed God who calls all of us to be part of his relational being.”
Kasper, for his part, famously told an interviewer in New York in 2014 that this solution of the Church — encouraging people in second civil marriages to live in heroic chastity together (“like brother and sister”) — is, yes, an “heroic” ideal, but that “heroism is not for the average Christian.”
“I have high respect for such people,” Kasper said in 2014. “But whether I can impose it is another question.
“We cannot as human beings always do the ideal, the best. We must do the best possible in a given situation.”
The Best, the Merciful, the Possible… and the Example of Jesus
And so we have the parameters of a debate that is attracting the attention of the world.
So what is this debate about?
On the one hand, we have Kasper and those who agree with him. This “Kasper group” expresses a desire to be “merciful” to human beings who have fallen short of the highest ideals of the Christian faith.
On the other hand, we have Mueller, and many others, who express a desire to maintain an ideal.
It is an ideal which many (even, perhaps, all) would like to live up to, if it were possible.
It is an ideal of love and trust and commitment which makes out of two individuals, a man and a woman, a united married couple — united against every difficulty, no matter what, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, till death parts them…
It is a high, heroic ideal, yes — but one lived out by many over hundreds of generations.
So these are the two desires: the defense of the ideal, and the acceptance of the real.
The Pope, in his document, will seek to find a way to reconcile them.
In the Gospel, the words of Christ are clear: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
On this basis, the Church, faithful to Christ, maintains that there is no such thing as divorce. There can only be the annulment of a marriage which did not ever in fact truly exist. An actual marriage cannot be broke, ever; it is forever. God willed it so.
And over the centuries, this ideal — the fidelity of married couples — has, provided a model of love, and of the settling of differences, and of the overcoming of offenses, which has enriched human life immeasurably.
Sons and daughters everywhere honor their fathers and mothers with great affection, even with a certain reverence… with a sort of respect verging on veneration.
They honor them for the fact that they — “mom” and “dad” — are “one,” “united,” “unbreakable” — the united center of a family with a specific identity, with specific, painful wounds and specific, gratefully remembered, healings — a family which endures over the years and decades despite all vicissitudes.
The debate over how to deal with married and divorced Catholics has, evidently, already been studied, reflected and prayed upon, and decided, by Pope Francis.
He has finished his document.
We will be able to read his words in only two or three weeks, if not sooner (the possibility of a “leak” of the text must not be excluded). We can discuss them more at that time.
For now, it is sufficient to insist that Francis is the Bishop of Rome, and as the Bishop of Rome, enjoys the protection promised to the holders of the Petrine office against teaching formal doctrinal error.
As stated above, Francis has this authority not to make innovations in doctrine, but to explain, defend and promote doctrine that has been handed down from the beginning: “For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles.”
In this context, it may be useful to note that Pope Francis is, in fact, quite sensitive to the traditional respect given by Catholics to traditional, intact families.
On June 2, 2014 — almost two years ago now — the Pope gave a homily in the presence of 15 married couples, some having been married for 25 years, others for s many as 60 years.
On that occasion, Francis reflected on the “three pillars” of spousal relationship in the Christian vision of things: fidelity, perseverance, fruitfulness.
Francis said that Christ is the model and measure of these.
The Pope spoke of “the three loves of Jesus” — for the Father, for His mother, and for the Church.
“Great” is His love for the Church, said Francis, adding, “Jesus married the Church for love.”
She is, Francis said, “His bride: beautiful, holy, a sinner — He loves her all the same.”
Jesus’ way of loving set the three characteristics of this love in relief: “It is a faithful love. It is a persevering love. He never tires of loving His Church. It is a fruitful love. It is a faithful love. Jesus is the faithful one… Fidelity is the essence of Jesus’ love. Jesus’ love in His Church is faithful. This faithfulness is like a light on marriage. The fidelity of love. Always.”
So, for Francis, human love in marriage is “always faithful” and tireless in its perseverance, like the love of Jesus for His Bride: “Married life must be persevering, because otherwise love cannot go forward,” Francis said. “Perseverance in love, in good times and in difficult times, when there are problems: problems with the children, economic problems, problems here, problems there – but love perseveres, presses on, always trying to work things out, to save the family. Persevering: they get up every morning, the man and the woman, and carry the family forward.”
Then the Holy Father discussed the third characteristic: fruitfulness.
The love of Jesus, said Francis, “makes the Church fruitful,” providing her with new children through Baptism, and the Church grows with this spousal fruitfulness.
“In a marriage,” said Francis, “fertility can sometimes be put to the test when the children do not arrive, or are sick.”
The Pope said that in such times of trial, there are couples who look to Jesus and draw on the power of fertility that Christ has with His Church.
There are also other things that Jesus does not like – such as marriages that are sterile by choice: “These marriages, in which the spouses do not want children, in which the spouses want to remain without fertility,” Francis began. “This ‘culture of well-being’ from 10 years ago convinced us: ‘It’s better not to have children! It’s better! You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be care-free… it might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog.’ Is this true or is this not? Have you seen it?
“Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness. It is not fruitful, it does not do what Jesus does with his Church: He makes His Church fruitful.”
That was in 2014.
Now, just a few days ago, on March 12, on the eve of the release of this document, Francis publicly expressed his admiration for those who remain faithful to their marriage vows, to their spouses and their families.
The Pope was speaking in the Paul VI Audience Hall to 700 participants in a marriage formation course held by the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, whose dean is Msgr. Vito Pinto.
In his address, Francis mentioned that, in the recent Synod path on the family, there were high hopes for making the procedures for the declaration of marriage nullity faster and more efficient, since many separated faithful suffer as a result of the end of their marriage, and at times feel oppressed by uncertainty as to whether the marriage was valid or otherwise.
“That is,” Francis said, “they ask if there was also something in the intentions or facts that may have impeded the effective realization of the sacrament. But in many cases they encounter difficulties in obtaining access to the ecclesial legal structures.”
And he said this: “Charity and mercy, as well as reflection on experience, have led the Church to draw increasingly close to these children of hers, to meet their legitimate desire for justice…
“It is important that the new regulations (for seeking marriage annulments) are applied and furthered, in merit and in spirit, especially by the workers in ecclesiastical tribunals, to provide a service of justice and charity to families. For many people, who have had an unhappy experience of marriage, the confirmation of the validity or otherwise of the marriage represents an important opportunity; and these people must be helped to proceed as easily as possible along this road…
“The Church is a mother and wishes to show to all the face of God, faithful to His love, mercy and always able to restore strength and hope.
“What we have most at heart regarding separated couples who are in another union is their participation in the ecclesial community.”
But then Francis said this:
“However, while we care for the wounds of those who seek ascertainment of the truth on their failed marriage, we look with admiration also to those who, even in difficult conditions, remain faithful to the sacramental bond.
“These witnesses to matrimonial fidelity must be encouraged and held up as examples to emulate.
“So many women and men bear heavy burdens, very heavy burdens, in order to not destroy their families, to remain faithful in health and in sickness, in difficulties and in peaceful times: it is fidelity. And they are very good!”
Kasper’s 1700 Years…
So we are now on the eve of the Pope’s document.
Perhaps some will find passages in the document that will disappoint their hopes.
Perhaps some will be irritated by something Pope Francis writes.
We will have to wait and see.
Clearly, the document is important.
Cardinal Kasper, in his talk Monday in Lucca, resorted to a strange phrase when he spoke of the importance of this document which suggests its significance.
He said: “This will be the first step of a reform that will make the Church turn a page after 1700 years.”
He did not say 100, 200, or 500 years, but “after 1700 years.”
Why did he use that number?
Can the figure be accidental?
I don’t think so.
The figure of “1700 years” is “in the air” right now because we are approaching 1700 years since the First Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
The year 2025 will be the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea — the first Council.
At that Council, the Church defined the divinity of Christ.
The Council was marked by the great contest between St. Athanasius, who defended the Lord’s divinity, and Arius, who argued a position which seemed to be that of the majority: that Jesus had been a very holy and great man, but not divine.
The Council of Nicaea proclaimed the divinity of Christ.
But what else happened at Nicaea? Not many of us remember. But there is a passage from the Council of Nicaea which deals with the acceptance of people in second marriages.
Canon 8 of the Council of Nicaea says:
“Concerning those who call themselves Cathari (“Pure ones”), if they come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy. But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; in particular that they will communicate with persons who have been twice married, and with those who having lapsed in persecution have had a period [of penance] laid upon them, and a time [of restoration] fixed so that in all things they will follow the dogmas of the Catholic Church. Wheresoever, then, whether in villages or in cities, all of the ordained are found to be of these only, let them remain in the clergy, and in the same rank in which they are found. But if they come over where there is a bishop or presbyter of the Catholic Church, it is manifest that the Bishop of the Church must have the bishop’s dignity; and he who was named bishop by those who are called Cathari shall have the rank of presbyter, unless it shall seem fit to the Bishop to admit him to partake in the honor of the title. Or, if this should not be satisfactory, then shall the bishop provide for him a place as Chorepiscopus, or presbyter, in order that he may be evidently seen to be of the clergy, and that there may not be two bishops in the city.”
The Cathari, or “the pure,” were the Novatianists, not to be confused with the Cathars of the late middle ages.
The Novatianists were started by an elder named Novatian in around 250 A.D. in Rome. Novatian objected to the forgiveness of those who lapsed during persecution. The churches did not agree with him, so he found three bishops willing to ordain him a bishop, and he formed his own schism. (The Novatianists and Montanists were the only pre-Nicene schisms in the Church except for the various groups of Gnostics, who cannot truly be called Christians.)
Novatianist doctrine was exactly the same as the Catholic (universal) Church except for refusing forgiveness to those who lapsed during persecution. They also would not take communion with any who were divorced and remarried as Christians.
This canon allows Novatianist clergy to leave the Novatianists and keep their status as elder or bishop, though the Catholic bishop would have priority where there was conflict.
I have not been able to ask Cardinal Kasper why he used the number of “1700 years” to refer to the importance of this document from Pope Francis on marriage.
But perhaps Kasper feels that the Church was inclusive at Nicaea toward those in second marriages, as well as inclusive toward the Novatianists (the Cathari, the “Pure ones”), but later became less inclusive, in a desire to preserve the purity of the faith — like the Novationists — up until now.
Others may have a deeper and clearer insight into what Kasper was trying to say by referring to this document as being “the first step of a reform that will make the Church turn a page after 1700 years.”
I will try to contact the cardinal to clarify this point.
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What is the glory of God?
“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.