The Filial Correction Corrected. Part 6 of a Response to The Correctors.

The Filial Correction Corrected. Part 6 of a Response to The Correctors. October 8, 2017

Filial correction

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Give The Correctors credit for consistency. Thus far, as I have examined their seven charges of heresy aimed at Amoris Laetitia (they style it a “filial correction”), they have been batting a consistent .000. My review of this hitless streak begins here, and continues apace. (Part 2 is here, and part 3, part 4, and part 5.) But perhaps the filial ones can achieve a bunt single with their sixth effort? Maybe ye olde Texas leaguer, or Baltimore chop? Let us check.

Here is the sixth heresy The Correctors claim to find in the text:

Moral principles and moral truths contained in divine revelation and in the natural law do not include negative prohibitions that absolutely forbid particular kinds of action, inasmuch as these are always gravely unlawful on account of their object.

Hmm. Now, as I noted earlier in this series, it is a continual problem to try to figure out where, in the text of Amoris Laetitia, The Correctors think we are to find any one particular heresy. The Correctio—or Incorrectio, if you prefer—lacks this necessary precision. Now, The Correctors do quote a series of passages, as a man hungry to find heresy might pick cherries, but they never draw a connection between, say, section x and heresy y. It’s very sloppy work they do, I am here to tell you. So one must scroll back and read the entire set of excerpts and ask: Where are they getting this? It’s all guesswork. Who has time for it? And the credulous will hardly bother.

For example, do The Correctors find this denial of negative prohibitions, which are always gravely sinful, in §300? There, the pope says that subjective culpability is not always the same from case to case. But this is a commonplace of Catholic moral thinking; it has nothing to do with whether or not some actions are always gravely sinful, or whether the moral law contains negative prohibitions.

Or do they find it in §304? There the pope quotes St. Thomas Aquinas to the effect that “defects” are found in all “general principles” when we “descend to matters of detail.” “It is true,” the pope says, “that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations.”

Well, let us look at this. In the first part of that sentence, the pope in fact affirms that “general rules … can never be disregarded or neglected.” If we assume that by “general rules,” the pope means “the moral law,” and if we assume further that he means “negative prohibitions,” he says that they can “never” be neglected. So that would preclude, would it not, The Correctors’ charge that the pope denies these are always gravely sinful. Indeed, he affirms that they are always gravely sinful. Oops.

But in the larger context, the pope observes (and this part of §304 is left out by The Correctors):

It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule.

“To simply consider”; by this, the pope means that, even if we know that such and such an individual has remarried without an annulment, we don’t know everything we need to know. We can’t simply say, “mortal sin.” More is involved in discernment than in turning the moral law into a checklist of rules.

To observe this does not imply the pope thinks negative prohibitions don’t exist, or that he thinks there’s no such thing as actions that always constitute grave matter. In §297 he speaks of the existence of “objective sin.” In §303 he says that irregular unions are “objectively” contrary to Catholic teaching on marriage. In §305 he speaks of the existence of “an objective situation of sin.” Why do The Correctors not note this? (Don’t answer that.)

The pope must believe some things constitute “objective” sin. And indeed he does; but here he reflects on subjective degrees of culpability that mitigate guilt. One must not confuse the two.

So I can’t find this supposed heresy in the passages The Correctors quote; but I did a little due diligence and searched the whole text of Amoris Laetitia for the words “negative” and “prohibition.” And what I found—well, let me tell you what I did not find. Far from the pope denying that “negative prohibitions” exist, I found that the pope does not discuss the subject one way or the other, unless you count the phrase “objective sin”; and if you count that phrase, you run smack into numerous passages in which the pope says that objective sin most certainly does exist. This is most inconvenient for The Correctors.

And I also found, in my search, that in §302–in a passage not quoted by The Correctors, which hardly surprises me—the pope says:

[A] negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved.”

And this too is most inconvenient for The Correctors; for we find two things here. First, we find that the pope once again states that “objective situation[s of sin]” do exist; we can render a judgment on that much. And second, we find that the context in which the pope brings up these observations, in this section of Amoris Laetitia, is to reflect upon the question of subjective culpability, not the question of objectively grave acts that are always wrong. Such poor reading comprehension. Such sloppy exegesis.

It is certainly true that the moral law is not a mere list of negative prohibitions. If you think that way, your moral understanding is gravely impaired. The moral law, in its essence, is a positive good to which God calls everyone. It is not just a series of “don’ts.” If the pope is found to have said something like that, he spoke truly.

That is not the same thing as denying that negative prohibitions exist at all. And I do not find, anywhere in the text, where the pope said anything approaching this. Please point it out to be, if I be wrong. You’ll have gone much further than The Correctors even attempted.

The Correctors are 0 for 6.

And then there was one.


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