Dr John Rist: Cardinal Kasper’s new approach to the remarried has shaky historical foundations

From the CatholicHerald.co.uk:

The author of this piece, Dr John Rist, is the Fr Kurt Pritzl OP Chair of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He was Professor of Classics at the University of Toronto for 30 years and currently teaches at the Augustinianum, the Patristic Institute in Rome. He is widely published in the field of ancient philosophy, patristics and moral philosophy. He is married and both a father and a grandfather:

Cardinal+Walter+Kasper-300x229On February 20 last, Cardinal Walter Kasper gave an address, “The Gospel of the Family”, to the extraordinary consistory on the family called by the Holy Father, much of it concerned with outlining current difficulties – massive mobility, immigration, costs of childrearing, ageing populations, individualism, alienation of urban life, civil divorce, etc – faced by Catholics entering the married state.

A married Catholic such as myself might suppose that these prevailing circumstances suggest, rather than a relaxation of the rules debarring from Communion the divorced and “re-married” that promulgating from Rome requirements for far more serious marriage-instruction to be given to couples, by priests (or others) cognisant of these difficulties of marriage in contemporary society, would be a first obvious step towards solving, or at least diminishing the problem and easing the strain on marriage tribunals. Yet the cardinal proposes that the rule about Communion be liberalised for two groups of divorced and remarried Catholics: those who genuinely believe (or may even know) that they originally entered on a Church wedding with no firm intention, or inadequate understanding, as to the rules about validity; secondly, those who have contracted a civil second marriage because their Catholic marriage has failed “irretrievably” – with emphasis on a “probably very small group” of these last as especially worthy of relaxation of the rules.

However, it is not my intent to trespass upon the cardinal’s preserve in matter of teaching about marriage, but rather to handle that which is within my competency: the teaching of the Fathers of the Church. For while Cardinal Kasper admits that we cannot simply go back to ancient teachings, he does claim – at the same time suggesting an imprecise parallel with developing doctrines of penance for apostasy – that evidence from antiquity is sufficiently uncertain for a more relaxed approach to find patristic support. To show how weak is this claim, let me address the few texts the cardinal offers in support of his position, limiting myself to the period before the sixth century, since with Justinian an encroaching Caesaropapism engenders in the East a contorting of earlier evidence in favour of a more relaxed approach.

Though others have put forward “early” – though non-existent – evidence for his position, the cardinal wisely offers nothing from the first 150-odd years of Christianity, presumably accepting that marriage rules were then still strict and apostolically based. The first text he cites, from the mid-third century, is Origen (Commentary on Matthew 14:23-24) reporting that bishops of certain local churches “not without reason” allow Communion to those divorced and remarried. Yet Origen also says – not once but three times – that this practice is contrary to the scriptures: hardly endorsement, nor even toleration from so biblical a theologian. Councils apart (I shall come to them), Cardinal Kasper offers further evidence only from the fourth century, observing that Basil (letters 188 and 199), Gregory of Nazienzen (Oratio 37) and Augustine are aware of the same practice occurring. What he omits to notice is that there is no indication of any of them concurring in what plainly contravenes their ordinary teaching.

Moving beyond “private” theologians, Kasper claims that a more pastoral attitude is evidenced by the Council of Nicaea (325) – presumably by Canon 8 which (so he and others tell us) “confirmed” the more relaxed approach. Though this has occasionally been read into the text, yet its virtually certain intent is to permit Communion not to the divorced and remarried but to the widowed and remarried. For we need to bear in mind that a Christian’s marrying twice in any circumstances – including widowhood – was much debated, giving reason for the Council to address this uncertainty. Nor is Cardinal Kasper’s case strengthened by misapplying the Pauline notion of metanoia and going on to presume that the Fathers would consider “repentance” of the failure of a first marriage to justify entering into a second.

To conclude, upon examination the cardinal’s case depends on misinterpreting a tiny number of texts while neglecting numerous others which contradict them. How can this have happened? To my mind we have here an example of a procedure all too frequent in academia, more especially when work may be motivated by convenience or ideology: there is an overwhelming amount of evidence in one direction and one or two texts which might conceivably be read otherwise, from which is derived the desired conclusion, or at least that the matter is open.

Perhaps Cardinal Kasper has more texts to cite. Certainly he will be able to name some few scholars whose lead he has followed. But multiple exemplars of misleading academic practice ought logically to be no more convincing than one.

Dr Rist was Fr Z’s instructor at the Augustinianum in Rome. You can read his post about Dr Rist’s important article here.

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12 Responses to Dr John Rist: Cardinal Kasper’s new approach to the remarried has shaky historical foundations

  1. Michael says:

    Can you explain why despite the fact that Our Lord gives adultery as grounds for divorce that the church does not recognize that?


  2. Toadspittle says:

    Can who explain? CP&S?

    But what you state as a “fact,” Michael, is interesting.
    Where – and when – does Christ do that?

    “…Cardinal Kasper offers further evidence only from the fourth century, observing that Basil (letters 188 and 199), Gregory of Nazienzen (Oratio 37) and Augustine are aware of the same practice occurring. What he omits to notice is that there is no indication of any of them concurring in what plainly contravenes their ordinary teaching.”
    ..Does it matter to us what Basil, Greg, and Augustine say? We’ve never hear of any of them. (or is Augustine the same one who says we very likely are all going to Hell anyway, divorced or not?)

    “…the unfortunate massa damnata theory, which said the whole human race by original sin became a massa damnata et damnabilis: God could throw the whole damned race into hell for original sin alone, without waiting for any personal sin.”
    ..from http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/AUGUSTIN.HTM

    Good, light-hearted, Sunday, stuff. As we all agree.


  3. The Raven says:

    Toad, Michael is referring to Matthew 19:9:

    “And I tell you that he who puts away his wife, not for any unfaithfulness of hers, and so marries another, commits adultery; and he too commits adultery, who marries her after she has been put away.”

    “λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ εἰ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται καὶ ὁ ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσας μοιχᾶται”

    The key word here is “ἀπολύσῃ”, which means “to dismiss” (in modern Greek καταχρηστική απόλυση is wrongful dismissal). The Greek is ambiguous, and I think that Our Lord is teaching us something specific about the wickedness of discarding wives, rather than something general about divorce. In his notes to the parallel passage in Matthew 5:32, Mgr Knox points out that:

    “By the law of Moses, a husband might not turn his wife out of doors without giving her a certificate of freedom, which shewed that he had no further claim on her. Even so, our Lord teaches, the husband’s behaviour is selfish, since the dismissed wife would be tempted to remarry, and thus become, in God’s sight, an adulteress. The Greek word here translated ‘setting aside’ has commonly been taken as meaning ‘unless she is unfaithful’, but it can also be interpreted as meaning ‘whether she is unfaithful or not’.”

    The teaching of Our Lord in Mark 10 and Luke 16, as well as St Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 is unambiguous: divorce is not permissible, which means that we should and must properly read Matthew 19:9 in the latter manner suggested by Mgr Knox – as being an absolute prohibition on divorce, not as creating an exemption.


  4. GC says:

    Raven, I had thought that there was a kerfuffle about the translation of word “porneia”, πορνείᾳ , which had been translated as “adultery” by some, but which really usually means “sexual immorality” or “fornication”.

    In the Jerusalem Bible in Matthew 19:9 it is translated as “an illicit marriage” and the whole verse like this:

    Now I say this to you: anyone who divorces his wife — I am not speaking of an illicit marriage — and marries another, is guilty of adultery.


    Porneia probably cannot mean adultery here, as the word for adultery (moichatai -μοιχᾶται) actually appears later twice in the same verse. Why not just use “moichatai” for adultery and not “porneia” if “adultery” is the intended meaning?


  5. GC says:

    This is a decent read on Matthew’s “porneia”. It supports the New Jerusalem Bible’s translation of the term as “illicit marriage”, especially that of a Jewish Christian married to a pagan. It relies on the idea that Matthew wrote for Jewish Christians.


  6. The Raven says:

    GC, πορνεία presents us with a distinct difficulty, as the word is rather odd: as you rightly point out, it does not mean adultery and it does seem to share a root with the word for “prostitute”, which does support a reading of the verse suggesting that the exception is for those living in concubinage and not sacramental marriage (the word γυναίκα can be used both for “woman” and “wife”).

    I know that this was the approach favoured by the Fathers, but the Church has not favoured one interpretation of the verse over another (other than to be clear that a simplistic reading of it as excusing divorce simply does not work); whether one focuses on πορνεία or απόλυση it is very clear that the interpretation of this verse is far from straightforward!


  7. GC says:

    Yes, very sensible, Raven. Well, that should give Michael something to think about.


  8. Paul says:

    I would like to make three points:
    1. Cardinal Kasper PROVED that the practice of giving Communion was present back in the times mentioned. He used the works of those being against it (eg. St. Augustine, Origen) to prove that. And that it was a BISHOP LEVEL practice. So don’t cause any confusion, dear author. I don’t want to sound hostile but you have proved absolutely nothing.

    2. Origen, wasn’t even a bishop and his teachings were at Carthagena synod declared heresies.
    St. Augustine is just a Church saint, a bishop that commited a lot of doctrinal errors and had some right ideas (very few) that became the Church’s official teachings (not due to his authority, but because their were checked and double checked and accepted by The Magisterium as valid and useful). So don’t make their personal opinions, with regards to that now-clearly-proved-practice -on-bishop-level in Church’s ancient times, appear as binding in anyway.

    3. The author claims that The Council of Nicea meant the “widowed and remarried” as those that could be admitted to Communion cause :
    For we need to bear in mind that a Christian’s marrying twice in any circumstances – including widowhood – was much debated, giving reason for the Council to address this uncertainty.

    This is my response to that:

    1 Corinthians 7:39
    A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

    1 Timothy 5:14
    So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.

    Romans 7:3
    Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

    I find it quite hard to believe that this was about widowed and remarried as it was “much debated”. Hardly the Scriptures are as clear on something as their are on that matter as shown above. Indeed, that last line of argument seems like a total nonsense to me. No offence.
    “(…) yet its virtually certain intent (…)” – that hardly qualifies as anything. Just an devoided of proofs, facts, line of arguments claim by the autor that “That’s the case beacuse I thinks that’s the case. Period”. Care to elaborate on that one? How is it virtually certain?

    Lastly, my apologies for my poor English. I’m not an English Native speaker nor living in an English spoken country. Never have.


  9. mmvc says:

    I recently came across “The History of the Indissolubility of Marriage” via Fr Z’s blog which may shed some more light on the points you raise here, Paul. It’s a lengthy text which can be downloaded as a PDF: http://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/ctsa/article/view/2633/2281. I hope to get round to reading it soon.

    As for your English, please don’t apologise. It is excellent for a non native speaker 🙂


  10. GC says:

    Actually, mmvc, I find it hard to follow Paul, and I doubt it’s because of the intricacies of the English tongue.


  11. Pingback: Kaspers “weg van penitentie” | Geloven Leren

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