Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The New “Uncertainty Principle” In Catholic Doctrine and Hermeneutics

I’ve been checking out some of the responses on both sides of the “Pope Francis” “apostolic exhortation” “Amoris Laetitia”. It seems as if, generally, conservative Roman Catholics are breathing a sigh of relief about this. Generally, the word is, “no doctrine was changed”. But some things have changed, and it was no less a source than Cardinal Schönborn who has openly called some of the “developments” in this document “true innovations”.

The conservative Catholic website Rorate Caeli sums them up very well:
1. An apostolic exhortation is not, by its very nature, a non-magisterial document. It is the content of a papal document that reveals its magisterial relevance, … Amoris Laetitia itself does not say that it is not itself magisterial: what it says, in its highly explosive paragraph 3, is that the Magisterium does not need to be invoked or suffer intervention to sort all Catholic questions. On the other hand, this same paragraph opens up a Pandora's Box of decentralization of the Magisterium [and especially the papacy, predicted here], creating a centrifugal force which can ruin Catholic doctrinal unity.

2. Saying Amoris Laetitia is not a big deal, and not magisterially relevant is simply not true. The present Pope and his successors will not act as if it were not magisterially relevant, and bishops on the ground will certainly invoke it in their own Magisterial pronouncements. Amoris Laetitia will certainly have its place in future editions of the Denzinger and in any future revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

3. Francis, with some of his previous documents, but particularly with Amoris Laetitia, introduced a kind of "uncertainty principle" in Catholic doctrine and hermeneutics on morals, marriage, and family life, and that itself is magisterially relevant.
What the author here is saying is that there is no principled way of discerning divine revelation from mere human opinion, which, according to Michael Liccione (and echoed by dozens of writers and commenters at “Called to Communion”), is the epistemological advantage that Rome supposedly has over Sola Scriptura. But that has now officially vanished.


  1. So who would like to have a 'Sola Scriptura creates uncertainty' debate today?

    1. Wait till there are 30,000 Roman Catholic denominations!

  2. Like with Vatican II, there will probably be ia lot of invokation of the "spirit of Amoris Laetitia" given what appears to be deliberately obfuscating language; this should also provide us with years of amusement.

  3. John,

    "Generally, the word is, “no doctrine was changed”."

    Right. Which is all that Rome's claims maintain - to be more precise, no doctrine was contradicted since "change" is ambiguous.

    "But some things have changed"

    Right. Which Rome's claims permit. Discipline is not dogma. Dogmatic principles are distinct from prudential and contingent application of those principles, which AL explicitly calls out. So a change in emphasis or application does not undermine the "principled way of discerning divine revelation from mere human opinion", let alone cause it to "vanish". Divorce, cohabitation, homosexuality are still objectively wrong. SSM marriages aren't being performed all over the world starting this week. Confession is still recommended and heard by pastors. Mortal sin still exists. Divorced seeking remarriage still need to undertake the annulment process. And so on.

    That's why many conservatives who criticize AL aren't freaking out over it or having a crisis of faith now:
    Mirius - http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id=674
    Burke - http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/amoris-laetitia-and-the-constant-teaching-and-practice-of-the-church
    Schall - http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/4696/in_iamoris_laetitiai_who_is_admonishing_whom.aspx
    Douthat - http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/opinion/sunday/the-new-catholic-truce.html?_r=0
    CNA - http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/no-doctrine-change-from-pope-francis-but-a-call-for-better-pastoral-care-85474/

    1. And of course a smilin' and happy Walter Cardinal Kasper, who WILL be giving communion to the divorced-and-remarried, and claiming sanction for it.