Amoris Laetitia – what do you think? I have read the document quite quickly, taking extra care over particular sections. And I have read several initial commentaries. So I give you my early reactions.
I am struck by its idiosyncrasy. I cannot think of any pope in recent times, and certainly in earlier times, who would have written it. I believe that it may have a profound, long term, effect on the Church’s view of the moral life. To the disappointment of many people, he has not settled any of the issues which have been debated so strongly over the two Synods. But he has emphasised our long tradition on the sovereignty of conscience. What he has done is to show us clearly what the sovereignty of conscience looks like in action.
We used to live in a Church of certainty. The moral rules are laid down, graded according to their relationship to infallibility and to their category as mortal or venial. The primary moral virtue is obedience. The Hierarchy rules. But Francis is telling us that no one is saved through the law. We are saved through our orientation to Christ. The law is a service to us, presenting the ways in which we may act against love. But we have a stronger authority than the written law. It is our prayerful discernment of the good and the evil through the action of conscience. Conscience is not infallible but, as Aquinas emphasised, our justification lies not in the correctness of our judgment but in our conformity with what we judge.
Let me tell you about a friend of mine, who consulted me in her search for the right thing to do. She had had several children but she was now being told that, for good medical reasons, she should have no more. She was in a good marriage, richly expressed through its sexual intimacy. At the practical level the sensible answer was sterilisation. But she was aware of two things: Humanae Vitae‘s clear prohibition of sterilisation for contraceptive purposes, and the mutilation involved in removing her God-given fertility. In the end she decided that, since her fertility could no longer be used and had become a danger both to her and to her marriage, she would have the operation. You may or may not agree, but you may accept that her decision was a reasonable one in accordance with her sincere judgment?
How might her parish priest have reacted? He might have said that her decision was wrong, and that she remained in mortal sin until she had repented of her grave disobedience to God’s law. Thus she must deny her conscience before she returns to the sacraments. But, had he taken the lesson of Amoris Laetitia, he would have accepted her decision perhaps without personally agreeing with it, and reassured her that following her conscience was what God required.
Looking at first responses to the Exhortation, I am reminded that our reactions are typically influenced by our own personalities. Forgive me over simplifying, but there is one type of personality which is really only happy with certainties. It favours clear rules, absolute judgments of principle and clarity of hierarchical order and obedience. At the other end of the scale there is the personality which is happy with uncertainty, does not look for clearcut answers and puts strong value on personal opinions – even though these are revisable. I suspect that these two personalities will react quite differently.
How did you react to Amoris Laetitia?
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