Now that the final document of Synod14 has been published in an official English translation — something which remarkably took much longer to do than the mid-term Relatio, which was translated into 5 languages in just 1 weekend — I will fulfill the request of many Catholics, by commenting on the document. I shall entitle this Commentary a critique, because it is obvious from the text and its organization that it presents a profoundly distorted and non-Catholic view of the human and Christian family.
So as not to omit anything, I will proceed section by section. Official text in Dark Green, bold italics. Comments in Black
1. The Synod of Bishops, gathered around the Holy Father, turned its thoughts to all the families of the world, …
The introduction to the final document is glaringly lacking 2 most important elements.
First, some statement which officially reproves or distances the Synod from the interm Relatio document prepared by Cardinal Erdo’s drafting committee with the mischievous assistance of Msgr. Bruno Forte. — The lack of such a public refutation or denial, is in fact a public tacit consent or at the very least a grevious lack of Christian honesty and pastoral charity towards the billions of Catholics and non-Catholics who were led to believe that it represented Church teaching, whether they were scandalized in the right sense of the word, or were not scandalized because they hold to a perverse unChristian view of the family.
Second, the Introduction lacks an affirmation of the Synod Fathers which indicates their adhesion to the one and true Catholic Faith and the denunciation of all errors opposed to it. This is necessary, because both the In-term Relatio and the absence of refutation of it in the Introduction to this Final Relatio, have given rise to the suspicion that some of the Synod Fathers and perhaps even the Pope do not profess the Catholic Faith at all, or are attempting to adulterate it with doctrines which are incompatible with those revealed by God. This failure to reaffirm the Catholic Faith openly, succinctly and before all else, puts in doubt that the doctrines presented in the Final Relatio were proposed by the Synod in a Catholic manner, that is, as doctrines of the Church for the good of the Church. This absence, in my opinion, gives every Catholic the right to regard this final Relatio as a non-ecclesiastical document: one which does not in any true or authentic manner represent the Magisterium of the Church.
Listening: the context and challenges of the family
The Socio-Cultural Context
5. Faithful to Christ’s teaching, we look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows. etc.
The first glaring deviation in this Final Relatio, it the confusion its authors have concerning Faith and Reason. Faith is the habit which regards assent to revealed truths; reason is the faculty of the mind which reckons to a conclusion from the basis of affirmations or denials of propositions. We can, using common parlance, count in the domain of reason the findings and observations of the sciences, whether philosophical or empirical or human. The human sciences which regard the family are many: Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology etc.. The empirical: Biology, Medicine, etc.
Its obvious, to any believer, that it is a duty of faith to believe in what God has revealed. But where in Scripture or Tradition do we find an obligation to “look to the reality of the family today, in all its complexity” ? If one were attempting a scientific study of the human family, it would be very useful to consider the family today in such a wise, but it has nothing or very little to do with fidelity to Christ’s teaching, any more than being a physicist, anthropologist, or psychologist is something one does because faith requires this.
Thus, we can easily see that the authors of this Final Relatio, are confused about their duty as Bishops and Pastors, who were given sacred orders to minister to the Faithful the Faith which alone saves, and the doctrine and morals which alone save.
And if they are confused about their own duty, then we can expect a document full of such confusion; because just as the mouth speaks from the fullness of the heart, so the pen moves out of the fullness or emptiness of the head.
Theologically speaking, it is thus, unfaithful for a Bishop to replace phenomenological observations for clear teaching and clear affirmations of doctrine and morals. Hence, we can conclude here, that what is contained in Part I, nn. 5-8 contradicts the essence of what those first 4 words of n. 5 should signify.
The Importance of Affectivity in Life
9. Faced with the afore-mentioned social situation, people in many parts of the world are feeling a great need to take care of themselves, to know themselves better, to live in greater harmony with their feelings and sentiments and to seek to live their affectivity in the best manner possible. etc.
Here, the Final Relatio, falls into its next grievous error: that of replacing the concept of morality with that of affectivity. Morality regards the moral quality of acts and habits, that is, whether they be good or bad according to their genus, circumstances, end, and this according to right reason and the principles of revealed truth, that is according to the natural order and the Divine Law, which is the will of the One and True God, as He has revealed Himself: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Affectivity, however, is a quality or state of being which regards the having or using of the affective part of man, the sensible part of the soul: joy and sorrow, anger and hatred and fear, hope, love; in a word the passions or emotions. (There are also theological virtues known as hope and love, but these are something different.)
Thus, to substitute the consideration of the moral order with the affective order, is to omit the consideration of morality all together. Such a manner of proceeding follows logically and necessarily from one in which true pastoral fidelity is replaced with phenomenological observations. You might say that the authors of the Final Relatio are trying to be diplomatic; but if diplomacy requires first of all a loyalty to the Monarch whom you are representing, ignoring His teachings regarding morality is a far greater offense than omitting a scientific observation. It also sows confusion, and leads one to think, that the purpose of the Synod was not to teach but to philosophize or to present an ideology rather than doctrine regarding the Faith.
11. In this regard, the Church is conscious of the need to offer a particularly meaningful word of hope, which must be done based on the conviction that the human person comes from God, and that, consequently, any reconsideration of the great question on the meaning of human existence can be responsive to humanity’s most profound expectations. The great values of marriage and the Christian family correspond to the search that characterizes human existence, even in these times of individualism and hedonism. People need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life. We need to know how to support them in their searching and to encourage them in their hunger for God and their wish to feel fully part of the Church, also including those who have experienced failure or find themselves in a variety of situations. The Christian message always contains in itself the reality and the dynamic of mercy and truth which meet in Christ.
Part I of the final Relatio closes with this (n. 11) excellent example of political hogwash. Hogwash, because it contains bits and pieces of all kinds of things, and serves to satisfy those who have no intelligent motive to seek understanding or truth. It might seem to be double-speak, but it is actually very faithful to its own principles, if we just unpack some key phrases.
which must be done based on the conviction that the human person comes from God
But the Church should act solely on the basis of Her Faith, Hope and Love for the one True God, no? What value does it have calling Her Faith, a “conviction”, or replacing the profession of faith in God the creator of mankind, with “human person comes from God”. Even a Platonist or Hindu can say the latter. And anyone who believes in the equality of all religious, the former.
and that, consequently, any reconsideration of the great question on the meaning of human existence can be responsive to humanity’s most profound expectations.
I do not know about you, but who was expecting this Synod of proposing a “reconsideration of the great question on the meaning of human existence”? Such a verbal expression is about as far as one can get to the proposed topic of the Family as can be conceived. Rather, by using the term “reconsideration” and pairing it with the words “most profound expectations” (rather than “being” or “needs”) one clearly leaves the door open to the idea that the Final Relatio and indeed the entire Synod was aiming to push the envelope on certain questions regarding human nature itself, or propound entirely novel teachings which would break with the past, because clearly “expectations” regards a subjective criterion, and “reconsideration” signifies the abandonment at least in possibility of what was previously held or taught.
Since platitudes abound in what follows, above, suffice it to say that even an idiot knows that the family and marriage are not values, but Divine and human institutions.
People need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life.
This, is perhaps, the credo and battle cry of the progressivists and liberals who are in power today in the world. Being materialists, they wish to replace morals with facts, and refuse to categorize as good or evil any human action or situation. There remains for them only social injustice, which they define as a lack of money or access to power (whether they call that liberty or voting rights or equality). If the phrase meant anything objective, it would not have to be said, as it is a tautology in the common sense of the terms, namely if it was meant to signify, “Human persons, like any object of study, are to be studied as they are, and not as they should be”. But then one would be affirming a principle of empirical science, and counter-posing that method to a philosophical or theological one; which surely a Synod of Catholic bishops, if they are professing fidelity to Christ’s teaching, would not be expected to be doing.
Looking at Christ: the Gospel of the Family
Looking at Jesus and the Divine Pedagogy in the History of Salvation
12. In order to “walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ, to pause in contemplation and in adoration of his Face. … Indeed, every time we return to the source of the Christian experience, new paths and undreamed of possibilities open up” (Pope Francis, Discourse, 4 October 2014).
Part II of the final Relatio opens with the affirmation of the principle of novelty which Pope Francis has set up as the rule for his papacy. As he himself says, “I do not believe in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God”, and Catholics should be open to the “God of surprises”. This God of surprises — a name for God nowhere found in Scripture, Tradition, the Fathers or Doctors of the Church, nay not even among the Saints — is the God of the Final Relatio, since the very hermeneutic employed in Part II is to read Scripture without any restraint imposed from all that has gone before.
This is not the Catholic notion of Scriptural exegesis, but is a very apt one for the eisegesis taught by Modernists. Exegesis is the Greek term for reading the Scripture so as to find and understand the truth contained in it. Eisegesis is that wherein one reads into the text, a meaning which one wants to find therein. The distinction between exegesis and eisegesis is the distinction between Catholicism and all non-Catholic or un-Catholic methods of scripture reading. Modernists have to employ eisegesis, because their fasle and novel doctrines, not being found in Scripture, must be made to appear to be found there in, so as to justify itself among those who still hold Scripture to have some authority for faith.
Indeed, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter 2, the Infallible Ecumenical Council of Vatican I, taught as follows
- Now since the decree on the interpretation of holy scripture, profitably made by the council of Trent, with the intention of constraining rash speculation, has been wrongly interpreted by some, we renew that decree and declare its meaning to be as follows: that
- in matters of faith and morals,
- belonging as they do to the establishing of christian doctrine,
- that meaning of holy scripture must be held to be the true one,
- which holy mother church held and holds,
- since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of holy scripture.
- In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret holy scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers.
Hence, the way to the God of surprises is closed off, since Vatican I forbade that anyone read Scripture in such a wise as to attribute to it something which the Church Herself did not already hold and understand, in the time of Vatican I.
Thus, we can conclude that Part II begins with a heretical affirmation regarding the way to read Scripture. This, undoubtedly will make it very difficulty or impossible that anything said about the Family or Marriage, which is based on faith in Scripture, will be said in a manner conformable to the Catholic understanding of Scripture, which the Church Herself holds and receives from Christ Her Lord.
This false way of reading Scripture brings forth its first evil fruit in n. 13:
In creation, because all things were made through Christ and for him (cf. Col 1:16), Christians “gladly and reverently lay bare the seeds of the Word which lie hidden among their fellows; they ought to follow attentively the profound changes which are taking place among peoples” (Ad Gentes, 11).
Notice how the concept of Creation is paired with the concept of “profound changes”. In a Catholic notion of Creation, just as Christ said of Marriage, “What God has joined, let no man sunder”, so we can say that “What God has made, let no man destroy, change or alter”. By insinuating surreptitiously that fidelity to the Creator requires some sort of discipleship to change, the Relatio introduces anew the concept that faith is loyalty to a God of surprises not a God of Immutable Constancy, and that Creation is not something fixed and past, but ongoing and ever new. This replaces a classical Christian sense of metaphysics with one which is Hegelian at best.
In the Christian life, the reception of Baptism brings the believer into the Church through the domestic church, namely, the family; thus beginning “a dynamic process [which] develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God” (Familiaris Consortio, 9), in an ongoing conversion to a love which saves us from sin and gives us fullness of life.
In this sentence, which follows the one just quoted, we see this error of replacing the supernatural order with the natural order again. Baptism is a Sacrament which makes one a member of the true Church, when it is received in the Church; but the reception of this Sacrament is not limited to newborns, even adult converts can receive it, for example. Thus it is incorrect to say that one receives this Sacrament through the Domestic Church, since being member of a family or having family members present to sponsor one at Baptism is not and never has been a requirement of the Sacrament. How Bishops could in good conscience omit noticing this glaring error, is beyond me.
The second half of the sentence, introduces the false notion of graduality in things spiritual. In Catholic teaching, the spiritual regards things which are not material, and hence, since the spiritual does not regard things which are separable or have parts, it does not regard but things which are simple. Now all spirits, whether Angels or human souls, are simple things; and simple things change only according to the whole. Thus Angels and souls are created entire, not by parts; likewise, when a soul converts, it does so in 1 instant, not by steps. If we speak of conversion on a broad sense, that is as a preparation for conversion through progressive steps of being more and more open to the grace of conversion, we can call it a process, but to use the word “conversion” for the preparation for conversion is improper and confusing. To misuse the term “conversion” in this manner, seemingly denies the truth that a man converts in 1 instant, and that that conversion must be total, to be true. It thus opens the door to accepting in the Church and at the Sacraments, those who live in public habitual mortal sin, which is exactly what Cardinal Kasper is proposing.
Finally, all who have the theological virtue of Charity, have the ability to love God; and such a love is simple, when it exists; one who loves God does not need to convert, because love by nature turns the lover to the beloved; and conversion regards the turning of the soul. Thus conversion is not an ongoing process. The ongoing process is perfection, or rather, the pursuit of perfection by living the Christian life. The non-Christian needs to repent and convert; the Christian who is not faithful, need to repent, not convert. In Baptism, one receives all the gifts of God, in themselves or in seed or in promise; thus one is no more or less a Christian at Baptism than he is in Heaven. Thus the statement regarding the “progressive integration of the gifts of God” is badly stated, in the very least.
What follows in n. 14, in no way avoids the errors which preceded.
14. Jesus himself, referring to the original plan of the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between a man and a woman and says to the Pharisees that “for your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”(Mt 19: 8). The indissolubility of marriage (“what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” Mt 19:6), is not to be understood as a “yoke” imposed on persons but as a “gift” to a husband and wife united in marriage. In this way, Jesus shows how God’s humbling act of coming to earth might always accompany the human journey …
It in now way removes the errors previous to it, because, according to the natural principle of human language, every affirmation is to be understood not only according to what it affirms but also according to the context in which it makes that affirmation. Note, then, how n. 14 says nothing against the false forms of marriage, but only calls the true one the “original plan”; given that the Final Relatio in its previous sections opens the way to novel readings of scripture, and new proposals, the affirmation of “original” does not close the way to a future affirmation of what is “novel”, since the novel can be seen as a new fruit of reading Scripture or Tradition, in harmony with the God of surprises, which is the god of this document.
became the historical form of marriage among the People of God…
What follows in n. 15, while seemingly very good, contains several errors of expression which leave open the door to all the errors, which I have previously pointed out in this critique. The description of marriage in history is faulty, in such a way as to do this; because the truth of history is that the People of God were called from among those sons of Adam who had fallen into sin and idolatry, and hence when they were called they were not living in marriages which were always in accord with God’s original plan given in Adam and Eve, which is monogamous life long marriage of 1 man and 1 woman. By saying, contrariwise, that these sinful forms became the historical form of marriage among God’s people, the Final Relatio opens the door, by giving precedent, to the possibility that the Church Herself can embrace forms of marriage being proposed in the historical moment of today.
The Gospel of the Family spans the history of the world from the creation of man in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1: 26-27)
I paragraph n. 16, we have the error of confounding the natural and supernatural orders, affirmed again. Because, in theology, the Gospel regards the message of salvation which God alone revealed in Christ; one does not call the original order of things which God established at the beginning of the world or of our race a “gospel”, because it regards the natural order, not the order of grace and salvation. It is also nonsensical to call the original plan a “gospel” since “Gospel” means “good news” and what is old is not news, even if it is good.
The Family in the Church’s Documents
17. “Throughout the centuries, the Church has maintained her constant teaching on marriage and family. One of the highest expressions of this teaching was proposed by the Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which devotes an entire chapter to promoting the dignity of marriage and the family (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 47-52).
It is so common to find, since Vatican II, the same stupid exaggerations in Church documents, that you can almost guess that they will be there in any long-enough document. One of these stupidities is the assertion that at Vatican II the Church taught in the best way She had ever done, as if She was ignorant and illiterate for 1929 years (1962 — 33 = 1929)!
To call Gaudium et Spes “one of the highest expressions” of Church teaching is thus as laughable as it is a-historical. But is its laughable too, since Benedict XVI, while still a mere theologian, said of Gaudium et Spes, that it was by far the most problematic of Vatican II documents, one which is thoroughly colored by the heresy of Pelagianism, which held that the salvation and grace offered in Christ was useful but not necessary for salvation, and hence attention to things natural with little emphasis on those which are supernatural or gratuitous (i. e. of grace) is no large fault.
To take Gaudium et Spes, therefore, as the highest expression, is thus to denigrate others as lower. But as a matter of fact, every Papal Encyclical for 200 years before Vatican II has more authority than any document of Vatican II, because as Pope Pius XII declared, what is taught in Encyclicals has to be accepted as Catholic teaching; but Vatican II and Pope Paul VI imposed no such obligation on Vatican II documents.
The Church, however, has a certain, clear and much more authoritative document on Marriage and the Family: the Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XII, Casti Canubi, Dec. 31, 1930 A.D., the text of which is still available at the Vatican Website. In paragraph nns. 5-6, the Church teaches:
5. And to begin with that same Encyclical, which is wholly concerned in vindicating the divine institution of matrimony, its sacramental dignity, and its perpetual stability, let it be repeated as an immutable and inviolable fundamental doctrine that matrimony was not instituted or restored by man but by God; not by man were the laws made to strengthen and confirm and elevate it but by God, the Author of nature, and by Christ Our Lord by Whom nature was redeemed, and hence these laws cannot be subject to any human decrees or to any contrary pact even of the spouses themselves. This is the doctrine of Holy Scripture; this is the constant tradition of the Universal Church; this the solemn definition of the sacred Council of Trent, which declares and establishes from the words of Holy Writ itself that God is the Author of the perpetual stability of the marriage bond, its unity and its firmness.
6. Yet although matrimony is of its very nature of divine institution, the human will, too, enters into it and performs a most noble part. For each individual marriage, inasmuch as it is a conjugal union of a particular man and woman, arises only from the free consent of each of the spouses; and this free act of the will, by which each party hands over and accepts those rights proper to the state of marriage, is so necessary to constitute true marriage that it cannot be supplied by any human power. This freedom, however, regards only the question whether the contracting parties really wish to enter upon matrimony or to marry this particular person; but the nature of matrimony is entirely independent of the free will of man, so that if one has once contracted matrimony he is thereby subject to its divinely made laws and its essential properties. For the Angelic Doctor, writing on conjugal honor and on the offspring which is the fruit of marriage, says: “These things are so contained in matrimony by the marriage pact itself that, if anything to the contrary were expressed in the consent which makes the marriage, it would not be a true marriage.”
Why this Encyclical was not quoted in this section of the Final Relatio, is a very grave question; the omission of it puts in doubt the honesty of the intention of the Synod Fathers to hold fast to Catholic teaching.
The Erroneous Definition of Family in the Final Relatio
is found in paragraph n. 17, of the same, where it says in the official English translation, speaking of the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes:
This document defined marriage as a community of life and love (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48),
Every human being with some intelligence can see immediately that this definition is insufficient. Because, a human being can share a community of life and love with many other human persons, not just those in his family; and a community of human love can exist between any number or gender of persons; a community of the human affection of love can also exist, unilaterally, between a human person and a pet, such as a dog. Hence, this definition of a family, after all the scandals of Synod14 is remarkable in its insufficiency. It allows every error regarding the Family and Marriage, which Catholics supposed the Synod was convened to refute!
This error is not corrected in nns. 17-20, because NO WHERE does it exclude all the possible notions of family which could fall under such a loose definition. Nor do affirmations regarding the family formed by man and woman, logically exclude these other concepts of family and marriage. Let us not be stupid, as to suppose otherwise; those who wrote this document have degrees in theology and philosophy, they understand logic and its rules, and cannot be exculpated from the open door to perversion and immorality which they left wide open in the very heart of the final text of the Relatio. To cite this most loose of definitions, when Pius XII had given a very good one in Casti Canubi, nn. 5-6, is simply beyond belief and renders void of all credibility the ecclesiological value of the Final Relatio.
I will end my critique here, since I believe that the reader can continue reading the Relatio and find the same errors repeated, the same open doors open, etc. and reasonably conclude, that the Final Text of Synod14 is a Trojan horse in the city of God.
Br. Alexis Bugnolo holds a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Florida, where he was nominated to Phi Beta Kapa; he is a graduate of Our Lady of Grace Seminary (cum laude), Boston, and has studied at three Pontifical Universities at Rome: the Angelicum, Santa Croce, and the Seraphicum. He is in the midst of studies for a Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology. For a list of his publications, see The Franciscan Archive and his personal page at Academia.edu.