- Veritatis Splendor and Amoris Laetitia:Neither Lamented nor Celebrated Discontinuity
The year 2018 of our Lord is very noteworthy for Catholic moral theology. Providentially, we are celebrating the silver and golden anniversaries of two key magisterial documents: twenty-five years for Veritatis Splendor (VS) and fifty years for Humanae Vitae (HV).1 In light of these anniversaries, I propose to reflect on the contemporary debate around the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia (AL).
The rival interpretations of the last document, AL, could be gathered into three major groups.2 The first group celebrates AL’s alleged [End Page 1183] discontinuity with previous moral magisterium, especially with VS and Familiaris Consortio (FC). Within this division, discontinuity is another word for rupture. It does not mean “organic evolution.” Insofar as it entails a direct opposition between these documents, it clearly proposes “a before and an after.” Thus, a strict follower of VS could not be, at the same time, a strict follower of AL. To this group belong those who have already dissented, not only from John Paul II, but also from Paul VI’s HV. In this way, the proportionalist moral theology condemned by VS seems to be making a “comeback.” Its “corpse,” as it were, is being “dug up.” It is being “resuscitated” by this whole controversy.3
The second group instead laments such an alleged discontinuity. Their lamentation is mainly motivated by their fidelity to the truth. But it is also due to their inability to reconcile AL’s texts with those from VS and FC. In this manner, discontinuity is not forcefully defended. It is only lamented, and reluctantly.
The relationship of these two groups, nevertheless, is quite interesting. They feed on each other. The second group’s mourning and lament is fueled and augmented by those who celebrate discontinuity and cause confusion among the faithful. The second group laments the way AL was written, especially its openness to potential misinterpretation. Yet, their public lament defeats their own cause. It adds to the public celebration of the first group. It confirms the reason for their joy, discontinuity. Therefore, these two groups do not offer much of a way out of the quarrel. It would seem as if tertium non datur.
However, against appearances, there is a de facto third option, another logical alternative that constitutes a third group that provides “a way out” unto the future, some light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, some have emphatically taught that AL offers no revolution, no change in doctrine. It may offer some organic evolution, a certain novum in the pastoral realm, but without rupture or contradiction to the truth declared in the past. They argue that AL could and should [End Page 1184] be read in continuity with VS and FC.4 Cardinal Müller, when he was still the head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took this third option, and he is not alone. Many other bishops have done the same. Just to name a few, we could speak of Spain’s Cardinal Cañizares and, in the United States, we have Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput, as well as the local ordinary in Denver, Archbishop Aquila.
Considering the title for this article, it is quite clear that I am going to argue in favor of a version of this third option. The thesis that I will defend is this: both lamented and celebrated discontinuity are hermeneutically flawed interpretations of AL, inconsistent with the very letter of the document.
I intend to reach my goal in three steps, resembling the way articles from Aquinas’s Summa theologiae [ST] proceed: first, the arguments against (or objections); second, the responsio (or the corpus); and only then, the reply to the arguments or objections proposed at the beginning.5 Accordingly, I will begin by going over the difficult texts that have caused the lamented or celebrated hermeneutics of discontinuity. Then, I will propose a correction to the way in which these texts were read. I will base that correction, above all, on Karol Wojtyła’s teachings regarding the correct interpretation of magisterial documents. Thereby, I will establish a parallelism between...