Lawful and good and holy — A note to Ivereigh from a quite intelligent Catholic

Lawful and good and holy — A note to Ivereigh from a quite intelligent Catholic


In his latest salvo for Crux, Austen Ivereigh takes issue with the large numbers of “quite intelligent Catholics” who are unable to distinguish between the culpable divorced and remarried and the victims of such unhappy marriages. He also launches some broadsides at those unable to see those issues as they actually are:

“…some Catholics continue to see the debate over Pope Francis’s document on the family, Amoris Laetita, entirely in abstract terms of whether or not the Church should conform itself to the world in the matter of divorce.”

and complains that concrete real life examples appear to be missing:

“No one has even commented on that, or any other, concrete case.”

This is a misunderstanding of the law.

My old professor once said that “the holiness of the Church is in Her canon law”. What he meant was that the law is a living institution, a coral reef built up of concrete examples and specific cases. It is not an abstract thing, like a mathematical problem, but a great reef, an ecosystem made up of the lives of millions, perhaps billions, in every time and place and culture since the Lord came in the flesh.

There is always a tension in the law, between certainty (if the cases are the same, the same result happens) and equity (the recognition that every case is different and turns on the specific facts). Accordingly, the law recognises gradations and circumstances and is therefore not a binary thing. It can give “yes” and “no” answers, but is not limited to them. Canon law is accustomed to light and darkness, and to shading of every colour and hue. It is magis [more] that black and white, but a thing of every colour and spectrum. Nevertheless, it recognises that truth exists, and goes in search of it.

Austen rightly mentions St. Thomas Aquinas, but selectively, with regard only to conscience, rather than addressing the specific issue at hand. St. Thomas wrote an entire section of his masterwork, the Summa Theologiae, specifically on marriage. And not in the abstract. He was concerned with the specific problems people encountered, including bigamy, infidelity and family troubles. He did not shy away from difficult issues, like impotence. So he should not be dismissed as a professor in an ivory tower, but rather a supportive pastor – and, as Bishop Robert Barron has written, as a spiritual master who was keen to communicate the practical fruits of spirituality to ordinary Christians.

Austen asks for witnesses — and he will have Aquinas. He will also have all the marriage tribunals of Christendom. He will have millions of lived marriages, and a kneeling theology, and the voices from the peripheries. He will have the marriages of the poor, and the unions of monarchs. He will have the Krakow-forged words of John Paul II, as experienced in his pastoral work and collected as the Theology of the Body. He will have the collective wisdom of a billion lifetimes, as embodied in canon law. And finally, he will have, outstanding amongst the thousands, the voice of the Bridegroom, the Incarnate, our Nailed God, who understands suffering, who understands humanity, because He has made us all and each of us individually. Let His voice, as well, be heard:

‘And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” ‘ (Mark 10:1-12).

Get AQ Email Updates

Leave a Reply