The Lefebvrist theology of the body?

20 09 2019

An old blogger acquaintance recommended the mandatory reading of an interview by the Society of St. Pius X’s new superior, Father Davide Pagliarani. It is an informative interview but it doesn’t really break new ground. In general, it represents the same entrenchment of the SSPX against “modernist Rome”.

In discussing the controversy around Amoris Laetitia and giving Holy Communion to divorced Catholics living in sin, Pagliarani frames the crisis in conjugal life as being fundamentally a crisis of confessional Faith:

In concrete terms, just as the Church of Christ “pan-Christian” would have good and positive elements outside Catholic unity, so would there be good and positive elements for the faithful also outside sacramental marriage, in a civil marriage, and also in any union. Just as there is no longer any distinction between a “true” Church and “false” Churches – because non-Catholic Churches are good although imperfect – all unions become good, because there is always something good in them, if only love.

This means that in a “good” civil marriage – especially when it is concluded between believers – some elements of sacramental Christian marriage can be found. Not that the two should be put on an equal footing; however, civil union is not bad in itself, but simply less good! Until now we have been talking about good or bad deeds, life in grace or mortal sin. Now there are only good or less good actions left. To sum up, an ecumenical Church is an ecumenical family, that is, a family that is recomposed or “recomposable,” according to needs and sensitivities.

As a veteran of the traditionalist milieu, this is not a surprising thought process for me. If any one cause defines the thrust of the SSPX’s efforts, it is the fight against ecumenism (and arguably against religious liberty, but these are related). Official Catholic Traditionalism 1.0 (that congealed around the groups that took the Vatican bait in the aftermath of the 1988 excommunications and Ecclesia Dei Adflicta) controversially sold their theological birthright for a mess of liturgical pottage, namely the right to celebrate the old liturgy extended under Benedict XVI last decade. For Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers, however, the Mass wasn’t everything. There were still the issues that led to the creation of the New Mass in the first place, which in their essence are ecclesiological. There is no way of getting around the uncomfortable fact that the Mass that exists in the vast majority of Catholic Churches is essentially the rite of the Protestant community of Taizé, if badly executed.

In Pagliarani’s thinking, however, the promiscuity in defining the boundaries of the Church cannot be contained purely to the institutional realm. Fudging the lines of the Church makes fudging the lines of what constitutes a legitimate union between a man and woman only logical. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus was softened to include the nuanced view that the Holy Ghost seems to function outside the strict limits of the visible Church. So could not then the graces of marriage sometimes function outside the official sacred bonds of matrimony? The reasoning of St. Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians equates the union of man and woman in marriage with the union of Christ and the Church. If Christ’s Spirit sometimes can work in people outside of the strict lines of ecclesial “matrimony,” then what of the person of “good faith” who ends up in an irregular personal situation? Can we not soften our position here as well?

This is really the maneuver of the New Theology: don’t negate the past position, but rather assert a spectrum of good and better. And by positing a hierarchy of the good and the better, one affirms and negates both at once. Marriage is still sacred and insoluble… but under certain circumstances it is understandable if it breaks down and other options have to be looked at. Living in sin after divorce is inherently sinful… but of course certain particular circumstances could arise that mitigate that irregularity and allow the couple to continue a Christian life in a less than ideal situation.  This is the essence of Vatican II thinking, and is almost a mirror image of ecumenical thinking and the idea that the Church of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church.

I have expressed my reservations of spiritualizing marriage too much recently, and here I will continue that line of thought.  My real thinking on the topic is that marriages have always been “irregular”. In truth, I don’t really buy into the idea that marriage can be an image of anything but itself, no matter how hard you try. My own sense is that the New Testament’s understanding of marriage was probably far less carnal than our own, and far less permissive even within the context of marriage. Early Christian thought would have recoiled at the idea that sex within marriage was always a good thing everywhere and at all times. Indeed, fast days were sexless days, and the concupiscent appetite was something that had to be regulated even within the approved context of marriage. This wasn’t even just about the very modern idea of being “open to life”. The desire for sex is ultimately something one has to give up. And as one Hindu devotee once said, either we give up our vices or they give us up, even if it just means the end of our mortal life.

Marriage is de fide  an image of the union of Christ and His Church, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all aspects of marriage reflect this. This is because love isn’t really an emotion, because emotions are always shifting and can’t be the basis of anything lasting. For much of the Church’s existence, choosing your spouse wasn’t really an option for many. In considering the ideal (the union of Christ and His Church), one must keep the ideal FAR ABOVE the imperfect and often deeply flawed terrestrial reality.

Of course there is the six million dollar question of “grace”. I will be frank and say that I don’t really believe in “grace” in that sense. I don’t think that certain rites bestow on some a miraculous aid that help the person to deal with difficulties, because in those circumstances, the difficulties themselves may be the real grace. A bad family life might just be the kick in the pants you need to get your act together and prepare for death. The modern idea of not “dying alone” isn’t a particularly Christian or even sensible one. We all die alone, that is what dying means. That doesn’t mean that we have to run from our families in our last days, should we be so fortunate to see them coming (though some traditions recommend this). But we have to run away from them in a spiritual sense at least. There is a 100% mortality rate. The grace of persevering “until death do us part” might look rather ugly in that case and there is nothing we can do about it. And it’s no surprise to me if some simply can’t do it.

In close, I will point out that Fr. Pagliarani’s characterization of the current crisis of Catholic marriage contrasts starkly with the now sainted John Paul II’s theology of love and marriage. While Wojtyla seemed to make the human person and physical love a metaphysical foundation of his phenomenological Catholicism, Wojtyla was very “promiscuous” concerning confessional lines, believing that the Holy Ghost functioned quite vibrantly outside of the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church. For the Polish pontiff, this same wanderlust of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity was non-existent when it came to carnal relations. Divorce was an evil, sex outside of marriage was always wrong, and so on. Pagliarani is calling out the theology of the body in that sense. It is the radical subjectivism of belief that is the basis of the radical subjectivism and solipsism in sexuality that Wojtyla most feared. It’s a nuanced counterattack even if this was not the intention. It also bolsters his contention that you cannot defend the old Faith with the New Magisterium. I am not sure if anyone else sees this, but I think it is worthy of further reflection.

 

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2 responses

22 09 2019
cal

“I will be frank and say that I don’t really believe in “grace” in that sense. I don’t think that certain rites bestow on some a miraculous aid that help the person to deal with difficulties, because in those circumstances, the difficulties themselves may be the real grace. A bad family life might just be the kick in the pants you need to get your act together and prepare for death. The modern idea of not “dying alone” isn’t a particularly Christian or even sensible one. We all die alone, that is what dying means. That doesn’t mean that we have to run from our families in our last days, should we be so fortunate to see them coming (though some traditions recommend this). But we have to run away from them in a spiritual sense at least. There is a 100% mortality rate. The grace of persevering “until death do us part” might look rather ugly in that case and there is nothing we can do about it.”

This is a good insight. It’s the paradox, or perhaps irony, of God crucified: it’s precisely in the darkest moment alone that there is communion. Christ quotes Psalm 22, but earlier says prior about the crucifixion, “I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16; I’m conflating the gospels, I know). We’ve erased grace from suffering, that God speaks in the OT in terms of breaking bones in order to reset them (with no percosets or vicodin!). I think in our era of simulation (whether from reading novels or playing video games) and utilitarian moral logic, we’re generally incapable of grasping the above point.

20 09 2019
trevsliw

I might have double replied so you can delete one if this doubles.

I think I agree with you here about the graces from matrimony and the sacraments in general. Certainly God gives us the ability to not sin if we cooperate but graces aren’t a magic powder the work instantaneously. Much like when I pray for patience or humility I don’t become patient or humble but have my patience tried and am humiliated. Gods grace at work right there.

Because C West and his disciples like Popack so easily perverted JPII’s body theology into theology of sex I am sceptical of the whole project and don’t think it is an organic development of doctrine. The great saints have always been suspicious of the marital act and while it isn’t sinful itself it should be tempered through abstinence much like fasting and abstaining from flesh. If one is gluttonous with the marital act one desires it more, just like food.

I’ll also say about marriage being an image of Christ and the Church the primary sign isn’t love, the marital act or whatever but the fidelity spouses are meant to have regardless of emotion (who was that prophet that had to marry the prostitute?) and the laying down of the husbands life.

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