In the aftermath of the Synod on the family, there has been a disruption in the ‘force’ that is the Catholic social media scene. We have had the usual passive-aggressive display from some on the liberal side who, whilst loudly touting the need for ‘mercy’ and an end to name calling, do so whilst condemning their opponents as ‘haters’. From the conservative side, we have had the usual cries about the sky falling in and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse being almost in sight. At the risk of annoying those eminent Catholic theologians who seem to be of the opinion that no one without a PhD in theology should comment on Catholic matters, it is necessary to remind them that the laity are also ‘the church’ and that ‘clericalism’ went out as part of that ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ which they usually laud; did they forget these things, or are they just piqued in their pride of caste by being reminded of some of the madness which their own theology departments produce? (Warning, those with blood pressure problems are not advised to click on the last link).
Schism is a serious word in theology, but here I want to use it in its more common sense of a serious division; but this division has no possibility of being healed or of healing itself; it is to be witnessed across the spectrum of confessing Christianity, and it long ago reached the point of no return. On one side of the divide are those who take Scripture, tradition and reason as their guide – that is they read Scripture though the light of tradition and attune their own reason to the teaching of their own tradition, thus putting a curb on personal infallibility: on the other side are those who read Scripture through an appeal to contemporary experience, and are quite happy to alter the reading found in Tradition on matters of sexual ethics and the ordination of women, if that is what contemporary society wants: on the one hand, an alignment with the past, on the other, an identification with the contemporary. There, are, of course, nuances here, but broadly speaking I cannot think of a large Church which does not have that division running through it.
This division accounts for much of the tone of the debate over the Synod. Those who adhere to the first position cannot see how those arguing for the dropping of traditional Church teaching on divorce and remarriage can possibly square their view with that of the Church; those who adhere to the second cannot see how the conservatives can possibly square their views with those of the contemporary world. The problem becomes especially acute in global communions such as Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, because those from the southern hemisphere generally do not live in societies attuned to the West’s sexual permissiveness, which means that when they speak to their experience, men like Cardinal Kasper tend to find themselves close to the greatest of modern sins, racism, when they disrespect them; such are the problems with relativism.
The gap between orthodox Christian teaching and Western attitudes on so many subjects is now a chasm, but then so it was in the days when Christianity was fresh in the world. The wider the chasm gets, the more difficult it will be to keep those who want to align the Church with society, and those who want to align it with Tradition, in the same place. We should treat each other with Christian love, and we should, I think, recognise that those who differ from us do so because it is where their consciences take them. That said, sin remains sin, and those who wish to redefine it cannot expect to get their way. There is a dogmatic and doctrinal content to Christianity, and those who want it to be no more than an aid to personal fulfilment are, frankly, better off looking elsewhere. That said, those who know that there is a doctrinal and dogmatic content, would be well to show themselves mindful that Jesus called them to love those who ‘despitefully’ use them. Love and Mercy are not code words for ignoring sin, they are the remedy for it and the cure for its hurts.