The controversy over Pope Francis’s document on marriage, Amoris Laetitia, is not dying down. On the contrary, critics have upped the ante by publishing what they describe as a “correctio filialis”, a rebuke from dutiful sons and daughters, accusing him of promoting heresy.

But the Pope seems to have no intention of backtracking. He has insisted, often and clearly, that his job is to maintain the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church. The ideas in Amoris Laetitia are ways of reaching out to people on the margins who want to return to the practice of the Faith.

As he said in a speech a few weeks before the publication of the document last year,

The Church … continues to propound marriage in its essential elements — offspring, the good of the spouses, unity, indissolubility and sacramentality — not as an ideal meant only for the few, notwithstanding modern models fixated on the ephemeral and the passing, but rather as a reality that in Christ’s grace can be lived out by all baptized faithful.

But last month, during his trip to Colombia he was even more insistent that Amoris Laetitia is consistent with traditional Catholic teachings. He was speaking informally with a group of Jesuits in the city of Cartajena Most of the conversation, as reported in the magazine La Cività Cattolica, centred on the Jesuits’ social outreach programs. But one question prompted the Pope to respond to the controversy. He says bluntly that his critics are wrong:

I’ll use this question to say something else that I believe should be said out of justice, and also out of charity. In fact I hear many comments – they are respectable for they come from children of God, but wrong – concerning the post-synod apostolic exhortation. To understand Amoris Laetitia you need to read it from the start to the end. Beginning with the first chapter, and to continue to the second and then on … and reflect. And read what was said in the Synod.

Then he linked its theology to the greatest Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, traditionally regarded as a benchmark for clear thinking and orthodoxy:

A second thing: some maintain that there is no Catholic morality underlying Amoris Laetitia, or at least, no sure morality. I want to repeat clearly that the morality of Amoris Laetitia is Thomistic, the morality of the great Thomas.

And he suggested that critics of Amoris Laetitia were entangled in casuistry and had actually strayed from the authentic spirit of Thomism:

I want to say this so that you can help those who believe that morality is purely casuistic. Help them understand that the great Thomas possesses the greatest richness, which is still able to inspire us today. But on your knees, always on your knees…

It appears that the Pope blames a desiccated style of teaching Catholic philosophy and theology for his critics’ inability to grasp the positive message in Amoris Laetitia. One of the Jesuits asked him what he expected from philosophy and theology in Colombia. He responded at some length:

To start, I’d say let’s not have laboratory reflection. We’ve seen what damage occurred when the great and brilliant Thomistic scholastics deteriorated, falling down, down, down to a manual-based scholasticism without life, mere ideas that transformed into a casuistic pastoral approach. At least, in our day we were formed that way …

So, philosophy not in a laboratory, but in life, in dialogue with reality … Benedict XVI spoke of truth as an encounter, that is to say no longer a classification, but a road. Always in dialogue with reality, for you cannot do philosophy with logarithm tables. Besides, nobody uses them anymore.

The same is true for theology, but this does not mean to corrupt theology, depriving it of its purity. Quite the opposite. The theology of Jesus was the most real thing of all; it began with reality and rose up to the Father. It began with a seed, a parable, a fact… and explained them. Jesus wanted to make a deep theology and the great reality is the Lord. I like to repeat that to be a good theologian, together with study you have to be dedicated, awake and seize hold of reality; and you need to reflect on all of this on your knees.

A man who does not pray, a woman who does not pray, cannot be a theologian. They might be a living form of Denzinger [a compendium of fundamental texts of Catholic dogma], they might know every possible existing doctrine, but they’ll not be doing theology. They’ll be a compendium or a manual containing everything. But today it is a matter of how you express God, how you tell who God is, how you show the Spirit, the wounds of Christ, the mystery of Christ …

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.