Arts & Books

Book review: The big guns line up for the family synod

The ‘fine theologian’ Cardinal Gerhard Müller with Pope Francis at the Vatican (AP)

The Gospel of the Family
By Stephan Kampowski & Juan Perez-Soba, Ignatius Press, £11.68
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Remaining in the Truth of Christ
Edited by Robert Dodaro, Ignatius, £18.99
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The Hope of the Family
By Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Ignatius, £7.22
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Published just before last October’s family synod by Ignatius Press, here are three books that each in their own way take up a strong position against any change in the Church’s moral teaching and, in particular, in its teaching about the reception of Holy Communion by those living in irregular unions.

The Gospel of the Family is subtitled “Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal in the Debate on Marriage, Civil Re-marriage and Communion in the Church”, which spells out just what the book is about. The two authors forensically take apart the address made by Cardinal Walter Kasper, subsequently published as a booklet, in which he argues for the admission of some in second unions to Holy Communion.

The theological arguments that are marshalled outgun the cardinal completely, and in so doing, some important points are made. Marriage and procreation are the single most important activities for most people, despite the world’s attempt to reduce sex to pleasure alone; and adequate preparation for marriage needs to start from birth.

The persuasive nature of the argument, and the authorities cited, make it clear that the traditional teaching ought not to be abandoned. If one remains in any doubt, the blunt foreword by Cardinal Pell makes it clear that change is not simply undesirable: it is impossible.

Remaining in the Truth of Christ is a group effort by several scholars, including Cardinals Brandmüller, Müller, Caffarra, De Paolis and Burke, all arguing in favour of the Church’s tradition. This is an impressive line-up. But of particular interest is the contribution of Archbishop Cyril Vasil SJ, secretary for the Vatican Congregation for Oriental Churches, who writes on the practice of the Orthodox Churches, which has been spoken of favourably by the Pope. The Jesuit makes it clear that the Greek Church sanctions civil divorce without any due canonical process, which represents the free-for-all which so many dread, despite the fact that various Orthodox authorities take a stricter line.

This section should be required reading for all those who think the Orthodox approach offers a way out – it doesn’t. The Orthodox way is self-contradictory, in that it purports to support indissolubility, while at the same time sanctioning civil divorce. It is the way of surrender.

Finally, The Hope of the Family is an interview, of short book length, with Cardinal Müller. He is a fine theologian and he makes it abundantly clear that the admission of second unions can only come about at the cost of fracturing centuries of tradition.

These books say little that is new, but the very fact that their authors feel the need to speak out on this matter is significant. They are not simply restatements of “old” positions, but rather expressions of a theological tradition that is rich and vibrant, in comparison to which the theology of those who wish for change seems weak indeed. It is also clear that the purpose of all three books is polemical. These are big guns lining up for the coming clash in the next round of synodical discussions in October.

The German bishops, or at least a majority of them, have already lined up behind Cardinal Kasper. The battle formations are ready, and these books are just as much an attempt to prejudge the issue as the recent statement by the Germans. Sadly, we are now in a situation where cardinal faces off against cardinal, and bishop against bishop. How on earth did it come to this?

This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (27/2/15). Also in this week’s issue: Andrew M Brown says all baptisms should have a touch of The Godfather, Mary Kenny on the wisdom of Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife and Colin Brazier says we should breed like rabbits. Take up our special subscription offer – 12 issues currently available for just £12!