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On Bonhoeffer, cheap grace, the Maltese bishops, Trent, and theosis

At what point, exactly, did modern life become so complicated and complex that grace – which is “a participation in the life of God” and which “introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life” – cannot overcome particular weaknesses, passions, and sins?

The Catholic Herald has published an essay I wrote about the ongoing controversy and confusion surrounding of implementation of AL8 (that’s Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia for those who don’t always swim in these turbulent waters). Titled “The conflict over Communion is really about the cheapening of God’s grace”, it focuses on some remarks from a famous Lutheran pastor killed by the Nazis for his Christian faith and witness, and then states:

The Maltese bishops – that is, Catholic bishops – in their “Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia, released in early January, wrote of “conditioning restraints,” “attenuating circumstances,” and “complex situations” before concluding that for some couples in “irregular situations” the “choice of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ becomes humanly impossible…” Not only might it be “impossible”, it might also “give rise to greater harm” – a reference to footnote 329 of Pope Francis’s exhortation. (The footnote misuses a passage from Gaudium et Spes on sacramental marriage by misapplying it to “irregular” situations.)

Archbishop Scicluna of Malta, interviewed about the “Criteria”, said that neither Francis or the Maltese bishops were offering “discounts from the Gospel of love and marriage” or a form of cheap grace. No, he insisted, such laxity is a scandal “because you are cheapening grace and also being a stumbling-block to who is making an effort to be faithful…” Having said so, he added, “But then there is, too, the scandal of who is either black or white. The world is far more complicated than this.”

Is it? At what point, exactly, did modern life become so complicated and complex that grace – which, according to the Catechism, is “a participation in the life of God” and which “introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life” – cannot overcome particular weaknesses, passions, and sins? It is one thing to recognise the various factors – including full knowledge and deliberate consent – involved in mortal sin, but quite another to indicate that deciding to remain in an objectively adulterous relationship might be necessary, as though such an act won’t destroy the life of grace. As John Paul II noted in his 1984 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on penance and reconciliation, when “a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered … such a choice already includes contempt for the divine law, a rejection of God’s love for humanity and the whole of creation; the person turns away from God and loses charity”. …

To hear some Catholics, you might think the essence of the Faith is romantic love, sexual satisfaction, and temporal happiness. For many, it seems, the horizon has been flattened, the supernatural has been euthanised, and the ultimate goal has been forgotten. In the process, grace has been cheapened. Many Catholics, I think it safe to say, believe that “love” and “commandments” are in opposition, even though the Apostle John declares otherwise: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome… All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them.” (1 John 5:3; 3:24).

Read the entire essay on the Herald’s site.

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About Carl E. Olson 1220 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

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