Two events explain ‘Why now?’ on Pope’s sainthood document

Austin Ivereigh - Why now

When an apparently innocuous teaching document comes out of Rome – and a pope calling us to holiness fits that description better than most – it’s always important on the Vatican beat to ask: Why this, and why now?

When you apply the context lens, two recent events help answer that question.

One was yesterday: Amoris Laetitia  – the most fought-over papal teaching since the Humanae Vitae controversies of 1968 – quietly celebrated its second anniversary.

Over the weekend, its handful of celebrity opponents organized an event in Rome to insist Amoris was heretical, while a group of bishops in Lombardy became the latest of dozens of dioceses to accept and implement it.

At the heart of Amoris is an attempt to change the Church’s focus: Away from concentrating on the defense of the truth about marriage at the level of culture and law and towards widening the access to grace that enables people to live that truth. (Whether it compromises the witness to that truth in the process, as its critics claim, is the disputed matter).

The paragraph that best revealed the Amoris agenda was #37: “We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life,” Francis admonished.

In Evangelii Gaudium in 2013, the pope foresaw the difficulty some might have with this refocusing, which the 2007 Aparecida document of the Latin American bishops called “pastoral conversion.”

That resistance, he suggested, had echoes of early-Church battles over the ancient heresies of Gnosticism and Pelagianism, at the heart of which was, precisely, the role of grace.

And now, having sought to open the channels of grace in the Church, he is turning to people, and inviting them to open to grace too.

Hence Event Two

A few weeks ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a brief treatise “on certain aspects of Christian salvation.” Although the CDF prefect, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, spoke of the document as contributing to ongoing debates since John Paul II’s 2000 Dominus Iesus, the first paragraph of Placuit Deo made clear it was about deepening the teaching on salvation “with particular reference to the teachings of Pope Francis.”

Its topic too was grace, and the way it is excluded by the contemporary versions of the ancient heresies of Gnosticism and Pelagianism, which Francis from the start of his pontificate has warned infect not just modern culture but also the Church. Continue reading

  • Austen Ivereigh is a British writer, journalist and commentator, and co-founder of Catholic Voices, a communications project now in 20 countries. He is the author of the biography The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, and How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice.
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