Menu
A+ A A-

Doctrinal Confusion

  • BISHOP ATHANASIUS SCHNEIDER

"Bishop Schneider is a humble and heroic witness to the truth.... To the various questions .... he responds as a faithful pastor and a perspicacious theologian. I found myself inspired and challenged." - Scott Hahn


schneider Your Excellency, you said that the fourth great crisis is marked by doctrinal confusion.  I'd like to look more deeply at that, beginning with a discussion of the new and increasing emphasis on "synodality" and the push towards what many see as the decentralization of doctrine.  What do you think are the roots of this push, and what are your thoughts about it?

Doctrine is the truth and is the foundation for the entire life of the Church and Christians.  Therefore, Our Lord Jesus Christ is called in the Gospel "Master," that is, "Teacher" (magister; didaskalos).  Teacher means to give a teaching, a doctrine.  Our Lord said: "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent Me" (Jn 7:16).  And of the Holy Spirit He says: "He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26).  "He will not speak on his own authority" (Jn 16:13).  The entire basis of our life is the truth, the Logos, the Word who became flesh.  The Word (Logos) is the other name of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity is called properly "Son," Son of the Father, the Son of the Living God.  The Holy Scripture did not say, for instance, that the "act," the "action" became flesh, but that the "WORD" — the truth — became flesh.  The famous German poet Goethe, who was a known Freemason, was not fond of the expression "In the beginning was the WORD" (Prologue of John's Gospel), but instead preferred to say, "In the beginning was the action."

We might also ask: Why does Holy Scripture not say: "Love became flesh," but rather, "The Word became flesh"?  Why does it not say, "Feeling or sentiment became flesh?" or "Mercy became flesh," but "The Word, the Logos, became flesh"?  Indeed, the Truth became flesh.  And so, the truth, and with it the faith, is the foundation, the rock of the whole edifice of Christian life.  God based His work of saving mankind on truth.  We must not separate truth from love.  However, truth serves as the basis for love, like a rock, and protects love.

The crisis in the Church today is due to a neglect of the truth and specifically a reversal of the order of truth and love. 

Love is the proper name of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, because He is the love proceeding from the Father and the Son (amor procedens), He is even the "subsisting love" (amor subsistens) as St. Thomas Aquinas says (see In I Sent., d. 10, q. 1, a. 1, ad 1). In the visible divine missions, Love, the Holy Spirit, comes forth from Jesus.  The Lord "breathed on them; and said to them: Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22).  The Holy Spirit, who is Love, is always the Spirit of truth, as Jesus said: "the Paraclete, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth" (Jn 15:26).  We see then that love comes from truth, since the Son and Word of God does not proceed from the Holy Spirit, but the contrary.  The Holy Spirit, who is subsistent Love in the Holy Trinity, and at the same time the love of God which has been poured out in the hearts of the faithful (cf. Rom 5:5), continues the Magisterium of truth of the Incarnate Word (cf. Jn 14:26; 16:13).

The Apostles — and the constant Magisterium of the Church afterwards — considered the strength and clarity of truth as central and indispensable to the proclamation of the Gospel and the Christian life.  St. Luke speaks in the prologue of his Gospel about "the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed" (Lk 1:4); St. Paul admonishes the faithful to remain "steadfast in the faith" (Col 2:5) and St. Peter warns the faithful of the risk of losing their stability (firmitatem) "by being carried away with the error of lawless men (iniquorum errore)" (2 Pet 3:17).  How relevant for our own times are the words which Pope Pius VI wrote some 250 years ago and which I recalled earlier: ambiguity "can never be tolerated in a synod, of which the principal glory consists above all in teaching the truth with clarity and excluding all danger of error" (Apostolic Constitution Auctorem Fidei).

The crisis in the Church today is due to a neglect of the truth and specifically a reversal of the order of truth and love.  Today, a new principle of pastoral life is being propagated in the Church which says: love and mercy are the highest criteria and truth has to be subordinated to them.  According to this new theory, if there is a conflict between love and truth, truth must be sacrificed.  This is a reversal and a perversion in the literal sense of the word.

The right order of truth and love — as it is reflected in the life of the Holy Trinity, where Love proceeds from Truth — is the basic law of the Church and Christianity and all pastoral efforts.

The unchanging paradigm . . . 

Exactly.  This is the unchanging paradigm.  Therefore, doctrine is like a rock on which the city of the Church is founded.  The rock is Christ, the WORD, and Peter is the visible sign of this rock.  Peter is the rock, but not by his own power.  He is the rock in the true Rock of Christ.

"They drank from the supernatural rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ" (1 Cor 10:4). 

Yes, and the truth of the Church is therefore based on Peter.  His first task is to strengthen the brethren in faith, as Jesus said (cf. Lk 22:32).  Of course, the task of the entire episcopal college and of every bishop is by divine right to be a doctor fidei, a teacher of the faith, a teacher of the truth, yet in union with the entire episcopal body and with Peter, i.e., with the Roman Pontiff.  The pope himself cannot teach his own doctrine.  He can only teach what the Church has always taught.  In the same way, a synod or a bishops' conference can only teach what the Church has always taught.

So you are saying that doctrinal decentralization is contradictory to the nature of the Church? 

There can be no decentralization in doctrinal matters; otherwise, the Catholic Church would be transformed into countless doctrinally different Christian denominations, as we can see occur daily in the Protestant world.  There can be a decentralization in pastoral approaches, which of course always have to be in conformity with doctrine.  To a certain extent, and within certain well-defined parameters, there could also be a certain decentralization in liturgical issues of minor importance.  In some regions of southern Germany, Austria, and Eastern Europe, for example, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the Blessed Sacrament is solemnly exposed in the monstrance and covered with a white transparent veil for Eucharistic adoration.  Some regions celebrate octaves or obligatory liturgical feasts which are not observed in the universal Church.  Some nationally important and urgent issues which do not have a directly doctrinal character, and which do not touch on the common and constant universal discipline of the Church, can and would better be decided locally.

There can be no decentralization in doctrinal matters; otherwise, the Catholic Church would be transformed into countless doctrinally different Christian denominations, as we can see occur daily in the Protestant world. 

A healthy decentralization helps the pope not to be overloaded with non-essential issues.  In this sense, I agree with some bishops who during the Second Vatican Council advocated a healthy decentralization regarding the Roman Curia.  I would see it applied, however, to the administrative and pastoral spheres and never to doctrinal or major disciplinary issues.

A healthy decentralization would allow the pope to concentrate on the essence of his apostolic task, i.e., the defense and strengthening of doctrine and liturgy and the appointment of good bishops.  These are the essential tasks the pope has to take very seriously, even to some extent scrupulously.

If doctrinal errors spread in the Church, if real abuses creep into particular churches, and if bishops commit grievous failures and omissions in their pastoral duties, the pope can and should intervene in virtue of his pastoral jurisdiction over the entire Church.  Each pope should, therefore, always recall the principle formulated by Pope Celestine I in the age of the Church Fathers, and recalled by Pius VI in his Bull Auctorem Fidei, by which he condemned the so-called Synod of Pistoia: "It is almost just as much of a crime to close one's eyes in such cases, as it is to preach offenses against religion."  The pope ought to have sufficient time to concentrate more on safeguarding the purity of doctrine, liturgy, and the discipline of the sacraments, and the appointment of good bishops.

If you were to reorganize the Roman Curia, would you keep the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in place as is? 

Yes, and strengthen it.  The work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a help to protect the little ones in the Church from the wolves, who frequently today are bishops and priests, and who are promoting heretical or confusing ideas in the Church and are thereby giving scandal to the little ones.  When in the Gospel Our Lord speaks about the little ones, He says regarding anyone who scandalizes them that "it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Mt 18:5).  I remember that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once compared these little ones in the Gospel to the faithful.  The faithful are the little ones, independent of their age.  I also remember a conversation which I had with Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who was archbishop of Cologne (1989–2014) and one of the signatories of the dubia; he passed away in 2017.  In the conversation he said that during one of his frequent visits to the Roman Curia under the pontificate of John Paul II, an influential cardinal of the Curia told him: "Here in the Roman Curia sometimes the faith wins, at other times diplomacy wins."  When Cardinal Meisner asked him to be more concrete, he said: "When the CDF wins, faith wins; when the Secretariat of State wins, diplomacy wins."

We have seen a strong push for decentralization with the German bishops on the issue of intercommunion.  The pope gave his tacit approval to a German Church handbook allowing Holy Communion for Protestant spouses in some cases.  What are your thoughts on intercommunion?

The question of intercommunion touches on relations between Christians.  This is again a question of truth.  Non-Catholics are visibly not united with the Church, notwithstanding the fact that they were made, and many remain, members of the Mystical Body of Christ in virtue of their valid baptism.  The dogma of faith says in the creed that there is only one baptism: "confiteor unum baptisma."  The Catholic Church has always rejected the practice and theory of a re-baptism.  Even St. Cyprian of Carthage in the third century was wrong on this point.  The Church recognizes the baptism even of those who were baptized by schismatics and heretics, provided that the rite of baptism was correctly administered.  A valid baptism impresses the indelible mark which testifies that this schismatic or heretic is the legitimate property of Christ and hence of His Church.  To be a true Christian, a true Catholic, to live according to the will of God, you have to be visibly united with the Catholic Church, with the Apostolic See of Peter.  The admittance of Protestant or Orthodox Christians to Holy Communion contradicts the nature of the sacrament of the Eucharist and the necessarily visible character of the Church.  Unfortunately, the Code of Canon Law (canon 844) says that it is possible in "emergency cases."

Or on one's deathbed . . . 

schneider4 Yes, or in danger of death.  However, we have to be truthful to the nature of the Church and the Eucharist.  The reception of Holy Communion is the highest expression of the full and perfect union of the Church.  By the Eucharist's very nature, Holy Communion produces the highest union with the visible Church of the one who communicates.  The sacraments are by their very nature visible signs.  In giving Holy Communion to non-Catholic Christians who have no intention of visibly joining the Catholic Church, we are perpetrating a contradiction, a lie, and hence performing a kind of pious show, even in so-called emergency cases.  By receiving Holy Communion, a non-Catholic should demonstrate and proclaim that he is in perfect union with the Catholic Church, since the essential effect of Holy Communion is perfect union not only with Christ but also with the Church.  Yet the visible sign a non-Catholic outwardly and publicly gives by receiving Holy Communion contradicts his interior conviction and intention of not accepting the integrity of all Catholic dogmas and canonical communion with the visible head of the Church, the pope.  No honest person can deny that the reception of Holy Communion by non-Catholics represents in se — even in a case of emergency — a lie and a contradiction.

To receive Holy Communion properly, it is not sufficient to be free from mortal sin, i.e., to have the right disposition.  It is also not sufficient to believe in the dogma of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrament of confession, and the ministerial priesthood.  Certainly, these are all indispensable conditions.  However, it is also necessary to believe in all of the dogmas of the Catholic faith.  Since apostolic times, only those who accepted the doctrine of the faith in its entirety could receive Holy Communion.  St. Justin bears witness to this apostolic rule in his Apology, writing that only those are admitted to Holy Communion who believe in all the truths in which the Church believes (cf. 1 Apol. 65).

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishops' Conference, made clear that their proposal did not require the Protestant spouse to convert to Catholicism before being admitted to Eucharistic Communion. 

The Code of Canon Law states that they have to believe the Catholic truth about the Eucharist.  I suppose there could be a Protestant who even believes in Transubstantiation and in the sacrificial character of the Mass.  But that is not enough.  He also has to believe in all the other dogmas of the Catholic faith, such as, for example, the Marian dogmas, the dogma concerning papal primacy — dogmas which a Protestant rejects, otherwise he would become officially Catholic.  The same is true for the Orthodox.  They may believe in all of the other Catholic dogmas, but they clearly reject the dogma of papal primacy and infallibility.

Even when a non-Catholic is dying, one has to ask him if he believes in the truths of the Catholic Church.  If so, one can give him sacramental absolution and Holy Communion.  We always have to remember that the reception of the Eucharist is not of absolute necessity for eternal salvation.  Only the true faith and baptism are necessary for salvation (cf. Mk 16:16).

At that point, if a non-Catholic believes in all the truths of the Catholic Church, and submits himself to the Church's practices, at least interiorly he has converted to Catholicism . . . 

But he also has to become a Catholic visibly, because the Church is essentially visible, and the sacrament of the Eucharist is visible as well.  I would like to repeat once more that Holy Communion is not absolutely necessary for salvation.  There is only one sacrament that is necessary for salvation, and that is baptism.  We do not even give the sacrament of baptism to someone who is selecting truths à la carte.  He has to believe in all the truths revealed by God and taught by His Church, and to submit himself to the Church's practices.  When a Protestant, or an Orthodox Christian, desires to receive Holy Communion, he simultaneously has to have the desire to be Catholic.

Admitting a Protestant or Orthodox Christian to Holy Communion in the case of an alleged emergency or as an exception already expresses a relativizing of the dogma of the uniqueness of the Catholic Church, which we profess in the Creed: "credo unam catholicam ecclesiam." It also expresses a relativizing of the necessity of belief in all Catholic dogmas precisely on account of their being revealed by God.

When a Protestant or an Orthodox Christian is in spiritual need or is dying, he can make a Spiritual Communion, if he truly longs to receive the Lord.  He may receive in an invisible manner the consolations and effects of the Eucharist, yet in a manner which God alone knows, and which consequently corresponds to the truth of his objective state of visible separation from the Catholic Church.

You are implying that too much emphasis, or maybe the wrong kind of emphasis, is being put on sacramental communion. 

How many Catholics died a holy death even without Holy Communion!  In my experience, in the underground Church in the Soviet Union, many of my relatives, my grandfathers Sebastian and Bernhard, my grandmother Melania, some of my granduncles and grandaunts, died without receiving Holy Communion sacramentally, without viaticum.  My parents told me that they still died a holy Christian death because of their custom of frequent Spiritual Communion.  How many hermits in the desert lived for years and even died without Holy Communion, living in a state of continuous Spiritual Communion!

God will provide His graces to the soul of a sincere Protestant or Orthodox Christian who longs for Holy Communion.  In giving them Holy Communion without asking them to become Catholics visibly, we are pressing the action of God's grace into our own categories, which are contrary to the rule that God set forth in the apostolic tradition and which has spanned two thousand years of the Church's history.  The Church has no authority to change the substance of the sacraments and she also should not relativize the apostolic rule regarding the reception of the Eucharist, the rule which says that the Eucharistic can be received only by those faithful who visibly profess all the dogmas of the faith.

The issue of intercommunion came to the fore when Pope Francis visited a Lutheran Church in Rome with Cardinal Walter Kasper and was asked by a Lutheran woman married to a Roman Catholic what could be done so that they can receive Communion together — so that they could share everything in life — with no mention of conversion to the Catholic faith. 

Such an argument is in itself wrong and insincere.  Returning to what we discussed about truth being the foundation of love, unity does not come from ambiguity and lies.  The Catholic spouse continues officially to profess his or her adherence to the dogmas of the Catholic Church, whereas the Protestant spouse professes officially the errors of his or her Protestant denomination.  The common reception of the Eucharist, the sacrament of perfect and visible ecclesial union, constitutes in such cases an enormous lie.

If we analyze this honestly, logically and theologically, we discover the error present in the Code of Canon Law (can. 844) and in the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite, which prescribes that an Orthodox Christian may receive Holy Communion in a case of a spiritual need, a spiritual emergency, or in danger of death (see Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 27).  The expressions "urgent spiritual need" and "spiritual emergency" are in themselves vague and subjectivist, since it is oftentimes impossible to establish and objectively verify an "urgent spiritual need" or a "spiritual emergency."  However, the discipline of the sacraments demands by its visible and objective nature objectively verifiable conditions.

It seems like the error you are describing could have immense consequences if pressed to its limits. 

In giving this permission, the Council and the Code of Canon Law laid the foundation for carrying out a theological contradiction and a visible ecclesiastical lie.  The principle laid down in the aforementioned Council text, and in can. 844 of the Code of Canon Law, has its logical consequence in the recently introduced regional pastoral norms admitting unrepentant adulterers to Holy Communion in some cases, in an alleged "urgent spiritual need" or a "spiritual emergency."  Some of these norms were even approved by Pope Francis on the basis of Amoris Laetitia.  In fact, these unrepentant adulterers, who cohabitate more uxorio in a civil union with a person who is not their legitimate spouse, live in the visible and objective state of public sin.

However, one of the main arguments for admitting such persons to Holy Communion is very similar to the one (can. 844) for admitting to Holy Communion non-Catholic persons who visibly and objectively live in a state of schism and heresy.  In both cases — that of public sinners who are living in an objectively adulterous union, and that of persons who are in objective schism and heresy — proponents cite the argument of an "urgent and deep spiritual need or emergency" which has to be evaluated individually on a case-by-case basis and with pastoral accompaniment and discernment.

The Church has always jealously guarded Holy Communion.  In ancient times, certain categories of sinners were not even allowed to enter the main part of the church until their penance was fulfilled. 

The ancient discipline of the Church, witnessed to by the Apostolic Fathers and all the great Fathers of Church, admitted dying persons to Holy Communion only when they repented and desired to be visibly reconciled with the Church.  This discipline has been valid for two thousand years.  There may have been a very few and temporally and locally limited exceptions in the cases of missionaries among an Orthodox population, in order to facilitate the process of becoming Catholics.

Even a member of the Catholic faithful, when there is no priest and he truly repents of his sins and desires to be absolved, is absolved by God by the force of his loving repentance and his desire to receive the sacrament, i.e., by force of the votum sacramenti.  When someone dies desiring baptism, he is baptized by desire, by the votum baptismi.  When a Catholic is dying and sincerely desires with a contrite heart sacramental absolution and there is no priest, he will be absolved by the force of his graced desire, analogous to baptism by desire.  Let us also allow the Protestants to die in this way, desiring the forgiveness of sins, since God provides for their salvation by ways which He alone knows.  If we grant sacramental absolution without them giving previous signs of a desire to be united with the Church, we are choosing a way for these souls which does not correspond to the objective sacramental way that God Himself established.  We will, of course, provide the maximum spiritual help for such dying non-Catholic souls: remaining by their side, praying the Rosary for them, blessing them to protect them from the attacks of the devil, and so on.  However, we cannot give dying non-Catholic persons the sacraments unless they manifest, at least implicitly, a sign that they wish to be united in truth with the Catholic Church.

How much do you think the current crisis is due to the weakening of the truth "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" (outside of the Church there is no salvation)?  Ever since that doctrine has been weakened, some say, we have seen a decline of the Church, and a growing relativism. 

This is somehow already present in the texts of the Second Vatican Council — in the declaration Nostra Aetate and also Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom.  Relativism is already implicitly there along with a false ecumenism, when, for example, the Second Vatican Council praises Hinduism as a religion, saying that "in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery. . . . They seek freedom through a flight to God with love and trust" (n. 2).  How can you praise a religion which mainly worships idols?  The affirmation of Dignitatis Humanae n. 4, that every person has a natural right, a right from his nature, to choose his own religion according to his conscience, and to worship the "numen supremum," i.e., "supreme divinity" — this affirmation is wrong.  We do not have the natural right to commit sin and to commit error.  All religions outside the Catholic faith represent as a whole a system of errors, and are thereby objectively offensive to God, the Supreme Truth.  They contain some truth, of course, but this truth is due to the light of natural reason and not to the religion as such, which is against the will of God and constitutes thereby an offense to God.  Subjectively we don't know about the eternal destiny of such persons, because only God knows their intentions and their heart.  However, persons who adhere to false religions are in objective danger of not attaining eternal salvation.  In such a decisive theological matter as the truth that God wills only the religion born of the faith in Jesus Christ, God and man, we must avoid any words of confusion and of a purely worldly wisdom.  We have to avoid the "smoke of worldly wisdom" ("fumus mundanae sapientiae"), to use an expression of Pope St. Leo the Great.

Insofar as people are "good Hindus," as Hindus they are worshiping false gods. 

Exactly, false gods.  The policy of the Church after the Council with the ecumenical and interreligious dialogues contributed to doctrinal relativism regarding the unicity of salvation through Christ and His Church.  However, as we mentioned, this wrong policy was already laid down in the principles contained in some passages in the Council texts.

Some would say that the discussion in Dominus Iesus of the Church of Christ "subsisting in" the Catholic Church doesn't offer as clear a teaching as we had before the Council.

Dominus Iesus in great part is very clear, and thanks be to God we have this document, especially regarding other religions.  However, the affirmation that "the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church," which comes originally from Lumen Gentium, is insufficient.  It is not wrong, but it is insufficient.  It would be clearer to state, for example: "The only Church of Christ is the Catholic Church, and only in her are realized and subsist in fullness all the truths and all the means of salvation of the Church of Christ."  Even now, a lot of bishops say that you can continue to be Muslim or Lutheran.  Such affirmations promote relativism, in the sense that every religion is relative, including the Catholic religion.  We surely are weakening the doctrine on extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

Even now, a lot of bishops say that you can continue to be Muslim or Lutheran.  Such affirmations promote relativism, in the sense that every religion is relative, including the Catholic religion. 

We might also ask: "What does extra ecclesiam nulla salus mean?"  It means, in fact, "Extra Christum nulla salus," outside Christ there is no salvation.  The Church is not the center; Christ is the center.  According to the teaching of St. Paul, "the church submits to Christ" (Eph 5:24) and "He is the head of the body, the Church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent" (Col 1:18).  The Fathers of the Church underlined this truth by comparing the Church symbolically to the moon and Christ to the sun.  St. Augustine says, "The moon is understood to be the Church, because she has no light of her own, but is lighted by the only-begotten Son of God" (Enarr. in Ps. 11, 3).  The Church is the necessary instrument and means of salvation in the hands of Christ, who is the only way to eternal supernatural salvation.

Perhaps we may turn to another topic.  In 2016, four eminent cardinals submitted several questions (dubia) to Pope Francis asking for clarity on certain points of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.  Their questions regarded the validity of the divine moral law and the indissolubility of marriage.  Chapter 8 of this document appears to allow Holy Communion in certain cases to those living in adultery.  Is this really what chapter 8 says? 

Surely, I agree with the four dubia cardinals: clarification is needed on Amoris Laetitia, especially chapter 8, which appears to allow Holy Communion in singular cases to those who live in civil or irregular unions as husband and wife (more uxorio) and who have not procured a canonical declaration of the invalidity of their prior marriage.  Pope Francis approved the pastoral norms of some local churches which allow in singular and special circumstances the reception of Holy Communion in such cases.  Even if these local norms do not represent a general norm for the entire Church, they nevertheless signify a denial in practice of the divine truth of the absolute indissolubility of a valid and consummated sacramental marriage.  This issue is very serious and has to be addressed in all honesty and clarity.  We can never consent and be silent in view of the fact that, in the Catholic Church in our days, divorce and in a certain sense also polygamy is being introduced through such norms — if not in theory, then certainly in practice.

On the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae in 2018, efforts in the Church over the past half century to undermine this encyclical reached a crescendo when a relatively new member of the Pontifical Academy of Life, Italian moral theologian Father Maurizio Chiodi, argued on the basis of Amoris Laetitia chapter 8 that responsible parenthood can obligate a married couple to use artificial birth control.  What would you like to say about Humanae Vitae to married couples and those preparing for marriage? 

The Encyclical Humanae Vitae concerns the divine law about the transmission of human life, which God gave to husband and wife.  "Be fruitful and multiply," He told them.  Each human life is precious and unique.  Parents receive from God the unique privilege of being collaborators in giving new life.  To give life is a prerogative exclusive to God, and God in His mercy and wisdom decided that human parents, husband and wife, should also participate in His divine power of giving life.

The act of transmitting human life is therefore not an issue exclusively between the two spouses, but refers always to God, the Creator of life.  Hence, this act has to be accomplished as God intended it and created it.  God in His eternal and infinite wisdom, and not man, established the structure and order of human sexuality.  In virtue of the created order of human sexuality, the meaning of the sexual act is by its nature procreative, it is meant to give life.  Therefore, it is not within the domain of a couple to decide to change the God-given meaning and structure of sexual union, which by its very nature is open to life.  In this way, God wisely connected sexuality with giving life.

Giving life is something completely selfless, and this should always be the disposition of man and wife in the marital act — selflessness.

Because marital union is not turned in on the couple; the act of giving life goes out of itself . . . 

Exactly.  This is a very good observation.  Openness to life protects the couple in their sexual union from selfishness.  Selfishness is the deadly poison of love.  Consequently, when a husband and wife exclude the giving of life in the sexual encounter, they ultimately do not perform an act of love in the way God intends it, but an act of mutual selfishness.  And this deeply wounds their love, because every time they exclude new life in the sexual encounter, they become increasingly more selfish.

Openness to life protects the couple in their sexual union from selfishness.  Selfishness is the deadly poison of love. 

God wisely made the life-giving act of procreation inseparable from the marital act in order to protect conjugal love.  Human nature is wounded because of original sin.  The wound of original sin also touches the sexual encounter between husband and wife.  They are not immaculate.  They were not conceived immaculate.  They have the consequences of original sin, which has left its imprint in the sexual encounter also.  Indeed, openness to life protects spouses from the negative, selfish consequences of original sin.  The words of Our Lord about the indissolubility of marriage, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mt 19:6), may also aptly be applied to the truth about the indissolubility of the two ends of the marital act.  Let not man put asunder the procreative and unitive ends of the marital act of husband and wife.

By inscribing openness to life into the nature of the marital act, God declared that the first end of sexuality is to give life, and the Church has always taught this uninterruptedly for two thousand years.  The first end of sexuality, and consequently of marriage, which is obviously inscribed into nature, is to give life and to propagate the human race.  For Christian couples, to give life means to give life to possible new citizens of heaven.  The natural end of giving life is elevated, and incomparably so: to give life to new citizens of heaven.  In this we see once more the truth that grace presupposes nature, elevates and perfects it.  How beautifully this truth is realized in the marital act of a Christian couple! 

Therefore, couples should really trust in God and let Him decide to call into existence a new human person and a new possible citizen of heaven.  Why limit the number of citizens of heaven?  Why not have more citizens of heaven, who for all eternity will see God, love, adore, and glorify Him?  How could parents by their own decision limit the number of children, preventing thereby the existence of a possible citizen of heaven, who for all eternity will know God and love Him and who will also for all eternity thank his parents that they gave him life? 

Therefore, even the so-called natural methods...

dividertop

Acknowledgement

schneiderBishop Athanasius Schneider. "Doctrinal Confusion." Christus Vincit: Christ's Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age (Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2019): 165-191.

Diane Montagna is an American journalist based in Rome. Reprinted with permission of Angelico Press.

The Author

Bishop Athanasius Schneider joined the Order of Canons Regular of the Holy Cross in Austria in 1982 and received the religious name Athanasius; he was ordained a priest in Brazil in 1990. Having earned a doctorate in Patrology at the Augustinianum in Rome, he has taught since 1999 at the seminary in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. In 2006 he was ordained bishop in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome and appointed titular bishop of Celerina and auxiliary bishop of Karaganda. From 2011 to the present he has been auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana, Chairman of the Liturgical Commission, and Secretary General of the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of Kazakhstan. Bishop Schneider is the author of Christus Vincit: Christ's Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age,  Dominus Est — It Is the Lord and Corpus Christi: Holy Communion and the Renewal of the Church.

Copyright © 2019 Angelico Press
back to top