In our analyses of the relatio synodi of the Extraordinary Synod and of the instrumentum laboris of the Ordinary Synod Voice of the Family drew attention to the false approach adopted by the Synod towards the relationship between the Church and historical development.
A very important contribution to this discussion has been made by Professor Thomas Stark, professor of philosophical anthropology at the Benedict XVI Institute of Philosophy and Theology at Heiligenkreuz, in Austria.
His lecture German Idealism and Cardinal Kasper’s Theological Project provides crucial insights into the philosophical approach that lies behind “progressive” assaults on Catholic doctrine at the Synod.
In his book Einführung in den Glauben (An Introduction to Christian Faith) Walter Cardinal Kasper contrasted two approaches to history. (All quotes from Kasper in this article are taken from this book). The first approach considers history as “a phenomenon within the framework of an encompassing order.” In other words human beings live in a world governed by unchanging eternal laws. The fundamental laws of nature, including those of the moral order, do not change over the course of history.
Kasper however rejects this approach. He writes:
“For modern thought… history is not a moment in an encompassing order; on the contrary, every order is a moment which the next instant makes it relative. In this view reality does not have a history; it is itself history through and through.”
For Kasper there is little or nothing that is fixed and immutable. The moral order that exists in one moment is made “relative” in “the next instant”. Kasper believes that this “radical ‘historicalisation’ of all areas of reality” undermines the permanent validity of both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. He writes:
“History could not be experienced as history until historical tradition was no longer an automatically lived reality, but was felt as a past which had to be surmounted, which people were striving critically to get beyond… This meant a relativization of the previous argument from authority, and presented a fundamental challenge to the absolute validity of sacred documents.”
In other words, modern man no longer considers himself bound by any tradition or sacred documents but actually strives to surmount these sources of authority. Kasper denies that there is any “given nature” to the creation, rather man can shape the future of creation as he wills. Kasper states this quite explicitly:
“Today it is clearly not a given nature, a universe which encompasses us, but a reality which human labor, civilization, and technology are helping to shape. Human activity is a constitutive element in the make-up of this reality.”
“…the world is not finished, but involved in a continuous process in which man and the world mutually change and affect each other. It is not an eternal natural order, but a historical world.”
If there is no “eternal natural order” but rather “a continuous process” of change then it follows that there are no permanent moral norms. As Kasper notes:
“The results of sociological and historical study have revealed many outward forms and structural elements of the Church as temporally conditioned, and the corresponding doctrines as suspect of ideology, that is of being a super-structure and canonization of a particular historical and sociological status quo. The upheaval is most striking in moral theology.”
Kasper believes that moral norms change over the course of history; as we have already seen he holds that “every order is a moment which the next instant makes it relative.”
In other words what was considered morally wrong in the past may not be morally wrong in the present; that which we consider morally wrong today may not be so in the future. Kasper offers a couple of suggestions as to how we discern the moral norms appropriate for our own period of history. He argues that to “proclaim the faith so that it speaks to this reality means today to articulate it in socially relevant terms.” He further notes that “we have been constantly discovering more and more the value of personal conscience.”
The emphasis on being “socially relevant”, rather than conformable to the “eternal natural order”, is seen throughout the synodal documents. This is particularly apparent in paragraph 34 of the instrumentum laboris of Ordinary Synod, which deals with artificial methods of reproduction.
In our analysis we wrote:
“Paragraph 34 discusses the ‘so-called bio-technological revolution’ that has made possible the separation of ‘the act of human reproduction’ from the ‘sexual relationship between man and woman.’ It notes that such methods are ‘gaining increasing popularity’, are ‘having a profound effect in relationships, in society and in the judicial system which intervenes in an attempt to regulate a variety of different situations and what is already taking place.’ The paragraph contains no moral judgement on these procedures; the reader cannot discover from this paragraph whether such procedures are good or evil. There is no reference to any previous Church teaching, such as the CDF instructions Donum Vitae and Dignitatis Personae. Finally the document contains no reference either to the fact that such procedures cause the deaths of millions of human beings or to the connection between such procedures and embryo experimentation.”
The instrumentum laboris declines to reaffirm Catholic teaching and chooses instead to focus on the “increasing popularity” of artificial methods of reproduction. The magisterium has clearly taught in Donum Vitae and Dignitatis Personae that the use of such methods is gravely contrary to the moral law. However, as the authors of the instrumentum laboris clearly state, they consider themselves bound to a “unique faithfulness” to the signs of “human history”. Therefore, it seems, they cannot speak out against techniques which “are gaining increasing popularity” and “having a profound effect” in society. Rather they keep silence lest they be found on the wrong side of history. After all, as Cardinal Kasper so clearly stated, “every order is a moment which the next instant makes it relative.”
For more detailed discussion of the problems in the synodal documents please read Voice of the Family’s Analysis of the Final Report of the Extraordinary Synod and Analysis of the Instrumentum Laboris of the Ordinary Synod.
A superb examination of the philosophical approach behind the synodal agenda can be found in German Idealism and Cardinal Kasper’s Theological Project by Professor Thomas Stark.