Is ‘the Internal Forum’ a Gambit to Change Church Teaching?

The term internal forum as used here refers to the private judgment a person has regarding his own moral life. It involves the formation and consultation of his conscience and, as the pope indicates, may also involve the personal guidance of a spiritual director and/or a confessor. As such, it is a good and necessary part of one’s spiritual life.

Internal forum vs. internal forum solution

Many years ago there was a movement of sorts in the Church to allow reliance on the internal forum alone when determining whether or not one’s prior marriage was valid. If, in the internal forum, a person determined that his prior marriage was null, then he could consider his subsequent marriage valid. As such, his civil remarriage could be seen as not a sinful situation that precluded his participation in the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist.

This became known as the “internal forum solution.” The difficulty surrounding Pope Francis’s use of the term “internal forum” in his apostolic exhortation seems to be whether or not he intended to promote such an “internal forum solution.”

The bishops of Malta seem to think he did. This month they issued a document titled Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. In it, sometimes drawing from the text of Amoris Laetitia, they state:

If, as a result of the process of discernment, undertaken with humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it, a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist (10).

Such an approach seems to rely on the internal forum alone to determine whether or not a prior marriage was valid. Prior to making this bold statement, the bishops do say, “If during the discernment process with these people, a reasonable doubt arises concerning the validity or consummation of their canonical marriage, we should propose that these people make a request for a declaration of the nullity or dissolution of their marriage bond” (4).

A request for a declaration of the nullity or dissolution of a marriage bond entails the external forum, but the ordinary recourse to such a process is merely to be proposed, according to the bishops. In closing their document, the bishops pray “that through her priests, the Church in Malta and Gozo can indeed be a messenger that helps today’s Christians to be open to God’s voice in their conscience and, thereby, see the new path opening before them, leading from darkness to light.”

Clearly, the conscience is to reign supreme. Is this how Pope Francis intended the message of his apostolic exhortation to be applied? I don’t think so.

Evidence to the contrary

Pope Francis prefaces his comment about the internal forum by stating, “Neither the synod nor this exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (AL 300). In other words, he does not intend to change the laws of the Church. And, as we will see, the Church has explicitly condemned recourse to the “internal forum solution” multiple times in recent decades.

Pope John Paul II took up this issue in his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio. He stated, “The Church, which was set up to lead to salvation all people and especially the baptized, cannot abandon to their own devices those who have been previously bound by sacramental marriage and who have attempted a second marriage” (84). In other words, the external forum is a necessary service of the Church in such situations; the internal forum is simply not sufficient.

Indeed, Pope John Paul II went on to indicate that even if a person does determine in the internal forum that his prior marriage was null, such a determination does not provide sufficient certainty for him to morally receive the Eucharist:

[T]here are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. (84)

Pope Benedict XVI addressed the internal forum solution even more explicitly when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 1994 he issued the letter Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. In it he explained:

The mistaken conviction of a divorced-and-remarried person that he may receive Holy Communion normally presupposes that personal conscience is considered in the final analysis to be able, on the basis of one’s own convictions, to come to a decision about the existence or absence of a previous marriage and the value of the new union. However, such a position is inadmissible. Marriage, in fact, both because it is the image of the spousal relationship between Christ and his church as well as the fundamental core and an important factor in the life of civil society, is essentially a public reality (7).

It is certainly true that a judgment about one’s own dispositions for the reception of Holy Communion must be made by a properly formed moral conscience. But it is equally true that the consent that is the foundation of marriage is not simply a private decision since it creates a specifically ecclesial and social situation for the spouses, both individually and as a couple. Thus the judgment of conscience of one’s own marital situation does not regard only the immediate relationship between man and God, as if one could prescind from the church’s mediation that also includes canonical laws binding in conscience. Not to recognize this essential aspect would mean in fact to deny that marriage is a reality of the church, that is to say, a sacrament (8).

He went on to reference Familiaris Consortio and state that, concerning the determination of the nullity of a prior marriage, “It must be discerned with certainty by means of the external forum established by the church whether there is objectively such a nullity of marriage” (10).

Additionally, in 2005, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts issued Dignitas Connubii, an instructional document for marriage tribunals that hear annulment cases. At its presentation, Cardinal Julian Herranz, president of the council, explained why the external forum is necessary for an annulment and said, “This instruction confirms the need to submit the question of the validity or nullity of a marriage of the faithful to a truly judicial trial.”

A hermeneutic of continuity

Given the clearly stated position of the Church on this issue, as well as Pope Francis’s own conviction that Amoris Laetitia is not intended to change the rules, it seems only fair to conclude that the internal forum solution remains condemned in the mind of the Church. Pope Francis does mention the internal forum because it is a necessary part of every Catholic’s spiritual formation, but he does not propose that it is sufficient of itself to provide a “solution” to the question of the validity or nullity of a prior marriage.

The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages


I was recently invited to write an early review of Dr. Scott Hahn’s new book The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages. I received a proof copy last month and I have found it to be both interesting and educational concerning the significance of the creed in the life of the Church.

Early Christians knew that the bible is not self-interpreting (cf. 2 Pet 3:16) and that it is necessary to be guided by more than just scripture alone. Creeds eventually sprung from this necessity and quickly became not only tools for teaching the faith but also personal testimonies to God’s covenant with his unified people. In his new book, Dr. Hahn takes us through the early centuries of the Church explaining how creeds developed as well as their significance in the life of the individual Christian and to the Church as a whole. Focusing primarily on the Nicene Creed, he draws on “history, theology, catechesis, the Fathers, the Doctors, the Popes, and the ordinary Magisterium of the Church” (p. 12) as he explores the doctrinally formative era of early Christianity.

Dr. Hahn begins by identifying the Judaic foundation for Christian creeds: “The Shema [ancient Israel’s confession of faith; a proto-creed (p. 20)] was foundational to the religious vocabulary of Jesus’ times—and to that of Jews before and afterward” (p. 18). As such, the Shema foreshadowed later Christian confessions of faith which held substantial significance in the lives of those who embraced them. Dr. Hahn notes, “The early confessions were declarations of covenant commitment, given individually, but belonging to the whole assembly of the Church. The confessions shape the lives of the individuals, conforming them to the life of Jesus Christ… To confess the faith of Christians was a matter of enormous consequences… Every confession was a pledge, too, to live by Jesus’ truly revolutionary doctrine” (p. 28-33).

Dr. Hahn goes on to describe how confessions of faith eventually gave way to the formulations of creeds: “As the faith endured challenges and dissension—from persecutors and from heretics—the churches found it necessary to spell out the rule of faith in greater detail and with greater precision” (p. 43). He later eloquently explains how significant this was to a Christianity faced with heresies: “The Marcionites edited out the inconvenient parts of the Gospels, and they faded away from the impotence of their message. The Gnostics rationalized every seeming paradox, and they perished of irrelevance. The Docetists, Arians, and countless others died off—not from persecution, but from the anemia of their creedless counsels. The Church of the creeds, on the other hand, was persecuted and put to death, and yet it has persevered, endured, and triumphed” (p. 125).

Delving deeper into the Nicene Creed, Dr. Hahn points out that, “Every Christian creed, without exception, treats Jesus most extensively of the three divine persons… Jesus is the complete and perfect revelation of God… The creed is like a very clean, very clear, tightly focused lens through which we are sure to see him with accuracy—no filters, no tints, no distortions” (p. 109-110). Of course, the reason for the incarnation is formulated in the creed as well. Dr. Hahn explains that, “Jesus ‘came down’ ‘for our salvation,’ and that salvation was far more than a rescue mission. The creed reminds us… that our faith has a future tense… We look to the future with hope because ‘he will come again in glory’ as judge and will establish a never-ending kingdom.” (p. 121-124).  Finally, the concluding words of the Nicene Creed serve as “identifying marks—of the covenant People of God” (p. 142). These four marks, of course, are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Dr. Hahn includes two valuable appendices at the end of his new book containing both “Important Later creeds” (Appendix A, p. 163-181) and “A Biblical Creed” (Appendix B, p. 183-185).

As you can surely tell, The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages truly underscores the significance of the creed in Christian life. Much more than a profession of faith (which it certainly also is), it serves as an exclamation of our past, of our covenant with the living God, and of our future hope in Christ. It really is crucial to who we are as God’s children. Dr. Hahn sums it up well in his own words: “If we don’t get the creed right, we don’t get Jesus right. And if we don’t get him right, we don’t get anything right” (p. 158).

Let Freedom Ring

Today in the United States we celebrate Independence Day. Two hundred thirty seven years ago our founding fathers declared our nation’s freedom.

Freedom is a good thing but, at the level of the individual, it is not always exactly what people think it is. True freedom does not mean having the ability to always do whatever we want to do or whatever others might expect us to do. In fact, it sometimes entails acting against our desires or the expectations of others. To do otherwise can actually lead to the opposite of freedom, to slavery. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, the subject of this freedom, is an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods… By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth. (CCC 1740)

St. Paul considered everyone to be a slave of one kind or another, that is, a slave to whichever he chooses, good or evil:

Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…  When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Rom 6:16-22)

Slavery considered as such can be a bad or a good thing: Slavery to sin leads to death (i.e., hell) while slavery to righteousness leads to sanctification and eternal life (i.e., heaven). These two quite opposite propositions Paul elsewhere distinguishes in terms of slavery andfreedom:

[D]o not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [i.e. sin]… (Gal 5:1-14)

This, of course, mirrors Jesus’ teaching:

Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How is it that you say, `You will be made free’?”  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”. (John 8:31-36)

Thus, embracing morality–however difficult that may be–brings true freedom. Engaging in immorality, on the other hand, brings enslavement.  The Catechism explains:

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the slavery of sin. (CCC 1733)

Considering all this, it is quite easy see why the freedom to act morally and to shun immorality (cf. 1 Cor 6:18) must be a fundamental human right that every government protects without undue hardship on her citizens. Tragically, though, today such crucial freedom is threatened here in “the land of the free”. Issues such as the HHS mandate and the redefinition of marriage continue to chisel away at true freedom as they attempt to enslave Christian citizens.

As we celebrate independence today with family barbeques and local fireworks displays I hope we also will reflect on the seriousness of the deteriorating state of our religious freedom. Let us pray for its full return so that we may enjoy the authentic freedom that God intended for every citizen.

Was Saint Paul a Misogynist and a Bigot?

Homosexual activists sometimes claim that, for the bulk of Church history, homosexual acts were not condemned. In fact, the term “homosexual” did not even exist until the 19th century, so Church condemnation of such acts is really only that recent.

In an earlier post I discussed the contention that Jesus was silent on the issue of homosexual acts, but what about his followers? Many activists admit that Paul condemned in his writings activity that today is considered “homosexual”, but they contend that he stood alone in this regard. They attempt to dismiss much of his teaching, painting him as a rebel of sorts who also believed that women were inferior to men. To support their claims, they cite such scripture passages as 1 Corinthians 14:33-35:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Activists claim that this “misogynistic” Pauline teaching was not repeated by others and it would fall out of practice as Jesus’ broad message of equality prevailed. Similarly, they claim, homosexual bigotry fell away as well only to be revived by the modern Church: Historical Christianity simply did not condemn homosexual acts.

It is true that Paul’s instructions concerning women in churches were later revised but what activists fail to recognize in this is a distinction betweendoctrine and discipline. Some of Paul’s instructions were merely disciplinary in nature, intended only for a limited time and place, and they would, indeed, change later in Church history. (For more on this, see Is It a Doctrine or a Discipline?) So, were his teachings concerning homosexual acts merely Pauline discipline as well?

First, it was not only Paul in the New Testament who explicitly condemned homosexual acts. Peter and Jude did so as well. (For more on this, seeHomosexuality.) Additionally, as our Catholic Answers tract Early Teachings on Homosexuality documents, Church Fathers in every century of the early Church also condemned homosexual acts (e.g., using terms such as “pederasty”, “effeminacy”, and “unseemliness”). Here are just a few examples:

Didache (A.D. 70)

“You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty…”

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 193)

“[C]onversation about deeds of wickedness is appropriately termed filthy [shameful] speaking, as talk about adultery and pederasty and the like.” 

Novatian (A.D. 250)

“…effeminate manners are disapproved.” 

Basil the Great (A.D. 367)

“He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers…”

John Chrysostom (A.D. 391)

“All of these affections [in Rom. 1:26–27] . . . were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males.” 

Augustine (A.D. 400)

“[T]hose shameful acts against nature, such as were committed in Sodom, ought everywhere and always to be detested and punished.” 

Of course, countless more examples spanning the history of the Church could be cited. Clearly, this was and still is a doctrinal, not a merely disciplinary, matter. So don’t be fooled by radical claims of homosexual activists who attempt to rewrite Christian history. Though terminology has varied over the centuries, it is an undeniable fact that the Church has always condemned homosexual acts.

In All Things, Charity

I recently had a conversation with a gentleman whose daughter had severed all communication with him over an email misunderstanding. His daughter had very narrowly misinterpreted his words in a family email in a derogatory way. He understood how his words couldbe misunderstood but it was devastating that his own daughter would choose to act so uncharitably toward him. His attempts to assert a correct understanding of his email were met with obstinace and eventual estrangement. Tragically, his daughter seemed to have made up her mind as soon as she read the email and rashly misinterpreted his words.

Saint Peter wrote, “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Pet 3:16). Indeed, even the written word of God is subject to misinterpretation. Thousands of Christian denominations exist due in part to varying interpretations of scripture. Fortunately, Jesus instituted the magisterium of the Catholic Church to guide us in biblical understanding.

If God’s word is subject to misinterpretation, how much more so must be our own words! Who hasn’t sent an email or a text message only to have the recipient take his comments the wrong way? We all think our words are clear enough when we send them out but, on further reflection, we can sometimes see how they might be misunderstood. This can be a frustrating and even hurtful experience: “How could you think that’s what I meant?”

Typed messages are especially susceptible to misinterpretation because they must be read apart from the writer’s other forms of expression that would otherwise help convey their intended meaning. Facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and other such communication devices are lost in cyberspace. Emoticons can help but they are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Knowing that our own words can be so easily misinterpreted, we must each humbly admit that our own interpretations, too, of others’ words, might not always be accurate either. It would be nice if we each had our own personal magisterium to help us correctly interpret others’ words but we don’t. We do, however, have teaching from the magisterium of the Catholic Church that I think can be helpful. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2478; quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola) instructs as follows:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

This is a very sensible step-by-step approach. It begins by charitably attempting to understand another person favorably. We should not be quick to interpret others’ words in a derogatory way. Tragically, failure to observe just this first step has led to the needless destruction of countless relationships, including that of the gentlemen and his daughter introduced above.

If we are unable to understand someone in a favorable way, the next step is to ask him about it. Allow him the opportunity to explain what he means. He might shed light on how to understand him favorably. This doesn’t mean that we have to agree with him; the goal is to keep the relationship on charitable terms.

It could be that a favorable interpretation was not intended–he didn’t intend to be charitable! If charity was not intended, fraternal correction is in order. Personally attempt to lovingly restore charity. If this doesn’t work, attempt other measures for the sake of his salvation. This approach to fraternal correction is consistent with Jesus’ teaching (Matt 18:15-17):

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

While fraternal correction will certainly be necessary in some cases, I suspect that in most cases, if we begin with our own honest attempt to understand others favorably (the first step mentioned above), potential problems will be averted before we have had a chance to instigate them.

Does Jesus Want Us to Support Same-Sex “Marriage”?

Attempting to win Christians over to their side, same-sex “marriage” proponents often assert that Jesus would approve of their agenda. They claim that Jesus never said anything at all about homosexuality. Not once do the gospels record him condemning homosexual acts as being sinful. Therefore, the activists claim, Jesus would approve of same-sex “marriage” and Christians should be supportive.

Although it is true that the gospels do not record Jesus directly condemning homosexual acts, to conclude on this basis that he in any way approved of them is faulty reasoning. It commits a logical fallacy known as argumentum a silentio (Latin for “argument from silence”). “Jesus is not on record against it so he must be for it.” Such an argument bases its conclusion on a supposed lack of evidence to the contrary rather than on the existence of any evidence one way or the other. In reality, lack of evidence does not prove anything.

The fact that the gospels do not contain a record of Jesus doing something does not mean that he did not do it. It could be that the gospel writers simply did not record it. The gospels do not contain an exhaustive record of Jesus’ teaching. John tells us as much at the end of his gospel (John 21:25):

But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (514) addresses this as well:

Many things about Jesus of interest to human curiosity do not figure in the Gospels. Almost nothing is said about his hidden life at Nazareth, and even a great part of his public life is not recounted.

So, it could be that Jesus did directly condemn homosexual acts but his condemnations were not recorded in the gospels. In fact, it is reasonable to assert that he did do so because homosexual acts were condemned in the Old Testament before Jesus as well as in the New Testament after him. (For a fuller treatment of homosexuality in the bible, see:Homosexuality.)

In the New Testament, it is primarily in Paul’s letters that homosexual acts are directly condemned. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul reminds us where he got his teaching (Gal 1:11-12):  

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul was the last apostle to be sent by Jesus (cf. 1 Cor 15:8) and we should expect that he received the same assurances that Jesus provided to the other apostles. Jesus promised his apostles that the Holy Spirit would (among other things) “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

Paul certainly shared in this assurance. That being the case, his teaching on homosexuality may very well be what he remembered Jesus saying to him in a revelation.

Additionally, when Jesus sent out representatives he told them, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Thus, since Paul was sent by Jesus, when we “hear” him in his letters, we also hear Jesus.

There really is no doubt that Jesus condemned homosexual acts as sinful so do not be fooled by the faulty reasoning of activists.

How to Quote the Bible Like a Pro

Are you able to quote book, chapter, and verse numbers for every bible passage that you know? If not, does it prevent you from engaging in faith discussions with people who are able to? I often hear from Catholics who admit that they are intimidated by how well many anti-Catholics seem to know the bible. When challengers come around slinging bible verses left and right, these otherwise knowledgeable Catholics clam up, shying away from the conversation in fear of embarrassment. They know what the bible says but, since they cannot cite many bible verses off the top of their heads, they feel ill-equipped to defend their faith. Do you ever feel this way? If so, you would probably like to do something about it.

One option is to invest some time and effort into memorizing bible verses. There are more than a few resources available to assist with this. Another option is to keep a handy “Bible Cheat Sheet” with you (click here to order one). This is a great resource to have when faced with many of the most common challenges to the Catholic faith.

But there is a third option that can be implemented right now: Go ahead and jump into the fray just as you are! If you have a fairly good grasp of the bible and are able to at least paraphrase what you know it says, there is no shame in being unable to pinpoint, off the cuff, precise book, chapter, and verse citations. If pressed to do so, you can always offer to look up citations later. Bible web sites and software make it quite easy to find them.

You might feel uneasy about jumping in but you shouldn’t. Chapter and verse numbers did not originally appear in the bible. In fact, the division into chapters as we have them today was introduced in the thirteenth century. Division into verses came in the sixteenth century. So, for the bulk of the history of Christendom, chapter and verse citations were not used at all. Granted, citations are often quite helpful, especially in written correspondence. But knowing them by heart simply is not a required prerequisite for discussing scripture.

Consider the examples of the sacred authors and biblical figures themselves. The bible is full of vague references to other scripture passages. For example, after Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, the sacred author of the book of Joshua tells us (Josh 8:31) that they built an altar to the Lord as had been commanded by Moses and the elders in Deuteronomy 27:5. Of course, the sacred author did not cite the chapter and verse numbers which would not be added until about three thousand years later. Instead, he simply cited “the book of the law of Moses”.

References to “the law” are quite common in the bible and they may refer either broadly to its first five books, the Pentateuch, known as “Torah”, a Hebrew term meaning “teaching” or “instruction”, or more specifically to an individual book such as Deuteronomy, a Greek term meaning “second law”. Vague references to this part of the bible, even when citing specific points of the law, often sufficed for both the sacred authors and the biblical figures they wrote about.

We find such phrases as “the book of the law of Moses” (e.g., 2 Kings 14:6 referring to Deut 24:16), “the book of the covenant” (e.g., 2 Kings 23:21 referring to Deut 16:2), and, simply, “the law of Moses” (e.g., Dan 9:11 referring to Deut 28:15ff) each citing specific bible verses or passages that are often cited more precisely today. They often are but such precise citations clearly are not an absolute requirement, especially in casual conversation.

Some might argue at this point that the Pentateuch may have originally been one long document without divisions so people had no way to be more specific in their citations. However, even if the Pentateuch was originally one long document, more specific references could have been provided by, for example, providing more contextual information for citations. In any case, at least by the time the Septuagint appeared in the last few centuries before Christ, the Pentateuch had been divided into five books, and yet, New Testament sacred authors and biblical figures continued to use vague citations.

Luke vaguely referred to “the law of Moses” and “the law of the Lord” (citing Lev 12:2-8, Ex 13:2, and Num 18:15) in Luke 2:22-24 and Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:9, simply referenced, “the law of Moses” (citing Deut 25:4). Peter even used a much more vague reference in 1 Peter 1:16 in which he cited Leviticus 11:44-45 with nothing more than “it is written”. Jesus often used this phrase when referencing Old Testament scripture passages (e.g., see Matt 4:1-11).

Other parts of the Old Testament (e.g., the Psalms and Prophets) are often similarly vaguely cited throughout the New Testament. Many more examples could be provided but I think you get the point: It is not necessary to cite every book, chapter, and verse number when quoting scripture so don’t let your inability to do so keep you from engaging in bible discussion. Until you are able to provide more specific citations, you can always follow the example of the author of the letter to the Hebrews and simply say, “It has been testified somewhere…” (Heb 2:6 citing Ps 8:4-6).

More on Wedding Attendance…

My blog post“Should I Attend the Wedding or Not?”prompted several questions and comments last week that I would like to address.

One reader asked about the validity of a Catholic marrying an Orthodox Christian in an Orthodox Church without a dispensation from his bishop. In the interest of ecumenism, theCode of Canon Lawis less rigid in such a case. The Catholic party still has a legal obligation to obtain a dispensation from his bishop but failure to do so will not impede a valid marriage from coming into existence. Canon 1127 §1 explains:

Nevertheless, if a Catholic party contracts marriage with a non-Catholic party of an Eastern rite, the canonical form of the celebration must be observed for liceity only; for validity, however, the presence of a sacred minister is required and the other requirements of law are to be observed.

Another reader recalled that canon law once included exemptions for Catholics who had formally defected from the faith. Indeed, the code once included such exemptions but Pope Benedict XVI removed them in 2009. You can read about this in his apostolic letter Omnium in Mentem.

Several readers brought up a more general area of concern: The fear of straining relationships or even losing contact with friends or relatives over choosing not to attend a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage. One reader characterized such a decision as “instigating a break” in the relationship. It is important to remember that the problematic situation being dealt with has been instigated by the fallen-away Catholic, not the person choosing to refrain from attending the wedding on moral grounds. When a person attempts to sever his relationship with the Church he should recognize that there will be consequences to his decision. Family members and friends who remain faithful will not take his decision as lightly as he might. That said, I suspect that the fears of many faithful Catholics who are faced with such a dilemma are greatly exaggerated.

A further issue raised was concern about maintaining a relationship in the interest of bringing a fallen-away Catholic back to the Church. Some readers seemed to argue that attending a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage is acceptable if not attending would hinder one’s influence over the fallen-away Catholic’s potential future reversion to the faith. To me, this reasoning sounds perilously close to choosing to do evil (i.e., supporting another in sin) so that good may result (i.e., influence is maintained). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1756) addresses such an attitude:

It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

I hope this helps.

“Should I Attend the Wedding or Not?”

This time of year wedding invitations start showing up in mailboxes and Catholics begin facing difficult decisions about whether or not to attend the weddings of lapsed Catholics. At Catholic Answers, we hear from the relatives and friends of fallen-away Catholics who are planning their weddings outside the Church. What is a serious Catholic to do?

The law of the Church

When any Catholic—even a lapsed one—gets married, he must have a Catholic wedding ceremony in order for his marriage to be valid. The Code of Canon Law states: “Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local [bishop], pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses” (can. 1108 §1). If a Catholic wishes to validly marry any other way (e.g., in his fiancé’s Protestant Church) he must obtain a dispensation from his bishop to not have a Catholic wedding. (This is ordinarily handled through his local pastor.) If he fails to obtain a dispensation and proceed with a wedding outside the Church, his marriage will not be valid.

Unfortunately, it is somewhat common these days for a lapsed Catholic to simply ignore his obligations in the Catholic Church and get married in a Protestant wedding or a civil ceremony instead. He might think, “I’m no longer a Catholic so I don’t have to worry about it.” This is wrong thinking. Once a person is a Catholic, he remains bound by the laws of the Church even if he falls away. Canon 1117 states, “The form prescribed above must be observed if at least one of the parties contracting the marriage was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it.” No exception is made for a lapsed Catholic.

Imagine an American citizen proclaiming, “I no longer consider myself to be an American, so I don’t have to worry about breaking federal laws.” It doesn’t work that way! A citizen cannot arbitrarily exempt himself from justly enacted laws. The same applies to state laws. If a man fails to get a marriage license, the state will not recognize his marriage. He might move to another state, but he will then become subject to the laws of that state. Being a citizen of the Catholic Church is somewhat similar, but there is no place to where one may move that he is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church: The Church has universal jurisdiction.

How can the Catholic Church defend such a claim to universal legal authority? It is God-given authority. Jesus gave the Church the authority to enact laws that bind her citizens. He said to Peter (the first pope) and then later to all of the apostles, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:18; 18:18). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom (CCC 553, emphasis added).

The teaching of the Church

This being the case, the Church authoritatively states in canon 11, “Merely ecclesiastical [Church imposed] laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, possess the efficient use of reason, and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age.” Thus, Catholics ordinarily must have a Catholic wedding ceremony in order for their marriages to be valid.

Why does the Church impose such a law? The Catechism explains:

Several reasons converge to explain this requirement:

– Sacramental marriage is a liturgical act. It is therefore appropriate that it should be celebrated in the public liturgy of the Church;

– Marriage introduces one into an ecclesial order and creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children;

– Since marriage is a state of life in the Church, certainty about it is necessary (hence the obligation to have witnesses);

– The public character of the consent protects the “I do” once given and helps the spouses remain faithful to it (CCC 1631).

Even so, lapsed Catholics often ignore the Church. Their weddings do not result in valid marriages, yet the couples begin living together, and they expect others to treat them as though they are validly married. This creates difficult situations for family members and friends who are serious Catholics.

Should I attend the wedding or not?

The Catholic Church does not explicitly address the question of whether or not to attend a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage, but it does more broadly address words and attitudes which encourage and confirm others in objectively wrong behavior. The Catechism states:

Every word or attitude is forbidden which by flattery, adulation, or complaisance encourages and confirms another in malicious acts and perverse conduct. Adulation is a grave fault if it makes one an accomplice in another’s vices or grave sins. Neither the desire to be of service nor friendship justifies duplicitous speech. Adulation is a venial sin when it only seeks to be agreeable, to avoid evil, to meet a need, or to obtain legitimate advantages (CCC 2480).

Additionally, scandal (i.e., leading others into sin) must be a considered. What would attending the wedding say to the couple and to others? The Catechism explains:

Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, 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.” Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing (CCC 2284-2285).

Therefore, in consideration of all this, I cannot recommend attending a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage. Instead, I recommend charitably explaining the reasons for declining the invitation as well as expressing hope and offering guidance for the couple in amending their plans.

Who is Praying For Matthew Warren?

Twenty-seven-year-old Matthew Warren committed suicide on April 5. He was the son of Rick Warren, pastor of the well-known megachurch Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. During this time of grief and devastation for the Warren family, Rick and his wife, Kay, a couple well-known and warmly loved throughout much of the world, have been graciously flooded with condolences and prayers of support. 

Sadly, though, as I follow the aftermath of this tragedy I cannot help but see in it a second, almost hidden tragedy: Spiritual care for Matthew Warren has ceased; it ceased the moment his death became known.

Saddleback, a Southern Baptist Church, rejects the doctrine of praying for the dead, as do all major Protestant denominations. This is due in part to the Reformers’ rejection of 2 Maccabees, which clearly demonstrates the doctrine in action. That book records a story of fallen soldiers who were found to be wearing tokens of idols under their tunics—thus, they died committing the sin of idolatry. Even so, their leader Judas Maccabeus and his men prayed for them:

[T]hey turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out . . . [Judas Maccabeus] also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering (2 Macc. 12:42-43a).

Maccabeus and his men sought to provide for the spiritual welfare of the fallen soldiers even after their deaths. The soldiers had died in God’s friendship, fighting a holy battle, but they had committed idolatry in the process. Their sins still needed atoning-for. The passage continues:

In doing this [Maccabeus] acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc 43b-45)

This Scripture passage indicates that praying for the dead is an honorable act that can help the deceased be purified of imperfections before entering heaven. Of course, prayers are not needed for those already in heaven, and those in hell cannot benefit by prayers. But prayers can and do help those destined for heaven who first need purification. All of Christianity recognized and practiced such “holy and pious” deeds until the Reformers came along. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1032) explains:

From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.

But who is praying for Matthew Warren? Saddleback Church isn’t. Southern Baptists aren’t. Other Protestants aren’t. Their thoughts of Matthew in the glory of heaven are surely comforting to them but, especially considering the way he died, he quite possibly could be in need of purification that their prayers and other intercessions could greatly help with.

Just as Judas Maccabeus and his men could pray for fallen idolaters, Christians today can pray for fallen suicide victims. The Catechism (2283) notes that, “The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives”. So should all Christians.

For the repose of the soul of Matthew Warren, we pray to the Lord.