Ad Absurdum: Contextualizing John the Baptist for Amoris Laetitia

At some point in this mess over the consternations on the problematic Amoris Laetitia, it occurred to me that John the Baptist and St. Thomas More have a lot to say about it. There are a lot of voices in the swirl…  well, every voice it seems besides that of Pope Francis. One can make the argument, and I think it is a fair inference,  that Pope Francis is allowing all of the various people to speak freely and allow the concepts to be fully dialogued to death. He has made such comments in the past.  Unfortunately, the silence is opening doors to some people that have faithfully followed the Church’s doctrines on remarriage to feel that their suffering to do what was right was in vain. In other words, there is harm occurring, especially when some sees are now saying that the remarried can approach Holy Communion without adapting their lives.

Setting the Stage – That darn Teaching of Our Lord Keeps Getting in the way

Just this past Friday, the Gospel at Mass was the familiar explanation of Our Lord on marriage. It is the passage from Matthew xix, and I want to highlight, emphasize, and underline the Challoner title on the chapter:  Christ declares matrimony to be indissoluble. That’s the way this passage has always been understood. There’s a good reason for it, too. You’ve heard this Gospel a million times, but here’s the passage (as written in the Douay Rheims):

And there came to him the Pharisees tempting him, and saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? [4] Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said: [5] For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh.

[6] Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. [7] They say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away? [8] He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. [9] And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. [10] His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry.

(emphasis mine). Matt. xix 3-10. Note well. The Challoner notes on verse 9 say:  “Except it be: In the case of fornication, that is, of adultery, the wife may be put away: but even then the husband cannot marry another as long as the wife is living.”

Sandro Magister has reported how many times this passage has occurred at the Vatican and the Pope has declined to discuss it. I can see why. We all can…  it’s clear, very clear what Our Lord expects.  And more importantly, Our Lord explains that it is what He expected all the since Adam and Eve. I don’t think people really need it explained — we know it because our hearts were created to want it that way.

What’s interesting is that the new Father General of the Jesuits, Arturo Sosa Abascal, a Venezuelan, decided to answer the silence.  I don’t think it’s what we’d hope to hear. I am still trying to find a way to make it seem better than had he stayed silent on it.

Fr. General Sosa Says we need to “Contextualize” Jesus’s words on the Indissolubility of Marriage

The entire interview is in the article I linked to above, however, I want to highlight two points of his thrust. First, he says that we must reevaluate what Jesus said, and he casts doubt on the words of the Gospel with the tired old “no one was there to record Jesus.”  Then, he says conscience must rule.

See it here in these excerpts from the interview:

A [Sosa speaking]: So then, there would have to be a lot of reflection on what Jesus really said. At that time, no one had a recorder to take down his words. What is known is that the words of Jesus must be contextualized, they are expressed in a language, in a specific setting, they are addressed to someone in particular.

Q: But if all the worlds of Jesus must be examined and brought back to their historical context, they do not have an absolute value.

A: Over the last century in the Church there has been a great blossoming of studies that seek to understand exactly what Jesus meant to say… That is not relativism, but attests that the word is relative, the Gospel is written by human beings, it is accepted by the Church which is made up of human persons… So it is true that no one can change the word of Jesus, but one must know what it was!


Q: However, the final decision is based on a judgment relative to different hypotheses. So it also takes into consideration the hypothesis that the phrase “let man not put asunder…” is not exactly as it appears. In short, it brings the word of Jesus into doubt.

A: Not the word of Jesus, but the word of Jesus as we have interpreted it. Discernment does not select among different hypotheses but listens to the Holy Spirit, who – as Jesus has promised – helps us to understand the signs of God’s presence in human history.


A: The Church has always reiterated the priority of personal conscience.

Q: So if conscience, after discernment, tells me that I can receive communion even if the norm does not provide for it…

A: The Church has developed over the centuries, it is not a piece of reinforced concrete. It was born, it has learned, it has changed. This is why the ecumenical councils are held, to try to bring developments of doctrine into focus. Doctrine is a word that I don’t like very much, it brings with it the image of the hardness of stone. Instead the human reality is much more nuanced, it is never black or white, it is in continual development.

Q: I seem to understand that for you there is a priority for the practice of the discernment of doctrine.

A: Yes, but doctrine is part of discernment. True discernment cannot dispense with doctrine.

Q: But it can reach conclusions different from doctrine.

A: That is so, because doctrine does not replace discernment, nor does it the Holy Spirit.

ex. from interview with Fr. General Sosa as reported by Sandro Magister. Go read the full thing, there is a lot of context there.

So, let me make this crystal clear:  He just inserted doubt that the words of Jesus mean what we think they mean, then he says we must discern what they mean again for this age, and then he says that a remarried couple must follow their conscience.  Am I the only one that thinks that last leap is “follow your conscience even if it appears to contradict what Jesus said“?  I’ve read this interview many times looking for a way that this italicized part I added can be contradicted from his words, but I can’t find a way. (if you can, after reading his interview, let me know in the comments).

Had John the Baptist Been Governed by this Thinking from Amoris Laetitia

Then, this week, it started to click:  what if John the Baptist acted like this before Herod?


That’s more like it!

Gone is that rigid interpretation of God’s law! Herod must merely contextualize the meaning of the law for him!

And then, some time ago, I reported that Cardinal Kasper thinks the Way of Jesus is just too difficult (nevermind that God gives us grace to be superhuman), so with his explanation, John might have been better accompanying Herod like so:


But, we all know how it really ended.  John the Baptist did not die in vain. And thank God we have his head to prove that God means marriage is indissoluble. Here’s the proof:

This article, Ad Absurdum: Contextualizing John the Baptist for Amoris Laetitia is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.

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