Wednesday 25 March 2015

The Synod on the family, and the Council that could have been...

Though the Second Vatican Council opened in 1962, there had already been plenty of work going on behind the scenes since 1959, the year Pope St John XXIII announced that there would be a council. Ten commissions and two secretariats were set up [1], along with a central commission headed by the Pope to follow and coordinate all the work. These commissions were responsible for putting together draft documents (known as schemas) that were to be the basis for discussion at the Council. Nine schemas were ready by the beginning of the first session (11th Oct – 8th Dec 1962).

One of the first schemas to be discussed was De fontibus revelationis (On the sources of revelation) and, after much heated debate, it was rejected by the Fathers on the 20th November by 1,368 votes to 822 (with 19 null votes). [2] Between the first and second sessions, this and the other schemas were radically redrafted and reworked into the conciliar documents as we know them today. But why were they rejected by a majority of the Council Fathers, and how do they compare to the final conciliar documents?

Fr Joseph Komonchak has provided English translations of five of the nine draft schemas (they can be found here and here), which gives non-Latin speakers an accessible insight into ‘the Council that could have been’. The links, with a little commentary, can also be found on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam blog.

To encourage people to read the draft schemas for themselves, I have provided some extracts from the schema “On chastity, marriage, family and virginity” that, with all the furore over the synod on the family, seem relevant. It is perhaps worth asking this question: if more of this draft schema had made it into, for example, Gaudium et spes, would this year’s synod be as concerning?

Extracts from the draft dogmatic constitution De castitate, matrimonio, familia, virginitate (On chastity, marriage, family and virginity)

6. [...] In addition, with supreme loathing, this Sacred Synod knows how many and how great are today’s detestable attacks against chastity, by which in countless manifestations of today’s culture, even if under the pretext of play, recreation, science, art or laudable beauty, souls redeemed by the blood of Christ are, in fact, constantly and almost everywhere, even within the family, being incited to evil—indeed, drawn into it. Therefore it urges all to arm themselves against such dangers by prayer, fasting, the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, and devotion to the Virgin Mary. They should also flee what are called ‘near occasions’. For how can they honestly pray “Lead us not into temptation” (Mt. 6:13) if they freely seek temptations? Mindful of the Lord’s words against those who scandalise, the Church has the right and the duty to oppose those who give scandal and especially the public corruption of sexual morality. [...]

14. This Sacred Synod knows how much the salvation of the mystical Body of Christ depends on a proper recognition of the divine order with regard to marriage. To defend it, in the first place it knows that it is its duty to condemn all the radical errors of those who maintain that marriage in its origin and constitution is some merely social phenomenon in constant evolution, without any natural or supernatural value; that it does not come from God and from Christ and is not subject to the power of the Church in the new economy of salvation. Likewise, it condemns those errors by which it is held that the marriage of Christians is either not a sacrament, or that the sacrament itself is secondary to or separate from the contract itself... It severely rejects the errors and theories by which the immutable divine order with regard to the properties and purposes of marriage is denied. And it refutes by name as a supreme calumny the assertion that the indissolubility of marriage does not come from God, but is a cruel invention of the Church, no less cruelly retained. Finally, it rejects the theories by which, in an inversion of the right order of values, the primary purpose of marriage is esteemed less than biological and personal values and conjugal love, in the objective order itself, is proclaimed to be the primary purpose.

20. Spouses are seriously prohibited from seeking so-called civil divorce as a proper dissolution, as if a valid bond before God could be dissolved by civil authority; indeed, neither is it licit for others directly and formally to cooperate in such a civil divorce. In no case and for no reason, even if it is not rarely serious and painful, is it licit for the faithful, while the sacred bond lasts, to dismiss a wife in order to take another, as the Lord himself clearly teaches (Mk. 10:11), though sometimes civil authority invalidly allows this. Occasionally, however, “civil divorce” while the bond endures and without contradiction of ecclesiastical authority, can be sought. So-called simple separation is not to be done lightly, without just, grave, and proportionate cause.

22. This Sacred Synod must severely condemn so-called “temporary”, “experimental” or “companionate” marriages. It also rejects as unworthy of a man, and especially of a Christian, those instructions by which through various methods a real hedonism in sacred and holy marriage is propagated. Rejected are theories by which a violation of marital fidelity is considered licit for spouses, either when the mutual love between the couple has failed or when the sexual impulse is falsely thought to be impossible to keep within the limits of monogamous marriage. It is also erroneous to state that civil authority itself never has the power to punish adulterers, with an equal penalty for both men and women. It also rebukes those who say—under the pretext of benefitting the Church no less—that mixed marriages are generally and in themselves to be fostered rather than tolerated. Also erroneous is the position that holds that a marriage can be declared invalid or dissolved solely because of a failure of love. Finally, this Sacred Synod most severely condemns so-called “free love”, by which, under a false pretext of constructing among men a new fraternity and society, sin is committed against the divine order and a deadly wound is inflicted not only on marriage but also on the family and society.


[1] The commissions were as follows: Commission on Bishops and the Governance of Dioceses, Commission for the Discipline of the Clergy and the Christian People, Commission for Religious, Commission for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Commission for Studies and Seminaries, Commission on Missions, Commission on the Apostolate of the Laity, Commission for the Oriental Churches, Liturgy Commission, and the Theological Commission. The two secretariats were the Secretariat for Communications Media and the Secretariat for Christian Unity. Cf. John XXIII, Apostolic Letter Superno Dei, 5th June 1960: AAS 52 (1960), pp. 433-437.

[2] Cf. Acta Synodalia I/3, pp. 254-255.

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