How the Vatican views canon law

An interesting interpretation of Amoris Laetitia by John Allen at Crux:

For Americans, and perhaps Anglo-Saxons generally, law is a lowest common denominator of civic morality. It’s what we expect everyone to do all the time, and if a law is being widely disobeyed, for us that’s a crisis – we either want to repeal the law or launch a crackdown, but we can’t have people making exceptions on the fly.

For Mediterranean cultures, which still shape the thought-world of the Vatican to a significant degree, law is instead more akin to an ideal. It describes a moral aspiration, but realistically it’s understood that many people much of the time will fall short. (If you don’t believe it, come to Italy sometime and watch how the locals approach traffic laws!)…

The “money quote” on this score comes in one of Francis’ footnotes (number 336, to be exact), in which the pontiff says, “This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline.”

In effect, what he’s saying is that there may be cases in which a given divorced and remarried Catholic, after talking things out with a priest, could be justified in reaching the decision that they don’t carry the guilt that should exclude them from the sacraments, including Holy Communion….

In other words, what Pope Francis has done is let the rest of the world in on one of the best-kept secrets about the Catholic Church: Yes, the Church has laws, and it takes them very seriously. But even more than law it has flesh-and-blood people, and it takes their circumstances and struggles seriously too.

At one stage, Francis writes that the divorced and remarried can find themselves in situations “which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications, leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.”

Hat tip: Albert Mohler, The Briefing



  1. The Mediterranean view of law is not the Vatican’s. The Mediterranean view is that law reflects order, while lawlessness reflects primordial chaos. That is not, nor has it ever been, the Roman attitude — nor the Byzantine, nor the North African, (so far as I can tell).

    Also, canon law and discipline and dogma are not the same.

    As for the _positive_ role of law, the Magisterial Reformers, as you know, held widely different views. Look at Luther (negative view on divine law) and Calvin (veeeerrrrry positive view).

    Of that (the Luther/Calvin split) I am certain. Then there is the Anabaptist mess, which, so far as I can tell, ranges all over the map.

  2. Thank you for the response. Do you think that it would be more accurate for the author to say that Catholic Mediterranean countries adopted the canon law view, rather than the way that he puts it?

    • It would still be too broad. The Mediterranean view he espouses is reflected in the Jewish tradition, and to some degree also in the Syriac Christian tradition, but the Roman Canon Law tradition is something else. It doesn’t have roots there, not except through layers of mediation that render the 4th-degree root irrelevant for the purposes of AL.

  3. Stoicism, the Roman administrative genius, and Platonic-Aristotelian ideas all lie between any ‘Mediterranean’ generalization and the tradition of canon law. The scriptural text is never without mediation — not in the Late Antique world, and not in ours.

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