I woke up this morning ready to write a blog post about Cardinal Parolin’s unfortunate statement that Amoris Letitia indicates a “paradigm shift” in the church, only to find that George Weigel beat me to it.
His excellent article is here at First Things.
What is a “paradigm shift” anyway? When I was doing business training I used to tell the story which is in Stephen Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Here’s the story:
I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.
Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thoughtdifferently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.
So a paradigm shift is a fancy word for an “Aha!” moment.
But does the church have such “Aha!” moments?
There was certainly one when St Peter suddenly realized that the gospel was for the Gentiles not only for the Jews. You may remember the story in Acts of the Apostles, chapter ten where he has a dream of unclean animals being let down from heaven and the voice saying, “Kill and eat.”
This story has been used by progressives in the church to encourage all sorts of novelty. It was a favorite passage, for instance of the feminists who campaigned for women’s ordination, and it is used by homosexualists to demand a “fresh understanding of human sexuality.”
While this is a seductive meme, it is not a Catholic one. Weigel points out that since the close of the Biblical revelation, doctrine develops, it doesn’t do sudden paradigm shifts. In the fifth chapter of his famous essay, Bl Cardinal Newman’s essay delineates the necessary factors of proper development of doctrine as opposed to the corruption of doctrine. You can read the fifth chapter here.
One of the points is that authentic development is organic and it leads to consolidation, assimilation and unity. Amoris Letitia has led to fracture. Weigel observes rightly.
Where something similar to a Kuhn-type “paradigm shift” is underway, however, is in the reception of Amoris Laetitia in various local churches—and this is ominous. The pastoral implementation of Amoris Laetitiamandated in Malta, Germany, and San Diego is quite different than what has been mandated in Poland, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Portsmouth, England, and Edmonton, Alberta. Because of that, the Catholic Church is beginning to resemble the Anglican Communion (itself the product of a traumatic “paradigm shift” that cost John Fisher and Thomas More their heads). For in the Anglican Communion, what is believed and celebrated and practiced in England is quite different from what is believed, celebrated, and practiced in Nigeria or Uganda.
This fragmentation is not Catholic. Catholicism means one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and unity is one of the four distinctive marks of the Church. That unity means that the Church embodies the principle of non-contradiction, such that a grave sin on the Polish side of the Oder River can’t be a source of grace on the German side of the border.
Parolin’s Paradigm Shift or Parolin’s Shifty?
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