Amoris Laetitia 304: Rules and Discernment

amoris laetitia memeShall we look at “Rules and Discernment”? In the previous paragraph, Pope Francis described as “dynamic” the nature of discernment in difficult situations. He is certainly correct. He calls upon the angelic doctor again to help us sort between essential general principles and inevitable situational details:

304. It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects… In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all… The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail”.(Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 4)

Again, a reminder that general rules are always part of the fabric of faith:

It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations.

Making rules or law from specific situations is always a bad idea:

At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care.

A longer footnote marks this paragraph’s end:

In another text, referring to the general knowledge of the rule and the particular knowledge of practical discernment, Saint Thomas states that “if only one of the two is present, it is preferable that it be the knowledge of the particular reality, which is closer to the act”: Sententia libri Ethicorum, VI, 6 (ed. Leonina, t. XLVII, 354.)

Where does this leave us? Church teaching unchanged, but a wider latitude for pastors, spiritual directors, accompanists, and others involved in difficult concrete circumstances. I know the Famous Footnote is drawing near, but so far, I don’t see anything in Amoris Laetitia that lies outside of Catholic tradition. What do you think?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Amoris Laetitia 304: Rules and Discernment

  1. Chris says:

    I don’t think there is anything at all in Amoris Laetitia that lies outside of Catholic tradition. Pope Francis has an excellent grasp of the tradition and how to apply it compassionately.

    Many Blessings

  2. Devin Rice says:

    An issue with this paragraph is that it doesn’t distinguish between the different types of general rules and laws. Aquinas in the Summa notes “Now sinful acts are evil in themselves, and cannot become good, no matter how, or when, or where, they are done, because of their very nature they are connected with an evil end, as stated in Ethic. ii, 6: wherefore negative precepts bind always and for all times.” The quotation cited by the Pontiff is in regard to positive commands of the natural law.

    This paragraph in junction with paragraph 298 can be interpreted as to say that the general rule of no civil divorce and remarriage can be in specific situations objectively good and encouraged. This cannot be so because it would then contradict paragraph 295.

    This Chapter has a lot of good insights that can be used in a wide variety of situations. It just seems like it could have baked a bit longer in the oven.

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