Sunday, December 18, 2016

A somewhat counter-cultural take on "the attitude of the Pharisee" (Lk 18:9-14)

"All people must take great care not to allow themselves to be tainted by the attitude of the Pharisee. . . . In our own day this attitude is expressed particularly in the attempt to adapt the moral norm to one's own capacities and personal interests, and even in the rejection of the very idea of a norm."

     Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993) 105.  According to John Paul II at least here, the problem with the Pharisee is not that he is (as according to the culture at large) an inflexible absolutist, a merciless stickler-for-the-law, but quite the reverse.  The problem with the Pharisee is that the (even legitimate and actually exculpatory) subjective excuses he is able to give for failing to live up to "the objectivity of the moral law in general and . . . the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts" (104) are self-justificatory in the sense that they absolve him of responsibility for keeping the whole law in all of its hard-nosed inflexibility, thus reducing the law to the sort of thing a man can keep without grace (since "Only in the mystery of Christ's Redemption do we discover the 'concrete' possibilities of man", "the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being" (103)).  Whereas the Publican, by contrast, cuts himself no breaks.  See the whole of this section, beginning with par. 102.  I was put onto this by John Finnis and Germain Grisez, "The misuse of Amoris Laetitia to support errors against the Catholic faith", 21 November 2016, p. 12.  Cf. Edward Feser, "Denial flows into the Tiber":  "Yet as a matter of historical fact it was the Pharisees who championed a very lax and 'merciful' attitude vis-à-vis divorce and remarriage, and Christ who insisted on a doctrine that was so austere and 'rigid' that even the apostles wondered if it might be better not to marry."  Cf. also Edward Peters, "Conscience can't be the final arbiter on who gets communion," Crux, January 8, 2017:  "Aside: why are critics of Amoris always being labelled ‘Pharisees’? Weren’t the Pharisees the ones trying to allow for divorce and remarriage?"

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