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Monday, October 20, 2014

Francis and Kasper: The Modern Pharisees

By:   Brian M. McCall
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Francis and Kasper: The Modern Pharisees

The dispute between the Pharisees and Our Lord is being misrepresented. It was the Pharisees through their technical distortion of the meaning of the words of the law that were advocating a minimalist compliance with the natural and divine law. In fact, Our Lord came to demand a more rigorous application of the Law and the Prophets.

Perhaps you have experienced a similar ad hominem attack as I have when simply stating or defending the very simple dogma on marriage that has been held by Catholics everywhere and always (at least before the gnostic oracle of Cardinal Kasper came on the scene). Marriage is the union between one man and one woman which bond is broken only by the death of one of the spouses. Our grandparents would have considered inconceivable that such a simple and basic statement could become the source of ridicule and persecution by fellow Catholics. Yet, utter this truth today and you are likely to be confronted with something like the following: “You are being like the Pharisees. Christ came to bring mercy and the Pharisees stubbornly held on to the letter of the law rather than embracing Christ’s new spirit of mercy. Like the Pharisees of old you obstinately are refusing the law of mercy Pope Francis seeks to promote.”


In reaction to the shocking mid-Synod report, Maria Madise, coordinator of Voice of the Family notes the same line of attack: “The Synod’s mid-way report will increase the incidence of faithful Catholics being labelled as ‘Pharisees’, simply for upholding Catholic teaching on sexual purity.” Like much of the pseudo-historical drivel being doctored up to support the jettisoning of natural and divine law (See Roberto de Mattei’s article on the abuse of the Council of Trent for an example, such an attack completely misrepresents the real dispute between Our Lord and the Pharisees. This dispute was not between an overly rigid literalist interpretation of the law by the Pharisees and a lenient merciful more up-to-date spirit of the law interpretation by Our Savior. Rather, it was the exact opposite.

Inaccurately the dispute between the Pharisees and Our Lord is being misrepresented as a dispute between the rigid, legalistic, close-minded Pharisees clinging to the letter of the law whereas the merciful Savior liberally went beyond the letter of the law. Thus, those repeating the perennial proposition that a spouse engaging in marital acts with another person while his or her spouse still lives are objectively committing adultery (regardless of what human civil law calls it) and therefore cannot be admitted to a Sacrament of the Living, Holy Communion, are merely “Pharisees applying the strict letter of the law.”

“Francis and Kasper seek simply to extend the hand of mercy.” If we examine the testimony of Sacred Scripture (as confirmed by the Tradition of the Church) we find reality to be the exact opposite. It was in fact Our Lord who came to demand a more rigorous, not lax, application of the Law and the Prophets. It was the Pharisees through their technical distortion of the meaning of the words of the law that were advocating a minimalist compliance with the natural and divine law. As long as the letter of the law was fulfilled, they argued, we were justified. On the contrary our Lord came to call all Men to a more rigorous and perfect obedience to the law. We will examine the incident as reported by St. Matthew in which Our Lord clearly distinguishes His demand for rigor from the practice of the Pharisees.

Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled. . . . For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17-20)

First, we must understand what Our Lord meant by the “Law” that he had not come to abolish. Clearly he does not mean the ceremonial laws given by God to the Jews, such as the Temple bloody sacrifices and circumcision. For He did abolish those and replace them with the sacraments of the New Law. As Father Haydock explains in his commentary on the Bible, in this context Our Lord is referring to the moral precepts of the law, those precepts of natural and divine law which are valid for all time such as the Sixth Commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery. “[T]he moral precepts were to continue, and to be complied with, even with greater perfection.” [1] Not only did Our Lord have no intention of changing these precepts or even of calling for a more lenient application; in contrast He came to require a “greater perfection” in observing them. The Pharisees did not oppose our Lord because he offered a more lenient or tolerant interpretation of the Law; it was the exact opposite. They sought to use sophistic interpretations to minimize compliance with the mind of the lawgiver, the perfection called for by the Law. Father Haydock explains:

Our Saviour speaks in this manner, to prepare the minds of the Jews for his new instructions. For although they were not very solicitous about fulfilling the law, still they were extremely jealous of any change being made in the letter of the law; more particularly, if the proposed change exacted a more perfect morality.[2]

Thus, the Pharisees were bitter enemies of Our Lord not because he was extending a hand of mercy but because he was demanding a more strict and rigorous fulfillment of the moral precepts of the Law. The verses following this affirmation of the immutable nature of the moral precepts, confirm this meaning of Our Lord. He uses the Fifth Commandment to illustrate his meaning. According to a Pharisaical, literal interpretation of the Fifth Commandment one does not break the law unless one literally kills the body of another person. Our Lord makes clear that the Fifth Commandment is more demanding and he emphasizes this more rigorous demand by turning the Jewish legal system on its head.

You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matt 5:21-22)

Father Haydock explains that to be in danger of the judgment meant in danger of being convicted by the lowest level court in Israel, an institution referred to as “The Judgment.” In contrast, to be in danger of the “Council” meant to be at risk of being convicted by the highest court in Israel, the Sanhedrin, which court could impose the death penalty. To be in danger of hell fire is obviously a reference to the highest court of all, the Divine Judgment. Thus, under the Pharisees interpretation of the Fifth Commandment only if someone actually killed another person could he be convicted by the lowest court of Israel. Yet, Our Lord sets up a three part hierarchy of offenses. If one is merely unjustifiably angry with another person he is liable before the lowest court. If he utters a harsh insult, “Raca,” at his brother he is liable before the Jewish Supreme Court. If he merely insults his brother by calling him a fool he is liable before the Divine Tribunal and in danger of hell. Our Lord does not propose that the Court of Judgment leniently let off murderers. Rather, by placing what would appear to be a lesser offenses to a person (insults rather than death) within the jurisdiction of higher legal authorities, he emphasizes the greater rigor of the demands of the Fifth Commandment in contrast to the more literal and minimalistic interpretation of the Pharisees. The principle is clear: Christianity is a religion which requires more perfect obedience to the moral law not less.[3]

Apropos to the topics under consideration by the Synod, Our Lord repeats his message of requiring more, not less, than the letter of the Commandments, by using the Sixth Commandment as another example.

You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt. 5:27-28)

The Pharisees were very eager to punish actual adultery, yet Our Lord corrects their fixation on technical literal meanings and points out to them the spirit of the law requires one not even interiorly desire to commit adultery.

A few verses later Our Lord explicitly and definitively declares the status of an attempted second “marriage” while one’s spouse still lives to be that of adultery (an act explicitly covered even by the old less rigid application of the Sixth Commandment). Now Our Lord has decreed even desiring in one’s heart to enter into what Cardinal Kasper and the Holy Father have euphemistically termed a “second union” is an act of adultery.

And it hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. (Matt. 5:31-32 emphasis added)

For the most obtuse reader of Sacred Scripture who cannot understand the plain meaning of unambiguous language, Father Haydock drives home the point: living as man and wife with a person who has obtained a civil divorce is adultery:

A divorce or separation as to bed and board, may be permitted for some weighty causes in Christian marriages; but even then, he that marrieth her that is dismissed, commits adultery. As to this, there is no exception. The bond of marriage is perpetual; and what God hath joined, no power on earth can separate. See again Matt. xix. 9. Wi. — The knot of marriage is so sacred a tie that the separation of the parties cannot loosen it, it being not lawful for either of the parties to marry again upon a divorce.[4]

Yet like the Pharisees of Old Cardinal Kasper and Pope Francis exclaim this teaching is too “hard” and ask “who can accept it?” [5] Like the legalistic and sophistic Scribes and Pharisees they seek rather to creatively interpret it to lessen its rigor, the very rigor Our Lord came to proclaim in the New Law which not only proscribed exterior actions like adultery but even the desire to commit them. As true sophists they argue we will literally comply with the letter of the law by accepting these unions to be adultery in theory but we will not treat them as such in practice. Living in an adulterous union is objectively living in a state of mortal sin barring one from reception of the Sacraments of the Living without having first been absolved of that sin which in turn can only happen if one has a firm purpose of amendment. Yet, the proposal is to act in practice as if this were not the case and admit adulterers to Communion, or more bluntly admit adulterers to commit a sacrilege. As rational creatures we cannot long act contrary to our belief. Either we must change our belief our change our action. Pastoral practices that contradict dogma have born their bitter fruit for over a half century. Virtually every practical act of demonstrating the Real Presence has been abolished (genuflections, the canonical fingers, etc.). The result is that the vast majority of Catholics (including clergy) no longer believe in the Real Presence. The evidence is clear, stop treating adultery as adultery and people will no longer believe it to be adultery notwithstanding a Cardinal or Pope’s empty claim that literally the Church considers it to be wrong in theory.

But “who am I to judge” what they are preparing to do in Rome? But Our Lord can and will judge what is being done. Before continuing down this deadly path of disorientation and destruction, the new Pharisees should read and mediate upon the warning given to the Pharisees of Old: “He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19 emphasis added) Father Haydoc kagain drives the message home to the salt who are losing the flavor of the Truth so as to appear popular to those immersed in the spirit of the modern world.  

He shall be called; i.e. . (by a frequent Hebrew idiom) he shall be the least in the kingdom of heaven; that is, according to S. Aug. he shall not be there at all; for none but the great in sanctity and virtue shall find admittance into heaven. Wi. — Do not then imitate the Scribes and Pharisees, who content themselves with instructing other in the precepts of the law, without practising them themselves, or if they observe the letter, neglect the spirit of the law, performing what it ordains, not to please God, but to satisfy their vanity.[6]

[1] Haydock, George (2012-03-11). Catholic Commentary on the New Testament (Kindle Locations 1235-1239). Veritatis Splendor Publications. Kindle Edition.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid..
[4] Ibid. at 1283-1286 (emphasis added).
[5] See e.g. Jon 6:60.
[6] Ibid, at 1235-1239 (emphasis added).


Last modified on Wednesday, October 22, 2014