|February 5, 2018 • VOL. 56, NO. 3 • Oakland, CA|
The Catholic Church doesn't do 'paradigm shifts'
Ever since Thomas Kuhn popularized it with his 1962 book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," the notion of a "paradigm shift" has led to fascinating arguments about whether this or that break with previous scientific understanding counted as one.
But whatever he may have intended, the cardinal cannot have meant that "Amoris Laetitia" is a "paradigm shift" in the sense of a radical break with previous Catholic understandings. For the Catholic Church doesn't do "paradigm shifts" in that sense of the term, and the pope himself has insisted that "Amoris Laetitia" does not propose a rupture with the Church's settled doctrines on the indissolubility of marriage and worthiness to receive Holy Communion.
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 Laetitia" mandated 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.
Something is broken in Catholicism today and it isn't going to be healed by appeals to paradigm shifts. In the first Christian centuries, bishops frankly confronted and, when necessary, fraternally corrected each other. That practice is as essential today as it was in the days of Cyprian and Augustine — not to mention Peter and Paul.
(George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.)
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