Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Gradualism and Mortal Sin

I met the former Anglican bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball once when he was the Bishop of Lewes, I thought he was a faux. He is now 82 and was sentenced to prison today, it is quite possible that he will die in prison.

He was rather pleasant man, beguiling, even giving the impression of being holy and ascetic, he was certainly not unlearned, he gave the impression of goodness, to many. I also, all those years ago, knew a young man, a gardener, who was actually rather beautiful and blond muscular, his physical beauty was enhanced by spiritual beauty, he loved God, he wanted to spend his life serving God, he wasn't unintelligent but there was a childlike simplicity about him. Though it is vague in my memory, I remember him telling me about becoming a member of the Bishop's 'community' which was basically about him stripping of the old man and being naked in the bishop's chapel, as he was prayed over and embraced before being clothed in a habit. I don't know if this type of thing is what constituted the charges, the young man was certainly vulnerable and I suppose could easily have been taken advantage of, and I don't know if this particular young man was one of the complainants.

According to contemporary Catholic teaching, the theory of 'Gradualism', would suggest that we looked at the good that Peter Ball did, at his pleasant nature, his beguiling qualities, his holiness, his learning. Classical Catholic theology, which perhaps is less 'merciful' would say he was a pervert, and in fact what appeared good merely added to his sinfulness, and made him even more of a danger, more attractive, more of a source of corruption, that in fact his 'virtue' rather than being in any sense a mitigation of his vice only added it, by making him more dangerous.

It is significant that St Paul in his lists of sinners doesn't ever introduce mitigating factors, neither does the Lord. A sinner is simply a sinner, the Pharisees might be white washed but they are still 'tombs full of dead men's bones', a source of corruption. (Matt 23:27). Someone in serious sin is sinner, which is what the classic doctrine on Mortal Sin teaches. God always extends his mercy but it is necessary for a man to accept it, and to accept it when it is offered, lest like the foolish virgins the door is slammed closed behind them or like the towns the disciples were sent to, the time of mercy ended when or if the dust was shaken from their feet.

Mortal sin, classically, is easily recognised and easily avoided, either because it is directly contrary to the Natural Law or because it is positively condemned in scripture. I think introduction of an intermediate category of 'Grave Sin' is actually helpful. Mortal Sin does what the label says on the tin, it kills our relationship with God. Venial sin is more difficult to shake off, it leaves us damaged and weakened but it does not separate us from God, though it damages that relationship.

Ultimately Sin is not the main concern of scripture but Conversion or Repentance is, hence the woman caught in adultery is merely sent away to sin no more.  The terrible problem with the Gradualist approach, which seems to be adopted by many of the Synod Fathers blinds us, the Church to the terrible nature and consequences of sin. It also blinds the Church to the importance of mission, because one important aspect of it is to point out sin, especially if we are to avoid hypocrisy within the Church, we can't purify the Church of sin if are blind to it, if we refuse to judge.

I wonder if Gradualism itself was the cause of the cover-up of child abuse, we tried to see the good and ignored the evil men did. We overlooked heresy because we saw niceness.


Jacobi said...

I have notice over the years, unlike what we are led to expect in films and books, that character does not necessarily show in the face or the “eyes”. Hence the need for a bit of reserved judgement. We are all Fallen Creatures capable of sinning. The doctrine of The Fall.

But your point is a good one Father, Christ calls us to sin no more, but does not force it on us. It is a choice. Markers help. If something feels wrong, looks wrong, is physically contrary to Natural design , is regarded by the great majority of Mankind as wrong, that is, if it is against Natural Law, then it is wrong, and that backs up what is said in scripture.

As for Gradualism, of course it was contributory, just as it is with every other sin. After all the ultimate goal of Gradualism, now operating in the Synod let us not forget, is to deny sin.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Does his school have anything to do wit it, or are you just trying to smear a whole lot of other people, if so that is plain nasty!

Gatepost productions said...

I had never thought of gradualism in this way, if ever, but now you put it so clearly, Father, I do think about it.

“Mortal sin, classically, is easily recognised and easily avoided, either because it is directly contrary to the Natural Law or because it is positively condemned in scripture”

What then if Natural Law, being ‘a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct,’ is itself subject to gradualism? If the ‘unchanging’ is undermined? Gradualism in 100 years allows, having a child out of wedlock be judged by Natural Law as being Moral Insanity in 1913, but to be the norm in 2013. Same-sex marriage gradually became the norm across time. The Natural Law gradually became redundant, when used for avoiding mortal sin.
Then we are left with only the scriptures to guide us. But if the Church, as you say, is blinded to the importance of pointing out sin and that reflects in the teaching of the scriptures … then Heaven help us, for nothing else will.
I despair at the folly of mankind.

Clare said...

Ultimately they would like to do away with sin i think. Makes people feel uncomfortable and stuff doesn't it?

Frederick Jones said...

Not at all Father, no attempt is being made to smear. I was just wondering about the effect of early single sex education. CS Lewis appears to decry it, Tom Driberg delighted in it. Lenin and St Ignatius are both on record on the importance of early conditioning and at times Headmaster's Conferences in the past have expressed disquiet about some but certainly not the majority of their charges. However if any unwitting offence has been given I am sorry. However I trust that this does not puzzle anyone as you did not print my initial comment.

Fr Ray Blake said...

nde naming a school and suggesting those who where sent there are part of a homosexual culture seems to defame.

Fr Ray Blake said...

John, Gravity acts according to the Natural Law. In the same way a child born in 1913 was disadvantaged, so a child today is similarly disadvantaged, a hundred years ago being without a fathers income together with 'illegitimacy' and social stigma might have increased the problems but that is not Natural Law. NL dictates a child is in need of, or at least does better with two loving parents, the NL is that we are programmed for that, though the NL woud also say he/she can survive with only one. Howeverr the NL dictates a child needs two parents of the opposite sex to be concieved. A society of one parent families however probably would not survive.
NL is not too esoteric, though possibly it is arrived at through trial and error, and is arrived at through lengthy human experience and the catastrophes that arrived at without reference to it.

JARay said...

Clearly there is something else referred to in the above comments, to which, I am not privy. I do agree though that gradualism is a nasty, dangerous trait. Through it, things only get worse. It does happen that sometimes we make assessments about things and about others which ultimately are revealed as being erroneous. But, life is filled with experiences and it is those experiences which we use as our guide in coming to an opinion. This is human nature. This is why age brings with it, a certain amount of wisdom.

Anonymous said...

I had never thought of the term "grave matter" as a cover for "gradualism". I always thought it was a very traditional way of explaining that certain actions are always objectively wrong, harmful and offend God's infinite goodness, but there can be subjective circumstances that may mitigate the personal responsibility and guilt for that action to varying degrees. I was taught that "mortal sin" requires grave matter plus full knowledge and free will. Even if the second two conditions are lacking, this is not license to indulge in the forbidden behaviour. Ignorance is removed by as soon as you are made aware of the truth of the Law. If free will is handicapped in some way, the requirement is still there to repent and lay the offence before the mercy of God in confession while seeking grace to overcome the handicap. We are not our own judges.The judgement of the degree of guilt is surely a matter for a confessor, which should be reflected in the penance given. Gradualism rather seems to say that there is no objective wrong, harm or offence, no bottom line to the Law of God or Nature, just some noble ideals to be striven for. So falling short of them is perhaps to be expected and does not require any real repentance, even if the actual degree of guilt may be lessened in the eyes of God. Didn't Jesus say that the Jewish authorities had "greater guilt" for his unjust condemnation than Pontius Pilate, because they had fuller knowledge of what they were doing, although this did not mean that Pilate was without any guilt or that his actions were not as objectively wrong as theirs? Perhaps you are saying that the traditional understanding has been used as a cover for gradualism in practice.

nickbris said...

Sending him to prison was a totally unnecessary punishment. Prisons are so crowded at the moment that we are actually having them built abroad.

Deacon Augustine said...

"I think introduction of an intermediate category of 'Grave Sin' is actually helpful."

Fr., forgive my slow-wittedness, but did you actually mean to say that, or did you mean to say "UNhelpful."?

Cosmos said...

A central, unwritten dogma of the new faith embraced by many in the hierarchy is that there is no guilt where there is ignorance, and that almost everyone is ignorant. Put another way, it is really ignorance, not Christ, that will save most people.

This is laid out like a prophecy in Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor:

Stephen Turton said...

Where I work there are a couple of very elderly though fit hospital volunteers who were at work in the 1930 's. What I intrigues me about them is a kind of moral outlook quite common in that era - clear moral absolutes that they were brought up with, that reminds one how rigid society once was. No gradualism there - it's inflexible and clear sighted,
and refuses to change, the traditional sense of right and wrong. And it is not at all inconsistent with Christian charity.

Deacon Augustine said...

Cosmos, I certainly agree with you there. Sometimes it seems that ignorance has become the 8th Sacrament. I don't know when the rot set in with this one, but St Jerome took the view that ignorance compounded sin!

John Vasc said...

"Same-sex marriage gradually became the norm across time."
No it did not, neither gradually, nor the accepted norm.
After many centuries of strict illegality with strong penalties (first the death penalty, then hard labour, then imprisonment) the homosexual act between men was decriminalised only in 1967, and then only over the age of 21, reduced to 18 in 1994.
Only ten years later - a mere ten years - the Civil Partnership Act in 2004 allowed same-sex couples essentially the same rights (including property and inheritance rights) as for civil marriage. Same Sex Marriage legislation was rushed through Parliament seven years later, in 2013. And now it is being reinforced with threats of police action and extremism disruption orders against anyone who dissents.
Set against the backdrop of centuries of criminal law, that rapid overturning of a serious crime into a wedded state identical to every other, to which nobody is allowed to object: that is neither gradual nor reasonable.
Resistance does not even rely on religious scruples - there is a strong *general* resistance in the country, even among non-believers, to the notion that two men or two women may ever be deemed to be 'married'. Many will simply refuse to accept it.
It is inflamed further by the activists who deliberately set out to expose and entrap objectors.
This is one area where priests will need our determined and united support in resisting pressures to force them to 'conform'. A new 'Elizabethan persecution' is surely imminent.

Gregkanga said...

I studied theology at Melbourne College of Divinity for 5 years during the eighties. I sub-majored in moral theology and got lectured to on gradualism, Charles Curran and situation ethics etc. but not once did any of my lecturers touch on or even hint at the Doctrine on Original Sin. I majored in Scripture and not a single lecturer covered Genesis and the doctrine on original sin. Why, because many Vat II theologians considered this fundamental doctrine of Christianity as an outdated theory. I had to learn about this doctrine from the Fathers of the Church in praying the Office of Readings daily, and an orthodox priest friend who was gifted enough to teach it to me in an understandable way. This I believe still remains the greatest pastoral challenge for theology and the Church today. Similarly with the doctrine on grace, not preached or taught by many religious, priests and bishops. All of Christianity consists of knowing and recognising in practice, from the beginning what we lost in Adam and what we have been blessed with in the living Christ in His Church. The doctrine on original sin and its consequences on one hand, and on grace and its absolute necessity on the other. The question I have about gradualism is, how does it help the Church in its all important mission of evangelisation or of saving souls?

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

Isn't 'gradualism' just another word for 'heresy, schism, and apostasy'? I know 'in those days' heresy is 'laughable', not the stuff of serious minds. Gradualism and the Incarnation; what have they to do with each other? Serious question, if anyone can give an answer. G.K. Chesterton: "He says, with a conscious laugh, "I suppose I am very heretical," and looks round for applause..." Well, don't they get applause, as if they were 'Live at the Apollo'.

Pelerin said...

Cosmos writes that 'an unwritten dogma of the new faith that there is no guilt where there is ignorance.' I have always understood that for a sin to be 'mortal' there had to be full understanding that this was so. If that did not exist then it was not a mortal sin or indeed any other kind of sin. Is this not correct?

Anonymous said...

@ nickbris: don't worry, he won't be in prison long. He has powerful friends, whose united efforts got him off once before. And no doubt he will suffer a breakdown in health (he is, after all a very elderly man) and be released once all the fuss has died down, on compassionate grounds, whereas your common-or-garden ephebophile would be left to rot.

Stephen Turton said...

I have just noticed something looking at the photo of the Bishop - he has 'warm' smile, but look at his eyes, they are completely dead.

Francis Phillips said...

I know many people deplore the hard-hitting style of Michael Voris and Church Militant - but he is actually very clear about the consequences of 'Mortal Sin'. I think he and Fr Blake would both agree that 'not giving offence' to anyone is the prime sin of our day.

Mike Cliffson said...

You refer to Cosmos
We were taught, 1950s in Catholic primary school , (inner city, where this was not theoretical in a number of homes - half the class had dad inside, or hadbeen , or would be, etc) and told it came from Aquinas: sin is only sin to the limits of your knowledge, so if you kill someone blind drunk to the point of NOT knowing what you are doing , you have not comiitted murder. , which is a mortal sin.
But if you know , as you should, what you are capable of when drunk , and still deliberately as an act of will let yourself get drunk, then the sin of having done that is graver than the drunkenness , even possibly mortal.
For an objective sin committed by you to involve no sin whatsoever, despite a life of sacraments etc, you pretty much have to be senile, institutionalized/institutionalizable, imbecilic , or whatever other worse the onus is on YOU to avoid ignorance of sinfulness.
Maybe it was once possible, I strongly doubt it, for many to go on the pill in complete ignorance with no misgivings. Such ignorance now is a bit fishy if you ask me, but who knows.
Just as psychologically it is actually very difficlt to commit a mortal sin , we are such muddlers, but not impossible, mutatis mutandis complete and utter unwilled unimputable ignorance of so much as an inkling of NL is even more unlikely
It would be typical of heresy formation to extend a partial truth for particular cases to the whole picture in all cases.
That would remain my understanding, but then it's a very ignorant man I am myself.

bvs said...

Why aren't u a bishop, father? And why r there so many wolves appointed instead?

Highland Cathedral said...

How come Pope St John Paul II made Kasper a Cardinal? What was he thinking? How come Pope Benedict made Marx a Cardinal? What was he thinking? I would be tempted to say that wolves appoint wolves but I do not regard either Pope as a wolf. Is it just incompetence or what?

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