08 April 2016

Two observations on Amoris Laetitia

The Holy See released today the text of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Holy Father Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia. Naturally, I have not yet had the opportunity to read the exhortation – which I will do in the coming days – but wish to make two initial observations about the length of the exhortation and the sources used in its composition.


In keeping with Pope Francis’ penchant for lengthy documents, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia weighs in at 325 numbered paragraphs. Simply as a point of reference, the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium has 288 numbered paragraphs and the Encyclical Letter Laudato Sí has 246. In fact, Amoris Laetitia is the longest – by 148 numbered paragraphs - Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ever issued.

The average length of a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation prior to Amoris Laetitia is only 85 pages; the median length is slightly less at 82 pages. The lengths of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations of the previous Popes is as follows:
How many of these Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations are you familiar with? How many of them govern or influence daily life in the Church today?

The sheer length of Amoris Laetitia alone will prevent many commentators and others – especially the average Catholic – from reading the entire exhortation. This is both regrettable and foreseeable. However, because of its length, I suspect it will be in the news for the next week or so and then, like the other exhortations, be forgotten or ignored by most. Again, this is both regrettable and foreseeable.

In the hours and days to come, then (and especially in the hours to come), beware of anyone who claims Amoris Laetitia says this or that without providing full quotations. Also be aware of the paragraph numbers quoted by reporters and others authors. Do they come from throughout the exhortation, or only from the first parts of it? If it is a situation of the latter, it is a good indication he or she has not read the entire exhortation and, therefore, whatever he or she says should be taken with a grain of salt.


As a student of history, I have an abiding fondness and appreciation for footnotes and find them much more useful than end notes (which I detest). In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis utilizes footnotes – as he did in Lumen Fidei, Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Sí – which will make it easier to consult the sources quoted and referenced by the Holy Father.

A proper study of any given author’s footnotes – or, if necessary, end notes – can provide something of a glimpse into the mind of the author, or at least into the minds of those he or she quotes and references. Looking through Pope Francis’ footnotes, by my count, we find, among others, the following number of quotations or references from or to
  • Relatio Synodi  - 51 
  • Relatio Finalis – 85 
  • From his own speeches/writings – 79 (this is nothing new and probably not much should be read into this) 
  • Vatican Council II – 22 
  • Pope Saint John II – 53 (of which, 19 are from Familiaris Consortio) 
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church – 8 
  • Code of Canon Law – 10 
  • Blessed Pope Paul VI – 2 (both of which are from Humanae Vitae) 
  • Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI – 10
There are also numerous references to the writings of the saints, especially to Saint Thomas Aquinas.

The footnotes show us that while the exhortation is thoroughly rooted in the two documents of the two recent synods, it is also grounded in the magisterium of the Church. This suggests we should beware of those who claim the exhortation is a break or a departure from the tradition of the Church.

No comments:

Post a Comment