Pope Francis’ Nominalistic Defense of Reception of the Eucharist by Catholics Not in a State of Grace

How can Pope Francis’ suggest that some divorced Catholics who have remarried outside the Church might receive the Eucharist? Interpreting Pope Francis as a nominalist explains how he can offer his suggestion. For the interested reader, a brief discussion of the problem of universals is at the end of the post

Cardinals Burke et al. have challenged Pope Francis’ position in his recent Amoris laetita. The controversy focuses on reception of the Eucharist by Catholics legally divorced from a spouse in a valid Catholic marriage, legally married to a spouse in a subsequent marriage without a Catholic annulment of the former marriage. A footnote 351 in §305 suggests that under certain conditions in consultation with a priest a person in such a marriage may find it helpful for his or her spiritual life and salvation to receive the Eucharist.
Pope Francis has claimed that his stance in Amoris laetita proposes no change in Catholic moral theology. The cardinals challenge Pope Francis to explain how his suggestion about reception of the Eucharist can be consistent with Catholic moral theology because such a couple are living in a habitual grave sin according to Catholic moral theology and cannot receive sacramental absolution. The challenge confronts Pope Francis with a dilemma: Change Catholic moral theology or teach that on occasion reception of the Eucharist by people in a situation of grave habitual may work for the salvation of their souls. Pope Francis grasps the dilemma by the horn to admit that reception of the Eucharist by people not in a state of grace can work for their salvation.
How can Pope Francis consistently make such a suggestion? If he offers guidelines for the conditions under which it would be spiritually profitable to receive the Eucharist, these guidelines would be new rules in conflict with present Church rules. Francis has claimed that no rule changes are proposed. The resolution is to give no rules or guidelines. Take a nominalistic stance Rules or guidelines use general terms and combine several individuals into a group as if they formed a class. However, general terms mislead us about reality. In reality there are only separate individuals and there are no similarities combining them into groups. The best language for talking of reality is to use only names; utter no sentence and give no rules. So, when prompted by the Spirit a person just recognizes that the Eucharist is to be received but the recognition cannot be put into words since words always distort reality. Just receive the Eucharist. Talking about it will only distort what is being done.

My book on sexual morality takes a conceptualist position to defend a traditional sexual morality.

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $3.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.

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Here is my naïve synopsis of the problem of universals. Universals are whatever it is we are talking about when we use common terms. Common terms can be applied to different locations in space and time. They are as simple as the color term “yellow” and as complex as the sophisticated term “justice.” The problem of universals is what if anything outside the mind corresponds to these universal terms? Realists hold that our universal terms when well defined correspond to a universal feature of extramental reality.
For instance, a realist hold that a proper definition of “justice “ presents to us what justice is in and by itself. Realist hold a correspondence theory of truth for definitions of universal terms. Conceptualists hold that we use universal terms as a result of our capacity to think as if something exactly the same is located in different regions of space and time. There is no need to believe that there is anything corresponding to our best definitions of terms which makes them the true definitions. All that is needed is to assume that reality is such that it allows our use of terms to have successful science and daily life. For instance, a conceptualist holds that a “true” definition of “justice” is one which helps construct flourishing communities. Conceptualist hold a pragmatic theory of truth for definitions of universal terms. Nominalists hold that our use of universal terms is fundamentally misleading about the way reality is in itself. In reality, there are only individuals. There are no features which they share with other individuals as realists hold. There are no vague similarities which make it useful to think as if there were shared features as conceptualists hold. Mere names are all that can be said without distorting what is. For nominalists there are no true sentences about extra mental reality – not even a statement of nominalism.

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