The other day I was discussing Cardinal Kasper’s recent consistory speech (which argued for a new approach to “the problem of the divorced and remarried”) with some fellow doctoral candidates in moral theology. They had views fairly typical of the mainstream of German-language theology. Someone brought up the example of a young lady of her acquaintance who was abandoned by her husband at the age of 25. Someone else said that it was absurd that such a person should be martyred for a rule. They then claimed that the Church never requires anyone to suffer actual martyrdom, that to give the witness of one’s blood is a personal choice. This seemed to me a rather extraordinary claim. “Surely,” I said, “there are some situations in which one is bound to suffer martyrdom.” I pointed out that Kasper himself brings up the case of the “lapsi,” Christians who betrayed Christ during the Roman persecutions, and for whom the Church developed a process of penance and reconciliation (a “Baptism of tears”). If they had done nothing wrong why were they required to do penance? I don’t think that I was able to convince anyone. One person said that one might feel “personally morally bound” to shed one’s blood rather than burn incense in front of the statue of the emperor, but one couldn’t blame someone who chose differently, that such a person, under such duress, could hardly be said to have denied Christ.
I suppose I should not have found this position so surprising; if one can find a way around Matthew 19:9, then why not around Matthew 10:33?
I remember once hearing a similar position on martyrdom stated by the Italian nihilist Gianni Vattimo. Vattimo is famous for the idea of “weak thought” (pensiero debole), and one can take his position on martyrdom as an example of “weak faith.” Obviously this “weak faith” is quite a different thing from the full strength faith that the martyrs witnessed with their blood, and to which, in a lesser way, even the tears of the repentant lapsi gave witness. Vattimo is perfectly willing to admit this; in fact, he brought up the martyrdom thing to illustrate how his position is radically new. But the good people with whom I was discussing would certainly not want to admit this. Much less would Cardinal Kasper want to admit that his position amounts to something radically different from that of Mtt 19:9. But doesn’t it?