I wouldn’t want the Synod on the family to pass by without some serious thought being given to the method of its documents, and the Relatio finalis in particular. I’m therefore referring not to the method of the actual proceedings, but the method used in drafting documents.
The Final Report begins with a part dedicated to “The Church listening to families”, followed by a second part entitled “The family in the plan of God”. The document begins not from God’s designs regarding the family, but from the present context. In fact, presented in the first part is a picture of the situation: examined are the “anthropological-cultural”, “socio-economical” and “social” contexts in that order. This is a journey in the phenomenology of today. Reference is made to just about everything, much like an inventory: from widows to children, women to migrants, family policies to poverty, ecology to persons with special needs. It is a race trying to keep up with current situations without ever succeeding, because in the meantime everything has changed. It is an effort to construct synoptic frameworks without knowing how reliable they are. Once this close scrutiny of “being” has taken place, attention focuses on “ought-to-be”, on how things stand in the plan of God. Having done that, documents ordinarily look ahead in terms of things to be done.
This is the method that has been followed for decades in the final documents of ecclesial fora, and the Gaudium et spes of Vatican II is the prototype of this approach. The document of Medellin, the first Latin American episcopal conference (1969), rendered it concrete for the first time, while the famous rule of thumb “see-judge-act” of John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra enshrined it as a formal theory.
This is ordinarily called the inductive method, and it is considered antithetical to the deductive method, which would be just the opposite. If the Relatio finalis had begun with “the family in the plan of God”, and then moved on to “the Church listening to families”, it would have been accused of being deductive. On the basis of such a criterion, all the social encyclicals prior to the Council, including Rerum novarum, were accused of being deductive, and abandoned to their own destiny.
As I see it, after many years it would be about time to change pattern and take our leave of this inane opposition between inductive and deductive.
First of all, we have to take note that, as so clearly said by Karl Popper, with whom we can concur on this point, the inductive method does not exist, and was no more than an erroneous and dangerous illusion of Positivism.
Secondly, it is easy to pose the following question to the drafters of the Synod’s Relatio finalis: was the social analysis conducted under the light shed by the Word of God, or on the basis of the social sciences? In the first case it isn’t inductive, and in the second case it has no meaning for the faith. Taken on their own (if this is possible)all the data are nothing but nonsensical.
Thirdly, this method assigns a primary role to the social sciences which, poor dears, are deputed to perform a task far superior to their own forces. Depending on them would be philosophy, theology and the selfsame Word of God.
Fourthly, beginning from the Word of God, and in this specific case from “the family in the plan of God”, in no way means adopting a deductive method. In fact, the Word of God is not a cluster of axioms or postulates from which logical conclusions are to be deduced as is done in geometry. Nowadays, unfortunately, people think revealed doctrine, or the law, are abstract concepts, and that deducing practical indications from them would be tantamount to exercising violence on the experience and concrete needs of persons, from whom, on the contrary, it would be necessary to begin. But this is an erroneous view of both Christian doctrine and law. We are dealing with notions of faith that express a reality, and which are above all proactive, creative, indicative, inspiring, and able to satisfy our needs because they shed light on them and help us distinguish between true needs and false ones.
Making use of this method already goes a long way towards embracing the idea widespread nowadays, and which strongly emerged during the Synod on the Family, that between doctrine and life situations there is a distance that has to be filled by compromise of conscience, discernment, or on a case by case basis, these being the slogans we will have to deal with in the near future. Kasper as well had brought wisdom, prudence and epicheia into the picture. The law of God, however, is not a premise of a syllogism, that is to say something abstract and empty. It is life itself, and for this reason illuminates life.
The time has come to change method and once again give the plan of God its place: first place. It is necessary to free ourselves of the inductive-deductive tongs.
Also because when you look at it closely, this upheaval is the fruit of a specific theology that has influenced the life of the Church to such a degree as to also impose the use of a new method in documents. According to this theology, the reception of the Word of God in the world is part of the Message. Now added to intelligence in the faith must be intelligence in needs. Beginning from our needs would be an essential part of God’s Message. As we can see, looming here are great dangers, but this is not the moment to discuss them. Nonetheless, these brief considerations suffice to help us understand that the inductive method is not neutral, as its name might lead us to believe, but rather the expression of a theology that cannot be shared because it takes God’s primacy away from Him.