Aug 062014

In the theological turmoil that followed the Second Vatican Council, the theory of the “fundamental option” is among the most pernicious developments. Fundamental option separates specific moral actions from a more general – fundamental – orientation of life. It holds, therefore, that specific sins do not bear on the status of one’s soul, or on the destination of one’s soul after death. All that matters for salvation, in this view, is that one “fundamentally” lives for God rather than evil.

One theological casualty of fundamental option theory is mortal sin, which has long been defined by the Church as a grave wrong committed with full knowledge of the attendant evil and deliberate consent of the will. Instead, the theory holds that mortal sin is not a specific action, but an orientation that lies at the deepest level of freedom within an individual who rejects God. But given the gravity of such a rejection, the theory holds that such an orientation is nearly impossible for those of sound mind. If an individual makes the fundamental option for God, then his actions, no matter how grave, cannot be mortal sins – or damnable offenses – because, at root, the person means well.

From a post by David G. Bonagura, Jr. at The Catholic Thing

Since I first read this post it has been rolling around in my mind along with some other thoughts. It seems to me that the fundamental option theory has really become the default view. While you hardly ever hear someone speak of it by its name, you often hear a view derived from it. It sounds so reasonable to suppose that since you are generally a good person that lapses really don’t affect your salvation. Many that would not hold to universalism do hold to a personalism when it comes to salvation. Fundamental option theory has become kind of a “once saved, always saved” for Catholics. The “Here I am Lord” centrality where God is lucky to have us.

So I can certainly identify this in the culture and among Catholics. Worse though is how often I find that I can identify this in myself. That I want to bargain with God as Abraham did.

“Lord I use to have all these serious sins. Can I be saved if I have whittled them down to five serious sins?”, “No, well how about four serious sins”, “Well then, how about three grave sins?”

It becomes quite easy to transmute the Call to Holiness to the call to be good enough. To dismiss Jesus’ call for us to be holy as the Father is holy as just hyperbole. To hear the Parable of the Tares and think “Well tough luck on those tares, being of the wheat myself.” To separate out the intention to be good from my actual actions. So easy to resign yourself to the purgative way without doing much purging, much less advancing in the states of perfection. To be satisfied with spiritual mediocrity on the way to joining the Laodicean and causing a gag reflex in Jesus.

It is quite annoying to start out writing a post about others holding the heretical fundamental optional theory and then realizing that you are not immune from it either. Like Saint John Henry Newman looking at his face in the mirror and realizing he was an Monophysite. At least for him it ended well.

The fundamental option theory also seems to be the hidden hand behind the majority of homilies I hear. Going to a number of Catholic parishes in my diocese I get a fair sampling even if not statically significant. The majority of homilies I have heard are of the “Dog that did not bark” variety. What is missing is significant. Now everybody has their hobby-horse sins that they want excoriated during the homily. Hobby-horse sins are almost always those sins we hold others to have and that we think ourselves free of. I want to go more general than that. What I find missing (except in the scriptural readings) is any mention of sin, repentance, growing in holiness, and salvation. Listening to a homily I am usually totally unscathed in regards to realizing I had something to repent of. Really I am a target-rich environment for being properly scathed.

There is such a generic country club feeling to so many homilies. That we are all part of the club. More thought seems to be given to what topical joke can be used to start or end the homily than any actual serious reflection on the readings. Much less any call for conversion. That we even showed up to Mass is suppose to be to our credit instead of seeing that “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

Now sometimes we hear that the homily is suppose to “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I have even heard this phrase used in a homily. Much more comforting than afflicting going on. Interestingly the quote was first used in regards to journalism. Still I don’t want to put all the blame on the homily since it is rather silly to think that we are suppose to get all that the Church teaches condensed down to under ten minutes on Sunday.

The default theology of the fundamental option theory goes hand-in-hand with why their are lines to Communion and not to Confession (in most places and I love seeing the exceptions). If we are good enough with those good intentions not much need for the confessional. No need to repent if our sins are just not that important and besides God will understand.

  5 Responses to “Fundamental Option Theory: The default theology”

  1. I don’t think that most people believe the fundamental option. I think what’s believed is rooted in Lumen Gentium 16, namely non-Catholics can be saved too. The first part of LG 16 makes it sound like God is so merciful that you don’t even have to be Catholic to be saved. It’s a simple inference to conclude that since non-Catholics don’t believe all Catholic doctrines or morals, you don’t even have to follow Catholic morality or have to worry about converting to the Catholic Church or evangelizing. God’s just that “good”.

    That is not the intent of LG 16, of course. If you read through the hermenutic of continuity, it simply outlines that Catholics have always believed that *some* outside the Church were be saved due to their response to God’s Grace. And the latter part of LG 16 makes it clear that people have a tendency to reject God’s Grace due to their clouded minds, so a faithful Catholic has a better chance of being saved than a faithful non-Catholic. (i.e. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair.”)

    Unfortunately, most people just read the first part of LG 16 and the Catechism CCC 847 repeats this error. The Catechism tries to balance the second half of LG 16 in CCC 848, but it only refers to the last sentence with makes it sound like the only reason we evangelize is because Jesus told us too and not because it affects their salvation.

    So yes, most modern Catholics, even faithful Catholics are quasi-universalist and it’s a self inflicted wound. IMO, the only way to fix this problem is to modify CC 848 to include more of the second part of LG 16.

  2. Along the same lines, I just happened upon this recent post at the blog Byzantine, Texas about a brochure found in a church, titled “Why Do I Have to Say I Am a Miserable Sinner When I Am Really Such a Wonderful Person!”

    • ((( “Why Do I Have to Say I Am a Miserable Sinner When I Am Really Such a Wonderful Person!” )))

      John, I thank you for the link and I almost left a comment at that site but then again I might have said something like: YAR so right that GOD (Good Old Dad) loves US (usual sinners) and as a matter of spiritual imaginary reality faith fact, all gods who were once invisible Angels Cells of GOD who have now evolved into countless infinite numbers of Zero’s without a “ONE”. Anyway! Now even in reality, these angel gods since their creation are all in acceptance of that upper statement and if imaginary truth was known, as far as these alien godly cells are concerned, “IT” is an “Invisible Truth”.

      Long story short! Are there any human puppets , “I” mean human animal, no, no, “I” mean good human being living nowadays who would dare disagree with these evolving alien angel species and…………………………………………….andddddddddddddd………………………………………………………..and…………………………………………………..


      Go figure folks? 🙂

      I hear YA John V, i agree with YA Victor! You were probably wise not to have left a comment there!? LOL 🙂

      God Bless Peace

  3. Lord I use to have all these serious sins before Vatican two but now I’ve whittled them down to five serious sins and Victor’s five per sent age “Jesus Cells are taking care of that for US (usual sinners) so what do YA say GOD (Good Old Dad), can’t we make a deal in this twenty first century besides, what’s the use in continually purging now that there are so many invisible alien colored angel gods who are not very fussy and agree with us?

    Go Figure brothers and sisters in Christ nowadays?

    God Bless


  4. Thank you for such an excellent commentary, which only shows us how crucial it is for a person to clarify the terms he or she is using. What you wrote certainly though was.not the way I was taught in the seminary concerniing “fundamental option”, which had it intimately tied to epistomology. One in the end could never really “know” whether one had made the “fundamental option” towards God, which then means that though we were taught correct Catholic teaching, maybe in this area the mainstream version of the term was not treated correctly.

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