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Friday, January 22, 2016

The Blackwhite of Pope Francis Featured

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Puh-lease! Puh-lease!
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Piety is impious. Christians are unchristian.  

Once again, as though we had nothing better to do, the traditional Catholic internet world is aghast! appalled! outraged! at something Pope Francis has said. Must be Tuesday.

 At first I thought, are we still doing this? Then I read the excerpt of the homily from his daily Mass at Casa Santa Martha: “Christians who obstinately maintain ‘it’s always been done this way,' this is the path, this is the street—they sin: the sin of divination.”

 Ah… I see…


We’re all familiar by now with the standard repertoire of insults he reserves for believers: “scholars of the law,” “doctors of the law,” “rigid Christians,” and of course, the enigmatic tour de force of incomprehensibility, and favourite of all Trads everywhere: “self-absorbed, promethean neo-pelagian!” If you can figure out what it means, you get a prize! He adds a helpful hint: “…these who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past…” Get it?

Our good friend and colleague Chris Ferrara has written a little this week about how Francis has used a scriptural passage to boost his idea that following the law of the Church is for wicked folk who refuse to be open to the “god of surprises”. Chris has asked whether this kind of thing can be taken as a warning sign that Francis is not entirely all together altogether, if you know what I mean. Steve Skojec has also had a go at correcting the Holy Father’s faulty exegesis. I’m sure there’s more if you look.

The theme is among his shortlist of favourites: “A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.” …Nope, no irony under here…

Not having kept a close track of the pope’s antics in the last little while, I admit I don’t know whether he has already specified before which particular Commandment we rigid, self-absorbed, narcissistic, elitist prometheans violate, but in case we were wondering, he told us this week pretty plainly that it is the First Commandment. Also, that our lives are meaningless. And “patched”… whatever that means.

“It is the sin of so many Christians who cling to what has always been done and who do not allow others to change. And they end up with half a life, [a life that is] patched, mended, meaningless.

“Christians who obstinately maintain ‘it’s always been done this way,’ this is the path, this is the street—they sin: the sin of divination. It’s as if they went about by guessing: ‘What has been said and what doesn’t change is what’s important; what I hear—from myself and my closed heart—more than the Word of the Lord.’ Obstinacy is also the sin of idolatry: the Christian who is obstinate sins! The sin of idolatry. ‘And what is the way, Father?’ Open the heart to the Holy Spirit, discern what is the will of God.”

Apparently we’re occultists, which is what “divination” really means, and are therefore, in violation of the First Commandment, which according to the Catechism of the Council of Trent, puts us among those who “fall into heresy, who reject what holy mother the Church proposes for our belief, who give credit to dreams, fortune­telling, and such illusions…”

So, according to this pope, those who refuse to give up what the Church teaches in favour of some kind of “surprise” are into “divination” and the Church tells us by its immemorial and unchangeable teaching that this means we are heretics who reject what the Church teaches. 

The difficulty with much of what Francis says is this kind of internal contradiction. When people who understand that “no” and “yes” can’t both be the same thing at the same time listen to him, we come away baffled at his odd ramblings. This is because we continue to try to apply Catholic theological standards to his statements and the Laws of Rational Thought to his means of expression. We try to hold up a rational and Catholic lens, and it comes out incomprehensible and distorted.

But Francis does not think like a Catholic. He is the very model of a modern Jesuit, and these are the chaps who pride themselves on having “moved beyond” the ancient strictures of rationality, common sense, etc. Listening to Francis is exactly like listening to anyone trained in the halls of Modern Academia. Just try reading essays in postmodern literary criticism and you will get the idea.

As a creature of that kind of intellectual training, Francis does not think of doctrine as we do, as an accurate description of objective reality. To him and his fellow Jesuits and academics, doctrine is only a set of subjective and more or less arbitrary ideas and rules one carries around in one’s head and fits to the current situation. These ideas, according to the men of his school, are dependent upon their applicability for their validity. They can be good only if they serve a particular purpose.

To men of his time and line of thinking, any idea – no matter its source – that no longer fulfills a purpose considered useful must simply be changed or discarded. Including things like: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

We saw this reaction clearly at the Synod where we were told by one of Francis’ own personal picks for the red hat that Our Lord should be taken down a notch or two, and learn to be more merciful, like Moses. This sort of rigid insistence on one way forever is unrealistic. Times have changed, we are told. People are different now, so the “god of surprises” has decided to change things. Failure to “discern” this is because of an irrational “rigidity” in ourselves. 

None of these people would ask whether such an idea is “true,” since the notion of there being an absolute and immutable truth is necessarily already abandoned. A question about “truth” is not understood by them the same way it is to you and me. (By the way, anyone who imagines such anti-thinking to be confined to the halls of Jesuit academia need only recall the moment when George Lucas had Ewan McGregor utter the deathlessly cringeworthy line, “Only the Sith deal in absolutes!” … and no one cringed.) Truth is irrelevant. Only relevance is relevant.

Doctrine can be changed – indeed, must be changed – because times and people change. God changes too because He comes up with new ideas which the faithful are obliged to discern, mainly by listening to the German bishops (who are not guilty of the “sin of divination” no matter how much their ideas contradict the words of Jesus Christ in Scripture.) There is no such thing as immutable truth because there is no such thing as immutable reality. God has no immutable nature, nor does man. Therefore, anyone who refuses to abandon old ideas for new can only be basing his decisions on personal, wild “divination” based on “what I hear—from myself and my closed heart.” The decision to remain true to “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est,” as St. Vincent of Lerins put it, is one based on a “closed heart” and individual determinations – “divination”.

All this more or less means, according to the Bergoglian logic, that a truly faithful Catholic is one who abandons Church teaching when he is told to. “Open the heart to the Holy Spirit, discern what is the will of God.” How? Simple. Do as you’re told. One thing we know about this pope is that he is fully cognizant of his supreme power, and that he really believes himself to be uniquely endowed with the wisdom to do whatever is needed. Clearly we are to let him do the “discerning” for us; no need to bother our wee heads. The irony becomes leaden when one realizes that this is the real definition of a positively nietzschean prometheanism: truth, reality is only ever what I say it is, and I’ll let you know when it’s going to change.

Many Catholics who are alarmed at this pope are also deeply confused by him. Indeed, it is difficult not to be confused by a man who appears to have no concept of a logical contradiction and cheerfully and apparently unconsciously contradicts Scripture, Catholic doctrine, ordinary natural facts and frequently himself with untroubled abandon. One thing is clear from his many interviews; he has no awareness at all that he is being confusing and he cannot understand why anyone would think so. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time in Jesuit circles or in the upper levels of secular academia, but I can assure you that Jorge Bergoglio is not unusual.

Mostly he is a man of his time and place, that is, of 1970s Argentina, a time when the overriding impulse throughout the Church was to accuse anyone who wanted to stick to the old ways of opposing the “wind” of the Holy Spirit. Due possibly to certain intellectual defects all his own, however, and being from the great bubble universe of South America – where, apparently, the ‘70s lives on forever – Jorge Bergoglio has never found the need to balance or modify his opinions. To the rest of us out here, where the Church has generally become more moderate over the last 40 years, his pronouncements appear so dated as to be almost deranged.

Writing of the new “book-length interview” by one of Francis’ biggest apologists in the Italian press, Andrea Tornielli,’sJohn Henry Westen wrote that the pope is sticking by and even doubling down on his opinion that “many faithful clergy as rigid rigorists who lack mercy” specifically because they hold the doctrines of the Church as true and unchangeable.

Tornielli quotes Francis saying of those he calls “scholars of the law,”… “I will say that there is often a kind of hypocrisy in them, a formal adherence to the law that hides very deep wounds.” Jesus, says the pope, “defines them as ‘whited sepulchers’ who appear devout from the outside, but inside, on the inside... hypocrites.” (Ah yes, the same Jesus who also said… “Moses allowed divorce, but I tell you… hardness of heart… commits adultery…” Pointing out the ironies is getting exhausting.)

This in a nutshell is Francis’ problem with faithful believers, and it clearly demonstrates that his is a mind caught in the plastic resin faux amber of 1976. He has completely negated in his mind the possible option that a Catholic who displays interest in traditional forms of piety or who believes in immutable truth can be genuinely devout. A devout and pious Catholic who adheres to Catholic teaching, according to this mindset, is always, and necessarily, a hypocrite.

His idea, of course, is based on a legitimate spiritual issue, twisted by a monomaniacal mind perhaps, but recognisable. He has taken to an insane degree the perfectly sound concern that we can fall into the trap of a false piety of merely rote and unthinking adherence to externals. It is true that we can wear all the scapulars and medals we like, say as many Rosaries as we can fit into a day, but if one is counting the beads only for the sake of racking up the numbers, there will be little spiritual benefit. All the spiritual writers agree that a person’s will and intellect have to be engaged.

The difficulty Francis and his ilk have is an absolutist mentality that says any and all open displays of piety are always and only a sign of this, a piety intended only for display. (Again, pretty ironic coming from the guy who has made a career out of humblebragging and virtue-signalling.) As we have seen again today, adhering for instance to the traditional theology of Holy Thursday footwashing is a sign of this rigidity; we must be open to new theology, new surprises from God (interpreted by Francis himself, of course.)

Indeed, Francis and his school have taken it a step further. His monomaniacal logic has led him into the next extreme that therefore the only way to be genuinely pious is to be impious. The only real devotion is iconoclastic. The only genuine religious faith is one of doubt, questioning and ultimately acceptance of heresy and the only genuine devotional practice may only be that which opposes the traditions.

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “Freedom is slavery…” “War is peace…” Orwellian doublethink has, perhaps, addled his pate, as it was meant to. This is in fact exactly the kind of intellectual corruption Orwell was warning against. And as he told us in his famous book, it produces a kind of blindness that leaves a man uniquely susceptible to ideological fanaticism. The true believer of Ingsoc, we recall, was a man who could contradict himself, the evidence of his senses or even yesterday’s official party assertions if he was told to. He’s a man who has, in fact, entirely given up his own thoughts and voluntarily enslaved himself to the Party. And one thing that has been clear from the first moment Francis appeared that miserable night is his unswerving devotion to that side of the Church’s ideological civil war.

Once you have grasped this first principle of Francis’ thought, held up this lens, the weird and disconnected things he says about the wickedness of those who want “clarity” and “certainty” in their faith become more understandable. It is why he praises “doubt” and scorns and mocks the little old ladies offering him spiritual bouquets. (Well, also it’s because he’s a populist demagogue with the manners and personality of a bar bouncer, but his Peronism is a subject for another day.) It is why he rejects so many of the external trappings of the papacy, mozzetta, shoes and papal apartments and so favours all his ostentatious displays of “humility” like taking the bus and being seen driving about in tiny cars. These are not signs of his personal humility, they are signals of his devotion to the ideology.

The difficulty with all this is that this ideology is exclusive. You cannot be devoted to it and be a Catholic. Catholicism is a cosmic religion that makes claims about the nature of reality. The ideology to which Pope Francis adheres, precisely that of the “aggressively secularist” modern world, also makes claims of this nature, claims that are opposed to those of the Church. You have to choose which you will believe and follow. This is why I have said many times, and will continue saying, that the advent of Francis is actually a good thing once you understand him and the ideology he holds. We have finally moved past the silly “conservative” notion that the two opposed things can both be held. That one can hold some of the Church’s teaching and reject others. We are watching the compromise position in the Church closing and the necessity of choosing a side growing daily more urgent and clear.

Recently, Cardinal Robert Sarah has been making himself sound tres, tres papabile, really by just making a lot of thumpingly obvious observations. His book, “God or Nothing” – which I haven’t read, and probably won’t – has been making waves. In it, he has apparently said that the biggest problem facing the Church is the massive loss of faith among people who consider themselves Catholic: “Western societies are organized and live as though God did not exist. Christians themselves, on many occasions, have settled down to a silent apostasy.” One has to wonder who in particular he personally includes in that list.

Catch Hilary's Regular Column in the Print/E-edition of The Remnant. 

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Last modified on Friday, January 22, 2016
Hilary White

Our Italy correspondent is known throughout the English-speaking world as a champion of family and cultural issues. First introduced by our allies and friends at the incomparable, Miss White lives in Norcia, Italy.