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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Querida Amazonia: Syncretizing Smoke and German-tinted Mirrors

By:   Peter Kwasniewski
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Querida Amazonia: Syncretizing Smoke and German-tinted Mirrors

The reactions to the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia—I had almost written Post-Sinusoidal Apostolic Expectoration—have once again exhibited all the features of an ecclesiastical Rorschach inkblot test. In spite of the document’s hailing from the man whom we might as well agree to call Pope Lío (as in ¡Hagan lío!), conservatives of the First Things variety have breathed a collective sigh of relief: “Peter has spoken through Lío!” The pope did not, after all, push through married priests and female deacons, as everyone had feared! The Germans are collectively wringing their hands in an anguish of disappointment. Liberals in the Anglosphere are incredulous that the God of surprises did not deign to use their darling as a mouthpiece for the Zeitgeist.

For a traditional Catholic, all is as it should be, right? Not so fast.

A powerful article published anonymously on February 13 at Whispers of Restoration, “Of the Monster in Rome, and the Curious Case of the Cataphrygiae; or, Does Right Worship Exist?,” argues that several ominous paragraphs of the Exhortation have gone almost completely unremarked. Here are some excerpts from those paragraphs:

Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples… It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry. A myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error. …[W]e can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures, and symbols. The Second Vatican Council called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over fifty years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines. (QA 78–79, 82)

The Whispers author then comments:

The failure to give clear instantiations of these ideas is a textbook “Vatican II time-bomb” approach; but if this isn’t also a redescription of the moral object in principle, one wonders what would be. It reduces to the claim that the First Commandment has no objective moral content. Pagan elements in Catholic worship? Sure, bring ‘em on.

It was the introduction of the Novus Ordo in 1969 that put official approval on the idea of liturgy as a permanent workshop of change, accommodation, inculturation, and open-ended participation—to be defined as meaning whatever those in charge want it to mean. This conclusion follows from the colossal temerity of their repudiation of longstanding ecclesial tradition formed and practiced by saints as a guarantee of right worship:

From its earliest days, this liturgical devolution has needed to allow in principle for the legitimacy of all manner of non-Catholic worship elements, because the fundamental doctrines informing divine worship as a moral act had already been subsumed, ipso facto, by the very promulgation of this New Mass. … Being a departure from the objective liturgical tradition … the NO is not a tree grown in the garden of the Most Holy, tended with humility and pious devotion over centuries of organic growth; it is a thing manufactured in a lab, the “banal fabrication” (said then-Cardinal Ratzinger) of disjointed committees, collaborating with heretics and purportedly “seeking to engage modern man.” It is an alien (or, more accurately, a Frankenstein’s monster), unmoored from the broader homeland that is the governing context of Sacred Tradition. Thus the NO cannot be theologically analyzed as a ritual action apart from the notion of perpetual innovation—this is because the Novus Ordo is liturgical innovation—“incarnate,” as it were, in missal form.

Because of its rupturous autonomy, the Novus Ordo, while it can be done in a controlled environment with personal piety and “by the books” (at least in their current configuration), always remains a kind of template for worship that must be filled out each time anew, depending on who’s in charge and who else is involved. Amorphous, it takes on the flavor of its surroundings; one might compare it to tofu. It is like the shifting sand on which Our Lord told us not to build our house. And it was designed to be that way for the sake of promoting the people’s participation “above all else” (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium §14), as the Whispers author continues:

This fundamental shift in principle was and remains the lynchpin of the entire sacrilegious fiasco in the bosom of the Church today: for, rather than first asking “Do our rites pay maximum reverence to the All-Holy God?,” a radically new path lay open to making of supreme importance the question: “Do our rites garner maximum participation from the community?” Rather than “How does God want us to worship Him?” the revolutionary first asks: “How do we want to worship God?”

Thus, whereas the traditional Latin Mass is like an unsinkable ship, perfectly built, strong, well-armed for spiritual combat, sailing effortlessly, of beautiful design through and through, the Novus Ordo is like a ship that’s always leaking and being bailed out to stay afloat. This is wearisome business and helps us to understand why priests who attempt to “improve” the Novus Ordo get so easily discouraged, worn out, or bitter about the trials they face. Sisyphus had an easier time of it, since at least the rock he was pushing was something definite. Try pushing Jello uphill again and again.

Those who dismiss the axiom “save the liturgy, save the world” as romanticism are fooling themselves. It’s a concrete matter of putting first things first: if you don’t have the first, the secondaries will never line up properly. When you have the first in place, the secondaries will always follow. You know: something about the First Commandment… We could dust off the Book of Exodus:

When my angel goes before you, and brings you in to the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, [NB: the Pachamama worshipers could be understood here by the imaginative—PK] and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. You shall serve the Lord your God, and I will bless your bread and your water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of you. (Ex 23:23–25; cf. Dt 30:16)

I encourage readers to visit Whispers of Restoration and read the rest of the treatment, which analyzes the reformed liturgy in terms of three moral categories: impiety, sacrilege, and superstition.

As far as Querida Amazonia is concerned, we see an endorsement not of an Amazonian rite per se, but of the mentality that has desacralized and paganized the Novus Ordo for the past fifty years. We can be fairly certain by this time that the Novus Ordo will not die of natural causes; no major heresy ever has.It will continue secreting multitudinous odd efflorescences until it is cut down and burned, or at least quietly shuffled away in practice.

The Exhortation, therefore, is a textbook example of a reverse bait-and-switch tactic, where customers were warned of something horribly wrong with the product, and then reassured in the event by something that looked pretty acceptable in comparison. A no-name commenter online perfectly expressed the psychological device:

A far greater error has been smuggled in unopposed [in the new Exhortation]. Inculturation, indigenous spirituality, and the affirmation that worship of pagan deities is not idolatry are all in there and nobody gives a rat’s ass about it. It is Amoris Laetitia all over again. Everybody was so relieved that homosexual unions did not receive a blessing that nobody now talks about the fact that public permanent adulterers are receiving Holy Communion in dioceses all over the world.

That’s the method: syncretizing smoke and German-tinted mirrors. Turn people’s attention over there and they won’t notice what’s right in front of their faces.Why are so many falling for this classic feint? It’s a feint. It’s part of the long game. In chess, sometimes one is content to give up a pawn to lure one’s opponent into a trap.

kasper and pope

When Amoris Laetitia came out, faithful Catholics across the world wrestled anxiously with its departure from Divine Revelation and settled dogma. Where’s that debate now? The dubia were never answered. The Buenos Aires guidelines were jammed through in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. Many bishops, showing themselves to be a new breed of Amorites, have quietly put into place communion for the divorced and “remarried.” At least on the ground level, this battle is mostly over, and Bergoglio won a messy victory. The war, of course, is not over—not until the end of time.

The roughly dozen books that document Francis’s criminality and heresy have provided countless examples of the many Machiavellian ways in which the Church of Kasper will be achieved. It is disheartening, to say the least, to see the calming influence of this Exhortation—or really, any of the pope’s stray Catholic words or deeds—lull to sleep those who should know better, after almost seven years of psychological warfare.

*    *    *

Let me offer an example from Querida Amazonia of how we must keep our thinking caps on and pay close attention to the dropping of hints. One might be tempted to whiz right past the following paragraph:

Let us awaken our God-given aesthetic and contemplative sense that so often we let languish. Let us remember that “if someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple.” On the other hand, if we enter into communion with the forest, our voices will easily blend with its own and become a prayer: “as we rest in the shade of an ancient eucalyptus, our prayer for light joins in the song of the eternal foliage” [note 76]. This interior conversion will enable us to weep for the Amazon region and to join in its cry to the Lord. (n. 56)

The first thing that made me scratch my head was the reference to the “ancient eucalyptus,” a tree native to Australia, not to the Amazon region. So I took a look at note 76.

SUI YUN, Cantos para el mendigo y el rey, Wiesbaden, 2000.

Admittedly not as impressive as the earthshaking footnotes of Amoris Laetitia, this obscure reference piques one’s literary curiosity all the same. (By the way, since papal footnotes seem to do a surprising amount of heavy lifting, I might draw attention to footnote 18 of the Pope’s Christmas address of December 21, 2019—an address on which I published an initial analysis on December 22:

Saint Paul VI, some fifty years ago, when presenting the new Roman Missal to the faithful, recalled the correspondence between the law of prayer (lex orandi) and the law of faith (lex credendi), and described the Missal as “a demonstration of fidelity and vitality.” He concluded by saying: “So let us not speak of a ‘new Mass’, but rather of ‘a new age [nuova epoca] in the life of the Church’” (General Audience, 19 November 1969). Analogously, we might also say in this case: not a new Roman Curia, but rather a new age[nuova epoca].

To my knowledge, this is the sole reference Pope Francis made in 2019 to the 50th anniversary of the going into effect of the Novus Ordo Missae promulgated by his predecessor. His comments are cryptic: Paul VI presented a new Roman Missal, yet it is not “a new Mass” but instead ushers in a “new age.” If the lex orandi determines the lex credendi, and the Missal by which the lex orandi is established is “new,” it follows that the lex credendi will be new as well. That he can then compare the liturgical transition to the upcoming massive overhaul of the Curia, after which it will barely resemble what it has been for many centuries, is extremely telling and suggestive. For, as Giovanni Filoramo writes: “La New Age preannuncia l’avvento di una nuova epoca postcristiana, caratterizzata dall’«uscita da Dio», nel senso di una fede non piu ruotante intorno al Dio personale ed esclusivo della tradizione giudaico-cristiana.”[1] “The New Age heralds the advent of a new post-Christian era, characterized by the ‘exit from God,’ in the sense of a faith no longer revolving around the personal and exclusive God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.”)

Returning to Querida Amazonia: the line about “our prayer for light joins in the song of the eternal foliage” of the eucalyptus comes from a collection of poems written by a Chinese woman who lived in Peru, in the Amazonian region, and who later moved to California. Her real name is Katie Wong Loo. She started publishing pantheistic poems with nostalgic reflections on the Amazon in California in the 1970’s under the pseudonym Sui Yun. It cannot escape the notice of the careful reader that the book cited was published in Wiesbaden—that is, in Germany. Looking it up, I see that it is a bilingual edition: Cantos para el mendigo y el rey/Gesänge für den Bettler und den König. Is it not exceedingly probable that this reference to an obscure Sino-Peruvian poet came from a German source involved in drafting the Exhortation?

A little further research turned up information on the poetess in the book Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader, edited by Shu-mei Shih, Chien-hsin Tsai, and Brian Bernards (Columbia University Press, 2013). From the description offered, her poetry sounds thoroughly pantheistic, humanistic, and relativistic. A sample line: “The primitive from the civilized / The humble from the aristocrat / The positive from the negative / All these coordinate in the making of One whole.” Shih, Tsai, and Benards comment: “Therefore, the ultimate answers are to be found in the magical powers of nature and in its unity” (417). Sui Yun’s second collection of poems, from 1983, is significantly entitled: Rosa fálica [phallic rose], in which “the prevalent topics are eroticism and love” (ibid.). Victor Manuel “Tucho” Fernández, author of Heal Me With Your Mouth. The Art of Kissing and partial ghostwriter of several of Pope Francis’s documents (including chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia), would surely find delectation in her work.

The use of “eucalyptus” by a highly educated Sino-Peruvian poet is certainly not a mistake or an accident. Eucalyptus trees were introduced in post-colonial South America as a capitalist cash crop against which many NGOs have been actively protesting for decades, citing exploitation of the land and various problems caused by the introduction of the foreign trees (how ironic is that for this Exhortation?). Since the eucalyptus tree is anything but ancient in South America, it is obvious that “ancient eucalyptus” (in the line “as we rest in the shade of an ancient eucalyptus, our prayer for light joins in the song of the eternal foliage”) must bear a symbolic meaning. Sui Yun is drawing on the literal meaning of the word in its truly ancient Greco-Roman context. The Greek eu means good and kalyptos means covered, hidden, or veiled. One could relate the meaning of kalyptos to the meaning of mysterion, a hidden or secret thing (which is then rendered in Latin as sacramentum). Eu-kalyptos as “good mystery” makes the word pregnant with meaning. The Amazon does indeed have a ubiquitous “plant sacrament”: ayahuasca.

At least one Catholic religious sister—“Sister Jaguar”—is well acquainted with what she calls the “sacrament” of ayahuasca; her story is told in this short documentary. This “sacrament” is absolutely central to Amazonian spirituality, and everyone knows it who understands the first thing about their spirituality. I can’t prove it, but I would assume that the potted plant thing that was processed up and placed on the high altar by Pope Francis contained some of the plants used for making ayahuasca. Why not? These are the sacred plants in their spirituality, and therefore the most fitting choice for such a votive offering.

Many Germans make pilgrimage to the Amazon just to partake of ayahuasca in authentic ceremonies. How many bishops have? Who knows... But the spirituality surrounding it is pantheism. Mother Earth as the All-Spirit comes to people and reveals the mysteries of oneness to those who partake. The experience often has a very dark side as well, with the feeling of immanent death.

A reliable study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information includes descriptions of the spiritual aspects connected with the use of ayahuasca. The article recounts how its use was pressed in the US Supreme Court, and the SCOTUS ruled that, in spite of its being a Schedule 1 controlled substance, its use for religious purposes (that is, as a “sacrament”) is legal in the US. Perhaps our next ecumenical dialogue needs to begin at once with the “Soul Quest Ayahuasca Church of Mother Earth.” You can now go and legally receive the sacrament of ayahuasca and encounter Pacha Mama directly for yourself. I wish this were a parody—but it’s not. All of this stuff is right out in the open.

There is more. The Greek kalyptos is also used in Gnosticism to name one of three gods in a kind of Gnostic trinity as a threefold path to enlightenment: Kalyptos, Protophanes, Autogenes.[2] Kalyptos, whose name means “concealing,” is a god who paradoxically reveals things that are hidden. It is a part of the Gnostic idea of revealing hidden mysteries, which also may be a part of Sui Yun’s mysticism. (This, importantly, is precisely what ayahuasca, the “plant sacrament,” is said to do: reveal hidden mysteries.) That line from that poem and that writer were specially chosen. As with the Gnostics of old, the “initiated” will see and know the meaning, hidden in plain sight.



[1] Millenarismo e new age: apocalisse e religiosita alternativa (Bari: Dedalo, 1999), 84.

[2] See John D. Turner, “The Gnostic Threefold Path to Enlightenment: The Ascent of Mind and the Descent of Wisdom,” Novum Testamentum 22.4 [1980]: 324–51. For examples: “Kalyptos” appears 32 times in this Gnostic text, and 4 times in this other Gnostic text.

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Last modified on Saturday, February 22, 2020