And this is the judgment: Because the light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest: because they are done in God.
Pope Francis has been shining a light on issues of conscience and preaching the faith in his daily homilies and applying the Word of God to the lives of his hearers. In a particular he continues to return to the them of docility to the Holy Spirit and discerning the way through the modern world, avoiding the extremes and staying on the path of reform and renewal.
I have argued on the pages of this blog that the Second Vatican Council is a prophetic work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a time of crisis. Some others have said that the Council was the cause of the crisis, but that does not happen to be the position of the postconciliar papal magisterium. Fortunately, Pope Francis has taken up where Pope Benedict left off and continues to defend the active work of the Holy Spirit against both progressivism and traditionalism.
Fear and Adolescence
Pope Benedict famously laid down the principle for the correct interpretation of the Council: the key to its understanding is a hermeneutic of continuity in reform, not one of rupture. Pope Francis has applied the principle of Pope Benedict by denouncing the fear that keeps us from opening ourselves to the forward movement of the Holy Spirit and the naive enthusiasm that sends us on our own wayward path.
Innovation in continuity is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Council and it entails overcoming a fear of the freedom that the Council gives us. That freedom is not a rejection of sacred Tradition, but a docility to what the Spirit is saying to the Church at this time. The rejection of that freedom leads to “playing it safe,” but has the consequence of killing the charisms that are given to the Church today. Pope Francis has been blunt:
I would rather have a Church that makes mistakes for doing something than one that gets sick for being closed up.
But along the lines of a hermeneutic of continuity Pope Francis has also criticized what he calls an “adolescent progressivism”: an enthusiastic penchant for the novel and a contempt for the past. Clearly, the progressivist attitude ignores the voice of an objectively formed faith and conscience, all the while misidentifying every interior impulse as the work of the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis has summarized these two mistakes as the tendency to want to go “backwards” and the tendency to go “off track.” The way forward, is . . . well, forward on the road that the Holy Spirit has set before us.
There are commonalties shared by these two mistaken approaches. First, in benedictine terms, we can say that they are both “rupturist” tendencies. They both see the “Spirit of Vatican II” as an arbitrary or modernistic impulse toward the new, rather than a prophetic adaptation of perennial doctrine, necessary to orient the Church toward the future.
Secondly, Pope Francis says that both approaches are elitist. They both propose to possess knowledge superior to fifty years of the living papal magisterium. For this reason these approaches are gnostic as well. As much as the traditionalists repudiate the naive optimism of the progressives, they also tend to regard their restorationist and counter-revolutionary program as the magic solution.
Thirdly, both these tendencies are pelagian, because, regardless of the claims made, both express more trust in intellectual and cultural superiority than in the grace of God. For example, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spoke of the “Pelagianism of the Pius” in which its practitioners:
do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act. . .
Pope Francis is really going out of his way to warn us against the extremes. He is encouraging us to bring into the light the very real problems within the Church and to shine that light everywhere and on everybody.
Frequently, ecclesiastical discussions are agenda driven and consequently are characterized by an alinskian political tactics—efforts to bend the minds and hearts of those in the pews away from the Holy Father and mold them according to the likeness of a personality, ideology or cultural archetype. The obsessions of these discussions are undergirded, as Pope Francis suggests, by fear and adolescent enthusiasm.
Examples of the progressivist agenda driven by the penchant for novelty, enthusiasm and emotional arguments are, unfortunately, everywhere present, perhaps nowhere more evident in the willingness of many Catholics to except compromises in respect to same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion.
But the traditionalist argument is not less pernicious when it seeks to undermine papal teaching. A recent example is Michael Voris’ latest attack on Vatican II, in which he quotes Cardinal Kasper, and accepts the progressivist interpretation of Vatican II in direct opposition to that of Pope Benedict. Here is what Voris quotes from Cardinal Kasper:
In many places, they had to find compromise formulas, in which, often, the positions of the majority are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them. Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict, open the door to a selective reception in either direction.
Voris claims that this is admission is “so stunning .. like getting hit in the face with a brick,” because “supporters of great sweeping changes in the life of the Church” have finally admitted that the Council itself is flawed. Traditionalists have always maintained that not only is the progressivist interpretation of the Council fundamentally problematic, but likewse the Council texts themselves.
But this is what Pope Benedict said on the matter in December of 2005:
The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.
Pope Benedict preemptively rejected the “compromise formula” proposed by the progressivists and repeated by Michael Voris. The Council is not the product of a compromise but of the need to apply the principles of the faith to the modern condition.
Voris’ argument is disingenuous because he will be the first to point out that Vatican II is only pastoral, that is, it did not concern itself with defining doctrine, but with applying doctrinal principles to modern circumstances. By its very nature, a pastoral council, concerned with practical matters, those governed by prudence and prophetic inspiration, is going to be less black and white than purely dogmatic statements. For example, the issues of religious liberty, ecumenism, the relationship between Church and state, the renewal of religious life when considered against the issue of modernity present inherently complex problems.
But Voris is even more disingenuous when he fails to inform his flock that the “compromise formula” has been standard theory of the progressives for many years. It has not been kept a secret until the so-called “shocking revelation” of Cardinal Kasper. But such an admission from Voris would not further his work in gotcha apologetics. Instead, he interrogates his flock:
Do you talk about the admission itself that the documents were deliberately written in such a way to please everyone and cause confusion and conflict?
Do you spend some time thinking about the greater implications of this tactic and the results its ha shad on the life of the Church for the past fifty years?
Do you spend time asking why has no one in the mainstream Catholic media – the establishment Catholic press – like the television and radio outfits who bill themselves as Catholic – why none of them have even picked up this story?
Do they not see the enormous ramifications of such an admissions from one of Rome’s most notable Cardinals – or is it more likely that they in fact DO see the ramifications and are choosing to ignore them?
Do you ask the perhaps the most pressing question of all – what is NOW to be done?
This is a great example of what I mean when I refer to the alinskian tactics used by both the fear mongerers and enthusiasts. They have commitments other than docility to the Holy Spirit and the Vicar of Christ. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to turn an ideologue aside from his path, or better, to get him back on track facing forward. Pope Francis is at best an enigma to such men, and will continue to be met largely by stoney silence at best, and outright opposition at worst.
Gay and Other Lobbies
I notice that every time Pope Francis says something that makes the traditionalists uncomfortable some of their representatives want to direct our attention to the “gay lobby” within the Church and how that is the real driving force behind its affairs, such as Pope Benedict’s abdication and the pressures on Pope Francis. It seems to me that this somewhat misses the point. The gay lobby within the Church is not the key to understanding papal policies and decisions. Rather, the real reform envisioned by Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis is contingent upon the success of their efforts to bring into the light what is hidden in the shadows, like the gay lobby.
The clerical gay lobby, influential and compromised, is part a larger elitist, gnostic and pelagian problem. It is salvation by means of something other than what Christ intended and by its nature it operates in the darkness, like double-speaking progressivism and subversive crypto-traditionalism. If cutthroat politics, ultimatum tactics, ideological propaganda, entrenched careerism, and institutional heterodoxy have infected the Church, even the Vatican, then what needs to be done is to shine a light on the problem—on all the problems.
It is also important to point out that while the clerical apologists for the sin and lifestyle of sodomy are uniformly progressives, those compromised by this sin and living under the slavery of a double life are not. In his recently interview published in English, in fact, Jorge Bergoglio, commented that the fundamentalist tendencies of some of these restorationist movements, leave young people without the necessary preparation to deal with “the thousand and one crises in life, or the thousand and one shortcomings that everyone has, or the thousand and one wrongs that they are going to commit.” The result is not a higher moral standard, integrity and holiness:
This type of rigid religiosity is disguised with doctrines that claim to give justifications, but in reality deprive people of their freedom and do not allow them to grow as persons. A large number end up living a double life.
It seems to me that we need to look beyond the polemics within the Church today and find the common thread that runs through all the various schizophrenias plaguing our practice of the faith. There are pelagians who talk about nothing but grace, papists who follow anyone but the pope, conciliarists who undermine the Council, apologists who confuse rather than enlighten, and preachers who teach immorality. These diverse problems have more in common than the polemics reveal. There is something lurking in the dark and it does not want be seen. It certainly does not like the light Francis is pointing at it. But that is precisely what schizo-Catholicism needs: more light from the source of Light, Jesus Christ and the one he sent to speak in His name.