Who Really are the Christian Ideologues?

Rorate Caeili posted a translation of an article by Corrado Gnerre from Il Giudizio Cattolico, entitled “Who are the real ‘Christian Ideologues’?”, which addresses Pope Francis’ critique of ideology within the Church. While I do not agree with his conclusions, I think Gnerre helps to clarify the problem that Pope Francis is trying to correct.

Ignoring the Facts

Gnerre defines ideology as a “hypertrophic condition of the intellect” by which one chooses to put faith in one’s “own theoretical and intellectual constructions” rather than to see the observable facts.  It is “an enlarging of the intellect in size without an increase in perception and understanding,” resulting in “a blind spot in the intellectual mind itself.”  In other words, an ideologue gets so rapt up in his prejudices and pet theories that he is incapable of acknowledging the existence of counterfactuals.  And the ideologue’s problem is not emotional bias, but a very rational and systematic presentation and defense of his theory, albeit, a house of cards that cannot sustain a comparison with the facts, because the theory itself demands that the facts be ignored.  I believe that Gnerre’s definition is correct.

But then, Gnerre goes on to suggest that Pope Francis is criticizing something other than what Gnerre himself has just defined.  According to him, what Pope Francis criticizes under the title “ideology” is simply a tendency to focus exclusively on the problems within the Church without ever making reference to the positive.  But is that really what Pope Francis is criticizing?

The Key of Knowledge

Gnerre’s article obliquely references a homily preached by Pope Francis in Domus Sanctae Martae on October 17, 2013.  In that homily, Pope Francis criticizes what he calls “ideological Christians.”  He gives no precise definition of what he means by the term, and some have criticized the Holy Father for his vagueness.  But the context of his remarks is a commentary on the Gospel reading for the day, Luke 11:47-54, in which Our Lord makes the following statement:

Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter.

Pope Francis’ criticism of ideological Christians has to do with keeping the door of the Church, the door to faith, locked against those who would otherwise enter.  It is a lack of Christian witness, or better, a defective Christian witness characterized by the presentation of a Jesus without love, tenderness or meekness.  It is “rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness.”

According to Pope Francis, the key to that knowledge, which is faith—the one that the ideologue does not have—is prayer—not just the saying of prayers, but the kind of humble and sincere prayer that protects against arrogance, pride, false self-assurance and ambition.  The man of prayer is not “ideologically hostile” like the Pharisees were toward Jesus.  The Pharisees did not have the key of knowledge because they were completely closed off from the truth, so much so that when the came face to face with the Truth, their reaction was to plot and scheme in hidden ways against the Truth.

Defective Witness

Pope Francis speaks of the effects of ideology without clearly defining it.  It seems to me that the defective Christian witness that he speaks of is more a result of ideology than the specific characteristic of ideology.  If for example one excepts the definition of Gnerre, then the refusal to observe facts is also a refusal to observe what is happening to those around us, hence, the lack of Christian charity, transparency and humility would be ignored, or justified in defense of the ideological system.

It would be helpful here to consider certain aspects of ideology identified by Maciej Zieba’s analysis of Bl. John Paul II’s critique of ideology (which I have mentioned before):

(1) it contains a conception of truth and goodness; (2) its followers believe that they are free to impose their conception upon others; (3) it expresses the whole of reality in a simple and rigid scheme. The Pope maintains that Christian truth does not fulfill the second and third conditions, and so Catholicism is not an ideology.

I believe it is for this reason that Pope Francis says that ideological Christians have “lost the faith.”  They have adopted a truly legitimate conception of truth and goodness, but in a way that becomes a justification to ignore facts and persons, and which almost by definition becomes a justification for a lack of charity.

The Prophets of Doom

But Gnerre says that Pope Francis is really only criticizing the kind of Christians who are too negative, the prophets of doom.  Gnerre may perhaps be referring to an address in which the specific reference is to ideologues.  I have not been able to find such an address.  There is no question that Pope Francis has been critical of the negative spirit, but this too would only be a symptom and not the defining cause of ideology.

In Evangelii Gaudium (84-85), Pope Francis places in opposition to the joy of the Gospel the pessimism of such prophets and says that such defeatism is an “evil spirit” which “is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centered lack of trust.”  But in the context of this remark Pope Francis does not mention ideology or “ideological Christians.”

Ideological Temptations

However, there is another address in which Pope Francis speaks about ideology:  his remarks to the leadership of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean concerning he Church in Latin America (July 28, 2013).  In that address Pope Francis identified a number of “temptations against missionary discipleship,” a major category of which he entitled “ideology”:

This is a temptation which has been present in the Church from the beginning: the attempt to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church.

Specific forms of ideology he mentions are the following:  sociological reductionism, psychologizing, the Gnostic solution and the Pelagian solution.  In each case there is a reduction of the Gospel to something less than itself—what Gnerre would call the ignoring of facts: the reduction of the Gospel to social justice, to self-awareness, to “a preoccupation with certain pastoral “quaestiones disputatae,” to “purely disciplinary solutions.”  These temptations are also decidedly anti-ecclesial, that is, they tend toward sectarianism.

Gnerre’s Contribution

If Pope Francis has not been altogether clear as to what he means exactly by ideology, Gnerre has done more to clarify that meaning than to provide a cogent alternative to the Holy Father’s critique.  Gnerre suggests that Pope Francis applies his criticism primarily to those attached to Tradition.  But from what Pope Francis has to say about ideological temptations against missionary discipleship it is clear that his critique is directed to progressives as much as it is to traditionalists.

Gnerre rightfully criticizes those who have their head in the sand about the state of the postconciliar Church, but he seems to include Pope Francis in this group and anyone who does not share the traditionalist point of view.  Again, Pope Francis’ very criticism of ideological temptations makes it clear that he is not ignoring the Church’s problems.  He just doesn’t reduce those problems to the purely progressive element.  In other words, he refuses to ignore the facts.

The Blind Spot

The ideological habit of mind tends by virtue of ignoring the facts to over-simplifications, to the setting up bald dichotomies, and the attribution of bad intentions.  Gnerre suggests that those who would not count themselves traditionalists simply do not care about the state of the Church:

The life of Grace diminishes…it does not matter.  The sense of sin diminishes…it does not matter.  The family breaks apart….it does not matter. Civil marriage increases and in some regions of Italy are more numerous than religious marriages…it does not matter.  Young people have completely lost the obligation and the value of pre-matrimonial chastity…it does not matter.  The laws of the State reflect more and more the dominant ethical relativism…it does not matter.  All is well, and it is useless to be concerned.

No one having this discussion would deny that there are many progressives within the Church to which this critique aptly applies, but even Gnerre admits that it is a minority who see the current state of affairs as a positive development.  No, the majority, he believes are not trying to rationalize an immoral life, but are ideologues who have systematically excluded from their consideration anything that does not correspond to the postconciliar dogma that all is well.

So according to Gnerre’s analysis there are two kinds of postconciliar, non-traditionalist Catholics: those who rejoice in what ought to be repudiated because they are immoral, and those who live in a constant state of denial because they are ideologues.  Talk about blind spots and ignoring the facts.

The “Why” of it All

Traditionalists just cannot seem to wrap their minds around the reason why in his critique of “Christian ideology” Pope Francis would include a traditionalist form with the progressive.  Gnerre and others seem to think that Pope Francis has concern only about the former.  Indeed, the traditionalist blogosphere is all abuzz with the alleged Franciscan persecution of everything and everyone Ratzingerian.  The current narrative is that a gay cabal and the Masons forced Pope Benedict out of the papacy and Francis was set in place to finish the dirty work.  But this too ignores some key facts.

As a keynote of his papacy Pope Benedict offered the hand of peace to the Society of St. Pius X with the interests of the whole Church in mind.  Liturgically this meant making the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite available to anyone who wished to attend it and also the furthering of the “reform of the reform” by way of the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the liturgy.  Pope Benedict’s plan included the making the biformity of the liturgy universal law by way of the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, the lifting of the excommunication on the four SSPX bishops, and establishment of dialogue with the Society with the view of regularizing their ecclesial status.

Unfortunately, Bishop Fellay and his subordinates made it clear from the beginning and throughout the process of dialogue that their participation was not motivated by a willingness to modify their positions on the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo, but on a commitment to evangelize the Roman authorities on the “true nature” of Tradition.  It is not factual, as has been commonly asserted, that the differences between the Roman authorities and those of the Society were minor and nuanced and that the failure of the dialogue was due to elements within the Curia who wished to see the effort at regularization fail.  Bishop Fellay has made it abundantly clear that he and the superiors within the Society believe that the Novus Ordo is evil and that the Second Vatican Council is the product of “Jews, Masons and Modernists.”  They always believed this.  They believed it during the dialogue and they believe it now.

The Society and their sympathizers have been vigilant in their efforts cast Pope Benedict’s desire for the regularization of the SSPX as a willingness to retreat on the legitimate reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  They also read his “hermeneutic of continuity in reform” as a non-magisterial proposal to be tested and then accepted or rejected on the basis the reasoning of elite representatives of scientific theology and history.  Accordingly, they have cherry-picked his writings and interpreted them out of context in order to cast him as an ultra-conservative who supported a counter-revolutionary movement, but who, because of age and conspiratorial agents set against him, was not able to bring his plans to fruition.  And so it is frequently asserted among traditionalists that the resignation of Pope Benedict was the result of a coup d’état by a modernist and homosexual cabal that then subsequently saw to the election of Pope Francis.  And now Pope Francis allegedly is promoting the modernist revolution and casting traditionalists as ideologues and enemies of progress.

Bishop Fellay claimed that during the dialogue with Rome various sources close to the Holy Father, presumably members of the Roman curia, assured him that Pope Benedict was willing to regularize the Society without demanding from it any substantial change in its principles and practice.  This meant at least tacitly that Pope Benedict had abandoned in principle the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  I do not find it incredible that Fellay was told this by certain members of the curia, but I find it preposterous that Pope Benedict actually intended to anything like this.  If I am right, then the problems within the curia were not only of a progressive sort.  There was also a traditionalist attempt to hijack the papacy of Pope Benedict.  Clearly, this was the intention of Bishop Fellay, and to a significant extent he succeeded.

In this context it becomes much clearer why Pope Francis has focused his attention on traditionalism, and why he includes in his critique of ideology its traditionalist form. The longer certain traditionalists ignore these facts the more they hurt their cause.

Reclaiming the Desert

Toward the end of his pontificate Pope Benedict made reference to the tragic postconciliar “desertification” that needs to be reversed by the new evangelization.  And he expressed hope that this would take place.  Indeed, what he said in 2005 in his famous address on the hermeneutic of continuity, namely, that the correct interpretation of the Council, would lead in an increasingly more powerful way to the renewal of the Church, he reiterated the very last time he spoke about the Council:

But the real force of the Council was present and, slowly but surely, established itself more and more and became the true force which is also the true reform, the true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force.

Was Pope Benedict ignoring the facts?  I don’t think so.  Neither is Pope Francis.

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7 thoughts on “Who Really are the Christian Ideologues?

    • Aegis,

      I think the general audience of Venerable Paul VI to which you link is apropos to both mutual enrichment and the reform of the reform. I believe #19 is a great summation:

      In every case, and at all times, let us remember that “the Mass is a Mystery to be lived in a death of Love. Its divine reality surpasses all words. . . It is the Action par excellence, the very act of our Redemption, in the Memorial which makes it present” (Zundel).

      There is only one Roman Rite, though two forms, and every Mass, in every case, and at all times, is the Action par excellence. But we have to see to it that the sacred mysteries, regardless of the form, are carried out in a way that is both worthy of their sublimity and which fosters their understanding by those who participate. Neither the two forms or these two goals need to be conceived as being directed at cross purposes. This is fraught with difficulty, but an internal reconciliation with the past is both possible and necessary.

  1. Aegis,

    I think the general audience of Venerable Paul VI to which you link is apropos to both mutual enrichment and the reform of the reform. I believe #19 is a great summation:

    In every case, and at all times, let us remember that “the Mass is a Mystery to be lived in a death of Love. Its divine reality surpasses all words. . . It is the Action par excellence, the very act of our Redemption, in the Memorial which makes it present” (Zundel).

    There is only one Roman Rite, though two forms, and every Mass, “in every case, and at all times,” is the “Action par excellence.” But we have to see to it that the sacred mysteries, regardless of the form, are carried out in a way that is both worthy of their sublimity and which fosters their understanding by those who participate. Neither the two forms or these two goals need to be conceived as being directed at cross purposes. This is fraught with difficulty, but an internal reconciliation with the past is both possible and necessary.

  2. Father, what a brillant text! Great insight on the paths of the Church! In deed, Pope Francis has been trying to correct extrismims within the Church, both from right and from left. The tradicionalists has trying to impose only one Rite, the Tridentine Rite, but it is clearly that that is a gross mistake! If we need to have a correct sense of the sacred avoiding liturgical abuses, by the other hand we must not to “idolize” one unique rite as it were “a golf calf”. I think these words of Pope Francis are very enlightening on that subject. See.
    The Pope said the Temple is a sacred place where what matters the most are not rituals but “worshipping the Lord”.
    http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/santa-marta-30009/
    Just one note
    I’m saying that because the tradicionalists has trying to offer as solution from the currents problems of the World a return to the past. But Pope Francis has taught that that is impossible, either liturgically as pastoraly. In other words, a return to the past is impossible and we must not act as we are in the past, that is, there are a lot of new problems, and that have to be deal with inteligence and wisdom and not with fanatism.

  3. Alex,
    Well said.
    The Church would look more beautiful to those outside the fold if we Catholics would work together in charity to solve problems…and trust in the Spirit of God, like little children, when the Pope speaks.
    A Protestant friend sits in front of the Blessed Sacrament now simply becsuse I gave him a Miraculous Medal, and because he and I discuss Jesus with joy. If he requests entrance into Holy Mother Church then he will learn all about doctrines and dogmas.
    The Holy Spirit knows best how to win souls…we only need to cooperate with His inspirations.
    Nice to see you again.

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