Benedict and Francis

Most Catholics around the world are giving thanks to God for a new pope.  A few of us are already pontificating about the future.  This is my own little reflection on the relationship  between the pontificates of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

Benedict’s Plan

I believe that in order to fully appreciate the events of the last month or so, one must consider that we have a new Holy Father because, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Pope Benedict carefully formulated a plan.  The evidence shows that he did not just wake up one morning and say: “I have had it.  I just can’t do it anymore.”  The historical facts indicate that he was considering a potential abdication through most of his pontificate.  I think it is also fair to say that he was aware of all the potential outcomes.  The man, before anything else is a thinker.  I don’t believe he was surprised by any of the reactions or criticisms.  He had prayed for a long time and had thought the whole thing through.  When he made his decision he was definitive.

None of this means, however, that his human considerations could have given him certitude about an outcome.  Apart from a private revelation, which is entirely possible, he was making a personal calculation based on reason enlightened by faith, but he was doing so in the legitimate exercise of his office and was entitled to a kind of prudence and protection of divine providence that is unique to the Vicar of Christ.

Divine and Human Faith

The First Vatican Council decrees the following regarding supernatural faith:

If anyone says that the assent to Christian faith is not free, but is necessarily produced by arguments of human reason; or that the grace of God is necessary only for living faith which works by charity: let him be anathema.

The articles of the faith are the direct object of the Theological Virtue of Faith, by which we believe what God has revealed on His authority by means of his infused grace.  Faith is an intellectual virtue in which reason obviously plays a part, but the cause of such Faith is not reason but grace.  Faith is a gift.  The Infallibility of the Pope is one of those articles that is the object of this kind of faith.

Obviously all the various assessments of Pope Benedict’s decision to abdicate and the conclave’s election of Pope Francis are not and cannot be a question of Theological Faith.  Human reason and human faith, play far more important roles.  But those who are tempted to criticize should remember this:  If the Pope Benedict, the cardinal electors and now Pope Francis have not been exercising infallible judgments in the recent momentous events, neither are the pundits and prognosticators.  As the Catechism says:

Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me,” the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms (87).

In the concrete, even though obedience to these words of Our Lord involves in a large measure only human faith, it is not human faith to believe that Our Lord’s command must be followed.  An analogy that helps to illustrate what I am trying to convey is the kind of faith that one puts in the Sacrament of Penance.  The faith that we put in the Sacrament itself is the Theological Virtue of Faith.  The faith that we put in a particular confessor, or in a particular reception of the Sacrament of Penance is not.  Christ gives us no such infallible guarantees.  We don’t know absolutely that our absolution is valid.

“Was I properly disposed?  Did the priest understand me adequately?”  This can be an agony for the scrupulous.

But that is the way the Sacrament works by Christ’s design.  There is and must be an element of human faith, and no guarantee of infallibility.  In practice, that is, in the concrete, the life of faith always involves a putting out into the deep (cf., Lk 5:4).  And although there is a measure of human faith here, it is not merely such, because even in this, it is not man who is the ultimate guarantor that one is following the will of God, but Christ.  One who confesses in good faith and one who follows the pope in good faith is exercising the Theological Virtue of Faith.

The Law and the Prophets

The Catechism also teaches us that all the baptized participate in the triple office of Christ as priest, prophet and king (783).  However, priests, especially bishops who have the fullness of the priesthood and most especially the pope as the Vicar of Christ and Head of the apostolic college, have a mandate to exercise these three offices in a particular way.  These offices are the proper functions of the Holy Father and the bishops: the priest sanctifies by offering sacrifice; the prophet teaches by delivering God’s message; and the king governs by shepherding God’s people after the heart of Christ (cf.,  Jer 3:15).

But I believe there is a different but complimentary distinction that needs to accompany this tripartite distinction of office, and that is the twofold distinction of the Law and the Prophets, roughly corresponding to the dogmatic and pastoral teaching of the pope and the bishops.  The Prophetic Office actually encompasses both the teaching of the general principles of the faith (the law/dogma) and its practical application (the prophets/pastorality).  The first is protected by the guarantee of infallibility, the second is not.  And although clearly pastoral teaching must be subordinated to dogmatic teaching, neither can be dispensed with, and both involve faith, even if in some measure the latter involves human faith.

I think it is particular unhelpful and even “unhealthy” to minimize the legitimate and necessary role of the pope as prophet in the second sense, namely, in the role as Universal Shepherd (Pastor) of the Church.  Here I am not criticizing the conscientious objector, or the theologian acting in good faith, and with the urgency and necessity of a well-formed and sincere conscience, when this has to do with non-infallibly taught doctrinal and pastoral teaching that does not seem to be reconcilable with previous magisterial teaching, and when such objections are expressed directly to the magisterium itself.  Public dissent from magisterial teaching, on the other hand, causes immediate scandal to the faithful.  But the know-it-all zealotry has another deleterious effect: the cultivation of a habit of mind that reduces almost every aspect of faith to a calculation of human judgment.  Dr. John Rao, for example, already on the morning after the election, and admitting that he had no evidence to go on, speculated that the selection of Pope Francis was due to the

political machinations on the part of one or the other elements within that faction of the college of cardinals that is wedded to the so-called “spirit of the Council,” however they interpret that, who don’t care if the Church dies, so long as that spirit is maintained.

The Prophets Benedict and Francis

It is already clear that the Pope Emeritus and our new Holy Father are two very different men.  The temptation of the digital age news cycle and the deluge of information and opinion will be to construct a mythology around the personalities and events of this papal transition.  It is already very clear, for example, that the liturgical tastes of the two pontiffs are quite different.  But continuity is not to be found in personal example, nor in respect for persons, but in the work Christ has chosen to undertake in His Vicar(s), which will become apparent to the docile, but be imperceptible to those who insist on reducing everything to a calculations and syllogisms.

Over the last month, I have noted how the Vatileaks scandal, the report on Vatican affairs mandated by Pope Benedict, the rumors of the blackmail of the pope and the documentation of the widespread presence of homosexuality among priests and especially among Vatican curial officials, were being described in public so as to provide a way of interpreting the outcome of the upcoming conclave.  And so it has happened.

The speculations and accusations on both the left and right have been wild, but in particular, among the traditionalists, there has been much wishful thinking.  Unfortunately, that tentative hopefulness for a Counter-Revolution has been transformed into very definite disappointment and anger.  Before the conclave, I read many articles about why this or that cardinal should be or would be elected pope.  I read lists about what the new pope might do, or what he ought to do.  I even read one post in which the author, in a not altogether unserious way, speculated about what he would do, if he were pope, which included the abolition of the Ordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Clearly the consensus among traditionalists, even some of those who are regular and ostensibly loyal to the Holy Father, is that it is time to end the Revolution, by which they mean, not the end of the abuses of the postconciliar period.  What they are talking about ending are the mandated reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Now that Pope Benedict has retired and there is a new man of different temperament and interests, the traditionalists anticipate the worst.  They are deathly afraid that Pope Francis is not Ratzingarian enough.  But in reality Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI was not “Ratzingarian” enough for the traditionalists.  The fact is that the traditionalists never have accepted Pope Benedict’s hermeneutic of continuity, at least not without a long series of highly nuanced interpretations and qualifications.  Every time, Pope Benedict spoke favorably, or acted in the interest of conciliar teachings, such as religious liberty, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, collegiality, all the way until the very end when he decided he take a more modern view of his papal responsibilities and retire, the traditionalists were up in arms and in attack formation.  The stilettos came out and were deployed with the surgical precision for which the traditionalist mind is well-known.  But Pope Francis is fully Ratzingarian when, not two days after his election he sent a message to the chief Rabbi of Rome saying:

I strongly hope to be able to contribute to the progress of the relations that have existed between Jews and Catholics since Vatican Council II in a spirit of renewed collaboration and in service of a world that may always be more in harmony with the Creator’s will.

Take a look at the recent comments on Rorate Caeli, for example, excoriating “[another] flagrantly Modernist Pope.”  Also, Fr. Zuhlsdorf had to admonish his commenters to behave themselves.  (God bless him for throwing down the gauntlet).  And Taylor Marshal has had to pen a lengthy argument on why the traditionalists ought to give Pope Francis at least a chance.

Since I have been writing on the subject of traditionalism, I have received more and more private emails from individuals who stand outside the traditionalist camp, and now find themselves under the influence of traditionalist arguments.  They have read my defense of the modern magisterium and have been encouraged.  My point here is simply to confirm that my contention that this is the Postconciliar Moment.  Pope Benedict tried to make this clear.  Now Pope Francis seems to be more concerned about the hunger and poverty of his own people, than about what vestments he wears for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  (For anyone who wishes to criticize this last remark, please read about the behavior of the pope’s namesake first: “Strip Our Lady’s Altar Bare!”).  This is not a criticism of Pope Benedict, only an acknowledgment of a difference in perspective.  In any case, the traditionalists are using these kinds of differences as a club against Pope Francis.

Perhaps, it is finally time for all those of good faith to recognize that collegiality, religious liberty, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue and the modern liturgy are here to stay, and to begin working to implement the hermeneutic of continuity in response to the prophetic graces bestowed upon the Church through the gift of the holy men that God has called to serve the Church as Universal Shepherd.

Benedictines and Franciscans

I believe it is more than providential that the last two popes, who will be forever linked in an unanticipated and unprecedented alliance and ecclesiastical watershed, have taken the names Benedict and Francis.  Stability and mendicancy:  mutually exclusive categories considered in themselves, but complementary because of one faith and the common life of the profession of the three evangelical counsels.  The stability of Benedictine life made the organic development of the Roman Rite in all its glory possible, and formalized the great intellectual and ascetical tradition of the Lectio Divina.  On the other hand, the lack of both common property and the vow of stability was an innovation of the Franciscan Order, followed soon after by the Dominicans and others.  It did not facilitate the solemn celebration of the sacred liturgy in the way the older form of religious life did.  But it was ordered in a new way toward evangelization and reform.  It was a huge innovation, and one that was not without serious problems.  In fact, within the first few generations, the Order was under attack by the secular clergy, and St. Bonaventure was forced to defend the Franciscan charism as both traditional and innovative.  Pope Benedict has noted this in his brilliant and brief exposition of the thought of St. Bonaventure.

St. Francis was blindly attached to the See of Peter, and chose to celebrate the sacred liturgy according to the form used in the papal chapel, not because of a commitment, proper to the Franciscan charism, to a certain liturgical form, but precisely because it was the form of the Roman Rite used by the Holy Father.  It is true, as Father Zuhlsdorf points out, that St. Francis was not a liturgical minimalist, and certainly was not of a proto-protestant bent of mind (which was a common problem of the times).  However, St. Francis was committed specifically to conciliar reform and made sure that his order was at the tip of the spear when it came to all of the reforms mandated by the Fourth Lateran Council, not just the liturgical reforms.   What was characteristic of all Franciscan communities, regardless of specific tendencies in regard to interpretations of the Rule, was not liturgical solemnity, but of the celebration of the sacred liturgy with decorum and reverence, especially making sure that the Blessed Sacrament reserved properly, and that all the appurtenances of the sanctuary were in good order and cared for.  All of these things were mandated by the Council.  St. Francis was simply being obedient to the mind of the Church.

The transition from Pope Benedict to Pope Francis, if anything, looks very much like “innovation in continuity.”  It both confirms the intuitions of Pope Benedict and indicates how much the man was and is a scholar and a contemplative, not a zealot or an ideologue.  What do, for example, the traditionalists, and indeed many “conservative Catholics” make of Pope Benedict’s assertion (2009) that the Charismatic Movement, properly integrated into ecclesial life, and subordinated to magisterial authority, has a permanent place in the Church?  Perhaps, Pope Benedict’s intuition at the end of his pontificate might be expressed in simple terms to both the left and the right as “I will not be used.”  Pope Francis’ election is confirmation that reform often involves delicate matters best left to the Holy Spirit and the very disconcerting prophets who come under his influence.  It the end it will perhaps prove not only possible to be both traditional and charismatic, in the best sense of each word.  Perhaps that integration is the whole point of what the Spirit is saying the Church today.




14 thoughts on “Benedict and Francis

  1. Pingback: Francis on Francis | Mary Victrix

  2. “My dear brother, God forbid that we should sin against the rule for anyone. I should prefer to see you strip our Lady’s altar bare rather than have you commit the slightest sin against our vow of poverty or the observance of the Gospel.” -St. Francis
    Isn’t Francis here considering an inconceivable possibility so he might illustrate a point, namely the importance of the rule and poverty? Francis, who begged that anyone who saw a missal on the ground would pick it up and reverently put it in a place of dignity would hardly wish that Mary’s altar be stripped. But here he emphasizes the value of their holy rule to which they were bound by holy obedience. A sin against it was surely a sin against Christ. He likewise acknowledges the evangelical virtue of poverty. A sin against it was surely a sin against evangelical perfection.

    Papa Francis hasn’t stripped the altar bare. He has, however, demonstrated that he is definitely concerned with liturgy. “Pope Francis,” you wrote, “seems to be more concerned about the hunger and poverty of his own people, than about what vestments he wears for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” I haven’t seen evidence yet that this is true. I don’t have enough evidence too compare his concern for the poor and his concern for the decorum of the house of the Lord, but if he had not had a definitive interest in matters liturgical, he would have just worn the vestments that Msgr. Marini would have been likely to choose. I hear there are three sets of vestments laid out for the Pope. In at least two liturgical garments he rejected them all, since he chose to wear his own mitre and pectoral cross rather than any from the pontifical collection.

    The evidence so far leads me to believe that Pope Francis cares very much about liturgical “style.” Perhaps his heart doesn’t burn with appreciation for the liturgical principles that Benedict laid out so well, yet he cares enough to immediately instigate reforms. He cares enough that it seems he intends to bring in guest liturgists. The Papal Mass too is already taking on the symbols he has emphasized other places: the eschewal of regalia, the replacing of splendid items with simple items, the introduction of innovations that mark the Pope as a simple man.

    We’ll know more after the first Papal mass.

    Pope Benedict was also a humble Pope, I might add. Francis is being praised especially for his acts of humility. These are very moving and powerful. Benedict’s humility was more invisible. He immersed himself in the office of the Papacy and the Liturgy of the Church with a fervent spirit of obedience. I’m not convinced he always liked what he did. But, like John XIII and the sedia gestoria, he subordinorated his personal tastes to the office of the Papacy and the dignity of the Mass. Since it seems to me, from my low position, that the Church is well served by restoring the dignity, splendor, nobility and integrity of the Papal Mass, I somewhat hope that the symbols and changes that already appeared in the first few liturgical events stem more from a difference in priority than a difference in liturgical principle.

    I think you’re right that there will be continuity. Where there is innovation, I pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    Because “dilexi decorem domus” eius, I need to comfort myself when it seems like noble simplicity might become mere simplicity (or even banality). In those circumstances, I like to repeat the words of St. John of the Cross to myself over and over again:

    “I wish to speak solely of those ceremonies into which enters nothing of a suspicious nature, and of which many people make use nowadays with indiscreet devotion, attributing such efficacy and faith to these ways and manners wherein they desire to perform their devotions and prayers, that they believe that, if they fail to the very slightest extent in them, or go beyond their limits, God will not be served by them nor will He hear them. They place more reliance upon these methods and kinds of ceremony than upon the reality of their prayer, and herein they greatly offend and displease God. I refer, for example, to a Mass at which there must be so many candles, neither more nor fewer; which has to be said by the priest in such or such a way; and must be at such or such an hour, and neither sooner nor later; and must be after a certain day, neither sooner nor later; and the prayers and stations must be made at such and such times, with such or such ceremonies, and neither sooner nor later nor in any other manner; and the person who makes them must have such or such qualities or qualifications. And there are those who think that, if any of these details which they have laid down be wanting, nothing is accomplished.” (Ascent to Mount Carmel, Bk. III, Ch. 43, para. 2)

    I am praying for the Spirit of Love to guide Pope Francis’ love for the adornment of Divine Worship. In the meantime, I trust the Lord and submit to and love the Pope. God keep and sanctify His bride, one with Her Pope. Amen.

  3. Joseph Anthony,

    I have read already a number of complaints that the Holy Father has not lived up to the expectations of high liturgy and ceremony: he did not wear the red cape on the loggia; he celebrated versus populi in the Sistine Chapel; he wore a simple modern vestment at that Mass; he is not wearing red shoes. On the other hand, he has asked his well-wishers in Argentina to forgo coming to Rome for his installation, and instead to be mindful of the poor.

    I am not suggesting that Francis is unconcerned about liturgical decorum and reverence. That is precisely not my point. But I think his vision of the liturgy, at least in the context of his own ministry, is not as high as that of Benedict XVI. That is sort of the point of the post and the comparison and contrast of Benedictines and Franciscans. I believe there is a valid analogy to be made in regard to the event in the life of St. Francis. Poverty is not contrary to the dignity of the sacred liturgy, and the efficacy of the sacred liturgy must lead to an interior transformation. And I believe Francis is trying send this message. But it is not a message to be set against the words and example of Pope Benedict.

    I believe it is very much the point, that in order for the liturgy to be celebrated in a manner worthy of its nature for the highest glorification of God, that simplicity and austerity is sometimes very much appropriate. And there is a whole range in between a simple vernacular Mass and a solemn high EF Mass, all of which are wonderful within the appropriate context.

    Pray God, I will be the last person to oppose Pope Francis to Pope Benedict. I agree that the Pope Emeritus is a humble man.

  4. Father Angelo,

    I’m in concord with you in everything you wrote above. I hope I’m not seen as opposing Francis and Benedict either. Francis has gone out of his way to show honor to the Emeritus Bishop of Rome. There is no evidence yet of discontinuity. Just rumor and little things here and there that are analyzed and magnified. Even if there was a divergence of opinions, God forbid I ever judge the Pope. As St. Bellarmine said (De Summo Pontifico, l. 4 ca. 5):

    “It cannot occur that the Pontiff errs by prescribing a vice of some sort, such as usery; or by prohibiting a virtue, such as restitution, because these are per se good or evil. Neither can it happen that he should err by prescribing something contrary to salvation, such as circumcision or the sabbath, or by prohibiting something necessary to salvation, such as baptism or the eucharist. That, however, he might order something which is neither good nor evil in themselves, nor contrary to salvation, but is, nonetheless, useless, or teaches something using an excessively grave penalty: it is not absurd to say that this could happen *although it is not the place of the subject to judge in this matter but simply to obey.*” (Trans. mine).

    I fear I’ve come off as prideful when I’m merely a lowly servant.

    P.S. I did love the red shoes.

  5. Wonderful article as usual, Father.

    Marian, thank you for the link. I now know what to expect at the Mass.

    Thank you, Holy Spirit, for continuing the Golden Age of the Papacy. We have a gentle, humble Papa whose holy simplicity will be a spiritual magnet for all people of good will.

  6. Pingback: The Holy Grail of Pope Francis: Our Lady of Lujan and Undoer of Knots | Mary Victrix

  7. Question: What is the meaning or ‘history’ behind the red shoes????? I’ve had mixed emotions about them but I don’t really understand their point.

  8. I can’t find anything very official looking from the Church but there is a wikipedia article with pictures –

    The papal shoes, along with the camauro, papal mozzetta, and cloak (tabarro), are the only remnants of the former red color of the papal garments. St. Pope Pius V (1566 – 1572), who was a Dominican, changed the papal color to white, and it has remained so since.
    In other articles I read, the symbolism of the red shoes is also connected with the blood of martyrs.

    In Christ,

  9. Pingback: The Franciscan Papacy: Rebuilding or Demolition? | Mary Victrix

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  11. Pingback: The Holy Grail of Pope Francis: Our Lady of Lujan and Undoer of Knots | Absolute Primacy of Christ

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