Before I remember to forget again…

a Summa of Summa Theologica

a Summa of Summa Theologica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[I have revised and expanded this post since last night, primarily in the latter half of it, so you may want to peruse it again.]

“[I]f the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” To presume oneself to be simply better than one’s prelate, would seem to savor of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault. We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, “being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger'”. 

— St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II, q. 33, a. 4, ad 2-3.

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I thought I had linked to a Dutch lay Catholic guy’s independent translation of Pope Francis’s “schminterview” with Eugenio Scalfari in La Repubblica (Italian version, English version), but I can’t find where I did so, so I’m linking to it here. I think I might have it in me to re-read this new translation and see if anything new falls out that’s worth blogging on. But, as I’ll explain below, even if something did fall out of the more accurately translated interview, it wouldn’t matter.

We need to abide by a new hermeneutic, ya see.

Translation is out, impression is in.

Ugh. 

While I’m on the topic, I’m really interested to see if there’s any pushback by Scalfari on the new consensus among certain Catholic bloggers that Scalfari is, in not so many words, not only a decrepit hack for not taping or shorthanding the interview, but maybe also a typically devious AAAAATHEIST for daring to SPIIIIIN the Holy Father’s otherwise entirely straightforward and unambiguously orthodox words.

At present, we already know that it’s disingenuous to pretend the Pope does not stand behind the message conveyed by the interview–and (irony of ironies) pay close attention to my choice of words there–since he vetted it, his spokesman vetted his vetting, and its double-vetted content passed further vetting to show up on the Vatican website as an official speech of the Holy Father.

Even though I'm a strong atheist I love the new pope | Confession Bear

But the really interesting new development among belabored papal handlers in the St. Blog’s Parish is to denigrate–albeit with palpable relief–Scalfari as a washed up, dessicated, probably Alzheimersey leftist stooge who set up the Holy Father just to spin his words in a way that the secular masses would love. Problem? So much for the good will towards atheists that the Pope intended his schminterview to portray.

(“Portray.” Keep that word in mind for when I make my closing points.)

On that note, I want to explain somethings that, for you, might make my rambling “agenda” of late more palatable, or at least, more coherent, and that, for me, are gradually (admittedly only by regular acts of self-imposed charitableness) making the Pope’s “style” less repugnant.

First, and you’re going to have to ask this is in my wife’s voice, “Why are you going on and on at your blog lately about the Pope?”

Thanks for asking. (And, yes, I’ll get to the dishes as soon as I’m done here.)

Today a blog-friend characterized one of the typical polarizing reactions he’s encountered lately in light of “the Pope’s” wacky claims (those scare quotes will make sense soon, just keep reading) like this: “Everything the Pope said is wrong because he said something liberalish!”

I for one am certainly not saying that. In fact, I’ve decided I’m not even going to call those admittedly murky statements, say, “what the Pope said,” “the Pope’s remarks,” etc., since that’s obviously entirely too distracting. Hence, “‘the Pope’s’ wacky claims.”

Instead?

Instead, I’m going to call what I’m going on about these days, roughly speaking, “the things that very many people have gleaned from published statements involving the Pope.” For the sake of my blood pressure, faith, and general well-being, I’m giving Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t believe some of the things that have upset so many good Catholic people (people like me). As much as possible, I’m removing “the papal factor” from my upcoming codgitations. Instead I’m just going to treat them as malapapalisms.

[DETOUR: Did you see the article last week about how most American Catholics view Pope Francis? Only 4% had a negative perception of him. Like it or not, we Eeyorish Catholics are a serious minority, so we need to realize that we’re talking against the wind on this. My only obligations in the meantime are to avoid rash judgment and slander, discern the wheat from the chaff in the Pope’s statements (it’s not slander or rash judgment if a critique is factually grounded) so as to protect my own faith and others’ from a bad example, and to pray for the Pope as the duly elected Holy Father. I don’t have to like his style, his inconsistency, his obscurity, and I certainly have no obligation to defend him on every point. If the reports about him are true–and again, I’m engaging in some serious suspension of disbelief on this–I think he’s been gravely derelict in his duty to present the truth about conscience, which is something even one of my good friends, a philosopher and a backer of Francis, admits is a typical Jesuit flaw.

As for that passage in Habbakuk (emphasis mine): 

How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision clearly upon the [Wordpress] tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why this passage affected and healed me on such a deep level.]

[DETOUR ON A DETOUR: Since I seem to have picked up a few new stragglers lately who fell for my codgitative siren song, I want to explain my moniker, and a policy issue about thsi blog. First, why the dumb name? Well, way back when I was a fresh convert, none other than Dave Armstrong proposed the name “The Cogitator” for me (at the time, I think I still went by “Geistesweisheit”–do a little googley-moogley, especially in connection with Mark Shea’s old blogspot-spot, and you’ll find me. But that was too straight-laced and derivative for me. I realized I was more of a grumpy young man than a mere cogitator. So I did my usual linguistic rubix-cube drill and came up with a name that captured most of my traits at once: a thinker, a cadger {an intellectual mooch}, and a codger {a spiritual curmudgeon}. Cadger, Codger, Cogitator… The Codgitator.)]]

Nonetheless, how directly these malapapalisms lead back to Pope Francis is irrelevant.

The genie is out of the bottle.

Like it or not, the most “spun” malapapalisms that I might discuss are already taking root in the collective consciousness[I can’t get this video to embed properly, but it’s worth a look.]

Meanwhile, all I can do is, as my blog banner says, “fight to the death for the truth” (Sir. 4:33 [in the Vulgate, but 4:28 in the Septuagint {yet another of those weird Catholic things that I’ll probably never figure out before I die}]).

And, like it or not, what those malapapalisms imply is wreaking havoc in certain circles. I honestly don’t even know where to begin vindicating that claim, since I’ve seen so many conservative bloggers doing the “Our Francis of the Interviews” damage-control shuffle the past few weeks, and have read so many comments by bewildered Catholics and delighted non-believers.

So, just think of what I’m doing now as taking advantage of these malapapalisms, not to show that I’m smarter than the Pope (although, honestly, WAGNER?!?!), but rather to elucidate the Church’s teachings in response to ideas that have been associated with the Pope’s remarks the past couple months. I’m not interested in slandering the Pope, believe me. I’m just tearfully aware that I and other Catholics need to know where solid ground is amidst all the tumult.

At this point in the game my only interests are

1) not being talked down to or lectured as one of the bad Catholics (or, God save us, one of the “panicky bedwetters”) because I see what’s wrong with some key statements fluttering around the Pope’s reputation (viz., malapapalisms)

and

2) seeing some kind of retraction or clarification or some kind of anything from “the people’s pope” about these malapapalisms now baffling, now vindicating, you guessed it, the people.

In a word, I want to be free of my paranoia about Pope Francis. I want to have the onus of disagreeing with “the Pope” removed from my shoulders so I can get back to enjoying him as the Honey Badger Pope.

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Enough about me, though.

What were those insights I mentioned earlier about the sense I’m making of the Pope’s strategy?

First, as I recently noted, he’s the Emmaus Pope. He is not interested in “true doctrine” or “moral rigor.” He is interested in meeting people on the road, listening to their woes and confusion, opening the Scriptures to them, illuminating Christ in the Scriptures, breaking bread with them, and seeing Christ therein.

Second, he’s the narrative pope, or, dare I say, the Inception Pope.

Why “the Inception Pope”? Not only because in his unscripted moments he lends himself to statements that must be analyzed on progressively deeper and broader contextual levels of discourse just to make sense of or escape the dream-like inconsistencies, but also, as John Allen explains, because he, like the ending of Inception, in fact wants to be understood the way his hearers decide to understand him (my emphasis):

Lombardi himself … said we’re seeing the emergence of a whole new genre of papal speech — informal, spontaneous and sometimes entrusted to others in terms of its final articulation. A new genre, Lombardi suggested, needs a “new hermeneutic,” one in which we don’t attach value so much to individual words as to the overall sense.

Admittedly, this insight into his papacy is as illuminating for dealing with Our Francis of the Interviews as it is disturbing. Consider something he said in the Spadaro interview (my emphasis):

Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss. The style of the Society is not shaped by discussion, but by discernment, which of course presupposes discussion as part of the process. The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking.

This is the thinking behind Fr. Lombardi’s proposal of a new hermeneutic of truthiness for this papacy: Pope Francis wants to establish a new “New Evangelization” driven by a radically personalist and impressionistic witness of papal midrash. He doesn’t want to teach the world in precise terms and concepts; he wants to generate narrative episodes that can be framed like pictures in an illustrated Bible and from which we can all draw warmth.

Why else would he be so absorbed in social media, compared to prior popes?

The humble Pope.

Presumably Pope Francis thinks a picture is worth a thousand words, so as long as you portray the right image and tone, you can be sloppy with your exact words. Unfortunately, though, what the Holy Father does not seem to be willing to fathom is that a sloppily annotated picture is not worth a thousand words–it’s worth a thousand hastily written explanatory blog posts and counter-posts and endless rounds of bickering among the faithful.

Papal midrash, in other words. Truthiness.

Putting aside for a moment the problems I have with particular malapapalisms of late, think about how perilous it is for the Pope to be charting this impressionistic course. It’s a dangerous capitulation to our increasingly illiterate and incoherent culture, especially on the part of the one God wants to teach His Church and instruct the world.

In the span of a generation or two, we went from uncontroversially Thomistic popes in the early- to mid-twentieth century, to neo-Thomistic popes in the mid- to late-twenteith century, followed by a quasi-Thomist pope, ending up now with a completely post-scholastic pope. The Catholic Church is not designed to function at that velocity, however. As one commenter elsewhere put it, “The frantic pace of [Pope Francis’s] advertisement campaign seems to be a prelude to equally frantic action. It is reassuring that the Vatican marketing department is showing signs of alarm at his recent escalation and may slam the breaks.”

So, by now, hopefully you can see that I’m trying to be charitable, and am trying to see the bigger picture, as alarming as it may seem to me at first.

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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12 Responses to Before I remember to forget again…

  1. To be fair, it’s not as if the Vatican marketing department is known for its sterling track record.

  2. As Mark Shea says, “I don’t believe in organized religion, that’s why I’m Catholic.”

  3. Crude says:

    I don’t think Francis is a post-scholastic Pope. I think he is, in some ways, a post-intellectual Pope. By that I don’t mean that he doesn’t understand important arguments, or have an awareness of certain intricacies or particularities of belief or dogma or whatever. But he seems to realize that having all the intellectual, philosophical and orthodox understanding in the world is not going to save very many souls, or change very many minds.

    Those things are important. I spend a lot of my time reading and thinking and arguing about philosophy, theology, metaphysics. But I also realize that those arguments and thoughts are only going to work with a pretty narrow sliver of the population. It may be an influential portion of the population, but still a narrow sliver. (I illustrated this in an argument with someone recently, where they said that most people aren’t going to understand the logic and reasoning that goes into Natural Law arguments against, say, same-sex marriage. I said, I agree. But we don’t need most people to understand them for those arguments to be effective. Most people would not understand, at least not without a lot of time and effort, the arguments that are made in front of the SCOTUS. You don’t have to convince most people to have an effect there. 5 will do.)

    At the same time, while there are arguments and focuses that matter for those people… we need to engage the larger populace. And the larger populace is full of people whose reasoning falls far shorter than that. This Pope has yet to say anything very unorthodox – even his conscience talk focused almost entirely on ‘making the world a better place’, not high concepts of objective reality and eternal truths. What he’s said are things which are airy and are open to misinterpretation. The problem? So did Benedict! But Benedict tended to be misinterpreted in the other direction – ‘He thinks it was right for Galileo to be persecuted!’, etc. And so, they didn’t even listen to Benedict.

    With Francis? They may actually listen. They may not immediately write him off as ‘oh the guy who hates gays and thinks women should always be pregnant’ or other such idiocy – and that idiocy is something we have to be aware of and deal with. I want to see Francis follow up his conversations with more public talk about abortion, about sin, about many other things – including, yes, even the need to care for the elderly or build a society that young people can properly thrive in. We need to change our approach, and that can happen without changing our beliefs an iota. Francis, I hope, and really think, is leading the way on that front.

  4. Crude says:

    By the way – on that front, let me focus on another group that seems to be doing something different.

    Notice that in the US, the shutdown over the budget is not so easily being cast off as ‘republicans shutting everything down’. The GOP is writing budgets to fund everything but the very law they want to go back to the drawing board on – forcing the senate and Obama to not accept it. That’s a minor change in approach that translates to a major change in perception. Even if everyone knows the democrats will not sign those bills, it shifts the conversation. The GOP is the one using words like ‘We have to compromise!’, etc, etc. They’re taking a page out of their opponents’ playbook.

    And I think Francis is too, but far more sincerely.

  5. You say you’re sometimes out of your element, comparatively, on matters dogmatic, but I’m well below your plane of understanding on these matters. I can only hope, with God as my witness and comforter, that you’re right about Francis. Meanwhile, I still have a genuine conviction to work through the misperceived effects of his interviews for the good of the Faith. Quixotic. Me.

  6. Crude says:

    Oh, I claim no special knowledge here. I just watch and have opinions. I think some negative can come of his talk too, but we’ll just have to see.

  7. Notice that in the US, the shutdown over the budget is not so easily being cast off as ‘republicans shutting everything down’

    You are talking to very different people than I am.

  8. Crude says:

    I’m not saying it’s not being said, or that it’s not having an effect. The difference is that this time, their opposition is not getting away unscathed. Reid looks bad. Obama looks bad. The Republicans are painting the issue as ‘We just want compromise!’ and are pointing out that they’re passing spending bills for all the other parts of government, and pleading with the senate and Obama to pass them.

    It’s a different tack this time, and as a result it’s far more effective.

  9. A very Pope-Francis style move on their part, no?

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