“[M]en are not bound, or able to read hearts; but when they see that someone is a heretic by his external works, they judge him to be a heretic pure and simple, and condemn him as a heretic.”
–– St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, II, 30 [cf. this post for a sanity-ballast].
“I have studied at Barcelona, at Salamanca, at Alcala, at Paris; what have I learned? The language of doubt; but in me there was no harbor for doubt. Jesus came, and my trust in God has grown by the doubts of men.“
–– St. Ignatius of Loyola (reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 599.)
“The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith: Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.“
–– Catechism of the Catholic Church §2088
“I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending [the] difficulties [of faith on the one hand] … and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt…; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate.“
–– Bl. John Henry Cdl. Newman, Apologia Vita Sua, ch. 5
+ + +
In two prior posts I have briefly examined, first, how Pope Francis’s neo-Jesuit training informs the head-scratchers that I keep pondering, and, second, the assumptions behind some of them.**
And now it’s time for more.
Recall with me this familiar but still no less amazing confection of neo-Jesuit, Whiteheadian-process truthiness from the Spadaro interview (emphasis mine):
“If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything [i.e. all things in life and in faith to be] clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists — they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. … You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. … You have to trust God.”
What incredible loathing for orthodox “traditionalism” radiates from these words! What is wrong with desiring “things in life and in faith to be clear and safe” or with a fundament of “doctrinal security,” or with “disciplinarian solutions” in some cases, or with trying humbly to recover our Catholic and classical past, and why is only the Pope’s “dogmatic certainty” spared his immediately preceding critique of “doctrinal security”? I urge you to read the quotation again without the underlined words, so that you may grasp why the remainder of the statement has jostled so many of us. Those underlined modifiers of extremity only serve to caricature the Pope’s target by forcing a false dilemma on a straw man. (“Do you want everything in life and in faith to be clear and safe?” – “Well, no, but––” – “Ah! See! If you want your faith to be clear and safe, then you’re a coward!” – “I’m not–– What?” – “Do you always look for, etc.”) Once they are removed, the claim is very chilling: we can be certain that God is in every life, but dare not be certain what that entails doctrinally.
You may think I am being dishonest, trying to shoehorn the Pope into a progressive mold that doesn’t fit, but you would be wrong about that, and the best evidence I can muster is another quotation by him from the Spadaro interview:
“[In the] quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the [certain?] proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation [or, certainty?] in spiritual consolation [i.e. Confusion is in every off-the-cuff interview that is open to stirring up adulation in spiritual confabulation… or something].”
[«Sì, in questo cercare e trovare Dio in tutte le cose resta sempre una zona di incertezza. Deve esserci. Se una persona dice che ha incontrato Dio con certezza totale e non è sfiorata da un margine di incertezza, allora non va bene. Per me questa è una chiave importante. Se uno ha le risposte a tutte le domande, ecco che questa è la prova che Dio non è con lui. Vuol dire che è un falso profeta, che usa la religione per se stesso. Le grandi guide del popolo di Dio, come Mosè, hanno sempre lasciato spazio al dubbio. Si deve lasciare spazio al Signore, non alle nostre certezze; bisogna essere umili. L’incertezza si ha in ogni vero discernimento che è aperto alla conferma della consolazione spirituale».]
Did you catch that? At first I thought he meant that religious leaders must aways leave a margin for doubt in the sense that hearers of the message always retain their free will to accept or reject God. Fair enough, thanks for the truism.
But then the Pope undermines my own effort to read him charitably by plowing into yet another mystical mystification.
He explicitly pits “our [arrogant] certainties” (like, say, the unflinching recital of the Nicene Creed and other related solemn nonsense?) against the “humble” necessity of leaving a chair open for Jesus at the table of doubt. He is even more explicit in the next paragraph after the words quoted above: “The risk in seeking and finding God in all things … is the willingness to … say with human certainty and arrogance: ‘God is here.’ [By making a certain declaration of faith, we] will find only a god that fits our measure.” As much as it displeases me to conclude, the reality is that, in Pope Francis’s mind, leaving room for Jesus means leaving room for doubt. Consequently, actively welcoming doubt would mean welcoming Jesus.
Who is this Jesuit Pope? Certainly no one whom his Jesuit master, St. Ignatius, would have recognized (well, not without a lot of charitable squinting). “In me,” says St. Ignatius, “there was no harbor for doubt. Jesus came, and my trust in God has grown by the doubts of men.” Alas, it turns out that the founder of the Jesuits was a legalist: by leaving no room for doubt, his Bergoglian descendant would argue, St. Ignatius left no room for Jesus. A further irony is that Our Jesuit Pope would endorse doubt as cat nip for Jesus, since the foundation of the Jesuit order is the Spiritual Exercises, one aim of which is precisely to deliver the exercitant from doubt!
We’ve all been duped: Francis is not the first Jesuit pope; he’s the first neo-Jesuit “Bishop-of-Rome-full-stop.”
“If it is deliberately cultivated, doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.” –– CCC §2088
As with the “restorationist” quotation, this quotation is pure caricature of whomever it is that the Pope thinks it targets. If the Pope endorses the statements even without the underlined words, then we must wonder how well he understands Christianity at all. Take a moment to read his non-underlined words again.
“[In the] quest to seek and find God … there is still an area of uncertainty. … If a person says that he met God … and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. … If one has … answers to [important] questions — that is the [indubitable!?] proof that God is not with him. It means that he is [can we settle for “might be,” Pope Francis?] a false prophet using religion for himself. The … leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have … left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for … certainties; we must be humble.
If only Francis could see the irony: precisely in denouncing as a false prophet him who has answers to all questions, Our neo-Jesuit Bishop of Rome provides an answer to all our questions: “Leave room for doubt; trust me on that; courageous Christians have unfailing trust in doubt.”
My ongoing goal is to discern what is inside Pope Francis that motivates him to makes such bizarre claims. In this case, it’s short work: the authenticity of doubt being endorsed by Pope Francis is just the overflow of boilerplate Hegelian-Teilhardian-Process gobbledygook stewing within him.
To translate it back into the original Hegelian: every act of faith finds its sublimation/perfection in an antithetical act of doubt, and only thus ascends to a higher act of faith which in turn finds its sublimation/perfection in a correspondingly higher antithetical act of doubt, until eventually the first act (or thesis) of faith evolves into its own contrary, at which point all contradictions are resolved into an absolute “omega” unity that transcends the dichotomous, finite illusion of truth and falsehood. And now in the translation Pope Francis provided to Scalfari: “our species … will end but … the light of God will never end. At that point, this light will flood all souls and all will be in all. … Transcendence remains because that light, the all in all, transcends the universe and the species that will then inhabit it.”
“God manifests himself in historical revelation, in history. Time initiates processes, and space crystallises them. God is in history, in the processes. We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes. We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics.” –– Pope Francis to Fr. Spadaro
“[God] weaves all these feelings of the actual world into one unity of feeling. Just as in all other actual entities, God’s concrescence is a process by which he brings a diversity of prehensions into one fully determinate unity. The achievement of every actual occasion in the antecedent universe is preserved by its integration into the harmony of God’s satisfaction.” –– John W. Lansing
Whatever he may actually believe when the world isn’t listening, his actual words provide yet another instance of the Pope’s trademark false dichotomies, of his penchant for mystical mystification, namely, that the more one seeks security in the Church’s “tradition and memory,” the less courageous one is; the more one looks to disciplinarian solutions, the more egotistical one is; the less willing you are to be “open” to the “new,” the less you trust God. Yet, as Joseph Shaw’s four-part (1, 2, 3, 4) response to “Our Francis of the Interviews” shows, if anyone faces such a ham-handed dilemma, it’s neo-conservative Catholics (i.e. soft ultramontanists), not traditional Catholics.
As with his statements in the Spadaro interview about moral truth––”The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”––we are left wondering whom exactly the Pope has in mind: who exactly, and in reality, are these inward-directed Christians that always, stubbornly desire exaggerated certainty about everything?
So this is what it feels like to be a legalist.
Heretofore I’ve only given a rhetorical critique of the Pope’s words to Scalfari. He could have spoken better by speaking more guardedly. Etc. The usual soft ultramontanist water-carrying.
But what about the substance of his claims as they have been sown into the listening world?
Well, let me first note what a leading body of stubborn restorationists say about certainty in faith (emphasis mine):
“‘I BELIEVE IN GOD, THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH’ – The meaning of the above words is this: I believe with certainty, and without a shadow of doubt profess my belief in God the Father… with the greatest ardour and piety I tend towards Him, as the supreme and most perfect good. …
The word believe does not here mean to think, to suppose, lo be of opinion; but… it expresses the deepest conviction, by which the mind gives a firm and unhesitating assent to God revealing His mysterious truths. …
The knowledge derived through faith must not be considered less certain because its objects are not seen; for the divine light by which we know them, although it does not render them evident, yet suffers us not to doubt them. …
[W]hen God commands us to believe He does not propose to us to search into His divine judgments, or inquire into their reason and cause, but demands an unchangeable faith, by which the mind rests content in the knowledge of eternal truth. And … since it would argue arrogance and presumption to disbelieve the word of a grave and sensible man affirming anything as true, … how rash and foolish are those, who, hearing the words of God Himself, demand reasons for His heavenly and saving doctrines? Faith, therefore, must exclude not only all doubt, but all desire for demonstration. …
We should be satisfied with the assurance and certitude which faith gives us that we have been taught these truths by God Himself, to doubt whose word is the extreme of folly and misery.
Are we clear now on where a discrepancy might lie between Our Jesuit Pope and the Biblical Tradition?
The siren song of soft ultramontanism is apparently impossible to resist once it’s been embraced, so I’m willing to admit that, no, some of you are not yet willing to admit that Our Jesuit Pope is wildly wrong about the necessity of doubt for authentic faith.
In case the Roman Catechism wasn’t clear or, ahem, certain enough, let me cite those guys’ editors on the topic of “doubt”:
Mt 21:21 –– Amen, I say to you, if you shall have faith, and stagger not, not only this of the fig tree shall you do, but also if you shall say to this mountain, Take up and cast thyself into the sea, it shall be done. 22 And all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.
Heb 11:1–2 –– Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval. [Yes, I know that Francis mentions this very passage in the Spadaro interview, but it’s just… just stop it.]
Jam 1:5–8 –– If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.
“Well played, St. Tom! To honor your making room for me, I’ma call you The Doubter.” (John 20:27, Open To The Modern Edition)
As I’ve learned to expect, no matter how at odds certain of Pope Francis’s statement appear to be, it behooves us to devise a way to read them in the most charitable way, with which I concur, of only it didn’t seem that “charitable” now seems to mean “convoluted and question-begging”. My hunch is that a lot of the soft ultramontanism we’re seeing is being generated by Protestant converts to the Church. Many of them probably have friends and family who disagreed with them swimming the Tiber, but who, after years of prayer, conversation, and seeing fruit in the Catholic converts’ lives, are finally open to joining the Church as well. But as soon as some of the Pope’s howlers hit the press, those would-be Catholics vamoosed like scared coral. So there’s a great deal of pressure for these soft ultramontanist advocates to convince their beloved would-be Catholics that nothing is amiss.
Alas, as Dale Price puts it, “The orthodox-as-Chip-Diller response is losing its effectiveness.”
“Yippy! It’s cool to be Caflick again!”
So, to the soft ultramontanists out there who might be reading this, can I “prove” that Pope Francis is a heretic?
I had not been struck by the enormity of his words about doubt and certainty until I wrote this post, and if you can’t admit that those stand in all-but-heretical contrast to Catholic truth, then I really think you and I might adhere to different faiths.
As I intend to demonstrate in two upcoming posts, the Pope’s claims about “the Catholic God” and about the autonomy of conscience (cf. his letter to Scalfari and his interview with Scalfari) implicitly but logically convey ideas that are so inimical to the Catholic faith that they should be as spurned by a healthy Catholic mind as are claims that explicitly propose heresy. Such non-explicitly heretical propositions I shall call heterodoxoid: To be heterodoxoid, one must endorse or espouse doctrines which logically entail heresy a) if one obstinately defended those doctrines and b) unless one makes an effort to qualify and contextualize the orthodox sense of one’s erroneous doctrines.
And so, as I began with §2088 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I shall end in the same precincts.
The reason I don’t want to brand Pope Francis as a heretic is because he has not proven himself to be obstinate in making erroneous statements of the kind I’ve been analyzing. As Catechism §2089 explains, “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same”. It should be undeniable by now that Our Francis of the Interviews has spoken against certain (!) truths of the Catholic faith, but I am trying to be charitable enough to say that these were merely inadvertent and loose errors, instead of being an “obstinate post-baptismal denial” of those truths.
Vatican Dudes, seriously… would you please remove those interviews with Spadaro and Scalfari?
Lest it be presumed that I am boasting of my own charity towards Our Jesuit Pope, I must say that the refusal outright to tar Pope Francis with the brush of heresy has more to do with him as a Jesuit Pope than with me as a supposed model of sanctity. Like all Jesuits of his time, Our Jesuit Pope excels at hewing very closely to heresy without ever saying anything ‘technically’ wrong, kind of like how kids play the “I’m not touching you” game.
“I’m not touching heresy! I’m not touching heresy! I’m not touching heresy!”
We don’t need a Pope who is a manifest heretic; galvanizing heretics and sowing confusion is enough. Let me once again cite Steve Skojec’s important essay in this time of confusion:
I don’t have any ill-will for Catholics defending the pope, but I do wish they would stop already. He is doing a lot of damage. He is muddying the already unclear theological waters and making it very, very easy for a world hell bent on seeing Catholics as the bad guys to misinterpret things until we have no chance of having an honest conversation about anything anymore. They’re already using “but the pope said” arguments against people out there defending the unborn and arguing against gay marriage. It isn’t going to stop. So while there may not be malice at work, I think these papal apologists need to step back and ask themselves if they’re maybe, just maybe, being a bit willfully obtuse. …
[The worst danger is when enemies speak] in half-truths. When they veil themselves in cryptic language that can be taken to mean one thing by the orthodox and another by the progressive. When they speak in code that tells their brothers in revolution that the fight is still on, that the 1960s aren’t dead yet and getting better. When they say nothing at all the can be definitively denounced as heterodox but everything that can be embraced by the heterodox if they so choose.
Stalin had a word for the people who sympathised with the Soviets in the West: useful idiots. This papacy is looking to be a continuation of the revolution that began before Bl. John XXIII invoked the council. This is a battle for the soul of the Church that is happening within the boundaries of papal infallibility, but make no mistake – a lot can go wrong without changing a single doctrine. …
If you want, in charity, to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt, you have every right to do so. But I urge you to ask for discernment. To question with boldness whether your benevolent papism — an entirely noble but ultimately unnecessary aspect of the life of faith — is enabling something that will damage the Church’s ability to evangelize for years to come.
So, again, do I think Pope Francis is a manifest heretic? No, although in a perverse way I might prefer that: if we had a manifestly and obstinately heretical pope, at least we’d know how to read him on a consistent basis.
Short of that, we have but the keys I’m trying to unearth to make sense of this Pope’s sometimes erratic voice.