Honest question…

What’s so bad about “bad popes”?

chaucer the-friars-taleFor that matter, lest anyone think I’m surreptitiously banging on the Pope Francis drum again, my question applies to “bad clerics” in general. I’m talking about the kind of corruption and hypocrisy that Dante and Chaucer lampooned. Forget about Pope Francis for now. In fact, let me make it clear that I AM IN NO WAY LIKENING POPE FRANCIS TO John XII, Boniface VIII, Alexander VI, et al. This is a philosophical query, not a journalistic ploy. I’m curious what other Catholics think here. If the key is to trust the pope because we trust God, then why are we skittish about endorsing popes like John XII or Alexander VI just as warmly as we endorse a Pope Leo I or a John Paul II? Why can’t we say something like, “Despite all their personal failings and pastoral mistakes, John XII and Alexander VI were still good popes“? Similarly, if part of our duty as laymen is to heed and submit to our pastor as a sacramental minister of God’s grace–as a true alter Christus–, even if we think he lives too ostentatiously, is liturgically sloppy, gives mediocre and confusing sermons, is not a warm “people person,” etc., then what are the criteria for “ranking” priests and bishops?

dante falsifiersLet’s say that Alexander VI was as bad as his critics say he was. Who cares? He didn’t, and couldn’t, change official doctrine, so he didn’t, and couldn’t, do any lasting harm to the Church. Arguably, the souls of the faithful are protected even more strongly by the same indefectible graces of Holy Mother Church and the compensating actual graces of the Holy Spirit during especially bad ecclesiastical weather. If all popes are inevitably and incommensurately a mix of good and bad, and there are no objective criteria by which their “performance” or “dereliction” of duty can be ranked, why should we even countenance the idea of “bad popes” and “great popes”? In the crucial respect of being the voice of Peter in their day, all popes are given the same measure of divine protection in order not to teach falsely concerning faith and morals in a binding way for the Church–so why should we even care about their pastoral styles, personalities, projects, changes, opinions, etc.?

As I say, my question applies to ordinary bishops and priests in general. We may not like a pastor, or we may think he’s the bee’s knees–but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that he is endowed with sacramental grace and therefore can be relied upon in that respect, no matter how effective or ineffective, how charismatic or repellent, he may be as a person. At what point does assessing the personal aspects of a clerical officeholder become more than mere gossip or vain fretting? God’s grace in the sacraments cannot be thwarted, so as long as he is still a validly ordained minister of the sacraments and does not explicitly (formally) profess heresy, why should we ever criticize the personal accoutrements of a pastor? Technically, isn’t “technically good enough” good enough?

I think this quandary boils down to understanding the essential function and role a Catholic pastor. What is the primary role of a priest, of a bishop, of a pope? I have my ideas–but I’ll stop here in order to leave the floor to you, dear reader.


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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20 Responses to Honest question…

  1. Leo says:

    I am a man, and I am sure we could all agree that I would still be a man if I had no arms. It doesn’t follow that my arms are therefore irrelevant to manhood — on the contrary they are a logical development and fulfillment of manhood. “Accidental to” doesn’t mean “irrelevant to.”

    Similarly, holiness is in some way accidental to the Petrine office in the sense that it is possible to have Popes who are not holy and to have holy people who are not Popes; but it doesn’t follow that holiness is therefore irrelevant to the Papacy — on the contrary, insofar as the Pope is one of the most visible symbols of Catholic unity, it is reasonable for people to expect him to instantiate the nature of the Catholic (which is holiness) more perfectly than the average person. In this sense holiness is a logical development and fulfillment of the Petrine office. When he fails in holiness the sin is worse than it would be if he were not Pope because his office is so especially public and so the sin is aggravated by scandal (or risk thereof).

    More generally, while the essential mission of the Church is not compromised provided she does not teach doctrinal error, I don’t think anyone could be pleased with a Church that had this as its only pride. This protection exists precisely to facilitate her mission of saving souls, and saving souls is exactly what scandalous clerics make so difficult.

  2. I’m not sure what trust has to do with the matter; the whole point of the doctrine of Petrine primacy seems to imply that whether one trusts the pope is utterly irrelevant: one trusts God, and because of it one defers to the pope in matters in which he genuinely acts as universal pastor — whether one trusts him or not. In fact, history shows that obviously some popes should not be trusted for all sorts of things; one still trusts in God to make it come out right in the end, but that God is a good God does not imply that Alexander VI is a good pope. Beyond the general trust of God to guide the Church, however, it wouldn’t be different from anything else; for instance, even a basic respect for the chain of command, even a chain of command with idiots, is going to do far more good for the army as an army than everyone smarter than the idiots doing whatever they think best. Yes, individually some of the decisions might be better if everyone ignores the generals who are idiots, but all in all the chain of command does more for the army than any particular individual decisions do. Or take Congress; respect for the rule of law is better for society than ignoring Congress, despite the fact that pretty much everyone knows that Congress can barely pass a coherent law. It just comes with the territory. Respect for the chain of command, or respect for the rule of law, tells us nothing about whether we should regard the generals or legislators as trustworthy: it’s more relevant, in fact, to what we should be doing even when they are not, precisely because we trust something more trustworthy than they are.

    Even when the pope himself is in many ways a good and decent man, nothing particularly follows. Setting aside some popes whose primary distinction as pope was to die well for the faith, you can literally count on two hands, and probably one hand, the popes who have been particularly great as popes: Leo I, and Gregory I, and Innocent III, and probably Benedict XIV, and probably Leo XIII; there are maybe a few more who are at least possibilities. The bulk of people who have ever held the office have been at best complete mediocrities, even when we take the handful of the truly awful popes out of the running. But the value of the Petrine office doesn’t depend on the Bishop of Rome being impressive. It likewise doesn’t depend on how anyone assesses them. I think neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI were particularly impressive as popes, despite agreeing with a lot of their general ideas; I certainly got very little personally out of either. Lots of people disagree. I think Paul VI was in fact a near miss for a great pope, and his major failures mostly attributable to others. Lots of people disagree. But any such assessment is a matter of private devotion, ultimately, if it is of any value at all, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the faith as such, any more than differences about whether this devotion or that devotion is an especially good one do.

    But of course, it also follows that this says nothing about the legitimacy of criticism or not; it will depend on the criticism, the manner of it, and the forum in which it is put forward, just as whether a soldier’s criticism of a general will be legitimate or not (i.e., consistent with respect for the chain of command and the ends of the military, and the deference those call for) depending on the criticism, the manner of it, and the forum in which it is put forward: there are no general rules here — it’s consistency with the ends under the circumstances that governs. (Although it may be worth pointing out that saints who actually had to live under truly awful popes, while actively criticizing them occasionally, mostly just endured them.)

    I would also say that I think it’s simply false, regardless of what is the case with the Petrine primacy, that pastors generally can be relied on in matters of sacramental grace or pastoral matters; I don’t think any intrinsic parallel is possible on this particular point, regardless of how one takes the Petrine office itself . Respect for the pastoral office is simply (in the case of priests and bishops) respect for the sacrament of apostolic succession itself, i.e., holy orders, which requires certain kinds of deference. It doesn’t require any kind of trust that the pastor can be relied on. But the papacy is not a kind of holy orders; it is a function of the Church itself.

  3. geekexist says:

    As the old saying goes, “grace flows through rusty pipes.” Alexander VI was tolerated by many as he was a good administrator; and its been reported that Cardinal Dolan has said that Francis was elected as the Church needed gifts of administration at the moment. Perhaps the Holy Spirit ordains certain gifts for certain times, whether they are used “properly” or not, and whether they are used as the faithful prefer, or not.

    The Papacy is a function of the Church itself, but so is being a Pastor. It’s a ministry specified canonically and called forth by the Church itself. It is not an automatic right which comes with Holy Orders. The law also mandates certain duties of the Pastor. And for all the criticism of Parish Priests today, the majority strive for holiness despite their flaws and sometimes broken humanness.

    The primary roles of Priest, Bishop and Pope are different according to their Canonical appointment, which is usually and hopefully in line with their charism. Yet they are all, in certain functions, alter Christus, ,and are called to bring souls closer to Christ in the Sacramental life of the Church, and to make disciples. A bishop I know has often spoken of the role of the Priest as “an assistant to the Bishop, and an administrator of the sacraments”, which is very in line with Vatican II teachings. The documents of the council are geared mainly towards the Bishops and the faithful, with Priests being … administrators of the Sacraments, and Pastors administrating Parishes. It[s not a very high minded view of the Presbyterate.

    That being said, grace flows through rusty pipes, and one must rely on the grace flowing through the Apostolic Succession into the sacramental life of the Church.

  4. Brandon:

    The thesis to which you first object was actually a synthesis of a couple recent comments here at FCA, and I confess that my takeaway from your comment is that, as I implied, it truly doesn’t matter what the pope says or does, as long as he’s not teaching dogmatically. There’s no judging popes; there’s just complying with their authority and accepting their formal teaching. As you are correct to note, even when we have no reason, much less a desire, to “trust” or heed a pope in terms of his personal witness, we must trust God, in the sense that God will not let any pope’s personal witness/strategy undermine official doctrine. However, the awkward upshot for me is that I feel justified in my hunch that it doesn’t matter if I ignore the pope, and that in some cases doing may be the best choice. I trust God no matter what the pope says; the pope will never teach anything that binds my conscience to error; therefore, trusting God means ignoring the pope. Sorry that the logic may seem opaque, but I am still trying to work my way through this papacy.

    Lastly, I agree with geekexist that your distinction between the basis of holy orders and the ecclesial origin of the papacy seems pretty sketchy, if it doesn’t put the cart before the horse, altogether. In fact, I think it’s well nigh self-destructive to say that the average priest or bishop is *not* to be trusted as a sure guide, simply in terms of his valid sacramental efficacy, and that we should only expect sure guidance from the pope. I guess the lesson I keep needing to learn is that silent conformity is the best bet.

  5. Excellent points, Leo, thank you. Could I ask, then, which popes you would say best portray or make “relevant” the Petrine office? I take your point to be that “bad popes” are only “bad” insofar as their lapses scandalize would-be converts. But then, I wonder, why would God not provide a grace of “inscandability” to the grace of “infallibility,” if the saving efficacy of the latter, for all intents and purposes, depends on the former?

  6. Branch says:

    I have wondering about the matter of “trust” when it comes to bishops, especially in the States where the USCCB continues to ask the faithful for donations to Catholic Relief Services, a large organization that has been mired in controversy. If a Catholic chooses to give but to another charitable organization – even if it is Catholic – is he or she a dissent solider, prideful, a morale killer?

    I think, ultimately, these questions arise because we do not have a settled ecclesiology in place. There is still much debate about how the Pope and Bishops interrelate, and then the implications for the faithful.

  7. Leo says:

    Well, the best Pope is naturally going to be conditioned by the demands of the age. Today, we urgently need a competent administrator. Before the most recent conclave, many of my friends were hoping a Cardinal Dolan would be elected Pope, a smiley man that people like. I disagreed. We’d had decades of smiley-happy Popes already. We didn’t need a John Paul the Second the Second, we needed a Leo the Fourteenth. We needed a snarling old sonofabitch with a steel rod for a spine who’ll fill those empty European monasteries with defrocked clerics doing penance under the governance of a very stern abbot observing rigorous rules of silence. In previous eras, we might need an example of holiness more urgently than a good administrator; hence it was better for the pre-Tridentine Church, organizationally strong but filthy, to have Celestine V as Pope, however briefly, however futilely, than it was for to have Alexander VI as Pope, a competent administrator and even defender of the faith but a ghastly human being. So I don’t know that I can necessarily give you a good universal example of a perfect Pope. Ideally we’d have an aspiring martyr with the leadership skills of a Vanderbilt, but there’s some tension between personal holiness and being the upper-manager of a large non-profit organization. 🙂

    Re: your latter point, there’s always some tension between God’s twin goals of facilitating us loving him without depriving us of the capacity to freely choose to love him. We are, after all, free by nature, so it is good for us to be free and good for us to make choices freely, and he would not, I imagine, deprive us of the joy and goodness of turning to him in freedom. Unfortunately, too vigorous an intervening in the affairs of the Church might do just that, so he has opted largely to take a free hand with us, preserving us only from outright catastrophe.

  8. In general, God works through us as much in spite of us as because of us. That is as true of the clergy, from the lowliest deacon to the pope himself, as of the laity. And that is why, since I was in college and embraced an adult faith, my opinion of the clergy has never affected my faith or practice. It’s enough for me that, as geekexists says: “…grace flows through rusty pipes, and one must rely on the grace flowing through the Apostolic Succession into the sacramental life of the Church.”

  9. But I see no point at which I’ve deviated from straightforward fact here: the papacy involves no sacramental character beyond that of the bishop who holds it, and is the capacity for exercising an ecumenical function. None of this is in doubt: the latter is explicitly part of Vatican I’s account of the papacy, and no reputable theologian, to my knowledge, has ever even suggested that the papacy as such involves anything more on sacramental lines than the same sacramental character as any bishop. Thus there is no foundation whatsoever for conflating the two questions, regardless of one’s stance on either.

    I also don’t think it follows that it doesn’t matter what the Pope teaches — indeed, there’s no way to say that in an unqualified way that does not clearly conflict with the point about deference; my point was that talk of trust just doesn’t seem relevant. Trust and deference can go together, but there’s no necessary connection; and what is more, this is something we constantly see all over the place, which was the point of my examples about rule of law and chain of command. Nor do I think it is consistent with the example of the saints never to judge popes (or consistent with my examples of rule of law and chain of command, for that matter). The point is that there is a necessary context for it, and, again, this context is not dependent on any questions of trust, nor does it have any necessary implications for it.

    And perhaps I am just more pessimistic about human nature than you, but I think it’s absurd to trust the average priest or bishop as a sure guide, when so many are manifestly not trustworthy as sure guides. Some will be worthy of it, some won’t. Likewise, I think it’s overwhelmingly clear that Popes are not and have never been necessarily sources of sure guidance. God is a source of sure guidance. Because of that, the Church as such is a source of sure guidance. It follows from the latter that the Pope is a source of sure guidance precisely insofar as he exercises a function of the Church itself, and for the same reason that all bishops together are a source of sure guidance in exactly the same way. (I am utterly unimpressed by geekexist’s argument here. Contrary to geekexist’s claim, being pastor is not a function of the Church itself; no one in their right mind thinks that the pastor, qua pastor, is exercising the faculties of the whole Church. One might as well claim that being a layman is a function of the Church itself, since laymen clearly have canonical responsibilities, rights, and privileges in the Church. This is simply not true. Nor is it in any way controversial that the reason why priests and bishops typically are the ones to receive pastoral functions is tied to their responsibilities given holy orders. Nor is it in any way controversial that pastoral functions in general do in fact depend on the hierarchy, which is in fact constituted by holy orders. Any line of argument suggesting the two are not connected is simply incoherent.)

    But trusting popes, bishops, and priests for sure guidance is irrelevant for almost everything we have popes, bishops, and priests for. The primary function of the pope as such is primacy. The primary function of bishops and priests is the sacraments received from the apostles. And even where these imply authoritative guidance, as they certainly sometimes do, you can take them as having authority as guides without ‘trusting them as sure guides’. There are a lot of different responses to guidance that are short of trusting someone as a sure guide but more than ignoring them. Again, trust just doesn’t seem to be the right way to express the matter.

  10. geekexist says:

    “(I am utterly unimpressed by geekexist’s argument here. Contrary to geekexist’s claim, being pastor is not a function of the Church itself; no one in their right mind thinks that the pastor, qua pastor, is exercising the faculties of the whole Church. …”

    After your discussion of the Bishop and the Pastor, you had written: “But the papacy is not a kind of holy orders; it is a function of the Church itself.”

    My clarification is not the argument you’re looking for: I’m saying that being a Pastor is not a kind of Holy Orders either. And, the primary roles of a Priest, a Bishop and a Pope are ordered and clarified within the Law of the Church.

  11. Branch says:

    Indeed (on Brandon’s points) and isn’t that consistent with clericalism: a confusion between roles and functions and the person as such in those roles or with those functions, yet beyond those roles or functions – “Father knows best.”

  12. Brandon:

    1) I think I misunderstood the dichotomy posed in your last sentence from the previous comment: “But the papacy is not a kind of holy orders; it is a function of the Church itself.” In my reckoning, holy orders are a “function of the Church itself,” as well.

    2) As I said, I used the word “trust” because it was posed to me in earlier comments, but the point I am still pondering is, if it makes a kind of social/martial sense to heed your superiors, does it behoove a Catholic to follow closely a pope’s entire “personal magisterium,” or would it not suffice to ignore him and simply embrace whatever *formal* teaching he promulgates? I hear people say that we should “trustingly” (as it were) embrace a pope’s entire witness and “follow his lead” on matters of tone, emphasis, terminology, etc., since “he’s the man God knows the Church needs now,” but I find that premise … questionable. On one level, the pope is just the man whom a majority of cardinals thought would be best for the Church. Likewise, with a pastor: he is in one sense the man God knows this parish needs, but on another level, he’s just the man that a vast web of ecclesial aims and needs relocated to my parish. Does that mean I have an obligation to heed him (in a “trusting”, docile way) beyond his counsel in confession and his homilies as part of my active participation in Mass? I mean, my family is close to one pastor who’s actively supportive of Medjugorje pilgrimages, but otherwise is a very clear, consistent, and passionate preacher of good ol’ Catholicism. I don’t think it behooves me to defer to him out of some kind of clerical respect when some of his pastoral witness is clearly out of step with the Church’s direction. Likewise, if a pope’s personal witness is out of step with the Church’s Tradition, I don’t see why it behooves me to “follow his lead” on some kind of military analogy. Obey, yes; imitate and celebrate, no.

    It continues to be a very trying fall for me as a Catholic.

  13. Holy orders itself is indeed a function of the Church itself, as a sacrament; this simply doesn’t carry over to everything a priest does. While the priest may simply by the character be alter Christus in some abstract sense, the priest is not not actively acting as alter Christus in the pulpit but at the altar; and one can tell this because his work at the altar works on its own, because it’s actually Christ working, whereas this is very obviously not what goes on in their exercise of teaching functions. Even bishops, even the pope, in teaching aren’t exercising a function of the Church except insofar as they can be said in doing so as representing the entire Church, again, as general sacrament. In all cases, deference to teaching depends on deference to sacrament, and its appropriateness to it. (This is why the Eucharist is the sacrament of preaching, incidentally: it teaches as sign and as thing it is that toward which all preaching is merely the means, union with Christ.)

    But again, I think you are painting options too starkly and simply. Deference to priests and bishops is sacrament-oriented; the reason for obedience to priests and bishops, for instance, is wholly because it serves as a general means for protecting the sacraments, either specific sacraments like the Eucharist or the Church itself as general sacrament. This means there are often not going to be sharply defined rules, and there will always be a large spectrum of possible options: because deference in any given case is a means to an end, and means can be more or less appropriate to their ends. And this is especially going to be true given that deference is not a one-kind-for-all-seasons thing, but something that comes in a wide variety of kinds. All your responses in this thread, as well as in the post itself, seem to conflate a lot of very different kinds of responses one can have — you seem to treat a very large and complex terrain as if it were just a tiny handful of choices. I can fully understand having difficulty finding the appropriate response; but I don’t think it’s ever going to get easier if you keep treating the problem as if there were only a few options on the table, rather than the very vast number that there are. Indeed, although since I only know your difficulty through reading about it, I would at least suggest that part of the problem is that you seem misdiagnosing the problem — you keep treating it as if it were a case where you’re forced into a hard choice between a few unpalatable options, whereas it seems to me that the problem is more likely to be that, being in unfamiliar territory, you’re having difficulty finding the right blend of a large number of elements — the difficult of finding the right response seems to be due more to there being too many possible responses, not too few.

  14. Indeed. I’m bewildered by the “theo-semiotic” terrain these days, and not just at the papal level. I appreciate your comments.

  15. Thinking about this, while I’m skeptical of the idea that we can ever just assume “he’s the man God knows the Church needs now” (or, if we do, we have to understand it in a way that is consistent with saying that what God knows the Church needs now is a great deal of trial and trouble and a terrible burden around its neck, because this is what some popes have been), nonethless I think it might be worth saying something about the fact that it’s a position that can be argued.

    As I’ve mentioned before I like Paul VI quite a bit; he has a bad reputation in some circles. But whenever I go back and look at his actual writings and addresses, it’s almost like every single one marks what became a lost opportunity. Some of them are quite tragic; the most obvious is the last part of Humanae Vitae, the part everyone skips, where he argues that what Catholics actually need to do in order to handle issues like contraception is to begin reshaping their relations for the express purpose of protecting and supporting marriage. Even if all the suggestions he makes were bad ideas (they aren’t, but even if they were), if Catholics had started coming together in 1968, taking general guidance from the Pope even if they through out the specifics and did what seemed to work best in their actual circumstances, where would we be now? It wouldn’t have required blind obedience. It wouldn’t have required absolute trust. It wouldn’t have required deference at all costs. It would just have required saying, “Hey, the Pope is specifically flagging this as something the Church needs to focus on, an operational aim; let’s all just keep an eye out for things that can contribute appropriately to that aim.” Instead, almost nothing got done: liberal Catholics ignored the whole thing, conservative Catholics insisted on the contraception issue and failed to follow through on the point that the reason the Church was insisting so strongly on it was that marriage itself needed new support and protection. I doubt Paul VI could have had any inkling where we’d actually end up forty or so years later — he simply did not have the mentality to be that pessimistic — and yet here we are, struggling without means that we could easily have had. Others are less tragic, but you see it all over the place. So many wasted opportunities for which we will be paying a very long time. And, again, the strongest deference it would really have required is for people just to have taken the ideas into account in the practice of their Christian life, even if they thought Paul VI himself were seriously wrong about some aspects of them.

    So one could very well argue that even if a Pope is flubbing the matter completely, we should at least take the ‘general idea’ or ‘gist’ and try to take it into account in the way we go about our own lives. As I said, I myself don’t think this can be taken as any sort of general rule. But I do think it’s worth noting that it’s easy to find cases where Catholics themselves have flubbed by not doing exactly that.

  16. The painful irony is, I was a Calvinist, Francis de Sales is my patron saint, and I considered a Jesuit vocation for many years, so I am a strong believer in the mysterious ways of providence and discerning the times. Yet, despite my normal instincts and theological preferences, I feel very disoriented these days, and discerning a lot of what I see happening is hard enough on the eyes of my soul (like trying to read a complex text in a bright glare), that I feel like it’s easier not to look. And yet… I feel rather ashamed that I can’t just “go with the flow” on certain things these days.

    Paul VI certainly was a prophet, and the man for the times–though that’s a double-edged sword. The ways he guided the Church which turned out to be skewed or shortsighted were a result of his being a man OF his times, while his prophetic value derived form him being the man FOR his times.

    As for Pope Francis, leaving aside the areas I find least copacetic about his papacy so far, I feel like I’m clutching at straws for the clear directives that a lot of people seem to be taking up with glee. To what, specifically, is he calling the Church? I reach out for what are in my opinion a lot of homiletic bromides and find very little of substance which I COULD heed in a faithful way.

    As for that pastor, I’m of half the mind to absent our family from his care if he pushes Medge again. Yet… otherwise, he’s such a good and concrete guide! Arrrgghhh.

  17. I reach out for what are in my opinion a lot of homiletic bromides and find very little of substance which I COULD heed in a faithful way.

    Well, in fairness, he hasn’t even been pope nine months yet. Practically all we’ve had is an Encyclical partly written by his predecessor, and a lot of comments thrown out on the importance of dialogue and the need for the Church to exercise diverse gifts rather than trying for uniformity. I doubt that we would even have had that much for Paul VI by this point, unless we had contacts in Rome.

    The Medjugorge problem is one with which I have considerable sympathy. I’m not sure what I would do if my pastor were constantly talking about it.

  18. I agree that we can’t judge the pope’s entire magisterium by less than a year of “material,” but, first, as you know, I’ve found a third of those 9 months some pretty rough sledding, and, second, I’m disoriented by the near unanimous fervor in support of all the “guidance” and “inspiration” Pope Francis has given us so far. It’s another one of these mixed-signal problems: on the one hand, we are told to give Pope Francis time to mature and find his papal voice; on the other hand we are told that he is a breath of fresh air, a pastor of unheralded simplicity and clarity, a sure model for Christians in our day, etc. Precisely because there’s been so little so far to “get behind,” I feel like the no-eyed man in the land of the one-eyed, since, to hear most pundits tell it, he’s already given the Church a brilliant path ahead, etc. I have a feeling that I will get the most out of this papacy by “Tarzanning” from one encyclical/exhortation to the next. For now, most of what followed Lumen Fidei has been very much like “flyover country” for me, spiritually. And yet I’m the Eeyorish odd man out because I suffer that disconnect. I would like to believe it’s because my tone has been snide or to satirical at times, but I’ve seen the same reaction to person who have voiced the same concerns in a more sober fashion. Prayer… prayer…. All manner of things shall be well.

  19. The rough sledding part is perfectly reasonable, of course, but I don’t really understand being disconcerted by the fervor of others; first, it has little to do with Francis himself, and so shouldn’t, as far as I can see, be part of your evaluation of his papacy (any more than the excessively narrow treatments of Benedict XVI should color evaluation of his — we already know from his case that the pundits are clueless, with liberal pundits reading him uncharitably and conservative pundits often conveniently overlooking his rather extensive liberal sympathies because of his aesthetic conservatism). I’m unimpressed by the breath-of-fresh-air group, but by and large I’ve been unimpressed by that group (and there is always That Group) for every pope in my lifetime; so perhaps I’m just more used to it than you are. As far as I can see, we have this every single time.

    ( I don’t think the issue, btw, is that Pope Francis needs to ‘mature’; it’s that the confusion is in part a result of modern media, constantly barraging everyone with off-the-cuff and informal comments that in previous papacies would not have ever made global news. I think waiting for Pope Francis to be consistently articulate in informal situations is unlikely ever to happen; and he’s pretty clearly a pope who prefers, and will always prefer, informal situations. Rather, my point was that your assessment of Paul VI could never have possibly been made in the first nine months of his papacy; sometimes even at the best assessment seeing what a Pope is doing requires seeing the overall shape of his work, the forest rather than the trees.)

  20. Pingback: What a Christmas gift! | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam"

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