What a Christmas gift!

“29 [I]f thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell. … 37 But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.— Matthew 5

“11 [Christ] gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors, [12] for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: [13] until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ; [14] that henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive. [15] But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in [Christ].” — Ephesians 4

“6 [H]e that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. 7 Therefore let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.  8 A double minded man is inconstant in all his ways.” — James 1

dumbstruck ventriloquism

Creative Minority reports (with a few of my own translation tweaks, and my emphases underlined):

I found this amazing. Somebody sent Father Z. a translation of an interview with Cardinal Meisner.

In it, Cardinal Meisner relays how he directly asked the Pope about his teaching style using interview[s] and short speeches with remarks that need further explanation. Cardinal Meisner relays that the Pope got ‘big eyes’ and asked for an example.

“At my last meeting with Pope Francis, I had the opportunity to talk [frankly] to him about a lot of things. And I told him that some questions remain unanswered in his style of spreading the gospel through interviews and short speeches, questions which need some extended explanation for people who are not so [theologically literate]. The pope looked at me “with big eyes” and asked me to give an example. And my response was : During the flight back from Rio you were asked about people who divorced and remarried. And the pope responded [simply]: People who are divorced can receive communion, people who are remarried can’t. In the [O]rthodox church you can marry twice. And then he talked about mercy, which, according to my view, is seen in this country only as a surrogate for all human faults. And the pope responded quite bluntly that he’s a son of the church, and he doesn’t proclaim anything else than the teachings of the church. And mercy has to be identical with truth – if not, she doesn’t deserve that name. Furthermore, when there are open theological questions, it’s up to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to give detailed responses [as noted in my recent post about “ecumenism for Sneetches”]“.

As noted by Father Z., the Pope doesn’t seem aware of the chaos that followed some of those remarks and the way they were taken by those who are not loyal sons of the Church.

It seems that the Pope takes for granted a deeper understanding of Catholic teaching as the necessary context of his remarks. But many of those in his audience do not have such context and predisposed to reject Church teaching. In short, the Pope doesn’t know his audience well.

Further, if the Pope doesn’t know his audience, he likely does not know the effect on those Catholics in the trenches who try everyday to bring the truth part of mercy to those who reject such truth.

… I am thankful that the Pope does not intend such things. Hopefully now that it has been brought to his attention, he will include the full truth with mercy in his future answers so as not to be misunderstood.

Vielen Dank, Cdl. Meisner! Leave it to a German to speak bluntly and to the point. I count this intervention as an answer to the prayers of many faithful Catholics, and we can hope that this will light a fire under Pope Francis to measure his words much more carefully. (A sort of papal New Year’s resolution?) Although the incident does bear the whiff of a barrell roll, I think it’s a positive sign that this so far rather jagged papacy is being nudged in the right direction for the long haul. At some point in 2014, in fact, I’d be tickled to see TIME rescind its appointment of Pope Francis as Man of the Year. 😉

Now, as cynical as I can be at times, I am not going to say that Pope Francis is just putting on airs (though the idea has already been voiced by others). The scriptural passages with which I opened this post are meant only to remind us what is at stake if a Christian is a dissembler, not that the current occupant of the See of Peter is such a dissembler. I am being charitable, but at the same time, it does strain credulity that Pope Francis has as little awarness of the impact of his “style” as he is reported to have expressed to Cdl. Meisner, not only since he is reported to have expressed concern about that very topic, but also because it is the official policy of his spokesman that this papacy is guided by a very different, very novel “style” of leadership. Indeed, there is no small irony in the fact that the pope has used an informal conversation to address the prudence of using informal conversations as a major part of his papacy!

ironic hat

This latest in-flight course correction reminds me of the retraction of the Scalfari interview last month, not the least because it paints afresh how perilous the life of a soft-ultramontanist can be. As with the pope’s reported concerns about the Scalfari interview and its sudden retraction, the question naturally arises, “How deep does the rabbit hole go?” If the pope admits that X in Y is problematic, then perhaps, if asked, he would also admit that Z in Y is just as problematic. If, however, someone–call him Monty–had gone to great lengths to defend both X and Z, simply because Y was “something the pope said” (Y*), it stands to reason that Monty should feel at least some hesitation in defending each and every Y* simply on principle. As Melchior Cano wrote,

“Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision [or statement] of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations.”

The papacy should never foster a personality cult, but that is exactly what soft ultramontanism does. Ultramontanism effectively reduced the Church to the papal office, whereas soft ultramontanism has the effect of reducing the papacy to the individuality of its occupant at any time. Soft ultramontanism, in other words, treats the phrase “a good pope” as a pious neoplasm pious pleonasm and “a bad pope” as a blasphemous oxymoron. The reality, however, is much more complex, much more Catholic. For, just as there were bad disciples–hand-picked by the Lord Himself–so there have been and will be bad popes. Hence, Monty should be asked why he defended X (among other examples) as uncontroversially authentic Catholic teaching, when the pope himself has retractated X. I think it’s much more prudent to accept the fact that the vast majority of any papacy, like the majority of popes themselves, will be buried under the sands of time as irrelevant, if not distracting, to the larger, unchanging beauty and coherence of Catholicism. wrong-end-telescopeLet us never confuse the orator of a book with the author of the book, nor ever read the Tradition through the big, immediate lens of a single pope. Instead, let us always listen for the authentic voice of Catholic Tradition when the pope orates the script that has been handed onto him. Let us, in other words, never settle for “reading the pope” through a single predecessor, and still less through a clannish devotion to his person, but instead view all things through the lens of our Faith as a whole
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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 What a Christmas gift!

  1. vermontcrank1 says:

    Dear B.C. This popped into my head when I read about this interview (Thanks for bringing it to our attention).

    I have stopped trying to figure out Dad whereas I find myself increasingly talking to the Queen Mom in Heaven about he who is the vicar of Her Son.

  2. Branch says:

    I agree regarding the “soft ultramontanism”. Another irony is that those who practice it do so either attempting to be or believing themselves to be humble. They look at you as impious for casting any doubt upon something the Pope has said or done. It’s dissent and it’s offensive to the Pope’s sphere of competency. You’re looked at is if “you should know better.” You’re wrong if you do not read (spin) everything the Pope says in such a way that it squares with orthodoxy or sound spiritual theology. It’s a sin not to find the hermeneutic of continuity in everything the Pope says. It has to be assumed. An honest, objective reading of what was said (or seems to have been said), should it reveal something less than solid Catholic teaching, is a priori a problem with you, the reader. If this becomes the thorough consciousness of ‘charitable’ Catholics, aren’t we then at the same time spreading the post-modern epistemology, which would seem to undercut much of our ecumenical hopes of making the Faith tenable to those who are post-Christian or ‘beyond’ God and religion?

  3. Murray says:

    One of the first things that went down the memory hole after the retraction of the Scalfari interview was Fr. Lombardi’s statement that the Holy Father had reviewed and approved the interview prior to its publication. Soft-ultramontanist outlets like Catholic Answers now inform their listeners that the Scalfari rogue committed a serious breach of journalistic ethics by interviewing the Pope without a recorder or notes, but it seems to me he did exactly what he SHOULD have done in the circumstances: write up his recollection of the conversation and send it to the interviewee for correction and approval. (Of course, Catholic Answers was all on board with the perfect, unquestionable orthodoxy of the Scalfari interview right up until the retraction.)

    And this is why I’m MORE troubled by Cdl. Meisner’s “big eyes” report than I would be if it turned out that the Pope was a self-conscious ideological modernist. You can always argue with a modernist: present your respective positions, cite magisterial teachings back to the earliest years of the Church, debate the effectiveness of various strategies, etc. But how do you argue with a wide-eyed chatty naif who sincerely believes that everything he says is pellucid and in full accord with the historic teaching of the Church? Because, make no mistake, that’s the clear implication of the Holy Father’s approval of the Scalfari interview and the Meisner report. It means that while we can perhaps take comfort in the fact that there’s no grand strategy to undermine the Church, we also may have resign ourselves to a “new normal” of confusion and distress among faithful Catholics.

  4. ErnstThalmann says:

    If you’re looking for the Nirvana of this kind of thing, take a look at the comments – and largely the content – at EWTN owned National Catholic Register. Some of the rationalizing there is neigh-on paralyzing. And chief among them, house paralyzer and torture advocate, Jimmy Akin, with his 9 point “pooper scoopers” and secret messages! I mean, really, secret messages! One leaves that site and the television programing of its owner hoping for a near term prescription for dramamine.

  5. ErnstThalmann says:

    Very well expressed. And, oh, yes, leading the pack among the pusillanimous is RNC owned Catholic Answers. What is of primary importance at sites like these is a certain rule-bound, Evangelicalism copying parentalism. Father knows best, you know.

  6. Branch says:

    I find Patheos to be even worse.

  7. ErnstThalmann says:

    Isn’t that the site with the reptilian Mark Shay, or whatever his name is?

  8. ErnstThalmann says:

    Apologies! This comment was intended as a reply to Murray/

  9. Brock Fowler says:

    What is particularly odd about this is that we are talking about COMMUNICATION. That is, the Pope has not issued any formal documents on doctrine, and he KNOWS that he is talking to the unformed, because he actually seeks out secular, and sometimes atheistic, publications.

    Granted, some complex point of doctrine may be above us, but we certainly can fairly judge whether a Pope has COMMUNICATED clearly.

  10. Branch says:

    To some, it seems, we cannot. Or, if we can, it’s not really for us to say. Even admitting “I’m confused by the Pope” is not a proper response or one which meets with little to no understanding.

  11. Pingback: Up to bat for Pope Francis… | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam" fidescogitactio @ gmail . com

  12. Pingback: From the Res Ipsa Loquitur Files… | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam" fidescogitactio @ gmail . com

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