“Wherefore laying away all guile…”

Well, this is disheartening.

Yesterday, I “went to bat” to defend what I think is a harmless, though typically needlessly provocative expression from Pope Francis, “holy cunning”. However, after hearing further concerns about it, and praying about it, I realize that his use of the term is only minimally defensible. Ultimately it just serves to undermine once again the purity of his witness. This pope never knows when to leave well enough alone and stop talking! :sadface:

As one friend noted, the Magi did not practice “la santa furbizie”, since they were “told in a dream” to return “by a different way”, it is incorrect to say that they themselves practiced “holy cunning”. They simply practiced obedience to a King higher than King Herod. This error is akin to the Holy Father’s suggestion that, in the miracle of the fishes and loaves, the disciples themselves the virtue of sharing and solidarity. In fact, Jesus ordered them to share and give, and they simply obeyed. Without guile, I might add.

Once again we see how Pope Francis projects his own imaginings onto his less favored subjects. He derides the “Promethean neopelagianism” of traditional Christian Catholics, yet he himself insinuates all kind of Pelagian stumping into his sermons (e.g. by promoting holy cunning and the miracle of human solidarity, as well as by lambasting non-servant Christians as “pagans”, scorning the “mediocrity” of the doctrinal security, deriding the Pharisaism of those who stay inside the visible bounds of God’s grace “in the doors of the Church”, etc.). The reality is that a zealous hewing to the Tradition is more akin to the obedience of the Magi than the cunning of Herod.

adam and eve serpent“Now the serpent was more crafty [Heb. arum] than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” — Genesis 3:1

Consider these data about the term “cunning” (or “crafty”) in the Bible:

panourgia – lit., all-working, i.e., doing everything (pan, “all,” ergon, “work”), hence, “unscrupulous conduct, craftiness,” is always used in a bad sense in the NT, Luke 20:23; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 4:14, AV, “cunning craftiness.” See SUBTLETY. In the Sept. it is used in a good sense, Proverbs 1:4; Proverbs 8:5; indifferently in Numbers 24:22; Joshua 9:4.

The related term “guile” receives an equally inhospitable welcome in the New Testament witness:

adolos – without guile” (a, negative, and dolos, See GUILE), “pure, unadulterated,” is used metaphorically of the teaching of the Word of God, 1 Peter 2:2, RV. It is used in the papyri writings of seed, corn, wheat, oil, wine, etc.

NetBible gives a good summary of the treatment of “guile” in the Bible. Specifically, consider the directness of these Scriptures:

“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 him who is the head, even Christ”. — Ephesians 4

“1 Wherefore laying away all malice, and all guile, and dissimulations, and envies, and all detractions, 2 As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow unto salvation…. 11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, to refrain yourselves from carnal desires which war against the soul…. 21 For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps. 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” — I Peter 2

“4 These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb: 5 And in their mouth there was found no lie [or guile]; for they are without spot before the throne of God.” — Revelation 14

Granted, St. Paul does seem to endorse a kind of “cunning” in 2 Corinthians 12:16, “I did not burthen you: but being crafty, I caught you by guile.” Yet he is only aping accusations from his detractors, and goes on to rebut the charges. Cf. Haydock’s Commentary and the IVP New Testament Commentary for details.

Why does the pope give us stones for bread? I’m really trying to read him charitably. My diagnosis is that he’s pervaded by Henri de Lubac’s fixation on “paradox” (cf. this 62-page thesis on the topic [PDF], if you’re interested), which, alas, translates into Bergoglio taking the most vulgar terms (worldliness or cunning, for example) and “spiritualizing” them in some “higher” sense. Behold, the magic of Hegelian sublimation. Behold, the shepherd who scatters the flock by dazzling them with theological flashbangs.

NB: On an earlier post, a reader suggested that the Holy Father might simply have meant that we should be “wise as serpents and simple as doves,” as Jesus said in Matthew 10:16. However, once again, by overemphasizing only one half of a teaching from the Lord, Pope Francis effectively mangles the entire teaching. Go to this link for Matthew 10:16, click on the blue flag, and read the sensible commentary on the verse. Why is it so hard for Pope Francis to add these tiny yet all-saving nuances? He’s the Gallagher of Catholic preaching.

gallagher watermelon

Anyway, here’s an ASSIGNMENT:

Let’s read the passages in the Septuagint that are said to speak of “craftiness” in a non-negative way, and discuss how Pope Francis might have meant “la santa furbizie” in that sense.

–> positively in Proverbs 1:4; Proverbs 8:5; indifferently in Numbers 24:22; Joshua 9:4 <–

REMEMBER: Comments on protected posts are invisible to the outside world, so if you’re skittish about “being frank,” feel free to speak freely, albeit charitably. 


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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8 Responses to “Wherefore laying away all guile…”

  1. Branch says:

    Thank you for this.
    I get the sense of the Pope largely preaching his own gospel. I hate to say it – it’s nearly unbelievable – but I think it’s plainly true. As you say, there is a lot of half-teachings that are preached, or simply strange notions vaguely, at best, resembling classical spirituality that are assumed to be the “way of Jesus”. Even something as seemingly straightforward as his emphasis on the way of Jesus as “humility and service,” so often preached, and assumed to be self-evident to his hearers or readers, does not in fact have so obvious a meaning nor so direct and seamless an application to the Jesus, the Christ, of Scripture or the Tradition.
    What does “service” mean, for instance? What kind of service? Does it have any limits or bounds? It isn’t to be activism, per other preaching and writing, but what is it?

  2. Perhaps it’s a mistake to think that there is something new about Francis. His nonsense is already there in Baltasar Gracian’s ‘The Art of Worldly Wisdom’.

    What OLJC said to St Peter in Matt 18:23 is what we should say to Pope Francis: “Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.”

    Nothing new.

  3. padreallen says:

    What ultimately bothers me about this, is that it’s attributing to the Wise Men something which was not necessarily there. When they did not return to Herod it wasn’t due to Holy Cunning, Holy Deciet, or due to a Holy Ruse, it’s because ‘they were warned in a dream’. Its a reduction from a spirituality of listening and relying upon God in our lives, to a … Pelagian-esque view of scheming and manipulation. We don’t bypass spiritual darkness by our own doing, though our conscious actions obviously help. We ‘defend ourselves’ (pelagian) through co-operation with God’s grace and the Holy Angels, and through listening and relying upon Him in times both of need and of plenty

    The denial of the miraculous in the fishes and loaves history; Mary’s questioning if she was lied to by God — I question if he really believes in miracles, and the angelic realm, or if he assumes that in our modern enlightened age we don’t need such old fashioned beliefs, which are perhaps ‘outmoded and not suited to the needs of the present day.’

    Wish I could be more erudite… .typing up the bulletin letter.


  4. Hermit Crab:

    “What OLJC said to St Peter in Matt 18:23 is what we should say to Pope Francis: ‘Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.’

    Nothing new.”

    Yes, I’m becoming more and more convinced that that’s precisely what Jesus Christ would say to the current Successor to St. Peter, but that’s what *Christ* has the authority to say, not us. Rome is the highest See with the plenitude of ecclesiastical authority; not even an Ecumenical Council has the authority to judge it or overthrow its occupant. Nevertheless, other hierarchs and the laity under them do have the right to suspend obedience and refuse to listen to the Pope of Rome if he orders or teaches things contrary to the Deposit of Faith found in Scripture and Tradition.


    It’s interesting that you should mention De Lubac. In an effort to understand the ineffable, I’ve been doing some research into the Nouvelle Theologie of the early 20th century and some preliminary digging on how the movement influenced Vatican II and split afterward into the heretical and quasi-orthodox wings of interpreting the Council. Neo-scholastic thought, so dominant in the 19th and first half of the 20th century, had little influence on the Council, and was rebranded afterward as ‘traditionalism.’ Apparently these three branches of thought collided in the post-Conciliar era in the Western Church, with various figures representing each of the three movements. From what I’ve read, Ratzinger was at times on the quasi-orthodox wing of Nouvelle Theologie after the Council, and other times drifted into the neo-scholastic ‘traditionalist’ realm. Folks like Kung, Rahner, and and Congar are solidly in the heretical wing of Nouvelle Theologie, while Balthasar and De Lubac were firmly in the quasi-orthodox camp.

    All this to say, I suspect that whereas John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both firmly encamped in between the quasi-orthodox and neo-scholastic interpretations of Vatican II, I fear that in contrast Francis is just as firmly situated between the two branches of the Nouvelle Theologie, drawing from the thought of theologians on both sides, and absolutely, bitterly opposed to neo-scholasticism and traditionalism. This is why his tone is hostile and biting toward traditionalism in a way that no Pope yet has sounded, this is why the situation with the FFI is going as it is, this is why Cardinal Burke (just about the most neo-scholastic Cardinal around) was demoted, etc. He has no patience for anything or anyone not firmly and unflinchingly in the Nouvelle Theologie stream. The malapapalisms that make their way into his homilies and interviews are nothing but bits and pieces of Rahner, De Lubac, and other like-minded theologians in that stream that are filtering through. Perhaps scariest of all, this is where his view that ‘Vatican II has not yet begun to be implemented’ has come from. It’s entirely possible that his view is that the Nouvelle Theologie’s vision, leaning toward the heretical wing, has not been implemented with regarding to the Council being implemented in the Church.

  5. tamsin325 says:

    As to the Proverbs, I notice that we are exhorted to move from being without guile, to being astute, skipping over guile.

    Yes, you can become astute after a lifetime of guile…

    Or you can become astute without indulging in guile, ever. Merely by observing people.

    I really didn’t like the Pope’s reference to “holy cunning” because “cunning” has a negative connotation in English. From the soccer essay, I find furbizia has the same connotation in Italian: you deceive a person by your words or actions. The person deceived was a means to your end. You have treated the person as an object.

  6. I’m citing the Vatican.va version of the homily:

    “One aspect of the light which guides us on the journey of faith is holy ‘cunning’. This holy ‘cunning’ is also a virtue. It consists of a spiritual shrewdness which enables us to recognize danger and avoid it. The Magi used this light of ‘cunning’ when … they decided not to pass by the gloomy palace of Herod, but to take another route. … [T]he devil … disguises himself at times as an angel of light. And this is where a holy ‘cunning’ is necessary in order to protect the faith, guarding it from those alarmist voices that exclaim: ‘Listen, today we must do this, or that…’. [Oh, don’t worry, Holy Father, we’re well aware of the perils of blithely trusting an apparently holy and wise voice. That’s why we’re here.] … We need to welcome the light of God into our hearts and, at the same time, to cultivate that spiritual cunning which is able to combine simplicity with astuteness, as Jesus told his disciples: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16).”

    As I say, I was not initially put off by this passage, and these clarifying marks do help. Yet of course I agree that his repeated emphasis on such a dubious word is unnerving. It’s like he has to go out of his way to be difficult. He can’y leave well enough alone. He’s driven to make a mess. “There shall always be scandals but woe be to him by whom they come.”

    I believe that the phrase is getting the attention Francis desired in the first place. It’s not insignificant that, in the video of the homily, the news reader says, “quote, ‘the holy cunning'”, and the Vatican.va text also has the word in quotations marks repeatedly. My hunch is that he wanted to use the word/idea, but his speech writers objected, and the statements did not make it into the original transcript. This is why he pauses noticeably and speaks without the transcript about “holy cunning.” He knew that his audience would “get” his reference to “furbizia” as an athletic tactic. I suspect that he personally insisted that the term be emphasized in subsequent reporting.

    Tin-foil-hatty, I know, but I think we all agree that it’s better to be wary–did I say cunning?–with this endlessly baffling pope. If he could have left the whole term out, this homily might have been perfect, the very peak of his homiletical powers. But of course, he just haaaaad to use the nice Chinese as a spittoon. He’s the Gallagher of Catholic preaching.

    Like I say, I’m choosing not to get very worked up about this malapapalism, but I will tell you one thing that has given me chills. Remember how the FEMENazi desecrated the Christmas Mass? Do you recall where? In Köln, Germany. Who is the Archbishop of Kön? Cdl. Meisner, who recently intervened to steer Pope Francis away from loose talk. Moreover, what is housed in that cathedral (Kölner Dom)? The relics of the three Magi. I can’t help but detecting some serious demonic aggression, and I think the Holy Father is feeling the strain. Unsettling.

  7. Idle speculation is the name of the game.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it a central method in Ignatian spirituality to animate the imagination when pondering Scripture, to make the Scripture “come alive: in your heart? My diagnosis is that this old Jesuit has gotten so used to this practice that he can’t very well differentiate the words of scripture from his own saucy imaginings. There is certainly a place for these imaginative “private revelations” during lectio divina, but it is perverse to impose these private images and conjectures on the pliant faithful. He consistently “livens up” the Scripture by adding totally groundless speculations (e.g. Jesus pretended, Mary desired to blaspheme, etc.), very likely to model what he thinks good preaching should be like: titillating, vulgar, homey, vivid, not mediocre or secure.

    Oy gevalt.

    John Vianney is right about one thing: I would not entrust my children, nor even adult would-be Catholics, to this man as their primary catechist.

  8. padreallen says:

    Insights brother. Mystical connections. It’s all coming together.

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