“You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it: keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” — Deuteronomy 4:2
“Add not any thing to his words, lest thou be reproved, and found a liar”. — Proverbs 30:6
There has been some fairly animated discussion recently about the November 29 malapapalism that Jesus merely “pretended” to be angry. It reminds one of Fr. Z’s mantra. “What Does the Scripture Really Say?” sounds like a reasonable question to ask any preacher, even the pope. In any case, it is worth raising YET ANOTHER IRONY in this dispute.
As I noted in my original discussion of this topic, we’re not even sure if the pope said that Jesus does or does NOT get angry. Originally the Vatican news site read, “Jesus does not become angry”, but was then changed to read, “Jesus does become angry”. Meanwhile most other sources present the claim as, “Jesus does not become angry”. Keep in mind that in the homily in question, Francis was speaking in general (“In the Gospel…”), not about a particular verse or episode (viz. he cites Emmaus as one example of his general claim). He’s presenting a general truth about how the Lord comported Himself.
Here’s the rub:
If the pope said that Jesus does become angry, then he flouts the pious denial by some that Christ experienced emotions like anger, since he will have said that Jesus, throughout the Gospels in general, could have experienced moments of actual anger.
On the other hand, if the pope said that Jesus does not become angry, then he really did make up, apparently out of thin air, the utterly novel claim that, on every occasion in the Gospels which shows Jesus angry, frustrated, irritated, etc., Jesus was dissembling for effect. We in the biz call that “docetism”.
It’s quite a bind, and not a little redolent of what we in the biz call “eisegesis”.
As always, all that we can be certain of, is that none of us can claim to be certain about the pope’s teaching. The ironies never cease, because the indeterminacy of his preaching may be exactly what he has in mind. Consider that the official title of the homily at the Vatican.va website is “Free thought”. It’s the occasion for a rare glimpse into the pope’s pastoral philosophy. From the Vatican transcript:
Jesus “with simple words, encourages us to think in order to understand … to think not only with our head, but also with our heart, with our spirit”. This, he said, is what it means to “think as a Christian [Catholic]” in order to “understand the signs of the times”. “The Lord wants us to understand what is going on in our hearts, in the world and in history,” the Pope continued. He wants us to understand “the meaning of what is happening around us”. In fact, he added, it is in answering these questions that we come to perceive “the signs of the times”.
These words are no small consolation, since trying to make sense of “what is happening around us” is what this blog is all about.
Pope Francis continues:
Yet in this we have an enemy against us. The enemy, Pope Francis said, is “the spirit of the world, who does not want us to be a people. Rather, he wants us to become ‘the masses’ who are neither thinking nor free”. The Pope detailed this enemy’s tactics: “a determinate way of thinking is imposed, this thought is publicized, and people are expected to keep to this line of thought … as “uniform, weak, and yet so widespread”.
It’s not hard to see why Pope Francis is such a beguiling preacher. He thinks that top-down, “determinate” explanations and “certain” answers are alien to the Christian faith. He literally wants everyone to be able–nay, to be forced–to think for themselves. “Who do men say that I am?” Christ asked His disciples. Yet He did not stop there, for He praised Simon Peter for expressing the central truth. He did not praise the disciples for their “polyhedron” of competing, “peripheral” “perspectives”, yet it is precisely this “lío” of “free thought”–this cacophony of strong, non-uniform opinions–which Pope Francis desires for the Church. I wrote some time ago that Francis is driven by a theology of “normative” or “perpetual” discernment. His “pretend” homily is a striking vindication of that diagnosis, though certainly not one I relish.