Like a sore thumb…

“[1] I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship [την λογικην λατρειαν / ten logiken latreia]. [2] Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [3] For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.” — Romans 12

If this papacy has taught us anything, it is about “the power of small gestures.” As words reflect thoughts, so actions reflect dispositions. The sign of the Cross may be a small gesture, physically speaking, yet in the Christian understanding it contains and moves the entire world. As some are very fond of noting, St. Francis of Assisi enjoined us to preach the Gospel primarily with actions, and with words only “if necessary.” It’s understandable, therefore, that Cdl. Bergoglio, upon being elected, chose the name “Francis” in order to pattern his papacy of “small gestures” after the great saint of “small gestures.”

I don’t know if Pope Francis attributes the famous saying to St. Francis, but those who do so should realize that the attribution is a pious legend. As Glen Stanton explains, the closest statement we have from St. Francis that corresponds to the fabled counsel is this (in The Earlier Rule, Chapter XVII, “Preachers”):

No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister…. All the Friars … should preach by their deeds.

The difference between the apocryphal and actual quotations is not insignificant, and captures my thesis in this post.

When what is done contradicts what is (trying to be) taught, only what is said can correct what is done. A more obvious corollary is that when what is said obscures or warps what is (trying to be) taught, only more saying can salvage the teaching. (Not as mellifluous, is it?) Let’s call this the principle of didactic homologation (emphasis on the implicit “logos”), and restate it thus: when an ecclesial sign (or sacral gesture) is unclear, and even veers into scandal, only a correspondingly precise and pronounced amount of catechetical clarification can rectify the disorienting sin against prudence. In other words, if you do something daft in a sacred context, back it up with a very sound theological explanation. Likewise, as noted in the corollary, when a statement is injurious to the conscience–though not necessarily to the bodies–of the faithful, or veers into outright scandal, a bevy of sound theological explanation is required in order to restore health in the Body. The higher a position one holds in the Church, the more stringently this principle applies. A perfect (and perfectly grotesque) example is Cdl. Maradiaga’s Christianoid grandstanding of a couple months ago.

I will leave it to the reader to ponder if, or when, the principle of didactic homologation might be applied to the current pontiff’s reign, a reign openly marked by catechetical adventurism. And while I grant that the pope is master of the house, I suspect that I am not the only one jarred by how brazenly he preaches, in St. Francis’s words, “contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church.” Actions speak louder than words, as they say, yet Christianity is a fundamentally “logi-cal” (or “enworded”) religion. As St. Paul teaches in Romans 12:1, and as dear Fr. Stanley Jaki was so fond of noting, Christian worship is bound to rational expression, because it is grounded entirely in the Word of God (i.e. the perfect self-expression of God). Ours is a “logical worship” because ours is a worship of the Logos. Hence, as St. Francis says of the “frivolous and talkative religious”,

Blessed is the servant who, when he speaks, does not reveal everything about himself in the hope of receiving a reward, and who is not quick to speak, but wisely weighs what he should say and how he should reply.

Similarly, in The Later Rule (Chapter IX, “Preachers”), St. Francis writes:

“I also admonish and exhort these brothers that, in their preaching, their words be well chosen and chaste… in a discourse that is brief, because it was in few words that the Lord preached while on earth.”

Words, logic, clarity, consistency–these things are vital to the Christian witness.

Yet, ours is not a rationalistic worship, because, unlike the more rarified forms of Plotinian-Platonism, ours does not denigrate the body at the expense of the mind. The complete self-offering of ourselves to God includes the reasonable (Logos-tempered) offering of our bodies, as well as our bodily acts–our “small gestures.” (Recall the doctrinal potency of the sign of the Cross.) By submitting our minds to God, we entrain our very bodies to His theandric redemption of the whole cosmos (12:1-2). A minimal effect of this self-offering should be that we “think with sober judgment” (12:3) and, in turn, avoid imprudent words and actions. To denigrate doctrinal clarity and accuracy on behalf of “impressive acts of Christian sentiment” is to betray the basic ethos of Christianity.

(For an Eastern Orthodox account of all this, I highly recommend Panyotios Nellas’s Deification in Christ, though Vasileios’s and Zizioulias’s books in the same series are also strongly recommended. If nothing else, a brief look at “the vision of St. Maximus” will also enrich this perspective in many directions. For the very interested, there is a rich vein of spiritual therapy developed along these lines by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos.)

John Paul II sparked a revolution along these lines with his Theology of the Body, the basic gist of which is that what we do with our bodies, as if they were monadic engines of pleasure, not only has massive social consequences but also forms an integral part of our “reasonable worship” of God. That is why the liberal dichotomy between “the core values of Christianity, rather than divisive social issues” is so inimical to Christianity. The dichotomy, as I have been trying to stress, is not confined to “the pelvic issues,” but ties into how we treat our coworkers, how we drive, and, believe it or not, even how we comport ourselves in church. Unfortunately, not even leading clerics are immune to the false dichotomy. I recently noted one sign of confusion proffered by Cdl. O’Malley; I think it’s pretty evident that, in that case, at least, his mind was not conformed to the will of God, and if it bespeaks a larger trend about him as a clerical witness, I am grieved that Pope Francis has chosen to elevate him as such a trusted counselor. As one friend put it, “You think the Cardinal could give me a coherent reason for why it’s better for me to be Catholic now instead of Methodist? … Me neither.”

Aye, there’s the rub. A coherent reason. The Logos rears its sublime head again. When values trump reason, will trumps truth. In the sea of values, zeal, not truth, is the arbiter of victory. Whoever wants to see their particular values realized the most, regardless how grounded in reality those values are or are not, will win the day. This was precisely point which Pope Benedict XVI made in his (in)famous Regensburg Address: if your theology is driven by voluntarism (i.e. willful zeal for a set of values), then your society will be characterized by vigilantism. Moreover, to cite another of the pillars of Fr. Jaki’s thought–as well as an insight promoted by Benedict XVI in precisely this context–the less rational you consider the origin of the cosmos to be, the less orderly you shall consider the cosmos to be, and therefore will have a proportionately less coherent basis for exploring it rationally [i.e. for “doing science”]. By extension, if you view God as a mutable, willful, emotionally erratic “beings among beings,” this will show up in a carelessness about words and actions. There must, in other words, be a grave circumspection even in off-the-cuff settings.

As easy as it is might be for some to brand Paul VI a prancing liberal, he got a lot of things right. In terms of the point I’m making in this post, he hit a grand slam when, in Mysterium Fidei (23), he said the following:

[We must] guard the proper way of expressing [the Faith], lest our careless use of words give rise, God forbid, to false opinions regarding faith in the most sublime things. St. Augustine gives a stern warning about this when he takes up the matter of the different ways of speaking that are employed by the philosophers on the one hand and that ought to be used by Christians on the other. “The philosophers,” he says, “use words freely, and they have no fear of offending religious listeners in dealing with subjects that are difficult to understand. But we have to speak in accordance with a fixed rule, so that a lack of restraint in speech on our part may not give rise to some irreverent opinion about the things represented by the words.” (cf. City of God, X, 23; PL 41. 300.)

I was inclined to bold almost the entire passage, but I’m already a tacky enough writer. Do me a favor and read the above quotation again.

As before, I leave it to the reader to decide how the career of the current pontiff bears up so far against Paul VI’s august counsel. Let’s just say that, first year or not, a papacy should not be judged simply in terms of whether it shows gestures of continuity with its immediate predecessor or two, and it should most certainly not be engulfed by contested gaffe after contested gaffe. As Paul VI reminds us, there are simply some bounds a Christian, much less a pope, does not burst. And since I can imagine my friend (real, not imaginary, thank you!) using one of his regular lines on me–“Wrap it up, warp it up, Elliot”–I’ll wrap it up.

What are two glaring areas in which Pope Francis–to speak nothing of his red-hatted minions–should measure his words much more “logically”?

1) Stop with all “the gay”.

Randy Engel has written at great length about why invoking homosexualist terms is suicidal for a prudent Catholic witness. Sometimes, using a word equates to endorsing it, and in this context, the word “gay” is the main culprit. When even Al Kresta spends an hour (5:00) abjuring the mere usage of gay rhetoric–though I’m not holding my breath that Krista will admit that Pope Francis has indefinitely valorized the word “gay”–it’s time to rethink your pastoral “approach”.

(HINT: Saying that someone is “gay” (i.e. actively homosexual) and “of good will” is incoherent [cf. CCC 2357].)

2) Stop with the ecumenical glad-handing.

When one of your top, hand-picked advisers trounces Catholic uniqueness and any publicly coherent sense of the communion of holy things— and when you make a point (in a desiccated monastery, no less) to shout that trying to convert non-Catholics is a triple “No!”— and when your first major papal document about the Gospel mentions repentance only twice (over 51,000 words)— and when the interview, which you took precisely in order to clarify previous gaffes, results in indifferentist gaffes of its own– well, at some point, you might want to admit that it’s time to re-strategize.

“Indifferentist gaffes?” you ask. In his 14 December 2013 interview with Andrea Tornielli, Pope Francis said the following:

To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood […], even though we have not yet managed to take necessary [?] steps towards unity [?] between us and perhaps the time has not yet come [for…?]. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for. [?!] I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the [?] catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same [?] reason. Their blood was mixed [by creed or by fate?]. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: “I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest’s.” This is what ecumenism of blood is. … Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which Church [?!] you were baptised in. We need to take these facts [?] into consideration.”

Yeah. The Catholic pope is giving his trademark thumbs-up to the beatification of a Lutheran pastor. Terrorists may not recognize dogmatic differences, but can’t we expect the Supreme Pontiff to do so? Indeed, on 6 January 1928, Pius IX promulgated the following in Mortalium Animos ##7-10:

7. And here it seems opportune to expound and to refute a certain false opinion … by which non-Catholics seek to bring about the union of the Christian churches…. For authors who favor this view are accustomed, times almost without number, to bring forward these words of Christ: “That they all may be one…. And there shall be one fold and one shepherd,”[14] with this signification however: that Christ Jesus merely expressed a desire and prayer, which still lacks its fulfillment. For they are of the opinion that the unity of faith and government, which is a note of the one true Church of Christ, has hardly up to the present time existed, and does not to-day exist. They consider that this unity may indeed be desired and that it may even be one day attained through the instrumentality of wills directed to a common end, but that meanwhile it can only be regarded as mere ideal.

They add that the Church in itself, or of its nature, is divided into sections; that is to say, that it is made up of several churches or distinct communities, which still remain separate, and although having certain articles of doctrine in common, nevertheless disagree concerning the remainder; that these all enjoy the same rights; and that the Church was one and unique from, at the most, the apostolic age until the first Ecumenical Councils. Controversies therefore, they say, and longstanding differences of opinion which keep asunder till the present day the members of the Christian family, must be entirely put aside, and from the remaining doctrines a common form of faith drawn up and proposed for belief, and in the profession of which all may not only know but feel that they are brothers. The manifold churches or communities, if united in some kind of universal federation, would then be in a position to oppose strongly and with success the progress of irreligion.

This, Venerable Brethren, is what is commonly said. There are some, indeed, who recognize and affirm that Protestantism, as they call it, has rejected, with a great lack of consideration, certain articles of faith and some external ceremonies, which are, in fact, pleasing and useful, and which the Roman Church still retains. They soon, however, go on to say that that Church also has erred, and corrupted the original religion by adding and proposing for belief certain doctrines which are not only alien to the Gospel, but even repugnant to it. Among the chief of these they number that which concerns the primacy of jurisdiction, which was granted to Peter and to his successors in the See of Rome. Among them there indeed are some, though few, who grant to the Roman Pontiff a primacy of honor or even a certain jurisdiction or power, but this, however, they consider not to arise from the divine law but from the consent of the faithful. Others again, even go so far as to wish the Pontiff Himself to preside over their motley, so to say, assemblies. But, all the same, although many non-Catholics may be found who loudly preach fraternal communion in Christ Jesus, yet you will find none at all to whom it ever occurs to submit to and obey the Vicar of Jesus Christ either in His capacity as a teacher or as a governor. Meanwhile they affirm that they would willingly treat with the Church of Rome, but on equal terms, that is as equals with an equal: but even if they could so act, it does not seem open to doubt that any pact into which they might enter would not compel them to turn from those opinions which are still the reason why they err and stray from the one fold of Christ.

8. This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ. Shall We suffer, what would indeed be iniquitous, the truth, and a truth divinely revealed, to be made a subject for compromise?

9. These pan-Christians who turn their minds to uniting the churches seem, indeed, to pursue the noblest of ideas in promoting charity among all Christians: nevertheless how does it happen that this charity tends to injure faith? … [S]ince charity is based on a complete and sincere faith, the disciples of Christ must be united principally by the bond of one faith. … And in what manner, We ask, can men who follow contrary opinions, belong to one and the same Federation of the faithful? For example, those who affirm, and those who deny that sacred Tradition is a true fount of divine Revelation; those who hold that an ecclesiastical hierarchy, made up of bishops, priests and ministers, has been divinely constituted, and those who assert that it has been brought in little by little in accordance with the conditions of the time…. 

[U]nity can only arise from one teaching authority, one law of belief and one faith of Christians. But We do know that from this it is an easy step to the neglect of religion or indifferentism and to modernism, as they call it. Those, who are unhappily infected with these errors, hold that dogmatic truth is not absolute but relative, that is, it agrees with the varying necessities of time and place and with the varying tendencies of the mind, since it is not contained in immutable revelation, but is capable of being accommodated to human life. Besides this, in connection with things which must be believed, it is nowise licit to use that distinction which some have seen fit to introduce between those articles of faith which are fundamental and those which are not fundamental, as they say, as if the former are to be accepted by all, while the latter may be left to the free assent of the faithful: for the supernatural virtue of faith has a formal cause, namely the authority of God revealing, and this is patient of no such distinction.  Has not God revealed them all? For the teaching authority of the Church, which in the divine wisdom was constituted on earth in order that revealed doctrines might remain intact for ever….

10. So, Venerable Brethren, it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it…. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it. During the lapse of centuries, the mystical Spouse of Christ has never been contaminated, nor can she ever in the future be contaminated, as Cyprian bears witness: “The Bride of Christ cannot be made false to her Spouse: she is incorrupt and modest. She knows but one dwelling, she guards the sanctity of the nuptial chamber chastely and modestly.”

When I read this, and reflect on the past few months of “encounter” and “outreach”–and particularly when I picture Cdl. O’Malley muddying the waters with such spectacular “humility”–I confess that the word “continuity” does not spring to mind.

I do love Pope Francis, but, as I’ve tried to clarify, I’m usually so mystified by him that I wish I didn’t have to. 😉 Pray for me. Pray for him.

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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10 Responses to Like a sore thumb…

  1. Branch says:

    Stop with all of the Christian enthusiasm (cf. Ronald Knox). Stop guilt-tripping people into expressing their joy (a gift of the Spirit) by smiling. ‘Joy’, or zeal, as you say, are not ends in themselves and do not speak for themselves. We need to be able to explain the reason for our hope, not merely be attractive and above reproach from the Are You in a Good Mood Today There Little Catholic? Police.

  2. Dale Price says:

    I always get a kick out of Mike Winters castigating other people for being “culture warriors.”

    “Your arse is so sooty and grimy,” sayeth the kettle to the pot.

  3. Tony Jokin says:

    I have always been under the impression that gestures and actions are always ambiguous. Therefore one must necessarily follow it up with “words”. I feel that this is common sense to anyone who does not have agenda.

    On St. Francis, I wasn’t sure about him mention in the rule that Christ used few words. I always thought that the time in which he multiplied the fish and loaves, he had been preaching for a long time. Otherwise how could the people suddenly be hungry if they came for a little sound bite. But it may be that the rule is what is held as true by the Franciscans than the reason given for it. Then again, I am sure Franciscans give long speeches 🙂

    When you said “I suspect that I am not the only one jarred by how brazenly he preaches, in St. Francis’s words, “contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church”” My thoughts were that the defenders will just go “Pope is above any regulations set forth by someone before him”. Of course, no one cares to explain the important question as to how the prudential restraint placed by the predecessor no longer applies today.

    I did not know about the statement about the “Lutheran saint cause” comment on Dec 14th. That was honestly sickening to read. Even thinking of declaring such a person a “saint” is tantamount to confirming the wide spread error that “to be saved, just be a good Catholic/Lutheran/Calvinist/Muslim/Buddhist/Jew etc”. In other words, no need to seek the truth. Just have faith in the lies you currently hold and practice it. Martyrdom for that is just as good as a Catholic martyrdom.

    P.S. So are the Protestants heretics that were burnt at the steak by Catholics now going to be investigated for the sainthood too? I guess its still “blood” spilled in the name of “Christianity” yea?

  4. For reference, since I think the quotation in Winters’s piece is wonky, I’m citing the version of how Pope Francis renounced the intention to convince others to become Catholic:

    “I ask of you one thing only: that you meet each other! That you go and seek out and meet the neediest people. But not by yourselves, no. With Jesus and with St Cajetan! Should you go and convince someone else that he should become Catholic? No, no, no! Go and encounter him, he is your brother! And this is enough. And go and help him, Jesus or the Holy Spirit will do the rest.”

    I like Emily Stimpson’s reminder about this issue:

    “[St.] Francis [of Assisi] knew his limitations. He knew, for all the love he had in his heart, that his life was not the Gospel. No one looking at him could possibly know everything they needed to know about Jesus. He was not the Word of God, and his life, no matter how beautiful, was not sufficient for handing on the truths of salvation. … Francis knew he had to use both words and deeds to proclaim the Gospel because that’s what Jesus did. … [Jesus] called people to repentance and conversion. …

    “[Unfortunately, at some point someone] invented the [‘use words if necessary’] quote and put it into poor St. Francis’ mouth. And ever since then, people have used it as an excuse to not evangelize with words, to not have the uncomfortable conversations or say the unpopular things.

    “That would have horrified Francis (and probably still does). It would have horrified him as much as the thought of not talking about Christ. Again, he knew what the Church has always known. There is no ‘if’ about the necessity of words in evangelization, just as there is no ‘if’ about the necessity of actions. They are both necessary. They are both essential.”

  5. Branch says:

    I have at times wondered about what Francis meant by this quotation. I think he may have been trying to stress that we cannot convert other people, strictly speaking (hence, no “proselytizing”), but that instead the Spirit will “do the rest” after we “go and encounter.”

    However, he could well have meant that evangelization is not necessary at all, for he says towards the end that we should “help” him, our “brother”, this one who is the “neediest”. But help in what way? What is the need?

    This is always the problem with Francis. Do this, don’t do that. You’re doing it all wrong, this Catholic thing. But what IS this Catholic thing?

  6. Tony Jokin says:

    I think the idea that St. Francis was against evangelizing just doesn’t add up. My biggest confidence is due to the life of St. Anthony of Padua, famous for his preaching, who is considered to have tried to imitate St. Francis very closely. In fact, St. Anthony entered the order after being inspired by St. Francis.

    St. Anthony set off to PREACH in Africa (to the Muslims). Note the first Franciscans of the order were known to have been martyred in Morocco as they went to preach to Muslims as well. Obviously this doesn’t add up with St. Francis the “actions” only man.

    Almost many of the ideas attributed to St. Francis today seems foreign to that time period. In fact, there are no historical records for some of the suspect things claimed regarding him

    In following a conversation with a Franciscan superior, he claimed that the Franciscans have writings of St. Francis that only they have access to. They also consider themselves the final arbiters on anything St. Francis. So the book in the link above carries no weight till the Franciscans approve of it. The Franciscans of course insist that this is what the saint said. So they “co-exist” with the Muslims in holy land and so forth.

    Just to clarify, I don’t think we can criticize all the Franciscans. I think there are those who do follow a St. Anthony like character in imitating their founder. But so far there seems to have been no curbing of the other groups who prefer to just co-exist. Then again, that is not just a Franciscan thing these days. It just so happens that their order is the best suited to be targeted by anyone who already wants to promote that idea.

  7. This book dispels a lot of cotton-candy claims about St. Francis of Assisi:

  8. Pingback: Breathe it in… | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam" fidescogitactio @ gmail . com

  9. Branch says:

    I was talking about Pope Francis.

  10. Pingback: Birds of a feather… | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam" fidescogitactio @ gmail . com

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