Basic Rule of Thumb for Papal Controversies

Popes virtually never actually say something that can’t be squared with the Tradition.  Just about the last time it happened was the monothelite heresy, when Honorius expressed some incautious opinions in a private letter.  Beyond that it’s a pretty rare occasion.

And yet, there are frequent panic attacks about the Pope throughout the past 40 years.  Not just this one.  Ever since Popes became a mass media phenom (basically with JPII) there have been Reactionary freakouts about the Pope just about being on the imminent edge of quite very possibly betraying the Tradition.

JPII was somehow screwing everything up with World Youth Days and being a rock star, and welcoming break dancers and Assisi Peace Prayers and opposing the war and opposing the death penalty.  Benedict was likewise screwing things up with the unapproved pieces of Caritas in Veritate, and opposing the death penalty and saying use of a condom was not always and everywhere a ticket to hell.  And now, Francis is causing tons for freakouts with his interview and various other words and deeds.  He will cause a lot more.  And *none* of it will actually be unorthodox or incompatible with the Tradition.  It will just be offensive to Reactionaries.

Of course, not *everything* the Popes have done had led to Reactionary bedwetting about the imminent death of papal orthodoxy.  Sometimes, the freakouts come from the left.  So when the pope reaffirms that the Church can’t ordain women, still defends innocent human life, still affirms the integrity of marriage and the family and so forth (and the left panics that the Pope “hates” women and gays and minorities and wants everybody dead from AIDS) the same people that were freaking out about the heterodox Pope are suddenly complaining about how the MSM and the liberal elite totally misunderstand the Pope (and talking about how the dissenters need to be kicked out and the Church purged and purified and shrunk to exclude these enemies within).

The lesson to be learned from this is not “The Popes are unpredictable and mercurial and can’t trusted” but “When the Pope articulates parts of the Tradition Reactionaries like, the cry from Reactionaries is that the media does not understand the Church’s teaching and dissenters should be kicked out.  However, when the Pope articulates parts of the Tradition Reactionaries don’t like, the cry from Reactionaries is that the Pope is a garrulous old fool  and egotist whom  the NY Times are both radically misunderstanding and understanding perfectly, because he is selling the Church and True Catholics[TM] down the river. (It goes without saying that the critic spouting off about the heretical Pope is neither garrolous nor an egotist.)”

For a huge number of Catholics, the last thing the Pope is, is a teacher, and certainly not a teacher imparting new ways of thinking to the faithful.  Not “new teaching” mind you.  Old teaching–apostolic teaching–to believers who have no intention of allowing the gospel to impinge on their political categories, slogans, shibboleths and bumper stickers.  A huge number of Catholics don’t want the Pope to be a teacher.  They want him to be a flag.

At present, the Left is waving him as a flag, having totally misunderstood him to somehow mean that the Church is now blowing off the Pelvic Issues.  But the Reactionaries are doing the same thing, taking for granted that the Left’s read on him as finally embracing heresy as they have perpetually panicked would happen.  Neither the Times crowd nor the Reactionaries are listening to him, hearing him, learning from him.

My prayer is that we will actually listen to him.  He has very important and beautiful things to say to us and I am deeply grateful to God for him and for the Tradition that, believe it or not, he is articulating, not perverting.

  • HornOrSilk

    I tell people, Pope Honorius gets a raw deal. His letter must be understood in context of the question he gave, as St. Maximus the Confessor attested. St. Maximus, that theologian so strong against the monothelites, didn’t believe the Pope was unclear or anywhere near a monothelite. Rather, the Pope was talking about the human nature of Christ, where some people thought humans have a “sinful will” and the Pope was clear, Christ does not. It was all a discussion of Christ’s humanity which would have only one will! But, like the media of our time, the monothelites took quotes out of context to try to suggest otherwise.

    • R. Howell

      An ecumenical council of the church solemnly condemned him as a heretic. I accept its judgement.

  • http://hjg.com.ar/ Hernán J. González

    “A huge number of Catholics don’t want the Pope to be a teacher.”

    Well, in some sense: we want him to teach THEM what WE already know.

    You see, THEY are the only ones who need to be taught, and THEY are the one who always are at risk of misunderstaning the teachings of the Church.

    WE don’t misunderstand – WE know.

  • steve5656546346

    Perhaps the fully anticipatable response should be factored in in determining the content of the message?

    • Chesire11

      The Gospel was never successfully proclaimed meekly, and with fear that it might be misconstrued by those who didn’t want to hear it in the first place.

  • Lint Hatcher

    Regarding the issue of Pope Francis and clear communication, I keep looking at what Christ did. He constantly was being “misread” by eating and drinking with known sinners and put up with the possibility of being misread. Apparently, he did not perform a survey of all seated at the table, revealing their sins and where he stood theologically regarding them so that all would be clear about the nature of sin, etc. He accepted sinners, hung out with them, chatted with them. Did sinners take this as tacit acceptance of their “lifestyle”? We know a couple of answers. When the Pharisees took umbrage at his chummy behavior, Jesus replied with parables which communicated that he was sent to save the lost sheep and this was how he planned to go about doing it. And we have at least one example that it was effective. We know from the example of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 that “all the people” were scandalized that Jesus dined at the home of a despised tax collector and his confederates, but “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Somehow Zaccheaus got the message. Did some of those gathered at the table mistake Jesus’ friendship as a tacit approval of their misconduct? Hard to say. I have a friend who took the pope’s remarks to mean “good people go to Heaven regardless of what they believe.” Point blank – nothing tacit about it. He wasn’t prompted to search his heart like Zaccheaus (or the Catechism, for that matter). Still, we know from the Lord’s example that acceptance and mutual respect precede any progress in sharing the truth.

  • Jeremiah H

    “If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.
    Regarding being a restorationist:
    Ok, I almost gasped out loud when I read this part of the interview toward the bottom, but I immediately remembered that he can’t stand “Restorationism.” I appreciate the EF, and I love the OF being said and with intentional reverence. It feels like the Pope has no time and doesn’t care about my “cause” one bit. Call me a Traditionalist but it still makes me sad. Dare I say it, it ticks me off. Is that bad?

    Regarding being a legalist:
    I’m pretty sure that its a theological principle or truism that “the law is ordered to love.” Rules about receiving the Eucharist are a classic example of this. Like a bride waiting for the bridegroom, we’re to wait to receive our Lord, and the Church has the right to set the times, the days and the seasons.
    I haven’t heard Pope Francis say anything about the law being for love, merely condemning people who enjoy intentionally working within the rules. Yes I know he focuses on grace and mercy, but the rules are there for a reason. Would you agree?

    • Chesire11

      I don’t think His Holiness has disparaged either the law, or those who “enjoy working within the rules.” What he has objected to is the fetishization of the laws into an end in and of themselves, disjointed from, and elevated above the Love to which they are supposed to be ordered.

    • capaxdei

      My inexpert impression is that Pope Francis is not particularly interested in liturgical issues. Since there’s a difference between “not interested in” and “can’t stand,” I think his criticism of restorationists is not a criticism of a liturgical perspective per se. On my reading, the restoriationists Pope Francis opposes don’t merely want to restore the Latin Mass, they want to restore the Church in toto to some pre-conciliar vision of it, according to which everything is “clear and safe.” If you’ll pardon the tendentiousness, the clarity offered by the Christian faith is not achievable by memorizing formulas, and the safety of a disciple of Christ lies in his adherence to Jesus Himself, not in a defensive posture against the world.

  • RelapsedCatholic

    While Pope Francis has not changed or abandoned dogma, his change in tone and emphasis has been undeniable. The biggest change I have seen from him is the rejection of those that want to see a smaller, more pure church. He has not only shown little interest in this, his emphasis on pastoral care, outreach, and good works amounts to a rejection. I got a clear message from Pope Benedict XVI that I was not welcome or needed, Pope Francis has sent the opposite message. It has been refreshing.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “I got a clear message from Pope Benedict XVI that I was not welcome or needed”

      I am glad that Francis makes you feel more welcome, but please, please do not think for a second that BXVI did not wish you to be welcomed or needed. He never said that he *wanted* a smaller, purer Church. It was really a hypothetical: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2010/10/22/debate-are-we-better-off-with-a-smaller-purer-church/

      His words have been abused by those who do want such a thing.

      • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

        Nevertheless, it’s fascinating how easily words spoken from 5,000 miles away can be misconstrued. Looking around at the comboxes of everywhere, everyone seems to be misinterpreting someone. And since I identify more with Pope Benedict, I suspect that Francis is nudging me in the ribs and pointing out to me people like RelapsedCatholic, implying that maybe I’ve been a little naive and a little too complacent in my seat in the middle of the church.

        • ivan_the_mad

          I think I would say the same of myself. God bless the man :)

  • Beefy Levinson

    I’ll confess it’s mildly irritating for Andrew Sullivan and the NCReporter crowd to endlessly crow about how the pope is finally on their side and that he’s utterly repudiated us mean old conservatives. The pope has different priorities and a different vision than I do. That fact is not worth the foot stomping outrage some people are devoting to it.

  • godandchocolate

    Thank you for this excellent post. I really hope that in the next few days we can move on from defending or knee-jerk criticizing the pope to an authentic attempt to appreciate what he is trying to teach all of us (most especially those of us who are self-appointed “orthodox Catholics” and pat ourselves on the back for being at the pinnacle of moral development by opposing gay marriage, considering abortion to be murder, and not using contraception). Myself included. I heard deep echoes of Benedict throughout the interview…hmm, that must be an indication that both of them are preaching the same Faith, the same Gospel, the same need for ongoing conversion.

    The freak outs in certain circles over this pope who “doesn’t care about moral teaching” or “feeds the media confusion” are just a bit much. And how rapidly they seem to devolve into speculation about how the popes of the past 40 years were Freemasons determined to destroy the Church from within…I really hope people can see that insanity for what it is, but it’s being fed on otherwise-mainstream sites like the Register. Frustrating.


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