Combat the Devil

Pope Francis has spoken frequently about the Devil, reminding his (Western) listeners that the Devil is real, that evil is personified and at times has a source beyond us.  He spoke about this most recently last week during his daily homily, commenting on the reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians:

Brothers and sisters:
Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm
against the tactics of the Devil.
For our struggle is not with flesh and blood
but with the principalities, with the powers,
with the world rulers of this present darkness,
with the evil spirits in the heavens.
Therefore, put on the armor of God,
that you may be able to resist on the evil day
and, having done everything, to hold your ground.
So stand fast with your loins girded in truth,
clothed with righteousness as a breastplate,
and your feet shod in readiness for the Gospel of peace.
In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield,
to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.
And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.  (Eph 6:10-17)

Here are two snippets from the Pope’s homily, courtesy of Vatican Radio:

From whom do I have to defend myself? What must I do?  Pauls tells us to put on God’s full armour, meaning that God acts as a defence, helping us to resist Satan’s temptations.  Is this clear?  No spiritual life, no Christian life is possible without resisting temptations, without  putting on God’s armour which gives us strength and protects us.

But in this generation, like so many others, people have been led to believe that the devil is a myth, a figure, an idea, the idea of evil. But the devil exists and we must fight against him.  Paul tells us this, it’s not me saying it! The Word of God is telling us this.  But we’re not all convinced of this.  And then Paul describes God’s armour and which are the different types that make up this great armour of God.  And he says: ‘So stand your ground,  with truth a belt around your waist.’  The truth is God’s armour.

There is a cartoon about this topic in the great Calvin & Hobbes series that I really like, though it can be read as supporting the Pope’s argument that people believe the “devil is a myth, a figure, an idea”.

doyoubelieveinthedevil

(Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Copyright 1992 by Universal Press Syndicate)

However, I prefer to think of this as a pointed reminder that the Devil can only act in the world through us:  he has no power except lies and illusion,  the power to tempt us into turning away from God.  Since we are a fallen people, we often and unwittingly serve as his agents, though the Devil himself has never directly acted against us.  I suspect that he takes diabolical delight (if you will pardon this turn of phrase) in watching us do his dirty work.

In the NCR report on this homily there is a typo that I think inadvertently captures the Pope’s message and points to the ultimate remedy to our sinful state:

Is that clear? You cannot think of a spiritual life, a Christian life,” [the Pope] said, “without resisting temptation, without fighting against the devil, without putting on this amour of God, who gives us strength and defends us.”

“Amour”, the French for love.  God’s love is God’s armor:  even more than his truth, his love is what protects us and leads us to life.  So today, pray for the grace to flee the devil and all his (human) works, and embrace the love of the living God.  Strive to share this love with all his people, with all his creation “will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”  (Rm 8:21)

About David Cruz-Uribe
  • Julia Smucker

    How can I not like a post that ties together Pope Francis, Calvin & Hobbes, and the French language with a theological thread?!

    Seriously, I like your interpretations. That providential typo makes me think of a card I got at a francophone communication workshop, which I keep at work, with Colossians 3:12-14 in French: “revetez-vous de l’amour” – put on love.

  • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com dismasdolben

    I prefer to think of this as a pointed reminder that the Devil can only act in the world through us: he has no power except lies and illusion, the power to tempt us into turning away from God.

    Increasingly, I am not a fan of the simplistic formulations of Judaeo-Christian religions, and prefer the more realistic complexities of the Eastern religions. In point of fact, I don’t believe that the “Devil”–if there is such a figure–can act in the world without a power that is given to him by a thing we call “God,” and my favourite proof of the suppression of this idea. as the Abrahamic faiths became increasingly legalistic and fundamentalist, is the scene in the Book of Job, in which Satan reports back to God about the success of his “trying” of Job, and has his report received with favour.

  • Agellius

    “God’s love is God’s armor: even more than his truth, his love is what protects us and leads us to life.”

    But you’ve got to know that truth before you can act on it.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Where are you trying to go with this?

      • Agellius

        David:

        Your comparing love and truth and placing one above the other, jarred on me. I hear this a lot and I think it misses something important, namely, that the statement “love leads us to life” is something you have to know to be true before you can act on it. Truth, in this sense, is love’s foundation.

        Or applying it to the scripture reading and the statements of the Pope, how can you resist the devil unless you know the truth that the devil must be resisted? St. Paul says in the quoted excerpt: “stand fast with your loins girded in truth”. Also, righteousness is the breastplate and faith is the shield, the word of God is the helmet. All this says to me that truth is awfully important as a protection against evil. The devil isn’t called the Father of Lies for nothing.

        Which is not to say that love is not equally important. In short, I don’t think truth and love can be separated and one placed above the other. How can one be a more important element in our journey towards God, when both are in God, and both in fact are God?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Agellius, those are all good points and I don’t think I disagree with any of them. However, at the back of my mind when I wrote this was the idea that truth must be understood more broadly than a set of propositions that must be assented to, just as love cannot be reduced to mere warm and cuddly feelings towards another.

        • Julia Smucker

          Actually, the same question arose momentarily in the back of my own mind: why insist on “more than”, as if weighing love and truth against each other? I was perhaps less strongly jarred by this than Agellius, and it was sufficiently overshadowed by my delight in the cross-lingual wordplay that I decided to ignore it. But now I just read a daily reflection making reference to an old tract about “missing heaven by 18 inches”, i.e. the distance between the head and the heart. The metaphor has an obvious point, but for my taste it lends itself too easily to a tiered paradigm in which “head” represents a superficial level and “heart” a deeper one. My first inclination is to think something like the opposite, of superficial fluff vs. deep thought. But when I really think about it, I realize it’s a mistake to think of the head and the heart (or love and truth, or grace and truth as my college president was fond of saying) as representing relative levels of depth and shallowness whichever way you slice it. It is probably truer (and by association more loving?) to say that either one without the other has a certain superficiality due to what it’s missing.

          This also reminds me of a great sermon by Martin Luther King on the importance of having both “a tough mind and a tender heart”.

          I guess the moral of this story, for myself personally, is that even the anti-dichotomy queen can be prone to false dichotomies of her own.

  • Agellius

    David:

    I agree. Truth is more than a set of propositions, because God is Truth. And love is more than warm feelings because God is Love. Neither can be skimped on or glossed over.

    The absence of love is what makes people think that the right set of propositions is all that matters. By the same token, the lack of truth is what makes people think that warm, friendly feelings are all that matter.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, mark this on the calendar as one of those times we agree with one another!

  • LM

    Even when I was a believer I could never get behind the idea of Satan. If God is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all good, why would he allow Satan to just run wild over the Earth causing trouble? It never made much sense to me, unless the all-good part gets dropped.

    In the past, people ascribed many things to Satan that we now have rational explanations for. For example, occurences of sudden death (both people and animals) were often assumed to be the result of hexes and demonic influence. However, today we know that people can die suddenly from allergies, heart attacks, untreated asthma attacks and the like. Much like how God was evoked to explain the good and neutral aspects of the world, Satan was also invoked to explain the bad things that happened. To me, there’s no need to ascribe satanic influence to explain evil. So-called natural evil can be explained in terms of natural processes that can be found even on planet that have no life, so we can’t say that hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and the like are here just to punish humans.The origins of genocidal events like the Holocaust can be explained in socio-political terms, so there’s no need to evoke Satan, although plenty of people do it anyway.

    • Mark VA

      L.M.:

      All human activity can be correlated to neural networks and their functions.

      The materialist view of the above, the way “I” understand it, is that human thoughts and emotions are neurologic actions. The (soon to be debunked) illusory phenomena such as a sense of mind, self, and free will, somehow arise from this activity, but have no basis in reality. In reality there is no self – thus there really is no person “Mark VA” thinking and typing this, but an illusion “Mark VA” doing this.

      The non-materialist explanation, the way I understand it, is that human thoughts and emotions are expressed thru neurologic actions. The phenomena such as a sense of mind, self, and free will, have both natural and supernatural basis – that is, they work in conjunction with the brain. In this view, there really is a person “Mark VA”, who is trying, to the best of his natural (brain networks) and natural – supernatural (mind and soul) abilities to express himself.

      This mind-body problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind%E2%80%93body_problem) is sometimes described with an allegory of a relationship between a musical instrument and the music it can play. Thus, in my non-materialist mind, saying that there is no Satan, is analogous to suggesting that one can’t screech the notes on a violin, or use it to play bewitching melodies:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VR6XJsGOF1s

      • LM

        @Mark VA

        I don’t really believe in a mind body problem. I think that the mind (or consciousness) evolved with the other parts of the human body, meaning that we are an integrated whole of neutron, bones, red blood cells, and other body parts. In other words, no body, no consciousness, so no Satan. The Christian version the figure of Satan does not show up cross culturally, which leads me to believe that he is a particular concept grounded in a particular cultural understanding. For example, near death experiences in Southeast Asia involve Shiva, Brahma, and Ganeesha and the like, with not even a walk-on by anyone in the Judeo – Christian corpus. If the god of the Bible was the one true God and Satan the one true Prince of Darkness it seems that they should try harder to make their presence known.

        However, my real beef with the concept of Satan is that if we were to take his influence seriously then we would be forced to live in a very different world. For example for much of the previous millennium, Western countries had laws forbidding magic activities many of which were capital offenses. If you believe Satan is real then you also have to believe that he has minions on earth doing his bidding who must be killed. This continued to be a major social social problem in the West until the 18th and 19th centuries. Now that we are more knowledgeable about disease, seismic events, and weather pattern there is no need to assume celestial or diabolic influence in our lives.

        However there are many parts of the world where this is not the case. Thousands of people, especially women and children, are being held in “witch camps” throughout sub saharan Africa for their own safety. Others have been lynched for their perceived practice of the dark arts. Nigerian humanist Leo Igwe is fighting against superstition and witchcraft on his continent because this belief in devils, witches, and magic is killing people and tearing apart families and communities. Even in Great Britain, an innocent eight year old girl was brutally tortured and killed because she was supposedly “possessed” by Satan. Here in the US autistic children have died from botched exorcisms meant to get the “demons” from them. While it might be fine to read off that prayer after the Last Gospel about defeating Satan, believing in Satan has and continues to ruin lives all over the world. One of the best things that could happen would be for Satan to be put in the dustbin of bad ideas.

        • Julia Smucker

          If you insist (dare I say dogmatically) that the belief in the devil must necessarily lead to the cruel conclusions you name, then you are following the same non sequitur as those who have acted on those conclusions. What if, instead, the idea that human beings bearing the image of God are actually minions of Satan who must be killed, tortured or ostracized is itself a great lie of the deceiver? This is at least equally possible logically, and I believe much more probable theologically.

          To put it closer to home, I’ve said to others before that I know there is a deceiver because I’ve felt it trying to work in me. To my mind, the ease of falling into the very evils we ourselves deplore – whether by killing innocent people under the direct illusion of combating the devil, or through subtler hypocrisies – is further suggestive of that deceiver’s existence.

        • Mark VA

          L.M.:

          You wrote:

          “…believing in Satan has and continues to ruin lives all over the world. One of the best things that could happen would be for Satan to be put in the dustbin of bad ideas.”

          I truly wish it were that simple. However, even a cursory survey of recent history paints a different picture:

          I think we may agree that religious belief in general has waned dramatically in the twentieth century. Belief in God, the afterlife, and the soul, was replaced by various nationalisms, materialisms, and a few other isms. Acknowledging one’s belief in the devil became a major faux pas when mingling with the Hoi Oligoi. For all practical purposes, the devil, and many other spiritual beliefs, were put in the dustbin of bad ideas in this time frame.

          Yet, the two most murderous wars in the history of humanity originated at that time. Millions of lives were lost and ruined, not because of the belief in the devil, but because of unbounded pride and “scientific” belief in the biological and cultural superiority of this or that tribe, or ism.

          From a slightly different perspective:

          David Bentley Hart, in his rather cheekily titled book “Atheist Delusions” (http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300111903) examines (among other things) the consequences of discarding Christian beliefs in the naive hope of ushering in a utopia. This erudite author is worth reading.

          L.M. – I want to conclude on a conciliatory note. I think we both want evil to disappear from this world, but go about it in different ways. I also think it is perfectly legitimate for atheists to question and challenge Christianity, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular. And vice versa. Perhaps by following this process, we can find some common ground.

      • LM

        @Julia

        It’s pretty hard not to assert “dogmatically” that belief in a literal Satan does not leads to the abuses that I have outlined above, when that’s exactly what happened for thousands of years. The only way to wriggle out of this is to claim that the Church’s teachings on this subject were confused by the masses (which is hard to assert, given the presence of witch hunting manuals like the “Malleus Maleficarium) and the large corpus of law that supported the murder of suspected friends of Lucifier or posit that the Church needs to send out motivational posters that say cute sayings like “Keep Calm and Suppress that Tendency to Believe that Satan Poisoned Your Cow.” I would suggest that you read Keith Thomas’ magisterial work “Religion and the Decline of Magic” to get a feel for how ordinary Britons during the Middle Ages and Reformation felt about magic, witches, and Satan, and I don’t mind saying it was a real eye-opener for me.

        @Mark VA

        I don’t operate from the assumption that the two world wars were mysterious events that could only be explained through diabolical intervention. Suffice to say, using a commbox to deconstruct either World War is not something I’m feel that I can do adequately, but I want to make a few points. First, there was no great mystery about why either war started. There was a build up of extreme nationalist sentiment in late 19th century Europe to the point where many parts of society were eagerly chomping at the bit to try out those fancy new dreadnoughts that they had been saving for just this occasion. “The Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age” by Morris Eksteins does an excellent job of explaining the cultural millieu that led to World War I. As far as World War II goes, much of the problem was the heavy war reparations that Germany was forced to pay to the Allies that led to a political system that was akin to a dumbbell (i.e., lots of weight on the extremes and nothing in the middle). The economic and social problems of the inter-war years were shared by other European countries, many of whom saw some form of fascism as the best way to reinvigorate their countries after the destruction of the Great War.

        As far as the Holocaust goes, I’m just going to say point blank that I regard that event as the logical end of almost 2,000 years of Christian antisemitism. You can’t go around calling a group of people vermin, perpetrators of Deicide, aliens, and worse for thousands of years and then not think that a group like the Nazi Party, armed with modern weaponry, isn’t going to just finally go out and attempt a “Final Solution.” As the Nazis constantly reminded their German church associates, there wasn’t one thing that Hitler said that couldn’t have come out of the mouths of John Chystostom or Martin Luther. The German people for the most part did not regard their Jewish associates as their neighbors, in a “Good Samaritan” sort of way. The German Jews may have had the trappings of citizenship until the Nuremburg Laws, but when push came to shove, the “Aryan” majority was perfectly happy to see them get deported to Dachau or Auschwitz or where ever. Just look at the entry from the 1906 Catholic Encyclopedia on “Jews” and how it calls them “Christ killers” and lauded the discriminatory measures they had to live under Christendom. The Church wouldn’t even defend those German Jews who actually had converted to Catholicism, because the hierarchy didn’t want to jeopardize its privileges under the new regime. Satan had nothing to do either of the World Wars, although if he was real, he might have been able to pick up a few new tricks from the humans who were fighting these conflicts.

        • Mark VA

          L.M.

          Thank you for your response, but I think we are talking past each other. I don’t operate from the assumption that the devil caused the two world wars, either. I listed some of the very human pathologies that I believe were their causes. Thus, I try to be fair to the devil.

          Regarding your view of history, please take a look at this passage from Mit Brennender Sorge (promulgated in 1937 by Pope Pius XI):

          “Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community – however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things – whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.”

          (source: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_14031937_mit-brennender-sorge_en.html)

          Regarding the “2000 years of Christian antisemitism”, please take a look at the Kalisz Statutes, first promulgated in 1334:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statute_of_Kalisz

          And of more recent vintage:

          http://www.jewishmuseum.org.pl/en

          Let me also address your inclusion of the book “Malleus Maleficarium” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malleus_Maleficarum) in your response to Julia:

          The use of this book was not endorsed by the Inquisition, to say the least. The sanity of its author(s) is suspect. Quoting it as “evidence” is, in my view, on par with quoting from the “Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk”, taking one’s cues from Nostradamus, or discussing philosophy with Madame Blavatsky.

          If this book points to anything, it is that humans are susceptible to collective bouts irrational behavior and lurid thoughts – the periodic “scares”. Our 21st century is no different (I can think of several scares circulating in the popular imagination today).

        • LM

          @Mark VA

          I imagine we are talking past each other at this point, but there are a few final points I’d like to make. I think what I was trying to say at the beginning of this post is that we modern Westerners, whether of a religious or a secular bent, simply don’t “see” the Satan and the supernatural in the same way that our ancestors did. For example, when that horrific earthquake occurred in Haiti five or so years ago, the vast majority of people understood that this event was the result of seismic activity that no one had any control over. When Pat Robertson tried to claim that the earthquake was the result of some “witch pact” Haitian revolutionaries made back in the 18th century, he was rightly pilloried as being both insensitive and historically ignorant. However, if you examine the response to the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, there was definately a sense at the time among ordinary believers that the Portuguese must have done something to merit their dismal fate. Similarly, “monstrous births,” building accidents, fires, comets, and other unusual phenomenon were marshalled as “proof” that God and/Satan was trying to send a message to humanity. While a belief in Satan may still be on the books, so to speak, there’s really not a role for him in modern society, because so much of the natural world has been de-mythologized.

          As for “Mit brennender Sorge,” I think that the primary flaw of that document was that it was still more concerned with the rights and privileges of the institutional Church and not with the rights and/or safety of the groups that had been designated as non-persons under the Nazi regime. If you look at “Mit brenneder Sorge” you’ll notice that it’s mostly a complaint about the Nazis trying to attack certain aspects of Catholic doctrine and trying to usurp Catholic authority in the schools and the home. Racism is condemned in a roundabout way, but nothing that could be construed as an attack on the Nazi regime itself, and thus bring the Church into disrepute. Hitler was still seen as someone the Church could work with, despite his flaws. What “Mit brennender Sorge” needed to say was something along the lines of, “Who are the neighbors of the German people? The Jews are our neighbors. The Roma are our neighbors. The Abyssinians are our neighbors. Anyone who disrespects or harms a member of one of these group out of a misplaced sense of nationalism brings disrespect on the ‘Reich’ to the point where it would be better for a millstone to be placed on his neck.”

          But that’s not what was said. Although Pius XI realized too late that he had made a serious error in getting the Italian Church in bed with Mussolini, neither he, Pius XII, or anyone else who was operating in the Curia at the time had the kind of mindset that would have been effective in fighting against Nazism or any other brand of fascism. They were dead set on the view that the Catholic church had to operate temporal power and that the Church had to maintain its traditional privileges. As David Kertzer’s “The Pope and Mussolini” demonstrates, most if not all of the members of the interwar and World War II still operated under the belief that the Jews were guilty of deicide, that they were an unwholesome influence on Christian Europe, and in general just weren’t worthy of their moral concern. To me, questioning the behavior of Pius XII during the Holocaust is asking the wrong question, since he and his associates were completely lacking the moral foundation to question the insanity that enveloped them (keep in mind that that the Edgardo Mortara affair would have still been in Rome’s living memory during World War II). I mean, Pius XII was complaining about the possibility of “coloured troops” occupying Rome at the end of the war.

          I’m also aware that there were various treaties made throughout Christendom with the different Jewish communities, but whatever corporate priviledges the Jews enjoyed, they were completely disenfranchised and could be banished or killed at will, as the banishment of the Jews from England and Spain show. The presence of the Rothchilds or other wealthy “court Jews” doesn’t erase the fact that the average Jew under Christendom were considered “Christ-killers” with no rights. The debased condition of European Jewry was the main reason why the Jewish Enlightenment was so successful, the mass departure of so many of their co-religionists from traditional religion being an event that many ultra-Orthodox Jews consider to be worse than the Holocaust.

        • Mark VA

          L.M:

          If you take the time to read the Kalisz Statutes, perhaps you will notice that they contradict your statement that the Jews were “… completely disenfranchised and could be banished or killed at will, as the banishment of the Jews from England and Spain show.”. Unless you clarify which parts of Europe you have in mind.

          Thus, while Catholic Spain and England banished the Jews (and this is where the Western historic narrative usually ends), Catholic Poland, and later, Poland-Lithuania, accepted them. They lived, flourished, and also suffered in “Polin”, until the partitions changed the equation, and then the recent German invasion largely destroyed this community. This, by the way, is the main point of new Warsaw Jewish Museum:

          http://www.jewishmuseum.org.pl/en

          The picture is more complex, L.M., especially when viewed from a non-Western, or more precisely, non-Western European, perspective.
          In such long time frames (centuries), it is not a simplistic narrative of victims and oppressors.

          Mr. Cruz-Uribe:

          As an aside note, do you know that there is a connection between Trinity College, and the new Jewish Museum in Warsaw?

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            I would assume that this connection involves my colleague Sam Kassow, who is a historian who has written extensively about the Warsaw Ghetto.

        • Mark VA

          Mr. Cruz-Uribe:

          Yes, this is it. Go Trinity!

          After listening to the recordings of the presentations of many consulting scholars for this museum, I’m very impressed with its chosen philosophy (notice I didn’t say “narrative”):

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfStStd6maU

          I believe it will not only help synchronize the historical lenses for the new generations of Jews and Poles, but will help reinforce the current rebirth of Jewish life in “Polin”. It should also help young Poles understand what an anomaly it is today, for Poland to be this homogeneous. A thousand year history speaks for itself.

          I’m also somewhat dismayed by what I see as one dimensional narratives of this history here in the West. However, I understand that ingrained simple narratives usually take time to correct.

  • Mark VA

    Mr. Cruz-Uribe:

    I do agree that the devil, who I too believe is a spiritual being, can “… act in the world through us”. However, I would drop the qualification “only”, since including it seems to presume we know the limits of his capacities. I do feel again this compulsion to put this in doggerel form:

    Research shows, experts say, and studies indicate,
    That the neurons in our heads flicker and fluctuate;
    Some may also add, with a shadow of a Puritan’s grin,
    That these cells can be strings in the devil’s violin.

    Lest someone think I’m paraphrasing, take a look at this:

    http://www.wsj.com/video/take-a-virtual-tour-of-a-wsj-columnist-brain/CB75AA89-4E10-4F83-970C-7BB142F9DE2B.html?KEYWORDS=inside+the+brain

    P.S I confess, Mr. C-U, I did have to look up the definition of “Multivariate Granger Causality”): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granger_causality

    P.P.S : Come to think of it, why are these business types so interested in our brains?

  • LM

    Look, I’m not going to dispute that there was a certain level of social and commercial intercourse going on between Christians and Jews during the pre-Holocaust era. That’s not the point. The problem is that when the former has convinced itself that the latter are collectively guilty of deicide and ritual murder everyday conversation is only going to take you so far in healing the rift. In fact, when many Holocaust survivors tried to return to their in Eastern Europe after the war, they were attacked and/or murdered, not by hardcore Nazis and their sympathizers but by “regular Europeans” who were just plain anti-semitic. To act like thousands of years of church teachings on the inherent wickedness of the Jewish people had nothing to do with what later befell European Jewry is being naive at best or at worse trying to preserve the image of an institution over real people.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Well, it is my good luck or providence that there is this post available here, to which I can attach a comment on a relevant point from Pope Francis today. For indeed the whole issue of theodicy and the status of the Devil is closely bound to both faith and reason, and possible extremes of such. But first let me just say hello, as I have not commented here for a long time, and just wanted to pop in once to add a very exciting piece of info from your Pope. Btw, we just got back from a trip to Spain on a cruise, and one of our stops was the famous pilgrimage sit of Santiago de Compostela and since I walked from the famous old hotel on the square that Charles V built, where the taxi let us off, to the Cathedral, I aver that I have officially made the pilgrimage walk myself, and want my indulgence!!!- But now to the point!–
    Pope Francis in his address to the Council of Europe today made a very interesting point, which speaks to a momentous shift. As always with the RC Church, if you want to understand how change happens over time you have to look to the close details of theological or philosophical positions as they shift with glacial speed. Don’t look to big pronouncements, but to the details. But a glacier seems indeed to have calved at the Vatican and the Pope’s own words tell the tale:

    “This way of thinking also casts light on the contribution which Christianity can offer to the cultural and social development of Europe today within the context of a correct relationship between religion and society. In the Christian vision, faith and reason, religion and society, are called to enlighten and support one another, and, whenever necessary, to purify one another from ideological extremes.”

    Well, I love this statement. Let’s unpack it in light of intellectual history of the RC Church. The traditional position on the relations between faith and reason is that reason can be used to support and clarify by way of exploration the deposit of faith. But in the end, the deposit of faith is inviolable, and to sum up, acts like a check on reason in the end, not vice versa. Reason can bring forth the meanings of faith, and clarify the murkiness of particular understandings, but it ultimately has NEVER been seen as a way of doing more. Until now.

    Well, folks, that seems to have changed. And thank God. As you can read that according to Francis’ words reason can “purify” faith itself from “ideological extremes”. This means the following logically: 1.) That faith itself can have impure elements which are related to extremism. 2.) That reason, or intellectual activity, has a role to play in identifying the very extreme elements in faith and helping to remove or palliate them.

    This is great, since so many of us who are interested in seeing the RC Church improve its position in the world, to make the world a better place for all, welcome the fact that the Pope himself recognizes that “faith” can in fact be “impure” by way of “extremes”, that is fanaticism.

    There are in fact many a number of elements of RC faith which seem like barnacles not relating to the central religious insight. Since the Pope has advocated using reason and intellectual activity in such a surgical way– of course consistent with the ethos of your Church itself– it seems that the road is now open for a more candid dialogue about which elements in faith itself are in fact “extreme”. But the first step is always admitting that they are there to begin with, and that critical thought or insight can do something about them. It seems to Pope took a big step today, and hooray for him.

    Think of all the ideological extremes in the past related to the concept of the Devil. if this sense of reciprocal purification between faith and reason had been broached earlier in the RC Church’s trajectory perhaps the Devil notion would have kept some of its clarifying oomph, instead of being seen as a laughable shibboleth. For there is evil in the world, but how do we understand it? And fanaticism is a real evil to which faith systems are given, unfortunately. and now it would seem that Catholics, by way of the Pope’s theological evolution, have a sort of permission to do a more forthright archaeology of motives.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Welcome back, PPF! Your comment is appreciated. However, I think you are reading too much into what the Pope is saying. Reason has “purged” the faith in the past as the Church has many times pulled back from the brink, seeking a via media rather than plunging over the cliff. Thus we are neither Pelagian nor Calvinist, hovering in some gray area which, though it lacks the crystalline clarity of the extremes, matches our reality so much better.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Thank you David for the welcome. If you don’t mind me saying so, that is exactly the response I expected from someone. I get that the Via Media is a strong ethos in Catholicism, and one of the reasons that ordinary Catholics are actually much less likely to be fanatics than other Christian denominations who will remain unnamed. However, my comment refers specifically to the carefully chosen Papal rhetoric and Conciliar rhetoric, historically speaking, on the balance between faith and reason. Further, one can only assume that when the Pope speaks to a body like the Council of Europe, his words are very exactly chosen. That is why this is significant. For it is a departure from the carefully chosen rhetoric of the past on the very same issue. When the Pope mentions this issue between faith and reason, surely some aspect of science itself is understood in relation to reason. Thus, what is being endorsed here in “officialese” is finally (!!!!!!) the acceptance by the RC church that intellectual critique, and science itself, can be a way ( a balanced via media way I concede !) for getting rid of the the extremes in the faith. All this really means is that this is a way forward for them to actually deal with current issues and keep some balance with their theological homeostasis. But read closely, it is momentous. Cheers!

        ps. If you are still unsure of my point, then please come up with a past papal or conciliar statement that is the same or even similar to this one. I don’t think you will find it, or produce it. This is a change, plain and simple.

        • trellis smith

          I wonder if Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address prodded more than obliquely in this direction.
          As for your indulgence, other then what they grant you here, one would have to know whether it to be plenary or partial. In your case one would hope for the former.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs

          Well Mr. Trellis in a sense I would be happy if Benedict’s Regensberg Address did contain the elements you are suggesting, but close study shows it does not. I just read it over again, and there is a very striking sameness with the tradition on these matters. In fact it is reason (in this discussion pagan “Greek philosophy” which is “purified” by faith) not vice versa. What Francis is saying is very clear, that is, reason can and should purify faith, as well as the other way around. The Regensberg Address not only affirms the older tradition but actually pushes the older tradition in an even more conservative direction. To wit:

          “Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought – to philosophy and theology.”

          Notice that here reason is actually “remanded” (the word tells you everything as if reason is naturally already in a court proceeding conducted by faith and its theology) to a different “plane”, one which is that of faith, with its (Thomistic) philosophy and theology.

          I find nothing in fact in Benedict’s address that is even similar to Francis’ statement to the Council of Europe. Face it, this is a change, and a good one.

          As to plenary indulgences, i got something even better in Santiago de Compostela. We had the best Caldo Gallego, a special type of bean soup which comes from this Galician area, while at lunch. It had lots of fresh sorrel floating in it. Yum!! Lemme tell you, that is a foretaste of heaven. We also got to see the Church itself there which is very beautiful on the outside. Unfortunately, there was scaffolding on the two towers in front, but we could still see the main part in front which is exquisite, and there was a tower in the back that we could see similar to those in front we could not see which showed the wonderful architecture so well. I feel I had a successful pilgrimage and the coach ride back to the ship was a time of quiet reflection. By the way, paradoxically, one of the most common things that is sold there by vendors on the street and all around are little figures of a witch on a broom, which is a common Galician charm or some such thing. I thought that was a tad ironic for such a famous holy pilgrimage site, and it shows the complexity of religious culture “on the ground” for sure.

  • trellis smith

    The soup sounds fantastic,, I’m off to make and indulge in one of my own.
    And that Benedict was even more conservative on this question comes as quite the relief as I wouldn’t know what to do if he surprised me. I always wondered why his explorations never took him out of these thomistic persuasions , he always seemed to wander back home.

    I do though think, from wherever his thought emanates, that the main thesis of his address, that unlike a fundamentalist Islamic understanding of a purely transcendent God,
    the Catholic God does not transcend reason that is comprehensible to us, may in this sense point somewhat to where Francis has gone. And I’m sure that Francis would say he but stood on the soldiers of giants.(so he could see further of course) An image of the Evangelists windows of Chartres,which was a way post onto Compostella I believe.

    http://ultraawesometrinity.blogspot.com/2010/11/chartres-cathedral-south-rose-window.html

    Yet despite his upshowing who among us wouldn’t envy such a volatile reaction in the form of rioting in response to what one has said or written as he sparked.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Of course I agree with you on the nature of the broad or main thesis. And one might say historically that is why perhaps the Christian West had an Enlightenment, an Age of Reason, , in the first place, and the other culture you mention did not. As Charles Taylor so brilliantly made clear even though Christianity has sometimes had problems with aspects of the Enlightenment, it had a central role in its creation in the first place. I think it is this deep historical reality from which the evolution evident in Francis’ words emanates.

    And I love Chartres! One of the things I like about my house is that it is right around the corner from a Church that has a copy of Chartres’ famous frieze over the main door. Love it! universalist national memorial church dc

  • trellis smith

    While still in prep school I was able to spend two summers of study at Chartres with the historian Malcom Miller who must be in his 80s now
    His final exposition on the stain glass light and the ascent to Paradise was extraordinary.
    We had just spent a round studying the iconography of the guild donors of the windows, ever the wise ass when we stopped in front of the Mary Magdalene window, I ventured quite uninvited saying it was obvious which guild donated that window.

    I am always surprised at any wholesale rejection of the enlightenment espoused by any Catholic , they should read Taylor to reform their ignorance.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      So, who did donate the window of the Magdalene? Inquiring minds want to know!

      • trellis smith

        The rather prosaic water carriers guild I’m afraid

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Amen!

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    The following article I stumbled on seems relevant, and indeed it does seem to support PPFs reading of Pope Francis saying something new–though I do not think it is earth shattering since it seems to be a natural extension of the idea that reason supports faith.

    http://americamagazine.org/issue/justified-reason