Sunday, May 11, 2014

An Unholy Transformation: A Screed-Rumination "Twofer"

Our Leftist cousins are cackling and rubbing their hands with glee over Pope Francis's recent exhortation to "the nations of the world" to work against "the unequal distribution of wealth." It's put quite a number of conservative Christians -- Catholics especially, of course -- into a terrible lather. Even non-Catholic Christians will allow that the papacy is a font from which much wisdom has poured, over the centuries. Catholics of a conservative mind are bent still further out of shape, in many cases owing to a misconception about papal authority.

I might have said and written it a hundred times by now, but it seems I must do so yet again, so I believe I'll use large type:

The pope's authority is limited to matters of theology.
Outside that realm, his opinion carries no more weight than yours or mine.

Pope Francis's history is one of great and tender concern for the poor of his Argentinean homeland. I cannot help but applaud him for his personal, voluntary efforts to succor some of the genuinely poorest people in the world. (On that note, any American who considers himself "poor" should be transported to South America and made to live the way the poor of that continent live. It would be quite a perspective restorer -- and a badly needed one, at that.) However, a cleric who orates on public policy has transgressed his proper bounds. For a pope to do so, lending the immense weight and dignity of the Holy See to his pronouncements, is an arrogance that can be forgiven only on the supposition of misunderstanding or mistranslation.

The sole valid authority behind any Christian cleric's words is the Gospels: the tale of the ministry, Passion, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Our Lord and Savior:

  • If Jesus commanded it, then it is obligatory.
  • If He forbade it, then it is forbidden.
  • All else lies within the sphere of human discretion: our choices about goals, costs, and priorities.

Recall what G. K. Chesterton said after he decided to accept Christ:

The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted; precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.

Compare that entirely accurate assessment to Islam for a huge perspective restorer. Militant atheists who denigrate Christianity, in particular.

As I wrote some time ago:

In its unique way, the Catholic Church, to which I adhere, represents the greatest of the conflicts in American conservative politics today. Conversely, the conservative experience in America, especially as informed by its legal attitudes toward personal virtue, is a near-perfect mirror for a special malady that afflicts the Church in our time.

Michele Catalano recently bemoaned a common complaint: Catholic Guilt, a major legacy of much misguided indoctrination applied to young and defenseless Catholics, mainly in parochial schools. Stripped of its subtleties, Catholic Guilt is what comes of the inculcation of the notion that one is supposed to suffer in this world to earn one's place in the next. Suffering here is meant to include not merely pain, fatigue, and discomfort, but also the renunciation, voluntary or otherwise, of the pleasures offered us by the world.

Contrast this idea with another, presented here by the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, through his devil-protagonist Screwtape:

He [God] has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least -- sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side. [from The Screwtape Letters, of course]

To your Curmudgeon, the truth of Lewis's view seems self-evident. The opposing view, from which Catholic Guilt germinates, was enough to distance me from the Church for a long time. Moreover, a review of the Gospels reveals that Christ Himself demanded none of the renunciations and self-abnegations at the heart of Catholic Guilt.

The number of Catholics who have left the Church for this reason is incalculable. Not many return.

This notion that suffering is pleasing in God's eyes has given birth to even more insane notions, among which the condemnation of material prosperity ranks high. It's as if the Bible were still available solely in Greek and Aramaic:

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pick the grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is against the law to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry—how he entered the house of God and they ate the sacred bread, which was against the law for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that the priests in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are not guilty? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” [Matthew 12:1-8]

There is no virtue in the embrace of suffering for suffering's sake.
There is no justice in the embrace of privation for privation's sake.
There is no obligation upon men to bow before arbitrary assertions of authority -- by anyone.

You won't hear that from any great number of priests. Few men clothed in authority of any sort are given to emphasizing the limitations thereupon. Which is exactly why Christians are morally obliged to scrutinize pronouncements such as that of Pope Francis in the light of the Gospels: the exact teachings upon which all clerical authority reposes. The Gospel standard applies even to the pronouncements of that first and arguably greatest of all Christian evangelists, Saint Paul of Tarsus.

Regular readers of Liberty's Torch and its predecessor Eternity Road know this to be one of the topics that reliably spins me up to my maximum velocity. The reason, at least in part, is the affliction of American Catholics by political priests, who regularly conflate their political preferences with the obligations that lie upon Man according to the dictates of Christ. My parish, St. Louis de Montfort of Sound Beach, NY, endures the vanities of one such priest: the unfortunately too-well-known Father Francis X. Pizzarelli of the Society of Montfort Missionaries. Father P. was at it again today, using Pope Francis's unwise statements as his foundation.

Glory be to God! You'd think that Father P. had never read Matthew Chapter 22:

Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words. They sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You do not court anyone’s favor because you show no partiality. Tell us then, what do you think? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, “Hypocrites! Why are you testing me? Show me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought him a denarius. Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Now when they heard this they were stunned, and they left him and went away. [Matthew 22:15-22] which Christ explicitly denied religious involvement with the State. Or chapter 8 of John:

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came to the temple courts again. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The experts in the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery. They made her stand in front of them and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women. What then do you say?” (Now they were asking this in an attempt to trap him, so that they could bring charges against him.) Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in asking him, he stood up straight and replied, “Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground.

Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She replied, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” [John 8:1-11] which He further reinforced the separation of the realms of God and Man by denying Man the privilege of imposing temporal punishments for violations of religious laws.

Yet Father P., who surely must have read the Gospels at some point -- before he was ordained, if not since then -- continues to advocate the expansion of State redistribution, and to urge that position upon us as if it were God's will!

"Disgraceful" and "appalling" strike me as not quite strong enough...and this priest is one who has also called the Ten Commandments "interesting guidelines."

The damage done to the Church by its clerics' embrace of politics is at least as severe as that from the cover-up of the molestation scandals. A church exists to conserve and promulgate a body of theological doctrine and the associated code of conduct: in terms appropriate to the taxonomy of ideas, a mythos and an ethos. It has no greater warrant than that. When it transgresses those bounds, it loses credibility and, over time, the allegiance of its congregants. That, in large measure, is the story of Christianity in America as it has attempted, in Stephen King's words, "to put both feet in this world."

Christians must accept that saving the Church, in all its denominations and manifestations, is even more important than saving Americans' freedom from the ravages of the Omnipotent State. Our suffering in this world can be great, but death will someday bring it to a permanent end, after which the afterlife of unbounded possibilities will begin. No matter what you've enjoyed or suffered under the veil of time, it vanishes in comparison to the bliss of eternal salvation and the agonies of eternal damnation. Remember: No matter how long you live, it's as nothing compared to how long you'll be dead. Set your priorities accordingly.

May God bless and keep you all.


Xealot said...

Francis, you struck a chord here with me. I am not a Catholic, nor have any particular desire to become one. Do not misunderstand men, I wish only the best for my Catholic brothers in Christ. My wife is Catholic. Her entire family is Catholic. But I resist, and for precisely this reason.

To me, the Papacy wields too much power in the temporal realm, something I have always found inappropriate for a churchman. Just as I believe the state should not involve itself in matters of religion, neither should the church involve itself in matters of state.

The exception to both principles is, of course, survival. Where the state seeks to restrict the church, then the church (as the victim) has the right of redress. The reverse is also true, where the state's survival (supposing it is not the aggressor) is threatened by religion, famously the case with Islam in certain parts of the world.

Other than that, the church has no business involving itself in these matters. But Popes, historically, have wielded vast temporal power. They still do, in a more indirect manner. While I can only say that I sympathize with Pope Francis's aim to reduce the squalor of his native land, and others like it, he should do this only within the bounds of the church and his private charity. Though, within those perfectly legitimate realms, I would happily support his efforts.

You are entirely correct to surmise that issues like this turn people away from Catholicism. Indeed, it has been that way since the Protestant Reformation.

Weetabix said...

Xealot - How many divisions does the Pope have? I'm not sure the Popes have wielded as much temporal power as you think. I've never had one force me to do something I didn't want to do. But several have inspired me to be better than I am.

People on the outside seem to think he has immense personal and daily control over Catholics. That's just not true. The Church's teachings should have immense personal and daily influence, but even those don't control.

What the Pope's have "forced" on me are certain matters of faith that I must accept as a Catholic. I think (correct me if I'm wrong, Francis) that the last time that happened was 1850.

You appear to be missing out on a deep and wonderful faith because you fear a bully in a guy who is actually more like a gentle and lovable uncle.

Sometimes a Pope speaks out of turn like now. But mostly, they're great guys.