Tuesday 22 October 2013

Pope Francis and Ideology

As I pondered the reaction to Pope Francis' remarks about a faith that can become an ideology (and here), I found it interesting to read this week two blog posts suggesting that the (however delicately expressed) criticism of Pope Francis from Traditionalist, or Traditionally minded, circles is not really the way to go: Just a thought .. and Is this the Pope's Response to his Critics? There is something in these posts of my own thoughts expressed here: Puzzled ... but not by Pope Francis. The efforts of the Chair of the Latin Mass Society to argue that it is the Traditionalists who are really the most Franciscan are entirely different in character than the criticism being offered from other quarters, though I suspect that they still do not issue in what I might term a "comfortable attitude" towards and with Pope Francis.

That the emergence of Traditionalist discomfort with Pope Francis should prompt the question in dogmatic terms of what must be followed of a Pope's teaching and what may be the subject of  "respectful" disagreement is surely very telling: Assent and Papal Magisterium. In the discussion around our response to Pope Francis' interviews and morning homilies this is not the question at stake, and only to one whose ecclesial environment is "dogma" alone could it appear to be the question at stake. Rather it is a question of trying to grasp in the manner of Pope Francis' exercise of his office as a Christian, as a priest, as a Bishop, as the Successor of St Peter the roots from which his life in the Church emerge.

So, for example, with Pope Francis' decision to live at the Casa Santa Martha rather than in the apartments of the Apostolic Palace. Time and again, Pope Francis has explained this as being, not the result of any great sense of poverty or virtue on his own part, but rather as being a result of his own felt need to live with and alongside others. Some Traditionalists have wanted to see in it a certain turning away by Pope Francis from the dignity of the Office of the Papacy. But perhaps one should see its root, consistently with Pope Francis' own explanation, in his experience of the movement Communion and Liberation where there is a great sense of the encounter with Christ being experienced and lived out in a community of life with others in the movement and in the Church.

And I suspect that a familiarity with Communion and Liberation is perhaps the way to gain some understanding of the homily in which Pope Francis refers to the possibility that a certain manner of living the Christian life can in fact constitute an adherence to an ideology. Don Luigi Giussani's book The Religious Sense , which represents the most fundamental articulation of the charism of Communion and Liberation, for example has a section headed "Preconception, Ideology, Rationality" (and, as Cardinal Bergoglio, Pope Francis presented the Spanish edition of this book at its launch in Argentina):
Ideology is the theoretical-practical construction developed from a preconception.
More precisely it is a theoretical-practical construction based on an aspect of reality, a true aspect, but taken up in such a way that it becomes unilaterally and tendentiously made into an absolute; and this come about through a philosophy or a political project.
This last suggests the way in which an ideology achieves intellectual expression in the realm of ideas or practical expression in the pursuit of objectives that are more or less explicitly political (with a small "p"). Towards the end of her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt discusses something of the role of ideology with regard to the practice of totalitarian regimes. Don Giussani continues:
Ideology is built up on some starting point offered by our experience; thus, experience itself is taken up as a pretext for an operation that is determined by extraneous or exorbitant preoccupations.
Vaclav Havel's essay "The Power of the Powerless" (an edition, with other essays, is currently the "Book of the Month" at the website of Communion and Liberation) is a classic account of the part played by ideology in the ordinary life of people under the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. To quote from Havel, though you need to read the whole essay to grasp his full notion of what ideology is and does to a human person:
Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them.
All of this can help us understand what it is that Pope Francis refers to in his use of the term "ideology". What Pope Francis is warning against is a shift (which can happen all too imperceptibly) from centring our Christian life on the person of Christ to centring it on the proximate requirements of a moral system - not to say that Catholic moral teaching does not form a consistent whole that is based in the dignity of what it means to be a human person, nor that it is "secondary", but rather to say that the living of the moral life arises in the encounter with Jesus Christ and not apart from that encounter. Without that openness to the "whole" of Christian experience, the Christian life becomes an ideology - a partial perspective, a theoretical-practical construction developed from a preconception rather than being something rooted in the "whole".

It is possible to go further in suggesting Communion and Liberation as a way to help understand this homily by Pope Francis. Don Giusssani has a short book entitled Morality: Memory and Desire in which he gives an account of what Christian life should look like. The suggestion that the one who does not pray falls into living the Christian life as an ideology in the sense indicated above, expressed in Pope Francis' homily, can be recognised in this book, though the book does not identify it by the term ideology.
... the key point at which we begin to do good [in the world at large] is found first of all in those whom Christ has placed at our sides: our fellow Christians.
According to a "moralistic" attitude, however, this key point is derived from ideas or plans that originate in our own consciousness.
.... which could be termed an "ideology" in the sense suggested above.

But what happens if you read of Pope Francis' homily outside of this kind of context, particularly from a somewhat Traditional background? It isn't going to make much sense, not helped by its nature as an unscripted (though not necessarily unprepared) homily, by the lack of a full text and, possibly, by being delivered in a language other than Pope Francis' first language (Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II would appear to have been much stronger linguists than Pope Francis).

So perhaps it is going to take an effort to get to grips with the ideas of this homily. But for me the idea that the Christian life could be lived in a way that constituted an "ideology" was not new....

Sunday 20 October 2013

If .... then why not .....

Am I alone in wondering why, if the UK Government can arrange to process a Visa application in China in 24 hours (Visa rules for Chinese coming to the UK to be relaxed and scroll down to the end of the report), they can't sort out asylum applications in Croydon (UK immigration backlog 'tops 500,000' say MPs )?

Sunday 13 October 2013

Archbishop Bergoglio: ".. the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin."

The "Day by Day" meditation in Magnificat for today is an extract from the text of an address given at a book launch by the now-Pope Francis but then-Archbishop Bergoglio in 2001. The original source, and a fuller text, is the magazine Traces of Communion and Liberation, in an article entitled: The Attraction of the Cardinal.

What is topical in the text of this address is the way in which the now Pope Francis presents the Christian conception of morality as a response to the encounter with the person of Jesus. The articulation of the primary proclamation of God's love for us in terms of God's mercy towards us has become an almost every day feature of Pope Francis' teaching. It is now very familiar when, listened to during his first Angelus address, for example, it sounded very unusual. In the text of this address published in Traces we can detect a long history of this theme in Pope Francis' own personal thought, and we can see it as Pope Francis' particular way of experiencing the charism of Communion and Liberation:
Everything in our life, today just as in Jesus’ time, begins with an encounter. An encounter with this Man, the carpenter of Nazareth, a man like all men and yet different. The first ones, John, Andrew, and Simon, felt themselves to be looked at into their very depths, read in their innermost being, and in them sprang forth a surprise, a wonder that instantly made them feel bound to Him, made them feel different.
Thus far Fr Luigi Giussani and a classic account of the idea of the encounter with Jesus according to the charism of Communion and Liberation. But then what, with the hindsight of Pope Francis' preaching since being elected Successor of St Peter, we might see as Archbishop Bergoglio's distinctive articulation in terms of mercy (this section of text taken in its fuller form from Traces - my emphasis added):
We cannot understand this dynamic of encounter which brings forth wonder and adherence if it has not been triggered–forgive me the use of this word–by mercy. Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. I beg the theologians who are present not to turn me in to the Sant’Uffizio or to the Inquisition; however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin.
Archbishop Bergoglio then goes on - following the line of thought of Fr Giussani and the classic presentation of Communion and Liberation - to indicate how a moral imperative arises from this encounter:
In front of this merciful embrace .... we feel a real desire to respond, to change, to correspond; a new morality arises. .... Christian morality is not a titanic effort of the will, the effort of someone who decides to be consistent and succeeds, a solitary challenge in the face of the world. No. Christian morality is simply a response. It is the heartfelt response to a surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy .....The surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy .... of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. This is why the Christian conception of morality is a revolution; it is not a never falling down but an always getting up again.
 And, again in a manner that is familiar from his preaching as Pope Francis, Cardinal Bergoglio goes on to speak about the Church as the place where Jesus is encountered today:
Jesus is encountered, just as 2,000 years ago, in a human presence, the Church, the company of those whom He assimilates to Himself, His Body, the sign and sacrament of His Presence.
The topicality of Cardinal Bergoglio's words lies in the way in which a Christian conception of morality is consequent upon the encounter with Christ. It allows us another insight into Pope Francis' controversial observation about the teaching with regard to abortion etc coming after the first proclamation of God's mercy, an observation that I have previously understood in the context of an understanding of the different stages in evangelisation archetypally taught in the Decree Ad Gentes and Pope Paul's Evangelii Nuntiandi.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Friday 11 October 2013

Pope Francis: General Audience addresses on the Church

Since the resumption of the Wednesday General Audiences after their summer break, Pope Francis has given a series of addresses reflecting on that part of the Profession of Faith that refers to the nature of the Church:
I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
The series to date do make up a very readable catechesis on the nature of the Church. The Holy Father has still to consider the "apostolic" nature of the Church (presumably this coming Wednesday?), but it was the most recent in the series, addressing the "catholic" nature of the Church, that caught my attention. The word "catholic"
... derives from the Greek “kath’olòn” which means "according to the whole", the totality.
 Pope Francis then presented his customary three points.
The first. The Church is catholic because it is the place, the house in which the faith is announced in its entirety.
This point was then developed by likening the Church to a family which nourishes its members and helps them to grow. It was the account of the part played in this by the Sacraments which struck me:
.... in the Church we can meet the Lord in the Sacraments which are the open windows through which is given the light of God, the streams from which we draw the very life of God  ...
Pope Francis continued to consider the Church as universal, and, thirdly, as the "house of harmony":
 There is a beautiful image which says that the Church is like a large orchestra in which there is variety. We are not all equal and we must not all be equal. We are diverse, different, each one with their own gift. And this is the beauty of the Church: each one carries his own, that which God has given them, to enrich the others.
In considering the Church as holy, Pope Francis first identified the holiness of the Church as being given to her by God, who gave himself for her on the Cross. He then speaks of how we as sinners in the Church are called to an experience of God's mercy and to strive for holiness.

Pope Francis opened his consideration of the Church as one by observing that:
 The Catholic Church in the world “has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope, and one and the same charity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 161). It is a beautiful definition, clear, it orients us well. Unity in faith, hope and charity, unity in the sacraments, in the ministry: these are like the pillars that hold up and keep together the one great edifice of the Church. Wherever we go, even to the smallest parish in the most remote corner of this earth, there is the one Church. We are at home, we are in the family, we are among brothers and sisters. And this is a great gift of God! The Church is one for us all. There is not one Church for Europeans, one for Africans, one for Americans, one for Asians, one for those who live in Oceania. No, she is one and the same everywhere.
The first two General Audiences of the series were devoted to the theme of the Church as Mother: here and here. In all of the Audiences of this series, Pope Francis is inclined to end his consideration of a point by asking several questions of his listeners, questions which ask them how well they are living out the reality of which he has just spoken. In the first address on the Church as Mother, in what I suspect was a departure from his prepared text, Pope Francis asked a particularly poignant question of his listeners:
Let us ask ourselves: how do I see the Church? As I am grateful to my parents for giving me life, am I grateful to the Church for generating me in the faith through Baptism? How many Christians remember the date of their Baptism? I would like to ask you here, but each of you respond in you heart: how many of you remember the date of your Baptism? A few people raise their hands, but many others do not remember! But the date of your Baptism is the day of our birth in the Church, the date on which our mother Church gave us life! And now I leave you with some homework. When you go home today, go and find out what the date of your Baptism is, and then celebrate it, thank the Lord for this gift. Are you going to do it?
 Mine is the 3rd August - but I have reached an age which means I would rather not reveal the year ....

Friday 4 October 2013

Puzzled ... but not by Pope Francis

I have been rather puzzled, not so much by the consternation in traditionally minded circles at Pope Francis' recent interviews, but by exactly what it is that is causing them consternation. At times over the last few days being puzzled has morphed into being somewhat bemused. So many of the Franciscan statements that are causing the consternation just don't seem to justify it if read properly in the context in which they were originally spoken/written, and if read in an appropriate framework (see, for example, my observations about the stages of evangelisation with regard to the "first interview").

I do think that there is a lot to be said for Elizabeth Scalia's idea that there are some of us who "get" Pope Francis and others who, as yet, do not: If we “get” Francis, we have to absorb his lessons.

I have a pet theory about why people might not "get" Pope Francis. In the media, and the social media in particular, it appears to me that, within the particular circle within which one exists, there is a danger that WYSIWYG - "what you say is what you get". If the same thing is said it can gain its own credibility just by being said many times within the same milieu; and it then just takes one or two of those with a standing in that milieu to take it up, and the thing that has been said becomes, in effect, de fide for that milieu. So if those of a traditional frame of mind keep saying X about Pope Francis, then that is what they will get, and their colonisation of the electronic media only enhances this effect.

The second part of my pet theory is that, in order to "get" Pope Francis you need also to "get" Pope Benedict XVI. It is interesting, for example, to look at how Pope Benedict conducted himself during his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 .... and to compare it to the primacy that Pope Francis gave to "primary proclamation" and the subsequent position of moral teaching on abortion etc in the "first interview". The reference to care for life was discretely expressed during Pope Benedict's visit to St Peter's Residence and not in the form of a condemnation during his visit to Westminster Hall. If we take the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI as a whole, and not just the particular bits that appealed (or, for others, did not appeal), I believe we do end up with Pope Francis. I suspect that the traditionally minded suffer again the phenomenon of WYSIWYG, having seen in Pope Benedict XVI's exercise of the office of Successor of St Peter a project of promotion of their cause that was never there in reality.

Is what we are seeing by way of comment from some Catholics really respectful disagreement? Or is it better described as contestation? And are those genuinely perturbed by what Pope Francis has said helped if they see the causes of their concerns legitimised (unjustifiably, in my view) by comment in the electronic media?

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Pope Francis: The second interview

I have a feeling - reinforced now that I have had the chance to read a full translation - that this second interview is somewhat like the first. To really get the sense of the controversial excerpts you need to read the whole, and see the excerpts situated in their complete context. This might not make them any less controversial, but it could remove some of the apparent specificness of the criticism, for example, of the "papal court".

I can't actually understand what that remark on the part of Pope Francis was getting at - it seems to read into the present situation of the offices of the Holy See an image from history that has no immediate relevance - but more of this below.

Reports of the second interview at: Whispers in the Loggia, the Guardian and the Telegraph. UPDATE: An English translation of the entire interview at La Repubblica.

UPDATE: There do also appear to be issues of translation between the original Italian and the English that is being made available. These seem to be best addressed currently by Elizabeth Scalia Re Translating Francis’ Interview with Eugenio Scalfari – UPDATED. The implications for translation of Pope Francis' remarks early in the interview about the different understandings that people have of right and wrong are ably addressed here. Elizabeth's post also gives the kind of commentary on how to respond to Pope Francis that is one I share.

Again, I can detect a certain affinity between one part of Pope Francis' remarks, as reported by Whispers in the Loggia, and the words of Pope Benedict XVI, offered in the very different and more academic context of the cancelled address at La Sapienza. First Pope Francis:
The young are "shackled in the present," the Pope said. "But tell me: can one live shackled in the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to throw oneself into the future: to build a project, an adventure, a family? Is it possible to continue like this? This, for me, is the most urgent problem that the church has in front of it.... It's not the only problem, but it is the most urgent and the most dramatic."
And then Pope Benedict XVI:
I would like to describe briefly how John Rawls, while denying that comprehensive religious doctrines have the character of “public” reason, nonetheless at least sees their “non-public” reason as one which cannot simply be dismissed by those who maintain a rigidly secularized rationality. Rawls perceives a criterion of this reasonableness among other things in the fact that such doctrines derive from a responsible and well thought-out tradition in which, over lengthy periods, satisfactory arguments have been developed in support of the doctrines concerned. The important thing in this assertion, it seems to me, is the acknowledgment that down through the centuries, experience and demonstration – the historical source of human wisdom – are also a sign of its reasonableness and enduring significance. Faced with an a-historical form of reason that seeks to establish itself exclusively in terms of a-historical rationality, humanity’s wisdom – the wisdom of the great religious traditions – should be valued as a heritage that cannot be cast with impunity into the dustbin of the history of ideas.
Returning to the question of the "Vatican-centric" approach of the Roman Curia to which Pope Francis makes reference. I am not at all sure that it is fair to consider the Curia to be as closed in on "Vatican concerns" as these remarks, at least as reported, suggest. I am often struck by the news releases from the Holy See after a visit by diplomatic representatives or heads of state of countries maintaining relations with the Holy See. They usually report the audience with the Pope, and then go on to refer to meetings with the relevant officials of the Secretariat of State responsible for relations with other states. The summary of questions discussed usually demonstrates an understanding by the Holy See of the situation of the nation involved and of the part that they might play on the international scene. As I write I can't find an example report to link to, but no doubt there will soon be one on the VIS website. I also think of the work of the Pontifical Councils which might not be considered as immediately part of the Roman Curia but which nevertheless contribute significant effort to the engagement of the Holy See with the wider culture of our world. The work of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care), for example, does not fit a descriptor "Vatican-centric".

And to end another Francis/Benedict XVI parallel, this time about the nature of the engagement of the Church in politics. First Pope Francis:
Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres. All my predecessors have said the same thing, for many years at least, albeit with different accents. I believe that Catholics involved in politics carry the values of their religion within them, but have the mature awareness and expertise to implement them. The Church will never go beyond its task of expressing and disseminating its values, at least as long as I'm here.
And then Pope Benedict, speaking in Westminster Hall in 2010, and articulating in a particular way a principle of "appropriate secularity" for the field of politics:
The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.