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....


Shirelands Goldadors said...

Excellent post..

Joe said...

Since writing this post, I have reflected further on what, at the time of writing, was more an incidental sentence than one of major substance: "...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 ..."

Can we not see in Pope Francis' life as Successor of St Peter elements that are most readily understood in one or other of these different offices that are subsumed into that of Pope? Are not the morning Masses at Casa Santa Martha perhaps an effort by Pope Francis to continue to live a priestly life, for example?