Thursday, September 12, 2013


Browsing the eyebelieve blogsite I came across a laudatory post regarding Pope Francis' words to unbelievers, and one unbeliever in particular, Eugenio Scalfari.  The author of the post seems quite thrilled with the Holy Father's words.  I on the other hand found myself scratching my head.  Here is an example of the Pope's words, in which he responds to an atheist interviewer's question regarding faith:

“Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.” 

I believe I need a professional to do a translation of this.  But allowing for what might be a dicey translation from Italian into English I will take a stab at trying to understand.  Let us dissect this paragraph as best we can, with my comments interjected.

“Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others."

One of the definitions of the word "intransigent" is "unshakable" or "uncompromising".  By that measure an intransigent Faith is exemplary, particularly when we are speaking of that Faith brought to us by Jesus Christ.  Dare we hope that the Holy Father understands that?  There is another meaning to that word, a more pejorative one, which states that it means "stubborn, obstinate and/or pig-headed."  I for one would like to know which meaning the Pope is applying here though I suspect it is the latter given the rest of his comments.

"One who believes may not be presumptuous..."  Presumptuous about what, though?  Our salvation?  Our certainty that the Catholic Faith is the One, True Faith?  Could not the Holy Father have been a bit more precise here?

"...the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialog with all."  But to what end, Your Holiness?  Is the "journey" of the Faith (whatever that means) a mere road to chatting with non-believers about the weather or soccer and nothing else?  Or, rather, is it to convert them to the truth?  These are important matters that cannot be left in the limbo of ambiguous phrasing.

A few easy platitudes follow from the mouth of the Pope after this which seem to mightily impress the blog editor but add very little substance to the discussion.  Then the atheist interviewer basically asks the Pope if there is any such thing as absolute truth.  At this moment a golden opportunity was handed to Pope Francis.  Here is how he responds to the question:

“To begin with, I wouldn’t talk, not even to those who believe, about “absolute” truth, in the sense that the absolute is that which is disconnected, which is devoid of any relation. Now, the truth, according to Christian faith, is the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the truth is a relationship! It is also true that each one of us takes it, the truth, and expresses it by departing from oneself: from one’s history and culture, the circumstances in which one lives, etc. This does not mean though that the truth is variable and subjective. Instead, it means that it gives itself to us always and only as a journey and a life. Didn’t maybe Jesus say the same: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”?4 In other words, truth, being ultimately all one with love, requires humility and openness when sought, accepted and expressed. Therefore, it is necessary to understand each other’s terminology better, and, maybe, to avoid the constraints of an opposition that is … absolute, deepen the framing of the question. I believe that this is absolutely necessary today, so that a serene and constructive dialogue can take place.”

The blog editor, in jubilation, finds that paragraph "fantastic".  I agree that it is fantastic though not perhaps in the same way the editor imagines.  To put it as charitably as I can these are hardly words designed to inspire anyone either seeking the truth or contemplating leaving the dead end street of atheism.  His first sentence  - again, even allowing for a sketchy translation from the Italian - makes no sense whatsoever.  I wont attempt to parse or explain those words because I cannot.  They have no meaning.  There is no concrete understandable thought that can be discussed or digested.

Let us move on then.  "Now, the truth, according to Christian faith, is the love of God for us in Jesus Christ."  That is the entire substance of our Faith?  But what does the sentence mean, precisely?  I know that I am not in the upper tier of theological or philosophical thinkers;  I'm just a simple soul, no more.  But even I believe that our holy Catholic Faith entails a bit more than those nebulous words would seem to imply (if I could even understand them, which I cannot).  He says the truth is a "relationship".  An odd way to describe truth, to be sure.  A relationship...with whom, or with what, to what end?

It is too depressing to go on from here.  The rest of the paragraph is as devoid of clarity, depth and simplicity as the rest.  I suppose that using a supreme act of the will one could find something edifying in these words but I would first ask, why should we have to go to such tiresome lengths to try to discern what it is the man is saying.  Pope Francis has been making many, to be blunt, rather odd statements since his election a few months ago.  At this juncture he does not seem to be operating on a terribly high intellectual level.  Many of his statements are merely sentimental, even puerile.  They are not challenging, they are not forceful, indeed they are in many cases totally unclear.  Is this still a case of new job jitters?  Or is this all we can expect from him for the remainder of his pontificate?

To be fair he has done a few interesting and praiseworthy things, most noticeably his September 7th day of fast and prayer for the Syrians which I gladly participated in.  On October 13th he is set to consecrate the "world" to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a great good in itself though one always wishes a Pope would consecrate Russia specifically, in union with all his Bishops, as has been requested by no less than the Mother of God Herself.  And considering some of the positive initiatives coming from Russia of late one would think that the time for such a specific consecration is ripe.

We must balance these good things against the more troubling aspects of this papacy; we must keep our heads very firmly on our shoulders.  Francis is going to go down in history as either a great Pope, an average Pope, a mediocre Pope or a villainous Pope.  The Church has had all of those in Her 2,000 year history.  Contrary to our new Pope's cheerful demeanor we are living in evil days. Much will depend on our prayers both for him and the Church that has been entrusted to him.

That being said, he is an extremely bewildering man.


Elizabeth said...

"Bewildering" says it. And depressing.

Hermit Crab said...

A good summary of how crazy things are getting. We are getting closer and closer to the point of reductio ad absurdum.

At which point the whole V2 house of cards will come tumbling down.

Aged parent said...

Hermit Crab:

This talking in ambiguous and esoteric terms has been a hallmark of the last several papacies and is getting very tiresome. And of course you are right; we are indeed reaching the reductio ad absurdum point.

I only wish I could live to see the day that that house of cards fall flat.

Thank you for your comment.

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