You Know What Would Really Be Audacious?

So the papal visit to the United States has even more people reaching above their pay grades, trying to interpret that the chief interpreter is really up to. Is Pope Francis a lefty, is he a traditionalist, will anything change on marriage? So far Bryan and the Jasons are stuck.

What I’m curious about is whether Pope Francis is a pastor who ministers the good news of Jesus Christ. Think about this. Yesterday in the Wall St. Journal William McGurn opined that the pope is mistaken in his understanding of poverty, that capitalism is far better for raising the prospects of the poor than other schemes. That seems sensible enough.

In on of the comments on McGurn’s piece, a defender of Pope Francis tried to explain for the infallible explainer:

William misses the whole point. The Pope isn’t saying capitalism is wrong, he is saying the greed of executives and stockholders is wrong. It isn’t enough to make a good salary, they have to make more than the executives at their competition. They have the attitude, what is the minimum we must pay to get someone to do the job competently and that is what we will pay. The attitude of sharing the wealth is foreign to most executives and stockholders. Stockholders are not satisfied with the return they get, they insist the returns must increase or I will take my money elsewhere. It is when greed takes over that capitalism fails.

Maybe this person also has a point. Capitalism isn’t evil. It’s people who abuse capitalism. Got it.

Here’s the thing, Pope Francis actually has the remedy for the greed of executives and stockholders. He has at his disposal the truth of the gospel (as he understands it), a Petrine ministry, and a sacramental system that could actually change the hearts and minds of New York City financiers. Imagine if instead of visiting political figures, the pope went to Wall St. and preached. Short of a Cornelius Van Til moment, imagine if he had Cardinal Dolan set up a bunch of meetings in the board rooms of corporate New York and he explained the sinfulness of the human condition and the possibility of grace in the sacraments (not to mention the assistance of the Blessed Virgin). Wouldn’t that be something a pastor would do?

Imagine this as well, not only could he point the world’s capitalists to a life of virtue, he also has the remedy for these folks should an insufficient number of them convert and follow Jesus. If the world continues to warm and catastrophe happens, Pope Francis is actually sitting on the goods for a good life in the world to come.

Not too shabby.

But popes don’t do this and this is one of the greatest problems of episcopacy — it removes ministers from their flocks, or makes the pastors of flocks that are beyond their capacities. If Tim Keller has trouble visiting all the people who belong to Redeemer PCA, imagine the pope’s challenge of visiting 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, in addition to evangelizing Wall Street’s financial tycoons.

Peter Steinfels, by the way, as a liberal Roman Catholic is not pleased by all the attention on Pope Francis since Steinfels believes that Roman Catholicism “is bigger than one man.” Well, Protestants have been saying that about Christianity for some time, though they have also said Christianity is all about the God-man, Jesus Christ. Even so, Steinfels is pointing in the direction of the serious flaws that come with episcopacy and especially one whose universal jurisdiction makes the ordinary efforts of priests look irrelevant. Talk about subsidiarity.

Even so, if as J. Gresham Machen said, ministers have something that the world can never give, isn’t that even more true (on Roman Catholic grounds) of the papacy? He has it all — truth, ministry, sacraments. And what do popes do? To the untrained Protestant eye, it looks like a modern encyclical merely becomes a conversation starter. It’s a jumping off point for the faithful (now much better educated than the immigrant church that paid, prayed, and obeyed) to show off their expertise.

And to answer his critics, Pope Francis says that he could affirm the Nicene Creed. Yes, he could do that. But why not teach it? Why not explain it? Why not take it to the executives of Wall Street, Berlin, London, Rome even?

This is one reason why I think the church has become modernist. Sure, you can say the Nicene Creed. But do you believe it? Even more, does it inform your ministry? But if you think you are a moral life coach for the world’s population, a source for thinking virtuously about human flourishing, the leader who will point the world’s systems to a better and more just way — if you think of this world as home rather than as a foreign land — then you very well might engage in all sorts of pious thoughts about the world system of finance and technology and not consider that if you saved more people from their sins and put them on a path to holiness, maybe this world would be a better place.

When you are accustomed to mixing it up with emperors, monarchs, and presidents, mixing with the ordinary laity — even the ones making guhzillion figures — looks, well, shabby.


Liberalism Rampant

While the man in the hat (not the funny one the pope wears), Bryan Cross, and I debate the extent and significance of liberalism within the Roman Catholic Church, the pile of links that warrant a perception that Rome is far from conservative — so why would a conservative Protestant go there, mainline Protestant may be another matter — mounts.

First, a word from the archbishop of Denver, Samuel Aquila, on how good the good news is (beware, this may be Nadia Bolz-Weber territory):

To Christians, I encourage you to remember, as Pope Francis reminded us in the aforementioned interview, that “Christmas is joy, religious joy, God’s joy, an inner joy of light and peace.” We must be witnesses of such joy, and we must contemplate the great mystery of God, who came to dwell among us.

“With Christ,” he writes in “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), “joy is constantly born anew.”

The Pope used the word joy in his letter more than 50 times, underlining the absolute centrality of joy in the life of a Christian. He invites Christians to “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus to Christ.” He urges us to listen intently to God’s voice in our hearts, and to experience the “quiet joy of his love.”

To non-Christians, I urge you to take another look at Christmas. Look at it again with fresh eyes. Look at what we celebrate: let the eyes of your souls go past the presents, the trees, the fat Santa and red-nosed Rudolph, and stop at the center of the manger. Listen to the everlasting message of love and peace, and you will know what Christmas is all about, the God who loves you eternally even if you do not wish to receive that love. It’s a message that benefits us all.

Then a couple of responses to Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, that suggest conservative Presbyterians have room for concern. First an SSPXer’s letter to Pope Francis:

Evangelization thus takes on a salvific importance – it has a supernatural end, and this has always been understood by Catholics throughout the ages. The purpose of evangelization is primarily to save souls.

However, in Evangelii Gaudium, the impetus for Christian evangelization of other cultures for the purpose of eternal salvation is explained in terms of a “dialogue”, and the supernatural end (eternal life in heaven with God) seems replaced by a natural one. You write, “Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christian” (EG, 250). The obligation for Christians to evangelize is “peace in the world”, not the salvation of souls. This seems to substitute a worldly, naturalistic cause for evangelization for the more traditional supernatural one. Indeed, the two greatest issues Catholic evangelization has to respond to are said to be inclusion of the poor and world peace. (cf. 186, 217) It seems Your Holiness is suggesting that it is purely worldly concerns that the Gospel is here to address, not the salvation of men’s souls or the false religions that keep them from that salvation.

Then a brief retort from Peter Leithart, possibly a little payback to Stellman:

In the midst of many wonderful things in Francis I’s exhortation, there are some missteps. One of these comes towards the end in his pastoral advice concerning Islam. I don’t object to his exhortations to Christians to treat Muslims with dignity and love. He’s undoubtedly right that “Many [Muslims] also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.” Whether their lives are in fact for God, I have no doubt of their conviction that this is the case.

But the basis for his exhortation is mistaken, and seriously so.

Quoting Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, he says that “we must never forget that they ‘profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day.’” He adds, “The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services.”

On both counts, Francis’s statements are at odds with the New Testament.

Next, in an ironic twist, while the Jesuits who edit America have found the era of Pope Francis to be one where — how convenient! — the labels of conservative and liberal no longer apply, the Roman Catholics who oversee the Catholic Theological Society of America received a report about the need to make room for conservatives within the organization and at its annual and regional meetings.

First America on America (thanks to our charismatic correspondent):

Third, America understands the church as the body of Christ, not as the body politic. Liberal, conservative, moderate are words that describe factions in a polis, not members of a communion. It stands to reason, moreover, that America’s fundamental commitment precludes certain self-conceptions. Since the word of God is incoherent when it is separated from the church and its living teaching office, America could never envision itself as “the Loyal Opposition.” Nor do we understand the phrase “people of God” as a theological justification for setting one part of the body of Christ against another. The people of God are not a proletariat engaged in some perpetual conflict with a clerical bourgeoisie. It is obvious to us, moreover, that a preoccupation with episcopal action, whether it bears an ultramontane or a Marxist character, is nevertheless a form of clericalism. None of this is to say that America cannot bring a critical eye to ecclesiastical events; this is, in fact, our very purpose.

. . . Fifth, America’s fundamental commitment means that we view ideology as largely inimical to Christian discipleship. Revelation is humanity’s true story. Ideologies, which are alternative metanarratives, invariably involve an “other,” a conceptual scapegoat, some oppressor who must be overthrown by the oppressed. Only the Gospel’s radical call to peace and reconciliation justifies a radical politics. Catholic social teaching is not the Republican Party plus economic justice, nor is it the Democratic Party minus abortion rights. Yet neither is it some amalgamation of the two. Catholic social teaching is far more radical than our secular politics precisely because it is inspired by the Gospel, which is itself a radical call to discipleship, one that is subversive of every creaturely notion of power. There is more to Christian political witness than the tired, quadrennial debate about which presidential candidate represents the lesser of two evils.

Sixth, our fundamental commitment means that we are not beholden to any political party or any special interest. “America will aim,” wrote Father Wynne, “at becoming a representative exponent of Catholic thought and activity without bias or plea for special interest.” Admittedly, we do harbor one bias: a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. “The poor,” however, “are not ‘special parties’ and they usually have no ‘special parties’ to speak for them,” wrote Father Davis in 1959. America believes that the work of social justice is a constitutive element of Christian discipleship. We also share with the Society of Jesus the conviction that “the faith that does justice is, inseparably, the faith that engages other traditions in dialogue, and the faith that evangelizes culture.”

Then the place of conservative theologians in CTSA:

A.Many CTSA sessions, both plenary and concurrent, include jokes and snide remarks about, or disrespectful references to, bishops, the Vatican, the magisterium, etc. These predictably elicit derisive laughter from a part of the audience.

B.Many CTSA members employ demeaning references. For example, the phrase“thinking Catholics” is sometimes used to mean liberals. The phrase “people whowould take us backwards” is sometimes used to mean conservatives.

C.Resolutions are a significant problem because an individual member can bring to the floor of the business meeting a divisive issue that not only consumes important time and energy but exacerbates the ideological differences that exist among theologians, typically leaving conservatives feeling not only marginalized but unwelcome. (CTSA members who have trouble understanding this as a problem might ask how they would feel if they were part of a professional society that passed resolutions criticizing a theologian they hold in high regard or endorsing views they reject.)

D.In recent decades, conservative theologians have only rarely been invited to be plenary speakers and respondents.

E.In CTSA elections, there is a general unwillingness of many members to vote for a conservative theologian. Scholarly credentials seem often outweighed by voters’partisan commitments.

F.Some conservative theologians have experienced the feeling that a number of other members “wish I wouldn’t come back” to the CTSA.

G.In sum, the self-conception of many members that the CTSA is open to all Catholic theologians is faulty and self-deceptive. As one of our members put it,the CTSA is a group of liberal theologians and “this permeates virtually everything.” Because the CTSA does not aspire to be a partisan group, both attitudes and practices will have to shift if the CTSA is to become the place where all perspectives within Catholic theology in North America are welcome.

And if outsiders believed the problem was only with academics and clergy exposed to higher criticism and inclusive theology, poll numbers on the church in the U.S. reveal matters that might keep Jason and the Callers away from claims of superiority:

American Catholics support same-sex marriage 60 – 31 percent, compared to the 56 – 36 percent support among all U.S. adults.

More devout Catholics, who attend religious services about once a week, support same- sex marriage 53 – 40 percent, while less observant Catholics support it 65 – 26 percent.

Catholic women support same-sex marriage 72 – 22 percent, while Catholic men support it 49 – 40 percent. Support ranges from 46 – 37 percent among Catholics over 65 years old to 64 – 27 percent among Catholics 18 to 49 years old.

Catholics like their new Pope: 36 percent have a “very favorable” opinion of him and 53 percent have a “favorable” opinion, with 4 percent “unfavorable.”

“American Catholics liked what they heard when Pope Francis said the Church should stop talking so much about issues like gay marriage, abortion and contraception,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“Maybe they were just waiting for a Jesuit. Overwhelmingly, across the demographic board, Catholics – men and women, regular or not-so-regular church-goers, young and old – have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis.”

American Catholics support 60 – 30 percent the ordination of women priests. Those who attend religious services about once a week support women priests 52 – 38 percent, compared to 66 – 25 percent among those who attend services less frequently.

There is almost no gender gap.

Support for women priests grows with age, from 57 – 32 percent among Catholics 18 to 49 years old to 68 – 28 percent among those over 65 years old.

Catholic opinion on abortion is similar of the opinions of all American adults:
16 percent of Catholics say abortion should be legal in all cases, compared to 19 percent of all Americans;
36 percent of Catholics say abortion should be legal in most cases, compared to 34 percent of all Americans;
21 percent of Catholics say abortion should be illegal in most cases, compared to 23 percent of all Americans;
21 percent of Catholics say abortion should be illegal in all cases, compared to 16 percent of all Americans.

Finally, to round this out, some priests (even former Protestant ones) believe the church needs to recover the language of hell in its evangelistic efforts:

The most insidious cancer in the Christian church today is universalism and semi-universalism combined with indifferentism. Indifferentism is the lie that it doesn’t really matter what church or religion you belong to. Universalism is the lie that everyone will be saved because God is so merciful he will not send anyone to hell. Semi-universalism is the commonly held lie that there may be a hell, but there probably won’t be very many people there. All of these beliefs are clearly contrary to the plain words of Scripture.

Ralph writes clearly and concisely with abundant quotes from Scripture and the documents of the Church. He tells us what the New Evangelization is, answers the question “Why Bother?”, discusses the laity’s role, the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s power. He then goes on to outline the simple message of salvation: human beings are sinners separated from God from sin and they need salvation or they will go to hell.

Sorry folks. That’s the message, and the message is clear from Scripture and the unanimous teachings of the church from antiquity to the present day. Ralph goes on to advise how to share this message with joy and compassion–avoiding the “bull in a china shop” approach and avoiding any sense of being judgmental and un loving. There is no room for the Westboro Baptist approach, but plenty of room for a joyful, honest and firm proclamation of the faith.


Papal Social Gospel

That is the conclusion that has settled after some time of absorbing Evangelii Gaudium, namely, that Pope Francis may not be a liberationist, a liberal, or a Vatican II rebel, but he is doing something different from his predecessors. (As if it were everyone but the magisterium’s job to read the tea leaves of papal pronouncements.) And it — the consensus on Pope Francis — does involve the economy (stupid).

First, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry comes straight out with criticisms of Francis’ understanding of economics, but then applauds the church’s capacity to create synergy between the permanent things of the gospel and the passing circumstances of this world:

. . . it’s simply not true that if we in the West stopped wasting food kids in Africa would have it. It wasn’t true when my parents told me so** to make me clean my plate, and it’s still not true. And pretending it is is, well, infantile. And not in a Matthew 18 way. And we can “rescue” this Francis comment by elevating it to the theological level, by saying that by wasting food we are, in a powerful sense, being ungrateful towards God’s good creation and being selfish. And that perhaps if we rid ourselves of this ungratefulness we will be made holier by grace and better able to follow Jesus’ command to feed the hungry. And I believe this is true! But that’s not what Francis is saying or, at the very least, it’s not only what he’s saying.

Second, it shows that so much can be accomplished at the level of social doctrine without getting into econo-philosophical debates about “free markets” and “trickle-down economics.” You don’t need to reform or reinterpret or innovate Catholic social doctrine to say that corruption of government officials is scandalous.

Third, because if there is any institution in the world that should put this issue front and center, it’s the Catholic Church. First because, as I’ve said, it’s already well within the bounds of Tradition and flows naturally from the Gospel.

In the Bible I read, Jesus says things about food and hunger that make me think correlating the gospel’s spiritual and eschatological categories with physical hunger and food is not the best interpretation (but I am only a Protestant with an opinion):

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, s“Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” . . . 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6)

But apparently, as John Allen reports, Pope Francis is more on Gobry’s side than mine:

. . . Francis had already given himself a major birthday present 24 hours before by shaking up the membership of the Congregation for Bishops in order to lay the groundwork for a new generation of “Francis bishops.”

In the United States, attention was understandably focused on the nomination of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and the effective removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke, president of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s supreme court. Putting in the moderate Wuerl and taking the strongly conservative Burke off couldn’t help but seem a signal of the kind of bishop Francis intends to elevate in the United States.

As pope, however, Francis is responsible not just for the 6 percent of the world’s Catholic population that lives in the United States, but the whole shooting match, 1.2 billion faithful all over the planet.

In that regard, it’s worth looking at the other appointments Francis made Monday to the Congregation for Bishops — 30 in all, including 12 new members and confirmations for 18 prelates who already sat on the body.

For the sake of analysis, two assumptions need to be stipulated:

The 12 new members best reflect Francis’ personal touch, given that most of the 18 confirmations were for Vatican personnel whose jobs generally entitle them to a seat at the table;

The kind of man Francis picks for the Congregation for Bishops is, in effect, a proxy for the kind of bishops he wants this panel to identify.

If those postulates are correct, we can draw some early conclusions about what a “Francis bishop” looks like — ideological moderates with the broad support of their fellow bishops and a real commitment to the social Gospel.

(Allen goes on to comment on the Pope’s specific choices for bishop.)

Arguably the most sobering assessment comes from James Schall, a figure well regarded (and rightly so) by conservative Roman Catholics. Schall is as cautious as he is careful:

. . . if I am asked what is the overall impression left by this Exhortation, I have to say that it is very much “this-worldly” oriented. It points horizontally, not vertically. The inner life of the Godhead is not much spoken of. When the Father is mentioned, it is always in the context of the love of the neighbor whom God loves in Christ. Unlike Benedict in Spe Salvi, there is little attention given to “eternal life.” When Francis mentions the “kingdom of God,” he does not, as one would expect, cite Augustine. He mentions actual cities and is rather surprised by them. When Augustine talked of “the City of God,” he said that it began among us, but could not be achieved in this world. No existing city would ever be this Kingdom. Augustine, with good reason, was leery of the ambitions of the cities of this world.

Of course, this emphasis on actual cities is Aristotelian. We are social and political animals. What concerns Francis, if I might put it that way, is the second great commandment. He obviously does not deny the first, the love of God. But Francis’ attention is given to God’s love as it exists among us. But he thinks not enough response is given to it. He wants to improve the world by emphasizing the joy of Christianity that we can experience in our lives and worship. The love of neighbor is an active thing. This pope believes in action. He talks of contemplation at times, but with overtones of Ignatius of Loyola’s simul in actione contemplativus; we behold God’s action in the doing of what needs to be done.

Pope Bergoglio is much more oriented to modernity, to modern culture, than the previous two popes. He cites John XXIII, and sometimes Paul VI, though he certainly cites John Paul II and Benedict—and de Lubac, Guardini, Newman, Bernanos, and the various documents of episcopal conferences. He is open to modern science. He is aware of skepticism, relativism, and atheism, but he has a certain sympathy for their adherents.

So what do I think the Pope is doing with his strong emphasis on missionary activities? He lightly touches the difficulty of political obstacles in most nations of the world to allow for much real missionary work. He mentions the basic right of religious freedom and its lack in many nations. He does not name many names. So his missionary activity first begins at home. The “joy” of the Gospel is designed to be a beacon of light in the world. It can only be seen if believers themselves see it.

Modernity is, briefly, the position that no truth is found in things or in ourselves. We are free because we are liberated from all religion or philosophy that would limit our freedom, individual or corporate. Religion of any kind is an enemy to this liberty. Once this freedom is established, man can go forward, as Benedict pointed out, to create a world in his own image. Man is not made in any image of God. He makes himself in his own image. Once free of any transcendent claim, man is free to create a truly “human” world that has no outside demands of a god or nature. Science and politics with this background will be able to make man into what he ought to be.

What Pope Francis seems to be doing in this Exhortation is, as it were, to present an alternative to modernity within modernity. This alternative is itself inner-worldly. That is, the emphasis is on the effects of Christianity as it truly ought to be lived in the here and now.

Whether Schall is comfortable with this shift is another matter since he mentions that “another legitimate version” of the Christian life — an alternative to Francis’ — is to be “hated precisely because [Christians] do live as Christ asked them to live.”

Schall offers another check upon Francis’ apparently optimistic embrace of modernity:

. . . at bottom, what this Exhortation seems to be is, indeed, an answer to classical modernity that, when spelled out, does everything modernity hopes for, only better and more securely because it is rooted in the real nature of man and is open to the gifts that have come to us in revelation. The Pope’s impatience has its charm. It also has its dangers. After all, most men who have ever lived on this planet have lived in very imperfect circumstances. The Church was for them too. Few lived in really fully developed economic and political orders with scientific and technological support that enabled man the leisure and time to create a civilization. Paul VI called it a “civilization of love,” and Pope Francis would probably call it the same.

So it looks like Francis is increasingly showing himself to be in line with a Vatican II spirit that was eager to embrace the modern world and extend Roman Catholicism out of the ghetto, parish, and parochial school to the wider world of suburbia, universities, and middle-class life. Which raises the question if the pope is identifying more with middle-class life and the kind of social structures that created it than he is with the poor. That was surely the case with the Protestant Social Gospelers, a group from to which Jason and the Callers should have paid more attention.

A World Without Winners and Losers

We saw Philomena last week and I was relieved that the movie did not go overboard in targeting Irish nuns as the tyrants they were (as I’ve heard) before Rome adopted the post-Vatican 2 pose of embracing rather than scolding the modern world. I have heard about nuns from all sorts of cradle — now former — Roman Catholics who experienced a highly charged encounter with Christianity where the stakes for sin and disobedience could be devastating. Philomena illustrates this well in the instance of a girl, reared by nuns in a convent, who has an illegitimate child and who needs — as the nuns explain — to atone for her sin. This atonement means having the child taken away for adoption and then suffering the sorrow of lost contact with the much wanted and much loved child for the rest of her life. It may be my fundie past, but I kept wondering why the nuns did not present this unwed mother with the forgiveness of sins that comes through Christ’s atonement. “Oh, that’s right. They are Roman Catholic and don’t believe in forgiveness of sins the way that Protestants do.” Maybe that’s a simplistic conclusion. Maybe Rome was far more nuanced than that. But when you do believe the Eucharist is a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, and that it can be said for the dead, as opposed to the Protestant/author-to-Hebrews view that Christ’s sacrifice was once for all and that it atoned for all believers’ sins, the nuns response to unwed adolescent girls makes sense. Not to mention that the film’s depiction makes sense of the former Roman Catholic baby boomers’ understanding that for the church Christianity was all about law and guilt, with little relief to be found except through penance and the Mass.

But the popular understanding of Christianity among Roman Catholics today is not so restrictive or disciplinary. Like the efforts of bishops at Vatican 2 to show a much less judgmental manner, many of the writers at various Roman Catholic websites (minus JATC) present a Christian religion that is so tolerant that it becomes universalistic and humanitarian. Michael Sean Winters, for instance, had this to say in further reflections on Evangelii Guadium:

As predicted, much of the criticism leveled at the pope the past couple of days has painted him as naïve about economic matters. I am not one of those the pope calls on the phone, but I think we all have enough of a sense of the man to know that he would plead guilty to the charge that he is not an economist. Indeed, the fact that this criticism is laid at his feet shows just how far down the slippery slope his critics are. How dare the pope not understand our economic science! How dare he ignore our charts, our data, out statistics! How naïve to suggest that our economic laws should conform to his religious vision! That is precisely his point: As a Christian, we cannot accept an economic system that results in such injustice, in which the few winners get richer and richer and the millions of losers get poorer and poorer. Such a system is unworthy of a Christian understanding of justice.

Francis, however, is after something deeper here too. Yes, injustice should set off alarm bells. But, what is wrong with modern capitalism is not just that the few winners are doing so well and the many losers are doing so poorly. It is that, in the Christian view of the world, no human being is a “loser.” A system that is predicated on there being winners and losers is wrong-headed not just when the differences between the two are extreme, as they are today. It is wrong-headed period. Humans, experienced through the culture of encounter the Gospel invites, are always winners: “To believe that the Son of God as­sumed our human flesh means that each human person has been taken up into the very heart of God” Pope Francis writes. (#178) Shame on those who treat their fellow man as if he has not been taken up into the very heart of God.

Esau, the Canaanites, the Pharisees, Herod, the Judaizers were not “losers”? Has Winters not read the Baltimore Catechism (for starters)?

183. What are the rewards or punishments appointed for men after the particular judgment?
The rewards or punishments appointed for men after the particular judgment are heaven, purgatory, or hell.

184. Who are punished in purgatory?
Those are punished for a time in purgatory who die in the state of grace but are guilty of venial sin, or have not fully satisfied for the temporal punishment due to their sins.

The fire will assay the quality of everyone’s work; if his work abides which he has built thereon, he will receive reward; if his work burns he will lose his reward, but himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (I Corinthians 3:13-15)

185. Who are punished in hell?
Those are punished in hell who die in mortal sin; they are deprived of the vision of God and suffer dreadful torments, especially that of fire, for all eternity.

The he will say to those on his left hand, “Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)

Now maybe Winters was not trying to make an eschatological point. Maybe he only meant that in this world everyone is a “winner” because of God’s providence (as opposed to redemption). Or that everyone should be a “winner.” But if Pope Francis does teach that everyone is taken up into the heart of God, then, boy, were most of the priests and nuns prior to Vatican 2 serving up some big bowls of spiritual and doctrinal wrong. As Roman Catholics used to know, not everyone was equal morally. Not everyone was equal sacramentally. The winners were the saints, the losers where the heretics and schismatics. Those in the middle had to serve time in purgatory. They all knew that being on the wrong side of the church was far worse than being on the down side of the poverty line. Poverty goes away. Even purgatory yields to heaven. But hell is forever.

But Winters is such an economic and sacramental egalitarian that he can’t resist taking a shot at Calvinism:

It is not politic in the world of ecumenical dialogue to make the point, but I shall make it anyway. The world the modern, financialized economy has created bears a creepy resemblance to the soteriological vision of Calvin, does it not? The elect, predestined few flourish while the massa damnata burn in hell. And, there is nothing anyone can do about it. In Calvin’s views on salvation, it is predestination that leaves us helpless. In today’s world, it is the “economic laws” that leave us helpless and, as Pope Francis indicates, invite a “culture of indifference.” The pope is reminding us that we cannot be indifferent precisely because we are Christians called to evangelize.

Has Winters not seen the headquarters of the OPC? Does he really mean to suggest that Calvinist churches have the kind of wealth, art, and architecture that Vatican City does (as if all that display was made possible by games of bingo)? And is Winters really unfamiliar with the Aquinas’ teaching about predestination?

Maybe he is. But it could simply be that in order to square his economic egalitarianism with Christianity, Winters needs to dumb down the gospel and eternal life so that they conform to expectations about a just and equitable economy:

Who cares if Pope Francis knows his economics? He knows that at the heart of the Gospel is good news for the poor. He did not need to consult a team of economists to write Evangelii Gaudium: His focus group consisted of only four people, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

In point of fact, the poor in the gospels included not just those on poverty rolls but also the pretty well off — tax collectors, centurions, and other sinners. And their blessedness was not going to come with middle-class income. It was going to come from the house that Jesus was going to prepare.

This doesn’t mean that Pope Francis or Winters are wrong to be alarmed by income inequality. It does mean they both have some work to do to explain why economic justice is synonymous with the gospel. It also means, contra Winters, that Pope Francis should know that economics is different from theology, wealth from salvation, poverty from damnation. But if you make that sort of 2k distinction, then the pope may need to stick to his own sphere of spiritual authority and theological truth. If not, then all the people who consult the book of nature and figure out the “science” of economics have some right to criticize papal economics. This is not Christendom, after all.

Ch Ch Ch Chain Gez

More on Evangelii Gaudium:

The theme of change permeates the document. The pope says rather than being afraid of “going astray,” what the church ought to fear instead is “remaining shut up within structures that give us a false sense of security, within rules that make us harsh judges” and “within habits that make us feel safe.”

Though Francis released an encyclical letter titled Lumen Fidei in June, that text was based largely on a draft prepared by Benedict XVI. “The Joy of the Gospel,” designed as a reflection on the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, thus represents the new pope’s real debut as an author.

Early reaction suggests it’s a tour de force.

The text comes with Francis’ now-familiar flashes of homespun language. Describing an upbeat tone as a defining Christian quality, for instance, he writes that “an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”

At another point, Francis insists that “the church is not a tollhouse.” Instead, he says, “it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone.” At another point, he quips that “the confessional must not be a torture chamber,” but rather “an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us to on to do our best.”

Francis acknowledges that realizing his dream will require “a reform of the church,” stipulating that “what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences.”

Though he doesn’t lay out a comprehensive blueprint for reform, he goes beyond mere hints to fairly blunt indications of direction:

He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.

He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.

Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.

He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”

Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

On two specific matters, however, Francis rules out change: the ordination of women to the priesthood, though he calls for “a more incisive female presence” in decision-making roles, and abortion.

Low papalists/liberals want to see discontinuity, while high papalists/conservatives want to see continuity — from Benedict XVI to Francis or Trent to Vatican II. But the conservatives are the same folks who see discontinuity everywhere in American politics — from Bush II to Obama, or Reagan to Bush I. Seems to me both sides have vested interests in interpretations which are above their pay grade.

So Many Genres, So Many Interpreters, So Many Opinions

The returns on Pope Francis’ recent “writing” are still being written, but a piece last week puts EVANGELII GAUDIUM (The Joy of the Gospel) in perspective. It is not an encyclical, the most authoritative form of papal communication. It is rather an apostolic exhortation:

Apostolic exhortations are often based on deliberations of synods of bishops, and this one takes into account the October 2012 synod on the new evangelization. But last June, Pope Francis informed the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops, which is normally responsible for helping draft post-synodal apostolic exhortations, he would not be working from their draft.

Instead, the pope said, he planned to write an “exhortation on evangelization in general and refer to the synod,” in order to “take everything from the synod but put it in a wider framework.”

That choice surprised some, especially since Pope Francis had voiced his strong commitment to the principle of consultation with fellow bishops and even suggested that the synod should become a permanent advisory body.

This writer adds:

Popes through the centuries have issued their most important written messages in one of 10 classic forms, ranging from encyclical to “chirograph,” a brief document on a highly limited subject. But most of these are typically formulaic texts that do not express the distinctive voice or charism of the man who issues them. . . .

A category of document that Pope Francis has not yet produced, but in which he is likely to make a major contribution, is that of apostolic constitutions. These are usually routine legal documents establishing a new diocese or appointing a bishop. But they can also address exceptional matters, as did Pope Benedict’s 2009 “Anglicanorum coetibus,” which established personal prelatures for former Anglicans who join the Catholic Church.

An apostolic constitution especially relevant to this pontificate is Blessed John Paul’s 1988 “Pastor Bonus,” which was the last major set of changes to the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia. Planning a revision of that document was the one specific task Pope Francis assigned to his advisory Council of Cardinals when he established the eight-member body in September.

Another consequential type of papal document is an apostolic letter given “motu proprio,” i.e., on the pope’s own initiative. Such letters are used to set up new norms, establish new bodies or reorganize existing ones. Pope Benedict issued 18 of them in the course of his eight-year pontificate — most famously in 2007, when he lifted most restrictions on celebration of the Tridentine Mass; and most recently in February, when he changed the voting rules of a papal conclave less than a week before he resigned from office.

Not only do we need to keep an eye on the distinction between discipline and doctrine, but we need to pay attention to papal genres.

Whether any of this adds up to changes, reforms, winners, or losers is all the chattering bloggers’ guess. Sean Michael Winters appears to be pleased that Francis took a shot at Roman Catholic traditionalists. From the apostolic exhortation:

This worldliness can be fueled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity. (94)

Winters also likes the idea of decentralizing Vatican authority:

The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach. (#32)

Whether this will please Jason and the Callers, or whether this will be chalked up to more papal audacity is anyone’s guess.

I myself am wondering, though, what Francis means by the gospel. The word sinner appears only two times in the 51,000-word document. The same goes for righteousness, and both of these words come directly from biblical quotations. Sacrifice appears five times, but only once in connection with Christ’s death on the cross:

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives. (269)

This may explain why Francis appeals to the Second Vatican Council four times, and never mentions Vatican I or the Council of Trent. But so far, Bryan Cross is treating the exhortation as business as usual — a chance for more ecumenical dialogue. He doesn’t seem to realize that confessional Protestants would be more willing to talk — not to agree — if we knew where Rome stood, that is, if Francis still used the language of infused righteousness and original sin cleansed by baptism.

Meanwhile, I read about a new book on papal encyclicals of the social teaching variety, mentioned by Peter Leithart. The post concludes with this sentence: “The Church’s aim, [John Paul II] insisted, is not to add another ideology to the public square; the task is one of ‘imbuing human realities with the Gospel.'” What recent popes don’t seem to consider — in the light of modernism both Roman Catholic and Protestant — is whether human realities obscure the gospel to the point that, say, the gospel is little more than affirming the dignity of the human person — as if sinners don’t need to hear something about the depravity of the human person and their need for a savior. Old hat, I guess.