Saving the World

One light show at a time.

In case you missed it, the Vatican celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (yesterday) with a light show:

A mixture of fascination, curiosity and consternation is greeting a light show to be projected onto St. Peter’s basilica tomorrow — the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the opening day of the Jubilee of Mercy.

A coalition of non-Catholic humanitarian, philanthropic and conservation groups along with the World Bank are staging the event. It will be the first time ever that images will be projected onto the 17th century basilica’s façade and Michelangelo’s cupola.

The organizers say the three hour event, called “Fiat Lux, Illuminating Our Common Home”, will tell the “visual story of the interdependency of humans and life on earth with the planet, in order to educate and inspire change around the climate crisis across generations, cultures, languages, religions and class.”

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, called the event “unique” and said the illumination show “will present images inspired of Mercy, of humanity, of the natural world, and of climate changes.”

He added that the light show, whose images have been shown on various landmarks around the world, is meant to link Pope Francis’ environment encyclical Laudato Si’ with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) currently underway in Paris until Friday.

“It is our hope that this beautiful and contemporary work of public art will inspire citizens of the world to join together in a moment of compassion and to activate a global movement to protect humankind, our common home and precious endangered species,” said Carole Tomko, vice president of Vulcan, Inc., one of the groups sponsoring the event and which promotes initiatives to “change and improve the way people live, learn, do business and experience the world.”

Some conservative Roman Catholics have taken a page from Protestant iconoclasm and regard such a use of holy buildings as sacrilege:

The sense that St. Peter’s Basilica has been profaned is strong. The symbolic significance of the event is a Church immersed in darkness, but illuminated by the world, by the new climatist-religion-ideology (all financed by the World Bank Group which will now have to explain to us what politics compatible with the teaching of the Church it is promoting..)

The holy place par excellence, the heart of Christianity transformed on a maxi-screen for the show of the New World Power Ideology …and the Nativity Crib was left in darkness.

It does make you wonder what salvation means. If improving the environment can save the world, then what happened to the cross of Christ and the sacraments? Could it be that hell is empty (and will remain so) and so the church can now devote itself to more humanitarian and less heavenly causes? Did Balthasar really win at Vatican 2 as Commonweal suggests? Before Vatican 2, Rome was pretty clear where unbelievers went at death:

Any sin, for Augustine, is an unspeakable offense against God; particularly offensive was the sin of the first man who was singularly graced with an intimate “enjoyment of God” and who stood as the progenitor of the human race. His impiety in abandoning God was so great that it “merited eternal evil” in consequence of which “the whole of mankind is a ‘condemned mass’ [massa damnata]; for he who committed the first sin was punished, and along with him all the stock which had its roots in him.” According to Augustine, no one has the right to criticize that retribution as unjust, and the fact that some are released from it through the free bounty of God is ground for heartfelt thanksgiving.

The same severe doctrine of hell has been affirmed time and again in official church documents. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 declared that, at the end of time, “all will receive according to their deeds, good or evil, the former to their everlasting glory with Christ, the latter to perpetual punishment with the devil.” In his constitution of 1336, Benedictus Deus, Benedict XII solemnly defined that “the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down immediately after death into hell and suffer the pain of hell.” The Council of Florence in 1442 maintained that “not only pagans, but also Jews, heretics and schismatics” are precluded from salvation for they “will enter into eternal fire” unless they embrace the Catholic Church before their death. Similar declarations on hell and salvation were issued by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. Vatican I reinforced them in the nineteenth century. Vatican II did not revisit the solemn definitions of hell by earlier councils, but it did at least affirm that, yes, atheists can be saved.

But that changed when Balthasar and Kung met Barth:

Like Barth and Balthasar, Hans Küng too comes close to proposing universal salvation. And like them, he enlists the virtue of hope to support the idea. In his book Eternal Life, Küng’s critical discussion of hell begins with Jesus’s own words about hell, which, according to Küng, were figurative rather than literal: terms in the New Testament pertaining to final judgment—words like “hell,” “eternal,” ‘fire”—are to be taken as metaphors warning sinners of the delicate edge they’re dancing on. They are “meant to bring vividly before us here and now the absolute seriousness of God’s claim and the urgency of conversion in the present life,” Küng writes. No one should dismiss his or her responsibility to meet the demands of conversion, but how each of us meets them “remains a matter for God as merciful judge” in his “all-embracing final act of grace.” Like Balthasar, Küng maintains that judgment of the individual is in God’s hands; it would be “presumptuous for a person to seek to anticipate the judgement of this absolutely final authority. Neither in the one way nor in the other can we tie God’s hands or dispose of him. There is nothing to be known here, but everything to be hoped.”

Barth, Balthasar, and Küng all agonize over the question of universal salvation, which they treat not just as a theological puzzle but as a genuine mystery. Because we cannot answer the question with absolute certainty, it finally has to be left—in humility and hope—to the judgment of a loving God. This is as much of an affirmation as they dare to make.

What these three theologians show us, however, is that hope is a powerful virtue and not just a matter of wishful thinking. Hope always has its reasons, even earthly hopes. In the everyday sense of the word, a doctor’s skill is reason for his patient to hope for a cure, a worker’s good job performance a reason for her to hope for a promotion—though such hopes, subject to human limitations, can be disappointed. In the economy of salvation, however, the reason for hope is nothing less than the divine will—profoundly declared in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus: “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). The clarity of this scriptural passage on God’s will reassures not only Christians but all mankind that our hope for salvation will be fulfilled—without exceptions.

But if U.S. parochial schools can reconsider their mission, maybe the Vatican can find it’s pre-Vatican 2 self:

“We don’t open Catholic schools to get kids into college,” Guernsey said. “We open Catholic schools to get them into heaven.”

The Way to Curb Greed

Invite the pope to visit your city:

Even as hundreds of thousands of people thronged the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday for Mass with Pope Francis, his weekend visit to Philadelphia apparently failed to deliver the economic boon predicted by organizers.

Some businesses closed early, some downtown hotel rooms went unfilled and normally bustling city streets were deserted over the weekend as residents either stayed home or left town, and pilgrims kept their wallets in their pockets.

Celebrity chef Marc Vetri, whose eponymous restaurant is a fine-dining landmark, took to Facebook to rail against city leaders who he said “decided to roll out the red carpet for everyone making the pilgrimage, and roll us up in the carpet to place in storage until Monday.” He said he was “haunted by the empty streets and shuttered windows.”

One of Vetri’s smaller pizzerias, at least, was enjoying a brisk business as people were leaving after Mass and the global gathering ended; the pizzeria near a security checkpoint was packed with an hour wait for a table. And at an outside tent, it was doing a brisk business selling pizza by the slice, pies, and drinks.

At Midtown III restaurant, co-owner Vivian Tafuri rented a refrigerated truck, filled it with $7,500 worth of food and spent another $1,000 on a parking space.

“It’s all wasted,” Tafuri fumed Sunday. “All the time our mayor was saying a million and a half people, and nothing. Wasted.”

Liz Furey, a bartender at the restaurant, said the pope’s visit chased away the regulars.

“The people who are visiting are having a good time at the parkway. But as far as the local businesses were concerned, what we were promised didn’t happen at all,” Furey said.

The World Meeting of Families, the Vatican-sponsored conference that drew Francis to Philadelphia, had estimated 1.5 million people would show up for the pope’s weekend visit, with 10,000 staying overnight and business sales of $390 million.

Meryl Levitz, president and chief executive of Visit Philadelphia, the main tourism marketing agency, acknowledged Sunday that many shops and restaurants were hurting for business. Pilgrims went to Philadelphia to “be in the aura of the pope,” not to spend a lot of money, she said.

“To look at a grassroots spiritual event in terms of immediate economic benefit is asking too much of it,” she said.

City officials who for months had issued dire warnings about long walks and security lines to reach Pope Francis’ events recalibrated their message last month amid fears they were scaring people away, launching an “I’ll be There” campaign as well as the OpenInPhl hashtag for city businesses.

But their efforts came too little, too late for some merchants.

With sales down more than 50 percent, Robek’s, a juice and smoothie shop, decided to close early Sunday.

Manager Dave Deener blamed the intense security, including concrete barriers and a vehicle checkpoint near the entrance. National Guard troops and a police officer sat on folding chairs nearby.

“It’s awful. Everybody got scared off because of the security detail,” he said.

Philly Cupcake went all out for Pope Francis’ visit, making papal and Jesus cupcakes and plastering the windows with his picture. One window even had a big sign showing the pontiff holding a cupcake as if it were a communion wafer.

“A lot of people take pictures with it, but they don’t come in,” said store associate Silvia Pulido.

The impact of the pope’s visit on business was especially apparent Saturday night.

Some Center City hotel rooms went unfilled – though officials said it was a near sell-out – and tables could be had at some of the city’s trendiest restaurants. On normally bustling South Street, bars, restaurants, sneaker stores and smoke shops – usually filled on weekends with city residents, suburban gawkers and tourists – were empty.

Stephen Starr, one of the city’s most prominent restaurateurs with about 20 eateries, told The Philadelphia Inquirer the pope’s visit “affected business worse that Hurricane Sandy.”

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.

Spotting the Difference between Piety and Snark

Old Life regular, vd, t, offered this advice for how to respond to climate change:

—Plug in your clocks only when you absolutely have to know what time it is. If you need the alarm, get up five minutes early to set it.

—Al Gore says cigarettes are a significant cause of global warming, so quit smoking and sell him the carbon credits.

—Your kids are useless for pushing your car up to highway speeds, but they can increase your mileage considerably around town. Use your headlights only when there’s no moon, and remember, your horn uses less energy than your turn signal.

—Stairs make you huff and puff and expel carbon dioxide. Use the elevator. And sports are carbon-intensive too, so do ’em on your X-box.

—Take as long as you want browsing in the fridge. Leaving the door open cools the world off.

—Down more Slurpees, or better yet, nice frosty margaritas. See, this isn’t so bad.

—Lower the thermostat in your Gulfstream jet, and make the help wear sweaters.

—We need our corn for ethanol. Switch from Fritos to pork rinds.

—Do not use a television or radio unless it’s bicycle powered, like Gilligan’s.

—Turn your computer off right now. Turn it off, get up out of your chair, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

In contrast, these are part of Pope Francis’ instructions to the faithful and beyond:

203. Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both reasonable and just”.[144] This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power. Amid this confusion, postmodern humanity has not yet achieved a new self-awareness capable of offering guidance and direction, and this lack of identity is a source of anxiety. We have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends.

204. The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which in turn becomes “a seedbed for collective selfishness”.[145] When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears. As these attitudes become more widespread, social norms are respected only to the extent that they do not clash with personal needs. So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.

205. Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.

I wonder if vd, t would change his tune about the seriousness of climate change after Pope Francis’ encyclical. (I hear unity and obedience to the teachings of the magisterium are traits that Protestants lack.) So far, the responses to Laudato Si at American Spectator have been pro-market and not particularly submissive.

Still, vd, t gets points for edge.

Unencumbered by W-w

Noah Millman is not merely on one roll, he’s on four. See below.

But his writing on contemporary events leads me again to ponder whether Christians are limited (dumber?) when it comes to non-spiritual subjects precisely because Scripture and church dogma establish limits that block creative and critical thought. (The 2k solution, by the way, is to say that Christians have great liberty where the Bible is silent.) I know Millman is a Jewish-American, but I suspect he is not bound the way Reformed Protestants are by divine revelation and faith-community officers.

And it is the sense of needing to run every piece of analysis or op-ed (“take every thought captive”) through the prism of w-w that winds up limiting the ability of Christians to interact thoughtfully in the wider world. If we/they simply looked at matters as regular human beings or as Americans or as bankers, would we be able to see the world the way Millman does? (My answer is, I hope so.)

But to their credit, Christians are attached to the Bible and to church teaching in ways that show great love for the truths of special revelation. That is something that is likely in short supply among those who only use their smarts to assess the world. T

So here is a quick summary of Millman’s recent w-w-free insights. On Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si:

To my reading, the encyclical starts with a fairy tale. Once upon a time, human beings lived in relative harmony with the environment, because we understood our place within creation. But with the advent of modernity, we have lost sight of that place, both in terms of our proper humility and in terms of our proper responsibility for good stewardship. And the devastating consequences for humanity and the non-human world are all around us. Modernity cannot really be repaired from within; it must be re-founded on a proper moral basis, such that the fruits of the earth are properly shared and exploitation of both the human and non-human world is no longer the basis of our world economy.

I call this a fairy tale because there’s no evidence offered that the pre-modern history is at all true. That is to say, there’s no evidence that medieval Europeans, or the cultures of Africa or the Americas before the arrival of Europeans, avoided exploiting their environment to the best of their ability. And this is to say nothing of the cultures of Asia, from China to India to the Fertile Crescent, which were much more systematic and effective at maximizing their exploitation of the local environment, and which consequently lived closer to the Malthusian edge.

Would that Roman Catholics were not so prone to root, root, root for the home team or for Protestants (like all about meEEEE) to be so suspicious.

On the Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage:

My (partial) defense of Kennedy’s opinion begins with the following thought experiment. Imagine that Loving had been decided the opposite way, upholding miscegenation statutes, and that, in response, an amendment to the Constitution had been passed with the following wording:

The family being the fundamental basis of society, the right to matrimony shall not be infringed.

The passage of this amendment would surely have overturned miscegenation statutes nationally – as it would have been intended to do. It would also have made it clear that prisoners, the mentally handicapped, the carriers of genetic diseases – that none of these can be denied access to matrimony. How, though, would it be applied today in the context of same-sex marriage? How should it be applied?

The answer hinges on the question of what marriage is. At the time of the passage of the amendment, it’s true, only a few would have argued that it encompassed same-sex unions. But in 2015 a great many people thought it did, and many states had come to express that view in their laws (whether prompted by the state-level judiciary or not). Once such a view is current, it becomes necessary for the Court to decide whether or not it is correct – because it is necessary to determine whether the definition of marriage restricting it to unions between men and women is, in fact, an infringement on a fundamental right. This is particularly the case when states have undertaken explicitly to define marriage as exclusively a male-female bond, and not merely done so implicitly.

That’s basically the situation the Court found itself in if it took the Loving precedent seriously. Loving clearly established the right to marry as fundamental, pre-political, and central to the Declaration of Independence’s concept of the “pursuit of happiness.” Note that there is nothing traditional about this idea. Traditionally, marriage was a matter better arranged by your parents than by you, and love was something you hoped would grow within and sustain happiness in marriage as opposed to marriage’s origin. Traditionally and cross-culturally, regulation or prohibition of exogamy has been more the rule than the exception. Loving certainly didn’t invent the idea of the love match, but it did raise it to the level of Constitutional principle.

Millman recognizes that it was the U.S. Supreme Court, not the General Assembly of the OPC, that decided this case, and that certain judicial precedents were in place. In other words, he didn’t have to worry about the Bible or about the Book of Church Order in trying to make sense of the Court’s logic. Can Christians do that? Should they?

On the Greek referendum and debt crisis:

The metropole (Brussels/Berlin) demands terms for renegotiation of Greece’s debt that leave Greece politically and economically utterly subservient to said metropole. The Greeks demand more favorable terms that allow their economy to grow again and have some measure of independence.

The Greeks have suffered far more from austerity than the American colonists did under British taxation. And the British metropole had at least as much reason to accuse us of ingratitude: its taxes were imposed to pay for a war waged on the colonists’ behalf, and the British were rather as disinclined as the German bankers are to have the relationship with the crown treated by the colonists as a blank check.

And, as with the American colonies, the remedy is either independence or genuine representation at the metropole. Either the EU needs to remedy its democratic deficit, creating political organs as powerful and responsive to the people as the ECB is to the imperatives of finance, or it needs to shrink from an empire to a club of like-minded states with already synchronized economies.

Of course, most evangelical and Reformed Protestants don’t care Eastern Orthodox Greece (talk about the limiting effects of w-w), but Millman reminds Americans (and perhaps the Scots) about the value of independence. Was it merely coincidence that the Greeks voted no only a day after the Fourth of July? I don’t think so!

Finally, Millman raises more good questions about the so-called Benedict Option:

Dreher’s surprise, honestly, feels to me just an index of alienation. Same-sex marriage is accepted as normal by a substantial majority of Americans now. How could it possibly be outrageous to learn that a sitting Supreme Court Justice is comfortable performing same-sex weddings in a jurisdiction where such weddings are legal? Wouldn’t it be more surprising if none of the sitting Justices held the same opinion as 60% of Americans?

But that’s not really the point I want to make. Dreher’s instinct, clearly, was that Ginsburg’s action was “outrageous.” That is to say: it provoked him to outrage. Now, I have to seriously ask this: is this feeling, of outrage, likely to be salved, or exacerbated by the pursuit of the Benedict Option?

The culture is going to go on, after all, doing whatever it does, and people all over the country will continue to produce Dreherbait, some of it far more obviously outrageous than Ruth Bader Ginsburg performing a legal wedding ceremony. (The article on quasi-Saudi-sounding practices of Manhattan’s upper financial echelons is a good recent example – and whadaya know, it turns out pricey Manhattan divorce lawyers say they’ve never heard of such a thing as a “wife bonus.”) But isn’t the collection of such stories, well, isn’t it kind of obsessing over precisely the parts of our culture that the whole point of the Benedict Option is to turn away from, in favor of a focus on one’s own community, and its spiritual development?

So I have to ask: is one of the strictures of the Benedict Option going to be to stop pursuing outrage porn? And if it isn’t – why isn’t it?

“Outrage porn.” Brilliant.

Make me smart like this guy.

Playing By An Old Playbook

I’ve already indicated that Protestants were making theological arguments for protecting the environment well before Laudato Si. But noooooo. No one gives us credit because we only capitulated to modernity well before Roman Catholics did. Now, Pete Enns reminds us that Pope Francis’ regard for the poor and desire for a poor church for the poor was only what an Orthodox Presbyterian minister was saying thirty years ago (though for some reason, thankfully, Pete leaves out ecclesiastical affiliation):

Below are some words of wisdom from Harvie M. Conn (1933-99) from his book Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace. Conn was one of my theology professors in seminary, who spent 12 years as a missionary in Korea to women in prostitution, seeing them as victims of sinful societal structures rather than simply “sinners.”

For too long evangelical white churches in the United States have had a “come” structure. . . . One cannot be a missionary church and continue insisting that the world must come to the church on the church’s terms. It must become a “go” structure. And it can only do that when its concerns are directed outside itself toward the poor, the abused, and the oppressed. The church must recapture its identity as the only organization in the world that exists for the sake of its non-members.

I am drawn to this quote. It captures for me a bigger vision for how to spend our time on this earth–for others. I often lose that sense when I am doing repairs on my house, getting ready for classes, balancing our check book, or writing blog posts.

Conn was a bit of a radical back in the day, and many of us loved him for it. He was always pushing us vanilla white Presbyterian males to get over ourselves and our strangle hold on intellectual orthodoxy. Following Jesus meant venturing out of our ivory towers, getting dirty–and exposing our familiar theological categories to scrutiny.

By the way, Conn was the inspiration for TKNY who kept the urban theme but seems to have lost the oppressed meme.

#cherrypickersall

Even Romans Wasn't That Long

Boniface once again shows why he is a much more important read than Bryan and the Jasons. This time he explains why a papal letter has to be 187 pages (!!!!) long:

Modern encyclicals are a curious thing. The encyclical developed from the papal bull. The bull was a primarily juridical instrument used as a means of promulgating an authoritative judgment of the Holy See, either in matters of doctrine or governance. These could often be very short; we marvel today at reading something like Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam (1302) – which famously declared that submission to the Roman pontiff was necessary for salvation – and is only a page long! Papal bulls in the old days knew what they wanted to say and they said it.

The modern encyclical developed out of the Enlightenment period as the popes realized that broader literacy and intellectual challenges to Christian revelation necessitated using the papal bull as a means of educating the flock on Catholic teaching, and hence by the time of the French Revolution the bull had begun to transform into the encyclical, the teaching letters of the modern pontiffs.

The encyclicals of the 19th and early 20th century are lucid and clear. Their purpose is to expound Catholic doctrine and defend it against modern errors, which they do very admirably. A friend recently commented to me that in thinking back on great documents like Pascendi, Quas Primas, Casti Conubii and so forth, one can immediately recall the substance of of them and the force of their arguments. Pius XII taught that the encyclical was the normative means by which the Roman pontiff exercised his teaching office. The same cannot be said about modern encyclicals – who can easily summarize what Redemptor Hominis or Populorum Progressio are about except in the vaguest terms?

That’s not to say pre-Vatican II encyclicals were always to the point; the pre-Conciliar popes certainly had their moments of rambling – but at least their rambling was clear and fun to read!

When we get to Vatican II, a noticeable change comes about. I personally attribute this to John XXIII’s famous principle from the opening of the Second Vatican Council:

“Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She consider that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations.”

This principle has effected the manner in which the post-1965 ecclesia docens functions. Essentially, the post-Conciliar encyclical doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. The popes have still utilized them as a means of teaching, but rather than teaching what Catholic doctrine consists of, they have increasingly become occasions for popes to explain why Catholic doctrine is what it is.

That’s not entirely a bad thing; fides quaerens intellectum, right? But somewhere along the way the popes seemed to have dropped the declarative aspect of the encyclical in the overly optimistic hope that if we could just explain our teaching to the world – just walk them through our thinking step by step – then maybe the world would accept the Church’s message. Maybe if we simply “proposed” our rationale for belief humbly instead of declaring that we “had” the truth, the world would reciprocate and enter into a “fruitful dialogue” with Christianity that would mutually enrich everybody?

Boniface also explains why recent popes are attractive to intellectualist Protestants even while forgetting the real (or historic) source of their power:

(a) The world does not reject the Gospel because it has not been adequately explained. They reject it “because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil” (John 3:19).

(b) Even when its has opted for explaining rather than declaring the Church’s teaching, the Church has done a poor job of it because it has chosen to explain its teachings in terms of humanist phenomenology rather than having recourse to the Church’s traditional pedagogy.

(c) By focusing so much on the explanation and presentation over the declaration, the Church has unwittingly given the false impression that the validity of its teachings are bound up with the force of her argumentation, a kind of false intellectualism. She feels shaky and inadequate simply saying, “Such is the voice of the Church; such is the teaching of our Faith”; she feels she must offer a humanistic centered explanation for everything – an explanation that will “suit” the needs of “contemporary man” – with the effect that her message has become completely man-centered. “He taught as one who had authority” (Matt. 7:29) said the people of old about Christ; but when the Church forgets the supernatural force that stands behind her teaching and opts instead for an anthropomorphized message, she no longer “speaks with authority”, in the sense that her words lose their force. Hence people shrug at the latest papal document and move on.

(d) Finally, because the popes have sought for novel means to propose their teachings, encyclicals lose their strenght as teaching documents and become instead opportunities for the popes to foist their own theological or literary tastes on the Catholic people. The phenomenology of John Paul II, the Balthasarian-Hegelian-Teilhardism of Benedict XVI, and now the sort of “literary theology” of Francis. Each pontiff has opted not use traditional pedagogy, which means every pope has to “try something new” in how they choose to teach.

The irony, of course, is that the more popes “teach,” the less Roman Catholics learn.

Surely someone is smart enough among the bishops to figure this out.