Monday, 27 January 2014

Post-Modern Pope

Apparently, Pope Francis recently said this: "We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes...Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute."

At a first, superficial glance this attitude to dialogue with an unbelieving world may seem commendably humble and open, but it is actually incredibly wrong-headed and it leads Christians down an intellectual and spiritual cul-de-sac

Firstly, for the Christian "one's own ideas" are not one's own, but are derived from Divine revelation and expressed in commonly held creeds and confessions (there are, of course, real doctrinal differences between the churches, but that fact should not lead us to overlook the amount of common ground in Christian doctrine). 

As for "traditions" (to be distinguished from customs) I always understood that for Roman Catholics the repository of Tradition was also a part of the Divine revelation (?). 

And by the way, what have "ideas" to do with the Christian Faith anyway? Christianity is not a religion of "ideas", it is a religion of facts. Heaven help the preacher who ascends to the pulpit to proclaim "ideas"! Hungry, desperate souls want facts and life! 

Secondly, if our "ideas" are not valid then they are invalid; if they are not absolute then they are relative. Do Jesuits (the Pope is a member of this RC religious order, which was the spearhead of the Counter-Reformation), who once prided themselves on their rigorous philosophical training, no longer believe in the law of non-contradiction? (I have often been told by traditional Roman Catholics that the Jesuits are not what they used to be - the rot set in during the cultural revolution of the 1960s; now it seems the rot has risen to the very top of the RC church in the form of the Pope's woolly thinking.) What Christian worth his salt would suggest that the Christian doctrines of the Trinity, Christology, original sin, redemption and sanctification - the doctrines every neophyte must be taught - are not valid or absolute?  Christianity is a doctrinal religion; without doctrine it is mere sentiment which does not deserve the respect or interest of the doubting yet hopeful "men and women of today".   

To be sure, fruitful dialogue does involve seeing the other's point of view, not to cede it validity when it differs from "one's own" considered beliefs however, but to discern where the other has gone wrong that we may know how to correct him. That is true humility and openness which lets God be God and seeks the ultimate good of the other - that he too may be renewed in his mind and put on a new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:23). Relativism is not the path to the spiritual renewal of the West. 

Is this yet another case of the Pope speaking without first thinking through the implications of his thoughts? 

Or is he really the post-modern Pope? 

I can understand why traditional Roman Catholics are very disappointed with this Pope. 
Why, even as a confessional Lutheran I'm disappointed in him!


Stephen K said...

Pastor Mark, why are traditional Roman Catholics disappointed in Pope Francis? Do you think it’s because he is not using language or saying things they want to hear? And is that the reason why you are disappointed in him?

We have to ask ourselves something very basic, why do we want to hear others say that which we already think? Why do we gnash our teeth when others say things we don’t like or agree with?

At the root of our attacks on people who say things we disagree with, is our fear that our preferred state of affairs will be overturned. If someone says something so outrageous, so clearly unsupported, so incomprehensible, by contrast, we barely turn a hair. Why? It is because we are not afraid; we do not fear our ideal or preferred state of affairs is threatened.

Let us be honest, here. Fear is at the root of human strife. I don’t pretend I’m any different from you or these traditional Catholics or Lutherans in the basic psychology at work. But we have, I think, to constantly try to keep our primeval, instinctive ways of acting in balance or in some proportion to our rational ways.

So, thinking rationally, what do we see when we gaze on Francis? Can we see a Christian? A brother to us on the path of fides quaerens intellectum? No more or no less than Benedict? Or Rowan? Or, going further back, Pius (all of them!), or Luther, or Calvin? Peter, or Paul?

Or do we just want Francis, or Benedict or anyone of them, to be a clone of ourselves, or to say the words we think we should say if we were them?

You see, I rail at things I don’t like, too. But I can, at time likes this, when I see my railing reflected in another, recall that at the rising of the sun and the going down, I am me, and they are them! And before the mystery of God, none of us can presume to have God’s special favour - which is, I dare say, what Francis was on about.

Acroamaticus said...

I think the short answer - all I have time for at present - to your opening questions is: because truth matters, especially in theology. Also, the Pope is not just "someone with whom I disagree", he is the Pope! We have certain expectations of one who holds that office, you know, and rightly so too. I think that is why conservative Catholics are also somewhat disappointed in Francis.

Acroamaticus said...

Btw, I wasn't railing, Stephen, I was polemicising!:0)