Faulty Footnotes: aberration or trend

In the course of my reading and research, I have detected what I sincerely hope are unrelated instances wherein the footnotes offered in support of certain novelties put forth in magisterial documents point to references that simply fail to provide any support whatsoever.

For example,in Nostra Aetate of Vatican II, a document that claims to “examine more closely the Church’s relationship to non-Christian religions in our time,” the Council Fathers state, “Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making both one in Himself.” (NA 4)

The footnote to this sentence refers back to Ephesians 2:14-16, a passage wherein St. Paul is addressing the unity that we enjoy in Christ with those who have accepted Him. He most certainly is not saying that Catholics are somehow made one in the Cross of Christ with those Jews in our time who reject Him. (I wrote in some detail about this here.)

Today, I am working on a piece that explores portions of the inaugural Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, to demonstrate the degree to which the pontificate of Pope Francis, while riddled with intrigue inasmuch as it is a departure from Benedict, leading to confusion, is best understood as a return to that of JPII.

Following is an excerpt:

Turning our attention back to Redemptor Hominis, I’ll conclude with a necessarily limited number of propositions that point to the aforementioned influence of personalism, wherein all men of diverse confessions are presumed to already be traveling on a path that leads to God, precluding the necessity of calling them to conversion to the one true Faith. Indeed, this could be a topic unto itself.

The Fathers of the Church rightly saw in the various religions as it were so many reflections of the one truth, “seeds of the Word”67, attesting that, though the routes taken may be different, there is but a single goal to which is directed the deepest aspiration of the human spirit as expressed in its quest for God and also in its quest, through its tending towards God, for the full dimension of its humanity, or in other words for the full meaning of human life. – Redemptor Hominis – 11

At this, it bears mention that the footnote following “seeds of the Word” points to works by St. Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, presumably to demonstrate patristic support for the idea that “various religions” may rightly be considered, as a function of “the human spirit,” to be “different routes that tend toward God.” Those who take the time review these references will discover, however, that they are nothing of the kind.

In both cases the Church Fathers are speaking of the presence of the Word throughout human history, in particular as can be seen in those elements of truth that are discernible in the ancient philosophers who predated Christ.  Clearly, neither one offers support for the untenable proposition that even those false religions that reject Christ are somehow rightly viewed as routes that tend toward God.

I will offer but one quote taken directly from the reference provided in the footnote:   

Now he who has fallen into heresy passes through an arid wilderness, abandoning the only true God, destitute of God, seeking waterless water, reaching an uninhabited and thirsty land, collecting sterility with his hands. – Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book I, Ch. 19

When reading conciliar decrees or papal encyclicals, one would like to think that it’s safe to assume that the footnotes actually lend support to the claims made therein as implied, especially when said claims are novel in character, but apparently that’s not very prudent.

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