The mind of a modernist

Pope Francis mind of modernistLast week, Pope Francis sent a video message to the International Theological Congress that took place at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires.

A transcript of the Holy Father’s prepared statement, which merits closer attention than one might imagine, is available on the Holy See’s website in Spanish, the language in which it was delivered, and Italian, the text that I parsed for the present discussion.

Revealed within the pope’s words (or better stated, reconfirmed within his words) are the machinations of a modernist mind; the same that conjured up the idea of appointing a Synod of Bishops to deliberate changes to ancient pastoral practices that can admit of no such thing without undermining the immutable doctrines from which they spring.

In his message to the gathering of theologians, Pope Francis spoke of an allegedly healthy tension between the Universal Church, custodian of the “received tradition,” and the local Church, where the faith is actually lived in “reality.”

There is no particular church isolated, which can speak of itself alone, as if it is the mistress and interpreter of reality and of the action of the Spirit. There exists no community that has a monopoly on interpretation or inculturation. Conversely, there does not exist a universal Church that turns away, ignores, and is disinterested in those in the local reality.

Catholicity requires inquiring of this polarity, this tension between the particular and the universal, between the one and the multiple, between the simple and the complex. Annihilating this tension goes against the life of the Spirit. Any attempt seeking to reduce the communication, to break the relationship between the received tradition and reality, endangers the faith of the People of God. Considering either one of two insignificant is to put a labyrinth in place that will not be the bearer of life for our people. Breaking this communication will easily make of our vision, of our theology, an ideology.

There is little here about which to be surprised.

It has been obvious for some time that Jorge Bergoglio imagines a dichotomy between the tradition of the Church as set forth in her doctrines, and the cold, hard facts of life on the ground; as if the former is strictly theoretical with the latter alone qualifying as “reality.”

This, presumably, is why he fails to recognize that the “tension” to which he points as a valuable commodity to be preserved is nothing of the sort; rather, it is that which arises when sinful men and societies wander far from the truth – the same that Holy Mother Church illuminates by the light of her doctrines.

In other words, the “tension” that he imagines to be the servant of theology (lest it become “ideology”) is truly nothing more than the chasm that exists between holiness and sinfulness. Contrary to what Pope Francis stated, it is precisely the work of the Church to “annihilate” such tension by converting the world to Christ; helping poor sinners to live their lives in harmony with the Divine Law.

In the mind of Pope Francis, however, the Church herself is in need of what the “real” world has to offer.

As for what he believes the Church has to offer the world, Pope Francis has made it quite clear – it’s neither conversion nor teaching, but “accompaniment.”

Do you need to convince the other to become Catholic? No, no, no! Go out and meet him, he is your brother. This is enough. Go out and help him and Jesus will do the rest. (Message of Pope Francis to the faithful of Argentina, 7 Aug. 2013)

Francis is the quintessential man of the Council. He sincerely believes that prior to the blessed event, those who dwell on the so-called “peripheries” were left to wallow “unaccompanied” in the “reality” of their misery by a Church that could only manage to offer academic formulae in the place of authentic pastoral care:

One of the main contributions of the Second Vatican Council was precisely to try to overcome this divorce between theology and the pastoral, between faith and life.

To continue this effort, the Holy Father exhorted the theologians:

We must tackle the work, the hard work to distinguish the message of life from its form of transmission, from its cultural elements in which a time has been encoded.

NB: Pay close attention to what Pope Francis is suggesting; as will become more clear as we continue, he believes that the “message of life” must be discovered apart from tradition (derived from the Latin tradere – to transmit) and the doctrines of the faith inasmuch as they are time and culture bound.

The solution, therefore, is to adapt doctrine to the current culture; one that no longer believes in its Author.

He continued:

Doctrine is not a closed system, with no dynamics that generate questions, doubts, queries. By contrast, the Christian doctrine has a face, has a body, has flesh, His name is Jesus Christ and His life to come is offered from generation to generation to all men and in all places. Protecting the doctrine demands fidelity to what has been received and – at the same time – taking into account the interlocutor, the recipient, who is known and loved.

Did you get that?

Jesus Christ, the face of Christian doctrine, generates doubts.

Alas, this is true, but largely as it concerns those who do not know who Jesus Christ is, and that He speaks through His Holy Catholic Church with “all authority.” (cf Mt. 28:18)

That many in our day do not know such things is thanks largely to five decades of weak churchmen (including popes) who, following the Council’s lead, no longer possess the wherewithal to proclaim the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In any case, Pope Francis went on to suggest:

Our formulations of faith are born in dialogue, in the encounter, in comparison, in contact with different cultures, communities, nations, situations requiring a greater reflection in the face of everything not explicit before. Therefore pastoral events have considerable value. And our formulations of faith are an expression of a life lived and pondered ecclesiastically.

Folks, much of what Pope Francis conveyed in his message is textbook modernism as identified and condemned by Pope St. Pius X who wrote:

To ascertain the nature of dogma [according to the modernists], we must first find the relation which exists between the religious formulas and the religious sentiment. This will be readily perceived by him who realises that these formulas have no other purpose than to furnish the believer with a means of giving an account of his faith to himself. These formulas therefore stand midway between the believer and his faith; in their relation to the faith, they are the inadequate expression of its object, and are usually called symbols; in their relation to the believer, they are mere instruments …

Thus the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma. An immense collection of sophisms this, that ruins and destroys all religion. Dogma is not only able, but ought to evolve and to be changed. This is strongly affirmed by the Modernists, and as clearly flows from their principles. For amongst the chief points of their teaching is this which they deduce from the principle of vital immanence; that religious formulas, to be really religious and not merely theological speculations, ought to be living and to live the life of the religious sentiment. (Pascendi 12, 13)

In other words, the “formulas” of the faith, according to the modernist, are not expressions of absolute truth, as if having been received by the Church from her Founder and Head; rather, they are but symbols that are “born” in dialogue and encounter with man in his ever-changing “pastoral situations.”

This false proposition is an outgrowth of the likewise false idea that religion itself “has its origin in a movement of the heart, which movement is called a sentiment … which originates from a need of the divine,” a principle that the modernists call “vital immanence.” (cf Pascendi 7)

As such, the modernist thinker will insist, as Pope Francis does, that the doctrinal formulae of the faith as handed down across the millennia (aka tradition) may actually serve to conceal the “message of life” from those living in the modern milieu; the fertile ground from which new formulae are just waiting to be born.

Pope St. Pius X continued in his unmasking of modernism:

Hence it is quite impossible [for the modernist] to maintain that the dogmas of the faith express absolute truth: for, in so far as they are symbols, they are the images of truth, and so must be adapted to the religious sentiment in its relation to man; and as instruments, they are the vehicles of truth, and must therefore in their turn be adapted to man in his relation to the religious sentiment … Consequently, the formulae too, which we call dogmas, must be subject to these vicissitudes, and are, therefore, liable to change. (Pascendi 13)

It is this same mindset with which Pope Francis wrote in his “Letter to a non-believer” (the atheist Eugenio Scalfari):

I would not speak about ‘absolute’ truths, even for believers, in the sense that absolute is that which is disconnected and bereft of all relationship.

Likewise, it is for this very same reason that Pope Francis cautions the participants of the International Theological Congress:

Do not do this exercise of discernment [to distinguish the message of life from its form of transmission] in one way or another that leads to betraying the content of the message.

In other words, do not suppress the questions, queries and even the doubts of the people.


Pope Francis explains:

To do so causes the Good News to cease being new and above all good, becoming a sterile word, emptied of all its creative strength, healing and resuscitating, and thus endangering the faith of the people of our time. The absence of (or a failure in) this ecclesial theological exercise is a mutilation of the mission that we are called to accomplish.

NB: This is an inversion of reality (of which there is more evidence to come) wherein the “faith of the people of our time” – as opposed to the faith of the Church – is imagined to be the pearl of great price!

Notice as well that for Pope Francis the “mission” isn’t to form the people in the truths of the faith as transmitted in all integrity in the doctrines of the faith as they have been handed down; rather, it is to conform the doctrinal formulae in such way as to be ever “new” and thus good for men who doubt their veracity.

He continues:

This meeting between doctrine and pastoral care is not optional, it is constitutive of a theology that intends to be Church.

And in order to “be Church,” according to Francis, we must admit that the “peripheries,” where that “tension” between sinfulness and holiness is realized, is the school, as it were, where the Church learns nuances of the true faith that might otherwise escape her:

In a Christian there is something suspicious when he ceases to admit the need to be criticized by other parties. People and their various conflicts, the peripheries are not optional, but necessary for a better understanding of the faith.

Let’s be clear: When the pope here speaks of “the Christian,” he is employing a euphemism for the Church herself.

This is precisely where modernism naturally leads; to an inversion of reality wherein the people take on the role of “teacher,” and the Holy Mother is left looking to them for understanding.

One may recall that the humble pope, shortly after being elevated to the papacy, approved of the publication of the otherwise secret pre-conclave address that he delivered to the General Congregation of Cardinals wherein he said:

The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery … Thinking of the next pope: He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.

In other words, the Church ventures into the missionary fields, not so much to give life to a sinful people, but to gain life from the encounter!

This same upside down view of the Church’s mission is reiterated in Francis’ message to the International Theological Congress wherein he suggests that the Counselor, the Lord and giver of life who leads the Church into all truth, is to be discovered in the very people she is called to evangelize:

Therefore it is important to ask: Of whom are we thinking when we do theology? The people that we have in front of us? Without this encounter with the family, with the People of God, theology runs the great risk of becoming ideology.

We do not forget, the Holy Spirit in prayerful people is the subject of theology. A theology that is not born within its bosom [that of the prayerful people] has the scent of a proposal that can be beautiful, but not real.

And how does one “do theology” in such a way as to achieve the “realness” of which Pope Francis speaks?

Therefore, there is only one way of doing theology: on one’s knees. It is not only an act of merciful prayer and then thinking about theology. It is a dynamic between thought and prayer. A theology on one’s knees dares to think while praying and to pray while thinking. It involves a game, between the past and the present, between the present and the future; among the already and the not yet. It is a reciprocity between Easter and many lives do not realize that they ask: Where is God?

Theology done on one’s knees…

Sound familiar?

It should; this is precisely the way in which Pope Francis described the radical proposals made by Cardinal Walter Kasper during the February 2014 Congregation of Cardinals in anticipation of the Extraordinary Synod that would take place some eight months later:

I read and reread Cardinal Walter Kasper’s document and I would like to thank him, as I found it to be a work of profound theology, and also a serene theological reflection … my idea was that this is what we call ‘doing theology on one’s knees.’

With this in mind, let’s conclude by revisiting that portion of Pope Francis’ message to the theologians at the Pontifical Catholic University wherein he said:

Our formulations of faith are born in … situations requiring a greater reflection in the face of everything not explicit before. Therefore pastoral events have considerable value. And our formulations of faith are an expression of a life lived and pondered ecclesiastically.

One may safely conclude that among the “situations” and “pastoral events” that Pope Francis has in mind are those concerning the plight of the civilly divorced and remarried, as well as those in homosexual relationships, vis-à-vis their relationship with the Church.

And so, as the upcoming Synod of Bishops draws near, we will do well to remain ever aware that it has been called by, and will be presided over by, a pope who has the unmistakable mind of a modernist.

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