Pope Francis: A Perspective on his Infallibility

Until the First Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution, Pastor Aeternus (1870), papal infallibility had never been formally defined by the Church:

[W]hen the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.

A rather strong malediction follows the above decree:

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.

A closer look at some of Pope Francis’ teachings in light of the Council’s definition is an interesting exercise. A brief look at four of them reveal a curious pattern.

First is the question of the footnote in Amoris Laetitia which opens a pathway to the Sacraments for divorced and remarried couples who are sexually active and who have not had their previous marriage annulled (see here). This has been referred to as magisterial instruction. But in this case I’m not sure that the Pope exercised his office “as shepherd and teacher of all Christians.”

It appears to simply be pastoral advice directed to priests and their bishops. One diocese might formally permit the practice of allowing these couples to receive communion (San Diego), and another might formally prevent the practice (Archdiocese of Philadelphia). The Vatican has not intervened in the case of the latter. The real problem for these couples is that their marriages are invalid. Since the Pope didn’t address that, it’s difficult to apply the word infallible to a pastoral matter left to the discretion of a priest or bishop.

Another example would be the Pope’s preferred translation of the “Our Father”, changing “Lead us not into temptation” to “Do not abandon us to temptation”, which he considers a better rendering of the original Greek. The problem is that anyone who knows biblical Greek knows that this is an untenable translation (see here). The Italian and French bishop’s conferences have adopted the new translation, the American bishops haven’t and apparently don’t intend to. The Pope was not addressing the universal church as supreme teacher but expressing an opinion to which infallibility would not apply.

In the case of the recent Amazon synod and the question of ordaining married men of high regard, the issue is a regional one; the Pope is not addressing all Christians. If he formally authorizes the practice, I don’t believe it would qualify as EX CATHEDRA according to the conditions of the Council.

Finally, the Papal order to update the Church’s teaching on the death penalty in the official Catechism, referring to it as always “inadmissible”, could be taken as EX CATHEDRA except that the Catechism is only a textbook, a manual which disseminates and explains revealed truths, but not revelation itself. It helps the layperson understand the dogmas of the Church, its canons, papal documents, council decrees, and Holy Scripture, the sources that actually constitute Divine Revelation.

In these examples a pattern emerges, the avoidance by the Pope of any effort to introduce novel teachings into the Church from the Seat of Peter. Pope Francis prefers the back and side doors of the Church to incorporate his radical ideas into its magisterium. But this is ordinary, not extraordinary magisterium (professor Ed Feser explains the difference here).

The inspiration of the Holy Spirit in regard to the Seat of Peter has two sides: to help the pope in his affirmation of truth, and to prevent him from teaching error. Whether or not Francis is purposely avoiding instructing the Church from the Seat of Peter, or is being prevented from doing so is an interesting question.

But the upshot of all this is that the above examples of the ordinary magisterial teaching of our current pope can be quickly abrogated by order of a future pope.

…rjt

‘Let Your Yes Mean No and Your No Mean Yes’

Didn’t Jesus teach us not to speak with equivocation or ambiguity?

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37).

Does this not also apply to Church authorities? Every day they send mixed signals on matters of faith and morals that had been historically established as revealed tradition and steadfastly upheld for millennia.

In some dioceses priests are expected to accept to Holy Communion remarried couples whose marriages were never declared null based on an understanding of a brief footnote in Pope Francis’ encyclical Amoris Laetitia (e.g., San Diego).  Others bishops see it differently and have forbidden their priests to give communion to those whom Jesus regarded as adulterers (e.g., Philadelphia). And Rome is fine with this? Continue reading “‘Let Your Yes Mean No and Your No Mean Yes’”

Political Activity is Not the Service of the Kingdom

The account of the feeding of the 5000 as reported in John chapter 6 is really a tragic story; the same people Jesus had miraculously fed eventually rejected Him. Their expectations were for a political solution to their plight, and a king who can produce food instantaneously for thousands of people would have made a good candidate:

When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone (vss. 14-15).

He gives them the slip until they catch up to Him in Capernaum: Continue reading “Political Activity is Not the Service of the Kingdom”

Five Reasons to Add Josephus to Your Summer Reading List

The Jewish War is Josephus’ personal account of the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and is indispensable to anyone interested in the New Testament. Once started, it is very hard to put down.

Josephus had been the general in charge of protecting the Galilee from the Roman legions who were on the march. After his capture by Vespasian, who was not yet emperor, he defected to the Roman side and tried to negotiate with the Jews of Jerusalem on its behalf.

His real name was Joseph Matthew but changed it to Flavius Josephus when he was granted Roman citizenship. Flavius was the family name of his patrons, Emperors Vespasian and Titus.

The first reason to read it is that it sheds light on the nature of “mob rule” in 1st-century Palestine. Jesus was the victim of a mob a week after he was hailed a king by one. In Josephus mobs are everywhere and are the source of much of the instability in the region. Continue reading “Five Reasons to Add Josephus to Your Summer Reading List”

Jesus’ Prophetic Parable

Note the words highlighted in bold from the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:41-45):

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’”

In Matthew’s gospel the “least ones” or “little ones” are  references to Jesus’ followers, who, for the purpose of the parable are neither the sheep nor the goats; they represent the ones whose treatment by the world becomes the standard for which the world is judged. The disciples would have understood this. But it also might have disturbed them since the implication is that they should expect to experience misfortunes as hunger, thirst, prison, etc. Otherwise, they would be no basis for the judging of those who either mistreated them or were hospitable toward them while suffering under those conditions.

The prophetic nature of the parable is reflected in St. Paul’s list of his own misfortunes in his letter to the Church of Corinth:

“We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment” (1 Corinthians 4:10-13).

…rjt

Conflating the Love Commandments

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).

Note the exclusivity in Jesus’ words; this love is reserved for the disciples and is contrasted with “all”, a reference to current non-followers. This exclusivity obviously bothers Pope Francis who decided to reinterpret the passage in a recent address:

“Why does He call it a ‘new commandment’? The old commandment of love became new because it was complete with this addition: “as I have loved you,” “love one another as I have loved you.” The novelty is all in Jesus Christ’s love, that with which He gave his life for us” (link).

Continue reading “Conflating the Love Commandments”

Troubling Consequenses of Notre Dame

From the air it looked like a giant burning cross.

What was striking in the fire’s aftermath is that whenever a commentator brought up the dramatic rise in attacks on churches in France they were quickly silenced by the government and the press.

Churches in France are being vandalized, ransacked, and desecrated (and burned) at the rate of about three per day and local police rarely conduct investigations.

In light of my understanding of St. Hildegard’s prophetic visions of the last days, the fire was a clear sign from God that the persecutions of the Church as described in her vision of the Grey Wolf are commencing. Continue reading “Troubling Consequenses of Notre Dame”

Jesus Before Pilate: Five Observations of Fulton Sheen

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri c. 1880

Possessing exceptional knowledge and wisdom, the Archbishop uncovers meanings in biblical texts that would be otherwise easy to miss.

1. After Jesus’ arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin, Friday morning He was taken to Pontius Pilate with a demand for his execution; Pilate responded,

“What charge do you bring against this man?” (John 18:29).

Continue reading “Jesus Before Pilate: Five Observations of Fulton Sheen”

Was Jesus’ Temple Clearing on Behalf of Gentiles?

Court of the Gentiles

After His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday Jesus headed to the Temple, making a whip out of cords and driving out of the Temple area not just those selling doves and changing money, but sheep and oxen as well. People who’ve studied Temple practices in the first-century find this story curious since this type of commerce was acceptable and necessary. Continue reading “Was Jesus’ Temple Clearing on Behalf of Gentiles?”

Five Consequences of Excommunicating the Governor

Aside from the fact that a dramatic and public excommunication of Gov. Cuomo would be the right thing to do, it could have some very constructive consequences:

  1. It would be a big news story and possibly stimulate discussion and debate on the nature of the law that he signed and the inhumanity behind it. Cuomo gave in to radical feminists who hate babies and actually consider killing them a liberating event. The more this is exposed for what it is, the less sympathy people will have toward abortion rights in general.
  2. The Governor’s response could be offensive (attack the bishop and the Church) or defensive (remain silent and pretend it didn’t happen). He loses either way because he has publicly affirmed his Catholicism. He would probably be defiant, recently stating, “To the Catholic Church, I am sorry about the situation. I’m not sorry about my position. I’m sorry they have taken the position they’ve taken.”
  3. To many Catholics, it would impress a scarlet letter, “E”, on Cuomo. According to the polls, about half of all self-professed Catholics vote democrat. How many of them might be disinclined to vote for a candidate wearing that letter?
  4. It also might have an effect on current and future Catholic politicians to reconsider their stand on abortion.
  5. It might embolden those Church authorities with spines to follow suit and take the battle for the lives of today’s innocents to the streets.

Continue reading “Five Consequences of Excommunicating the Governor”