In a homily a few years back Pope Francis expounded on Luke 2:41-52, the familiar story of finding the 12-year old Jesus in the temple. He adds a detail, however, which he thinks is clearly implied in the text:
“Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little ‘escapade’, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it. Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt.” (Link)
When I read the Pope’s homilies (I’ve read hundreds) I noticed that he will carefully draw out spiritual applications from that day’s readings that are simple and usually (not always) consistent with the given passage’s meaning. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said regarding many of his other writings and particularly the encyclicals where he cites biblical passages to support his specific instruction.
In the following examples the Pope appears to be manipulating scripture to deemphasize Christian brotherhood and elevate universal brotherhood.
The context of the following is a lesson that spiritual formation of a Catholic is not solely based on doctrinal instruction. But notice how Francis commingles the love commandments:
“…It has to do with ‘observing’ all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love. Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15:12). Clearly, whenever the New Testament authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbour: ‘The one who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the whole law… therefore love of neighbour is the fulfilling of the law'” (Rom 13:8, 10) (Evangelii Gaudium, 161).
Vatican journalist Sandro Magister recently reported that three names are being mentioned around the Vatican and beyond with respect to the next conclave: Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and Cardinals Robert Sarah (Guinea) and Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle (Manila). However, he confidently rules out the latter two. Tagle is too young (60), and Sarah (77) is too conservative and could never get the necessary two-thirds support. He adds that as an African, Sarah’s candidacy would be only “symbolic”, leaving Parolin in “pole position”.
Marco Tossati thinks Sarah stands a much better chance and senses a growing fear among progressives that Sarah’s “papabile” is increasing. The Pope’s public reproach of the Cardinal concerning his interpretation of Magnum Principium, according to the Vaticanist, reflected this fear. “…[T]he letter was celebrated as a just humiliation of the cardinal and accompanied by calls for his resignation.” While he admits that Parolin is in a strong position, he adds that Cardinal Sarah,
“….is known for his holiness of life and lack of interest in any form of power or coercion, even in the Church. Moreover, Africa is the continent where the Church is growing most dramatically, and where faith is often practiced to the point of martyrdom. Nothing could be more fitting than for the next pope to come from that continent. And so we come to the great irony of the campaign to discredit this quiet and long-suffering churchman. Cardinal Sarah is attacked precisely because he is seen as having the makings of a pope.”
In E.D. Hirsch’s Validity in Interpretation, a classic on the subject of literary hermeneutics, professor Hirsch argues that the goal of interpretation is to understand what an author intended, a concept that had been abandoned by many authors and critics. One common error which he labeled the “Humpty Dumpty effect” struck me as evident in the general response to the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation. This particular fallacy was illustrated in the following lines from Alice in Wonderland:
“The question is,”, said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
While numerous passages in the Bible are ambiguous in meaning and can be validly interpreted in multiple ways, certain passages are so clear one would have to try very hard to get them wrong. One of those is Matthew 25:31-46, the separation of the sheep from the goats and Christ’s judgment upon His return. The ethical imperatives that will form the basis of that judgment are the treatment of those people he regards as His “brothers”. Identifying Jesus’ brothers is the key to understanding the passage:
“‘When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (vv. 37-40).
Throughout Church history the “brothers” were primarily interpreted as referring to Christ’s followers. More recently however, the modern concepts of social justice and universal brotherhood have influenced the way this text is read and most interpreters wrongly identify “brothers” as anyone who suffers hunger, thirst, etc. But that isn’t what Matthew wrote or intended. Continue reading “A Costly Misinterpretation of Scripture”→
It is impossible to overstate the magnitude of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they tested him on which is the greatest commandment:
”Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40).
The Pope has cut a deal with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that gives the Vatican a say in the selection of Bishops for the state-sanctioned Catholic Church. The deal is supposed to give the Vatican the ability to approve episcopal appointments made by the Chinese government.
To Joseph Cardinal Zen, Retired Bishop of Hong Kong, the Pope would be making a choice for the government-controlled church over the faithful underground church. His opposition is impassioned, calling it a “surrender”, and a betrayal of Christ. The underground Catholic Church is substantially larger and carefully guards its independence from the government and maintains loyalty to the Holy See, but at the price of persecution.
Neither the state Church or the underground Church have a direct connection to Rome; this is obviously what the Pope wants to fix by the compromise. But first he might want to consider a number of historical precedents that suggest such accords don’t end well and consider a more conservative path: Continue reading “Historical Perspectives on the Pope’s Chinese Accord”→
Marriage as we know it today originated in the twelfth-century. It was the result of the efforts of the Gregorian reform movement to wrestle full jurisdiction over marriage from the pagan-influenced customs of the feudal nobility. The latter treated marriage as means of forming strategic alliances with other families, or as a way of keeping wealth within an extended family. Arranged marriages precluded consent which often meant that it precluded love. They were often arranged before the child (usually the daughter) had even reached adolescence.
Church authorities used a variety of strategies to accomplish its goals, one of which was that fact that within Latin Christendom it was the Church that determined whether a particular marriage was valid or not. People wanted their marriage to be valid; it determined the legitimacy of their children and their ability to inherit. The Church knew this. But its problem was that it did not possess a uniform definition of what constituted a valid marriage. Continue reading “The Validity of a Marriage is Determined by Proper Consent”→
“This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
There was a time when St. Hildegard would have probably agreed with these paradoxical but generally true shortcomings of the Holy Roman Empire. As an adult Hildegard had come to know a succession of Emperors, since they were in reality no more than Kings of Germany and she was as famous a German as they were. She especially detested Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for his determination to usurp the authority of the pope in ecclesiastical appointments. Hildegard received a gracious letter from the Emperor, in which he referred to her as “holy lady”, and “beloved lady”, requesting her prayers as a means of obtaining grace. Not uncharacteristically, she responds by fearlessly assuming her role as a prophet, of the Old Testament type, delivering threats in the first-person voice of God (very unusual for a woman in medieval times):
“He who Is says: By My own power I do away with the obstinacy and rebellion of those who scorn me. Woe, O woe to the evil of those wicked ones who spurn me. Hear this O king, if you wish to live. Otherwise my sword will pierce you” (Baird, Joseph L. The Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Letter #44, p.78).
She follows up with another letter in which explicitly insults the King (a guy who could make her life very difficult):
“…[I]n a mystic vision I see you like a little boy or some madman living before Living Eyes. Yet you still have time for ruling over worldly matters. Beware, therefore, that the almighty King does not lay you low because of the blindness of your eyes, which fail to see correctly how to hold the rod of proper governance in your hand. See to it that you do not act in such a way that you lose the grace of God” (Letter #45, p.78).
In light of the upcoming final session of the Synod of the Family, with the “shadow synod” lurking in the background: closed-door meetings and behind-the-scenes strategy sessions to ensure success in their determination to overturn Church teaching on communion for the divorced and remarried. What came to my mind was a particular vision of St. Hildegard’s as recalled by Pope Benedict XVI, which in turn brought to mind a scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
PAPAL ADDRESS TO THE ROMAN CURIA, 2010
The focal point of Benedict’s Christmas speech were the revelations of a new series of sex abuse accusations against priests which had surfaced throughout Europe during the year. Recall that 2010 was the “Year of the Priest”; Benedict laments the unexpected irony:
“…[W]hen in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred, profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.”