NEWS:  December 30, 2013
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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães
A FIRST LOOK AT EVANGELII GAUDIUM   - So far, the most important document issued by Pope Bergoglio is his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, signed November 24, 2013, and released some days later. It is a document meant to summarize everything he has said in his nine months of Pontificate worth retaining.

It took me a while to carefully read this 51,000 word document set out in a rather chaotic exposition, different from the customary papal teachings. I will offer my reader some observations on it in this article and in others to follow. I will start by analyzing its form; afterwards, I will look at its content.

I - Observations on the form

1. Breaking a progressivist ‘tradition’ - As far as I recall, in the last 30 years - that is, in the pontificates of JPII and BXVI - apostolic exhortations were documents reserved for the Synods of Bishops. The Pope signed each apostolic exhortation, but its content was principally the work of the Synod of Bishops. This custom fulfilled the progressivist goal of fostering collegiality. It gave the Bishops the final word on many topics, projecting the idea that the Bishops were the real decision-makers for the entire Church, while the Pope only endorsed those decisions.

Pope Francis breeaks with the conciliar habits

In his eagerness to break traditions, Francis is accidentally destroying some conquests of Progressivism

Now, Francis breaks this custom and himself writes an apostolic exhortation that was not the fruit of any synod. Why did he do this when he could choose from a variety of titles for his recent document (e.g. apostolic letter, encyclical, apostolic constitution, etc.)? I do not know. Here I simply note that this is the one he chose, breaking a pattern that as a wholehearted progressivist he should have preserved.

2. The message of the quotes - Of the 217 endnotes on this papal document, only 27 refer to works of authors written before Vatican II. If we subtract from those 27 five by liberal, modernist and progressivist authors - each of the following authors has one quote, De Lubac Romano Guardini, John Henry Newman, Bernanos and the Jesuit Quiles - we have 22 quotes.

Of these 22 quotes, 13 are by St. Thomas, two by St. Augustine, one by St. John Chrysostom, one by St. Ambrose, one by St. Therese of Lisieux, one by Thomas of Kempis, one by Isaac of Stella, one by Plato and one by an undisclosed author who wrote about the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The total brings us to 22.

I stress that there is not even one single quote by a Pope previous to Vatican II nor a reference to any other Council of the Church except Vatican II. In other words, Francis makes a complete ablation of the bi-millennial Magisterium of the Church before John XXIII.

I believe that this simple comparison speaks of itself about the complete rupture the Conciliar Church made with the Catholic Church. In passing, let me observe that Benedict XVI’s pretense that the novelties of the Vatican II Church should be interpreted according to a “hermeneutic of continuity” with the past teaching of the Church is effectively pulverized by the lack of any “continuity” in Francis’ first document.

3. Introducing a papal slang - I have seen previous conciliar Popes introducing into ecclesiastical language some confused modernist, progressivist, personalist and phenomenological terms characteristic of these currents of thought. I do not recall reading in papal documents such a profusion of muddled words without precise meanings as found in Evangelii gaudium.

I will give some examples taken from the English translation accessible on the Vatican website:

A. Immanentism - In § 89, Bergoglio affirms: “Isolation, which is a version of immanentism, can find expression in a false autonomy which has no place for God.”

Now then, isolation is not a version of immanentism. Immanentism is a precise philosophical term referring to the presence of one being in the essence of another. It is normally used to refer to the currents of thought that defend Pantheism, which imagines that a universal Pan is present in the essence of each being struggling to free itself from it.

Pope Francis speaking

You must abandon the immanence of gnosticism and start a mystagogic initiation

Thus, Bergoglio is assigning an obscure meaning to an already clearly established term. He applies immanentism in an original moral development as if it were synonymous with pride. (1)

This production of a new meaning for a known word is a novelty that I would classify as slang. No need to add that instead of helping Catholics understand the papal message, it only clouds and pollutes it.

B. Gnosticism - In § 94 he states: “One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings.”

Again, Gnosticism is not what Bergoglio claims. The dictionary defines Gnosticism as “the doctrine of the Gnostics, of those who pretend to reach the Gnosis, i.e., an understanding of a superior order.”

In its proper meaning Gnosticism refers to the “doctrines of diverse sects of the 2nd and 3rd centuries in which the initiated pretended to have of everything an understanding much superior than that which is searched by the Church.” In its extended meaning, Gnosticism could be understood as “all doctrine that pretends to find a total explanation of everything by supra-rational or even rational processes.” (2)

None of these meanings matches the definition Bergoglio gives in his document. In other words, he is imposing a new meaning to a classical term. He uses gnosticism as a depreciative tag to put down those who strive for academic scholarship. (3)

Confusion and disorientation are the fruits of using words with defined meanings to refer to different things.

C. Neo-Pelagianism - In § 94 he indignantly goes on the attack: “The other is the self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism …”

Here we find another derogatory label, this time against traditionalists. Francis’ use of the term, however, has little to do with Pelagianism. Indeed, here is how the Catholic Encyclopedia defines it: “Pelagianism received its name from Pelagius and designates a heresy of the fifth century, which denied original sin as well as Christian grace.” (4)

We see that Pope Francis is giving this term a second, third, or fourth meaning which is not clear to the reader. I believe that the creation of new, obscure meanings for known words is an element of subverting the language and obstructing its clarity. It is the opposite of what a Pope should do. It creates confusion among Catholics and projects the image of an ignorant Pope.

D. Idealism and nominalism - In § 232 Francis affirms: “Ideas - conceptual elaborations - are at the service of communication, understanding and praxis. Ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism and nominalism, capable at most of classifying and defining, but certainly not calling to action.”

The same observation made above applies here. Idealism is a specific philosophical school of thought according to which the exterior world does not have any other reality than the ideas or the representation that we make of them. (5) Pope Bergoglio does not use the term in its proper meaning, but coins another meaning that just means abstract knowledge.

St. John sees false doctrine as frogs

St. John describes the False Prophet, above, as a man who speaks words as unclean as frogs

Nominalism is also something different from what he pretends. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains: “Nominalism … denies the existence of abstract and universal concepts and refuses to admit that the intellect has the power of engendering them. What are called general ideas are only names, mere verbal designations, serving as labels for a collection of things or a series of particular events.” (6)

In the text of his document, Francis seems to have taken nominalism as a synonym of arbitrary labeling, which has little to do with nominalism as it is known.

E. Other forms of slang - I leave aside other improprieties in the use of positivism and scienticism (§ 242) to focus on other blurred neologisms and obscure expressions used by Pope Francis without further explanation, as if they were public knowledge.

They include “redeeming embrace” (§ 3), “deuteronomic dimension of the faith” (§ 13), those in society who are “disenfranchised” (§ 53); “non-ideological ethics” (§ 57); “escapism” (§ 90); “mystagogic initiation” and “mystagogical renewal” (§ 166), “charity à la carte” (§ 180); “privatized spirituality” and “privatized lifestyle” (§ 262).

When we have so many expressions employed in difficult-to-grasp meanings, inaccessible to the public, we have the creation of a private language that addresses only a small group of friends or colleagues. This is what happens in petty circles that create their own slang and jargon.

Such language should never be used by a Sovereign Pontiff to address 1.2 billion Catholics.

To be continued

  1. In the same sense see also “the bitter poison of immanence,” § 87; “anthropocentric immanentism,” § 94; “their hearts are open only to the limited horizon of their own immanence,” § 97; “atheistic immanentism,” § 254.
  2. Paul Foulquié, Dictionnaire de la Langue Philosophique, Paris: PUF, 1962, entry Gnosticisme.
  3. In the same sense, see also § 233: “to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism.”
  4. Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1911, vol. 11, entry Pelagius, Pelagianism, p. 604.
  5. Cf. P. Foulquié, Dictionannaire de la Langue Philosophique, entry Idéalisme.
  6. Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 11, entry Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism, p. 91.