Cardinal Zigliara on political atheism

The Josias has made available a selection from Tommaso Maria Cardinal Zigliara’s Summa philosophica, dealing with political atheism. Timothy Wilson, a fine Latinist with a deep interest in the (now largely forgotten) scholastic and manualist tradition, translated the selection for publication. Cardinal Zigliara, a Dominican, was a noted Thomist of the late nineteenth century. A close collaborator of Leo XIII, Cardinal Zigliara was a contributor to Leo’s encyclicals Aeterni Patris, which restored the Common Doctor to his place of preeminence among the theologians, and Rerum novarum. This is the first of five selections, according to The Josias, and we will be following the series with great interest.

By the way, if you have not been following The Josias, you have been missing out. In addition to regular essays from the perspective of the Church’s traditional social teaching, the site makes available many important documents that have long been unavailable for linguistic reasons. For example, earlier this year, The Josias published a translation of Pius IX’s Maxima quidem, an allocution that ultimately served as the basis for several propositions condemned in his wonderful Syllabus Errorum. It is well worth checking from time to time.

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Gregory DiPippo has another very fascinating piece at New Liturgical Movement about the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The story of the feast itself derives from non-canonical gospels, and it is, for that reason, pretty interesting. (Especially if you are not very familiar with the non-canonical material out there. We are not.) However, we are particularly interested to note the tumultuous history of the feast. It appeared early in the eleventh century in England; then, in the late fifteenth century, Pope Sixtus IV added it to the Roman books (along with the Immaculate Conception); but, in the late sixteenth century, St. Pius V suppressed it as part of the Tridentine reforms; then, Pope Sixtus V reinstated the feast in 1585. (St. Pius suppressed several Marian feasts as part of the reforms of 1568/70; all of them were reinstated by 1622.)

“Il diritto della famiglia ad uno spazio vitale”

We have mentioned before that Pius XII’s 1941 radio address, La solennità della Pentecoste, is the missing link in the chain of the Church’s social teaching. (For now. We suspect that Benedict’s great Caritas in veritate, falling between John Paul’s Centesimus annus, so favored by those who contend, loudly if not convincingly, that John Paul was an American-style capitalist, and Francis’s Laudato si’, is going to be a missing link, too. Only time will tell.) Notwithstanding its incipit, La solennità is actually a speech marking the fiftieth anniversary of Rerum novarum. One point that the great Pius made was this:

Il nostro pianeta con tanti estesi oceani e mari e laghi, con monti e piani coperti di neve e di ghiacci eterni, con grandi deserti e terre inospite e sterili, non è pur scarso di regioni e luoghi vitali abbandonati al capriccio vegetativo della natura e ben confacentesi alla coltura della mano dell’uomo, ai suoi bisogni e alle sue operazioni civili; e più di una volta è inevitabile che alcune famiglie, di qua o di là emigrando, si cerchino altrove una nuova patria. Allora, secondo l’insegnamento della Rerum novarum, va rispettato il diritto della famiglia ad uno spazio vitale. Dove questo accadrà, l’emigrazione raggiungerà il suo scopo naturale, che spesso convalida l’esperienza, vogliamo dire la distribuzione più favorevole degli uomini sulla superficie terrestre, acconcia a colonie di agricoltori; superficie che Dio creò e preparò per uso di tutti. Se le due parti, quella che concede di lasciare il luogo natio e quella che ammette i nuovi venuti, rimarranno lealmente sollecite di eliminare quanto potrebbe essere d’impedimento al nascere e allo svolgersi di una verace fiducia tra il paese di emigrazione e il paese d’immigrazione, tutti i partecipanti a tale tramutamento di luoghi e di persone ne avranno vantaggio: le famiglie riceveranno un terreno che sarà per loro terra patria nel vero senso della parola; le terre di densi abitanti resteranno alleggerite e i loro popoli si creeranno nuovi amici in territori stranieri; e gli Stati che accolgono gli emigrati guadagneranno cittadini operosi. Così le nazioni che danno e gli Stati che ricevono, in pari gara, contribuiranno all’incremento del benessere umano e al progresso dell’umana cultura.

(Hyperlink omitted and emphasis supplied.)

Given recent events, we wonder whether it is time to expand on Pius’s concept of the right of the family to living space.

“Christian doctrine is not a closed system”

The Vatican has made the Holy Father’s enormously significant Florence speech available in English. After a quick scan, there appear to be some differences between the Vatican’s translation and the Zenit working translation we posted previously. Whether these differences are meaningful is, of course, an open question. As a taste, the Vatican’s translation of the portion that we have discussed a couple of times previously is:

A Church that presents these three traits — humility, disinterest, beatitude — is a Church that is able to recognize the action of the Lord in the world, in culture, in the everyday life of the people. I have said it more than once and I repeat it again to you today: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 49). However, we know that temptations exist; there are so many temptations to confront. I will present you with at least two of them. Do not be afraid, this will not be a list of temptations! Like the list of 15 that I recited to the Curia!

The first is that of the Pelagian. It spurs the Church not to be humble, disinterested and blessed. It does so through the appearance of something good. Pelagianism leads us to trust in structures, in organizations, in planning that is perfect because it is abstract. Often it also leads us to assume a controlling, harsh and normative manner. Norms give Pelagianism the security of feeling superior, of having a precise bearing. This is where it finds its strength, not in the lightness of the Spirit’s breath. Before the evils or problems of the Church it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete practices and forms that even culturally lack the capacity to be meaningful. Christian doctrine is not a closed system, incapable of raising questions, doubts, inquiries, but is living, is able to unsettle, is able to enliven. It has a face that is supple, a body that moves and develops, flesh that is tender: Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.

The reform of the Church then — and the Church is semper reformanda — is foreign to Pelagianism. She is not exhausted in the countless plans to change her structures. It instead means being implanted and rooted in Christ, allowing herself to be led by the Spirit. Thus everything will be possible with genius and creativity.

The Church of Italy lets herself be carried by his powerful — and thus, at times, restless — breath. She always takes on the spirit of her great explorers, who on ships were passionate about navigating the open sea and not frightened by frontiers and storms. May she be a free Church, open to the challenges of the present, never on the defensive out of fear of losing something. Never on the defensive out of fear of losing something. And, encountering the people along the way, she takes on St Paul’s aim: “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:22).

A second temptation to defeat is that of gnosticism. This leads to trusting in logical and clear reasoning, which nonetheless loses the tenderness of a brother’s flesh. The attraction of gnosticism is that of “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” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 94). Gnosticism cannot transcend.

The difference between Christian transcendence and any form of gnostic spiritualism lies in the mystery of the incarnation. Not putting into practice, not leading the Word into reality, means building on sand, staying within pure idea and decaying into intimisms that bear no fruit, that render its dyamism barren.

(Emphasis in original.)

And he carries the reminders

A very thoughtful acquaintance of ours asked, elsewhere, what the Church has to say about violent sports—think mixed martial arts (MMA) or professional football (NFL, not FIFA).

This is a very good question, which has been on our mind lately. At sports-gossip site Deadspin, Barry Petchesky has a piece, “Wes Welker Is Back and It Feels Terrible,” regarding wide receiver Wes Welker’s return to play for the St. Louis Rams. Petchesky writes,

By all accounts—his own, his teams’, and a top NFL-affiliated concussion specialist’s—Wes Welker is healthy and ready to play. St. Louis badly needs a receiver. Still, when the Rams announced they signed Welker to bolster their etiolated passing attack, my first reaction was disappointment. It’s a strange feeling, to hope that Wes Welker—a talented WR and by all accounts a decent guy—never plays football again.

It’s the concussions. At least six official ones in his career, maybe as many as 10.(That doesn’t count the ones he may not even know about.) He suffered three in nine months with the Broncos, leading one former teammate to publicly declare he wanted Welker to retire. The thing about concussions is that the more you’ve had, the more likely you are to receive more. Welker’s brain is especially fragile and vulnerable. If teams avoided signing the still-useful receiver this offseason solely because of his concussion history—and some very specifically did—it wasn’t necessarily just the potential bad PR in a sport that claims to take brain trauma very seriously. It was legitimate concern for Welker’s well-being.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks omitted.) But Welker is not the only flashpoint for the concussion debate: the NFL has been grappling with the question—and fans have been grappling with the morality—for some time.

Add to this the recent coverage of UFC champion Ronda Rousey’s devastating loss to Holly Holm. Rousey, long touted as an unstoppable fighter, known for thirty-second takedowns of challengers, was knocked out cold by a thudding kick to the head by Holm. But only after Holm had slugged Rousey in the face long enough and hard enough to split her lip and leave her bloodied. (We did not watch the fight, but some observers said that Rousey looked punch drunk. We do not doubt it.) While perhaps not as serious as Welker’s years of concussion after concussion after concussion, which have been discussed repeatedly, the fact remains that Rousey was punched repeatedly in the face, pretty hard as such things go, and kicked in the head hard enough to knock her out. Perhaps we are oversensitive—and we admit that we are not that kind of doctor—but that pummeling cannot be good for the brain.

Therefore, we think that our acquaintance’s question is not only a good question in itself but also a good important question for our time. The problem is that the Church does not appear to have pronounced officially—much less definitively—on the question professional football or MMA fighting or any of a whole host of physically punishing sports. (To our knowledge. If you, dear reader, are aware of something, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or tweet at @semiduplex; we will gladly post any documents you identify.) But the Church has pronounced several times on dueling, and it seems to us that one can analogize profitably from dueling, especially nonlethal academic dueling, to these extreme sports. And from those pronouncements, some general conclusions may be drawn and applied to the question of these sports. The answer will probably not surprise you, though.

We begin with Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical to the bishops of Germany and Austria-Hungary, Pastoralis officii. It begins,

Mindful of your pastoral duty and moved by your love of neighbor, you wrote to me last year concerning the frequent practice among your people of a private, individual contest called dueling. You indicate, not without grief, that even Catholics customarily engage in this type of combat. At the same time your request that We, too, attempt to dissuade men from this manner of error. It is indeed a deadly error and not restricted to your country, but has spread so far that practically no people can be found free from the contagion of the evil. Hence, We praise your zeal. It is clearly known what Christian philosophy, certainly in agreement with natural reason, prescribes in this matter; nevertheless, because the vicious custom of dueling is being encouraged with greatest forgetfulness of Christian precepts, it will be expedient to briefly review these rules.

(Emphasis supplied.) Thus, the answers to the question of dueling were already evident in Christian doctrine. Leo simply summarizes them in response to the bishops’ request for guidance. Leo goes to say, and this is the interesting part:

Clearly, divine law, both that which is known by the light of reason and that which is revealed in Sacred Scripture, strictly forbids anyone, outside of public cause, to kill or wound a man unless compelled to do so in self defense. Those, moreover, who provoke a private combat or accept one when challenged, deliberately and unnecessarily intend to take a life or at least wound an adversary. Furthermore, divine law prohibits anyone from risking his life rashly, exposing himself to grave and evident danger when not constrained by duty or generous charity. In the very nature of the duel, there is plainly blind temerity and contempt for life. There can be, therefore, no obscurity or doubt in anyone’s mind that those who engage in battle privately and singly take upon themselves a double guilt, that of another’s destruction and the deliberate risk of their own lives. Finally, there is hardly any pestilence more deadly to the discipline of civil society and perversive to the just order of the state than that license be given to citizens to defend their own rights privately and singly and avenge their honor which they believe has been violated.

(Emphasis supplied.) There are two principles here that ought to be unpacked before moving on to some other sources.

One, the divine law—and the natural law, which is simply our participation in the divine law—forbids killing or wounding a man except in self defense. The Fifth Commandment tells us as much. Remember, too, what Aquinas taught us: a man, including his body, belongs to the community; therefore, injuring a man injures the community (ST IIa IIae q.65 a.1 co. & ad 2). The community’s sanction is needed to injure a man (id.) This goes for blows, too (ST IIa IIae q.66 a.1 co.).

Aquinas’s teaching is not squarely on point here, since Aquinas was talking about injury as chastisement or retaliation. However, the principle seems to hold even in the sporting context: a man is part of the community, to injure a man injures the community. Now, the injuries in this case can be fairly remote. Certain brain injuries, as we understand it, can take years to manifest themselves; nevertheless, if it becomes certain that certain sports result in these injuries, then it seems to us, for the purposes of moral reasoning, the sports activities are the proximate cause of the injuries, even if temporally remote. Remember the lesson of the Second Way: real causality is not “this happened, then this happened, then this happened,” and so forth (ST Ia q.2 a.3 co.). Thus, Leo’s teaching, if taken back to its source, seems to apply equally to football as dueling.

Two, one cannot risk death or injury rashly. As the old Baltimore Catechism tells us, “[w]e are commanded by the fifth Commandment to live in peace and union with our neighbor, to respect his rights, to seek his spiritual and bodily welfare, and to take proper care of our own life and health.” (Emphasis supplied.) And as St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us in his Instructions on the Commandments and the Sacraments, God is the lord of our lives and we have no right to throw away our lives or to injure ourselves wantonly. Thus, on this point, too, Leo’s teaching is squarely within the broader current of Christian moral theology. And, unlike the previous point, this point meets squarely the question of violent sports. The Fifth Commandment requires us to take care of ourselves, more or less well, and to avoid unnecessary injury. It seems to us that an argument could be made—convincingly—that an athletic contest does not quite rise to the level of gravity necessary for one to justly risk injury or death.

There are also a couple of decrees of the old Sacred Congregation of the Council, before its transformation to the Congregation for Clergy, regarding German academic dueling: a decree of February 10, 1923, AAS 15 (1923) 154–56, and a decree of June 13, 1925, AAS 18 (1926) 132–38. The latter decree has been excerpted in the current edition of Denzinger, at DH 3672, and it makes it clear that the prohibition on dueling applies even when death is unlikely. (German academic dueling, as we understand it, involved padding and protective gear that prevented serious injury but permitted the flamboyant facial scars seen on a thousand B-movie actors after 1945 or so.) Thus, at least according to the Sacred Congregation of the Council, which undoubtedly would have been aware of Pastoralis officii, the prohibitions on dueling were not affected by measures taken to mitigate the injury. And this makes sense. The Fifth Commandment prohibits this sort of reckless, almost injury-seeking, behavior. We acknowledge that the violation may be only venially sinful. But given the serious neurological disorders that have been mentioned in the popular press, to say nothing of the regular, gruesome injuries that football players suffer, it seems unlikely that one could hold, as a rule, that the violation is a venial sin. It seems that the question of gravity is, as is often the case, one of subjective imputability.

All of this is a long way of saying that, reasoning from the example of dueling and some general comments on the Fifth Commandment, we think that mixed martial arts and professional football are probably sinful. (Once again, if you’re familiar with a more definite pronouncement, let us know and we’ll be happy to draw attention to it, with credit!) Whether, as in the days of dueling, excommunications need to be handed down to players, coaches, support staff, and spectators is another question. What to do, though? Plainly people like extreme sports. While we prefer baseball for a variety of reasons, we enjoy professional football. We root for a team. We have favorite players. We watch games. We talk about games with other people. We are, we admit, football fans. Yet, we have for some time been increasingly bothered by the idea that we are watching men bash their brains out. One can Google very sad stories of ex-players reduced to poverty—or worse—as a result of neurological damage they attribute to football.

Does this mean it’s time to stop formally cooperating in sin? In other words, by turning on the TV or going to a game, it seems to us that an argument could be made that we are formally cooperating in what the players are doing. Buying tickets, watching commercials, or otherwise supporting the broader objectives of the major corporations behind these sports looks an awful lot like formal cooperation, though we would be happy to be corrected by a moral theologian. Is it time to stop? If not now, what would it take? A decree of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? A papal encyclical?

Update to Girard and the Letter to the Hebrews

It has been called to our attention, by a source acquainted with our prior post, that a discussion of René Girard’s theory of substitutionary atonement in the context of the Letter to the Hebrews has been offered. Raymund Schwager’s Jesus in the Drama of Salvation has a lengthy treatment of the question.  Based upon an initial read, we are not wholly convinced by Schwager’s argument. However, we are away from our copy of Craig Koester’s commentary on Hebrews, which, while written from a Lutheran perspective, with all that entails, is a solid commentary, and we would want to start there (along with, of course, Father Haydock’s notes) in examining Schwager’s argument.

René Girard and the Letter to the Hebrews

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., of Sancrucensis, points our attention to a new blog, Spoils of Egypt. Semi-pseudonymously run by Coëmgenus, Spoils of Egypt has already posted an interesting piece “Against René Girard.”

We admit that Girard’s philosophy is, well, not particularly known to us, except in very broad strokes. Something to do with memes, we think. But, since Girard’s recent passing, we have seen, in various places, memorials placing him in a Christian context. Coëmgenus’s piece begins,

The death of René Girard has been followed by the flood of eulogy one expects for an author so often cited, a professor beloved of so many students, and a thinker so effectively popularized.

Much of that appreciation, I’m sure, is merited. Girard was nothing if not thought-provoking, and he gets plenty of mileage out of the few idées fixes that run through all his writing. (His key concept of “mimetic desire” strikes me as one that may bear great fruit for psychology and politics alike, and at any rate will keep the grad students busy for a long while.)

But among his disciples, René Girard is not only praised as a critic or as an interesting writer, but as a kind of theologian, as a sage whose anthropological key has deciphered the secret meaning of Christianity. His practice of the Catholic religion, and his personal loyalty to the Church, were commendable, and do nothing to refute this view. Girard himself suggests that he held such an opinion of his career — but it’s wrong, and wrong enough that those who would recommend Girard to Christians do him no service by repeating it.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink omitted.) Read the whole thing there. As we say, we are probably not qualified to make such a sweeping assessment of Girard’s philosophy.

One point struck us as an interesting point for jumping off, however. In criticizing Girard’s approach to substitutionary atonement, Coëmgenus makes this point:

In every language and in every rite, Christians have viewed the eucharist as a sacrifice, typologically tied to the offerings of Melchizedek and of the Jewish priests, and figuring the perfect sacrifice of the Passion. This typological connection is everywhere in Christian thought. When the Church repeats Christ’s words — “this is my body, given for you” — this is taken to refer equally to the cross and to the liturgy, which are understood together to be the perfection and seal of the finite sacrifices offered by those who had not yet heard the Gospel.

The difference between this and Girard’s view is vast — for him, the Cross is not the perfection of sacrifice but its final refutation, an absurdity and an offense designed to convince us of the fatuity of all sacrifice. Christ’s Passion saves us not because he is offered in our place, or as a propitiation to the Father, but because it teaches us to set aside the myths of sacrifice and the economy of violence they entail. It is not Christ’s blood, but his instructive witness, that saves.

(Emphasis supplied.) It seems to us that one could profitably read Girard through the Letter to the Hebrews, which is a sustained, dense explanation of the nature of Christ’s priesthood and his sacrifice. Perhaps someone has already done this.

As a matter of fact the wheels have stopped

Fr. Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., at his always-excellent blog, Sancrucensis, has a wonderful post today, “‘Reasoning Is Worse than Scolding.” In short, he uses Dickens’s David Copperfield to come to this conclusion,

As Fr Hunwicke recently remarked, “Anti-intellectualism is a stance people very often adopt when they propose to do something irrational,” and it is even more the stance that people adopt one when they do not want to have the unpleasantness of being rationally strict with others. But in the long run such a stance always leads to misery. Happiness can only come from conforming human life to right reason, and a cowardly and infantile refusal of the demands of reason leads to misery in this life, and eternal punishment in the next.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink omitted.) Read the whole thing there. It’s enough, by the way, to convince us that we have been perhaps unjust to David Copperfield, preferring A Tale of Two Cities and Bleak House.

We perhaps state the obvious when we say say that one cannot hope to live a virtuous life without constant application of reason—we note that Aristotle says as much. Moral excellence, Aristotle tells us, “is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.” (Ethic. II.6, 1106b36–1107a2 [emphasis supplied], Barnes ed. p. 1748.) But everyone knows this instinctively. (Cf., e.g., ST Ia IIae q.91 a.2 co. & ad 2–3.) It makes sense, intuitively, that you can’t know how to be good without reason, since being good involves regular application of reason. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. But the upshot is this: Fr. Waldstein is right when he identifies an intrinsic connection between reason and happiness.

Or he would have been right for pretty much the entire history of the West. Whether he is right today seems to be a different question. Certainly, there are any number of movements at large today that hold that happiness is contingent upon fundamentally irrational things. (We will omit, for our sensibilities as much as yours, naming them.) In other words, people insist that they will be happy only if they do something irrational. And the thing is, few people seem to object on this basis; they may object on other bases, but they do not insist that the thing the people want is irrational.

We have written a little bit about the Church’s process of losing things—for example, the Church seems to have lost a sense that the Divine Office ought to be part of her public worship—and it seems to us that society is on the verge of losing the ability to think in terms of reason and unreason. That is, we don’t criticize various ideas and proposals as being irrational. We criticize them as immoral or impractical or expensive or unbiblical or any of a whole host of things. But none of those criticisms is quite the same thing as the criticism that something is irrational.

At any rate, check out Fr. Waldstein’s post.

I’m accustomed to a smooth ride

Fr. Raymond de Souza has a must-read piece at the Catholic Herald, “What will the Pope say? His friends tell us.” An excerpt:

Does silence on John Paul’s formulation token assent? Or does it mean that the traditional teaching is being left aside?

A commentary last week by Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, gave a clear answer. Civiltà always carries a certain authority, as the Jesuit periodical is reviewed by the Holy See secretariat of state before publication.

Fr Spadaro is more authoritative still, as both a close confidant and mouthpiece of Pope Francis. It is inconceivable that he would write something contrary to what the Holy Father desired. In his analysis of the synod, his answer is emphatic.

“The [synod’s final report] proceeds on this path of discernment of individual cases without putting any limits on integration, as appeared in the past. … The conclusion is that the Church realises that one can no longer speak of an abstract category of persons and close off the practice of integration within a rule that is entirely general and valid in every case. 

It is not said how far the process of integration can go, but neither are any more precise and insurmountable limitations set up.”

The “limits of the past” are that of Familiaris Consortio, which was certainly “precise”. It no longer holds. And how far will the integration go?

(Emphasis supplied.) Fr. De Souza goes on to address Scalfari’s quickly discredited-but-not-denied interview with the Holy Father:

Pope Francis gave another interview to the notorious Eugenio Scalfari last week, who reported that the Holy Father had told him that all those divorced and remarried who ask will be admitted to Holy Communion.

The Holy See Press Office issued the customary statement about the unreliability of Scalfari, who reconstructs his papal conversations from a fertile memory, but what Scalfari wrote in a few lines is basically what Fr Spadaro wrote in 20 pages: living in a conjugal union outside of marriage will either no longer be considered necessarily sinful, or being in a state of serious sin will no longer be an obstacle to receiving Holy Communion.

If Scalfari and Fr Spadaro were presenting conflicting views, it would be advisable to follow Fr Spadaro as to the Holy Father’s thought. But if they agree, there is no room for doubt.

(Emphasis supplied.) And Fr. De Souza gives a little more information; however, it adds up to this point—if the Pope’s favored theologians and journalists are an indication of the Pope’s mind, then the Pope is going to implement some version of the Kasperite proposal. (We wonder, perhaps idly, when something can properly be called a heresy? Does a pope have to condemn it as such, as St. Pius X, of happy memory, demolished Modernism in Pascendi? Does an ecumenical council have to anathematize it? Does the all-important sensus fidelium play a role?) However, we are far from sure that one needs to look to the Pope’s favorites, like Fr. Spadaro and Scalfari, to get a sense of what the Pope is thinking.

Indeed, it seems to us that the Holy Father has told us (and told us and told us) what he thinks, in broad terms, about these issues. All the condemnations of pharisees, Pelagians, Gnostics, and so forth—all of which seem to mean, in the Holy Father’s inimitable style, “someone overfond of rules”—gives a strong indication of the Pope’s thinking. Likewise, the Holy Father’s endless talk at Santa Marta and elsewhere about mercy and inclusion gives a strong indication of the Holy Father’s thinking. On one hand, the Holy Father has a certain idea of mercy that is, perhaps, hard to concretize. On the other hand, the Holy Father seems to think that, at best, the people who focus on obstacles are hung up on rules at best and hypocrites at worst.

Even today, the Holy Father, addressing the Romano Guardini Foundation, made comments that seem to be especially significant in the context of the forthcoming exhortation (or motu proprio or whatever):

Nel suo libro Il mondo religioso di Dostoevskij, Guardini riprende, tra l’altro, un episodio dal romanzo I fratelli Karamazov (Il mondo religioso di Dostoevskij, Morcelliana, Brescia, pp. 24ss). Si tratta del passo dove la gente va dallo starec Zosima per presentargli le proprie preoccupazioni e difficoltà, chiedendo la sua preghiera e benedizione. Si avvicina anche una contadina macilenta per confessarsi. Con un bisbiglio sommesso dice di aver ucciso il marito malato il quale in passato l’aveva maltrattata molto. Lo starec vede che la donna, nella disperata consapevolezza della propria colpa, è totalmente chiusa in sé stessa, e che qualsiasi riflessione, qualsiasi conforto o consiglio urterebbe contro questo muro. La donna è convinta di essere condannata. Il sacerdote, però, le mostra una via d’uscita: la sua esistenza ha un senso, perché Dio la accoglie nel momento del pentimento. «Non temere nulla, non temere mai, e non angosciarti – dice lo starec –, purché il pentimento non s’indebolisca in te, e poi Dio perdonerà tutto. Del resto, non c’è, e non ci può essere, su tutta la terra un peccato che Dio non perdoni a chi si pente sinceramente. Né l’uomo può commettere un peccato così grande che esaurisca l’infinito amore di Dio» (ibid., p. 25). Nella confessione la donna viene trasformata e riceve di nuovo speranza.

(Emphasis supplied.) The emphasis at the end of the passage about confession seems to be especially significant, given the fact that the Müller-Kasper compromise, represented in the Germanicus report, ultimately reheated the so-called forum internum solution as an alternative to a loosy-goosey penitential path.

For the monoglot—or for the polyglot who don’t have a lot of Italian—Vatican Radio summarizes this passage:

Quoting the words Dostoyevsky gave to his mystic priest-healer Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov, to speak to a woman who had taken the life of her abusive husband when he was sick, Pope Francis said, “Do not fear. Never fear, and do not be sad, so long as your remorse does not dry up, God forgives everything. There is no sin on the whole Earth that God will not forgive if you show true remorse. Man is unable to commit a sin that is too great for God’s unending love.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Obviously, we suspect that this will be quoted by individuals with a rooting interest in the debate—either because they like the Kasperite proposal or because they feel the need to retcon, as science-fiction aficionados might say, the Holy Father’s statements into greater consistency with the teachings of his immediate predecessors—as a rejoinder to De Souza’s (and our) broader point. “See?! The Holy Father agrees that mercy requires repentance! Whatever version of the Kasperite proposal he implements will require remorse!” Maybe so.

But, of course, the whole debate over the Kasperite proposal could be conceived as a debate over how one expresses remorse. The consistent teaching of the Church over the last thirty years or so has been that the divorced and remarried—bigamists seems like such a hurtful word, but it is more convenient than “divorced and remarried”—express remorse for the adulterous second marriage either by terminating it or by living in complete continence. This is, of course, the point of Familiaris consortio. Thus expressing their remorse, they can be validly absolved and approach the Eucharist. But the Kasperite proposal, as modified by the Germanicus report, seems to say (1) the divorced and remarried may not have anything to be remorseful for (this is what the tendentious quotation of the PCLT statement on subjective imputability is for) or, worse, (2) there may be ways of expressing remorse that don’t involve a firm purpose of amendment. Thus, it seems to us that the Holy Father’s emphasis on remorse in the Guardini Foundation speech as the necessary precondition for mercy—movingly stated and entirely correct, by the way—does not exclude anything with respect to the Kasperite proposal.

But to return to our original point, as diverting as reading Pontifical tea leaves may be, it does not seem to be necessary to look to the Pope’s friends to get a sense of where he is headed. It seems to us that the Pope has given us, in broad terms, the direction of his thinking. Of course, this could be a setup for a Humanae vitae volte-face; that is, following signal after signal from men who might be called the Pope’s friends (if poor Pope Paul could be said to have had any friends in Rome) that the Pope would permit birth control, Paul ultimately decided to reaffirm in clear, almost prophetic, terms the Church’s traditional teaching (which had already been eloquently articulated, as with everything else, by Pius XI in Casti connubii). But Pope Paul’s decision seems to have been a function of his personality. One does not get the sense that the Holy Father dithers about anything. Once he makes up his mind, it’s a one-way train, though it may be a stopping train instead of an express.

Some are building monuments, others are jotting down notes

Zenit has made available an English translation of the Holy Father’s extraordinary speech in Florence. Here is a translation of the passage we quoted earlier:

A Church that has these traits – humility, unselfishness, beatitude – is a Church that is able to recognize the Lord’s action in the world, in the culture, in the daily life of the people. I have said it more than once and I repeat it again to you today: I prefer a bumpy, wounded and soiled Church for having gone out through the streets, rather than a sick Church because she is closed in the comfortableness of holding on to her own certainties. I do not want a Church concerned to be at the center and that ends up enclosed in a tangle of obsessions and procedures” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). However, we know that temptations exist; the temptations to be faced are so many. I will present at least two. Do not get frightened; this will not be a list of temptations!  — as those fifteen that I said to the Curia!

The first of them is the Pelagian. It pushes the Church not to be humble, unselfish and blessed. And it does so with the appearance of a good. Pelagianism leads us to have trust in the structures, in the organizations, in the plans, which are perfect because abstract. Often it even leads us to assume a style of control, of hardness, of normativity. The norm gives to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. He finds his strength in this, not in the lightness of the Spirit’s breath. In face of evils or problems of the Church it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of surmounted conduct and forms that do not even have culturally the capacity to be significant. Christian Doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, questionings, but it is alive, it is able to disquiet, it is able to encourage. It does not have a rigid face; it has a body that moves and develops; it has tender flesh: Christian Doctrine is called Jesus Christ. The reform of the Church then – and the Church is always reforming – is alien to Pelagianism. It does not exhaust itself in an umpteenth plan to change the structures. It means, instead, to be grafted and rooted in Christ, allowing oneself to be led by the Spirit. Then everything will be possible with genius and creativity.

The Italian Church must let herself be led by her powerful breath and hence sometimes disquieting breath. She must always assume the spirit of her great explorers, who on ships were passionate about navigation in the open sea and not frightened by frontiers and tempests. May she be a free Church, open to the challenges of the present, never vulnerable out of fear of losing something. May she never be vulnerable out of fear of losing something. And encountering people along their streets, may she assume the resolution of Saint Paul. “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

A second temptation to overcome is that of Gnosticism. It leads to trust in logical and clear reasoning, which, however, loses the tenderness of the brother’s flesh. The fascination of Gnosticism is that of “a faith closed in in subjectivism, where only a determined experience is of interest or a series of reasons  and knowledge that one believes can comfort and illuminate, but where the subject in the end remains closed in the immanence of his own reason and his sentiments” (Evangelii Gaudium, 94). Gnosticism cannot transcend. The difference between Christian transcendence and some form of Gnostic spiritualism lies in the mystery of the Incarnation. Not to put into practice, not to lead the Word to the reality, means to build on sand, to remain in a pure idea and to degenerate into intimism that does not give fruit, that renders its dynamism sterile.

(Some emphasis supplied.)