Return to the Source

In the college at which I teach, we believe in the ‘Great Books’, going back to the primary sources of our religion and civilization, the Bible, the Fathers of the Church, the Greek and Latin classics, the teachings of the Church, Dante, Shakespeare, Newton, Einstein, the great philosophers and literary geniuses.  By reading original works, one can find out what the greatest of minds really said, as well as learning what others have said about them.  This is what Chesterton meant when he quipped that education should make us ‘good critics’, which means accurate judges of what is true and false, of what is good and evil, not least by reading what people really meant by the words they wrote.


pope francisI would recommend the same approach to Pope Francis, who is receiving both good and bad press, and whom everyone wants on their side.  I personally believe that the Holy Father is on the side of truth, whether he expresses this truth more, or less, efficaciously and clearly.


When you see a headline proclaiming something about the Pope, go back and read what he actually said, and you may be surprised at the divergence between the two.  The liberal media desperately want Francis on their side, and will spin his words to fit their own a priori, and usually amoral, message.


Here are a few examples:


Many consider that the Pope’s line, “Who am to judge?”, now emblazoned on rainbow-bedecked t-shirts across the world, forbids us from making any judgements on morality, and specifically that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality (or, as I prefer, orthosexuality, which is Greek for ‘right and proper sexuality’, much as orthodoxy is ‘right teaching’).


Au contraire:  When one’s reads the primary source of this statement, we discover that the Holy Father was referring to the specific case of a priest who had been charged with homosexual behaviour, and belonging to a ‘gay lobby’.  The Pope quite rightly was claiming he did know enough about the case to make his own judgement, one way or the other.  Further, if someone with homosexual proclivities ‘accepts the Lord’ and ‘has goodwill’, then we cannot judge their moral state.  However ambiguous we may consider his words, the Pope was not suggesting that we can no longer ‘judge’ homosexuality as disordered, a constant and irreformable teaching of divine law.


Another recent headline claimed that the Pope called capitalism the ‘dung of the devil’.  He did nothing of the sort.  Rather, in a speech in Santa Cruz on his recent pilgrimage to South America, the Holy Father quoted the fourth-century Father of the Church Saint Basil of Caesarea, who in a sermon claimed that the sole pursuit of profit and wealth, unfettered greed, brought pain and destruction, underlying which was an evil that may be compared, rather graphically, to the ‘dung of the devil’ (keeping in mind that a spiritual being like Satan can have no ‘dung’).  Here are the Pope’s actual words:


The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.


Finally, just yesterday, a headline in the National Post proclaimed: “The Catholic Church should go easier on members who divorce and want to remarry, Pope says”.


What the Holy Father actually recommended in his Wednesday audience of the same day was for us to reflect on “our brothers and sisters who have divorced and entered a second union”.  Especially, since many of these unions affect children, we must be “aware of a greater urgency to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities. For how can we encourage these parents to raise their children in the Christian life, to give them an example of Christian faith, if we keep them at arm’s length?“.


Reading behind the headline to the primary source, we notice that the Pope is not advocating the dissolution of the indissolubility of marriage, and in the ways to welcome such ‘divorced and remarried’ Catholics back into the Church, in his words, by “prayer, listening to the Word of God, the Christian education of their children, and service to the poor“, he nowhere mentions the reception of Holy Communion, nor in any way renouncing the Church’s teaching on marriage, sin and divorce, all of which come from Christ Himself.


So go back to the sources, preferably in the original language, and read for yourself, and this advice applies not just to the words of the Magisterium, but to all that we read, from Scripture and the classics all the way to modern politicians.


Sometimes, what we read in the Holy Father is ambiguous and, some say, even rash, requiring further clarification and discernment not only on his part, but on the part of Catholics who must read his statements in the light of the Church’s tradition.  But I will discuss that in a future post in the context of theological clarity and method.


In the meantime, pray for Francis, that he may shepherd the universal Church in these tumultuous times according to the mind and will of the Holy Spirit.


Feast of the Transfiguration

August 6, 2015