They Can’t Be Both Right
After the events of the last days, it might be good to refresh an elementary principle of logic that is, if you ask me, all too often forgotten: the principle of non-contradiction. The principle states that contradictory principles cannot be true in the same sense at the same time. It seems obvious, and it is, but one would be surprised at reflecting how often it is neglected.
Pope Francis, as we all know, refused to wear the Mozzetta and the golden cross. His new attitude found, we are informed, many friends among Catholics, to whom “simplicity” is suddenly so appealing, particularly now that a phenomenon completely unknown during the history of the Papacy (I am obviously referring to the poor) has appeared. Perhaps we should stop a moment and reflect on what is happening here.
As you all know, Catholicism is very rich in symbolism. It is, in fact, so densely populated with it, that a typical trait of Protestant denominations is either the toning down or the outright abandonment of the extremely rich Catholic traditions.
The sedia gestatoria wasn't the way the Church prevented a Pope from muddling his shoes. The Tiara wasn't conceived so that he Had to keep his head straight. The ermine Mozzetta isn't there because Popes are old and need to keep warm. They are symbols of Papal authority, a sensorial way (visual, in this case) to remind one in a simple but effective manner of a supernatural reality. Of course, it is not the Tiara that count, it's the Papacy; but every attack to the symbols of power symbolises, nay, it literally invites, a weakening of this power.
In past ages, everyone understood this, and this symbolism found application everywhere. When Kings had real power, they had real crowns, and real sceptres, symbolising their position; symbols of power whose use in real life has almost disappeared, together with their power. Similarly, when Priests wanted to be recognised as such they wore a cassock; when they started to be “one of us”, they started to wear priestly suits; and when they started to be ashamed of being priests, they started to wear plain clothes. You can think of further thirty examples of this elementary logic for yourselves. Symbols are powerful.
Some of the symbols of Papal authority are now – if we are honest with ourselves – under attack. After the sedia gestatoria and the mitra, the Mozzetta, golden cross and red shoes are now supposed to go. Make no mistake, this attack to the symbols of the Papacy is, whether willingly or not, a weakening and banalisation of the majesty of the Petrine Office.
Which leads us nicely to the initial argument: this abandonment of the traditional symbolism of the Papacy can find you in agreement or not, but not both at the same time.
It can't be that Benedict was right in recovering aspects of Catholic tradition, and Francis is right in demolishing them. One of them must be wrong, because they are at opposite poles of the way to understand the art the Papacy must be perceived. Again, this here is not about not liking red shoes, or thinking the Mozzetta is too warm; it is about wanting that the authority of the Papacy is clearly, immediately, unmistakably perceived. This desire, cultivated for centuries and so very typical of Catholicism, cannot be right and wrong at the same time. You either are with with Benedict and his predecessors, or with Francis.
Why, then, so many commenters around many blogs, who were all in favour of Benedict's red shoes, are now enthusiastic fans of Francis' black ones? Because they aren't thinking, they are merely emoting; which latter also avoids the embarrassment of having to think “the Pope is wrong”, apparently a taboo among so many that I begin to think the Protestant mockery of “Papolatry” certainly applies to a good many simple Catholics.
Imagine a new, young queen appearing in low-cut jeans and t-shirt, and the crowd saying “how beautiful! How simple! How humble! So long, useless pomp of the past! She is one of us, why shouldn't she dress like one of us?”. The answer obviously is that she shouldn't, because she isn't. But if she starts to dress like one, at some point she'll certainly be.
Thinking of which, why is the red Mozzetta not in order, but the white cassock is? Why should the “bishop of Rome” not dress like every other bishop? Everyone knows he is the Pope, right? And why a cassock? How many priests wear cassocks? Would not be more “humble” and “simple” to wear a simple priestly suit? What about trousers and sweaters? Why not jeans? He is one of us, right?
So long, shoes! Welcome, sandals!
“But, no, Mundabor, he isn't! He is the Pope! Successor of Peter! Vicar of Christ!”.
Exactly. He is the Pope, Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ, and out of respect for the Holy Office with which he was entrusted he should have the humility to dress accordingly and appropriately, whether he likes it or not.
I'd say this respect for one's office is fitting for everyone, but most of all for a Pope.
Posted on March 17, 2013, in Catholicism and tagged Conservative, Conservative Catholic, conservative catholicism, Mozzetta, Pope Benedict, Pope Fra, Pope Francis. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.