Strange Theology At Assisi III
Rorate Caeli has the integral text of Pope Benedict’s intervention at Assisi.
I see in his words a clear example of what I lamented in another post: the attempt to remain orthodox whilst at the same time not saying the things that hurt. I also see an unfortunate reprise of one of JP II’s clearly noticeable traits: to express Catholic truths in a way that non-Catholics can easily interpret in their own way.
Let me examine the parts I find problematic:
Unfortunately, we cannot say that freedom and peace have characterized the situation ever since.
This, and other references, show a rather secular perspective of war and peace. It is as if peace would be the state we are supposed to be in, but we continue to be in a state of more or less spread war. An atheist will not see in this any reference to the fact that, this being a fallen world, there will always be war. But the Pope says this, too! He says that “violence as such is potentially ever-present and it is a characteristic feature of our world”, basically expressing the same concept, but accurately avoiding any Catholic explanation of it and giving rather an anthropological description of the phenomenon of violence. The secular reader will be perfectly free to interpret his words in a secular way: men tend at time to be violent, but a war-free world is possible through human effort. The pacifists’ god, Peace, is not attacked in any conceivable way.
In a way that is more subtle but no less cruel, we also see religion as the cause of violence when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others. The religious delegates who were assembled in Assisi in 1986 wanted to say, and we now repeat it emphatically and firmly: this is not the true nature of religion.
Here, the Pope seems to throw to the pacifist dog an even bigger bone: violence to defend your religion against another is wrong, and this we have already oh so beautifully said in Assisi (where I did not want to go, btw). Besides the obvious considerations about, say, the Crusades and Lepanto this seems a condemnation of even purely defensive violence like the resistance during the siege of Vienna. I do not doubt that many who were gathered in Assisi in 1986 would have given Vienna to the Ottoman for love of peace, but the point is that this is pacifism, not sound Catholic theology. Note, though, that what he is says is, literally taken, merely that violence is not the true nature of religion. Well no of course it isn’t, but is this truism really the whole point?
Of course,, one can construct the Holy Father’s speech in such a way as to link this kind of violence only to the unmotivated, unjustified violence he was talking about. But once again, the choice of words is such that everyone can feel pleased, and frankly you would need a person well-instructed in Catholic teaching, and possibly re-reading the text in search of the veiled references to Catholic theology, to get the orthodox interpretation. All the others will hear exactly what they wanted to hear, and be mightily pleased with their own opinions as a result.
As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame
More of the same. The Holy Father here is certainly not talking about, say, the Crusades, but of the massacres made in the name of God in all ages. It stands to reason, though, that every Muslim and many others who were present have read this in exactly the wrong way. I do not doubt that everyone was pleased.
But where is God? Do we know him, and can we show him anew to humanity, in order to build true peace? Let us first briefly summarize our considerations thus far. I said that there is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace.
Two rather rhetorical questions are posed here. Yes, of course we know that there is God. We can have absolute, rationale certainty of that. God has given us the way, if we collaborate with him, to reach this rational certainty. And yes, we can and must show God to the world, to the atheists and to the pagans, to bring His truth to the world. None of the questions is answered in the Catholic way, and even an atheist might subscribe to the concept expressed by the Pope in the following phrases: that faith in God can be an instrument for good. The Pope doesn’t say that God certainly exists and that He is the certain and inescapable answer, nor that it is a duty of every person to do his work and accept Christ’s message and the Church’s teaching; he says that some people believe in God and some of them put their faith to good use. Am I the only one missing the missionary message here? Am I the only one thinking that a reminder to conversion, made in the opportune way still clearly formulated, should be the first message of every address to non-Christians and non believers?
In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: “There is no God”. They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”.
I found this positively disturbing, and another huge bone thrown, this time, to the agnostics present. Agnostics to whom it is told how good they are – provided they are, in some way, “seeking” – rather than how necessary to their salvation faith is. I saw no trace here of the concept that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The way of Jesus can be doubted, his Truth not accepted, the Life given through Him set aside like a piece of cake which might, or might not, have gone off; but hey, one is a “seeker of truth” and, in an even more daring automatism, “seeker of peace” and then he becomes a kind of positive force. I also read no warning as to the fact that only through Jesus salvation can be obtained, rather an agnostic can think that, if he proves to be totally wrong at death, his being “seeker of truth” and (why?) of “peace” will be more than enough to get, so to speak, past the bouncer.
Also, when the Pope speaks of those to whom the gift of faith is not given, he does not mention that faith as a theological virtue – rather than the mystical faith he is rather referring to – requires submission of intellect, serious work and intellectual acceptance of Revealed Truth and that this effort and acceptance are a duty, not an option. He also omits to say that men have the duty to pray that they may obtain faith, rather than putting their own values regarding, say, the righteousness of their own “seeking” above the Truths taught by the Church. The Holy Father is not converting them, he is pleasing and appeasing them, finding strange merits in their behaviour that have never been part of Catholic teaching in the following passage:
“but they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others”.
What? Since when did we need agnostics not to become unjustifiably violent Christians? Since when has the agnostic become a healing element of Christian society? This expression logically means that a world with Christians and agnostics is a better world than one where everyone is a Christian, because in the latter we would miss the positive elements of the agnostics not challenging etc.
Once again, I am in no doubt that a trained theologian will find some way in which the words of the Holy Father can be proved to be, in some unexpected way, bent to adherence to Catholic theology. But this is not the point. Christians aren’t trained theologians, and pagans are it even less. As a Catholic, one has a justified expectation to hear from a Pope clear Catholic teaching explained without fear and without ambiguities meant to please – or at least not anger – the crowd of the day.
Compare Pope Benedict’s words with the recently published excerpts from “Mortalium Animos“, and you’ll get a better idea of what I mean. There is, in the entire document, not a single word which would expose itself to misinterpretation, and no strange theology praising agnostics for their “research” whilst they refuse to accept Christ. If you refuse to accept truth you are not a pilgrim of truth, full stop.
It seems to me that Assisi III had all the construction faults of Assisi I, thought in a much smaller format.