April 10, 2016

The Pope Contains Multitudes

Interesting to see the wide divergence of opinion on the Holy Father's letter on marriage. Francis contains multitudes. When St. Paul wrote of the need to be all things for all people, Francis took him up on it and decided this document needed be all things to all people. 

The lack of clarity is not surprising since it's the only "easy" way to grant latitude when hemmed in by thousands of years of church teaching and the words of Christ himself. 

Instead of labeling church types by “liberal” and “conservative”, perhaps it's more accurate to say those lobbying for clarity and those for ambiguity. A “lobbying for ambiguity” seems strange, except inasmuch as it could reflect reality. If the reality of the situation is that people are complex and sin is complex (with mitigating factors), then clarity is a kind of unreality. Perhaps it's jesuitical, but where the rubber meets the road is at the point of subjective sin. It seems unlikely that someone will be punished for objectively sinful behavior that they don't know is objectively sinful. 

[Update: A less tendentious description of clarity/ambiguity is simplicity/complexity.]

The time-honored way of granting latitude is by going the individual conscience as much sway as possible. The problem with that is that it has always been an unreliable indicator. I think of Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, who apparently followed his conscience. And we see how that worked out.

The Pope has a helluva difficult job. He at once is to encourage and admonish (1 Thes 5:12), two things that for modernity seem contradictory. 

Squaring the two things seems possible only when one sees admonishment as encouragement and that can only happen if one sees the human as of an intrinsic worth and that God is not imposing laws and values external to us, to our nature, or out of a lack of love for us in our present condition. From Elizabeth Scalia: 

“To explain to human people that we are literally formed by God in a way by which he may reveal himself to us at our depths — that’s fundamental to helping us understand our worth to God. It is the first way we teach anyone the truth that, they really are acceptable to God; they have intrinsic worth.”

Another interesting quote: 

“Rather than settling a contentious issue Francis has chosen, if not to throw it open, then at least to ease it gingerly ajar. And perhaps that is precisely where the document marks a turning point. In the past, popes have intervened with authoritative documents to settle issues causing division or confusion within the Church.” - Fr. Mark Drew


Tom said...

"Clarity" and "ambiguity" are somewhat loaded terms, at least for those who haven't wholly rejected the Western tradition. I'd go with "simplicity" and "complexity," as more reflective of both the objective nature of the subject and the subjective treatment the writer gives it.

TS said...

Yes that's makes more sense. Thanks Tom.