Friday, 27 September 2013

The phoney war in the Church: five linguistic thoughts on THAT interview

Like speed, language is also war. It's the stuff of propaganda. It's the stuff of rousing pre-battle speeches and of post-battle excuses. It's the handiwork of spies and the tool of diplomats. Yes, language is war in every possible way.

Language is like an ensign or a set of colours. Let me give you an example. When I first married my wife, I moved to South London and we attended a church which had a very fine priest. Sadly he retired shortly after I arrived in the parish and he was replaced by another priest - a withered-looking Irish man who seemed allergic to people. I saw the cut of his jib, however, right from the first Mass I attended at which he was the celebrant. Following the Offering Prayers, he said to the congregation: 'Pray, sisters and brothers ...' Afterwards I said to my wife, 'That's the signal, we know where he is coming from now.' My wife was skeptical, however, and little did either of us suspect the next chapter... Which occurred when we wanted our baby baptized. 'Oh, you don't need to rush into things,' he said. 'It's a big thing welcoming a new person into a family, so it can be organized later. We don't want to be injudicious [sic].' My wife was on the verge of tears and desperate to argue the case. I just looked at him and thought to myself that I knew half a dozen priests who would baptize our child the next day if I asked them to.

But you see, it was all in the language. I knew what clan he belonged to almost from the minute he spoke. It doesn't always work that way, but sometimes it is just very clear ...


And so we come to THAT interview. Before you go any further, reassure yourself here that I am not just a Franciscophobe. Still, I keep coming up against the argument that Pope Francis is working marvels for the image of the Church. His tangible support for the poor is extraordinary, people say, and nobody can criticize him from that. St Francis of Assisi has always been popular even with people who instinctively loathe Catholicism, so placing his papacy under that sign was, from a PR perspective, shrewder than shrewd - or, to use an old favourite, 'more cunning than a fox who has just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University.'

But since language is war, let me state some of my difficulties with the interview in terms of its language. We don't have much more to go on at the moment:

The language of mercy - for that is how it has been justified - has led to colossal misunderstandings in the last seven days. Pope Francis is loved but for all the wrong reasons: because it is thought his words open the door to the relaxation of "bedsheet dogmas" or open the sanctuary gates to the swish of women in chasubles. In other words, if he has one thing in common with Pope Benedict, it is this: he is misunderstood. But here is the difference: Benedict was misunderstood and hated while Francis is misunderstood and loved. And why? On matters of sexual ethics, Benedict told the hard truth but tempered it with kindness. Francis is all kindness and seems to assume that because he is a "son of the Church", nobody will mistake his meaning. But really, if you're the Vicar of Christ, would you rather be hated because you told the truth (albeit kindly), or loved because someone thought you were changing the truth? And while we're on the topic of telling people they are loved rather than telling them off, the biggest popular devotion in France in the 19th century was that of the Sacred Heart - an iconic expression of God's love for every individual - and the Republicans still loathed and persecuted the Church! Sometime, you just cannot win.

The language of latitude. We have to put an end to the growing false memory of Benedict which even the language of Francis is contributing too. Pope Francis has spoken about "small-minded rules". I would love to ask him what rules he is thinking about. The Church purged itself of a shed-load of small-minded rules after the Council. Recently, Catholicism has been characterized not by small-minded rules, but by a minimalist approach to the law. Legalism has been out for decades.

Likewise, Francis's concerns over what we might call "campaign doctrines" (abortion, etc) is perturbing. When he says that the Church's pastoral ministry cannot just be "obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines" (just after mentioning gay marriage and abortion), it is as if he is blaming the world's inability to understand the Church on those who have given their lives to fight the genocide of the unborn or defend Christian marriage. His language aims of course at toning down dogmatism; yet, its moralistic expression ("the Church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed") implies that the Church has gone about banging on about abortion like some revivalist temperance preacher. If you find any priest thumping a pulpit over abortion or over any sexual sin, do let us know. In fighting with this caricature as if it's true, Pope Francis does nothing other than flatter those who have carefully crafted such an image out of half lies and distortions.

The language of omission - this is a tricky one since no interview is exhaustive. Still, it is always interesting to see how key questions are characterized by those who speak. On the Extraordinary Form - which, in another linguistic coup, is now being called the Vetus Ordo (because it is no longer deemed extraordinary, just old) - the pope says, "I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity." But, that is only half the story. Anyone who reads Summorum Pontificum will find that is it not only a matter of traditionalist sensibilities. Rather, it is a question of preserving the heritage of the Church. Rather, it is a matter of influencing the Ordinary Form (in a reciprocal relationship theoretically). Like all the language issues I have pointed out, this crucial omission is deeply connotative. If the Extraordinary Form is about sensibilities (as Francis says here), then it is simply a sideshow for traditionalist nostalgia. If it's a heritage for the entire Church (as Benedict wrote), then it cannot be swept under the carpet. So what does Francis think exactly?

And by the way, was there in the interview any mention of cracking together the heads of those responsible for covering up abuse or for slowing down its expurgation? While we are on the topic of omissions, why did he have nothing to say about that - a subject on which the Church's leaders have tended to be silent...? Why mention devolving the CDF's doctrinal work but pass over the biggest scandal of recent times? It's not as if, in not mentioning it, he can keep it out of the headlines...

The fig leaf of orthodoxy
- there are various points in the interview where he seems to be sailing close to the wind on a matter of doctrine. Take, for example, the question of the infallibility of the believing Church. He correctly uses the expression infallibilitas in credendo (found in theology manuals of the 1950s, mind you). The passage is worth quoting in full:

[All] the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.

But then comes the fig leaf of orthodoxy: “And, of course, we must be very careful not to think that this infallibilitas of all the faithful I am talking about in the light of Vatican II is a form of populism."

Okay, so in terms of pure orthodoxy, he is covered, but look at the rhetoric here: the warning about populism takes a sentence while the exposition of infallibilitas in credendo takes four. In an age of dogmatic decadence in which this populism has not been a minor issue but a major one, - an age in which vast numbers of Catholics have lost the link between right belief and love of God - his emphasis is on the dialogue between the believing and the teaching Church. This is a bit like vaunting the benefits of jogging to a man in a wheelchair. Here, I confess I come close to throwing teddy out of the cot. Thinking with the non-hierarchical Church (as Pope Francis describes it) is no more than a matter of counsel, since I need not share the theology of any one school; thinking with the hierarchical Church, on the other hand, is a matter of precept. Reading Francis, you would think these two are of equal importance. But counsel is not precept and precept is not counsel. The confusion of the two is hugely dangerous. Moreover, what after all if most Catholics think there is nothing wrong with contraception...? Is that infallible? Tina Beattie has already suggested the possibility of such a change in doctrine about contraception because of the faithful's infallibility ... Pope Francis, however, cannot pretend - though he makes an attempt - that there is no friction in this relationship between the teaching and the learning Church.

The language of dynamic(s)
. Finally, the last linguistic hallmark that I find in THAT interview is the language of "dynamic(s)". The word is used at least four times. Vatican II was a new "dynamic" of reading the Gospel; reform requires "new historical dynamics"; God enters the "dynamic" of human relationships; the Synod of Bishops is not "dynamic". Look for the buzz words. "Dynamic" comes from the Greek for power(ful) but I would claim that its rhetorical value in contemporary discourse is "irresistible force". By way of contrast, the word "tradition" appears once in the interview and only then in relation to the Orthodox who have a tradition of synodality (lucky them!). Benedict's buzz word was that good, old-fashioned German warhorse "authentic". Francis's, I hypothesize, will be "dynamic".

So, why does this disquiet me? Because, paradoxically, it denotes a language of power, rather than authority. Francis has behaved autocratically since he came to power, although his excuse has been that it is more humble to cast off the detritus of papal ceremony and convention. Yet, this dynamism seems never aimed as conservation but always at change. In this interview he says he wants to let local bishops' conferences have more responsibility for policing doctrine (oh, how dynamic!) because

"When [the dicasteries of the Roman Curia] are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship

The line is worth quoting ... because, frankly, of its internal, manipulative dynamics! On the one hand, we are not sure whether he means the CDF has been guilty of censorship. On the other hand, we know bloody well that that is exactly what he means! And meanwhile, he evinces amazement at the flood of denunciations coming to Rome as if they have not resulted from the doctrinal decadence at large in many parts of the Church. Incidentally, note that this covert dismissal of the work of the CDF (in all but name) is also an implicit criticism of how the Church's doctrine has been policed for the last few decades. And we all know who has been responsible for that...!


In war, truth is not the first victim. Charity is. I confess it here, dear readers: I'm struggling to be charitable about our pope, and you must pray for me! He has done nothing yet - like our priest in South London. But already I hear the rhetoric and I sit very uncomfortably in my seat. No - more than that - this interview has wounded me more than almost anything Benedict ever said or did (and Assisi III was a low point).

I applaud Pope Francis's talk of mercy. But I don't see why it must require such underhand and unwitting blows at souls who have been generous and courageous in defence of the unborn or in defence of orthodoxy. Would he ever have spoken in a way that condemned crusaders against poverty? And, worse than all, when I see the glee of those against whom defenders of the unborn and defenders of orthodoxy have struggled for so long - their joy at having a pope who so tickles their liberal fantasies - I wonder what spirit is abroad. When Francis says that in a field hospital you must treat wounds before treating blood sugar levels, I'm minded to remind him that people die of diabetes every day.

We are in the period of the phoney war, dear readers. As yet, we have more talk than action.

But I hope and pray. I hope and pray on my knees that we will not see the initiation of Francis's 'new historical dynamics'. Truly, I dread to think what they could be.


Dick said...

This article say's what many of us have been thinking, but are unable to verbalize. I am completely prepared for being very disappointed by the now bishop of Rome, who seems to ignore he is the Vicar of Christ.

Jonathan Cariveau said...

Ches, bravo, really. This is one of the most level-headed and charitable yet also sufficiently blunt articles I've yet seen on Pope Francis and the Interview I've seen. You've managed to state perfectly all the jumbled, disorganized thoughts that I've had during this pontificate and especially since the Interview, thoughts which I was only partially successful at distilling and analyzing. Congratulations, because where I have ranted several times since the Interview, you have taken a measured and calm approach to the serious problems with the Interview; what's more, not only do you address the theological difficulties (such as concerning the Vetus/Novus Ordo, and the false dichotomy between Corporal/Spiritual Works of Mercy) but also the stomach-turning feeling of wondering what the import of this unfortunately familiar rhetoric will finally be when the pontificate of Francis draws to a close.

Jonathan Cariveau said...

Addendum: Sorry for the atrocious grammar of that first second sentence, shows I didn't proofread ;)

Lisa Marie said...

This says it all so very clearly. Thank you. I am going to go and get some sackcloth and ashes now because these kinds of things can only be cast out by prayer and fasting. I saw clips of the interview while I was at work and I felt the same as you, sick. Paul VI was right when he talked about the smoke of Satan entering the Church. Benedict was keeping the demons at bay, but now the flood gates are being opened once more. Mary, mother of the Church pray for us!

Liam Ronan said...

Many thanks for your analysis which was both insightful, supremely charitable, and laid bare the angst of many.
I have a gnawing (and I hope baseless) worry that we are going to experience a great 'loosening' from the one who exercises the power to bind and loose, i.e. the discipline of celibacy; the Orthodox concept of 'ekonomia' applied to second marriages, etc.
I pray for the Pope daily as should we all.

Ches said...

Thanks for your comments, one and all. Let us pray for each other, and of course for the Holy Father.

Unknown said...

Thank you. The Interview left me so demoralized and just plain sad. I have been " in the trenches" for 42 years and it felt like a sucker punch. Thank you again.

Ron Van Wegen said...

I feel as if a great burden has been placed upon my back - on top of the great burden that has already been placed there by the scandals and the utter depravity of the slaughter of the innocents and the filth of homosexual acts I now have to confront every day. I've been trying to spin it with prayer and hope but I know in my heart that something is wrong. I'm really trying to work with him but I could just cry. Instead of a fish I feel like I've been handed a stone.

Lynda said...

Thank you. However, I don't think your points have been limited to language use and the conclusions that may reasonably be drawn from same, but range further into the substantive, the content objectively communicated by the ordinary meaning of the words, phrases, sentences, groups of related sentences, etc. I think, a useful way of looking at what was said, and textually edited by, the Pope in his interview, is to look at it in isolation and separate it from the speaker, and assess how it agrees or does not agree with objective truth as revealed by right reason, and the Deposit of the Faith. That way, one can avoid using extraneous information to rely on in an assessment of the interview, which as a serious, comprehensive, lengthy, and interviewee-finalised text should be capable of being examined on a stand-alone basis. It is telling, I think, that most published commentaries have relied heavily on extraneous information, in order to come to conclusions about what was said, or was not said within the four corners of the interview. Can we not take such an interview at face value? It was reviewed and amended by the Pope before publication and there has been no subsequent retraction, amendment or refutation of the published text.

Nutella urgente said...

Re what you say about "fig leave of orthodoxy" (so true!), would you say that a fault of Francis' reasoning is apriorism?

Ches said...

Unknown - hang on in there. 'The Lord is my shepherd.'

Ron - don't eat the stone! I comfort myself with this thought: unless the pope is issuing solemnly binding teaching, you simply don't even need to bother reading what Francis says. Oh, how the papolators will howl! But, really, you don't. Cheer up!

Lynda - you're right of course that my arguments are not just pure linguistics, but apart from that being tiresome, 'Five linguistic and substantive points about THAT interview' just didn't sound like a snappy title! Besides which, this is just an interview. I would never do what I have done here with a papal document.

Nutella - I'm not quite sure how you understand apriorism. But take the issue of the devolution of the CDF's powers. That ignores the real situation on the ground, takes offence at the rate of denunciations coming to Rome, and declares the solution to be subsidiarity. For me, that comes close to recklessness.

Unknown said...

Thank you very much for this observation and verbalization of the fall out from the Ecclesiastical earthquake which recently shook the Catholic world. Clergy and laity alike were reeling in their shoes. Taking Pope Francis's words at their face value - as the worldly media is wont to do - yet trying to remain forgiving and charitable, thousands of faithful Catholics were grievously offended. After years in the battle field, mostly without their Generals (bishops) the defenders of the preborn, normal marriage, and even the faith itself, felt abandoned by their Papa in Rome. Please God there will be no aftershocks. We cannot feel cast aside by, of all people, Christ's Vicar on earth.

o said...

Chill dude - how's that for language?

As a "sidewalk counselor", I suggest you think about these women coming toward you....

They are Matthew, and you are Peter. The Pope is trying to tell you what Jesus told Matthew and Peter. Matthew doesn't have a clue about God's love or mercy, so it's all on himself to deflect his guilt and find his own satisfaction with his empty self. Pardon my grammar, but for brevity and three people involved here, I have to use poor grammar.

The woman approaching you distraught or mad as heck with you doesn't listen to facts about gestation really, she feels like junk and is looking to please her self, resolve her "bad" situation as best she can figure.

God doesn't make junk - that's what she needs to know - her or the baby - and whatever bad things she's done, God not only loves her but is eager to forgive her for her sorrow-filled heart in "trade", and God will help her through it because YOU are here and will visit her.

"Abortion is child murder" is true and it wont convince her of anything but anger toward you for "further" dumping on her like the man just "did".

"Don't be so obsessed with abortion...." means you have to bring Christ to her heart first, love to her, Christ's merciful love. Then later you can start the beautiful reasons for the rules in the first place, and then the "rules". Don't put the cart before the horse if you want to convert people.

Trust in God - it she walks on, Trust God and stay out there and pray. She has free will and you both have Jesus - call Him.

Francis said it - go out and create a mess, accidents are better than being rigid and doing nothing....bloggers and spokespeople will clean it all up.

Don't lose Hope: Do your job, son.

mortimer zilch said...

Please allow me to comment on your very important article. I can't help thinking of prophetic efforts in the past to correct errant practices of Popes, i.e. Catherine of Siena for one. You verge toward that. Which is not bad, but one must be careful. The Pope has a charism in teaching - and I am not strictly speaking of infallibility or inerrantness - but wisdom. And I have always been wrong, in hindsight, when I took issue with the Pope and crossed swords so to speak. So like Elihu counseled Job it is better to be silent and listen. Having said that...I MUST raise the curtain that lies behind your words....Fear of an anti-Christ Pope at the end times. What if Pope Francis makes a NEW dogmatic pronouncement: Mary as Mediatrix or Co-Redemtrix? That will surely elevate the role of women in the Church!! How will such a formal statement be received by the "sensus fide" of the Church at-large? Then, what will we say we have on our hands as Pope at these late days?

Lynda said...

I quite approve of what you did! And, my point on the interview is that it ought to speak for itself, be capable of a fair analysis without looking at chosen extraneous things - which, unfortunately most trying to defend what was said, appear to have needed to do. Not good. And not intellectually honest. And yes, all orthodox Catholics are dismayed, whether they admit it or not. People doing prolife work can expect more attacks of a more virulent and sustained kind from those without and those "within" the Church. I have been active in prolife fight to defend the right to life for over 30 years. Michael Archangel, defend us.

Ches said...

Believe me, o, I believe in mercy and am in need of much of it.

Ches said...

Mortimer, if I thought it was just me, I would shut up. But it's not. I lot of people are hurt and confused by Pope Francis. He has demoralized souls.

Ches said...

Bless you, Lynda. Let's pray to St Michael, as you suggest.

Ches said...

A comment from my Chicagoan friend Nick:

Dear Sensible-

Thank you for your thoughts which have placed some order to my reactions to THAT interview.

I especially like the introduction tying into your missive on ‘speed.’ I can’t help but think about the timing of THAT interview. It came soon after the Pope called for the vigil of prayer and fasting. The Media painted the picture of the Pope as a nice old bachelor who doesn’t like wars. Not a bad neighbor, but I wouldn’t let my children play around him.

But I believe that event, through Mamma, Salus Populi Romani, stopped the eminent war that was hours away from being waged on Syria. I’m sure the big boys who call the shots are none too happy.

As you responded in the comments, the Pope is not issuing any binding, solemn teaching. This is an ‘interview.’ It may as well have been given on a Late Night TV Talk Show.

Whether the Media is good guys or bad, viewing things through it seems to change the mechanics of the Papacy. They went from Bulls, to encyclicals (letter writing campaigns?) to newspaper interviews and now tweeting. The popes now seem to compete for everyman’s attention for headlines with pop stars and politicians. Bono thinks people should be nicer! Singer’s wardrobe malfunctions! Chicago politician convicted of corruption! Obama receives another Peace Prize!

We even get a sentence or two from the Pope’s daily homilies. It’s as if Delphi got up and running again. What a burden that must be! I can’t imagine the stuff we would have gotten if this happened during the reign of Leo II, or Benedict IX or even early John Paul II.

We modern mass of humanity are to consume Media blurbs and react. Everyman is to evaluate and opine. Maybe I ‘should’ be demoralized but I won’t play the Media’s game.

But, I think I already did.

Not Demoralized in Chicago,

Nick Chapello.

Watcher said...

Were the pre-conciliar popes as hard to understand as the post-conciliar ones?

TimSpalding said...

As you say, language is revealing. The Pope has not said anything unorthodox yet. Neither have you, I suppose. But you're both dog whistling.

What do I hear? Well, I hear the Pope speaking of Jesus Christ, over and over. You mention our Lord only once, and--tellingly--in a papal title, the "Vicar of Christ." Instead of Christ, you give us Benedict (8 times). Instead of love, at least used positively, you give us war (7 times). Your commentators hear the whistles and make their own--"trenches," "punches," "the filth of homosexual acts, etc. Are you really whistling the right things?

I think it would be interesting if traditionalists like yourself took up his invitation, and put the proclamation of Jesus Christ's saving love first. Like the church's liberal wing, you have your other views. More power to you. But they are secondary to the message of God's saving love. And as for all the war talk, it "sails close" to being un-Christian. And--let's face it--you were losing the "war" long before you decided to turn your guns on the Pope.

gtaylor said...

Thank you for saying what many ( including me) are left thinking.
Can anyone tell me if the pope has a health reason for not genuflecting after the consecration. I have seen him kneeling in prayer recently and his behaviour during Mass concerns me as to his belief in who he is in the presence of when he does these bows. It is all very frightening.

Ches said...

It looks like you’re comparing apples and oranges here. I was talking about Pope Francis; I wasn’t explaining my beliefs except indirectly. That’s why his name is mentioned eighteen times – and not, incidentally, because it’s a buzz word.
Anyway, if people feel beleaguered by what Pope Francis has said, I’m not surprised. I’m not shaping their experiences; I’m simply giving them a voice. This interview has caused confusion among some people. Should we just pretend their confusion is an affectation, for fear of raining on the Francis parade? I’m not quite sure what other views you think I have or what war I am supposed to be losing. I align myself with no group and go to different churches with very different liturgical cultures according to my duties.
As for the language of war, I speak as I find around me. St Paul tells us to don spiritual armour, and Christ tells us he came to bring fire and the sword. I wonder if they sound too martial to your ears.

Ches said...

gtaylor, I have no doubt that a man who spends an hour with the Blessed Sacrament every day believes in it.

TimSpalding said...

"As for the language of war, I speak as I find around me. St Paul tells us to don spiritual armour, and Christ tells us he came to bring fire and the sword. I wonder if they sound too martial to your ears."

You write that talk of "mercy" can lead to misunderstandings. I would urge you to consider that the language of war is similarly problemmatic. And whereas mercy is at the very heart of the Gospel, war is not--except, perhaps, in the negative, in all the talk of peace. I think you see the fruits in your comments section--which is chock-a-block with paranoia and hatefulness. You are responsible for giving them a fig leaf of rational argument.

Your language is more clever, perhaps, but no less terrible. I particularly note the comparison between Francis' "liberal" talk-without-action and the Phoney War. It's not often you meet a professed Catholic willing to compares the Pope to the Nazis, or at least the Nazi war machine.

Honestly, isn't that dreadful?

Ches said...

Tim Spalding, if my aim was to encourage war, as Francis has been encouraging mercy, you would have a point. But it isn’t. I’m not advocating war; the war is upon us. Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just describing it.

As for the phoney war, the scholastics used to say that every comparison limps except in the point of comparison. My point? We haven’t seen the chaos yet. We’ve only had the chitchat.

I am struggling to find any comment here that could be described as hate filled. As for paranoia, if you are interested in healing wounds like Francis, you could start by showing understanding, rather than using the label of paranoia to beat your interlocutors.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Not by any means to promote myself vainly, but simply to garner more insight from my brethren, I would direct you to my own initial response to "the interview".

Feedack appreciated!

TimSpalding said...

All this "war" talk leads in two directions. Either

(1) You're serious and there's a war going on between you and your ilk and the Pope, then the Pope isn't just someone you disagree with, he's your enemy.

I can't see how that isn't ending in schism. Good grief, most churches actually in schism with Rome, don't see things in terms of war and enemies. That sort of talk is restricted to the extreme Russian Orthodox, some retrograde Baptists… and some in the SSPX, whose "milieu" you claim to have left.

2. You're not serious, and all this "war" talk is just silly histrionics—a hyped-up way of talking about what others would call mere disagreement.

Do you accept these two options? Which do you pick?

Ches said...

Tim, if you don't get metaphor or analogy, I really cannot help you. But thank you for insisting on trying to reduce my position to schism or histrionics. It only better illustrates my suspicion that many of those who talk about love and mercy one day turn to passive aggression the next. In my original post, I talked about struggling with all this. Now, you are trying to box me into a corner with false deductions and hyperbole. Nice one, mate. A model of understanding and mercy!

gtaylor said...

I am not saying the pope does not believe he is in the presence of the creator of the universe at the consecration, I am asking if he has a medical condition which prevents him from genuflecting. If not is this the pope giving us non verbal "teaching" - that we ( catholic peasants) should bow as we enter the presence of Almighty God or bow? Just asking.

Ches said...

He's a seventy-six year old man with only one lung. Chances are he can't genuflect in a dignified manner, but other than that, I really don't know.

Ches said...

He's a seventy-six year old man with only one lung. Chances are he can't genuflect in a dignified manner, but other than that, I really don't know.