Fiducia Supplicans Controversy? What controversy? (5)

HomeFilioque in EnglishFiducia Supplicans Controversy? What controversy? (5)

Homeward-bound in the ark of tradition (5): Controversy? What controversy?

How the last two instructions of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) creates genuine feelings of unease @PaterElias #FilioQueInEnglish 

Homeward-bound in the ark of tradition 

In ‘FilioQue in English, the catholic trademark’ Father Elias Leyds c.s.j. tries to distinguish in both written and spoken word the truth from the false, the Word that has become flesh, always in search for Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. “As a priest, a foot soldier in the Lord’s trenches, I should not comment but explain, because Clarity is the only munition of the gospel of life”.   

December 31th 2023, Oisterwijk

Inevitably, those who love the Church today watch its situation speechlessly. Is this the Church we believe to be founded and protected by the risen Son of Man Himself, to share in His victory? The confusion and divisions are great, but the most perplexing part of this ambiguity is the fact that the top, i.e. the Magisterium and the Pontificate, is neglecting it, perhaps agreeing with it, or even prompting it. Is Christ still the Head of the church?

The document Fiducia supplicans has evoked very different reactions. It has so far forced wait-and-see authorities, who have kept themselves in loyal silence, to make public statements. But even those who are not authorities are left with questions. What is permitted and what is not? What is a blessing anyway, if it is a non-ritual ritual? Does the word blessing still have any meaning?

No one has yet considered the bizarre casual assertion in the text, that God is a mother. The author hereby de facto abolishes all mysteries related to Our Blessed Lady. Indeed, motherhood in God is revealed through God’s abiding in a mother, who was chosen among creatures and may be called mother of God. God is not a mother, even of Himself, but gives a mother to His Son, so that He can receive everything from her in the Incarnation. Where in the Bible is God called ‘mother’ or addressed as ‘mother’ by the Son of Man, instead of ‘abba’, father? Even anti-Marian, but Bible-believing, Protestants will be scratching behind their ears.

Among believers who value and know tradition, there is a desperate inquiry as to whether there has ever been a similar crisis in the history of the Church. That question makes sense. In the history of controversies that have been overcome, we find examples, which are part of living tradition and relevant to us today. They testify to faith that overcomes and truth that sets free. This can strengthen our hope. However, if we go back in time, at first glance the current crisis seems to have no precedent. Never before could doubt, ambivalence and confusion be so divisive, because today they are at least allowed from higher up, and perhaps even encouraged, in order to rule.

When looking for, let us say, the somewhat less florishing pontificates, the Renaissance has much to offer. There were popes then, whose time was spent mainly on worldly matters, such as art and culture, and in the process the evangelical councils of poverty and chastity were often interpreted in surprisingly liberal ways. There have been popes who had children, who even obtained important positions in the Church. But despite conflicts of interest and questionable moral practices of popes of this era, the Magisterium has remained principled and coherent.  The simple clarity of doctrine was never compromised, and those who wanted to live off this light in order to become saints could do so.

At that time, what were the alternatives for someone who, because of the personal life of authorities, wanted to seek salvation elsewhere, with a slightly less clear or slightly different truth if necessary? It turns out that there were not that many better alternatives. Martin Luther’s correspondence testifies that his sensuality was no less than the lust of the most corrupt Roman Catholic clergy. Later in his life, the pendulum swings to the other extreme of human passion, aggression. Luther went on a furious rampage against the Jews, and his antisemitic diatribes today are unfit for an un-warned public. For Henry VIII of England, it was all a bit simpler. Lust and cruelty were directed at the same object, namely the women who first pleased him but then no longer did. In his own household, the king was master of life and death, which two of his six wives paid for with death.

It must be stressed, though, that in Protestant and Anglican communities, a deviant, yet mostly authentic, faith persisted, with good elements from the Latin Church from which they had emerged. Fortunately, we don’t have to judge a community solely from the moral life of a few leaders. Not even our own Catholic Church.  What matters is the content of the faith, the essence of truths on which we place our hope. That is precisely why the situation today is so perplexing, because that truth is being neglected by the authorities. Even in the extravagant times of the Renaissance, we find no precedents of what happens to us today, and therefore no examples of victorious holiness that can strengthen our hope.

Of course, we can go back even further in time. But personally, that would take me beyond the reach of my imagination. During the height of the Middle Ages, called Centuries of Discernment by some, living conditions were so harsh that I instinctively feel sympathy for everyone who had to live then – for believers and non-believers, for faithful and heretics, for civilised and barbarians, for rulers and subordinates. The same applies to the first millennium that preceded that time. No modern person can make a common-sense assessment of how they would have lived in those times with so many uncertainties and risks.  As I turn my attention to the doctrine of faith, I again see that it has always been clear and coherent, even if the precision of dogmatics was still developing at the time. And if there have been struggles over formulations, clearly the Spirit of Truth has always been actively and effectively present. The objective divine truth of Revelation was sought in obedience, prayer and openness.

These were the centuries of the great ecumenical councils. Even though these meetings took place around Constantinople, centre of the secular stability that protected the Church, the popes of Rome were recognised as successors of Peter and as such played a crucial or decisive role. Whatever the difficulties and human constraints, the clarity demanded was provided. We should be grateful to our ancestors in faith for that, whatever place providence gave them.

So, we do not find anything similar to the crisis we face today in either the first or the second millennium. Does this mean that our search ends in failure, and that we are completely alone today, as the first believers to experience something like this? No … because in the end, there is one single controversy similar to the current one. And it is the very first ever. It involves the issue that gave rise to the first ever council, in Jerusalem around AD 49. It is described in the New Testament, in chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles. In chapter 2 of his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul tells how an open conflict between him and St. Peter preceded the convening of that council.  A closer look reveals that this primal controversy is relevant to our situation today. It can serve as an example. And its original aspect means for us, the current controversy may mean something ultimate. Alpha and Omega touch each other.

The clash between Peter and Paul must have been impressive. These two men had opposite temperaments and an overdose of talent, which must have seemed a little too much of a good thing at times. Both had been thoroughly corrected by Christ in a customized way, before their active lives could be placed as fragrant incense offerings in the service of the Church. Peter was like a generous bouncer, direct and rough-as-guts, always ready to intervene. Paul was well-educated, subtle and more familiar with the world outside Israel, but at times quite an unpleasant person. At first glance, it seems like a personal matter between the two. However, nothing is less true. The controversy was not between Paul and Peter, but between Paul and the Christian Jews.

In substance, the controversy is a dispute over the application of the Law, between Paul the Pharisee and other Christians from a Pharisaic background. So, once they became Christians, Pharisees began to clash with each other rather than with Christ. And as evidenced by Paul’s annoyance, Peter initially had no desire to intervene and arbitrate. Peter’s attitude is understandable. He had often been knocked back and rebuffed by Jesus. Also, the memory of his denials and absenteeism during Christ’s sufferings must have inhibited his authoritarian traits considerably. Out of love for the Church, he had to be put in his place by Paul, that is, in his seat and chair, to provide the clarity the faithful needed. It was as simple as that. When the had dust settled, Peter performed his first great act of governance: he convened the Council of Jerusalem. From that moment on, clarity qualifies the Rock on which the Lord himself seated Peter.

Although the circumstances are very different today, there is an analogy. Certainly, because of Paul’s boldness and sharp tongue, we know all about Peter’s motivation for keeping silence – he was afraid and wanted to be on good terms with everybody. In contrast, we can only guess at the current pope’s motivation for leaving ambiguity. It does seem to me, though, that the ambiguity now does not stem from fear. It seems deeper. Postmodernity today is characterised by ‘deconstruction’, the ultimate decomposing loss of meaning, and this spirit has now also apparently affected the Church’s Magisterium. I hope to pay careful attention to this in a subsequent article. But first of all, we must accept, that out of love for the Church of Christ, and also out of love for Peter’s successor, we must not neglect our duty. Then we can already see, how we must persevere in our respect for the status of Peter and his institution established by Christ himself. We show this respect most clearly by questioning the Magisterium until a clear answer is given with words that have an objective meaning. And in this we must persevere even when questions are seen as criticism. That is not our problem. The prohibition of questioning is the principle of a totalitarian paradigm, not of the Kingdom of God.

It can no longer be denied that during the last ten years of this pontificate, a division of mindsets has become increasingly evident, which has little to do with the discernment of spirits. Perhaps that division already existed, but it was not visible on the surface. Especially those who want to stay far from the cult of opinions and commentaries find themselves in an awkward situation. They find themselves almost unnoticed in the middle, where they are surrounded by the supposedly moderate members of that cult. These are the exalted intellectual neutrals, mediocrities clinging to certainties and the narcissists, who see their defined middle as the hub around which the universe revolves. In other words, for those who quietly seek wisdom, the middle is not really a pleasant place to be. There, they are the odd duck. Rather than scorning, fearing or denying the extremes, they want to purify and integrate them. They are even attracted to them. After all, they seek wisdom, which gives meaning to everything, even the mysterious permissions of God. They believe that disordered unnatural extremism can be transformed into loving and adoring radicalism. This is why friends of wisdom only stay in the middle for a short time, for they are the only souls who are truly on their way to the horizon of this superficial and transient world.

As mentioned earlier, those who want to align their itinerary through this life on a trajectory parallel to the providence of the all-seeing God, must place their starting point, as well as their final destination, in eternity. Our origin is not at all immediately clear or clearly definable. It must be sought and found. In doing so, what tradition teaches helps, because tradition itself comes from God. Discovering our origins is like finding the most precious, but also smallest, pearl in a rich treasure.

We must never forget that tradition is not so much a complete system or paradigm that sustains itself and gives us security, but a treasure trove of truths that are first of all risky for us, because the world hates them. Moreover, those truths are also incomplete without our good works. They are immutable and timeless because their origin is in eternity. But they are not completed without ‘incarnation’ in us. They have been passed on to us by our ancestors, who lived and died for them. Only if we are aware of this, and accept our responsibility to let what we have received bear fruit in our own lives, can we look forward to a future that will be meaningful. Openness to celestial gifts and willingness to be accountable to God are the starting points of a path that ultimately leads us to an end that penetrates into the origin of all things. Only there will our life be a response to the Word that was ‘in the beginning’, – according to the opening words of the Gospel of John.

+ Father Elias Leyds c.s.j.

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Keywords niet opgenomen in de tag list: Blessing | Division of Mindsets | Ecumenical Councils | Henry VIII (en) | Incarnation | Kingdom of God | Motherhood | Objective Meaning | Wisdom | 


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