In the Nov. 10th address to the Fifth National [Italian] Ecclesial Congress, dedicated this year to the theme “In Jesus Christ, the new humanism," Pope Francis made two points explaining how we fail to live the following statement:
“Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts and uncertainties, but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage. Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.”
Francis speaks of two temptations:
1) seeking security for the self. We do not want to risk not being in control. Reducing knowledge to conceptual rationalism appears as rational orthodoxy as be all and end all. The liberal-conservative split exists because we have reduced reality (Christ) to a conceptual horizon where we are secure. I am orthodox; you are not.
The pope says it this way: “The first is that of Pelagianism, which leads the Church not to be humble, selfless and blessed. … Often it leads us even to assuming a style of control, of hardness, normativity. Rules give to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. In this it finds its strength, not in the soft breath of the Spirit.”
2) The test of the concepts is logic, not experiential “seeing.” The way we know reality (Christ) is always and ultimately by doing what He does. Only becoming gift for others gives us an experiential knowledge of the Person of Christ such that we can say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16).
Benedict XVI tried to get this across using the wrong horizon: theological concepts and was overwhelmed as a result of building on sand pace his knowing it. Deeper holiness was needed. Francis said:
“A second temptation is the gnosticism that leads us to place our trust in logical and clear reasoning that, however, loses the tenderness of our brother's flesh. … The difference between Christian transcendence and any other form of gnostic spiritualism resides in the mystery of the Incarnation. Not putting into practice, not leading the Word to reality, means building on sand, remaining in the pure idea and degenerating into intimisms that do not bear fruit, that render its dynamism sterile”.
All of the above was clear to Benedict XVI. The problem was how to get it across by living it. Francis is doing this now - and suffering incomprehension from both sides.
Ross Douthat's Erasmas lecture on October 26th is a perfect example of not understanding the correct epistemological horizon