Monday, January 04, 2016

Blogger on Moynihan's Comments on Francis' Jan. 1st Address: "Forgiveness (for those who seek it) "knows no limits." There is no other way." Moynihan's "One Concern."

C.S. Lewis begins his “The Abolition of Man” with the description of a text book on English for upper school boys and girls. He found the book to present the well-known story of Coleridge at the water fall. There were two tourists present: one said the waterfall was sublime, the other that it was pretty. The authors of the textbook commented: “When the man said That is sublime, he appeared to making a remark about the waterfall… Actually… he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated I my mind with the word ‘Sublime,’  or shortly I have sublime feelings’ …. This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.”[1] 

     The conclusion Lewis approaches in the book is that: if our every value judgment is about feelings that are subjective and not real, then man himself is not real and we have abolished him.  He expatiates:  “In [The Green Book], the very possibility of a sentiment being reasonable – or even unreasonable – has been excluded from the outset. It can be reasonable or unreasonable only if it conforms or fails to conform to something else. To say that the cataract is sublime means saying that our emotion of humility is appropriate or ordinate to the reality, and thus to speak of something else besides the emotion: just to say that a shoe fits is to speak not only of shoes but of feet. But this reference to something beyond the emotion is what Gaius and Titius exclude from the very sentence containing a predicate of value. Such statements, for them refer solely to the emotion. Now the emotion, thus considered by itself, cannot be either in agreement or disagreement with Reason. It is irrational not as a paralogism is irrational, but as a physical event is irrational: it does not rise even to the dignity of error. On this view, the world of facts, without one trace of value, and the world of feelings without one trace of truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, confront one another, and no rapprochement is possible.”[2]
                What we are reading here is the fix that the Enlightenment got itself into when it accepted the nominalism of Occam, enptied reality of being and turned to the Cogito of Descartes. It is also the fix we continue to be in with regard to understanding Pope Francis. The scholastic formation (not true Thomism) that has accompanied all educated Catholics in this country (and world-wide) that have tried to be faithful to the Catholic Faith has tended to render us rationalist. We confuse faith with Scripture and Truth with dogma. Hence, if we are not given a clear and distinct idea about faith, we fear to be not talking truth.
                Lewis, at the end of his essay, writes: “Is it, then, possible to imagine a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the ‘natural object’ producted by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view, and always correcting the abstraction? I hardlyknow what I am asking for. I hear rumors that Goeths’s approach to nature deserves fuller consideration – that even Dr. Steiner may have seen something that orthodox researchers have missed. The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained, it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation. The analogy between the Tao of Man and the instincts of an animal species would mean for it new light case on the unknown thing. Instinct, by the inly known reality of conscience and not a reduction of conscience to the category of Instinct. Its followers would not be fee with the words only and merely. In a word, it would conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her and buy knowledge at a lower cost than that of life.
                “Perhaps I am asking impossibilities. Perhaps, in the nature of things, analytical understanding must always be a basilisk which kills what it sees and only sees by killing. But if the scientists themselves cannot arrest this process before it reaches the common Reason and kills that too, then someone else must arrest it. What I most fear is the reply that I am ‘only one more’ obscurantist,’ that this barrier, like all precious barriers set up against the advance of science, can be safely passed.”[3] Lewis concludes: “The kind of explanation which explains this away may give us something, though at a heavy cost. But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away.  You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window would be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

                I copy the above in the light of what I will offer below:  the letter of January 1, 2016 by Robert Moynihan, editor of “Inside the Vatican” Mag. Moynihan writes the following:

Pope Francis began 2016 with a "visit to Mary" -- a visit to the heart of popular Catholic Marian piety, to an icon of Mary kept in the oldest basilica in the world dedicated to Mary, St. Mary Major.

"It was the 30th time as Pope that he has visited St. Mary Major, and this icon, since his election in March, 2013.

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis asked even those standing outside of the basilica to repeat out loud the ancient invocation to Mary: "Mary, Holy Mother of God!"

And during this Mass, he delivered an important homily.

Celebrating Mass at 5 p.m. (after celebrating Mass this morning in St. Peter's Square and giving his Angelus message and New Year's blessing at noon), Francis gave a homily which may offer insight into how he will decide some of the great questions facing him in coming months, including the much-discussed question of re-admission of divorced and remarried Catholics, after a penitential path, to the Eucharist.

"The Argentine Pope, seemingly in fidelity to a powerful mystical experience of divine forgiveness that he himself personally experienced as a youth (as he has publicly stated) on September 21, 1953, the Feast of St. Matthew, when he was 16 years old, told us today that forgiveness (for those who seek it) knows "no limits."

For this Pope, it is quite clear: "There is no other way."

Is Francis, with his calling of the two-part Synod on the Family, and with his declaring a "Jubilee Year of Mercy," indicating in these words that he wishes to "open the doors" to that "mercy" and "forgiveness" that would enable all repentant sinners to return to participate without scandal and without shame in the full life of the Church, in the life of Christ, including receiving Holy Communion?

Is that what he was saying in this homily?

Blogger: I believe that Moynihan is putting his finger directly on the point. And it is the point that anyone formed doctrinally – conceptually - in the received scholastic tradition is immensely sensitive to. He voices his “one concern:”

One Concern: What is that “One Concern?”

[“one concern, in our present cultural circumstances, is this: that a praiseworthy papal desire to assist individual men and women suffering from the personal, individual wounds of their own lives (and there are tens of millions of them) not create an opening on another front which would cause unexpected harm to men and women -- and to the truth of the faith.

“This is a concern because cultural forces inimical to the faith greatly desire to gain a victory in this particular battle, a battle which is only part of a very broad-based metaphysical war against the concepts of substantial being, personhood, the soul, personal fault, sin, guilt, repentance, and holiness of life -- the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic sacramental system... the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic faith.”


Moynihan announces that there is a philosophical base that undergirds Christian faith. And if you override that base for the sake of joy-filled forgiveness, it must be collapsed in other and all areas of Christian life, case being the irreducible difference in gender, and therefore matrimony itself, and on and on. That base is metaphysical, and it begins with “substantial being, personhood, the soul, personal fault, sin, guilt, repentance and holiness of life –concepts which underlie the entire Catholic faith.”

          Moynihan is exposing the deepest problem facing Francis: the misunderstanding of what is faith and the Christian life. And the problem is not Francis but Moynihan and the bulk of the Church formed by the scholasticism of the past 500 years. 

          First of all, faith is not a conceptual structure of the mind. It is a personal encounter, experience, and with that, a consciousness of the Person of Christ. Ratzinger clarifies that revelation only takes place where there is this personal encounter and experience. It is an act of self-gift by the believing person, and in that act of self-gift, revelation takes place.[4] One is able to proclaim: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16). The reflection on that consciousness is concept, creed as symbols of the experience and consciousness.
          Secondly, the Christian meaning of person is not “substantial being” or “individual substance of a rational nature” but Jesus Christ Himself Who is relation as the act of total self-giving to the Father. Hence, there is no clear and distinct “definition” of the human person. There can only be proper names and the description of the action of “finding self by sincere gift of self.”[5]
          Moynihan is being honest. He is exposing the deep and hidden causes of  reticence and scandal by the conservatives in the Church. And they mean to be “conservative” precisely of doctrine and tradition. And they do well to desire this. But I would say, as does Francis, that doctrine is not the point. It is the divine Person Jesus Christ. And Christ cannot be reduced to doctrine or theology or morality or Scripture.  The true ambition is to be “conservative” of Christ. But that is done by becoming Him, doing what He does, thinking the way He thinks, feeling the way He feels that can only take place by encounter and personal experience. The true "conservative" is innovative minute by minute by making the gift of self in this concrete circumstance and event in ordinary life.

          To do otherwise is to fall into two real and ancient heresies – that we are permanently ensconced in unawares: Pelagianism and Gnosticism. I take this from Francis, Nov. 10, 2015: Pelagianism (achieving the supernatural by our own natural strength): ‘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 have a precise orientation. In this it finds its strength, not in the soft breath of the Spirit. 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 nad 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.”
          “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, now 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” (Pope Francis November 10, 2015).

I conclude that C. S. Lewis would revel in the spirit of Francis and that of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, Paul VI and Vatican II. As Lewis himself said: “I hardly know what I am asking for.” He is asking for a Christian phenomenology which is Christian faith as the experience of going out self and with that coming to a consciousness of Christ because one has become (becoming) Christ. Only then does one know “Man.”

[1] Lylle W. Dorsett, “The Essential C.S. Lewis,” MacMillon (1988) 429.
[2] Ibid 436.
[3] Ibid. 458.
[4] See J. Ratzinger, “Milestones…” Ignatius (1998) 108.
[5] Gaudium et Spes #24.

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