Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell

10/2/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The entire genre of this sort of communication and the informality of the process lead to imprecise, often vague, even unfortunate expressions. It lends itself to controversy, and controversy is unsettling.

It seems that in dealing with this new genre of Papal communications, since it does not appear that it will go away, we will have work on a hermeneutic, a theory of interpretation, that allows us to understand the Papal media interviews and avoid an apoplexy of faith each time these are released. 

Pope Francis's most recent interview with Eugenio Scalfari was published by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica

Pope Francis's most recent interview with Eugenio Scalfari was published by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

10/2/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Pope Francis, interviews, hermeneutic, dialogue, atheism, Papal interviews, Andrew M. Greenwell


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - It is said that the editor of the Dublin Review, William George Ward (1812-82), the advocate of papal infallibility and chatterer if there ever was one, used to say, "I should like a new Papal Bull every morning with my Times at breakfast.

Well, with Pope Francis's penchant for giving interviews to the secular and religious press, it looks like Ward's wish might be coming true.  Pope Francis's most recent interview with Eugenio Scalfari was published by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, in Italian and in English translation.  This follows on the heels of the one given to the editor of La Civiltŕ Cattolica Antonio Spadaro, S.J., and published in English in the review America, and the interview before that on the plane trip back from World Youth Day in Brazil.

The press interviews appears to become a trend Ward perhaps would have welcomed. Well . . . except for two things. 

First, Pope Francis's interviews do not have anything close to the dignity and solemnity of Papal Bulls, and are hardly prepared with the same care. It should go without saying that Pope Francis's interviews hardly have the doctrinal significance or the import that, say, Pope Leo X's bull Exsurge Domine (which fulminated against Martin Luther) had. 

Which leads to the second thing.  The entire genre of this sort of communication and the informality of the process lead to imprecise, often vague, even unfortunate expressions.  It lends itself to controversy, and controversy is unsettling.

To be sure, there are advantages to this medium of communication.  Both the church and the world reads and discusses (even if unfairly) the Pope's interviews in a way that no Encyclical is read and discussed. 

Second, the interviews are informal, seemingly unguarded, and therefore give us an insight into the personality and thoughts (and perhaps future action) of the Pope which, in the past, was not available to us in the same manner.

So as a means of communication to the masses, despite its strengths and limitations and advantages and disadvantages, and irrespective of the controversy they invariably raise, these interviews appear to be a vehicle Pope Francis seems intent on using.

We may as well get used to it.

To get used to it, we will have to develop and polish up some rules of interpretation, a hermeneutic, if you will, of papal interviews.

The first and easiest issue is that we will have to deal with the question of bad or hurried translations from the Italian of the Pope to the English of the reader.  An example of this in the Scalfari interview is the statement "The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood."  No Catholic would say such a thing--that God the Son becomes "incarnate in the souls of men."  And that is not what the Italian says.  It reads: Il Figlio di Dio si č incarnato per infondere nell'anima degli uomini il sentimento della fratellanza.  Literally it says, "The Son of God became incarnate to inspire in men the sentiment of brotherhood."

We will have to get used to terms of art and recognize them.  For example, "Proselytism is solemn nonsense."  Someone unfamiliar with the manner in which Pope Francis uses the term "proselytism" may confuse "proselytism" with evangelization.  They are not the same thing.

Proselytism is the use of unjust, unfair, undignified, or manipulative methods to induce people to accept a belief and join an organization.  Evangelization, on the other hand, is the proclamation of the Gospel coupled with concern that the act of faith in Jesus and His Church be free.  The Pope has not called Evangelization nonsense. 

We will have to get used to sloppy or imprecise language whose consequences are not fully thought out, and simply learn to live with it.  We will have to understand these assuming the Pope to be speaking in good faith.  For example, the Pope states:  "Each of us has a vision of good and evil.  We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good." 

If someone--say a rapist--has a vision of good that includes raping women, surely Pope Francis is not advocating that the Church ought to be encouraging the rapist to move towards what he thinks is good.  Interpreted in good faith, I think Pope Francis means the Church ought to encourage men to look for the "Good" beyond any particular chosen good, which, in an objective sense, may be only an apparent or false good.  But if he means that, he did not say it in so many words.  We have to add nuance where it was left off.

We shall have to get used to inaccurate, perhaps even imprudent language, even statements materially proximate to heresy.  The Pope is not promised infallibility when giving interviews.  Remember, for example, that Pope John XXII privately believed and privately taught material heresy, namely, that the souls of the departed did not enjoy the beatific vision until the final judgment.  It has happened in the past, and, given this new genre, is likely to happen, and happen publicly.

As an example, the Pope in the Scalfari interview says that "St. Paul is the one who laid down the cornerstones of our religion and our creed." 

What?  St. Paul who preached only "Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), who called Jesus Christ "the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20), who wrote that no man can lay another foundation other than the one laid by God, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11)? 

This is an unfortunate statement.  First, it contradicts Scripture and contradicts the Church's dogmatic teaching: "Christ Jesus Himself being the supreme cornerstone" of our Faith (Lumen Gentium, No. 19).  Second, it plays into the heretical notion that Christianity is nothing but Paulinism, and that the Jesus of History is different from the Christ of Faith, the latter being an invention of St. Paul.

We shall have to get used to mistakes in judgment.  For example:  Pope Francis tells Scalfari that the "most serious," the "most urgent and most dramatic" of "the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old."  No one doubts that these are social or civil evils, even significant ones.  But, given the collapse of the Faith in Europe, the martyrdom of Christians around the globe, the militancy of Islam, the flaunting the Gospel of Life, can it really be said that these evils are the most serious

Then we will have to resist the temptation to infer from silence.  Because the interview genre is limited and uncontrolled, there will be things that the Pope does not say that can be construed as tacit acceptance of its opposite. 

For example, Scalfari says that the Pope told him that "conscience is autonomous."  The Pope does not challenge that statement.  Well, in one sense conscience is, and it one sense it is not.  And it is hardly certain that Scalfari and Pope Francis understand the word conscience in the same way.

Conscience is certainly not absolutely autonomous in the sense understood by a Kantian or a modern atheist, and I doubt very much the Pope understands it that way.  Even the conscience of the atheist is answerable, for example, to the natural moral law, which, the Pope knows, is man's participation in the Eternal Law, namely God.  But the Pope, by silence, allows the reader to infer that perhaps he agrees that conscience is fully autonomous, even of natural law and God. 

There will always be some missed opportunities: we must not interpret these interviews with l'esprit d'escalier, a "spirit of the stairs."  There are things the Pope, in retrospect should have said, or in our mind, he should have said which he didn't.  For example, Scalfari opens the door about the "epistemological turn" of Descartes--I think therefore I am--which ushered in the Enlightenment and ultimately divided reason and nature and reason and faith.  Pope Francis could have challenged this philosophical turn, as Pope Benedict XVI surely would have.  Instead, he parries the issue and gracelessly lapses into the not-very-enlightening and jejune difference between unbelief and anti-clericalism.  This one landed with a thud.

We shall have to get used to statements that are unsettling, even violent, but true. The Pope, for example, states that he believes "in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation."  At first it may seem scandalous.  But it is certainly true and unimpeachable that the God of Catholics is not a tribal God, a deity of the people exclusive to the people and not others.  The God of Catholics--the Catholic God--is the Almighty God, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ, the one and only God.

Finally, we will have to accustom ourselves to reading sentences that, frankly, will not seem to make a whole lot of sense.  We have one such instance in this interview: "God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us.  . . . [O]ur species will end but the light of God will not end and at that point it will invade all souls and it will all be in everyone."  I have no idea how to take this statement.  What does the Pope mean by "our species will end"?  What does it mean that God "will invade all souls," and that God will "be in everyone"?  To me, this Teilhardian-sounding mish mash is unintelligible as Catholic doctrine; indeed, it is unintelligible as English.

But there will always be those spontaneous gems, such as "A religion without the mystical is a philosophy."  Or the acute observation: "Personally, I think so-called unrestrained liberalism only makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker and excludes the most excluded."  Amen.

Then there are what may be hints, which allow for speculation upon speculation.  Here are a couple that have raised my eyebrows and unsettle me:

"Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John [XXIII], decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to a modern culture. . . . But afterwards very little was done in that direction.  I have the humility and ambition to want to do something." 

Does this suggest the abandonment of the "hermeneutic of continuity" of Blessed Pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI?  Did these two do "very little" in opening up the church to the modern spirit and the modern culture?  Is Pope Francis suggesting a "hermeneutics of rupture"?  A change of policy from his last two predecessors?

Another hint is his mention (twice) of the very liberal and now deceased Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, whom Pope Francis had previously hailed as "prophetic" figure and a "Father for the Whole Church."  Does this forebode changes and reforms to liturgy, governance, and discipline that the more conservative and traditional Catholics are sure to find distasteful?  I think so.  And it worries me.

So it seems that in dealing with this new genre of Papal communications, since it does not appear that it will go away, we will have work on a hermeneutic, a theory of interpretation, that allows us to understand the Papal media interviews and avoid, or at least reduce, the apoplexy of faith each time these are released. 

Unless we do so, every morning shall be greeted with consternation, controversy, and confusion, and it is not likely we shall ever enjoy our breakfast, finish our coffee, much less even get to the Times.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copyright 2016 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for May 2016
Universal:
Respect for Women: That in every country of the world, women may be honored and respected and that their essential contribution to society may be highly esteemed.
Evangelization: Holy Rosary: That families, communities, and groups may pray the Holy Rosary for evangelization and peace.



Comments


More Living Faith

Christians stand your ground: Graduating class recites The Lords Prayer in defiance of atheist hate group Watch

Image of East Liverpool's class of 2016 recited The Lord's Prayer at graduation ceremony against an atheist hate group's attempts to silence them (Bob Hill/Screenshot).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Notorious atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has struck again, this time at an East Liverpool high school in Ohio. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Ohio school district was forced to ban The Lord's Prayer after the FFRF complained the prayer ... continue reading


Pope Francis delivers special jubilee Mass for deacons Watch

Image of Deacons enjoy special jubilee Mass (@catholicsthelen/Twitter).

By Elise Harris (CNA/EWTN News)

On Sunday Pope Francis celebrated a special jubilee for deacons, telling them that a good servant is one who forgets themselves, letting go of their own plans and humbly placing their lives at the disposal of those to whom they are called to minister. Vatican City, ... continue reading


First time in 400 years - 61 cloistered nuns go to prison Watch

Image of Nuns (not pictured) asked permission to speak to those God loves (David Maung).

By (CNA/EWTN News)

A group of 61 cloistered nuns from six monasteries in Santiago, Chile made an historic visit to the local Women's Prison Center to spend time with the inmates and attend Mass with them. Santiago, Chile (CNA/EWTN News) - "I don't know if in the 400 years of the history ... continue reading


'I felt that Jesus called me to this': Pope Francis uses drowned refugee girl to share the heart of God Watch

Image of Pope Francis used the death of an innocent to preach to youths (Reuters).

By Ann Schneible (CNA/EWTN News)

The story of a young migrant girl who drowned at sea was at the heart of Pope Francis' address to some 400 children who on Saturday had traveled to the Vatican from the southern Italian region of Calabria. Vatican City, Italy (CNA/EWTN News) - Speaking off the cuff to ... continue reading


WARNING: Exorcist claims demon is targeting families Watch

Image of An exorcist claims a demon continues to attack family members of all ages (Mama/Fandango).

By (CNA/EWTN News)

There's a demon that specializes in attacking the family, said exorcist César Truqui, a priest who participated in a course on exorcism held in Rome last year. Rome, Italy (CNA/EWTN News) - Fr. Truqui warned that everything that is harming the family, including ... continue reading


Vatican liturgy chief calls for priests to face east during Mass Watch

Image of The Vatican's liturgy chief asks priests to celebrate Mass facing east (@Card_R_Sarah/Twitter).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

During an interview, Cardinal Robert Sarah explained the importance of priests facing east during Mass. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In an interview with French Catholic magazine Famille Chrétienne, Cardinal Sarah, who is the prefect of the Congregation for ... continue reading


'It is abuse of anti-conversion laws': 3 Christians arrested for converting Hindus Watch

Image of Three Christians are the latest victims in ongoing Indian persecution (dph).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Rev. V. A. Anthony, of Brethren Assembly Church in Satna, his wife Prabha and one unnamed woman have been arrested in Aber, India after being accused of "forced conversions" and blaspheming against Hinduism. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to Christian ... continue reading


Like Bartimaeus, We Are Blind: Cry out to Jesus, Lord Help Me to See! Watch

Image of The healing of the Blind man

By Deacon Keith Fournier

The same Jesus who passed by Bartimaeus is alive today. The Good News is that no matter what has happened in our past, Jesus walks into the dusty streets of our lives this day. We simply need the eyes of living faith to see Him and the renewed heart to follow Him ... continue reading


:-D MILLENNIALS REJOICE! New emoji Bible translation is coming! Watch

Image of The Bible has been translated into a less-conventional, more approachable language: emoji (pix11/WPIX-TV).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

In an attempt to make the Bible more interactive and entertaining to millennials, the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible has been translated with help from popular emoticons. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to The Memo, the new Bible, marked as ... continue reading


New study reveals Catholics hold highest retention rate - but no one is converting Watch

Image of Catholicism retains believers but is losing the conversion battle (Pinterest).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

A new study revealed Welsh and English Catholics hold the highest retention rate of any denomination but maintain the lowest conversion rates. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The report, titled the "Contemporary Catholicism in England and Wales," was issued by the ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Zephaniah 3:14-18,
14 Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult ... Read More

Psalm, Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
2 Look, he is the God of my salvation: I shall have faith and not be ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:39-56
39 Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for May 31st, 2016 Image

St. Mechtildis
May 31: Benedictine abbess and miracle worker. She was ... Read More