Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Understanding Pope Francis

Image result for pope francis

By Nicolas Bellord

The Problem

Ever since his inauguration Pope Francis has been an enigma to me and doubtless to many others.  There is substantial confusion in the Church which nobody can deny.  So what can we make of him?  There is no point in going over the various events that have led to this; they are well enough known to any intelligent Catholic who follows the events of this papacy however much they may be the subject of disagreement as to their importance and significance.

So what can we make of Pope Francis?  What driving force makes him speak and act often in flat contradiction between what he says and what he does?

The Filial Correction of 16th July 2017 has a long section on the influence of Martin Luther beginning:

'We feel compelled by conscience to advert to Your Holiness’s unprecedented sympathy for Martin Luther, and to the affinity between Luther’s ideas on law, justification, and marriage, and those taught or favoured by Your Holiness in Amoris Laetitia and elsewhere.'[1]

This is well documented in the Filial Correction. However, although this is an aspect of Pope Francis it does not explain everything.

Prior to that Austen Ivereigh, the Pope's biographer, and fervent admirer, had claimed that Pope Francis was a follower of the thoughts of President Peron of Argentina writing:

As a young Jesuit he learned leadership lessons from St. Ignatius and the German philosopher priest Father Romano Guardini, as well as from the Argentine master, General Juan Domingo Perón, whose classic 1952 manual of political strategy, Conducción Política, is a good guide to how Francis operates even today.[2]

When Ivereigh wrote this is in December 2016 I thought he had lost his marbles.  How could he possibly suggest that a Pope follows the political theories of a very controversial South American Dictator?  I may now have to eat my words.

The Four Principles

An indication of how Pope Francis thinks is his frequent mention of four principles namely:

1. time is greater than space;
2. unity prevails over conflict
3. realities are more important than ideas
4. the whole is greater than the part.

These principles are mentioned by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium and in Amoris Laetitia.  Two questions arise:

1.     Are these principles invented by Pope Francis or what is their provenance?

2.     What do they mean?  For example 'time is greater than space' has no obvious meaning.

The first extensive discussion of these principles,  that I was aware of, was by Sandro Magister on his Espresso blog entitled The Four Hooks On Which Bergoglio Hangs His Thought 19th May 2016.[3]  As to provenance he wrote:

'It is a whole lifetime that Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been inspired by these four criteria, and mainly by the first. The Argentine Jesuit Diego Fares, in commenting on “Amoris Laetitia” in the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” extensively cites notes from a conversation with the provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina at the time, dated 1978, all “on the domain of room for action and on the sense of time.” '

The 'latest issue' must have been that of 14th May 2016 wherein Father Fares S.J wrote an article entitled «AMORIS LAETITIA» E IL RINNOVAMENTO DEL LINGUAGGIO ECCLESIALE (Amoris Laetitia and the renewal of church language).  Unfortunately, you have to pay €15 to read the article so I have not read it and therefore do not know whether he finds any provenance for the principles prior to Pope Francis. 

Sandro Magister then reproduced an article by Fr. Giovanni Scalese which tries to see whether any sense can be made in applying  the four principles to theology: “The four postulates of Pope Francis”.  The article does not deal with provenance but with the meaning of the principles or postulates.  Scalese uses the word 'postulate' as he feels each of the four principles is  a  “proposition devoid of evidence and not demonstrated but all the same admitted as true in that it is necessary for founding a procedure or demonstration.” 

In Evangelli  Gaudium 221, the pope writes that the four principles “derive from the pillars of the Church’s social doctrine.” Scalese says he cannot find any such principles in that doctrine.  Scalese says Pope Francis has talked of these principles as far back as 1974 according to the Argentine Jesuit Juan Carlos Scannone.  

Pope Francis gives a kind of explanation of the first principle time is greater than space in Evangelli  Gaudium no 223.  As usual his explanation is long and confusing.  What I think he is saying is that at any given moment in time there is a situation or view of things (space) but that one should wait for the situation to evolve or be changed by time.  In giving a preference to this evolution time is seen to be greater than a particular moment or space.  Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return.[4]    

This would seem to tie in with Pope Francis's constant refrain that one should not stick with some rigid doctrinal view but there should be a process of discernment to discover a different view.  In the notorious paragraph 3 of Amoris Laetitia where Pope Francis suggests that  doctrine could be defined locally at national Bishops' conference level he justifies this with a reference to Christ's discussion of the role of the Holy Ghost: It will be for him, the truth-giving Spirit, when he comes, to guide you into all truth.  John (16:13) Pope Francis seems to think that this can be a new and changed truth. 

Mgr Ronald Knox, in a footnote to his translation, comments: 

The teaching office of the Holy Spirit does not consist in imparting to the Church the knowledge of hitherto unknown doctrines, in addition to the deposit of faith, but in making our knowledge of doctrines already revealed fuller and more precise. 

This principle has more recently been considered by Professor Gerhard Hover in an essay of January 2018 entitled: “Time is greater than space”: Moral-theological reflections on the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia*   In his discussion of the principle he says that it is to be found in the writings of St Bonaventure.  Hover's essay is difficult to follow but as far as I can make out he says that Bonaventure thinks Aristotle's view of time as a sequence of contingent events in history is incomplete.  There is a view of time which sees it as a gradual revelation of truth.  However he acknowledges that that revelation ceased with Christ.  As St Augustine wrote in his Confessions:

See: XI vii(9) “You call us, therefore, to understand the Word, God who is with you (John 1:1). That word is spoken eternally, and by it all things are uttered eternally.  It is not the case that what was being said comes to an end, and something else is then said, so that everything is uttered in a succession with a conclusion, but everything is said in the simultaneity of eternity.”

Unfortunately Hover then goes on with some illogical non-sequiturs to suggest that subsequent to Christ revealed truth can change so that no action can be intrinsically evil as what is evil can become good. 

Scalese concludes his discussion of the first principle: I cannot help but perceive at the foundation of the first postulate some threads of idealistic philosophy, like historicism, the primacy of becoming over being, the origin of being from action (“esse sequitur operari”), etc.   
Scalese tries to understand the other three principles or postulates  in the context of Catholic doctrine but without being able to shed much clarity on their relevance or their origin other than in Pope Francis.  He concludes by saying:

That Christian doctrine runs the risk of becoming ideology cannot be denied. But the same risk is run by any other principle, including the four postulates of “Evangelii Gaudium”; with the difference that these are the result of human reflection, while Catholic doctrine is founded on divine revelation.
May that not happen today which happened to Marx, who, while he taxed with ideology the thinkers who had preceded him, did not realize that he was elaborating one of the most ruinous ideologies of history.  

The Provenance of the Four Principles and Theology of the People

It is now suggested that their origin is not with Pope Francis; indeed the provenance is astounding.  That origin is revealed in an article entitled “El papa Francisco y la teología del pueblo” (“Pope Francis and the theology of the people”) by Juan Carlos Scannone S.I. (presumably S.I in Spanish is S.J in English) dated 12th October 2014[5].  It is a long article about “Theology of the People (TP)” which he distinguishes from liberalism on one side and Marxist liberation theology on the other.  Father Scannone is described as one of the Jesuits closest to Pope Francis.  He describes TP as elaborated in South America and in particular taken up in Argentina at the time of the military dictatorship when Peronism was proscribed as was the Peronist worker movement.

One would need to analyse this article carefully but TP seems to be a watered down version of Liberation Theology (LT).  Class warfare is not to be the determining hermeneutic but it is still to be taken account of as a result of structural sin  of which there is much mention.  He claims that TP had the approval of St John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger.  He sees  Evangelli  Gaudium as being based on TP.   Generally he sees Pope Francis as applying TP to the Church as a whole.

Whatever one thinks of TP and its relevance to the world outside Latin America it seems to be a very narrow theology dealing with political issues peculiar to Latin America; there is nothing about salvation for example.  It claims to be free of Marxism and Hegelism but I remain unconvinced.


Caudillos Rosas and Quiroga

 However leaving aside those issues the most remarkable passage in Scannone's article states the origin of the four principles:

Según se dice, están tomadas de la carta de Juan Manuel de Rosas (gobernador de Buenos Aires) a Facundo Quiroga (gobernador de La Rioja en la Argentina) sobre la organización nacional argentina, escrita desde la hacienda de Figueroa en San Antonio de Areco (20 de diciembre, 1834), donde Rosas no las explicita, aunque las tenga en cuenta implícitamente.

Which translated reads:  It is said that, that these [four principles] are taken from the  letter from Juan Manuel de Rosas (governor of Buenos Aires) to Facundo Quiroga (governor of La Rioja in Argentina) about national Argentine organisation, written from the hacienda of Figueroa in San Antonio de Areco (20th December 1834)[6], where Rosas did not make them explicit, although he took them into account implicitly.

Reading this letter [7] the principles do not appear explicitly and it is difficult to find them referred to implicitly.  The transcription of the letter covers 16 pages and  one suspects that the original in long hand covered many more pages.  The letter sets out General Rosas's ideas on how to create a federal state of Argentina on the model of the United States.  At the time Rosas and Quiroga were caudillos or military leaders in the thick of the constant violence assailing Argentina and its provinces.

Juan Facundo Quiroga                                                                  General Rosas in 1835

Rosas as political thinker: Unity prevails over conflict?

Rosas wanted to unite the country to stop the fighting between the states or provinces which he refers to as 'pueblos' or 'peoples'.  One of his ideas was that each province should decide on its own constitution and there should be no imposition of a constitution from the centre.  Each state should first get its act together so that it can send deputies to the centre to set up a federal system.  Time and time alone would enable this to happen in the shadow of peace and tranquillity.  Time is greater than space? He sees the establishment of stability in each state as more important than trying to create a federal state where all the states would be governed by the federal state in a unitary manner as was proposed by his opponents the Unitarians.  In a way this would seem to be the opposite of the principle that the whole is greater than the part.  Rosas wanted to wait to see how each state developed rather than imposing some theory from the top. Realities are more important than ideas?  One can see a reflection of Pope Francis's constant refrain of the importance of starting processes rather than trying to cobble something together out of the present position or 'space'.  In the end when federation is achieved the whole is greater than the part?

It may be that there are other writings of Rosas which support the principles.  For example on a Peronist website (with the motto “Peron conquers time”!) there is an article proposing Rosas as a great political thinker[8].   In 1873 Rosas told Quesada that making a Constitution "was my ambition, but I spent my life and my energy without being able to make it"; "because a Constitution should not be the product of a dreamy book but the exact reflection of the situation in a country." "I always repelled the farce of pompous laws on paper that could not be put into practice."  which could support the principle  Realities are more important than ideas.  However even if you accept that Rosas was a great political thinker promoting constitutions and democracy  his extreme dictatorial actions do not conform to his thoughts.

Rosas as Dictator

Within two months of the above letter Quiroga had been assassinated.  Rosas continued to lead a life which could be described as colourful to say the least.  Wikipedia has an excellent article recounting his life and it is well worth reading.[9]  Briefly he was born in 1793 and quickly amassed a fortune.  

Some quotes from Wikipedia in italics: 

….In December 1829, Rosas became governor of the province of Buenos Aires and established a dictatorship backed by state terrorism.  Prior to this letter he had been involved in the desert war which to-day would probably be described as genocide of the indigenous people. …..In the desert war of 1833 to 1834 the government gave Rosas command of an army with orders to subdue the Indian tribes in the coveted territory. Rosas was generous to those Indians who surrendered, rewarding them with animals and goods. Although he personally disliked killing Indians, he relentlessly hunted down those who refused to yield.

     Rosas (mounted on dark horse) leading the war against Indians in the Desert Campaign, 1833

 ….  Rosas established a totalitarian regime, in which the government sought to dictate every aspect of public and private life..... Rosas was himself a slave-owner, and helped revive the slave trade.  [Although he was involved in the abolition of the slave trade in 1839].... Despite doing little to promote their interests, he remained popular among blacks and gauchos.  He employed blacks, patronized their festivities and attended their candombles. The gauchos admired his leadership and willingness to fraternize with them to some extent....

Rosas in gaucho costume (smelling of the sheep?)

And so on and so on until his downfall in 1852 when he was welcomed by the British and became a very contented tenant-farmer at Swathling, near Southampton until his death in 1877 and burial in Southampton. 

The Legacy of Rosas

General Rosas has ever been a major influence on Argentinian politics right through the  20th century and into the 21st.  Argentinian President Menem had his body repatriated in 1989. Menem (and his fellow Peronist presidential successors Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) have honoured Rosas on banknotes, postage stamps and monuments, causing mixed reactions among the public.  Rosas remains a controversial figure among Argentines, who "have long been fascinated and outraged" by him.

Two strands to Pope Francis – Theology of the People and Dictatorship

So, if Austen Ivereigh is correct that Pope Francis is an admirer and follower of Peron, has Pope Francis also taken the much more dictatorial General Rosas as inspiration?

So we have two strands to understanding Pope Francis.  That elaborated by Father Scannone S.J to the effect that Evangelli  Gaudium is based on Theology of the People – a watered down version of Liberation Theology without Marx and Hegel.  However, it is a version of the Catholic Faith that is questionable at the least and still owes much to Hegel and historicism.  It  strikes me as more of a political program where peoples in a group are redeemed rather than individuals acting on their own based on a skewed interpretation of paragraph 9 of Lumen Gentium.  Join the right political movement and you will be saved.  If it is the group that is saved the moral  behaviour of individuals is of no great concern.

We then have the four principles.  It seems a hopeless task to make any sense of attempted theology based on these principles but if Father Scannone is right that the four principles derive from an interpretation of the writings of General Rosas then it is legitimate to ask whether Pope Francis's admiration for Peron extends to admiration of General Rosas.  That is the second strand.  Is the day to day utterly ruthless behaviour of Pope Francis modelled on that of two Argentinian dictators  where he believes that any means are justified to promote the  Theology of the People as an end?  Perhaps he sees himself as a new liberator from Latin America out to reform the euro-centric Vatican with a new political theology and the use of whatever political means he needs to effect  an end that justifies those means?  Perhaps the title “ The Dictator Pope” is not far from the truth.  I have yet to read the book!

[1]   Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis pages 12ff at
[4]    One could equally argue that as time is measured by a movement in space outside of which there is no time then time cannot exceed space and space is therefore greater than time!
[6]    Cf. E. Barba, Correspondencia entre Rosas, Quiroga y López, Buenos Aires, Hyspamérica, 1984, 94.

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