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5 years of Francis: Prominent pope watchers debate his legacy

David Gibson, center, moderates the [email protected] public debate with Massimo Faggioli, left, and Ross Douthat, right, at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus in New York on Jan. 31, 2018. [email protected] was presented by the Religion News Foundation and the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham with Salt + Light media partner. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

NEW YORK (RNS) — It’s been five years since the College of Cardinals plucked Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina and made him pope — a rock star of a pontiff to much of the world, but a disappointing leader of the Roman Catholic Church for many traditional Catholics.

At Fordham, one of the country’s elite Catholic universities, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat — a Francis critic — and Villanova University theology professor Massimo Faggioli — a Francis fan — sparred Wednesday (Jan. 31) over the pope’s legacy before a crowd of more than 250.

The event, “[email protected]: Assessing the Legacy of Pope Francis Five Years After His Election, reflected a tension within the larger church, which claims 1.2 billion adherents worldwide.

While aspects of Francis’ papacy could be considered successful, the pontiff’s tenure has been a “disappointment” in several ways, Douthat argued at the event, which was co-hosted by Religion News Foundation (of which RNS is a part).

He pointed to what he sees as Francis’ failure to adequately address corruption at the Vatican and “moral-theological controversies” such as whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive Communion. Francis’ more conciliatory stance toward divorced and remarried Catholics, he said, presents a sort of “crisis” or “breaking point” for many conservative Catholics — or even a possible “crisis of papal authority itself.”

Religion News Foundation CEO Tom Gallagher, right, speaks during the [email protected] public debate at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus in New York on Jan. 31, 2018. [email protected] was presented by the Religion News Foundation and the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham with Salt + Light media partner. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

“There are, I think, reasonable questions about whether the church is drifting toward a kind of Anglican model of papal government around faith and morals — a kind of decentralization where Catholic teaching looks different in Warsaw than it does in Berlin,” he said.

Faggioli holds a far more optimistic view of Francis’ legacy.

“This papacy, I believe, is a success because it’s not about Francis — it sounds obvious, but it’s about Jesus Christ,” he said. He pushed back on any attempt to assess papacies based on concepts of “continuity,” which he described as “unhelpful,” and seemed to praise the pope’s embrace of those who feel rejected by the church.

“Looking at Catholic doctrine in terms of continuity or discontinuity, in my mind, assumes one thing: that Christianity, at some point, was accomplished. Was complete,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true. … I think this pontificate is telling us, is telling me, that in order to get close to Jesus, there has to be some kind of discontinuity.”

Douthat has often been associated with what former RNS reporter David Gibson, head of Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture and moderator of the debate, described as a conservative “opposition” movement against Francis among Catholics. Although there are Catholic clergy attached to the movement, its loudest champions are often laymen such as Douthat who write about Francis in an unofficial capacity.

When asked to assess the scale in influence of the pushback to Francis, Douthat insisted the resistance is small, but representative of a larger struggle.

Ross Douthat, right, speaks during the [email protected] public debate with Massimo Faggioli, left, and moderator David Gibson, center, at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus in New York on Jan. 31, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

“I would say generally this is much more an elite battle than a grass-roots battle,” he said. “But at the same time I would say it’s a debate that gets at, in a very significant way, this very real and long-lasting civil war within the church.”

Faggioli wasn’t so sure, and repeatedly dismissed Douthat’s polemical language.

“I tend to be skeptical about writing what’s going on as if the Catholic Church is in civil war or war,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”

The conversation often circled back to the question of whether Francis was fundamentally altering the church and if his doing so could result in a “break” or schism. Douthat said Francis’ actions will push many Catholics away from the church — if not immediately, then eventually.

“That is the change of the Francis era: That it is now possible to say definitively that the papacy allows for changes around these contested issues of sexual ethics. … That’s a big change, don’t you think?” Douthat asked.

“No,” Faggioli replied as the crowd erupted in laughter.

The two did acknowledge broad points of agreement. Both praised “Laudato Si’,” the pope’s 2015 encyclical on the environment. They also expressed varying levels of support for women deacons, with Faggioli saying he hopes it happens “tomorrow” and Douthat describing himself as “agnostic” on the issue.

The exchange also seemed to smooth over — or at least ignore — previous questions about Douthat’s credibility in Catholic discussions. In 2015, several Catholic theologians and scholars, including Faggioli, published an open letter to The New York Times condemning Douthat’s writings in that newspaper as “unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative” and dismissing him as someone who “has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject” of Catholicism.

During the dialogue with Faggioli, Douthat referenced his sparse academic background, at one point self-deprecatingly referring to his own argument as a “quasi-scriptural, amateur response.”

Yet Wednesday’s event was something of a legitimization for Douthat among academics, as it’s at least his third public event with religion scholars in as many months. 

Faggioli, for his part, took Douthat’s arguments seriously, and both agreed that debate and conversation were necessary. Still, Faggioli voiced a far less rigid view of Catholic teaching.

“The Catholic tradition is not a mineral, it’s an animal. It moves. It adapts. It grows,” Faggioli said.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

102 Comments

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  • Faggioli: “Looking at Catholic Doctrine in terms of continuity or discontinuity, in my mind assumes one thing: that Christianity, at some point, was accomplished.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Catholicism has tied itself into knots with the idea that they have perfectly described or understood who Jesus was/is and what God wants of us. Such claims deny the idea that knowledge advances – it assumes that no one can bring a different light to what great minds of the world reasoned the Christian faith to be so long ago – Augustine, Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, etc. If nothing new can contradict or call into question what was said in the past, there is no room for growth, discovery, evolution, undreamed of circumstances and an unanticipated response to what new circumstances may require.

    This adoration of Catholic “Tradition” has made a new set of holy scriptures and a new God, and tied that God up into a neat box, only allowed to be seen and known through tiny windows of tinted glass.

    Francis is a breath of fresh, clean air after the tanked oxygen that was all that was allowed under the previous two popes. We got a whiff of fresh air in Vatican II. After immense efforts to shut it out again, particularly under JPII and BXVI, Francis is wonderful in many ways. Imperfect, yes, still failing on accountability of the hierarchical church to the people of the Church and still tied to old and limited visions of the roles of men and women, sexuality, etc. But Francis is willing to listen and learn and adapt.

  • What you call a “whiff of fresh air” looks to those watching the imbibers like nitrous oxide.

    Pope Francis said when he elected he was no theologian, and he has worked hard to prove himself correct.

  • Francis has not done nearly enough with regard to the worldwide long time scandal of clergy sex abuse of children. And he has done nothing to even slightly reverse the terrible 1968 ban on contraception and abortion, a ban that has contributed enormously to climate change and overpopulation.

  • No one advocates infanticide. In 1975 GOP president Ford signed the National Security Study Memorandum Report 200 report that advocated universal access to contraception and said that overpopulation required legalization of abortion worldwide.

  • When I first heard the late William Buckley use the term “infanticide” in a TV debate, I thought he was just trying to score drama points.

    But in fact, he was quite correct. In Southern California, a wide-open Gold Rush took place not long after 1973 Roe, as suddenly every abortionist and their mama realized they could score massive riches from aborting anything with a heartbeat. No shortage of $$$$.

    In NYC and Baltimore, black babies dropped like flies (which is what Mrs. Sanger wanted anyway) as black abortion rates actually exceeded black birth rates.

    Abortion as birth control. Abortion on demand, no restrictions. Infanticide.

  • Perhaps, the discussion should focus on the current job description of Pope of the Roman Church not the individual. This evolving and more authoritarian job description has split Christianity since the fourth century with new breaks coming along the way up to the present. As the rest of world has become more democratic, this job should be subject to democracy with the Bible as its constitution not a series of traditions and councils seeking more control over the masses.

  • You have no idea what you are talking about. The NSSM 200 report was classified and buried from 1975 until 1989, when it was declassified. It was not seen in public until about 1994 when it was published in the book The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a US Population Policy, by population scientist Stephen Mumford. There were NO “massive human rights violations” as a result of the report. — Edd Doerr

  • What a friggin joke. The pope is just a figurehead of an evil cult in decline, one that should be bankrupted by all the sexual abuse lawsuits it should be having to pay out on.

  • Roe v Wade did not trigger a massive rise in the abortion rate. It just made legal what had been fairly common for well over a century. Legalizing abortion protected women’s rights of conscience and religious liberty, and brought US law more in line with our constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Abortion is NOT infanticide and is consistent with the Bible (Gen. 1:27 ans 2:7) and with modern science.

  • Theologians deal in a made up world of perfection. We don’t live in that world. We aspire to do the best we can in sometimes very difficult circumstances. Francis recognizes that.

    Rules about marriage/divorce and sacraments, contraception, never abortion, annual confession, the “intrinsic disorder” of being LGBT, Mass every Sunday – simply don’t work as “truths” or as guides to help people lead a spiritual life. During the time of JPII and BXVI tens of millions left the practice of the faith from the industrialized societies, societies where education was widespread, where democracy recognized women as equal, where women have working careers as well as families.

    The Church has grown in less open societies. But what happens when the people in these places get more educated, when women there are exposed to the freedoms and choices that women in other societies have? World-wide, virtually instant communication breaks down barriers, opens cultures to change. I think Francis is preparing the church for the need to recognize and adapt to a new cultural reality.

  • Anyone who misappropriates the story of The Woman at the Well as bad as Faggioli does should stick with his “I’m a historian!” claim over his “I’m a theologian!” claim. The idea that Jesus affirming that the woman literally has no real husband could be construed as something which functions as a basic guidepost for how to step over JPII’s very clear teaching in Familiaris Consortio 84.

  • “José’s” mission here is to spread as much disinformation as he can, while challenging well-documented research and insinuating that, if it does not agree with his preconceived hard-right ideology, fact is not fact.

    He’s the ultimate purveyor of toxic fake news.

    It’s fitting, it seems to me, that he has chosen a cartoon character name to hide behind.

    Human Life International, the hard-right Catholic site to which he’s linking, claims that by combating the availability of contraception in economically deprived countries, it’s also combating abortion, which it regards as a singular evil — but not to the extent that preventing abortions by making contraception more widely available should be considered as an option.

    Go figure.

  • Yes, we aspire to do the best we can in sometimes very difficult circumstances.

    The sacrament of Reconciliation recognizes that.

    “Rules”about marriage/divorce and sacraments, contraception, abortion, and same sex relations based on revealed truths are not intended as “guides”, along the lines of “best practices”, or “how to enjoy Hawaii”.

    They are intended to communicate the revelation so that the faithful can follow God’s law and attain salvation.

    Basically you’re arguing Francis is preparing the church to throw the towel in, and many Catholics have reached that conclusion.

    What I find a bit perplexing is that in another context, the bishops handling of abuse, you advocate throwing the book at even the suspected, hang’em high, and no mercy.

    What happened to Luke 6:31?

  • I hesitate to point out that there is reason you rarely post except on your own blog, which I provide a free citation to:

    http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/

    and you’re demonstrating it.

    You don’t handle criticism at all, you call everyone who presents an orthodox Christian theology “hard right” or other words to that effect, you get personal quickly (“It’s fitting, it seems to me, that he has chosen a cartoon character name to hide behind.”), and then you get piled on.

    Presenting as a bitter crank, angry at his church and angry at everyone who disagrees with him, doesn’t give you a lot of room to maneuver.

    I recommend a chill pill.

  • I no longer believe that what the Church teaches about sexuality or contraceptives represents “divine law.” What they teach is made from some idea of “natural law” that was formulated before we humans knew a great deal about nature. For example, not being heterosexual is a variance from a norm, but not a mistake of nature. And, contraceptives are a natural outgrowth of our much larger understanding of our bodies and of pharmacology and of psychology and of women finally – FINALLY – getting a voice in society. Women don’t all want the same thing, they are as varied in their abilities and talents as men, they can own property, manage money, and make their own marriage decisions without papa, thank you very much.

    I don’t think the Church is going to “throw the towel in.” I think the Church is going to return to being a faith based on forming a relationship with Jesus, seeking to know and love God and neighbor. This faith started by Jesus was not started based on 1000 rules. Maybe it is just what happens over time to any faith – but all the rule making is man-made. Some of it very intelligent and thoughtful but all of it comes out of a the knowledge and culture of the times in which the “rule” is decided upon. We haven’t found “eternal truths” – we have found the best way we can for a particular point in time to explain the inexplicable.
    It isn’t that we don’t keep working on it as we learn more and as cultures change. But we should not think we have reached some ultimate, pure, absolutely final and definitive understanding. God is full of surprises.

  • Gee, the article provided a list of the violations. Are you saying that the list is falsified?

    Was the document made classified to the government decision makers?

    Aren’t Stephen Mumford’s degrees in agriculture, not “population science” whatever that might be?

    Does Stephen Mumford have classified clearance and access to classified documents?

    Hasn’t he advocated drug-induced permanent mass sterilization using Mepacrine, a drug banned in India because it can cause cancer or ectopic pregnancies, and for which side effects are common, including toxic psychosis?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mepacrine

  • Okay, so you’ve got your church’s teachings down to a size you like.

    Just throw all the other stuff you don’t like away, and you’re done.

    That leaves the question of why Francis is particularly worthwhile. Is it because you think he’ll throw all the other stuff you don’t like and then you’ll feel better about doing it on your own?

  • That is EXACTLY how I read your comments, wanting exemptions out the Ying Yang for you, while advocating a short rope and high tree for bishops that irk you.

  • The NSSM 200 report was classified by the government in 1975 and declassified 14 years later but went unnoticed. The drug you refer to is quinocrine and has been found to be safe in field tests. It is quinine derivitive. It is for non-surgica sterilization and its protocols say that it is for voluntary use only for women over 21 who already have 3 kids. Read Mumford’s book, which I reviewed in several journals over 29 years ago,

  • Thanks for the feedback, Mr. Arnzen.

    Last week, you kindly invited me to leave Christianity behind — since you represent Christianity.

    This week, it’s a chill pill you’re recommending.

    Does your pharmacy ever dispense prescriptions for you? Or is your business only fixing others?

    But you say that you represent Christ and Christian orthodoxy, and I’m racking my brain to try to figure out where in the gospels we’re told to invent sins to lay to the account of others while never looking in any moral mirror ourselves.

    Any suggestions as to where I might find such a verse? Perhaps something about logs and motes?

    Thanks for helping me understand what Christ and Christianity are all about. And for recommending my blog to others — exceedingly kind of you.

  • Where do you get that I want a short rope for bishops? I think they need to be held accountable for having ignored the sex abuse scandal for decades. Was Law treated as someone who stood up for children, cared about victims, worked to help the civil community in which he and all the people of the diocese lived and relied on for civic safety? He moved to Rome and was not only rewarded but allowed to continue on in his role as a cardinal as if all the wrong that he was a part of in Boston didn’t matter.

    There have been innumerable investigations around the world and it has been shown repeatedly that many bishops knew and many did nothing but move priests around, ignore the continuing danger they represented, and did little to nothing to help those who were abused – until the lawyers for the victims came out and they were forced, kicking and screaming all the way. Why does it take civil suits to get bishops to release the names of priests they know have been credibly accused of sexual abuse? Wouldn’t you think that the bishop would want to work with law enforcement to assure public safety?

    What it looks like is that a bishop can be liar, deceptive, put children at such risk that some are actually abused, and still be a bishop. If he is a cardinal, he can still hold positions at the Vatican and vote for the next pope. Allowing child sex abuse has no impact on their position within the Church – a bishop or cardinal is always a bishop or cardinal.

    Do you think the issue of accountability of bishops/cardinals has been well handled by the Church? I don’t. I think it has been ignored, as if there is no such thing that applies to them.

  • I was able to present an opinion on something you posted without pointing that you’re here to spread as much disinformation as you can, challenging your own church’s well-documented teachings, and suggesting that all who do not agree with you hold to right-wing ideologies, including a number of popes.

    While I presented a few facts to suggest that your comments were ill-grounded, I did not stoop to pointing out that they were toxic fake news (“Millennials leaving church in droves, study finds”).

    Nor did I point out that your ignorance of the source of “Carioca” fits the archetype of a southern white man whose view of everyone south of the border is as a “cartoon”, generally brown.

    But you purport to be a real Christian.

    Go figure.

  • No, I did not “…. kindly invite.. (you) to leave Christianity behind — since (I) represent Christianity.”

    What I am responding to illustrates exactly what I just described – angry, unresponsive, and accusatory.

    What I suggested some days ago was that your position was radically illogical and that you would probably be happier if you faced that. I still believe that.

    Of course, my hope and recommendation would be that you put aside your personal conflicts with your nominal denomination, or find another denomination more consistent with your beliefs.

    Apparently nothing will help you understand what Christ and Christianity are all about, which seems to involve endorsing of your particular cross as virtue rather than sin, rejecting anything with which you disagree, and which might be summarized “What may be most astonishing of all is how taken for granted it is, how unreflective, how unapologetic this narrowing of the conversation space defining Catholic identity in the American public square to heterosexual white males.”

    At least you know who you hate.

    As for admonishing, your blog is full of your admonishments – as quoted above.

    Speck, log …. oh, never mind.

  • Yes, I understand that you have opinions on a variety of matters.

    What you seem to lack is facts.

    Bishop Accountability is hardly a source of facts.

    Well, back to being sarcastic and ugly.

  • You believe toxic psychosis in the dosages necessary to accomplish permanent sterility is “safe”?

    At least you admit to being a three decade long tout for Mumford.

    I find the guy to be crypto-fascist personally.

  • Continuity and change is not a new theme for the Catholic Church. The development of doctrine through centuries is acknowledged by the Church since long. However, it is not an easy task to see through how the same doctrine can be presented in new circumstances without betraying the essentials. Language plays a great role in this. What is meant by one set of expressions at one time may be translated keeping in mind the new ways of understanding in the new situation. An example is the ‘Kingdom of God’ preached by Jesus and ‘risen Jesus in whom the Kingdom of God is realised’ preached by the Apostles. Was there any change? Yes and No. The Apostles did not preach about the Kingdom of God, which was the mainstay of the preaching of Jesus, supplanting it with preaching Jesus himself. There is both continuity and change. Similarly, if the Church teaches the present Church without repeating the old formula, we only have to see the rationale behind it before making any judgement.

  • Pope Francis, in my opinion, is moving the Church in a more collegial way of approaching both moral and doctrinal issues ! He recognizes, as Massimo , pointed out that the Church ,as Christ’s Body in the world, is a living, growing and evolving community under the guidance of the Holy Spirit ! That Spirit is not the sole possession of the hierarchy, but has been “GIFTED ” to the whole Body of Christ ! The problem that many traditionalists have , is that they see the Church and its teachings as more or less static ! Can we say that we ,as human beings, ever stop learning ? Just so the Church , utilizing all the avenues of knowledge the Spirit has endowed us with: Theology, Philosophy, the Sciences (psychology ,biology, genetics , anthropology, etc.) continues to grow throughout Human History in understanding the Mysteries of God’s Creation ! Another problem that many traditionalists face is the need to see reality in black and white, ie. living with the GREY AREAS, The Incomplete areas of our growing doctrinal and moral understanding is profoundly difficult for them ! The need for absolute clarity and certitude seems to obsess so many of them! While, this is humanly understandable ,it leaves out , in great measure, the role of FAITH! Finally, in my opinion, this need for absolute clarity (ie. black and whiteness) constructs the role of a person’s informed conscience, demanding its assent to a reality which is not black and white , but Grey!
    I believe that this is the pastoral approach Francis is using as he addresses the moral and doctrinal questions of our day ! In effect he is saying ” Learn to live with the Grey areas of life, but view them through the prism and eyes of FAITH, THE EYES OF JESUS !

  • Couldn’t agree more with your comments ! Check out my similar comments of a few moments ago !

  • Bob, both you and ATF had some very good points in your conversation, which I followed with great interest! From my perspective on communication , where you failed to move the discussion from one up-manship to dialogue, is when you failed to recognize the truth and validity that was present in each other’s viewpoints ! As I mentioned above or below ,we as human beings have great difficulty, myself included , living with the Grey areas of reality ! All our opinions are only partially true! It’s continuing to work toward the deeper TRUTH that is our challenge in life! May the TRUTH, WAY AND LIFE be with both of you in your pursuit of greater understanding !
    Shalom !

  • I am not a big fan of “everyone won and everyone must have prizes”.

    That sort of thing demonstrates the deleterious effects of the field of psychology resulting in much of today’s fuzzy thinking.

    The Poles had a saying while enduring the Soviet boot: “to be free, two plus two must always equal four”.

    Sometimes 1+1 simply equals 2 regardless of how we feel about it.

  • I don’t rely on Bishop Accountability, if you are referring to the web site, although they have served well as a quick reference source to look up dates and background on when abuse occurred, which priests, moved where.

    I followed and read many of the investigations in Ireland and Australia, and have read on investigations and trials in the U.S. Heard somewhat about investigations in Canada, the story of Karadima in Chile, and other stories in the news. I suggest you read the investigation documents from the Irish and Australian inquiries (they are available on-line), read some of the transcripts of what was admitted in those investigations. It will take hours if not days but it will be worth it.

    I don’t claim to be an expert. But I have to wonder if you have read extensively on the actual investigations that occurred and the findings of those investigations.

    To repeat, do you think the issue of accountability of bishops/cardinals has been well handled by the Church? Or do you think every single one of them was innocent?

  • Thank you. I do not usually get into continued back-and-forth with someone because it is usually useless. I do recognize that Arnzen has a particular viewpoint and holds that Catholicism requires a rigorism (is that a word?) in absolute belief in every teaching of the infallible Tradition and the Holy Spirit inspired magisterium.

    I am not that kind of Catholic and I know many other Catholics who have the same sense that it is not all perfect. I am very willing for there to be the rigorous Catholic who follows faith and finds strength as he does. But we aren’t all alike. I argue for some space for people like me within Catholicism. And for some recognition that times have changed, knowledge has advanced, roles of men and women have changed.

    Sometimes I wonder just how much of holy writings are God’s word and how much is an interpretation of a God inspired vision into what can be understood by a mind shaped by the limits of culture, knowledge, language. Ahh, well. We will never know.

  • I like your comment. If I may, I would add that the problem with treating reality as if life were black and white, is that it is not. Most of us do not live in idealized situations and we cannot create them – though we can try.

    Hunger, want, need, deprivation – they are everywhere. And so are situations that don’t fit neat models of perfection. The Zika virus comes and women should not get pregnant but the Church still says that contraceptives are a sin because, evidently, the only purpose of sex is procreation and so if you don’t want to procreate, you should not have sex. Slowly they are beginning to recognize that sex is also part of the bonding and expression of love and commitment – but they still can’t allow it to occur without the possibility of pregnancy, even if it means deformed babies or death from transmission of AIDS.

    Do those in the Church really think that works? Maybe it did – somewhat – when there was no other choice. But now that there is a way to avoid pregnancy, it doesn’t make sense for a loving couple to forego physical love. It is just stupid. It is not necessary. And many (most?) Catholic couples make use of their sense of right and wrong that is gifted from the Holy Spirit and choose contraceptives.

    Pope Francis is at least recognizing that people make choices in difficult situations and that sometimes there is no one perfect answer for everyone, but a better choice for a particular person in a particular situation.

    Thanks for stimulating thoughtfulness on this board.

  • Abortion rates have declined since Roe v. Wade and fetus worshipers have nothing to do with it. Far lower than it was when abortion was illegal and lower than countries where it is illegal. The cause being that contraception has become more accessible to the general public and more socially acceptable.

    Abortion on demand has been with us for a while. Demand has been decreasing. Fetus worshipers have done nothing of value on the subject other than endanger the lives of women and tie up courts with onerous bad faith restrictions.

  • Might I remind you that the ‘mass exodus’, the ‘tens of millions’ began in the late sixties, long before St John Paul II became pope. The continuous decline was a result of the failure of subsequent ‘lapsed’ generations to pass on the Faith; a snowball effect.
    Our Lord was faced with a similar, problematical society, however, He did not flinch in voicing His opposition to it.

  • ATF, thanks for your reply! I would just like to add that a great deal of the Church’s problem in teaching about sexual morality, stems from an outdated theory of NATURAL LAW, as someone has already mentioned ! The theory that is being used to filter all teachings on sexuality ,especially, contraception & homosexuality, is based on the static view of nature found in the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages! Today, as was pointed out, we have a much more expanded view of Nature and therefore what is Natural due to the advances and input of modern science , theological reflection , scripture study etc.! As long as the Church clings to this STATIC view of Nature and Reality, it will continue to box itself into a corner when it comes to teaching on moral issues ! One last remark! Look at how the Church handicapped itself for centuries, by not opening itself to the scientific insights of Galileo, Darwin, etc! Science has a word to speak also, since God gave us brains to think and expand our understanding of the mysteries of the universe ! Science is one of the spokes on the wheel that leads us to the TRUTH at the center !

  • I have read the Australian material in detail.

    Such an endeavor would not be permitted under American law since it violated almost every rule of fairness and due process.

    On the other hand none of the Commonwealth nations share our Bill of Rights, so this sort of thing is fairly common in those countries.

    I believe that, as someone else said, many bishops believe they ARE Canon Law.

    Had they followed Canon Law, and I like to point the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, as an example of that approach, they would not have had a single problem. Lincoln had zero lawsuits because it promptly removed bad actors and did the right thing, and both in cases of abuse as well as marriage tribunal cases placed very strict controls on the use of psychiatrist, psychologists, and other mind mavens.

    That said, with some glaring exceptions, most dioceses did handle things correctly.

  • Natural law, the rule of conduct which is prescribed to us by the Creator in the constitution of the nature with which He has endowed us, is “static” by its very nature since the divine law – unlike Canon Law and civil law – is not updated periodically.

    Aquinas described the natural law as “nothing else than the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law”. St. Paul described it as the law written in the hearts of the gentiles. The eternal law is God’s, and when God willed existence to creatures, He willed to ordain and direct them to an end.

    No amount of science, reflection, or scripture study will alter “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” or “ ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ ”

    Science cannot be in contradiction with the natural law.

  • Arnzen appears to be suggesting that the Church’s teachings mean what they say.

    I suppose one could revamp things to the Ten Suggestions or Ten Helpful Hints, but then it would hardly be a religion which teaches with authority, would it?

    And if it is not teaching with authority, why would anyone listen to it?

  • While the decline is variously attributed, usually to “Vatican II”, it appears to have been the tail end of the revolt in Western thinking against natural law and right reason that had already swept through the Protestant denominations.

    With the rise of scientism and agnosticism, which the “intellectuals” had drank freely from, it was passed directly onto the Catholic young, which are just now rediscovering the faith which their parents and grandparents poo-poohed.

  • Ross Douthat is a super-conservative Republican and imagines that Jesus would have agreed with him. My theology isn’t his. I admire Francis and “get” this pop’s view of Catholicism more than I do that of Ross Douthat.

  • Jose’ , yes we participate in the Divine, Eternal Law! However, it is our understanding of that Law that continues to grow through the use of the faculties God has given humanity , namely our power of reason! Our reason seeks to understand the mysteries of God’s creation through various avenues of knowledge, e.g.. Theology , philosophy , science, etc! It is our reason, delving the mysteries of the universe that expands our understanding of the Divine and Eternal Law ! It is our human understanding that is limited ! It is HUMAN UNDERSTANDING that continues to grow and evolve! A static view of the Eternal as well as the Natural Law leaves no room for the growth of humanities’ deepening understanding of the Divine and Eternal Law as it manifests itself in human history ! Thus, as I pointed out earlier, we have the Church facing the dilemma posed by the findings of Galileo and Darwin ! Today the Church admits its mistake and recognizes the validity of these scientific findings and evidence !The same analogy may be applied to the deepening of our understanding of human sexuality through the evidence and findings of science ie(biology, genetics, psychology , as well as a deeper analysis and understanding of the context of the scripture passages that apply to human sexual morality !) See the study “Human Sexuality ” a symposium by the American Theological Society (1977) by Kosnik! Again , Jose ‘ , it is our UNDERSTANDING of the Divine and Eternal Law that EVOLVES through the use and reflection of our God-given gift of REASONING ! Hasn’t that been our experience throughout history ?

  • There was no dilemma posed by the findings of Galileo and Darwin.

    Galileo had some things right, had some things wrong, but managed to take a shot at the Holy Father, who at the time was not amused and was the secular head of the country Galileo was living in.

    Natural law, however, is not entwined with either of these gentlemen, who did not speak to the moral law.

    If you think there is some scientific input on human sexuality which bears on natural law, you’ll have to be plainer in your meaning.

  • JPII and BXVI were stuck in a vision of how the world works, one that still assumed a primarily uneducated laity and a world view that did not change from the Middle Ages. There were huge changes introduced by the industrial revolution, scientific discoveries about the cosmos and nature and ourselves, in how we establish and run societies, in the roles of men and women in the family and in the world. What both tried to do, it seems to me, was recreate what the practice of the faith would have been if there had been no communism or Nazism, no world wars – but ignoring how we had been changed up to when those events happened and as a result of those events happening.

    The mass exodus started long before the 1960s. It was a failure to deal with what was driving people from the faith – a failure to grasp the modern world, modern forms of organization, and the more responsible role the former serfs played in the management of their own societies.

  • What I was getting at in citing Galileo & Darwin, was the dilemma created by the Church’s methodology in applying a static view of our understanding of the TRUTH contained in the mysteries of the universe ! By using this methodology throughout history, the Church boxes itself into a corner when it addresses both doctrinal and moral issues ! It ignores the growing wealth of knowledge provided by the human sciences (also part of God’s creation) and so hinders its ability to teach to contemporary humanity ! Vatican II’s document ,Gaudium et Spes, encourages the Church to apply the modern sciences when addressing our contemporary world’s issues ! Of course, this must be done by consulting the Holy Spirit and discerning its direction ! I believe ,Pope Francis is using this approach by consulting the Church’s SENSUS FIDELIUM through the use of Synods !
    Science should not be seen as opposed to religious and theological discernment of the Holy Spirit ‘s will , but one of the AVENUES that lead us to discovering THE TRUTH ! Like spokes on a wheel, with the TRUTH as the hub , the sciences should be viewed as God’s gifts and helps to us in understanding the mysteries of God’s creation !
    As regards a deeper understanding of human sexuality, I suggest you consider the treatment found in the following studies : “Human Sexuality “, by Kosnik (1977) a compilation of the symposium of the American Theological Society , and “The Sexual Person”, by Lawler (2006)!
    Shalom !Fr Pat Ipolito

  • Aquinas himself suggested that errors about nature are possible, and give rise to errors in the understanding of the nature of God. Summa Contra Gentiles Book 2, chapter 3, verse 1. I believe that Aquinas would have allowed for change once he realized the Aristotelian biology he relied on was horribly in error.

  • Aristotelian biology has literally nothing to do with natural law.

    Natural law is a philosophy which asserts that certain rights and duties are inherent by virtue of human nature, and that these can be understood universally through human reason.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Since it is determined by nature, the law of nature is implied to be universal, existing independently of the positive law of a given state, political order, legislature or society at large.

    While the concept of “natural law” was first documented in Greek philosophy, including Aristotle, the Romans – particularly Cicero – developed it and incorporated much of its thinking into their legal code and maxims.

    It underlies the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen by France in 1789.

    Btw, it is an error to treat Aquinas as a cut and paste artist of Aristotle. He was far far from it.

  • Thank you for that walk around the block, ending where we started no wiser.

    Specifically what part of natural law are you under the impression that Galileo, Darwin, or the modern sciences impugned?

    As to Kosnik’s “Human Sexuality”:

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19790713_mons-quinn_en.html

    and Lawler’s “”Human Sexuality”:

    http://www.usccb.org/about/doctrine/publications/upload/Sexual_Person_2010-09-15.pdf

    Both of them appear to be good ways to wind up outside your denomination looking in.

    Be sure your bishop doesn’t find out you’re recommending them!

  • Both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were well-educated, even professorial, authors, hardly “stuck in a vision of how the world works …. that did not change from the Middle Ages.”

    You may be noting that they were both Catholic, which is sometimes the target of those accusations.

    The theory that the Church experienced “a failure to grasp the modern world” led John XXIII to calling the Vatican II Council which actually made things worse, at least up to this point.

    Those churches that tried really hard “to grasp the modern world” – for example the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ – at roughly the same time in the 60s lost half their membership since, which seems to support the conclusion “a failure to grasp the modern world” was not the problem after all.

  • Since the Catholic Church gives equal weight to Tradition and Scriptures, wouldn’t “the Bible as its constitution” require a new church?

  • Don’t agree, obviously. Yes, membership in many Christian faith organizations has gone down. Same is true of the Catholic church in the “old world.” And, it is losing in some developing countries.

    Maybe what we need to do as Christians is recognize that we have so much more knowledge now and “redo” our understanding of creation, ideas about the separation between the spirit and the flesh, and most definitely the roles of men and women in life, society, including in the practice of our faiths. Catholicism definitely needs a look at sexuality, sexual expression and the role of sex in people’s lives. LGBTQI are not “intrinsically disordered” – they merely represent a minority of real human beings, also created by God, a part of the nature He created. So many things we need to rethink.

    Yes. Both JPII and BXVI, for all their intelligence, did not see the modern world, but worked to recreate what they thought the world would have been without communism or nazis. They did not address the change in knowledge and social organization that prompted both to arise.

    We are struggling through a dark period of fundamentalism in many religions around the world – and Catholicism is one of them

  • In the UK the statistics show that by the late 1950s, early 1960s the number of practising Catholics was at its peak. Recusants and Irish immigration accounted for some of this but conversions to Catholicism were the paramount cause.
    Of course there was a large, movement bent on ‘modernising’ Catholicism which the pre-conciliar Church, alas, unsuccessfully failed to stifle. With the death of Pope Pius XII the fight against Modernism was virtually abandoned under Pope St John XXIII and condemned Modernists were rehabilitated and were even invited to become ‘periti (expert theologians)’ at Pope John’s Council; Fr Joseph Ratzinger was one such peritus.
    Vatican II was hailed as a sea change in Roman Catholicism and nowhere did this become more apparent immediately than in one’s local Parish Church. Altars were ripped from the apse walls. Altar rails disappeared and The Sacred Host hitherto only allowed to be touched by the hands of a bishop, priest or deacon was suddenly delivered into the hands of the communicant. Eventually unordained lay ministers were permitted to distribute Holy Communion for no other reason than to shorten the time people spent in Church. The celebtant began to face the congregation and the language of the Mass which Catholics had been instructed for centuries was unchangeable, was changed. Lay folk from the congregation started to enter the sanctuary and read lessons, epistles and intercessory prayers. Extra-liturgical devotions, Benediction and prayers, Rosaries were abandoned. The local Protestant minister became preacher de rigueur in Catholic pulpithets. These changes occurred virtually overnight. How were ordinary Catholics in the pew expected to respond to them. Ordinary catholics were perplexed at the sudden volte-face.
    Confused acceptance, however, was the response. Every few months the Liturgy of the Mass was tweaked until the Novus Ordo was imposed upon the whole Roman Church. Any queries as to why everything had changed was met by the response, “it’s the Council”. Vatican II was presented to the Faithful almost as if it werebeginning of Catholicism; Catholicism emerging from 2000 years of error, dare I say Babylonian Captivity.
    It is easy to see why Modernists would seek to challenge the age-old doctrines which were set in stone in the divinely inspired Scriptures and have held sway up until the last fifty years. The Catholic Church is the last bastion to oppose the legions of Satan who have sought to discredit her since Christ became Man.
    We can easily see how Satan is waging his war. He divided Christians of the East from the West, the Great Schism. In the West he divided Catholics from Protestants at the so-called Reformation. Since then he has divided Protestants into 40,000+ denominations. Now he has attacked the Church at its core.
    Division is the devil’s current weapon. Division between man and woman is being currently played out in the Hollywood allegations. Fair enough these allegations are mostly the griping of female actresses who years ago decided that ‘pleasing’ the boss would further their careers and were proved right; it improved their careers.
    None of the changes in societal situations altered human nature which has not changed since the time of Adam. We are tempted to react in the same way as our ancestor did; as Cain did and as his numerous successors did.
    Scientific knowledge has no bearing upon the moral law, they do not coincide. Psychiatry is a speculative discipline which means that it’s ‘findings’ are no more than individual opinions. Knowledge of what is right and wrong is inherent within our being.

  • “Douthat said Francis’ actions will push many Catholics away from the church — if not immediately, then eventually.”

    Progressive writers said the same thing about the papacies of JPII (aka, “The Saint”) and B16.

    Nothing new here.

    (I left because of B16,)

  • Forget the short rope and high tree for criminal hierarchs.

    Walking the plank will do fine.

    So will a millstone around the neck.

  • But…..but…..the hierarchs are ontologically superior to us ordinary folk. They have the power to forgive sins and turn purported bread into the body and blood of Jesus. They can even get the Spirit to come down and perch on a guy’s head and turn him into another hierarch. Our duty is not to question “Why?” but to do and die (and, until then, toss our shekels into the collection basket, give money to the bishop’s annual appeal. and kowtow to every release emanating from the Vatican).

  • As has been noted by (even) Rome in the past, there are two parallel paths to Truth, to wit, faith and science. Trouble arises when one path attempts to speak for the other.

  • As you’ve suggested, the Church’s challenge is to take Jesus’ teaching, understand what it meant to his listeners, and explain how its (ancient) meaning relates to situations facing people today.

    Thank you.

  • The problem here is in understanding the correct message and communicating it without distortion and aberration. The experts in the field should not be satisfied merely by interpreting and suggesting ways and means to put the same into practice. They are the ones who should show the masses what it means through putting them into practice, without which what they say would remain mere propaganda. Remember the old Congregation of propagating faith, in short, the ‘Propaganda’? This won’t do any more, as the recent understanding of communication resulting from the Philosophy of Language urges any communicator to ‘show’ how it is done. This is especially so in the case of faith where we talk of truths that cannot be directly observed, but can only be shown through what is observed and expressed in language.

  • Didn’t know we were reinstating the Inquisition ! Hopefully, with, Francis we are breathing some fresh air into the Church of the 21st century as JOHN XXIII did at mid 20th century ! The squelching of honest inquiry by theologians is what boxed the Church into a corner on the issues we have just discussed and more !
    Stifling inquiry is stifling the work of the Spirit, and while we may temporarily block out the Spirit’s voice , we cannot suppress it forever !
    Again , I return to my main point : if we view the Natural Law and Eternal Law from a STATIC understanding of the TRUTH (without incorporating the insights of contemporary theological reflection and scientific research, ) we doom the Church to being ineffective in addressing the problems that our contemporary world faces !
    AMEN & Shalom !

  • I am not particularly interested that you disagree. I am interested in the “why” of that disagreement.

    For example, if “a failure to grasp the modern world” were the problem, the two churches I mentioned should be packed to the rooftops. They are not.

    You say that John Paul II and Bendedict XVI “did not see the modern world”, but use as your example “LGBTQI are not ‘intrinsically disordered’”, which indicates what they failed to see was things your way.

    They were expert theologians and religious leaders. I would tend to consider them “experts” in morality and natural law as it pertains to that.

    God permits blind birth, armless births, kleptomaniacs, the list goes on and on.

    Aren’t those defects intrinsic disorders, or are you using “disorder” in a special sense other than “not as intended before the Fall”?

    I get the sense that you’re stuck in a vision of how the world works that’s not congruent with how Christianity has seen how the world works.

  • Nobody expects the Inquisition.

    As I tried to figure out what you were beating around the bush on, I found the two urls dealing with the books you recommended as well as synopses and reviews of both.

    I can see why you did not want to plainly articulate the conflict you see between the Church and the “the insights of contemporary theological reflection and scientific research”. That sort of thing could get you in some serious problems in your denomination.

    Since the revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, and the “contemporary theological reflection and scientific research” you reference would turn the church’s constant teaching on the topics completely around requiring changes – not development – in doctrine, I don’t see much purchase in that approach in the Roman Catholic Church.

    You might consider switching brands – the folks over in the Episcopal Church seem to relish this sort of stuff.

    “Sexual attraction itself, therefore, does not determine what is right or wrong. Just because something “feels” right does not necessarily make it right. Sexual ‘inventiveness’ is a sign that things have gone awry. Our sexual lives are properly ordered when they follow the patent that God has on sex.” – Hans Boersma, J. I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College

  • The Roman Church is fully capable of changing traditions especially those that are contrary to the Bible and create divisions. It has made changes in the past. Of course some changes might result in greater Christian unity which most churches at least give lip service to.

  • Actually, no. Abortion rates shot up immediately after Roe v. Wade, tripling even the exaggerated number of illegal abortions cited by Bernard Nathanson. Demand has decreased in recent years due to the wide acceptance of out-of-wedlock births and single parents, and reduced numbers of abortionists as the original “true believers” have died out.

  • The issue that the Church should have is not with scientific observations, but rather with their extrapolation. Galileo’s heresy was not that the Earth revolved around the Sun, it was the notion that this was proof of the universe as a giant clockwork with no ongoing involvement by the Creator. Similarly, Darwin’s theory only becomes problematic when used as proof that Creation resulted only as a series of random events. One can argue that the ability to separate procreation and sexuality leads to an inevitable justification of the need to deal with the unintended, typically by death or abandonment.

  • In general the quest for “greater Christian unity” is a race to the bottom of the lowest common denominator.

    The Catholics distinguish between “tradition” and “Tradition”, as do the Orthodox, so the notion of Sola Scriptura you’re suggesting has zero traction in either.

  • Reported abortion rates shot up because of the lack of legal liability and stigma in reporting it accurately post Roe v. Wade. Contraception is also far more accessible and effective now than it was back in 1973. Numbers of abortionists have been rather steady. Onerous restrictions however on the procedure have jumped dramatically in the last decade.

    When discussing “acceptance” all you are doing is differentiating honest reporting of such incidents over typical cultural ways to cover such things up.

  • “Similarly, Darwin’s theory only becomes problematic when used as proof
    that Creation resulted only as a series of random events.”

    Of course. Its not even an accurate representation of evolution! Neither scientist nor pundit should accept that.

  • Thank you. I suspect the study of Philosophy of Language is beyond the ken of most of us on this thread (and that includes me 🙂

  • Except that the rate did not immediately shoot up, but climbed over a period of a few years to a saturation point, where it stayed until relatively recently. Contraception is not more accessible than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the “stigma” of unwed motherhood is essentially gone, which was a major driver in young women seeking illegal abortions.

  • Contraception technology got better. The pill got safer, very effective implantable methods came out in the 80’s. The stigma of unwed motherhood dried up when the economy tanked in the 70’s, women entering professional fields in greater numbers and single earner families stopped being the norm for the working and middle class.

  • That is why I had mentioned the role of experts in understanding the meaning of the message to be communicated as well as the wider implications of the concept of ‘communication’. Communication is not complete merely with saying something without its accompaniment of ‘doing’ and ‘showing’ what is exactly meant . This is absolutely necessary for the Gospel Message that is the Good News, which should be seen from one’s life how good it is. However, it doesn’t mean that only the experts are able to understand the Good News, but that where points of doubt or dispute cloud one’s understanding, clarification is to be sought from those who know better.

  • “Communication is not complete merely with saying something without its accompaniment of ‘doing’ and ‘showing’ what is exactly meant .”

    Fully agree. “Action speak louder than words.”

    “[W]here points of doubt or dispute cloud one’s understanding, clarification is to be sought from those who know better.”

    Makes sense in the abstract, but who “know[s] better”? I’ve argued, for instance, that the ancients did not understand what we know today as *sexual orientation*. Fundamentalists focus on (per one such blogger) the “sex act”, but any heterosexual married person should be quick to note that an interpersonal married relationship embraces much more than sexual coupling. Most observers, scientists or not, agree that same-sex orientation is not chosen but is derived from a combination of nature and nurture. We really don’t even know the “cause” of heterosexuality even though it is, so far as we can tell, the *default* orientation; most people are “straight”. For me and other social-minded folks, should we not accord LGBTQ human beings the same legal rights enjoyed by the rest of us in housing, marriage, adoption, employment, public accommodation, etc. ?

  • Mike, thanks for reminding me of the broader context surrounding both the Galileo and Darwin questions !
    My main point is that the Church hamstrings itself in dealing with both doctrinal and moral issues by viewing them through the STATIC LENS of scholastic philosophy, rather than seeing our Understanding of Truth as a Dynamic process of discerning the Spirit’s voice in our modern world !
    Shalom !

  • Before discussing particular issues, it is necessary to agree on what constitutes human dignity and what is against it. Whatever promotes human dignity should be encouraged before everything else, Without denying understanding and compassion to all the humans, we should not at the same time lose focus on what is most important to us as humans..

  • You appear to be using the phrase “the STATIC LENS of scholastic philosophy” as a synonym for “the moral law given by God to Man”.

  • John & Joseph, I’ve been following your discussion with much interest! Thanks for sharing many good thoughts and insights !
    I would like to add one more ! I view our pursuit of the TRUTH by using the image of a wheel with spokes that lead to a hub! The Hub is the TRUTH, a person , Jesus ! The spokes are the many avenues leading us to Him! These avenues include our life experiences of as well as the many sources of knowledge and understanding gifted to us by God, (Scripture, Theology, Philosophy , all the Sciences , etc)
    The way we reach the TRUTH, Jesus , is by discerning the Spirit’s voice and guidance through these various avenues ! The way we come to truly understand and embrace the TRUTH, is by living HIS COVENANT, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE !
    It is HIS UNCONDITIONAL COVENANT LOVE, in my book, that defines what is TRUE, NATURAL ,AND REAL IN GOD’S EYES ! GOD ,as JOHN says is LOVE !

  • Rev. pat Ipolito, What you say is quite true in a context of faith and how we proceed in actual life-situations. However, here we have to address all sorts of people, believers and non-believers, theists and atheists etc. Therefore the need of Philosophy that is a common platform for any reasonable person to engage in discussions cannot be minimised. Once the basics are in place, we may proceed to the logic of faith and the place of theology in our thinking. In this context, the Philosophy of Language helps us a lot, since language is used by everyone for communication. Even for the effective communication in the Proclamation of the Gospel, a duty of every Christian, clear use of language is a necessity. How the meaning of the preaching of Jesus is to be reflected in the present day conditions of life is a pressing challenge for the entire Church. In this context, the Philosophy of Language Practised by the great Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein can come to our aid. His take on “Theology as Grammar” could further be pursued by us surprising those who claim to be pure philosophers as against faith, theology etc. “Grammar” here does not mean merely the surface grammar of language (syntax), but its depth grammar (semantics).

  • A few years ago, a noted American theologian (since retired from Catholic University of America) commented on a blog that he recalled a bishop returning from one of JPII’s synods. When asked for his impression about the synod, the bishop described it as “a farce” because of the pope’s complete control of the process and its final document.

  • John, your efforts to find a “COMMON ” vehicle to communicate with non-christians & non-believers is laudable ! The use of the Philosophy of Language may prove helpful ! I propose to use a universal language most people understand, the Language of Love ! Love, even without citing biblical references , is a language everyone has experience with, for better or worse !
    Shalom !

  • Rev. Pat Ipolito, I agree that ‘love’ is the most potent means to communicate with people even without using words. However, if we have to use words, let us be prepared to use them meaningfully depending on contexts. For genuine love, one has to first love God and be transformed into a new person for loving the neighbour as oneself.

  • John, I agree that words certainly are potent means for human beings to communicate love ! However, as the old saying goes “actions speak louder. ……” As for loving God first before loving our neighbors , I believe it usually works the other way around ! We learn to find and love God by discovering God in our neighbors !(Matthew 25) As the Lord reminded His disciples , “How can you say you love the God whom you do not see, if you don’t love the neighbor you see?” We need to communicate our love of God through the love we show our neighbor! The two parts of the Great Commandment cannot be separated ! I believe that this language of Love communicated both in words and actions , is a tried and true way to reach out to others and begin a true dialogue !
    Shalom, Fr.Pat Ipolito

  • Rev. Pat Ipolito, The greatest commandment starts with loving God totally on the strength of which we should love our neighbour as ourselves. Not that the one without the other is genuine and authentic. However, the quality of love with which we should love our neighbour ensues from our loving God that prevents exploitation of the neighbour in the name of love as well as forbidding self-promotion. It is similar to what Jesus said about goodness as God alone is good that is the standard of goodness with which a tacit comparison is made for distinguishing real goodness from fake ones. Similarly, our love of God stands as the implicit standard of comparison for genuine love with which we should love our neighbour. Jesus refers to the Last judgement in Matthew 25 where genuine love of neighbour is the deciding factor in our own destiny.

  • Tradition that is relevant and consistent to the Bible is fine. However a lot of arbitrary rules outside of the word of God is not productive and can lead to a misunderstanding.

  • The phrase “the word of God” is usually a reference to the “sola scriptura” view of religious authority.

    Prior to the Reformation, and today in the Catholic, Orthodox, and some smaller communions, that was and is rejected outright. As St Paul wrote “follow the tradition”.

  • Yes, but that was over 1900 years ago when Christianity was new with little tradition. Some very dubious and contrary to the Bible “traditions” have evolved. Luther took a balanced approach to tradition and preserved the good.

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