Thursday, May 28, 2015

Piarum Aurium Haeresi Proxima?

A few days ago, Pope Francis recorded a statement addressing an ecumenical gathering of Protestants held in Pheonix, Arizona, to which the Holy Father had been invited but which he did not attend. In that statement (the whole of which can be read here), Pope Francis made the following remark:
I feel like saying something that may sound controversial, or even heretical, perhaps.
The original Spanish, which is even clearer, reads:
Y me viene a la mente decir algo que puede ser una insensatez, o quizás una herejía, no sé.
That is, "something that might be folly, or perhaps a heresy, I don't know."

Let me preface what I'm about to say by noting that I do not want to spread scandal among my fellow Catholics. I don't comb through the Pope's speeches and homilies looking for ambiguous turns of phrase which could be used to foment discontent among the laity. I try to assume good faith whenever and wherever possible. But there comes a point at which to fail to object to something wholly objectionable becomes indistinguishable from condoning it. Besides, if you're not thoroughly scandalized by what you've read already, chances are good that any scandal arising in you due to what follows will be of an ill-placed sort to which I feel no need to cater.

With that being said, let's see what one of the most prolific papal apologists today, Mr. Jimmy Akin, has to offer in the way of a hermeneutical key for unlocking the intent behind this particular statement.

According to Mr. Akin, the Pope chose these words because he is introducing a thought which might be "unfamiliar" to many of his listeners. That is, says Akin, the Pope is employing "a touch of hyperbole, or exaggeration, to make a point." And what is that point? That real unity already exists between Christians on the basis of their shared enemy, i.e. the devil - an ecumenism of archfiendery, if you will. A novelty, to be sure, but nothing which is incapable of being reconciled with the Magisterium of the last 50 years. Taking this into account, Akin reaches the following rather soothing verdict: "Properly speaking, his proposal not only isn't heretical, it doesn’t even sound heretical."


First, the Spanish language offers a range of words to describe something as being unfamiliar, novel, startling or even shocking. The word "heresy" would not, I imagine, top anyone's list of suitable synonyms.

Second, the recipients of this message are Protestants. What part of "the devil hates all Christians" is "unfamiliar" to Protestants, so as to require the use of "exaggeration" to make the point? Remember that these Protestants invited the Pope to join them in prayer, so it's not as though they need to be shocked into the realization that Catholics are Christians.

Third, it's obvious that the Pope is using the term "heresy" to intensify or maximize what he has already described as smacking of "folly", namely, the notion that real unity already exists between Christians on the basis of their shared enemy. In other words, if "folly" is bad, Pope Francis is telling us that what he is about to say is doubleplusbad.

Fourth, the Pope knows that the error of which his statement smacks, i.e. religious indifferentism, has been formally condemned as such on numerous occasions (Qui pluribus, 1846; Noscitis, 1849; Multiplices inter, 1851; Maxima quidem, 1862; Quanto conficiamur, 1863).

Fifth, granting that the Pope is employing the term hyperbolically, he can intend to communicate to his listeners nothing less than that what he is about to say will likely offend pious ears.

Sixth, in order to claim that the statement doesn't smack of heresy, one has to contradict the explicit admission on the part of the Pope that his statement smacks of heresy. That is, the Pope himself says that the statement has an air of heresy about it, so to interpret his statement in any way so as to remove this heretical taint is to give a meaning to the Pope's words which he himself clearly does not intend to give them.

Sorry, Jimmy. It just doesn't wash.

The inescapable fact is that no Pope has ever spoken like this before, because this is not how Popes speak.

Popes do not preface a statement with, "This might come off as heretical, but...," or "This might be offensive to pious ears, but...."

Popes do not speak in this manner because there is no other way to interpret such words than as a preface to a public profession of a sentiment worthy of at least theological, if not canonical, censure.

To quote Mr. Patrick Archbold: Make of that what you will.

Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred
Pierre Le Gros the Younger (1666-1719)

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