If you think this is yet another story of homosexual abuse within the Catholic Church, I hate to disappoint you. This time it’s the Pope who’s on the receiving end of abuse.
A couple of days ago my eye was drawn to headlines flashing across the Internet and social media: ANTICHRIST! POPE SAYS PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS IS DANGEROUS!
Now I’m not one of Pope Francis’s greatest admirers, and I become even less of one when comparing him to his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Rather than concentrating on matters of doctrine and ecclesiastical integrity, Pope Francis gives in too easily and too often to the temptation of supporting secular fads that are at best dubious and at worst pernicious.
Yet no priest, nor even a lay Christian, can possibly say what the headlines claimed His Holiness had said. For the phrase in the headline is effectively tantamount to disparaging prayer, a medium for establishing a personal relationship with God.
Thus the headline could be paraphrased to say POPE SAYS PRAYER IS DANGEROUS, which just can’t be true. The stench of a giant rat on a rampage is all too pervasive.
So what did the Pope actually say? Here’s the relevant passage:
“At times one hears someone say: ‘I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, but I don’t care about the Church…’And this is not good. There are those who believe they can maintain a personal, direct and immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside the communion and the mediation of the Church. These are dangerous and harmful temptations. These are, as the great Paul VI said, absurd dichotomies… Remember this well: to be Christian means belonging to the Church.”
See the difference? And see how abbreviated quoting can deceive without actually lying? “John can make any shop girl…” is a technically accurate but fundamentally mendacious way of quoting the claim that “John can make any shop girl laugh.”
The Pope reiterated fundamental Christian doctrine, defending it from attacks launched by various, mainly Protestant, heresies. For once, therefore, he was entirely within his remit.
The Reformation shifted the focus of life from the divine centre to the human periphery. When Luther declared that every man was his own priest, he unwittingly issued a licence for every man to be his own God.
He didn’t have the foresight to realise that marginalising the Church would ineluctably marginalise Christianity and adumbrate the first atheist civilisation in history.
For Christian communion isn’t just one between a believer and God but also one among all believers. Neither communion is possible without the mediation of the Church, which in effect means that without the Church Christianity isn’t possible as a religion.
It’s reduced to a quaint personal idiosyncrasy to be kept at bay from real life and only to be indulged in one’s spare time. By atomising worship and doctrine into millions of individual and inevitably divergent interpretations, the reformers pushed a button on a delayed-action bomb.
That device has now gone off to a shattering effect, ending not only the divine role of Christianity as educator, guardian of doctrine and facilitator of salvation, but also its vital secular role as a check on the power of tyrants.
It’s not coincidental that the first wholly atheist century, the twentieth, saw the rise of diabolical tyrannies never before seen in Christendom. In that one century more people died violent deaths than in all the previous recorded history combined. And only a fool will ascribe this mainly to advances on killing technology.
Tens of millions were dispatched by low-tech expedients long in the public domain, such as murder, execution, torture, neglect, artificial famines. The mass murders of post-Christian modernity came not from technological progress but from moral regress. And it takes an inert mind and staggering ignorance not to see a causal link between that and the decline of the Church as a dynamic moral, intellectual, cultural and social force.
The Pope is absolutely right to point out that the word ‘Christian’ means nothing outside the Church. Or rather the word can mean anything, which is actually worse than nothing.
One of the most grotesque example of such lexical versatility was provided by Leo Tolstoy, who in 1901 was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church for his ceaseless, vituperative attacks on Christianity. Among other things, Tolstoy rejected the divinity of Christ, thereby, one would think, effectively excommunicating himself.
However, the writer responded with an open letter of protest to the Holy Synod, claiming that not only was he a real Christian, but that his Christianity was purer than anyone else’s:
“That I have rejected the church that calls itself Russian Orthodox is perfectly true… I’ve come to the conclusion that in theory the teaching of the church is a perfidious and harmful lie, while in practice it is a collection of the crudest superstitions and sorcery, hiding completely the entire meaning of Christian teaching… It is perfectly true that I reject the incomprehensible trinity and the myth, these days meaningless, of the fall of the first man, the blasphemous story of a god born of a virgin to redeem the human race… You say that I reject all the rituals. That is perfectly true… This [the Eucharist] is horrible!”
This shows that outside the Church Christianity can mean anything at all, including anti-Christianity. So, rather than sputtering spittle at the Pope and perverting his words, those anticlerical fanatics should try to understand what he meant.
On second thoughts, I doubt they can understand anything at all: they’re too busy expressing their religious individuality.