A way to undo the knot of Pope Francis’ words about “truth idols”?

The other day – yesterday? the days are a blur as I am on this voyage in S. Italy – I posted on the seriously confusing remarks of the Pope about making “truth idols” along with Fr. Murray’s observations.   What to say?  The way the Pope’s words were conveyed make his thought hard to reach.

Last night, however, I read a bit in a book on 20th c. Catholic theology by Fergus Kerr.  In a chapter about Yves Congar I found the following.  I wonder if this has anything to do with what the Pope was grasping at.

Vraie et fausse reforme dans l‘Église runs to 650 pages. In the first part Congar deals with sin in the Church (chapter 1); how reform should take place (chapter 2); and the part played by reforming prophets (chapter 3). The second part lays out four conditions for reform without schism: acknowledging the primacy of charity; remaining in communion with the whole Church; patience; and renewal by ressourcement, return to the sources. The third part deals with the Reformation, principally with Luther, contending that the mediatory role of the visible Church falls away into oblivion. In the conclusion Congar admits understandable reservations and hesitancies but argues that the time is ripe, especially in France: there is nothing ‘modernist’ or ‘revolutionary’ to fear; the bishops are welcoming, the would-be reformers are loyal Catholics; the reform required obviously issues out of pastoral concern. Nevertheless Congar acknowledges the problem of a split—une scission spirituelle – among Catholics, between one country and another, between France and (say) Flanders, Quebec, the Netherlands, Ireland; and also between Catholics in the same country! Accordingly, the book ends with 18 pages on intégrisme in France. Modernism, as it existed from 1895 to 1910, Congar says, was indeed a heresy. He happily quotes Pope Pius X against it. lutegristes, [sic – integristes, surely] on the other hand, maximize orthodoxy so much that this also becomes a way out of Catholicism. He adapts Newman, writing to W.G. Ward: Pardon me if I say that you are making a Church within a Church, as the Novatians of old did within the Catholic pale, and, as outside the Catholic pale, the Evangelicals of the Establishment … you are doing your best to make a party in the Catholic Church, and in St Paul’s words are dividing Christ by exalting your opinions into dogma … I protest then again, not against your tenets, but against what I must call your schisnratical [sic – schismatical, surely] spirit.83 This sectarian tendency to maximize whatever is settled by authority slips into condemning all openness, research, and questioning of received ideas. A Catholic’s orthodoxy becomes measurable by the degree of hatred that he shows for those he suspects of heterodoxy. The problem with integrisme is, finally, Congar thinks, that it has too little confidence in the truth, insufficient love of the truth – ‘Lord enlarge my soul, as Catherine of Siena prayed.’

Kerr, Fergus. Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians (pp. 40-42). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Kindle text is a bit of a mess, but the sharp reader can navigate the typos.

I suspect that this is what the Pope was driving at.

Allow me to say that I am not sure that Congar is right.  I am not sure that this is what the Pope was trying to say.   I am not sure that the Pope was right if he was trying to say this.  However, since it is intolerable to imagine a Vicar of Christ who says that “truth” can be turned into an idol, such that it takes one away from “truth”… well.  What to do?   This commentary from Congar, in Kerr might provide a lens through which we can read Pope Francis’ comments.

Yes?  No?

And please don’t bother posting comments which simply bash the Pope without any additional thought.  Not only are they not helpful for a discussion, they aren’t helpful at all.   I know that many of you are frustrated and that you need to vent somewhere, somehow.  That said, think before posting?

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Know the truth and the truth will make you … an idolator?

My friend Fr Gerald Murray has a very good essay at The Catholic Thing.  He posted it a couple days ago, so you may already have seen it.  It deserves some attention because it touches on something fundamental even to our daily peace: truth.

Channel your inner John Lennon or Thomas Hobbes for a moment and imagine a world without stable, objective truth.  Our existence would soon become nasty, brutish and short.

In the absence of truth, we have the imposition of will.  And if I am stronger than you, then you had better do what I say.  Or else.

Fr. Murray takes a look at something that the Holy Father said during the sermon for his Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday.

We must be careful not to fall into the temptation of making idols of certain abstract truths. They can be comfortable idols, always within easy reach; they offer a certain prestige and power and are difficult to discern. Because the “truth-idol” imitates, it dresses itself up in the words of the Gospel, but does not let those words touch the heart. Much worse, it distances ordinary people from the healing closeness of the word and of the sacraments of Jesus.

What on earth does this mean?

Is it possible to turn truth, which is a transcendental, into an idol?   Truth reflects God.  God is truth.  Can you turn God into an idol?

It could be that what the Pope is driving at is that it is – perhaps – possible to stress something that it true to an exaggerated degree, at which point it becomes something detrimental.  I know that it is hard to get your head around the idea that truth can be detrimental in anyway.  The truth will set us free (cf John 8:31) not reduce us to idol-worshippers.

So, what does the Holy Father mean?   What truths or true statements is he talking about? Is he talking about the Church’s dogmatic teachings?  Dogma, after all, is rooted in Scripture (cf. “dresses itself up in the words of the Gospel”).   Is that what he means?   Is this a criticism of, for example, the memorization of formulas, as one might teach children with the classic Baltimore Catechism?   Is this an assertion that, even though something might be true, we don’t always have to behave as if it is?   What to do with “truth idol”?

I very much want to take what all Popes say seriously and on face value.  But figuring out what this means, on the face of it, seems to lead into a cul de sac of contradiction.   Fr. Murray has his view:

[I]s it possible to make the truth into an idol? Can Catholic dogmatic teachings and the truths of the moral law become false gods that we worship so as to gain “a certain prestige and power”? It’s not possible. The truth as taught by the Church is what unites us to the true God and frees us from the errors of idolatry. Truth is not an idol, it is the remedy to idolatry.

Pope Francis states that “the ‘truth-idol’ imitates, it dresses itself up in the words of the Gospel, but does not let those words touch the heart.” Is the Gospel obscured or falsified by truths taught by the Magisterium of the Church – which are drawn from that Gospel?

If the truth could be an idol, then naturally any use of the Scriptures to illustrate that particular truth would be a charade. But the truth of God cannot be an idol because what God has made known to us is our means of entering into His reality – the goal of our existence.

Francis states that this “truth-idolatry” in fact “distances ordinary people from the healing closeness of the word and of the sacraments of Jesus.”  [Does the Pope mean, “Teaching people formulas that express the Church’s dogma without also engaging in works of mercy?”]

Here we have the interpretative key to what I think he is getting at. He is defending his decision in Amoris Laetitia to allow some people who are living in adulterous unions to receive the sacraments of penance and the Holy Eucharistic while intending to continue to engage in adulterous relations.

This doctrinal and disciplinary innovation, which contradicts all previous papal teaching and legislation, was confirmed as his unequivocal intention in his letter to the Argentinian bishops of the Buenos Aires region.

Those who defend the Church’s constant teaching and practice on this matter have been subjected to various aspersions. Now they are being categorized as engaging in a horrific violation of the First Commandment because they treat Catholic doctrine as inviolable, and thus binding upon all believers.  [A sad consequence of the lack of clarity in this regard has been that band of camp-followers label those who uphold the Church’s perennial teachings and disciplines as being stupid, or haters, or afraid.  It’s a typical liberal tactic.]

If truth could ever lose its quality of being the means to know the will of God, and become something false, and thus evil, then mankind is lost. Without immutable truth, we have no way to live in unity with God, with reality, and with one another.  [Life would, as I mentioned, rapidly become nasty, brutish and short.]

The good news is that truth can never be false. It’s not an idol, and to defend the truth is not to lead people away from God towards false worship, but rather to invite them to embrace what is, in fact, their deepest desire for goodness, happiness, and peace.

The truth will set you free, it will not enslave you in error and darkness. Those who seek to be healed by coming close to Christ in his sacraments will only realize that goal by knowing and doing what Jesus asks of them. To reject in practice his words about the permanence of marriage and the obligation to avoid adultery, and then assert a right to receive the sacraments risks making an erroneous opinion into an idol.

Mercy can never been divorced from truth.   Mercy, divorced from truth, would become mere caprice, my whim at this moment, the imposition of my will… this time for your advantage, the next time for my advantage.

Pope Francis is hard to understand sometimes.  One good thing that results from his lack of clarity is that we then are bound to think through carefully what he is saying and the implications of what he says.  For my part, I am promptly driven back to Scripture and sources such as the Roman Catechism and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to make sure that I have my feet on the ground.

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Your Good News

I haven’t posted one of these for some time.

Do you have good news to share with the readership?  We could all use good, edifying news.

For my part, our pilgrimage is going well.  I am exhausted with jet lag and a couple of long days, but things are going well.  I hope to post more about our doings soon.

Also, I hope to get a new “Talk Like Shakespeare” piece out…. I need more time!


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“the worthy deeds and prayers of thy blessed martyr George”

Here is a piece I wrote for the UK’s best Catholic weekly’s print edition of the Catholic Herald:

Last week in Los Angeles I visited the great Getty Museum.  My attention was arrested by a 16th century Italian oil on panel by Dosso Dossi.  A man in armour with a subtle halo, Christ-like hair and beard, clutches a broken spear with his white-knuckled hand.  Below and before him he holds the head of a lizard bird beast.  Above, a faint rainbow emerges.  The man’s face is a masterwork of conflicting forces: fatigue, triumph, sorrow, determination.  It was one of the most interesting paintings of the martyr St George and the Dragon that I have ever seen.

This coming week brings St George’s Feast, celebrated with solemnity as England’s Patron.  His blood red Cross is emblazoned across the Union Flag.   George, as the tale goes, was one of those soldier saints who, when he refused to recant his Christian Faith, was put to death perhaps in AD 303 during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian.  His cult was deep and widespread. He was numbered among the Fourteen “Holy Helper Saints” and was invoked against the Black Death for the health of domestic animals. His skull is venerated in the Roman Minor Basilica of San Giorgio in Velabro which once had Bl John Henry Newman for a titular cardinal.

Speaking of dragons, the saint is most often depicted in the act of slaying one.  There is little evidence of non-metaphorical dragons roaming about in the 4th century. Perhaps it was a journalist? Nevertheless, the image of St George, having captured our forebears’ minds and hearts, produced countless works of devotional art across many centuries.  The kernel of the story is in the Legenda Aureaor Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine (d1298). Once upon a time, a venom-spewing dragon which demanded human sacrifice (as they do) plagued a town in Libya where George happened to be trotting.  George declared that if they professed belief in Christ he would save the king’s daughter who had just been lead away as basilisk bait.  Our saint speared the devilish critter, chopped off its head with his sword, saved the girl and, thence, a spring of disease-curing water sprang forth. The king subsequently built a church there in honor the Blessed Virgin and the saintly dragon-slayer.

At some point, we all must face the dragon.  Christians strive for victory in sorrow and great fatigue, battered but determined, even when our spears have shattered.

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WDTPRS 3rd Sunday after Easter (TLM): Be distinguished by your profession of Christ!

In the midst of chaos, we need to bring our minds to work at hand, our work of sacred liturgy, the renewal of which is our only hope for true revitalization of the Church.

This Sunday’s Collect survived the knives of the liturgical experts and was inserted into the 1970 Missale Romanum on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The redactors who glued the Novus Ordo together, however, removed the word iustitiae, thus returning it to the form it had in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary. Other ancient sacramentaries, such as the Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis as well as the Augustodunensis had the iustitiae. In any event, by the time St. Pius V issued the the Missale Romanum of 1570, which I am sure you have on hand, someone had seen fit to make it read, “in viam possint redire iustitiae”, which endured until the 1970MR and subsequent editions.


Deus, qui errantibus, ut in viam possint redire iustitiae, veritatis tuae lumen ostendis, da cunctis qui christiana professione censentur, et illa respuere, quae huic inimica sunt nomini, et ea quae sunt apta sectari.

Stylistically snappy! It has nice alliteration and a powerful rhythm in the last line.

I think there is a trace here of John 14, which I will show you below. Can we also find a connection between this Collect in a phrase from the Roman statesman Cassiodorus (+c. 585 – consul in 514 and then Boethius’ successor as magister officiorum under the Ostrogothic King Theodoric)? Cassiodorus wrote, “Sed potest aliquis et in via peccatorum esse et ad viam iterum redire iustitiae? … But can someone be both in the way of sins and also return again to the way of justice?” (cf. Exp. Ps. 13).

Is this prayer old enough to have been known by Milan’s mighty Bishop St. Ambrose (+397) or even St. Augustine of Hippo (+430), who use similar patterns of words?

Your thorough Lewis & Short Dictionary says censeo has a special construction: censeo, censeri aliqua re, meaning “to be appreciated, distinguished, celebrated for some quality”, “to be known by something.” This explains the passive form in our Collect with the ablative christiana professione. Getting christiana professio into English requires some fancy footwork. We could say “Christian profession”, but this adjectival construction really means “profession of Christ.” This same thing happens in phrases such as oratio dominica, “the Lordly Prayer”, or more smoothly “the Lord’s Prayer”.

Via means, “a way, method, mode, manner, fashion, etc., of doing any thing, course”. There is a moral content to via as well, “the right way, the true method, mode, or manner”.

Let’s see what people used to hear in church on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time in the…


God our Father,
your light of truth
guides us to the way of Christ.
May all who follow him
reject what is contrary to the gospel.

And now, ….


O God, who do show the light of Your truth to the erring so that they might be able to return unto the way of justice, grant to all who are distinguished by their profession of Christ that they may both strongly reject those things which are inimical to this name of Christian and follow eagerly the things which are suited to it.


O God, who show the light of your truth
to those who go astray,
so that they may return to the right path,
give all who for the faith they profess
are accounted Christians
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ
and to strive after all that does it honor.

Ancient philosophers (the word comes from Greek for “lover of wisdom”) would walk about in public in their sandals and draped toga-like robes. Thinkers such as Aristotle were called “Peripatetics” from their practice of walking about (Greek peripatein) under covered walkways of the Lyceum in Athens (Greek peripatos) while teaching. Their disciples would swarm around them, hanging on their words, debating with them, learning how to think and reason. They would discuss the deeper questions the human mind and heart inevitably faces. They were effectively theologians. We must be careful not to impose the modern divorce of philosophy from theology on the ancients. In ancient Christian mosaics Christ is sometimes depicted wearing a philosopher’s robes. But He doesn’t merely love Wisdom, He is Wisdom incarnate, the perfect Teacher!

He is the one from whom we learn about God and about ourselves (cf. Gaudium et spes 22 – which the young Pope John Paul II helped to write during the Council).

The Collect also reminds me of the very first lines of the Divine Comedy by the exiled Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (+1321) who was heavily influenced by Aristotle’s Ethics and the Christianized Platonic philosophy mediated through Boethius (+525) and St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274). The Inferno begins:

Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.
Ah, how hard it is to tell
the nature of that wood, savage, dense, and harsh –
the very thought of it renews my fear!
It is so bitter death is hardly more so.

Dante, the protagonist of his own poem, is describing his fictional self. In his poetic persona, Dante is in the middle of his life (35 years old – half of 70, the number of years mentioned as man’s span in Ps. 90:10). He is mired in sin and irrational behavior, having strayed from the straight path of the life of reason: he is in the “dark wood”.

The life of persistent sin is a life without true reason. Human reason, when left to itself without the light of grace, is crippled.

Dante likens his confused state to death. He must journey through hell and the purification of purgatory in order to come back to the life of virtue and reason. In the course of the three-part Comedy the Poet finds the proper road back to light, Truth and reason through the intercession of Christ-like figures, such as Beatrice, and then through Christ Himself. In the Comedy, Dante recovers the use of reason. His whole person is reintegrated through the light of Truth.

Don’t we often describe people who are ignorant, confused or obtuse as “wandering around in the dark”?

This applies also to persistent sinners. By their choices and resistance to God’s grace they have lost the light of Truth. God’s grace makes it possible for us to find our way back into the right path, no matter how far from it we have strayed in the past. When we sin, we break our relationship with Christ. If in laziness we should refuse to know Him better (every day), we lose sight of ourselves and our neighbor.

Christ, the incarnate Word, gives us consolation:

“‘Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way (via) where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way (via)?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way (via), and the truth (veritas), and the life (vita); no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him…. He who has seen me has seen the Father’” (cf. John 14:1-6 RSV).

We Catholics, who dare – DARE – publicly to take Christ’s name to ourselves, need to stand up and be counted (censentur)!

In what we say and do other people ought to be able to see Christ’s light reflected and focused in the details of our individual vocations. To be good lenses and reflectors of Christ’s light, we must be clean. When we know ourselves not to be so, we are obliged as soon as possible to seek cleansing so that we can be saved and be of benefit for the salvation of others. We must also practice spiritual works of mercy, bringing the light of truth to the ignorant or those who persist in darkness either through their own fault or no fault of their own.

Every Catholic is called to evangelize, if not in an “official” capacity in the Church’s name, at least through the obligation we have as members of Christ’s Body the Church.

Evangelization and the efforts of ecumenism are an obligation for every Catholic.  There are still people living in darkness. We must “preach” always and, as the phrase often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi says, sometimes use words.

When people look at us and listen to us, do they see a light-extinguishing black hole where a beautiful image of God should be?

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Your Sunday Sermon Notes

Was there a good point made in the sermon you heard at your Mass of Sunday Obligation?   Let us know.

I’m with a pilgrimage group in S. Italy and we are having the TLM all through.  Today, very briefly indeed, I commented with some irony on the admonition in the 1st letter of Peter about the “carnal desires” in relation to the spectacular food and the amazing sensory things we are enjoying.  Then I shifted into the word “apta” in the Collect in relation to our “Christiana professione“, rejecting (respuere) whatever is against who we are known to be by our identity.



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Felix Natalis Dies Roma!

Today is the 2771 Birthday of Rome. Happy birthday!

The Great Roman Fabrizio™ shared his quintessential, virtuous Roman repast: fave, pecorino, vino bianco.  It doesn’t get more Roman than that.

On the other hand, I arrived at Roma today to scoot southward down the Via Appia.  I am in Basilicata, or Lucania.

We have orange and jasmine and a little fountain.

Here is the famous portable altar made by St. Joseph’s Apprentice, along with elements of the famous silk travel vestments, which a few of you elite readers helped to purchase.

So, we had Mass…

… and supper, and now serious CRASH.

Tomorrow, I must write an article for the paper sometime between breakfast, Mass and going to Lecce.

For a fascinating read about the guy who figured out the date of the Birthday of Rome: HERE

And because I usually post a food photo today… here’s some goat!

Yes, the sauce is made from goat.

An afternoon drink!

Yes, that’s rosemary.   Lot’s of cracked ice, tonic, lime juice, lemon, basil leaves.

The pizza oven is ready.

Remember.  The pizza oven is NOT as hot as Hell.


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Posted in Just Too Cool, On the road, SESSIUNCULA, What Fr. Z is up to | Tagged , | 9 Comments

My View For Awhile: Mezzogiorno Edition

I’m heading out on an adventure as chaplain to a pro-life pilgrimage group which will travel in S. Italy, where I have never been: Puglia, Calabria, Sicily with some time in Naples and, on my own, a few days in Rome at the end.

I’m hoping for good connectivity along the way.

May I ask for prayers for the safety of all who are traveling and for a successful journey for all.


Do you have one of these for your inflight power with your phone?

You should have one. Use the amazon search box on the side bar.

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20 April 2007 – Msgr. Richard Schuler – RIP

Today is the anniversary of the death of Msgr. Richard Schuler, a well-known Church musician and pastor for many years of the Church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN.

This was a man who fought the good fight, in hard years, for sacred Church music and excellence in liturgy.  In his 33 years as pastor of St. Agnes, there were some 30 First Masses offered.

Papa Ratzinger knew Msgr. Schuler well, and Schuler was a friend of the Holy Father’s brother Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, who himself was a great Church musician in his day.

Card. Ratzinger would often express interest to me when I would run into him at the Palazzo Sant’Uffizio, where I worked for some years, about the music program at St. Agnes and ask about Msgr. Schuler.  Each year I would give him a program of the sacred music at St. Agnes and he always immediately looked through it with comments, “Theresienmesse… I like that one”, and so forth through the whole year.

When I heard that Msgr. Schuler had died, I sent a note to Msgr. Gänswein (now Archbishop), the personal secretary to His Holiness, asking him to inform the Pope.  I requested that Pope Benedict send a telegram, if he deemed it opportune.  His Holiness sent a telegram to St. Agnes parish in St. Paul in time for Monsignor’s Requiem (Mozart) wherein it was read to the congregation.

How many parish priests get for their funerals a telegram from the Pope?

Perhaps in your charity you would stop and say a prayer for the repose of his soul.

Also, I had made a PODCAzT in which I talk about him sometime ago.  A great many people owe him a great deal.  I trust that God has been merciful to him and that he now enjoys the heavenly choirs.

PODCAzT 21: Leo the Great on Peter – Msgr. Schuler

There’s a book of essays (Festschrift) in his honor.  Cum Angelis Canere.

And there…  To Sing With The Angels

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19 April 2005: Benedict XVI elected

Today, 19 April, is the 13th anniversary of the election of Benedict XVI.

I’ll bet you remember where you were.

How time flies.

I was with FoxNews at the time.  Here’s the coverage…

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