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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  1. Philippe Martin says:

    I agree that Congar’s theological ideas and expectations, are – out of a direct or indirect exposition, who knows? – very much in Francis’ mind. However, about his recent utterance, I tend to hear something along the lines of “truth is always greater and further away from anyone’s graso”, in such a way that dogmas and doctrinal statements point to this truth beyond our reach but must not be confused with Truth and revered as such. Does it make sense?

  2. The Masked Chicken says:

    There is a line in the movie, Airplane, where a hipster is on the plane speaking apparent jibberish and an older older woman stops the stewardess and says, “It okay. I speak jive. Let me translate.”

    I’m not sure, but, maybe, I speak Francis. I will translate (and throw in a comment about Congar), but some theology should not be done on an empty stomach, so excuse me while I make a peanut butter sandwich.

    The Chicken

  3. teachermom24 says:

    Having come into the Catholic Church out of a Protestant denomination where truth (or their version of being right) was an idol, this makes sense to me. I see the dangers and temptation toward this view among faithful Catholics especially in the US with our Protestant culture that doesn’t accept authority higher than one’s own view of things.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Weeeeeell, I think this is misdiagnosis. Usually when people get weird about pushing orthodoxy down other people’s throats (and I speak from personal experience of myself), it’s not a matter of idolatry in any way.

    It’s the zeal of anger (righteous or not), and it’s rooted in feeling threatened or unsure. (Usually because there really is a threat, and at the same time you are suffering from doubt or worry.) You know that X is definitely right and true, so you cling desperately to X and use it to beat back danger. Sometimes this whacks into other people. Sometimes those other people really are bringing the danger; sometimes they are folks who should have been helped instead. (Sometimes both.)

    Now, I suppose that if one lets false zeal rule one’s life (instead of gaining equanimity and perspective, and having a true peace and zealous love for the Lord at the same time), that could become an idol. But false zeal is a perpetual and enforced feature of life for progressives, and we’re not hearing about that.

  5. ususantiquor says:


    Compare this from the Cardinal Archbishop of Newark at the pro-Francis gathering at Villanova last week (from the Catholic Herald):

    “the Newark archbishop took aim at those “small enclaves” who “safeguard the treasure of the Christian tradition in its purest form from the corrosive intrusion of a corrupt society”. “Even from ancient times, there have been individuals and movements who have tried to define and delimit what it means to be a Catholic Christian,” Tobin said. “Nevertheless, the Universal Church has always repudiated such attempts. It is only the Lord who ultimately judges who belongs or does not belong.”

    Sounds like a repudiation of the first seven councils of the Church et seqq—bunch of spoil sports all those council fathers! And the Universal Church has “repudiated such attempts” ???!!

    This from a cardinal archbishop! What are they thinking? Only the Lord ultimately judges who belongs, so consistency with the inerrant magisterium of the Church and all of Catholic tradition really doesn’t matter? This seems a direct attack on the integrity of Catholic teaching and so on the Catholic faith itself. Help!

    [This is mostly about what Pope Francis said, not whatever it was that Card. Tobin said, or meant, or… whatever. I found a few of his points puzzling to the the point of being absurd (“Heresy is an unwillingness to live with complexity”), but this is not the place to deal with that.]

  6. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I forgot to say that the worst cases of false zeal are from people who are actually idolizing themselves, and have their idol threatened. They cover up unholy envy with a false zeal of nitpicking and holier-than-thou.

    For example, the nun superiors who made life difficult in the convent for St. Bernadette and for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. They were holy-ish women of some distinction, confronted by true saints in the making who had been favored specially by Christ with gifts and visions. This triggered the queen bee instinct, and they tried to make them crawl and be unhappy by contradicting the saints and standing in their way, as well as suggesting that it was the saints who were being petty, hateful, self-deceiving, insufficiently orthodox, insufficient in their practice of the faith, etc.

    Since those particular ladies really were saints, they stuck to Christ. Eventually their superiors seem to have recovered from this madness of false zeal and envy. But again, it was an idolatry of self. Any self-justifying thoughts about orthodoxy were just BS, and it is common for such people to fall into errors and heresies.

  7. MrsMacD says:

    Truth could not be an idol. False truth could be an idol. God is Truth. “The truth shall set you free.”
    The modernist might like to frame truth as an idol to distract from all of their other idols. Lets say if someone wanted to believe that a man can only marry one woman, a modernist might frame that truth as an idol when someone, say Peter, decided to tell Mark that he couldn’t go to communion because he was living with a woman that wasn’t his wife. So, a modernist might call that truth an idol. He might say that Peter was worshiping truth rather than doing the nice thing and telling the man that he could have the white thing. False truth can also be an idol. The modernist, lets call him Judas, would be so nice that he would tell Mark that he could receive the Eucharist because we are all brothers. [He would accompany him right up to the communion rail and would hold his hand while he did it.] Judas would condemn anyone who was so mean as to tell Mark not to receive communion. He would hate Peter and call him a meanie. Judas would teach his children to hate Peter and to be super kind to Mark. [after all Mark deserves some happiness in this life, right?]

    Is Pope Francis being Peter or Judas? I don’t know and the implications make me feel ill. God help us. St. Joseph, protector of the church, pray for us!!!

  8. WVC says:

    I offer this not as a comment on anyone (including the Pope’s) intelligence, but as a possible source of confusion. How many folks have personal experience dealing with Argentinians? Speaking anecdotally from personal experience (with the understanding this is may not be universally applicable to all Argentinians), I have found there is a very different way of thinking and speaking that tends to be much “messier” than traditionally Western ways of thinking and speaking. There tends to be a great deal of “thinking out loud” which often results in talk-thinking one’s way from position A to position B to contradicting position A to contradicting position B to going back to position A. It does not mean there is “intent” to confuse, or that there is any deep, insightful observations trying to be communicated. It really is very verbal “thinking / speculating out loud.” I’ve found that it is often “thinking / speculating” that is very impulsive – i.e. someone says something or does something which immediately sparks an hour long “thinking / speculating” session about whether this is or is not this way or should be some other way . . . .etc.

    I confess, this is actually a lot of how my own thought process works (I’m not a very deep thinker), and I’m not Argentinian. However, I often talk/speculate to myself and not in public, and I certainly don’t have as many people scrutinizing me as the Pope. Whether it’s prudent or not for the Pope to operate / communicate this way is a legitimate consideration, but I often wonder if we don’t spend hours upon hours trying to understand something that doesn’t really have that much thought behind it. Given my personal experiences, I would say that Pope Francis is behaving very much how I would imagine an Argentinian Pope would behave, and I don’t take everything he says with the same level of gravity as say a deliberate German theologian like Pope Benedict.

    At least, that’s my 2 cents.

  9. Mike says:

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

    Those who live in Truth don’t need to tie words into knots, any more than Our Lord (Who is Truth) did when He was on earth. In fact, and in stark contrast to the standard operating procedure of this Papacy, they go out of their way not to.

  10. Sawyer says:

    A charitable reading of the pope might propose that what he means is something along the lines of Aquinas’ proposition that we cannot know what God is, only what God is not; yet Aquinas does not deny that we can know and speak many (incompletely and inadequately) true and useful things about God.

    Another charitable reading might propose something along the lines of John of the Cross, who cautioned that no image, idea or proposition was proportional to God, therefore to rely unduly on such mental constructs instead of on dark faith would be to have an idol that obstructs growth in faith.

    As a counter inquiry, has the pope ever spoken about making an idol of subjectivity? That seems to me to be a far more present danger today than the epistemologically and theologically accurate but subtle truth that every idea about God falls infinitely short of the divine reality. Fr. James Martin and the bishops around the world who are touting the “primacy of conscience” are making an idol out of subjectivity. Why has the pope not said anything about that more widespread and dangerous phenomenon? It is more dangerous because it proposes that the criterion of truth is within the person rather than outside the person, whereas the Thomistic principle is: Veritas est adequatio intellectus et rei. “Primacy of conscience” folk claim something along the lines of: truth is whatever I want it to be, regardless of reality outside my subjectivity. That is not merely an idol, it’s pretty close to asserting self-deification.

  11. Toan says:

    Another way truth can become an idol is when our time analyzing truth (including separating orthodoxy from heterodoxy, and heck, reading blogs) starts to damage our relationship with God by cutting into our prayer time, cutting into time we should be working on tasks required by justice (our jobs), causing us to think things we shouldn’t think about others.

    I wonder how saintly I would be if, for the last year, I had limited my blog time to 5 minutes per day and spent the rest of the time in mental prayer.

  12. teachermom24 says: Having come into the Catholic Church out of a Protestant denomination where truth (or their version of being right) was an idol, this makes sense to me. I see the dangers and temptation toward this view among faithful Catholics especially in the US with our Protestant culture that doesn’t accept authority higher than one’s own view of things.

    But, see, Catholic doctrine is not on the same level as the opinions that distinguish one version of Protestantism from another. Being attached to true doctrine is not the same as being attached to opinions.

    I wish I had a buck for every priest or deacon that I’ve heard trying to make a distinction between what the Church teaches on the one hand, and what is “right” on the other hand. The idea of setting aside Catholic teaching in order to “do the right thing” is just an excuse for doing whatever you want.

    The Dubay book Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment was recently mentioned on this site. I have now read it. The author is very insistent on a point that Scripture is also insistent on: that the hallmark of a true teacher is adherence to doctrine, while the hallmark of a false teacher is departure from doctrine.

  13. PTK_70 says:

    If you acknowledge “bibliolatry” as a thing, and a condemnable thing at that, then you probably understand His Holiness.

    In other words, what teachermom24 said.

    How about this for a truth-idol? “We must never allow the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be defiled by the music of vile heretics, such as Bach.”

    Or how about this for a truth-idol? “Latin Christians mock Orthodoxy and make themselves heretics through the brazen addition of the term filioque to the Creed.”

    I think the pope is touching on something important here. Maybe he’s saying it’s time to get out of our self-imposed ghettos and talk.

  14. Ave Maria says:

    Jn 8: [31] Then Jesus said to those Jews, who believed him: If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. [32] And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

  15. chantgirl says:

    This sounds like an uncharitable caricature of Catholics who really believe what Catholics are supposed to believe.

    “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”

    Way to impugn the motives of those he doesn’t know, and assume the worst intentions. When regular Catholics refuse to change their belief in Christ’s teachings, and hold fast to the Church’s constant teaching, they are accused of a lack of charity that blinds them to the surprises that the Holy Spirit is trying to give us. I agree that there are those on the fringes of the Trad movement who uncharitably suspect almost everyone of heresy, but these are outliers. They no more define Trads than eco-terrorists define the Left. The fact that the Church is beset by modernist errors and heresies of all types also tends to trigger this suspicious attitude in the more OCD trad types.

    Fr Z, I admire your patience and charity in trying to square the circle of this papacy, but I think we really need to face what is the likeliest reality. We very likely have a pope who personally espouses some heretical ideas, but who has been prevented by the Holy Spirit from stating them as plainly as he would like in official documents. I think this is why we see him constantly criticizing unnamed opponents, and then his inner circle repeats the attacks, but with much more specificity as to who those opponents are.

    I would really like some specific questions answered:

    Does the doctrine of infallibility prevent the Pope from promulgating error only when speaking ex cathedra, or does this assurance also extend to encyclicals and apostolic exhortations?

    If the Pope does promulgate error, is he still the Pope? Does he lose his office automatically, or does the Church have to declare that he has lost his office?

    Did Bergoglio hold heretical beliefs before his election that would have prevented him from being eligible for the Papacy?


  17. JustaSinner says:

    A good shepard never leads his flock astray, nor does he give conflicted commands.

  18. arga says:

    It is possible that PF does not define “truth” as you and I do. He may have adopted a postmodern understanding of the word, in which “truth” is always relative: We live by different “truths” that may be true for me but not for you. If all truths are relative, then we have to be tolerant of all of them, since not of them can claim ontological certainty. He wants us to tolerate the ones he likes cause he’s the pope.

  19. rcg says:

    When I first read this I noticed the Holy Father used the word “abstract” before Truth. This was the English translation, of course. Could that be the key to understanding what he is trying to convey? I always have a sense he is trying keep doors open for people but some how fails to make clear he is not contradicting Church teaching.

  20. Alexander Verbum says:

    I don’t know about Pope Francis, but Congar is a snake.

    “This sectarian tendency to maximize whatever is settled by authority slips into condemning all openness, research, and questioning of received ideas.”

    This is a dangerous ambiguity and the mantra of the New Theology. It in turn serves to defend other dangerous ambiguities that tend towards heretical interpretations. All the while, trying to pretend to be orthodox by quoting St. Pius X.

    Think of Modernism, but a lighter version of it, a neo-Modernism if you will – still dangerous and not as explicitly heretical, but more subtle and sneaky.

  21. ex seaxe says:

    Sawyer points us to “Aquinas’ proposition that we cannot know what God is, only what God is not;”, quite so. There seem to be plenty of people about who do not understand that the truths they espouse are “incomplete and inadequate”, not that they are untrue but that they are not the whole truth. Unfortunately this can lead to a complacent feeling that one understands God.

  22. LeeGilbert says:

    Speaking of his experience in the seminary the Italian actor Roberto Benigni said, “Some people know everything . . .but that’s ALL they know.” Perhaps he fell under the tutelage of one of those hype- smug Thomists that one encounters from time to time, who may fairly be said to have made an idol of hylomorphism, who ascribe matter and form to virtually everything, not exluding prayer, sunsets and chocolate brownies. Surely un-reconstructed manualists have encountered this useful abstraction carried to absurd lengths, no?

    But, is this an idol? Well, when hypermorphic explanations effectively displace the Gospel, or render it dessicated, or give a man a theological education so rare-ified that it renders him practically useless apostolically, it might as well have been an idol, and a jealous idol at that. Yet, perhaps I am referring to the intellectual formation given to seminarians fifty years ago.

    But is it a coincidence, after all, that the Age of Faith ended with the arrival of Scholasticism? It would have rendered a man such as St. Bernard utterly impossible.

    Yet, it hardly seems an improvement when the major seminary within an hour’s drive of our home frames its philosophical program in terms of phenomenological personalism.

    Of course, all such protestations probably come off as anti-intellectualism, but I think the pope is wrongly taken, for he raised his voice against abstract truths, but Jesus Christ, Heaven, Our Lady, the Gospel,the Angelic world (both good and evil) are not abstract, but concrete truths.

    What good is it if you have a priest well trained in scholastic philosophy and theology (or phenomenological personalism) who does not know what to do with the young man who wanders into Church after Mass looking for an exorcism, or the heroin addict , or the sober homeless woman of cultured manners who knocks dishevelled and reeking on the rectory door looking for information on how to say the Rosary?

    Of course, our priests should not leave the seminary philosophical and theological ignoramuses, but at least in my view they should have a much more intimate familiarity with the Word of God and facility in wielding it than they typically do. Abstract truths ( if they are truths) obtrude themselves once again into Scripture studies, where one is subjected to the Documentary Hypothesis ( the JEPD theory) and ones studies THAT instead of Scripture. Idolatry on steroids. In reading rabbinic literature I note that the rabbis always treat the word of God simply as the word of God and do not get lost in studies of its origins, authors, putative authors, or which book was written first, etc., etc. which is our simulacrum for studying Scripture. They have no Q, for example. We should be so clever.

    In short, I think the pope has a point.

  23. BJard says:

    Sometimes Pope Francis’s comments leave me a bit concerned. As he is the successor to Peter, and for my own sanity, I choose to interpret what he says from a traditional Catholic perspective. I was prepared for confusion when I read the homily but I thought it seemed clear (disclosure: I’m not a professional pope auditor, just a mom). It seemed like the gist of the entire homily was priests need to care enough about their flock to be there for them. I understood “idolatry” in this instance to mean knowing the truth as opposed to living the truth. In general, people hear best when they feel they have been heard.
    I have one example which may help explain why I interpreted it this way. When asked about homosexuality by my kids, I answered exactly as my mother answered me “it is a terrible cross to bear and it is between them and God.” Sometime later we had a particular priest whose homilies often focused on the grave sin of homosexuality. He did not remind the sometimes closed minded parishioners in the deep south that homosexuality without homosexual acts is not a sin. Nor did he clarify that premarital sex, adultery, lying, stealing, gossiping, and being mean to others are all sins. My daughter felt he was focusing on a single sin which didn’t even apply to the majority of the parish. I imagine many people leave the church because of things like this. I told her he was probably focusing on it because of politics or personal reasons but that one priest does not the church make. I believe if this priest had mentioned other sins, particularly adultery, homosexuals may have felt more welcome since their sins were not deemed the most objectionable in the world and the adulterers may have been shaken to realize what they were doing was really bad. I hope that is what Pope Francis’s homily meant.

  24. The Masked Chicken says:

    The Pope’s idea is remarkable simple and clear, if poorly stated. It is, also, a partial truth (no pun intended), at best. May I suggest, at the same time, that he look in a mirror. I do not say this to bash the Pope, but to convict him by his own words. More on that, in a moment.

    First, of all, the quote must be read in context. The homily for the Chrism Mass is available, here:


    The key paragraph is this and it precedes the one quote in Fr Z’s post from Monday:

    “Closeness, dear brothers, is crucial for an evangelizer because it is a key attitude in the Gospel (the Lord uses it to describe his Kingdom). We can be certain that closeness is the key to mercy, for mercy would not be mercy unless, like a Good Samaritan, it finds ways to shorten distances. But I also think we need to realize even more that closeness is also the key to truth; not just the key to mercy, but the key to truth. Can distances really be shortened where truth is concerned? Yes, they can. Because truth is not only the definition of situations and things from a certain distance, by abstract and logical reasoning. It is more than that. Truth is also fidelity (émeth). It makes you name people with their real name, as the Lord names them, before categorizing them or defining “their situation”. There is a distasteful habit, is there not, of following a “culture of the adjective”: this is so, this is such and such, this is like… No! This is a child of God. Then come the virtues or defects, but [first] the faithful truth of the person and not the adjective regarded as the substance.

    Then, he starts the paragraph about abstract truths. Clearly, he means to draw a parallel between adjective and abstract truth and substance and close or fleshed truth.

    Ho hum. He could have just said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and be done with it, but that would have been too easy and have made for a short homily. No, he has to press the point. He equates closeness with truth, as if he doesn’t realize that one can be close to the Devil, as well. Closeness does not guarantee that it is the key to truth unless one is standing in front of the right door!

    As far as love of the bretheren, another Pope, the first Pope, had another take on things:

    “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart.”

    One cannot love properly without first knowing the truth of what authentic love is. One must love God, first, then man. Pope Francis seems to think that by, “loving,” man, being close to man, one can know the truth, but this is tragically, backwards. In fact, it is the surest path to an arbitrary definition of truth that I know. We are NOT to bring man to God, but God to man. That is what the evangelist does. Where God would be tender, we must be tender, but God does challenge and chastize those whom He loves to bring them closer to the truth, to Him, and there can be no contradiction between mercy and calling a spade a spade or calling a truth a truth. Your son may be a child of God, but sometimes a spanking is still called for.

    It is definitely not true that some abstract truth or adjective may be not equatable to the on-the-ground truth. I say this because these so-called, “abstract truths,” of which Pope Francis speaks are, by definition, not truths, but a figment of his imagination. He means to say, “false truth,” or merely apparent truth, but an Abstract Truth, by definition, still belongs to the set of truth.

    What he seems to be incorrectly stating is a version of what is known in aesthetics as, “psychical distancing.”

    In 1912, Edward Bullough published a paper, ‘Psychical Distance’ as a Factor in Art and an Aesthetic Principle. In the paper, he writes [from Wikipedia]:

    “[Psychical Distance] has a negative, inhibitory aspect—the cutting-out of the practical sides of things and of our practical attitude to them—and a positive side—the elaboration of the experience on the new basis created by the inhibitory action of Distance.”

    A psychically distance person views a situation abstractly, while a psychically close person removes the distinction between self and object. This can be dangerous. Yes, one can be close to people, but one can, also, become too close to be objective. Perhaps, they should screen, The Silence of the Lambs, at the Vatican.

    Bullough never imagined that truth would dissolve and even less, become false, with increasing psychical distance. Psychical distance measures the distance between self and object, but it assumes that the distance measure is continuous, that is that distance is distance, no matter how far away object and self are.

    For example, a rotten apple, whether viewed as an apple or as a metaphor for corruption, is still rotten. The essence of a thing is not affected by distance from self, unless it is the self that defines the thing. How close we are to a good man may make him better, but better does not change the ontology, the essence of the person, only an adjective of the person. Only God can change the ontology. Man can, properly speaking, only change adjectives, so we need those. We can only act in the arena of adjectives, not substance, even if we have the vision to see it. Adjectives tend toward substances, but are merely anological to them.

    Man can only modify adjectives, never substance, and we do not have to be close to do it. I do not have to stand next to a man who has been sprayed by a skunk to know that he must take a bath. Some truths should be delivered at a distance! In fact, does not Scripture say something about the man who touches pitch?

    Ultimately, if Pope Francis were consistent, then he should not, himself, bring his abstract truth about conservatives to be held as anything but an idol unless he is willing to get close to them, eh? What is he doing, after all, except throwing stones at a distance?

    The best treatment of the origins of idolatry is in the Book of Wisdom. The truth simply cannot be an idol, as Fr. Murray notes.

    As for this homily being a veiled commentary about AL, I cannot say, but is does reveal that the Pope seems to have vision that only focuses to one distance. What he does not seem to realize, and it seems, possibly, to be a defect in his understanding of the simplicity of God, is that there is no distance in Truth, only in its perception by man, but that is because we are material beings. The truth needs both abstraction and physicality. To deny either one seriously skews one’s theology.

    As for Congar, let us call his theology what it is, a different distortion of the science of theology than Modernism, but a distortion, none-the-less. Modernism is a distortion in the methodology of the science, Congar’s approach is a distortion of reproducibility or error correction. I don’t want to make this comment any longer, since it is supposed to be about Pope Francis’s homily, but Congar’s theology is a form of Modernism which one might call Atavistic Theology or Regressive Theology, but that is the subject of another comment

    The Chicken

  25. Benedict Joseph says:

    One is left amazed at how this pontificate repeatedly characterizes its critic with the judgement most appropriately applied to itself. It is as if a subject regards itself in a mirror and attributes its identity to another. Is there a clinical term for such behavior?

  26. Grumpy Beggar says:

    So, FWIW , my first observation would be that it is we humans who make idols – out of practically anything ; so why not the Truth as well ? Yes, certainly the Truth is primarily Someone, yet neither would it hurt to bear in mind Cardinal Muller’s observation made back in March of 2016, that Pope Francis is not a ‘professional theologian.’

    I also recall a very powerful statement made by a Holy Cross Father at St. Joseph’s Oratory during his homily some years ago:
    “Although man is made in God’s image, we humans have this tendency to try and re-create God in our own image.”

    Here is how Father John Hardon, S.J. defines “truth” in his Modern Catholic Dictionary:

    TRUTH. Conformity of mind and reality. Three kinds of conformity give rise to three kinds of truth. In logical truth, the mind is conformed or in agreement with things outside the mind, either in assenting to what is or in denying what is not. Its opposite is error. In metaphysical or ontological truth, things conform with the mind. This is primary conformity, when something corresponds to the idea of its maker, and it is secondary conformity when something is intelligible and therefore true to anyone who knows it. In moral truth, what is said conforms with what is on one’s mind. This is truthfulness and its opposite is falsehood.

    (Father Hardon also lists “Double Truth” in his dictionary and refers its definition directly to that of “Double Standard.”) :
    DOUBLE STANDARD. The expressed or implied doctrine that there is no uniform code of morality for everyone, that some people have a standard different from that of the rest of humankind. The theory of a double standard is especially tempting to those in public office, whether civil or ecclesiastical. Their possession of authority and relative immunity to normal sanctions can lead them to require one level of behavior for others and another for themselves.

    I see some similarities in that second one to the particular passage of Pope Francis’ Holy Thursday homily being discussed. I would further suggest that, in all fairness, we read his entire homily HERE . It isn’t long at all, and we would see how Pope Francis exhorts his priest brothers to , “. . . turn to Mary, Mother of priests.”

  27. grateful says:

    from WVC above: “but I often wonder if we don’t spend hours upon hours trying to understand something that doesn’t really have that much thought behind it. Given my personal experiences, I would say that Pope Francis is behaving very much how I would imagine an Argentinian Pope would behave, and I don’t take everything he says with the same level of gravity as say a deliberate German theologian like Pope Benedict.”
    Not only Argentinians, but what a lot of people say is based on feelings and is not to be taken literally.

  28. teomatteo says:

    In my quest to simplify, it seems to me that our Pope thinks that: because people have emotions and those emotions can cause some people pain and discomfort then the Church’s rules, dogmas, etc should not be invoked if they will cause discomfort to people– because that is not merciful. Can he just say it that way and be done with it?
    (man… I wish I could write like a Chicken!)

  29. Andrew says:

    I think, the whole point is this: it is not good to look down on others just because you know more than they do. That is like making your knowledge of truth into an idol. It might also be added that: you should not think yourself to be holy just because you don’t know much. That is like making your ignorance of truth into an idol.

  30. santanna says:

    Sadly, if “truth” and “opinion” are viewed as interchangeable, the pope’s words would make more sense. Do not let him distress you in your Faith even if he distresses you because of your love for the Church.

  31. Carrie says:

    Jesus called out the Pharisees on this very same kind of thing. They were so obsessed by the law that they couldn’t even see the Messiah in front of them. They idolized the law and missed God. Some Catholics do that today, too. I think that’s what the Pope was getting at.

  32. TonyO says:

    I heartily endorse what Chicken said. Good work!

    Congar condemns himself by his own words:

    there is nothing ‘modernist’ or ‘revolutionary’ to fear; … Modernism, as it existed from 1895 to 1910, Congar says, was indeed a heresy. He happily quotes Pope Pius X against it.

    By limiting the problem of modernism to 1910, he shows that he was either completely ignorant of what modernism really is (and thus failed to read Pascendi Dominici Gregis with attention), or he is one of them and was throwing off confusing flares to distract from the reality. It’s really the latter, because in declaring “there is nothing ‘modernist’ or ‘revolutionary’ to fear (in France of his day) he was pretending that the huge, strong modernist movement within the French Church was not an issue. Sure, it’s not “something to fear” if what you want is revolution. He was one of them.

    As was the whole Nouvelle Theologie movement. The entire practice of the movement was to soft-sell modernism right into the hierarchy of the Church. They just re-defined “modernism” to escape censure. But if you read Pope St. Pius X’s Pascendi, you realize that redefining the terms of the debate is one of the principal methods of modernism – it’s in their wheelhouse. It just went underground to enter the bowels of the Church.

    As for Pope Francis’s words of caution against making an idol of truth: if what he means is to warn people against using individual truths like a bludgeon to hammer people with, instead of to use truths in charity, of course it’s a valid point. But I am reminded of an excellent point by C.S. Lewis in Screwtape: one of the things the fallen angels like to do is to get us to rant and rail against our least prevalent sins, and draw attention away from our besetting sins. Here we have an entire culture given in to modernism and subjectivism and relativism; where it is so entrenched that it is effectively propagandized in ALL secular colleges, and nearly all Catholic ones as well, so that “to be educated” is effectively almost the same thing as “to be turned into another seed-pod of relativism spreading outwards; where scads and scads of seminaries have drunk deeply of the Kool-aid of modernism – in THAT situation, the pope finds it necessary to constantly harp on the flaw of the 0.1% who resist the siren-call of relativism too harshly! Really?

    Did he ever stop to think that reaction to the evils of modernism within the very Church that God entrusted the task of conveying the Truth to all peoples is likely to bring some excesses in reaction…but that the “cause” of latter evil is more due to the former evil. Pope Francis could do FAR more to clean up the harsh use of doctrine as a weapon by cleaning house and using doctrine properly to school and lift and discipline us to love Truth as He revealed Himself to us. If he were to anathematize the heresies that fill the ranks of the Cardinals, condemn the errors of Kasper, “Tucho” and their ilk, remove the pink mafia from the Congregations, appoint only wholesome bishops and cardinals, and teach clearly and without ambiguity he would drain out 99% of the problem he is seeing in wrong use of dogma against charity. Instead, he elevates men like the touchy-feely kissy Archbishop Fernandez and Cupich, he issues document after document that is full of ambiguity and seemingly made so it is easy to deny dogma, give interviews and off-the-cuff comments filled with confusion and silliness, and all whatnot. PF has it within his power to do things that would reduce that hated behavior of weaponizing doctrine to a barely noticeable level, but he doesn’t seem to recognize that. (You can never get rid of any specific sort of sin from all of humanity altogether, and aiming to do so would necessarily distort your efforts on all the other fronts.)

    OK, so the Pope is not a professional theologian. Is it too much to ask that he have read Pascendi Dominici Gregis? Does Pope Francis even know what modernism is, what it looks like, how it operates? Can anyone point to any comment he has made which censures the modernists and their methods?

  33. ” They idolized the law and missed God. Some Catholics do that today, too. I think that’s what the Pope was getting at.”

    If that was his point, the Holy Father might have said “law idols” rather than “truth idols.” (I’m sure the words are different in whatever language was employed.) But if we are to understand, he is reported to have said “truth idols.” That being the case, His Holiness might choose his words more carefully, however they’re translated, because if Our Lord Himself said “I am the Truth,” then either the Holy Father or Our Lord has some explaining to do.

  34. Gail says:

    It seemed to me that he meant it can be a temptation to choose one truth from Catholic teaching and treat it as the only one that matters, ignoring all others and insulting all people who aren’t as devoted to it as you are, and making your personal attitude toward it the measure of all other Catholics. I can think of many times I’ve been screeched at online for “not holding to this or that timeless truth,” even though I do hold to it, but I didn’t say so in a way that satisfied the people accusing me. A huge online scuffle between many people and a certain writer comes to mind over the truth that it is wrong to lie — the names he called people and scathing way he spoke to people who refused to say that any kind or degree of untruth is always wrong and there is never, ever, ever any reason for it (despite the complete lack of insistence on this in all of Western history) was breathtakingly awful. While not heretical in the way that agreeing that we are saved by faith in some ways really means insisting that we are saved ONLY by faith, it’s a similar idea.

  35. JabbaPapa says:

    You are IMO on the right track, Father.

  36. JabbaPapa says:

    I found a few of his points puzzling to the the point of being absurd (“Heresy is an unwillingness to live with complexity”)

    Oh !! That’s actually quite profound, though it’s also so generalising as to be false.

    Most heresies occur when someone declares “I’m right and you’re wrong”. Complexity in this sense is to accept some divergence in opinions where the Church says : “dunno”.

    So that’s where the statement has, I think, its truth.

    But it also seems to deliberately encourage complexity for its own sake, which can be nothing other than destructive.

    Congar is right about the danger of orthodoxism, but cripes let’s not throw out the Infant Christ with the bathwater !!!

    He is the Revelation, not any silly books by some Frenchmen.

  37. The Masked Chicken says:

    I would like to explain what I said, above, about there being two streams of Modernism, because this is both subtle and extremely misunderstood by most commenters on the problems in the modern Church. I can’t go into this in detail in a blog comment, but someone should write an article about it, because, if the Holy See had understood this more clearly in 1958, Vatican II would, likely have been postponed for two generations, while it cleared up the underlying mess.

    Modernism, ultimately, goes back to a reaction against Kant’s division of knowledge into the phenomena and the nomena, into the sensory observable and the transcendent or essence, and his claim that one could only know phenomena, never the nomena, the thing in itself, the ding an sich. The German Protestant theologians and artists reacted against this idea, creating what is known as German Idealism, which attempted to prove a bridge between the phenomena and the nomena. Without going into a long history passing through Hegel and others, who attempted to resolve Kant’s objection (which was a silly objection to start with because it, implicitly, denies the existence of the soul, but that is another discussion), eventually, the situation became critical with the rise of an organized German science in the 1860’s. How could theology fit into the entirely phenomenalistic, observational sciences? Modernism was borne out of a desperate attempt to prove that nomena and phenomena could be united in the scientific method.

    The early stream of Modernism was a distortion of the observational/experimental phase of the scientific method. Recall from science courses that the scientific method is, basically:

    1) State the problem
    2) Form an hypothesis consistent with prior knowledge
    3) Run experiments
    4) Observe results
    5) Error correct, if necessary, and go back to step to, incorporating the knowledge gained from step 4

    The early stream of a Modernism tried to include nomena in steps 2, 3, and 4, but they ran into a problem: how does one include something that one cannot observe? One might say that they tried to build a theological cloud chamber to do this. A cloud chamber contains dry ice and a dry that allows one to see the tracks of cosmic rays as they ionize the gas particles. For the nomena-scientists, they theorized that noumena could be detected as it passed through not a gas cloud, but a social cloud. They theorized that the sense of the people was a real sensory response to nomena.

    Of course, this was supported by the early statistical work of Sir Francis Galton in England. He showed that while individuals might over-estimate or under-estimate the weight of a slaughtered cow, if the guesses of 800 observers is averaged, it is close to the correct answer



    Of course, the real flaw with this is that God is simple and, therefore, a totally independent entity, so He cannot be known by statistical consensus (He is not part of any statistical ensemble). God reveals Himself to us, we do not imagine who God is as a statistical experiment. That created the Greek gods and every other false god. One can deduce the existence of God by observing creation, as St. Paul taught, but 100 people observing creation will not give a better deduction of the existence of a God than a single observer because there cannot, by definition, be a range of measurements in who God is. Omnipotence is not a statistical measurement, for instance.

    Rats, I’m running out of time.

    In any case, the second stream of Modernism, beginning in the first decade of the 1900’s, but coming into flower in the later 1920’s, is a corruption of step 5 of the scientific method (while accepting the corruption of steps 2, 3, and 4 of the first stream). The whole notion of resourcement is a misunderstanding of how errors are detected and corrected in science. In science, we detect an error because of a mismatch with observation, but science is conservative: it only backtracks to the first wrong step, the first inconsistency, it never throws out dogma that is still consistent. The only time one goes back to the beginning is if one wants to create another version of reality. This is crucial to understand. This is not discontinuity; this is counterfactualism; it is branching history; it is alternate reality.

    Counterfactuals are accessed by what are known as counterfactual access points. They are the branch points of the alternate realities.

    Darn, I have to go. I will show, if I can get back to this, how the notion of resourcement and other ideas of this Second Wave Modernism (also called, La Nouvelle Theologie) are generated by very subtle counterfactual access points created by ambiguities in statements about theological doctrines. These synonyms or round-point errors can add up to cause deviations very far from the truth.

    Note to self: don’t start writing on a complicated subject when you have to go shopping.

    The Chicken

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