Today I saw a fascinating tweet from my friend Bree Dail. She reposted “metadata” someone posted about citations in Francis’ new
Tutti Frutti… Frutti Fratelli… Fratelli Tutti…. Follow for the original by Catholic librarian Sharon Kabel.
Citations in papal documents are of central importance.
As I explained when Francis changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, …
… something doesn’t become true by the fact of it being put into the CCC. It is put into the CCC because it can be demonstrated to be true. Look at pages in your CCC and you will find lots of footnotes with pertinent references to Scripture and the Fathers and Councils, etc. Look at CCC 2267 and you find one note, referring to a statement that Francis’ himself made in a speech a short while before. That’s it. It’s a bit self-referential. Of course it would be challenging to find references in Scripture or the Fathers or Councils etc. to uphold the position asserted in 2267, for, using all those, the Church has always upheld that capital punishment is admissible in some cases.
Francis cites himself over and against nearly 2000 years of reflection on the death penalty, including Christ upholding Pilate’s authority to kill Him.
Just because something is stated in a papal document, the fact of the statement’s presence in the document doesn’t make it true. Popes know how to teach definitively and infallibly. So, when they don’t have recourse to that level of certainty, which they won’t go anywhere near without a vast foundation, they have to persuade. For our part, we as Catholics have to listen carefully and with a measure of docility. But we aren’t obliged to be stupid.
That said… here is a graphic of the metadata of citations in
Tutti Frutti… Frutti Fratelli… Fratelli Tutti. You should be able to click that and get the large version in a new tab. Kabel tracks 288 non-Scripture citations, some used more than once.
For those of who can’t… see that GREEN bar on the LEFT? That is Francis citing HIMSELF. All other bars, are other sources, from Paul Ricoeur to Karl Rahner to John Paul II (fewer than 20 times in a document of 43000 words!), to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
This is, frankly, shocking.
It is as if 2013 were Year Zero.
We have to grant that Popes tend to cite themselves. That’s because they have often gone over the same ground in other documents. Then we look at those previous documents to see what their foundations were. We follow the thread through the labyrinth, as it were.
Does the fact of citing oneself delegitimize the encyclical? No, I cited myself, above. Hence, I am happy to accept that sometimes writers quote themselves.
When the signers (who are the official authors) of documents put their signatures to something that is hugely self-referential, there could be a problem. After all while we scratch our heads and wonder … gratis asseritur, gratis negatur?