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A Hegelian Papacy?


“Thus I make it known to you that from the end of the 19th century and shortly after the middle of the 20th century…the passions will erupt and there will be a total corruption of morals… As for the Sacrament of Matrimony, which symbolizes the union of Christ with His Church, it will be attacked and deeply profaned. Freemasonry, which will then be in power, will enact iniquitous laws with the aim of doing away with this Sacrament, making it easy for everyone to live in sin and encouraging procreation of illegitimate children born without the blessing of the Church… In this supreme moment of need for the Church, the one who should speak will fall silent.”

 – Our Lady of Good Success, Quito, Ecuador, 1610 A.D.

That deafening silence which hung over the Synod, a quiet that drowned out even the discordant clamor of some 200 Catholic prelates, was that of absent voice of Peter. Over the past two weeks, as we have observed the arguably prophetic contest of cardinals opposing cardinals. The figure most noticeably removed from the fray has, ironically, been the man sitting at the very center of it all. Indeed, even as we saw the Sacrament of Matrimony attacked and deeply profaned, watched closely as carefully crafted plans unfolded, and listened intently as a modern-day Paul rebuked Peter for his dereliction of duty, even then, in what might rightly have been called a supreme moment of need for the Church, the one who should have spoken remained silent.

But no longer.

As the Synod came to a close, the Holy Father at last stepped forward to offer what Catholics hoped would be the words of clarity so sorely needed by a Church seemingly awash in of confusion. Yet rather than placing a firm hand on the rudder of a barque that had truly begun to reel, the pope instead decided to assure the faithful that the spectacle of watching a ship tossed about by every wind of doctrine, was actually for “the good of the Church, of families, and the supreme law, the good of souls.”

How can we make sense of this? Precisely what good is done to souls by a synod that leads the faithful — invoking the pope as their authority — to hector their priests about permitting the impossible? To believe, as if it were possible, that the Church has changed her immutable teaching?

No good can come of such widely-sewn misconceptions, nor from the notion that fidelity to those same immutable teachings is nothing more than

a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – ‘traditionalists’

What conclusions can we draw from such language, and how does a Roman Pontiff apply the epithet “traditionalist”, not just to those he has allegedly chastised for their addiction to the “fashion” of the Tridentine Mass, but even to those who adhere to the papal teaching of St. John Paul II? How can adhering to the Church’s timeless teachings on marriage, sexuality, and the family be construed as “hostile inflexibility” rather than faithful docility?

Why would the pope do such thing? Perplexing as it may seem, for those who have been following this pontificate closely, the most obvious answer  is also the most unsettling: Pope Francis gives every appearance that he wants to change the understanding and practice of Church teaching, and to this end he has already altered the discussion around his stated intentions with respect to the deposit of faith. (Could any of us imagine such a headline being written about any other pope?)

I realize that for some of you, such conclusions may constitute a bridge too far. It’s certainly not something I ever anticipated. But as an exercise in intellectual curiosity, just ask yourself the following: If you wanted to uphold an already established doctrine, would you

(1) Call a synod to readdress that doctrine?

(2) Stack the synod leadership with known dissenters from that doctrine?

(3) Change the rules in midstream to protect those dissenters from orthodox resistance?

(4) Allow the dissenting views to remain in the final text — even after they failed to garner sufficient support among the Synod Fathers?

Res ipsa loquitor. Simply put, this is not the behavior one would expect from an individual interested in upholding an established teaching. Rather, it befits the conduct of an ideologue intent on achieving a doctrinal coup.

And lest we take comfort in the fact that at least those positions utterly repugnant to Catholic orthodoxy were ultimately rejected, we need to recognize what really happened. While it is certainly correct to say that the proposal for admitting divorced and “remarried” persons to Holy Communion failed to achieve a super-majority, it nevertheless remains clear that a sizeable majority — 112 out of 176 Synod Fathers — did in fact vote in support of this position.

Let that sink in for a moment. 112 out of 176. That’s 64 percent of the Synod Fathers – which means that either a strong majority of the Magisterium now supports Kasper’s error, or the synod gatekeepers were careful not to admit too many prelates of the orthodox persuasion. And while it may be tempting to lay the fault for this debacle at the feet of the Secretary General, Cardinal Baldisseri, this is simply whistling past the graveyard.

Baldisseri is Francis’ hand-picked man, and as we can see from the Holy Father’s concluding remarks, the Secretary succeeded in crafting the rhetorical framework Francis needed to situate himself on the moderate middle ground of a classic Hegelian dialectic.

For those unfamiliar with the work G.W.F. Hegel, scholars at the University of Chicago explain his philosophy of dialectic this way:

Hegel’s dialectic involves the reconciliation of ostensible paradoxes to arrive at absolute truth. The general formulation of Hegel’s dialectic is a three-step process comprising the movement from thesis to antithesis to synthesis. One begins with a static, clearly delineated concept (or thesis), then moves to its opposite (or antithesis), which represents any contradictions derived from a consideration of the rigidly defined thesis. The thesis and antithesis are yoked and resolved to form the embracing resolution, or synthesis.

Pope Francis’ final address provides us with a textbook example of the Hegelian dialectic at work. First, we have the thesis — namely, that on matters regarding marriage, sexuality, and the family, the Church should simply capitulate to the world and, in the name of mercy, adopt an attitude of pure permissiveness:

The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God… The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

Thus, with the thesis on the table representing one extreme, we move instead to the contrasting anti-thesis: the position that, with respect to marriage, sexuality, and the family, the Church should simply adhere to her time-honored Tradition, both in teaching and pastoral praxis. No changes or updating are necessary. As we have already seen, Francis rejects this position as:

[A] temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists.”

The danger of these formulations is immediately clear. While the thesis actually represents an absurd fringe position — essentially, that the Church should adopt the wisdom of the world — the anti-thesis, rather than representing an equally absurd position (such as stoning adulterers and homosexuals) instead tries to suggest that the status quo in the Church — her immutable teachings on marriage, sexuality, and the family — is somehow the appropriate ideological foil to a call for complete moral compromise.  As such, in an effort to achieve a sensible reconciliation between these two ostensibly ridiculous extremes, the Holy Father is now poised to offer a synthesis.

The problem is that he has yet to tell us specifically what that synthesis is. In fact, his reticence to take a clear stance amidst such deep and growing confusion is so glaring that one might appropriately say that, in this supreme moment of need for the Church, “the one who should speak remains silent.” Instead of offering the guidance of a spiritual father, he merely alludes to the fact that the Church needs “to mature” and “to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.”

In other words, because men have failed to heed the wisdom of the Church, and in so doing find themselves eating pods among the pigs, it is now incumbent upon the Church not to offer the robe and fatted calf to those who choose to come out of the sty, but rather to give these same goods to those who have no wish to leave it.

We are left wondering about a via media between honoring marriage in the way that Christ himself commanded and living in the persistence of grave sin.

Despite his ambiguity, Francis’ message is clear on one point: “God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.” In other words, the Church must change. It seems unavoidable, however, that any change where orthodoxy is the starting point will lead us into a concession on the faith that cannot be granted.

It is not our place to speculate on the motives of the Holy Father; but even if he is pursuing this course with the most noble of intentions, the end result is still tragic: a movement away from divinely revealed truth, and the continued self-demolition of the Catholic Faith.

It is the duty of any pope to speak plainly on matters of grave importance, particularly in faith and morals. A failure to do so when silence means the growth of discord and confusion among the faithful is a terrifying thing to contemplate.

We cannot speak for Peter. We need him to speak for us. Pray that he finds his voice.

49 thoughts on “A Hegelian Papacy?”

  1. Bravo! The though of Pope Francis as Hegelian has been occurring to me for days. I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in sensing this. Furthermore, I am also troubled by the dissonance of certain heuristics being bandied about in relation to the concrete factual circumstances. For example, we hear about the necessity of being “open to the Spirit” and how God is a “God of surprises.” These things are undoubtedly true . . . but only in a certain context. We know from Mt 10:19 that we don’t need to worry about what to say to our persecutors in advance; rather the Spirit will provide the words when it is time. Such is openness to the Spirit. Similarly, salvation history is replete with what Tolkien called “eucatastrophes” — a sudden and unexpected happy ending to a crisis. I think those eucatastrophes can be credited only to the “God of surprises.”

    However, I fail to understand how the elaborate act of organizing a synod (with all the planning, preparation, jockeying and positioning of participants, and the creation of reams of preprepared documents) is an “open to the Spirit” occasion. It seems a forced contention. As for eucatastrophe, the synod did provide such a moment on “Blue Thursday” with the counter-offensive of some of the “traditional” bishops against the procedural wrangling of the “do-gooders.” But the idea that one can say in advance that a synod will be an occasion for “surprise” makes about as much sense as telling the intended recipient of a birthday surprise party that they need to meet you in the back room of their favorite restaurant where there might be a surprise when the date happens to be their birthday. How surprising is that? God has a much better sense of timing.

    I have also been pondering whether the unique circumstances of Pope Francis’ election (the resignation of Pope Benedict) has imbued Pope Francis’ Petrine ministry with a sense of “anointing” that may or may not be warranted. Did Our Lord especially desire the resignation of B16 and the election of F1 as an integral part of a Providential plan? Or was B16’s resignation a purely “neutral” human act and F1’s election no more “unique” than any other conclave vote in history? Only time will answer these questions.

  2. Good article. The Hegelian frame seems useful for interpreting this papacy and the way Pope Francis has shifted the Church’s Overton Window in the liberal/heterodox direction, most explicitly in his closing address to the Synod. Of course all the “moderate” Catholic pundits rushed to embrace the Hegelian frame, eager to place themselves close to the pope and whatever his “synthesis” turns out to be.

    It also seems to mark the debut of a presidential mode of papal authority, in which the pontiff recognizes and adjudicates between recognized “parties” among the bishops. Of course, the Church has always had factions, but I’d be interested to learn if any pope has ever explicitly recognized them in this fashion. When you consider the mock-parliamentary nature of this Synod, with voting numbers released on the final document, it creates a strong impression that truth is subordinate to power.

    Finally, it’s probably a reflection of the intellectual poverty of modern discourse that more Catholics aren’t raising a huge red flag at all this “God of surprises” talk. How exactly does God surprise us? What counts as a “surprise”, anyway? How do we know that any given “surprise” is God’s work, and not that of the Enemy? Was Blue Thursday an example of the kind of “surprise” the pope has in mind, or does that somehow not count? Does the Holy Father have a special “charism of surprises” that enables him to correctly discern surprises, or are they evident to all?

    • This of course, points to some extent of a common ‘mistrust’ of this Pope. There is no clear direction, no clarification of his authority as Peter, he has for all intent and purposes, ‘Fallen Silent’. The Church seems to be a ‘democracy’ to which we can vote on the pastoral application of Church Doctrine. Church Doctrine of course will not change, but the ‘application’ will indeed, according to the number of Cardinals in favor of such change. Next year, be assured that the number of Cardinals in conformity to ‘God’s Surprises’ will change significantly. How others cannot see this is something that defies logic, to me anyway.

      • You know, there remains a real way in which one can trust “Peter” completely while not trusting Francis much at all. In trusting Peter, we really only trust the Holy Spirit, Who makes the Holy Father “holy” in the same sense we say the Church is “holy” — not because Her members commit no sins, but because through the Church come the graces that allow us to grow in holiness.

        To trust Francis per se is something entirely different. At best it is something like the trust we place in people with clear, relevant special knowledge — the way we might trust a surgeon, or an engineer, or whatever. At worst it is more like the way people pay attention to celebrities just because of the celebrity, like the people whose opinions on global warming are formed either by Al Gore or Rush Limbaugh. One way or another, the trustworthiness of Francis is clearly less than that of Peter.

        • Less than Peter, who denied Christ and had his ears pulled by Paul?

          Our trust is not in Francis, but in the Petrine promise that keeps the Pope from erring in matters of faith and morals. No Pope in 2000 years has ever taught error “ex cathedra” error. That is the promise of Christ, the efficacy of the Spirit, and the protection of the Father. Of course, Francis could mess up the papacy in other ways, as other Popes have done, which is why we need to pray for him instead of criticize him.

          I am certain some of the saints, like Catherine of Siena, would faint if they witnessed how Catholics today have declared open season on the Pope, the head of the universal family. I guess it’s a sign of the times of how people treat their own fathers today.

          Just what the devil ordered, I’d say.

          • I, for one, would welcome her guidance on what to do with a pope who changes not an iota of doctrine and yet manages to alter not only the perception of the Church in the world, but the belief of Catholics about acceptable behavior.

            Doctrine needn’t change if everyone acts as though it has.

          • I don’t know how you could have missed my reference to exactly that Petrine promise.

            Since you really do mean St. Peter himself, though, it’s worth pointing out that even Popes do not enjoy all the graces given to the Eleven at Pentecost (maybe to St. Matthias too, but not to other “apostles” like St. Paul). For instance, the Eleven were protected from ever falling into mortal sin, though as you point out in the case where St. Paul confronted St. Peter, both venial sins and poor judgement remained possible.

            Note also in this last case, St. Paul did not merely pray for ST. PETER (the original), he also corrected him — and then wrote a letter for circulation describing the event. This was not something done behind closed doors to protect the fragile ego of a human leader — in contrast, for example, with the Legion of Christ. And that letter describing the event is a part of Sacred Scripture.

            None of this supports the idea that Catholics should talk about Popes the way North Koreans talk about the Kim dynasty, as you seem to imply. Unfortunately, too many people have acquired the habit of thinking that whoever the current Pope is **MUST** inevitably be recognized as not merely a Saint, but also a Doctor of the Church and probably “the Great”. This is a seriously unbalanced approach, and it usually means that the speaker thinks that he himself is so important that of course his lifetime cannot be just another few decades of history, but one of the key turning points in salvation history. This is what drives Protestants to believe the Rapture will occur during their lifetimes; it is also what leads some Catholics to think St. John Paul II was in fact greater than every other Pope outside of St. Peter, St. Leo the Great, St. Gregory the Great, and St. Nicholas the Great — and what leads other Catholics to become effective if not actual sede vacantists.

            Bringing this back to Pope Francis, the safest assumptions are those that avoid the extremes, either about how brilliant and holy he is, or about how evil and nefarious he is.

      • First of all, did you read his speech? No clarification of his authority as Peter? Brian omitted this from his article, which is a grave oversight. The Pope said that he is “the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church.”

        And this underscores the second point: the Pope did not fall silent. He simply chose WHEN to speak—at the end of the Synod.

        This article and these short-sighted comments only serve to divide the Church further. As one commentator noted, stuff like this “is doing the devil’s work for him.”

        • Thank for chiming in Ralberta, but you’ll forgive me if these assurances seem like cold comfort in the wake of a 13 month campaign, where the Holy Father, by his actions and words, silences and omissions has done much to foment the perception that Church teaching is up for grabs. Cardinal Burke is right, it’s done great harm, and any speech, which claims that the pope is the guarantor of doctrine, remains woefully short when it fails to either (1) condemn the errors published by the Synod (which Francis read and approved prior to publication), or (2) reaffirm, as his own position, those infallible teachings which have been so much under assault.

        • WHEN he spoke, it was too little, too late, and too ‘protesting’ about his equidistance from both ‘extremes’. By that time the horses had bolted, and much harm and confusion had been sown among the faithful. If confusion is of the devil, nobody can deny that there was much of it before, during amd after this synod presided over by Pope Francis. Sorry to say his final address sounded to me an exercise in damage control and a face saving expedient. Consider this, just four days after his election, the Pope was praising Kasper’s book on mercy to high heaven, and unprecedentally during the Angelus. Not to mention his constant and not so subtle fulminations against rules, laws, traditional interpretations of Church doctrine that limit his concept of God’ mercy, which apparantly coincides quite closely to that of Kasper and co. That is why his supra partes stance in the synod concluding speech was not convincing. Having said that , he is still my Pope and I pray constantly for him, without ignoring his limitation and pointing them out with respect and loyalty. Even sheep will bla when they feel lost and call out for their shepherd.

          • Truth is unchanging. Should anyone, Pope or not, state that the truth is not quite true or needs to be altered, we must not listen for there will be false shepherds.

        • The issue is that Pope Francis does not speak in absolutes, as if there is no Truth. To say that God is not afraid of new things…? Consider that statement, ponder it. There is no new with or for God! He is the I AM. Once again, obfuscation from Pope Francis. Regardless, all things work for the good of those who love God and God is the One who allows authority here on earth. God allows for these times on this earth so as to test to see who will hear His voice. We all must rely on God’s mercy and grace and pray for faith, pure hearts and keen hearing. Pope Francis’ words are causing confusion, no doubt and perhaps God is allowing this all to occur to test the faithful.

        • There are none so blind as those who will not see.

          The Pope sends orthodox sops to the Catholic world in his speeches. This, while also doing things that show something different. He praises the writings of priests who deny the Virgin Birth and biblical miracles; he suppresses a religious order that was bending towards continuity between the pre- and post-conciliar Church. He accuses Catholics who simply wish to worship as the Church has always worshiped of being divisive and of the letter rather than the spirit.

          He accuses.

          There is a veritable laundry list of things the Pope has said and done that is cause for great concern; they need not be repeated here. Certainly, as thinking people, as reasoning Catholics, we should not be asked to check our brains and commonsense at the Vatican’s front gate. The current pull toward papolatry is disturbing, to say the least.

          Quoting Isaiah while speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus said, “This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and commandments of men,” (Matt. 15:8,9).

          The Pope may send a throw-away orthodox statement around to assuage things, but he seems dangerously close to advocating for a change in practice of the marriage teachings of Jesus and Holy Mother Church. His preferred cardinals are teaching and promoting the doctrines and commandments of men, not God.

          I keep the Pope and all priests in my daily prayers, and pray for a good outcome for his papacy. I will not, however, close my eyes to the truth.

  3. Because remember, according to a certain species of Catholic, there is no such thing as the conservative/liberal, traditional/progressive divide, and yet… this pope himself constantly reinforces those same divides.

    On a more technical note, I wonder if it might not be better to discuss the Teilhardian and Whiteheadian bases of this pope’s vision, rather than the strictly “Hegelian” roots thereof. Either way, “The immanentism is too damn high!”

  4. Brian, you stole the words out of my mouth, err fingers. I was about to write an article on exactly this subject. You’ve done more justice to the concept than I could have, thanks for tackling it.

  5. Thanks for your important, appropriate and timely article. The ‘smoke of satan’ becomes more visible every day. Let us all pray but also realize that perhaps something catastrophic needs to occur to bring Catholics and their leaders to their senses.

  6. If Calvin were alive today, he would wring his hands over the way all modern “christians” live. His standard was much higher than our standard is today. But much of his focus was on the outside of the cup and not on the inside of the cup.

    People that focus on the outside of the cup are sometimes unaware of the debth and width of their own sins and that blindness allows them to condem the behavior of others more easily.

    When Jesus walked the earth, the “outside of the cup” Jews would not associate with the Jewish sinners of the day, but Jesus went to their homes and had supper with sinners, surprising the Jewish leaders of the day, in fact the leaders confronted Jesus over the fact that he ate with sinners.
    We should all remember that those that think they see, are really blind; it is only Jesus that sees and the ones that know they are blind allow Jesus to lead them. All sins are forgiven if confession is made and forgiveness is asked for; even the ones that we may repeat, day after day, and ask forgiveness for, day after day.

  7. Correct me if I am wrong. Didn’t the paragraph on divorce / remarriage / communion call for further study? Of course, I believe the matter is closed and should never have been brought up for discussion. However, I am (slightly) less concerned if the majority-vote in favor was merely for further study as opposed to for actual adoption of the proposal.

  8. The most troubling thing to me is that it is obvious what the Pope wants to accomplish but he knows he can’t just come out and do it without creating a complete meltdown. So, he’s going to let it percolate over a 2 year period, and when he finally does act, it won’t “seem” as radical as it otherwise would. I guess I am saying he’s being disingenuous, not being forthright. Next Pope please!

  9. What a godly surprise would look like: take a standing egg from its cup, drill a miniscule hole at one of its ends, suck the contents from it by means of a miniscule pipette, replace the intact shell in its cup. Doctrine is saved.

  10. If this is a Hegelian Papacy then we better use Hegelian logic to figure it out. So the thesis of how Pope Francis wanted the Synod to be became its Anti-Thesis and now the Synthesis is something nobody is completely happy with.. I bet Schopenhauer is, laughing wherever he is because the lack of a Good will only drives the cyclical nature of his Hegelian situation towards something that may only encourage Bad faith… I just pray that this Synod and Papacy becomes much more Aristotelian..

  11. “Do not put your trust in princes,
    Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
    His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;
    In that very day his plans perish.”

    That includes princes of the Church, and it includes Popes; that includes hopes for what they might do, and it includes fears of what they might do.

  12. I could be wrong but I am pretty sure that it was the more orthodox formulation that passed by 118-62, just short of the 2/3 supermajority, not the original disaster. I think the original disaster is in some sort of appendix at the end. Is there a way for us to even see the document?

  13. Strange take on this, Brian. It’s remarkable that you left out the absolutely most crucial part of the speech where the Holy Father, in no uncertain terms, reaffirmed his role and duty as “guarantor” of the “truth” and “Sacred Tradition.” Open discussion, messy dialogue, “Hegelian dialectic”? The bottom line is that you omitted the most crucial aspect of the speech that garned the Pope a standing ovation from the prelates: the part where he says, “despite personal whims”, he would fulfill his role as Vicar of Christ.

    Articles like this are only serving to further undermine the Pope by only listening with one ear.

    • Again, thanks for the input Ralberta, but the reason I’m not terribly reassured by this is because, whether it’s Cardinal Kasper, or anyone else who’s ever advanced doctrinal error in the service of the Church; they would all be the first to tell you, I’m a servant of the truth, in harmony with Scripture and Tradition. It’s wonderful to hear people say such things, but until they actually renounce the errors, and proclaim the truth, ambiguity and confusion will continue to reign.

  14. Another Roadside Distraction. The zionists keep profiting off the arms race while the `murikan armed forces murder in their name.


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