"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Monday, 16 May 2016



my source: First Things

Far be it from me—not being a Roman Catholic—to tell Catholics what they should think of their pontiff. But, just as a brief amicus curiae (so to speak), I want to note that I feel a wholly unqualified admiration for Francis; and nothing he has done, said, or written since assuming office has had any effect on me but to deepen that esteem. I have to say also that I am utterly baffled by the anxiety, disappointment, or hostility he clearly inspires in certain American Catholics of a conservative bent (using “conservative” in its distinctly American acceptation). And frankly I find it no more inexplicable in its most extreme expressions—which at their worst verge on sheer ­hysteria—than in its mildest—an almost morbid oversensitivity to every faint hint of hidden meanings in every word, however innocuous, that escapes the pope’s lips or pen.

Mind you, I was well disposed to Jorge Bergoglio before his elevation to the papacy. His reputation in Argentina as a priest and bishop who not only mouthed pious platitudes about poverty, but who actually lived and worked with the poor, was impressive, to say the least, as was his refusal of the perquisites and privileges of ecclesial rank. His eagerness not only to form close friendships with Orthodox and Protestant leaders, but also to act as an advocate on behalf of non-Catholic Christian bodies to a sometimes unsympathetic Argentine government set him apart. His close relations with the Jewish communities of Buenos Aires and his frankly avowed contempt for the anti-Semitism of much of the Catholic far right went far beyond mere symbolic deference, and spoke rather of a genuine and deep reverence. And his approach to other faiths was always marked by unmistakable magnanimity and charity. If I were a Catholic, it would probably be enough for me to know that a man of such enormous personal sanctity had been installed at St. Peter’s.

Moreover, as an Orthodox, I probably have no choice but to think well of Francis. He has on the whole a very good name in the Christian East, and not only for past services rendered: his long history of cordial ties to the Orthodox Church, especially to the Russian Cathedral in Buenos Aires; his close friendship with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople; and so on. It is also on account of the sympathetic intelligence he has exhibited in his dealings with the Christian East since his election, even in some of his smallest acts. For instance, it has not gone unnoticed in the East that he refers to himself in public almost never as “the pope,” but only as “the bishop of Rome”: a habit that most Western Christians are scarcely likely to notice, or to regard as anything more than a curious eccentricity or precious affectation, but that many Eastern Christians take as a historically astute and generous gesture. (But perhaps that is neither here nor there.)

Anyway, my perplexity achieved a kind of critical mass after the promulgation of the most recent papal encyclical. For myself, I can quite literally find not a single sentence or sentiment in Laudato Si to which it seems to me possible for any Christian coherently to object. I acknowledge that it is not a work of great dialectical subtlety or systematic rigor, of the sort Benedict XVI tended to produce. But the last pope was something of an outlier: It is exceedingly rare (to say the least) for a man of the theological and philosophical sophistication of Joseph Ratzinger to occupy the Roman See. Laudato Si is a pastoral piece, quite substantial as a work of moral instruction and spiritual exhortation, but not a treatise in the way that, say, Spe Salvi was. Style aside, though, I simply cannot find an assertion anywhere in its pages that strikes me as anything other than either a plain statement of fact or a reasonable statement of Christian principle.

What, after all, are its “controversial” claims (explicit or implied)? That global capitalism has not proved a blessing in every quarter of the world? That, in fact, in many places, the operations of transnational capital—far from extending access to property, creating general prosperity, promoting democratic institutions, or advancing the causes of law and justice—destroy functioning local economies and communities, sustain and deepen poverty among those capital reduces to the commodity of cheap labor, exploit unjust labor systems, support despotisms, take advantage of conditions in regions too poor to impose or enforce environmental protections (for their ecosystems or their peoples), and are often complicit in the procedural abuse of persons who can hope for no legal redress? That the industrial devastation of a thriving local ecology or neighborhood, or the loss of fragile habitats and biological diversity, is to be lamented and, if possible, averted? That among the cultural concomitants of late modern capitalism are a morally corrosive materialism, a libertarian individualism inimical to Christian virtue, and a consumerist ethos of interminable acquisition and waste that is not only spiritually debilitating, but also—from any vantage informed by the teachings of Christ—morally execrable? That a technological, industrial, or commercial advance is not necessarily an instance of “progress,” and may even constitute a step towards barbarism? That bigger is not always better? That secularist, relativist, materialist late modernity is a seamless garment, and that our voluntarist culture of consumption and disposal is not merely accidentally associated with late modernity’s “culture of death,” but rather belongs to it essentially, as the inevitable moral dimension of a single indissoluble spiritual grammar and moral metaphysics?

I suppose that in America, such sentiments might sound a bit outrageous. We tend to think that all enterprise is of a piece, that the small business that produces a useful product and creates needed jobs exists in some sort of inviolable continuum with global corporate entities of every kind, and that we cannot affirm the former without defending the latter. Even “conservative” Christians who deplore the cultural costs of late modernity treat any critique of its obvious material basis as practically blasphemous. But everywhere else in the world, those same criticisms would simply, and correctly, be described as “true.” They would even be regarded as simply “Catholic.” Laudato Si positively trembles from all the echoes it contains of G. K. Chesterton, Vincent McNabb, Hilaire Belloc, Elizabeth Anscombe, Dorothy Day, E. F. Schumacher, Leo XIII, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and (above all) Romano Guardini; its native social and political atmosphere is that rich combination of Christian socialism, social democratism, subsidiarism, distributism, and anti-materialism that constitutes the best of the modern Catholic intellectual tradition’s humane alternative to all the technologisms, libertarianisms, corporatisms, and totalitarianisms that in their different ways reduce humanity to nothing more than appetent machines and creation to nothing more than industrial resources.

Of course, I know that a large part of the objection to the encyclical is its central concern with environmental ethics. For one thing, Francis has the temerity to take the science of climate change ­seriously, which is the sort of thing that can send a Wall Street ­Journal conservative frantically groping for his smelling salts, but which I cannot help thinking is slightly saner than clinging to the politically inflected obfuscations of the data that so many in the developed world use to calm their digestions and consciences. But, leaving that aside, I again have to ask what the encyclical says that could possibly offend against reason. That the incessant pollution of soil and water by the heavy metals and other toxins produced by the monstrous consumerist voracity of our way of life is a devastating reality? That local ecologies despoiled and poisoned are impossible to recover, and that the poor of the developing world constitute the vast majority of its immediate victims? That stewardship of creation is a long-acknowledged moral requirement of Catholic Christians? That creation declares God’s glory and is an intrinsic good, and that only a depraved moral imagination allied to a petrified heart could fail to see the moral claim made on us by other creatures?

Who knows? America is such an odd combination of Christian pieties and post-Christian habits of thought. What other country could produce persons, for instance, who believe it possible to be both Christian and libertarian (which makes me think of Enoch Soames, the “Catholic diabolist”)? With our occult belief in the possibility of limitless “wealth creation,” how do we dare acknowledge the limits of nature, human or cosmic? But Francis cannot ­really concern himself with our peculiarities and perversities. For all its economic power, American Catholicism is only one minor and rather aberrant party within the worldwide communion; and Francis is writing for his Church, not for America. Of course, it is possible that one day a Christian view of reality will take root even here, in this the first constitutionally and culturally post-Christian land in Western history. But—and, again, not being a Roman Catholic, I may have no right to say this—I do not think it is incumbent on the pope to hold his tongue until it does.

Editorial Note:David Bentley Hart notices what many conservative Catholics fail to notice, the strong continuity between Pope Francis and recent Catholic tradition.  He notes the great influence of Father Roman Guardini who is also a major influence on Pope Benedict,   Indeed there is a strong continuity between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict - they both registered their agreement early on in his papacy, but it wasn't taken seriously.  Perhaps it would be better to say that there is a strong continuity between Pope Francis and the young Joseph Ratzinger and the views he held during Vatican II.   As Pope Benedict has remained true to the basic principles of his earlier theology, it is true to say that Popes Francis and Benedict agree on basic principles.

 David B. Hart, "The Future of the Papacy," and Ecumenism
This was a response to a George Weigel article in First Things about the role of the papacy in Church history. (March 25, 2006)

As John Paul II’s extraordinary pontificate enters its twilight (pray God, a long and golden one), it is well to reflect upon his enormous achievements and celebrate them with the grateful astonishment they merit. But it is also sobering to recall that the one aim that, by his own avowal, has always lain closest to his heart—reconciliation between the Eastern and Roman Churches—has proven to be the source of his gravest disappointment, and probably the only manifest failure that can be placed in the balance over against his innumerable successes. As an Orthodox Christian definitely in the ecumenical “left wing” of my church, I cannot speak for all my co–confessionalists; but I can record my own shame that so few Orthodox hierarchs have even recognized the remarkable gesture made by John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint (1995), in openly soliciting advice on how to understand his office (even indeed the limits of its jurisdiction), or been moved to respond with anything like comparable Christian charity. However, the Pope has perhaps always been somewhat quixotic in his reckoning of the severity of the differences between the communions, and so of the effort required to effect any real reciprocal understanding between them (let alone rapprochement).

Anyone familiar with the Eastern Christian world knows that the Orthodox view of the Catholic Church is often a curious mélange of fact, fantasy, cultural prejudice, sublime theological misunderstanding, resentment, reasonable disagreement, and unreasonable dread: it sees a misty phantasmagoria of crusades, predestination, “modalism,” a God of wrath, flagellants, Grand Inquisitors, and those blasted Borgias. But, still, and from my own perspective ab oriente, I must remark that the greater miscalculation of what divides us is almost inevitably found on the Catholic side, not always entirely free of a certain unreflective condescension. Often Western Christians, justifiably offended by the hostility with which their advances are met by certain Orthodox, assume that the greatest obstacle to reunion is Eastern immaturity and divisiveness. The problem is dismissed as one of “psychology,” and the only counsel offered one of “patience.” Fair enough: decades of Communist tyranny set atop centuries of other, far more invincible tyrannies have effectively shattered the Orthodox world into a contentious confederacy of national churches struggling to preserve their own regional identities against every “alien” influence, and under such conditions only the most obdurate stock survives. But psychology is the least of our problems.

In truth, so vehement is this pope’s love of Eastern Christianity that it has often blinded him to the most inexorable barriers between the churches. As an error of judgment, this is an endearing one, but also one possible only from the Western vantage. Of course a Catholic who looks eastward finds nothing to which he objects, because what he sees is the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (but—here’s the rub—for him, this means the first seven of twenty–one). When an Orthodox turns his eyes westward he sees what appears to him a Church distorted by innovation and error: the filioque clause, the pope’s absolute primatial authority, purgatory, indulgences, priestly celibacy. Our deepest divisions concern theology and doctrine, and this problem admits of no immediately obvious remedy, because both churches are so fearfully burdened by infallibility. The disagreements in theology can be mitigated: Western theologians now freely grant that the Eastern view of original sin is more biblical than certain Latin treatments of the matter; only the most obtusely truculent Orthodox still believe that the huge differences in Trinitarian theology that a previous generation found everywhere in Latin tradition indeed actually exist; etc. But doctrine is more intractable. The Catholic Church might plausibly contemplate the suppression of the filioque, but could it repudiate the claim that the papacy ever possessed the authority to allow such an addition? The Eastern Church believes in sanctification after death, and perhaps the doctrine of purgatory really asserts nothing more; but can Rome ever say that in speaking of it as “temporal punishment,” which the pope may in whole or part remit, it was in error? And so on.

Even if we retreat to the issue of psychology again, here too Catholic ecumenists often misconstrue the nature of the Orthodox distrust of their good will. It is not simply the case that the Orthodox are so fissiparous and jealous of their autonomy that the Petrine office appears to them a dangerous principle of homogeneity, an ordo obedientiae to which their fractious Eastern wills cannot submit. Jurisdictional squabbling aside, the Orthodox world enjoys so profound a unity—of faith, worship, spirituality, and ecclesiology—that the papacy cannot but appear to it as a dangerous principle of plurality. After all, under the capacious canopy of the papal office, so many disparate things find common shelter. Eastern rites huddle alongside liturgical practices (hardly a peripheral issue in the East) disfigured by rebarbative banality, by hymnody both insipid and heterodox, and by a style of worship that looks flippant if not blasphemous. Academic theologians explicitly reject principles of Catholic orthodoxy, but are not (as they would be in the East) excluded from communion. There are three men called Patriarch of Antioch in the Roman communion—Melkite, Maronite, and Latin (I think I have them all)—which suggests that the very title of patriarch, even as regards an apostolic see, is merely honorific, because the only unique patriarchal office is the pope’s. As unfair as it may seem, to Orthodox Christians it often appears as if, from the Catholic side, so long as the pope’s supremacy is acknowledged, all else is irrelevant ornament. Which yields the sad irony that the more the Catholic Church strives to accommodate Orthodox concerns, the more disposed many Orthodox are to see in this merely the advance embassy of an omnivorous ecclesial empire.

All of which sounds rather grim. But having made the necessary qualifications, I can now praise John Paul II for all he has done for the unity of the apostolic Churches. He is, simply stated, a visionary on this matter. True, human beings cannot overcome the obstacles dividing East from West; but the unity of the Church is never—even when it is only two or three gathered in Christ’s name—a human work. Each church is grievously wounded by its separation from the other, and only those who have allowed pride and infantile anger to displace love in their hearts are blind to this.

Moreover, our need for one another grows greater with the years. It is sometimes suggested that the future of society in the West—and so, perhaps, the world—is open to three “options”: Christianity, Islam, and a consumerism so devoid of transcendent values as to be, inevitably, nothing but a pervasive and pitiless nihilism. The last of these has the singular power of absorbing some of the energies of the other two without at first obviously draining them of their essences; the second enjoys a dogmatic warrant for militancy and a cultural cohesiveness born both of the clarity of its creed and the refining adversities of political and economic misfortune; but the only tools at Christianity’s disposal will be evangelism and unity. The confrontation between the Church and modern consumerism will continue to occur principally in the West, where a fresh infusion of Orthodoxy’s otherworldliness may prove a useful inoculant; but the encounter or confrontation with Islam will be principally, as it long has been, in the East. It is impossible to say what peace will be wrought there or what calamity, but it may well be that the Petrine office, with its unique capacity for “strengthening the brethren” and speaking the truth to the world, will prove indispensable.

The present pope has long been the great, indefatigable voice of Christian conviction in a faithless age. If future popes follow his lead, and speak out forcibly on behalf of the Christians—in Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and elsewhere—who will most acutely suffer the pressure of this difficult future, love will ever more drive out suspicion, and the vision of unity that inspires John Paul II will bear fruit. Sic, at any rate, oremus.

David Bentley Hart (born 1965) is an Eastern Orthodox philosophical theologian, philosopher (of the classical and continentalist variety), and cultural commentator.
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