Skip to comments.Francis: Reformer or Revolutionary?
Posted on 07/12/2013 9:09:52 AM PDT by markomalley
From the first days of his papacy Francis has been hailed as a radical reformer. The mainstream journalists have enjoyed creating a new narrative: The shadowy Dan Brown-type Vatican (as we all know) is worm eaten with secret pedophiles, a cadre of homosexuals, mobsters running the Vatican Bank, an ancient, sinister international conspiracy and Cardinals who are shady, secretive and scheming. Benedict XVI was, at best, a congenial old duffer more interested in red shoes and fancy vestments and giving top jobs to his cronies than in cleaning up the church. At worst he was the Goblin King sitting happily on top of the dung pile of the Catholic Church.
Then along comes the new St. Francis! The Cardinal from Buenos Aires who lived among the poor, took the bus to work and cooked his own rice and beans. The new broom is going to sweep clean. Down with the old and up with the new. Pope Francis is probably a Liberation Theology sympathizer a revolutionary like Good Pope John who started the second Vatican Council which was the revolution the church needed in the 1960s. Since then John Paul II and Benedict XVI tried to turn the clock back, but at last the new springtime of the church is back. Bring out the love beads and bell bottoms! Viva Papa Francesco! Revolution is here to stay!
Or perhaps not.
The problem with the narrative devised by the secular press is that it is constructed on philosophical presuppositions of which the journalists themselves are probably ignorant. The modern secular world interprets world events and history according to a hermeneutic of revolution or what Pope Benedict called a hermeneutic of rupture. This is essentially a Hegelian understanding of history in which there is thesis, antithesis and synthesis. In other words, there is a status quo, there is the challenge to the status quo and this brings about conflict out of which a new order is born.
This hermeneutic of revolution was pioneered at the Protestant Reformationwhich is properly called the Protestant Revolution. Before that there was conflict, but for the most part the conflict was between nations, tribes or kingdoms. To revolt against ones own tribe or nation was considered treachery and treason. However, the Protestant Revolution changed all that. The Protestant Revolution was perceived as righteous. At that point the precedent for revolution was established, and Western society has been determined and driven by the idea of righteous revolution as progress ever since. When I say revolution as progress the assumption is not only that things move forward through revolution, but that the revolution must, by definition, be a good thing. For the modern secularist, revolution means progress and progress must, by definition, be a move forward.
The key mark of revolution (as opposed to legitimate reform) is that the revolutionary is not only eager to bring about a new order. He must first destroy the old. Revolution is iconoclastic. The old must be destroyed in order for the new to be established. This is why we can characterize most of the Protestant Reformation as revolution rather than reform. The Protestants were not content to simply reform the medieval Catholic Church. They had to destroy the whole thing and start again.
Reform, on the other hand, corrects and expands the status quo rather than destroying and starting anew. The Catholic understanding has always, therefore been one of constant reform and renewal, not one of revolution. Catholic reform is built not on a Hegelian premise of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, but on a hermeneutic of continuity. We do not destroy the old to start again. We correct the old, modify the status quo and expand and develop our understanding of the faith and the work of the church. To use a gardening analogy, the Catholic prunes the vine, fertilizes the soil and weeds the vineyard. The revolutionary grubs up the whole place with a bulldozer and tries to plant a flower bed.
This need for renewal and reform is a constant work of the church. She never stays in one place. Through the vivifying power of the Holy Spirit she is always searching for renewal and reform from within and evangelization of the world without. Human sin, corruption, apathy and torpor is always with the Church and in every age she is called to the hard work of renewal and reform. I say this is hard work because it is far harder to gradually, gently and carefully correct, expand, nurture and bring the church where she should be. It is far easier to destroy the status quo and start again. It is far easier, but it is far more destructive and in the end, the revolutionary is hoisted on his own petard because it will not be very long before the nouveau regime becomes the ancien regime and another revolution is required.
This contrast between reform and revolution sheds light on the recent history of the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council was a reforming council, but it was not a revolutionary council. Unfortunately, in an age of revolution, with the zeitgeist one of revolution, the council was hi-jacked by those who could not see the world in anything but revolutionary terms. Thus I still hear Catholics speak about pre-Vatican II and post Vatican II as if a great revolution took place. The other day a fellow priest condemned our plans for a traditional style church saying that It is pre-Vatican II. We are supposed to build modern churches now that encourage participation. The true interpretation of the second Vatican Council is that it reformed the church, but did not bring about a revolution. The Second Vatican Council corrected, adjusted and expanded the ministry of the church and the truths of the faith through the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit. It was never intended to be revolutionary and iconoclastic. The wreckage of the Catholic Church in the wake of Vatican II was an abuse, not a right use.
This brings us back to Pope Francis. Is he a revolutionary or a reformer? Those who are brainwashed by the revolutionary spirit of the age will be disappointed to find that he is not a radical revolutionary but a gentle reformer. He will certainly seek to cleanse the church, correct her human faults, pull the weeds and bring us back to our gospel roots, but he will not be an iconoclastic revolutionary. Instead he will lead the church in the work she is called to do: a work of constant reform, renewal and conversion of life.
Finally, what the Pope is doing for the church, he calls all of us to do on the individual level. In our own lives, in the lives of our families, our parishes, schools and diocese and in our local communities we are not called to revolution, but reform. Grace builds on nature. God meets us where we are and encourages us to fulfill that great destiny he has for each of us. We reach that destiny not through violent revolution, but through gradual growth, gentle development in the spirit and the hard daily work of running on the path of Gods commandments. At the heart of this task is the call to personal repentance, reform and renewal.
This is the task of the church. It is the task of each of the baptized. It is the hard and steady work of renewal and reform instead of the adolescent and violent option of revolution.
He kind of strikes me as a throwback to the 70s era church which Benedict and to some extent JP2 tried to move away from
No generalization at all.
Protestants destroyed medieval Catholic books, libraries, chapels, chantries, colleges, churches, artworks, monasteries, convents, sysems, structures, canon law, pilgrimage sites, etc.
This Pope reminds me of the movie “Shoes of the Fisherman” and the humility expressed by giving away all the trappings of richness.
It’s funny you should mention “Shoes of the Fisherman”. I’ve long had a tape of that but have never watched it. I’ve been planning on watching it soon. The way Anthony Quinn appears as the Pope in that movie does sort of remind me of Pope Francis.
Francis is an interesting mix. Maybe he seem like a throwback to the 70s on poverty issues, but his statements against same-sex marriage in Argentina were quite strong. He even went out in the popemobile and met a Pro-Life march in Italy. I think he’s going to make ideological conservatives and ideological liberals become Catholic before ideological.
Pot. Kettle. Black.
Longenecker is a graduate of Bob Jones University, studied theology at Oxford and served as an Anglican priest prior to converting to Catholicism. He's forgotten more about history than you'll ever dream of knowing.
Many years ago, I observed (to a bunch of "catholic" radicals) that the Bible is "pre-Conciliar". They didn't like that much. Today's radicals might well agree with me ... and then suggest chucking it out.
Forgive him. He's probably had his judgment impaired by visiting the FR Religion Forum.
What does that say about the judgment of those who live and work here?
Q. What kind of Catholic are you a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?
A. I dont know what that means. Do you mean do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?
Q. How is such a belief possible in this day and age?
A. What else is there?
Q. What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy.
That's what I mean...
Q. I dont understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative?
A. Its not good enough.
Q. Why not?
A. This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, Scientific humanism. That wont do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I dont see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.
Q. Grabbed aholt?
A. A Louisiana expression. . . .
Heh. I think you know what it means...
In the mid-80s, Franky Schaeffer included Percy's Lost In The Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book on his Recommended Reading list in the Christian Activist newspaper (this was before Schaeffer converted to Greek Orthodoxy, taking the paper's name with him). IMO much of what Percy wrote in that book is sheer brilliance. I've quoted from it on FR on more than one occasion.
Look in the mirror.
Odd how some people around here don't cast a reflection.