Pope Francis gets it right about Absolute Truth

Update: An email came in from a former member of the Roman Curia. Some in the Curia  would fear to hear his name mentioned here. Mind you, he respects the Pontifical Secret perfectly. He has benevolent words…

p.s. I loved your post on Pope Francis gets the truth right. You are correct – difficult as it is for people to see. You do him a great service. I hope that the Holy See is looking at the post…

It’s bad manners to publish such stats, but I sometimes do it. ;¬)

Original post below:

You have heard that it was said: Pope Francis denies Absolute Truth, that it’s the end of the world. That he is the anti-Christ. Let’s investigate.

POPE JOHN PAUL II

Firstly, let’s define our terms with the help of Saint John Paul II, reviewing a few passages from Veritatis splendor:

  • No darkness of error or of sin can totally take away from man the light of God the Creator. In the depths of his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it.

  • “Then someone came to him…“. In the young man, whom Matthew’s Gospel does not name, we can recognize every person who, consciously or not, approaches Christ the Redeemer of man and questions him about morality. For the young man, the question is not so much about rules to be followed, but about the full meaning of life. This is in fact the aspiration at the heart of every human decision and action, the quiet searching and interior prompting which sets freedom in motion. This question is ultimately an appeal to the absolute Good which attracts us and beckons us; it is the echo of a call from God who is the origin and goal of man’s life. Precisely in this perspective the Second Vatican Council called for a renewal of moral theology, so that its teaching would display the lofty vocation which the faithful have received in Christ, the only response fully capable of satisfying the desire of the human heart.

  • The statement that “There is only one who is good” thus brings us back to the “first tablet” of the commandments, which calls us to acknowledge God as the one Lord of all and to worship him alone for his infinite holiness (cf. Ex 20:2-11). The good is belonging to God, obeying him, walking humbly with him in doing justice and in loving kindness (cf.Mic 6:8). Acknowledging the Lord as God is the very core, the heart of the Law, from which the particular precepts flow and towards which they are ordered. In the morality of the commandments the fact that the people of Israel belongs to the Lord is made evident, because God alone is the One who is good. Such is the witness of Sacred Scripture, imbued in every one of its pages with a lively perception of God’s absolute holiness: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Is 6:3).

  • The origin and the foundation of the duty of absolute respect for human life are to be found in the dignity proper to the person.

You get the idea. There are many such examples in Veritatis splendor.


Now let’s review some passages from Pope Francis. Let’s begin with a couple of paragraphs from his speech on 17 October 2015, the 50th anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops. Also take a look at the provenance of the notes. Most impressive. All technical vocabulary.

POPE FRANCIS BISHOPS SYNOD

On the eve of last year’s Synod I stated: “For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, so that with him we may hear the cry of his people; to listen to his people until we are in harmony with the will to which God calls us”.(14) The Synod process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called to speak [chiamato a pronunciarsi=called to pronounce (a word used for ex-cathedra statements)] as “pastor and teacher of all Christians”,(15) not on the basis of his personal convictions but as the supreme witness to the fides totius Ecclesiae, “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”.(16)

The fact that the Synod always acts cum Petro et sub Petro — indeed, not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro — is not a limitation of freedom, but a guarantee of unity. For the Pope is, by will of the Lord, “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful”.(17) Closely related to this is the concept of “hierarchica communio” as employed by the Second Vatican Council: the Bishops are linked to the Bishop of Rome by the bond of episcopal communion (cum Petro) while, at the same time, hierarchically subject to him as head of the college (sub Petro).(18)

14) FRANCIS, Address at the Prayer Vigil for the Synod on the Family, 4 October 2014.

15) FIRST VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus (18 July 1870), ch. IV: Denz. 3074. Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 749, § 1.

16) FRANCIS, Address to the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 18 October 2014.

17) SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 23. cf. FIRST VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Prologue: Denz. 3051.

18) Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 22; Decree Christus Dominus (28 October 1965), 4.

I don’t know if he’s going to say something definitive on 8 December 2015, or on Ash Wednesday 2016, or whenever, but he sure does seem to have alerted us to that possibility. This is the Supreme Pontiff pronouncing himself on a matter of controversy to the universal Church on a grave matter of faith and morality.

Also, remember, that to calm people down about any number of topics, about the Synod, about the Roman Universities, about whatever, he stated again and again that it would all be O.K., because of the shepherding of the Bishop of Rome. It’s not that the Holy Father doesn’t believe in absolute truth. Quite the opposite as we see above. But some of his statements do need to be examined more closely. This is from Pope Francis’ in-flight interview from Africa to Rome:

philippine de Saint-PierrePhilippine De Saint-Pierre, KTO (France): Holiness, good afternoon, you paid homage to the platform created by the archbishop, the imam and the pastor of Bangui. Today more than ever, we know that fundamentalism threatens the entire planet. We also saw this in Paris. Before this danger, do you think that religious leaders should intervene more in the political field? (Pope Francis asks for clarification) …the religious “dignitaries,” bishops and imams?

POPE FRANCIS PLANEPope Francis: “To intervene in the political field.” If that means to make politics, no. Whoever is a priest, pastor, imam, rabbi, this is his vocation, but they make a “live politics” by preaching values. True values. And one of the greatest values is the fraternity among us. We are all children of God. We have the same father. In this sense, we have to make politics of unity, reconciliation. A word that I don’t like, but I have to use it is “tolerance.” But, not only tolerance, co-existence, friendship. That’s how it is. Fundamentalism is a sickness that exists in all religions. We Catholics have some, not just some, so many, who believe they have the absolute truth [credono di avere la verità assoluta] and they move forward with calumnies, with defamation and they hurt, they hurt. And, I say this because it’s my Church, also us, all of us. It must be combated. Religious fundamentalism isn’t religious. Why? Because God is lacking. It’s idolatrous, as money is idolatrous. Making politics in the sense of convincing these people who have this tendency is a politics that we religious leaders must make, but fundamentalism that ends up always in tragedy or in crime, in a bad thing comes about in all religions a little bit.

Honestly, in light of what he’s said further above, do you really think that the Holy Father does not believe in absolute truth? Isn’t he here rightly going after those who are self-righteous, self-referential, Promethian  and utterly Pelagian self-congratulators who think that they themselves are the Truth inasmuch as they “have” it, that is, control it, manipulate to their own ends as a gift to mankind, that is, which smashes everyone else to the ground except themselves?

But one might object that he nevertheless does seem to be promoting a relativism of the truth, the equality of religions. One might object that he doesn’t seem to understand the our Heavenly Father, eternally expressing Himself in the Eternal Word, does not utter falsehood, but absolute Truth. But, there is more. Let’s go back to 2013.


 

Points from a letter of Pope Francis to Eugenio Scalfari, 7 August 2013

 

  • Christian faith believes in this: that Jesus is the Son of God who came to give his life to open the way to love for everyone.

  • I would say that the originality lies in the fact that faith allows us to participate, in Jesus, in the relationship that He has with God who is Abbà and, because of this, in the relationship that He has with all other men, including enemies, in the sign of love. In other words, the children of Jesus, as Christian faith presents us, are not revealed to mark an insuperable separation between Jesus and all the others: but to tell us that, in Him, we are all called to be the children of the only Father and brothers with each other. The uniqueness of Jesus is for communication not for exclusion. [That’s a great working definition, full of life and reality, for absolute truth.]

  • Second of all, you ask if the thought, according to which no absolute exists and therefore there is no absolute truth, but only a series of relative and subjective truths is a mistake or a sin. To start, I would not speak about, not even for those who believe, an “absolute” truth, in the sense that absolute is something detached, something lacking any relationship. Now, the truth is a relationship! This is so true that each of us sees the truth and expresses it, starting from oneself: from one’s history and culture, from the situation in which one lives, etc. This does not mean that the truth is variable and subjective. It means that it is given to us only as a way and a life. Was it not Jesus himself who said: “I am the way, the truth, the life”? In other words, the truth is one with love, it requires humbleness and the willingness to be sought, listened to and expressed. Therefore we must understand the terms well and perhaps, in order to avoid the oversimplification of absolute counter-position, reformulate the question. I think that today this is absolutely necessary in order to have a serene and constructive dialogue which I hoped for from the beginning.

So, he is absolutely not denying absolute truth, but rather, in trying rephrase this with words that are not so inadequate for that which is greater than the universe, he demonstrates he is more than upholding the truth about absolute truth. This really is very lovely, as the Brits say. Altogether lovely. I love it.

Might we find an inkling of this in the Scriptures? Well, yes. Let’s take a look at Matthew 16 and 18 and see what we find there.


Let’s review Matthew 16:19 in utterly pedantic translation

“Whatever you may bind at any given time (subjunctive aorist active) upon the earth will (indicative future middle) already have been made to be perfectly standing in that way (participle perfect passive) in the heavens.”

In other words, what is in heaven is already that way; what is in heaven is not an affirmation of what Peter might pronounce; what is in heaven simply is what it is, absolute truth, so to speak. The part of this equation that people always forget about when trying to figure out the tenses, is that there is a part of this equation which is utterly expendible: Peter. If he is going to get it wrong, he will either die or be incapacitated, but he will not be able to work against what is in heaven already. Being the Successor of Peter isn’t so much a privilege as it is a service that may involve laying down his life. After all, what do we know? The Orthodox or any others should never be envious of infallibility. The bit about loosing is exactly the same.


Let’s review Matthew 18:18 in utterly pedantic translation

“Whatever ye may bind at any given time (subjunctive aorist active) upon the earth will (indicative future middle) already have been made to be perfectly standing in that way (participle perfect passive) in the heavens.”

In other words, this is repeated verbatim, just in the plural for the people involved and the things they pronounce upon. There is no special insight for Peter. Others have the same faith as he has and can live as the children of God in a good relationship with Him in the same way he can.

With a difference. These others are not Peter, to whom alone among all others, to whom alone among the apostles, was given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, we read in the precise context of Matthew 18, if there is a dispute (because they are NOT infallible), they are to go to the Church, that is, Peter. Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia.

 


A note on the humility of Pope Francis:

Francis is overwhelmed that the Eternal Word of Truth who became incarnate to show the love of His heavenly Father to us all, having the right in His own justice to do so by standing in our place, taking on what we deserve, I, you, all of us, for original sin and our own personal sin. He has obtained the right in His own justice to have mercy on us.

No where has Pope Francis said that all religions are the same, just that God loves all of us. We’re all redeemed if not all saved, right? No one ever said, including himself, that he was the best theologian on the face of the earth, and he might personally get some things wrong. I can forgive him for that. Can you? He will not be able to make a mistake if he ever in his pontificate invokes the language I cited above from his speech on 17 October 2015.

At any rate, I am proud of his humility, so to speak, proud to be precisely one of Pope Francis’ Missionaries of Mercy. I wish I were as overwhelmed about the mercy of God as is he.

2 Comments

Filed under Mercy, Missionaries of Mercy, Pope Francis, Synod on the Family, Year of Mercy

2 responses to “Pope Francis gets it right about Absolute Truth

  1. peace and love of the worldly reasoner:
    – peace = let others do what they want = do what you want
    – love = accept everybody’s ideas = there is no truth

  2. Father George David Byers

    Yes, for the worldly reasoner.

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