Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"Does This Liberal Pope Represent God?"

John Myste is a progressive friend of mine who is often a contrarian commenter on Saving Common Sense.  He asked an interesting question last week, following Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.  He inquired of me, “Does this liberal pope represent God?”  Evidently he is interested in the perspective of an “intelligent conservative Catholic” on the matter, and as he believes the pool of qualified people to ask is quite limited, he informed me that I was thus duly elected – probably because I am the only conservative Catholic he knows – intelligent or otherwise.  That said, I feel it is my duty to answer my friend in a circumloquacious manner, if for no other reason than to give full justice to his question, and perhaps annoy him just a little.

Let’s begin with a little history, shall we?  Looking at the Gospel of Matthew’s sixteenth chapter, specifically with verses 13 through 19, we find the following scripture:

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"  They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Pretty heavy stuff, but what does that all mean?  Well, let’s discuss "the keys to the kingdom of heaven" first. 

In ancient times, a king would appoint a trusted steward to run the kingdom’s affairs in the king’s absence when he was away conducting trade or engaged in war or such.  That steward spoke with the king’s authority.  The king would literally give him the keys to the castle in his absence to conduct necessary business until the king’s return.

Jesus acknowledged that His Father had revealed to Peter who He truly was.  Because of this revelation of Peter’s, Christ declared Peter to be the rock upon which He would build His church. (petra is Greek for “rock”)  Indeed the Catholic Church was the only Christian Church for over a millennia and a half until the 16th Century when Martin Luther caused the first great schism by being the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.  Nowadays we have over 30,000 different Christian denominations, but I digress.

Christ said he would build his church upon the rock of Peter.  He would give him the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Peter would become Christ’s steward on earth.  This is why Peter is typically depicted as holding a set of keys and is often thought of as being at the pearly gates to thus let in the faithful into the kingdom of heaven.  

Christ also gave Peter the power to bind and loose on earth.  That means Peter’s decrees on God’s behalf on earth do indeed speak for Christ.  Peter is thus recognized, on Christ’s own authority, as the leader of His Church on earth that He himself established.  Peter was the very first pope accordingly.  The Catholic Church has been governed ever since with an unbroken line of apostolic successors from Peter to Pope Francis today. 

Currently, many non-Catholics think that we Catholics believe the pope to be impeccable in all of his utterances.  They assume that is what is meant by papal infallibility – that the pope is incapable of error. This is absolutely incorrect.  The pope is a fallen man subject to the sins of the world, just like the rest of us.  The Catholic Church teaches that the pope is infallible ONLY when he speaks from his position of authority on a particular Church dogma or doctrine. According to the Catholic Church, this infallibility of the pope, only when speaking ex cathedra, is part of the Catholic Church’s Magisterium, or the teaching authority of the Church which God gave to Peter and His church to guide her infallibly. This “teaching authority of the Church” is made up of the pope’s infallible teaching ability, the infallible teaching ability of church councils assembled under the authority of the pope, and the “ordinary” Magisterium of the bishops.

Indeed, Christ told his disciples, "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." (Luke 10:16)

What infallibility actually does is prevent a pope from solemnly and formally teaching as "truth" something that is, in fact, error.  The Holy Spirit guides the pope in such matters to make it impossible for him to teach in error on matters of doctrine or dogma.  It does not provide the pope with new revelations, as Catholics believe that the deposit of faith is complete.  The Holy Spirit may guide the pope into greater understanding of existing revelation though. 

Now many conservative Catholics have indeed taken umbrage with some of Pope Francis’ recent comments, and I am sure this is where my friend John has formed this question for me.  Am I, as a Catholic, required to believe in global warming or some of the more socialistic policies of which Pope Francis has advocated?  No.  He has not formally declared and taught these things from a point of apostolic authority over the Church’s Magisterium; therefore, these things are not taught as being infallible.  Furthermore, I would submit that these topics are outside of the scope of Church doctrine in the first place and therefore Pope Francis could NOT teach his advocated positions as being infallible.

We have an absolute duty to care for the poor, as Christ told us that we must care for the least of our brothers and sisters.  I respectfully disagree with Pope Francis in some regards on how to go about doing so though.  American capitalism has been the source for the creation of far more wealth for a far greater majority of people and the eradication of far more poverty than any other country in the world has ever seen.  Socialism on the other hand has often created great poverty in the nations that have enacted it over the course of the 20th century.  That said, crony capitalism and some of its unrestricted excesses are absolutely in need of government restrictions by force of law, but that is a subject for another time.

The bottom line is that I am indeed obligated to follow the pope when he declares and speaks infallibly on matters of Church doctrine.  After all, Christ gave him the authority in succession from Peter to speak for Him.  If I were to ignore him on such matters, I would indeed be ignoring God Himself.  In that matter, Pope Francis and all the popes before and after him do indeed represent God and therefore I must follow them to remain faithful to Christ as a Catholic regarding His Church.

On economics and environmentalism, Pope Francis is just a concerned and fallible man speaking on issues outside of magisterial doctrine and I can research and either agree or disagree with him accordingly. Pope Francis doesn’t necessarily represent me on matters of socialism or global warming.  He may or may not represent God on those issues outside of the scope of his office of pope.  For that question to be answered, we will have to wait until we can speak with God Himself. 

So to answer my friend John's question, ultimately the answer is that Pope Francis does indeed speak for God on matters involving Christ's Church's doctrine and dogma.  On matters outside of those, the pope may or may not be in communion with God's own thoughts -- just like the rest of us.

12 comments:

Jerry Critter said...

"We have an absolute duty to care for the poor, as Christ told us that we must care for the least of our brothers and sisters. I respectfully disagree with Pope Francis in some regards on how to go about doing so though."

So, how do you decide when the Pope stops talking for God? He is talking for God when he says we must care for the poor, but is no longer talking for God when he says how to care for the poor? He just gives orders and no solutions? Really?!?

T. Paine said...

Okay... fair question, even if a bit simplified, Jerry.

It is up to us as individuals to care for our brothers and sisters. It is up to each of us to care for the poor that are unable to care for themselves. It is not up to us to abrogate that responsibility to the government so that we don't have to worry about it personally. God doesn’t say, “Pay your taxes so that the government can provide for your brothers and sisters.” Yes, we absolutely need to work as a community to help those less fortunate. No, we cannot turn and look the other way and say that it is the government or somebody else’s job to care for the poor.

Pope Francis has, in my opinion, erroneously advocated some socialistic ideas in how to improve the lives of the poor. And yes, it is up to the priest, bishop, or deacon to make scripture relevant in how we can go about doing Christ’s work; however, Pope Francis’ teaching on doctrine that we are each INDIVIDUALLY required to do our part does not necessarily translate to “let the government do it for us.”

Pope St. John Paul II, having lived under communist rule in Poland after WWII, was a huge advocate for the eradication of it because he saw the poverty it created and the evil it fostered. This stance would seem to stand in contrast to some of Pope Francis' statements regarding the benefits of it. Catholics were not bound by church doctrine to believe that communism was evil, but historical evidence should probably have provided enough support of that truth.

Pope Francis has spoken out on the corruption within capitalism as practiced by certain corporations and many politicians, and rightfully so. The alternative is not to throw the baby out with the bath water, but to eliminate that corruption and punish those responsible; not to regress to an Argentinian style socialism that saw his country going from being quite wealthy and an exporter of goods to being very poor and corrupt with horrible poverty.

Popes are men – fallible men, just like you and me. They are protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching error regarding scripture and doctrine. Sometimes their practical “solutions” are outside of that divine protection and are simply the result of their experiences and human knowledge… which may or may not be flawed.

Hopefully that makes sense and addresses your question, sir.

Jerry Critter said...

I see you have pulled out the government bogeyman. Let me remind you. You are the government. I am the government. Your friend in the government. Your enemy is the government. All of us together are the government. When the government does something, it is all of us doing it. And doing it with our own money.

I suspect that if Jesus was here today, a fair percentage of the population would call him a dirty socialist.

T. Paine said...

The government is a necessary evil, Jerry. It should be restricted to doing ONLY those things which it is specifically authorized to do in the United States Constitution. All other functions should be reserved to the States and/or the people. When the government exceeds its legal mandate and does "more" than what it is supposed to do, it inevitably infringes on peoples rights and livelihoods. At that point is does indeed become the very boogeyman many of us fear. The fact that most of the population is either ignorant or apathetic, lets this monstrosity grow ever stronger. It ends up usurping powers, rights, and responsibilities that We The People should be doing for ourselves. This includes taking care of our brothers, sisters, and neighbors, my friend.

Jerry Critter said...

"The government is a necessary evil."

The government is neither evil nor good. It is the people who WE allow to run the government that are evil. The government is simply an inanimate object. It is like blaming a corporation for the evil it does rather than blaming the people who control the corporation.

"... responsibilities that We The People should be doing for ourselves."

I find it interesting that you use the very first three words of the preamble of the constitution which sets up the very government you call evil. We the People using the government can much more effectively help "our brothers, sisters, and neighbors" than we can individually.

T. Paine said...

“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

~ Thomas Paine

My thoughts on this are not something new, as you can see. My nom de plume and many of the founding fathers established our representative republic precisely because of the evils of government, assuming a vigilant citizenry would keep our elected leaders in check.

Government’s focus should be on doing those few things that states, cities, and people themselves cannot do such as enact foreign treaties, regulate interstate & foreign commerce, execute war in our defense, print currency and so forth. Government becomes evil because power does indeed tend to corrupt our leaders. Such is human nature. When we don’t pay attention and hold our leaders accountable accordingly, it can cause government to become corrupt and/or evil.

We should be taking care of our poor family members individually. When family is not available or capable of doing so, we should rely on our churches, local charities, and communities to do so. The federal government does not do an efficient or an effective job in helping the poor overall. Too much bureaucracy, lack of proper understanding of specific needs, fraud, waste, and abuse of the system only enlarges the inefficient government when we should be doing these things ourselves. This is one of the tasks that we are specifically called upon to do individually by Christ, for those that care to try and live by His word. Ignoring that commandment and simply saying that it is the government’s job to do it is exactly the problem, sir. The fact that they do it poorly is only adding to the problem.

Ryan said...

The most efficient charity is direct aid: hands-on assistance to those in need. However:

1.) Charity and welfare are not mutually exclusive. You can help out at a soup kitchen all month and still pay taxes that support programs to help others.

2.) Charity through donation is not necessarily any more efficient than welfare. One's money may still get caught up in non-profit bureaucracy, wasted on overpaid executives, or misused in poorly planned operations.

3.) Efficiency and effectiveness are not synonymous. Even if the government is inefficient, its power and reach far exceed that of any individual or charity group.

4.) Charity, being voluntary, is insufficient. If the government ended all welfare programs, much of the money that people would get to keep again would not be spent on anything so noble. (Even if half of every dollar spent on welfare is totally wasted, it is better than nothing.) Force is necessary to achieve some of our goals, at least in our imperfect society.

It bothers me when people rail against welfare on the grounds that it is involuntary, arguing that it's not moral if it's forced. This suggests that one cares more about feeling good about helping than about actually helping. If I have to choose between a society that only ever helps people voluntarily and a society that sometimes helps people voluntarily but is also forced to do so through taxation, I choose the latter because I want results.

Of course, no one should feel that paying taxes that fund welfare programs takes the place of doing charity work himself. But similarly, no one who does charity work himself should fool himself into thinking that his work alone is enough.

Jerry Critter said...

TP's reasoning makes sense to me when I realize that he is operating on a basis of fear. He is the champion of the worst case scenario. Religion can do that to a person.

John Myste said...

Thanks for the explanation.

I found this to be cryptic:

Currently, many non-Catholics think that we Catholics believe the pope to be impeccable in all of his utterances. They assume that is what is meant by papal infallibility – that the pope is incapable of error. This is absolutely incorrect. The pope is a fallen man subject to the sins of the world, just like the rest of us. The Catholic Church teaches that the pope is infallible ONLY when he speaks from his position of authority on a particular Church dogma or doctrine. According to the Catholic Church, this infallibility of the pope, only when speaking ex cathedra, is part of the Catholic Church’s Magisterium, or the teaching authority of the Church which God gave to Peter and His church to guide her infallibly. This “teaching authority of the Church” is made up of the pope’s infallible teaching ability, the infallible teaching ability of church councils assembled under the authority of the pope, and the “ordinary” Magisterium of the bishops.

And finally, this to be a little decrypting:

What infallibility actually does is prevent a pope from solemnly and formally teaching as "truth" something that is, in fact, error. The Holy Spirit guides the pope in such matters to make it impossible for him to teach in error on matters of doctrine or dogma. It does not provide the pope with new revelations, as Catholics believe that the deposit of faith is complete. The Holy Spirit may guide the pope into greater understanding of existing revelation though.

So, then to Jerry’s point:

“So, how do you decide when the Pope stops talking for God? He is talking for God when he says we must care for the poor, but is no longer talking for God when he says how to care for the poor? He just gives orders and no solutions? Really?!?”

I would say that it makes perfect sense that God, should such a Creature exist, would not order specifics, which invariably would be hard to stand the tests of millennia . The way one does things, and should do things, progresses with society, science, and human philosophical development. The Christian God never provided a map of how to get things done (well, almost never). He provided specific religious orders and general doctrine, rarely anything more. Parents generally raise children this way also, by the way. They try to convince them to go to school, but they usually don’t tell them to attend school X and become a practitioner of profession Y. They may tell them to help those in need, but they don’t say exactly how. It would be silly and the instructions would be too massive to consume. We would go have a banana instead and ignore our parents.

If you want a God who is an absolute dictator, look elsewhere. However, if you want a Genie in the Bottle deity who will love you no matter what, even if He is forced to burn you eternally or kill your children when you misbehave, then the Christian God is your Man. I take no issue with Him saying to care for the poor, but not saying specifically how to do it. I almost find it comical that we would need to be told exactly how to do it, in order to do it, and if we do, we are probably not qualified to do it anyway.

T. Paine said...

Ryan, for the most part, I do agree with you various points. I understand that there is still a need for government to help provide for the poor via tax payer dollars. I do think this can often be more effectively and efficiently done from the States, counties, and even cities instead of necessarily always coming from the federal government though.

My chief complaint wasn't that the government should end all welfare, although much of the waste and abuse should be further addressed. My complaint was that there are too many people that think that it is the government's job to care for the poor, so they should not have to provide additional time and treasure in the effort. If we would all take care of our own, the burden on society and our government would be far less. That was my point, sir.

T. Paine said...

Jerry, you make me laugh sometimes. You would probably be surprised to know that I am typically very upbeat and am an optimistic person in many ways. I have confidence and joy in my heart, because even though I know that there is sadly much badness and evil in the world, in the end, Christ has overcome the world.

My bleak outlook on our ever-secularizing society is because of the results that we are now reaping from all of the division, selfishness, and evil we have sowed, my friend. In the end, God triumphs though.

T. Paine said...

John, I... uh... okay. I am too tired to unravel the satire today, I suppose.