Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Evangelii Gaudium - the BBC Has Overstated the Pope's Liberal Leanings

BBC News has the headline: "Pope Francis calls for power to move away from Vatican" and the opening line: "Pope Francis has called for power in the Catholic Church to be devolved away from the Vatican, in the first major work he has written in the role."

The document in question, Evangelii Gaudium ("Gospel's Joy") purports to be an apostolic exhortation. The document does state, at section 32, "Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach." I cannot find anywhere in the document the idea of actually removing power from the Vatican. There are several favorably mentions of the Second Vatican Council, but nothing opposing ultramontanism even to the extent that the Second Vatican Council attempted.

There are some other interesting aspects to the document. For example, it was interesting to see Garry Wills' point about the power of the ministerial priesthood arising from the Eucharist. Section 104 states: "Its [the ministerial priesthood's] key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people." Wills would, I think, respond that the power to administer the Eucharist naturally progresses into a power of domination, particularly when the power is discretionary.

Sections 147 and 148 are also interesting in terms of their relationship to exegesis:
147. First of all, we need to be sure that we understand the meaning of the words we read. I want to insist here on something which may seem obvious, but which is not always taken into account: the biblical text which we study is two or three thousand years old; its language is very different from that which we speak today. Even if we think we understand the words translated into our own language, this does not mean that we correctly understand what the sacred author wished to say. The different tools provided by literary analysis are well known: attention to words which are repeated or emphasized, recognition of the structure and specific movement of a text, consideration of the role played by the different characters, and so forth. But our own aim is not to understand every little detail of a text; our most important goal is to discover its principal message, the message which gives structure and unity to the text. If the preacher does not make this effort, his preaching will quite likely have neither unity nor order; what he has to say will be a mere accumulation of various disjointed ideas incapable of inspiring others. The central message is what the author primarily wanted to communicate; this calls for recognizing not only the author’s ideas but the effect which he wanted to produce. If a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors; if it was written as an exhortation, it should not be employed to teach doctrine; if it was written to teach something about God, it should not be used to expound various theological opinions; if it was written as a summons to praise or missionary outreach, let us not use it to talk about the latest news.

148. Certainly, to understand properly the meaning of the central message of a text we need to relate it to the teaching of the entire Bible as handed on by the Church. This is an important principle of biblical interpretation which recognizes that the Holy Spirit has inspired not just a part of the Bible, but the Bible as a whole, and that in some areas people have grown in their understanding of God’s will on the basis of their personal experience. It also prevents erroneous or partial interpretations which would contradict other teachings of the same Scriptures. But it does not mean that we can weaken the distinct and specific emphasis of a text which we are called to preach. One of the defects of a tedious and ineffectual preaching is precisely its inability to transmit the intrinsic power of the text which has been proclaimed.
It is interesting to hear Francis' comments. He seems to be acknowledging that literary analysis is legitimate for figuring out the meaning of the text in section 147. In section 148, Francis is careful to add the qualifier "as handed on by the Church" (presumably modifying "teaching" not "Bible"). Still, fundamentally Francis seems to be recognizing that while people can misunderstand the text, they can use literary analysis to figure out what it means. This means that even if a "church" is helpful in analyzing the text, it is not necessary -- the text has intrinsic power and self-demonstrating meaning.

Section 22 similarly acknowledges the superior power of the word to the church:
22. God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.
It's great for Francis to make these concessions, and it helps to undermine the traditional error of Roman Catholicism in treating "the Church" as a necessary gatekeeper and mouthpiece for the Word.

The RC pope may not be as liberal as the BBC portrays him, but he expresses a position a lot closer to "Protestantism" than some of his predecessors.


1 comment:

Pianoman said...

The Pope is proving to be a thorn in a lot of ppls flesh. Lol