Saturday, November 26, 2016

The work of providence

Pope Honorius I, via
Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street ("His Holiness Declines to Answer", New York Times, November 26 2016):
You think you Americans are having problems, with your obscene president-elect and all, you should see what we members of the One and Apostolic Roman Catholic Church are experiencing, where the Holy Father is refusing to come out and say openly whether he thinks it's lawful for some divorced hussy to receive Holy Communion, as appeared to be suggested in the encyclical Amoris Laetitia, how cutting-edge scary is that? Some say the Holy Ghost has sealed his lips on the subject and prevented him from saying what he really thinks because if he did that he would surely say something contrary to Church doctrine and God will never allow such a terrible thing to happen.
That last bit is for real, a reference to the official teaching of the doctrine of papal infallibility, with the implication that Francis doesn't really want to be forced into a position where what he says on the subject crosses into that almost never invoked territory (strictly speaking, it's only ever been invoked twice, once in 1854 before the formal proclamation of infallibility for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, whose parents conceived her, uniquely, without sin, and once in 1950 for her Bodily Assumption), but Ross pulls it all the way out for this colossally important issue, as usual not explicitly, but with a Trumpian "people are saying":
his silence has the effect of confirming conservatives in their resistance, because to them it looks like his refusal to give definitive answers might itself be the work of providence. That is, he thinks he’s being Machiavellian and strategic, but really it’s the Holy Spirit constraining him from teaching error.
That "Machiavellian" is meant to close you off from thinking of the possibility that Francis is acting out of conviction, or for the good of the Church, or any consideration other than the consolidation and nurturing of his own personal power, because that's how cynical Ross is.

Ross increasingly seems to have wandered into the conversation from somewhere around 1905, where the appreciation of a monarchist reactionary movement (in the "Alt-White" Internet) is something more than pure lunacy, and the fear of a "modernist" Pope is real (after Innocent XIII daringly suggested in 1893 that "biblical criticism" was a legitimate activity if carried out in a "spirit of faith" and St. Pius X shut it down in the 1907 Lamentabili sane exitu).

The idea of the Pope being physically prevented by the Holy Spirit from teaching error belongs very much to the later 19th century, and would have seemed pretty odd to the furious bishops who objected to the Monothelite Pope Honorius I (625-38), who insisted that Christ had only a single will in spite of the duality of His human and divine natures, and, worse yet,
admonished the bishops of Spain to be benevolent toward the errors of the Jewish religion, which had been condemned by the Council of Toledo (633), presided over by St. Isidore of Seville. St. Braulio of Saragossa publicly reproved the pope, charging that he could not believe that "the astuteness of the serpent had been able to leave traces of his passing over the stone of the Apostolic See."
Benevolence toward Jews! That guy was pretty bad!

Or Paschal II (1099-1118) who in 1111
succumbed to the secular power and demanded that all bishops and abbots resign so that the secular power could make its own appointments (lay investiture). To a man, including St. Bruno of Segni, the bishops and abbots refused to obey the pope.
Or John XXII (1316-34), who
In three sermons from 1331 until 1333 preached and wrote against the common opinion of theologians, preaching instead that the souls of the just do not enjoy the Beatific Vision immediately after death, nor are the wicked at once eternally damned, but that all await the final judgment of God at the Last Day. The pope was denounced as a heretic and demanded to be brought before a council for trial and condemnation. Yet he persisted in teaching this error, even throwing into the papal dungeon one who accused him of heresy.
And he didn't even have something of a supremely dreadful wickedness in mind like giving communion to a divorcée! Just sayin.

The same Edwardian character shows up, I think, in his response to the death of Fidel Castro Ruiz, the longtime manager of the Cuban revolution, who brought to the Cuban people, oppressed beyond bearing for many centuries, a certain degree of social and economic equality for which they paid a very high price in terms of personal freedom, and in terms of prosperity, especially after the Soviet subsidies disappeared with the Soviet Union in the 1990s:

What I think he means to refer to there is those members of Left Twitterstan who found themselves expressing some appreciation for Fidel's positive achievements, especially the things we in the United States have been unable to achieve, like universal free medical care and universal literacy, in spite of the country's deep poverty; or even saying hurtful things like "at least he was better than Pinochet", which he was, less violent and more interested in his country's welfare:

I call myself a social democrat if I want to be that specific, and I'm no expert but I do mean it in a fairly technical sense as in the 1875 Gotha Program aiming at the gradual destruction of the system of wage labor, exploitation, and inequality of all kinds by basically evolutionary, parliamentary and industrial, means. And I don't honestly regard it as "wimpy" and "compromising" but as above all successful, having passed its test in Germany and Sweden and France and so on as the revolutionary Marx-Engels program has failed its tests in Central and Eastern Europe and China and Indochina (especially the handful of places where the conditions for the experiment were sort of met, in eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia and Hungary and Poland). I understand the romance of Communist revolution, in Spain or Vietnam or, sure, Cuba (back in the day I had friends, young American normally Jewish folks, who joined the Venceremos Brigades to help out with the cane harvest), but even more of the not-quite revolutionary experiments of Israel and Chile and Nicaragua, all dead now.

If Douthat's trying to say we're all revolutionaries under the skin, in that 1905-style conservative terror that somebody's going to come and murder him in his bed or blow him up with a bomb as he's out with his horse taking some exercise in Rock Creek Park (in default of the Prater or the Bois de Boulogne), he needs to stop worrying. He's safe.

If he's trying revive the concept of an international conspiracy of cadres, fellow travelers, and useful idiots, to tar us as members of a mob that's likely to burst out of our torpor whenever Comrade Soros gives the signal and begin to riot in the streets, looting and raping and carrying people's heads through the streets,, if he's trying to make his audience see us from that Alt-White perspective, he needs to stop. Really. Just stop, Ross.

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