The first in a series of three articles developing issues and themes raised in the recent trilogy of editorial essays on the new pontificate. Not for those content to float above the surface of disturbing events, it is intended, rather, for those who seek the roots of the frightening fruits, and peace through deeper understanding.
“I Know Not the Man”
Pope Francis: The Natural Child of Pope Benedict XVI
For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice. (John 18:37)
~ Part I ~
There has come into existence a very erroneous opinion which, ironically, is shared by both liberal Catholics and most Traditionalists. They believe that there is a radical bifurcation separating the Pontificates of Benedict XVI and Francis. It will be my purpose here to prove this is a profoundly superficial view, and that the Papacy of Pope Francis is simply the logical and fully “natural” development of the philosophical and theological positions of Pope Benedict.
The Holy Mass: disturbing alterations
I will begin by discussing certain changes that have been made to the Mass. My purpose is to offer a kind of spiritual icon as a foundation for discussing the subject indicated by the title of this article. This might at first seem befuddling to the reader. Traditionalists would consider the Mass to be the premier subject about which there definitely is not continuity between Benedict and Francis. After all, Pope Benedict was the author of Summorum Pontificum and the “liberation” of the Traditional Mass, while Pope Francis has clearly said and done things which tend to reverse this policy. But both Popes firmly believe that the Novus Ordo is the “Ordinary Form” for the whole Church, while the Traditional Form is “Extraordinary” (not ordinary – outside the usual order). For those who would entertain any delusion that Pope Benedict intended a perpetual right to the Tridentine Mass, I would suggest that they read my article A Living Host: Liturgy, and the Dynamics of Cosmic Evolution In the Thought of Pope Benedict XVI and Teilhard de Chardin [CO, Dec. 2011 & Jan. 2012]. Benedict’s intentions towards the Traditional Mass were clearly dialectical and evolutionary.
I also wish to make clear from the beginning that I do not think that any of the changes to the Mass, including the changes which constitute the multiplicity of new Eucharistic prayers, invalidate the New Mass, or alter one iota the reality of Christ’s sacrifice and presence in the Mass. However, the efficacy of Christ’s invisible Sacrifice upon our individual and communal lives is largely dependent upon what we are able to incorporate into our hearts through what we see, read, and hear, and this in turn is profoundly affected by the particular form under which the Mass is offered.
Much has been written and discussed about the deficiencies of the New Order of the Mass relative to the Traditional Latin Mass — focusing on such things as the Eucharistic prayers themselves, the use of what appears to be a table rather than an altar, the orientation of the priest towards the people rather than ad orientem, the abandonment of Latin and its replacement by the vernacular, the banality of music, architecture, etc. All of these things are very disturbing to me personally, and, I believe, should be equally disturbing to all Catholics who have a real sense of what it means to worship God in spirit, truth, and adoration.
Two Protective Prayers: unique eradications
But there are two other changes which, over the years, I have recognised as reaching into my own heart with a debilitating effect possibly more profound than any of the above. Both of these changes are unique because they involve not just alterations, but total elimination. It is revealing that they comprise the first and last “acts” or prayers of the Mass. I have for some time thought of these as two arms that cradled and protected the beauty and integrity of the Mass, just as Mary protected her Divine Child. As I hope to demonstrate, these two great prayers, or meditations, reveal what is essential to protect and sustain the Catholic Heart in faith. Both of these having been totally eliminated, the Mass, and our worship, has been exposed to all the vagaries of the world.
The first prayer, integral to all Tridentine Masses except those Masses offered for the Dead and those offered from Passion Sunday until Holy Saturday, is Psalm 42.
Before ascending to the Altar of God, the priest stands at the foot of the altar, invokes the Trinity, and then says the antiphon: “I will go unto the altar of God.” The servers respond: “To God who giveth joy to my youth.” This phrase — “To God who giveth joy to my youth” — is repeated two more times, once as part of the psalm itself, and again at the conclusion of the psalm and the Glory be….
There is something hauntingly insistent about this repetition, speaking as it does of that which has been lost and which cries out to be restored. The youth of any human being is, of course, a time of relative innocence. This is largely why our youth haunts us with nostalgia. The youth of man, however, is the friendship with God present before original sin. This is what we seek to possess before we dare ascend to the altar of God.
The Psalm begins with a plea to be judged, distinguished and delivered “from the unjust and deceitful man” (which includes of course the deceitfulness of all men, but especially of our own hearts). It is a prayer for liberation. The absolute foundation of return and restoration is thus established: First must come our confession of sin and poverty, which recognizes that the light and strength to triumph over ignorance and sin can only come from God.
The heart of Psalm 42 is therefore to be found in the following passage: “Send forth Thy light and Thy truth; they have conducted me and brought me unto Thy holy mount, and into Thy tabernacles.” It is the light of God’s Truth which liberates us from sin, draws us into the love of God, and allows us to ascend to the altar of God and be drawn into the “secret place” (Psalm 26) of the tabernacle of God.
God’s Revelation, as the fountainhead of all truth and as found in sacred doctrine, therefore holds absolute primacy of place in the economy of man’s salvation. St. Thomas (quoting St. Augustine - De Trin. xiv, 1) writes, “to this science [sacred doctrine] alone belongs that whereby saving faith is begotten, nourished, protected, and strengthened.” Truth is the absolute foundation of liberation in Christ. Jesus said simply, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It is only truth that can lead us to a true self-knowledge, and therefore to a true confession of our sins. Psalm 42 is therefore appropriately followed by our personal confession — the key that opens the path upwards to the altar of God.
The Last Gospel
The second prayer (meditation) which has suffered total elimination from the New Mass is the Last Gospel.
It is singularly appropriate that at the conclusion of the Mass we should be led into the deepest contemplation of this Truth this Divine Life and Light of Christ which we have just fully received in the Person of Christ. This is achieved through recitation and meditation upon what certainly must be the most profound and beautiful passage of mystical literature which the world possesses. Here, reaching to the extremity of language’s ability to express the ineffable, is captured the intimate structure of the relationship between the Life of Christ and the light of man’s soul.
The key to understanding this relationship lies in the identification of Christ as the Word (Logos): In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
There would have never have existed the Arian heresy if the protagonists had read this one line of the Gospel of John with even a modest degree of intelligence. Christ is Eternal, He was generated from all Eternity from the Father, and this generation in no way takes away anything from His being homoousious [of one essence or substance] with the Father. It is all here in one verse, one sentence, of Holy Scripture.
The question yet presents itself as to why God, and St. John, chose “Word” to identify Christ. We know that the distinctions within the Trinity deal not with any differences in Divine Nature, but with relationships between Persons, Who are distinguished from one another by certain Names. What is it therefore that makes it proper to identify Christ as “Word”?
St. Thomas teaches, “Now word ["Word"] is taken strictly in God, as signifying the concept of the intellect.” (ST, I, Q.34, a.1). The proper object of the intellect is truth. Thomas therefore concludes: “the Word is conceived [generated] by the gaze of the divine thought.” The Word is therefore the Only Begotten Son generated by the Father as the perfect contemplation of the Truth that is His own Being.
The very Life of Christ, therefore, is Truth, and the deepest meaning and purpose of the Incarnation is that this Truth — this Word — is made manifest to man. Christ said to Pilate:
For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice.
This is a constant theme of the Gospel of St. John. Man possesses an innate intellectual nature which is a created participation in the very Life of Christ, and which is constituted as being a “light” which naturally is drawn towards Christ and His Truth. Again, from the Last Gospel:
In him [Christ, the Word] was life, and the life was the light of men….This was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world….But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.
Every human mind, in other words, is in possession of an innate “light” which should naturally and “intuitively” respond to the Truths of God’s Revelation of Himself as contained in Catholic doctrine. The reason why individual men do not respond to (“hear”) this voice is that man has clouded his own mind through his commitment to sin and evil:
For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God. - Jn 3:20-21
Jesus answered them, and said: My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do the will of him, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. - Jn 7: 16-17
This then becomes the absolutely primary mission of the Church which Christ founded — to preach and teach the Truth in regard to both God and man:
Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. - Matt. 28:20
And lest this teaching be wrongly construed as being restricted to some nebulous concept of loving God and man, rather than the specifics of dogmatic and doctrinal truth, St. Paul writes:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels, and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ.
It is, in other words, the mind that must be conquered for Christ if love of sin and evil is to be vanquished. This, of course, does not entail that only great intellects, or educated persons, have access to salvation, or to the grace and truth of Christ. The great truths of our Faith are encapsulated in the simplest, good grade-school catechism; and the mind that is open to the truth of Christ, even though it be uneducated, implicitly and willingly subjects itself in all things to the teachings and will of the Church which Christ founded. It therefore only remains that the Church’s hierarchy faithfully fulfill this mission of teaching the Truth, a solemn duty which has been massively betrayed in recent decades.
There is a reason for this betrayal, and it is in examination of this reason that we shall discover the deep, binding kinship between Popes Benedict XVI and Francis.
To Not Know the Word, is to Know Not the Man
All of which I have explored above relates to the absolutely pivotal branch of philosophy which is called Epistemology.
The word Epistemology is composed of two root words — the first denoting knowledge (epistēmē), the second “study of” (logos). Epistemology is therefore the philosophical discipline concerned with the fundamental structure of the mind and how it comes to know. This in turn determines the reliability of our knowledge.
When we consider the subject of knowledge of God and the things of God, true epistemology has been with us since Christ, and has been given to us as gift in the teaching of the Gospel of St. John which I have delineated above.
Catholic epistemology obviously entails an equation — between God, on the one hand, Who has revealed the fullness of His Truth; and on the other, the human mind that naturally should respond to this Light. It would seem evident that Satan’s primary goal is to destroy this relationship between man’s mind and the Truth of God’s Revelation.
An in-depth study of Christian history suggests that Satan’s frontal attack upon God’s Revelation has undergone a fundamental transformation over the centuries. Satan’s knowledge is not omniscient. St. Thomas tells us that he likely did not initially understand the full nature of the Church founded by Christ. His primary attack in earlier centuries seems therefore to have been focused upon trying to corrupt the Infallible Magisterium itself. The plethora of Christological heresies in the earliest centuries of the Church represents ample testimony to this blitzkrieg.
Having discovered that such a frontal attack upon Catholic doctrine could not reap success, Satan seems to have come more and more to focus on the fundamental structure of human intelligence itself — employing every artful deceit in order to worm his way into human culture and individual consciences in order to pervert and invert the very structure of man’s heart and mind in such a way as to make it impossible for him to respond to the truth. And this he has done in a collective manner, employing all the various facets of human culture — science, economics, art, entertainment, and philosophy, and especially that branch of philosophy which is called epistemology, and which we have here been exploring.
The fundamental principle of this new, Satan-inspired epistemology is that we can know nothing with certainty in regard to anything that has to do with either God or the reality of man’s spiritual nature. This is in full accord with Pope Pius X’s analysis of Modernism in Pascendi dominici gregis which establishes agnosticism as the very first principle of Modernism — the erroneous principle that the mind of man is only capable of actually knowing perceptible and measurable phenomena (empiricism, phenomenalism). This is the fundamental axiom of reductive science which I have explored in a number of articles. It also accords with the second, fundamental principal of Modernist thinking which Pius X describes as the subjection of faith to science. This is the essence of the new epistemology which has thoroughly penetrated the Church.
In other words, the Life of Christ, the Word, is no longer seen as the light of man. And because of the effects of this epistemology upon the thinking of recent Popes, the Church has largely been stripped of its mission to preach the Truth. There is, in other words, no longer a belief in the power of supernatural Truth over the human soul. And, since God created man in His own Image, this implicitly denies the Truth and Goodness of Christ Himself. The new epistemology, in other words, is a preparation for the coming of Antichrist. Having profoundly undermined, or destroyed, the human mind’s access to the light which comes from above, it requires our descent into the Darkness of the world, of which, as Scripture informs us, Satan is the prince.