[Note: On March 17, 2016 Catholic News Service published an English translation of a discussion/interview conducted by Fr. Jacques Servais with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in October of 2015. The following article offers an analysis of this interview within a fictional format. It is not fictional in regard to Pope Benedict XVI’s interview, or what I believe to be its implications. I have chosen this particular format simply because the Enemy often sees our sins, weaknesses, and vulnerability better than we do. I intend no satire, or sensationalism, but only an awakening, that we “may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil”. (Eph. 6:11). The Interview can be found at a number of places on the Web.
I also recommend reading my fictional piece, The Inaugural Address of the First President of the World Union, which is a precursor to this present article, and can be found as Part XVII at the bottom of the Menu on the left side of this page.
A Work of Partial Fiction:
[Extract from the Address of the President of the World Union to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church Sitting in Consistory]:
Two Hearts Beat as One
Benedict XVI and Francis I: The Path to the Future
My Dear Brothers,
I am quite sure you are well aware that, from the very beginning of my Presidency, I have been always insistent upon the fact that I am not he who will usher in that plenitude of peace for which we all long, but am only the precursor to the One who is about to assume this office and bring all to fulfillment. And yet I meet with you today in a spirit of great joy at the progress we have made along this path in such a short time.
In preparation for my departure, I have longed to meet with you once again as an expression of my deepest gratitude. In my Inaugural Address, six years ago, I expressed strong concern about the necessity for Christians – and I might now add, especially Catholics – to meet the demands of the evolutionary growth of all of mankind towards a universal tolerance and acceptance of all that is truly human. This concern, as I am sure you are aware, was motivated by knowledge of the central role which dogmatism and absolutism had played in Christian belief – far more so, especially within the Catholic Church, than any of the other great world religions. For the sake of peace, and the preservation of our species, we were forced to enact strict legislation against such dogmatism and absolutism, even to the point of compulsory euthanasia for those who were persistent in such fanaticism.
During my address I counseled the need for a certain amount of patience in order to temper justice with mercy, and in recognition that change takes some time. It has been for me a matter of surprise and delight that this policy has been fruitful far beyond my expectations. While we are quite aware that there are a great many for whom Christian Absolutism is very difficult to shed, it is now clear that good will is dominant even in most of those from whom we anticipated strong resistance to our beneficent policies. This good will is evidenced, if by nothing else, at least by their silence. It truly is a source of great joy to me personally that so little recourse to the most strict penalties of our Decree has been necessary; we therefore have tremendous confidence, that the children and grandchildren of this silence will be in possession of that fundamental change of heart which will irrevocably entomb Dogmatism in the dustbin of history and human evolution.
We have, of course, been most enthusiastic concerning the new path which the Catholic Church entered upon with the ascension of Pope Francis I to the throne of Peter. At the same time, we were admittedly quite concerned about that rigid orthodoxy and “Traditionalism” which tended very strongly to identify with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. We fully recognized that Benedict was in a very real sense “transitional” in his evolution towards modern consciousness. While being fully evolutionary in his thinking and writings as a scholar – writings concerning which virtually all such “Traditionalists” seemed ignorant – he was yet somewhat rigid in his public policies and proclamations. He was a man divided between two ages, and we could not fail to show some compassion and tolerance towards his inner conflict. In addition, his silence in the face of Francis’ liberating agenda was indeed encouraging and deserving of our patience.
Our patience has now been rewarded beyond our highest expectations. In October of 2015, Benedict XVI participated in a discussion and interview with Fr. Jacque Servais, which has now been published in English translation. It not only establishes a union of hearts between Benedict and the thinking and policies of Francis, but also profoundly enlightens us as to the deepest source of that Dogmatism and Absolutism which has been the scourge of mankind and the source of all the great conflicts in human history. We are therefore not only deeply pleased, but immensely grateful, for the depth of his thought. His words, and analysis, are therefore worthy of the closest scrutiny. They provide the key to the transformation of Christian consciousness.
The heart of this transformation lies, according to Benedict, in a rethinking of the Catholic concept of “justification by faith”. The passage most expressive of this “rethinking” occurs in approximately the middle of the Interview, in a dramatic exchange between Benedict and Servais:
Benedict XVI: It seems to me that in the theme of divine mercy is expressed in a new way what is meant by justification by faith. Starting from the mercy of God, which everyone is looking for, it is possible even today to interpret anew the fundamental nucleus of the doctrine of justification, and have it appear again in all its relevance.
Servais: When Anselm says that Christ had to die on the cross to repair the infinite offense that had been made to God, and in this way to restore the shattered order, he uses a language which is difficult for modern man to accept (cfr. Gs 215.ss iv). Expressing oneself in this way, one risks likely to project onto God an image of a God of wrath, relentless toward the sin of man, with feelings of violence and aggression comparable with what we can experience ourselves. How is it possible to speak of God’s justice without potentially undermining the certainty, deeply established among the faithful, that the God of the Christians is a God “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4)?
Benedict XVI: The conceptuality of St. Anselm has now become for us incomprehensible. It is our job to try again to understand the truth that lies behind this mode of expression. For my part I offer three points of view on this point.
Before moving on to further examination of these “three points of view, it is absolutely necessary to understand what has already been accomplished by Benedict’s new way of conceptualization in regard to justification by faith. The concept of a God demanding Justice has been eliminated. At least four times in the course of this interview Benedict specifically identifies such a view with believing in a cruel God. In his entire interview he in fact never mentions God’s justice without identifying it with cruelty. Thus:
“Only where there is mercy does cruelty end, only with mercy do evil and violence end. Pope Francis is totally in agreement with this line. His pastoral practice is expressed in the fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy. It is mercy that moves us toward God, while justice frightens us before Him.”
There is here, in Benedicts’ view no value in the concept of God’s Justice as leading us towards Him, or towards His Mercy. Justice and Mercy are diametrically opposed. We must also note, as evidenced in this passage, the deep union of hearts between the theology of Benedict and the pastoral work of Francis.
When we now come to examine Benedict’s first point necessary for “overcoming” the conceptuality of Anselm, we encounter the second and third instances of Benedict identifying cruelty with the notion of God’s Justice:
“The contrast between the Father, who insists in an absolute way on justice, and the Son who obeys the Father and, obedient, accepts the cruel demands of justice, is not only incomprehensible today, but, from the point of view of Trinitarian theology, is in itself all wrong. “The Father and the Son are one and therefore their will is intrinsically one. When the Son in the Garden of Olives struggles with the will of the Father, it is not a matter of accepting for himself a cruel disposition of God, but rather of attracting humanity into the very will of God. We will have to come back again, later, to the relationship of the two wills of the Father and of the Son.”
We must here add a bit of theological commentary, even being so bold as to correct deficiencies in Benedict’s view of traditional Catholic theology. Catholic theology has always recognized the unity of Will between the Father and Son. The cruelty suffered by the Son in obedience to the Father, was at the hands of men, and was not seen as the Son subjecting himself to the cruelty of the Father. Rather, it was viewed as a true unity of wills between Father and Son necessary for the satisfaction of Justice in accord with the one divine nature of both Father and Son. What is unique here in the thought of Benedict is that this demand of Divine Justice has ceased to exist, and is replaced solely by an act of Divine Mercy which seeks to attract men. This attraction is, of course, an evolutionary process, devoid of any justification for judgment and condemnation.
This brings us to the second point which Benedict offers us in regard to a “new away” of understanding justification. At the beginning of the long paragraph in which he discusses this point, he simply begins by asking, “So why the cross and atonement?” After talking about the immense amount of cruelty and suffering present in the world, he offers the following answer:
“Above I quoted the theologian for whom God had to suffer for his sins in regard to the world [‘because of all the horrible things in the world and in the face of the misery of being human, all of which ultimately depends on Him’]. Now, due to this reversal of perspective, the following truths emerge: God simply cannot leave ‘as is’ the mass of evil that comes from the freedom that he himself has granted. Only He, coming to share in the world’s suffering, can redeem the world.”
Here we arrive at the crux of Benedict’s solution. The “reversal of perspective” which he sees as absolutely essential to modern man and the survival of his faith is to cease viewing man as being under compulsion to satisfy God’s Justice, but rather to view God as under compulsion to show man mercy. As he says elsewhere in his interview, “…the man of today has in a very general way the sense that God cannot let most of humanity be damned. In this sense, the concern for the personal salvation of souls typical of past times has for the most part disappeared.” We might add that in this single admission of Benedict XVI, the guilt, and consequent violence, inherent in all traditional Catholic thought has been dissolved.
The third point simply brings this compulsion of God towards mercy to a conclusion in what Benedict calls the “poverty of God”. The Father must share inwardly the sufferings of the Son. Benedict in fact quotes Henri de Lubac who attributes passion to God, and not only to God the Son in his incarnation, but also to Christ previous to the incarnation, and to the Father Himself. In thus having the very nature of God immersed in the passion of creation, Benedict logically eliminates belief in a God who is ontologically distinct from his creation, and therefore in any position to demand justice. He concludes this point with the a passage in which he again identifies the concept of justice with a cruelty unworthy of God: “It is not a matter of a cruel justice, not a matter of the Father’s fanaticism, but rather of the truth and the reality of creation: the true intimate overcoming of evil that ultimately can be realized only in the suffering of love.” As we have seen in our analysis of the Benedict’s new conceptualization of the Catholic faith, it is in fact not a matter of justice at all, but rather of a compulsory mercy on the part of a God who is truly united in His deepest essence to all of creation.
We also cannot fail to mention that Benedict’s new concept of mercy not only frees man from fear of God’s Justice, but involves a “reversal of perspective” in respect to the act of faith itself. This is certainly logical. If the concepts of “justice” and “justification” are reversed, so also must the entire concept of “justifying faith” be reversed. This becomes abundantly clear when we contrast his views with the definition of the act of faith published by Vatican Council I in the year 1870:
“Man being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. And the Catholic Church teaches that this faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, Who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive.”
This entire passage speaks of a servile subjection to a God against whose Justice man can mortally sin through disbelief. Having made God Himself in a very real way “guilty” for having created a world in which immeasurable evil and cruelty are a reality, and having subjected God to a compulsive mercy and suffering passion in order to lift man outside of this state, Benedict has eliminated entirely the concept of a dogmatized faith to which man must submit his intellect and will as being necessary for salvation. If judgment, and the necessity of man justifying himself before a cruel God are eliminated, so also is any requirement of a “justifying faith”. Mercy, working through attractiveness, and not judgment, is what remains.
Finally, in light of the extraordinary insights provided by Pope Benedict XVI, we must address two immediate concerns.
First, we find it necessary to add an additional precept to the Act of Conversion which we promulgated at the beginning of our Presidency. Christians, as a sign of their communal unity, have long recited the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed (and other variations). Certainly there may be a number of elements in these various creeds which can be somewhat offensive to others. We are confident, however, that these will be modified over the course of time without our intervention. There is, however, one element which is totally inimical to the heart of mercy which must become the spirit of mankind. In the Apostles Creed it is simply expressed: “From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” We therefore decree that any variations of this phrase be eliminated from all public recitations of Christian Creeds, and that all written versions containing the same must be destroyed. Violations of this decree will subject individuals or groups to the same penalties as specified in the Resolution and Act of Conversion promulgated at the inception of our Presidency.
We must also note one other area of growing concern. Pope Francis has declared this to be a Jubilee Year of Mercy, an act for which we again must express our gratitude. He has also made a very strong appeal for participation in the sacrament of confession. We fully accept the fact that confession of our sins against one another, and the asking for forgiveness, is a very valuable and cathartic practice. Our concerns lie with how this is practiced within the Catholic Church. We realize that this is a delicate and very individualized matter, and we have no intention at this time of promulgating any general legislation in this matter which would presume to anticipate every situation.
At the same time, however, we recognize the dangers involved, especially when a minister of the Church presumes to sit in judgment over a penitent. Recently, Pope Francis seemed to offer at least a partial solution in regard to this problem. He has spoken of the sacredness and inviolability of what is termed the “inner forum”, and has suggested that a priest should offer God’s mercy and forgiveness to a penitent who wishes to remain silent (through embarrassment, or for whatever other reason) about the nature of his particular sins. In other words, the humility, contrition, and good will, obviously present in the very fact that the penitent has presented himself for confession, certainly makes him worthy of God’s universal mercy. We encourage Pope Francis to make such a practice universal within the entire Catholic Church.
It is a widely known fact, covered with much publicity in the Media, that we have been receiving an increasing amount of complaints from Catholic penitents who, for whatever reason, have been refused God’s forgiveness and mercy, and who have even been denied communion in their respective churches. Ultimately we have to view any refusal of God’s mercy and communion to one who has placed himself or herself in such a vulnerable, and obviously sincere, position as an act of mental and emotional terrorism, and as being subject to the penalties applicable under current Hate Crime legislation. The International Tribunal is now looking into this matter with great interest. We, however, have very optimistic expectations that Pope Francis, in his obvious and very passionate devotion to universal mercy, will quickly find a solution to this dilemma. After all, if God is under compulsion to a universal forgiveness and union with all human beings, who is man to presume to do otherwise?
I wish to express my deep appreciation for your attention and cooperation in working tirelessly towards a final solution to any and all problems which may still remain in achieving that peace which truly reflects the mercy of God.
Authored by James Larson