Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Franciscan Papacy

Some wise insights from Fr. Angelo:
Partisans make more of the differences between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis than is warranted, just as partisans can make more of the differences between monks and mendicants, Dominicans and Franciscans, St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, and St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, than is really justified.  All of these varieties are characterized more by what unites them than by what separates them.  That is not to say that their distinguishing characteristics are unimportant.  Quite the contrary, what distinguishes them has to do with charism, with the specific movements of the Holy Spirit that are not accounted for by any “antecedent rule.”  Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit (1 Cor 12:4).

The institutional and charismatic will always be in tension, and great charismatic influences are dangerous movements, because radical change easily precipitates crisis.  It is easy to conceive law and grace to be in opposition.  It is a very old heresy, because the interaction between God and the human free agent inherently mysterious.  The law does not save us, nor can supplant the legitimate domain of prudence, but neither can grace and charism ever be lawless.  These are not problems that black and white reactions are going to resolve or that the conventions of left vs. right, modernist vs. traditionalist are going to adequately describe.
The “calamity of discipleship” is the tendency to be reactionary.  Reactionaries create black hat vs. white hat mythologies to correspond to their black and white ideologies.  Then they put the appropriate hats on the hero they worship and the villain they despise, ascribing the opposing ideologies to the protagonist and antagonist.  They create simple narratives that everyone repeats until all are clear on who can be trusted and who cannot.

In all of this symbolism is essential.  Did he wear the cape or did he not wear the cape?  What about the shoes?  Whose liturgy is more magnificent? Whose is more accessible?  To be sure the symbols are important. They say something significant, as I am sure both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have been deliberate in their choices of style.  But we should not let the extremists define the terms of the conversation and dazzle us with sophistries about contradictions where only contraries exist.

One example of this the opposition posited between a beautiful liturgy and one that is simple.  Since when is magnificence the only measure of beauty?  The Cistercians simplified the Benedictine Liturgy, considering too much ornamentation in their Churches to be both contrary to poverty and to recollection.  Did that make their liturgy not beautiful?  Did it invalidate the older Benedictine approach?  Of course not. Franciscans took it another step.  Was St. Francis condemning the monastic tradition? Certainly not. But the aesthetic that measures beauty in terms of magnificence is a school of thought and a preference of taste, not the teaching of the Church.

We have an almost unprecedented grace of having two Successors of St. Peter alive at the same time.  Not only have they taken the complimentary names of Benedict and Francis, but they also symbolically represent these two schools of thought in a way that I believe is just as providential and inspired by the Holy Spirit as both Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis have claimed that this papal transition has been.

In the end there is no contradiction.  The rebuilding of the Church does require a bit of demolition, as both Popes Benedict and Francis affirm.  We all have to be careful not to go to the extremes and to fall into facile left/right dichotomies.  We cannot retreat into old comfort zones and protect ourselves behind a forest of secondary and tertiary precepts.  But neither can we imagine ourselves to be in an antinomian paradise and then blame our delusion on the Holy Spirit. (Read entire post.)

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