Saturday, April 23, 2016

Catholic Stand: Amoris Laetitia and the Progressive Pope Myth

In a discussion of the God-as-watchmaker metaphor with Jonathan Witt, philosopher Jay Richards remarked, “It’s amazing how a simple image can hijack a discussion for a century and a half.” (Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, p. 54) Almost as soon as he was elected, before he had done anything substantive beyond greeting the people in Saint Peter’s Square, the Western chatterati had dubbed Francis a progressive pope. This hasty assessment, fraught with Western political and cultural implications, has similarly hijacked discussion of Francis’ actions by many people both inside and outside the Church.

The Progressive Pope and the “Hermeneutic of Rupture”

The progressive pope myth, in its essence, is a smaller iteration of the larger “hermeneutic of rupture” (or, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI originally called it, the “hermeneutic of discontinuity”) that has persisted in the Church for the last fifty years. To wit, the progressive pope myth has assumed from the very beginning that Pope Francis’ differences in style mark a break not only away from the traditions of the papacy but also away from the dogmas and doctrines of the apostolic tradition.

For example, many commentators made heavy weather of Francis’ refusal to wear red shoes and live in the Apostolic Palace. Few, however, noted his decision to visit Santa Maria Maggiore and pray at the tomb of Pope St. Pius V — a Dominican, a former inquisitor, and a major figure of the Counter-Reformation — the day after his election. Surely the latter was more significant than the former! Yet any clear and unmistakable sign from Francis of orthodoxy or respect for tradition is usually greeted with profound silence … or explained away as “holding out an olive branch to conservatives”.

The progressive pope myth is an a priori construct, albeit one without the benefit of valid first principles. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence,” said Holmes to Watson in A Study in Scarlet. In “A Scandal in Bohemia”, he elaborates: “Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” The myth of the progressive pope continues to validate Holmes’ dictum, most recently in the veritable blizzard of analyses that have followed the release of Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.
Read more at Catholic Stand!