Evangelii Gaudium: grief for the faithful

Fr. Franz Schmidberger, Rector of the SSPX seminary in Germany presents an short analysis of the Holy Father's Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium published on November 24, 2013.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, at the end of the year of the Faith, published his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium on the preaching of the Gospel in today’s world. It is 288 points long and asks the reader and theologian to expend a great effort if he is to study this document somewhat carefully. Here also less could have been more. With the following commentary we wish to give a first and certainly incomplete overview of this document.


Part I

1. The occasion for this document was a response to the Synod of Bishops held last year in Rome from October 7th to 28th having for its theme the New Evangelization.

I was happy to take up the request of the Fathers of the Synod to write this Exhortation.” (#16) At the same time this letter was presented as a kind of governing charter for the pontificate. This double objective, together with the loquacious nature of the pontiff, makes for writing that is not clearly structured; it lacks precision, succinctness, and clarity. One large paragraph, for example, is dedicated to the economic situation of the present world; a little further on in the document the importance of preaching is mentioned; even the preparatory details of preaching are surprisingly given. In different places the decentralization of the Church is presented as a theme but also ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is extensively treated. The document even seems to contain contradictions. At one point it is emphasized that this document is not a social encyclical but then it speaks of the economic conditions of today’s world to such an extent that it almost resembles the social encyclicals of earlier popes.

2. The pope speaks of the Church as if up until now little has been done in the Church regarding the preaching of the Gospel or it has been done in an incomplete way. He complains about an easy, lethargic, and isolated attitude. These constant reprimands are embarrassing. One gets the impression that up until now little was done for the transmission of the Faith and the Gospel. These comments are accompanied with a constant reference to his own person. The personal pronoun “I” is used no less than 184 times, and we are not taking into account the use of “my,” “mine,” and “for me.” The word of God in the Apocalypse comes to our minds: “Ecce nova facio omnia, Behold I make all things new."[1]

3. There is no possible doubt that the document also contains a whole series of positive aspects and considerations which we do not pass over in silence. Let us refer to some of them in the order we find them in the text.

In #7 it is stated that our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy.” How true this assessment of the situation is!

In #22 it is stated: “God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps.” Indeed the work of God’s grace exceeds all human calculation.

In #25 the pope concludes that “mere administration can no longer be enough.” If only the bishops and priests would take this to heart and finally turn their backs on commissions, committees, forums, and the enormous bureaucracy and become real theologians and pastors?

A very delightful paragraph is given to us in #37 with a long quotation from the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. We cannot but quote this point in its entirety.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the Church’s moral teaching has its own 'hierarchy', in the virtues and in the acts which proceed from them.[2] What counts above all else is 'faith working through love'.[3] Works of love directed to one’s neighbour are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit: 'The foundation of the New Law is in the grace of the Holy Ghost, who is manifested in the faith which works through love'.[4] Thomas thus explains that, as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues: 'In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies. This is particular to the superior virtue, and as such it is proper to God to have mercy, through which his omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree.'"[5]

In #42 is said that the preaching of the Gospel must reach before everything else the heart of the people: “We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness.

Numbers 52–76 treat of social aspects and several points are accurately emphasized. Unlimited capitalism which produces “a materialistic, consumerist and individualistic society,” (#63) is pilloried. “The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds.” (#67) The pope then concludes in #69 that “it is imperative to evangelize cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel.

What he seems to mean is that the Gospel has to be rooted in society and in the life of nations. But why does he not speak here of the Catholic State and Christian society as did his predecessors before Vatican II? They always saw them as a fruit of the Catholic Faith and, at the same time, a protection and a defense of the Faith. Perhaps we could have expected, with all these justifiable complaints concerning the present economy, a reference to Quadragesimo Anno of Pope Pius XI in order to get back to just economic principles.

Number #66 treats of the family but there is no mention of marriage being an indissoluble union between a man and a woman, especially at a time when it is the fashion to live in concubinage. The request for Communion for divorced and remarried persons would have been a good occasion for such a reminder. Moreover, one would have expected greater attention to be paid to the Christian family in the papal document since it is within the family that the earliest transmission of the Faith takes place from one generation to the other.

We find a striking description of spiritual life in post-conciliar times in #78 and 79:

Today we are seeing in many pastoral workers, including consecrated men and women, an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage to their life, as if it were not part of their very identity…

At times our media culture and some intellectual circles convey a marked scepticism with regard to the Church’s message, along with a certain cynicism. As a consequence, many pastoral workers, although they pray, develop a sort of inferiority complex which leads them to relativize or conceal their Christian identity and convictions."

If only all the servants of the Church take up the arms of the Spirit and believe in the efficiency and fertility of all the means Jesus Christ has given to His Church: prayer, the full preaching of the Faith, the administration of the sacraments, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the adoration of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament! Instead we are told in #85 they abandon themselves to

a defeatism which turns [us] into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to St. Paul: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'[6] Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil."

Furthermore of special importance is #104 which asserts that: “the reservation of the priesthood to males as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives Himself in the Eucharist is not a question open to discussion.

Number 112 emphasizes the gratuity of grace and of the work of Redemption. “The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him.” Number 113 points out that salvation is not a mere individual affair: “No one is saved by himself or herself individually or by his or her own efforts.” Man can save himself in the Church and through the Church or he will not save himself at all.

In #134 we read about the importance of universities and Catholic schools for the transmission of the Gospel. What a pity that there is not more space given to this important work.

In #214 the killing of unborn babies in the womb of the mother is clearly rejected. Unfortunately the pope does not refer in the first instance to the crime committed against God and against the natural order and God’s commandment, but only to the dignity of the human person.

In #235 sound principles against individualism are given: “the whole is greater than the part but it is also greater than the sum of its parts.” The whole paragraph is summarized under the title: “The whole is greater than the part.” In all probability an explanation of the term bonum commune would have done a lot of good. Unfortunately this is missing!

An extremely fine description of the ultimate motivation behind the missionary spirit, its thinking, and its apostolic action is given in #267.

In union with Jesus, we seek what he seeks and we love what he loves. In the end, what we are seeking is the glory of the Father; we live and act 'for the praise of his glorious grace.'[7] If we wish to commit ourselves fully and perseveringly, we need to leave behind every other motivation. This is our definitive, deepest and greatest motivation, the ultimate reason and meaning behind all we do: the glory of the Father which Jesus sought at every moment of his life."

Part II

Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu, says the old proverb. An action is good when good in every respect, and it is wrong when wrong in any respect. The pleasant and positive aspects of the papal letter cannot deceive us about the strong will to follow the Second Vatican Council, not only by following its letter, but also its spirit. The trilogy of Religious Liberty, Collegiality, Ecumenism which corresponds, as Archbishop Lefebvre points out, to the slogans of the French Revolution, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, is conveyed in a problematic manner.

1. Firstly the faithful attached to Tradition are severely reprimanded and even accused of a neopelagianism in #94 and 95:

A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying …In neither case [neither in the case of Gnosticism mentioned by the pope, nor in the case of neopelagianism quoted here] is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others… In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time."

Where does the pope know this from? Don’t the dynamics of the faithful rooted in the Catholic Faith show the opposite? In order not to speak of our own Society, look at the Franciscans of the Immaculate, a flourishing and young missionary congregation which is now—by the brutal intervention of the Vatican—gravely damaged, if not destroyed. The document continues: “In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few."

Catholic schools, as an extremely important tool for re-Christianization, are only mentioned in one sentence as we already noted earlier in the document. These crucial points are especially important to us in the transmission of the Gospel. In our Society we take great pleasure every year in seeing Catholic schools opening their doors.

2. Furthermore in the document a concrete sense of reality is missing and it even abandons itself to the illusion that the Truth by itself will conquer error. In order to prove this notion recourse is made to the parable of the weeds among the wheat in #225: “The parable of the weeds among the wheat[8] graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat.” This interpretation is a distortion of the Gospel and certainly a falsification of the meaning of the parable.

This loss of realism is also seen in #44 where the priests are admonished not to turn the confessional into a “torture chamber.” Even though such abuses may have existed here and there in the Church in former times, where would this still be the case today? Wouldn’t it have been better to add a whole chapter on confession as deliverance from sin and guilt, reconciliation with God as a culminating aspect of the new evangelization and the interior renewal of souls?

This naivety, which is more lack of awareness of original sin, or at least of its consequences in souls and in society is also shown in #84 where the illusory introductory speech of the Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII is quoted:

We feel that we must disagree with those prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand …In this modern age they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin."

Unfortunately post-conciliar times have proven right the “prophets of doom.

3. This statement in #129 has a very strange ring to it: “we should not think, however, that the Gospel message must always be communicated by fixed formulations learned by heart or by specific words which express an absolutely invariable content.

This statement reminds us in a fateful manner of the evolution of dogma as held by the modernists and as expressly condemned by Pope St. Pius X in his Anti-Modernist Oath. This evolutionary attitude is also shown in reference to the Church and its structures. Chapter one, beginning with #19 is entitled: “The Church’s missionary transformation” and in #26 the Second Vatican Council is invoked as a principal witness to a permanent and constant openness to reform: “There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization.

4. Number 255 mentions religious liberty as a fundamental human right. The pope quotes here his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI with the words: “This includes ‘the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public.’”

This declaration is directly opposed to #15 of the Syllabus of Pius IX where it is condemned that “every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.

The second part of this text contradicts the teachings of the popes from the French Revolution until Pius XII included. The pope then speaks of a sound pluralism. How can we reconcile such pluralism with the knowledge that the second person of the Holy Trinity came into this world in order to save it, with the Truth that Jesus Christ is the source of all graces and that in Him alone is there salvation?

The document also condemns proselytism. In our times this term has become ambiguous. Proselytism is certainly to be reproved if dishonest means are used. Whereas we understand it as recruitment for the true religion, most of our contemporaries see every missionary activity, every kind of recruitment, and every kind of argumentation for the true religion as proselytism in the worst sense.

5. Can we not see how collegiality, as further developed by Pope Francis, will prove to be a great disaster for the future of the Church? Here it would be helpful to read the complete text of #32: “Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy.” He then quotes John Paul II in his encyclical Ut unum sint, where he asks for help “in finding a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation. We have made little progress in this regard.

The pope, as we can easily see, is determined to go further in this direction. What exactly is his vision? He states clearly:

Yet this desire [to bring the concept of collegiality to complete fulfillment] has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated."

In our modest opinion, an episcopal conference can never be the subject of doctrinal authority since it is not of divine institution but only a human invention and oftentimes bogged down at an organizational level. The papacy, however, is of divine institution, and so is the bishop. All the bishops of the world together with the pope are equally the subject of ordinary doctrinal authority but certainly not the episcopal conference. If this fatal path is pursued, the Church could very quickly be fragmented into national churches.

In #16 we read: “Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world.” Of course, the Church cannot take a position on every single question, but in the past the popes have always taught the principles that guide life lived in the light of faith, both for the individual and for society as a whole. This is what we expect and ought to expect from the papal magisterium today. Christ has instituted Peter to feed the flock.[9]

6. Let us finally speak about ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. Number 246 mentions the principle of the hierarchy of truths. This highly ambiguous term was already used by the Second Vatican Council in #11 of the decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. As things developed, the following tendency became apparent: every Catholic truth that could be a stumbling block for our separated brethren was set aside and suppressed. In 1982 the Congregation of the Faith would intervene and explain that the hierarchy of truths does not mean that one truth would be less important than another one, but that some truths give rise to other truths. We are very grateful for this clarification. The Catholic Faith as a theological virtue accepts all of Revelation because of the authority of God, Who reveals it.

On top of this, this clarification could have been an example of how to deal with the ambiguities of the Second Vatican Council in the future, except for those points which are clearly wrong in the Council’s texts.

7. At the end of the #246 we Catholics are invited to learn from the Orthodox about the significance of episcopal collegiality and their synodal experience. We read in #247 that the covenant between the Jewish People and God was never abolished. But wasn’t this covenant instituted by God as a preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh as savior of mankind of all mankind? Was it not a type or figure which had to give place to the reality, umbram fugat veritas? Was not the New Covenant, ratified in the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, to replace the Old Covenant? Was not the veil of the temple rent in two, from top to bottom, in the light of what happened on Golgotha? If, in accordance with chapter 11 of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, a large number of Jews, or even their totality are to convert, then it can only be by recognizing Jesus Christ as the unique Redeemer of men and by being incorporated into the Church which is composed of converted heathens and Jews. There is no separate way of salvation for the Jews outside of Jesus Christ. In any case, the Church already a long time ago incorporated the values of Judaism. Let us especially think of the psalms and the books of the Old Testament. There can be no question of a “rich complementarity” (#249) with regard to present-day Judaism.

Numbers 250-253 are dedicated to Islam. We read that interreligious dialogue is “a necessary condition for peace in the world.” (#250)  Number 252, in emulation of the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium #16 claims that the Muslims “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God (nobiscum adorant unicum Deum).” Do not Muslims particularly reject the mystery of the Holy Trinity and, because of this dogma, accuse us of polytheism? They also venerate Jesus and Mary, says the pope in the words of Nostra Aetate # 3. But do they really adore Jesus Christ as the Son of God, one with Him in the divine essence? This almost seems to be superfluous for the pope.

In the next paragraph the pope reaches a concrete conclusion: “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition.” This number closes with a scandalous false statement: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence”. Did the Holy Father ever read the Koran?

Number 254 speaks about non-Christians in general and says that their signs and rites “can be channels which the Holy Spirit raises up in order to liberate non-Christians from atheistic immanentism or from purely individual religious experiences.” Does this not mean that the Holy Ghost works in all the non-Christian religions, that they are all means of salvation?

In fact, faith in the one God of Islam—in abstracto—is superior to the polytheism of the heathens, but pedagogically and psychologically it is much easier to convert a heathen than a Muslim since the life of the latter is integrated in a whole religious system, the leaving of which can be life-threatening. The non-Christian religions are by no means neutral ways of venerating God, but oftentimes they are interspersed with demonic elements. This makes it difficult for their followers to receive Christ’s grace, to be baptized, and to save their soul.

During the past 50 years nothing has been more harmful to the safeguarding and the transmission of the Faith than this escalating ecumenism which is nothing other than the religious “dictatorship of relativism.” (Cardinal Ratzinger) This evil has changed the way in which the Church sees herself. She no longer comprehends herself as the Mystical Body of Christ, as the sole Bride of the Lamb that was slain, as the unique way of salvation. It is exactly this ecumenism which transformed the missionary Church into one ecumenical community of dialogue amongst others. Against this background of ecumenism, it is a tragi-comedy in the making to summon the Church to joy in the Gospel and to attempt her into change her into a missionary Church. How can the Church think and act in a missionary way when she does not believe any more in her own identity and mission?

Conclusion

The papal document Evangelii Gaudium may, like dispersed seeds, contain some good aspects. As a whole, however, the document is nothing but a development of the Second Vatican Council in its most unacceptable statements. We cannot find in it any “new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” (#1), but another fatal step towards the downfall of the Church, the decomposition of its doctrine, the breakdown of its structure, and even the extinction of its missionary spirit which ironically is evoked over and over again. In this way Evangelii gaudium becomes the Dolor Fidelium, a source of grief and pain for the faithful.

Catholics attached to the Tradition of the Church do well to hold themselves to the motto and program of St. Pius X: Instaurare omnia in Christoto renew all things in Christ. This is the only way possible “for the Church’s journey in years to come.

Let us take refuge in the daily rosary, in her who has overcome all the heresies in the world.

Fr. Franz Schmidberger
Herz Jesu Seminary’s Rector, Zaitzkofen, Germany

(Source: SSPX/Zaitzkofen—translated from German—DICI, 12-16-2013)


Footnotes

1. Apocalypse 21:5.

2. S. Th., I-II, q. 66, a. 4-6.

3. Gal 5:6.

4. S. Th., I-II, q. 108, a. 1.

5. S. Th., II-II, q. 30, a. 4 and S. Th., II-II, q. 30, a. 4, ad 1.

6. II Cor 12:9.

7. Eph 1:6.

8. Cf. Mt 13:24-30.

9. John 21:15 -17.