Pope Francis just returned from his first trip to Africa a few days ago. Those of us who watch and pray for him were amazed once again at his courage, faithfulness and continued displays of pastoral mercy. Surely “mercy” does sum up what Francis says and does as pope. Thus it is not surprising really since he has declared the coming year to be a “Year of Mercy.” He recently said that he will make twelve big (“significant”) gestures, one each month.Each is mean to demonstrate God’s mercy. This is what the Catholic Church calls a Jubilee Year. This year was pre-launched last Sunday when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of the cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic. One of the admirable features of Catholic Church life is the way this biblical concept of jubilee can be used to capture the minds and hearts of the whole church over a span of time.
In a brief interview in Credere, the official jubilee weekly magazine in Italian, Francis said: “There will be many gestures, but on one Friday each month I will do something different.” The pope officially begins the Year of Mercy for the worldwide church next Tuesday when, as in Africa, he throws open the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica. At the same time next Tuesday (December 7) he will also celebrate a large outdoor Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the fiftieth anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). By the way, Francis has also invited the world to Rome for Pentecost 2017 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Catholic charismatic movement. God willing, I would like to be there with many of my brothers and sisters to pray.
Most Vatican watchers agree that it is not clear yet what type of grand gestures of mercy Francis is actually planning for this yearlong jubilee. Many Catholics hope that one of these gestures will include people who are in “irregular marriage situations” (a canonical term the pope loathes) and priests who have left the active ministry for various reasons. Robert Mickens, writing in Commonweal, asks: “Is Francis willing to find a way to apply God’s mercy so that it can heal these and other situations? If he does go down this road he will be opposed by some members of the church.” Francis himself said at the end of the last synod gathering—even bishops with “closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.” For those who do not understand the context or meaning here this is pretty significant stuff when it is carefully read. I ask, “Do many of our church leaders – evangelical, Catholic and Protestant – hide behind their church teachings and good intentions . . . to sit in the chair of Moses and judge?”
I am particularly interested that Pope Francis has specifically understood the danger of “fundamentalism” within the Catholic Church. (On his plane ride back from Africa he specifically referred to this danger by name!) Pope Francis said, “Fundamentalism is an illness found in all religions. We Catholics have some (fundamentalists). No, not some—a lot who believe they have the absolute truth and go around sullying others through calumny, defamation. . . ” he added.
My hope here is quite simple. I pray that the pope’s emphasis on mercy, which has been evident from Day One, will be used by God to preserve Catholics, and non-Catholics in my own evangelical circles, from falling prey to fundamentalist tendencies. These tendencies will likely grow stronger in the face of the acts of terrorism that have recently rocked the U.S. The world war has now clearly come to our cities and towns and none of us “feels” entirely safe any more. Now, how will the church respond? With mercy and love or fear and fundamentalism?
There are two things to note here. First, Francis uses the word “fundamentalist” in a very specific way. He is describing those who “believe they have the absolute truth and then go around sullying others through calumny
My Latest Book!
Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!
Pope Francis, the Mercy of God, and the Danger of Fundamentalism: Pope Francis just returned from his first trip… https://t.co/uAsrCSXDWb
Ben Toh liked this on Facebook.
Thanks, Dr. Armstrong. For all the talk of Catholic fundamentalism lately, I find myself wishing for a better definition. Without attempting to stoke a fiery debate, but rather hoping for greater clarity and understanding, I would ask that you help paint a more detailed picture. For example: do you believe that there are elements of Pope Pius XII’s “Mystici Corporis Christi”, Vatican II’s “Lumen gentium” and the CDF’s “Dominus Iesus” which are indicative of fundamentalism, or do the principles therein catalyze it? Do you believe Pope Francis is asking us to somehow move beyond the principles therein or even to overturn some of them?
The reason I ask about those documents is that taking those “Big Three” 20th Century teachings on Catholic ecclesiology together, I don’t think it’s possible for a Catholic to share in the view that “[w]e do not need to require that every Christian become a member of the same church to enter into God’s glorious gift of true unity.” Which ties into your statement that “[the] Truth is Jesus, not a system of concepts called THE FAITH”. While it is perfectly true that one must be careful to not conflate ritual externals or a systematic theology with Christ the living God – and within the Catholic Church there is, after all, great diversity even in those respects (e.g. East and West; and many great saints who would probably have argued heatedly if you put them in the same room) – everything I have ever learned from the Fathers, Doctors and many other Saints of the Church tells me that if you don’t have the Catholic Faith, then you don’t have everything Jesus desires for you to have. In that regard, there can be many reasons for an individual’s situation, probably more that don’t involve even a shred of personal culpability than do, but I don’t see that it changes the truth of the matter.
Again, I ask all this most sincerely and am not looking to argue. I just want to understand better what is meant by “Catholic fundamentalism”.
Thank you Michael. Obviously, at least to my mind, Pope Francis is not denying these vital Catholic expressions but then they are not all of the same measure of authority either. Vatican II is of another level of authority from papal encyclicals, as you know better than me. What is clear is that this pope believes there is such a thing as “Catholic fundamentalism” and it is Francis who I cited because the words are his, not mine. The reference to concepts is not a denial of orthodoxy, as I stated. I agree with you broadly but I think the devil is in the details in this case. What Francis has made clear is implicit in The Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II, that to experience the fullness of the faith does not require me, or other Protestants, to enter the Catholic Church in membership.
Jack Flynn liked this on Facebook.
Garry Trammell liked this on Facebook.
Ray Prigodich liked this on Facebook.
I replied on the blog site and will try to copy that response here later.
Denise Murphy Plichta liked this on Facebook.
Nicely said, John. Especially “But that Truth is Jesus, not a system of concepts called THE FAITH.”
I appreciate this conversation very much. Thank you John and Michael for engaging in it. I don’t think that Francis or John is saying that “Pope Pius XII’s “Mystici Corporis Christi”, Vatican II’s “Lumen gentium” and the CDF’s “Dominus Iesus” which are indicative of fundamentalism”. I don’t hear that all.
Greg Metzger liked this on Facebook.
Thank you, Dr. Armstrong. One area where I disagree concerns what your wrote re: “level[s] of authority” – the way I understand it, Lumen gentium et al. need to be read in light of one another, and this goes for exercises of the Magisterium that we’ve received since then and before then. So, just as an example, while some canonical aspects of the decrees of the Council of Trent are no long in force, their doctrinal content is permanently valid and the catechism bearing the name of that council remains a teaching resource of the “first rank” (so says the 1997 Catechism, cf. paragraph #9). All this is not to say that there are not real levels of authority among Church teachings – there are, but that doesn’t mean that a higher one nullifies a lower one. For proper understanding and serious study of the principles and controversies, it’s important to beware of cherry picking.
Also, I may have misunderstood, but the two points I addressed earlier related, I thought, to your words per se, which I understood as your interpretation of Pope Francis. I apologize for any mistake in that regard.
I hope you’re celebrating a blessed Advent. My prayers are with you and ACT 3. Peace of Christ be with you.
I completely realize there are not layers in which a higher one trumps a lower one but their are “distinctions” and these are quite clear I think you would agree. Indeed, I read you as saying just that. But my point was that the pope’s view of fundamentalism has something in it for Catholics just as I see it applying to others. Is there a “Catholic fundamentalism” as he calls it? If so “What is it?”