Monday, January 9, 2017

The Anti-Francis Effect, I: Leo & Francis


It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic — and, frankly, silly.  With increasing regularity, headlines about Pope Francis appear that seem calculated to shock Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers alike.  FRANCIS FRENZY FULMINATES FAITHFUL!  PAPAL PRONOUNCEMENTS PROMOTE PONTIFICAL PERVERSION!  VATICAN VEILS VILE VEHEMANCE!”
"Use your head, Amigos. I didn't say it."
Okay, that last one doesn’t make much sense, but at least it’s alliterative.  And most of the news about Pope Francis doesn’t make much sense, anyway these days.  Of course, the media don’t make too much sense these days regardless who or what they’re talking about.
What’s remarkable about the whole thing, frankly, is how old this sort of “news” is.  It’s all happened before.  As they say in the prophecy biz, Non novum sub soles — “Nothing new under the sun.”
Take the case of Pope Leo XIII, for example.  Today, of course, Everybody Loves Leo.  It’s a shame that the Catholic Church already had one Leo the Great, because good old Cardinal Pecci, who took the name Leo on his election in 1878 after the death of Mean Ol’ Pio Nono, was the first modern pope and the guy who, like, totally transformed the papacy, and should have been called “Pope Leo the Greatest.”
. . . which is probably why so many people during Leo’s pontificate hated his guts.  And every other part of him.  Right?
"They did the same thing to me, Dude."
The parallels between Leo and Francis are remarkably close.  Take their elections, for example.
Both Leo and Francis came as surprises.  Not a few people back in 1878 thought that Pius IX was the last pope.  With the loss of the Papal States that had provided a solid foundation (more or less) for the institution for well over a thousand years, it looked like the end.  Pius had managed to hold out against the inevitable on inertia alone, and had waited out nearly two decades hiding in the Vatican in anticipation of the ax finally falling.
By the way, these are not facts, but opinions that were widely held back then.
Leo was the ideal candidate to preside over the dissolution of the papacy.  Elderly and frail, some of the cardinals electing him didn’t expect him to live long enough to be installed.  A virtual nobody, having spent decades buried in the obscure diocese of Perugia, his diplomatic career cut short early on, nobody thought he had what it took to bring the Church into the nineteenth century and prepare it for the twentieth.
Right.  That’s why he has to date the third longest pontificate in history, and led the Catholic Church to a global revival.  Which (of course) generated all kinds of near-psychotic hatred from Catholics as well as a level of respect from non-Catholics not seen for centuries.
Yes, apart from some dyed in the wool Catholic haters and baiters (William Traynor of the American Protective Association, anyone?), the most violent opposition to Leo XIII came from within the very Church he headed.  “Liberals” and “conservatives” only stopped going after each other when they found something Leo had done that enraged them . . . like everything.
Take, for example, the effort to adapt old institutions to changing modern conditions.  The liberals, who started calling themselves “modernists,” wanted to do new things in new ways.  Change for the sake of change was their mantra.
"I said the State is a 'Mortall God.' Worship it."
They also happened to be State-worshippers.  The only way for the Church to bring itself up to date was for it to get rid of all that spiritual nonsense, and get on board with the modern Nation-State.  Collective Man was to be the focus from now on, not God.  “God,” in fact, was to be understood as “divinized society.”  Religion is a social, not a spiritual phenomenon.
And the conservatives?  They started calling themselves traditionalists.  They wanted to freeze the Church in the Middle Ages and do old things in old ways.  The problem there, of course, is that while this is not the mistake of the modernists of having man without God, locking things into the past pretty much gives you God without man.
And the orthodox?  You know, the people who try to do old things, but in new ways in order to accommodate to the modern world without giving up anything of substance?  The ones to whom Leo addressed his encyclicals?  They tended to do all right, at least, if they didn’t start listening to those who wanted to subordinate the Church to the State or the State to the Church, the modernist/liberals and the traditionalist conservatives, respectively.
So what has this got to do with Pope Francis?  Plenty.  And we’ll get to that tomorrow.
#30#

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