Thursday, February 2, 2017

Overfocus on following all 10 Commandments: Cowardliness

In Orthodoxy we say that the commandments of God (and more broadly His will) guide us to the true freedom to choose the good and toward union with Him. I find it difficult to follow what the Pope of Rome is saying. Can anyone parse this into something sensible for me?

(LifeSiteNews) - In another in a long stream of apparent attacks on his critics, Pope Francis gave a homily last week accusing Christians who avoid taking risks out of concern for the Ten Commandments as suffering from “cowardliness,” warning that such people become “paralyzed” and unable to “go forward.”

“‘Not taking risks, please, no... prudence...Obeying all the commandments, all of them...,'” the pope said, characterizing the thinking of such Christians. “Yes, it’s true, but this paralyzes you too, it makes you forget so many graces received, it takes away memory, it takes away hope, because it doesn’t allow you to go forward.”

Such people become “confined souls” who suffer from the sin of “cowardice,” the pope added. “And the presen[ce] of a Christian, of such a Christian, is like when one goes along the street and an unexpected rain comes, and the garment is not so good and the fabric shrinks...Confined souls...This is cowardliness: this is the sin against memory, courage, patience, and hope.”

The remarks were made during a homily delivered on January 27th during a mass he was celebrating in Casa Santa Marta, a hotel for pilgrims situated inside of Vatican City where he currently resides. A translation was provided by both Rome Reports and Vatican Radio (the Rome Reports translation is quoted above).

The translation published by Vatican Radio rendered the Italian word “pusillanimit√†” (similar to the English word “pusillanimity”) as “faintheartedness.” However, Italian-English dictionaries translate the word “pusillanime” and “pusillanimit√†” as “cowardly” and “cowardice.” The pope used the word twice during his homily.

The pope’s remarks appeared to be directed against those who criticize him for using Amoris Laetitia to permit those who are living in adulterous second “marriages” to receive Holy Communion at the discretion of their priest. The practice contradicts the Church’s Code of Canon Law, as well as its perennial tradition of prohibiting the sacraments to those who are living in public mortal sin.

In particular, Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, recently decried those clerics who wish to give Holy Communion to remarried Catholics living in adultery. He labeled them “Aaronic” priests who enable their flock to sin against the Ten Commandments, like the High Priest Aaron in the Book of Exodus, who built a golden calf to allow the Israelites to violate the first commandment.

In a thinly-veiled critique of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, delivered at the Lepanto Foundation in Rome, Schneider warned: “This first clerical sin is repeating itself today in the life of the Church.” He added, “Instead of the First Commandment, as it was in the time of Aaron, many clerics, even at the highest levels, substitute in our day, for the Sixth Commandment, the new idol of sexual relations between people who are not validly married, which is, in a certain sense, the Golden Calf venerated by the clerics of our day.”

The pope’s statements are the latest in a volley of barbs apparently aimed at critics of Amoris Laetitia in recent weeks.

In late December, addressing the issue of resistance to his attempted reforms, Francis decried “malicious resistance” that “takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, failing to distinguish between the act, the actor, and the action.” The last reference seems to be to those who object to his insinuation in Amoris Laetitia that those civilly remarried and living in an adulterous relationship are not guilty of a sin if they commit it with the intention of maintaining unity for the sake of children, or if they fear they might fall into another sin.

On January 20 Francis complained in a homily about “lazy Christians, Christians, who do not have the will to continue, Christians, who do not struggle for a change of things, for new things to come, those that if changed would be a good for everybody.” He made an apparent comparison of his critics to “the doctors of the law who persecuted Jesus,” observing that “these men did everything prescribed by the law. But their mindset was distanced from God. Theirs was an egotistical mindset, focused on themselves: their hearts constantly condemned [others].”


  1. He is ultimately a progressive. I think he still believes in following the commandments, but he sees people following them, and not 'progressing.' So, he imagines their lack of 'progress' means there is some sin there.
    It is similar to the people who see a country trying to defend it's borders and interpret normal care of citizens as 'hate.'
    Eastern Orthodox doctrine seems better formulated, and provides a better defense, but events have proven all are susceptible to this illness of thought.

  2. Anyone remember Oswald Bates from In Living Color? Many of the homilies and off the cuff remarks -- at least as they are rendered into English -- of HH Francis so remind me of that fantastic character of Damon Wayans.

  3. Flavius Josephus,

    I wonder why you would even try to decipher the Bishop of Rome. He confuses me and I am in communion with him!

    That being said, What he is trying to get across is that one should not use the observance of the ten commandments as a excuse not to advance in spiritual growth as a Christian following our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Or, another way of looking at is that Pope Francis is criticizing those Christians who follow the letter of the law, but have no love of neighbor and use the letter of the law as an excuse not to help their neighbor. So, he is criticizing the person who goes to Church on Sunday, respect his parents, does not commit adultery, but is afraid to: be seen working at the homeless shelter, evangelize, stand up against pornography, stand up against lies, etc.

    The present Bishop of Rome is a mass of contradictions. More agressively than any recent Pope he had made use of certain Orthodox theologians. Constantinople and Antioch were in communion with sillier and worse Popes in the tenth century so I take the long view of things. One cannot expect every Bishop of Rome to be like Benedict XVI, Leo I or Gregory I.

  4. "More aggressively than any recent Pope he had made use of certain Orthodox theologians."

    This. He appears to be trying, in his context (think scholasticism, counter-reformation, Vat I theology/history) to inject a (re)balance between strictness and "oikonomeia" when it comes to the actual application of cannon (law). He is really up against it given the "forensic" nature of his communion. I for one hope he succeeds, though I am not sure he has the theological/spiritual depth to pull it off and I wonder (as others) if he himself makes the correct distinctions over and against a "modern" or "progressive" theology which is something else entirely...

  5. To follow Jake's point: Pope Francis is not the greatest articulator, he is no Chrysotom, Leo or Cyril. But he is trying, like Henri De Lubac, to get people to see the big picture (holistic) as the Father's did. Like De Lubac, it could be said that Francis is fighting:

    "the “hyper-orthodox” who effectively deny the mystery of Christ through excessive definition; and the Modernists, who effectively deny anything that cannot be understood in the ordinary concepts of the dominant human culture. These are two sides of the same coin. Both seek to assert their total intellectual control over a reality which transcends human comprehension." Quote of Dr. Jeff Mirius commenting on Volume 1 of Henri De Lubac's notebook on Vatican II, September 19, 20, 1961.

    You can see the problem in the Roman discussion of "venial" sin. The Orthodox view of sins as wounds on the soul is actually better, while "venial" sounds like something not important or relating to venus or whatever. Of course mortal sin as death of the soul is the same, but the concept of venial sin is not helpful when we are dealing with wounds to the soul and our relationship to Christ in becoming the likeness of Christ. Such concepts confuse people as to why they need confession as medicine for the soul, to be healed. But if venial sins are only minor sins, then they remains unconfessed and the wound festers.

  6. @James -

    "but is afraid to: be seen working at the homeless shelter, evangelize, stand up against pornography, stand up against lies, etc."

    How does "overfocus on the 10 Commandments" lead to any of the things you mention? Which commandment prohibits you from evangelizing or working at the homeless shelter?

    I understand what *you're* saying. I just don't know that it's the same thing as what *Francis* is saying.

  7. CJ says:

    "I understand what *you're* saying. I just don't know that it's the same thing as what *Francis* is saying."

    Assuming James & I's view: The "10 Commandments" become a place holder for both "the law" (think Paul and his theology in Romans) and also the strong current of 'forensic' or 'legalistic' theology in RCism. He is trying to communicate (as is his habit) in a way that speaks not to theologians or theologically minded laity, but to the average man in the pew so to speak. The Righteous don't need to be saved - as the old saying goes you gotta sin a little to be saved - it is an approach that subverts those who follow the letter of the law, but not the Spirit. Don't go all dialectical against it - it is not a dialectical formula and thus is easy to pick apart on that level.

    All that said, you could very well be right in that this is not what Francis believes or trying to say at all, but the preponderance of evidence leads me to assert this with some confidence. Those who pick apart his halting, imprecise communication and theology with Benedict XVI precision and clarity are sort of missing the point IMO - Francis is not Benedict but I do not believe he is a simple "progressive" or "liberal" in the classical sense either...

  8. Come on. The 'average' man is going to interpret this as license. Does average even go to church any more?

  9. It's just a Christian paraphrase of the Jewish context of “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5) That is, don't let your fear of breaking a religious rule keep you from doing good. "Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”" Same goes for the Ten Commandments, the canons, etc. In Orthodox practice, it's the same as the importance of eating the non-fasting food prepared for you in love on a fast day.

  10. The background of this is Francis's push for economia in marriage over and against Western akrivia on divorce. The argument he's making here is basically the Orthodox concept of economia in the church and in one's own spiritual life. The other way to think of it is in terms of the language we hear in the lead up to the Fast. Don't focus on what you are giving up, what you cannot eat; focus on the good you can do, the virtues you can practice, the alms you can give, etc. The spiritual life is more than No - which is why we sing the Beatitudes at the Liturgy and not the Ten Commandments.

  11. August says:

    "Come on. The 'average' man is going to interpret this as license. Does average even go to church any more?"

    No, the average man does not so it is "let the dead bury the dead" for him. I said "the average man in the pew" - I am talking about the remnant, the few who "judge the world" (1 Cor 6:2).

    Because of the "interpret" (as 'license' or anything else) aspect, Francis has a real problem on his hands. He appears to be constitutionally (character, intellect, etc.) incapable of the precision that may very well be necessary for him to get his message across and to be "successful" in this endeavor in his confession.

    Personally I don't think he will be able to pull it off but I see what he is doing (I think) and I hope he can...