Paul Fromm in Canada: Papal Verbal Flatulence – My Comments


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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Papal Verbal Flatulence
Jorge Bergoglio, who under the name Francis became the current pretender to St. Peter’s throne when its last occupant, a much sounder theologian than himself, the late Benedict XVI, resigned, gave an interview to 60 Minutes earlier this week. I didn’t see the episode. The last time I watched an episode of 60 Minutes Andy Rooney’s commentary was still the final segment. Rooney was about the only thing that made the show watchable. I have, however, since read transcripts of the interview as it has generated some controversy. This is not surprising. Bergoglio seems to suffer from a gastro-intestinal disorder that manifests itself in emissions from his mouth of gas that ought to be coming out the other end.

Bergoglio was asked about a number of current issues. He gave abominable answers when it came to some matters such as the immigration invasion of the United States, passable if vague answers on certain other matters of international import, a surprisingly good answer on the ecclesiastical matter of the ordination of women, and a very strange have-it-both-ways answer on the Roman Church’s recent ill-advised foray into the world of same-sex blessings.

The interviewer, Norah O’Donnell, concluded her questioning by asking the Western Patriarch who mistakenly thinks he has universal jurisdiction what gives him hope. His answer began with the single word “Everything” and ended with the following:

And people are fundamentally good. We are all fundamentally good. Yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good.

This is what has caused all the fuss because the words in bold have been taken to be in conflict with the doctrine of Original Sin. Original Sin is the doctrine that in the sin of our first parents the entire human race fell and became sinful a condition from which we are unable to extract ourselves making us wholly dependent for our salvation on the grace of God and the redemption provided by Jesus Christ. Unlike doctrines proclaimed by papal decree or even by any of the post-Schism councils falsely regarded as ecumenical by the Roman Communion, Original Sin is a truly Catholic doctrine. Its affirmation is implicit in the condemnation of the heresy of Pelagius by the regional Council of Carthage in 418 AD, later ratified by the General Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, that was received as the third ecumenical council by the pre-Schism Catholic Church. It is essential to both Lutheranism and Calvinism and accordingly is emphasized in the confessions of those traditions. In the Anglican formularies it is affirmed in the ninth of the Articles of Religion. While contemporary online Eastern Orthodox apologists sometimes claim that their Church rejects it this is not the case. What the Eastern Orthodox Church rejects is Original Guilt, the idea that human beings inherit not just a fallen nature corrupted by sin from their first parents but also personal culpability for the sinful act that produced the Fall. Original Guilt and Original Sin are related but different concepts that are often confused with each other in both the East and the West. In the East it has often been assumed that Original Guilt is an essential part of the Western idea of Original Sin, for which reason the Eastern Orthodox usually refer to Original Sin sans Original Guilt as ancestral sin. Since, however, what they affirm as ancestral sin is Original Sin as distinguished from Original Guilt, regardless of whether the latter is affirmed or denied, Original Sin is actually affirmed by both East and West. (1)

So, was what Bergoglio said heretical in the Pelagian way and in conflict with Original Sin?

If you take the offending words – the ones I highlighted in bold, which are repeated in his next sentence – alone, the answer is “not necessarily.” If, by saying that people are fundamentally good, Bergoglio meant that sin and evil do not exist in themselves as things or substances in their own right, but only parasitically in things that are good, then he was right. Indeed, if that is what he meant, he was not only right but expressing the essence of the classical Christian theist version of that to which Gottfried Leibniz gave the name theodicy, the vindication of God in the face of the problem of evil. This is not what Bergoglio meant, but let us pursue this thought a little further before considering the banality that he actually intended.

God is good. Indeed, not only is God good, He is Goodness itself at its purest and most perfect. God created everything other than God that exists and everything that He created He created good. Another way of putting it would be to say that in His grace He gave to all that He had made participation in created goodness which is a finite reflection of His own infinite goodness. Every gift that He gave His creatures was a good gift. To rational creatures, such as ourselves, He gave the gift of free choice. As a gift from God, free choice was both good in itself, and the means to a greater good, the good of rational creatures freely choosing to trust, love, and obey God. It is through our misuse of that good gift that evil entered into the world. Evil, not having been created by God, has no substance of its own, no essence. It does not exist in the most proper sense of the word. It has neither form, that which makes a thing the thing that it is rather than some other sort of thing, nor matter, that which makes a thing an actual thing rather than merely the idea of a thing. It is present in things which do exist, in the proper sense of the word, which do have form and matter, in the way a hole exists in a wall, not a hole that is put there by an architect so that a window may be placed in it, but a hole that somebody makes by taking a sledgehammer to it in a fit of anger. It is a hole, in other words, where there is not supposed to be a hole. It is an absence or deficiency. What is absent, in the hole that is evil, is a kind of good. It is not, however, the entirety of the goodness that was bestowed upon the created thing in which evil parasitically resides that is absent, because if the entirety of that goodness were absent, the thing itself would no longer exist, existence being the most basic gift of goodness that God bestows upon His creatures.

Peter Lombard explored this at length in the thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth distinctions of the second book of his Sentences. The sixth paragraph of the second chapter of the distinction reads “From the aforesaid, it is gathered and inferred that, if there is an evil will and an evil action, insofar as it is, it is good. But does anyone deny that an evil will and an evil action exist? And so an evil will or action, insofar as it is, is a good. And insofar as it is a will or an action, it is similarly a good; but it is evil from this vice; this vice is not from God, nor is it anything.”(2) Lombard is a particularly important authority on this matter as his Sentences are a bridge of sorts between Patristic and Medieval theology. The Scriptures and the Church Fathers, especially St. Augustine were his source material, his Sentences provided the structure for Systematic Theology for centuries to come, being the textbook from which St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, and basically every Western theologian of note from the thirteenth century until the Reformation studied. (3) Also worthy of note in this context are the third paragraph in the fourth chapter of the thirty-fourth distinction:

From this it is gathered that, when man is called evil, nothing else is meant than an evil good. Hence Augustine adds, in the same place: “What is an evil man, if not an evil nature, because man is a nature? Now, if man is a good thing because he is a nature, what else is an evil man, if not an evil good? Yet, when we distinguish between these two things, we find that he is not evil because he is a man, nor is he good because he is iniquitous; but he is called good because he is a man, evil because iniquitous. And so each nature, even if it is defective, insofar as it is a nature, is good; insofar as it is defective, it is evil.” (4)

And the second paragraph of the fifth chapter of the same distinction which paragraph consists entirely of quotes from St. Augustine’s Enchiridion:

“And these two opposites exist at the same time in such a way that, if the good did not exist in which evil might exist, evil could not exist at all, because not only would corruption not have a place to stay, but it would have no source from which to arise, unless there were something that could be corrupted, because corruption is nothing other than the extermination of the good. And so evils have arisen from goods, and cannot exist in anything other than good things.” “Therefore, there was no source at all from which an evil nature could arise, except from the good nature of angel and man, from which the evil will first arose.” (5)

Note that Lombard here is quoting the Church Father who led the battle for orthodoxy regarding Original Sin and the need for grace against the Pelagian heresy. It is also worth noting that these distinctions follow immediately after the section (distinctions thirty to thirty-three) of this book that covers Original Sin and are the segue into the discussion of actual sin, i.e., sinful acts, that closes the book.

Of course, none of this is what Jorge Bergoglio had in mind. He probably doesn’t know the difference between Peter Lombard, Vince Lombardi and Guy Lombardo. I could imagine him, in the unlikely event that somebody were to read this essay to him, asking “Peter Lombard? Wasn’t he an American football coach? Or the guy who used to sing Auld Lang Syne on the radio every New Year’s Eve?” except that I seriously doubt he knows who any of these men were.

No, Bergoglio was just being a liberal, a progressive, a leftist. The third sentence in the quotation confirms that. Here it is again “Yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good.” That’s that heart about which the prophet Jeremiah said that it “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Or about which Jesus said “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man.” (Matt. 15:19) So no, he was not simply affirming that human nature, as created by God, is a good thing, in which sin/evil is present as a parasitical defect, as orthodox theologians have always taught. He was affirming the liberal/progressive/leftist’s basic idea that the evils from which we suffer are not due to a moral defect in us but from defects in the structure of society. If we could just get rid of economic/social/political disparity, if we could just eliminate poverty, illiteracy, or this-or-that other social ill, then everybody would finally be perfectly happy. This never works because the ultimate cause of human suffering is not to be found in the organization of society, the distribution of its resources, or any of these other things, but in the human heart, in that very defect, Original Sin, which the Church affirms but which liberalism denies. The Church is right and liberalism, including the liberal that the Cardinals of the Roman Communion have placed at the top of their hierarchy in the seat they wrongly claim to be vested with universal jurisdiction, is wrong. The tragic consequence of liberalism’s error is that by denying that the ultimate cause of suffering is a defect in the human heart liberalism treats suffering as being treatable by political, social, and economic engineering, but since the ultimate cause of suffering is that defect in the human heart it is not so treatable and furthermore liberalism’s attempts to treat it by these means inevitably become, despite their denial that the problem is a defect in human nature, attempts to engineer better human beings, which attempts are doomed to fail and to fail in such a way as to increase rather than decrease human suffering.

St Peter in his first epistle advised his readers to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Pet. 3:15) This is precisely what O’Donnell asked Bergoglio. While Bergoglio may have succeeded to St. Peter’s local jurisdiction over the Church in Rome he has sadly not inherited the reason for the Apostle’s hope. St. Peter went on to write:

Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. (1 Pet. 3:16-22)

Bergoglio, in his answer said “everything” and mentioned human goodness. He did not mention Jesus Christ. That tells us everything we need to know about Bergoglio.– Gerry T. Neal

(1) See the section on “Original Sin” in the fifth chapter of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, first published in Russian in 1963, first published in English in 1983 by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. The section in question can be found on pages 162 to 169 of the current (third) edition of the English translation, and the footnotes by the translator, Fr. Seraphim Rose, on the first and last pages of the section are particularly helpful and to the point, as is the final sentence in the proper text of the section “Thus original sin is understood by Orthodox theology as a sinful inclination which has entered into mankind and become its spiritual disease.”

(2) Peter Lombard, The Sentences: Book 2, On Creation, translated by Giulio Silano, (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2008, 2013), 176-177.

(3) A commentary on the Sentences was the thesis required for a Masters degree in Western Medieval universities. St. Thomas Aquinas’ became his first published work. Most of the extent writings of John Duns Scotus are his lectures at the universities of Oxford and Paris on the Sentences.

(4) Lombard, op cit., 172-173, his quotation from St. Augustine is from the Enchiridion (Handbook).

(5) Ibid., 173.

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