Like any Modernist would…
Francis denounces “Decadent Scholasticism”
One of the many things that “went under”, so to speak, in the flurry of breaking news stories from the Vatican in recent weeks, is the question-and-answer session Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope” Francis) gave to his fellow-Jesuits after presenting a speech at their 36th General Congregation on October 24, 2016. The Rome-based Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica has published the full Q&A text online here.
No, don’t worry, we will not slog through the entire thing now. Those who have not yet had enough of Francis’ blather can read the whole piece for themselves. We will confine ourselves to just one portion in particular, namely, this one:
I and those of my generation, perhaps not the youngest here, but my generation and some of the later ones too, were educated in a decadent scholasticism. We studied theology and philosophy with manuals. It was a decadent scholasticism. For example, to explain the «metaphysical continuum» — it makes me laugh every time I remember — we were taught the theory of the «puncta inflata». When the great Scholasticism began to lose force, there arose that decadent scholasticism with which at least my generation and others have studied.
It was this decadent scholasticism that provoked the casuistic attitude. It is curious: the course on the «sacrament of penance,» in the faculty of theology, in general — not everywhere — was presented by teachers of sacramental morality. The whole moral sphere was restricted to «you can», «you cannot», «up to here yes but not there». In an Ad Audiendas examination, a companion of mine, when asked a very intricate question, said very simply: «But Father, please, these things do not happen in reality!» And the examiner replied, «But it’s in the books!»
It was a morality very foreign to discernment. At that time there was the «cuco» [“bogeyman”], the specter of situational morality… I think Bernard Häring [1922-98] was the first to start looking for a new way to help moral theology to flourish again. Obviously, in our day moral theology has made much progress in its reflections and in its maturity; it is no longer a «casuistry.»
In the field of morality we must advance without falling into situationalism: but, rather, it is necessary to bring forward again the great wealth contained in the dimension of discernment; this is characteristic of the great scholasticism. We should note something: St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure affirm that the general principle holds for all but — they say it explicitly — as one moves to the particular, the question becomes diversified and many nuances arise without changing the principle. This scholastic method has its validity. It is the moral method used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And it is the method that was used in the last apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia, after the discernment made by the whole Church through the two Synods. The morality used in Amoris laetitia is Thomistic, but that of the great St. Thomas himself, not of the author of the «puncta inflata».
It is evident that, in the field of morality, one must proceed with scientific rigor, and with love for the Church and discernment. There are certain points of morality on which only in prayer can one have sufficient light to continue reflecting theologically. And on this, allow me to repeat it, one must do «theology on one’s knees». You cannot do theology without prayer. This is a key point and it must be done this way.
(“‘To Have Courage and Prophetic Audacity’: Dialogue of Pope Francis with the Jesuits gathered in the 36th General Congregation”, La Civiltà Cattolica, pp. 5-6)
This is nothing but garbage, partially dressed up to make it sound respectable.
What we see here is a typical symptom of Modernism: utter disdain for scholasticism, speciously justified by appeal to a vivid example (the puncta inflata), while paying lipservice to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Universal Doctor of the Church and greatest of the scholastics.
Against the anti-scholastic spirit prevalent among some clergy in the 19th century, Pope Pius IX condemned the following proposition: “The method and principles by which the old scholastic doctors cultivated theology are no longer suitable to the demands of our times and to the progress of the sciences” (Syllabus of Errors, n. 13). His successor, Pope Leo XIII, called for a resurgence of scholastic Thomism to refute the errors of the modern world in his 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris. This ushered in a veritable Neo-Thomist “revival” that bore excellent fruit in the work of such figures as Fr. Joseph Kleutgen, Fr. Ambrose Gardeil, Fr. Edouard Hugon, Cardinal Louis Billot, Cardinal Johann Franzelin, and many more.
In his landmark encyclical letter against Modernism, Pope St. Pius X exposed hatred and contempt of scholasticism as a typical characteristic of Modernists:
Against scholastic philosophy and theology they use the weapons of ridicule and contempt. Whether it is ignorance or fear, or both, that inspires this conduct in them, certain it is that the passion for novelty is always united in them with hatred of scholasticism, and there is no surer sign that a man is tending to Modernism than when he begins to show his dislike for the scholastic method…. They exercise all their ingenuity in an effort to weaken the force and falsify the character of tradition, so as to rob it of all its weight and authority.
(Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Pascendi, n. 42)
Does this sound familiar? Bergoglio’s hatred and contempt of scholasticism goes hand in hand with his worship of the god of surprises.
But, what’s the deal with that “decadent scholasticism” supposedly found in those fossilized “manuals”?
At the turn of the 19th century, and in the first half of the 20th century, textbooks were utilized by seminaries throughout the world for the education and instruction of candidates studying for the Catholic priesthood. These textbooks were manuals which contained the common teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and to this extent, they belonged to the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium. This is explained very well in the following essay:
- Mgr. Joseph C. Fenton, “The Teaching of the Theological Manuals” (American Ecclesiastical Review 148 [April, 1963], pp. 254-270)
Not surprisingly, the theological manuals used scholasticism as their method of presentation. The scholastic method is a highly refined process whose main element is that it seeks to derive theological conclusions from the articles of Faith by means of demonstrative syllogisms. Oftentimes, these conclusions or theses contained within the theological manuals are themselves dogmas of the Faith.
The aim of the manuals was to show, in a scientific fashion, how the conclusions or theses were actually contained within the body of Divine Revelation. The scholasticism found on the pages of the theological manuals of the 19th and 20th centuries displayed logic that was crystalline and precise, something that “Pope” Francis has repeatedly said he abhors. “Pope” Benedict XVI, too, is on record as rejecting it:
…I had difficulties in penetrating the thought of Thomas Aquinas, whose crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made. This may also have had something to do with the fact that Arnold Wilmsen, the philosopher who taught us Thomas, presented us with a rigid, neoscholastic Thomism that was simply too far afield from my own questions.
(Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1998], p. 44)
If the pages of these manuals were inundated with “decadent scholasticism”, the Magisterium was guilty of presenting its priests with inaccurate and inadequate instruction on Catholic doctrine for nearly two centuries. Such an idea is preposterous to any thinking Catholic, but it is probably exactly what Mr. Bergoglio and his fellow-Modernists believe, because this is precisely how they act. That is, they act as though the Catholicisim of the past was hopelessly inadequate and immature, and in desperate need of being “updated” to make it “relevant” to modern man. This, of course, they think they accomplished at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), where the Church finally rediscovered the “authentic” Catholic religion, supposedly.
As part of his crusade to discredit the true Catholicism in which he was raised, Francis repeats the popular Modernist myth of a “decadent” scholasticism that supposedly afflicted the Church after the high middle ages and reached its pinnacle in the manuals, teaching nothing but casuistry about puncta inflata. But in reality, scholasticism, especially that of the school of St. Thomas Aquinas, never fell into any decadence. When society and academic life swayed away from the Church, secular philosophies and non-scholastic theologies began to emerge. Scholasticism withdrew into the ecclesiastical institutions, and its influence on society and secular academia waned. This was not the fault of the scholastics, which is the narrative that is usually pushed, but must be ascribed to the fascination of novelty that tempted many intellectuals and still does today. Francis in particular is always promoting some novelty or another, although it would be a gross injustice to dignify this apostate muck spout with the label of “intellectual”.
In typical Modernist fashion, Francis likes to scoff at the incredible theological work accomplished by the manualists, who were highly gifted orthodox theologians before Vatican II, as though they had all been a pack of colossal idiots who were unhappily caught up in silly and immature “casuistry”. But have no fear! Francis has come to release us all from our scholastic shackles by introducing us to such profound theological concepts as “accompaniment”, “encounter”, “discernment”, and other tokens of Bergoglian surprise theology.
Casuistry, which Francis sneeringly dismisses as stupid and regressive, is actually a most important part of moral theology and was most famously championed by St. Alphonsus Liguori, the 18th-century Doctor of the Church. The 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia defines “casuistry” as follows:
The application of general principles of morality to definite and concrete cases of human activity, for the purpose, primarily, of determining what one ought to do, or ought not to do, or what one may do or leave undone as one pleases; and for the purpose, secondarily, of deciding whether and to what extent guilt or immunity from guilt follows on an action already posited.
(Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Casuistry”)
In other words, casuistry is a really important discipline in the Catholic Church. As the same entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia goes on to explain:
The necessity of casuistry and its importance are obvious. From the nature of the case, the general principles of any science in their concrete application give rise to problems which trained and expert minds only can solve. This is especially true regarding the application of moral principles and precepts to individual conduct. For, although those principles and precepts are in themselves generally evident, their application calls for the consideration of many complex factors, both objective and subjective. Only those who unite scientific knowledgeof morality with practice in its application may be trusted to solve promptly and safely problems of conscience.
Francis, of course, has his own way of “solving” problems of conscience: He waves his magic wands of accompaniment, discernment, and mercy, and, voilà, the sin is no longer a sin in your particular case — problem solved!
Bergoglio’s curious claim that his adultery-condoning exhortation Amoris Laetitia is based on “Thomistic” morality is beyond laughable. Even a Novus Ordo Dominican has dismissed the assertion. Francis’ position on adultery has nothing to do with “discerning nuances” at all. Rather, it’s about looking for case-based excuses to overturn the general principle that adultery is intrinsically wrong and thus never permissible, regardless of the circumstances. As we explained at length in an episode of our podcast program (see TRADCAST 013), Francis is not simply trying to say adultery is not a sin — which would be bad enough. No, it is much worse: He is undermining the very foundations of Catholic morality by changing the definition of sin from a voluntary transgression against the divine law to an imperfect or incomplete participation in virtue! Thus adultery becomes an imperfect expression of chastity; stealing becomes a less-than-ideal way of making a purchase; and blasphemy turns into an imperfect instance of the objective ideal of prayer.
Don’t believe it? Then have a look at the facts: Bergoglio is officially on record teaching that there may be excusing factors that justify adultery or minimize its evil, turning the mortally sinful act into simply “the most generous response which can be given to God, [after coming] to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking [!] amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal” (Francis, Amoris Laetitia, n. 303). This is frightening blasphemy, for it claims that God Himself could desire a couple to commit adultery! No impressive-sounding talk about the “concrete complexity of one’s limits” can justify this! “Go, and now sin no more” (Jn 8:11), Our Lord commanded.
That Francis would laud Fr. Bernard Haring (1912-1998) is not surprising, considering that Haring was a notorious dissenter even for Novus Ordo standards and the theological mentor of the infamous Fr. Charles Curran (b. 1934). Haring was a bad apple early on. The illustrious Mgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton (1906-1969) had already identified him as “a bad man” during the council (see Giuseppe Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol. 2, p. 93). No wonder Francis likes him.
When scholastic Thomism, most exceptionally synthesized in the work of the great Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964), was abandoned by the Novus Ordo Sect in the 1960s, the vacuum was filled by the abominable Nouvelle Theologie (“New Theology”), also known as ressourcement theology, whose chief proponents included Marie-Dominique Chenu, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Appearing first in the 1930s, the New Theology was mainly kept in check during the pontificates of Popes Pius XI and Pius XII. Certain books were ordered withdrawn from circulation and placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. A number of these characters were tagged “suspect of heresy” by the Holy Office.
All this changed with the Modernist usurpation of the Vatican structures after the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958. The new “Pope”, John XXIII, made some of these New Theologians theological experts (periti) at the Second Vatican Council, and thus it is not surprising that Vatican II is the theological product of precisely the Nouvelle Theologie. In fact, the initial preparatory schemas of the conciliar documents, which had been developed by orthodox theologians using traditional Catholic (“scholastic”) theology before the gathering ever convened, were consigned to the trash can in the opening days of the council thanks to the influence of the New Theologians. (Five of the nine original schemas have since been made available online and can be read in English here.) What we have all witnessed since is the Nouvelle Theologie in action.
It is clear that Francis has no understanding of Sacred Theology at all. His denunciation of “decadent scholasticism” is a testimony to his ignorance, his arrogance, and, above all, his Modernism.
Further Resources on Thomistic Scholasticism:
- Pope St. Pius X, Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici encouraging the study of St. Thomas Aquinas in Catholic schools (1914)
- Sacred Congregation of Studies, The Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses (1914), approved by Pope Benedict XV as a safe norm of intellectual guidance (March 7, 1916)
- Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Studiorum Ducem on St. Thomas Aquinas (1923)
- Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, “Where is the New Theology Leading Us?” (1946)
- Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, “The Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses” (Chapter 55 of Reality, 1950)
- Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought (1950)
- Fr. David Greenstock, “Thomism and the New Theology” (1950)
- Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis on Recent Errors (1950)