God’s final word

“God’s final word is called Jesus and nothing more.”

The quote is of Pope Francis, from a homily during Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at Rome last Tuesday. I became aware of it through reading Father Hunwicke’s blog, yesterday. The purpose of this Idlepost is only to cry it from the little rooftop I occupy. Those on other rooftops please copy.

The context from which it sprang was typical of the manner of His Holiness. He was in the course of disparaging people — by insinuation, the Marian visionaries of Medjugorje. He did not name them, but his allusion to “the seers who will tell us today about the letter that Our Lady will send at four o’clock in the afternoon” was quite obvious.

Perhaps I should make clear that I am not, as the pope could not be, disparaging the genuine Apparitions of Mary. We should however be clear that the apparitions of Medjugorje have been consistently (though not yet definitively) categorized by the Church authorities as non constat — as “not confirmed” to be of supernatural origin.

More generally, in these hard spiritual times, when home truths of basic human psychology are slipping from our grasp, we are plagued by visionaries. Perfectly sincere (perhaps), but not perfectly sound proselytizers for the Christian faith, imagine themselves in direct communication with the heavenly powers. The phenomena of “enthusiasm” were well catalogued by Ronald Knox. We see the whole range of them in such as the contemporary Pentecostal movement. But we also find them within the Catholic realm.

I know this at first hand from minor examples: more than one young woman who has spoken to me of Our Lady as if she has her email address, and is cc’d on various saint-lists in Heaven. Typically these girls (and a few boys) are “traditionalists” in the extreme, and nothing but trouble for parishes in which traditional forms are being restored and rekindled. They may also consider themselves to be profound scholars, after reading a few fanatical tracts, and on this basis like to challenge their priests on minute points of liturgy and doctrine, throwing fits when ignored.

A closely allied phenomenon has the effect of subverting pro-life campaigns. This is the enthusiasm of a class of volunteers whom I would characterize as childless, single, female abortion survivors. They do tireless work, much of which is rendered counter-productive by hysteria.

There is a broader problem in volunteer social services, from men and women who are childless, and usually single, but eager to take on parental or even priestly mentoring roles, for which they are untrained, inexperienced, and unsuited. The fatherless and sometimes motherless young may respond to them; then find they aren’t there when they are desperately needed.

They — all the above — are seeking emotional rewards that may simply not be available; and are certainly not available except on at least three absolute conditions: personal humility, emotional stability, and unvarying commitment. Our mantra, “faith is not feeling” applies to them all. When the emotional rewards do not come, they may suddenly abandon the cause entirely, leaving people who have come to depend on them in the lourche. (Fine Hudibrastic simile, don’t you think?) Again, I am speaking only from first hand.

Unstable people leading the unstable; the blind leading the blind. This is inevitable in an unstable society, especially in ours where the cult of “sincerity” confers authority upon the batty but frightfully sincere. More drama is not what we need. Instead: the fidelity of slow but reliable consolidation; the methodical restoration of the partial to the whole.

One might interpret the pope’s aspersion as a shout-out to all of them. I have criticized Bergoglio, the man, not for any heterodox intention, but for recklessness; in particular for filling the buzzing electronic air with dangerously flip tweets and sound-bites. Spontaneous remarks such as, “Who am I to judge?” disseminate, shorn of context; or sometimes there was no reasonable context. This is not a time when we can afford “erratic” from our highest office.

Yet often, too, Pope Francis hits the nail on the head squarely, and it is breathtaking. It is unfortunate that such wonderfully authoritative papal remarks get no media coverage at all.

This was surely one of those occasions, when the remark was so astute, and so concise, that we should shout it from the rooftops. It had a context, but resounds beyond it, communicating to all who can hear the root principle of Catholic Christian teaching:

“God’s final word is called Jesus and nothing more.”

Or expressed in a corollary: the Holy Spirit has nothing new to say. Not little, but nothing. To think otherwise is rank heresy: it is to assume that Our Lord was incapable of anticipating the range of human experience; that He was a fallible man “conditioned” by his time and place in history; that He was thus “just a man” — one charismatic prophet among others (Muhammad, Buddha, Zoroaster, et cetera). Christ is Very God or He is nothing.

We may understand the Deposit of Faith better or worse; there may be “doctrinal development” in our own understanding; but the teaching does not change. The saints extend the message by example, the Doctors of the Church expound its implications by contemplative reason. But they don’t change the message. They extend by application, and in extending they confirm: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

Anything we “discover” will be entirely consistent with what we have already received from the inerrant Source. Indeed, it will be discovered within what we received. Or else it is false. This is something one either does, or does not plainly understand, and those who come to us with a new message or a new twist — whether bug-eyed visionaries, or sophistical modernizers — are simply leading us astray.

The dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for 135 million years. This was impressive, but Christ is forever. He certainly does not “evolve” in a mere two thousand. Nor will the central Truth of the Christian revelation evolve in the next two thousand, nor the next 135 million years. Forever means forever, and like it or not:

“God’s final word is called Jesus.”