Hermeneutic of Papal Discontinuity: Pope Francis is a RadTrad

Since the election of Pope Francis, the media have gone out of their way to paint him as a “liberal” due to his more simplistic style and emphasis on concern for the poor. I’ve complained previously about this false division in terms of the implication that Bl. (soon to be Saint) John Paul II and Benedict XVI have not been as humble or simple as Francis, particularly since B16 resumed some of the more traditional papal vestments that have been discarded by most 20th Century Popes. Because of this slight difference in style, both those of a more “traditionalist” bent and the mainstream media have insisted that Francis is a “progressive.” Pat Archbold responded to this with “10 Quotes that Prove the Pope is a Liberal,” giving quotations from Benedict, and Mark Shea followed suit this weekend with a post giving quotations from Francis on liturgy (more on this later)

Meanwhile, there has been something of a row in the blogosphere about terminology regarding “RadTrads” or, as someone recently suggested, “MadTrads.” Since Vatican II, one of the main “sticking points” has been the Council’s approach to ecumenism. Supposedly, anyone who critiques that approach is a “RadTrad.” In one of his last major statements before announcing his retirement, a reflection on Vatican II, Benedict explicitly criticized the very weakness of _Nostra Aetate_ that most of us would be labelled “RadTrads” for pointing out:

In the process of active reception, a weakness of this otherwise extraordinary text has gradually emerged: it speaks of religion solely in a positive way and it disregards the sick and distorted forms of religion which, from the historical and theological viewpoints, are of far-reaching importance; for this reason the Christian faith, from the outset, adopted a critical stance towards religion, both internally and externally.

But that’s the “traditionalist” B16, right?
On the contrary, Pope Francis has made several statements about the necessity of the Church for salvation, saying that one cannot know Jesus without the Church, and that one cannot know God without Jesus. Go figure: the Pope is Catholic.
Nevertheless, people want to pick on every media-spun statement to try to say otherwise. I don’t think it’s even necessary to “Read Francis Through Benedict,” as “Fr. Z.” has renamed his popular blog: I’d suggest that, the more we get to hear from Francis himself, the more we’ll find him to be perhaps more “traditionalist” than Benedict. There are concerns about the current Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Gerhard Muller, and his relationship with Liberation Theology, but he was a B16 appointee. There were rumors that Francis might be making changes to the Congregation for Divine Worship and to the position of Master of Ceremonies, but one of the quotations Mark Shea highlights in the post I linked above ought to allay those fears:

“See? They say that my Master of papal ceremonies [Guido Marini] is of a Traditionalist mold; and many… have asked me to remove him from his position and replace him. I have answered no, precisely because I myself may treasure his traditional formation.”

More importantly, in terms of ecumenism in the truest sense, and liturgy alike, the following quotation, variations of which I’ve read elsewhere, highlights what I think proves Francis is both a true “Radical” (getting back to the root) Traditionalist *and* in line with the authentic intent of Vatican II (which was to bring back to the Western Liturgy some of the qualities it has lost):

In the Orthodox Churches they have conserved that pristine liturgy, no? So beautiful. We [i.e., the Latin Christians] have lost a bit the sense of adoration, they conserve it, they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time does not count. The center is God and that is a richness that I would like to emphasize on this occasion as you ask me this question.

Once, speaking of the Western Church, of Western Europe, especially the Church that has grown most, they said this phrase to me: “Lux ex oriente, ex occidente luxus.” [“Light from the East, from the West, luxury.”] Consumerism, well-being, have done us so much harm. Instead you keep this beauty of God at the center, the reverence. When one reads Dostoyevsky — I believe that for us all he must be an author to read and reread, because he has wisdom – one perceives what the Russian spirit is, the Eastern spirit. It’s something that will do us so much good. We are in need of this renewal, of this fresh air of the East, of this light from the East. John Paul II wrote it in his Letter. But so many times the luxus of the West makes us lose the horizon. I don’t know, it came to me to say this. Thank you.”

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6 responses to “Hermeneutic of Papal Discontinuity: Pope Francis is a RadTrad

  1. I have noticed that journalists tend to report in categories of black and white, and many call this “spin.” I think such categorising is part of the mental process of trying to understand the complexities of people and their actions. In reality, people are shades of gray. This pope, like others, will exhibit characteristics of what some consider liberal, and others consider conservative. It remains to be seen what sort of fruit this tree bears in time. God bless!

    • The problem is that people tend to define “liberalism” and “conservatism” as sets of positions rather than philosophies. Being anti-war, for example, is not necessarily “liberal” and used to be a hallmark of American conservatism. It’s a question of *why* one is anti-war.

  2. Something is wrong with the links, they direct me to a “page not found” address.

  3. Theodore Seeber

    Oddly enough, it was Nostra Aetate’s recognition of the positive virtues of false religion that brought me back to the Church after my forays into atheism and Buddhism- the second paragraph of the second section is the definition of “rational religion” to me, and is quite careful to place mother church as “the fullness of Truth”

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