On August 6, 2022, Pope Francis appointed President of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, Msgr. Antonio Staglianò, Bishop Emeritus of Noto, in southeastern Sicily. This prelate has made himself known for his desire to promote what he himself calls pop theology. The first part described what is hidden behind this term.
St. Vincent of Lérins Is Not a Pop Theologian
This instrumentalization of theology in the service of a pastoral ministry aligned with the spirit of the world finds an illustration in the way in which Francis uses and abuses a truncated quotation from the Commonitorium of St. Vincent of Lérins, a fifth century monk from southern Gaul. This is what emerges from an article by Fr. Thomas G. Guarino, published on August 16 on the American site First Things, then taken up by Giuseppe Nardi on katholisches.info on August 30.
This specialist on St. Vincent of Lérins at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, writes that the Pope refers to the “happy formulation” (these are Francis’s words), according to which the Christian doctrine annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur ætate, “is consolidated by years, enlarged by time [and] refined by age.”
Fr. Guarino states, “The Pope is surely correct that this is a crucial phrase. But if I were to counsel the Pope, I would encourage him to take account of St. Vincent’s entire Commonitorium, not simply the one selection he cites repeatedly.”
For the American theologian, it should indeed be noted that the holy monk never “speaks positively about reversals.” According to St. Vincent de Lérins, “A reversal is not an advance in the Church’s understanding of truth; it is not an instance of a teaching ‘enlarged by time.’”
“On the contrary, reversals are the hallmark of heretics. Reversals would indicate that the entire world incorporated into Christ the Head, ‘would have erred, would have blasphemed, would not have known what to believe.’ When condemning reversals, Vincent is always talking about the attempt to reverse or alter the solemn teachings of ecumenical councils.”
“The Lerinian is particularly haunted by attempts to reverse the teaching of Nicaea [in 325], such as happened at the [Arian] Council of Ariminum (Rimini, A.D.359), which, in its proposed creed, dropped the crucial word, homoousios [consubstantial].
And he continues: “I would also invite Pope Francis to invoke the salutary guardrails Vincent erects for the sake of ensuring proper development. While Pope Francis is taken with Vincent’s phrase dilatetur tempore (“enlarged by time”), the Lerinian also uses the suggestive phrase res amplificetur in se (“the thing grows within itself”).
“The Lerinian argues that there are two kinds of change. A legitimate change, a profectus, is an advance – homogeneous growth over time – such as a child becoming an adult. An improper change is a pernicious deformation, called a permutatio. This is a change in someone’s or something’s very essence, such as a rose garden becoming mere thorns and thistles.”
For Fr. Guarino, another obstacle against the interpretation given by the pope is St. Vincent of Lérins’ claim “that growth and change must be in eodem sensu eademquessentia, that is, according to the same meaning and the same judgment. For the monk of Lérins, any growth or development over time must preserve the substantive meaning of earlier teachings.”
The American scholar specifies: “For example, the Church can certainly grow in its understanding of the humanity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, but it can never backtrack on the definition of Nicaea. The idem sensus or ‘same meaning’ must always be maintained in any future development. Pope Francis rarely, if ever, cites this important Vincentian phrase.”
The American theologian therefore also advises the pope “to avoid citing St. Vincent to support reversals, as with his teaching that the death penalty is ‘per se contrary to the Gospel.’ Vincent’s organic, linear understanding of development does not include reversals of prior positions.”
And he very judiciously recalls that, in all his work, St. Vincent exhorts with St. Paul: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding the profane novelties of words, and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called.” (1 Tim. 6:20).
It is in the light of this precious reminder of tradition that we should receive Francis’ repeated declarations against what he calls backwardness, as on the occasion of the blessing of the palliums of the archbishops of the year expired on June 29. Or more recently, on September 1, at the reception for members of the Italian Association of Liturgists:
“Tradition is the living faith of those who have died. And traditionalism is the dead faith of the living,” asserted Francis for whom traditionalists are victims of “the worldly spirit of going backward.” According to him, “going back to the roots does not mean ‘going backward,’” because “to go backward is to go against the truth and against the Spirit.”
And to affirm that the liturgy “is not a marble or bronze monument, it is not a museum piece,” once again criticizing a traditional liturgy “with a funereal tone,” when it should sing “the praise of the Lord.” Let's leave these epidermal judgments, dictated by pop theology more than by the sacra doctrina, and pray for their author.
For the record, in the apostolic letter Desiderio Desideravi of last June 29, Francis expressed the wish that the liturgical “polemics” cease. There is nothing like rediscovering peace, the “tranquility of order,” than rereading St. Vincent de Lérins in an integral version, neither truncated nor faked.