October 17, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — As reported earlier at this site, Pope Francis in his weekly general audience of October 9 made the following remark: “Do I belong to the universal Church — with the good and the bad, all of us — or do I hold a selective ideology? Do I love God or dogmatic formulations?”
Apart from the false opposition and sentimentality implicit in the second question, more reminiscent of the Woodstock “summer of love” than of Christian charity for God and neighbor based on faith in divine revelation, I would like to point out that the pope is departing here from the spirit of approval for dogmatic formulations entertained by notable members of his own order — modern intellectuals whom it is customary and indeed fashionable to praise. Francis is an outlier even among his own.
Fr. Pierre Rousselot, S.J. (1878–1915) wrote in The Intellectualism of St. Thomas Aquinas:
A passionate love for the absolute Mind naturally engenders a love of dogma. The truth of Faith is the basis of our religion, and dogma serves to express the object of our religion. Were religion nothing more than a human product, and dogma merely the expression of human reactions to the facts of dogma, it would be the merest folly to sacrifice human happiness or human life for the sake of a dogma. But dogma has truth, it is more true even than science, and the object of dogma is above and beyond man. Likewise, sins against dogma are the most grievous of all, and errors concerning ideas are more dangerous than those concerning men. Take away dogma and you take God away; to touch dogma is to touch God. To sin against dogma is to sin against God.
We have to ask the reason for these startling claims. With a human person, what he is, who he is, what his qualities are, and his thoughts and acts of will — all these differ from one another. There is a substantial unity but much accidental diversity within it. So attacking a man’s ideas or choices is not the same as attacking the man himself, his human nature, or his personal dignity. With God, it is quite otherwise. God, His nature, His personality, His ideas, His volitions, His truth, and His love, are all identical with Himself; He is absolutely one. It would be impossible, therefore, to love God without equally loving all that is true in Him and about Him. God is truth. For this reason, adherence to dogma is inseparable from adherence to God; one’s willingness to embrace dogma is a concrete measure of one’s love for Him. We express our love for God by adhering to His truth, and we adhere to His truth because we love Him.
In his great work The Theology of the Mystical Body, Fr. Emile Mersch, S.J. (1890–1940), with similar enthusiasm for the God-given gift of intellect and the inherent nobility of the truth, speaks of virtues and vices in the use of faith-illuminated understanding:
[D]ogma tells [Christians]: “Think! Think with all your power, with all your love, with all your loyalty; think as a man ought to think when he is thinking with God.” But when God entrusted His truth to their intellects, in answer to their need for understanding, did He not impose on them an obligation to seek it out? In uniting Himself to them in the incarnate Word, did He not wish to give them a new knowledge, and hence to awaken in them a new understanding, that would be worthy of Him who helps them to achieve it and also worthy of the children of light? When God comes to dwell in the intellect as truth, does He intend the intellect to be saved without its cooperation? When He lodges His truth in the mind, is not the withholding of a desire to know it equivalent to casting it out from the soul? Is not lack of interest in comprehending that truth a sin of omission, is it not contempt and blasphemy, analogous, in the order of knowing, to indifference regarding good and neutrality regarding duty in the order of volition? A faith that renounces understanding renounces life.
Mersch goes on to say:
The same Christ resides in dogmatic pronouncements, in the official teaching authority [of the Church], and in the life of grace … for the Truth is Christ. … Christianity lives on truth.
As if to further develop the point made by his confrères Rousselot and Mersch, influential Patrologist Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.J. (1896–1991) had this to say about heresy in his book Further Paradoxes (reprinted as Paradoxes of Faith):
If heretics no longer horrify us today, as they once did our forefathers, is it certain that it is because there is more charity in our hearts? Or would it not too often be, perhaps, without our daring to say so, because the bone of contention, that is to say, the very substance of our faith, no longer interests us? Men of too familiar and too passive a faith, perhaps for us dogmas are no longer the Mystery on which we live, the Mystery which is to be accomplished in us. Consequently then, heresy no longer shocks us; at least, it no longer convulses us like something trying to tear the soul of our souls away from us[.] … And that is why we have no trouble in being kind to heretics, and no repugnance in rubbing shoulders with them[.] … It is not always charity, alas, which has grown greater, or which has become more enlightened: it is often faith, the taste for the things of eternity, which has grown less[.]
Fr. Piet Fransen, S.J. (1913–1983), a Belgian theologian and historian, specified in his book Intelligent Theology that his favoritism for the existentialist approach did not make of him a relativist:
If the Son of God came amongst us, and spoke to us in the name of the Father in our human words, our human symbols and images, and if he entrusted his own truth to his Church, a human institution, even if it was founded by God, and united as his body and bride with Christ himself, this act of redemption which was at the same time an act of revelation of the thoughts and the truths of God about himself and about man, gives us not only the possibility, but also the duty to think about those truths, to defend them against possible deformations, to translate them into other languages for other times and cultures. … I do believe strongly in right and wrong, in truth and falsehood, in orthodoxy and heresy. I think that theology, as soon as it despairs of obtaining the truth, is no longer a Christian theology.
Most recently, Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J. (1918–2008) wrote in his book Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith:
The Church as a divine oracle is commissioned to bear authoritative witness to God’s revelation in Christ. … Its authoritative teaching imposes a certain obligation on members of the Church to believe. Unlike civil societies, the Church is a society of faith. Its members are united by professing the same body of revealed truth, expressed in creeds and dogmas. To reject the faith of the community is to exclude oneself from the Church as a society. The teaching of the Magisterium therefore has an obligatory force resembling that of a law or precept. … Having received the word of God, the Church has an inalienable responsibility to hand it on, explain it, and defend it against errors.
Such authors and quotations could be multiplied, but there is no need for that. What we can see is that the pope’s regrettable habit of indulging in false oppositions — dogma against love, theory against practice, principles against reality, tradition against progress, and many other pairs — not only is repugnant to the instinct of the faithful and their “supernatural common sense” (as Roberto de Mattei puts it), but does not even align with the best thinking of modern Jesuits on the absolute value of rational and dogmatic truth and the serious peril of embracing or surrendering to error, which, if major, cuts us off from God and salvation as effectively as moral turpitude or hatred for our neighbor does.