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Benedictine theologian calls Amazon Synod working doc ‘biodegradable Christianity’ in searing new critique

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ROME, July 10, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A Benedictine theologian has joined the chorus of voices criticizing the working document of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, calling it “biodegradable Christianity.”

In an analysis published by Italian journalist Aldo Maria Valli on July 2, Dom Giulio Meiattini, a monk of the abbey of Madonna della Scala in the southern Italian province of Bari, said the Instrumentum laboris proposes and contains nothing less than a “reversal” of the “very idea of Church and Christian faith.”

“The Person of Christ and His Gospel disappear; they are literally swallowed up by the lush tropical forest” of repetitious reflection on ecology and sociology, Dom Meiattini writes.  

“In reading this hymn to the Amazonian paradise on earth,” the Italian monk adds, “it is difficult to understand how and why this portion of humanity needs faith in the Incarnation.”

Commenting on the document’s focus on the Amazon as an “epiphanic” source of revelation, Dom Meiattini says the apostolic, scriptural, and liturgical tradition of the Church “are covered by vines and tropical molds or sunk in marshy quicksand.” Yet he notes that the authors of the document do not seem “concerned at all about giving theological and scriptural plausibility to what they say.”

Praising German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller’s recent critique of the working document, Dom Meiattini said “it’s hard to blame him” for calling it “heretical.” But, he adds, “more than heresy, we should speak of apostasy.”   

The Instrumentum laboris “is not a Christian document,” the Benedictine theologian insists. “Let this be clearly stated: a few biblical quotations inserted as the title to several paragraphs, or the use of words like ‘Church’, ‘conversion’ and ‘pastoral,’ are not enough to guarantee the evangelical character of a text.”

The working document for the synod on the Amazon, he says, represents an “abandonment of the biblical faith for something different, with only a counterfeit label of Christianity. A bit like products bearing the EU [European Union] mark that are manufactured in China.”

In his analysis, Dom Meiattini also claims that the working document’s fascination with the “world of the primitive,” i.e. the “childhood of mankind,” betrays an infantile regression.  

“After the attempts of the flower children, what is now being proposed is a cultural model which is ecologically more sustainable and as minimally neurotic as possible: life brought back to its beginnings, to bows and arrows, to shamanic healing rituals,” he writes. 

He further argues that we should not underestimate the connection between such infantile regression and “homo and trans ideology” which is founded on the idea of spontaneous self-determination coupled with a rejection of reason. 

However, according to the Benedictine theologian, the most interesting aspect of the document is that “things become clearer, compared to the previous ambiguous formulations that were supported by erroneous quotations of St. Thomas in order to be able to claim that everything was ‘completely Thomistic.’”

“Here it is clear that St. Thomas has nothing to do with it,” he writes, adding it is equally clear “that the Bible has nothing to do with it either. If there is still something Christian in this Instrumentum laboris, i.e., a few words and expressions here and there, there is no need to worry: it is undoubtedly biodegradable!”

Here below is an English translation of Dom Giulio Meiattini’s commentary on the Instrumentum laboris. The original Italian may be read here.

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Promoting a biodegradable Christianity

For some time now, we have known or imagined that the Synod on the Amazon would hold some surprises and create further reason for division. At first, it seemed that perhaps the thorniest issue to arise at the synod would concern married clergy. It must be said that the publication of the Instrumentum laboris has far exceeded these expectations and the liveliest imagination. The document, in fact, points towards a much more ambitious and radical goal. It is the most daring move that could be conceived and attempted by the secretariat of a synod of the Catholic Church. The document proposes and contains nothing less than a reversal ab imis fundamentis [in its deepest foundations] of the very idea of Church and Christian faith.

Diluting Christianity: wine turned into water 

I say “Christian” and not “Catholic” with good reason, because in fact the method and contents of this text, which is full of repetition and quite cumbersome, have actually liquidated the fundamental elements of Christianity. Naturally, the operation is carried out with the usual system, which I have pointed out on other occasions: not by denying but by keeping silent, not by contradicting but by diluting. In this way, the reader can also be favorably impressed by all the interesting reflections on ecology, ethnology, health and sanitation and sociology that it contains, and many of which are in themselves also right. But in the midst of these lush and redundant empirical analyses, which say nothing new and which a specialist could say in a better and more substantiated manner, the Person of Christ and His Gospel disappear; they are literally swallowed up by the lush tropical forest.

The relationship between faith and culture should be illustrated using the classical Christology expressed by the first ecumenical councils, which affirm the transcendence of the divine Person of the Word with respect to the human nature that it sustains, assumes and transforms, not vice versa. The Instrumentum laboris expresses, in fact, in its general logic, a completely inverted conception that no longer conforms to Christological orthodoxy. In reading this hymn to the Amazonian paradise on earth (which is presented as a new Eden of innocence and communal and cosmic harmony without stain, except those brought by Western civilization; cf. n. 103), it is difficult to understand how and why this portion of humanity needs faith in the Incarnation. The myth of the great Amazonian river as the source of life replaces the great Christological and Paschal image of the river that flows from the Temple (according to the prophet Ezekiel) and that “brings life and heals wherever it flows.” Instead of asking how the proclamation of the Gospel can be brought to these peoples, and how the living water of Christ can heal and bring life to the lives of these peoples, it is taken for granted that they already live, thanks to their ancestral traditions, in an Edenic condition by which, if anything, the Church must allow herself to be converted. It is said several times that the Church must take on “an Amazonian face,”but the document does not understand whether, and how, the Amazon can or should assume a Christian face, and whether this is desirable or not.

The Instrumentum laboris expresses opinions which some may like, but it is not a Christian document. Let this be clearly stated. A few biblical quotations inserted as the title of several paragraphs, or the use of words like “Church”, “conversion” and “pastoral,” are not enough to guarantee the evangelical character of a text. They look like protective screens, but the Word of the living God does not constitute the foundation and inspiration on which the document is built. By way of example, consider Part I, Chapter 1, which is dedicated to the theme of life. The title is inspired by John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.” It would seem to be an excellent starting point. But what follows never says what this life that Jesus came to bring consists in, nor that John speaks of “eternal life” and that this life is the same Trinitarian life given by the Holy Spirit. In commenting on this verse from the Gospel of John, the text is content to illustrate Amazonian biodiversity and the rich hydrography of the Amazon basin, and to praise the “good life” of the indigenous people, which — an astonishing discovery — “means understanding the centrality of the relational-transcendent character of human beings and creation and includes ‘doing good’” (n. 13). Of course, it is not clear whether the Cross of Christ and his Resurrection are still necessary for the sort of “good living” that is here being presented as a model. The Cross is mentioned only twice, and it is understood that it never refers to the redemptive Cross of Christ, but to the “history of the Cross and Resurrection” which consists in the Church’s solidarity with the struggles of indigenous peoples in the defense of the territory (n. 33-34; 145).

The removal of the scriptural principle: apostasy, rather than heresy

Cardinal Brandmüller, in his widely circulated commentary on the Instrumentum laboris, states in no uncertain terms that the document is heretical. It’s hard to blame him. But one thing must be noted to better understand the type of “heresy” we are dealing with. Church history teaches us that heresies normally develop out of a controversial interpretation of scriptural texts. The heretic always believes that he is giving a more correct interpretation of Scripture, whose authority he does not question. Therefore, it was to the sound of biblical quotations that controversies were generally fed. In other words, from Arius to Luther and beyond, the assumption that united orthodoxy and heresy, Catholics and non-Catholics, beyond all division, has always been the undisputed authority of Sacred Scripture, recognized as the inspired word, and to whose scrutiny every teaching and every theology had to submit. 

But there is no longer any detectable trace of this scriptural premise in the Instrumentum laboris for the Pan-Amazon synod. The authors of the document are not worried at all about giving theological and scriptural plausibility to what they say; it seems that, to them, the only “theological locus” (venerable terminology dating back to the illustrious Melchior Cano) is the “territory” or the “cry of the poor.” We read: “Territory is a theological place where faith is lived, and also a particular source of God’s revelation: epiphanic places where the reserve of life and wisdom for the planet is manifested, a life and wisdom that speak of God” (n. 19; cf. 144; 126e). Of course, it is not said anywhere that Scripture and the Liturgy, within the great apostolic and ecclesial tradition, by order of importance, are the first theological places from which all other possible minor loci theologicimust be verified, nor are they used as primary sources. Dei Verbumand Sacrosanctum concilium are covered by vines and tropical molds or sunk in marshy quicksand.

This is a phenomenon that must not escape us, because it is the most important indicator that allows us to grasp the true nature of the deviation or “paradigm shift” that the Instrumentum laboris introduces. In modern times there have already been illustrious precedents of a removal of the scriptural principle in favor of the primacy of other entities. The so-called liberal theology from the 19th century onwards, in the Protestant sphere, was basically an attempt to justify Christianity (or its cultural relics), in the face of the multiple criticisms of modern culture, reducing it “within the limits of reason alone” or to a particularly high form of unsurpassed ethics or leading it back to universal religious sentiment. Faith and the Church were reduced to their universal comprehensibility through a process of rational homologation. The key words and concepts of Christianity remained, but their meaning was completely secularized. This removal of the scriptural principle was the consequence of the new confrontation that Christianity had to sustain: no longer through internal divisions, but with a rationality emancipated from revelation, which could only accept what was within its parameters.

This anthropological dilution of Christianity into ethics or reason or religious sentiment (which was felt in Catholic circles with the modernist crisis) no longer considers Scripture as a theological locus. It is the great Christian “symbols” (the Church, worship, the cross and the resurrection, moral norms, etc.), now extrapolated from their original ground, but still living by inertia in European civilization, that must find some justification and reinterpretation. A great thinker like Ernst Troeltsch could thus argue, on rational bases, that the Christian religion represented the highest form of universal morality and religiosity. But nothing more than this! Central dogmas thereby became “myths” to be overcome in a universally acceptable “logos.” Bultman’s demythologization was one of the most famous variants of this homologation of faith in an existential dimension that is easily digestible.

It is in the light of this history (which has not yet ended) that a phenomenon such as the Instrumentum laboris on the Amazon should be considered. It is the dilution of Christianity to anthropology, or rather to ecology to be precise, in order to give it again a semblance of acceptability in the United Nations assembly and in environmentalist, post-modern, anti-Western and biodegradable naturalist thinking. That is why Cardinal Brandmüller’s diagnosis is correct, but immediately adding, as he himself does, that more than heresy we should speak of apostasy. The removal of the scriptural principle (which is like saying the renunciation of theology and mission), the abdication of a reading of the phenomena and mission of the Church in the light of the Word of God, replacing it with the uncontaminated and mythical “theological locus” of the environment, of territory and of the poor (as if all this were immune to original sin, and therefore a “pure word” of God that can do without the two Testaments), is equivalent to the abandonment of the ground of faith, which for Paul and the Apostolic Church comes from listening to the kerygma and not from the “ecological conversion” to the territory (an expression that is repeated nine times in the text). The Apostolic Church, and the one that followed, transmitted the proclamation of Christ the Son of God who died and rose for sins. That is why it was missionary. But there is no trace of this proclamation in our document. Here, therefore, we are not faced with a variant, albeit heterodox or heretical, of Christianity, but with a phenomenon of abandonment of the biblical faith for something different, with only a counterfeit label of Christianity. A bit like products bearing the EU [European Union] mark that are manufactured in China.

I will say more. The great representatives of theological liberalism to whom I have referred at least kept Christianity in a privileged position: it remained for them the highest expression of the human ethos or religion of humanity. In their own way, “they could not but call themselves Christians.” In the new mythical reduction presented by the pre-synodal document, something more radical happens: this privileged position is lost. It seems that the Church now has the sole task of protecting what good the Amazonian people already possess. Therefore, that high vision of Christianity as the most evolved religion or, if you like, as man fully realized, also disappears. Here the problem of true religion no longer has any reason to exist. Nor does the question of the true God whom religions venerate. In fact, we read: “Insincere openness to the other, just like a corporatist attitude, that reserve salvation exclusively for one’s own creed, are destructive of that very creed.” (n. 39). As if to say: believe what you want, you are saved all the same. We had already read something like this in the Abu Dhabi document. Evidently it was not a slip of the tongue!

The cultural phenomenon: an infantile regression

Having ascertained this, there is another fact to be noted, equally important and of considerable proportions, concerning the cultural operation underway here (given that we can now only deal with culture and no longer with Christian theology). The interesting thing is that what is privileged in the Instrumentum laboris is no longer the adult logos that illuminated and dissolved the mythos of the infantile and primitive eras of humanity, including the Judeo-Christian “myth,” as happened in the interpretation of liberal theology and in all the enlightened or positivistic reductions of Christianity, such as that of Kant, Lessing, Hegel, Bultman and so on. Now the fascination with the emancipated adult age, as the “age of reason” which has guided much of modernity has dissolved for the westernized world; it has lost its appeal. 

Taking its place once again is much-despised mythos, the world of the primitive; in short, the childhood of mankind, the good savage with his ancestral animistic wisdom (which the sad homo technologicus envies, but without really knowing what it is). After criticizing and eliminating the “myth,” even the biblical one, as a remnant of the infantile age of humanity, and consequently desacralizing the ritual practices of the Church (which is accused of a magical and superstitious mentality), now an attempt is being made to replace the void produced (more than deforestation!) by resorting to the shamanic myths and rituals of the indigenous Amazon, to a pre-Christian repertoire, so that they become the new paradigm in which to water down the true wine of the uniqueness of Christ.

One cannot but notice that, from the psycho-cultural point of view, this is a classic phenomenon of post-modern infantile regression typical of the Western world, which no longer aspires to the adult age of enlightenment or positivistic memory. It’s too demanding or too boring to be an adult. Enough with pure and absolute reason, enough with the fatigue of the concept. Better to be carefree and instinctive like children, simple and spontaneous like them. Not the age of reason, but of dream and play. Too bad that this childish aspiration camouflages, behind the enchanting innocence of the puer, the deepest nihilism. Recall that the Nietzschean Superman, who decrees the end of the logos, has the appearance of a child; he is innocent in his playing (beyond good and evil) with the wheel of eternal return. The child mentioned in Friedrich Nietzsche’s novel, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, for those who do not know it, is Dionysus, “Dionysus against the Crucified”! The pagan myth replaces the Christian God. Today, what is childish fascinates, because it impersonates an innocent and irresponsible instinct that the adult cannot allow himself.

Let such diagnoses not seem excessive. Rather, note the strange and fatal attraction between Westerners with their decadent bad conscience, disappointed by the longed-for emancipated adult age (which soon turned into unwanted old age) and lost childhood, the land of gold, which cannot be found except in the pre-civilized tribal cultures, since we have also robbed our techno-children of their childhood. The myth of the uncontaminated, the neopagan naturalism of childlike innocence of the natives is an entirely western and post-modern regression. Where can we find salvation from hyper-technology? How can we escape an increasingly less manageable urbanization? How can we heal the wounds of increasingly fragmented relationships? After the attempts of the flower children, what is now being proposed is a cultural model which is ecologically more sustainable and as minimally neurotic as possible: life brought back to its beginnings, to bows and arrows, to shamanic healing rituals. A new beginning! Today everyone wants to have a new beginning, or another chance, as they say. The other possibility for westernized man is to turn to those who have remained at the beginning for millennia. This is the new myth presented by Instrumentum laboris, an excellent example of this post-modern infantile regression, a real complex or syndrome of European origin, even if it is cloaked in love for the peripheries and anti-Westernism. Like all regressions, this one too is not fully self-aware, otherwise it would be ashamed. Instead, it is said openly with impressive naivety, imagining it is doing prophetic work. But usually prophecy is “outdated.” The boring pages of the Instrumentum laboris are a smoothie blended with obvious things; it is suitable, in fact, for children (or perhaps for old people without teeth who are stammering again). 

I don’t think too many explanations are needed to understand that this aspiration to infantile neoteny, a kind of lack of distinction potentially open to any possibility of totipotent “self-determination” (for this reason representative of Nietzsche’s desire for power), goes magnificently well with a homologating culture that tries to promote the delay of sexual differentiation (a necessary phase for access to adulthood), remaining in prepubescent indeterminacy. Homo and trans ideology are related to this secret nostalgia for the fusional beginnings that bind one to the mother, a need instinctively felt by the post-modern western alogical and anomical world. The fact that it is now called “Mother Earth” (another beloved expression in the Instrumentum laboris, used six times compared to only one reference to God as father) and Mother Nature matters little.

Unfortunately, however, the Amazon described in the pre-synodal document is not real, except marginally: it is a construction of Western make-believe searching for substitute myths made to measure, after liquidating its own, especially the Christian narrative. In singing the wonders of the Amazonian territory, the document betrays an endless naivety. The writers should have reread at least a few pages of Leopardi on Mother Nature, so as not to be seduced in such a blatant way by the sirens of Rousseau.

Conclusions: Biodegradable Christianity

The objections I made to the postulates of Evangelii gaudium (especially to the first: the superiority of time over space) pointed to the theoretical weakness of that pastoral program, which already showed a certain tendency to remove the role of logos (also scriptural) in favor of reality (considered superior to the idea), renouncing in substance the mediation of theology in the name of the immediacy of practice (initiate processes). My criticism of Amoris laetitia focused on highlighting the reduction of what is specifically Christian (summed up in sacramental life) to universal morality, in line with the currents of theological liberalism previously mentioned.

It seems to me that the Instrumentum laboris for the upcoming synod on the Amazon represents a coherent maturation of these premises. The reduction of the sacraments to morals is now being replaced by the exaltation of indigenous “good living” (naturist morals, more than natural), the choice of the people as a “mythical category” and of the people’s myths in place of the biblical narrative. Above all, the preference given to the environment (territory-space) over history (time), also because indigenous peoples have no history and live in a cyclical time or (in some cases) are devoid of the concept of time. Yet we were told the opposite!

The most interesting aspect is that, in this document, things become clearer, compared to the previous ambiguous formulations that were supported by erroneous quotations of St. Thomas in order to be able to claim that everything was “completely Thomistic.” Here it is clear that St. Thomas has nothing to do with it, and as has been said, the Bible has nothing to do with it either. If there is still something Christian in this Instrumentum laboris, i.e., a few words and expressions here and there, there is no need to worry: it is undoubtedly biodegradable!

Dom Giulio Meiattini, OSB

Translation from the Italian by Diane Montagna of LifeSiteNews.

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