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Joshua Hren

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How the condemned heresy of modernism has infiltrated the Amazon Synod

Joshua Hren

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September 5, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — In Pascendi Dominici Gregis, Pope Saint Piux X proclaims the impossibility of approving those Catholic publications that, “inspired by unsound novelty,” envisage and propagate “a new order of Christian life” or “new directions of the Church.” It is bewilderingly ironic that publications proceeding from cavalier novelties have for some time been approved and even authored by the Church’s highest authorities. The most recent synod of surprises promises us that the Amazon “bursts” into the life of the Church like a “new entity”; this “epiphanic place” is a “source of divine revelation.” With these pseudo-mystical assurances, the document does more than court confusion: it crosses the border into blasphemy. Although the modernist character of such pronunciations is plain, the Instrumentum laboris mingles new herbs of error into its heretical concoctions, suggesting a diabolical inversion of Christ’s depiction of the scribes “instructed in the kingdom of heaven” as “like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old” (Matt. 15:32).

The modernist believer holds the existence of a divine reality as “an established and certain fact.” He founds this fact, however, on “the experience of the individual,” for it is only “the existence of a real experience” that guarantees the “truth” of the individual’s faith. For the modernist, whenever Christianity lacks “vital immanence” felt as a “religious sentiment,” it steps down the rungs of the “authenticity” ladder, making way for any comers animated by that energetic experience — regardless of their formal religious credos and rituals. Saint Pius teases out the perilous consequences of this premise. So long as it can embody experiential vitality, “every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true.” The Instrumentum laboris demonstrates a heretical hermeneutic of continuity when we are told that Amazonians live in “intercommunication” with the whole cosmos; when we are told the “Amazonian community” embodies, in its relation to nature, a “cosmo-vision” that corresponds with “Francis’s ‘mantra’: ‘everything is connected’; their “ancestral wisdom,” which “integrates human beings with nature, becomes a point of reference for the construction of a new paradigm of integral ecology.” When the authors of the Instrumentum laboris tell us these things, they are simply asserting that the Amazonians are spiritually superior on account of their “vital immanence”; the pulsating experiences of these incredible individuals set them apart, regardless of their credo or orthodoxy. Thus, “the native people of the Amazon have much to teach us.” Although the document doesn’t quite stop shy of saying the Catholic Church has anything to teach the native people of the Amazon, the spirit of the Instrumentum laboris enunciates indigenous immanence at the expense of the deposit of faith.

All of the aforementioned is merely old-school modernism bottled in exotic vessels. The new brew of the Amazon Synod has as one of its distinctive ingredients ambiance of place, which the Instrumentum laboris adds to the familiar valorization of human vitality as the source of valid values. The Amazon is apparently distinct from other geographical locations in that it is a “reality full of life and wisdom.” Because of this, the Church must hear the “cry, of both the people and the earth.” Still more, the document tells us, in a passage that extends the synod’s misguidances beyond the human and into the whole of creation: “the [Amazonian] land is a theological place by which the faith is lived. It is also a unique source of God’s revelation.”

Saint Pius X reminds us that for the modernists, “to live is a proof of truth, since for them life and truth are one and the same thing.” Now, what does it mean to live? What does vital immanence actually mean, for the modernists? Pope Pius admits that “it is not easy to determine” an answer to this question because their own opinions on the subject differ. On the one hand, in a manner he calls “free from reproach,” some simply mean that God is more intimately present in man than even man himself is. This understanding echoes St. Augustine’s searching questions at the start of his Confessions: “Do heaven and earth contain you because you have filled them? Or do you fill them and overflow them because they do not contain you? Where do you put the overflow of yourself after heaven and earth are filled? ... Why do I request you to come to me when, unless you were within me, I would have no being at all?” On the other hand, Saint Pius says, other advocates of immanence “hold that the divine action is one with the action of nature,” a postulate that, if it were true, would destroy the supernatural order. To this number we can add all who advocate a “theological place.” Language such as this, which “savors of pantheism,” seems to be finding its full flowering in the Amazon Synod.

It would seem, given the document’s pantheistic savor, that speaking of the “Amazonian face of the Church” would smack, to the minds that made it, of “anthropomorphism.” After all, the Church’s Amazonian countenance “finds its expression in the plurality of its peoples, cultures and ecosystems.” It would seem that these ecosystems should be able to express themselves without being absorbed into the all too human metaphor of the face. But the document betrays, via the “Amazonian face” metaphor that has furrowed so many of our brows, the internal inconsistencies that emerge once modernists assume that both individuals and places are vehicles of vital immanence. Do not the Amazonians purportedly derive their vitality from the Amazon? Surely, the Amazon does not derive its grandeur from the fervent spiritual experiences of its inhabitants! Does it just so happen that in the Amazon, both place and people possess palpable immanence?

One might, with Francis, respond by professing that “everything is connected,” Still, one of the most salutary marks of that Western world that the Instrumentum laboris indiscriminately denigrates (“the life of the Amazonian community has not yet been influenced by Western civilization”) is the search for particular natures — that movement by which the mind understands things not merely in relation to other things, but in and of themselves. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas inherited this pursuit of essences from Plato and Aristotle, thus allowing for clear delineation between the “divine action” and the “action of nature,” a delineation that the modernists seek to erase, as evidenced in the document’s insistence that the Amazon is a “unique source of God’s revelation.”

It is important to distinguish this philosophical pursuit of the distinct natures of things from modern man’s inclination to mentally separate the Great Chain of Being into compartmentalized “objects” that can be manipulated and mastered at will. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis rightly notes that modern man has “taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional ... technocratic paradigm[.] ... It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation. Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves.” Those who live outside the technocratic paradigm approach nature as receivers, gaining from creation in accordance with its nature. Modern man disregards all dimensions of an object that falls outside the technocratic paradigm’s ambition to maximize extraction from that which is mastered so that all of creation becomes, as it were, mere material standing reserve for man’s consumption and use.

A corrective to this reductive vision is to be found not in valorization of nature and place as having a pseudo-mystical character, but rather in real tutelage under of what St. Augustine called “the book of nature.” Augustine makes its existence and evidential character very clear. He goes so far as to say that the book of nature, rightly understood, can correct error and blasphemy: “But had you begun with looking on the book of nature as the production of the Creator of all, and had you believed that your own finite understanding might be at fault wherever anything seemed to be amiss ... you would not have been led into these impious follies and blasphemous fancies.” But when Augustine speaks of “the book of nature,” he does not locate its pages in the not yet harvested trees of the Amazonian rainforest; nature is universal. Thus, John Senior, from even Kansas (“the non-epiphanic state”), can call us to look up at the stars that bespeak the grandeur of God; thus, Dante can educate our eyes, too used to seeing the universe as disenchanted and mechanistic, to see the cosmos as caused and moved by love.

Of course, sanctifying grace is of a wholly other order — an order that transcends nature. And the Amazonians, just like the tea farmer in China and the Amazon.com employee living in a Seattle high-rise, have the natural law written on their hearts. It is bizarre that one needs to even make such basic clarifications, but ambiguity follows modernism around like a New Age aura.

In casting doubt upon the revelatory qualities of a particular place, it is essential that we do not fall into a reactionary error that would see all spaces as equally leveled, juxtaposed absolutely with the transcendence of God. For the Trinitarian God has made sacred many, many places throughout salvation history — from the burning bush on mount Horeb to the temple of Jerusalem. St. Helena followed this sense of sacred places when she traveled to the Holy Land and had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre erected over the tomb where the body of Our Lord lay dead, anointed with spices before his body defied decay. Guadalupe. Lourdes. Of course, each of the aforementioned places received its sacral character from transcendent acts of God. In the Amazon Synod’s Instrumentum laboris, the Amazon receives its sacral character because it is paradigmatic for a “new ecology”; because the inhabitants are characterized by their “sacred sense of the land,” they can be entrusted with “transmission of the ancestral experience of cosmologies, of spiritualities and theologies of the indigenous peoples.”

In the face of this “new ecology,” this poisoned flora of modernism’s new frontiers, let us turn to the blessed countenance of Our Lady of Fatima, who appeared to the three shepherd children at the Cova da Iria and whose Son made the sun spin through the storm clouds. O, Mother of the Word Incarnate, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

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