Friday, December 9, 2016

Conception of the Theotokos

Troparion (Tone 4) –

Today the bonds of barrenness are broken,

God has heard the prayers of Joachim and Anna.

He has promised them beyond all their hopes,

To bear the Maiden of God

By whom the Uncircumscribed One was born as mortal man,

Who commanded an angel to cry to Her:

Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with You!

Kontakion (Tone 4) –

Today the universe rejoices,

For Anna has conceived the Theotokos through God's dispensation,

For she has brought forth the One who is to bear the Ineffable Word!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

AI and the Apotheosis of Transhumanism : What rough beast slouches towards Bethlehem to be born

Note: A certain writer has done me the honor of linking to some of my recent articles. I will not presume to know the reasons he has occasionally found something worth a read while passing by my humble outpost along the arid highway of the West's cultural desert. I thank you sincerely.

Globalism promised an expansion of economic prosperity and international security by expanding the economic base. To do so, it migrated the manufacturing sector in the West to economies with lower labor costs. In exchange, it promised the rise of the service economy in the West.

The service economy came. However, the majority of jobs in the service economy have not filled the wage gap left by out sourced manufacturing. Proponents of Globalism and the new service economy in the West maintain the there is responsibility on the labor force to acquire skills for the service jobs that pay higher wages. The question is rarely asked if the service jobs that pay higher wages are either equal or greater in number than the lower wage service jobs, or if these higher paying service economy jobs are equal in opportunity to the outsourced manufacturing sector.

The premise of Globalism was sold as expanding economic prosperity/capital and international stability through development of smaller economies. The impetus underlying the promise to the public was the pursuit of a new socio-economic system to attain new profit margins and growth of corporate interests. Corporate interest has by and large succeeded, with many of world's largest corporations dwarfing the economies of nations and enjoying an almost neo-feudal influence in their nations of origin and their global footprint. This impetus has not waned and continues to drive the development of Globalism. For those with eyes to see, the next stage has already been set. Oddly, the data scientists and other tech workers who have benefited from the new economy in the West seem most obstructed in their view of things to come. Much of the new economy's higher paying jobs and the manufacturing sector outsourced to lower wage economies will come face-to-face with the same fate within the next decade or so: obsolescence

With an eye to reducing overhead costs, the same interests that have acted as the main facilitators of globalism and benefited from its development have invested heavily in the development of automated systems for manufacturing. Investing the upfront cost of refitting factories with automated systems capable of the same precision as human workers may be prohibitive when initially examined. However, companies are moving in this direction because the projected profit savings from laying off a human workforce makes the investment profitable in a relatively short period of time. To the best of my knowledge, there is no law in place prohibiting the development of automated manufacturing. Meanwhile, to assure healthy investor profits in the West, companies are increasingly funding or watching the development of AI, the premise being that the ability of micro processors and embedded systems to hold, compute, manipulate and extrapolate from large amounts of data and effectively learn in order to make decisions autonomous from a human programmer. We see this most readily in the media presentation of self driving cars, but there is equal movement to develop computer systems that can do much of the analytic and programming work that has been the source of economic security among data scientists and software engineers.

With the above, I am not suggesting a workforce Armageddon. I am suggesting, however, that globalism is governed by a process and facilitated by interests that do not, and perhaps cannot, factor in any human element into models for growth, other than an applied dollar amount representing overhead costs and potential savings. Yes, there will be jobs in the transition to automated systems and AI, however, like some form of economic Darwinism, the job pool will deplete and only the smaller subset with the skills and moment of opportunity to transition into the new smaller pool of available jobs will continue to be economically viable.

So, no, I am not suggesting an Armageddon. I do suggest, however, that in its seemingly necessary process of displacing any remnants of the pre-globalist world, Globalism produces, whether by accident or intention, dehumanization in so far as the human element must continually be extracted from the economy. It produces dehumanization by denying human beings the opportunity to work for their sustenance in a global economy that is increasingly cataloged, indexed, and thoroughly tracked and accounted. In the final analysis it may produce a supra-national technocratic feudalism, as corporate management and the search for infinite growth continues to whither away at the human element in society. It is, then, little wonder that we see more articles and think tanks advocating for a mandated livable income - presuming the current trajectory holds (and it will barring an act of divine intervention), the potential labor market will eventually be monopolized by robotics and AI to such a degree that a considerable portion of the citizenry (in the West and elsewhere) will lose access to jobs offering some form of economic subsistence. To avoid a massive humanitarian catastrophe, the likely course would be the gradual adoption that there must be mandated level of livable income to which every human being is entitled. Although this seems like it is pulled from the deepest trenches of science fiction, the concept is there. It is being discussed and extrapolated upon, and you will eventually see movements in otherwise sound nations to push such legislation up for referendum. It may be at the tale end of a generation, but it will eventually gain traction, depending upon whether or not the current trajectory is maintained.

In the next stage of Globalism, Christianity, unless it finds its bearings and can successfully orient itself to a paradigm that has no use for it and, in many respects, wants to see it and other traditional religions confined to a bygone historical epoch, will contend with Transhumanism. Transhumanism has already demonstrated its influence among technocratic elites, whether it is the quest to develop seemless integration of man and machine to the point of exponential increasing the knowledge base by plugging the brain to "the Cloud," or the growing acceptance among such elites that reality as we experience it is in fact a simulation and we will come to mass awareness of this as our own simulations eventually become indistinct from reality. Transhumanism has captured the religious imagination (or what is left of it) by promising the means to deliver transcendence (and perhaps immortality) in a very tangible way. It doesn't merely promise, it claims for itself to be the logical outcome of the technological development that came with the rise of Globalism. Its promises are based on the very means by which contemporary society functions. In this respect, Transhumanism lays claim to most every aspect of one's life in the contemporary age - all of these things and more are tools to achieve the aims of transcending humanity. These are not articles of faith, these are the technologies that have built and continue to redefine your reality. What Transhumanism offers is the Apotheosis of Man, brutal in its unabashed materialism, transcendent in its unyielding determination to subsume the human element into technology and thereby attain ontological godhood. The final proposal made by Transhumanism is godhood through triumph over biological limitations. Evolution itself can be accelerated beyond the limitations set by laws of nature and biology by fully integrating the human being into technology.

The new man indeed stands just beyond the horizon, and it must be readily understood is determined to set himself in place of God, using technology to not only overcome the limitations of human physiology, but indeed exponentially eclipse it. Transhumanism may or may not succeeded. Certainly, the rate at which technological innovation has transpired since World War II plays in favor of Transhumanism's proposition. Yet, whether or not Transhumanism ultimately succeeds or fails is irrelevant. Transhumanism has already ignited the fire in the minds of men. It has already successfully captured the imagination, re-imagining transcendence and ascension.

There is little to no indication the churches have any cognizance of currents of epochal change surrounding what is left of their cultural presence. Whether the Tiber, the Rhine, or the Bosporus, the waters are threatening to breach. Christianity initiated its courtship with modernity (after a long period of playing coy) under the impetus of "reading the signs of the times." One wonders if it was an ill advised case of gadium et spes. Reading the signs of the times is one thing, actually knowing their meaning and the direction to which they point is another matter. Churches failed their people when their leadership thought they could read the promises of Globalism and take it at face value. There was little understanding of the signs to which Globalism pointed. There is almost blissful ignorance of the indicators on the horizon. There is little concern that the long term trajectory involves a radical recasting of society, a total re-engineering of humanity, and perhaps even the death knell of the enlightenment ideals that have been so ingrained into the psyche of anyone of Western inheritance.

The churches have failed - this is perhaps is the only thing worth nailing to the door of any cathedral these days. They have failed. They failed because shepherds were utterly negligent in their duties towards their sheep. The have failed in demonstrating the discernment required in the later modern age to astutely survey the world around them. The only Christianity worth living, it seems, is a cross-denominational response that exalts the praxis of the Christian life above doctrinal distinctions that have preserved Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant identities. The old identities have failed, becoming so obsessed with lining their coffers and winning the inter-religious numbers game in the pews, the heart of Christian kergyma  and praxis was lost sight of until such a point that indeed most conscientious Christians can say with little fear speaking ill advisedly, "they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where to find Him."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Vetus Latina Workshop

If you're interested in the textual history of the Bible, and you've a particular interest in the history of the Old Latin (pre-Vulgate) text, and you can spare the cash for a last minute flight to Germany, then the Vetus Latina Workshop is for you!

This seems like it would be an informative two days. The process of producing the Vetus Latina Bible moves at a plodding pace. Hopefully the workshop indicates that academic interest is growing in this area.

I suspect we will never be able to piece together the complete Old Latin text of the Bible. It is often under appreciated how much the Vulgate swept away from the textual history of Latin Christianity's sacred text. Among the books typically labeled Apocrypha, the Old Latin text is preserved in I and II Maccabees, III and IV Esdras, Wisdom, and possibly Sirach as well. Otherwise, the Old Latin text (based upon the textual tradition contained in the LXX) was displaced by Jerome's text (for the mainline Old Testament books) and his revisions of the gospels and the epistles.

Counter-Reformation piety has fed the idea of reverencing Jerome's text (which in the case of Judith was a clear paraphrase, while other books he would continue to refine in the text of his commentaries). The reverence is perhaps unbalanced. The degree to which Jerome's text was a break with the previous Latin tradition and caused a shift in the religious expression of the Western Church over the course of centuries (it took centuries for what we know as the Vulgate to gain acceptance) is largely open to question. Massive textual changes typically correspond to seismic shifts in a religion. The few Old Latin books that survive in toto offer a limited glimpse into an earlier strata of the Western Church that is perhaps permanently buried beneath subsequent layers of development.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

ALLAN NIV Proclamation Bible back in print!

For those who missed it last year, R.L. Allan has a limited new stock on the NIV Proclamation Bible. You can find it on Allan's website here.

For reference, you can get a sense of the bible's contents and build via Mark Bertrand's review.

Nice edition all around. Keep in mind, time is running out for Allan to guarantee delivery by Christmas - see their home page for estimated order deadlines.

When churches fail

Recently, a comment was left on Fr. Chadwick's blog:
You feel that the Pope, as the chief representative of the world’s biggest Christian grouping, is in bed with the globalists but that the Orthodox and other communions such as your own are different; they stand in opposition to this universalism – because of their autocephalous nature, I presume. You instinctively mistrust what you perceive as man-made structures, which you feel have let us down. The Benedict Option, which in your view means individuals and small groups doing the right thing, is the only game in town.For me, the man Bergoglio and his eco-encyclicals will soon be dead and gone and I really can’t see future pontiffs pursuing a globalism which is inevitably the enemy of all religion; unless the conspiracy theorists have got it right and the Church is in the clutches of the same Masons who substituted a doppelganger for Pope Paul VI and scribbled the Second Eucharistic Prayer...
There is, to be sure, a lot to unpack here.

The person who made the comment sees the Roman Church's current flirtation with globalism/globalization as a temporary trend produced by Francis' pontificate. Otherwise, the institutional structure of the Roman Church is sure and true and will make the ideological pivot away from Francis' program upon his death. Reports to the contrary (that is, that the Roman Church has aligned itself with the scope and aims of globalism) are tenets of a conspiracy theory borne from an ingrained distrust of institutional structures.

I had considerable attachment to the anti-globalization currents that circulated in the Roman Church at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. I watched as Traditionalists and more liberal sectors in the Roman Church came to converge around what was then perceived to be a common cause in rejecting and resisting the looming changes to society and economy promised by fully initiated globalism. I was also there as the same movement was subject to attrition as the Roman Church's official policy towards globalization/globalism (among members of its teaching authorities) came into focus. For sometime, based upon comments made by Ratzinger in various forwards or essays, there was the expectation that the Roman Church would come to a critical stance towards globalization/globalism, echoing the force of Rerum Novarum.  On April 27, 2001, John Paul II released hi long awaited statement on globalism in the form of an address to the pontifical academy of social sciences. The document fell short of expectations among both Traditionalists and liberals. Globalization was described as a value neutral process (neither good nor bad). The socio-political-economic system proposed by globalism was conceived as inherently neutral - the nearly universal commerce of goods, services, money and people and the corresponding cultural impact were excluded from any moral judgment. John Paul II placed emphasis on the intentionality of the institutions and entities facilitating globalism, shifting moral responsibility to the human agent and avoiding any moral implications embedded within the system itself, running contrary to the tendency in both Traditionalist and more liberal schools of thought at the time.

The anti-globalization movement in the Roman Church found it had subsequently lost momentum. The position of being opposed to globalism and seeing moral culpability embedded in the system itself, independent of the human agents involved was thereby relegated to a fringe position, outside the approved confines of magisterial acceptance. Traditionalists and liberals were both of the position that globalism was a system operating on parameters designed to force the human agent to an immoral choice - it was impossible to choose the common good in globalism because in order to succeed globalism had to violate the common good - this was about the expansion of commerce, not the development of an integral human society.

Criticism of globalization continued, although it was increasingly academic in nature. There was cautious hope that Caritas in Veritate would issue a robust critique of globalism, following as it did upon the 2008 financial crisis. The hope was in no small part derived from Joseph Ratzinger's former criticisms of globalism/globalization while he was cardinal. The optimism was proven to be unfounded as the encyclical accepts globalism as normative and continues along the intellectual path forged by John Paul II and entertains no option for another way, assiduously avoiding the idea that Christians should reject globalism and instead work towards something else that can run current with and contrary to the dominant paradigm.

We cannot say the Francis' alignment with globalism is new or unique to him. Nor ought we take refuge in JP II Catholicism. Francis is following along John Paul II's trajectory. The historical record does not leave much room to interpret otherwise and only carefully applied amnesia can help us find any other conclusion. What is unique is that where previously neo-conservatives found the Roman Church open to globalism, Francis has successfully presented globalism as aligned with the concerns of liberals who opposed it a decade and a half ago.

It is advisable to avoid any allegations of conspiracy in this area, where incompetence can easily provide explanation. In virtue of the developments under Pope Pius XII, the Roman Church finds itself fully participating in globalism through its financial holdings. It is not a conspiracy that Catholicism offered an open avenue for full acceptance of globalism. Rather, it is the inability to step back from the institution's stakes in the venture to provide some prospective.  Much like the adoption of modernity at Vatican II, the Roman Church believes it can pick and choose what it wishes from globalism. Sixty years ago the dominant thought was that there was "good modernity" and "bad modernity" and the Roman Church could become thoroughly modern and safeguard itself from disruption be choosing the "good modernity." Soon thereafter it would be discovered that "modernity is modernity" and once you open an entire religion to that perception of reality, you effectively adopt modernity in toto. Similarly, the last three pontiffs have operated on the presumption that  Roman Catholicism could pick and choose what it likes from globalism.

Much like modernity, globalism is an all or nothing proposition. The difference, perhaps, is that in this instance we are living contemporaries with the engineers of globalism. We live among the entities and interests that have forged globalism and end point of society and economy it envisions - it is one in which the traditional religions of the West are increasingly obsolete and  are opposed to the new definition of humanity presented in this new system of things. It is a profound indication of failure on the part of ecclesiastical authorities that adherents (in large part) have so thoroughly succumbed to many of the greater cultural propositions embedded in globalism, both material and (even) spiritual. It is a thorough condemnation of the poor reasoning among ecclesiastical authorities that gambled (once again) on being able to mediate the impact of all encompassing worldview which seeks to displace any remnants of the former cultural paradigm and, in so far as it can, create a new referent for matters of religion and spirituality as part of a redefinition of humanity and culture.

Such failure is not exclusive to the Roman Church. Mainline Christianity shares in the same failings. Among the Orthodox churches, the Greek Church has most closely parodied Rome's attempt to synthesize Christianity and globalism. Mainline Anglicans, Lutherans, and Protestant churches are similarly enmeshed in the value propositions offered by globalism, seemingly unable or unwilling to extract themselves from the process. All of these churches share a common tendency to reject the possibility that failure could have occurred, either doubling down on their adoption of globalism as normative, or, where criticism of globalism still exists, accepting the possibility that their church could have made such a concession. The adoption of globalism and (among Western churches) the prior adoption of modernism, test notions of the indefectibility of the church. Although doctrinal statements may not necessarily be at issue (in so far as it is not a matter of mass apostasy), nevertheless, the notion that ecclesiastical authorities could willingly choose to adopt systems with embedded hostility to Christian dogma and anthropology, and furthermore persist in failing to recognize the impact such adoption has had upon their religion, brings most adherents to a crisis point in relation to their ecclesiastical structure. The perception that comes to mind seems to suggest that the ecclesia can err and err severely. The institutional structure is either bereft of the surety that the adherent expects for continued observance, or the surety persists, with culpability being assigned to external factors or select elements in the institutional structure (the passing of which will enable revitalization of the institution). More often then not, it is a cross denominational segment of believers who come together in their willingness to deviate from the institutional line and persist in the criticism of failure in leadership that has resulted Christianity being engulfed by a system that would displace it as it seeks to displace every remnant of the older of things.

This is not to say that future of Christianity involves a loss of its institutional make-up. That is simply not how religions work. It is to suggest that Christianity has no future worth pursuing if the cross-denominational criticism of globalism and modernity does not result in a cross-denominational movement to rediscover and re-implement the praxis of Christianity.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Refugium Peccatorum

Invariably, any post that does not proceed to denounce and trounce upon Catholicism in the name of the Orthodox Church succeeds in eliciting disappointment from all sides. Orthodox reader's leave (anonymous) comments to the effect that I've betrayed the glorious Russian-Greek-Arab-Whatever-Holy-Church-of-God-that-aptly-represents-the-court-of-heaven-which-is-all-Russian-Greek-Arab-Whatever. To which I say, folks, I'm Italian...we all know that heaven is composed of olive toned skin, oceans of Marinara, fields of Basil (and no damn Oregano in the Marinara), the heavenly banquet's main course is stinco di maiale and we all learn that cannoli was the mana in the desert.

Then I have Roman Catholics who appear either bewildered or frustrated that I am not looking to totally trash their (and my former) fact, they actually try egging me on!

From a confessional standpoint, any organized religious body has to insist upon its uniqueness, especially when there are other religious bodies making similar claims and demanding allegiance. From a scholarly standpoint (to which I am irrevocably oriented), such claims, though sociologically necessary, cannot be sustained under critical investigation, regardless how ferverently one emotes in defense of their veracity. This is most true in the case of Christianity in which we can trace enough its historical development to regard claims of a particular apostle founding a particular church and granting it any particular authority and thereby determine that these claims must be designated as faith claims at best. We can go further and say the same about any claims indicating that a particular cultural manifestation of Christianity is a universal norm for the religion. This to is a faith claim. We can, however, state that two particular cultural manifestations of Christianity, though mistaken in their claims to being the universal and original exemplar of the original model, derive (and yet differ from) a common point of origin, which itself was one branch among others vying to become Christianity's identity in late antiquity. This understanding should temper any temptations to trumpet supremacy over another.

Distinctions ought to be made between intellectual system and experiential system of a religion. Distinctions of particular points of theology, ecclesiology, or teaching are properly speaking matters of the mind...which in the most pejorative sense ought to make one pause to consider the possibility that many such distinctions are "in the head." The exist and thrive in the mind, but seldom if at all make any tangible impact or have any historical influence on a religion's experiential knowledge, which often times is based on a combination of unsystematic ritual texts that contemporary commentators strain to find systemic thought in, and folk customs that have been hallowed as "immemorial custom." It is entirely possible to meet Catholicism at the level of experiential knowledge while formally disagreeing with its intellectual propositions (variances in theology, doctrine or ecclesiology). Catholics can apply the same principle to the Orthodox Church as well. The failure to be able to do so is largely indicative in our increasing loss of the experiential knowledge of Christianity. Experiential knowledge of the religion as defined by a grounded (and structured) pursuit of a life based upon principles for living demonstrated in the sacred narrative with guidance by and formation within a community is, barring the exception of some monasteries, thoroughly displaced by hyper-individualistic piety and removed intellectual extrapolation. It is either indicative of a failure of Christianity, or a condemnation of our failure to speak the experiential language of religion.

It is wise to cast a leery eye on anyone who has bounced between Catholicism and Orthodoxy and carries with them either a) clear signs of lacking stability (in the Benedictine sense) or b) an overbearing "convert's zeal." Ultimately, any religious association (no matter what the level) requires stability to acquire the experiential knowledge mentioned above. Swaying as such invariably has a negative impact on one's experiential knowledge of both the church one leaves and the church one enters. It is hard to have an appreciative (not to mention mature) perspective on either if one's experiential knowledge was itself immature and only partially formed. "Convert's zeal," meanwhile, clouds one to the historical factors that have shaped one's religion and have often acquired a "sacred significance" that often obscures the objective fact of the events.

The greatest pitfall in which one can be entrapped is the fantasy that one can find ecclesiastical refuge in either Orthodoxy or Catholicism. At the risk of offending pious ears, neither is a paradise. Whatever problems you had in one will follow you to another, and you will have to be willing to exchange one set of baggage for another. Anyone who tells you the opposite is either a liar or provincial in their view, having lived only in a carefully created womb of devotion that takes pains to remove or deny evidence to the contrary that would challenge its strictly defined parameters.

There is no "refuge" for us weary sinners in an organized religion. How many times have we grown frustrated with our own coreligionists or religious authorities to prove this out? "Refuge," if it may be found, is found on the more personal level of the community one develops for pursuit of the praxis of the Christian life. For us non-monastics, this community increasingly violates old confessional boundaries, discarding barriers sustained by removed intellectual extrapolation in favor of the experiential knowledge born out of praxis. This is, indeed, the ancient Christian path to contemplative knowledge of God and true religion.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Perspective during ecclesiastical twilight

Commenting on the ecclesiastical politics of a church that is no longer one's own confession seems, audacious, or perhaps at best a misplaced concentration of one's efforts.

Yet, for how long this former ecclesiastical association comprised my religious experience, it seems only natural retain an amount of concern. The only hope is that the ideas expressed offer both objectivity and sobriety in their retrospective.

The recent revelation that four cardinals in the Roman Church have demanded Pope Francis respond in the affirmative or negative to a series of dubia raised in response to the teaching expounded in Amoris Laetitia, the product of the controversial twin synods on the family in Rome, has given some strength to more conservative or traditional leaning quarters that have spent the better part of the last 3 years frustrated by the direction of this pontificate and the sense that Francis has a set agenda to both deconstruct the Latin tradition and align the Roman Church with contemporary Western globalism. Supporters of Francis, comprised largely of persons and groups who felt disaffected during the pontificate of John Paul II, and positively dejected during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, have predictably rallied behind the current pontiff. The caveat here is that this circling of the wagons is only present among sectors that actually think their could be some traction behind the dubia raised by the four cardinals - in point of fact, it seems the majority of "Pope Francis Catholics" think this is something more appropriate to conspiracy theories, as they pay it little attention.

Ascribing any particular intention to a Bishop of Rome is always tricky business. The pontificate of Benedict XVI is prime example. His detractors automatically dismissed most of his teaching and liturgics. His champions, meanwhile, read their own cause into his often non-ideological statements and teachings. A fine example of this was demonstrated by Traditionalists after the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum. By conveniently failing to note that the Bishop of Rome refused to celebrate the liturgy of the early modern liturgical books, and cherry picking various statements made regarding the prior missal and Pauline Missal, Traditionalists were able to frame Ratzinger's liturgics as in alignment with their own, frequently omitting his basic orientation towards the Pauline missal: 1) that, apart from a few minor criticisms, he was thankful for the Missal of Paul VI, 2) whatever reform of the reform he had in mind, he envisioned the Missal of Paul VI as the basis upon which the Roman liturgy resists, 3) liturgical reform was needed.

It was easy enough for Joseph Ratzinger's teaching to be lost on an entire religious association. In part, the dawn of the new media was to blame. Looking back at John Paul II's papacy, whatever tumult that existed as a result of the Second Vatican Council, there was little in the way of distortion of his teaching. Truth be told, the propagation of his teaching was heavily vetted, presented by persons and agencies that had established credentials making them precisely sufficient to detail theological content and ecclesiastical discipline. In large part, John Paul's was the last papacy guarded by conventional channels. By comparison, Benedict's papacy coincided with the meteoric rise of "new media." Credentials in matters theological or ecclesiological were increasingly trumped by "web presence." It soon became apparent that voices with little credibility in such matters were gaining formative influence on public perception. The result was a "lost" papacy, a papacy that had been so misrepresented and distorted (even by the pontiff's alleged devotees) that the common perception of its teaching, discipline and praxis had less to do with actual content and more to do with the innermost projections of numerous ideological wings in the Roman Church. The greater tragedy is that this was very much a "teaching papacy," Benedict was an anti-ultramontanist pope who put the focus not on the cultus of the Papacy (a phenomenon that only came into focus with the media image of Pius XII), but the content of the Tradition.

After the disastrous impact of the "new" media on the collective perception of Benedict's papacy, it is necessary to ask if Francis' papacy is undergoing a similar distortion.

To be true, Francis' papacy is the return of the papal cultus. He stands in line with Pius XII, John XXIII, and John Paul II who brought the ecclesiology of Pius X to its logical fulfillment, coalescing an entire tradition around one man. In truth, not since Pius XII has history seen a Bishop of Rome with a strident authoritarian streak borne from a conviction that in his will resides the deposit of an entire tradition. Yet, he is in full continuity with recent "tradition." The difference may be that not since the first ten years of John Paul II's papacy have we seen a pope of Rome so strongly bend the Roman Church into a direction he perceives to be not only correct, but divine.

The dubia raised by the four cardinals has merit. Amoris Laetitia is deliberately ambiguous in certain passages. Although, it strikes me as somewhat incredulous that the same people questioning the ambiguity of the document's teaching are also the same people who hold to the teaching authority of the Second Vatican Council. In that instance, one has content with a collection of documents whose main source of notoriety is the nearly all pervasive ambiguity in its documents. That some of these seem cardinals previously advocated for Benedict's theory of a hermeneutic of continuity and a hermeneutic of rupture only underscores the point. Ascribing to a "hermeneutic of continuity" implicitly acknowledges that one accepts as authoritative documents or teaching that are openly ambiguous. This is not to dismiss the questions surrounding the more controversial passages of Amoris Laetitia - they exist and will persist until such time as a successor to the document is published that either a) rejects the teaching; b) reaffirms the teaching; or c) develops the teaching in another direction. Rather, it is to be asked where is the consistency? Where is the similar push to definitively resolve the ambiguities in the documents of Vatican II be either explicit "yes" or "no," or through an official process of rebuking the teaching? We simply do not find a similar initiative among any members of the Roman hierarchy. Amoris Laetitia is the product of worldview that was fundamentally accepted by both liberals and conservatives at the close of Vatican II - the only distinction pertains to how said worldview should be implemented.

The dubia demonstrates the very real divide among the Roman hierarchy, a divide which, in many respects, is the result of our all too human nature. The divide in the Roman hierarchy aptly mimics the divide in Western Culture as a whole. There is a fairly consistent acceptance of the contemporary Western paradigm. The apparent disagreement pertains to how much the Roman Church should reflect the trends in the West. This said, we must be cautious before simply lading the motif of cultural assimilation on to Pope Francis' intentions, not only with regard to Amoris Laetatia, but indeed his whole pontificate. Like his recent predecessors, Francis straddles the line between modernity and the Tradition - he is a product of his context. And like his predecessors, he is attempting to do what he believes is right for his church. Francis is genuine in his belief that in such areas as divorce and remarriage or cohabitation, the Roman Church is often getting distracted from its main purpose and getting bogged down in the details. To some extent, he has a point. The Christian kergyma rests on the person of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection and our redemption. The Church, whether Catholic or Orthodox, only has credibility in so far as it preaches and constantly points towards Christ. More so than discarding Roman teaching on divorce and the indissolubility of marriage, the source of controversy, it seems to me, is the degree to which Francis' apparent agenda is influenced more by the pressures of contemporary Western norms versus a radical rediscovery of Christ over and against ecclesiastical conventions. There is, to be sure, a noticeable skepticism that Francis is preaching a radical rediscovery of Christ so much as he is assimilating the norms of the contemporary West. Praising such figures as Emma Bonino does nothing to quell the skepticism. Francis' proposition for a radically rediscovery of Christ seems accompanied by politics and the desire to make such politics hospitable to Christian discipline even when their proposition seemingly defies Christianity. This said, Francis would not be the only pope to have embraced one or another political agenda and attempt to sublimate Christianity into it. One may ask, wouldn't a radical rediscovery of Christ be accompanied by his own intense eschatology and apocalypticism?

To question Francis' sincerity (as pertains preaching the radical rediscovery of Christ) seems impudent. Questioning the prudence of his pontificate, however, is legitimate. The Bishop of Rome officially enjoys a level of authoritative influence over his church that is unparalleled by any other Patriarch. He defines dogma and due to the exchange between adherent and religious authority, any Bishop of Rome exercises a formative role on the collective psychology of Roman Catholicism. This influence produces a perilous situation given the way a religion the size of Catholicism works. The distinctions Francis makes and the foundational shift he would like to see in his church to some degree depend upon subtlety and discernment that are not possible on a large corporate level, being better suited to individual or more communal contexts. Of course, religion in general does not rest on subtleties and discernment. The exchange between religion and the adherent is based largely on the religion's promise (by either ritual or doctrine) to provide the adherent with stability and immutability where the rest of the elements of his or her existence afford no such promise. The moment a religion entertains mutability and transience (largely through confusion of ritual or doctrine), it begins to elicit questions surrounding its verity and surety in the minds of its adherents, as it no longer delivers on two of the main promises of religion (implicitly, the third most common promise of religion, that of transcendence or eternal life, comes into question as a result). To this extent, Francis' staunch insistence on the Pauline liturgy and his campaign to put a clamp on the "reform of the reform" is understandable - the Roman liturgy needs to enter a period of stability in order that it may cease being treated as a "creative product" and accepted as a "received liturgy" to which the local and universal church assents.

Corporate dynamics considered, there is another matter of Francis' personality, which tends to summarily dismiss or trivialize people who do not completely assent to the direction in which he is trying to steer the Roman Church. Francis does not dismiss ideas - he dismisses people, and this trait ought to be a cause for concern among alleged liberals with a keen eye on the history of the Roman Church in society. His recent response to the four cardinals who submitted the dubia in the pages of Avvenire illustrates this point, as does his dismissal of the motivations of persons who prefer the liturgy of 1962 over the Pauline liturgy. Francis spends scant time engaging the ideas in either instance, rather, he out of hand paints the people in terms that are designed to make his audience question their psychological make-up. Were we to view this from the perspective of sociological and political categorization, we would not hesitate to state that Francis' approach is in line with the intimidation methods utilized by totalitarian states. It would be wise to give Francis the benefit of the doubt in so far as it would be imprudent to affirm that he intends to be totalitarian with his governance of the Roman Church. However, one cannot ignore parallels, if only to perhaps make a man aware of them who, normally, we presume, would denounce the same tendencies.

If there is a universal perspective that emerges with every new pontificate, it is that the pope of Rome needs to come to some understanding of the Roman Church's context: its internal divisions, an honest assessment of Vatican II's legacy, and the cultural forces weighing upon it (leaving aside recent dogmatic definitions that are disputable in their foundations). Benedict was probably the best suited for the task and most clearly saw the issues for what they were - he was summarily ignored by his opponents and distorted by his champions. Francis has only deepened the fissures threatening the foundations of Roman Catholicism by refusing to make an honest assessment of these factors and refusing to come to an understanding of the ideas involved. This is only to the greater detriment of the Catholic Tradition. The ideas involved (or, rather, the ideas that have evolved in more recent decades - added by the rise of the new media and lack of vetting among those propagating ideas) often lack rationality and, more importantly, historical perspective.