Friday, November 8, 2013

I'd bet that Pope Francis really does know what he's talking about...

On some self proclaimed Traditional Roman Catholic Thoughts blog, yet another self proclaimed Traditional Roman Catholic has deemed himself competent to judge the Holy Father. This time, taking the Successor of Saint Peter to task for telling us not to proselytize.
We’ve heard that Proselytism is “solemn non-sense”. We have also heard that we are to go out and promote the New Evangelization. We are told that we are to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to evangelize our brothers and sisters, both within the Catholic faith and without, but, when we do preach the faith, strongly and firmly, we are told that we might offend others and we should choose our words wiser. We can’t be “touting our faith as better”. So, what is going on here? First, I want to explain the difference between Proselytism and Evangelization.
Let’s define the terms.
Proselytize: to try to persuade people to join a religion, cause, or group.
Evangelize: to try to convert (a group or area) to a different religion (especially Christianity).
What is the difference? Absolutely nothing. Both have the same definition, really. Proselytizing is the same as Evangelizing. I don’t care if proselytizing has “taken on a negative connotation” these days. Maybe, instead of trying to sound hip and cool with the rest of the world, we teach the rest of the world what a word actually means, you know, kind of like we are attempting to do with marriage. Marriage has taken on a negative connotation these days, maybe we should forego this word? Both these words attempt to persuade/convert to a different religion, and in this case, that religion is Catholicism, you know, the religion that Jesus Christ started (but don’t tell anyone, it might offend them).
This is something that you can trace back from a secular (historical) view. Protestantism started with Martin Luther, formally breaking with the Catholic Church, and starting his own church. From there, others broke with Martin Luther and founded their own church. Kind of get the picture? Proselytism and evangelization are in essence, the same. exact. thing. Both attempt the same, that is to bring the person to your faith, with the intent that they convert.
Really, there is no point to evangelize if the intent is the person stay where they are. Faith requires conversion, even if you are already a part of that faith. We need to continually convert because we are not perfect.
I say, go forth and proselytize while you evangelize. And if the New Evangelization leaves out that of proselytizing, the actual intent of bringing said person into the Catholic faith, then count me out. I’ll stick with the Old Evangelization.
My sainted grandfather used to say that Luther got rid of one pope and made millions of them. It seems now that Traditional Catholicism is making a lot of popes, folks who claim that they have some insight into what Catholicism really is that the Keeper of the Keys isn't getting. This is a sort of gnostic intuition -- the idea that we can have any sure knowledge of the Faith apart from the Apostolic See is at best ignorant, and at worst pure hubris.  It was to the apostles that Jesus said, "He who hears you hears me" (Lk 10:16), which Popes as recent as Pius XII teach is relevant to the Church's magisterium: 
Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine.
We as Catholics (even the Traditional Roman Catholics) have an obligation to listen attentively to the Successor of Peter, and to search for what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church. To be dismissive of the Holy Father is not reconcilable with the Catholic faith. As St Ambrose wrote:
"It is to Peter that he says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church'. Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church is, no death is there, but life eternal" (Commentary on Twelve Psalms, 40.30)
Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia.  

So what is Francis telling us? First let us clear up the confusion that Our Traditional Roman Catholic has caused.

He give us two definitions, proselytize and evangelize, and then claims:
What is the difference? Absolutely nothing. Both have the same definition, really. Proselytizing is the same as Evangelizing.
Now I think it worthwhile to point out that the interview between Scalfari and Francis was done in Italian. In Italian, the strong sense of proselitismo is the work of making followers, and a proselito is any new follower of a doctrine or a religion or a political party.  Furthermore, the modern Italian sense has strong political implications.

The strong sense of evangelizzare in modern Italian is still primarily about the proclamation of the Gospel: convertire alla fede cristiana con la predicazione del Vangelo; ammaestrare alle verità del Vangelo  (to convert to the Christian faith through preaching the Gospel; to teach the truths of the Gospel).  This is something quite different in both intent and scope from merely making followers, from convincing others to follow you.

To get the heart of these words, presuming that Holy Father Francis really uses the words deliberately and with clarity, we should first look at what they have meant in Christian theology, as both are derived directly from Scripture and with very different meanings.

In the OT, as well as the NT, a proselyte (προσήλυτος/προσήλυτοι) is a convert to Judaism. From Lev 16:11, 17:12, 18;26, Deut 29:10, and Num 9:14 the προσήλυτος was the stranger who dwelt among the Jews and accepted their manner of living. The same sense is found in Acts 2:11, where the distinction is made between Jews and proselytes, among all the other nationalities. From the historical Christian perspective, a proselyte is not one who has accepted Christianity, but Judaism.

But in both the OT and the NT, evangelize is very specific to preaching the Gospel. Christ went "preaching and spreading the good news of God’s kingdom" (prædicans et evangelizans regnum Dei) (Lk 8:1). Through the NT, the work of the evangelist is specifically to proclaim the Gospel.

I would suggest that we give the Holy Father the benefit of the doubt that he really does know what he is talking about when he distinguished between evangelizing and proselytizing. His admonition that, "
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us...", is yet another way of stressing the importance of relationship, which seems to be an overarching theme in his papacy.
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. - See more at:
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. - See more at:
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. - See more at:
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. - See more at:

Our Traditional Roman Catholic is all a'bothered as if the Holy Father is telling us to not evangelize to bring people to Christ. He inexplicably demands:
I say, go forth and proselytize while you evangelize. And if the New Evangelization leaves out that of proselytizing, the actual intent of bringing said person into the Catholic faith, then count me out. I’ll stick with the Old Evangelization.
I have no idea what he means by the Old Evangelization --- the "New Evanglization" is to bring the Gospel back to those supposedly Christianized countries that are now quite post Christian and even anti-Christian.  As Holy Father Francis himself proclaims:
the expression “new evangelization” sheds light on the ever clearer awareness that countries with an ancient Christian tradition also need a renewed proclamation of the Gospel to lead them back to an encounter with Christ which truly transforms life and is not superficial, marked by routine.   (Address, 13 Jun 2013)
And it is clear that Francis is not intent on bringing all into the Church. There is no need for concern here, but rather we should all pay close attention to what Francis really is saying: the point is not to make proselytes out of people, merely converting them to our side, but sharing with them the faith of Jesus Christ.

How the New Evangelization Works

Candidly, I wonder if Our Traditional Roman Catholic's "Old Evangelization" can even produce fruit. The Church has lost her moral stature with the bad handling of priests who committed crimes against children, as well as a whole litany of other sins committed by churchmen and Catholics, both real and imagined, that cast the Church is disrepute in the eyes of the world.  Love and relationship are more than just strategies for evangelization -- if reduced to strategies, then they are nothing more than opportunistic proselytism. Rather, evangelization flows from the encounter with Christ, and is a sharing with others in that relationship by entering into real relationship (that whole "We need to get to know each other, listen to each other" thing).

Pope Francis understands this. As he said in his June address:

Techniques of evangelization are important, of course, but even the most perfect ones could not replace the gentle action of the One who is the principal agent of evangelization: the Holy Spirit. We must let ourselves be guided by him, even if he leads us on new roads; we must allow him to transform us, so that in our proclamation, our words are always accompanied by a simple life, a spirit of prayer, charity to all, especially the lowly and the poor, humility and detachment from ourselves, and holiness of life. Only in this way will they be truly fertile.
But what Francis wrote is not really persuasive.  What is persuasive, what opens hearts to hear the Gospel, what creates immense opportunities for evangelical discussions, is what he does.  The internet is suddenly ablaze with comment from atheists who are seeing something in Francis:

That's the New Evangelization. That's what's going to open hearts to Christ. Listen to Francis, but as importantly, watch and imitate him.



  1. Hi Steven!

    I was a bit taken aback at seeing that you wrote about my blog, after all, I did notice that you commented on my post. I have comment moderation on, and I approved your comment, because, even though you disagreed, your tone was incredibly charitable and you raised some valid points that would allow for discussion.

    After reading this, you raise even more points that will allow me to go back in prayer, and ponder. Even though I am a Traditional Roman Catholic (self-appointed apparently), I spend much time in prayer reflecting on these things. In fact I posted before about some things Pope Francis has said, and have asked those that read to correct me, which you have done.

    I would like to point out though, that after reading your opening paragraph, I feel as though you were not only attacking me, but those with the similar viewpoints. The comment you left on my blog was charitable, but when you open with an ad hominen attack like that, you are lucky that I even spent the time to bother reading what your point(s) were.

    We are all Catholics, and we are all at different stages in the journey to Heaven (God-willing we all make it). No path is the same. Similarities there are, yes, but, I'd be hard pressed to find two that are alike.

    I would also like to point out, that having a disagreement with someone does not equate to judging. No where throughout this post did I go and "judge" Pope Francis. I simply disagreed with what he said. After all, this isn't Church teaching we are disagreeing on, but a matter of methods of Evangelizing. If my intent was unclear, I apologize for that.

    God bless,

    1. Hi Jeff: I appreciate your comment and words of correction. I did of course use your own blog as a starting point for this reflection because I saw it as both typical of a certain way of approaching what Pope Francis is telling us (with a decidedly critical and even dismissive tone), and an erroneous understanding of what he is saying which then becomes the occasion to defend Orthodoxy against the Holy See.

      In both what you originally wrote that I responded to, and in my own writings, there is a certain unavoidable conflation of ideas when writing in reaction to things we find troublesome. You for instance seem to be implying that the Holy Father is NOT telling us to evangelize or uphold the Church's orthodoxy, or that the New Evangelization is deficient (hence you want to stick to the Old Evangelization), which turn out to be false positions that are not even remotely being said by Pope Francis. I, in a somewhat similar manner, take your own words as indicative of a wider spread phenomenon rippling through Traditional Roman Catholic circles of adverse judgments against the Holy See. I did use your identification as emblematic of the problem, and though I deliberately avoided calling you out by name, I certainly understand why you take this as a personal attack. It was not intended so, more as a rhetorical device, but I accept the remonstration.

      I cannot blithely accept that you did not write your own essay without judgment of the Pope, as much as you might protest that point. It is not only the teachings of the Holy See, but the moral and admonitory authority of the Holy See that we as Catholics ought to uphold. Especially, it seems to me, as we publicly voice criticisms on blogs to our audiences. Consider carefully what the Fourth Council of Constantinople writes, regarding even secular rulers and ecumenical councils presuming to hold the person of the Pope in much more severe cases of supposed actual crimes or theological controversies, which should give us lay folk serious cause to be much more temperate and reticent in our petty criticisms or presumptions that we somehow know better than the Keeper of the Keys:

    2. “The word of God that Christ spoke to his holy apostles and disciples: “Who receives you, receives me” (Mt 10:40); and “whoever rejects you, rejects me” (Lk 10:16), we believe was addressed also to all those who, and after them and in accordance with them, became supreme pontiffs and leaders of the pastors in the Catholic Church. We , therefore, determine that absolutely none of the ruling powers of this world shall dishonor or attempt to remove from his throne any of those who occupy patriarchal sees, but they must judge them worthy of all reverence and honor; especially the most holy Pope of elder Rome ; and also in order of succession, the patriarch of Constantinople, then indeed those of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem; no one, however, is to compose or prepare any writings and discourses against the most holy pope of elder Rome under the pretext, as it were, of supposed crimes committed; something Photius did recently and Dioscorus much earlier.

      But whoever, like Photius and Dioscorus, will manifest such insolence and audacity that he promotes injuries of some sort against the See of Peter, the chief of the apostles, whether in writing or not , let him receive a condemnation equal to and identical to theirs.

      …But if an ecumenical council is assembled and there appears some doubt or controversy even with regard to the holy church of the Romans, it is necessary, with great respect and proper reverence, to investigate the point of controversy and procure a solution, either by helping or by obtaining help, yet not by audaciously pronouncing a judgment against the supreme pontiff of elder Rome .

      Fourth Council of Constantinople (Eighth Ecumenical Council) Oct 5, 869 – Feb 28, 870. Denzinger 661, 662, 664.

      From the above, it seems there is a strong tendency among traditional Catholics to "to compose or prepare any writings and discourses against the most holy pope of elder Rome" which "[promote] injuries of some sort against the See of Peter" and to not show "great respect and proper reverence" but rather "audaciously pronouncing a judgment against the supreme pontiff of elder Rome". If the Eighth Ecumenical Council holds that, how much do you really think you can push that boundary?

      And to your point about methods of evangelization, that is something that I specifically commented on in my last section. It seems we really ought to take our cues from the Successor of Peter -- assuming that we trust in the Holy Spirit to continue to guide the Church through the Petrine Office. Pope Francis is indeed opening new doors to evangelization for us all, precisely because of his example and message of relationship and confronting both the believer and the unbeliever with the transformation that happens through encounter with Christ.

      I applaud your earnestness, and your orthodoxy, and your desire to conform yourself to the Church. I am most serious in cautioning against some private or partial judgment against the Holy See, or any presumption that the Holy Father is not properly leading the Church toward the fullness of the truth and into ever deeper union with Christ. Simply put, that cannot end well.

      God bless,


  2. You have left me much to ponder. Thank you for actually taking the time to explain, reasonably and logically, so that I can learn.