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Viganó’s critics and the end of history

Presentism and historicism are readily evident in the thinking of far too many Catholics, to the point that the Christian faith has become merely a means to change our social and economic structures.

(Image: Devin Avery | Unsplash.com)

There has been much commentary on Archbishop Carlo Viganó’s recent bombshell letters, including from many who have strongly criticized both Archbishop Viganó’s motives and the contents of his testimonies. My interest here is to draw out a more explicit assumption, or first principle, at work in many of the writings of Vigano’s critics. This is not a critique of Pope Francis, but an attempt to show that those who have sought to undermine Vigano’s account do so by portraying Francis’ papacy through a lens that is imitative of Francis Fukayama’s “End of History” dialectic.

Two recent criticisms set the stage for this argument. The first comes from a comment made on Twitter by Villanova professor Massimo Faggioli:

I am afraid alt-right figures are using this—Vigano and not only—as an opportunity to destroy the institution in order to gain control of it. Turn bishops against one another. Get the laity to mistrust the leaders and work for their demise.

A second was given by the English priest James Alison. Alison considers what the Catholic Church can do in light of the recent sex abuse scandals, most especially within the context of Pope Francis’ pontificate. Writing in the Tablet, Alison ponders:

What is to be done, and what is quietly happening? In my view the first thing is for the laity to be encouraged in their fast growing majority acceptance of being gay as a normal part of life. This, despite fierce resistance from elements of the clerical closet. Pope Francis’ reported conversation with Juan Carlos Cruz (a gay man abused in his youth by the Chilean priest, Fr Karadima) is a gem in this area: “Look Juan Carlos, the pope loves you this way. God made you like this and he loves you”. This remark led to much spluttering and explaining away from those who realize that the moment you say “God made you like this” then the game is up as regards the “intrinsic evil” of the acts.

Nevertheless, it is only when straightforward, and obviously true, Christian messaging like Francis’ becomes normal among the laity themselves that honesty can become the norm among the clergy. (Emphasis added)

Faggioli and Alison’s comments (as well as similar remarks given by Jesuit priests Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Fr. James Martin) display an attempt to understand the Francis Pontificate that is remarkably akin to Francis Fukayama’s “End of History” narrative. For Fukayama, the notion of the “end of history” does not mean that history is now over. Rather, the notion refers to “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” In this rationalist account, history is understood as an entity, a Being that has given to the world a totalizing system that can solve the problems of human living in this world. According to the “end of history” dialectic, the various problems associated with living in a modern liberal democracy are not the result of democracy’s own internal problems. Rather, there is a misunderstanding or misapplication. The solution is to have more, not less, democracy.

Many of Vigano’s critics seem convinced that the Francis pontificate is analogous to modern liberal democracy. They presuppose that the problems facing the church can never stem from Francis himself. Francis’ actions and words can never be understood as a source of confusion or discord.

This coincides with an additional component of the “end of history” dialectic witnessed in many of Vigano’s critics. Anyone who would call into question the overarching narrative are ultimately conceived as enemies of an inevitable force that is unstoppable. If one opposes the trajectory of history as an entity, defeat is the only possibility. Similarly, the force that seems to be moving Francis’ pontificate as well as the issues that many of Vigano’s critics deem fundamental to the faith are believed to be unstoppable. As Fr. Spadaro recently wrote, “…the Franciscan revolution is under way and in spite of his vehement critics the revolution will roll on and new horizons will be opened for the one and a half billion Catholics in the world today”.

This presentism and historicism is certainly at work in Alison’s defense of the church changing its teaching on homosexuality: the laity are “to be encouraged in their fast-growing majority acceptance of being gay as a normal part of life.” From such a viewpoint, the most serious problem is what Alison calls “fierce resistance” to what is already accepted by so many.

It is for this reason that when topics related to faith, mercy, compassion, or marriage are spoken about within the Catholic Church, it is rare to hear anything different from what everyone else is saying. Fr. James Schall, S.J., in Christianity and Politics, has addressed succinctly this very temptation for contemporary Christianity:

Christians are forbidden to define happiness or virtue in exclusively this-worldly terms. When they do, they are disloyal precisely to the world itself as well as their faith. Probably, if there is any constant temptation in the history of Christianity…it is the pressure to make religion a formula for refashioning the political and economic structures of the world.

Much of what goes for Christian thought today has really succumbed to the temptation to which Fr. Schall speaks. The trans-political character of the Christian faith is so often replaced with a this-worldly orientation.

Ironically, Fukayama contends that the end of history will be a sad time. And many of Vigano’s critics seem to have a deep-seated anxiousness that is revealed in their openness, or perhaps determination, to see reality and the order of things “changed for the better”. More often than not, what comes through in their remarks is a recognition that the world can no longer be tolerated and accepted as it is.

This is certainly an apt description of the often depressing state of contemporary Catholic moral, spiritual, and intellectual life. What Catholics have been left with, in far too many cases, is a faith that is devoid of robust content. We simply “live” our faith as an activity that has no real intellectual potency to be related to anything else except our own desires. Worse than this, there is a rather close affinity between what the Catholic faith ought to be and what the contemporary culture deems good. For many, the Christian faith has become, in most respects, merely a means to change our social and economic structures. Fukayama’s insights are prophetic in this regard, since even much “dialogue” in the church is politicized, wherein salvation becomes univocal with modern social justice.

Alas, Fukayama was right: we are living in sad times.


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About Brian Jones 20 Articles
Brian Jones is the Coordinator of Liturgy at St. Anthony of Padua in the Woodlands, Texas. He is also a philosophy PhD student in the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. His works have been published in New Blackfriars, Crisis, Catholic World Report, HPR, and Catholic Social Science Review.

10 Comments

  1. The heterodox Alison presents the the so-called fait accompli of secular humanism in the supposed destiny of homosexuality…but Scripture will have the last word.

  2. Spadaro’s comments on the “inevitability” of the revolution marching on sounds like Hegelianism and Marxist determinism, both of which are incompatible with Catholic thinking.

  3. A rich and thought provoking assessment. The substitution of utopianism and the drive for happiness in this world is antithetical to a Christian perspective which embraces the inherent contradictions and sufferings in temporal existence as a participation in the sufferings of Christ.
    We were created to know, love and serve God in this world and to be happy with Him for eternity in Heaven.
    What is being proposed by the Bergoglians cohort is indeed a new paradigm vested in the artifacts of Catholicism to facilitate the credence of the erroneous. Religion is that which grows up around the reception of revelation. Revelation relativized by theological deconstructionism no longer exists, leaving utterances by an ancient wisdom figure such as “the poor you will always have with you,” and “pick up your cross and come follow Me” rather lost in space.
    We have to come to accept the fact “they” don’t believe. Atheism is the terminus of the spectrum of religious perspective, it is not its substance. Clerics immersed in it are fraudulent and need confront their situation. We need to shake the dust from our feet and provide no shrift to charlatans whose idol of choice is their mirror.

  4. The End of History is a good analogy to comprehend in the best of lights the agenda of Pope Francis. Brian Jones implies a new beginning, which is the intent of the New Paradigm. That is encapsulated in “Who am I to judge” Francis’ reference to a cleric who struggled with homosexuality and similarly in presumed good will sought God. It explains the Pontiff’s appeal “This can be a first step” [Amoris ch 8] for full compliance with Church requirements for D&R permitted to received Communion. This mindset preexisted prior to 2013 many clergy engaged in affairs with women or their own sex thought God will forgive at least when confessed. Ergo Cardinal McCarrick hears confessions of seminarians following a night of debauchery himself participant followed by his offering Mass distributing communion. All a sacrilege. And in compliance with the thought of A Spadaro SJ, the Pontiff, and a host of prelates. Here Mercy extends beyond the requisite desistance [of the sin] and the Eucharist “A powerful remedy” [Amoris ch 8] presumably heals. The heresy ancient the doctrine new couched in Christ’s mercy for a broken Mankind. Heresy because absent a firm declaration to desist our human nature remaining in a state of grave sin cannot benefit – to the contrary reinforces the tendency to sin by its offensive continuance. The deception continues the Pope continues not to judge. Always a religious deception now the quintessential deception attractively regaled by papal utterance, obvious policy as in Malta. Finally If you love me you will keep my commandments remains the inviolable requisite for our salvation.

  5. If “God made you that way” is truth, how is now acceptable for people to now pick their gender? We have friends in their 50’s who “decided” to be gay after divorcing their husbands of many decades. They weren’t “made” that way, they soured on men. Conclusion, the Pope’s position is a cop out.

  6. In his recent Exhortation letter Pope Francis distinguished between what is holy and what isn’t, with examples of heresies that still (and perhaps always) exist. Clerical abuse is not holy, nor is any abusive behavior. Holiness is the great leveler of Christianity for individual actions in any status in life and for institutional policies and actions. Clerical abuse is not simply wrong and illegal, it is unholy, and its perpetrators are unholy. Judge the Church, its hierarchy, its professionals, its laity, its poor, its rich, its work, by holiness — and correct and remove abuses from that base which all of us share and understand. As Jesuit Pope Francis emphasized, the criterion for approaching our problems is to be all and to do all ad maiorum Dei gloriam, whatever that requires.

  7. The ‘winner winner” attitude of the left based on their dream thought of the possibility of the “end of history”…end of debate. …that change is no longer possible because the perception of the individual conscience has been melded with the collective consciousness. Conventional wisdom, which has become so real it almost seems manifested as a peson, has liberated us from the boundaries of tradition. — No– conventional wisdom has imprisoned us in new boundaries from which the “end of history” people think there is no release, because no one any longer seeks release, having totally submitted.
    In Isaiah’s 14 the chapter, Isaiah addresses the evil person “behind” the human events – (Lucifer) and mocks his defeat and at 27 ” For the Lord of hosts has planned,and who will annul it?”

  8. Reminds me of the portion of the Catechism that speaks of the End Times, “The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment.” (CCC 676)

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