The Trinitarian Oneness is one thing, while a pre-Christian or post-Christian Triad is quite another. On this point, the Instrumentum laboris for the Amazonia Synod has muddied the waters.
Here’s the triad parsed from the document (together with some instructive “institutional memory”):
• An Earthrise Moment—Is our global footprint too big for the finite globe?
• A Mother Nature Moment—Does the Creator need a sex change?
• A Facial-recognition Moment—what is “integral human development”?
An Earthrise Moment
The revolutionary view of Earthrise was sent back from the moon by Apollo 8 in 1967. The cosmos, already desacralized by Galileo’s telescope, has at its “periphery” (a papal theme!) a blueish-green heart worthy of special wonder and protection. Once upon a time, nature had been a divinely infinite cornucopia. As the earlier Romano Guardini explained:
Today man experiences his world as finite, but a finite world cannot inspire the devotion which was inspired by the limitless cosmos of the recent past. The new sense of the finite refers not only to a limitation in expanse but also to a limitation in the core of being, at the heart of matter…. [Infinity] signified the godhead of the world whose being was inexhaustible, triumphant, the very origin of all things.” (The End of the Modern World, italics added)
How, then, to protect a finite and closed-loop global ecology while also retaining access in our finite minds to the Infinite?
In our imaginations, we might even begin to think that each human soul—more sublime and capacious than all the sightless stars and galaxies combined—is less than everlasting as if given from an eternal God.
As a corrective to free-wheeling Technocracy, and now to protect the iconic global rainforests, should the Amazon Synod risk going native (as did the vacillating Hebrews in Canaan)? Or, should the Synod be even more multicultural and take a leaf from the non-Indian and non-German G.K. Chesterton:
The size of the scientific universe gave one no novelty, no relief. The cosmos went on for ever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance, such as forgiveness or free will. (Orthodoxy)
Something to think about…
A Mother Nature Moment
But we read, instead, that “it [Amazonia] should be considered holy ground [!]: This is not an orphan land! It has a Mother!” Isn’t it better not to say Amazonia has a Mother, but instead that Amazonia is to us more clearly like a sister—and that with us and with all finite things it is under the one infinite Father? A God who in some sense pervades all nature and yet is infinitely above all creation.
Of finite nature, then, both a caution and a compass were indicated back in 1961 by St. John XXIII. Nature has only “almost inexhaustible productive capacity.” Anticipating a host of new moral dilemmas, he also defended uniquely innate boundaries not to be violated by man as man:
But whatever be the situation, we clearly affirm these problems should be posed and resolved in such a way that man does not have recourse to methods and means contrary to his dignity . . . (Mater et Magistra, 191, italics added)
A full continuity, St. John Paul II in 1993 elaborated by recalling any calculus of fluid ethics (“consequentialism” and “proportionalism”) to a fully responsible and more difficult conformance with human dignity through sound moral theology. Grace does not annihilate nature, and mercy does not annihilate morality.
…the commandment of love of God and neighbor does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, but it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken”. (Veritatis Splendor, 52)
And, therefore, unlike Amazonia today, in Centesimus Annus (1991) he did not confuse the “natural ecology” (37) with the “human ecology” (38,39,40)—as now is apparent in an alloyed and potentially pliable “integral ecology.” While there is an overlap—as in Consumerism—is Amazonia set to become an imposter for the foundational “integral human development” advanced by Sts. Paul VI and John Paul II and emeritus pope Benedict XVI?
[Integral human development] concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension. [The truth of development] consists in its completeness: if it does not involve the whole man and every man, it is not true development. (Benedict XVI, commenting on Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 1967, italics added)
“Yes” to marginalized indigenous populations; “yes” to future generations—over thirty years ago St. John Paul II affirmed, in advance, that “the ecological crisis is a moral issue…” But he then clearly linked this crisis to the need for wisdom and faith (rather than a certain well-placed cardinal’s “anthropological cultural change”?):
In searching for the answers, science, technology and politics, as well as philosophy, art and religion, must come together once again, since many times their paths have developed parallel to one another, or have even gone their separate ways. Knowledge must once again become the partner of wisdom and faith. (“Toward a True Ecology,” The Pope Speaks, OSV, 33:4, 1988)
In short, would a hookup between today’s graffiti theologians and Rousseau’s noble savage really do justice to what is more than local and more than earthbound in the citizens of Amazonia?
In Amazonia are the “natural ecology” and “human ecology” now to be gene-spliced into an “integral ecology” awaiting a new calculus of global ethics uprooted from clear moral theology for each person as a whole, no less than for societies as a whole? In the shadows, does Hans Küng nurse his secularized global ethic, and does Nietzsche smile with his transvaluation of values? Are the abuses of Technocracy being used here as a decoy for a radical theological substitution?
Instead of any newfound holiness in flat-earth Mother Nature, from the Catholic Mass we still have this: “heaven and earth”—both!—”are filled with Your glory!”
A Facial-recognition Moment
In what way, exactly, do the citizens of Amazonia still “have much to teach us” about “respect for the created natural world, family, the sacredness of life” (IL 4, 13)? Whatever the situation, the challenged bridge-too-far, inserted into the Instrumentum Laboris, is this:
…it is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church [no longer meaning the universal Church in the Amazon?]. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values. Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life.
By virtue of our baptism and confirmation, the universal Church already has carved out new “official ministries” for both men and women—in the form of Lay Ecclesial Ministers. This train is already out of the station.
And then for the ordained priesthood itself: the document also proposes married, but also truncated and seminary-exempt presider-priests, partly because they are “indigenous, respected and accepted by their community.” In the Mass, what then of the current language about Melchisedech as an “other” and as a “type” prefiguring the Incarnation—and therefore a set-apart and single-hearted alter Christus priesthood? A new and indigenous Lectionary, perhaps?
On facial recognition—as in “a Church with an Amazonian face”—St. John Paul II reminds us that it is the Beatitudes, and nothing less, which are a “self-portrait” of Christ (Veritatis Splendor, a document itself a casualty of the otherwise-decried “throwaway culture”). Similarly, the Second Vatican Council gives us this: “[It is] Christ the Lord…[Who] by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to himself…” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 22). And, therefore, the head is Christ, and the Church as the body of Christ…
History offers to Amazonia a mixed record and clues on inculturation:
In Africa in the early 1980s, St. John Paul II counseled his flock to be “both totally African and totally Catholic!” An African face but no polygamy. In Amazonia, what of polygamy among Yanomami people, and what of the reported record of zero conversions in the past half century?
In the Rites Controversy in China (1715) indigenous ancestor veneration was not accepted. Today, is Amazonia a halfway house to family totems? Or, is it more a case study of “ideological colonization,” and even a proxy war for the German agenda (re: female ordination, a married priesthood, a congregational and less Eucharistic model of church)?
In 7th-century Arabia, the irreducible mystery of the Trinity was lost to Islam by an earlier indigenous elder of sorts. The folk leader/prophet could not conceive of a Trinity except in pagan and carnal terms (Allah has no “consort,” Qur’an 6:101/102). The apostate Trinity is reduced to a pagan-like triad of Father, Son, and Mary! (Or, in Amazonia: Earthrise, Mother Nature, and “integral ecology” as a transvaluation of “integral human development.”)
Of many other such triads, on the west coast of North America the Tlingit Indians remember a Nobleman who hoarded the universe. The high Spirit (a Raven) sneaked into the drink of the Nobleman’s daughter and she gave birth. By opening a box Raven Baby then released all of creation! Even today Raven Baby is compared equally to Christ’s virginal inception (which, in our post- and pre-Christian world, is misconstrued as the “Immaculate Conception”).
As a glowing exception, in Central America the Mother of God—not Mother Nature—intervened in 1531 to reverse the Aztec “indigenous theology” of many tens of thousands of annual involuntary open-heart surgeries on the temple mount. A fetish replicated today in seemingly “modern” abortion clinics.
And in the re-paganized West, already displaced is the complementary nature of monogamous, indissoluble and binary “marriage” between a man and a woman. (The lost harmony between monogamous marriage and monotheism becomes obvious in a subdividing array of totemic identity politics including the spectrum gender-theory) Completing this new triad, together with the oxymoron of gay “marriage,” are the bookends of abortion and euthanasia.
So, as for “a Church with an Amazonian face.” Meaning what?
It is true that at Tepeyac Our Lady of Guadalupe impressed on the tilma an indigenous Mexican face, but even as the Mother of God she is still categorically one of us, and not a gene-spliced clone of Christ. Nor is Christ a clone of Mary. Nor is Mother Nature a blend of both. Christ is ever One with the Father:
Guardini: “Here […] we dare to hope. This trust is not based at all upon optimism or confidence either in a universal order of reason or in a benevolent principle inherent to nature [!]. It is based in God Who really is, Who alone is efficacious in His Action. It is based in this simple trust: that God is God Who acts and Who everywhere prevails […] [T]he Old Testament will take on a new significance. The Old Testament reveals the Living God Who smashes the mythical bonds of the earth …”
To strategically muddy the waters of Amazonia, and then to wash one’s hands in the workings of the Holy Spirit…this, at least, would be very “traditional.”
Joachim of Fiore did as much. His particular triad was sequential—first the age of the Father or the old Testament, then the age of Son, and then the age of the Holy Spirit. Which in his imagination was to begin with the 13th century rather than with, say, manipulation of the 20th-century Second Vatican Council.
Of upstart triads versus the Triune Oneness, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!