Editor’s note: This is Part II of a two-part essay; here is Part I.
The Nature of Truth
I argued in the previous section that Francis rejects propositional truth. On this view, the truth-status of these propositions are, if true, such that they will be true always and everywhere. It is not the context that determines the truth-status of their conceptual content. A doctrinal proposition is true if and only if what that proposition asserts is in fact the case about objective reality; otherwise, the proposition is false. It is not the context that determines the truth of the proposition that is judged to be the case about objective reality; rather, reality itself determines the truth or falsity of a proposition. Abstract truths, such as, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14), “Christ is risen from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20), and many others, are part of the content of faith. Our faith, then, is in both propositions and in the objective reality of the Person of Christ.
However, Francis rejects not only propositional truth but also is skeptical of the idea of “absolute truth.” In his letter of September 4, 2013 to a non-believer, Francis responds to the questions of Eugenio Scalfari, a journalist of the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica. One of his questions asks whether there is “no absolute, and therefore no absolute truth, but only a series of relative and subjective truths.” Francis does not define “subjective truth,” but in Lumen Fidei §25, which was coauthored with Benedict XVI, we read: “subjective truths of the individual… consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, which are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others.” This understanding of truth could also be called “personal truth.”
Is this what Francis says in his answer to Scalfari? Not quite. Francis says:
To begin with, I would not speak about “absolute” truths, even for believers, in the sense that absolute is that which is disconnected and bereft of all relationship. Truth, according to the Christian faith, is the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is a relationship. As such each one of us receives the truth and expresses it from within, that is to say, according to one’s own circumstances, culture and situation in life, etc. This does not mean that truth is variable and subjective, quite the contrary. But it does signify that it comes to us always and only as a way and a life. Did not Jesus himself say: “I am the way, the truth, and the life?” In other words, truth, being completely one with love, demands humility and an openness to be sought, received and expressed.
This is a crucial passage and it requires much unpacking. Of course, Francis is not a “relativist” about truth, but he is skeptical about speaking of “absolute” truth. Does he seek to leave behind both absolutism and relativism in matters of religion? Let us note that Francis is skeptical of speaking of “absolute” truth because, for Christians, he claims, truth is not only mediated through a relationship with a divine person, Christ, but also known under the conditions of history. Thus, in his skepticism about absolute truth, he implies that he objects to the idea of a truth-in-itself, without a knowing subject. In my judgment, Francis confuses the conditions under which I know that something is true and the conditions that make something true. In other words, he confuses the “question of whether one knows that the statement is true or is justified in believing it” with the question of “whether the statement is in fact true.” Pace Francis, affirming the existence of absolute truth and the conditions that make p true—which is objective reality—does not mean that one ignores the separate matter regarding the conditions under which I come to know that p is true. Those conditions may include—as Francis rightly says—acknowledging that this claim is made from a social, cultural/historical, and ecclesial location in life. Furthermore, the epistemic conditions under which one comes to know the truth involves the right dispositions, moral and religious character, of the inquirer, as Francis correctly suggests.
However, Francis also confuses the matter in question. Truth itself is not a relationship; rather, the knowledge of truth consists of a relationship—personal encounter, trust, obedience, and love—between the knower and the known. Furthermore, personal knowledge is indissolubly linked with conceptual content, with believing and hence affirming certain things to be true, claims regarding “what” God says to us.
Presupposing that distinction allows one to see that there is no opposition here between asserting that p is true simpliciter—what p says is the case, actually is the case, valid for everyone—and acknowledging the conditions under which I know that p. Consider propositions such as that “God created the world,” that “Jesus Christ our Lord was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead and buried,” and that “Jesus Christ was raised from the dead”—all these assertions are true since what they say is the case, actually is the case. Now, if we focus on the content of what is asserted here in these statements, its theological truth-content, rather than the conditions under which they were asserted, we surely may say of such assertions that they are objectively true, in other words, “once true always true, permanently true.” The latter means that the truth or falsity of our beliefs and assertions is objective in virtue of certain facts about reality, which holds for all men—absolutely. In short, the source of truth is reality. We can know absolute truth, because to believe, assert, or claim that p is absolutely true is identical with asserting that it is true simpliciter.
Moreover, the then-Cardinal Bergoglio affirmed in 1999 that “Truth, beauty, and goodness exist. The absolute exists. It can, or rather, it should be known and perceived.” Yet, sometimes Bergoglio does not seem to understand the idea of logically exclusive beliefs and what is entailed by that idea. For instance, he stresses, “Let us not compromise our ideas, utopias, possessions, and rights; let us give up only the pretension that they are unique and absolute” (emphasis added). Does he realize that this sounds like “subjective truth” or “personal truth?” Is Bergoglio suggesting that Christianity is not absolute? Does he realize that giving up this so-called pretension means renouncing the finality, fullness, and superiority of God’s revelation in Christ?
Elsewhere, but now as Pope Francis, he writes similarly, “To dialogue [with other religions] means to believe that the ‘other’ has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the [renouncing of the] claim that they alone are valid or absolute.” His disclaimer withdrawing the validity or absoluteness of Christian beliefs sounds like relativism. Is Francis a relativist about truth?
What does Francis mean when urging us to renounce the claim that the central truth claims of Christianity are alone valid or absolute? Where does that leave the matter of incompatible truth claims among the religions about God? Most importantly, with the denial of the unique and absolute status of the Christian faith is Francis implicitly denying the fullness and completeness of God’s revelatory presence in Jesus Christ such that God is present in Jesus in a unique, absolute, and unparalleled way? Is Francis denying that claim? Certainly not explicitly, but the denial of Christological orthodoxy is implied. He does not seem to realize the implication of denying the uniqueness and absoluteness of Christian beliefs. Is this denial of absolute truth behind Francis’ affirmation that “God willed the diversity of religions?”
Perhaps Francis is concerned that the claim that Christianity makes unique and absolute truth claims entails that there cannot be any grasp of truth or goodness in other religions. If that is his concern, then he is mistaken because to hold that Christianity is the one true religion does not entail the view, as Harold Netland rightly notes, “that all of the claims of all other religions are false.” It only means that those claims of other religions are false that are logically incompatible with the central truth claims of Christianity.
As it stands, this claim is confusing. For if p is true, then –p must be false, and hence anyone who holds –p must be wrong. We live in a culture where people claim that there are no true propositions; yet if there are no true propositions, then there are no false ones either. There are just differences and no one is wrong. This is relativism about truth.
Now, is Francis asking us to withdraw our truth claims, because that p is only true for me, or to hold them hypothetically or conditionally? In the first place, if we give up the idea that our beliefs are unique such that they are absolutely true, then aren’t we giving up holding them as true? Surely, Jeffrey Stout is right when he says that we do not necessarily “lack humility when we conclude that our beliefs are true, and, by implication, that those who disagree with us hold false beliefs.” Again, Stout rightly says, “To hold our beliefs is precisely to accept them as true.” Therefore, he adds, “It would be inconsistent, not a sign of humility, to say that people who disagree with beliefs that we hold true are not themselves holding false beliefs.” I judge Stout’s reasoning to be correct and hence, Francis is wrong in urging us to “give up . . . the pretension that they [our beliefs] are unique and absolute.” This urging is behind calling us “not to enslave ourselves to an almost paranoid defense of our truth (if I have it, he doesn’t have it; if he can have it, then I don’t have it).” But here Francis clearly fails to understand that truth of its very nature is exclusionary. Otherwise, the distinction between truth and falsehood is abolished.
Accordingly, Pope Francis’ dismissal of abstract truth, as well as absolute truth, misses the indissoluble link of faith, beliefs, truth, and the relationship of the latter to objective reality.
Ideology and the Law of Evangelization
I spoke above about Pope Francis’ criticism of a tendency to ideologize faith. What is an example of an ideology? “Gnosticism is one of the most sinister ideologies” according to Francis, which has a grip on the contemporary minds of many in the Church. Francis describes the characteristic of neo-gnostics to be such that they seek “to domesticate the mystery.” In other words, by domesticating Francis seems to mean that they “understand the complexity of certain doctrines,” “their explanations can make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible,” “they absolutize their own theories and force others to submit to their way of thinking,” and hence consider their “own vision of reality to be perfect.”
In contrast to these neo-gnostics, Francis claims,
It is not easy to grasp the truth that we have received from the Lord. And it is even more difficult to express it. So we cannot claim that our way of understanding this truth authorizes us to exercise a strict supervision over others’ lives. (Gaudete et Exsultate, 43)
Francis’ skeptical conclusion, if taken seriously, is self-refuting. Isn’t the entire character of Christian faith and theology imperiled if his conclusion is taken seriously? For his conclusion applies to not only theological systems but also the Church’s teachings that purport to be universally valid, absolute truths, and objectively true affirmations, because what they assert is in fact the case about objective reality. Perhaps this conclusion explains why Francis has such little regard for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, in particular, and doctrine and dogma in general. Be that as it may, his conclusion, if taken seriously, would mean the rejection of the claim that doctrine mediates truth as correspondence with reality, truth that is universally valid.
Furthermore, it would mean the impossibility of infallibly true doctrinal propositions. For example, the canon of authoritative Scriptures is closed, Jesus Christ is the final revelation of God, there is no other authoritative foundation for the knowledge of God other than the reality of God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures itself, that God has revealed himself in word and deed, and many others. Infallibility pertains to the exercise of the Church’s teaching authority when she ascribes the highest degree of certainty to a dogmatic truth. Infallibility extends not only to revealed truths that are solemnly defined in the exercise of the Church extraordinary magisterium but also to those truths that are infallibly proposed by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church. Hence, not only what is defined is infallibly taught. Furthermore, we need to distinguish between the truth of a dogma and its being an infallible teaching. Declaring a dogma infallible does not make it true, but rather the highest degree of certainty is ascribed to this teaching that is already known to be true. Dogmas are either solemnly defined or are a declaration of confirmation or reaffirmation, a formal attestation, of a truth already possessed and infallibly transmitted by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church. Both of these happen on account of specific historical occasions, for example, Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early Church.
Moreover, Francis puts us before a false dilemma. Francis emphasizes the limitation, incompleteness, and inadequacy of our thoughts about God and then suggests that we cannot know truth determinately. He states, “The theologian who is satisfied with his complete and conclusive thought is mediocre. The good theologian and philosopher has an open thought, that is, an incomplete thought, always open to the maius of God and of the truth.” Unquestionably, but this point is not at all incompatible with the claim that we can know truth determinately, even if not exhaustively; inadequacy of expression does not mean inexpressibility of truth. As Fr. Thomas Guarino puts it, “[such] teaching … grasps and displays existing states of affairs, and admitting clear dimensions of finality and even of irreversibility.” “Of course,” then, Guarino adds, “there is, unarguably, an apophatic and eschatological dimension to Christian doctrine that curtails the extent to which the mysteria fidei are known. Even with that said, however, it is a clear conviction of the Christian church that, here and now, it knows something universally, actually, and in some instances, irreversibly true about God’s inner life.”
Still, given Francis’ emphasis on the the limitation, incompleteness, and inadequacy of our thoughts about God, he leaves unanswered the question, how, say, Nicaea’s Trinitarian or Chalcedon’s Christological formulations consist of statements that describe reality entirely truthfully even if inadequately? He must answer the question in what sense dogmatic formulations or creedal statements are determinately true—actually corresponding to reality, bearing some determinative relation to truth itself.
Elsewhere he says in a similar vein, “The truth of God is inexhaustible, it is an ocean from which we barely see the shore. It is something that we are beginning to discover in these times: not to enslave ourselves to an almost paranoid defense of our truth (if I have it, he doesn’t have it; if he can have it, then I don’t have it).” But this point is a straw man. Of course, our dogmatic formulations are open to reconceptualization and reformulation because they, Guarino correctly notes, “do not comprehensively exhausts truth, much less divine truth.” Divine truth may be expressed incompletely and inadequately, but neither falsely nor indeterminately. Just because we do not know everything that there is to know about a particular divine truth it does not follow that what we do know is not determinately true in these doctrinal formulations but only approximations of that truth.
Furthermore, Karl Rahner is correct: “They are an ‘adequatio intellectus et rei’, insofar as they state absolutely nothing which is false. Anyone who wants to call them ‘half false’ because they do not state everything about the whole of the truth of the matter in question would eventually abolish the distinction between truth and falsehood.” So the new linguistic formulation or expression can vary, as long as they mediate the same judgment. What is more, adds Rahner, “a more complete and more perfect statement does not falsify the one it supersedes.” The content of the concepts informing the propositions that God is Triune, and that the Second Person of the Trinity is God Incarnate, is meaning invariant, is fixed and hence determinate, and that meaning does not change precisely because it is true to reality, to an objective state of affairs. Bernard Lonergan is right that “meaning of its nature is related to what is meant, and what is meant may or may not correspond to what is in fact so [or is the case].” “If it corresponds,” Lonergan adds, “the meaning is true. If it does not correspond, the meaning is false.”
Francis must recognize that the Church makes determinate truth claims, and hence that the central truth claims of Christianity conflict with the truth claims of other religions about God. His failure to do so is connected with his rejection of abstract ideas as well as skepticism of absolute truth.
Finally, Pope Francis states, “[I]n the Church there legitimately coexist different ways of interpreting many aspects of doctrine and Christian life” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 43). This statement raises the question: How does Francis then account for legitimate theological pluralism and authentic diversity within a fundamental permanence of meaning and truth? Francis is right that unity and uniformity can be distinguished, but only, I will argue, if we distinguish, as St. John XXIII correctly stated, “the truths contained in our sacred teaching, are one thing, while the mode in which they are expressed, but with the same meaning and the same judgment [‘eodem sensu eademque sententia’], is another thing.”
Unfortunately, fixating on the risk of ideologizing faith, he leaves unconsidered the question of the permanence of the meaning and truth of dogma. Francis makes clear that “today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness.” These “unchanging truths” do not refer to the Church’s dogmas, but rather to the “authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ,” and the ‘Gospel message in its unchanging meaning’.” Francis explains, “We should not think, however, that the Gospel message must always be communicated by fixed formulations learned by heart or by specific words which express an absolutely invariable content” (emphasis added). The latter refers to dogmas and doctrines, in short, orthodoxy. But it is a straw man to claim that any faithful Catholic thinks that the Gospel must always be communicated in dogmatic terms. What examples of fixed formulations and their inherent absolutely invariable content does Francis have in mind? He doesn’t say.
Nevertheless, he substantiates his position by paraphrasing John XXIII’s crucial statement in his opening address at Vatican II, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, precisely where John distinguishes between truths and its formulations. Inexplicably, Francis quotes John, “‘the faith is one thing… the way it is expressed is another.’” This quote is actually a paraphrase, leaving out the crucial subordinate clause. Francis cites the Italian version of John XXIII’s statement—not the official Latin publication. The former distinguishes between the substance of the deposit of the faith, and the way it is expressed, but excludes the subordinate clause, namely, “according to the same meaning and the same judgment [eodem sensu eademque sententia].” Rather, John XXIII states,
What is needed is that this certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which loyal submission is due, be investigated and presented in the way demanded by our times. For the deposit of faith, the truths contained in our sacred teaching, are one thing, while the mode in which they are expressed, but with the same meaning and the same judgment [‘eodem sensu eademque sententia’], is another thing.
The subordinate clause in this passage is part of a larger passage from the constitution of Vatican Council I, Dei Filius, which is earlier invoked by Pius IX in the bull of 1854, Ineffabilis Deus, also cited by Leo XIII in his 1899 Encyclical, Testem benevolentiae Nostrae, and this passage is itself from the Commonitórium primum 23 of Vincent of Lérins: “Therefore, let there be growth and abundant progress in understanding, knowledge, and wisdom, in each and all, in individuals and in the whole Church, at all times and in the progress of ages, but only within the proper limits, i.e., within the same dogma, the same meaning, the same judgment” (in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu eademque sententia). The permanence of meaning and truth is taught in the constitution Dei Filius: “… is sensus perpetuo est retinendus… nec umquam ab eo sensu, altior intelligentiae specie et nomine, recedendum… in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu, eademque sententia.” (Denzinger §3020) “... ne sensus tribuendus sit alius.” (Denzinger §2043)
Rather than Vatican II’s Lérinian hermeneutics, Francis holds that “Vatican II was a rereading of the Gospels in light of contemporary culture.” Typical of Vatican II, he adds, is “the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today.” This statement is obviously a reflection of Gaudium et Spes §4: “To carry out such a task [to carry forward the work of Christ], the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.” It is also reflected in latter passages of the same Vatican II document and referred to as the “law of evangelization.” Put differently, this law refers to inculturation whose “ultimate aim,” according to Francis, “should be that the Gospel, as preached in categories proper to each culture, will create a new synthesis with that particular culture.” Elsewhere he adds, “It [the task of evangelization] constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it [the Gospel] can bring” Vatican II explains:
For, from the beginning of her history she [the Church] has learned to express the message of Christ with the help of the ideas and terminology of various philosophers, and and has tried to clarify it with their wisdom, too. Her purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate. Indeed this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization. For thus the ability to express Christ’s message in its own way is developed in each nation, and at the same time there is fostered a living exchange between the Church and the diverse cultures of people…. With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage. (emphasis added)
This “law of evangelization,” which is about inculturation and hence recontextualizing and reinterpreting the Gospel in a particular culture, bypasses the crux of the conflict of hermeneutics of Vatican II, but it leaves unanswered the questions raised by that conflict.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his now famous 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, sharply described this conflict. He distinguished two contrary hermeneutics of Vatican II. Distinguishing these hermeneutics is crucial for addressing Francis’ claim “[I]n the Church there legitimately coexist different ways of interpreting many aspects of doctrine and Christian life.” Benedict states that “there is an interpretation that I would call ‘a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the ‘hermeneutic of reform’, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.”
Significantly, the opposing hermeneutics of Vatican II (to that of discontinuity and rupture) is not that of mere continuity of tradition, and its enduring doctrinal truths taught by the Magisterium. Rather, Benedict wants to account for reversals, for the historically conditioned formulations of dogma/doctrine, with their possible correction and modification, while sustaining the permanence, or continuity, of meaning and truth of God. Hence, this hermeneutics is about reform and renewal, indeed, of creative retrieval of the authoritative sources of the faith, in short, of ressourcement, to go faithfully forward in the present. This hermeneutics is at the heart of the Second Vatican Council’s Lérinian hermeneutics, and John XXIII states it admirably well.
Hence, Vatican II’s “law of evangelization” and hence inculturation may only be properly understood when the alternative but complementary—rather than conflicting—formulations of revealed truths show a “deeper penetration, better understanding, and more suitable presentations of those truths,” of the revealed mysteries of the Catholic faith. But that takes place, as Vincent put it, “within the proper limits, i.e., within the same dogma, the same meaning, the same judgment” (in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu eademque sententia).” (cf. Gaudium et Spes §44; Unitatis Redintegratio §17).
Vatican II’s project is a form of renewal theology in which the Church returns to authoritative sources of the faith aiming at renewing the present. Although the truths of the faith may be expressed differently, we must always determine whether those re-formulations preserve the same meaning and judgment (eodem sensu eademque sententia), and hence the material continuity, identity, and universality of those truths, even with the reformulations’ correction, modification, and complementation. According to Vincent’s interpretation of dogma, and of Vatican II’s teachings, linguistic formulations or expressions of truth can vary in our attempt to deepen our understanding, as long as they maintain the same meaning and mediate the same judgment of truth (eodem sensu eademque sententia). In fact, this distinction between truth and its formulations has ecumenical significance. Other Christian traditions may have a deeper grasp and hence a more articulate but nevertheless complementary formulation of some aspect of the revealed mystery of revelation shared alike by Catholics and Protestants (Unitatis Redintegratio 17).
Without Vatican II’s Lérinian hermeneutics, we are left with a so-called “principle of pastorality,” which is a perpetual hermeneutics of reinterpreting and recontextualizing the Gospel. We find this approach in Christoph Theobald, SJ, who claims that the Latin version of John XXIII’s opening speech at Vatican II, which Theobald claims John rejected, distinguishes between “the deposit of faith itself, that is the truths contained in our ancient doctrine” and “the form in which these truths [plural] are proclaimed.” This version, too, overlooks the subordinate clause cited by Vatican I and derived from Vincent of Lérins, namely, that new formulations and expressions of the truths contained in the deposit of the faith must keep the same meaning and the same judgment (eodem sensu eademque sententia). However, the original version (presumably Theobald means the Italian version) of John’s intervention, “simply underlines the fundamental difference between the deposit of faith, taken here as a whole –without reference to an internal plurality inherent in the expression—and the historical form it takes at one time or another.”
If I understand Theobald correctly, he prefers the Italian version, which is the original version, but not the official version, because there is no correction by the curia of the pope’s speech. It would take us too far afield to show that Theobald’s claim is wrong. Theobald’s claim is that this version does not refer to an internal plurality of truths in the substance of the deposit of faith, which are then expressed in alternative formulations. This principle collapses the distinction between the substance of the deposit of faith and their formulations into a historical context, without attending to the subordinate clause—eodem sensu eademque sententia—but also dismissing the notion of propositional truths and sentences, truth-content and context, and the like, that may be distinguished within the deposit of faith. This means, as Theobald puts it, that the substance of the deposit of faith as a whole is “subject to continual reinterpretation [and re-contextualization] according to the situation of those to whom it is transmitted.” This is a plea for a perpetual hermeneutics. On this principle, doctrines are not absolute truths, or objectively true affirmations, because what they assert is in fact the case about objective reality.
We find a similar line of reasoning in Theobald’s reflections on the “law of evangelization” expressed in Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes §44, and Ad Gentes §22. The core idea of this law is, “accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization.” As Theobald understands this “law,” ongoing accommodation of the Gospel—and hence a perpetual hermeneutics—is necessary given the cultural and historical diversity of the context in which the Gospel is preached.
This means that the principle of pastorality, according to Theobald, presupposes a double hermeneutic, that is, a mutually critical correlation between a “hermeneutic of the Gospel and a hermeneutic of languages and cultures open to receive the Good News of Christ.” Theobald rejects the “absolutizing” and “identification” of the Gospel “with the various doctrinal truths contained in the tradition, as found collected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and, in the life of a believer, in a uniform liturgy and, as regards Church procedures, in the Code of Canon Law.” He assures us that the principle of pastorality does not set up an opposition between doctrine, on the one hand, and pastoral ministry of those to whom doctrine is addressed in the historical and cultural plurality of contexts, on the other. Yes, “‘pastorality’… must include doctrine, but also leaves us with the hermeneutical task of isolating its authoritative element, not in itself [emphasis added], but in relation with those who whom it is addressed today.”
This approach relativizes the authority of doctrinal truths to the addressees. It is hard to see how it does not imply a subjectification of doctrinal truths that only become true, and hence authoritative, through acknowledgment. There is also a failure to recognize the distinction between the conditions that make something true and the conditions under which I know something to be true. In sum, pace Theobald, the principle of pastorality is inconsistent with the Lérinian hermeneutics of Vatican II. Furthermore, this hermeneutics is not inconsistent with the law of evangelization because historical context, on the one hand, and unchanging and absolute truth on the other, are not mutually exclusive in Lérinian hermeneutics.
This “pastorality of doctrine” approach is a Neo-Modernism because it expresses merely an instrumentalist view of doctrine, in which doctrines are not absolute truths, or objectively true affirmations about state of affairs. Hence, the “pastorality of doctrine” approach sets loose a perpetual hermeneutics that entails historicism and a denial of revealed truth’s enduring universal validity. This “pastorality of doctrine “approach is the root of the recent reflections on inculturation. Unfortunately, Pope Francis’ interpretation of the law of evangelization and hence of inculturation has a particular affinity with this approach, as it evident in his recent address to the Roman Curia. What contributes to this affinity is Pope Francis dismissal of abstract truth, as well as absolute truth, which misses the indissoluble link of faith, beliefs, truth, and the relationship of the latter to objective reality.
(Author’s note: For an in-depth reflection of Pope Francis’ thought, see the revised and expanded second edition of my book, Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II [Lectio Publishing, 2019]. I examine his position with respect to Vatican II, his soteriology, moral theology as such and with reference to the controverted chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, ecumenism and Catholic ecclesiology, dialogue of religions and the question of truth, and the moral, ecclesial, and doctrinal crisis of the Church.)
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