New Sherwood

Did I read that right?

At one point (par 165), Pope Francis writes:

“The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part …”

In other words, if I understand the context, the pope is saying that the evangelizer is not to appeal to moral or religious obligations, such as the duty of every man to worship the one true God and obey His laws, because those obligations don’t exist for him until he encounters the Gospel. Do I misunderstand?

Astonishing.

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November 28, 2013 - Posted by | Pope Francis, The Catholic Crisis

14 Comments »

  1. Maybe he means that without conversion, no moral or religious obligation will exist for the hearer of the Gospel because he won’t recognize the need. I’m just putting the best face that I can on it. He writes in a very confusing manner. Note the passive voice: “are most needed today.” By whom? I’m not even sure to whom the “our” is referring.

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    Comment by William Luse | November 28, 2013 | Reply

  2. For years I’ve wondered about the meaning of “personal relationship with Christ” and have never understood what people meant by it or just how they knew they had such a thing. Until a few days ago when I posted on my blog what I think the Catholic answer should be:

    I was asked, “Do you have a personal relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ?”

    To which I replied, “I receive his body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. You don’t. His body becomes my body, his blood, my blood.”

    (The email address I used in writing this comment is not my real email address. It’s because when I use my actual address WordPress makes me log in and half the time the comment disappears.)

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    Comment by RP | November 28, 2013 | Reply

  3. Christian preaching must first be about God, before it can turn to explaining our response to Him (both in charity and in justice through grace). Before we can love God or offer Him worship, He has loved us into existence, not because we deserve it but because of His generosity.

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    Comment by T. Chan | November 29, 2013 | Reply

  4. Bill, that was an admirable effort. But of course every man has moral and religious obligations whether or not he acknowledges them:

    “In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: ‘do this, shun that’. For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Rom 2:14-16).”

    In other words, every man will be judged by this law even if he never encounters the Gospel.

    (That was a quote from Vatican II’s “Gaudem et Spes”, by the way, which one would expect Pope Francis to support with enthusiasm.)

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    Comment by Blogmaster | November 30, 2013 | Reply

  5. T. Chan, see my response to Bill. We first respond to God simply by virtue of our having been created with the moral law “written on our hearts”. God holds us morally accountable before hearing the Gospel, before baptism, before we are catechized at all. Our transgressions – our sins – with respect to the moral law are precisely the reason for the Gospel. It’s impossible to proclaim “God’s saving love” without reference to sin, the consequences of sin, and the need for repentance (repentance being a word which doesn’t appear even once in the entire 51,000 word document about evangelism, of all things!).

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    Comment by Blogmaster | November 30, 2013 | Reply

  6. I trust that this is relevant. I have a post here

    http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2013/11/far-from-kingdom.html

    about a self-styled honest atheist who has put up a Youtube video in which he tells us what he would think and say if he were to turn out to be wrong and if God exists after all.

    One of the points I make is that he shows none of the humility that one would look for even in a “noble pagan.” When imagining what he would say if he discovered that God exists, he never envisages asking forgiveness for his sins. I point out that even by the natural light, there ought to be things that this “honest atheist” realizes he has done wrong in his life–being a jerk to his parents or girlfriend, some act of cruelty or selfishness somewhere, etc. His arrogance now, his sense of his own perfect goodness and sinlessness (based entirely on his alleged intellectual honesty) is part of what is making his soul. And, unfortunately, making it in precisely the wrong direction.

    I get the impression that Pope Francis wants us all to be thinking all the time about noble atheists. But if someone were truly a noble unbeliever on the road to believing, he would acknowledge his own sins, even if they are only sins against such moral light as he has. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case. And any implication that atheists have no moral obligations only furthers atheist phariseeism such as this young man manifests. This is hardly good for the souls of the atheists themselves.

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    Comment by Lydia | November 30, 2013 | Reply

  7. Excellent points, Lydia, and thanks for making them here. I could only take about 2 minutes of that video, God bless him. Honest atheists who are, at least, somewhat capable of examining their own consciences are as rare as hens’ teeth.

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    Comment by Blogmaster | November 30, 2013 | Reply

  8. “T. Chan, see my response to Bill. We first respond to God simply by virtue of our having been created with the moral law “written on our hearts”. God holds us morally accountable before hearing the Gospel, before baptism, before we are catechized at all. Our transgressions – our sins – with respect to the moral law are precisely the reason for the Gospel. It’s impossible to proclaim “God’s saving love” without reference to sin, the consequences of sin, and the need for repentance (repentance being a word which doesn’t appear even once in the entire 51,000 word document about evangelism, of all things!).”

    I think Byzantine Christians would disagree with this, with their focus being not on sin so much as morality. I’m not a spokesman for the Byzantine tradition but that is the impression that I have so far. There is also more of an emphasis in Byzantine Christianity on healing rather than on ‘juridical’ concepts.

    One may need to speak of sin before talking about salvation but I still think that God’s goodness and love is nonetheless still prior to sin and more fundamental and I don’t see Pope Francis as meaning anything more than this, or excluding talk about sin, and so on.

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    Comment by T. Chan | December 2, 2013 | Reply

  9. Jeff,
    Since I am reading my e-mails in reverse order of their arrival in my box, I am jumping in on this discussion going backwards. I agree with your point in comment #4 above. However, this verse did come to me.

    “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
    (Romans 5:6-11 ESV)

    So, while God saves us in our most depraved state – meaning we cannot clean ourselves up enough to be pleasing in His sight – once we are redeemed our response should be a desire to obey God’s moral law.

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    Comment by ginadanaher | December 2, 2013 | Reply

  10. My sense of what Pope Francis means is that in every person who turns to the good, God is the first mover of that turning, the first cause of the transformation by grace. Therefore, it cannot be the case that God requires of the sinner that the sinner FIRST repent, or ask for grace – if the sinner were to do these things THOSE VERY ACTS would be on account of God first moving him to do those things by grace.

    What I object to in the Pope’s account, though, is the lack of consideration that sometimes it is precisely the apostle calling to a man “repent and be saved” that is God’s grace in its first moment: “Faith comes through hearing.” The unbeliever is not normally called to change except by humans doing that calling, and so it is humans like preachers and missionaries who bear Christ’s grace to them in word. The example of St. Paul and Timothy preaching to the gentiles does not show us a picture of apostles calling out mercy without even mentioning the requisite response of repentance. God’s first initiating action is the apostle’s call, and the call is TO REPENTANCE as the first step the sinner takes upon receiving the grace of hearing the good news of the Gospel.

    Nor do the Epistles show St. Paul and Timothy relieving the poor of their poverty as the means of spreading the Gospel. They might share in the poverty of the poor, or they might work for their own food alongside the poor so as not to be a burden (both are indicated), but St. Paul never depicts any example of reaching the poor by relieving their poverty.

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    Comment by Tony | December 2, 2013 | Reply

  11. Tony,
    You have posted the comment that I wish I had taken the time to articulate. I agree in full.

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    Comment by ginadanaher | December 2, 2013 | Reply

  12. I am refraining from actually critcizing Pope Francis, because I am not Catholic. However, I do believe he is a little careless in his presentation of the subject(s). It leaves people confused, especially unbelievers, and then opens settled doctrine up to speculation. I miss Benedict.

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    Comment by ginadanaher | December 2, 2013 | Reply

  13. It’s of course true that God’s saving love precedes our obligation. What, do you think your obligation towards God is more important than, or prior to, his love for you? Dude, your just not that big of a deal, but God loves you anyway. So chill, and stop with the neo-pelagian nonsense.

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    Comment by John | December 3, 2013 | Reply

  14. […] single scriptural quotation–in a 50,000-word document devoted to missions and evangelism (cf. comment #5 in this thread). Despite being released “on 24 November, the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the […]

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    Pingback by The axe of St. Boniface… | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam" | December 9, 2013 | Reply


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