Pope Francis and “the greatest and first commandment”

“Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with
thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to
this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth
the whole law and the prophets.” – Matthew 22:36-40

A commenter on this post at the blog “That The Bones You Have Crushed May Thrill” alerted me to this problem. A very common error in contemporary Catholic preaching – and indeed in what passes for catechesis throughout much of the Church today – is the reduction of the Gospel to “love one another” as though this were the highest commandment of God, or even more strangely, the “Good News” itself. It’s a perfectly understandable mistake in light of the stark anthropocentric direction of the Second Vatican Council. If you regularly attend the Novus Ordo Mass, chances are you have heard this error in one form or another hundreds of times. Unhappily, even Pope Francis, who should know better, falls into this error in “Evangelii Gaudium” (par 161):

“Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ (John 15:12).”

No, sorry, the “first and greatest commandment” is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind”. Why is Pope Francis and the post-conciliar Church so intent on ignoring this? Because this commandment pertains above all to: 1) worship, liturgy, and private devotions thought to be outdated; and b) Christian morality, the transgressions of which cannot be so easily dismissed as “love” when they clearly violate a divine precept. The rest of the paragraph boldly takes Romans 8:10, 13 out of context, and implies that “the greatest and first commandment” doesn’t exist for St. Paul!

Friends, this is grade school Baltimore Catechism stuff:

189. Which are the two great commandments that contain the whole law of God? 

The two great commandments that contain the whole law of God are:

  1. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength;
  2. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

And one of them, a doctor of the Law, putting him to the test, asked him, “Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus said to him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.’ This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

190. What must we do to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves? 

To love God, our neighbor, and ourselves we must keep the commandments of God and of the Church, and perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

My dear children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue, but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:18)

198. What is the first commandment of God? 

The first commandment of God is: I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.

Thou shalt not have strange Gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. (Exodus 20:3-4)

199. What are we commanded by the first commandment? 

By the first commandment we are commanded to offer to God alone the supreme worship that is due Him.

It is written, “The Lord thy God shalt thou worship, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Luke 4:8)

200. How do we worship God? 

We worship God by acts of faith, hope, and charity, and by adoring Him and praying to Him.

Why bring this up? Why blog a whole series demonstrating that the teachings of “Evangelii Gaudium” are inconsistent with Sacred Scripture and the immutable doctrines of the Faith? It’s a heartbreaking act on my part, and the thought of it has depressed me for days. Catholics naturally look to the Holy Father for sound doctrine, not only in his infallible teachings, but in his ordinary statements and writings such as this Apostolic Exhortation. We expect him to know and teach the Catholic Faith, at all times. But we can’t expect that of Pope Francis. We just can’t. Pope Francis is, I believe, a sincere Catholic with a big loving heart, but he cannot be relied upon to teach the Faith or to uphold the disciplines that flow from it. And that, my friends, is the salient tragedy of our time. Christ will not forsake His Bride, the Church, and He will mercifully limit the damage, but Catholics still need to be paying attention.


7 thoughts on “Pope Francis and “the greatest and first commandment”

  1. Blogmaster,
    You are correct. You can’t remove him however…so how to avoid obsession that becomes a life style with no real progress?
    Your solution is to “non-pristine” the Popes of the past. Newadvent blotted out the topic of the castrati. Go to any major encyclopedia in your library and you’ll find that Pope Sixtus V introduced the castrati in the mid 1580’s into the papal churches and the next 28 Popes proximately cooperated with this mutilation of boys until 1878 when one Pope…Leo XIII…said it ends now with me. Opera ended it 78 years before the papal states did. Pope Leo XIII thus saved males from coerced celibacy that obtained under 29 Popes for three hundred years.
    Or read the mid fourth paragraph of Romanus Pontifex, 1454, by Pope Nicholas V in which he gives Portugal the right to enslave and despoil the new world ( repeated by the Borgia Pope for Spain in the 1490’s). They in effect helped wreck Latin America. Pope Paul III like Leo XIII but in 1537… said it ends with me. In “Sublimis Deus” he opposed slavery and despoilment ideas of 4 early Reniassance Popes in these words: ” notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property..”
    Pope Leo XIII opposed the mutilation of 9-12 year old boys of 300 years worth of Popes. Pope Paul III opposed the slaving and despoilment of indigenous natives of four Popes. Criticize Francis rightly which you are doing above…but keep him in the macro context of real papal history …and there in that context, he ain’t so bad. He sleeps in the guest house and drives an old car. Read about Pope Julius III (1550-1555) who built himself a luxurious palace where he basically did nothing during the early Reformation for three years out of five even according to new advent and its old encyclopedia. Then read wiki on him and the reality might be darker.


  2. Mr. Bannon, I appreciate the historical perspective, and it’s helpful to a point. But this isn’t about the moral failings of Pope Francis, who is human after all. It’s about a pope who is determined to revolutionize the Church on every level – doctrine, liturgy, piety, organization, and fundamental priorities. There’s no precedent for this. And quite honestly, this is also about a pope who (using the most charitable construction possible) is not theologically literate, who furthermore sees doctrine as an impediment and an obstacle to his agenda, and who is therefore capable of doing great harm.


  3. I am not so sure that Francis is “not theologically literate” so much as “not theologically careful.’ He does seem to be well acquainted with the theology of the Church. There is more than one way of not being theologically careful, what I mean is that what seems to roll off of him is that being theologically precise is just a big waste of time and effort: First commandment vs second commandment – big deal! He was close enough! “Who am I to judge” vs “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”, ah, what the heck! Stop pestering us already with all those picky distinctions! We evangelize the poor, the poor evangelize us – hey it’s all good! Who cares if it’s not perfectly correct, man, LOVE is the thing. Love and do what you will. What do you mean, “If you love me, keep my commandments”? well, sure, if that’s your style, go ahead and do it that way if you must, but don’t let the insistence on truth drag you away from what’s important, OK? Precision isn’t important, accuracy isn’t especially important, making distinctions get in the way of better stuff, and it’s all irrelevant to the poor anyway! If you can’t tell how allowing divorced and remarried folk receiving the Eucharist is going to harm the poor in 12 words or less, WHO CARES? If it takes 2 paragraphs to explain, that’s too much explaining.

    (That’s even though Evangelii Gaudium is itself 1/9 longer than either Gaudium et Spes, or Veritatis Splendor, (JPII’s longest encyclical. Clappy-trappists smother us with excess verbiage, because frankly their concepts cannot be stated both clearly and concisely, because they don’t exist that way. So they have to go on and on and on,,,and ON, hoping that you’ll “get it” after the 50th time of circling the same bush all over again.)

    The Pope may think that this is “post-modernistic”, but that’s probably because he doesn’t much care what the difference is between modernism and traditional Catholic doctrine. He is like a bull in a china shop, but that’s a bull with an attitude about whole china.


  4. Accuracy By Volume … Orthodoxy By Volume… Machine gunner papacy… The Everything Exhortation attempts to succeed by throwing pretty much everything at the wall of faithful Catholicism and seeing what sticks (or “plays well”… sensus fidei, and all that), and then wedging a barge of activist meddling into the ensuing doctrinal confusion. There is no shortage of soft ultramontanist water carriers, so as always they will sort out the infelicities (malapapalisms) for this Keystone Kop papacy, and write any errors off to mistranslation or the non-infallible magisterium (shrug). Beware those who would dare deny the guidance of the Holy Spirit by pointing out precisely when and how Pope Francis is fundamentally a weak and erratic TEACHER of the faith in its precise wholeness. I have it own good authority that this barrage of disorienting mumbo jumbo is all of a piece with Argentine glad-handing bravado. Sigh.


  5. “I am not so sure that Francis is ‘not theologically literate’ so much as ‘not theologically careful’ … what seems to roll off of him is that being theologically precise is just a big waste of time and effort.”

    That’s sure what it looks like, Tony: extreme carelessness. But I’m trying to assume the least culpability on his part. It seems likely to be a combination of theological illiteracy (due to long neglect), carelessness, and personal contempt for the outdated “Denzinger Catholicism” that he rejected long ago.

    The evidence is that more than just illiteracy and carelessness are at play. They must have theologically literate editors at CDF to review documents like this, and I can’t believe that a review isn’t routine for any pontiff before issuing an Apostolic Exhortation. Somehow, that review either didn’t happen or was willfully ignored.


  6. Pingback: The Devil and the Greatest Commandment « New Sherwood

  7. I´m sorry, but u r wrong! Jesus made a new covenant and told his disciples: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ (John 15:12)
    The new covenant is above the old!


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