The Pope’s First Commandment Problem
“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
It’s official: Pope Francis has a problem with the First Commandment.
The first sign was his homily on July 3, 2013, in which he said that knowledge of Jesus Christ cannot be arrived at through “meditation”, which in his words is the “path of the gnostics”. Meditation – which might also be called contemplation or adoration – is a work that is focused on God alone, and has been the vehicle for countless saints in their ascent to God. According to the pope, one can only find Jesus through “His wounds … [in] the body of your wounded brother” – that is, through loving one’s neighbor.
The second sign was his bold inversion of the commandments as given to us by Jesus. In his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (par 161), the pope stated that the “first and greatest of the commandments” is to “love one another”, which of course is contrary to the words of Our Lord in Sacred Scripture. This mistake is so obvious and fundamental that I expected it to be corrected eventually. But, alas, eleven months later it’s still there in the document. As every Catholic schoolboy has been taught, 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”. Jesus could hardly have taught otherwise, as the First Commandment of the Decalogue imposes this primary obligation upon all believers.
The revolutionary nature of this error cannot be overstated. It undermines the Church’s entire theology. There are, after all, Christian duties that are prior to love of neighbor. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that adherence to the First Commandment – which derives from the love of God – demands sacrifice, worship, and adoration; the assent of faith to all that God has revealed; obedience to the divine and natural law; and public witness to divine truth. The Catechism states clearly that “adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion” and is directed to God alone. The First Commandment also forbids sins like idolatry, witchcraft, superstition, blasphemy, sacrilege, heresy, schism, apostasy, atheism, agnosticism, voluntary doubt, religious indifference, despair, and presumption. Whereas obedience to the commandment to love God results naturally in the love of neighbor, the same cannot be said of the reverse. The love of God is the necessary foundation for properly loving one’s neighbor.
And now we have more confusion on the matter from Pope Francis. It’s simply not credible to say that his previous statements were just careless “off the cuff” musings, mistranslations, or media spin. No, Pope Francis has a real problem with the First Commandment. In yesterday’s Angelus the pope chose a different approach. Rather than ignore the first and greatest commandment altogether, as he has done in the past, he chose to present the first and greatest commandment (i.e., the love of man for God), and the second which is like unto it (i.e., the love of man for neighbor), as though they are totally merged without hierarchy or distinction, as though one did not have priority over the other. It is the error of false equivalence. The practical effect is the same as before: seek God in your neighbor first, to the exclusion of divinely revealed truth (doctrine) and the demands it imposes. Vatican Insider/La Stampa reports:
“In the midst of the dense forest of rules and regulations – the legalisms of yesterday and today – Jesus shines a ray of light that helps us to make out two faces: the face of the Father and that of our brother,” Pope Francis said at today’s Angelus. “Today’s Gospel reminds us that the whole law of God is summed up in love for God and neighbour.” The “novelty” of Christ’s teaching consists “in the union of the two commandments – love of God and love of neighbour – proving that they are inseparable and complementary, they are two sides of the same coin.” …
“Remember this: love is the measure of faith,” Francis said speaking off the cuff. “How much do you love? What is your faith like? I believe as much as I love.” “A visible sign that the Christian can show to witness God’s love to the world and to others, to his family, is the love of his brethren,” Francis observed. This is why, he explained, “the commandment of love of God and neighbour is the first, because it is not high on the list of the commandments. Jesus does not put it at the top, but at the center, it is the heart from which everything eradicates and to which everything returns.”
Ah, so the two commandments are now merged as one! And this new merged commandment of Francis is not even “high on the list of commandments” or “at the top” – that’s too hierarchical, too much like the old scholasticism, I suppose – but “at the center”, whatever that means. Are the commandments are now arranged in a circle? And aren’t we supposed to start with the existential peripheries? Nevermind …