Friday, January 10, 2014

Benedict Versus Francis - The Real Difference

If love needs truth, truth also needs love. Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives. The truth we seek, the truth that gives meaning to our journey through life, enlightens us whenever we are touched by love. One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved.

In this sense, Saint Gregory the Great could write that "amor ipse notitia est", love is itself a kind of knowledge possessed of its own logic. It is a relational way of viewing the world, which then becomes a form of shared knowledge, vision through the eyes of another and a shared vision of all that exists. William of Saint-Thierry, in the Middle Ages, follows this tradition when he comments on the verse of the Song of Songs where the lover says to the beloved, "Your eyes are doves" (Song 1:15). The two eyes, says William, are faith-filled reason and love, which then become one in rising to the contemplation of God, when our understanding becomes "an understanding of enlightened love".
Lumen Fidei 27

Reflection – I seem to be on to something with my reading of this section of Lumen Fidei, at least if spikes in blog traffic, links and the like are any measure. Welcome, all you new people who are reading my blog these days – come for the learned discourse on truth and love, stay for the awesome salad bar. We have live jazz on Saturdays!

It seems to me that this movement here in the encyclical—yesterday, it was ‘love needs truth’, and today it is ‘yes, but truth needs love, too’—could be seen fairly as the shift in emphasis (not content, but emphasis, between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. Both hold the same Catholic faith; both men have said largely the same things about all the painful and controversial issues of our times, affirming the Catholic doctrine; both have made strong challenges to economic structures of greed and waste, and to ideologically driven, quasi-pelagian pharisaical tendencies or factions within the Church.

But there is no question of a shift in emphasis between the two papacies. I think we are ill served by pitting the two men against each other in some kind of absurd papal cage match (two popes go in – only one leaves!!!), or by using ‘Benedict’ or ‘Francis’ as sort of banners to wave to get ‘our kind of Catholic’ to rally around us, cherry picking quotes to make each say what we want them to say.

Rather, the two men are in a loving and creative dialogue with each other, much as we see in this section of the encyclical. Love needs truth, and so much of Benedict’s papacy and indeed his whole career as a theologian has been to redeem truth from the clutches of Kant and Comte and Marx, where it essentially becomes a weapon of dominance and control of reality, to show how truth as understood in Catholic terms is truly at the service of love, and that a love that does not make base itself on and live from a solid apprehension of the truth of reality cannot thrive.

Truth needs love – this is Francis’ emphasis. Not, ‘eh, forget about the truth, and let’s all just be nice to each other. Everyone, smile!’ But yes, truth needs to be expressed with love. A wise and holy bishop I knew used to say that ‘The truth that does not sing is not the whole truth.’

This is why, hard as it is, we cannot simply hurl the moral law at people’s heads and expect it to do any good. Yes, the law is the law and it’s from God and to be obeyed and we should die rather than violate a single of God’s commandments and we must teach people these commandments for the sake of their salvation and ours. All of this I believe, as anyone who reads my blog regularly knows.

But… with love. Or it won’t do any good. Truth without love is indeed just a weapon to crush people with. In fact, the truth of God and man and human life and love and sexuality is so immense, such a vast and all encompassing vision, that it can indeed crush a person.

If – to pick on sex, since that’s what everyone thinks the Church is obsessed with, and we may as well live up to the stereotype for once – sex is not only not dirty, and also not ‘whatever you want it to be – have fun!’ but in fact is what we say it is – a bodily representation of the love of the Trinity made accessible to us by the love of Christ for the Church which is all redeemed humanity, a love he achieved in his body by his passion and death, and so all the laws governing sexual activity flow from that theology of sex—if all that is true, then yikes. Who would dare have sex again, in marriage or out? It’s too much, and we’re just stupid little people who are scrabbling along.

So, the truth has to be accompanied with love. Specifically God’s love, and the constant proclamation, not only in words but in deeds, that the God who establishes all this and who lays down these rules and this structure for reality, is a loving Father who intends our good, and who is very merciful to us when we fall.

If we do not show this mercy in our words, our tone of voice, our countenance, and our deeds, then we may as well forget about evangelizing our culture any time soon. And that’s what Francis is saying, roughly. More tomorrow…


  1. I like jazz, but not that much. Put on an audio of the schola (did I spell that right).
    These words are so helpful to me.

    1. Hah! Thanks. It has been interesting seeing the traffic spike when I go near these kinds of discussions. Glad you're finding it helpful.

  2. I' been away through the recent weeks and lately with a cold of my own so am way behind here and a bit over whelmed. All I could think of the last few posts was '"my goodness" stuff for seminary students. In line with some of the thoughts presented on Truth, Love and sex and the guidance of Pope Francis to bring an abiding love along with truth in our evangelization I am wondering about the practical realities of scriptural love and marriage and the institutional and judicial adjustments to such in Canada? Are we planting a garden here while the soil is becoming inert? Where does contraception use fit in abiding Love and truth as spoken of here? If you want to get a little nearer- a discussions of the secularization of Truth and Love and conditions on the ground in Canada would be helpful to Catholics everywhere. Can it even be discussed openly today in a loving and truthful way that achieves the ends to which these writings aspire? Or when? Would Pope Francis be in favor of the Bishops Winnipeg statement of some years past?


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