The Deus Ex Machina Papacy
To the well formed Catholic mind, understanding the present bishop of Rome Francis can be quite perplexing. Not only is this task at times extremely difficult, but time consuming as well. Time that could be better spent with the family for example. But I digress. To be perfectly honest, many times the bishop of Rome simply can not be understood.
To be more precise, the bishop of Rome cannot be understood using the rules of rhetoric and logic that were taught as part of a sound catholic education. However, this author has found the key to not only unlock, but likewise decipher the stream of communications coming from the Holy Father during his speeches, homilies and daily musing eminating from the Domus Sanctae Marthae. The key to understanding the bishop of Rome is to understand the classical literary device first introduced by the Greeks into theater and literature and passed down to our post modern world through the generations: the “Deus Ex Machina”
A simple definition of a “deus ex machina” or a “god from a machine” is: a person or thing (could be a god or a spirit) introduced by means of a crane. In Greek and Roman theater, the person/thing/god/spirit was literally lowered by a crane, hence the term god from a machine. In literature, the “lowering” of the deus ex machina is figurative, of course. The purpose of introducing a “deus ex machina” into a story line was to provide a sudden or unexpected, albeit contrived solution. Usually the “deus ex machina” was inserted to get the characters out of an apparently insoluble difficulty or position.
Below is the definition of Deus Ex Machina reproduced from the Wikipedia website. According to the Wikipedia entry, the following appears for Deus ex machina. [ Reproduced with my comments and emphasis]
Deus ex machina (Latin: [ˈdeus eks ˈmaː.kʰi.na]: /ˈdeɪ.əs ɛks ˈmɑːkiːnə/ or /ˈdiːəs ɛks ˈmækɨnə/; plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. [ Does ‘god spray’ sound familiar?] Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted himself into a corner” [ “there is no God, ….there are three persons…or the head of a religious organization telling his followers “proselytism is solemn nonsense,…. just go out and meet people”] and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending [“Redemption by closeness” ring a bell?], or as a comedic device.
Deus ex machina, from Latin deus, meaning “a god”, ex, meaning “from”, and machina, meaning “a device, a scaffolding, an artifice”, is a calque from Greek ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός (apò mēkhanḗs theós), meaning “god from the machine”. The term was coined from the conventions of Greek tragedy, where a machine is used to bring actors playing gods onto the stage. The machine could be either a crane (mechane) used to lower actors from above or a riser that brought actors up through a trapdoor.
The device was not without its critics. Antiphanes (comic poet) was one of the device’s earliest critics. Antiphanes believed that the use of the “deus ex machina” was an sign that the playwright was unable to properly manage the complications of their plot. [Ring a bell? Telling the Muslims and Jews that we believe in the same God, and the turning around and saying that God is composed of three persons. Physical persons.]
Following Aristotle, Renaissance critics continued to view the deus ex machina as an inept plot device, although it continued to be employed by Renaissance dramatists. [Bad Renaissance dramatists and “cutting edge” 20th century modernists!]
Some 20th-century revisionist criticism suggests that deus ex machina cannot be viewed in these simplified terms, and contends that the device allows mortals to “probe” their relationship with the divine. [Francis the revisionist?… the revisionists might object.] Rush Rehm in particular cites examples of Greek tragedy in which the deus ex machina serves to complicate the lives and attitudes of characters confronted by the deity [not the case here, since the bishop of Rome uses DEM’s to simplify the lives and attitudes of faithful] whilst simultaneously bringing the drama [no drama here, just a never ending string of luv and joy and happy endings] home to its audience.
Sometimes, the unlikeliness of the deus ex machina plot device is employed deliberately. For example, comic effect is created in a scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian when Brian, who lives in Judea in 33AD, is saved from a high fall by a passing alien space ship […and Francis was saved by the ‘god of surprises’].
At this time, a practical application exercise can come in handy. See how many you can identify in the homily where Francis introduced “martians”, real martians into his daily musings at Domus Sanctae Marthae. Link here. Francis states the following:
“If, for example, an expedition of Martians arrived tomorrow,” and one said he wanted to be baptized, “What would happen?” the pope asked May 12 during his early morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
To truly understand the bishop of Rome, the deus ex machina is the key.
Deus Ex Machina: learn it, love it, use it.
On an aside:
Anyone interested in taking a stab at explaining the DEM’s (as in plural) in the above linked passage, please use the comment box. And do not feel constrained to just the DEM’s. Feel free to identify the logical fallacies as well.:-)
Over at Fr. Z’s blog, he gives gold stars for exceptional comments. I am seriously considering getting official DEM t-shirts printed and sending them to commenters who exhibit exceptional effort that is over and above the typical “Reading Francis through Antiphanes”, 🙂