Ed. note: Seeing as how today is the BIG DAY, with the release of the Laudato Sii Encyclical, I am re-publishing a post that I wrote titled Discernment Guide for Dummies. When reading the final “theologically structured” Laudato Sii, please keep in mind that this document should be a Catholic theological document. Therefore, the below post hopefully should provide context for the 200 page or so read.
In the last post titled Francis’s Fascination with Pentecostalism Explained (see here) we observed a strange, by Catholic teaching, conjecture being made by the former Franciscan priest and “liberation theologian cum environmentalist theologian” Leonardo Boff. Needless to say, the a fore mentioned uttering’s of Mr. Boff and my commentary generated quite a bit of traffic in the Deus Ex Machina comment box. This commentary revolved around the subject of “discernment” as to what legitimately can be considered as “interventions” of the Holy Spirit as taught by the Catholic Church. In the below post, I lay out my thoughts on this subject matter.
Just to refresh our readers memories, Boff made the following statement:
Why do I say this? Because what he [ed: Messori] regrets is the “unpredictability” of the pastoral action of this Pope. Well, this is the characteristic of the Spirit, its unpredictability, as St. John says: “The Spirit blows where it will, listen to his voice, however, do not know where it comes from or where it goes towards “(3.8). Its nature is the sudden irruption with his gifts and charisms. Francis of Rome in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi is led by the Spirit.
The above statement would suggest that Mr Boff is making the claim that he is an “interpreter” of the actions of the Holy Spirit. Technically speaking, Mr. Boff implies a causal relationship between the “unpredictability” of the Holy Spirit and the “unpredictability” of Francis. Therefore, Mr. Boff’s is claiming that Francis’s “unpredictability” is the work of the Holy Spirit.
In case the above passage still falls short of the “preponderance of evidence” threshold being met that Boff considers himself an “interpreter” of the actions of the Holy Spirit, here is another of Boff’s statements:
Everything in the Church is resolved with only Christ which the Jesus of the Gospels did not exactly want. (This sentence directly precedes the above cited passage.)
So the question then becomes: how are we to know that Francis is in fact being used as a tool by the Holy Spirit? To help discern how to identify whether the Holy Spirit is in fact using anyone including Francis as a tool, I will lay out in the Deus Ex Machina Discernment Guide for Dummies below.
The logical place to start is to define a General Principle that will provide an understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches about the Holy Spirit. After all, we are Catholic. Here is a good summary from the Catholic Bible 101 website: (see here)
The Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Blessed Trinity, and the one most active in the world today. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit created the world (Genesis 1:2), led Jesus into the desert (Matthew 4:1), comes to us at Confirmation (Acts 8:18), and intercedes for us in sighs that we cannot understand (Romans 8:26).
If there is a need for a clarification, it would obviously be the last part where it is written: and “ intercedes for us in sighs that we cannot understand (Romans 8:26). Here is the quote from the Douay-Rheims Bible, the official source of biblical quotes for the Deus Ex Machina blog: (A link can is located in the right hand margin.)
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. [Chaloner comment w/r/t “asketh fo us”: The Spirit is said to ask, and desire for the saints, and to pray in us; inasmuch as he inspireth prayer, and teacheth us to pray.]
So just to quickly summarize: The Holy Spirit; created the World, led Jesus into the desert, comes to us at Confirmation, and intercedes for us “in sighs that we can’t understand”. And the last part refers to intercession during prayers. Furthermore, we cannot know what the Holy Spirit “asks for us” since He asks for “us in sighs that we cannot understand”.
Intercessions of the Holy Spirit
So from the above, we can observe a “structure” to the intercessions of the Holy Spirit, a “structure” that Boff would no doubt describe as “a linearity”. Since we are speaking about the Holy Spirit, we cannot speak about constraints. But given our knowledge of natural law, we know that when God created the world, he created the natural law that governs His creation. And the natural law, along with the “God given law” that is the Scripture can provide a guide for how the Holy Spirit intercedes.
As to the “written Word”, one of the commentators, Deacon Augustine provided a very elegant summary of this structure:
“If we believe that the Holy Ghost is the author of Sacred Scripture (which He is) and there can be no contradiction in God (which there cannot be), then the first stage of any “discernment of spirits” must be to ask: “Is this in accord with Scripture and revealed truth?” As Scripture reveals that the Holy Ghost is given to lead the Church into all truth, then neither would He contradict the apostolic tradition of which He is also the primary author. The bottom line is that the Holy Ghost would never contradict whatever He has authored in Scripture or Tradition, and therefore, those who appeal to His authority in order to do just that must be in error.”
In other words, the assumption must be made that God behaves rationally since He acts in accordance with the Scripture and Tradition that He authored, i.e. God is a “rational God”.
The Rational God Hypothesis
Now that we have observed from the above that the Holy Spirit acts rationally, then the question turns to who the Holy Spirit acts rationally with, i.e. His creation. A natural place to start is to define why God made us. The Baltimore Catechism provides the following:
God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
How do we know God? The Catholic Church teaches that there are two sources of knowledge about God:
(1) as known through “natural light of human reason from the things that are made”
(2) as known through “divine revelation.”
We have dealt will point (2) in the previous section. With respect to the further knowledge that we acquire from the “natural light of human reason from the things that are made”, we know the following: that God created humans in his own image and that one of the reasons that God created humans is for humans to “know Him”. Therefore God gave humans the capacity to acquire this knowledge of Him. Furthermore, since God made humans in His own image, humans must therefore share certain characteristics that God possesses. One of those characteristics is “free will”. We know this to be the case since we can observe that unlike any other creature which God created, humans are not consigned to act through an instinctive process alone. Humans are the only creatures who can reason; therefore can exercise their “free will” to decide the course of actions that they can take.
Here is how “will” is defined at catholicculture.org: (see here)
The power of the human soul, or of a spiritual being, which tends toward a good or away from an evil recognized by the intellect. It is basically a rational appetite with several functions, namely the ability to intend, choose, desire, hope, consent, hate, love, and enjoy.
Even for the “deniers of God’s existence”, the above definition holds. Here is how Wikipedia defines “will”:
Will, in philosophy, refers to a property of the mind, and an attribute of acts intentionally committed.
Through the “intentional” qualifier, we have confirmation that the mind can exercise “will” independent of other internal or external determinants. Therefore we have proof that this “will is free” for the individual to exercise as he so chooses. Therefore, the human being, possessing this capacity to freely exercise his will, possesses the same characteristic that God possesses mentioned in the text in the paragraph earlier.
Tying Free Will with the Holy Spirit
If one assumes that humans have “free will”, or in other words are free to choose, than humans must have various choices in order to exercise this “free will”. One of those choices is the ability to choose between “good” and “evil”. And if humans are created by God, and God created humans with a “free will”, therefore it must follow that God gave these humans free will for a reason. Therefore it must follow that this reason is to allow humans to decide whether they want to be with God or not, i.e. “to be happy with Him forever in heaven” as per the Baltimore catechism.
Therefore, the problem with an actively intervening Holy Spirit arises as follows: If God gave humans free will, and he gave them this free will for a reason, and that reason is to determine if that individual human wants to spend eternity in His presence, then the logical question would be: why would He intervene in that persons decision making process?
The answer would be that as a rule, He wouldn’t.
As we can see from the above text, it can be stated with a exceptionally high degree of certainty that God is a rational being. Furthermore, we can see that Catholicism alone, with its fundamental philosophical foundation in natural law, divine revelation provided by Our Lord himself, and the continuous Tradition that bind the natural law with the “written Word”, represents not only the most accurate understanding of God but also the most accurate representation of the relationship between God and His creation. In other words, the above is a very basic depiction of not only the “universality” of Catholicism, but also of its “comprehensiveness”.
This cannot be said of any of the protestant sects or the charismatic movements associate with the post-conciliar church. The reason being that these protestant sects and charismatic movements are forced to focus on “the written Word”. It is from the Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) that they extract their sets of beliefs and practices. Since “sola Scriptura” excludes all external determinants, including natural law from their understanding of either God or His relationship with His creation, these sects and movements are forced to replace reason with emotion. Modernists and small “c” catholics who have adopted this protestant approach, are forced to focus on the “emotionalistic” aspects of Scripture, since the objective source of their Faith, that which comes from the light of reason (provided that they possess this knowledge in the first place), is absent. And to carry this thought to its logical conclusion, one can observe that the modernists and the small “c” catholics must use this “emotive gimmickery” since they have no rational explanation as to why they believe that which they believe.
So is it any wonder that these sects revert to a, paraphrasing an old Laugh In punch line, “the
devil Holy Spirit made me do it” mindset, and to the “non linearity vision” of a Leonardo Buff. Once again:
“ [ Messori] is held hostage by a linear vision, his own”beloved Joseph Ratzinger “and other earlier Popes.
Corroboration of the above situation is also demonstrated by the John Lamont’s text (see here), where he lays out the “non-philosophical” basis for the neo-modernist heresy, but which encompass the protestant sects and the charismatic movements in total. Here is what Lamont observes:
Thomism made an easy target for this propaganda, just because it is a highly developed philosophy. Any advanced field of study, such as philosophy, mathematics, or physics, can be convincingly portrayed as ‘arid’ and ‘rigid’. For most people’s tastes, this portrayal will often be true. Precise and rigorous subjects inevitably have arid components. Because it deals with fundamental questions whose answers are true always and everywhere, philosophy will be ‘ahistorical’ and ‘immutable’. It will not meet the desires and expectations of individuals or societies, because these desires and expectations are never geared towards subtle and difficult concepts. It will meet their needs – if it is true. But a demonstration of philosophical truth is a feeble counter to propaganda.
From the above text, it is easily to see how susceptible a charismatic or a small “c” catholic can be, to forces that he might believe are the work of the “Holy Spirit”. In reality, what this charismatic or small “c” catholic can be experiencing could be the Holy Spirit, or it could be heart burn or indigestion. But one thing is for certain, this charismatic or small “c” catholic does not posses the tools to discern whether in fact that which he is “experiencing” can be attribute to a Higher Power.
Furthermore, the above also suggests that the underlying reason, with respect to the lack of proper discernment capabilities as to the intercessions of the Holy Spirit, is simply due to ignorance or laziness. Or to put it another way, it is much harder to become a Thomist than it is to become an Evangelical Pentecostal. Here the Jack Tollers interview can shed much light. (see here)
Which brings us to make the following observation about the charismatic or the small “c” catholic and that is this: if this catholic does not know what The Faith entails, then how can he claim to be an instrument for the work of the Holy Spirit?
The simple answer is that he can’t!
And this last statement should answer the question about whether Francis is in fact an “instrument of the Holy Spirit.