vendredi 4 octobre 2013

Craze for Poverty

St Francis had not in the sense which is synonymous with fad. He had a personal enthusiasm for poverty, not a social and élitistic craze for it. He dreamt of being poor. He did not dream of having the Church poor (in all clergy and as far as institutions go) for the poor (to the exclusion of the rich). He was a Frater Minor, not a Fraticello.

The Catholic Church has unjustly been accused of withholding the Bible from laymen. It has said and indeed defined that some passages are dark - and Chuck Missler (usually considered a Protestant) admitted to seing passages about Babylon that were dark on whether the fall prophesied in Isaiah had already happened or not. It has defined, as is said in the Bible, some passages are difficult to understand and the unstable twist the meaning to their own perdition.

I see three main fads or crazes where so has been the case.

The Cathar craze for a purity not of the flesh but from the flesh. The Valdensian craze for poverty not of individual Saints but of the Church in total - and finally the Protestant craze for a correct as possible Restoration of the New Testament Church. These are not the only crazes or fads Christendom has had to deal with, but these are the ones that most certainly involve misquoting or misapplying texts of the Bible.

I see no case when the Church has historically condemned what was merely a naive reading of the Bible in its most obvious meaning. Saying "Nimrod will be the Antichrist" might seem to contradict "a Jew from Dan will be the Antichrist" but he might have ways of getting around that. One might be a spiritual equal of Nimrod being in fact a Jew of the tribe of Dan. I do not believe citing the famous libel about a Papal title adding up to the number of the beast - when the title in question was no Papal title, but a paraphrase of one - has ever been considered heresy. It would probably have qualified as "scandalous, erroneous, derogatory to the Holy See" ... but not as heresy. And once one gets to know what the Papal titles are, keeping that up is not naive but devious. Protestants who did that were condemned for very much heavier things than that. I seem to recall some Byzantines did so too - and for that they have not been condemned as heretics.

Saying "the Bible explains itself, we do not need the Church" is indeed heretical. But it is not the same as saying about this or that Bible passage - like Kent Hovind about "from the beginning of creation" - that it is "pretty self explaining". I think he gave the final answer to the question posed to Bible commission under Pope Pius X and posed as for debate by Humani Generis. If certain behave as is it had been finally answered by Jewish scholarship about yôm, I see no problem saying it has been finally solved by Non-Conformist scholarship about the words that are now again entering the debate on the nature of marriage.

Indeed, the Fundamentalist answer to the (liberal) Jewish scholarship about yôm has helped Chuck Missler see a point about Antichrist that Luther did not see. "Time, times and part of a time", "forty two months", "1260 days" - he says (unlike Luther) that this makes it abundantly clear that the Bible is talking about this time span in the literal and usual sense. And of course the Fundamentalist answer about yôm in Genesis is such that the word yôm is explained as literal by the fact that its parts are mentioned, evening and morning, as also by the use of ordinal numbers "one day, the second day, the third day ..." (in Hebrew "one day" and "the first day" seem to be the same). It is not as if Antichrist had had thousand years (say from five hundred to fifteen hundred AD) - which is also confirmed by the fact that he or his hellish master "rages, for he knows his time is short". And the naive reading of the Apocalypse as for time span by Chuck Missler, if you want it in the Fifteen Hundreds, you will find it among Catholics, rather than among Protestants. Among Franciscans rather than Lutherans.

Cathars, like later Skoptsi in Russia, though Christ meant the plucking out of an eye literally. As we know it was tried once and corrected by a heavenly miracle. Saint Lucy thought her eyes were a temptation for her Pagan wooer, she plucked them out, and though God favoured her, He promptly corrected the act. She got new eyes miraculously in less than a minute.

Protestants were in some details following a somewhat hairbrained scholar named Valla. They were very much following his craze for digging up historic detail even when the historic continuity had changed them. On Crucifixion scenes at altar paintings before Valla, you could see Roman soldiers depicted as knights from the Hundred Years War. After Valla, they get the kind of armour we now associate with Roman soldiers. Like the Roman armour we find in Asterix. Because he set out to find out how things were like the real look of Roman armour, the real divisions of the As (Sestertius being one multiple or one part of it - and yes, that was what he wrote a whole book about, I have not read it or I would have known how Sestertius and As correlate), the real titles of Roman notables and elected officials (like, Duke or General was not a title, it was a function for certain dignitaries like Consuls or Praetors or pro-such in parts of Empire outside Rome) ... as Antiquarian interest goes, this was really interesting, in a geekish way, but this was not what the Church needed.

And the Protestants started to do this kind of thing about the Church. And not just for antiquarian interest about detail, they thought they were restoring something imprtant that had been lost - a bit like Dan Brown and what he was rehashing in novel form, I refuse to dig into it, I thought the novel a lark up to when Teabing comes into play and starts "explaining" ... and poor "Princess" was supposed to be so smart but so naively took things like "the Church hushed this up" from a total stranger (or an old school acquaintance of her not so much a stranger new friend) ... well that is how people in Wittenberg swallowed the Valla-Erasmus-Luther connexion.

There are no Cardinals in the Bible ... there may not be exactly the title (though the title Prelate does exist in St Paul's letters), but when Jerusalem was what a little later took root in Rome, the see of St Peter, we know he was surrounded by the Twelve (the other ones except him) and by the Seventy and by the Deacons. The people usually called Orthodox might perhaps say that the Cardinals are like Chorepiskopoi of the Roman Bishop. They could hardly mind them for just having another name than the Chorepiskopoi around the Patriach of Constantinople.

Another craze was combining "Bible alone" (digged up from a misunderstood comment in St Augustine) with "Hebrew OT books only" (a personal preference at a time of St Jerome, but not one he wanted to impose on the Church, since he obeyed it and gloried in obeying its bishops on taking the other seven books too).

As for Protestants, neither Luther nor Hovind would get into chirurgic applications of the "right eye" or "right hand" saying like the Skoptsi did. I think they have this thanks to tradition. Not just the Bible text. King James who made an erroneous Bible translation felt about tobacco as Cathars about eating meat. Hovind adds tobacco to the small list, but still not meat.

But back to the Valdensian and Fraticelli craze for poverty. A poor Church is hardly what Jerusalem had when all rich new converts voluntarily held all in common. Note voluntarily - Ananias and Sapphira were told they would have been innocent if they had openly kept their belongings. They were cursed to death by St Peter for lying to the Church.

Now, the craze for poverty takes strange forms. If one layman wants to keep what is his, or earn money on his writings, he may get reminded discreetly or not so discretely about St Francis. But St Francis never said everyman had to follow his example to the full. On the contrary, he wrote a Rule for those who live in the world. Those who keep their property.

He never said the Church had to sell its riches and feed the poor. He reminded the Pope that if the latter had been poor he might be working miracles. But he never told the Pope to get rid of the Papal States. Or of the Lateran Palace. Or of the Tiara. Or of any other riches.

St Pius X did not approve of France despoiling the Church under the devil Clémenceau and threatening to despoil it further. He only said if he did so, the Church would be able to deal with it. He might name a Franciscan for Archbishop of Paris. He did not do so, Clémenceau saw he had no chance. It has been stated, but erroneously, that Pius XI later approved the Separation of Church and State. He did not, he only allowed the Church to form the kind of organisations that Clémenceau had illegally and uncanonically, inviolation of Church Law and of Civil Law imposed on the Church.

I might add that if I took St Francis' as model for certain things I did so far in poverty (like a pilgrimage to Santiago), that does not mean I consider myself a Franciscan. If I had earlier ventured into what could have been a beginning of a poor and monkish life, I was partly responsible for delays and partly further delayed by evil administrations in Sweden, and never definitely did the kind of thing that St Francis did when embracing poverty for life. So noone has any kind of right to impose on me a duty of being Franciscan. But less than anyone else the bad interpreters of Acts and of the Life of St Francis who are really participating in the heresy of the Fraticelli, or even might by some odd and disastrous chance of misunderstanding want me as some kind of mascot for a "poor Church and a Church for the poor".

Now, one more thing: when Antichrist makes war (sooner or later) on the Saints, he intends this as a War on the Church. But when he defeats the Saints, this does not mean he defeats the Church, even if he hopes to. The victory that never leaves the Church, its freedom from the Gates of Hell, did not leave it when St Peter and St Paul were captives. The earthly representative of the Gates of Hell had power over Saints, over many of them. But neither he nor Antichrist will have power to change the Church into a fake one. The victory that Antichrist wants to take from the Church is ultimately the victory of Calvary. But the victory he will take from the Church is only the victory of Pons Milvius. I am not sure if you think John Brown was a saint and that those who hanged him as a traitor were "themselves the traitor crew", but the difference is the difference between a body in the grave (moldering or in some cases - like St Theresa we celebrated yesterday - very markedly not so) and a truth or a soul. Antichrist cannot defeat the Church, but he can defeat Christendom. I think Chuck Missler took those passages in Daniel and Revelation about his defeating the saints for a defeat of their soul. Well, no. He cannot have meant that either or they would not be Saints. But I take it so literally I think the Saints - belonging to the Church - are once again defeated in the battle field. As at the battle of the Boyne. 1689. Or as at the Massacre of Lucs sur Boulogne, when Revolutionaries trampled on Vendean Saints. February 28 1794. Indeed, Saints were defeated when Hitler decorated the killer of Dollfuss and when he humiliated von Schuschnigg. But their Church remained Catholic. Their own personal faith remained Catholic (at least in the case of Dollfuss).*

One way of plotting to take away the victory of Calvary is to falsify its background, through denying the obvious meaning of Genesis. One way of plotting to take it away is to falsify its meaning, like imposing poverty as a general obligation on either laymen or clergy. Or of seducing Catholics to not value the kind of victory the saints can have which once will turn into defeat. That is, of denying the meaning and rightness of a thing called Christendom.

St Francis did not say Christians must refrain from ruling. On the contrary, he wrote a letter to kings and other rulers. It is still there in Latin. And if some doubt he is in the genuine sequel of Acts, the one which is not detailed out in the Bible the way that Chronicles or Kings detail out for us its prequel, I say I do not agree with them. If you want any more evidence, check out the promises of the Church - never under domination of Hell (Matthew 16), on earth up till the end of time (Matthew 28) - with the warnings about the situation of the Saints who will be defeated in War by Antichrist (Daniel and Revelation). One time, times and half a time before the end of time. It only squares if Christendom and Church are two communities of the same Saints. A political one ruled by Christian rulers. A spiritual one ruled by real hierarchy.

Reading "The Name of the Rose" taught me to beware of fake versions of St Francis. The real one had no craze for poverty. He would have agreed with Kent Hovind that "God is richer than you". But he had a love for Lady Poverty. A personal love. Do not impose it on those who do not really share it.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Bpi, Georges Pompidou
a famous library in Paris
Day of St Francis of Assisi

*Don't get me started on all the defeats Saints suffered between 1917 and 1990! Including in Spain and Mexico.

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