Saturday, 13 April 2013

The 'triumphalism' problem: false confidence and over-weaning pride

'Triumphalism' is one of those Spirit of Vatican II code words that many of us hoped would just die.

However, Pope Francis has just given it a new lease of life in a homily yesterday, so I thought it might be helpful to consider what he is actually getting at, in a spirit of continuity as it were.

The problem with the term triumphalism

The first reason traditionalists tend to balk at attacks on triumphalism is simply the dictionary definition of the term.  One fairly standard one is:

"The attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, especially a religion or political theory, is superior to all others."

Similarly, look at the Wikipedia and it will tell you that triumphalism means:

"...the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others."

But isn't that true?  After all Catholicism is the one true faith that will ultimately triumph over all others!

But if you actually look at how the term triumphalism is used in contemporary language, triumphalism means more than the simple assertion that what you are saying is the saving truth.  It actually means an over-weaning pride without the any accompanying humility.  It means an unholy glee at your own superiority.

A quick google of the word, for example, turns up newspaper articles on the collapse of triumphalism on the part of Chinese Government officials, attacking Wayne Swan's 'world's greatest Treasurer' shtick, and in reference to a proposal to put a statue of Mrs Thatcher up in Trafalgar Square.

Triumphalism as Pelgaianism and the illusion of safety

In the context of our faith, triumphalism, is actually often defined as "the spirit of arrogance or pride with respect to belonging to the Church".  For some, being a Catholic gives them a false sense of safety, a variant of that entirely false protestant notion that once you are saved, you are saved for ever.  Well not in this life folks: our soul is in peril until the moment we die!

Equally it can mean the Pelagian view that we can do it without God's help, such as when Peter claimed he would not deny Jesus for example.

And it these two kinds of triumphalism that Pope Francis was talking about in his homily.

In particular, the Pope emphasized that salvation is not something magic that is over in a second, but rather a lifelong struggle to accept the grace God offers and grow in holiness:

"When God touches a person’s heart, the Pope said in his homily, he grants a grace that lasts a lifetime; he does not perform some “magic” that lasts but an instant...God does not act “like a fairy with a magic wand”. Rather, he gives “grace and says, as he said to all those he healed, ‘Go, walk’. He says the same to us: ‘Move forward in your life, witness to everything the Lord does with us’ ..This is the grace for which we must ask: perseverance. Perseverance in our walk with the Lord, everyday, until the end,” he stated..”.

Pope Francis argues that a triumphalism that expects and demands miracles is not Christian:

“God saves us in time, not in the moment. Sometimes he performs miracles, but in ordinary life, he saves us in time… in history … (and) in the personal story” of our lives.

In this context, traditionalists can surely have no problem with what Pope Francis is saying on triumphalism.

Indeed, the constant awareness that though we have been granted the great grace of membership of the Church, with its channels of grace and guidance on doctrine and morality, we can still fall into mortal sin and lose it all, is surely salutary.

But what about pomp and circumstance?

The real beef that traditionalists have about the term triumphalism though, is that it is often used as a code word for ditching all that 'pomp and circumstance' in the Church: things like those the red shoes, mozzetta, rich vestments and so forth!

My own view is that it is not triumphalism if the ritual and ceremonial is about giving honour to God, or to the institutions he has established for our good.

There may well be, for example, in this age where narcissism has seemingly penetrated everywhere, priests who have an Imelda Marcos-esq fetish for acquiring multiple sets of elaborate vestments.  But as a general principle, wearing beautiful vestments is not about the priest, it is about enriching the worship of God and there is every Scriptural warrant for this!

Similarly, the trappings of Office that have grown up around Popes, Cardinals and bishops were intended to signal that the Church is not a purely human construct.  Rather that garb was intended to signal that this person is part of something instituted by Christ, someone set aside for a supernatural mission that is indeed in a sense superior to the secular order.

In the middle ages and after, the Church needed to send a message to princes, that they were subject to the Church in spiritual matters, and not the reverse.  The terminology, garb and ceremonial that developed was adapted to that purpose.

But in our era, the prevailing ideology is that power resides in the people -  not even in their elected representatives any more, as modernity viewed it -  but rather, in a post-modern world in 'people power' deployed through social media and protest. Maybe a pope that points us back to consider the humble origins of the Church can make the point of where true power lies more powerfully, perhaps, at this point of time than any other style of leadership?  Certainly, time will tell.

That doesn't mean we should reject beauty in worship, of course, or disdain symbols purely in the interests of appeasement, 'tolerance' or compromise.

The Pope hasn't, after all, ditched his white cassock for a shirt and tie as so many bishops have!

Rather he is urging us to be courageous in our proclamation of the faith, and that means using all the weapons we have, even if some of them need to be adapted to the times.


A Canberra Observer said...

"... can mean the Pelagian view that we can do it with God's help ..."

should that be "can do it withOUT God's help ..." ?

Kate Edwards said...

Oops! Thanks. Perhaps my health is not quite as recovered as I thought - seem to making a lot of these silly slips lately, will attempt to pay more attention...

PM said...

A very just and balanced apraisal, if I may say so.

The Church in Australia is about to be put through the wringer because of a very toxic kind of clericalist triumphalism: we never make mistakes or are less than morally perfect, so we are justified in obfuscation and denial when we are in danger of being found out. As Eamon Duffy once pointed out, Augustine (who gets a lot of stick from people who have never read him) had no illusions that hieareel 825s clergy were somehow exempt from same moral weaknesses that aflict the rest of us.

But I mustn't get carried away: let's hope the royal commission considers the 99.96% of child abuse not committed by Catholic clergy.

Catholic Mission said...

When the leftists refer to 'triumphalism' they mean there is a need to end mission, as it was known in the past.Pope Francis has used this loaded word. He has left it vague. However it would be heartening to the left and some of their media have made a big thing about it e.g Catholica in Australis.

For Pope Francis Vatican has changed the old concept on other religions.At a meeting with religious leaders recently he said that there would be inter religious dialogue according to Vatican Council II. Why Vatican Council II ? Is the Council's teaching different from St.Robert Bellarmine and centuries of Tradition in a church which claimed there was no salvation outside its visible boundaries ?

It needs to be remembered that for Pope Francis Lumen Gentium 16 is not invisible but visible: being saved in invincible ignorance is not invisible but visible. Since when he taught theology in Argentina it was never ever reported that any one said Vatican Council II (AG 7 at least) says all need faith and baptism for salvation.So in this sense all Hindus, Buddhists etc need to convert for salvation. There are no exceptions.

But for the Jesuits all over the world there are exceptions. I have spoken to many of them. For them Vatican Council II mentions exceptions.This is something just about every one takes for granted in the Catholic Church. Vatican Council II is a break with tradition!

For them LG 16 refers to visible cases of persons being saved in invincible ignorance .Lumen Gentium 16 is a break with the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus and the Syllabus of Errors. LG 16 also contradicts AG 7 which says all need faith and baptism for salvation.So when did Pope Francis as a cardinal say otherwise ?

LG 16 visible is a break with the past. LG 16 invisible is a continuity with Tradition.LG 16 invisible is a continuity with 'triumphalism'.LG 16 visible is a break with that 'triumphalistic' past.

If Pope Francis accepted LG 16 as invisible, then it would mean those saved in invincible ignorance are not known to us. So rationally LG 16 does not contradict Ad Gentes 7 which says all need faith and baptism for salvation. Vatican Council II would not contradict itself.

Similarly for Pope Francis 'elements of sanctification' (LG 8), seeds of the word, a good conscience, imperfect communion with the Church are not invisible but visible.With these exceptions he is to continue inter religious dialogue.

This is a widely held error in the Church even among the Jesuits, and it has not been reported that Pope Francis was teaching anything different at theology classes in Argentina.

So when the pope refers to 'triumphalism' he genuinely thinks Vatican Council II is a break with Tradition.
-Lionel Andrades

Kate Edwards said...

Bit of a stretch on very many points in my view Lionel, and a string of red herrings!

Yes he used a word that will be seized on, it would seem by both 'left' and 'right' for their own purposes.

But I don't think he was vague at all about what he actually meant - if you read the words, as I've suggested in this post, he is quite clear and quite orthodox.

As to interreligious dialogue, I don't think it has anything to do with extra nullius, but rather surely he is just continuing the priority given to it by Pope Benedict XVI and made clear by the Cardinals before the conclave. The reality is the Church is trying to prevent Christians being driven out of their homelands, persecuted, and terrorised. Surely worth at least trying to talk about!

As for LG and what the Pope may or may not previously have been teaching, let's please not go down rabbit holes here! Rather let's wait for actual evidence of what he previously taught, or even more to the point, what he says as Pope.

Yes there are lots of heterodox Jesuits around. No one has yet come up with any hard evidence that will actually stand up that Cardinal Bergoglio was one of them; quite the contrary.