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A Commentary in Passing:

upon excerpts from

Introduction to Christianity

by Pope Benedict XVI


Part IV:

"The Oppressive Power of Unbelief"

"If he who seeks to preach the Faith is sufficiently self-critical, he will soon notice that it is not only a question of form, of the kind of dress in which theology enters upon the scene. In the strangeness of theology's aims to the men of our time, he who takes his calling seriously will clearly recognize not only the difficulty of the task of interpretation but also the insecurity of his own faith, the oppressive power of unbelief in the midst of his own will to believe."  (Introduction to Christianity, Chapter I)


A Hell of a Situation

Having failed to come to terms with innate, possibly ineradicable deficiencies inherent in our nature as men, as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve — as the disinherited driven from the gates of the Garden of Paradise only to stand before the gates of another Garden called Gethsemane — banished by the father's sin, infected with the sin of the mother, orphans and waifs all, we have taken this sad patrimony of Original Sin down to death itself or to disbelief through the scandal of our own sins immolated on the Cross by crushing the very Son of God.

Intolerable to conceive as fact (the unimaginable enormity of our sin), we deftly adverted to enlightened fiction. We theologically legislated denial, effectively abolished any coherent nexus between sin and sanction, dismissed the Son of God as superfluous to the avuncular goodness of God, and with proper academic credentials declared our own emancipation from sin.

It became increasingly evident that the blinding beauty of Heaven and the malignant maw of Hell could not be reconciled through the artifices of modern psychology, so we set about, initially to attenuate unacceptable and conflicting terms, and finding it impossible to negate the two terms without at once negating the edifice through which they were articulated, we kept the house but abolished the conflict.


Keeping Heaven by Abolishing Hell

By altogether abrogating one term. Heaven alone remained. All dogs go to Heaven. So do all men and women. If all men and women go to Heaven, then there is no sin. If there is no sin there is no malice. If there is no malice there can be no enormity. There is "social incorrectness"  — a failure to appropriately conform to the world  — nothing more ... and the sanctions to be suffered for such ineptitude are exacted by the world and suffered in the world.

Heaven is a given and therefore salvation — however quaint or discredited a concept — a mere fait accompli. A done deal.

It is such a sad state of affairs that in one brief paragraph we can summarize — to date  — not the consequences of the Second Vatican Council, but the consequences of that shadow and fiction, the caricaturization really, of the Council that we have come to know and love as "The Spirit of Vatican II" that liberated us from sin, guilt, and above all, "uncertainty"; the uncertainty of our salvation, of our own indefectible "goodness".

However clever the machinations, however finely nuanced the theological subtleties that "progressively" made us freer, less guilty, more open, the "Spirit of Vatican II" has lived long enough now to have begun burying those who exploited it, and it appears to be on the horizon that, for all that we have effectively adulterated or abolished in the way dogma, doctrine, sin, guilt, evil, Hell ... we have empirical evidence before us that we have not, for all our cleverness, succeeded in abolishing death  — the ultimate consequence of sin.

This unsettles us. Believer and unbeliever alike.

The "believer", however, is at a disadvantage, really.

All along the "unbeliever" has wrestled with this fact alone: "What if it is the case ... although it is unlikely?"  — whereas the "believer", holding it "to be the case", is incessantly plagued by human doubt, the doubt that it "may not be the case". But ... it is a compounded doubt, unlike that of the "unbeliever"  — for even if it "is the case", a "what if?", remains.

 "What if ... "The Spirit" that effaced and in instances effectively repealed 2000 years of tradition and constant teaching about things such as sin, accountability, responsibility, unsurpassing happiness and unmitigated misery ... even Hell ... in other words, articles of faith embraced by, and having largely defined, past and countless generations — "what if" this breach in continuity with teaching, this attenuation of dogma, this equivocation of doctrine and morals, is — as it increasingly appears to be — if not spurious, profoundly defective?

What if ...

"What if" the "Spirit of Vatican II" has little or nothing to do with the Corpus of Vatican II ... and while all dogs do go to Heaven, not all humans do?

"Doubt", our Holy Father tells us above, is the human condition from which neither believer nor unbeliever are exempt, and to which both are equally subject.

Nevertheless ... there is a Hell of a difference between the doubts afflicting believer and unbeliever after all ... even as both contend with doubt concerning realities that lie beyond the same gate.

We share common ground even as we have uncommon illusions — and sometimes, sadly, illusions in common ...

What is more, even those who have held fast to "The Faith of Our Fathers" are no less exempt from the doubts that will prove the feckless fools, and the fools feckless.

It is, in a word, a Hell of a situation.

But that's not the worst of it by far ... for Pope Benedict speaks of a fastening to an unfastened Cross ... as we will see.


Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal

  Printable PDF Version

Part IV Fastened to the Unfastened Cross: Dubiety and Sanctity


The Imputation of Holiness



Ostensibly, we esteem ourselves neither holy nor wise. Indeed, we are much more likely to say, "I am a sinner", than, "I am holy."

We recognize a terrible presumption in the latter statement, and the even greater likelihood that our uttering this would be a clear sign that we, indeed, are not holy – even as we secretly relish what we publicly repudiate: being esteemed holy. We are so clever, so subtle in our pretensions that we ourselves inwardly hold it to be true — by virtue of our repudiating it. By denying what we affirm, we affirm what we deny.

  • Truly holy people do not deem themselves holy

  • I do not deem myself holy

  • Therefore I must be truly holy

It is logic itself — in its most seductive ... and subreptive ... form. This form of reasoning is called Modus Ponens. The problem with this type argument, however, is that while the form is indeed valid, it does not, simply for this reason, give us warrant to hold that the statements within it are necessarily true. In this case, the form of the argument is completely valid — it is sound reasoning. However, while it is the case that the first premise is true, it is also the case that the conclusion is false.

The argument presented above is really a paradigm for Catholics. And the great deception within it is not so much that we succeed in deceiving others, but that we succeed in deceiving ourselves.

Now, we must think on that a moment. We deceive ourselves. It is almost an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. How can we succeed in deceiving ourselves? One cannot deceive without being aware of the deceit ... right? This is the great deception. We deceptively deceive ourselves. It is, in other words, deception as a duplexity: it is a double negative, A negation of a negation – which is always its opposite: an affirmation. "I am not "not-X" – which is to say, "I am X". It is a false negation. It is the mere appearance of a negation, and that is why it is the greater deception. It is not that we simply deceive others by appearances (in this case, in the the form of words), but by another and involuted turn of appearances we attempt to deceive ourselves.

Of course, it never comes off. It remains an oxymoron. While we may have succeeded in our attempt to deceive others, we also recognize that we have attempted – and failed – to deceive ourselves. We believe ourselves holy although we are not. In fact, we sometimes even honestly strive to believe that we are not holy ... but even that effort itself only serves to reinforce our belief that we are holy. After all, who but one holy, would seek to think themselves otherwise? One who is holy. It is circular, and because it is, truth cannot enter into the closed confines circumscribed by that self-perpetuating circle of deception.

We nevertheless ascribe holiness to others (and deem this a virtue, a kind of largesse) – but in reality do not, or seldom, sincerely believe it. We are reluctant to concede to others what we do not possess ourselves. The circle of deception grows wider, consuming others in that incessant consumption of itself. "So and so is holy ... but ..." We distrust holiness because we are not genuinely acquainted with it.

The real question involves the question itself. Why. Why are we asking the question of others, or more importantly, why are we asking it of ourselves?  Something is amiss.

God alone is holy

It is worth repeating: God alone is holy.

Only inasmuch as we participate in God Himself, do we participate in holiness. We do not possess it. Another does not possess it. Neither ever will. Only God does. We can only participate in that holiness that is pre-eminently God.

Perhaps an analogy will suffice:

We are not what we participate in. It is distinct from us even as we participate in it. A golfer is one who participates in golf, in the activity of golfing. But he is not "golf". We may even understand his identity as a golfer as descriptive of who he is, and even what he is. To some extent this is true. He is a golfer: that is to say, the "what" and the "who" of the golfer is, to a greater or lesser degree, tethered to the activity in which he participates. But remove the ball and the club and he is no longer a golfer. Whatever else he is, he is not a golfer because he no longer participates in golf. While it is an activity into which he enters, in which he participates, the activity is not the man.

In much the same way it is absurd of us to conceive of holiness as a possession, as something which can be predicated of us in an ontological sense, that is to say, in and of ourselves, or, for some, through meritorious association. We cannot secretly pride ourselves on our holiness (which, notwithstanding, we methodologically deny). We have none. None of our own. We can no more pride ourselves in its possession, than disdain another for lacking it. It is not ours. It is not theirs. It is God's. And He participates it to Whom He wills – and even then ... even then, it is not their possession.

We participate in God's Holiness – and only insofar as we participate in God Himself.

This frightful arrogance that presumes to judge of itself and others – this audacity to impute holiness to oneself or to others as something commendatory – as though it were rigorously acquired and assimilated, much as we acquire and assimilate learning – as though it were possessed in part from a greater whole to which it either measurably contributes or from which it substantivally derives – this immense hubris goes beyond deception, and encroaches on something ancient and evil.

How often Jesus admonishes us not to judge! Of ourselves or others! Nor does He delimit the terms, confining them to pronouncements of perdition only. We have no credentials to judge whatever ... on any terms! Not concerning others. And not concerning ourselves. But most especially not concerning ourselves – and eminently concerning our own presumed holiness.

The Publican had it right. He had nothing and he knew it. The Pharisee judged both the publican and himself and found himself wrong before God on both counts. He thought he knew what was holy and believing himself to possess it, set the benchmark for sanctity before which the Publican fell woefully short ...

If it is your wish to make pronouncements on holiness then go to Him Alone Who Is Holy. But do not be hasty. Those eager to be magistrates in the Courts of the Almighty must themselves pass through the dock before they go to the bench...


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