Towards a biodegradable Christianity
It was already known or forseen for some time that the announced synod on the Amazon would bring surprises and create additional reasons for division. At first, it seemed that perhaps the thorniest question would have to do with married clergy. It must be said that the publication of the Instrumentum laboris has far exceeded expectations and the wildest imagination. The document actually shoots for a much more ambitious and radical goal than expected. This is the most audacious move that could be conceived and attempted by the secretariat of a synod of the Catholic Church. The document proposes and contains nothing less than an upending, ab imis fundamentis (from its very foundations) of the very idea of Church and of Christian faith.
The Dilution of Christianity: Wine is turned into water
I say “Christian” and not “Catholic because by now, the method and contents of this text, full of repetitions and quite cumbersome, have actually liquidated the fundamental elements of Christianity. Naturally, the operation is carried out with the usual system I pointed out on another occasion: not by denying but by keeping silent; not contradicting, but diluting. This is done in such a way that the reader can be favorably impressed by the interesting reflections of an ecological, ethnological, hygienic-sanitary, sociological nature etc. contained in the document, many of which are correct as such. But amidst these luxuriant and redundant empirical analyzes, which say nothing new and which a specialist could say in a better and more documented way, the person of Christ and his Gospel disappear, literally swallowed up by the lush tropical forest.
The classic Christology expressed by the first ecumenical councils, which affirm the transcendence of the Divine Person of the Word with respect to the human nature that it supports, assumes and transforms, should be the one employed to illustrate the relationship between faith and culture, and not vice versa.
Now, in its general logic, the Instrumentum laboris actually expresses a completely inverted conception, which is no longer in conformity with Christological orthodoxy. Reading this hymn to paradise in the land of Amazonia (presented as a new Eden of innocence and unalloyed community and cosmic harmony, except for the stains brought by Western civilization, see no. 103), it is not clear how and why this concrete humanity needs faith in the Incarnation. The myth of the great Amazon River, source of life, takes the place of the great Christological and Easter image of the river that flows from the Temple, according to the prophet Ezekiel, which “heals wherever it arrives”. Instead of wondering how to bring the announcement of the Gospel to those peoples and how the living water of Christ can heal the lives of those populations, it takes for granted that thanks to their ancestral traditions, they already live in an Eden-like situation to which, if anything, it is the Church that must let itself be converted. The Church must assume “an Amazonian face”, the document says several times, but it does not make it clear how the Amazon can or will have to assume a Christian face and whether this is desirable or not.
Let me clearly say that, while the Instrumentum laboris expresses opinions someone may like, it is not a Christian document. Some biblical quotations, given as the title of a few paragraphs or the use of words such as “Church”, “conversion” and “pastoral” are not enough to guarantee the evangelical character of a text. They resemble reassuring screens, but the Word of the living God does not constitute the texture and inspiration on which the document is built. Just consider, only by way of example, chapter I of Part I, dedicated to the theme of life. The title takes its cue from John 10:10: “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” This would seem an excellent start. But the subsequent text never says in what consists this life that Jesus came to bring, nor that John speaks of “eternal life” and that this life is the very life of the Trinity, given by the Holy Spirit.
As a comment on this verse from Saint John, the text is content to give an illustration of Amazonian biodiversity, the rich hydrography of the Amazon River basin, and to praise the “good living” of the indigenous people which – amazing discovery – “means understanding the centrality of the relational-transcendent character of human beings and of creation, and includes ‘good doing’ or good actions” (no. 13). Of course, it is not clear whether the Cross of Christ and his Resurrection are still necessary for this type of “good living” presented as a model. The cross is mentioned only twice, and it is understood that it never refers to the redemptive Cross of Christ but to the “story of the cross and resurrection” which consists in the solidarity of the Church with the struggles of indigenous peoples in defending the territory (nos.33-34; 145).
Removal of the Scriptural principle: more than heresy, apostasy
Cardinal Brandmüller, in his widely circulated commentary, states in no uncertain terms that the document is heretical. It is hard to blame him. Now in order to better understand the kind of “heresy” in question, we must bear in mind that Church history teaches us that heresies develop normally based on a controversial interpretation of scriptural texts. A heretic always believes that he is giving a more correct interpretation of Scripture, the authority of which he does not question. This is why controversies were nourished with the sounds of biblical quotations. In other words, from Arius to Luther and beyond the assumption that united orthodoxy and heresy, Catholics and non-Catholics, despite division, has always been the undisputed authority of Sacred Scripture recognized as an inspired word to which every teaching and every theology has to submit.
However, the Instrumentum laboris for the Pan Amazon Synod contains no sensitive or detectable trace of this scriptural premise. The drafters of the document do not care in the least to give a scriptural and theological plausibility to what they say. It seems to them that the only “theological place” (a venerable terminology dating back to the illustrious Melchior Cano) is the “territory” or the “cry of the poor.” It reads, “Thus territory is a theological place where faith is lived, and also a particular source of God’s revelation: epiphanic places where the reserve of life and wisdom for the planet is manifest, a life and wisdom that speaks of God” (No. 19; see 144; 126e).
Of course, nowhere is it said that, within the great apostolic and ecclesial tradition, by order of importance, the Scriptures and the Liturgy are the first theological places from which all the other possible minor theological loci must be verified or had recourse to as primary sources. Dei Verbum and Sacrosanctum concilium are covered with creepers and tropical molds or sunk into some swampy quicksand.
This phenomenon must not be overlooked because it is the most important indicator that allows us to grasp the true nature of the deviation or “paradigm shift” that the Instrumentum laboris introduces. In modern times, there have already been illustrious precedents for a removal of the scriptural principle in favor of the primacy of other instances. Since the nineteenth century, the so-called liberal theology in the Protestant context was basically an attempt to justify Christianity (or its cultural relics) before the multiple criticisms of modern culture by reducing it “within the limits of reason alone” to a particularly high form of unsurpassed ethics or by attributing it to a universal religious sentiment. Faith and the Church were reduced to their universal comprehensibility through a process of rational homologation. The key words and concepts of Christianity remained, but their meaning was completely secularized.
This removal of the Scriptural principle was the consequence of the new confrontation that Christianity found itself having to face; it was no longer its internal divisions but a rationality emancipated from Revelation, which could accept only what was within its parameters.
Because of this anthropological dilution of Christianity into ethics, reason or religious sentiment (which also affected in its own way the modernist crisis in the Catholic camp), Scripture is no longer considered as a theological place. Now extrapolated from their ‘land of origin’ but still living in European civilization by inertia, the great Christian symbols (the Church, liturgy, the cross and resurrection, moral norms etc.) will have to find some justification and rereading. Thus, a great thinker like Ernst Troeltsch was able to define on a rational basis that the Christian religion represented the highest form of morals and universal religion, but nothing beyond that! The central dogmas thus became “myths” to be overcome by a universally acceptable “logos”. The Bultmanian demithologization was one of the most famous variants of this homologation of the faith with an easily digestible existential dimension.
It is in the light of this still unfinished story that one must consider a phenomenon like the Instrumentum laboris on the Amazon. It is a dilution of Christianity to anthropology, actually, to be precise, to ecology, giving it a semblance of acceptability in the context of the United Nations and of environmentalist, post-modern, anti-Western and biodegradable naturalist thought. This is why Cardinal Brandmüller’s diagnosis is exactly right also when he immediately added that we should speak of apostasy rather than heresy. Removing the Scriptural principle (which is like renouncing to do theology and missionary work); abdicating from reading the phenomena and mission of the Church in the light of the Word of God; replacing it with pristine, mythologized “theological places” of the environment, the territory and the poor (as if all this were immune from original sin and therefore a “pure word” of God that can do without the two Testaments), is tantamount to abandoning the terrain of faith, which for Paul and the apostolic Church is born from listening to the kerygma and not from an “ecological conversion” to the territory (an expression that occurs nine times in the text).
The Apostolic Church, and the subsequent one, transmitted the announcement of Christ the Son of God who died and rose again for our sins. This is why she was a missionary Church. But the document contains no trace of this announcement. Therefore, here we are faced not with a heterodox or heretical variant of Christianity, but with an abandonment of the biblical faith for something different with nothing Christian other than its counterfeit label – a bit like products bearing the EU trademark but which are manufactured in China.
I will say more. The great representatives of theological liberalism, which I mentioned, at least kept Christianity in a privileged position: for them it remained the highest expression of the human ethos or of humanity’s religion. In their own way, “they could not fail to call themselves Christian.” Something more radical takes place in the new mythical reduction presented in the pre-synodal document: that privileged position is absent. It seems the Church now has the sole task of protecting the good that Amazonian populations already possess. Therefore, even the high vision of Christianity as a more advanced religion or, if you wish, as the realization of man, disappears. Here the problem of true religion no longer has any reason to exist, nor does the question about the true God who religions worship. In fact, the document reads, “Insincere openness to the other, just like a corporatist attitude, that reserve salvation exclusively for one’s own creed, are destructive of that very creed” (No. 39). As if saying, ‘believe what you want, you are saved all the same.’ We had already read something like this in the Abu Dhabi document. Obviously, it was no slip of the tongue!
The cultural phenomenon: a childish regression
Having established this, there is an equally important fact of considerable proportions to note concerning the cultural operation underway (since we now can deal only with culture and no longer with Christian theology). The interesting thing is that the Instrumentum laboris no longer emphasizes the adult logos that illuminated and dissolved the mythos of the infantile and primitive epochs of humanity, including the Judeo-Christian “myth”, as happened in the reading of liberal theology and in all Illuminist or positivist reductions of Christianity of a Kantian, Lessinghian, Hegelian, Bultmanian nature and so on. Now, for the Western world, the fascination for emancipated adulthood, the “age of reason” which has been the guide for much of modernity has dissolved and lost its appeal. Its place has been taken back by a much-despised mythos, the primitive world, the infancy of humanity, the noble savage with his ancestral animistic wisdom (which the sad homo technologicus envies him without really knowing it).
After criticizing and eliminating ‘myth’, including biblical ‘myth’ as remnants of the infantile age of humanity and consequently desacralizing the ritual practices of the Church (accused of having a magical and superstitious mentality), they are now attempting to replace the empty package (beyond deforestation!) by resorting to shamanic myths and rituals of Amazonian natives — a pre-Christian repertoire — to make them the new paradigm in which to water down the sincere wine of the singularity of Christ.
It is impossible not to notice that from the psycho-cultural point of view this is a classic post-modern infantile regression phenomenon typical of the Western world, which no longer aspires to the adult age of Enlightenment or to positivistic memory. To be an adult is too demanding or too boring. Enough with pure and absolute reason, enough with concept fatigue; better to be as carefree and instinctive, as simple and spontaneous as children are, not at the age of reason, but at that of dreaming and playing. Too bad that, behind the enchanting innocence of the child, this infantile yearning camouflages a most profound nihilism.
Remember that Nietzsche’s superman, who decrees the end of the logos, has exactly the appearance of a child, innocent in his playing, beyond good and evil, bound for an eternal return. For the uninitiated, the child mentioned in Thus Spoke Zarathustra is Dionysus, “Dionysus against the Crucified”! The pagan myth replaces the Christian God. Today, what is childish fascinates because it impersonates an innocent and irresponsible instinctiveness that an adult cannot afford.
This diagnosis does not seem excessive. Note the strange, fatal attraction between the Westerner with a decadent bad conscience, disappointed by the once coveted emancipated adult age (which soon turned into unwanted old age) and the lost childhood, the land of gold which can only be found in pre-civilized tribal cultures (since we have also stolen childhood from our techno-children). The mythification of the uncontaminated, neo-pagan naturalism of the natives’ childlike innocence is an all-western and post-modern regression. Where can we find salvation from hyper-technologization, how to get out of a less and less manageable urbanization, how to heal the wounds of increasingly fragmented relationships?
After the attempts of the flower children, here is a proposal for the most ecologically sustainable and least neurotic possible cultural model: bring life back to its beginnings, to bows and arrows and shamanic healing rites. A new beginning! Today everyone wants to have a new beginning, another chance, as they say. For westernized man, the ‘other possibility’ is to turn to those who have remained at the beginning for millennia. This is the new myth which the Instrumentum laboris presents, an excellent example of post-modern infantile regression, a real complex or syndrome of European origin even if steeped in love for ‘peripheries’ and anti-westernism. Like all regressions, this too is not entirely aware of itself for otherwise it would be ashamed. Instead, they display it with impressive naivety, thinking of doing prophetic work. But while this prophecy is “out of date”, the tedious pages of the Instrumentum laboris are a smoothie of things taken for granted and really suitable for children (or perhaps toothless old men who have returned to stutter).
I don’t think too many explanations are needed to understand that this aspiration to infantile neoteny, a figure of the indistinction potentially open to every possibility of totipotent “self-determination” (which represents the Nietzschean will to power), magnificently agrees with a homologous culture that seeks to promote the delay of sexual differentiation (a phase necessary for access to adulthood) by maintaining pre-pubertal indeterminacy. Homo- and trans-ideology has to do with this secret nostalgia for fusional beginnings that bind to the mother, of whom the post-modern, a-logical and anomic Western world instinctively feels the need. It does not matter whether they now call it “Mother Earth” (another expression welcomed by the Instrumentum laboris, with six occurrences compared to a single reference to the paternal attribute of God) or Mother Nature.
Unfortunately, however, the Amazon described by the pre-Synodal document is not real, if only partly. It is a construction of Western imagination, which after having liquidated its own myths and especially the Christian narrative, is now searching for suitable substitutive myths. In singing the wonders of the Amazon territory, the document denotes an endless naiveté. Its drafters should have reread at least a few pages of Leopardi on Nature as stepmother to avoid being so blatantly seduced by Rousseouan sirens.
Conclusion: a biodegradable Christianity
The objections I raised to the postulates of Evangelii gaudium at the time (especially the first, i.e., the primacy of time over space) denoted the theoretical weakness of that pastoral program, which already showed a certain tendency to remove the role of the logos (even scriptural) in favor of reality (considered superior to the idea), thus essentially renouncing the mediation of theology in the name of the immediacy of praxis (initiating processes). My critique of Amoris laetitia focused on its highlighting the reduction of Christian specificity (condensed in sacramental life) to a universal morality consistent with the aforementioned currents of theological liberalism.
It seems to me that the Instrumentum laboris of the next synod on the Amazon represents a coherent development of these premises. The reduction of the sacraments to morals is now replaced by the exaltation of indigenous “good living” (naturist, rather than natural, morality), the choice of the people as a “mythical category” and of the myths of peoples instead of the biblical narrative. Above all, the preference given to the environment (territory-space) over history (time), also because indigenous populations have no history and live in cyclical time or (in some cases) lack the concept of time. Yet they had told us otherwise!
The most interesting aspect is that, compared to previous ambiguous formulations punctuated with erroneous quotations from Saint Thomas to be able to claim that everything was “completely Thomist,” in this document things have become clearer. Obviously, Saint Thomas has nothing to do with it, and, as said above, nor does the Bible. If anything Christian is still present in this Instrumentum laboris, it is a few words and expressions here and there, but no need to worry: they are undoubtedly biodegradable!
Dom Giulio Meiattini, OSB
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