Earlier this year I posted Bossuet’s Elevations on Original Sin, and the last post in the series was on the horrors of idolatry. When I posted this, I thought: this is probably the lowest danger that Bossuet worried about, especially in the West. (We have idolatries of other kinds, but he was talking about the kind you see in the Bible, esp. the Old Testament.)
Evidently Pope Francis reads this blog, and with the Amazon Synod his response was pretty simple: hold my beer. We had idolatry on full frontal display (of the idols) and back display (of those who bowed down and worshiped.) The brave trads who took the idols and threw them into the Tiber gave the appropriate reaction to what Bossuet correctly called a “horror:”
Such has been the illusion of human life. Carried away by their passions and their love for their kings, men adored the statues, and gave to wood and stone the name incommunicable; they sacrificed their children to these false gods. There was nothing more holy among men. Marriages could not retain their sanctity; murders, perfidy, unrest and perjury flooded the earth. The forgetfulness of God followed: public joys brought ungodly sects; public perils have introduced superstitious and false divinations; it is no longer feared to perjure oneself, when one has seen that one swears by a wood or a stone; and justice and good faith are extinguished among men.
The one place the trads haven’t quite got it right is their insistence that there’s real novelty to this. In one sense there is: Francis is using the Amazon and its pastoral woes (which are shared to some extent throughout Latin America) to advance his postmodern agenda in the church. In both cases the motivation and the result are the same:
For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts and of creeping things. Wherefore, God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness: to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. Who changed the truth of God into a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
(Romans 1:22-25 DRB)
However, the problems of the mixing of pagan and Catholic worship go back to the beginning of Roman Catholicism in Latin America, and I’ll use an example from family history to illustrate that.
In the mid 1950’s my parents took a “banana boat” tour from New Orleans via Havana to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala’s only outlet to the Caribbean Sea. (It was operated by the United Fruit Company to take their cargo from Central America to the U.S., the passenger accommodations were lagniappe for their income.)
From there they ascended up to Guatemala City and the mountainous area, and that included Chichicastenango, home of the Church of St. Thomas. That church is famous (or infamous) because the pagan Mayan priests still have access to the place and have been known to sacrifice there. The syncretistic nature of the place horrified my Baptistic mother; when I “swam the Tiber” seventeen years later those images came back to haunt her and how she looked at my own conversion.
Any Pentecostal missionary (and I’ve known a few) to Central and South America and the Caribbean has had to deal with the blase attitude of people to attend Mass on Sunday and whatever pagan worship is prevalent the previous night. The best known place for that kind of thing is Haiti and voodoo, but we can go on with practices such as Santeria and now Pachamama. A great deal of the blame for that can be laid at the feet of Francis’ fellow Jesuits.
One of the “memes” I post repeatedly is the little “rondeau” (at the right) to the “reverend Jesuit Fathers on their accommodating morality.” It appears at the beginning of some editions of Pascal’s Provincial Letters. The original and the translation follow:
Go away, sins; the speech without equal
Of the famous troupe rich in Escobar’s evil,
Lets us have your pleasures without their deadly venom:
We taste them without crime; and this new release
Leads without effort to heaven in a profound peace.
Hell loses its rights; and if the devil may complain,
One only needs to say: Go, spirit unclean,
By Bauny, Sánchez, Castro, Gans, Tambourin,
But oh, flattering Fathers, foolish on which you stand,
As the unknown Author who by letters remand,
Your politics have found the end,
Your probabilities are close to their end,
One comes back; look for a New World,
Unfortunately the Jesuits had already taken the last advice: they went to the New World, spreading their “accommodating morality.” They were stopped in China with their rites, but in Latin America they succeeded. The result of this was that Christianity was, like my grandmother’s description of Lake Ponchartrain, a mile wide and a foot deep, vulnerable to the onslaught of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism in the previous century and now this one.
I follow several of the Trads on Twitter, and although I’m not entirely sympathetic to their position, I am to their pain. One of their main draws to the Church is the authority of the see of Peter. The current Occupant knows that, and is using that to bring them under his heel. Like their conservative Anglican counterparts in the last decade and earlier, they have many tough decisions to make, tougher by the authority structure which was their consolation and is now their jailer.
As for me, not too long after I took my leave from Roman Catholicism I read Pascal’s Provincial Letters. For anyone who is familiar with Catholicism, it’s a hilarious smackdown of the “reverend Jesuit fathers” and, like Bossuet’s own writings, a masterpiece of French literature. But after what I went through in my last years as a Catholic, it convinced me that I didn’t really want to come back, there was too much familiar with it. In the midst of Scots-Irish cultural imperialism and Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, it’s been tempting to revert, but I think the exile is permanent. My fellow Pentecostals will clean up in the Amazon, but the lurch to the left of Roman Catholicism is a loss that Christianity will pay for dearly unless Our Lord comes back very soon.