In an exceptional moment of clarity, Pope John Paul II once observed:
We see spread abroad ideas contrary to the truth which God has revealed and which the Church has always taught. Real heresies have appeared in dogma and moral theology, stirring doubt, confusion, rebellion. Even the liturgy has been harmed. Christians have been plunged into an intellectual and moral illuminism, a sociological Christianity, without clear dogma or objective morality.
If his words were accurate when they were first delivered, on February 6, 1981, they are doubly accurate today. Faithful Catholics around the world are still reeling from the effects of the 2014 Synod - an event during which Princes of the Church were openly discussing and debating topics which, a few short decades ago, were so far beneath the dignity of any self-respecting Catholic as to be taboo.
How did we get here? How, in the brief span of a hundred years, did we go from the profoundly Catholic extra Ecclesia nulla salus (outside of the Church there is no salvation) to the profoundly Protestant Ecclesia semper reformanda est (the Church is always to be reformed)? Join me, if you will, on a brief historical excursus in pursuit of insight into this most pressing of questions, i.e. that regarding the instrumentalization of the Holy Spirit to sanction sweeping and persistent change in the Catholic Church.
In the late 19th century, a new strain of evangelical Protestantism - later referred to as the "Holiness Movement" - was emerging in the western world, one which placed great emphasis on a reputedly profound personal experience it referred to as "sanctification" or the "second work of grace," believed to be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon individuals akin to what the Holy Apostles experienced at Pentecost two millennia ago. It was from this Movement that the modern religious phenomenon known as "Pentecostalism," which promised its adherents a fuller revelation and a more direct manifestation of the Holy Spirit, was born. As Stanley Frodsham (1882-1969), a leading figure of early Pentecostalism, put it:
The Pentecostal Baptism of the Holy Spirit brings a deeper and clearer revelation of our Lord and Savior.
Almost as if to condemn these very words, His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, in his 1897 encyclical on the Holy Spirit, wrote:
This being so, no further and fuller manifestation and revelation of the Divine Spirit may be imagined or expected; for that which now takes place in the Church is the most perfect possible, and will last until that day when the Church herself, having passed through her militant career, shall be taken up into the joy of the Saints triumphing in Heaven. (Divinum illud munus, §6)
The explosive potential of this new conception of the Holy Spirit was as obvious to Pope Leo XIII as it was to the Protestants who originally proposed the idea, for it meant that anyone could claim the title of Apostle and all the authority that title deserves - namely, the power to decide the true meaning of Christ's words, to discern the authentic application of His commandments, and to define the structure and governance of His Church. In essence, it was a means whereby one could "reset" the Church and all she teaches, taking her, as it were, back to Apostolic times, effectively wiping out her history. And it could all be done with the seeming sanction of Our Blessed Lord, who Himself had promised to send us the Holy Spirit, who would "teach us all truth" (John 16:13). For anyone who wanted to subvert well-established Church teaching - and they were legion at the turn of the last century - the doctrine of Pentecostalism was a most fortuitous blessing.
Thus, despite the unambiguous rejection by Pope Leo XIII, the idea of a "new outpouring of divine grace," even a "new Pentecost," had gained considerable traction in certain Catholic circles by the early 20th century. It became a veritable buzzword in Rome and beyond when Pope John XXIII, in preparation for the Second Vatican Council, made the following prayer to Almighty God:
Renew Your wonders in this, our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of Blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Savior, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.
The rest, as they say, is history. A mere half-century after that historic prayer, the notion of a "new Pentecost" has become so ingrained in post-Conciliar thinking that, for many, it is part and parcel of Catholicism, and the future of the Church is unthinkable without it. In the words of the former President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity - and the current President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization - Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko:
One thing, however, is certain: the face of the Church of the third millennium depends on our capacity to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church of our time. [...] It depends, therefore, on our capacity to be amazed by the charismatic gifts that the Holy Spirit is lavishing on the Church today with extraordinary generosity.
It is not a coincidence, gentle reader, that the most "progressive" among the clergy are those who are the most vigorous in their support for Catholic Pentacostalism - or, Charismatic Catholicism, as it is called these days. Some are quite vocal in their support. Others are a bit more subtle.
As for the subtle type, we might take Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany for example. When explaining what he means when he says, "I believe in the Apostolic Church," he revealed the following:
"Apostolic" means that we believe those who first undertook the journey, those who traveled the path from the Easter experience: the Apostles. And we believe that the bishops are the successors of the Apostles. This is, of course, a pretty bold claim. Why is this claim made? To make clear that we are connected to the origins, that we do not make the Church anew, that we do not start at zero, pick up a sheet of paper and say, "Now we shall invent the Church of our dreams." Rather, we enter the long journey of the People of God at the Gospel, at the point of origin. The Apostles represent this loyalty to the origins.
Note well that, for the Cardinal, to believe that the Church is "apostolic" means to believe that we are connected "to the origins," conveniently skipping over the last 2,000 years of apostolic lineage. I imagine we are supposed to feel something like relief when Cardinal Marx explains that he does not want to start tabula rasa, as though this is sufficient proof of his fidelity to the Church. On the contrary, gentle reader, this represents a programmatic change. Gone are the days of genuine apostlic succession, of carefully guarding the hard-won fruits of so many generations of labor in the vineyard; this is to be a church in which we are forever starting, not from the absolute, but from the apostolic zero, pushing 'reset' with every generation, connecting with the "point of origin" so as to better meet the "challenges of the age" under the "sign of the times." There is no cause for relief here; on the contrary, we should be positively outraged, not only at his intentional overlooking of two millennia of authentic doctrinal development, but more properly so at his thinly veiled suggestion that, upon his being raised to the episcopate, he has received his mandate directly from the hand of Christ, and not from the hands of his many saintly predecessors in the Faith. But in doing so, I suspect we would very likely demonstrate that we are not sufficiently inspired by the Holy Spirit. As Cardinal Marx recently commented on the orthodox blow-back he and Cardinal Kasper experienced at the 2014 Synod
When, in a process of reform, one places people and positions in the categories of "victor" and "vanquished," such a one prevents us from being infected and surprised by the Holy Spirit.
Where have we heard of this "Holy Spirit, God of Surprises" before? Ah, yes. And that brings us to the more obvious type of supporter.
In his opening address to the Synod Fathers, Pope Francis remarked:
God's dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. We can thwart God's dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity.
Are you taking notes, gentle reader? If so, please do underline that the Holy Spirit enables us to be "generous," "free" and "creative." He does not help in the defense of orthodoxy, He does not lead to a genuine appreciation and guarding of Tradition, and He most certainly does not inspire anyone to admonish sinners and correct errors. That only creates division - and we all know where that comes from.
In what has to be one of the most revealing of his homilies to date, Pope Francis recently laid out in surprising clarity his vision of the Church: she is a barren woman, and unless she opens herself to the "Holy Spirit, God of Surprises," she will remain barren:
The Church is a mother and becomes a mother only when she opens herself to the newness of God, to the power of the Spirit. [...] The Church is barren when she believes she can do it all, that she can take over the consciences of the people, going the way of the Pharisees, of the Sadducees, on the path of hypocrisy. [...] She must allow herself to be startled by the Holy Spirit.
The entire homily is very much worth reading and pondering. If you're pressed for time, however, add the following to your list of notes: Holy Spirit = expect startling newness, you barren, gossipy hag.
The logical conclusion of this line of thinking was succinctly summarized by Fr. Peter Knott, S.J., in his book The Keys to the Council (2012):
If one conceives of the Catholic Church exclusively as a reality instituted by Christ two thousand years ago, substantive change will generally be viewed as a departure from the will of Christ. However, if one conceives of the Church as not only instituted by Christ in the past but also perpetually constituted by the Holy Spirit in each present moment, then change and reform might be viewed, not as a departure from the will of Christ, but as a fidelity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Authentic reform and renewal will always be a response to the promptings of the Spirit in ever-changing historical and cultural contexts. [...] For example, calls for Church reform frequently seek more structures that would allow Church leaders to consult the faithful on a variety of matters from pastoral policy to Church doctrine. Now, many object that such a proposal for reform mistakenly presumes that the Church is a democracy. Indeed, were this call for reform motivated by nothing more than an effort to transform the Church into a liberal democracy, it could well be illegitimate. But, in fact, this reform proposal is oriented toward greater fidelity to the Church's identity as a temple of the Holy Spirit. In pursuing such reform, the Church would become a community of discernment, a community in which its leaders would be dedicated to seeking out the voice of the Spirit.
As Fr. Knott makes clear, this new pneumatology would allow any prelates intent on changing Church teaching to subvert virtually any practice - and, by extension, nearly any doctrine - at will, provided he can make it appear to be at the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The average Catholic, being relatively ignorant of magisterial teaching on the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, is reluctant to offer resistance in the face of novelties being proposed in His Name. And if such a novelty has the blessing of a reigning pope: who is he to judge? Little does he know that the dogmatic constitution which promulgated papal infallibility explicitly states that the Pope does not have the power to declare a new doctrine, even - and specifically - if it should appear to come at the behest of the Holy Spirit:
For the Holy Spirit was promised to the Successors of Peter not so that they might, by His revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by His assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the Apostles. (Constitutio Dogmatica Prima de Ecclesia Christi (Pastor Aeternus), Cap. IV, §6)
The prescience of Blessed Pope Pius IX is downright spooky at times. But, really, why should anyone pay any attention to such an ancient document? 1870? My goodness, that thing is over a hundred years old! It can't possibly be part of the "new Pentecost."
Brace yourself, gentle reader, for an unrelenting stream of homilies and speeches leading up to the 2015 Synod on how we all need to 'become attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit,' how He is 'calling us' to 'new and unexpected destinations' well beyond the 'confines' of 'doctrinal security,' punctuated by the occasional snide remark - offered in all humility, mind you - on those 'sour-faced whited sepulchers' who would keep the Church 'in the past' by remaining obstinately 'fixed on,' nay, 'obsessed with' the commandments of Christ. Brace yourself, and mediate on the words of Our Blessed Lord:
If you love me, keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever: the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, nor knoweth Him. But you shall know Him, because He shall abide with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more. But you see Me, because I live, and you shall live. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them: he it is that loveth Me. And he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love Him, and will manifest Myself to Him. (John 14:15-21)