Op-Ed: “Jesus, only a Man – Does Francis want to blow up Christology?”

By the Rev. Deacon Nick Donnelly at Rorate Caeli:

As we await the publication of the English translation of the Amazon Synod’s Final Report one of the concerns is, will it present Our Lord Jesus Christ as the one and only saviour of mankind or will it continue to push him to the margins, only referring to Him in a cursory fashion. There are grounds for this concern, as Cardinal Müller warned, ‘They have driven Jesus out of the Amazon Synod’. 

Over the three weeks of the synod the prominence of the Pachamama idols has greatly added to the anxiety that the focus of the synod fathers was not on Our Lord, but on so called Mother Earth. Furthermore, the publication of Scalfari’s interview with Francis at the opening of the synod raised the shocking prospect that Francis does not personally uphold a Catholic Christology.

If we assume the accuracy of Eugenio Scalfari’s report that Francis denies the divinity of Jesus Christ then Bergoglio has planted yet another ‘theological atomic bomb’ that this time has the capacity to destroy all Catholic Christology. (Dr. Josef Seifert warned that Amoris Laetitia is a ‘ticking “theological atomic bomb” that has the capacity to entirely destroy all Catholic moral teaching.’)

Though the Vatican has denied the general veracity of Scalfari’s report, Francis has yet to issue a public repudiation of Scalfari’s account of his christological beliefs and affirm that he fully upholds that Our Lord Jesus Christ was true God and true man throughout his earthly life. Archbishop Viganò has urged Francis to personally give a clear answer because this matter is so essential to being a Christian:

Christians expect a clear answer from the Pope himself. The thing is too important; it is essential: Yes, I believe that Christ is the Son of God made Man, the only Savior and Lord. All Christians await this clarification from him, not from others, and by virtue of their baptism have the right to have this response.

Regarding Francis’s attitude to Scalfari’s controversial accounts of their conversations Fr Lombardi, the former papal spokesman, observed in 2013, ‘if Francis felt his thought had been “gravely misrepresented,” he would have said so.’ Therefore, if Bergoglio remains silent we can take it that he hasn’t been gravely misrepresented over his denial of Christ’s Divinity.

Eugenio Scalfari wrote the following, even putting some of Francis’s reported speech in quotation marks:

‘Those who, as it has happened many times with me, have had the luck of meeting him and speaking to him with the greatest cultural intimacy, know that pope Francis conceives Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, man, not God incarnate. Once incarnate, Jesus stops being a God and becomes a man until his death on the cross. […] ‘When I had the chance of discussing these sentences, pope Francis told me: “They are the proven proof that Jesus of Nazareth, once having become a man, was, though a man of exceptional virtues, not at all a God.”’

The wicked invention of Kenotic Theory

To believe that the Son of God gave up his Divinity and ceased to be God during his earthly life is a reckless version of Kenotic Theory. Kenotic Theory takes its name from St. Paul’s use of the Greek word ‘kenosis’ in Philippians 2:6-11, which means ‘emptying’:

Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant’. (Phil 2:5-7.) 

Kenotic Theory was invented in the 19th century by non-Catholic theologians who misinterpreted St. Paul’s use of kenosis to mean that Christ emptied himself of his Godhead during his Incarnation, flatly contradicting the Council of Chalcedon’s seminal definition of Our Lord’s unique and singular Hypostatic Union, Son of God, one person uniting two natures, Divine and human, ‘without confusion, change, division, or separation.’ (CCC 467.)

On the 1,500th anniversary of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 1951 venerable Pope Pius XII condemned Kenotic Theory as a ‘wicked invention’ in his encyclical Sempiternus Rex Christus:

There is another enemy of the faith of Chalcedon, widely diffused outside the fold of the Catholic religion. This is an opinion for which a rashly and falsely understood sentence of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (ii, 7), supplies a basis and a shape. This is called the kenotic doctrine, and according to it, they imagine that the divinity was taken away from the Word in Christ. It is a wicked invention, equally to be condemned with the Docetism opposed to it. It reduces the whole mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption to empty the bloodless imaginations. ‘With the entire and perfect nature of man’ – thus grandly St. Leo the Great – ‘He Who was true God was born, complete in his own nature, complete in ours’ (Para. 29.)

According to Scalfari’s account of Francis’ Christology he holds this ‘wicked’ non-Catholic invention that ‘the divinity was taken away from the Word in Christ.’

The true Catholic understanding of Kenosis

The Catholic doctrine of kenosis doesn’t hold that the Son of God ceased to be Divine when he ‘came down from heaven’, but that the Son of God began to exist on earth in a new way, ‘the Word became flesh’. (Jn 1:14). As St. John Chrysostom puts it:

For lest when you hear that He emptied Himself, you should think that some change, and degeneracy, and loss is here; he says, while He remained what He was, He took that which He was not, and being made flesh He remained God, in that He was the Word. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Philippians, sermon VII.)

The self-emptying of the Son of God was not him giving up His Godhead, which is impossible, but ‘the Eternal Son of God taking on in his own life ‘the “kenotic” event of birth, of human life, and of the death on the Cross.’ (International Theological Commission, Theology, Christology, Anthropology.) 

Traditional Catholic theology describes the eternal Son of God existing on earth in a new way in terms of assuming a state of abasement. Dr. Sheeben describes this as consisting ‘in the assumption of humanity and the simultaneous occupation of Divinity’. (A Manual of Catholic Theology Based on Scheeben’s ‘Dogmatik’, vol. II, p.170.) This entailed the Son of God renouncing in his human nature some of his divine privileges, such as Divine Dominion and Majesty, as far as this was consistent with his divine dignity and was necessary for the salvation of man. For example, regarding his Divine Dominion Jesus retained his power over Creation, exemplified in his miracles, such as his miracle of command over the sea and his institution of the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus also revealed his Divine Majesty at his Transfiguration. Dr. Ludwig Ott describes the Son of God’s assumption of a new way of existence through the Incarnation as follows: 

The kenosis (debasement) consists in the renunciation (in his human nature) of the Form of God…The exchange of the form of God for that of a servant followed Christ’s Incarnation, for He who in His pre-mundane existence was ‘God in the form of God’ became in His Incarnation ‘God in the form of a servant’. (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 135-136.)

The traditional Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation understands that Our Lord remained unique and exceptional in his humanity, while at the same time sharing our common humanity. Commenting on Philippians 2: 7, ‘being born in the likeness of men’ St. John Chrysostom outlines essential distinctions between Jesus in his humanity and our humanity:

What then means, ‘Being made in the likeness of men’? He had many things belonging to us, and many He had not; for instance, He was not born of wedlock. He did no sin. These things had He which no man has. He was not what he seemed only, but He was God also; He seemed to be a man, but He was not like the mass of men. For He was like them in flesh. He means then, that He was not a mere man. Wherefore he says, ‘in the likeness of men.’ For we indeed are soul and body, but He was God, and soul and body, wherefore he says, ‘in the likeness.’ (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Philippians, sermon VII.)

Bergoglio’s Christology, according to Scalfari, denies this essential distinction between Jesus and the rest of mankind that is safeguarded by the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, ‘He was God, and soul and body’.

What are the consequences if Francis denies the Divinity of Christ?

If Scalfari’s account of Bergoglio’s crude Kenotic Theory is correct, and he does indeed hold that ‘Once incarnate, Jesus stops being a God and becomes a man until his death on the cross’, the consequences for his Faith are devastating. Here are just a few:

-It makes a nonsense of the Gospels’ testimony to Jesus’s explicit self-awareness of his divine status, expressed in such statements as, ‘I and the Father are one’; ‘And he who sees me sees him who sent me.’ (Jn 10:30: 12:45.) Denial of the divinity of Christ blasphemously makes him a liar when he claims to forgive sins, as only God can forgive sins.

-Our Lord’s miracles tend to be explained in rationalistic terms, with all supernatural aspects downplayed. We can see this in Francis’ repeated explanation of the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves not as ‘multiplication’ but as ‘sharing’.

-St. Anselm’s classical theory of the Atonement, as expressed in Cur Deus Homo? [Why God became Man?] is negated because only the infinite merit of the Son of God’s death on the Cross can substitute for sinful man’s infinite offence against God’s honour. Denial of the atonement would help explain why Francis said that atheists can go to heaven, even though they explicitly reject God and are without faith in Christ and the remedy of the sacraments.

-If Jesus was just an exceptionally virtuous man when he founded Christianity then he is no different from the founders of other man-made world religions, such as the Buddha and Muhammed. This denial of the Lord Jesus as the one and only divine saviour of mankind would explain Francis affirming with the Grand Imam that God wills ‘the pluralism and the diversity of religions’.

-Christ’s institution of the Most Holy Eucharist as His Sacred Body and Precious Blood is reduced to a mere symbolic meal if it is just the words and acts of a man; no matter how virtuous. As a mere man, Jesus would have no power to change the bread and wine into the sacrament of his body and blood. This could explain why Francis does not think it sacrilegious to allow public and permanent sinners, such as those in adulterous second unions, to receive Holy Communion. Could this also be the reason why he often does not genuflect at the consecration or before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration?

-Furthermore, if Christ’s institution of the Eucharist is not the action of the God-man then the Mass cannot really and truly represent the Most Holy Sacrifice of Christ on the cross. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, every word and deed of Jesus transcends time and space because as the actions of God they are eternal, ‘all that Christ is – all that he did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all.’(CCC 1085.) If they are just the actions of a man Jesus’ words and deeds are just like any other man’s and are merely something of the historical past.

-The denial of Jesus’s divinity not only attacks the Council of Chalcedon, it also attacks the earlier Council of Ephesus. For Mary to be the Mother of God it is essential that the Son of God was Divine, ‘Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb: “Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh.”’(CCC 466.)

In a leading Italian newspaper, reported around the world, Scalfari has put before us an appalling prospect — an apostate pope. To deny the divinity of Christ is the worst type of apostasy, 

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. (I Jn 2:22.) 

Surely knowing the dire consequences of Scalfari claiming he denies the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth it would be a simple matter for Francis to issue a personal repudiation of it. The question remains, why he has not done so?

 

 

In depth discussion on the Scalfari interview and the Synod with Michael Voris and Taylor Marshall here:

 

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