First I want to apologise for the paucity of posts in August. It was partly the weather, partly my own personal things distracting my attention – the “vocational” question will, apparently, never ever go away. But 90% of it was simply a complete inability to keep up. Trying to isolate any coherent thoughts or make useful points, or bring things up that would be in any way helpful (or that aren’t already being said by dozens of other people), requires that there be time to breathe between things happening. To write intelligently, one has to think, and to do that one has to have enough time between explosions to settle one’s thoughts and come up with something good.
As we know, the scandal machine has reached fire-hose proportions, and attempts to take little sips from it have left me reeling. I’ve got three posts in draft that are now going to stay in draft because they became redundant and largely irrelevant one or two days – in one case within hours – of getting an idea of what to write about.
I don’t mean by that that I am personally overwhelmed. In fact, though I’m horrified and disgusted I maintain my original running thesis that this is what needs to happen. As revolting as the details of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report have been, the one thing that must be kept in mind is that people are finally seeing the truth. No matter how awful, the rule applies: “True data is good data.” In other words, “Only the Real counts.”
And that sort of leads to my point for the day.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.”
There are a lot of rabbit holes around, and it’s very easy to be tempted to dive into them headlong. People are starting to talk about the situation in eschatological terms.
The Church’s Ultimate Trial
Cardinal Burke: U.S. Catholic Church in ‘possibly the worst crisis that it’s ever experienced’
Cardinal Eijk References End Times Prophecy in Intercommunion Debate
They’re starting to search the skies – literally – for signs that we’ve come to the final phase. We are, with some solid justification, getting pretty apocalyptic. Some very sensible, tweed-wearing and non-hysterical people are starting to talk like crazed End Times aficionados. And I’m pretty comfortable saying I’m among them.
But I want now to sound a note of caution. This situation, especially now as it escalates to previously unimaginable proportions of horror, calls for us to become even more sober and more careful and more precise than we have ever been before.
I’m going to take the video above as an example. It’s good. It’s useful. (And the high production values are good too.) But it steps over a line. It simply states that Francis is “the False Prophet” and goes from there. But that’s an example of “begging the question” the old rhetorical error of assuming the thing you are there to prove.
I will grant that upon what we have seen so far, and its effects, it is indisputably just to describe Francis Bergoglio as a false prophet. He has brazenly misrepresented the Catholic Faith in every particular, and is obviously using his position to propose an entirely new set of ideas in place of the Catholic Faith. His habitual blasphemies, his love of calling Christ or Our Lady a liar are arguably symptoms of a soul riven with the effects of apostasy and are certainly among the many signs to be considered. But to speak more precisely for a moment, a person who falsely claims to speak for God – particularly one who assumes an authority to change what is known of God’s commandments – is by definition “a false prophet.”
But is he this False Prophet?
Revelation 19 (KJV)
19 And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.
20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
I think it’s safe to say that Bergoglio is a species of false prophet, as described by Our Lord and many other times in the New Testament. But is he *The* FP? I have no idea. I suppose it’s possible. But to say for sure is a step too far.
And to be honest, I don’t know at all what The False Prophet referred to in that passage of Revelation actually is. Are the people making this claim – and it seems a pretty popular one – even starting from an understanding of Scripture that is Catholic? Do they know something about Revelation 19 that I don’t? Have they consulted with others in this? Have they looked up what the Fathers and Doctors of the Church have said that passage means? There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that they have.
Here’s the rub: if we ourselves start to claim authoritative knowledge, and demand that others agree or present what we only believe or think or suspect is true as though it were fact, we risk joining the ranks of the false prophets ourselves.
Obviously I share the concerns, and privately I might think some of these things are true or could be. This is, after all, the pope we’re talking about. And the Church of Christ. And we are in a state of emergency so grave it has no precedents, and there are some authoritative people saying some of these apocalyptic things. These things alone should give us a hint of how serious this all is.
But the seriousness of it is all the more reason to stay calm, to look very carefully at every claim and to make very clear distinctions, and most of all, not to make claims to certain knowledge that we cannot possibly have or to try to speak authoritatively on subjects that are not within our realm of competence.
This is not a time for fomenting panic or for using terms like “The False Prophet” loosely, or for making claims of certitude that are unsupportable. I am not the Church. I am not a bishop. I’m not the college of cardinals. I’m not an ecumenical council. I’m not the pope. I’m not even a scripture scholar. Like everyone else, I have the use of my reason and the evidence before me and I can make sensible judgements based on those things. In fact, I’m obliged to do so. But I can’t claim to have all the evidence I need. There are things I don’t know. There are even things I don’t know that I don’t know. And most importantly for a Catholic: I have no competence to speak authoritatively.
And it goes both ways, of course. It’s just as irresponsible to make claims of certitude the other way. To aggressively ignore the evidence, to claim that because the pope is the pope is the pope nothing could possibly be going seriously wrong. This, as I think we have mentioned from time to time, is a wilful ignorance we have called “papal positivism” and it is just as dangerous – and just as arrogant – as the other claims.
What I can’t do either way is tell other people that this or that thing is absolutely true. I can say I believe Bergoglio to be The False Prophet of scripture. Or that it’s possible, or even probable, given all the other things going on (and then I must present my evidence for others to consider, and even to refute). I can say that this is a conclusion that one could reasonably come to, conditionally. And the condition here is always, “We don’t know everything.”
We make a very dangerous error – and risk leading other people into very dangerous errors – when we try to make claims like “Francis is the False Prophet of Scripture,” as though we are personally privilege to information that no one else has. This can lead to a form of de facto gnosticism, and lead down some very dark and deadly paths. It’s what we call in the innernet biz “a rabbit hole”. Don’t go down it. Seriously, don’t. Stick with what we actually know and can know, and let the remaining uncertainties be resolved by others.
I am the last person to deny that the situation is more grave than it has ever been, that this pope is uniquely bad in the history of all the bad popes in that he is the first we have ever had who seems bent on destroying (what’s left of) the Faith. These are undoubtedly extraordinary signs, and we are obviously obliged to examine them carefully and to be warned that the situation really is as apocalyptic as it looks.
I call for people to be very, very careful. Not to rely exclusively on their own lights. To find well educated and faithful persons to consult when an idea pops in there. To look things up and to be extremely precise in the use of terms. To make concrete distinctions. And to make sure you know exactly what you are saying, and say only those things of which you are completely certain. And I repent of all the times I have failed to do this myself.
If you read something that prompts a line of thought that leads to a shocking conclusion, “seek wise counsel” before making a video or posting a blog post. We do no one any good whipping up hysteria. This is a time for cool heads. In these most dangerous times, the Devil can make use of any mistakes we make, to cause division and more confusion, to tempt us to turn on each other, to aim the firing squad inwards.