Facts and great personages in world history occur, as it were, twice . . . the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” The Synod on Synodality seems destined to confirm Marx’s words (themselves a revision of Hegel). The tragedy arises from the deep theological and philosophical division that has plagued Catholic Christianity throughout the modern era, ever since God disappeared from the horizon and the Church became split between recalcitrant traditionalism and modernist historicism. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Maurice Blondel described the result in words perhaps even better suited to our own time: “With every day that passes, the conflict between tendencies which set Catholic against Catholic in every order—social, political, philosophical—is revealed as sharper and more general. One could almost say that there are now two quite incompatible ‘Catholic mentalities’ . . . And that is manifestly abnormal, since there cannot be two Catholicisms.”
More than a century later, this dark observation is strangely comforting. It is a reminder that we do not live in Year Zero of Catholicism, that our present divisions have a long history, and that much of what we are now undergoing was anticipated, diagnosed, and criticized decades ago. Questions of philosophical and theological importance remain with us—questions of truth—that are older and more permanent than the current pontificate and deeper than the superficialities of the synodal process and the social media age. Understanding these questions is necessary if we are to comprehend our current travails. This understanding would be a hard-won achievement in the thoughtlessness of the present moment—which is where the farce begins.
In Blondel’s day, a self-appointed group of censors, the Sodalitium Pianum, waged a clandestine and thought-crushing campaign against those they regarded as the modernist enemies of the pope, often employing authoritarian tactics to intimidate and silence them. In the past decade, a self-appointed Sodalitium Franciscanum, the ideological inverse of its early twentieth-century predecessor, has conducted a similar campaign. It reduces all philosophical and theological questions to political questions, transposing “true” and “false” into “friend” and “enemy,” with the truth of every idea measured by whether it “supports” Pope Francis and his “dream” for the Church, which is equated, full stop, with the meaning of the Second Vatican Council.
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