Don’t worry: The Black Pope is just a symbol of the zeitgeist.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jun 02, 2017

I have added the head of the Society of Jesus to my list of alleged persons who cannot possibly be real. It was not enough that Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal insisted in February that we must discern the meaning of Christ’s teachings for ourselves, and that the Holy Spirit might lead us to an understanding which differs from the teachings of the Catholic Church. Now the Black Pope has said that Christians “have formed symbolic figures such as the devil to express evil”, which may simply be a product of one’s social environment. Formerly I had thought the Superior General of the Jesuits was called the “Black Pope” because of the color of his habit. But what could be more obvious than that the “Black Pope” is actually another one of our symbols of evil?

Either way, Fr. Sosa Abascal seems to have forgotten, as Our Lord told Peter, that Satan desires to sift him like wheat (Lk 22:31). How else are we to explain his consistent efforts to undermine Church teaching, and even the words of Christ, by treating them as culturally-conditioned statements containing only a kernel of wisdom, to be discerned and reinterpreted according to our own cultural insights? This mode of argument is classic Modernism. The Modernist contention is that the various points in the Revelation of Jesus Christ do not mean what the Church has historically held them to mean, for we always perceive divine reality through the lens of our own human culture. Rather, in each age, the Holy Spirit guides us to a new appropriation of the words of Christ, enabling us to grasp and express Christian doctrine and morality in accordance with our own cultural values.

Not surprisingly, Modernism has the immediate effect of baptizing the evils characteristic of current human culture and proclaiming them to be good. For the Modernist, the key to understanding God’s self-revelation is not Scripture, Tradition or the Magisterium of the Church but the zeitgeist. It is hard to imagine a more convenient ideology for anyone who prefers to “go with the flow” rather than swim against the currents of this world. But as G. K. Chesterton pointed out, it is only the dead who do nothing but drift downstream.

It seems likely, then, that Fr. Sosa Abascal is not a real flesh-and-blood person but a symbol of the spirit of the age. That worldly spirit always resists Divine Revelation precisely because the truths God reveals always transcend human culture. To the worldly, this is unacceptable. It means that human culture, including the mental culture of worldly academic theologians, can never have the last word.

We are made for Revelation

To be fair, we should recognize that God does disclose Himself to us through the medium of our humanity. It is part of the special nature of Revelation that God uses various human forms to acquaint us with what is beyond the human. He formed Jewish culture over a long period of time for this precise purpose. Far more dramatically, God Himself actually took on a human nature so that by knowing Jesus Christ in the flesh we could know the Father. There can be no question that what is revealed by God is revealed Incarnationally. It is fitting, then, that our appropriation of God’s revelation is also an incarnational process—or as we might more often say now, a sacramental process.

This continues in the mission of the Church. Like God, the Church takes advantage of our all too human mental and psychological habits to teach us to see beyond them to Himself. But the object of the exercise is the transformation of our lives in Christ, which includes the transformation of our minds by the immutable truths which God has revealed. These revealed truths do not vary, and neither does God Himself. Far too many modern theologians confuse the means of communication with the results of that communication. They also forget that the human person is capable of transcending culture and even, in a sense, of transcending his very self. The human soul has this capacity, exercised through the operations of the intellect and will.

We see this in Scripture, which is filled with references to our minds, which can be anchored either in worldly or in heavenly realities. God created us with rational souls, unlike the animals which depend entirely on their senses, which of course makes them completely culture-bound. In contrast, it is the human genius to be able to transcend human culture even while heavily influenced by it: To conceive of new ways of thinking about things, to probe metaphysical realities, to meditate on the works and the will of God, and to yearn for heavenly glory.

In other words, we are not at all doomed to refashion our conceptions of good and evil like secularists do, depending entirely on cultural shifts, as if we were not made in the image and likeness of God. Instead, it is precisely these transcendent qualities of the soul—I mean all the qualities of intellect and will—which enable us to perceive the difference between good and evil, and to act accordingly. Yet there has never been a Modernist theologian who did not seek to change Catholic morality to accommodate the fashionable sins of the dominant secular culture in which he lived. It is not surprising that Pope St. Pius X called Modernism “the synthesis of all heresies”.

Change and renewal

Changing our minds with each cultural shift is a flat denial of our own transcendence. Instead, we are called to live in union with God through the very renewal of our minds. St. Paul wrote extensively on this theme. He urged us not to lose heart, for “though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (2 Cor 4:16). In fact, the Holy Spirit may well have been been thinking of many of our contemporary theologians, or even of Fr. Sosa Abascal in particular, when He inspired the Apostle to the Gentiles to warn the Colossians: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:9-10).

The life to which we are called is not a life of worldly culture but a life transformed in Christ. Let us turn to St. Paul a third time:

Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. [Eph 4:17-24]

There is little more that needs to be said. There is no future in allowing ourselves to be misled by the Superior General of the Jesuits into abandoning Christ. Surely it is far better to see the Black Pope, rather than the devil himself, as a shadowy symbol. Our Lord testified repeatedly to Satan’s existence: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” He said, and so “I have given you authority…over all the power of the enemy” (Lk 10:18-20). That is what makes this whole discussion so astonishing. For we know that Satan merely wants to be thought a symbol in order to cloak his reality. But it seems utterly impossible that Fr. Sosa Abascal can be real at all.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: [email protected] - Jun. 03, 2017 11:18 PM ET USA

    Fr. Sosa Abascal is the walking symbol of Satan. It is amazing he is leader of the Jesuit order. He adds nothing and divides the Church with his heresy. The Pope should get in like he did with the Knights of Malta. Good luck on that. Meanwhile Satan roams the Church on the inside. Only God can help us.

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Jun. 03, 2017 6:54 AM ET USA

    The suffering that this pontificate imposes on faithful Catholics sometimes seems almost boundless.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Jun. 03, 2017 1:05 AM ET USA

    It seems that the Pope's man is out of control but then this dot connects to another dot...

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jun. 02, 2017 10:36 PM ET USA

    "But it seems utterly impossible that Fr. Sosa Abascal can be real at all." But this is precisely the real problem. And it's what makes the real problem so problematic. He is the leader of the Company of Jesus. He is in and we are the ones who appear on the outs. This trend has increased gained momentum in the time of Pope Francis. In these conditions the devil can be considered unreal and yet his work expands and prospers. And the Black Pope remains very much more than a symbol.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Jun. 02, 2017 3:22 PM ET USA

    Is Father Sosa Abascal going to be seen by Pope Francis as a rigid doctrinaire, a fundamentalist and a Pharisee?

  • Posted by: jackbene3651 - Jun. 02, 2017 2:58 PM ET USA

    I think he is inspired by 'the spirit of Vatican 2' as are the Pontiff and that Argentine nun in Spain who publicly doubted the perpetual virginity of the BVM.