Spadaro’s irrational faith

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 06, 2017

Father Antonio Spadaro, the Italian Jesuit who has been identified as “the Pope’s mouthpiece,” frequently uses his Twitter account(s) to belittle all those who have questions about Amoris Laetitia. But this gem from yesterday might have a boomerang effect:

Theology is no #Mathematics. 2 + 2 in #Theology can make 5. Because it has to do with #God and real #life of #people…

This is wrong, and wrong in revealing ways.

Is Spadaro suggesting that when we speak about “real life,” the rules of scientific logic don’t apply? Imagine how you would feel if someone said: “You can talk all you want about the law of gravity, but in real life, …” You wouldn’t know exactly what was coming next, but you would already know it was nonsense. The law of gravity is a law of real life, which applies to real people.

So too with mathematical logic. 2 + 2 = 4. Always. If you reach another result, you have made an error. Maybe you have defined the terms oddly, so that “2” doesn’t mean what it ordinarily means. Or maybe you don’t understand addition. In any case, unless you’re being deliberately misleading, you’re wrong.

So how is it possible that “2 + 2 in #Theology can make 5”? Spadaro tells us that theology “has to do with God.” Does he mean, then, that God can and will violate the laws of logic? If so, he has plunged headlong into the error that Pope Benedict XVI critiqued in his famous Regensburg address: the notion that faith cannot be subject to rational analysis. Pope Benedict saw this error as a weakness of Islamic thought; he probably never anticipated that the problem would crop up in the editorial offices of Civilta Cattolica.

Father Spadaro has an interest in promoting this sort of irrationalism. If you can suspend the ordinary rule of logic by making vague references to “real life” and “people,” then you can sew up the debate on Amoris Laetita very neatly. Every case is different—so the argument goes—and therefore the laws don’t apply. By that logic, since every stone you toss up in the air is a different case, you can never be sure whether or not the stone will come down. But trust me; it will.

If Spadaro is not promoting an irrational faith, there’s another way to interpret his curious Tweet, and it’s no more reassuring. He may be suggesting that you and I and millions of other ordinary Catholics cannot be expected to follow the intricate logic of theologians—in the same way that we are flummoxed by the abstruse calculations of quantum mechanics—so we should leave this important business to the professionals. In other words, our role is to accept what we’re told. We’re not expected to understand; we’re only expected to fall in line. His approach to faith is not based on reason. It may, however, be based on power.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jan. 10, 2017 1:06 AM ET USA

    Sounds like another bureaucrat, or even more condemnable, a proselytizer: arrogant, imposing his will to accept illogic.

  • Posted by: williamseifert3234 - Jan. 07, 2017 10:10 AM ET USA

    I copped a "D" in logic and think Spadaro may not have done much better. The problem of discerning what's universal and what's particular has provoked conundra since Socrates. EXCEPTIONS to an "X" are particular to that "X" along. Where a similar "X" -- "X.1" is found principles need to be applied to that specific case, Precedent may be set for more similar cases but this requires prudential judgment in each case. Making the exceptional, normative is daft, accepting exceptions as such is prudent

  • Posted by: jlw5094538 - Jan. 06, 2017 9:09 PM ET USA

    Without law, all you have is raw power. This is the impossible position Pope Francis' "personalism" imposes on parish priests: they're supposed to make individual judgments on the interior dispositions of penitents or impenitents (e.g.divorce/remarried)and decide, on the basic of their personal discernment, whether they are eligible for the Sacraments. This is just the kind of subjective judgment a priest CANNOT make, and makes the priest a "personalist" autocrat. Mercy? Merci, c'est moi.

  • Posted by: Bernadette - Jan. 06, 2017 7:00 PM ET USA

    This sounds like the "new clericalism" that Fr.Mark Pilon writes about in The Catholic Thing. Poor, dumb laity can't be expected to know or understand or comply with the complicated realities of life in today's world; therefore, the rules can be bent to any accommodation. Never mind truth or grace or power from on high and heaven forbid that there entail suffering, inconvenience or deadly consequences. Poor laity, too incapable, too weak, not up to the daunting task of striving for holiness.