“[T]he Church, knew that the season which precedes Easter is a time of metanoia; that is, of a change of heart, of repentance; it is the season that identifies our human life and the whole of history as a process of conversion that starts now, to encounter the Lord at the end of time.”

— Pope Benedict XVI

General Audience, Ash Wednesday, Feb 22nd, 2012

We have now entered Lent, one of the most important and intense times of our liturgy. Several words are associated with it: fasting, almsgiving, penitence… but today I would like to focus on “metanoia.”

Metanoia has been traditionally understood (and rightfully so) in Christian theology as conversion, repentance, turning our backs on an old life of sin. But this word was engendered before Christianity, in ancient Greece: etymologically and originally it means “to change one’s mind” (“meta” = go beyond; “noein” = mind).

Why has Christianity “changed” its meaning? Well, because as Christians, the greatest change of mind we can experience is our conversion to a greater communion with God’s will. However, just as the “new” connotation developed the word into a greater and deeper fulfilment of its meaning, returning to its original roots may help us rediscover this word with a new Christian perspective.

As Pope Benedict XVI has remarked, there can be no “orthopraxy” (i.e. correct conduct) without “orthodoxy” (correct thought). Of course, someone may accidentally do the right thing even when he has a defective moral compass, but in the end, our thoughts, values, prejudices and perceptions shape and structure the way we act. If we wish to start a path of conversion, and be consistent with it, we need to reexamine the way we think.

In this sense, I would like to focus on metanoia as change of mind. This is especially important for a certain sector of the Church with an above-average knowledge of theology and Church affairs: I’m talking about the apologetics community. It is my firm belief that this community, just like the rest of the Church, is in deep need of metanoia, for some of their thinking has gone astray and needs to be corrected for the good of the Church and the salvation of souls.

Given its particular charism, the apologetics community is prone to over-intellectualizing the faith. They spend most of their time engaging in debates and polishing arguments, overestimating the effectiveness of purely intellectual preaching. Sometimes, this may result in an alienation from the average Catholic in the pews, with a more pietist and meek approach to the faith. And it can even end up in what Pope Francis calls a kind of “neognosticism,”: the more one knows about the faith, the more holy one thinks he is.

So, it could be argued that urging metanoia as a “change of mind” for these people might actually exacerbate the problem. After all, the hurdle lies precisely in an over-emphasis on the intellect. However, I think it is not so for two reasons. First of all, it will be very hard for them to let go of their intellectualized approach to the faith–and thank God for that! That is my approach too and I would not be truly me if I would be forced to act my faith in a way that is foreign to my own being. The Church, thankfully so, is not and never was anti-intellectual, contrary to widespread atheist propaganda… rather the Church nurtures and develops everything that is truly human in us and that includes our God-given minds. Catholicism needs as much intellectuals as prayer-warriors or activists.

Secondly, because this over-intellectualization actually goes against true orthodoxy. If we are focused on the teachings of the Church, we must know that the Church teachings themselves caution us about a purely exclusive intellectual approach to the faith, to the detriment of other aspects of our life that also need engaging. It is part of our orthodoxy that everything that is good may become an idol if it’s importance is so exaggerated that it is put in a pedestal above God: this includes reason. As Pope Benedict too says in Deus Caritas Est, #2:

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. “

This is orthodoxy. This is doctrine. A proper understanding of Christianity must acknowledge this: We can’t box Christianity into a set of ideas, dogmas and checklists. Ultimately, Christianity is a metanoia permeating our whole life. But for that to happen, we need to set our mind to accommodate this fact. Hence, metanoia of the mind.

Most of the apologetics community recognizes the need for a metanoia of the mind, otherwise its whole existence would be absurd. After all, apologetics is predicated on changing other people’s minds. The problem is, they recognize this need for others while many times failing to recognize the need to apply it to themselves. They may become so dazzled with their own apologetics that they start to confuse it with actual Church doctrine.

So, when a Pope or Ecumenical Council or any authoritative source teaches something that contradicts an idea that certain apologists have held for years, their first reaction is not to conform to the Church, but to find ways to justify themselves so as to remain un-changed. In short, apologists who have for years lectured people on how they should change their deeply held beliefs to accommodate Church teaching find themselves completely unable to follow their own advice. Jesus’ parable of the splinter and the beam bears reminding here.

Those who have, for years, sought political alliances to advance their ideal of Christianity, ideologizing it, may find themselves divided between religion and party. Unfortunately, all too often party seems to take precedence over religion, and metanoia is avoided by recourse to “primacy of conscience” on the left and “prudential judgment” on the right.

Sometimes, the rationalization is done by taking a very clear and straightforward Church document (if we take into account the manifest will of the magisterial writer) and deconstructing it into meaninglessness, claiming that it is vague or confusing when in fact it is not. On one hand, this can be done in order to claim that the document does not say what it actually says, which is something we should be wary of if we disagree with the plain reading of the document, for we may be introducing our own bias into the mix. On the other hand, this can be done to try to undermine the magisterial source that issued the document, claiming that it is confusing and therefore, unreliable.

Finally, one may prooftext Church documents, excising them from the magisterial context that confers them authority, and select that which validates our prejudices all the while rejecting that which does not fit, and then hold on to a private interpretation of Tradition and insisting that all Catholics are bound to hold their interpretation.

When someone acts like this, he becomes an apologist: not of the Church’s actual teaching, but an apologist for himself and his own opinions. If the Church contradicts the apologist, the Church is the one that must yield. All these strategies serve one sole purpose: to prevent one from changing his mind. In other words, to avoid metanoia.

Pope St. Pius X dubbed Modernism “the synthesis of all heresies.” I believe he is correct, but not for the reason people of a traditionalist bent usually interpret it. Modernism is usually defined as the idea that the Catholic Church must adapt its teachings to modern society’s expectations and values, no matter how antithetical they are to Catholic doctrine.

But Modernism is the synthesis of all heresies, not because modernity has within it some kind of malignant potential that corrupts everything it touches. Rather, Modernism is the synthesis of all heresies because at its heart lies the sin of pride: the idea that when we disagree with the Church teaching, it’s the Church that is wrong, not us.

And it’s true that many liberal Catholics are applauding Pope Francis, not because they think he is expounding correct doctrine (in fact, they are utterly unconvinced and unimpressed by doctrinal statements), but because they think he is a kind of Trojan horse that will be used to change the Church into the mold they want it to be. But should Pope Francis say something against their progressive ideals, their support wanes, for their fidelity lies not with the Pope, but elsewhere.

However, it remains perfectly ironic that conservative Catholics who dissent from Pope Francis seem to fall on the same error (and in fact, though not as noticeably, they were already falling into it during the pontificates of Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.) Francis makes them uneasy, but they view it as Francis’ fault, not as a call for their own conversion from their own misguided ideas. They think they have everything figured out, so the pontiff can’t ask them to change their mind. They go around social media boasting of knowing what the Church should be doing to reverse its dwindling numbers. Seemingly by coincidence, they think the way to save the Church is to create a Church adjusted to their previous opinions.

They want to change the Church, not change themselves. The only difference between them and the modernists is that the former want to change the Church to what (they think) it once was, while the latter want to change the Church to what (they think) it will be.

While the externals are diametrically opposite, the heart remains the same. An unmovable heart with an unmovable mind. A metanoia is sorely needed.

Now there are some objections to what I’ve said, in which the individual claims to be undergoing metanoia while in fact fossilized in his status quo. I’ve come across two of such objections.

One may say: “What do you mean that I need to convert? Everyday I try to convert! I go to confession and keep myself from sinning, so as to get holier! I try to change myself whenever I resist sin. That has nothing to do with this Church teaching I have problems with and that should be changed!

To whom I reply: It is good and holy to keep oneself from sinning, but one must also be on guard against that which one does not believe to be a sin, but actually is. If you only try to convert yourself away from the sins you already understand as sinful, if you only try to change that which you already want to change, then that is not a real metanoia, because you already have your mind set on changing that sinful part of yours. But true metanoia means change of mind. The true value lies in changing those parts that you think need no changing. True conversion means a complete inner transformation, a perfect alignment with God’s truth and will. You can’t do that if you only transform according to your own perceptions of what must change and not beyond that. You must bear in mind that God is an Other, not Yourself. If, regarding conversion, you see Him always validating you and not unsettling you, then it’s your own voice you’re hearing, not His, for He wishes to free us from our sinful nature.

Also, one may say: “I have given Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt until a certain point, but found it impossible. Now I have taken the red pill and can see clearly.”

This implies one tried a metanoia, but found it impossible on its face. Again, this is a false metanoia, not a true one. When this person says he gave Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt, what he means is that he tried to square Francis’ pontificate into his preexistent ideas and found he could not. He was unsuccessful, and it is not surprising. It is true that Amoris Laetitia does indeed change the discipline regarding access of sacraments to the divorced and remarried. It is true that the Catechism revision doesn’t allow a Catholic nowadays to support the death penalty, while the previous version hadn’t closed that possibility altogether (even though people exploited that loophole to prevent their metanoia and, therefore, resisted the popes’ constant appeals for abolition.)

To deny that Pope Francis has done these changes is indeed to deny reason. The problem is, when faced with this realization, the person came to the conclusion that the problem was with Francis and not with himself. He struggled to convince himself that Amoris Laetitia didn’t change sacramental discipline, but couldn’t, because that’s not true. He then conceded that Amoris Laetitia does indeed change discipline, but he didn’t concede that this change of discipline is orthodox.

In this sense, he came close to metanoia, but didn’t undergo the final step. Rather, he saw the leap of faith and turned back. But the end result is just the same as if he didn’t try. There was no metanoia in his mind and he joined the company of those who dissented from day one.

So, should we just accept uncritically whatever it is the Church teaches? Isn’t this anti-intellectualism foreign to Catholic tradition and thought? Of course. But, as G.K. Chesterton once remarked: When we go to Church, “we take off our hats, but not our heads“; And again: “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.

Catholic philosophy does not think that mind is in the brain, but in the heart. Metanoia as a change of mind is, above all, a change of attitude. It demands humility, acknowledging that one does not possess all the answers, that one’s understanding is always deficient to encompass all truth.

This is not anti-intellectualism, it’s actually the root of intellectualism. Only by knowing this can we go forth in search of the truth instead of keeping ourselves stagnant in our own opinions.

Let us take science, for example, one of the greatest intellectual endeavors of the human mind. There is a difference between science per se and scientism. Scientism (or scientific positivism) is the notion that we can know everything through science. Those who adhere to this philosophy usually disregard sound theology, because theology is not a natural science. In doing so, they are actually despising a very interesting body of thought and intellectuality. We usually hear their voices dripping with arrogance, pride, lack of humility.

On the other hand, if we look at actual scientific publications, we see that scientists usually do not overplay their hand (or rather, their mind.) Taking definitive conclusions is frowned upon. Rather, they usually temper their articles with things like “more studies are needed.” They are prudent and humble, they acknowledge the limitations of their studies, their methodologies, their circumstances, their minds.

We do not know how a subatomic particle can behave as a wave and as a particle at the same time. But yet, rejecting quantum physics is anti-intellectualism and accepting it is intellectualism. We do not know how this is possible, but we see the evidence and just admit that reality is greater than what we can conceive. We do not try to force reality into our minds, but humbly own up our limits and do our best.

If we do this with Nature, how much more should we do this with the ineffable mystery that is at the foundation of our religion: God, the Most High, the Unknowable? Especially since we also know that sin darkens the intellect? If we see ourselves rallying against the Magisterium, we should take it as our default position that we are in the wrong and the Magisterium in the right. But for this, we must have a different attitude. We must undergo a metanoia: try to change ourselves into the image and likeness of God, as the Church urges us to do in Her guidance, not to try to change the Church into our own image and likeness. That is killing any prospect of conversion.

The Book of Genesis says that our first fathers’ sin was eating from the Tree of Knowledge. There is a very good lesson in this, just like it happens in all of the Bible. This does not mean that knowledge is bad; rather, if we read the passage in full, we will understand that the problem was that Adam and Eve ate the fruit with the intent of being like God. In other words, they wanted a reality and a life in their own terms, with God having nothing with it.

This is our first sin, the sin of having everything our own way. It is also one of the easiest sins to encounter in the Church, the sin of thinking we know better what the Church should teach and not conforming to the teachings we disagree with. It’s the sin of the progressives and the conservatives, the sin of the modernists and ultratraditionalists, the sin of the apologists and the common folk.

But if the Church is to be the salt of the earth, then it can’t lose its flavor. If it is to help men convert, it can’t be subject to popular vote. If it is meant to proclaim eternal truths, it can’t just change according to the inconstant winds of worldly politics or the whims of passing opinion. In short, as G.K. Chesterton once more says: “We do not want (…) a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world.”

Lent is a time of metanoia. Let us take this golden opportunity to identify this temptation in our hearts and change accordingly. The time is ripe. This is by no means meant to be an instantaneous process, successful at first try. But, as Pope Francis teaches us, conversion begins with taking a first step. This first step should be a change of mind, through a change of the heart. A humble and contrite heart, God does not refuse. Let us repent of putting obstacles into our own conversion and let ourselves be guided by the Church, instead of seeing the Church as an ideological battlefield where we must fight and lobby for a Church more in conformity with our own immovable ideas. Let us open our minds and hearts to metanoia of the mind, so that metanoia of our whole being may naturally follow. This is one of the highest purposes of Lent. And I propose this to you today.

[Image: “The Return of the Prodigal Son“, Rembrandt, ca. 1661-1669 AD]
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Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.

A Lenten Church in need of Metanoia

39 Responses

  1. Ashpenaz says:

    What I see is that most Catholics see metanoia as having fewer impure thoughts, condemning more abortions, and baking fewer cakes for gay couples.

    I think metanoia might look something like this:

    –supporting undocumented immigrants and refugees, creating new laws which give them legal status–not building walls
    –supporting universal health care
    –realizing global warming is more foundational than abortion since, if we destroy the planet, no one will be born.
    –understanding that science and psychology have given us new insights into homosexuality which allow us to look more deeply into the deposit of faith for God’s plan for same-sex couples
    –trusting women with their God-given vocation to be stewards of their pregnancies and allowing women to make the final decisions
    –recognizing that sometimes civil divorce is the best option in bad circumstances
    –realizing that the deposit of faith might not say that all sex needs to be open to reproduction

    When I see people’s minds changing in this direction, then I see the Holy Spirit at work.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      It seems like you see the Holy Spirit acting whenever people do things in line with your political opinions (some in line with Church Social Doctrine and highly commendable, others contrary to it.) Unfortunately, it seems like my appeal has not found a way to your heart.

      Metanoia means much more than what both you have said and your political opponents say

      • Ashpenaz says:

        I see these changes as being line with teachings of Jesus, not politics. I also see them in line with the deposit of faith, as our understanding of that deposit grows and develops. Metanoia means becoming more compassionate and feeling empathy towards the marginalized.

        While not directly political, as we follow the Spirit, our political choices should reflect our compassion.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        “I see”,
        “I think”,

        In the process, you have set yourself as the one who decides what the teachings of Jesus are, not the Church

        The process of conversion in those areas you disagree is therefore stalled until you accept the possibility that you may be wrong

      • Ashpenaz says:

        When I say “I”, I am taking responsibility for my moral choices. Whatever the Church teaches, I stand before God in my conscience with my decisions. Synderesis is the process of contemplating Church teaching and then applying that teaching to the specific circumstances in my life.

        1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

        1787 Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.

        1788 To this purpose, man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Interestingly, I have mentioned in my article the “primacy of conscience” justification as a way to avoid metanoia, especially with people who may be more left-leaning

    • Jane says:

      Do we allow the person who wants to rob your house and kill you, to make the final decision? Somethings cannot be left up to the person to make the final decision because it is just plain, well, a grievous SIN!

      • Ashpenaz says:

        When a house is broken into, the owner of the house has the final decision as to how to handle the person breaking in. Only she has the information to know the best decision to make under the circumstances. Whether her decision is right or wrong, a woman is only accountable to God for whatever difficult decision she feels she needs to make in her specific circumstances.

        Abortion is not a sin–it’s a grave matter. It only becomes a sin once mitigating circumstances are taken into account. Many Catholics conflate sin and grave matter, but grave matter is only one component to be taken into considered. Canon Law allows for many mitigating circumstances involving abortion with reduce or remove culpability.

        Can. 1323 The following are not subject to a penalty when they have violated a law or precept:

        1/ a person who has not yet completed the sixteenth year of age;

        2/ a person who without negligence was ignorant that he or she violated a law or precept; inadvertence and error are equivalent to ignorance;

        3/ a person who acted due to physical force or a chance occurrence which the person could not foresee or, if foreseen, avoid;

        4/ a person who acted coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave, or due to necessity or grave inconvenience unless the act is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls;

        5/ a person who acted with due moderation against an unjust aggressor for the sake of legitimate self defense or defense of another;

        6/ a person who lacked the use of reason, without prejudice to the prescripts of cann. ⇒ 1324, §1, n. 2 and ⇒ 1325;

        7/ a person who without negligence thought that one of the circumstances mentioned in nn. 4 or 5 was present.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:


        It remains, however, grave matter and intrinsically evil.

        Therefore, when you said: “trusting women with their God-given vocation to be stewards of their pregnancies and allowing women to make the final decisions”

        I hope that you didn’t mean abortion. Because if you believe that is an acceptable option, then you have forfeited the supposed high ground you claim to hold regarding “compassion”

      • Ashpenaz says:

        This is an interesting discussion. You might not be aware of it, but your responses sometimes read, to me, as a debate. I appreciate you disagree with me–that’s fine. As you are aware, supporters of Pope Francis often find themselves in debates or arguments with those who disagree–I hope I’m not finding that same sort of negative rhetoric here. I really appreciate the work WherePeterIs is doing. We may not be in total agreement, but I hope we can see that we all need spaces to present our ideas in a safe and welcoming way. I’m just thinking things through, and I enjoy this sort of discussion. I worry when it veers towards something more negative.

      • Ashpenaz says:

        BTW, Brian Killian does an exceptional job of putting into words what I’m trying to say in his essay on Pope Francis and “Dangerous Conscience” on this website. Killian is much more articulate than I am! 🙂 His essay might help us clear up any perceived differences.

      • carn says:

        “When a house is broken into, the owner of the house has the final decision as to how to handle the person breaking in.”

        The people of United States of America are owner of the “house” or territory inside the US borders (they have further differentiated that ownership according to their Bill of Rights, etc.).

        As you claim that the owner of a house has final decision to do WHATEVER HE THINKS IS BEST with anyone entering the house without permission, you concede to the People of the United States the final decision to do whatever they think is best with any person crossing the US border without permission.

        As the people of the United States have in a profound demonstration of the qualities of their political system and exhibition of their capability of reasoned political discourse and decision processes elected Mr. Trump – who hopefully is blessed soon with even more wisdom and compassion in accordance with the importance of his office than he was blessed with until today – you have conceded that:

        President Trump has – only limited by the supreme court regarding which he has the power to nominate members – the final decision and that we are not to judge his decision whether to shoot people crossing the US border without permit.

        And it seems that you think this thinking is from the Holy Spirit.

        I know, i know, my argument might be a bit over the top and unfair and that you did not mean that, etc. I took the liberty to do that, cause here is not the time and space to ponder in every precise detail whether actually based on your argument this would be the logic conclusion.

        But i wanted to make sure that you aware that the argument that the “owner” has the final decision about what to with someone entering without permission, could easily end with something COMPLETELY contradicting some other positions you hold; and one should be aware about potential contradictions between various positions one holds.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        I would find it very ironic if this article’s combox would turn into a political debate between the two camps I mentioned in the article itself. Sigh

      • carn says:

        I did not mean it as a serious argument, that Trump is actually free to have people crossing border without permission to be killed.

        It was an attempt of reductio ad absurdum to highlight potential pitfalls of the “owner has final decision”-position.

        Personally i reject anyway the idea that law breakers, even in serious cases are free to be killed; individually only the necessary force for self-defense is permissible and for society on top of that the force necessary for defense of society as a whole and necessary for adequate punishment (with the caveat that “necessary” should be interpreted usually in favor of the defender who never opted to be put into that situation).

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        I understood that. However, a political debate will necessarily ensue if we keep this up. It’s off-topic IMO

      • Ashpenaz says:

        Good point. There is a similarity between abortion and immigration. In both cases, a more powerful entity has rights over someone entering her borders. What should the person with power do?

        I would say, in both cases, she should treat those entering her borders with hospitality.

        But you have given me food for thought! 🙂

  2. chris dorf says:

    I was involved with Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church and while we held ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminars, I and a group would spend the time praying for the seminar before the Blessed Sacrament, interceding and praying for the seminar attendees to recieve from God what God intended for them. Metanoia was the focus. We all need to continually live in grace and be open to the movement of the Spirit of God…whom witnesses to our spirits that we are children of God.

  3. Joaquin Mejia says:

    “Where Peter Is” helped me have a change of mind about Pope Francis. Thank you for that. In my country, nobody really criticizes Pope Francis but I have really absorbed all the anti-Francis words from critics from the United States and other countries.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      Deo gratias! 🙂

    • Jane says:

      What country are you from Joaquin? I’m interested to know because in the Phillipines, they even have a magazine only about Pope Francis called ‘My Pope’ God Bless you

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        “My Pope” magazine is also published in Portugal, in Portuguese language. Don’t know if it’s the same brand, though

      • Joaquin Mejia says:

        I’m from the Philippines actually. I see that magazine in grocery stores.

      • Joaquin Mejia says:

        I am from the Philippines, Jane. I have seen quite a few copies of”My Pope” magazines.

      • Jane says:

        My friend brought it home for me from an airport in the Philippines 🙂 I love it and want to get a subscription but dont know how to do so from the US. I suppose just follow the directions on the publication-information page 🙂 But paying for it. . . . ?

        Anyhow, this article —thank you for it Mr. Gabriel — reminds me of Wim Wenders’ video of Pope Francis entitled “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word”

  4. Jane says:

    I realized that Pope Francis was absolutely correct in his thinking about the Death Penalty being against the Gospel when I realized that Our Lord Jesus talked with the woman caught in adultery, and while the Death Penalty was the standard course for those days and no one challenged that, Christ our Lord did NOT choose to console her and prepare her to be stoned, but rather began to write in the sand instead.

    And one by one, the folks who were prepared to stone her dropped their stones and went away. Why? Because, it is said in one version I read, Our Blessed Lord was writing their sins in the sand. Then He said, “Has no one condemned you?” “No one My Lord.” “Then go and sin no more.”

    She had no one to condemn her, she was able to go and convert and that might not have happened if she had been stoned right there. Our Blessed Lord chose to offer her a life of thinking about her sin, converting, being sorry. . .

  5. Peter Aiello says:

    One of the most important things that the Church has done is to compile and preserve Scripture. Scripture has remained the same for the past 2000 years. When there is confusion and crisis within the Church, we always know that it contains the instructions for our salvation; and it is now readily accessible. Scripture’s existence lessens the importance of questions about who or what has greater authority. The Church itself says that Scripture regulates everything in Christianity (V2’s Dei Verbum 21), and that everyone who has the Holy Spirit is also guided by that same Spirit with supernatural discernment in matters of faith. This includes lay people as well as the clergy (V2’s Lumen Gentium 12). The resources are readily available for metanoia, if we make use of them. Disarray in the Church doesn’t need to be a hindrance.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      Another justification for one to stay the same and not undergo metanoia (which always envolves following the teachings of the Church, as defined by those in authority):

      Excising snippets of authoritative documents from the authority that promulgated them so as to justify a personal interpretation (i.e. one’s own opinion)

      • Peter Aiello says:

        You’re assuming that the teachings in Scripture are not sufficient for metanoia. The authorities might disagree with you.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Actually the authorities disagree with you. We have given you ample sources saying so in this blog. One isolated quote taken out of context and copy-pasted in every article does not make the fullness of doctrine, nor does it negate everything else the Church has produced.

        But since I am also one of the members of the Church, then why are you disputing my understanding of Scripture and Church authority? Am I not supposed to be infallible too?

      • Peter Aiello says:

        According to the Church, we all have the capacity for infallibility if we are anointed by the Holy One.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        Therefore that must mean that I must be infallible too. And I say that Scripture is not sufficient

        Also, it is ironic that you’re relying on Church’s authority to claim you are infallible and can therefore do away with the Church’s authoritative teachings elsewhere. Either the Church’s teaching (hierarchy) is authoritative or not. If not, then I can disregard Lumen Gentium on account of my own alleged infallibility

      • Peter Aiello says:

        V2’s Lumen Gentium 12 references the authority of Scripture when it footnotes 1John 2:20, 27 which says: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things…But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” Sounds like V2 and Scripture are in agreement.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        So you’re saying my infallible opinion on the matter has been overridden by an authoritative Church document

  6. carn says:

    Fine article, especially due to trying to criticize errors not only in one “camp”.

    With one aspect i wholeheartedly agree:
    “we should take it as our default position that we are in the wrong and the Magisterium in the right. But for this, we must have a different attitude. We must undergo a metanoia: try to change ourselves into the image and likeness of God, as the Church urges us to do in Her guidance, not to try to change the Church into our own image and likeness.”

    In my words, when the Magisterium teaches that i should jump, i can of course ponder the question why i should jump, the underlying reasons, the theological argument behind, etc. – but only after i have settled the most pressing issue: “How high?”; and except in rare exceptions, i should then try to jump as high as requested. (rare exceptions being when i have good reasons to think that the general norm set by the Magisterium might not be applicable in the certain situation i am in, cause it includes elements which were totally beyond consideration when the general norm was formulated and accordingly i might be in uncharted territory for which the norm was never meant).

    But that does not change the fundamental issue, that if the question “How high?” is answered by something my mind and ears registers as “2 kilograms” and further questions are unwanted, that i am a bit lost and will likely postpone jumping, cause there seems to be a communication problem.

    One issue in my view only partly correct:
    “A proper understanding of Christianity must acknowledge this: We can’t box Christianity into a set of ideas, dogmas and checklists. Ultimately, Christianity is a metanoia permeating our whole life.”

    While dogmas and checklists are in itself not Christianity, they are nonetheless a to some extent necessary ingredient.

    End of 2018 a poll in Germany found that 41% of Germans supposedly believe in the trinity, so that there is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; while i think a poll is unsuitable to determine whether they really believe, it is sufficient to conclude that 59% of Germans claim not to believe in the trinity. On the other hand, some 57% of Germans are officially registered as Christians (in tax records, so in relevant official papers) of one sort or another.

    Meaning that potentially 1 in 6 Germans is nominally Christian without believing in Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    I think in this case doctrine can be used to argue that likely a lot of these nominal Christians are only on paper Christians, without that being any sort of problematic boxing in of Christianity.

    Cause if one does not believe in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one still might be a quite nice and interesting person and a blessing to society – but one isn’t a Christian.

    So the doctrines do serve as some sot of guide to identify attitudes/believes which a Christian should not hold or might not even hold if he wants to be a Christian.

    “instead of seeing the Church as an ideological battlefield where we must fight and lobby”

    While seeing a battlefield were is none is a serious problem, whether a battlefield is there or not might not be ours to decide.

    In my view there is a spiritual battle being fought also inside the Church; so there is a battlefield and for some (not for me) it might be a duty to fight on that battlefield the best they can; accordingly, not everyone acting as if there were a battlefield must necessarily do something wrong. And as the lines between spiritual and ideological issues are often blurred (e.g. abortion is in a sense both) not necessarily everybody whom i think to be just fighting an ideological battle is actually fighting a pure (personal) ideological battle; i might be just mistaken about the spiritual aspects of his fight.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      I am not partial to any of the camps and have criticized both various times in different venues. That being said, I find it disconcerting that, for me to be able to criticize one of the camps, I necessarily need to criticize the other

      If a priest comes to me with advice to correct me on my sins, I don’t go around saying “This priest must criticize all other sinners before he criticized me”. No. I should view this correction as a blessing and try to change myself first and foremost

      This idea that we can’t criticize one camp without inserting the caveat of criticizing the other betrays a polarization that is, in itself, already a part of the problem, in my opinion

      This centrifugal view of religion, where we are always watching out for when The Other is pointed the finger is one example of ideological battleground that seriously hinders the spiritual battleground. For the spiritual battleground should be centripetal before anything else. We fight our own demons before fighting the demons of others and society. If we don’t, then we will inevitably use religion as a prop, not as a means of transformation… and will inevitably fail to transform society. We can’t transform a society if we are not able to transform a single individual (me)
      That being said, I wish to clarify that nowhere did I say that doctrines are not important. Nor did I mean to imply that they are not necessary. Neither can you say that about Benedict XVI, one of the greatest theologians alive

      What I meant to say is that doctrines, as in a purely intellectual set of ideas, are insufficient. Doctrine itself supports this affirmation

      Regarding the “Jump! How high?” metaphor, we must be wary of not using that as a way to avoid jumping. You may ask “How high?” and I reply “2 cm” and you ask “How’s that in imperial?” and I reply “1 inch” and you ask “but does it need to be actually 1 inch? What if it happens to be 1,1 inches?” and I say “That will be acceptable” and you go “How do I know until how much is acceptable? 1,1 inches? 2 inches? 10 inches?”…

      … sooner or later this person will have to come to grips with the fact that something is blocking its ability to jump and, therefore, of obeying the command.

      • carn says:

        “That being said, I find it disconcerting that, for me to be able to criticize one of the camps, I necessarily need to criticize the other”

        Sorry if that came across; critique at one “camp” can be fine on itself; but sometimes it is a gain to see different critique next to each other; and i had the impression that here that was one case.

        “If a priest comes to me with advice to correct me on my sins,”

        There is quite a difference between advising a single individual in a one on one and advising vaguely defined “camps” consisting of hundreds or more people of whom few personal details are known; so i do not think this comparison fits.

        “Regarding the “Jump! How high?” metaphor, we must be wary of not using that as a way to avoid jumping. You may ask “How high?” and I reply “2 cm” and you ask “How’s that in imperial?” … ”

        I agree that there is a trap for disobedience; therefore i choose the example of understanding “2 kilogram”. The situation gets even more tricky, when the one hearing hears “2 kilogram” and the speaker thinks he said “2 cm”.

        What i think of the Church today i often end up thinking about Babel.

  7. Justin Gillespie says:

    Pedro, a thoughtful article that I am getting a lot out of.

    One point though, you day that the originial meaning of metanoia is to “change one’s mind” wheras the root of the word seems to imply that we should go beyond our mind.

    I had always understood that metanoia meant seeing things in a way that our human intellect couldn’t & was a grace from God. Your quote from Pope Benedict, which I love, would seem to back up this interpetation. “the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

  8. Jane says:

    One of the reasons I especially enjoy learning from Pope Francis, and therefore this article, is because he is always working to convert us from Pharasee-ism. My lifelong goal on my way to my ultimate goal, is to cease being a pharisee, and to become a child. I hope to grow up to become a child someday. God bless you

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