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Pope to Notre Dame U.: Continue to defend church teachings

Pope Francis has told University of Notre Dame officials he hopes the school will  "continue to offer unambiguous testimony" in defense of the church's moral teaching and freedom.

His brief remarks at the Vatican on Thursday are being interpreted in various ways, often to the university's detriment. See what you think. Here is the key passage:

This commitment to “missionary discipleship” ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 132-134), which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness. And this is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning. To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!

It seems to me that the pope's use of the word "continue" (emphasis added) makes it hard to interpret this as a rebuke of the school, although that has not stopped people from trying. There is no doubt Francis is setting out expectations for Notre Dame and other Catholic universities, but that's as far as he goes. "Continue" sounds like another way of saying, "Keep up the good work." Perhaps what this boils down to is that Francis prefers encouragement to condemnation as a management tool. A lot of management experts would agree.

Compare the encouraging tone of his remarks with the rhetoric of the scores of bishops who assailed the university in 2009 for granting an honorary degree to President Obama. For example, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who wrote to Notre Dame's president that this was "a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States."

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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This is such a masterpiece of ambiguity I wonder if Pope Francis wrote it himself.  It doesn't sound extemporaneous.  Two ambiguities:

**       The discipleship "ought to be" reflected at ND.  But does he think it is reflected always?  He doesn't say.

**       "Essential . . . is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors...."  Again, he doesn't say whether ND has measured up.  This could be either a compliment for past performance or a threat to stay in line.

**     "the magisterium of her pastors" explicitly asserts that there is only one magisterium, but is there truly only one magisterium of all the pastors?  De facto, we often speak of, for instance, "the magisterium of Pope JP II", as if each pope has his own specific one.  And we all know that, contrary to the claims of some of them, the pastors have not all always been in agreement. The sort of ambiguity ducks the crucial issue of dissent, academic or otherwise.

**  Yes, he does say that he hopes ND will "continue" to defend Church teachings, but strickly speaking this does mean that he thinks that it has *always* defended Church teaching.

I'm disappointed.  The issue of dissent has, in my opinion, been the central one in the Church  since at least the Reformation, and Church hasn't even tried to meet the issue head on.  I was hoping that Francis might, but the ambiguity of this statement suggests that he would prefer to put off a confrontation.  On the other hand, the  statement isn't much of a direct threat either.  

I wonder what the ND people responded.  Or were they given a chance to respond?

In Argentina,  card. Bergoglio was more liberal about dissenting voices. At the Pontificia Universidad catolica Argentina, in may 2012, he presented  the book of a theologian of liberation priest, father Rafael Tello, who was condemned and fired by the same University years before.

Bergoglio says: " all those that open a path and are against the dominant opinion in the Church have wounds."


Studied ambiguity could occur in this way: Pope Francis has heard all the slams on Notre Dame and Fr. Jenkins, but from sources whose readings of situations he doesn't trust. They could be right or half-right or one-eighth-right, so he doesn't want to throw a blanket of papal roses over the school and watch them wilt. On the other hand, since much of what he has heard has the whiff of slander about it and sounds like the kind of hysteria he constantly deplores, he doesn't want to give enemies of the school anything else to chew on and spit out.

Popes may be infallible but they don't know everything. This is just a theory, But if the theory is correct, anyone who interprets the talk as confirming his or her deeply held beliefs does an injustice to the pope and makes a fool of himself.

Ann Olivier: Did you perhaps leave out the word "not"? Your use of "but" sets up the expectation that you will go on to say "not."

You say, "**Yes, he does say that he hopes ND will 'continue' to defend Church teachings, but strickly [strictly?] speaking this does [not?] mean that he thinks it has 'always' defended Church teaching."

Yes, but strictly speaking, he does not mention specific examples where ND has not defended Church teachings.

FWIW, I took the pope's 'keep up the good work' words to refer to its opposition to the contraception mandate.  Beyond that, and despite the opinions of its many alumni and fans, I doubt there is anything about Notre Dame that would make the Holy Father's Top 500 list of things that call for his attention.  I think the Holy Father gave the college the sort of generic words that would be given to many guests about whom the pope knows basically nothing.  He placed them in the category of Catholic universities, and spoke some words about the importance of Catholic universities.

The statment does have the ring of something scripted for Francis.  Nevertheless, I would interpret it as a positive endorsement of the good work ND is doing.

especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness.

This part of the statement, which ND's critics will focus on, simpy acknowledges the complexity of a large Catholic University where not everyone shares in its mission explicitly.  You have to consider the source of the critical remarks.  They seem very self-serving to me, either in vindicating past criticisms of ND, as in the case of the Cardinal Newman Society, or is advancing a particular agenda, as in the case of Life Sites.

What Catholic University would not welcome such remarks from the most popular Pope in modern times?  


To follow Alan's comments, try this thought experiment. Imagine that Pope Francis had made the same remarks to a delegation from the Franciscan Unviersity of Steubenville or some other school that advertises itself based on its "orthodoxy." I expect we would see a much different set of reactions.

Thanks, Mr. Moses.  Yep, the right wing fringe is at it again in terms of their Francis Derangement Syndrome Spin.  Thought MSW did a great job of highlighting a balanced perspective on this and loved his ironic twist at the start:


- ".....if you checked in with the conservative Catholic blogosphere. Fr. Zuhlsdorf cited the pope's comments, cheerfully referring to "Notre Shame University." The inappropriately named Cardinal Newman Society linked to Pope Francis' speech and added their list of grievances against the school. Even my usually balanced friend Rocco Palmo said Pope Francis had "spiked the ball ... for the bishops" in his address to Notre Dame. To his credit, Rocco apparently had second thoughts about his reportage and made some changes in his post. Thus, what was only an "hourlong meeting" in his first post became, before bedtime, "a mostly effusive hourlong meeting."

-  "I am not an editor, but I can spot the verb in that sentence, "will continue," and methinks it suggests that the Holy Father wishes the University of Notre Dame to persist in something it is already doing. How that can be seen as spiking a ball, denouncing Notre Dame, or endorsing some of the vile and foolish things that have been said about the school is beyond me."  (BTW - at this point in his address, Francis looked up and inserted an off script sentence supporting the work of Notre Dame)

- "The issue of Catholic identity is a real one. Unfortunately, the concept has been hijacked by conservative educational zealots who equate Catholic identity with a checklist of items that happen to tilt to a particular understanding of Catholicism and who, to my mind, perfectly exemplify the "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism" that Pope Francis warned against in Evangelii Gaudium."

Just shows that Francis has to check on those who prepare his speeches. 

JP - think you are way off on your interpretation.  Here is Francis to the CDF which could easily be applied to Notre Dame, its administration, professors, etc.

Key phrase:

Quoting from his Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis said right from the earliest times of the Church there has been a temptation to consider the doctrine in an ideological sense or to reduce it to a series of abstract and crystallized theories. But in reality, he said, the doctrine’s sole role is to serve the life of God’s people and is meant to ensure a solid foundation to our faith. There is a great temptation, he continued, to take control of the gifts of salvation that come from God to domesticate them, maybe even with good intentions, according to the views and spirit of the world.
However, safeguarding the integrity of the faith, the Pope went on to say, is a very delicate mission entrusted to them, always in collaboration with local Pastors and with the Doctrinal Commissions of the Episcopal Conferences. It serves to safeguard the right of all the people of God to receive the depository of the faith in its purity and entirety. In their work, he said, there is always a need to maintain a constructive, respectful and patient dialogue with the other parties and show charity and fraternal help.

Doubt that a legal suit is something he thinks is pastoral.

I agree that this speech is completely generic and Francis could easily have replace ND with any other Catholic University.  

Thomas Farrell --

Yes, I left out the "not"!  Thanks very  much for pointing that out.

Any other Catholic university. Or high school. Or primary school. 

Notre Dame, the US episcopacy and Catholics in general need to keep in mind the following:


“The university is not a think tank fed by industrial, governmental or military sources in order to churn out research in which the one common note is that the assumptions of its donors are never questioned ... It is the nature of universities to question assumptions, and indeed to the extent that such questions are absent, the university fails to achieve the fullness of its own being ... Universities are nervous about absolutes, and even more nervous about the intellectual vice known as absolutism ... Intellect and faith cannot meet on any ground where either is so much in control that the other is effectively excluded.”  (Timothy Healy, SJ, Learning and Belief in the Catholic University, "America", 7‑7‑90)




  •  The primary purpose of a University is intellectual and pedagogical, not moral or religious.

"The view taken of a University in these Discourses is the following. -- That it is a place of teaching universal knowledge.  This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement.  If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of literature and science."

From the "Preface," The Idea of a University


  •  The Idea of a University is to be determined without recourse to the authority of the Church, or any authority at all.

"Observe then, Gentlemen, I have no intention, in any thing I shall say, of bringing into the argument the authority of the Church, or any authority at all; but I shall consider the question simply on the grounds of human reason and human wisdom."

From Discourse I, "Introductory," The Idea of a University


  • The range of a teaching within the University is universal; it encompasses all branches of knowledge, including Theology, and is inconsistent with restrictions of any kind.

"A University, I should lay down, by its very name professes to teach universal knowledge: Theology is surely a branch of knowledge: how then is it possible for it to profess all branches of knowledge, and yet to exclude from the subjects of its teaching one which, to say the least, is as important and as large as any of them?  I do not see that either premise of this argument is open to exception.

As to the range of University teaching, certainly the very name of University is inconsistent with restrictions of any kind."

From Discourse II, The Idea of a University


  •  *      The University is not a Convent or a Seminary, and it prepares students for the world by allowing them to learn about "the ways and principles and maxims" of the world.

"For why do we educate, except to prepare for the world?  Why do we cultivate the intellect of the many beyond the first elements of knowledge, except for this world? Will it be much matter in the world to come whether our bodily health or our intellectual strength was more or less, except of course as this world is in all its circumstances a trial for the next?  If then a University is a direct preparation for this world, let it be what it professes.  It is not a Convent, it is not a Seminary; it is a place to fit men of the world for the world.  We cannot possibly keep them from plunging into the world, with all its ways and principles and maxims, when their time comes; but we can prepare them against what is inevitable; and it is not the way to learn to swim in troubled waters, never to have gone into them."

From Discourse IX, The Idea of a University

If the university could make the student realize that there exist better ways to think than to go with the first thing that comes to their mind; arouse a desire to know what is true; create an anxiety to not be satisfied with half-measures and superficial answers; train a sharp eye to look for gaps and errors in reasoning; and develop methods to  think more straight; that would be pretty good.

Rather than "demonstrate the harmony of faith and reason", let that be discovered by the student as they search for truth. Actually, I am not sure that there is currently such a perfect harmony between faith and reason. Isn't it work in progress?

This particular message of pope Francis is remarkably insipid. I fear that he does not care about education in the same way that he cares about alleviating poverty.


Thanks for the Briggs article, Jim McC.  Very interesting.  I didn't know that the speech was given to the Board of Directors of Notre Dame, a very different group than, say, a group of Deans or the Faculty Senate and Tenure Committe would be.  

Briggs man point is very well taken -- the big givers on the board do not necessarily contribute to the sort of social change that Francis regularly urges, even though they might contribute lavishly to charity.  That's a huge distinction -- charity v. social change.  Maybe Francis needs to be clearer about it.


I fear that he does not care about education in the same way that he cares about alleviating poverty.

I think you observation is correct. But any leader is going to have their passions and priorites. This address sounded remarkably diplomatic and not wanting to take a side in any of the existing debates. 

I think insipid is a bit strong - I would say diplomatic; say some encouraging words, provide some challenges and call it a day!


Education should not have the same priority as helping the poor. Otherwise Jesus would have chosen rhetoricians instead of unlearned disciples. Nor did he send them to the best Roman schools.  "At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants"  Academics as well as Dives have to be vigilant about their stewardship. 

The tragedy has been that Scholastic, Augustinian theology etc. have been more important than helping Lazarus. Dogma more important than the Beatitudes.

So not to fear. Francis is the Gospel truth. 

Briggs man point is very well taken

I wasn't impressed; in fact I thought it amounted to verbal bomb-throwing.  I'd guess that, if we were to ask the members of the Board of Trustees, they'd tell us that they see their service on the board as a way to give back.  I'd also guess that the ones who are wealthy (surely not all of them) give quite a bit of their own money to the university in support of its mission - which is education, not economic revolution.  

Education should not have the same priority as helping the poor.

On the contrary: education is profoundly connected to helping the poor.  One such connection is by preparing the children of the poor to thrive economically in a 21st century economy.  Whether Briggs is right in his critique of Notre Dame in this respect is difficult to say; he certainly doesn't marshall any evidence to support his assertions.  Another connection is made when Catholic universities prepare young citizens to go out into the world to address the problems of poverty.  


Point of information: My memory is that the Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors are not the same boards at UND, though there is probably personnel overlap.  True? False?

True and it is so with most large catholic universties.  The goals and responsiblities of the two boards are different.

For example, at DePaul University, the board of trustees is made up of many Vincentian priests, the Vincentian provincial, etc. who may or may not have ever been assigned to DePaul University.  OTOH, the board of directors are folks whose responsiblityies lie with more day to day and practical directions/decisions in running the university.

The Holy Father's greeting is:

I am pleased to greet the Trustees of Notre Dame University on the occasion of your meeting in Rome

So apparently it is a delegation of the Trustees to whom the words are addressed, or Francis didn't get his facts quite straight?





"On the contrary: education is profoundly connected to helping the poor."


Jim, the education I am talking about is the world where the poor are not a priority. Educat the poor. Yes. But when the world of academia neglects the poor there is the problem. The Scribes did and God's reward went ot the uneducated. 

Jim Pauwels wrote: "I took the pope's 'keep up the good work' words to refer to its opposition to the contraception mandate."

Notre Dame tried to get an injunction but, when they couldn't, decided to go ahead with the ACA requirements under protest, pending final resolution of the lawsuits. 

That seems like a reasonable decision/

"Having been denied a stay, Notre Dame is advising employees that pursuant to the Affordable Care Act, our third party administrator is required to notify plan participants of coverage provided under its contraceptives payment program.

As part of an ongoing legal action, however, the program may be terminated once the university's lawsuit on religious liberty grounds against the HHS mandate has worked its way through the courts."

Again: the Pope's, the article and comments are of Matthew 5:37: "Yes"and "no" together contra St.Aristotle's divine principle of non-contradiction;therefeore, from...Devil Fides et Ration of JP II, 1998 is still a mystery? Hey, university fools wake up! I have at hand the reaction (not at all) to the authors "On R.Suszko's Thessis"- they should be executed all; 4 of them receibved e-mail warnings. Just one example 

The same in J.M. Bochenski's OP on Authority (deontical and empistemological) after St.Thomas Aquinas. But if logical fools are running both University and Church, then what the talk about; I keep a records of the mentioned fools some of them are already in Hell of course after ignoring my warnings (profesors, bishops)


The Pope on 17 Dec at Santa Marta:“...God sent his Son among men. Jesus is consubtantial with God, the Father, but also consubstantial with his mother, a woman. And this is his consubtantiality with his mother: God entered history, God wanted to become history. He is with us. He has journeyed with us”= a Collyridian heretic. Hey, I do not invent it; I repeat it from Vatican resources! 

What is the value (of heretic) of his preaching?


Further developments at ND: it has filed a new request for an injunction on the basis that the Supreme Court issued one for the Little Sisters. Three ND students are opposing:

This latest request is not the only movement in the case. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court granted a request by three university students to intervene in the university’s lawsuit and challenge the school’s attempts to evade the law. The students’ intervention in the lawsuit marks the first time women affected by corporate attempts to block the mandate and the lawsuit have had their interests represented in the legal challenges. Ayesha Kahn, an attorney at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the students, explained to RH Reality Check why the organization believes the injunction should be denied. “The Little Sisters case presents an entirely different set of facts because there would be no coverage there whether or not the accommodation is pursued,” Kahn explained. “Also, it would be very disruptive for the court to issue an injunction pending appeal right now, because Notre Dame’s third-party administrator has already offered contraceptive coverage to employees.”


The Obama administration has until February 4 to respond to the university’s latest motion. Arguments in the matter are scheduled to go before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on February 12.





FWIW, here's eminent Dantista Robert Hollander on Dante studies at ND. He has impossibly high standards so this tribute must be highly gratifying.


"Just as the University of Notre Dame has become the central point in American Dante studies, its press is now recognized as the most vital current source of publications dealing with the Florentine poet."

Mr. Ciuba, in that December 17 homily, Francis explained that God's consubstantiality with Mary wasn't limited to her but extended to all of us. And he defines that consubstantiality of God with humans, which is different from the consubstantiality of the three persons of the Trinity:

“It is pure history, because God, as Pope St. Leo said, God has sent his Son,” the Holy Father said. “And Jesus is consubstantial to the Father, God, but also consubstantial to the Mother, a woman. And this is that consubstantiality of the Mother. God has made Himself history. God has wished to make himself history. He is with us. He has walked the path with us.”


After the sin of Adam and Eve in Paradise, he continued, God decided to begin this path through history with us, beginning with Abraham. God has wished to make this history with us, a history that has both holiness and sin. The list of people in the genealogy of Christ contains not only saints, but also “high level sinners - sinners,” he noted, “who have not responded to everything that God thought for them."


"Let us think of Solomon, so great, so intelligent, and he ends up poor, there, where he didn’t know his own name! But God was with him. This is beautiful, no?,“ he said.


“God is consubstantial with us. He makes history with us. And more: when God wants to say who he is, he says ‘I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob.’ But what is the last name of God? It is us, each one of us. He takes from us our name, to make it his last name. ‘I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Pedro, of Marietta, of Armony, of Marisa, of Simone, of everyone!’ From us he takes his last name. The last name of God is each and every one of us.”


The Pope went on to say that God, in his humility, patience and love, has allowed us to write this history of grace and sin, yet always present with us. God’s joy, he said, is to share his life with us.

i don't see the connection to the Collyridians. From the little known of them, they appear to have worshipped Mary as a goddess. 




  Krysztof Ciuba:  what names did you post under at NCR before they finally cut off such nonsense?

What is Pope Francis' talking about here when he speaks of being "consubstantial with ..."? As I learned it "consubstantial" refers only to the relationships among the three persons of the Trinity.  It means that the Persons are not three different substances but only one individual substance, i.e., God.  This precludes any identification of of God and creature.  

Ann: I agree with you. 

To Ann: to remind Jesus is not God ! An ex. Mark 10:18! This Pope does not know he is talking about, worse than Sunday's homilies on Trinity Feast 

Ann Olivier, we believe that Jesus is "true God and true man."  I think the idea here is that Jesus is consubstantial with the Father in his divinity and consubstantial with Mary and the rest of us humans in his humanity. He is the link between the two substances, which are not identical, but which do connect us. 

Before Jesus's birth, we knew only that we humans are made "in the image and likeness of God"

Francis distinguishes between the two consubstantialities by saying "And this is that consubstantiality of the Mother. God has made Himself history."

John, I think that that muddies the waters. As I understand it tht word is reserved to describe the relation between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that's hard enough to describe without trying to resuse the same word in other, similar but different, settings.

Some theologians preferred the use of the term homoiousios (Greek for "of like substance") in order to emphasize distinctions among the three persons in the Godhead, but the term homoousios became a consistent mark of Nicene orthodoxy in both East and West. According to this doctrine, Jesus Christ is the physical manifestation of Logos (or the divine word) and consequently possesses all of the inherent, ineffable perfections which religion and philosophy attribute to the Supreme Being. Three distinct and infinite minds or substances, three co-equal and eternal beings, compose a single Divine Essence (ousia).

This doctrine was formulated in the 4th century CE during the extraordinary Trinitarian or Arian controversy.



PS - Every single occurence of the word "consubstantial" in the catechism refers to the Trinity.

Claire - I also haven't seen that use of "consubstantial" before, although as an explanation of how it is that Jesus can be fully divine and fully human, this might be philosophical boilerplate, the kind of thing that Francis learned as a collegian.  I don't think there is anything in the word "consubstantial" that implies divinity.  Conceivably, could we state that a chair is consubstantial with another chair?  (Chairs were what my Philosophy 101 professor used to illustrate substance: "the 'chairness' of chairs".)

Here is the original Italian version from the Vatican website, and my translation:

«Dio ha inviato il suo figlio» in mezzo agli uomini. E, ha aggiunto, «Gesù è consostanziale al padre, Dio; ma anche consostanziale alla madre, una donna. E questa è quella consostanzialità della madre: Dio si è fatto storia, Dio ha voluto farsi storia. È con noi. Ha fatto cammino con noi».

"God sent his son" to live among us. And, he added, "Jesus is consubstantial with his father, God; but he is also consubstantial with his mother, a woman. And this is that consubstantiality with his mother: God created history, God chose to became part of history. He is with us. He walked with us."

I didn't find "“God is consubstantial with us. He makes history with us." In the Italian version (which comes from L'Osservatore Romano)

There are people here whose Italian is better than mine, so revisions are welcome. 


Jim P. ==

I fear you metaphysics teacher missed Aristotle's meaning of "substance".  (Aristotle invented the notion.)  For him a substance is always a basic reality which is an *individual* being which retains its own nature evene when combined with other such basic beings.  When substances are combined into complex realities they form  artifacts, things with parts which retain their own essences or nature.  Thus a chair is an artifact composed of different substances, e.g., wood, glue, iron, whatever.



JOhn Hayes --

It seems to me that the Italian shows that Francis is not using the word "consubstantial" in the classic theological sense.  If he were using it strictly, then he would not have said,  "«Gesù è consostanziale AL padre, Dio; ma anche consostanziale ALLA  madre, una donna" (emphasis mine). Translated lterally, doesn't this mean somthing likee "related substantially TO the Father", not "WITH the Father" as the Latin term "CONsubstantial" puts their relationship. "To" and "with" have quite different meanings. So I really don't know what he has in mind here.  It's very mushy. 

I must admit that if Pope Francis has a fault, to me it seems to be that he doesn't realize the need for theology to be as clear as possible.  (Yes, dear Benedict did have some merits.  Sigh.)

Ann: again I agree with you.

A possible reason for UND to equivicate on its response(s) to the ACA mandates:  How much money does the University of Notre Dame stand to loose if it lets the wacko right-wing dictate its relationship to the government? It's relationship to the Vatican?

Why should anyone be shocked or surprised that ND will make politic decisions when considering the adverse impact(s) on its multi-$billion operations?  

Why should ND put the welfare of its customers - i.e., its students and their families - in jeopardy only to satisfy rightwing critics who will never be satisfied no matter what ND does?

ND - arguably the most successful Catholic ministry in all of North America - is not without ample political clout, even in the Vatican.  ND has more than earned its privileged status in American Catholic life in the 172 years since its founding by a young French priest, Edward Sorin.

Besides, ND has an abundance of the mother's milk for all politicians, most especially the politicians in the Catholic Church:  money - and that's all the Vatican hierarchs live for making them easy to buy off.

Fr. John Jenkins, CSC doesn't go to bed every night worrying about ND's relationship with the papacy.  The papacy needs ND more than ND needs the papacy.

[Personal discloser:  ND President John Jenkins and I are not related despite our common surname.] 

Ann, in the Italian Catechism it is "al"

242 Sulla loro scia, seguendo la Tradizione apostolica, la Chiesa nel 325, nel primo Concilio Ecumenico di Nicea, ha confessato che il Figlio è « consostanziale al Padre », 287 cioè un solo Dio con lui. Il secondo Concilio Ecumenico, riunito a Costantinopoli nel 381, ha conservato tale espressione nella sua formulazione del Credo di Nicea ed ha confessato « il Figlio unigenito di Dio, generato dal Padre prima di tutti i secoli, Luce da Luce, Dio vero da Dio vero, generato non creato, della stessa sostanza del Padre ». 288

John Hayes --

Thanks for the Catechism quote.  Hmm.  I'm wondering what the Italians generally think "consubstantial" means, and that includes the Italian clergy.  The Trinity is the most profound mystery of the Church so we can expect somewhat different understandings.  I just cringe at anything that even indirectly suggests identity of God and creature. 

There's a very good article on wikipedia on divinization.

Pope Francis, in his search for terse and vivid summaries, is sometimes careless with words. Pedagogically, it is sometimes more effective to say something that is incorrect but that in the first order conveys the general idea in an understandable manner. Maybe that's what's going on here.

Ann - you're right - I was thinking of form.  D'oh!  (In defense of my teacher, whose name I don't recall, I'm sure he explained it correctly.)

Ann, the Catechism warns that the conventional philosophical terms are are an imperfect description of a mystery beyond human understanding:

233 Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: not in their names, for there is only one God, the almighty Father, his only Son and the Holy Spirit: the Most Holy Trinity....


234 The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself....


251 In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop her own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: "substance", "person" or "hypostasis", "relation" and so on. In doing this, she did not submit the faith to human wisdom, but gave a new and unprecedented meaning to these terms, which from then on would be used to signify an ineffable mystery, "infinitely beyond all that we can humanly understand".


252 The Church uses (I) the term "substance" (rendered also at times by "essence" or "nature") to designate the divine being in its unity, (II) the term "person" or "hypostasis" to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them, and (III) the term "relation" to designate the fact that their distinction lies in the relationship of each to the others.

253....The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire....

254 The divine persons are really distinct from one another. "God is one but not solitary." "Father", "Son", "Holy Spirit" are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another....

255 The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another....

256. [Quotes St. Gregory Nazianzus' summary of the Trinitarian faith]


John H. ==

Yes, undoubtedly the metaphysical  terms as applied to God are used in analogous fashion -- all terms applied to God are so applied.  But what concerns me about what Pope Francis said is that he used "consubstantial" to apply simultaneously to both God and Mary.  That is bound to lead to serious metaphysical trouble.

Yes, most words aplied to God are used in analogous fashion only, but isn't "consubstantial" an exception, because the word itself has been made up precisely to describe the Trinity? That is, the definition of "consubstantial" is precisely "the way in which the three persons of the Trinity are one". Everything else that's said about the word "consubstantial" is an imperfect effort to describe the Trinity.

Pope Francis replaced "in communion with" or "sharing life with" or "being present with" by "consubstantial with". He got carried away, that's all. I'm sure he would retract it if people complained.  It's not a big deal.

Claire --

Yes, the term "consubstantial" was invented to describe the Trinity, but it includes the word "substance", and that part, I think, is being used analogously to apply to God.  At least that is my understanding of the history of the term.  The theologians can correct me.

The reason I find tthe Pope's application of it to Mary to be jarring, is because he seems to be applying a term which should be reserved to God  to Mary.  Carried to its logical conclusion this implies that she is is something like a 4th person of the Trinity.  Shades of "Co-Redemptrix"!!  

I think there is an an old and continuing inclination in Catholicism to deify Mary, even though Catholic theology does not limit God's qualities to the "masculine".  Time to catechize the people so they realize that God is also "feminine" and our Mother.    

Ann, in Sempiternus Rex Christi, Pope Pius XII quoted Pope St. Leo the Great:

34. This same doctrine was set forth by our predecessor Leo the Great in these words: 'What principally contributed to the justification of mankind was that the only Begotten Son of God deigned to become the Son of Man, so that being God smoúsios to the Father, that is of the same substance, the same [person] should exist as true man consubstantial with his mother in the flesh; we rejoice over both these things, since only by both are we saved; we admit no division of the visible from the invisible, the corporeal from the incorporeal, the passible from the impassible, the palpable from the impalpable, the form of the servant from the form of God. For although he remains the one from eternity, he began to be the other in time; these two have met in unity and can have neither separation nor end' (St. Leo. Serm. 30, 6. PL. liv, 233S).

The typo is on the Vatican website, but 

smoúsios should be omooúsios

John: you have managed to get me confused. It's really not so much about Mary as about ourselves and the relation we hope to have to God one day. We hope to be united to God of course, but how closely? I think, naturally, as closely as water mingling with wine, or, similarly, as close as two persons having sex, but that is not as close as being "consubstantial". The quotes in the Wikipedia article on divinization are all slightly different from one another (becoming "like God", "gods", "assimilated into God", etc.). 

I have read that Rublev's famous Trinity icon has, in front, an empty seat at the table around which the three persons of the Trinity are seated: that extra seat is reserved for Man. That view of humanity's vocation to join the Trinity in such a way would go in the direction of using the word "consubstantial".

In reality, we don't know.



John H. ==


Thanks for the translation of the St. Leo text. I grant you, that on the basis of this text we can't interpret the word "consubstantial" the way it has later been interpreted.  But this text do show very clearly what I maintained -- that this view implies *both* the divinity of Mary and that she is co-redemtrix. 

As I learned it, for Aquinas Mary was not even free of Original Sin from her conception, so a fortiori she couldn't possibley be have been divine.  Further, my trusty Aquinas dictionary says that in Aquinas' work  "consubstantial"  means "of LIKE substance", not "identical in substance".  (Unfortunately, I can never make the search function of Aquinas' work online work, or I'd look up the contexts of his uses of the word.)

Given the implications of Leo's theory, I can't see how  his theory could be the definitive explanation of the relationships between the Persons, Mary and the human Jesus.  At best it seems to be an early theory which needed -- and got  -- "clarification", to use a Vaticanese expression.

(You realize, of course, that I'm not a theologian, but a cat can look at a king.)


Claire -

You have inspired me to make another great theological pronouncement (what the hell, in for a dime,in for a dollar):

The main difference between the theologies of the Eastern Orthodox and those of the Roman Church is mainly the difference between the dominance of Plato in the East and, eventually, of Aristotle in the West.  The sticking point is Plato's theory of "participation of forms (essences)".  For Plato there is an identity of form in all things of the same kind, while in Aristotle there is not.  Or at least not usually -- sometimes even he reverts to the participation theory.  As I see it, Plato's theory inevitably leads to some sort of pantheism. The irony is that eventually Plato himself rejected the theory as "the most ridiculous of all"


John H. ==

Scratch my last reply to you.  If the Aquinas dictionary is right, then Aquinas would have to deny that the Father and Son were consubstantial in the sense I was defending --  because if "consubstantial" means only "like" in substance, then the Father and Son are only *like* in substance, and, thereore, not identical.  

Or something like that.

(Philosophers should keep out of theology??)

Claire. I don't know the answer to your question. I'm with Paul, who said "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."

Ann, the Council of Nicea decided that Jesus was "of the same substance" (omooúsios) with the father and not "of similar substance" (omoioúsios) as the Arians wanted. 

I'm not a theologian, either. 

JOhn H. -

Thanks a bunch.  I didn't realize there were two words, and apparently I checked the wrong one (homoiousios) in my Aquinas dictionary!  I'm particularly glad you corrected me because I began to think that my indispensable dictionary wasn't as reliable as I had always thought it to be.  

Ann - yep, there's an iota of difference. 

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