By this stage of Francis' pontificate, faithful Catholics have become all too familiar with the Pope's tendency to misquote and wrest the words of the Holy Gospel and of previous Magisterial documents not only in his "off the cuff" allocutions, homilies, and interviews, but even in his formal, prepared documents. It only makes sense that, as we shall see below, the Pope shows the same disrespect for the Church Fathers.
To cite one of the most egregious manglings of the Church's previous Magisterium: While all the faithful are rightly outraged or troubled by his apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia's infamous Footnote 351 granting permission for unrepentant adulterers to commit sacrilege at Mass, we cannot forget that the Pope in Amoris laetitia conveniently failed to quote St. John Paul's Familiaris consortio no. 84 which explicitly upholds Christ's commandment forbidding Communion for purportedly remarried adulterers, while Amoris laetitia's Footnote 329 rips the Second Vatican Council's Gaudium et spes no. 51 (concerning temporary abstinence from marital relations) completely out of context in order to argue that "doing it for the children" might mitigate the mortal sin of adultery. (We reported and commented on these things the lamentable day Amoris laetitia was issued.)
Another notable and much discussed instance of Francidian mangling of divine teaching is found in his previous apostolic exhortation Evangelium Gaudium no. 161, where the Pope claimed "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" is the first and greatest commandment -- thereby putting human beings and our human relationships above God and our obligation to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Contrary to what Pope Francis claims, Jesus, as all faithful Catholics know, says the first and greatest commandment is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy might, etc.," while love of neighbor is the second greatest commandment. (This makes all the difference in the world -- and the Pope's reversal of these commandments, putting mere mortals ahead of God, seems to explain all his actions and emphases since his election to the See of St. Peter, beginning with his ultra vires and scandalous washing of the feet of women, pagans, and transsexuals on Holy Thursday.)
Evangelium Gaudium, frequently problematic and worrisome, constitutes a charter or agenda for the Pope's program -- and it errs not only in EG no. 161, but also falsifies Patristic doctrine in Footnote 51, which provides quotes from the Church Fathers in support of the statement in Evangelium Gaudium no. 47, "The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak."
That sentence from EG no. 47, standing alone, is true. But in light of subsequent actions and utterances of the Pope and numerous other bishops and cardinals, there is much more going on there than warning us poor sinners not to allow the knowledge of our sinfulness to keep us from seeking God's grace and mercy. I think it now should be clear the Pope in EG no. 47 telegraphed his intention to impose upon the Church the approval of giving Communion not only to adulterers but to anyone who is impenitent or even those who lack the saving Catholic faith of Christ. This is indicated by the way the teachings of the Church Fathers are treated in Footnote 51 of Evangelium Gaudium.
Consider first this alleged quote from the great doctor St. Ambrose of Milan's De Sacramentis (On the Mysteries):
“I must receive it always, so that it may always forgive my sins. If I sin continually, I must always have a remedy.”
Taken alone, this could sound like a scandalous encouragement to presumptuous or sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion, as if receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist removes mortal sin without any need for recourse to the Sacrament of Penance (contrary to the infallible, permanently binding dogma of the Council of Trent). Did St. Ambrose really say, "I must receive it always"? Did he think it's wrong to refrain from Communion at Mass, that reception of Communion when at Mass is obligatory?
No, he didn't think that, nor did he say, "I must receive it always," nor, "I must always have a remedy." Evangelium Gaudium Footnote 51 not only takes the great Milanese doctor's words out of context, but it also mistranslates them. Here's the passage in context, and correctly translated (emphasis added):
"Therefore as often as thou receivest—what saith the Apostle to thee?—as often as we receive, we show the Lord’s death; if we show his death, we show remission of sins. If, as often as blood is poured forth, it is poured for remission of sins, [then] I ought always to receive it, that my sins may always be forgiven me. I, who am always sinning, ought always to have a remedy."
There is obviously a HUGE difference between "must" and "ought." Sadly, the real teachings of St. Ambrose of Milan on this subject are not found in Evangelium Gaudium. There is nothing in what Ambrose wrote that conflicts with Christ's commandment that sinners refrain from Communion and seek reconciliation before offering one's Sacrifice to God (Matt. 5:24) and that one be clothed with the wedding garment of grace before entering the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Matt. 22:12). Ambrose's true Eucharistic doctrine, so far from that implied in EG Footnote 51, is expressed through his prayer that Catholics traditionally pray when preparing for Mass and Holy Communion.
This footnote mistreats the doctrine of St. Cyril of Alexandria in the same way, giving a partial, selective quotation from his Commentary on St. John's Gospel that changes the Alexandrian doctor's meaning. Note that St. Cyril here refers to St. Paul's crucial doctrine on Eucharistic discipline in I Corinthians 11 that the post-conciliar liturgical rewriters cut completely from the Church's cycle of readings:
“I examined myself and I found myself unworthy. To those who speak thus I say: when will you be worthy? When at last you present yourself before Christ? And if your sins prevent you from drawing nigh, and you never cease to fall – for, as the Psalm says, ‘what man knows his faults?’ – will you remain without partaking of the sanctification that gives life for eternity?”
That may sound like an exhortation to make a sacrilegious Communion -- "Well, you know, no one can really be sure of when they've sinned or when they're in a state of grace, so go ahead of receive Communion anyway even if your conscience convicts you of mortal sin" -- but reading the passage in context makes it clear that St. Cyril uttered no such heretical doctrine of moral laxism (emphasis added):
"Yea (says he) for it is written, He that eateth of the Bread, and drinketh of the Cup unworthily, eateth and drinketh doom unto himself: and I, having examined myself, see that I am not worthy.
"When then wilt thou be worthy (will he who thus speaks hear from us)? when wilt thou present thyself to Christ? for if thou art always going to be scared away by thy stumblings, thou wilt never cease from stumbling (for who can understand his errors? as saith the holy Psalmist) and wilt be found wholly without participation of that wholly-preserving sanctification. Decide then to lead a holier life, in harmony with the law, and so receive the Blessing, believing that it hath power to expel, not death only, but the diseases in us. For Christ thus coming to be in us lulleth the law which rageth in the members of the flesh, and kindleth piety to God-ward, and deadeneth our passions, not imputing to us the transgressions in which we are, but rather, healing us, as sick. For He bindeth up that which was crushed, He raiseth what had fallen, as a Good Shepherd and One that hath laid down His Life for His sheep."
Far from permission to receive Communion without Penance, St. Cyril rather warns against the danger of scrupulosity and of despairing of God's grace, exhorting us to repent and lead a holier life so that one will thus be worthy to receive Communion. He certainly did not say that one may receive Communion when not in a state of grace. His point was not to tell us to receive Communion unworthily, but to explain to us how to receive our Lord worthily.
As with Amoris laetitia, so it is with Evangelium Gaudium before: On the one hand, we have the Church's doctrine as expressed in the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. On the other hand, we have Pope Francis' teaching in Evangelium Gaudium.
Above all in this holy season of Penance, may God have mercy on His Holy Church, and on the Roman Pontiff Francis.