Rorate Caeli

Saying and Unsaying: The Synod’s Orwellian Atmosphere

It surprises me how often Catholics grasp at straws when it comes to the situation in Rome and in much of the Church’s episcopacy these days. It’s as if they are working as hard as they can to deny the evidence of their senses and to find absurdly far-fetched explanations that will prevent them from having to draw the obvious conclusions.

Let’s consider three facts.

1. To leave something unsaid is often to unsay it.

Many commentators on the interim relatio and the final relatio noted that these documents were rather inadequate (in varying degrees) when it came to articulating the beauty and blessings of marriage as instituted by God and elevated by Christ and defending its truth and goodness. The documents included this or that true statement, but they did not give the lion’s share of attention to the sacrament of marriage itself and its nobility, permanent validity, and abundant graces for the world, nor did they condemn the sins and structures of sin aligned against Christian marriage.

The problem is this: when we purposefully leave something unsaid, and in a context where it ought to be said, we are effectively unsaying it. To neglect to say something when every circumstance demands that it be said is not merely absent-mindedness, a want of affirmation, but a destructive omission that undermines the truth, a black hole that sucks the light into itself.

This is one of the many lessons we have learned from “the Synod experience”—that experience which Pope Francis declared to be a good one, but which was good only in the sense that God the Almighty can bring forth good out of evil. One impressive good that has come forth is the worldwide exposure of the serious lack of orthodoxy and virtue in many members of the hiearchy, as well as a renewed admiration for those heroes of the Faith who are willing to suffer calumny and exile. This is a good thing because it chips away at that dreadful, uncatholic and altogether untraditional ultramontanism and subservience to whatever the shepherds dish out to the longsuffering faithful. It is a wake-up call to abandon sheepish passivity and to stand valiantly for the faith of our fathers, as the laity did during the Arian crisis of the fourth century.

2. To frame an impossible question can be a form of mental abuse.

Other commentators thought that it was “good” that the Pope encouraged the asking of tough questions and open debate on their answers. 

The problem is this: many of the questions discussed by the Synod were questions to which the Catholic Faith, not to mention natural law, already has determinate, unequivocal, and immutable answers. Raising these questions is nothing less than a form of mental abuse, a manipulation of feelings and an effort to sow confusion, doubt, and denial. To ask, as if seriously wondering, whether there can be such a thing as homosexual marriage is already to have surrendered to the enemy of human nature; to ask whether active bigamists can receive Holy Communion is already to do violence to the consciences of Catholics and to blaspheme the Blessed Sacrament. There are certain questions it is not possible to raise as if they were still open questions or as if they were healthy intellectual exercises. This kind of question, if it is not an empty show or flatus vocis, implies an epistemological stance, an existential commitment.

3. To follow neologisms or to avoid traditional language is a kind of exploitation and deception.

There are words that signify realities as they are, and there are words that deliberately obscure them. “Living in sin” clearly states that an unmarried man and woman who sleep together are guilty of offending God and harming one another; “cohabitation” is a neutral description that passes no judgment and seems to imply that no judgment can be made. “Concubine” or “paramour” tells us frankly what we are dealing with; “marriage partner” does not. “Adulterous union” calls a spade a spade; with its legal sound, “civil remarriage” decorously papers over the serial polygamy. That Vatican documents should have been besmirched with such “value-neutral” language is a powerful sign of the triumph of factions over fidelity, power over truth, Orwellian thought-control over the liberty of the sons of God. 

Should we be surprised? The same thing has happened in the liturgical sphere: instead of the “celebrant,” we speak of the “presider”; instead of the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” we call it “Eucharist”; instead of “Introit” there is “the opening song.” The novel terms are not false in themselves, but they stem from an ideology that wishes to avoid the traditional language. There are many such examples, all tending in the same direction. Now, more than ever, we must heed the warning of Josef Pieper, who in his little book Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power reminds us that whoever controls language controls reality—a lesson also understood by George Orwell, even if his intuition did not lead him to adore the Logos who alone gives meaning to human speech and reason.

The common denominator between the liturgical reform and the Synod is accommodationism: the view that it is the Church’s business to adapt herself—her worship, her doctrine, her discipline—to “modern man.” That’s exactly what Church leaders today are endeavoring to do, with results that all can see.

The social crisis we are seeing in regard to marriage and sexuality is bound up with the spiritual crisis of no longer recognizing who is the bride and who is the Bridegroom, what is sacred and deserving of total reverence, and what is the purity demanded of the one who would dare approach the altar. Generations of Catholics have experienced a liturgy freed from traditions and marked by casual intimacies, just like their sexual morality. Which came first: relaxation and experimentation with the liturgy, or the slackening and abandonment of moral restraints? In any case, we are alive to see the last stage of the revolution: even as the worship of God was redefined according to the purported exigencies of modern man, so today, the same exigencies are driving the redefinition of man as such—an unsurprising outcome that underlines the connection between liturgy and anthropology.

In a world going increasingly mad, Catholics must bring a healing sanity by saying what needs to be said (especially when authorities are unsaying it), exposing and refuting false questions and false conundrums, and using traditional language to call realities by their names.