— Although Pope Francis’ new encyclical Fratelli Tutti contains positive elements, overall it “lacks a clearly supernatural horizon” and the proclamation of the truth that Christ is the “indispensable source of true fraternity,” Bishop Athanasius Schneider has said.
In an exclusive interview with The Remnant (see full text below), the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, criticizes the document for mischaracterizing St. Francis, advancing religious relativism, and construing spiritual and theological realities in a “naturalistic and rationalistic manner” that exacerbates the “decades-old crisis of the weakening of the supernatural perspective in the life of the Church.”
The Vatican released the encyclical Fratelli Tutti [Brothers All] on fraternity and social friendship, on the Oct 4 liturgical feast of St. Francis.
Calling for the “rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity” the lengthy papal encyclical expands on themes taken up in the Document on Human Fraternity and Living Together, which Pope Francis co-signed with the Grand Imam el-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi, on February 4, 2019. The Abu Dhabi document drew considerable controversary for stating that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom.”
According to Bishop Schneider, Fratelli Tutti “did not correct Abu Dhabi but solidified it” and “reveals a certain kind of religious relativism” by portraying religion as a “means to natural fraternity.” Christian Faith, the auxiliary bishop insists, “cannot be put indiscriminately on the same level with other religions; that would be a betrayal of the Gospel.”
Bishop Schneider also notes how the new encyclical’s vision of fraternity — one that is naturalistic rather than Christ-centered — is akin to freemasonic thought. At the price of a “universal aspiration to fraternity for world peace,” he observes, Christ as the only Savior and King of all humankind is “sacrificed.”
He praises parts of the document that warn against a “false universalism” and building “an inhuman society” which only accepts the strong and rejects the weak, but also says it offers a “merely human emergency solution.”
Bishop Schneider ends by appealing, through St. Francis’ intercession, that Pope Francis turn away from such “excessive absorption [in] temporal affairs” and, quoting St. Hilary of Poitiers, warns that “not accepting Christ is the greatest danger for the world.”
Here below is our interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider.
Diane Montagna (DM) – Your Excellency, what are your general impressions of Pope Francis’s new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti?
Bishop Athanasius Schneider (AS) – This new encyclical gives the general impression of being a long-winded instruction on the ethics of peaceful co-existence based on the key terms of “brotherhood” and “love” understood in a strongly temporal and highly political perspective, in order to “contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity” (Fratelli Tutti, n. 8). Although the encyclical uses key passages of the Gospel, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37) and the words of Christ in the Last Judgment, who identifies Himself with those in need as “the least of my brothers” (see Mt 25:40), it applies their meaning, nevertheless, in a more humanistic and this-worldly horizon. Seen as a whole, the encyclical lacks a clearly supernatural horizon; it lacks any reference to words such as “supernatural”, “Incarnation”, “Redeemer”, “Shepherd”, “evangelization”, “baptism”, “Divine sonship”, “Divine forgiveness of sins”, “salvific”, “eternity”, “heaven”, “immortal”, “Kingdom of God/Christ.”
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While laudably affirming that “Christ shed his blood for each of us and that no one is beyond the scope of his universal love” (n. 85), the encyclical then regrettably reduces the meaning of supernatural redemption to the nebulous and secular perspective of a “universal communion.” It reads: “For Christian thought and for the action of the Church, the primacy given to relationship, to the encounter with the sacred mystery of the other, to universal communion with the entire human family, [arises] as a vocation of all” (n. 277). The primacy, however, in all human relationships, should be given to the encounter with Jesus Christ, the God-Man, and with the Holy Trinity, through sanctifying grace and the gift of the supernatural virtue of love. Pope Francis rightly states in Fratelli Tutti, n. 85: “If we go to the ultimate source of that love which is the very life of the triune God, we encounter in the community of the three divine Persons the origin and perfect model of all life in society.” Elsewhere, he says: “Others drink from other sources. For us the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (n. 277). However, perfect human dignity and fraternity for all human beings can only have one source, and that is Jesus Christ, since it is only through the Incarnate Son of God that human dignity has been restored even more admirably than it was created (Order of Mass, Prayer at the Offertory). It would have been of great benefit had Fratelli Tutti pointed to the need for all men to believe in Jesus Christ, God and Man, in order to find the indispensable source of true fraternity and the key to solving the problems of temporal societies.
DM – Pope Francis opens the new encyclical by noting that its title, “Fratelli Tutti,” is taken from the ‘Admonitions’ of St. Francis, which were addressed to his fellow friars. You have said in your book Christus Vincit that St. Francis inspired you to follow Christ in the religious life. In your view, is Pope Francis’s use of these texts faithful to St. Francis’s meaning?
AS – Pope Francis here uses the expression “Fratelli tutti” (all Brothers) in a way that is clearly different from St. Francis. For St. Francis, “all brothers” are those who follow and imitate Christ, i.e. all Christians, and certainly not simply all men, and even less so the adherents of non-Christian religions. We can see this in looking at the fuller context from which these words are taken:
Let us all, brothers, consider the Good Shepherd who to save His sheep bore the suffering of the Cross. The sheep of the Lord followed Him in tribulation and persecution and shame, in hunger and thirst, in infirmity and temptations and in all other ways; 1 and for these things they have received everlasting life from the Lord. Wherefore it is a great shame for us, the servants of God, that, whereas the Saints have practiced works, we should expect to receive honor and glory for reading and preaching the same” (Admonitions, 6).
Indeed, St. Francis did not “smooth over the faults of any, but smite them, nor flattered the life of sinners, but rather aimed at it with stern reproofs. Unto great and small alike he spoke with the same firm spirit” (Legenda Maior, 12, 8) Pope Francis presents St. Francis as though he had been a supporter of the diversity of religions. The scope of St. Francis’s visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil in Egypt, however, was not to show “his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of religion” (Fratelli Tutti, n. 3). Rather, its precise aim was to preach to the Sultan the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One must regret that Pope Francis reduces St. Francis in Fratelli Tutti to a man who “sought to embrace everyone” and as an example of “a humble and fraternal ‘subjection’ to those who did not share his faith” (n. 3). St. Bonaventure attests in the Legenda Maior that St. Francis explicitly preached the Gospel to the Sultan, inviting him and his entire people to convert to Christ, writing: “With such firmness of mind, with such courage of soul, and with such fervor of spirit he preached unto the Sultan God Three and One and the Savior of all, Jesus Christ” (Legenda Maior, 9, 8). Furthermore, while St. Francis was preaching the Gospel to the Sultan, he sent five friars to preach the Gospel to the Muslims in Spain and Morocco. When St. Francis heard the news of their martyrdom, he cried out: “Now I can truly say I have five brothers” (Analecta Franciscana, III, 596).
The entire Catholic tradition has always presented St. Francis as an apostolic and truly missionary saint. Pope Pius XI wrote: “St. Francis was a man who was truly Catholic and apostolic, in the same admirable fashion that he had attended to the reformation of the faithful, so likewise set about personally and commanded his disciples to occupy themselves before everything else with the conversion of the heathen to the Faith and Law of Christ.” (Encyclical Rite Expiatis, 37)
DM – What do you see as the strengths or positive elements of this new encyclical?
AS – One of the most luminous and theologically sound passages in Fratelli Tutti is the following affirmation by Pope Francis: “If we go to the ultimate source of that love which is the very life of the triune God, we encounter in the community of the three divine Persons the origin and perfect model of all life in society” (n. 85). This affirmation is a true light in the midst of the narrow naturalistic horizon, religious relativism and deficient supernatural perspective of this encyclical. Another important element is Pope Francis’s rejection of any endeavor to build a society against the plan of God. He writes: “The attempt to build a tower (Tower of Babel)… was a misguided attempt, born of pride and ambition, to create a unity other than that willed by God in his providential plan for the nations (cf. Gen 11:1-9)” (n. 144). Equally significant are the following statements, which reflect the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI: “Without truth, emotion lacks relational and social content” (n. 184); “Charity needs the light of the truth that we constantly seek. ‘That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate)’ and does not admit any form of relativism” (n. 185). Pope Francis also recalls the importance of ever-valid objective truths, based on human nature according to God’s plan in creation, affirming that there are “fundamental truths always to be upheld, … they transcend our concrete situations and remain non-negotiable, … in themselves, they are held to be enduring by virtue of their inherent meaning” (n. 211), and that “there is no need, then, to oppose the interests of society, consensus and the reality of objective truth” (n 212).
Furthermore, Fratelli Tutti warns against a false universalism and the virus of a radical individualism (see n. 100). In this regard, Pope Francis writes: “One model of globalization in fact consciously aims at a one-dimensional uniformity and seeks to eliminate all differences and traditions in a superficial quest for unity… If a certain kind of globalization claims to make everyone uniform, to level everyone out, that globalization destroys the rich gifts and uniqueness of each person and each people” (n. 100). The following statements in Fratelli Tutti also aim to protect the right of nations to their own identity and traditions: “There can be no openness between peoples except on the basis of love for one’s own land, one’s own people, one’s own cultural roots” (n. 143); “I can welcome others who are different… only if I am firmly rooted in my own people and culture” (n. 143); and “the common good likewise requires that we protect and love our native land” (n. 143). Fratelli Tutti also rightly speaks of “the right to private property and its social meaning” (n. 123).
Pope Francis raises his voice against an inhuman society, which accepts only the strong and the healthy and despises and eliminates those who are ill and weak. He writes: “People have this right even if they are unproductive or were born with or developed limitations. This does not detract from their great dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstances but on the intrinsic worth of their being. Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity” (n. 107). Also praiseworthy are the following important affirmations of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti: “It should be acknowledged that ‘among the most important causes of the crises of the modern world are a desensitized human conscience, a distancing from religious values and the prevailing individualism accompanied by materialistic philosophies that deify the human person and introduce worldly and material values in place of supreme and transcendental principles’” (n. 275); and “Good and evil no longer exist in themselves; there is only a calculus of benefits and burdens. As a result of the displacement of moral reasoning, the law is no longer seen as reflecting a fundamental notion of justice but as mirroring notions currently in vogue. Breakdown ensues: Everything is ‘leveled down’ by a superficial bartered consensus. In the end, the law of the strongest prevails” (n. 210).
DM – Pope Francis has presented Fratelli Tutti as a reflection on the Abu Dhabi document, which he signed with the Grand Imam el-Tayeb in February 2019. You have openly voiced concern about that document, specifically its statement that the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God.” Has this new encyclical assuaged or deepened those concerns?
Fratelli Tutti devotes an entire chapter to the theme, “Religions at the service of fraternity in our world” (ch. 8). The title itself already reveals a certain kind of religious relativism. Religions are seen here as a means of natural fraternity. Hence, one is led to understand religion as a means to promote naturalism. This is contrary to the essence of Christianity, which is the one true and only truly supernatural religion. Christian Faith cannot be put indiscriminately on the same level with other religions; that would be a betrayal of the Gospel. The affirmation that, “From our faith experience… we, the believers of the different religions, know that our witness to God benefits our societies” (n. 274) promotes religious relativism, since the concept of “God” is surely different among the various religions. There are also some religions in which evil spirits are worshipped. One cannot put the concept of God in the Christian religion on the same level as a religion which practices idolatry. Holy Scripture says that “all the gods of the nations are demons” (Psalm 96:5), and St. Paul teaches that “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God” (1 Cor 10:20). According to Divine Revelation and the constant teaching of the Church, the concept of “faith” means the following:
Since man is a being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason is completely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. The Catholic Church professes that this faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true. … Therefore, without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life” (First Vatican Council, Dei Filius, ch. 3).
Hence, adherents of non-Christians religions do not have the gift of the supernatural virtue of faith and thus cannot be called “believers” in the proper sense of this word. Non-Christians do not accept Divine Revelation given through Jesus Christ. Hence, their knowledge of God and their religious practice are only an expression of the light of natural reason, and not of faith. The infallible Magisterium of the Church teaches this, declaring:
The Catholic Church, with one consent, has also ever held and does hold that there is a two-fold order of knowledge, distinct both in principle and also in object; in principle, because our knowledge, in the one, is by natural reason, and, in the other, is by Divine faith; in object, because, besides those things to which natural reason can attain, there are proposed, for our belief, mysteries hidden in God, which, unless Divinely-revealed, cannot be known. … If anyone shall say that Divine faith is not distinguished from natural knowledge of God and of moral truths, and therefore that it is not requisite for Divine faith that revealed truth be believed because of the authority of God Who reveals it; let him be anathema” (ibid., ch. 4 and can. 3 de fide).
Christians are not simply “travelling companions” along with adherents of false religions — religions which God forbids (Fratelli Tutti, n. 274). Memorable in this regard is the following theologically precise affirmation of Pope Paul VI: “Our Christian religion effectively establishes with God an authentic and living relationship which the other religions do not succeed in doing, even though they have, as it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 53).
Several expressions in Fratelli Tutti convey substantially the same religious relativism set forth in the Abu Dhabi Document, which states that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom.” Fratelli Tutti did not correct Abu Dhabi but solidified it. The truth which Our Lord revealed, and His Church has unchangingly and constantly proclaimed, remains forever valid: “The chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice, not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion” (Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, 4).
The following infallible teaching of the Church in the Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Filius, of the First Vatican Council, rejects the fallible teaching on the “diversity of religions” expressed in the Abu Dhabi Document and in Fratelli Tutti: “There is no parity between the condition of those who have adhered to the Catholic truth by the heavenly gift of faith, and the condition of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion” (ch. 3); and “If anyone shall say that the condition of the faithful, and of those who have not yet attained to the only true faith, is on a par, let him be anathema” (ibid., can. 6 de fide).
DM – We know of two kinds of fraternity: that of blood, in Adam and Eve, and that of grace, in Jesus Christ, through the Church and sacraments. What “new vision” (n. 6) of fraternity does Pope Francis propose in this encyclical? And as a bishop and Successor to the Apostles, can you encourage the faithful to aspire to the vision of fraternity that Pope Francis sets forth in this encyclical?
AS – True fraternity, as pleases God, is fraternity in and through Christ, the Incarnate Son of God. Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) rightly delimited the Christian concept of fraternity, when he said: “‘One is your master, but you are all brothers’ (Mt 23:8). With this word of the Lord the relationship between Christians is determined as a relationship of brothers and sisters as a new brotherhood of the spirit, opposed to the natural brotherhood, which arises from the blood relationship” (Die Christliche Brüderlichkeit, München 1960, 13). Indispensable is the recognition of the difference between a fraternity based on nature, i.e. the bond of blood, and fraternity based on Divine election and Revelation: “While God is the Father of the world’s peoples only through creation, he is Israel’s Father moreover by election” (ibid., 20).
From the beginning, Christians knew the essential difference between mere natural brotherhood and brotherhood through baptism. St. John Chrysostom said: “For what is it which makes brotherhood? The washing of regeneration and being enabled, therefore, to call God our Father” (Homily 25 on Hebrews, 7). In a similar vein, St. Augustine wrote: “Then will they cease to be our brethren, when they shall cease to say, ‘Our Father.’ For the pagans we do not call brethren according to the Scripture and the ecclesiastical mode of speaking” (En. In Ps. 32, 2, 29).
Each Catholic and all the Shepherds of the Church, first and foremost the Pope, should burn with zeal and love for all those who, unfortunately, are only our brothers according to flesh and blood, that they might be born of God in the supernatural sonship in Christ, and truly become brothers in Christ. If Church leaders in our day are content with the brotherhood of flesh and blood, with “fratelli tutti” in flesh and blood, they are neglecting God’s commandment in the Gospel, i.e. the commandment to make the members of all nations and religions disciples of Christ, sons in the Only begotten Son of God, brothers in Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded (see Mt 25:19-20). Such zeal is, for a Christian soul, the deepest expression of love of neighbor: to love him as you love yourself. If your Divine sonship in Christ represents for you the greatest conceivable gift of God — which it truly is — then you lack the true love and charity for your neighbor if you do not burn with the desire to communicate this gift to him, of course with delicacy and respect. Not to know Christ, not to have the Divine gift of the supernatural Catholic Faith, and not to be baptized, means that one is not truly illumined, that one does not possess the true life of the soul. It means remaining in the darkness and the shadow of death, as the Gospel says (see Lk 1:79; Mt 4:16; Jn 9:1-41).
In the ancient Church, Baptism was fittingly called “illumination” (photismós) and regeneration (anagénnesis). St. Augustine highlights the essential difference between the mortal life given through flesh and blood and the eternal life given through baptism: “We have found other parents, God our Father, and the Church our Mother, by whom we are born unto life eternal. Let us then consider whose children we have begun to be” (Sermo 57 ad competentes, 2). What a narrow, merely earthly and impoverished temporal perspective the following statement of Fratelli tutti reveals: “Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (n. 8). A fraternity of blood, a fraternity limited to the here and now, which is perishable, a fraternity limited to peaceful co-existence in kindness, implies an extraordinary spiritual poverty, a deficient life, a deficient happiness, since in such a perspective the most important thing in the entire world and in all of human history is lacking, namely Christ, the Incarnate God, the Only Begotten and Eternal Son of God, the brother, friend and bridegroom of the soul of all those who are reborn in God.
How urgent it is that the Vicar of Christ in our day again proclaim to the entire world the words of his predecessor, John Paul II: “All of you who are still seeking God, all of you who already have the inestimable good fortune to believe, and also you who are tormented by doubt: please listen once again, to the words uttered by Simon Peter. In those words is the faith of the Church. In those same words is the new truth, indeed, the ultimate and definitive truth about man: the son of the living God — ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” (Homily for the Inauguration of his Pontificate, 22 October 1978) How courageous, how apostolic, how magnificent it would be, if these words had resounded also in Fratelli Tutti!
DM – You’ve often said that the Church today lacks a supernatural perspective. How does this new encyclical remedy or exacerbate this problem?
AS – The encyclical Fratelli Tutti unfortunately exacerbates the decades-old crisis of the weakening of the supernatural perspective in the life of the Church, with the consequent excessive embrace of temporal realities, and the still worse tendency to interpret even the spiritual and theological realities in a naturalistic and rationalistic manner. This means diluting the Gospel, i.e. revealed truths, into a naturalistic humanism — enclosing one’s perspective on the life of the Church into the narrow horizon of this-worldly realities. It means transforming the true Gospel, which is the Gospel of eternal life, into a new, falsified Gospel of temporal and corporeal life.
The current tendency to naturalism, and the lack of the supernatural in the life of the Church, corresponds to what St. Paul said: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19). Regarding its content and intellectual horizon, the encyclical Fratelli Tutti can be summed up in these words: “our citizenship is on earth.” The new encyclical aggravates the naturalism reigning in the Church today, which can be described as a lack of love for the Cross of Christ, for prayer, a lack of awareness of the grievousness of sin and the necessity of reparation. To some extent, Fratelli Tutti is at odds with what St. Paul wrote at the beginning of the Church: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). Memorable are the words of the first social encyclical of the Magisterium, Rerum Novarum, where Pope Leo XIII teaches that the Church must always look on even temporal realities with a supernatural perspective. He writes:
The things of earth cannot be understood or valued aright without taking into consideration the life to come, the life that will know no death. Exclude the idea of futurity, and forthwith the very notion of what is good and right would perish; nay, the whole scheme of the universe would become a dark and unfathomable mystery. The great truth which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its foundation – that, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live. God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but for things heavenly and everlasting; He has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place. As for riches and the other things which men call good and desirable, whether we have them in abundance, or are lacking in them-so far as eternal happiness is concerned – it makes no difference; the only important thing is to use them aright. Jesus Christ, when He redeemed us with plentiful redemption, took not away the pains and sorrows which in such large proportion are woven together in the web of our mortal life. He transformed them into motives of virtue and occasions of merit; and no man can hope for eternal reward unless he follows in the blood-stained footprints of his Savior” (n. 21).
DM – Liberty. Fraternity. Equality. These three themes run through “Fratelli Tutti.” Should Catholics be concerned that a Pope has taken up the motto of the French Revolution in his latest encyclical?
AS – In themselves, the three concepts “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality” have a Christian meaning and have been misused by the Freemasonic French Revolution. Regarding the concept of “liberty,” Holy Scripture teaches that true liberty is freedom from the greatest slavery, i.e. slavery to the devil and sin, and ignorance of divine truths: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32); “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn 8:36). The freedom that Jesus Christ gives is a gift of His redeeming work: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). The freedom that God bestows is a supernatural gift of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth: “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). True fraternity is not the brotherhood of those born of blood, the flesh and the will of the old Adam, but rather the fraternity of those born of God (see Jn 1:13) who are brothers in Christ, the new Adam (see Rom 5:14). These are “those whom he foreknew, and he also predestined them to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29).
The Christian concept of true “equality” means that all sinners equally stand in need of salvation in Christ: “There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:22-23). All the baptized have the same objective dignity as adopted sons of God: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26.28). Therefore, “strip yourselves of the old man with his deeds and put on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of him that created him. Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, slave nor free. But Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:9-11). All men will also equally stand before the judgment of God, since “no creature is hidden from God’s sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13). And “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. There is no partiality with God” (Eph 6:8.9).
The distorted meaning of the concept of liberty and equality introduced by the National Assembly of the French Revolution was immediately condemned by Pope Pius VI. In condemning it, the Church’s magisterium simultaneously provided the true meaning of liberty and equality. Pius VI wrote:
The National Assembly establishes as a right of man in society this absolute liberty that not only insures the right to be indifferent to religious opinions, but also grants full license to freely think, speak, write and even print whatever one wishes on religious matters – even the most disordered imaginings. It is a monstrous right, which the Assembly claims, however, results from equality and the natural liberties of all men. But what could be more unwise than to establish among men this equality and this uncontrolled liberty, which stifles all reason, the most precious gift nature gave to man, the one that distinguishes him from animals? After creating man in a place filled with delectable things, didn’t God threaten him with death should he eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil? And with this first prohibition didn’t He establish limits to his liberty? When, after man disobeyed the command and thereby incurred guilt, didn’t God impose new obligations on him through Moses? And even though he left to man’s free will the choice between good and evil, didn’t God provide him with precepts and commandments that could save him ‘if he would observe them’? Where then, is this liberty of thinking and acting that the Assembly grants to man in society as an indisputable natural right? Is this invented right not contrary to the right of the Supreme Creator to whom we owe our existence and all that we have? Can we ignore the fact that man was not created for himself alone, but to be helpful to his neighbor?” (Brief Quod Aliquantum, March 10, 1791).
In his monumental encyclical on Freemasonry, Humanum Genus, Pope Leo XIII explained the true Christian meaning of “liberty, fraternity and equality,” as realized in the Third Order of St. Francis, thereby explicitly rejecting the Freemasonic distorted meaning. Leo XIII wrote:
Amongst the many benefits to be expected from the Third Order of St. Francis will be the great benefit of drawing the minds of men to liberty, fraternity, and equality of right; not such as the Freemasons absurdly imagine, but such as Jesus Christ obtained for the human race and St. Francis aspired to: the liberty, We mean, of sons of God, through which we may be free from slavery to Satan or to our passions, both of them most wicked masters; the fraternity whose origin is in God, the common Creator and Father of all; the equality which, founded on justice and charity, does not take away all distinctions among men, but, out of the varieties of life, of duties, and of pursuits, forms that union and that harmony which naturally tend to the benefit and dignity of society” (n. 34).
It is regrettable that Pope Francis used this central ideological motto of Freemasonry even as a subtitle in one chapter of Fratelli Tutti (see nn.103-105), without presenting the needed clarification and distinction to avoid any misunderstandings and instrumentalizations.
DM – You have spoken extensively about how popes throughout the centuries, including Pope Francis (Address to young people in Turin, 15 June 2015), have condemned Freemasonry. Do you see any similarities or overlap between the freemasonic idea of fraternity and the one proposed in this new encyclical?
AS – In a statement to the media, the Grand Lodge of Spain expressed its satisfaction with Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, declaring that the Pope has adopted the Freemasonic concept of fraternity and driven the Catholic Church away from her former positions. Their statement reads:
300 years ago saw the birth of Modern Freemasonry. The great principle of this initiatory school has not changed in three centuries: the construction of a universal brotherhood where human beings call each other brothers beyond their specific creeds, their ideologies, the color of their skin, their social extraction, their language, their culture or their nationality. This fraternal dream collided with religious fundamentalism which, in the case of the Catholic Church, led to harsh texts condemning the tolerance of Freemasonry in the 19th century. Pope Francis’s latest encyclical demonstrates how far the current Catholic Church is from its former positions. In Fratelli Tutti, the Pope embraces the Universal Fraternity, the great principle of Modern Freemasonry.”
The similarities and overlap of the freemasonic idea of fraternity and the one proposed in Fratelli Tutti are striking. Substantially, Pope Francis presents a merely earthly and temporal fraternity of flesh and blood on the natural level. It is ultimately a fraternity based and born of the first Adam, and not of Christ, the new Adam. This perspective is formulated in the following statements in Fratelli Tutti: “it is my desire to contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity” (n. 8); and “the ever-increasing number of interconnections and communications in today’s world makes us powerfully aware of the unity and common destiny of the nations. In the dynamics of history, and in the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the seeds of a vocation to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another” (n. 96).
A universal and merely naturalistic fraternity based on the bonds of blood and nature is the core of the theory and praxis of Freemasonry. A famous French freemason, the Marquis de La Tierce, wrote in his introduction to the translation of Anderson’s First Constitutions of the Freemasons, that universal fraternity means “a universal religion, on which all men agree. It consists in being good, sincere, modest and people of honor, by whatever denomination or particular belief that one can be distinguished” (see Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine 1997/44-2, 197). According to La Tierce, the goal of Freemasonry consists in allowing individuals of all nations to enter into a single fraternity (see Histoire de Franc-maçons contenant les obligations et statuts de la très vénérable confraternité de la Maçonnerie, 1847, I, 159). The same author very explicitly wrote that: “It is to revive and spread these essential maxims taken from the nature of man, that our society was first established” (see ibid., 158).
Pope Leo XIII pointed precisely to naturalism as the central characteristic of Freemasonry, since they pursue as their goal “the substitution of a new state of things in accordance with their ideas, of which the foundations and laws shall be drawn from mere naturalism” (Encyclical Humanum Genus, 10). This is the main dogma of Freemasonry: “There is only one religion, only one true, only one natural, the religion of humanity” (see Henri Delassus, La Conjuration Antichretienne, Lille 1910, tome 3, p. 816). From the religious and spiritual point of view, naturalism is one of the greatest temptations and deceits with which Satan leads men away from the Kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of grace, and the supernatural life. Without proclaiming the rights of God, the rights of Christ the King over all men and nations, the rights of men, social welfare, justice and peace will lack a solid guarantee. Pope Leo XIII rightly affirmed:
The world has heard enough of the so-called ‘rights of man.’ Let it hear something of the rights of God. May God look down in mercy upon this world, which has indeed sinned much, but which has also suffered much in expiation! And, embracing in His loving-kindness all races and classes of mankind, may He remember His own words: ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself’ (Jn 12:32)” (Encyclical Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, 13).
DM – Fratelli Tutti offers a critique of politics, of both liberalism and populism, and includes numerous anti-Trump tropes. Do you think this a political document timed for the November US presidential elections?
AS – I think that Pope Francis would do well to follow the example of the Apostles and the great tradition of the Church in not proposing concrete and transitory political and economic models. Pope John Paul II rightly said: “The Church does not propose economic and political systems or programs,” and “the Church offers her first contribution to the solution of the urgent problem of development when she proclaims the truth about Christ, about herself and about man” (Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41). Pope Leo XIII taught that “Catholics, like any citizen, are free to prefer one form of government to another (see Encyclical Immortale Dei). We find the same teaching in the documents of the Second Vatican Council: “The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system” (Gaudium et Spes, 76).
DM – Your Excellency, are there any final thoughts you wish to add?
Seen as a whole, Fratelli Tutti gives the sad impression that, at the price of a universal aspiration to fraternity for world peace and living together (seen as being good and sincere), the proclamation of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Savior and King of all humankind and nations was sacrificed. How needed and beneficial it would have been, for the whole of humanity, had Pope Francis proclaimed in this, his social encyclical, what all the Apostles, Church Fathers and Popes had done, declaring to men of all nations and religions this truth: “The greatest benefit and happiness is to accept Jesus Christ, God and man, the only Savior and to believe in Him.” A new social encyclical today should also echo these words of the Church’s first social encyclical, Rerum Novarum:
Civil society was renovated in every part by Christian institutions; of this beneficent transformation Jesus Christ was at once the first cause and the final end; as from Him all came, so to Him was all to be brought back. For, when the human race, by the light of the Gospel message, came to know the grand mystery of the Incarnation of the Word and the redemption of man, at once the life of Jesus Christ, God and Man, pervaded every race and nation, and interpenetrated them with His faith, His precepts, and His laws. And if human society is to be healed now, in no other way can it be healed save by a return to Christian life and Christian institutions. Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery” (n. 27).
This teaching echoes the entire Catholic tradition, dating back as early as St. Augustine, who wrote:
Let those who say that the doctrine of Christ is incompatible with the State’s well-being, give us an army composed of soldiers such as the doctrine of Christ requires them to be; let them give us such subjects, such husbands and wives, such parents and children, such masters and servants, such kings, such judges — in fine, even such taxpayers and tax-gatherers, as the Christian religion has taught that men should be, and then let them dare to say that it is adverse to the State’s well-being; yea, rather, let them no longer hesitate to confess that this doctrine, if it were obeyed, would be the salvation of the commonwealth” (Ep. 138 ad Marcellinum, 2, 15).
The encyclical Fratelli Tutti represents a merely human emergency solution, and limits mankind to the horizon of a universal aspiration to a naturalistic fraternity. Such a solution will not have lasting healing effects, since it is not built upon the explicit proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate God and the only way to salvation. The Church, even in her social teaching, has to build up the House of God, which is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in the mystery of His Church and His Social Kingship. It is not the Church’s mission to build up a “new humanity” on the naturalistic level (see Fratelli Tutti, n. 127), or “to work for the advancement of humanity and of universal fraternity” (Fratelli Tutti, n. 276), or to build up a “new world” for temporal justice and peace (see Fratelli Tutti, n. 278). To a certain extent, one can apply to Fratelli Tutti these words of Holy Scripture: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 126:1). Full of true prophetic power and relevance to the current situation of the Church and the world are the following words of the Servant of God, the Italian priest don Dolindo Ruotolo (+1970), in his letter to Pope Pius XI:
The most serious evils threaten the church and the world. These evils are not averted by human emergency solutions, but solely with the divine life of Jesus in us. A great battle begins between good and evil, between order and disorder, between truth and error, between the Church and apostasy. The priests groan under the desolation of an inertial life, the religious have become poor in holy life. The shepherds, the bishops, are sleepy. They drag themselves on and have no strength to animate their flock, which is scattered” (Letter from December 23, 1924).
St. Francis once famously prayed in the chapel of San Damiano, in Assisi, and heard Christ tell him from the crucifix to “repair my Church, which is falling into ruin” (see Legenda maior 2, 1). St. Bonaventure attests that Pope Innocent III, “in a dream saw, as he recounted, the Lateran Basilica about to fall, when a little poor man, of mean stature and humble aspect, propped it with his own back, and thus saved it from falling. ‘Verily,’ he says, ‘he it is that by his work and teaching shall sustain the Church of Christ’ (Legenda maior 3, 10). Today the Church of Rome finds herself in a similar situation of spiritual collapse, due to the spiritual torpor of a majority of the Shepherds of the Church, the excessive absorption of the Pope himself in temporal affairs, and his efforts to bring about the rebirth of a universal aspiration to a this-worldly and naturalistic fraternity (Fratelli Tutti, n. 8).
May the Lord grant, through the intercession of St. Francis, that Pope Francis might come to offer an example to all bishops, by once again vigorously proclaiming these words of Our Lord: “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mk 8:36), and by repeating with St. Hilary of Poitiers: “Non accepting Christ, is the greatest danger for the world! [quid mundo tam periculosum, quam non recepisse Christum!]” (In Mt 18).