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The Connoisseurs of "Complexity"
and the De-missionization of the Catholic Church

by Christopher A. Ferrara
January 10, 2017

So the Vatican has made a big fuss over Martin Scorsese’s latest filmic opus, “Silence,” in which Scorsese, an admitted “lapsed Catholic,” once again exploits his Catholic background to perpetrate a travesty of the faith, just as he did with his infamous “Last Temptation of Christ.” A special screening of the film for an audience of Jesuits at one of Rome’s pontifical universities was followed by a personal audience with the Pope for Scorsese.

The movie, drawn from the historical novel of the same title, depicts the saga of two Jesuit missionaries who are sent to 17th century Japan to find their fellow Jesuit, Christovao Ferreira, who has apparently apostatized and renounced Christ during the vicious persecution of Catholics by the Japanese feudal government (shogunate) of that time, which included the crushing of the Shimabara Rebellion of Catholic peasants.  One of the two Jesuits in search of Ferreira renounces Christ himself in order to prevent the martyrdom of a group of Japanese faithful. Thus his renunciation of Christ is depicted as an act of supreme charity, rising above mere creedal adherence, while the simple Japanese faithful remain willing to suffer the martyrdom the apostate Jesuit heroically prevents. 

Apparently the film is supposed to provoke us to ask ourselves the “profound” question: Who is the greater martyr — the apostate who renounces God to save the bodily lives of men, or the men who renounce their bodily lives to obey God and save their immortal souls? This “ambiguous” and “complex” theme is doubtless immensely appealing to the dilettantes, pseudo-intellectuals and connoisseurs of “complexity” surrounding Francis, who himself never misses an opportunity to mock Catholic “fundamentalists.”

The title of the film and the movie alike allude to God’s supposed “silence” during the martyrdom of the other Jesuit searcher and the faithful who die with him — as if God would issue oral proclamations from the heavens denouncing the persecution of Christians. This insidious reference to God’s “silence” involves an implicit anthropomorphism that overlooks the manner in which God does speak in history, as He does when the blood of martyrs — the Japanese martyrs being among the greatest the Church has ever known — becomes the seed for the conversion of others and indeed of an entire civilization, as happened in the West. 

But that is much too simple an idea for the connoisseurs of complexity.  Better to ponder the “profound” question of God’s “silence” — like Francis, who declares to impressionable children that he has “no answer” to God’s “silence” in the face of the suffering of children except “let us learn how to weep.” Not very consoling, but it does satisfy the yen for “complexity” much better than simple references to the hope of life eternal and the endless joy of beatitude after the sufferings of this brief life have ended.

With the film in view, Bishop Robert Barron zeroes in on the problem with the elites (both within and without the Church) who savor this kind of thing while looking down their noses at “simplistic” religion:

“My worry is that all of the stress on complexity and multivalence and ambiguity is in service of the cultural elite today, which is not that different from the Japanese cultural elite depicted in the film. What I mean is that the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright. Revisit Ferreira’s speech… about the supposedly simplistic Christianity of the Japanese laity if you doubt me on this score.”

But there is another problem here, identified by Sandro Magister: the connoisseurs of complexity, led by Francis’ fellow Jesuit confidants, are using the film as context for Vatican-approved propaganda about why the Church, according to them, can no longer pursue missionary activity as traditionally understood.  Magister cites an article in the papally-vetted Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica wherein the Japanese Jesuit Shun'ichi Takayanagi writes of “a paradigm shift” — please, not another paradigm shift! — regarding “the concept of mission and the ways of exercising it.”

Takayanagi admits that even “a few decades ago” missionary activity in Japan continued to aim for “visible and concrete results, meaning a great number of baptized,” but now, he assures us, this “is no longer possible.”  What we need today is another post-Vatican II novelty: missionary activity that does not seek conversions. That is, missionary activity that is not missionary activity — perfect post-conciliar doubletalk.  

Takayanagi (as quoted by Magister) explains his nonsense thus:

“Even if ‘mission’ obtained a great result in Japan in the 16th century, it is no longer possible to attain similar success in contemporary times, characterized by rapid progress of material culture and a high standard of living. Precisely for this reason the antiquated conception of mission, which comes from the Western colonial era of the 19th century and survives in the subconscious of many missionaries, foreign and native, must be replaced with a new conception of the people with whom and for whom one works. The new strategy of the proclamation of the Gospel must become an expression of the need for religion among the men of today. Dialogue must deepen our conception of the other religions and of the common human need for religious values.

Translation: the new, improved, post-Vatican II missionary activity must proclaim the Gospel by promoting “religious values” in general, not Christianity in particular, much less Catholicism. That is, the proclamation of the Gospel must not proclaim the Gospel.  This is not a joke.  Rather, it is post-conciliar thinking in its essence, which is to say, utter nonsense masquerading as deep “modern thought” on “contemporary approaches” to the Church’s mission.

The same nonsense was further developed in the papal newspaper of record, L'Osservatore Romano, in another article cited by Magister. One Marco Vannini, who is not even a Catholic, suavely assures the reader (in a book review) that “In our globalized world, religion can find a place only as ‘religio duplex,’ or religion on two levels, which has learned to conceive of itself as one among many and to look at itself through the eyes of the others, nevertheless without ever losing sight of the hidden God, the ‘transcendent point’ common to all the religions.”

In other words, the Church must forget the idea of making converts to Christianity, which is the same as saying that the Church must forget her very mission. And, indeed, we are witnessing a veritable de-missionization of the Catholic Church, a programmatic abandonment in practice of the divine commission on the part of churchmen who think themselves more insightful, more subtle, more complex in their thinking, than their “fundamentalist” predecessors in the dark ages before Vatican II, when priests, bishops and Popes actually believed that their mission was to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I [Jesus Christ] have commanded thee.” (Matt. 28:20)

But what did God Incarnate know about “our globalized world” of today?

For the connoisseurs of complexity, including those who wear miters or call themselves theologians, Jesus Christ has been reduced to a brand name in the global marketplace of religions. If we are not in the midst of the greatest crisis in Church history, then the word ‘crisis’ has no meaning.