In Defense of the Papal Encyclical “All Brothers”

On October 3rd, in Assisi, Pope Francis is scheduled to sign a new encyclical, which for the time being is called “All Brothers”. We do not know what the Latin title will be. Perhaps the title is taken from the Gospel of Matthew:

{23:8} Vos autem nolite vocari Rabbi. Unus est enim Magister vester, omnes autem vos fratres estis.
{23:8} But you must not be called Master. For One is your Master, and you are all brothers.

“Omnes Fratres” or “All Brothers” is the possible title; what will the contents be? In a series of posts, I will propose and defend different possible teachings of OF. Hmmm. Let’s call it AB instead of OF.

AB is said to be similar in theme to the document Human Fraternity. So let’s begin there.

The document Human Fraternity teaches that God wills a plurality and diversity of religions. Does He will this permissively or positively? Pope Francis has previously stated “permissively”, verbally and in writing. But this is not a definitive decision of the Magisterium. In fact, the Magisterium has not decided this question beyond such passing remarks, such as an assertion by Francis in a general audience or in personal communications, in a letter or conversation.

Certainly, God permissively wills whatever happens. For God is almighty. If He permits it, then it is permissively willed. But the papal accusers have claimed that the language of HF implies that God positively wills this plurality and diversity of religions. And they claims this is heresy. That is not true at all.

First, the language does not imply that God positively wills. It is not clear that God positively wills all the other items in the list in that sentence. And even if the other items in the list were positively willed, it doesn’t imply that they all are. A list can be diverse. This is obvious to reason, and it is intellectually dishonest to accuse a Roman Pontiff of heresy based on the assumption that if the other items in a list are positively willed, that they all must be so.

A married couple purchased a house, a car, and a book of stamps. The first two items are expensive; does this imply that the third item is? No, it doesn’t. A person orders soup, a drink, and a sandwich at a restaurant. Should the restaurant assume that the sandwich is to be liquefied, because the other items on the list are liquid? No. So it is absurd to claim that the Pope must have meant positively willed, when the other items on the list, arguably, are said to be positively willed. And as it is arguable, it is not even clear that the other items are positively willed.

Then, there is no infallible teaching of the Magisterium on whether God positively or merely permissively wills the plurality and diversity of religions. So the answer cannot be heresy. And the Pope has repeatedly given the answer the papal accusers prefer: permissively. So for them to then accuse him of heresy is an actual mortal sin. It is absolutely obviously that they make that accusation with malice, completely devoid of Christian Charity, contrary to the Pope’s clear public statements about what he meant, and without any magisterial teaching to prove that the idea would be heresy. It is extreme intellectual dishonesty and a deliberate false accusation against the Roman Pontiff. I don’t see how anyone could have a sincere but mistaken conscience in such an accusation.

In addition, the papal accusers are heretics and schismatics, and so their version of religion, according to their own judgment, is not positively willed by God, but only permitted, just as any grave sin that occurs is merely permitted. So their theological position is very disordered.

Now, bombshell revelation: Pope Francis might change his mind in AB and decide that, in a certain sense, God positively wills the plurality and diversity of religions. Some things called religion are so disordered that they can only be said to be permissively willed by God. But other religions, which have the love of God and neighbor in them, are certainly, in a certain sense within certain limits, positively willed by God. For He certainly wills all truths on faith and morals. So when a religion contains substantial truths, those that are helpful on the path of salvation, then it must be positively willed by God. And this would certainly include Orthodox Christianity; some of the Catholic schismatic groups, if they have a sincere but mistaken conscience and do not have malice toward the Pope, the body of Bishops, and the faithful; the main Protestant denominations; Judaism, in its various forms; moderate peaceful Islam; and I won’t be the judge of every religion to decide whether it is positively or merely permissively willed.

But if Pope Francis teaches such a doctrine, I will accept it. For the teaching of the Roman Pontiff is the teaching of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Non-infallible teachings are permitted by God to contain only limited errors, and never grave errors. The same is true for decisions of discipline or prudential judgments; they cannot err gravely.

Trust the Church, She is indefectible. Trust the Pope, he is indefectible. Trust the body of Bishops, as a body, they are indefectible. Do not be led astray by some priest or bishop or leader whom you admire. Only admire Christ above all else, and His Church.


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3 Responses to In Defense of the Papal Encyclical “All Brothers”

  1. Matt Z. says:

    How about God could not positively will another Religion, but only positively will the truths of that religion which are in line with the Catholic Church? Now that is possible.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes, good. God does not positively will error. But does He will that the religions exist? Before the fact of our sinfulness, No; after the fact of our sinfulness and weaknesses, Yes.

  2. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Thank you, Ron, for this insightful article. I agree that God can will the existence of Non-Christian religions both permissively and positively. I think of what St. Paul says in Romans 13:4 when he refers to the civil authority of his day (the Roman Empire) as “God’s servant for your good.” If God could make use of the Roman Empire—with all of its idolatry and cruelty–as his servant for the good, then certainly He can make use of Non-Christian religions as instruments for the good. So much was said by St. John Paul II in his post-synodal exhortation,, Ecclesia in Asia (1991), no. 15:

    “Following the lead of the Second Vatican Council, the Synod Fathers drew attention to the multiple and diversified action of the Holy Spirit who continually sows the seeds of truth among all peoples, their religions, cultures and philosophies. This means that these religions, cultures and philosophies are capable of helping people, individually and collectively, to work against evil and to serve life and everything that is good.”

    Before Pope Francis, John Paul II clearly recognized that God wills the good that can come from Non-Christian “religions, cultures, and philosophies.”

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